Meandering Through Middle Grade: Life on a Bee-less Planet…

1

meandering-through-middle-grade

It’s a question that’s been asked by everyone from your common-or-garden human to Doctor Who himself (tenth incarnation): Where are all the bees?  What is happening to our little black-and-gold buzzing pollination stations?  What will happen if the bees disappear for good?

All these questions and more are probed in the original and engaging mildly post-apocalyptic novel for middle grade readers, How to Bee by Bren MacDibble. I feel the need to point out before we go any further that the story contained within this book is far more down-to-earth and substantial than either its cover or title give it credit for.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Allen & Unwin:

A story about family, loyalty, kindness and bravery, set against an all-too-possible future where climate change has forever changed the way we live.

Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches, sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened and Foreman said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll find two new bees.’

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand. All Peony really wants is to be a bee. Life on the farm is a scrabble, but there is enough to eat and a place to sleep, and there is love. Then Peony’s mother arrives to take her away from everything she has ever known, and all Peony’s grit and quick thinking might not be enough to keep her safe.

How To Bee is a beautiful and fierce novel for younger readers, and the voice of Peony will stay with you long after you read the last page.

how to bee

Although this book is set in a post-bee world, the setting is far enough after the bee-pocalypse (or the time when the bees went extinct) that the world, or at least Peony’s part of it, has found a workable solution to the problem.  Children with poles now climb fruit trees to pollinate them and life in the cities depends entirely on the good work of the farms where fresh food is grown.  Peony dreams of being a bee and completing the important, prestigious work but her dream is ripped away when her mother returns from her city job and demands that Peony return with her to earn cash.  Peony is bewildered by this, because on the farm, they have everything they need – money is anathema when there’s no shops to buy things from.  In the city however, money is everything and the gap between haves and have-nots is illustrated by the hordes of raggy people who beg in the streets, with no jobs, homes or hope.

Along with an original slang, this story has unmistakable undertones of a Dickensian novel, with an urban environment characterised by the dichotomy of the rich and poor, in direct contrast to the happily barefoot children of the countryside.  Sure, life is hard on Peony’s farm, but at least the people there are a strong community and understand the importance of their work to the necessities of life.  The story moves through phases, with the early chapters introducing the reader to the farm and its processes, as well as Peony’s home life.  The central chapters of the story, set in a big house in the city, show a different side to this alternative future, and demonstrate the hostility of the “real” world, in which violence, struggle and want colour the lives of the majority of “urbs” – city residents.

These central chapters give rise to an unexpected friendship between Peony and Esmeralda, the young girl for whose family Peony works.  Although this section provided variety and interest, as well as a chance for both levels of the social strata to see each others’ good points, it seemed a bit out of place with the beginnings of the story.  This is a moot point however, because the tale twists again toward the end and although Peony will encounter despair, hardship and grief before the end of the novel, an unexpected jolt of hope is injected from two directions in the final chapter.

Overall, this is a family drama, an environmental warning and a portrait of the kind of society that we are sliding towards held together by an engaging and determined narrator.  I’d recommend this for middle-grade aged readers who enjoy books set in alternate worlds, as well as to older readers looking for a middle grade read that sits outside the expected.

Until next time,

Bruce

Found, Near Water: A Rather Depressing Murder Mystery for Your Friday…

4

cover81510-medium

I’m book-ending the week with another murder mystery, although this one is a contemporary and set (surprisingly!) in New Zealand.  Christchurch, to be exact.  We received a copy of Found, Near Water by Katherine Hayton from Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Rena Sutherland wakes from a coma to discover her daughter’s been missing for days. No one’s noticed, no one’s complained, no one’s searching.

The victim support officer assigned to her case, Christine Emmett puts aside her own problems as she tries to guide Rena through the maelstrom of her daughter’s disappearance.

A task made harder by an ex-husband desperate for control; a paedophile on early-release in the community; and a psychic who knows more than seems possible.

And flowing beneath everything is a crime – perpetrated across generations – pulling them into its wake.

The first thing I’ve got to tell you about this one is that in overall tone, it’s reasonably depressing.  I suspect that this has much to do with the protagonist, Christine, who is rather a depressing old stick herself – with good reason, some might argue, given that her daughter is dead and her husband is an alcoholic.  Christine works as a volunteer victim advocate/support type person at the local police station and is generally a bit acerbic to almost everybody.  While I found this tolerable, she isn’t the kind of person I was hoping to spend the book with.  It’s worth mentioning here that all of the characters in this story are flawed in some way and the atmosphere is one of lurking menace – not necessarily because there may be a child kidnapper or murderer on the loose, but just due to the unspoken assumption that life is random, brutish and most likely to dish out tragedy to the undeserving.

Having put you on your guard, let me reassure you that I did actually find the book a reasonably solid murder mystery, with an ending that was unexpected and a whole lot creepier than I had anticipated.  There are some interesting twists involving psychics that I didn’t see coming (teehee!) and enough action toward the end to make the dreariness worthwhile.

Although the book is set in Christchurch, I will admit to not picking up on any particular Kiwi leanings until the setting was explicitly mentioned.  Disappointingly, the police in this one aren’t nearly as cheery and high-spirited as those we see on the Kiwi version of Motorway Patrol, that gets shown over here on a Saturday afternoon.  Possibly, their lack of jollity is related to the fact that they are investigating child murder and not crazy driving.

Overall, if you are looking for a murder mystery set in New Zealand that heaps epic amounts of suffering on the undeserving and a few decent shovelfuls on those who are really asking for it, this is a good candidate.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Introducing Scribble, I Am Doodle Cat and Author Kat Patrick (+ a giveaway!)

10

doodlecat

I am so pleased to be helping to introduce a brand new kids’ publishing imprint today – Scribe’s new addition, Scribble!  It’s always exciting to get a snifter of brand new books on the horizon and today I’ve got a little ripper for you…as well as an interview with the author and a chance for TWO lucky readers to win a copy of I am Doodle Cat!  But more of that later. Let’s meet Doodle Cat! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

I Am Doodle Cat and I am one very proud drawing. I’m red like a really ripe tomato. Sometimes I find it hard to choose between dancing and clawing the rug so I just do both at the same time. I make long lists of the things I love because it’s important to remember what makes you happy. I’ll help you spot the magic in silliness and the greatness in pretty much everything. Also, my best friend is a pangolin. Let’s be pals.

From the bright, energetic endpapers to the cheeky catalogue of loves, Doodle Cat is one book that is certainly going to appeal to mini-fleshlings.  Although there is no traditional plot here, Doodle Cat’s list of things that he loves were varied and unexpected enough to provoke giggles (the cat method of bathing), raised eyebrows (maths) and more than one slightly confused facial expression (farts and lentils) from the oldest mini-fleshling in the house.  Doodle Cat is a bit of a prankster I suspect, and his unconventional ways are ably illustrated by Lauren Marriott, who manages to put an enormous amount of character into even the most desultory of Doodle Cat’s bottom-wiggling dances.

The book also features short sections of commentary from Doodle Cat himself at the end of his litany of loves, which are quite lyrical and inspiring in their way.  I suspect that once kids get a glimpse of Doodle Cat, he will remain in their memories for quite some time. Since we first read the book, the older mini-fleshling has developed some basic narrative drives of his own, piloting first Doodle Dog (a dog who loves to eat green things, including green ants) and Doodle Fly (a work in progress).  But I get the sense that Doodle Cat probably loves being a muse, too.

Did I mention that I Am Doodle Cat has already won the Scholastic New Zealand Award for Best Designed Children’s Book?  Well it has!

Thanks to Scribble, I am able to offer TWO readers the chance to win a copy of I Am Doodle Cat!  The giveaway is open internationally and to enter, all you need to do is click on the Rafflecopter link here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter form. Good luck!

I know you’re itching to find out more about the creative genius behind Doodle Cat, so read on to find out Kat Patrick’s answers to some tough questions from the Shelf!

Doodle cat, with his catalogue of loves, seems the antithesis of world-famous Grumpy Cat.  Do you think Doodle Cat’s positive outlook will inspire Grumpy Cat (and cats generally) to be less grumpy?

Sadly, no. The magical thing about cats is that they only do exactly what they want to do. We’ll drop Grumpy an email, though. Will let you know how it goes.

Your name is Kat and your main character is a cat. Coincidence or fate?!

Narcissism! Kidding, no. Fate.

How did you first meet Doodle Cat?

As he was zooming past on a paper aeroplane.

What was the first thing you did when you found out you’d won an award for Doodle Cat? Now that he’s had a taste of success, does Doodle Cat count book awards amongst his loves?

Messsaged Lauren in disbelief. I don’t think we’ll ever fully comprehend that that our little kind-hearted jerk is becoming so famous. Hope it doesn’t go to his head, but also: so what if it does. He’d probably just do few zooms around the house before going back to his ice cream.

What can we expect next for Doodle Cat?

Bit of trouble, but mostly fun.

Given our loveable natures and aesthetically pleasing visage, would you ever consider writing a book featuring Gargoyles?

Yes! Maybe she could play the bass guitar in Doodle Cat’s band.

You heard it here first! Perhaps Doodle Gargoyle is in the works!

Thanks again to Scribble for letting us share in the launch of this exciting new venture.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Night of the Perigee Moon: Lantern Review and Author Spotlight…

1

Greetings and salutations to you, my beloved associates in the pursuit of all things literary!  It’s Mad Martha with you today to provide you with a Lantern review of a fun and feisty new middle grade read featuring magic, mad cousins and monstrously large moons.  I give you Night of the Perigee Moon by Juliet Jacka!

Juliet is a Kiwi author.  And by Kiwi I mean that she hails from New Zealand, not that she is a cute, endangered, brown flightless bird with particularly advanced claw dexterity and a passion for literacy.  Although that would also be cool (and worth reading about).  We at the shelf love Kiwi authors. In fact, in a spectacular display of UnAustralianism, we are prepared to admit that we have a sneaking suspicion that New Zealand is an actual utopia, but until we can get Mad Martha stowed away in a suitcase heading for that delightful nation, we can’t confirm this positively.  Until then, we will continue quietly instigating the chilli-bin revolution. Join us, won’t you?

But back to the topic at hand! Once you have feasted your eyes on my poetical evaluation of this book, you can find out more about the author, who was brave enough to answer some (slightly self-centred) questions from Bruce AND THEN enter to win one of TWO PRINT copies of the book – woohoo! Since you are no doubt hyperventilating with excitement over all of that information, I will refrain from mentioning that the giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY, lest you pop a valve and have to be rushed to the hospital. If you would like to enter the giveaway, you can click this link here.  So let’s get to it.

Night of the Perigee Moon follows young Tilly Angelica in the days leading up to her thirteenth birthday.  Turning thirteen is exciting enough, but in Tilly’s family, the thirteenth birthday also marks the time when young Angelicas take ownership of  a shiny new magical ability.  Poor Tilly is dreading this however, and just wants to be normal kid and have a normal party – not a whole host of crazy, magical cousins, uncles and aunts turning up to celebrate her “changeover”.  If that were not enough to worry about, Tilly’s grown-up cousin Prosper (an enchanter) seems to be behaving in a rather sinister fashion.  Along with her cheeky younger brother Fergal, twin cousins Ninette and Pippi, and house cat Kit, will Tilly be able to take control of her emerging talent and use it to her advantage?  Or will creepy cousin Prosper use the power of the Perigee Moon to change Tilly’s life forever?

perigee moon

Twelve.

So much

safer than

thirteen for some

kids.

Night of the Perigee Moon felt to me like something Enid Blyton might concoct were she writing today.  It has that classic feel of a fun kids’ story full of magic, reasonably innocent adventure and a plot to be foiled close to home.  All that’s missing is the ginger beer, but there’s plenty of other food-related mayhem instead!  This book is going to be read and re-read by the younger end of the middle grade bracket and would be perfect as a read-aloud for a grade four or five class.  The real action with Prosper and the perigee moon takes a little while to get going because the first third of the book is devoted to Tilly as she waits for,  discovers, then begins to tentatively use, her talent.  When the action starts however, it is a non-stop ride to the end of the book, involving bell-wearing dogs, mad fighting bats and my personal favourite, spectacular home-made millinery.

Fergal, Tilly’s brother, is a joy to read about as his ingenious and hilarious antics turn the tide for Tilly against cousin Prosper, and Tilly’s best friend Olivia is exactly the kind of person you want in your corner when you have some embarrassing secrets to divulge.  There is also a scene involving some highly imaginative insults that you’ll want to pop in your back pocket for when the appropriate situation arises!  All in all, we on the shelf recommend Night of the Perigee Moon for confident readers (or as a pre-bed read-together) for all those seeking to find the magic in the ordinariness of family life.

If you’d like to win a copy of Night of the Perigee Moon, simply fill in the entry form in the rafflecopter link here.  The giveaway is open internationally, so all residents of planet Earth should be fine to enter.  Good luck!

Now just who is the mastermind behind this fanciful romp, I hear you ask.  Well, allow me to introduce you to Juliet Jacka!

Juliet Jacka was born in Wellington. She spent her university years in Dunedin, and then headed to Canada and the UK.Juliet Jacka (small)

She’s now back in New Zealand living in one of Wellington’s hilly suburbs in a red house by a railway line with her husband and two young girls.

Juliet has wanted to write for years, in large part inspired by her love of Margaret Mahy’s young adult books. Escaping the call of writing would have been hard, as she comes from a family of bookworms and crossword fanatics.

She started writing junior fiction stories when she was on maternity leave with her first daughter (who was luckily a good sleeper).

Juliet now juggles writing with work and family life. She has a BA in English and a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism.

To find out more about the brains behind Tilly’s adventures, we forced Juliet  to answer some of our inane, burning questions!

What was it about this story that compelled you to tell it, rather than any other ideas you had floating around? And are any of your characters based on anyone in real life? (Creepy cousin Prosper, maybe?!)

I’m a huge fan of books with magic and mystery in them, and got hooked by the idea of creating my very own magical world. It was jolly fun too – I had heaps of fun dreaming up weird and wonderful talents for the Angelicas.

I don’t know any creepy cousin Prospers in real life. Which is good. He’s a proper slime ball!

Did you ever consider a role for some gargoyles in Arial Manor? And do any Angelicas have any talents related to gargoylery?

Interesting idea! I’m sure Fergal would have fun getting up to mischief with a gargoyle or two. His changeover is coming up soon after all … he might just be a contender for an Angelica with a gargoylery-related talent.

What sparked your interest in the perigee moon phenomenon? Do you think there’s any truth to the rumour that people (and creatures) tend to go a bit mad in the presence of a full moon (especially a really BIG one)?

I was busy trying to get my baby to sleep one night when I noticed that the moon was bigger than usual. I did some research – and aha! It was a perigee moon.

From there I started wondering about the things that could happen when the moon is extraordinarily large. Although I was busy juggling work and two small children, I kept sneaking in moments to write about magic, mayhem and talking animals.

I think any excuse to go a little madcap comes in handy, so yes – of course I think there’s truth to the rumour that people (and creatures) tend to go a bit mad in the presence of a full moon. Especially a really, really BIG one …

What were some of your favourite books as a kid?

It’s great this question says“some” instead of “one” (the last favourite book question I had to answer asked me to pick one – mean!). Some of the some include: The Tricksters and The Changeover by Margaret Mahy, The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery,The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner and The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien.

Your story is an award winner – congratulations! Do they give you some kind of plaque or trophy for the award? And if so, where do you keep it?

It’s a fancy certificate with my name written on it in curly writing. I’m going to frame it and stick it on the wall.

So there you have it! Thanks to Juliet for putting up with us.  I should probably also mention that Night of the imagePerigee Moon would perfectly fit into category three – a book with a specific time in the title – of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge. Quite frankly, I wish I’d thought of that while I was reading it and I would have been one up on my challenge books. Never mind.  If you’d like to find out about the Challenge, simply click on the attractive button over there.

Now, go and enter the giveaway. Shoo!

 

Mad Martha

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//