Fi50 Reminder and TBR Friday!

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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_a-marriage-of-convenience-1

Good luck!


TBR Friday

And now it’s time for TBR Friday!  Today’s book is Time Travelling with a Hamster, a middle grade contemporary sci fi by Ross Welford.  This one was not on my original list, but I’ve just received Welford’s second book, What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible, for review, so I thought it was high time I knocked this one over. Let’s kick off with the blurb from Goodreads:

 

“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty nine and again four years later when he was twelve.

The first time had nothing to do with me. The second time definitely did, but I would never even have been there if it hadn’t been for his ‘time machine’…”

When Al Chaudhury discovers his late dad’s time machine, he finds that going back to the 1980s requires daring and imagination. It also requires lies, theft, burglary, and setting his school on fire. All without losing his pet hamster, Alan Shearer…

time-travelling-with-a-hamster

Ten Second Synopsis:

On his twelfth birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his late father that offers him the secret of time travel and the chance to change the event that caused his father’s death. Life is never that simple and Al soon finds himself up to his hairline in twisted timelines.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Just short of a year.

Acquired:

I bought this one from an online shop -either Book Depository or Booktopia – shortly after it was released because I HAD to have it and wasn’t lucky enough to score a review copy.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Not sure really.  Like I said, I HAD to have it so it’s a mystery as to why I haven’t read it yet.  Possibly it was the thrill of the chase that I was really after.

Best Bits:

  • For those who don’t enjoy a lot of technical sciency information, this story focuses more on the relationships in Al’s life rather than the whys and wherefores of how time travel works.  There is a bit of technical info in order to shut down any loopholes, but the story isn’t overwhelmed by it.
  • This felt like a bit of a mix between Christopher Edge’s The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and Mike Revell’s Stonebird, with the nerdy, science-y originality of the former and the serious issues-based subplot of the latter.  Considering I enjoyed both of those books, it stands to reason that I enjoyed TTWAH as well – especially since it seems to combine the best of both of those books into one memorable package.
  • Al and his dad’s side of the family are Indian (from Punjab), while Al inherits his webbed digits (syndactyly) from his mother’s side, so there is a bit of diversity all round here.
  • Al, his father and grandfather all seem quite authentic as characters in all the timestreams in which they appear, which makes for some genuinely engaging reading throughout and a plot that isn’t dumbed down in any way simply because the book is aimed at younger readers.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • There’s a bit of threatened animal cruelty in two parts.  It never eventuates, but for some people I know this is a deal breaker.
  • The first half of the book wasn’t as fast-paced as the second half.  Before Al has really figured out the time machine, parts of the plot drag a little, but the ending (and especially Alan Shearer’s role in it) is worth the wait.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yep.  It’s a solid middle grade growing up story with a fascinating time travel twist.

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf.

Obviously, I’m submitting this one for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017, as well as for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017.  You can  check out my progress toward all my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering through Middle Grade: The Hounds of Penhallow Hall

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meandering-through-middle-grade

We’re back with what is arguably my favourite reading age-group today – middle grade, with its boldly imagined worlds and indomitable characters.  Today I have a story we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  The Hounds of Penhallow Hall: The Moonlight Statue by Holly Webb and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft is a classic tale of a new home, loneliness and finding friends in unexpected places.  Here’s the blurb from Netgalley:

For Poppy, moving to Penhallow Hall is the fresh start she’s been longing for since the death of her father. Her mum has got a job managing the stately home and once the last of the visitors leave for the day the place is all theirs! One night, Poppy sleepwalks into the garden and wakes to find her hand on the head of one of the stone dogs that guard the steps down to the lawn. Then she feels him lick her cheek! The dog introduces himself as Rex, an Irish Wolfhound who lived at Penhallow many hundreds of years earlier. And he is not the only resident ghost – Poppy has also glimpsed a strange boy around the place. With Rex’s help she finds herself unravelling the story of his beloved master, William Penhallow, who was killed in the First World War aged only 17.

hounds-of-penhallow-hall

Having a quick browse on Goodreads, it became apparent that Holly Webb has written quite a significant back catalogue of cutesy books about puppies, kittens, fairies and princesses for the younger end of the middle grade age bracket.  While there is a definite whiff of the cutesy about The Hounds of Penhallow Hall, the story overall fits nicely into the typical tropes about moving to a new, unexpectedly magical home with which the middle grade fantasy genre is replete.

There is really nothing new or particularly original about this story – a girl moves to a Big House with her mother, gets very lonely, discovers a fluffy magical companion and solves the mystery (such as it is) of a boy haunting the house.  There are no major problems to  overcome, no sense of particular danger or suspense and everything gets wrapped up quickly and easily with little struggle or fuss.  For that reason, this is one of those middle grade books that will appeal much more to younger readers than it will older readers of middle grade.

The story itself had a bit of an old-timey feel, probably due to the oft-used content, but Polly is instantly likable, Rex is the kind of companion anyone would love to have, and the ghost boy, William, caves quickly enough from his stroppy mood to make us like him too.  I will admit that reading this book did strengthen my already quite strong desire to make a wolfhound part of the Shelf family, however impractical that may be.

I would have liked to see a bit more conflict in this book; conflict in the sense of a problem that Polly has to solve or overcome to give the narrative a bit of oomph or suspense.  As it is, the story arc is basic and there didn’t seem to me to be enough of a hook to keep independent readers engaged, unless they particularly love dogs.

Overall, this is one that fell short of my expectations, but should appeal to the younger end of the middle grade audience and those who would love the idea of a magical doggy companion.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

TBR Friday: Book Uncle and Me

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TBR Friday

Welcome to my first TBR Friday for 2017!  I have made it a goal to read at least one book from my TBR stack each month, with a goal of completing Pike’s Peak level – 12 books – on Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 by the end of the year.  Today’s book is not only going to count toward that challenge, but also Bev’s Colour Coded Challenge, the Epistolary Reading Challenge AND the PopSugar Reading Challenge in category five: a book written by a person of colour!  Boom!

Today’s book is Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Nine-year-old Yasmin intends to read a book a day for the rest of her life. Book Uncle, who runs a free lending library on the street corner, always has the perfect book for her. But when Book Uncle seems to be in trouble, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something. With the elections coming up and the grown-ups busy with their own affairs, what difference can Yasmin and her friends possibly make? Will they get help from Karate Samuel, the eccentric superstar who’s standing for Mayor? Yasmin gets to work, ideas begin to fly like feathers, and soon everything starts to spin – out of control.

book uncle and me.jpg

Ten Second Synopsis:
Yasmin has a goal to read a book a day for the rest of her life, ably aided by Book Uncle, the man who runs a free little lending library on the corner of Yasmin’s street. When Book Uncle receives a notice from the Council that he must close his book stand, Yasmin must find a way to change Council’s mind and bring books back to her community.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

About six months or so.

Acquired:

Purchased from Booktopia’s bargain section after recently having put it on my TBR list.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s short, easily readable and therefore easy to ignore.

Best Bits:

  • Even though this is a short book, it’s chock full of underlying social issues and culturally interesting elements just ripe for discussion by young readers
  • Yasmin is delightfully flawed and determined and compassionate and an all around charming heroine.  She speaks without thinking, then feels guilty for it, then tries to rectify her mistakes, then manages to mobilise a whole lot of strangers to her cause simply through her passion for it. If you are looking for realistic female protagonists in early chapter books, then look no further!
  • This book celebrates books and the people who read them.  It celebrates the power of books to change people’s lives in big and small ways, and to bring people together who otherwise have little in common.
  • This book wasn’t written to be a “diverse” book, but if you aren’t an Indian person reading it, it certainly fulfills that criteria.  The story itself is completely transferable to any Western classroom in which civic education is a priority, but there are also lots of parts of the story that will inspire discussion about difference – particularly issues of access to free lending library resources and election processes.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • None.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes.

Where to now for this tome?

I may donate this one to the mini-fleshling’s school library.

If you would like to check out my progress in each of my various challenges you can check them out in the links in the header, under 2017 Challenges

 colour-coded-reading-challenge epistolatory-reading-challenge-2017

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: Night of the Living Worms…

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Today’s little gem is an illustrated early chapter book that will have all those mini-fleshlings who are ready to move on from such favoured duos as Elephant & Piggie clamouring for more.  We received Night of the Living Worms: A Speed Bump & Slingshot Misadventure by Dave Coverly from PanMacmillan Australia for review, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What’s a bird to do when his sibling is a big-time celebrity? It’s a question Speed Bump has to deal with every single morning, because his brother happens to be the one and only Early Bird. You know, THE Early Bird, who ALWAYS gets the worm! Unfortunately, Speed Bump is a sleepy little bird with a big head and tiny wings who’s worried he’ll never live up to his brother. But he has a great buddy, the ever-hungry Slingshot, who knows how to lift his spirits. Together, they end up on an adventure deep in the nighttime forest, where they’re forced to confront something more terrifying—and slimier—than they’ve ever imagined. It could all go horribly wrong . . . or it could just change Speed Bump’s luck for good.

night-of-the-living-worms

If there’s one thing that draws me back to “children’s” books again and again, it is the unashamed acknowledgement that illustrations and text are made for each other.  Night of the Living Worms sits in that category of books between picture books and chapter books, wherein the author knows that for beginning readers – and indeed, for any reader who enjoys more context around their text – illustrations are essential.  This book is a bit of a combination between chapter book and graphic novel, with no more than a paragraph of text on each page, some of which is encased in speech bubbles, and every page is adorned with eye-popping line art to bring the story to life.

Speed Bump is a good sleeper who lives in the shadow of his older brother, Early Bird.  As we all know, Early Bird gets the worm and for this reason, Speed Bump has to content himself with nuts and berries for snacking on, until such time as he can beat his seemingly unbeatable brother to that elusive worm.  Slingshot is Speed Bump’s best friend and a more stalwart and supportive companion a bird could not wish to find.  When the two decide to take up a foolproof strategy to beat Early Bird to the worm, things don’t go as planned.  There are worms available for the plucking alright, but it turns out that maybe these worms have a plan all their own to defeat Early Bird!

Helped by a collection of forest creatures, Speed Bump and Slingshot must find courage they didn’t know they had and find a way to save the day, before Early Bird meets a nasty, worm-driven end.

This book was heaps of fun to read and the characters are vivid and full of personality.  The nightwalker worms were actually pretty creepy when viewed all together, but there are plenty of laughs throughout the story that will please reluctant readers and those who just want to have fun in their reading.  As an early chapter book, it’s a quick read for an accomplished reader, but for those just starting out on longer books it should provide just enough challenge, as well as plenty of support through the illustrations and use of white space and speech bubbles.  I quite enjoyed a selection of illustrated punny goodness early on in the tale, with various birds making various punny comments to elicit a guffaw or two.

The ending of the book is both exciting and quite fitting for the trouble that Speed Bump and Slingshot went to – as well as for the trouble they got themselves in!  This book also contains a preview of the second book in the series, Night of the Living Shadows, to further hook in young readers and create anticipation.  I’d say this intrepid duo are definitely one to watch if you have a mini-fleshling in your dwelling who is just beginning to tackle longer books, or indeed one that just loves a good comic adventure story with larger than life protagonists.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Three for A New Year

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For the second day of the new year, I present to you an overload of books.  Well, not an overload, but given that it’s only day two of 2017 and I have three books for you, less voracious readers than ourselves may consider it a bit excessive.  I have a YA contemporary set in Paris, a middle grade series continuation and a middle grade fantasy adventure about identity and chocolate.  So for the first time in 2017, let’s saddle up and ride on in!

Lisette’s Paris Notebook (Catherine Bateson)

*We received a copy of Lisette’s Paris Notebook from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

lisettes-paris-notebook

Lisette’s Paris Notebook by Catherine Bateson.  Published by Allen & Unwin, January 3rd, 2017.  RRP: $16.99

Lisette (Lise) is taking a gap year in Paris and staying with her mother’s friend, a clairvoyant. While in Paris she meets some interesting people through her imposed French language class.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you’re in the mood for a languid yet exotic holiday that evokes feelings of romance, European style and new experiences, but don’t have the money to afford such a holiday, Lisette’s Paris Notebook could be the next best thing.  Lise is young, ready for adventure and raring to stamp her own style on the world’s capital of haute couture and finds herself cramped in a tiny bedsit above a clairvoyant’s storefront.  While Paris doesn’t immediately turn out to be what she expected, Lise nevertheless commits to attending a French language class as a small concession to her mother’s dreams for her.  The class is filled with college-aged art students from around the world and Lise is both attracted to and intimidated by the easy style and sophistication of her classmates.  I will admit to DNFing this one about halfway through, at 144 pages – chapter 14 – not because the story was bad, but because I just don’t think I’m the intended audience for the book, not being a massive contemporary fan.   The only thing that had me cringing a bit was the fact that all the French characters that I encountered seemed to be weirdly stereotyped – abrupt to the point of rudeness, dismissive of other cultures or ways of doing things and set in their ideas about what one should do in France.  I’m not entirely sure what that was about, or whether it changes later on in the book, but I found it set my teeth on edge a bit.  Ardent fans of contemporary YA, and especially YA that borders on new adult and features coming-of-age issues and themes of identity should find lots to enjoy here.  The tone is light, there are some funny situations and generally this fits the bill as a relaxing, escapist holiday read.

Brand it with:

Enchante!; new adventures; fun with fashion

The Thornthwaite Betrayal (Gareth P. Jones)

*We received a copy of The Thornthwaite Betrayal from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

thornthwaite-betrayal

The Thornthwaite Betrayal by Gareth P. Jones.  Published by Allen & Unwin, January 3rd, 2017.  RRP: $16.99

Siblings who have previously enjoyed plotting each other’s demise have called a truce, when a long lost uncle turns up to make a claim on their ancestral home.  Mistrust ensues, as well as some new found interest in friendship with others, on the part of the twins.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is the second book following on from The Thornthwaite Inheritance, in which Ovid and Lorelli Thornthwaite enjoy attempting to kill each other – must be a twin thing – and their manor ends up being burnt down.  Unfortunately, I have not read the previous book, even though it’s been on my TBR list for quite some time, and it is this single factor that led to my putting down The Thornthwaite Betrayal after 44 pages. I’m generally a fan of Jones’ work – Constable and Toop and Death by Ice Cream being two of his back catalogue that I thoroughly enjoyed – but found this one hard to get into simply because I didn’t have the context of the previous book to draw on.  Some of the characters in this second book obviously made an appearance in the previous one, and some characters from the previous book are mentioned, but I really needed a bit more background information to get a picture of what exactly was going on and how the characters were linked.  Also, given that the thing that would draw me in most about these books is the idea of murderous twins, the fact that the twins weren’t being particularly murderous in the part of this I read meant that some of the expected shine was missing.  I will have to go back and read the first story before I can make proper comment on this one, I think.

Brand it with:

It’s a twin thing; long lost relatives; personal growth

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Stephanie Burgis)

*We received a copy of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart from Bloomsbury Publishing via Netgalley for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  dragon-with-a-chocolate-heart

A dragon ventures out of her cave to show her parents she can make it on her own and ends up inadvertently being turned into a human. She then does what any spell-cursed dragon would do: become an apprentice to a chocolatier.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are looking for a fantasy tale that has an original premise and is guaranteed to appeal to any foodie fans in your life, this is the book for you!  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart blends a dragon dynasty with a nasty spell, a class-based society and business competition to create a completely new storyline in middle grade fantasy reads.  Aventurine is a dragon who inadvertently falls under the spell of a food mage and is trapped in a human body.  After tasting chocolate for the first time, the determined girl (ex-dragon!) decides that if she must be trapped in a puny human body, the least she can do is apprentice herself to a chocolatier and learn the finer arts of creating her new favourite food.  The “dragon” part of the story takes a bit of a backseat during this time as Aventurine learns to navigate the human world and its unfamiliar trappings – two of which being human friendships and social interactions – until her family turns up wanting their darling dragon back and Aventurine’s temporary home is in the firing line.  While the story is undoubtedly fresh and original, my overall feeling while reading was that this is a strange sort of tale that can’t quite decide whether it should be a fish-out-of-water fantasy or a being-true-to-oneself friendship story.  While Aventurine is human, the very human experiences of friendship, betrayal, manipulation and position in society play a major role, and even if Aventurine herself never forgot her inner-dragonness, I certainly did at some points during the book, which meant that the story didn’t reach the heights of brilliance for me at any stage.  Nevertheless, I always welcome fresh takes on familiar tropes in middle grade fiction and Burgis has certainly delivered on that score.

Brand it with:

Feral foodies; master’s apprentices; fish out of water

Two days into the new year and three new books for you to hunt down: surely one of these titles takes your fancy?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Third Time’s A Charm: The Increasingly Transparent Girl (Tales from Between #3)

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There’s no greater joy, when reading a series, to find that subsequent books are just as good as the earlier ones.  So it is with indie author Matthew Stott’s middle grade fantasy series Tales from Between.  I stumbled upon this series at the Kindle store a few weeks back and was so enamoured of the first book in the series that I bought the next two, and so far none have disappointed me.  One of the great things about this series is that even though the books take place in the same fantasy world, each story stands on its own and so you can pick up any book and start where you like.  Here’s the blurb for the third book in the series, The Increasingly Transparent Girl, from Goodreads:

Things live between awake and asleep. In the moment after your eyes grow too heavy to stay open, but before the dreams take you.

One day, Melody May begins to disappear from view. Her hands, her knees, her face, her everything. A monster’s enchantment has ensnared her, and now Melody must travel across a strange and dangerous land between awake and asleep to reclaim herself; otherwise, in 48 short hours, she will never have existed at all…

The overall tone and events of this book more closely matched the lighter, more fantasy based adventures of A Monstrous Place, the first of the series, once again moving away from the darker, more psychological adventures of the second book, The Identical Boy.   Melody May’s story takes place mostly in Between, as she ventures forth on a quest to steal back her visible body from a creepy, reclusive, mountain-dwelling entity known as The Whistler.  Accompanying Meloday on her journey (ha! I’ve only just now noticed that the protagonist’s name, Melody, relates closely to the main manipulative mechanism of the monster – whistling!) is a helpful cat that appears beside her in Between and we are even treated to a return appearance from Mr Adams and Neil from the first story, who now dwell in Between seeking out adventure and generally putting down monstrous calamity.

The Increasingly Transparent Girl is very much a “journeying” story, a familiar trope in middle grade fantasy, with the whole plot based around Melody’s quest to reach the Whistler’s mountain and return home in one piece.  This gives first time readers a good chance to see a bit of Between, and returning readers the opportunity to meet some creative new inhabitants of the place – I loved the concept of Time Bats and was happy to see a repeat performance from the Tall Man, who is Lord of Between.

I am totally convinced by the quality of this series and can’t wait to see what the author comes up with next.  The best bit about these books is that none has been similar in plot to the previous ones, and so even though the world is the same there are new and intriguing elements to uncover in each book and each story feels fresh and different.  While I wait for the next release, I took the liberty of buying two of the author’s stories for adults – Sixty-Six and Apocalypse Hill – and can’t wait to see what scares this inventive author has cooked up for older readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Aussie Classic Revisited: Stories from Stella Street…

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stella-street

Stories from Stella Street by Elizabeth Honey. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $19.99

A long, hot Australian summer holiday needs a long, funny bout of escapist kidlit and to that end, I have for you not one, but three Aussie classic kids’ stories.  We received this bright and breezy (and big enough to use as a door stop!) 21st anniversary edition of Elizabeth Honey’s Stella Street stories.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s te blurb from their website:

Elizabeth Honey’s immensely popular 45 + 47 Stella Street and everything that happened turns 21! This special anniversary edition includes three exciting adventures in one big book: 45 + 47 Stella Street, Fiddle-back and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay.

CELEBRATING 21 YEARS OF STELLA STREET!

Meet Henni, the tallest girl in school, and her best friend Zev, with amazing electric hair, and Briquette, little Frank’s dog … and everyone else in Stella Street! Read Henni’s original version of what her gang did when the Phonies moved into their street and started to spoil everything! It’s fast and funny and you never know what’s going to happen next. Henni also tells the story of life-changing events when the Stella Street gang all went bush and camped by a wild river, and then how their perfect old-beach-house holiday in Cauldron Bay nearly ended in disaster.

Three hair-raising adventures in one chunky book!

Elizabeth Honey writes with the invigorating energy of a salty wind off the sea that wakes you up and makes you see the world afresh. Warm-hearted, funny, touching and wise, the Stella Street stories are about growing up and living life to the full.

Now, I can’t be sure whether or not I actually read these stories as a youngster – I’ve checked the dates and I would have been a little outside the target audience, but nonetheless, I did feel a tickle of familiarity as I meandered through the first book in this collection: 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened.  This familiarity could be because I (a) did actually read this as a youngster but have forgotten or (b) it is so typical of its genre and target age for Australian books of the period that I feel like I know it even though I haven’t read it.
The first book in the collection was a delight to read.  Hanni has an appropriately conversational style for a young girl of the early nineties, bashing around the neighbourhood with her mates and prevailing upon God to deal out justice to the Phonies next door.  In the end of course, it’s Hanni and her gang – Zav, Frank and Danielle – who have to bring about justice against a pair of the worst kind of neighbours: rich, pompous and ready to complain at the drop of a hat.
One of the things I enjoyed about reading this is the lack of technology in the lives of the characters, both child and adult.  The Phonies are involved in a bit of a shady practice (I shan’t spoil it for you!) that nowadays would certainly require access to multiple devices, yet in this delightfully innocent tome the skulduggery is all paper-based.  Similarly, Hanni is writing a book – with a pencil and paper to begin with, and then a typewriter!  I wonder whether contemporary readers of what is now historical fiction would notice this in the text and what they might make of it.
The pace of the story is laconic, as indeed most Aussie stories should be, punctuated with flurries of activity.  Stella Street itself is so delightfully rendered by the author that it is the kind of street anyone would give their eye-teeth to live in.  Filled with friendly neighbours (barring the Phonies, of course) and kids that band together to make their own fun, it’s the kind of place that forms the dream of a perfect childhood.
I only got through the first book in the collection before this review.  I do intend to read the others – Fiddleback and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay – if only because Hanni is such an engaging voice.  If you enjoy a good Aussie yarn or would love to introduce your mini-fleshlings to the kind of life kids might have had before the internet was in every pocket, Stories from Stella Street would be a fantastic place to start.
Until next time,
Bruce