The Lotterys Plus One: A Top Book of 2017 Pick!

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Yes, I know my last Top Book of 2017 pick was only last week, but today’s book completely earns the badge by being utterly original and beguiling and packed with such diversity it would make a conservative Christian’s head explode.

That got you interested, didn’t it?

We received The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue (author of adult novels Room and The Wonder amongst others) from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet the Lotterys: a unique and diverse family featuring four parents, seven kids and five pets – all living happily together in their big old house, Camelottery. Nine-year-old Sumac is the organizer of the family and is looking forward to a long summer of fun.

But when their grumpy and intolerant grandad comes to stay, everything is turned upside down.How will Sumac and her family manage with another person to add to their hectic lives?

Internationally bestselling author Emma Donoghue’s first novel for children, with black-and-white illustrations throughout, is funny, charming and full of heart.

the lotterys

Although I have bestowed a TBo2017 title upon this tome, I will admit that it took me a chapter or two to get my bearings within this unconventional family.  Sumac is the middle child (ish) of seven.  She has two fathers – PopCorn and PapaDum – who are a committed couple.  She also has two mothers – MaxiMum and CardaMum – who are similarly in a committed relationship.  All four adults co-parent the brood of children who comprise biological children (of various of the parents) and adopted children, of which Sumac is one.  The cultural backgrounds of the family members include Indigenous Canadian, African, Indian, Caucasian and Filippina. The family live in a century-old house and are home schooled because the parents had the good fortune of winning the lottery – hence the family’s surname (The Lotterys) and the name of their dwelling (Camelottery).

You may be getting a bit of an idea by now as to why this book may not appeal to readers of a more conservative political bent.

The first thing you will have to get used to in this unusual book is that everything has a nickname.  As well as the parents’ nicknames, the children are all named after trees (and then their names are often shortened), and every room in their house has a punny name of its own.  Even the unsuspecting grandfather who is drawn into the organised chaos is given a fitting nickname – Grumps.  Because we are dumped straight into the fray from the first chapter, it was a little disorienting trying to sort everyone out into their proper place in the family, although this did turn out to be a good narrative device to demonstrate the busy nature of the family’s life.

Essentially, this is a book about a family dealing with an unexpected new arrival and having to work together to restore equilibrium to all their lives.  When PopCorn’s father, who is estranged from his son, develops dementia and is deemed unable to live on his own, he is taken in by the Lotterys, despite his obvious dislike of pretty much everything to do with the place – his son’s decision to partner with a man,  the multicultural mix of residents, the fact that one of the children prefers to be addressed as a boy even though she’s a girl, the pet rat, the “exotic” food, ad infinitum.  The story develops through Sumac’s eyes as she tries her hardest to be the helpful and logical child that she thinks her parents expect her to be.

Sumac is a delightful narrator.  Through her experience the reader really feels what it must be like for a child who loves her family and its quirks yet is consumed by annoyance and, at times, downright anger that this interloper, her grandfather, has the power to unravel the wall of familial protection that Sumac has built around herself.  The siblings of the dwelling are well written, each with his or her own personality and a healthy dose of sibling rivalry and antagonism which stops the story from descending into an unrealistic depiction of siblings of various ages living together.  After a few eye-rolls related to (a) my jealousy of the luck of the parents in winning the lottery and living the dream and (b) some of the hipster antics that they get up to, I appreciated the difficulties experienced by the adults as they try to negotiate their responsibilities toward a family member who is making life difficult for everyone in the dwelling.

The original setting and the unique family unit in The Lotterys Plus One slowly drew me in and won me over and I found myself eager to get back to the story every evening before sleep.  I expected this book to be a stand alone, so complicated was the set-up of the family situation, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that a sequel is already planned and titled (The Lotterys More or Less).

If you want to be surprised, challenged, confused, bemused and amused by a children’s book, I can’t do better than recommend The Lotterys Plus One to you.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fi50 Reminder and Double Dip Review

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fi50

It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

button_when-one-door-shuts

Good luck!


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I don’t know about you but I’m all chocolated out after Easter, so I’ll be opting for a savoury snack to accompany my musings about one middle grade sci-fi comedy novel and one YA coming of age tale.  Grab your snack and let’s nosh on!

First up we have The Broken Bridge by Phillip Pullman which we received from PanMacmillan Australia for review.  This is a re-release of the novel which was first published in 1994 and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At 16, Ginny finds that her love of painting connects her to the artistic Haitian mother she never knew and eases the isolation she feels as the only mixed-race teen in her Welsh village. When she learns she has a half-brother by her father’s first marriage, her world is shattered. Ginny embarks on a quest for the truth that will allow her to claim her artistic heritage–and face her father.

the broken bridge

Dip into it for…

…a solid family drama with authentic characters and believable problems.  Ginny is a resilient young woman with a strong desire to be an artist like her mother was, but is plagued by the usual stressors and angst that most teens fall victim to at sometime or other during adolescence.  She has the added problem of trying to catch hold of a solid identity as a girl with a Welsh father and Haitian mother while living in an almost all-white village.  The secrets hinted at in the blurb are revealed slowly and by about a third of the way through the book I began to share Ginny’s bewilderment about what on major hidden aspect she might find out about her past next.  The pacing is well done, allowing the reader to get a grasp on Ginny, her friends and the general feel of her hometown before throwing in the confusion of multiple family secrets.  Kudos to Pullman also for creating a social worker character who is actually human, rather than overbearing, cold-hearted and disconnected or patronising.

Don’t dip if…

…you want simple resolutions to easily-solved problems.  Every story has two sides here, even that of the villainous Joe Chicago.

Overall Dip Factor

This is an engaging coming of age story that paints family breakdown, death and abuse in a believable light without resorting to gratuitous teen melodrama.  By the end of the book the reader can appreciate how Ginny has matured in her outlook despite not having all the answers about how she will present herself in the world.  I enjoyed this book for its authentic portrayal of a young person carving out a place for herself in her family and in the world.

Next we have How to Outsmart a Billion Robot Bees, the second in the Genius Factor books featuring Nate and Delphine, by Paul Tobin.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and we will be submitting this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in the category of a book with a red spine and the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 AND my Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge in the category of something you’d take on a hunt.  I reckon a billion robot bees would be pretty handy.  You can check on my progress for all the challenges I’m undertaking this year here.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s Friday the 13th again, and for sixth grade genius Nate Bannister, that means doing three more not-so-smart things to keep life interesting. But he has bigger problems than his own experiments. His nemesis, the Red Death Tea Society, is threatening to unleash a swarm of angry bees on the city of Polt if Nate doesn’t join their ranks. But then a new group of people with murky intentions shows up — the League of Ostracized Fellows — and they want Nate as their own, too. To top it off, he’s convinced there’s a spy in his very own school.

Nate must once again team up with his new, resourceful, friend Delphine to save the day. They’ll need the help of Nate’s crazy gadgets, such as his talking car Betsy and super-powered pets Bosper the Scottish terrier and Sir William the gull, if they hope to see another Friday the 13th. Because they might be battling more than just sting-happy bees and villains with a penchant for tea this time around.

Dip into it for… billion robot bees

…silliness, wild inventions and bee stings in sensitive places.  I do enjoy the quirky tone and dry yet silly humour that Tobin has created in these books.  There is a certain imagery conjured up by his writing that is truly giggleworthy.  Nate and Delphine are also a fun pair and the introduction of Melville – a friendly robot bee adopted by Delphine – adds to the action in this installment.  Bosper, Nate’s genetically modified talking dog stole the show for me in this book however – something about his manner of speaking just cracked me up every time.  The plot of this one seemed a lot more straightforward than in the first book despite the inclusion of the socially awkward League of Ostracised Fellows and everybody, including the jealous Betsy the car, had a role to play in saving Polt from bee-mageddon: The Sting-en-ing.

Don’t dip if…

…you are after fast-paced action.  The one quarrel I have with these stories is that the quirky humour, when added to the action sequences, slows down the pace of the story interminably.  My edition clocked in at 340ish pages and by about halfway I was ready for the resolution to start coming into play.  While the humour is a massively important part of these books, the constant banter does really slow things down when it feels like things should be speeding up.

Overall Dip Factor

I can’t remember why I didn’t finish the first book in this series, but I think it was something to do with the pacing and a lag in the middle.  This book does suffer from the same ailment in my opinion, but I got a lot further along in this story before I really felt the lag, compared to the first book.  Nate and Delphine are so likable and the style of humour so enjoyable that I would still pick up a third in the series, but I would be hoping that the story overall would move a bit quicker.

Right, I’m ready for chocolate again after that.  Have you read either of these books?  Do you like a bit of silly, quirky comedy?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday and a reminder for Fi50 October…

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

 

Fiction in 50 for October kicks off on Monday with a democratic prompt:

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You fill in the blank!

To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.


TBR Friday

In a herculean effort that involved reading really thin books, I have managed to knock over THREE tomes for the Mount TBR Challenge this month – hooray!

Let’s get cracking then.  First up was Oddfellow’s Orphanage by Emily Winfield Martin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What do an onion-headed boy, a child-sized hedgehog, and a tattooed girl have in common? They are all orphans at Oddfellow’s Orphanage! This unusual and charming chapter book tells an episodic story that follows a new orphan, Delia, as she discovers the delights of her new home. From classes in Cryptozoology and Fairy Tale Studies to trips to the circus, from Annual Hair Cutting Day to a sea monster-sighting field trip, things at Oddfellows are anything but ordinary . . . except when it comes to friendships. And in that, Oddfellows is like any other school where children discover what they mean to each other while learning how big the world really is.

oddfellows-orphanage

Ten Second Synopsis:
Delia arrives at Oddfellow’s Orphanage only to discover an array of quirky and whimsical inhabitants. Gentle adventures ensue.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Two years and six months.  I ordered it in April 2014.

Acquired:

Purchased from the BD.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

I bought it because the cover was so beautiful, but then I read some critical reviews on Goodreads about it, so I left it languishing, afraid it would be terrible.

Best Bits:

  • It’s short, gentle, episodic and whimsical.  Nothing particularly bad happens and overall this felt like a hipsterish offering, but with good intentions.
  • Each chapter introduces a new cheerful adventure that is unconnected (for the most part) to the others, so the book can be read one chapter at a time over a long period.  This is how I approached it.
  • The black and white pencil illustrations are gorgeous and fill out the characters a bit.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • There’s no connected plot, just a collection of stories about the people who live in the orphanage, so there is no particular motivation to finish the book if you’re bored.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Nope.

Where to now for this tome?

Give away or sell at a suitcase rummage.

Next up, I read the first two books from Bruce Coville’s The Magic Shop series, starting with The Monster’s Ring.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twist it once, you’re horned and haired;
Twist it twice and fangs are bared;
Twist it thrice? No one has dared!

Russell is sure that the ring he gets at Mr. Elives’ shop is just a silly magic trick, but he follows the instructions and twists the ring twice anyway–and becomes a monster!

the-monsters-ring

Ten Second Synopsis:
Russell has a problem with a bully at school.  When he unexpectedly comes across a magic shop after getting lost, he finds that the solution to his problems might be right within his grasp.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

One year and eleven months.  I ordered it in November 2014.

Acquired:

Purchased from the BD.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Laziness.

Best Bits:

  • This is a quick read, in which very few words are wasted on filler.  It really is the kind of middle grade book you can knock over in a night or two, which is what the author intended according to the author’s note that is included with this edition.
  • The magic shop is appropriately creepy and mysterious – exactly the kind of magical establishment that a middle-grade aged kid would love to stumble across.
  • The ending is a little unexpected and quite funny.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • This is a re-issue of the original book, so the boy on the cover looks absolutely nothing like the boy in the interior illustrations.
  • The plot is quite predictable for the most part, and there are a few moments when the solution to Russell’s predicament is bleedingly obvious – use the ring! – but for some reason he takes a while to figure that out.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I probably could have borrowed it for the library.

Where to now for this tome?

Give away to someone of the intended age group.

Finally, I finished the second book in Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop series, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Sixth-grader Jeremy Thatcher discovers a strange magic shop he has never seen before. He enters, and his life is changed forever. Buying what he thinks is a marble, he discovers he has really purchased a dragon’s egg.

jeremy-thatcher-dragon-hatcher

Ten Second Synopsis:
Jeremy Hatcher is a fantastic artist but his art teacher hates how he only draws imaginary things.  When Jeremy stumbles across a magic shop, he discovers that dragons may exist outside his imagination.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Six months to a year.  I picked it up sometime in 2015.

Acquired:

Bought at a second hand book sale because I knew I had The Monster’s Ring already on the shelf.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

I hadn’t read the first in the series, so I was waiting until I had knocked that one over.

Best Bits:

  • This book is a little heftier than the first in the series and the characters were more fleshed out and felt more genuine.
  • There’s quite a bit of situational humour in this one, as well as the predicament of Jeremy having an unwanted love interest.
  • The problems that Jeremy has to face were pitched at exactly the right level for the middle grade audience, with friendships, forgiveness and facing criticism and disappointment some of the themes appearing in addition to the fantasy elements.
  • The scene in which Jeremy finds the magic shop follows the same scene from book one almost word for word, which I thought was a pretty cool way to link two stories in a series that are otherwise completely separate.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • The adult characters aren’t as authentic-feeling as the child characters.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I probably could have borrowed it for the library.

Where to now for this tome?

Give away to someone of the intended age group.

Count that as three more chinks off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block and I have now achieved Level 1 of the challenge: Pike’s Peak, or twelve books!

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Win an MG or YA title!” Edition (with an Aus only giveaway!)

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Well, it looks like this week shall henceforth be known as “Bruce’s Mega Awesome Week of Giving Stuff Away” because in addition to my participation in the Stuck in a Good Book Hop (international), I’ve got a giveaway for Australian residents today, another giveaway for Australian residents on tomorrow (with a prize for adult readers this time), and I’m participating in a completely new international Hop on Friday, for internationals who wish to win stuff.

Whew!

Before I launch into our Round-Up, let me just say that if you are an Australian resident, I am giving you the opportunity to WIN one of the books I am reviewing today – huzzah!  

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win.  

The winning comment will be chosen by a random number generator at the end of the giveaway.  The giveaway will run from now (go!) until midnight on Sunday the 16th of October, 2016, Brisbane time.  We’re NOT on daylight savings, by the way.  

Good luck!

Now, on to the books!

Swarm: Zeroes #2 (Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti)

*We received a copy of Swarm from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September, 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September, 2016. RRP: $19.99

The Zeroes are trying to make a safe space in which to explore their new-found powers, but their world is shattered by the appearance of two newcomers who seem to have no regard for ordinary people. Not only that, but they look like they’re bringing danger in their wake.

Muster up the motivation because…

…given the hype that surrounded Zeroes, the first book in this series, it stands to reason that fans would want to be getting their grabby hands on Swarm.  I had heard of this series, and in particular, the interesting three-author aspect of it, but had not read Zeroes when Swarm landed on my doorstep.  For the uninitiated, the book follows the fates of a small band of teenagers who have developed a range of what could be termed superpowers.  These range from seeing through other peoples’ eyes, to deflecting the attention of others away from oneself, to the ability to destroy electronic equipment with the power of the mind.  Interestingly though, it appears that these powers only seem to manifest in people within a certain age range, and usually have some connection to crowds and the energy generated by crowds.  As I said, I haven’t read the first in the series, but the authors have gone to great lengths to inform new readers of what’s what in the first few chapters.  The book flicks back and forth between the points of view of all the Zeroes – about six in all, who all have code names as well as regular names.  I found this to be a handy way to quickly be introduced to each character and their power, as well as to get a handle on some of the happenings of book one.  After the opening round of chapters however, the constant switching between perspectives really slowed the pace.  I grew a little bored with hearing about various situations from each person’s point of view and a few plot points get rehashed over and over as certain characters have to explain to other characters things that we, as readers, already know, because we just experienced it through the point of view of the character it happened to.  I ended up DNFing Swarm at Chapter 23, or 135 pages of the total 388, not because it was a sub-par read, but because I felt I had missed out on some of the action and excitement and character connection that may have been generated in the first book.  I would recommend starting at the beginning (which is what I plan to now do) if you think this series sounds like your cup of superpowered tea.

Brand it with:

Teen super-angst; secret societies; crowd  control

Artie and the Grime Wave (Richard Roxburgh)

*We received a copy of Artie and the Grime Wave from Allen & Unwin for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  

Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh.  Published by Allen & Unwin, Octboer 2016.  RRP: $16.99

Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh. Published by Allen & Unwin, Octboer 2016. RRP: $16.99

Since his dad died and his mum became catatonic from grief, Artie has navigated life under the care of his shouty big sister and with the help of his best mate Bumshoe. When the boys stumble across a potential (no, probable…okay, definite) stash of stolen goods, they must work to unravel an organised crime racket that (probably) goes all the way to the top.

Muster up the motivation because…

…apart from the slightly disturbing illustrations that sort of creeped me out, Artie and the Grime Wave is a fun and bizarre adventure for primary school kids.  Artie is an unassuming young lad with an over-sized best friend who happens to bear the nickname Bumshoe, and for those reasons alone, attracts the unwanted attention of local bullies.  On the plus side though, Artie is also surrounded by a collection of family and friends to support him.  There’s his mum (stricken with grief), his sister (Shouty McShoutface), Aunty-boy (the crazy, lolly-giving lady down the street) and the lovely Ukrainian family next door who may have hidden talents (the Unpronounceable-enkos).  So you see, despite being picked on by ruffians, Artie has plenty of oddity to keep him busy and distracted.  When Artie and Bumshoe accidentally stumble upon some stolen goods, Artie’s life takes a turn for the adventurous as he and his strange collection of family, friends and neighbours fall into a dastardly hotbed of organised crime.  The humour here is a familiar Australian blend of dry and silly and characters alone make the story funny enough to keep youngsters entertained.  The book is illustrated here and there throughout (with the aforementioned slightly creepy and unnecessarily toothy pictures) and also employs some different fonts to mix things up a bit.  All in all, this story can probably best be compared to the style of David Walliams, except with a bit more Aussie grittiness.  I would definitely recommend this one to young readers who prefer their reading to feature a bit of larrikinism, a bit of stealth and silliness and a bit of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure.

Brand it with:

Where have all the flowers pets and whitegoods gone?; suburban skulduggery; everybody needs good neighbours

The Wolf Wilder (Katherine Rundell)

*We received a copy of The Wolf Wilder from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  wolf-wilder

Feo and her mother are wolf wilders; wolves kept by the Russian aristocracy as pets are brought to Feo and her mother when they are no longer welcome amongst polite society, and the women retrain the wolves to live as wild animals.  When the women are warned by Russian soldiers that they will be arrested if they are seen with any more wolves, Feo’s life is turned upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a beautifully presented book with an engaging concept for lovers of animal stories and historical fiction.  I have to say up front that I made the decision to stop reading this one quite early on, after about four chapters, because the story looked like it was heading towards war and soldiers breaking down doors and young children (Feo in particular) fleeing for their lives, and I didn’t feel like I was in the mindset to take that in, even in a children’s book.  I am offering it for giveaway though because the book is absolutely gorgeous and I know some of you would love the opportunity to immerse yourself in this story.  The black and white illustrations are atmospheric and the story (or what I read of it) has a definite fable-like tenor, but also a strong feel of realism and authentic historical flavour.  I’d recommend The Wolf Wilder to readers young and old who like realistic adventure, historical fiction, animal stories and more than a hint of magic.

Brand it with:

An icy reception; howling good reads; animal adventure

Alright Aussies!

Don’t forget to comment on this post with the title of the book that most takes your fancy to be in with a chance to win it!  Good luck 🙂

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Word Nerd: A Middle Grade Read-It-If Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

You know that wonderful feeling when you get a run of books that you’ve just really enjoyed reading?  Well I’ve had that feeling all this week.  Apart from yesterday’s Top Book of 2016 pick, I’ve got some other great reads coming up this week that gave me a cheery glow in the very pit of my stony heart.  Today’s book is one of those glow-makers.  We received our copy of Word Nerd by Susan Nielsen from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ambrose Bukowski is a twelve-year-old with a talent for mismatching his clothes, for saying the wrong thing at the worst possible time, and for words. In short, he’s a self-described nerd. Making friends is especially hard because he and his overprotective mother, Irene, have had to move so often. And when bullies at his latest school almost kill him by deliberately slipping a peanut into his sandwich to set off his allergy, it’s his mother who has the extreme reaction. From now on, Ambrose has to be home-schooled.

Then Ambrose strikes up an unlikely friendship with the landlord’s son, Cosmo, an ex-con who’s been in prison. They have nothing in common except for Scrabble. But a small deception grows out of control when Ambrose convinces a reluctant Cosmo to take him to a Scrabble club. Could this spell disaster for Ambrose?

word-nerd

Read it if:

*you are a kitchen scrabble player looking for ways to step into the big leagues

*you can’t go past a good “dark horse” story

*you enjoy reading about (peanut free) baklava as much as you enjoy eating it

*you’ve ever made a friend that your parents considered to be a bad influence

*you tend to judge books (read: people) by their rotund, malodorous or otherwise unflattering covers

I’ve had Word Nerd on my Book Depository wishlist – you know, that list of 1000+ books that I will buy when I win the lotto – for quite a while so when I saw it come up on Netgalley I jumped at the chance to review it.  After all, how could I, a bona fide, dyed in the stone, word nerd pass up a book about word-nerdery, especially one aimed at a middle grade audience?

Clearly, I could not.

This is one of those middle grade reads that can be enjoyed by older readers mostly due to the fact that it takes place, for the most part, outside the trope-laden school setting.  Ambrose is home-schooled (by the time a few chapters have passed) due mostly to his mother’s overblown anxiety about his well-being and therefore the book is free from the stereotypical child characters one might usually find in books for this age group.  Instead, Word Nerd feels like a book for a grown up (or growing up) audience, as Ambrose is forced by necessity and circumstance to take a look at himself and decide what kind of person he wants to be.

The thing about this book that pleased me the most was the authenticity of the characterisation.  Ambrose is a genuine rendering of a twelve (nearly thirteen) year old boy, with all the misplaced confidence, anxiety, awkwardness, and interest in pubescent issues that being a twelve (nearly thirteen) year old boy entails.  The author doesn’t gloss over the grown-up issues that Ambrose is confronted with through his interactions with his upstairs neighbour, Cosmo – including, but not limited to, jail time and drug use – but neither are these gratuitously exploited.  Essentially, Ambrose reads like an unfeigned interpretation of a young boy attempting to make his own choices and emerge, flaws and all, from his mother’s protective shadow.

I knocked this one over in only a few sittings because the narrative was both absorbing and undemanding, and peppered with quirky but real-seeming characters.  I’d definitely recommend this for young readers of middle grade who can handle some grown-up issues, or for older readers looking for a charming and memorable pre-coming of age tale that is wordy in all the right places.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Timestoppers: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Today’s offering is a middle grade, magical, wintry adventure: perfectly atmospheric if you live in the southern hemisphere, and one to help you cool down a bit if you happen to be sweating it out in a northern hemisphere summer.  We received our copy of Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones from Bloomsbury Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Annie Nobody thought she was, well, nobody; living in a nowhere town where nothing goes her way. Day one at her newest foster home proves to be dreadful, too …and things get even worse when she’s chased by something big and scary that definitely wants to eat her. Luckily for Annie, not everything is what it seems, and she gets swept up – literally – by a sassy dwarf on a hovercraft snowmobile and taken to Aurora: a hidden, magical town on the coast of Maine. There, she finds a new best friend in Jamie Hephastion Alexander – who thought he was a normal kid (but just might be a troll) – and Annie discovers that she’s not exactly who she thought she was, either. She’s a Time Stopper, meant to protect the enchanted.

Together, Annie and Jamie discover a whole new world of magic, power, and an incredible cast of creatures and characters. But where there’s great power, there are also those who want to misuse it, and Aurora is under siege. It’s up to the kids to protect their new home, even if it means diving head first into magical danger. A thrilling adventure with heroes children will relate to – and more than a smattering of magic!

timestoppers

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones:

  1. Never make the decision to dispose of a garden gnome lightly.  Apart from the fact that artistic integrity is everything in backyard design, it could be an important magical artifact whose removal could bring about the collapse of magical society.

  2. When you are burdened with the surname “Nobody” it is a given that the universe will ensure you end up being a “somebody”.

  3. Never underestimate the power of a fluffy dog to bring hope to the bleakest of circumstances.

  4. Librarians always know more than they are saying.

  5. If your angry, bullish relatives consistently look at you while drooling and making noises that indicate unsatisfied hunger, you should ensure that you are either an excellent cook or an excellent runner.

Time Stoppers is an adventurous middle grade offering with some highly original elements and a few problems with pacing.  To highlight the positives first, the book features two protagonists – Annie and Jamie -who are likeable, down-to-earth, and will appeal to most readers of the target age group.  The story is told in chapters that alternate between Annie and Jamie’s situations and this definitely boosts the engagement factor.  Annie is a foster child who is on her last placement…which turns out to be a horrid, trailer-based version of the Cinderella story.  Jamie lives with his father and grandmother, neither of whom show him any affection and demonstrate their opinion of him through hostility and bullying.  However, both of the children seem to be natural optimists, and try to find hope in what look like hopeless situations.    When strange happenings start to kick off, both Annie and Jamie take it in their stride and try to make the best of a bizarre situation.

Some of the magical elements are quite original for a middle grade fantasy tale – magical creatures who get around on hovering snowmobiles, for instance, and the important role of the garden gnome (I’ve always said there should be more books featuring garden gnomes!) – and there is plenty of humour in the banter between our heroes and their new friends from Aurora.  Eva Beryl-Axe, the battle-ready dwarf girl, is the main source of this humour and most of the wacky situations in which the children find themselves are related, in part, to Eva’s impulsive ideas.  The city of Aurora is peopled with a wide variety of magical beings, some dangerous, most benign.

The two major problems I had with the story were pacing and the way in which the magic is presented.  After an action-packed and magnetic set of opening chapters, which include a chase by trolls, a house fire and the appearance of a dwarf on a hovering snowmobile, the children are introduced to the city of Aurora and the pace slows to a crawl.  Obviously, some world-building is necessary to introduce the town, its purpose and its inhabitants, but I found that the time the children spend in Aurora – and it is a significant portion of the book – really damaged my engagement with the characters and their struggles.  Although there are some indications that the town is not safe for the children, for a considerable amount of time the kids sit and ponder the meaning of their new existence in this magical space, and things just get a bit tedious.  It was in this section that the dual-perspective narrative really didn’t help the story, as we had to experience the town from the point of view of Annie, then Jamie, in turn, when both had similar feelings about the place. The pace does pick up again in the final third of the book with the introduction of the villain, but by then the slow-paced middle section had done its work and I was not as invested as I could have been in the outcome of the action.

My second problem with the story was the scatty way in which the magic, its rules and limitations were introduced.  There is a lot of magical stuff going on within the story, but I didn’t feel like it was explained well enough to make it believable.  For example, Annie is a Time Stopper – but the concept of this and why it is important and even how it works, isn’t explained until toward the end of the book and even then it is glossed over as the action takes precedence.  Similarly, there seem to be many different types of magic going on within the town, through its inhabitants and even its buildings and books, but there is a bit of a sense that anything goes; that any type of magic one might think of could happen just because one would like it to be so.

For example, in one scene, a note and pen appear out of thin air and disappear when their function has been served, a series of words and arrows appear to guide a character along within a house, and dishes wash themselves.  Who is making this happen? Is the house itself magical? If not, is it the inhabitants casting a spell?  If so, how does that work?  I really felt that more needed to be done in developing the hows and whys of the magical world, in order to make it more believable.  Admittedly, this may not particularly bother readers in the target age group, but I prefer a narrative in which the limitations and workings of the fantasy elements are clear, so that I can better engage with the characters and their struggles.

Overall, as a series opener, I think this book was more focused on introducing the characters, the setting of Aurora and the beginnings of Annie and Jamie’s powers than providing a particularly terrifying or worrying villain to vanquish.  The ending opens the way for the villain to be developed in the second book, so perhaps I will find more of what I hoped for in the next offering.  As it stands, Time Stoppers is an ambitious and original example of the genre and should be well received by readers in the target age range.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

An Odd TBR Friday and Fi50 Reminder…

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Before we kick off with another TBR Friday, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for April opens on Monday, with the prompt…

born to...

(You fill in the blank!)

To participate, just create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and link it up or post it in the comments of the Fi50 post on Monday.  For more detailed instructions and future prompts, just click here.
TBR Friday

I feel so productive on TBR Fridays!  I’m knocking another one off the enormous, ever-growing pile today and I feel this one counts double as it is a collection of short stories.  In fact, Oddest of All by Bruce Coville is the third in a series of short story anthologies from the aforementioned Bruce Coville.

oddest of all

Ten Second Synopsis:

This tome comprises nine short stories that all feature a bit of oddity.  All but one have a fantastical or sci-fi twist to them and the subjects range from werefrogs to unicorns to ghosts to doing what you’re told.

**Side note: I have just noticed something super weird – the cover in the image above says “Eighteen Odd stories” but the book I have in my hand (ostensibly the EXACT SAME edition), says NINE short stories…Odd indeed!**

Time on the TBR Shelf:

I can’t remember exactly, but I know I acquired this one in the dying months of 2015.

Acquired:

From the Cystic Fibrosis charity bookshop at Nundah that sells off all the books withdrawn from the BCC library’s collection.

Reason I Haven’t Read it Yet:

No particular reason except that other shinier newer books have taken my fancy.  It was one of those books that you pick up on a whim knowing that you won’t get to it immediately.

Best Bits:

  • The stories are all reasonably quick reads, with only one or two that stretch out a bit longer.  This is great because you can dip into a story here or there before sleep without too much difficulty.
  • Most of the stories had a humorous element to them so the collection reminded me of reading Paul Jenning’s brilliant anthologies as a mini-fleshling
  • My favourite stories in this collection were The Thing in Aunty Alma’s Pond, The Mask of Eamonn Tiyado and Herbert Hutchison in the Underworld because they all had a slightly creepy twist to them
  • Some of the stories here are shorter versions of a larger series, such as The Ghost Let Go, so there is scope for readers to continue the adventure in a longer reading experience

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I did feel that I had seen some of these stories before…not the actual stories of course, but the themes and plot twists.  I suspect this is because I have read quite a few short story anthologies aimed at this age group, especially from people like Anthony Horowitz and Neal Shusterman, who have covered similar topics

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it was only $2, yes.

Where to now for this tome?

It will go to the permanent shelf at least until I decide I need more space or find someone who would really enjoy it.

That’s one more handhold grasped on my way up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block!

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

Magrit: An MG Good, Sad and Quirky Review…

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Today’s review nearly ended up being a “Great Expectations…” review because my level of expectation for today’s book was impossibly high, but I have decided to unleash my psyche on you instead.  Magrit by Lee Battersby (author of such bizarre adult fiction favourites of the shelf as The Corpse-Rat King and The Marching Dead) is a middle grade, beautifully presented foray into a graveyard full of surprises.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Magrit lives in an abandoned cemetery with her friend and advisor, Master Puppet, whom she built from bones and bits of graveyard junk. One night as Magrit and Master Puppet sit atop of their crumbling chapel, a passing stork drops a baby into the graveyard. Defying Master Puppet’s demands that the baby be disposed of, and taking no heed of his dire warnings, Magrit decides to raise the baby herself. She gives him a name: Bugrat. Magrit loves Bugrat like a brother But Master Puppet know all too well what will happen when Bugrat grows up – that the truth about them all will be revealed.

magrit

The Good:image

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and have wished that there existed a book very like it, but suited to a younger audience, Lee Battersby has fulfilled that wish in Magrit.  The book is set in a beautifully atmospheric cemetery, wherein the inhabitants lie forgotten and a self-contained, private sanctuary has been chiseled out of the silence.  Magrit is an easy character to follow along with; a carefree nearly-ten year old, whose imagination is fed to bursting by her mouldering home and her questions answered by the all-seeing Master Puppet.  Master Puppet is a great, original character, I must say – a skeleton patched together from various discarded bones and lashed to the cross atop the cemetery’s chapel, dispensing wisdom and criticism in a voice that is practically audible while you read.  The plot is easy to follow for young readers, and while adult readers (and indeed, canny youngsters) may pick up on which way the wind is blowing reasonably early in the story, the ending is unexpected and satisfactorily ambiguous.

The Sad image

If you have not read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, then this criticism will pass you by and not affect your reading of Magrit at all.  If this is the case for you, I am truly happy that you have yet to discover the magic of both of these wonderful books.  The only problem I had with this story is that it felt far too much like The Graveyard Book.  So much so, in fact, that I felt like Bod and Magrit could have easily lived in Bod’s graveyard at the same time, with Magrit’s corner cordoned off in some way so that the two never got around to meeting.  The reason this was a problem is that because I read The Graveyard Book years ago on its original release (our dust-jacketed, hardbacked edition has pride of place on our shelf, with only slight paper-specklage after eight years), and have since re-read it multiple times, Bod, Silas and the gang have taken up residence in my brain as the superior graveyard-dwelling crew.  Again though, if you haven’t read The Graveyard Book, you should find Magrit and Master Puppet entirely original and thoroughly unique.

I would also have loved to have seen a bit of the quirky, bizarre humour that Battersby inserts into his adult fiction works make its way into Magrit’s story.

The Quirkyimage

The presentation, both inside and out, of this first edition of Magrit is something else entirely.  For a start, the textured hardback cover fits neatly in your hand and the raw edges of the pages are tinged an inviting pale purple.  The beautiful papercut illustration on the front sets the tone for the gorgeous reading experience awaiting you.  The pages inside are bordered in similar papercut designs and Master Puppet’s dialogue is always printed in a spectacularly eye-popping font, which is both a handy visual cue for younger readers and serves to enhance that unique character voice that I mentioned earlier.  Overall, there has been a great deal of consideration put into the visual presentation of this book and it greatly enhances the reading experience.  I can just imagine the coveting that will go on amongst mini-fleshlings when this one hits the school library shelves!

I also loved that Battersby references Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead in his acknowledgements.  This is a reasonably large and dense non-fiction tome that I checked out of the library years ago, before I started blogging, as part of my attempt to read all the death-related things.  I just like the idea that other people have read a reasonably obscure book that I randomly checked out of the library many years ago.

Overall, I am so glad I pre-ordered this one and didn’t wait around on the off-chance that I would get the opportunity to get a free review copy.  This is definitely a book that you won’t regret purchasing and displaying in a prominent place on your shelf to amaze your friends and confuse and dismay your enemies.

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

 

 

A Foolhardy Reading Round-Up: Kidlit Titles for April!

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Welcome to April and a Kid-lit-a-thon Round-Up!  Today’s Round-Up features three picture books and two middle-grade graphic novels.  One of these will be submitted for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge AND the Title Fight Reading Challenge, but you’ll have to read on to find out which.  We received all of these titles from Netgalley for review.  Now, let’s get (whip) cracking!

Little Red (Bethan Woollvin)

Ten Second Synopsis: little red.jpg

Red Riding Hood with a skandi twist, this book is a retelling with sass.

Muster up the motivation because:

There are a lot of fairy tale retellings getting around at the moment, but the bold, minimalist colour scheme, chunky woodcut-style illustrations and text that oozes subversive wit sets this one apart.  The general arc of the Red Riding Hood story is preserved here, but Red is presented as one independent and resourceful young lass.  The simple combination of red, black and white in the illustrations is incredibly effective and makes this book a joy to look at, as much as to read.  I’d love to see what is coming next from Woollvin and how she might tackle an original story.

Brand it with:

Girl power, Woodland Survival, You’re Axed!

Far Out Fairy Tales (Joey Comeau, Louise Simonson, Sean Tulien, Otis Frampton)

Ten Second Synopsis: far out fairy tales

This is a collection of fairy tale retellings with a definite pop-culture flavour.  Each fairy tale has been modernised with popular motifs, including zombies, ninjas and computer games.

Muster up the motivation because:

Apart from the graphic novel format, the point of difference in this collection is a neat summary at the end of each story giving the differences between the modernised version and the traditional tale.  While I found most of the tales a little bit too contrived for my tastes – the Cinderella ninja in particular gave me reading-indigestion – they are perfectly pitched for a younger middle grade audience and varied enough for at least one or two of the tales to appeal to every reader.  The standout favourite for me was the retelling of the Billy Goats Gruff, set inside a video game with boss fights and dungeon crawling, but the Snow White story featuring robots was also quite subtle and well thought out.  The illustrations are varied in style and because each retelling has a different author, the book has a sense of the original with each new story.  This would be a great pick for youngsters looking for familiar stories in a fun, graphic format.

Brand it with:

Zombies and Ninjas and Robots, Oh My!, graphic tales, fairy tales levelled up

Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home (Kazue Takahashi)

Ten Second Synopsis: kuma chan

Kuma Chan is an unassuming little bear.  In this tale, a young boy gets an invitation from Kuma Chan to visit his home, resulting in a relaxed day of doing nothing much at all.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is another classic Japanese character that will have you flip-flopping between “Oh, so Kawaii!” and “What on earth is going on here?”  Apparently Kuma Chan, or Little Bear, is a big hit with mini-fleshlings in Japan and this is the second book in the series.  Kuma Chan himself gets around looking rather bemused most of the time, and nothing much happens in the book, aside from the boy’s journey to Kuma Chan’s house, but overall this is just a delightful read.  The fact that the boy and Kuma Chan literally just hang out together in silence for most of the book results in a calming sense of satisfaction with one’s lot.  I will definitely have to seek out the original book in the series and I would love to see what the Little Bear is up to next.  This would be a perfect choice for a reader of your acquaintance who loves books that defy conventional description.

Brand it with:

Chillin’ with my homies, Bear necessities, kawaii

Squirrel Me Timbers (Louise Pigott)

Ten Second Synopsis: squirrel me timbers

A pirate squirrel must follow a map to discover buried treasure.  Will the treasure live up to his expectations? And what’s a squirrel to do with all that booty?

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are a bit over the whole pirate thing that seems to be booming in children’s books these days, I can guarantee that adding in a squirrely twist livens things up nicely.  The rhymes are a little awkward to read aloud at times, but the cheeky illustrations and the unexpected “treasure” are fun and original.  Sammy is a very likeable protagonist and I did have a bit of a giggle at some of the twists in his nutty quest.  This should appeal greatly to young swashbucklers looking for a new perspective on what makes a pirate tick.

Brand it with:

Pieces of eight (nuts), X marks the spot, Treasure hunting rodents

Fluffy Strikes Back (Ashley Spires)

Ten Second Synopsis:  fluffy strikes back

Fluffy, sergeant in charge of Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel (P.U.R.S.T.) must come out of retirement to foil an invasion of aliens with spray bottles.  Will Fluffy be able to meet the challenge and rescue the pets in his charge?

Muster up the motivation because:

Despite the utter weirdness of the concept of this graphic novel series, it is actually a guffaw-worthy tale.  This is the second book in the P.U.R.S.T. series and I hadn’t read the first, so I didn’t realise that this was a graphic novel.  This meant I wasn’t prepared for the high level of visual humour contained within this tome.  The concept of the book is a little confusing when read – cats, dogs and other small animals working together in a secret (literally) underground organisation to save the world from aliens (insects) – but makes perfect (and hilarious) sense when absorbed visually.  The humour is actually pretty dry for a graphic novel aimed at kids, but there are plenty of just-plain-funny aspects as well, such as the entrance to the P.U.R.S.T. headquarters being accessed through a litter tray and the alien insects using spray bottles to ward off the cats.  I would definitely recommend this to mini-fleshlings or adult readers looking for a quick, off-beat and strangely compelling graphic novel series that doesn’t take itself – or anything else – too seriously.

Brand it with:

Alien Invasion, Notes from the Underground, Thankless tasks

Yes, you guessed it: I will be submitting Fluffy Strikes Back for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge and the Title Fight Reading Challenge.  It fits quite nicely into the first category: something related to fighting in the title.  For more info on the challenge, just click this attractive button!

Title Fight Button 2016

 

Also, you can check out my progress for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, hosted by Escape with Dollycas, here.

alphabet soup challenge 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Bloomsbury Middle Grade” Edition

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Today’s Round-Up features three middle grade books from the same publisher – Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us all three, unexpectedly, for review and we loved one, thoroughly enjoyed another and were left scratching our heads at the positive hype we’d heard about the third.  Regardless, we’ve corralled them all here for your consideration. Giddy-up!

First up, we have the one we loved:

Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den (Aimee Carter)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  simon thorn

Simon lives a pretty lonely life with his uncle while his mother travels the world for work, offset only by his ability to communicate with birds and animals. When Simon’s mother returns unexpectedly and Simon receives a message from an eagle warning him of danger, everything Simon knows is turned upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…although the cover screamed “pedestrian book for reluctant male readers” to me, I loved the unexpectedly complex and twisting plot, where no one is completely trustworthy and motives are as murky as unstrained tea. I knocked the book over in two sittings, such was the pull of the adventure and mystery. Simon is a solid and honourable character who just wants to peel back some of the layers of secrecy that have shrouded his existence for so long and there are many surprises in store for him along the way, none of which I feel I can really talk about because they all relate to twists in the tale. The supporting cast of young characters, including Winter, Ariana, Jam and Nolan are believable and, unusually for most middle grade writing, all carry authentic flaws that relate to their backgrounds and loyalties. While the story does have its typical middle grade tropes – a semi-orphaned protagonist, a potential “chosen one” theme, bullied kid makes good and so forth – these aren’t laboured or made the focus of the plot and instead play an integral part in guiding the twists. Best of all, the ending is almost impossible to pick (although seasoned readers of middle grade adventure fantasy will have their theories early on) because all of the main characters, apart from Simon, have motivations that are partly hidden from the reader. This is the first middle grade offering from Carter (and I certainly won’t be examining her YA work, that looks suspiciously like paranormal romance-y type stuff – blerch!) but I am heartily impressed and looking forward to the next instalment in Simon’s adventures. I would recommend this book highly to readers of middle grade looking for an absorbing take on animal shape-shifters and urban fantasy.

Brand it with:

Pigeons vs Rats, sibling rivalry, choose your side

Next up, we have a reissue of an old classic from a master of middle-grade storytelling:

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom (Louis Sachar)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  there's a boy in the girls bathroom

Bradley Chalkers is the most obnoxious, odious child in school – even the teachers can’t stand him! But when new kid Jeff, and school counsellor Carla come along, things might start looking up for Bradley, if only he can stop sabotaging himself.

Muster up the motivation because…

…You can’t go wrong with Louis Sachar really, can you? Whenever you pick up one of his books you can be assured of interesting (if, in some cases, annoying) characters, amusing writing and some unexpectedly embarrassing events. There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom delivers in all of these areas. Bradley Chalkers is possibly the most deliberately obnoxious character ever written for this age-group and having a purposefully unlikable main character, while seemingly counter-intuitive, actually drew me further into the story. Apart from a few hints at some frightening events in Bradley’s father’s past, we aren’t ever privy to how Bradley got to be so unpleasant and self-defeating, but it is obvious that his problems are long ingrained and almost expected by all those around him, including teachers. The story rolls on toward an inevitable happy ending (with a few speed-bumps and tough decisions toward the end, of course) and the resulting fond feelings on closing the book are the icing on the cake. One of the great things about Sachar’s books is that there always seems to be room for forgiveness, with the young characters often changing their viewpoints and friendships in an authentic way by the end. And speaking of forgiveness, you would be forgiven for wanting to poke Bradley Chalkers in the eye after the first few chapters. I’d recommend this one for young readers looking for a realistic story of friendship and fitting in, with a good dash of humour.

Brand it with:

That weird kid, no one understands me, pay attention to signage

Finally, here’s the one that didn’t live up to the hype from our point of view.

Anyone But Ivy Pocket (Caleb Krisp)

Two Sentence Synopsis: anyone but ivy pocket

A half-witted maidservant is entrusted with delivering a precious jewel to a certain person at a certain time. She does so, while ignoring obvious cues toward villainy and making up stories.
Muster up the motivation because…

…if you enjoy stories featuring “delightfully” oblivious heroines embroiled in the delivery of a (possibly magic) valuable gemstone that people are prepared to kill to possess, then you will probably enjoy Anyone But Ivy Pocket. This one has been on our radar for a while and having heard that it was a funny adventure, with a strong, unique female protagonist, I was quite interested to dive in to the story. Unfortunately for us, Ivy can only be described as either wilfully blind to obvious social cues or spectacularly unintelligent and self-centred. Either way, it proved to be an excruciating reading experience because Blind Freddy (or Fredrika!) could see the glaring plot points that Ivy was missing. This was clearly intentional on the part of the author and I’m not sure why this technique was employed. As an adult reader, I found it to be tedious at best and I can’t imagine that younger readers would find Ivy’s dull-headedness particularly amusing. The narrative style was flippant and light and overall the book is obviously intended to be a humorous, wacky adventure with two-dimensional characters that each fill a particular function in the story. We just couldn’t get over our irritation with Ivy however, in order to enjoy the actual plot. Regardless, plenty of people have really enjoyed this book, but we shelf-dwellers don’t count ourselves amongst that happy number.

Brand it with:

Are you being served?, mystery maids, wacky historical fiction

Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say, so I hope you have found something here, as we did, to amuse and entertain. Thanks again to Bloomsbury Australia for this Round-Up-worthy haul!

Until next time,

Bruce