Norse Mythology Never Looked So Good: Odd and the Frost Giants Illustrated Edition…

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Odd and the Frost Giants by literary all-star Neil Gaiman was originally published in 2008 and made it onto my ever-growing TBR list round about the time I started blogging – so roughly four years ago.  In all that time though, I have never made any effort to actually get my hands on a copy and read it.

That is, until this stunning illustrated edition came along, courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia.

Perhaps it was the “come read me” expression on the giant eyeballs visible through the beautifully tactile cut-out cover, but Odd suddenly jumped straight to the head of my reading queue.  Before I get too caught up in the visual treat that this book provides,  here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Odd, a young Viking boy, is left fatherless following a raid and in his icy, ancient world there is no mercy for an unlucky soul with a crushed foot and no one to protect him. Fleeing to the woods, Odd stumbles upon and releases a trapped bear . and then Odd’s destiny begins to change. The eagle, bear and fox Odd encounters are Norse gods, trapped in animal form by the evil frost giants who have conquered Asgard, the city of the gods. Now our hero must reclaim Thor’s hammer, outwit the frost giants and release the gods .

This rich and layered tale of courage is told with humour and in breathtaking style by two creators at the height of their powers: from the author of modern classics such as American Gods, Coraline and The Sleeper and the Spindle, Odd and the Frost Giants will leave you spellbound. Lavishly produced and packed with Chris Riddell’s glorious illustration enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift.

I’m not going to lie to you.  I probably would never have bothered to hunt this book down and read it had it not been released in this gorgeous illustrated format.  I put so many books on my wishlist that unless there is something particularly special about a book (or unless I find it on special – ha ha ha), there are too many new books rushing into my consciousness to bother hunting down one I had a passing interest in a number of years back.

Having said that, there was absolutely no reason for me to be putting off picking this one up because it is a super-quick read, coming in at between 100 and 120 pages, depending on which edition you choose. The narrative style is that of the all-seeing narrator, with Gaiman’s signature quirky wit and there is no filler at all in the plot.  From the moment we meet Odd, all words are directed toward the adventure upon which he is about to embark.  The story itself isn’t anything earth-shattering, being a re-imagining of some aspects of Norse mythology, but it is fast and different and engaging enough to keep younger readers interested throughout.

The illustrations though, are something else.  It seems like Chris Riddell’s work is on every second book cover at the moment – deservedly so, because his style is so distinct – but I did feel a bit as though I was reading The Graveyard Book over again once I opened this one.  Odd and Bod are similar in name and looks, and I kept expecting Silas or some gravestones to pop up here or there!

In terms of presentation, this is a high quality offering.  I’ve already mentioned the cutout front cover design, which, apart from being delightfully chunky, makes for a great game of peekaboo for those of you who are into Instagram and the like:

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I think I look quite regal there…

The text is set out on plenty of white space and the glossy page finish makes the book feel a bit luxurious.  Every second page (or thereabouts) is adorned with a full-page illustration, like this:

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Every so often we are also treated to a double-page spread illustration like this:

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…so in terms of this being an “illustrated edition”, you are certainly getting plenty of bang for your hard-earned buck.  The large size of the book means that this is a perfect choice for gifting (for when you want to really impress and show a youngster of your acquaintance that books are cool presents after all), or for family read-alouds, where everyone can crowd around and appreciate the illustrations.

I would highly recommend this edition of Odd and the Frost Giants to readers who like having an experience, rather than just scanning words on a page.  The fable-like quality of the story and the calm, stoic nature of Odd are perfectly complimented by the bizarre characters of Bear, Fox and Eagle, who need the help of a human if they are to escape from the pickle in which they find themselves.  Apart from all that though, this is a book that you can absorb in just a few short sittings, so if, like me, you have had this one languishing on your TBR list for a while, bag yourself this gorgeous edition and jump right in.  You won’t be disappointed!

Thanks again to Bloomsbury Australia for providing us with a copy of the book.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Utterly Magical” Edition…

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Saddle up your most mythical beast because I have four magical titles for you today: three for younger readers and one for the grown-ups.  Let’s get cracking!

Not So Much, Said the Cat (Michael Swanwick)

*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  not so much said the cat

This is a cracking collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories well worth immersing one’s self in.  The stories span multiple fantasy worlds with humour and plenty of twists.

Muster up the motivation because…

…all of the stories in this collection reek of quality writing.  Swanwick clearly knows his craft because each story, though set in its own discrete universe, feels like a complete world in itself.  The opener, The Man in Grey, is a mind-boggling speculative piece steeped in humour that will have you questioning every set piece of your ordinary existence.  Some of the stories read like fables or fairy tales, others like cutting-edge science fiction.  There really is something for everyone here and as most of the stories span more than a few pages each, you can take the time to get lost in your particular little world without fearing it will be over before it really begins.  The best thing about these stories is that they don’t feel like they are variations on a similar theme or even slight twists on familiar tropes, but like actual original tales.  Our favourites of the bunch are The Scarecrow’s Boy, a bizarre but touching story about a child on the run, and Goblin Lake, a fairy tale complete with revenge, riddles, ruination and redemption.  I would definitely recommend this to lovers of all things left-of-centre.

Brand it with:

Tales of sadness and wo–ah, that’s a bit weird; sci-fantasy; speculative

Wildwitch: Wildfire (Lene Kaaberbol)

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis: wildwitch wildfire

Clara always thought she was ordinary until strange, dangerous things start happening around her. Whisked off to learn the ways of the wildwitch from her aunty, Clara thinks she’ll be safe, if a little bored, but nothing could be further than the truth.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a delightful, timeless-feeling story of witchery and magic with a down-to-earth heroine.  There’s something charmingly old-fashioned about the style of narrative here, as the focus is entirely on the action, rather than establishing Clara as a child of a particular contemporary time.  It’s refreshing to read a middle grade novel that doesn’t faff about with done-to-death school bullies and all that rubbish and just sticks to the trials of the main character.  The villain of the piece is scary indeed, with a malicious streak that could spell disaster for Clara.  The book is quite a quick read and the pacing is spot on, with no time wasted as Clara is moved to her aunt’s house to begin her training.  I loved the particular magical world and lore that was built up in this story and I would be very interested to see what happens next.  I’d recommend this one to lovers of simple but action-packed magical stories and those who would just adore having their own magical familiar to hang out with.

Brand it with:

The trouble with cats; large wings don’t an angel make; born to be wild

The Monstrous Child (Francesca Simon)

*I received a print copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

the monstrous child

The Monstrous Child (Francesca Simon) Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 June 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Hel is a corpse child, born with a living body and dead legs, and destined to become the Queen of the Underworld. This is her story, from her humble and grimy beginnings to her humble and grimy end.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a fan of Norse mythology, this will be everything you could hope for in a novel for younger readers.  I was unaware that this is actually the third book in the Mortal Gods series (the first of which, The Sleeping Army, I have had on my TBR list since it was published).  This may explain why the writing seemed so obfuscating; it seemed like Simon expected the reader to know more about Hel’s life and background than Hel was prepared to tell us.  I had trouble with this one because the narrative style, which sees Hel explaining her entire life to the reader, focused heavily on telling, rather than showing.  Hel, as a character, is also reasonably dire and grim, and so the reader isn’t exactly invited to engage deeply with her as a person (god).  Having not read the first two books in the series, I can’t say whether this is a departure or continuation from the earlier novels, but I would recommend reading the first two books before picking this one up, unless you are the sort that loves a challenging, and slightly discombobulating read.

Brand it with:

Norse code; Winners and losers; the unacknowledged child

The Changelings (Christina Soontornvat)

*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the changelings

Izzy and Hen are forced to move to their grandmother’s old house in the most boring town in the universe, where their next-door neighbour is probably a witch. When Hen goes missing however, Izzy finds out that sometimes it pays to make friends with your (possibly witchy) neighbours.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you enjoy your standard down-the-rabbit-hole stories based in Celtic folklore then this will scratch your itch.  The beginning of the tale is fairly typical for middle grade magical fare – kids move to a seemingly boring new home before discovering a magical world and being plunged into adventure – but there are so many interesting and quirky characters sprinkled throughout that the tropes can be overlooked a little.  Our heroines are immediately split up of course, leading to a two-pronged narrative attack, with Izzy on one side and the kidnapped Hen on the other, and historical, cultural and (magically) political motives coming into play.  Overall, this is a fun romp with some likable and unexpected characters, plenty of humour and exactly the sort of derring-do you would expect from a pair of kids lost in the land of faerie.

Brand it with:

If you go down to the woods today; grandmother’s secrets; fun with faerie

Take your magical pick, my friends.  Surely there is something here to entice you!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mythological MG Mystery, Read-it-if Review: The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB…

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Welcome to another Read-it-if Review, where the decision regarding whether to add another book to your tottering TBR pile is made simple by the perusal of a short, attemptedly witty collection of bullet points. Today I have a diverting middle grade read which features Norse mythology, Russian folklore, talking animals and two clued in kid detectives. We received The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB by Adam Shaughnessy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“What is the Unbelievable FIB?”  

That’s the question eleven-year-old Prudence Potts discovers on a baffling card no one else in Middleton–except ABE, a new kid with a knack for solving riddles–seems to see. Then a mysterious man asks for ABE and Pru’s help investigating mythical beings infiltrating the town, and that’s just one of the things Pru finds hard to believe.

Soon Pru and ABE discover another world beneath the surface of their quiet town, where Viking gods lurk just out of sight. They must race to secure the Eye of Odin, source of all knowledge–and the key to stopping a war that could destroy both human and immortal realms.

Author Adam Shaughnessy draws from classic lore to create a new world where uncertainty opens the door to magic and the last thing you should do is believe your own eyes.

the ubelievable fib

Read it if:

*you believe chicken feet would be a savvy renovation addition for your current dwelling

*you are a dab hand at riddle-solving, and would be over-the-moon (as opposed to mildly confused or completely creeped out) to find a mysterious note from an unnamed stranger in your backpack

*you are convinced that hanging out at the local watchhouse and chatting to interesting inmates will reap benefits in an as yet unimagined future scenario

*you really love middle grade fiction that is fun, fast-paced and cleverly blends myth, fairy tale and good old fashioned detective work

I was pleasantly surprised by the Unbelievable FIB in that it was a while between when I requested it for review and when I actually got to reading it, so I had forgotten that it featured Norse mythology. Now, I haven’t read many books featuring Norse mythology, so this felt quite fresh and shiny-new. I can’t say if it would feel the same for seasoned readers of Norse-mythology-based books, but the blend of the mythological with elements of the Baba Yaga fairy tale really set off the exciting, puzzling detective bits of the story.

Pru and ABE are both likeable characters and neither felt particularly clichéd to me, which is always a relief. Pru is an intrepid, cheeky, forthright young lady who has recently experienced the loss of her father, a police detective, while ABE is the reserved, quietly clever, new kid in town. Together, their skills complement each other and provide all the resources necessary to get to the bottom of some of the stranger happenings that have been occurring around town. There are also enough eccentric and shady adult characters here to keep the kids (and the reader!) on their toes regarding who can be trusted – there’s Pru and ABE’s teacher, the pompous Mrs Edleman; the kindly Fay Loningtime; the enigmatic and reclusive Old Man Grimnir; the dashing and unexpected Mister Fox and a very odd looking customer residing in the town’s watchhouse.

The author has done a great job of keeping the explanations of the more complex aspects of Norse mythology contained within the story. The various salient parts of the myths are related in a variety of ways – through a story read for the main character’s homework, for instance – which avoids any slowing of the plot while important world-building and background knowledge is given. Shaughnessy has also employed a light and humorous tone throughout, with lots of banter and quippery, which made this story very enjoyable to wander through.

Overall, this story felt like a breath of fresh air in the crowded marketplace of middle grade fiction, in which one often comes across the same sorts of stories told in similar sorts of ways. While this isn’t so outrageously original it blew my mind, it was definitely different enough from other recent releases that it made me sit up and take notice.  If you have a young reader in your midst who loves solving mysteries and enjoys a bit of fantastical adventure, then I would definitely recommend placing The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB in their hands…or at least within easy reach.

Until next time,

Bruce