ARC Haiku Review: Emily and the Strangers (The Battle of the Bands)

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The goodest of evenings to you word-lovers! It’s Mad Martha with you for another haiku review.  Today’s offering is a graphic novel featuring that odd yet loveable teen roguette, Emily Strange in Emily and the Strangers: The Battle of the Bands by Rob Reger, Mariah Huehner and Emily Ivie.  I received a digital edition of this graphic novel (though I wish it had been print!) from Dark Horse Comics via Netgalley – thanks!

Now, having admired Emily from afar for a good long while (on account of us having a similarly strange outlook on life) I eventually took the plunge and read all of the novels in which she features.  This, however, is my first foray into her adventures in graphic novel form, and I gotta tell ya – I’ve been missing out.

In Emily and the Strangers (Volume One), the lady of the strange enters a song contest to win the guitar of the late, great Professor Kraken.  In order to claim full possession of the prize though, Emily must form a band and compete in a Battle of the Bands contest.  Can the ultimate mistress of going it alone manage to  …*shudder*…play well with others…and win the object of her heart’s desire? Or will her cats wind themselves around her feet at the last moment, tripping up any dreams of rock goddess greatness?

emily and the strangers cover

Krakenish Guru

wields tentacular guitar

Can Strange measure up?

One thing that is almost synonymous with Emily Strange is awesome and complicated artwork.  I really think I’ve been missing out in just reading the Emily novels because while there is a lot of incidental artwork in those books, the graphic novel is really where it’s at for this character and her adventures.  Really, the art is eye-poppingly good.  Have a look at an example from inside:

emily_and_strangers_brain_1

Check out the complexity! Appreciate the ingenius design! Notice the wallpaperish background! It’s just fantastic.  I’ve often found while browsing graphic novels that sometimes I have to stop because there’s too much visual information on the page.  I found the same with this one, but it was a good feeling.  After reading the story, I went back and spent some time really appreciating the art because it is so worth having a second look at.  Another great feature is the collection of initial concept designs at the back of the novel that give the reader an idea about how the artistic decisions progressed over the course of the novel’s production.  There are also some alternative poster designs for the Emily and the Strangers band.

As usual with graphic novels, I wished the story was longer, but that’s just the format.  Unlike most of my forays into graphic novels, I actually felt pretty satisfied with the amount of story that was presented here.  I was also reminded how accessible and relevant to the target age bracket the stories are.  One wouldn’t necessarily think it to look at the character, but while there’s always some edgy stuff going down, there’s nothing here that’s really shocking or violent or unpleasant, so it does make for a fun and quirky quick read.  And even the swearing is psuedo-swearing (and therefore particularly amusing and repeatable – you zorking flabberfarks!).  I’d highly recommend sharing this with any young folk of your acquaintance who are happy to have a go at reading in a different format, who enjoy a strong, smart and strange female protagonist and who love a nice bit of eyeball stimulating artwork – you (and your young person) will not be disappointed!

I will certainly be adding Volume 2 to my TBR list. Emily and the Strangers: The Battle of the Bands is due for publication on May 27th.

Cheerio my fellow oddbods!

Mad Martha

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Read-it-if Review: YA Fantasy Novella “Miyuki” and a GIVEAWAY!

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bannermiyuki

Good morning to you all! Before we begin, I’d like you to have a look outside…what’s the weather like today? Any fires predicted for your tranquil bush home? Are there likely to be rockfalls rattle-tattling down your mountain-side mecca?  Is that the mother of all thunder storms cracking outside your window? Well if any or all of these are lurking on your weather radar, today’s book reviews are definitely something you should keep your eye on.

I am very pleased to be part of the blog tour for Veronica Bane’s young adult fantasy novella, Miyuki, which is book two in the Unusuals series.  The tour  is running from March 1st to April 1st, and I’m lucky last on the tour.  Which could also be lucky for you, as I’m also offering the chance for one lucky reader to win paperback copies of the first two books in the series – hurrah! Giveaway info is at the end of the post.

As today’s review is of the second book in the series, I’ll also give you a handy rundown on the goings on of book one, entitled Mara.  In Mara, we are introduced to a group of teens living in the less than idyllic town of Jericho.  Things have always been a bit off-kilter down good ol’ Jericho way, what with general dislike and persecution of the Natives, and some decidedly odd goings on throughout the years.  During this book, we meet Mara, a reasonably unlikeable young lass who is grappling with a difficult family history and trying to come to terms with the fact that she can manipulate fire. As in, throw flaming fireballs from her hands and such like.  Mara begins to seek out others of her ilk, and discovers that Jericho has its fair share of “Unusuals” – people with certain superhuman abilities – but that being an Unusual also comes with a good chance of an early death at the hands of some of Jericho’s haters.

Layout 1

In book two, we pick up the story after Mara and some other Unusuals, Miyuki being one, find out who has been trying to pick them off.  Miyuki, manipulator of water and granddaughter of Katsumi, a long time resident of Jericho, has to learn how to use her abilities to fight in order to protect herself and the other Unusuals on her side.  Because, not every Unusual sees things the way Miyuki does.  Enter the mysterious and mixed-up Nayara and things are about to get violent. Fatally violent.

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Read it if:

– you’ve ever considered yourself a little bit…out of the ordinary

– you’re a misfit, a rebel on the run, and no one understands you…especially not your vengeful gun-toting brother, or the other thugs that have been hired specifically to kill you…yep, ESPECIALLY not them

– you suspect you may be in possession of very mild superpowers

– you enjoy your YA gritty, edgy and with a side dose of super-charged fight and flight

These two books felt very different from the general fare of YA fantasy being served up just at the moment.  The stories had some real suspense and  a pervading sense of fear woven into the mystery of just who is hunting the Unusuals and what they might want the talented kids for.  They are also reasonably quick reads, coming in at under 200 pages each, which is great if you’re looking for something that won’t bog you down for weeks on end while you plough through the previous book in order to get up to speed with the new release.

I was reminded of nothing so much as movies like the X-men while I was reading these two, and I would really LOVE to see these books in graphic novel format.  There’s a lot of action and the writing really paints a picture while you are reading, and I just feel that the characters and their story would work perfectly in an illustrated format.

These books would be the perfect choice for YA readers looking for a break from your standard high fantasy, but don’t want to bother with love-triangle romances or urban fantasy with a long, complicated back story.  Mara and Miyuki are the perfect novellas to jump into for a break from reality involving a bit of superhumanity, a bit of crash-bang-wallop and a bit of psychological thriller wrapped in a bite-size package.

So now for the giveaway! This one is only open to residents of the US (sorry non-US-ians) and the winner will receive paperback copies of both Mara and Miyuki.  To enter, just click on the rafflecopter link below (and good luck!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

small fryOh, and just for the record, these books fit right in to category four of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with someone’s name in the title. Just sayin’.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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Existentialism and Monster-Taming: Two Graphic Novels…

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Afternoon friends and hangers-on! Recently I’ve been meandering a bit in my reading tastes and have delved into some graphic novels as I am wont to do on occasion…On this occasion I took the decision to delve after meandering past a display shelf at the library containing a graphic novel of intricate and/or inviting cover design.  The two I have for you today range in target audience, content and just plain oddness, so in case you’re planning to use this post as a Christmas gift guide (and why wouldn’t you?), you’d probably better pay attention so you don’t end up giving the fun, kiddy one to your broody Emo-teen nephew Reginald, and the super-creepy and sociopathic one to sweet little seven year old niece Emmy-Lou. You’ve been warned.

The Fun, Kiddy One

cats cradle

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux tells the story of Suri, an orphan hanger-on to a travelling caravan who has dreams of being a monster-tamer.  After accidentally taming a terrifying monster held captive at the fair, she finds herself relentlessly pursued by some shape-shifting humanoid monsters for reasons unkown to her.  Luckily though, accidental monster-taming has its benefits and Suri ends the tale with at least one more friend that when she began.

The cover of this book drew me in immediately and I picked it up with absolutely no idea what the story was going to be about.  I often do that with graphic novels – I find I don’t need to know much about the story in order to be prepared to give it a go.  I’m glad I did (give it a go, that is), because the art and the story had me hooked.  Unfortunately, I finished the book in about 15 minutes and was desperate for more!  Luckily, I have just checked on the author’s website and book two is in the works. Hurrah!

Cat’s Cradle would be a perfect choice for reluctant readers of middle grade age, because the art and story are highly involving, easy to follow and draw the reader in.  With a female main character, this could also be a good choice for girls who are looking to expand their reading horizons and try something different from the standard fairy/fantasy chapter book.  Boys will surely enjoy this one too however, due to the themes of monster-hunting and magic powers.

See, this is why I love libraries – you never know what little gems are lurking in the stacks.  Book two in this series is called The Mole King’s Lair….I’ll be keeping my eyeballs out for it.

The Super-Creepy Sociopathic One

billy fog

I happened across Billy Fog and the Gift of Trouble Sight by Guillaume Bianco, as with Jo Rioux’s book, after spotting it on a library display stand.  Apparently, so the blurb (which I never bothered to read) goes, Billy Fog wears glasses, but when he takes them off, he can see all sorts of weird, creepy things that other kids can’t.  It’s probably good that I never read this blurb as that has little if anything to do with the story, such as it is, and I can’t even remember any pictures of him with glasses on in the actual book (although I’m sure they’re there).

No matter!  What really drew me to this one was the fantastic aged look of the cover and creepy, Burton-esque art style.  Check out some of the artwork – isn’t it just fantastically atmospheric and fun and oddly enticing?

Death-comes

SuperstitionWell, I thought it was.

Now. While this book has fantastic art, the content is just flippin’ weird.  So in the first few pages Billy’s cat Tarzan dies. He may have had something to do with it – that’s never made clear.  But basically, the book deals with Billy trying to make sense of that unwelcome, ever-present visitor hanging around in the shadows, death.  He even asks Santa Claus for some advice on the topic.  Other bits of the book feature Billy’s attempt at a bestiary of creatures that haunt dark spaces, and stories about other odd-bods that he has encountered in his young life.

I have to say it – this was a odd, creepy, unsettling book.  Strangely though, many books of this ilk have a weird sort of a pull, making it impossible to look away.  Billy Fog was no exception.  The weirdest part of the book was the really deep theme of existential angst running through the stories.  Essentially, while the main character of this book is a young child, the content is really for late teens and older.  The back of the book says 13+, but I think even that’s a bit optimistic.  You would not want to give this to a little kid, or indeed, a particularly sensitive kid – it would scar them for life and probably bring their nightmares to life – unless you want to instill in them a deep-seated fear of sleeping alone, that is.  You however, as a mature, open-minded and slightly anti-hipster-ish adult, will probably be intrigued by such a tome.

I have actually found a cover design for volume three of the Billy Fog saga, Billy Fog: The Boy Who No Longer Believed in Santa Claus that will give you a far better feel for the content (and is no less appealing, art-wise):

billy fog v3

See? Now you know what you’re getting yourself in for.

So there you have it – my little foray into differenetly-formatted fiction.  Sharp-eyed readers will also note that Cat’s Cradle would be the perfect choice in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge 2014 for category two (a book with a piece of furniture in the title), while Billy Fog would suitably acquit both category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) or category six (a book with something precious in the title).  Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then click on the large and absurdly attractive button below to check out the challenge and join the Safari!

small fryUntil next time,

Bruce

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Top Ten Tuesday: Speculative Sequels…

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toptentuesday

A fine afternoon to you all – as you can probably guess from the title of this post, it’s time for one of my random occasional jaunts into meme territory, namely the ever-popular Top Ten Tuesday hosted by the Broke and The Bookish! This week’s topic is…..

BOOKS THAT I WISH HAD A SEQUEL

While most of these books are for the very young (or young at heart), I believe that they could all have done with a nicely marketed follow-up title.  I have given my suggestions (and in some cases, possible synopsises synopsi plot descriptions), but please feel free to add your own if any better ideas spring to mind.

oh the places youll go1. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss

This seems to be a perennial favourite on my TTT lists…I would like to see a sequel to this one that honours the parents and caregivers who read this one over and over to their offspring, titled….

Oh, the Places I’LL Go Once You Kids Have Moved Out

mrs queen 2

2. Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

This was a great little read, but I would like to see a sequel that is in keeping with the aftermath of most of my journeys on public transport, titled….

Mrs Queen Takes Two Aspirin and Has A Good Lie Down

guernsey3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary-Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This one, despite being a firm favourite of mine, is unlikely ever to get a sequel given that the author has since passed on, but I would like to see something to bring the story into the new millenium, titled….

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’s Organic Vegan Cookbook (for iPad)

goodnightmrtom4. Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian

A childhood favourite that I discovered (and loved!) as a grown-up.  Once again, in deference to the experience of parents everywhere, I would love to see a range of increasingly short and frustrating sequels to this one titled….

Mr Tom, Can You Read Me A Story?

Mr Tom, Can I Have A Glass of Water?

Mr Tom, I Need to Go to the Toilet…

and finishing up with Mr Tom Needs A Good Stiff Drink

 

curious incident5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

A bestseller if ever there was one, and I would love to see intrepid Christopher Boone turn his detective wiles to a sequel for the feline fanciers amongst us, titled….

The Puzzling Occurence of Cat Sick in My Slipper

phantomtollbooth

6. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I would love to see this classic of silliness and punnery followed up by something a bit more sensible and dour, titled….

The Ph-inancially Viable Tollbooth:  A No-Nonsense Guide to Beating Rising Travel Costs

wherethewildthingsare7. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Once again, I’d love to see this children’s classic tackle some of the problems that more modern children (and their imaginary friends) may be facing, in a sequel titled….

Where the Wild Things Were: Children’s Excessive Screen Time and the Demise of the Mythical Creature

harold and the purple crayon

8. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

The oft-told tale of the small child and his creative spirit….I would be hoping for a sequel in a sort of “Where is he now?” type of vein, titled…

Harold and the Neutral Paintbrush.…being a memoir of a young graffiti offender’s participation in community beautification programs

whereisthegreensheep

9.  Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek

For this fun and frolicky tale, I’d love to see the sequel that charts the farmer’s instant emotional reaction on discovering that s/he is missing a sheep, titled….

Who Left the Bloody Gate Open?

and finally,

neverending story10. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

I don’t have a suggested title for this one, but if it doesn’t have a sequel it’s just a case of false advertising really.

So that’s my two bob’s worth – feel free to chime in with your own suggested titles – I’d love to hear from you!

Oh look, here’s a large enticing button…

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Until next time, my friends!

Bruce

Bruce’s Lucky Dip: Paper Dolls You Never Played With as a Kid…

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It’s lucky dip time again, and have I got some ripping (pun intended) offerings for you today! For those who don’t know, my lucky dip feature involves typing a carefully selected term into the Book Depository’s search box and presenting you with the delightfully weird results.

So, paper dolls. Those favoured playthings of fleshlings fond of fun in two-dimensions. Who would’ve thought that scratching the surface of such an innocuous activity would  uncover a veritable treasure chest of oddity? Well, after the utter strangeness encompassed by the range of colouring books on offer, one probably shouldn’t really be surprised.  But one will be.

For your perusing pleasure, I present to you some of the real gems of paper-related play – click on the covers if your appetite for origami-esque shenanigans is whetted!

For the Buddhist who wants to add “right-dressing” to their list of rules for living:

dalai lama paper dolls

 

In a similarly religious vein, for the paper-doll enthusiast with a penchant for swift, undetectable revenge:

voodoo paper dolls

For the book enthusiast who really wants to get inside their favourite author’s head…and wardrobe:

literary greats paper dollsI’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m only certain of Shakespeare out of that lot…can anyone enlighten me as to who the rest are? Is that Sylvia Plath in the straight jacket? Virginia Woolf? And the bloke on the right looks like a close relation of Colonel Sanders the KFC man, but I’m guessing is somebody more literary minded….

For the pet-lover whose real-life animal friend is averse to wearing cute little outfits:

lucky cats paper dollsFor the man in your life who always liked to play with his sister’s dolls as a little boy:

naughty girls paper dolls

And my personal favourite….***DRUM ROLL PLEASE****…..

For the political enthusiast who wants to recreate famous scandals in their own home:

richard nixon paper dolls

Now before you start scratching your head at the utter surreal-ness of the book immediately above, the BD has a whole range of paper doll books featuring American presidents and their families.  So whatever your political persuasion, there is a paper doll out there for you, voter!

If paper dolls are not your thing, I have also recently discovered two more fantastically different colouring books that I just had to share with you:

For the littlest scholar of feminist philosophy:

girls are not chicks colouring

And for the colouring enthusiast who can’t resist using one of those fancy rainbow pencils:

sometimes the spoon colouring book

 

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and flex your creative muscle! And be sure to chime in with any other exciting paper-doll or colouring related titles that we need to know about.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haiku Review: Noah Dreary…

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Evenin’ all! It’s Mad Martha with you again.  Today I bring you a haiku from a book with arguably the best opening page ever. See for yourself:

image

What a cracker, hey? The book is Noah Dreary by Aaron Blabey.  I’d not bothered to read any of Blabey’s work before, despite knowing that he was a CBCA shortlisted picture book author/illustrator, and I must admit that this has been a grave oversight on my part.  I found this book’s humour scratched that itch we all have for that which is just plain odd.

This particular work follows the trials and tribulations of Noah Dreary, seasoned complainer and recent head-loser.  The illustrations are just fantastic – really, this book could retain it’s sense of weird humour even if the words were to be omitted.  In all honesty, if that first page hasn’t captured your interest, I don’t know how I’m going to coerce you….but here’s a haiku review anyway!

image

Heads up, complainers:

Careful what you whinge about

Things could still get worse!

This book will appeal greatly to the kiddies, and to any grown-up who works in any occupation that involves dealing with incessant whingey-ness.

One word of caution though, for the faint of heart – as a younger stone I vividly remember being scared witless by any depiction of headlessness.  I particularly recall a television commercial for CCs corn chips that gave me the heebie-jeebies every time it came on (and put me off corn-chips for life).  Any illustrated versions of the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow were completely out.  If you (or your mini-fleshling!) gets a little freaked out over headless characters, this may not be the book for you.

Oh, and for your viewing (and possibly reminiscing) pleasure, here’s the link to the CC ad of which I speak:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oh36xZqaz8U

Yep. It still creeps me out.

Oh, and Bruce has asked me to give you another heads up: July’s Fiction in 50 challenge is coming up soon!  The theme is Night Terrors and you can find out more about this intriguing concept here.

Adieu my friends,

Mad Martha

From the Bookshelf of the Damned: A Haiku of Frustration…

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I’m in the middle of a good-book drought.

For those lucky individuals who have never experienced such a thing, a good-book drought consists of a reasonably prolonged period of time in which one is seemingly unable to produce warm, accepting and genuinely affectionate feelings towards any book one attempts to read. 

Whilst mired in a good-book drought one may engage in such anti-bookish behaviours as repeatedly abandoning books without finishing them, reacting with excessive nit-picking or criticism to writing styles, plot devices and dialogue sequences that previously caused only mild discomfort, and nervous hand-wringing brought on by a gradual diminishing of hope that one will ever again be blessed with a fantastic and instantly loved read.

I suspect that the good-book drought is a temporary form of mild karmic imbalance brought on by past book-related misdeeds, such as dog-earing library books, using paperbacks as coasters and allowing food crumbs to be smushed between pages while reading.  Whatever the cause, it is a spectacularly frustrating experience.

Rather than continue to spend my time half-heartedly thumbing through, and then discarding, any more potentially great but currently not-cutting-it books, I have decided to create a frustration-based haiku in the hope that my reading karma will take a more positive turn.

evil flatpack 

 

Bookish kara-te

Oh! To feel the sweet caress

of new-loved pages

 

So, fellow travellers in the blogosphere, I hope that your book-droughts grow ever shorter or are at least broken by regular monsoonal activity that produces refreshing reading.

Until next time,

Bruce