Bruce’s Shelfies: We have come….to the end.

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Well. Sort of.  We haven’t come to the complete, grinding end, but it’s time to announce that I will be winding back my output for this blog over the next few months.  After nearly five years of blogging and nearly two years of posting five days a week, I have hit something of a wall in both reading and wanting to blog and I have therefore made the decision to ease off a bit.

It started with Fiction in 50.  At the end of last year I was unsure of whether I wanted to continue that feature because it felt like a chore more than anything.  I put the question to you good folk and some of you felt strongly that it should stay, so stay it has.  But my heart’s not in it.

Then over the past month or two I’ve had enormous trouble keeping up with my review schedule.  I just can’t seem to read fast enough to get through all the books I have scheduled.  And just when I get through one stack, a whole new slew of books arrives in the mail.  I’ve come to dread receiving book-shaped packages, to tell you the truth, which is a very sad thing for a Bookshelf Gargoyle.  I’ve been reading the same two books for a fortnight now and while I’m enjoying both, I don’t seem to be making much progress.

A few nights ago, instead of picking up my scheduled books, I started re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  I haven’t re-read it in years and for the last few days I have loved dropping back into that world.  I have ignored my reviewing responsibilities and I’m loving it.

I’ve also been having tech issues, with computers dying and troubles with posting on other devices.  Then there’s the fact that I really only get one day during the week to post, so I have to cram in five, sometimes six days worth of posts, into a few hours of sitting in front of the computer.

It has all begun to feel like too much work for something that is supposed to be a hobby.

So today I emailed the main publishers that I work with and asked that any requests for books that I have made for the rest of the year be withdrawn so I can sit back, relax and concentrate on getting through the books I have already received.  This was tricky to do because even as I looked through the list I thought, “Oh no, I can’t cancel THAT request, I just HAVE to read that book!” but I steeled my reserve and pressed send regardless.  And as if to illustrate the necessity of taking this action, I had no sooner sent the emails than the postman arrived with another book.

The crux of the matter is that for the next little while I will not be posting five days a week.  I may post once a week.  Maybe once a fortnight.  I will endeavour to post on the books that I have already received from publishers – about 14 in total – but I have completely ignored Netgalley for the last week and I don’t think I’ll get to the 20+ books on my Netgalley list.

I am taking a break.

And this decision has made me a lot more positively disposed toward the books already sitting on my shelf.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

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A Quartet of Awesomosity: The Best Books I’ve Ever Read….

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Good evening friends, followers and hangers-on.  Tonight I present to you a post smeared with the brush strokes of excellence, in the unfading, weather-resistant shade of sparkly brilliance.  Tonight, I will reveal to you a quartet of tomes that have changed the way I look at children’s literature.  Tonight, I present, THE BEST BOOKS I’VE EVER READ…..on a variety of obscure topics….since the beginning of the year.

Oh, sorry, did you think I meant the best books I’ve ever read? Like, ever? Well I’d love to tell you about those but that would take an extreme amount of thinking on my part and the cobbling together of some form objective criteria on which to base my decision and that would take far too much of my valuable time.  So you’ll just have to settle for the four best books I’ve read on topics that you probably wouldn’t have considered perusing.  Set your eyeballs to stun – you have been warned.

First up, we have….

The Best Book I’ve Ever Read about the Pitfalls of Befriending a Coyote Pup

okay andyThe Book:  Okay, Andy by Maxwell Eaton III

Acquired: From the publisher via Edelweiss – thanks!

Synopsis: Andy the (long-suffering, one would suspect) alligator enjoys endures a close, personal acquaintance with coyote pup Preston, to the mutual benefit of both.

Why you should read it:

This is a fantastic little graphic novel with super-appealing illustrations.  While it’s only a very short read, as most graphic novels tend to be, the three adventures involving the pair (and a cast of other characters including an escape-artist rabbit, a daredevil turtle and a scaredy-bear) contain lots of humour.  One can feel the frustration of poor old Andy, as he spends quality time with enthusiastic young Preston.

Recommended for: at only 96 pages, this little tome would be perfect as a read-together for those aged 5 and above, or as an independent read for the 8+ set.  The small amount of text coupled with the fun illustrations should also make this a great choice for the reluctant reader or big kids who just want a quick giggle.

Next we have…

Ooh Odd ZooThe Book:  Ooh Odd Zoo: 25 Unusual Animals and 1 Ordinary Larva by JefF Williams, John Rios, Sonny Han and Geoff Elliott

Acquired: Purchased while attempting to find out when the sequel to Scar and the Wolf (by the same authors) was due out. Found this instead.

Synopsis: A collection of short verses introducing the budding zoo-oddigest to some interesting animals that are generally not household names.  Highlights include the Zyzzyva, the Hax and the Passenger Pigeon (who “used to exist”, but “now they’re just missed”)

Why you should read it:

Once again, the illustrations – simple black and white line drawings – are just superb.  On top of that, this book contains hands-down the funniest poem about a maggot that I have ever read.  And if those two factors don’t convince you to get onto this book now, then I don’t know what will.  I just wish I’d bought it in paperback instead of e.

Recommended for: poetry lovers, connoisseurs of fine humour and fanciers of obscure animal life.

Third to the party is…

The Best Book I’ve Ever Read about Hermit Crab Psychology and Behaviour

never underestimate a hermit crabThe Book: Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab by Daniel Sean Kaye

Acquired: from the publisher via NetGalley – thanks!

Synopsis: An in-depth and totally serious examination of hermit crabs and their habits. Non fiction.

Why you should read it:

Firstly, I suspect someone was having a laugh when they filed this under the “children’s non-fiction” category in the Netgalley catalogue.  This little book takes a hilarious look at all the less well-known talents and hobbies in which hermit crabs like to indulge.  My favourites are karate, comic book criticism and DIY.  Once again, the illustrations absolutely make the book.  The range of facial expressions possible on a crustacean that essentially lacks a face really shows up the talent of the illustrator. Kudos.

Recommended for: Hermit crab owners and owners-to-be, and all those who like their non-fiction to contain a good dose of fictional content.

And finally…

The Best Book I’ve Ever Read about Militant Socks

lost socksThe Book: Conspirators of the Lost Sock Army and the Loose Change Collection Agency by Dan O’Brien and Steve Ferchaud (illustrator)

Acquired: from the author in exchange for review – thanks!

Synopsis: Unsuspecting bloke Robert is press-ganged into assisting a Leprachaun representative of the Loose Change Collection Agency to vanquish the “Scourge” and his army of sock gremlins.  Clearly, Robert didn’t get enough sleep last night.

Why you should read it:

This is an odd little book.  It’s only 41 pages long and illustrated, but within those pages a well-developed story unfolds quickly and without any flabby plot lines or dialogue to get in the way.  As with the other books here, the illustrations are top notch – unfortunately I can’t get the cover for you, but I’ve included one of the interior illustrations here for your viewing pleasure.  The illustrations add immensely to the story and really give it a bit of extra zazz.  The story itself though is well worth a look, if only for the pike-wielding sock soldiers.  I always wondered where those missing left ones had got to.

Recommended for: anyone who likes a rollicking adventure that can be read during a tea-break.  Admittedly, it would probably have to be a two-cup tea break, but still.  The author has recommended this for ages 8 plus, and while this will appeal to kids who like a fun fantasy story, this also has a lot to interest older readers who like something a bit off-beat to break the monotony.  I’ve also just picked up another of O’Brien’s works – for adults this time – a short story about a psychologist for monsters that I can’t wait to get into as it sounds right up my alley.

So there you have it.  Four of the best books I’ve ever read.  Perhaps you’d like to try them too! Allow me to point out that a number of these books would fit perfectly into categories for the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge: Okay, Andy would fit category four (someone’s name), Ooh Odd Zoo would fit category one (safari), Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab would fit category seven (something unsightly – oh come on now, they aren’t the cutest animal getting around…), and Conspirators of the Lost Sock Army would fit category five (something that comes in pairs).  All the more reason to get your hands on these books really, isn’t it? If you don’t know what the Small Fry Safari challenge is, simply click on the attractive button below and be whisked away to a portal of useful information.

small fry

So until next time…do you have any best books ever on an obscure topic?  I’d love to hear about them!

Bruce

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Read-it-if-Review: Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase…

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I’m very excited about today’s offering – Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud…  I was lucky enough to get my paws on an advance digital copy of the book via NetGalley thanks to Random House Australia and I am very glad I did…because it was an absolute little RIPPER, as we say around my neck of the woods!

screaming staircase

I haven’t read a Stroud book since I encountered the first of the Bartimaeus trilogy, The Amulet of Samarkand, many years ago.  Although I enjoyed it then, I didn’t feel the need to keep on with the series. I may have been mistaken in that decision, if the quality of Lockwood & Co is anything to go by.

The Screaming Staircase follows 15-year-old Lucy Carlyle as she arrives in London and attempts to find work with an appropriately outfitted Psychic Investigation Agency – essentially a group of kids with psychic skills, supervised by adults who have since lost their psychic skills, whose job it is to protect the general population from attacks by various types of wandering ghost.  Instead, she lands a job with Lockwood & Co, a seat-of-your-pants, duct-tape and fishing line type organisation staffed by charismatic and devil-may-care Anthony Lockwood and surly and straight-down-the-line George Cubbins.  Thus begins an eventful period in which the three are beset by a range of murderous spirits, engaged in an effort to stave off angry clients and bankruptcy, and occasionally find time to relax with tea and piles of doughnuts.

Read it if…..

* you are a fan of the young adult/paranormal/comedy/murder-mystery sub-genre

* you like to keep collections of weird and/or creepy things in jars around the house and spring them on unsuspecting guests for the express purpose of amusing your housemates (and yourself)

* you wholly support the idea that the dead should have the common decency to remain in an unanimated state until such time as the Powers-That-Control-The-Universe decree that they should be otherwise

* you agree that, should the need for fighting off wandering ghosts arise, the task should definitely be left to a bunch of small children…because adults have enough to bother about as it is

There’s a lot I could say about this book…and I will, in fact, because it’s worth raving about.  But I will place these nuggets of information in handy, indented blocks for your perusing pleasure.  You’re welcome.

Reading Age:

One of the booksellers I came across had this book listed as recommended for ages 9-12. I think that’s both (a) a tad optimistic and (b) a tad limiting, in that, at nearly 400 pages and given the concepts and language involved, it would take an exceptional nine-year-old reader to manage this one on their own.  As well, there is plenty here for older readers to enjoy, so I’d place it more at an 11+ sort of an age bracket.

World-building:

The cover art, title and a lot of the early story had me initially assuming that this was a story set in, say, Victorian times, when rosy-cheeked orphans performed engaging dance routines while picking the pockets of the unsuspecting gentry.  Then every so often there would be a reference to television or some other modern item. In fact, this story takes place in a CONTEMPORARY setting. For some reason, my brain could not wrap itself around this concept and the modern references jarred every single time.  Consider yourself duly warned.

Tone:

If you’re expecting grim, creepy and atmospheric, then you’ve come to the right book.  If you’re expecting dry, witty dialogue, classic exchanges between the main characters, and a skull-in-a-jar that almost steals the show, you’ve also come to the right book. Stroud has blended the two seamlessly. Hurrah!

Honestly, I can’t speak highly enough of this book.  While reading it, I was having the same moment of extended bliss that I had while reading Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist – for the full story on that one, go here.  I can definitely see this one falling into the “regular re-read” category and I’m almost certainly going to have to get myself a print copy so I can make it all soft and well-thumbed.  Although anyone who feels the need to gift me with a print copy is more than welcome to do so.

If you’re not convinced that this is a great book, let the proof lie in this little piece of information: I, Bruce – of the major-hating-of-the-e-version-of-books and the much-preferedness-of-the-print-version-of-books – actually found myself returning to the computer screen in order to read more than my daily allocation of the e-galley…..

Until next time,

Bruce

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