Dragon’s Green: World-building, Magic and Bookishness…

3
dragon's green

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  RRP: $19.99

When you churn through as many books as I do during a year (and even I have to admit that my reading is a tad excessive) it’s rarer and rarer to come across a story that feels truly different.  Particularly in the middle grade fantasy bracket, it’s safe to say that many stories follow similar themes, tropes and imaginings.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we all love a story with familiar themes and fantastical worlds whose workings are easy to understand – but whenever I come across a book that feels a little different, there’s always a spark of excitement that flares to life in my stony chest.  So it was with Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas, which we received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

‘Some people think opening a book is a simple thing. It’s not. Most people don’t realise that you can get truly lost in a book. You can. Especially you. Do not open any of these books without my permission, Euphemia.’

Effie is a pupil at the Tusitala School for the Gifted and Strange. When her grandfather becomes ill she discovers she is set to inherit the family library. The more she learns about it the more unusual it is. Before she knows it, her life is at risk from dark forces from this world and beyond, intent on using the books and the power they contain.

With her grandfather gone and the adult world ignoring her, can her unreliable classmates help save her life?

Packed with puzzles, curses, evil nemeses and a troupe of beguiling heroes, Dragon’s Green is an adventure novel for children about the nature of magic.

This blurb is a little misleading, because it makes Effie’s story sound just like every other hero of every other middle grade fantasy ever written.  There are multiple ways in which Dragon’s Green sticks out from the pack and I will detail them now for you (you’re welcome!).  First up, the blurb makes no mention of the world in which Effie lives.  The story is set firmly in a world very like our own…however it is a speculative world (of the future?) in which a Worldquake – like an earthquake but affecting the entire globe at once – has knocked out the internet and general access to electricity and everyone is now reliant on archaic technologies to communicate (hello walkie talkies!), conduct research and generally get along.  This worldquake and its effects are mentioned a number of times, but we are never privy to its causes or its place in the scheme of this world.  I expect this will be expanded upon in further books.

Then there’s the Otherworld.  There’s the Realworld (our world, Effie’s world, for want of a better term) and the Otherworld.  The Otherworld runs on magic and renewed access to it has some connection to the Worldquake, but this connection is not entirely clear.  Again, I expect this will become more apparent in later books.

The Realworld and the Otherworld exist independently to each other for the most part, unless an individual has the ability to perform magic.  In this aspect, the book takes a bit of a Potter-esque approach, in that magic is known about (on some level) by non-magical people, but not talked about.  The world of those possessing magic is complex.  There are multiple roles or talents that the magically endowed could be born with – mage, witch, hero, warrior, healer, scholar – as well as magical objects (called boons) that can enhance the abilities of the magical.

Finally, the link between the Realworld and the Otherworld has a strong dependence on BOOKS!  (Hooray!)  Books (certain books, not every book) provide a portal to the Otherworld for certain readers and as such are sought after by the Diberi, a sect of magical individuals who wish to harness the power of being the Last Reader of certain books.

Have I convinced you yet, that this isn’t your average “kid-discovers-they-have-magic-powers-and-embarks-on-an-action-packed-and-mildly-humorous-quest-to-save-the-world” story?

Dragon’s Green felt refreshingly grown-up in its approach to the narrative.  Effie is not hapless and bumbling, stumbling upon the answers as she develops her power and a belief in her own abilities.  She is confident, innovative and knows when to delegate.  The four supporting characters, who throughout the story grow to become friends, have backstories that are explored in enough depth to make the characters seem authentic and their motivations believable.  There are multiple plot-threads that interact with and affect each other and far too many puzzles have been raised in this initial book to be resolved by the end of the story.  Essentially, the story feels like it comes with a history that we don’t necessarily know yet…but it will be revealed by the end of the trilogy.

This book was a bit of a sleeper for me.  I was interested from the beginning, but I didn’t really appreciate the originality and complexity of the story until I was deep into the final third.  Dragon’s Green is a book that celebrates thinkers of all persuasions, not those who rush into situations with reckless abandon.  Even the warrior character is clearly a lad with the brains for strategy and a backstory to hint at more depth than one would expect of a rugby-playing troublemaker.  I also absolutely loved the way that another supporting character, Maximillian’s, talents have been revealed here and the hint that good and evil are not necessarily clear cut.

As an aside, the dustjacket of the hardback edition that I received had a little sticker proclaiming “This Book Glows in the Dark!” so I checked and it does.  When left in a dark room, the cover turns into a delightfully atmospheric green overlay featuring the moon and the book title.  Unusually, this edition has gorgeous illustrated endpapers inside a misleadingly plain purple cover.  Nice touches, I thought, and ones to make this book a keeper.

It took me a while to come to this decision, but I have to nominate Dragon’s Green as a Top Book of 2017 – it’s got too much going on to be left languishing with your common-or-garden middle grade fantasy.

top-book-of-2017-pick-button

Do yourself a favour and grab a copy today! Or, you know, once pay day rolls around.

Until next time,

Bruce

Advertisements

The Furthest Station: A DC Peter Grant Mini-Mystery…

1

the furthest station

Long time readers of the blog will be aware of we Shelf Dwellers’ love of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant urban fantasy/police procedural series of novels.  Happily, instead of making fans wait ages for the next book in the series to come out, Aaronovitch has cleverly taken to including short stories, graphic novels and exclusive audiobooks to sate the appetites of his fans.   The Furthest Station is one of these stories and it is set between books five and six of the series (that’s Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree, for those interested).  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

More than just enjoying the story presented here, I absolutely adored the shorter format.  If you have been following my reviews of this series, you’ll know that my high expectations garnered from reading the first three books led to some disappointment with some of the later books in the series.  One of my main complaints in these reviews was directed at the filler material and slow pacing that seemed to plague the stories and the shorter format of The Furthest Station rectified that problem beautifully.

Even though the tale is short, it misses none of the humour, action and unexpected twists of the novels.  The story starts off as a ghost hunt; reports of apparitions on the Chesham train line are compounded in weirdness when the victims doing the reporting apparently forget all about their complaint within a few hours of making it.  Then a chance encounter with a roving spirit on a train leads to a tip off as to the whereabouts of a possible missing woman.

There is enough in the way of mystery here to keep readers guessing and while  the magical booms and bangs are kept to a minimum there are more cerebral problems for readers to engage with.  The inclusion of Abigail, Peter’s younger magically endowed cousin, adds variety to the story as well as raising the question about how to address Abigail’s magical abilities with her parents. A new river god also makes an appearance, which, given his tender age, could make things interesting in later stories.

Having enjoyed this reading experience, I will definitely be making a point to scout out the extra material that has been included in this series, hopefully beginning with the graphic novels.  If you’re a fan of the series already, you should definitely add these short stories to your TBR and if you haven’t got started with DC Grant yet – what are you waiting for?

Until next time,

Bruce

Spellslinger: Magic, Cards and Deadly Talking Squirrel Cats For The Win!

3

spellslinger

It’s not often I run across a YA book with such original world-building, so I’m just a little bit excited to be sharing Spellslinger by Sebastien De Castell with you today.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.”

Kellen’s dreams of becoming a powerful mage like his father are shattered after a failed magical duel results in the complete loss of his abilities. When other young mages begin to suffer the same fate, Kellen is accused of unleashing a magical curse on his own clan and is forced to flee with the help of a mysterious foreign woman who may in fact be a spy in service to an enemy country. Unsure of who to trust, Kellen struggles to learn how to survive in a dangerous world without his magic even as he seeks out the true source of the curse. But when Kellen uncovers a conspiracy hatched by members of his own clan seeking to take power, he races back to his city in a desperate bid to outwit the mages arrayed against him before they can destroy his family.

Spellslinger is heroic fantasy with a western flavour.  

I know I already had you at “deadly talking squirrel cats” but this book has plenty to offer those with a penchant for stories featuring easy-to-follow world-building, an original method of magic use and subtle commentary on social hierarchies and dominant cultural myths.  Kellen is days away from taking the mages’ trials, earning a mage name and upholding his family’s honour – the only problem being that he hasn’t sparked any of the bands that will allow him to perform the spells to pass the trials and so will probably end up as a servant instead. When a wanderer arrives in town and takes an interest in Kellen, events unfold that will tear the fabric of everything Kellen believes about his world.

Spellslinger is an incredibly well-paced story, with revelations about the world and its players occurring at regular intervals.  The learning curve regarding understanding the Jan’Tep society is pleasantly tilted and explained within the action of the story so that the important features and history of the world are grasped quickly, without need for the reader to grope around trying to piece bits together and or wade through boring information dumps.

Kellen is a believable and likable character who realises that he must use his other skills – mostly his crafty, tricksy, strategising brain – to manage in the world as his magic deserts him.  Into this strict social hierarchy comes Ferius Parfax, a wandering, card-slinging, fast-talking, ass-kicking woman who manages to avoid any stereotype relating to female characters in action stories.  She is clever, cautious, compassionate and covert in equal measure and essentially performs the narrative function of holding the piece together, as well as providing the impetus for new directions at the end of the book.

The narrative balances action and danger with more philosophical questions about identity, cultural background and the injustices we perpetuate in order to maintain our own comfortable living standards.  I particularly enjoyed Kellen’s convsersations with the Dowager Magus as something peculiar in YA fiction; the adult conversations and the expectation from the Dowager Magus that Kellen would rise to her expectations intellectually felt authentic and added an extra layer of gravitas to a narrative that could otherwise have descended into your typical boy-hero-saves-world story.  Spellslinger is definitely a YA book that could be appreciated by adult readers in this sense.

The ending of the book leaves the way open for a completely different setting and story for the second book in the series and I am looking forward to seeing where Kellen’s path will take him.

And after all that I’m not going to tell you anything about the deadly talking squirrel cats.  You’ll just have to read the book.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Shelfies: DNFs with Potential…

3

image

A while ago I decided to take on a DNF (Did not finish) default policy for all books that came across my path, inspired by this post by Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings blog.  As a result, I no longer push myself to finish books when my interest is waning or I’m just not feeling the story….

…but…

…that doesn’t necessarily mean that because I decide to DNF a book, it’s because the book is bad.  Sometimes I DNF because I can’t push through fast enough, or I started off enjoying the book but then lost interest.  So it is for today’s two titles.  Read on to find out why I made the decision to put them down…and why you might like to pick them up.


 

built on bones

 

I received Built on Bones:15000 Years of Urban Life and Death by Brenna Hassett from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Humans and their immediate ancestors were successful hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but in the last fifteen thousand years humans have gone from finding food to farming it, from seasonal camps to sprawling cities, from a few people to hordes. Drawing on her own fieldwork in the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and beyond, archeologist Brenna Hassett explores the long history of urbanization through revolutionary changes written into the bones of the people who lived it.

For every major new lifestyle, another way of dying appeared. From the “cradle of civilization” in the ancient Near East to the dawn of agriculture on the American plains, skeletal remains and fossil teeth show evidence of shorter lives, rotten teeth, and growth interrupted. The scarring on human skeletons reveals that getting too close to animals had some terrible consequences, but so did getting too close to too many other people.

Each chapter of Built on Bones moves forward in time, discussing in depth humanity’s great urban experiment. Hassett explains the diseases, plagues, epidemics, and physical dangers we have unwittingly unleashed upon ourselves throughout the urban past–and, as the world becomes increasingly urbanized, what the future holds for us. In a time when “Paleo” lifestyles are trendy and so many of us feel the pain of the city daily grind, this book asks the critical question: Was it worth it?

Built on Bones is a nonfiction look at how our species evolved from roaming nomad hunter-gatherers, through a settled farming lifestyle to our current incarnation as urban couch potatoes and asks whether the trendy “paleo” way of living really is based on the actual way that hunter-gatherer societies functioned.  Hassett begins at the beginning, with the oldest remains of settled societies before moving on chapter by chapter toward our present-day urban living.  I put this one down after 109 pages – about halfway through chapter five – in the middle of an interesting discussion on equality and ways in which social power structures (in early societies as well as more modern ones) tend to shape who gets access to which food resources and how this then affects our understanding of historical societies when we dig up their bones.

This was a completely fascinating read, and one to use against that annoying “clean-eating, whole-food” aficionado that we all have in our social circle.  Hassett injects lots of humour into what is essentially an academic work, as well as plenty of footnotes that I came to think of as snide asides, and the only reason I have DNFed this as a review book is that it is taking me far too long to get through.  If you look at my Goodreads challenge you can see I’ve been reading it for over a month and I’m still only a third of the way through.  Seeing as the book is released this month, I really couldn’t see how I could possibly get through it all in order to give it a proper review in a timely fashion.

So this was a DNF for me review-wise, but I am certain that I will keep reading it until the end, although I can’t imagine how long that will take.  Definitely give it a go if you are interested in anthropology and how our access to and methods of making and consuming food impacts on our lifespan and general health.

carmer and grit

We received Carmer and Grit #1: The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.

In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.

This story is a complex steampunk/fantasy tale aimed at middle graders.  I enjoyed the initial chapters immensely, as they featured solid world building and a clean introduction to the problems that the characters were going to face later on, but I ended up putting this one down at 33%.  I have a hit and miss relationship with steampunk stories generally, but it was the magic elements of the story that put me off. I found that I was much more fascinated with the automatons that Carmer had dreams of building (and the mysterious, sinister automaton cat that appears early on) than with Grit, the fairy princess with a chip (and only one wing) on her shoulder.

While the mystery and the danger that the main characters would face was set up nicely, I just found my interest waning after a little while.  I can see this series gaining plenty of fans though, so if you enjoy your fantasy stories blended with another genre I would definitely give this one a go.


So what do you think?  Have either of these titles sparked your interest?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Superhero Sikhs, Robot Soldiers, Creative Crabs and an Oddbod Afterlife…

1

gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got four graphic novels for you today mostly for the grownups, but with one helping of YA/upper middle grade fare.  I received all of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley for review.  Let’s get gabbing!

Super Sikh (Vol 1) by Eileen Kaur Alden, Supreet Singh Manchanda, Amit Tayal & Pradeep Sherawat

super sikh

From Goodreads:

Deep Singh aka “Super Sikh” is the world’s first modern Sikh superhero comic book. Geared toward both young adults and the young at heart, Super Sikh Comics is a not-for-profit venture supporting global literacy programs and diversity in media.

In “Super Sikh”, secret agent Deep Singh is overworked and exhausted from destroying the Taliban at night and maintaining a cover job by day. He’s a big Elvis fan, and he decides to take his dream vacation to visit Graceland (Elvis’s home). Unfortunately, a crazy Taliban group decides to follow him to America and get rid of him once and for all. But Deep Singh and his team are not going down without a fight!

Target Age Range: 

YA and adult

Genre:

Superhero, secret agents, action

Art Style:

Classic superhero realism

Reading time:

This was a short, volume 1 sampler so it only took me about five minutes to get through

Let’s get gabbing:

It took me a page or two to figure out what the go was with this story, but I’m happy to report that it got funnier the further into the story I got.  There is plenty of tongue in cheek humour here and all the secret agent tropes that you would expect, with a Sikh twist.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes in which Deep is given his new gadgets for his mission (a holiday), which included a kara (the silver bracelet that Sikhs wear) that deflects bullets!  Towards the end of this sampler, poor old Deep is unfortunate enough to be on a plane to the US when it is hijacked by Mexican terrorists and of course, nobody believes that he’s trying to save the day – he’s wearing a turban after all – and he ends up incarcerated.

Overall snapshot:

I would love to see future installments in this adventure as this sample has bucketloads of potential, truckloads of subtle, subversive humour and is doing a great service to diversity in literature.

Rust: The Boy Soldier by Royden Lepp

rust

From Goodreads:

Made to look like a boy but built for battle, Jet Jones is a robot caught in the middle of an ongoing war. While trying to save as many people as he can, Jet discovers there is more to who he is and what he was made for than he could have ever imagined. His experiences in the war set him off on a journey to learn what it means to both hero and human. It is the first adventure of many for the rocket boy.

Written and illustrated by Royden Lepp, Rust: The Boy Soldier collects the previously released prologues from the first three volumes of the critically acclaimed series Rust along with the yet to be released prologue from the upcoming fourth and final installment. Together for the first time and in an all new reading order, Rust: The Boy Soldier is the complete story of Jet Jones’s time in war and the beginning of this high octane, all ages adventure.

Target Age Range: 

YA and adult

Genre:

Sci fi, war

Art Style:

Cartoon realism – dark colour palette

Reading time:

At 128 pages, but with little text, this was quite quick to get through – about ten minutes

Let’s get gabbing:

The ending of this prologue was probably the best part of it for me – in that the last few pages really piqued my interest in Jet’s future amongst humans.  The prologue itself is mostly scenes of war, in which we are introduced to Jet, a robot soldier who has incredible powers to kill and destroy but is also capable of choosing his own path.  The prologue is mostly artwork with little text, and so it was a bit tricky to get a rounded idea of what’s going on in Jet’s early world.  It’s obvious that there is a war going on, fought by both robot and human soldiers, and at some point Jet becomes unhappy with his killing capabilities, deciding instead to pursue a different way of life.  The sepia colour palette reflects the dreary, dangerous frontlines of the war and gives the overall feel of a steampunk atmosphere.

Overall snapshot:

I would like to see the second volume of Jet’s story before making a decision on whether this graphic novel is my type of read.  Having only seen the first part of Jet’s life, which centred around war, I don’t feel like I’ve got a full appreciation for what this series is going to be about.

The March of the Crabs by Arthur de Pins

march of the crabs

From Goodreads:

All species in the world evolve…except one. Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris, or the square crab, has suffered with the same evolutionary defect for millennia: it cannot change direction. Condemned to walk in one straight line forever, these crabs living along the Gironde estuary have largely resigned themselves to their fate. However, one seemingly ordinary summer, three crabs decide to take matters into their own claws and rebel against the straight and narrow path they have been sentenced to, upending the entire ecosystem in the process. From critically-acclaimed French illustrator and animator Arthur de Pins comes the first volume in his hilarious and touching trilogy about scuttling towards your own destiny.

Target Age Range: 

Adult

Genre:

Natural world, humour

Art Style:

Cartoony

Reading time:

Took me about twenty minutes to half an hour with a few short interruptions.

Let’s get gabbing:

Considering this is a one-track story (see what I did there?!) it’s remarkably engaging.  There are two plot lines unrolling simultaneously.  The first involves the crabs of the title – Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris – who have ignored any attempts at evolution and are mostly (except for a few renegades) perfectly happy to be restricted to following a straight line of travel their whole lives.  The second storyline features two documentary makers who are certain that Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris are at least as exciting as anything David Attenborough could cook up, and are intent on filming this threatened species in its natural habitat.

This is quite a funny story.  Aside from the inanity arising from the trials of a species that can only walk in a straight line, the crabby characters each have their own personalities, if not their own names.  You see, the likelihood of one crab’s path crossing another’s is so scant that the crabs don’t even bother to name themselves – what’s the point if your trajectory won’t ever bring you into hailing distance of another of your species?  I particularly enjoyed the scenes featuring a nihilistic crab who had the misfortune to be born between two large rocks.

Once the plot twist happens (**spoiler: an unlucky situation prompts a serendipitous discovery by two of the crabs) the story is suddenly plunged into action scenes which have a humour all their own.  A bombshell is dropped right at the end of this volume and I can’t imagine how life is going to change for our crusty protagonists with their new-found knowledge.  I’d like to find out though.

Overall snapshot:

I want to know what happens next for Boater, Sunny and Guitar – the three protagonist crabs – given the exciting note on which the story ends here.  If you are a fan of quirky stories and unexpectedly lovable characters, you should definitely check this graphic novel out.

Stitched #1 by Mariah McCourt & Aaron Alexovich

stitched

From Netgalley:

Crimson Volania Mulch has a problem; she just woke up in a crypt and, besides her name, has no idea of who, where, or what she is. Welcome to the Cemetery of Assumptions, a vast landscape of stones, mausoleums, and secrets. Home to monsters and mayhem, it may also hold the answers to her unknown parentage. 

Crimson is a resourceful patchwork girl and determined to find them. Along the way, she meets the mysterious Wisteria, who has a tendency to change and a witch named Parameter whose spells tend to go awry. And two boys, Simon and Quinton, who make her feel something besides lost and confused. She must battle ghosts, zombies, and monsters in order to learn where she came from and who her real “mother” is. But will she do it alone, or will she have help from her new friends and unexpected crushes?

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade/YA

Genre:

Humour, Fantasy

Art Style:

Colourful, blue-hued, busy

Reading time:

About twenty minutes

Let’s get gabbing:

This turned out to be far more cutesy in content than I would have expected given the cover, in the sense that while the characters are undead/paranormal/magical the story includes typical tropes for the upper middle grade age group, such as crushes on undead boys and squabbling amongst the girl gang.  Crimson is a bit of a mystery protagonist here in that she awakes in Assumption Cemetery with no memory of how she got there.  Luckily, she maintains quite a positive attitude despite her seeming adversity and immediately pops off to explore her surroundings, meeting some new friends along the way.

I loved the pet that turns up out of the blue as a gift for Crimson – so cute!  I also enjoyed that one of the characters is reminiscent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, because Mad Martha is currently designing an amigurumi of a similar character – that was quite topical for we shelf-dwellers. Overall though, I was a little disappointed that while the trappings of an original, intriguing paranormal world were present, the story didn’t really use these to best effect and my final impression of the story was that the characters could have been lifted out of any old pre-teen saga.

I found the formatting a bit busy for my tastes also.  There were smaller frames within middle sized frames within large frames throughout, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to miss something on each page because there was so much going on.

Overall snapshot

I’m quite happy to leave Crimson and her friends at the end of this volume.  Even though there is some mystery remaining as to who Crimson actually is and where she came from, I don’t feel like the characters and the mystery are engaging or original enough to keep my interest.  If you know of any upper middle grade readers who like fantasy, mystery and graphic novels however, they might like to give this a try.

Well, this was definitely an interesting mix to get my teeth into and generally the quality is quite high.  Have you come across any new graphic novels lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

A MG Double Dip Review: Magic and Malodorous Mischief

2

image

I hope you’ve got some stinky cheese accompanied by the sort of cracker that disappears quickly for today’s double dip review because we will be examining two middle grade titles rife with magic and malodour.

First up, it’s magic.  We received Goodly and Grave in a Bad Case of Kidnap by Justine Windsor from HarperCollins Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Goodly is the new boot girl at Grave Hall, working for the cold, aloof Lord Grave. The other staff – Vonk the Butler, Mrs Crawley the cook and Violet the scullery maid – all seem friendly but Lucy soon notices that strange things are afoot in her new home – and not just Mrs Crawley’s experimental anchovy omelettes. There are moving statues, magical books and Lord Grave has a secret. Meanwhile, all over the country, children are vanishing. Could the mystery of the missing children be linked to the strange goings-on? Lucy is determined to find out…

goodly and grave

Dip into it for…

…an original framing of magic in middle grade and unexpected twists aplenty.  Lucy is in possession of a secret playing card that seems to be imbued with some kind of magical capacity, allowing her to win every game of poker she plays.  After being inexplicably beaten by Lord Grave and subsequently required to serve as his Bootgirl, Lucy has plenty of time in which to ponder how her magic card could have let her down so badly.  The author has plotted this story to ensure that the reader can never get too comfortable with the situation at hand before a strange new revelation crops up.  I was particularly impressed with the mechanical raven (which of course is hiding a secret) and young maid Violet’s stuffed frog toy (being, as I am, a fan of stuffed toys). The illustrations throughout the book also liven things up enormously, and these, as well as the little newspaper clippings here and there, will enhance the experience of young readers.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of young children playing games of chance inside houses of ill-repute well past their bedtime.

Overall Dip Factor

This story is a bit unusual in that instead of the usual single major plot twist three quarters of the way in, there are several revelations throughout that throw Lucy’s cleverly thought-out theories on their heads and force her to go back to square one and re-evaluate who she can trust.  The narrative style is light and slightly melodramatic and a tad silly in places, so is a perfect choice for young readers who like to mix mystery and magic with a giggle here or there.  I quite enjoyed the ending, as it provides a bit of a launching pad into the second book in the series – although I can’t imagine what might happen next!  I would recommend this one for fans of plucky young not-orphan stories set in a fictional past.

Next up, we have an Aussie offering from Alex Ratt (aka Frances Watts) & Jules Faber.  We received The Stinky Street Stories from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The first thing I noticed when I woke up on Sunday morning was a mysterious smell…

When Brian (‘call me Brain – everyone does’) awakes to a truly putrid pong, he knows it is up to him and his friend Nerf to neutralise it. But that putrid pong is just the beginning, because life on Stinky Street is a riot of rotten reeks, awful aromas and sickening scents. So grab a peg (for your nose) or risk being flattened by the fumes!

Dip into it for…  stinky street

…exactly what it says on the tin.  This is a collection of four short stories featuring Brian, his friend Nerf, and a variety of antics involving stink, pong, funk, stench, reek, miasma, whiff and malodour.  I am going to go out on a not-very-distant limb here and say that this book will definitely appeal more to your average eight-to-ten year old male lover of gross stories than any other cross-section of reading society.  The stories are completely silly and accompanied by suitably amusing cartoon style illustrations and emphatic font styles to enhance the reading experience.  The stories are all quite short and while the whole book could easily be read in one sitting by a confident young reader, unless you are a whopping great fan of stench-based narrative, it might be a good idea to take the stories one at a time.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of kid’s books that revel in being a bit majorly gross.

Overall Dip Factor

While this was not a book that I particularly got much out of as an adult reader, I will admit to perking up a bit upon the introduction of the Sweet Street Girls in the final two stories of the book.  This gang of girls (who live on Sweet Street – as opposed to Brian and Nerf, who live on Stinky Street) are witty, intrepid and unafraid of toil if it means turning the tables on the Stinky Boys.  These last two stories gave me a bit of hope that there might be a not-entirely-stink-based direction for these stories should there be a second book in this series.  I’d say this is strictly one for young fans of books in the style of Captain Underpants and Andy Griffith’s Bum books.

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Past and Future War

1

gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve been diving into the graphic novels with gusto so far this year and today I have two eye-pleasing tomes that deal with the spectre of past and future conflict.  One is realistic in tone, while the other pits three young mages against a world in which futuristic machines have resulted in the downfall of humanity.  We received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley for review.

The Lighthouse by Paco Roca

From Goodreads:

Francisco, a wounded, despairing sixteen-year-old Republican guard in the Spanish Civil War, is trying to flee to freedom by crossing the French border. In his escape, he encounters an old remote lighthouse, far from the warring factions. He is granted shelter by Telmo, the aging operator of the lighthouse. As Francisco recuperates, Telmo’s tales of epic adventurers who sailed the lost seas and discovered worlds unknown reignite the spark of life in the young soldier.

the-lighthouse

The underlying dark themes of war and violence are reflected in the monochromatic art in The Lighthouse.  The story opens on the escape attempt of Francisco, a young soldier who is offered sanctuary by elderly but cheerful Telmo, the keeper of a lighthouse.  As Francisco learns more about the lighthouse and its workings, and assists Telmo in building a boat from the flotsam that washes up on the beach, he begins to heal from his experiences and question his commitment to his cause.  When events take an unexpected turn for Francisco later in the story, he is forced to take his fate into his own hands and decide what kind of life he wants to lead.

The Lighthouse deals with the sort of choices that, when made, define a life.  Telmo has made his choices in life and is content to keep the lighthouse in order in anticipation for the day when the government will send a new bulb to restore the lighthouse to full function.  Francisco, who was previously unwavering in his commitment to his ideals, begins to think for himself under Telmo’s fanciful guidance.

This is not an overly long read, but it certainly packs a punch and will generate discussion about loyalties to duty and to self, and the sacrifices that individuals make to attain their goals.  This would be an interesting inclusion in a secondary or university course focusing on ethics.

The Castoffs V.1: Mage Against the Machine by M.K. Reed, Brian Smith & Molly Ostertag

From Goodreads:

It’s Mage against the Machine! Magic vs technology in Roar’s newest graphic novel. When three apprentice mages are sent to help a neighboring guild, they reignite a decades-old war with a robot army that has destroyed the world.

the-castoffs

This opening volume of The Castoffs seems like it will be a welcome addition to the collection of graphic novels being released that feature strong female protagonists and characters from diverse backgrounds.  The story opens on a historical battle between mages and “surrogates” – machines that were created to assist humanity but have caused chaos and carnage.  Our three protagonists, Charris, Ursa and Thrinh, are from a later period in history, when the use of technology has been largely abandoned and mages are free – mostly – to use their skills.  The three young women are chosen to fulfill what seems to be a simple delivery job, but on arriving at their destination it becomes apparent that there is much more afoot than the trivial errand on which they were sent.

Cue the discovery of a resurgence of surrogate use and the difficult decisions that follow: do the girls attempt to put down the uprising alone or return to the Guild for help?  Can the three get along for long enough to obtain a result?  And what skills are some of the girls hiding and why?

After a start that didn’t exactly draw me in, I warmed to the characters and became absorbed in the intrigue unfolding before them.  The bickering between the girls was by turns amusing and irritating, but by the end of the book most of that had been put aside in favour of interesting reveals and kick-ass magic skills.  I think this will greatly appeal to readers of graphic novels aimed at the YA market, as well as those who just love a good story featuring magic versus technology.  The diverse female protagonists will also be a drawcard for those specifically seeking out wide representation in their reads.

Overall, this was a promising, action-packed start to the series and I am interested to see where some of the cliffhanger plot points go from here.

Until next time,

Bruce