Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Suit Your Selfie…

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

It’s time to gab about graphic novels again and today’s selection is a collection of comic strips for the middle grade set.  We received Suit Your Selfie: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan Pastis from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Gather ‘round the smartphone, kids! Stephan and the Pearls gang are back with a whole album’s-worth of jokes, jabs, and cringe-worthy puns.
 
Even Rat cracks a smile in this fifth Pearls Before Swine collection tailored for middle-grade readers. Witty, wacky, and occasionally wise, Suit Your Selfie is more kid-friendly fun from the New York Times best-selling author of Timmy Failure.

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Humour, comic strips

Art Style:

Cartoon

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

I hadn’t come across this series before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I certainly didn’t expect the sophisticated level of humour in the comic strips, given that the blurb says that this is aimed at middle grade readers.  Perhaps they mean upper-middle grade….right at the upper end…because a lot of the content seemed a bit too grown up to appeal to middle graders.  I don’t mean that it was inappropriate for kids, but that some of the topics – like getting the address for an aunt’s funeral, the creator of the comic having a mid-life crisis and a goldfish worried about its own mortality – just seemed aimed at an older audience.  I found myself having a hearty chuckle at some of the strips because they were absolutely relatable to the struggle of adulting. The struggle is real!  Some of the vocabulary seemed too advanced to be credibly aimed at a young audience also.  This certainly didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the book.  In fact, I found most of the comics to be hilarious or at least chuckleworthy – I’m just mildly baffled as to why it has been labelled as “middle-grade”.

Overall snapshot:

I thoroughly enjoyed this little collection as an adult reader, so don’t be put off by the middle grade tag.  There’s plenty here for those who like their jokes one comic strip at a time…in fact, it’s exactly the kind of thing we old-timers who read newspapers would happily flick straight to the back page to read over morning coffee.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

TBR Friday: Over My Dead Body…

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TBR Friday

Following hot on the heels of last week’s TBR Friday, I have another contribution for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 climb! I’ve snuck in a sneakily short read that’s been sitting on my TBR shelf for ages.  It wasn’t on my list to get through this year but because it was so quick to read, and I’m behind on my review schedule, I thought I’d knock it over and at least feel like I was making progress toward some kind of reading goal.  This week it’s book two in Kate and Sarah Klise’s 43 Old Cemetery Road middle grade series, Over My Dead Body.

Ten Second Synopsis:

Following on from the events of book one of the series, 43 Old Cemetery Road, abandoned child Seymour Hope, cranky writer Ignatius Grumply and ghostly Olive C. Spence are dwelling happily at Spence Mansion, when nasty sort Dick Tater investigates the living arrangements, and throws Seymour in an orphanage and Ignatius in an asylum.  Determined to reunite, Olive must put her ghostly skills into action to defy Tater and bring her boys home.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Three years less a month.  Bought in July 2014!!

Acquired:

From the Book Depository.  I bought all four of the books in the series at the same time and have since left all but the first languishing on the shelf.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s a short book so I’ve always had the feeling that I could rip through it any old time.  Of course, with its series brethren on the shelf there has always been the lingering sense that I’d have to read them all at the same time.  Still, this is no excuse, because I could probably get through all of them in less than two hours total.

Best Bits:

  • I had completely forgotten that these books are formatted as a series of letters, newspaper articles and illustrations (which means I’ll also be submitting it for the Epistolary Challenge – hooray!).  In fact, Olive, the ghost, ONLY communicates through letter writing (and interrupting other people’s written work).  The constantly changing fonts and heavy emphasis on illustration is a major strength of the series.
  • I had sort of forgotten what had happened in the first book, since it’s been three years since I’d read it, but it was easy enough to pick up again.  The book has a little illustrated recap at the start so any readers new to the series will be brought up to speed.  It was interesting to see Ignatius being not so grumpy this time around, but Seymour’s parents are even nastier and more conniving here, if that’s possible.
  • Once again, Olive is beguiling as the ghost of an elderly mystery writer.  I loved how the townsfolk help her out despite claiming not to believe in her existence.
  • I still think this series is an absolute winner for early middle grade readers.  The story is quick and engaging, the format is brilliantly accessible and the characters are quirky enough to keep the attention.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • This story didn’t grab me quite as much as the first book did.  The plotline of Dick Tater trying to burn books and cancel Halloween seemed a bit silly really.  Luckily, it’s such a quick read that even if the story was a bit underwhelming, the format and the brevity make up for it.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I’m glad I’ve got the series ready to go, because I want to see if the next book is as good as the first.

Where to now for this tome?

Not sure.  I might hang on to all the books til I’ve finished the series, then put them in Suitcase Rummage as a set.  Or donate them to the mini-fleshlings’ school library.

And with that, I have reached Pike’s Peak – twelve books – and my Mount TBR Challenge goal for the year.  I haven’t officially made the decision to extend my goal yet.  I’m going to ponder it a little more.  Stay tuned!  And you can check out my progress toward this year’s reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Keep in a Cold, Dark Place: Good Advice for Potatoes and Monsters…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

Today’s middle grade creepy, action tale features a brilliant cautionary tale for those who like to keep unusual pets at home.   We received Keep in a Cold, Dark Place by Michael F. Stewart from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Reaching for her dream, Limpy unleashes a cute, fluffy, NIGHTMARE …

Keep in a cold, dark place. That’s what’s written like some ancient law on every bag of potatoes the family farms. And it’s where Limpy fears she will always remain.

It’s also carved on a box of spheres she discovers in the cellar. Spheres that hatch.

Cute at first, the creatures begin to grow. Then the chickens disappear. The cat is hunted. And something sets the barn ablaze. To survive, Limpy will need to face her greatest fear. The whole family will. Or they may end up in a cold, dark place indeed.

keep in a cold dark place

Limpy is the only daughter in her family and was unlucky enough to have her mother die while giving birth to her.  Her father is so stricken by grief that he keeps a potato-sack effigy of his dead wife in their home, her brothers are alternately bullying and selectively mute and Limpy wants nothing more than to escape her dreary existence and go to art school far away from their failing potato farm.  After discovering a strange box in the potato cellar, Limpy begins to hope that maybe her impossible dream isn’t so unlikely after all…but at the same time, she may have just unleashed an unholy terror onto the farm that could be the end of her broken family.

I thoroughly enjoyed this original and layered middle grade horror-action story. Other reviewers have compared the story to the film Gremlins and there are certainly shades of that fun film in the parts of the book relating to the “pets” that Limpy discovers, but in addition to that, Stewart has crafted an emotional story about grief, moving on and coping with change that is forced upon you.  There’s a definite atmosphere of oppression and depression that emanates from the descriptions of the farm and the town in general and the reader can definitely understand Limpy’s deep need for escape.  The depictions of Limpy’s family life were, at times, difficult to read as the grief and anger of her father, particularly, is raw and toxic despite the passing of time.

When the creatures that Limpy discovers stop being so cute and fluffy in favour of being more scaly and rampaging, the book alternates between bursts of chaotic action and poignant personal discoveries, as Limpy and her family face their deepest fears in order to save themselves.  Part of the emotional draw at the end of the story, I think, depends on the fact that Limpy is the only girl in this part of the story, and it is her older brothers and father (as well as some male neighbours) that have to put aside their bravado and acknowledge those things that make them frightened and hold them back.

I love that the author has selected a monster that isn’t so common in children’s literature, or “monster” stories generally, so the book provides an opportunity for young readers to discover a legend that they may not have encountered before.  I would highly recommend this book to adventurous young readers who enjoy action and fantasy elements blended with real-life problems.

I’m submitting this one for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 in the brown category.  Check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

TBR Friday: The League of Beastly Dreadfuls…

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TBR Friday

It’s TBR Friday once again and I’m happy to say I’ve knocked over another reasonably substantial tome in the last fortnight in my progress toward Pike’s Peak in the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.  The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant was another that I had marked down at the beginning of the year as one I particularly wanted to get through in this challenge, so it’s a relief to have finished it.

the league of beastly dreadfuls

Ten Second Synopsis:

Anastasia’s world is turned upside down when her parents are unexpectedly killed in a freak vacuum-cleaning accident and she is whisked away to live with her strange and not altogether friendly Great Aunts in a sprawling house that used to be St Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Once there, Anastasia is plagued by the sense that something is not right – could it be the lunatic boy gardener, the proliferation of portraiture featuring monobrowed ladies, or simply the poor cooking that could be to blame?

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Since January, 2015.

Acquired:

From the Book Depository as a pre-order.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It is one of a cluster of middle grade books on my TBR that are of a similar theme and because I have multiple of these to choose from, I end up choosing none at all.  Hence the fact that they are all still on my TBR shelf.

Best Bits:

  • The book has a humorous, light-hearted tone, which makes it very easy to flick through.  I quite enjoyed the style of humour at the start of the story and even dog-eared a page that had the main character saying, “Curse you, Winkles!” after tripping over a garden gnome (named Winkles) because I thought that the phrase was one I could certainly slip into my everyday speech patterns.
  • The story is easy to follow and the mystery isn’t too complex, so this is a good choice for when you are looking for a fun read that won’t make you work too hard.
  • Without spoiling the plot at all, I really enjoyed the originality of certain talents displayed by certain young male characters that ally themselves with Anastasia.  It’s so rewarding to discover “magical” style talents and folk that aren’t common in other literature for this age group.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • After initially enjoying the banterish, tangent-seeking style of humour in the story, by about halfway through I felt that it slowed the pace a little.
  • The resolution to Anastasia’s problems seemed a bit too wacky and convenient to me and appeared to be setting up for the second book in the series rather than solely concluding this one.   Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I won’t be chasing up the second as the narrative style grated on me after a while and I wanted the plot to move a bit quicker.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I have absolutely no idea why I decided I had to have this so badly that I put it on pre-order.  I would have been just as happy borrowing it from the library I suspect.

Where to now for this tome?

To be sold at Suitcase Rummage.

So that’s eleven books down out of my hoped-for total of twelve for the year, and since we’re only at early June, I could well extend my goal to the second level of Mt. Blanc (24 books).  I think I’ll leave it as is at the moment though and see how I go.  The second half of the year is always busy with new releases and my review schedule for the next few months looks pretty packed as it is.  Anyway, if you’d like to check out my progress toward any of my reading challenges for 2017, you can do that here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering through Middle Grade: Bear Grylls Adventures…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

It’s adventure time today as we take a look at the first two books in a new early middle grade series by ubiquitous wild man Bear Grylls.  Bear Grylls Adventures is a new series for primary school readers featuring survival skills, a magic compass and everyday problems and we received copies of the first two titles in the series, The Blizzard Challenge and The Desert Challenge from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here are the books and blurbs from Goodreads:

bear grylls 1

Bear Grylls Adventures: The Blizzard Challenge by Bear Grylls.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  RRP: $9.99

The first thrilling adventure in the brand-new collectible series for young readers from survival expert and Chief Scout BEAR GRYLLS.

Olly isn’t enjoying activity camp. Why should he bother building a shelter or foraging for food with his teammates – he’d rather be at home in the warm and dry, where the sofa and the video games are.But then Olly gets given a compass with a mysterious fifth direction. When he follows it, he’s magically transported to a high mountain range where he meets survival expert Bear Grylls. With his help, Olly must learn to survive in sub-zero temperatures, including what to do if the ice cracks when you’re crossing a frozen lake, or a blizzard sets in . . .But can his adventure with Bear Grylls change Olly’s mind about teamwork and perseverance? And who will Olly give the compass to next?

bear grylls 2

Bear Grylls Adventures: The Desert Challenge by Bear Grylls.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  $9.99

Sophie loves activity camp . . . but is terrified of insects. It’s so bad that she won’t go into the tent on her own, just in case something flies at her, or she steps on a creepie-crawlie. But when she’s given a compass by one of the other boys on the campsite, Sophie is magically transported to the desert on an adventure where they’re impossible to avoid!

With the help of survival expert Bear Grylls as her guide, she will learn how to withstand the extreme temperatures of the desert and how to spot mirages, encounter giant camel spiders, deadly scorpions and snakes . . . but will Sophie overcome her fear of insects back in the real world? And who will she give the compass to next?

I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about Bear Grylls except that he is an outdoorsy type whose real name probably isn’t Bear and appears, for all intents and purposes, to be one of those annoying people who is both talented and good-looking.  Thankfully, that is all one needs to know in order to enjoy these fast-paced and well structured tales.

The two books (and one assumes, the rest of the twelve-book series) follow the same format and are set around a group of children at a wilderness adventure school holiday camp.  Each book introduces the protagonist child and a few of their friends and highlights the protagonist’s particular personal growth issue that needs working on, before whooshing the child off, by means of a magical compass, to a survival-based adventure accompanied by none other than the Ursa Major himself.  The child is then magically transported back to the moment they left their normal life and puts the lessons learnt in their survival trek to good use before passing the magical compass on to the next unwitting victim.

These books are cleverly produced and will certainly hit the mark with their target audience.  They focus on problems that children working in groups are likely to have – Olly, protagonist of The Blizzard Challenge, tends to give up easily, while Sophie, protagonist of The Desert Challenge, has a mortal fear of insects that disrupts her enjoyment of outdoors activities.  The fact that by the end of the series, readers will have been introduced to all of the kids at the camp is a brilliant idea because it means the books are linked and will have familiar characters in them, but don’t necessarily need to be read in order.  The use of the magic compass injects a fun dose of fantasy into the tales and keeps them from being too dry (except for The Desert Challenge – geddit? Dry? Desert?) and also provides the protagonists the opportunity to learn from a real-life survival skills master in a way that doesn’t rely on basing things in reality.

The books are illustrated throughout in black and white and the font is big enough, and chapters short enough, not to be daunting to reluctant readers or those who struggle.  The books would also be a great option for read-alouds to younger children who don’t have the ability to read chapter books themselves yet, but are interested in longer and more varied stories.  It’s also encouraging to see that the characters in the books are of diverse cultural backgrounds and that this is reflected in the illustrations.

The only niggling problem I had with these books – and this is speaking from the viewpoint of one who has sat on the shelf of youth workers and  teachers alike – is the fact that these children are swept off to the company of a strange man in a deserted place and forced to follow him around and spend the night with him.  I realise that I might be being a bit hypersensitive here since it’s hinted at that these sections of the book may be dreams or magic or whatever, but I did get a little bit of the creep-factor while reading the first book, when the young lad has to build a snuggly little ice cave in which to spend the night tucked up with a grown man who he doesn’t know from Adam, without his parents’ knowledge or consent.  In the first book, the child also has to disrobe quickly in front of Bear after falling into icy water.  There’s also the slight weirdness of having a magic compass that brings him a new child every time.  From an adult’s point of view, there’s something not-quite-right about it all.

I don’t mean to throw shade on Bear – I’m sure he’s a perfectly upstanding guy and has his Blue Card – but I would have thought that someone in the editing or planning process would have picked this up and suggested some very basic and unintrusive changes to the story that could retain the adventure and survival aspect of the story while teaching a hugely important survival skill of childhood: be extremely wary of any adult who wants to spend time on their own with an unrelated child without their parents’ knowledge.  Surely the Scouts themselves would have Child Protection Policies that disallowed one on one adult to child sleep outs,  so I just find it a bit strange that the stories came out in this form.

Putting that aside for the moment though, the books are otherwise sure to be a hit with young readers who love “real-life” stories but aren’t necessarily drawn to nonfiction.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: Greenglass House

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TBR Friday

I’m struggling to keep the momentum up this last month for the Mount TBR Challenge 2017, but I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve finally knocked over Greenglass House by Kate Milford which has been on my TBR list since I pre-ordered it in 2014.  Never mind that it took two years to arrive, but that’s another story.  Let’s crack on.

greenglass house

Ten Second Synopsis:

Milo and his parents are settling in for Christmas at their historical inn when a collection of strangers arrive unannounced for a prolonged stay. At first it seems the travellers aren’t connected but after Milo and his friend Meddy begin investigating, it appears that all of these disparate people are at Greenglass House for the same reason.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Technically since mid-2014, physically since October 2016.  See below for details.

Acquired:

I first put this on pre-order at the Book Depository back in mid 2014, when it was originally released.  I put the pre-order on the paperback, which was releasing in the middle of 2015 because I’m cheap and  I figured I could wait that long.  Then the release date got pushed out to September of 2015.  I was tetchy, but accepted this.  THEN the release date got pushed out to September 2016!  It arrived in October 2016.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Because it only arrived seven months ago.  Obvs.  Also, it’s quite hefty, so I had to find make time to fit it in.

Best Bits:

  • Greenglass House is a hefty, prolonged mystery.  The mystery is drawn out and is also quite cerebral, since the players in the mystery are confined to one house in bad weather.  The story does has some echoes of the golden age of crime fiction about it, but since no crime has been committed (at least at first), it also has the feel of a fun, imaginative adventure game.  I’ve heard it compared to The Westing Game and there is definitely a similarity in the plotting, but Greenglass House doesn’t have the urgency or high stakes of that book and so is a bit cosier overall.
  • Tabletop roleplay gaming is a big feature of the story, with Milo and Meddy taking on characters as they solve the mystery.  Milo’s blackjack/escaladeur character, Negret, allows Milo to think outside the box and take risks that Milo himself normally wouldn’t, while Meddy’s Sirin, a scholiast, or invisible angel type character has a great significance to the story that didn’t strike me until close to the end of the book.
  • Because there are only two child characters in a house of adults, the book avoids annoying middle grade tropes and gets down to brass tacks as the kids use all their cunning and game-smarts to uncover the adults’ secrets.
  • The adult characters tell stories throughout the book, so we are treated to stories within the greater story and you can be sure each of these stories drops some clues about the adults who tell them and secrets they might be hiding.
  • The story, house and myths about the area feel like they could really be true, which adds a sense of realism to the magical realism.
  • Milo’s parents are ordinary people – hooray!  It’s so rare to have parents in middle grade stories that are (a) present (b) completely normal (as opposed to being gods, magicians, spies or generally not what their children think they are) and (c) involved in their child’s life.  I also liked that Milo is adopted, which plays something of a role in the story, but isn’t the big clincher – just a part of who he is.
  • The book is set at Christmas, but has very little to do with Christmas, and so is a perfect choice for when you want that Christmas time feeling without having to actually read about Christmas.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • Greenglass House is a hefty, prolonged mystery.  That means that the pacing is quite slow and discoveries are rationed out over the course of the book.  While I enjoyed the read and was absorbed throughout, I won’t be picking up the sequel straight away.  I’ll need some time to decompress before I become sucked into the second mystery in the series.
  • There is a twist toward the end of the book that I didn’t see coming and although I came to terms with it reasonably quickly, I felt a little betrayed that the author had taken such a route when the rest of the book seemed so authentic and grounded (barring the smugglers, strangers, thieves, spies and customs officials).  I’ll have to wait and see how it pans out in the second book before I make too many judgments though.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes, because it is highly unlikely that I would have ever borrowed such a hefty book from the library.  To balance that out though, I’m not sorry I had to wait so long before getting to it.

Where to now for this tome?

The permanent shelf…for now.

I’m also submitting Greenglass House for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in category #35: a book set in a hotel.  You can check out my progess toward all my 2017 challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Vern and Lettuce

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got a cutesy one for you today that we picked up on a recent library jaunt.  Vern and Lettuce features little vignettes in the life of Vern (a sheep) and Lettuce (a rabbit) who live in the same apartment building.  The strips were originally published in The DFC which, according to Wikipedia, is/was a British weekly kids’ comic anthology.  Anyway, the comic strips have been brought together in one edition here to form a complete story, one page at a time.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Welcome to Pickle Rye, home of best friends Lettuce the rabbit and Vern the sheep. Join them for baking, birthdays, bunny-sitting and a quest for fame in the big city!
Vern and Lettuce reach for the stars, but danger is lurking just beneath their feet…

vern and lettuce

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Funny anthropomorphic animal stories

Art Style:

Cartoon cute

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

While I had seen Vern & Lettuce before on some blog or other’s list of recommended graphic novel for the younger age bracket, I couldn’t remember what it was about when I came across it at the library.  Lettuce and Vern live in a town called Pickle Rye where Vern eats grass in the park while fending off moles and Lettuce is often put in charge of her brood of younger siblings.  The first few stories in the book, which are presented one to a page, are unrelated and serve to introduce the characters and their relationship, but a little way in the comics merge into a longer tale that relates to Lettuce coercing Vern into travelling to the city to audition for a televised talent show.

I enjoyed both sections of the book.  The earlier, unconnected comics were adorable and quite funny with Vern always ending up in some baby-bunny-related predicament and the latter section of the collection presented an interesting story with some cheeky twists and turns.  I also loved the few literary and pop culture references hiding throughout (in one instance the moles makes an utterance with uncanny resemblance to Little Britain’s juvenile delinquent Vicky Pollard, while later on there’s a reference to pigeons being unwelcome on buses…a tip of the hat to Mo Willem’s perhaps?).

Overall snapshot:

This is a cute and funny collection that is a great addition to the comic literature for the younger end of the middle grade spectrum.  The stories are simple enough for younger kids to access but there are enough twists and turns for older middle grade readers to appreciate too.

Until next time,

Bruce