YAhoo! It’s a YA Review: Wonderful Feels Like This…

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Now if you’re one of those people who roll their eyes when they hear YA slapped in front of a contemporary novel, you can happily give your eyes a rest today because Wonderful Feels Like This by Swedish author Sara Lovestam could quite easily be classed as adult fiction given the fact that one of the main characters is an octogenarian.  Also, it’s about historical jazz music.  And World War II.

We received a copy of Wonderful Feels Like This from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A celebration of being a little bit odd, finding your people and the power of music to connect us.

For Steffi, going to school everyday is an exercise in survival. She’s never fit in with any of the groups at school, and she’s viciously teased by the other girls in her class. The only way she escapes is through her music–especially jazz music.

When Steffi hears her favourite jazz song playing through an open window of a retirement home on her walk home from school, she decides to go in and introduce herself. The old man playing her favorite song is Alvar. When Alvar was a teenager in World War II Sweden, he dreamed of being in a real jazz band. Then and now, Alvar’s escape is music–especially jazz music.

Through their unconventional friendship, Steffi comes to realise that she won’t always feel alone. She can go to music school in Stockholm. She can be a real musician. She can be a jitterbug, just like Alvar.

But how can Steffi convince her parents to let her go to Stockholm to audition? And how is it that Steffi’s school, the retirement home, the music and even Steffi’s worst bully are somehow all connected to Alvar? Can it be that the people least like us are the ones we need to help us tell our own stories?

wonderful feels like this

Wonderful Feels Like This is a delightful blend of historical fiction and contemporary coming of age story.  Steffi, in grade nine at the local school, is bullied relentlessly by her peers and has no friends to speak of.  Alvar, an octogenarian in an old folk’s home located on the route of Steffi’s walk home, is a musician whose body may be frail but whose heart and mind have never lost their passion for jazz.  When Steffi stops to chat to Alvar after hearing 1940s jazz music wafting out his window, it is the beginning of a friendship that will change both their lives and cement the bond that began with a few bars of swing.

What an intriguing read this book is!  Firstly, it’s set in Sweden – a country that I know very little about, barring IKEA and…IKEA. Oh, and ABBA.  Secondly, it’s told from alternating historical perspectives – Steffi and Alvar in the present and Alvar as a young man in 1940s Stockholm, overshadowed by the war.  I loved the information that was woven in about the political situation of Sweden and its neighbours during World War II because (a) I’m a big nerd and (b) I’ve never encountered a WWII story told from this perspective before so it was great to add to my general knowledge here.  Finally, the characters are beautifully authentic and the author hasn’t resorted to YA tropes in Steffi’s sections of the story, as could so easily have been the case given the theme of bullying.  Steffi is given equal footing with Alvar as a rounded, developed person, rather than reduced to a teen girl with certain musical hobbies and a low social standing.

Steffi’s biggest tormentors, Karro and Sanja, are merciless in their harassment, never shying away from an opportunity – be it in person or online – to denigrate Steffi and spit vitriol and humiliation in her general direction. Steffi’s lack of friends her own age lends a certain sadness to the atmosphere of her parts of the story, although it is obvious that she is determined to remain faithful to her passions and dreams for her future, in spite of the unprovoked persecution that is constantly heaped upon her.

Alvar, appearing to the reader simultaneously as a bright light of the rest home and a nervous, uncertain young man making his way in a big city in a time of social upheaval, provides the anchor for Steffi’s unsettled school experiences.  Through Alvar’s narration of his youth, Steffi begins to draw strength and confidence and understands that the path to success rarely runs smooth.

I loved that the author left the bullying element of Steffi’s story fairly unresolved.  This felt particularly authentic to me because in many people’s experience, there is no intervention or specific incident that causes the bullying to stop, rather circumstances, or physical distance mean that access to the victim by the bully is somehow cut off. This seems to be the case at the end of the book and although it’s possible – likely even – that Steffi’s tormentors may have continued their harassment after the end of the story that we see here, there is hope for Steffi and the promise of new and true friends.

In fact, one of my favourite parts of the book comes in the last paragraph of the author’s acknowledgements, where Lovestam writes:

Thank you, children and teenagers, sitting in schools all over the world, thinking about chords, shading, pi, medieval aesthetics, adverbs, metaphysics, Neanderthals, lace-making, chromatics,  and making flambes, instead of letting schoolyard pecking orders get to you.  Your time will come.

That is essentially what this story is about: having one’s time and following one’s passion – the precursor to it, the attainment of it, the living through it and the satisfied reflection on it after a life well-lived.

I’ll be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge under category #26: a book by an author from a country you’ve never visited.  Sweden (and Scandinavia generally, you’re on the bucket list).  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round Up: Music school, Stranded Cows and Grub to be Grateful for…

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We’re only in for a short ride today, with three new release picture books all received for review from Allen & Unwin.  Let’s strike while the iron is hot and ride on in!

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too (Jane Milton & Deborah Hinde)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

moo and moo

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too by Jane Milton and Deborah Hinde.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP:$17.99

In the November 2016 earthquake in New Zealand, two cows and a calf ended up stranded on a tiny bit of land.  What was this new situation in which the cows found themselves and how could they get out of it?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a cute and heartwarming story about animals in predicaments; specifically, three animals in one very large predicament.  Children from New Zealand will no doubt take to this book with great fervour, given that they no doubt heard it on the news when it actually happened.  For the rest of us, there is a handy little paragraph at the back of the book describing the events on which the book is based, as well as some facts about earthquakes.  The story is told in rhyme which, although a tad forced at times, keeps a good rhythm for reading aloud.  The illustrations are all double page spreads with a subtle palette of blues, greens and browns.  The author has done a good job of giving imaginative voice to the cows as they stand stranded on their grass island, awaiting rescue or whatever happens next for stranded bovines.  Overall this is a sweet story that provides a perfect conversation starter for discussing natural disasters and their impact on the environment.

Brand it with:

bovine bravery; animals in predicaments; earthquake aftermath

The Thank You Dish (Trace Balla)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

thank you dish

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March, 2017.  RRP:$ 19.99

A girl and her mother sit down for dinner and decide to give thanks.  But who would have thought there were so many people to thank for a simple meal?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a delightful and authentic missive that gently introduces the concept of gratefulness and being mindful of how many people contribute to things we might take for granted.  The illustrations are so charming here, with simple line drawings complemented by an earthy colour scheme.  I particularly like how the empty dinner table becomes fuller with each “thanks” given, as little stick drawings of the various “thankees” begin to populate the table.  The text is simple and repetitive and I wouldn’t be surprised if young readers carry the line, “Why would you thank the …….?” outside of the context of the text! The small size of the hardback means it would be perfect to bring to the dinner table or picnic blanket to share before a meal.  The Thank You Dish is a perfect gem of a book, reminding us of the need to be thankful for what we have without being preachy or labouring the point.

Brand it with:

anti-fast food; think before you eat; fun with food

The School of Music (Meurig and Rachel Bowen & Daniel Frost

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

school of music

The School of Music by Meurig and Rachel Bowen & Daniel Frost.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP: $29.99

Ever wondered how to decide which instrument is right for you, what links maths and music or how you can compose your own music? Step inside The School of Music and satisfy your curiosity!

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you ever had lingering questions about music, musical instruments or how musicians work together, this is the book for you!  On flicking through the book, my first thought was that this would make a perfect launching text for primary teachers who are forced to teach music curriculum in the classroom (in the absence of a specialist music teacher at their school) and don’t feel they have the background knowledge to do so.  Although this is an illustrated nonfiction text, I would definitely place it as an upper primary/lower secondary text, simply due to the amount of text and the length of the book.  The book begins with an illustrated “acceptance letter” to the school of music, upon which the owner of the book can write their name and is henceforth divided into “terms” based around different concepts.  Each page features a different question – What does it take to make a star singer? What different kinds of music are there? Which instruments do we recommend learning? – that is answered in the text below, accompanied by a full page background illustration in cartoonish art deco style.  The questions become increasingly more involved as the book progresses, and it would take a considerable time for a young reader to get through the whole book, if they were so inclined as to read it from cover to cover.  As a reference book, or a gift for a young musical prodigy, this would be a great choice.

Brand it with:

extracurricular activities; a curious composition; taking notes

I think The Thank You Dish was my favourite out of these three.  Have you come across any of these or do you know someone who might like them?

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

World Mental Health Day: A Cheeky Lucky Dip…

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Happy World Mental Health Day everyone!  I’m very pleased (especially in the current circumstances round the shelf) that the powers that be only require us to have one mentally healthy day per year, so that’s as good a reason to celebrate as any.

Today I present to you a Book Depository Lucky Dip that hopefully suits the occasion – for the uninitiated, the BD Lucky Dip involves me typing a random search term (or terms) into the Book Depository’s search engine and picking the most surprising or giggle-inducing results for your viewing pleasure.

So in thinking about Mental Health (or lack thereof), the terms that sprang immediately to mind were cats, irritating musical instruments and crafting.  Please, sit back, relax, and make yourself feel better by  perusing a lucky dip that may have you questioning the sanity of others and affirming your own….or vice versa.

For the sufferer of paranoia who is also handy with a ball of yarn:

kyo moKnit Your Own Moustache: Create 20 Knit and Crochet Disguises by Vicky Eames

For the person who appreciates the profound mystical connection between heavy metal music and diminutive stringed instruments :

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Best of Metallica for Ukulele by Steve Gorenberg

For those who laugh in the face of hypoallergenic craft supplies:

crafting with cat hair

Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with your Cat by Kaori Tsutaya

For the hunting enthusiast who believes fur is murder:

craftydermy

Craftydermy by Tracey Benton & Ziggy Hanaor

For those who like to ponder life’s big questions:

would you eat your cat

Would You Eat Your Cat?: Key Ethical Conundrums and What They Tell You About Yourself by Jeremy Stangroom

And finally, for the ultimate thrillseeker:

fun with accordion

Mel Bay’s Fun with the Accordion by Frank Zucco

Clearly, I have acquitted myself of my duty on this most important of days, to contribute to the ongoing mental well-being of my readers with this varied and enticing collection.  You can all thank me later.

Until next time, may all your brain receptors be flooded with feel-good hormones,

Bruce

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