The Round-Up to (Figuratively) End All Round -Ups!

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And so I’m back!  The laptop remains unfixed, but will hold out until after Christmas at least so I can round out the year with new content.  To kick us off, I will now bombard you with all the books that I was supposed to review in the last week – eight in all!  I’ve got fantasy, sci-fi, non-fiction self-help, YA, schlock horror, a graphic novel and some literary fiction, so if you can’t find something to tickle your fancy in this post, you probably actually don’t like reading all that much.  I received all of the following books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s get into it while we’re still young.

Broken Prophecy (K. J. Taylor)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  broken prophecy

Despite appearances to the contrary, Ambit is determined not to be the Chosen One.  Things quickly go pear-shaped however as Ambit is burdened with annoying companions and bizarre coincidences that push him toward greatness against his wishes.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

If you enjoy a bit of fantasy and don’t take yourself (or your fantasy tropes) too seriously, then you should find lots to enjoy in Ambit’s adventure.  Ambit is the quintessential anti-hero who, against his will, appears to be the Chosen One who will fulfil the prophecy and save humanity from the demon menace.  As Ambit’s best friend happens to be a demon, it is unlikely that motivation to act as the Chosen One is going to arise in him anytime soon.  Ambit is irreverent, dismissive of authority and generally perfectly happy to do his own thing and let destiny take care of itself.  Unfortunately, in his quest to not be the Chosen One, he becomes burdened with a bunch of companions with a diverse  range of irritating characteristics and for a while there it looks like destiny will have her way with Ambit regardless.  The only problem I had with the book was that in between the main action sequences, it felt like the author got a bit bored with the story and just wanted to hurry things along with some bland padding.  At one point, Ambit begins to remark on how, despite what he does, his goals start to be met and the right people pop up out of the woodwork, and although this is part of the spoof factor of the story, it doesn’t really make for interesting reading.   Overall, however, I found this story to be fun, full of comic situations and generally a solid choice for those who enjoy a bit of spoof of the fantasy genre.

Brand it with:

Marked by fate, band of companions, demons v humans

The Midnight Gardener: The Town of Superstition #1 (R. G. Thomas)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the midnight gardener

Thaddeus moves to a new town and is entranced by a whistling gardener next door who only seems to work at night. After a chance meeting, it seems that the gardener may hold the answer to the disappearance of his mother years ago.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

Garden gnomes. That’s why.  Yes, along with dragons, were-beasts and faeries, this book features garden gnomes, a group of fantastical beings that is woefully underused in my opinion, especially in YA.  This book has a nice blend of urban and traditional fantasy with the added bonus of a relatable main character and romance that isn’t overdone.  The people who populate the town of Superstition are all just a bit too good to be true and of course many of them turn out to be embroiled in the secrets surrounding the disappearance of Thaddeus’s mother and the reasons Thaddeus and his father have spent so many years moving from place to place.  It’s also refreshing to see a YA book featuring a father that isn’t a deadbeat, absent and antagonistic or generally incompetent in some way.  This is a strong YA offering alternating between mystery and heart-pounding action, that will appeal to readers looking for a book that features a mythical creature we don’t often get to see and a slow-burn adventure that really takes off toward the end.

Brand it with:

LGBQT heroes, Not-your-nanna’s-garden-gnomes, appropriately-named-small-towns

** I am submitting this book for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of Odd Subject Matter – garden gnomes being ones I have never before encountered in YA fiction**

The Tea Machine (Gill McKnight)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the tea machine

Plunged into a violent battle against giant space squid, Sangfroid witnesses the deaths of her fellow soldiers.  Waking up after being rescued from a similar fate, she discovers that time is not what it seems and there may be a way to right the wrongs of her past, with the help of a time-travelling, inventoress named Millicent.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This story will greatly appeal to those who love being thrown in the deep end of an original, fantasy or sci-fi world.  I only received a few sample chapters of the full novel (which explained why the whole thing was so short!!) but right from the first page, the reader is plunged into gory, squiddy warfare in which only the toughest (quite literally) will survive.  I found the learning curve of the first few chapters pretty steep and just as things started to make a bit of sense, the sample chapters came to an end, which was disappointing to say the least.  This certainly looks like the promising beginning of a series that will be snapped up by those who love crazy, unexpected adventures laced with time-wimey stuff and strange, speculative worlds.

Brand it with:

Wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-beardie-weirdie stuff, squid soldiers, when in (speculative future) Rome…

F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice For Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems (Michael I. Bennett & Sarah Bennett)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  fuck feelings

A solid, well-categorised self-help guide to getting a grip on the problems that are stopping you from being at peace with your life (crap as it may be).  Essentially, this is the slightly, more in-depth version of Bob Newhart’s “Stop It” sketch.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is one self-help book that actually does what it says on the tin.  Without resorting to technobabble or therapy-speak, the authors set out in an easy-to-follow format their theory for getting over “issues” and accepting life as it is.  Each issue – be it alcoholism (your own or others’), disconnection from family, social awkwardness or something else – is given its own little section, with dot points laying out why this is an issue in your life (or someone else’s) and what you can do (and think) to stop it leeching the living out of you.  There’s even a little script for each issue that you can say to yourself (or some other relevant person in your life) to reinforce the thinking that should help you accept that sometimes life will be sh*tty and there’s not a great deal we can do about it.  I wouldn’t recommend reading it cover-to-cover (unless you’ve got some serious problems!!) but it would be a handy tome to keep on the shelf to dip into and reference when life throws unexpected (or inevitable) sh*tstorms your way.

Brand it with:

Life sucks and then you die, Dr Phil on steroids, help is on the way (maybe. Probably not though)…

Demon Road (Derek Landy)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  demon road

Amber is an uber-ordinary girl with distant but adequate parents. Until she turns into a demon and her parents try to eat her heart. Then sh*t gets real.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is a right little cracker of a read that will satisfy existing Landy fans and bring on board Landy newcomers.  I have only read the first of the massively successful Skulduggery Pleasant series (and that was years ago) but I immediately recognised Landy’s action-infused and subtly humorous style.  Readers looking for a fun, fast, bloodthirsty (in parts), fantasy road-trip adventure will lap this up and rightly so – it has all the elements of a fantastic, engaging read.  My only problem with the story was Glen – the most anti-stereotypical and annoying Irishman ever penned – and I would have been quite happy if he’d been eaten by some sort of mythical creature early in the piece.  The banter between he and Amber was just irritating to me and so I was quite happy when….spoilers, sorry.  I got sucked right into this from the early pages – which feature some quite shocking violence and stomach-churning, angry-making verbal and physical violence toward women (and specifically woman…Amber).  This is part of the story and not gratuitous, but it still got my adrenaline pumping for a rumble and therefore I was also majorly happy when …spoilers again.  This is definitely for the upper YA/adult market due to strong violence, language and a few sexual references.  Highly recommended for some demonical fun.

Brand it with:

You think your parents are tough?, Great American Road Trip, an Irishman walks into a bar

Monsterland (Michael Phillip Cash)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monsterland

When Wyatt practices a good deed, he inadvertently receives an invite to the grand opening of the worldwide phenomenon, Monsterland – a theme park, the brainchild of inventor Vincent Conrad and touted as the new, humane solution to the worlds’ vampire, werewolf and zombie problems.  Vincent Conrad is Wyatt’s idol – but will seeing the park close up change Wyatt’s mind?

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is a wonderfully fun, schlock horror, gore-fest that can best be described as Jurassic Park with zombies, werewolves and vampires instead of dinosaurs.  Vincent Conrad plans to open multiple parks simultaneously across the globe, housing zombies (victims of a plague infection), werewolves and vampires, in an act of humane containment and providing the opportunity for research and cure of the poor unfortunates’ conditions.  All of the worlds’ rulers, presidents and government officials have been invited to said openings.  What could possibly go wrong?!  Plenty, as I’m sure you can imagine.  If you are expecting some kind of original twist on the “monsters breaking out of confinement and reigning merry hell on their captors and innocent bystanders” theme you’ll be disappointed.  If however, you are looking forward to the “monsters breaking out of confinement and reigning merry hell on their captors and innocent bystanders” theme playing out in a graphic and action-packed fashion, then this will be right up your street.  I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it is: good old-fashioned escapism at its pacey, predictable, “it’s behind you!!!” best.

Brand it with:

It’s behind you!!, I heart monsters, stragglers eaten first

Camp Midnight (Steven T. Seagle & Jason Katzenstein)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  camp midnight

Skye is sent to summer camp and is determined to have a bad time just to spite her father and stepmother – but she ends up on the wrong bus and bad times are about to catch up to her.  Finding herself in a camp full of (literal) monsters means that Skye is going to have to be extra crafty to outwit, outplay and outlast her fellow campers if she doesn’t want them to discover a human hiding in plain sight.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is a fun and fast-paced story about friendship, family and getting your fright on.  Skye is a typical early teen with a surly stepmother who will do anything to get Skye out of the way on her annual stay at her father’s house.  Although ending up on a camp full of monsters wasn’t part of the plan, Skye discovers that the term “monster” is subjective and those that look like monsters may be harbouring some very down-to-earth wisdom behind a frightening exterior.  This is a pretty typical story arc, with Skye learning some lessons about herself by the end, but the narrative is presented with plenty of humour and middle-grade graphic novel fans should really enjoy it.  It is also a reasonably long read for a graphic novel, which is satisfying for those of us who always find this format too short.

Brand it with:

Stepmonsters, unhappy campers, born to be wild

The Children’s Home (Charles Lambert)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the childrens home

Morgan, a recluse with a facial disfigurement, resides in his family estate far from civilisation with only his housekeeper Engel for company.  When children begin appearing at the estate one by one, it is the catalyst for Morgan’s re-entry into the world and his discovery that wilful ignorance is no guarantee that the truth will not find you in the end.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is literary fiction that is thoroughly accessible to the non-literary fan.  While there are clearly elements to the story that are allegorical, symbolic of some greater issue or providing subtle commentary on humanity’s obsession with power and suffering, the tale can also be read as just a slightly off-kilter, mildly creepy examination of one man’s journey to self-acceptance.  Morgan, Doctor Crane and Engel are all very likeable characters and this really helped me to stay engaged with the story when things started to get weird.  One of the things that annoys me most about literary fiction is its tendency to be unnecessarily hefty, with pages and pages going by in which nothing happens but elliptical conversation or self-indulgent musing.  Thankfully, in The Children’s Home, time is not wasted on edit-worthy navel-gazing and there always seems to be something new happening – a new child coming into the home, an unexpected discovery in one of the rooms, some information about the characters’ back stories – to gently nudge the plot forward.  I think, for the right reader, this could definitely be a highly moving piece, with its themes of loss, disconnection, abuse, responsibility and personal morality in the face of injustice, but for me it ended up being just a deeply engaging story about some very interesting characters, some extremely unusual medical models and one supremely annoying young man (who comes good in the end).

Brand it with:

Unexpected parental responsibilities, personal growth, unusual gardening methods


Do your eyeballs feel like sandpaper after all that reading?  One of the advantages of being made of stone is that I can read for hours with little to no eyeball drying.  I hope you’ve found something within this herd to make you perk up a little.

I look forward to presenting you with a very exciting offering on Christmas Day!

And for those that are interested in participating, Fiction in 50 will be kicking off on Monday the 28th of December, with the prompt:

venturing forth buttonUntil next time,

Bruce

 

 

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Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: A Historical, First Nations MG Epic…

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imageToday’s Oddity Odyssey selection I am submitting in the categories of Odd Title and Odd Subject Matter.  In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall and illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk is an absorbing journey into the history of the Lakota people – an indigenous tribe of North America – and their struggle to prevail and maintain their traditional lands and culture in the face of advancing white folk.  The oddness in the title is the “Crazy” part – which is a synonym for “odd ” – and the oddness of the subject matter relates to the fact that I have never read a book so focused on North American First Nations people.  Thanks to Abrams Kids, the book’s publisher, from whom I snagged a review copy through Netgalley, for the opportunity to extend my knowledge in this subject area.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge for 2015, feel free to click on the challenge button at the top of this post.  There’s still time to join in!

But back to the book.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you would not guess it by his name: his father is a white man and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota history. Drawing inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition and the Lakota cultural mechanism of the “hero story,” Joseph Marshall provides readers with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

crazy horse

If you know any middle grade boys who are ripe for an action-packed, rite-of-passage adventure with a difference then this is a book you definitely want to get into their hands.  While I by no means wish to deter young ladies from reading this book, it has a definite male skew and has many aspects, including riding, fighting and learning from older mentors that will especially appeal to young boys.

The story begins with young Jimmy discussing with his grandfather the ways in which some boys at his school try to make him feel different.  Jimmy’s grandfather, a proud Lakota man, takes it upon himself to teach Jimmy some of his history and culture, and point out that one of the Lakota’s most famous warriors, Crazy Horse, also found life as a young man less than smooth sailing.  The tale alternates between conversations and interactions between Jimmy and his grandfather in the present day as they travel to sites of historical significance for the Lakota people, and a narrative following the snippets of the life of Crazy Horse, as he grows from a lad of about Jimmy’s age, to a man and a leader of his people in a time of upheaval.

While not being from North America, or having much knowledge of the First Nations people of that area of the world – outside that dubiously provided by watching Dances With Wolves and the like – many of the situations in which Crazy Horse and his loved ones found themselves felt eerily similar to the historical incidences of genocide, oppression and discrimination levelled against Australia’s own indigenous people since the arrival of European settlers.  I imagine the stories of many First Nations groups across the world share themes of destruction of culture and loss of land, accompanied by an inexplicable astonishment from the oppressing forces as to the audacity of various indigenous populations in fighting against impending death and displacement.  This book will no doubt open up important discussions for North American readers, but could also be used in Australian schools and families as an oblique way to introduce our own history of indigenous oppression, which remains a contentious topic for many.

In terms of the narrative, the writing felt a little didactic to me as an adult reader at times, but overall I found this to be a highly accessible story that addresses issues such as finding one’s identity, the social impact of civil conflict, and coping with difference.  It’s also a reasonably quick read with plenty of action and this is aided by the switching between present and past.  I’d highly recommend this as a class read-aloud to engage reluctant male readers in discussions about history, identity and ethics.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Challenge Total: 15/16

Until next time,

Bruce

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Trashed…

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Today’s offering in my quest to scale the dizzying heights of oddity is a graphic novel narrative non-fiction tale about that most indispensable yet oft-maligned occupation – rubbish collection.  Trashed by Derf Backderf follows the exploits of a couple of ordinary guys thrust into the extraordinary world of civic garbage disposal through a lack of other opportunities.  Peppered throughout this unexpectedly engaging read is a plethora of information and statistics about the garbage-generating habits of Americans (for the most part) and the not-so-ingenious ways that humans have come up with in order to keep their detritus out of sight and out of mind.

I received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it in the category of books with odd subject matter.  To find out more about the challenge (and join in!) click here.  But let’s not sit around like a stinky old bag waiting for collection day! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Every week we pile our garbage on the curb and it disappears—like magic!

The reality is anything but, of course. Trashed, Derf Backderf’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed, award-winning international bestseller My Friend Dahmer, is an ode to the crap job of all crap jobs—garbage collector. Anyone who has ever been trapped in a soul-sucking gig will relate to this tale.

Trashed follows the raucous escapades of three 20-something friends as they clean the streets of pile after pile of stinking garbage, while battling annoying small-town bureaucrats, bizarre townfolk, sweltering summer heat, and frigid winter storms.

Trashed is fiction, but is inspired by Derf’s own experiences as a garbage­man. Interspersed are nonfiction pages that detail what our garbage is and where it goes. The answers will stun you. Hop on the garbage truck named Betty and ride along with Derf on a journey into the vast, secret world of garbage. Trashed is a hilarious, stomach-churning tale that will leave you laughing and wincing in disbelief.

trashed

Apart from numerous “ew”-inducing scenes and the unrivalled hilarity that is a piano being crunched in a rubbish compactor (oh, the symphony!), there are some incredibly thought-provoking instances in this unexpectedly fascinating read.  At first it felt a bit weird to be presented with nonfiction sections slap in the middle of your typical graphic novel, but these informative little snippets actually raise the book above the common graphic novel herd.  The facts presented about the ways and means of rubbish generation and disposal are both stupefying and scandalous. Reading about the enormity of humanity’s collective garbagey woes gave me pause for thought about the  unimaginable scale of any effort that would have to be undertaken in order to reverse the environmental harms already inflicted and enact positive change for the future.

These sobering facts are deftly balanced by the down-to-earth problems of the main character and his co-workers as they battle exploding maggots, back-breaking hard rubbish items, despotic managers and the problems that come with extremes of weather (ie: garbage bags freezing to the footpath).  Seriously, being splashed with a bit of bin water is the least of their worries.  The characters seem to be vying for the title of “least personable individual”, as along with the aforementioned despotic manager, we meet a collection of garbage workers each with their own idiosyncratic irritating habits (and nickname), a delightfully bizarre cemetery worker, the scariest dog-catcher ever created and a host of citizens who just don’t appreciate the finer points of putting out the correct type of rubbish on the correct day.  By about the end of the first quarter of the book, I can guarantee you will have developed a whole new level of sympathy for those who collect your refuse.

Or at least, those who used to collect your refuse, if you are an Aussie.  Our trucks are all fitted with automatic robot arms to empty the bins – gone are the days of the loveable “garbo” running your rubbish bin to the truck, with the unwritten promise of a six-pack left out at Christmas time as a reward for their essential services.  Honestly, kids of today wouldn’t believe you if you told them – “You left beer out for the garbage man? WTF? That’s so random!”

I would highly recommend having a look at Trashed if you are in the mood for something that will satisfy both your escapist and cerebral urges.  There’s a lot to laugh at in the storyline – in a schadenfreude,
“Gee, I’m glad that’s not me” sort of a way – as well as a lot to ponder.  Just remember to pop it in the recycling bin when you’re finished.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 14/16

Until next time,

Bruce

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: A “Down the Rabbit Hole” Reimagining You Never Saw Coming…

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It’s an absolute travesty, I know, but I haven’t posted an entry in the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge 2015 since JULY. Yep it’s been Two. Whole. Months.  Considering this challenge was devised by me, that is incredibly slack. To make up for this dire transgression, I have a triple-bunger of oddness for you with a reimagining of falling down the rabbit hole that is completely out of left field. Today I have the first three volumes in a new release graphic novel series for the middle grade set that is a bit odd in pretty much every sense, but I will officially be submitting it under the category of Odd Subject Matter, given that it is a new twist on an old favourite.

As an aside, if you’d like to find out more about the challenge (and join in – there’s still time with levels starting at completion of just three books!), just click on the image at the top of this post.

Now back to business. I received copies of the first three volumes of Malice in Ovenland (yes, you read that correctly) by Micheline Hess, from Rosarium Publishing via Netgalley – and at first, I wondered what on earth I’d gotten myself into. But about halfway through volume two….well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s the blurb from Rosarium:

Lily Brown is a bright, curious, energetic young girl from Queens, New York. She lives with her mom and loves reading and writing and spending time with her friends. But she hates cleaning!

So, when her mom forces her to stay home for the summer instead of going off to some fun soccer or riding camp, Lily fumes. She wanted excitement and adventure. She didn’t want to do chores.Little did she know that the greasy oven in the kitchen was going to give her more excitement and adventure than she could possibly handle.

malice in ovenland 2

And so begins the tale of Malice in Ovenland. The first volume introduces Lily’s fall down the Ovenhole, as it were, and is replete with elements of middle-grade appeal – disgusting smells, blobby, gross monsters, vomit and general yuckiness. The art style is cartoony and this, coupled with the stomach-churning subject matter, very nearly put me off but for some reason, when I saw the second volume pop up on Netgalley I threw caution to the wind and gave Lily and her grease monsters a second go.

malice in ovenland 1

I’m glad I did. The action ramps up in the second volume and we are given a bit more plot and a little less grotesquerie (although there’s still plenty to please yuck-loving young readers). In this volume, Lily is thrown into the dungeon of the grease monsters’ castle, wherein she encounters a helpful pile of bones and a possible ally in this hostile environment. The cliffhanger at the end of this volume actually had me really wondering where the story would go, so when volume three popped up on Netgalley….well, you can guess what I did.

The third volume again upped the plot twists and provided more puzzles to solve, as Lily encounters a foodie ghost and attempts to escape from some relentless pursuers. By this volume, the yuckier elements have receded somewhat and I was quite drawn in to Lily’s escape. malice in ovenland 3

I did decide to leave the series here, even though the next volume was available for request, but having read the first three volumes, I can see how the series could well continue to become more engaging with each instalment. Malice in Ovenland will have great appeal to the “reluctant reader” camp of middle graders (and possibly even a slightly older audience) at whom I suspect this is squarely aimed, but I was surprised by how much I was enjoying it by the end of the third volume, compared to what I thought of the first. This suggests that if you can get past the initial grease-based humour of the first volume, there could be a fun bit of mindless escapism waiting for you if you pick this one up.

Although if you do venture into Ovenland, I’d recommend wearing gloves.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge goal: 13/16

Until next time,

Bruce

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Fishbowl…

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imageToday’s book is one that drew me with promises of weirdness and hilarity and therefore I had it pegged as a submission for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge before I even had my grubby paws on it.

Upon finishing it, I was slightly underwhelmed with the levels of both weirdness and hilarity, but I do admit to having ever higher standards in these areas for new books. It is a result of reviewing obsessively and chewing through more than one hundred books a year; after a while you feel like you’ve seen it all and it takes something pretty special to impress.

Hmm. I’ve just re-read that introduction and it might give the impression that this book isn’t up to much. Stay with me though – it’s worth it just for the explanation of inexplicable incidents of fish falling from the sky. And the ending. What a great ending!

I received a copy of Fishbowl by Bradley Somers from the publisher via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He’s longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents.

There’s the handsome grad student, his girlfriend, and his mistress; the construction worker who feels trapped by a secret; the building’s super who feels invisible and alone; the pregnant woman on bed rest who craves a forbidden ice cream sandwich; the shut-in for whom dirty talk, and quiche, are a way of life; and home-schooled Herman, a boy who thinks he can travel through time.

Though they share time and space, they have something even more important in common: each faces a decision that will affect the course of their lives. Within the walls of the Seville are stories of love, new life, and death, of facing the ugly truth of who one has been and the beautiful truth of who one can become. Sometimes taking a risk is the only way to move forward with our lives. As Ian the goldfish knows, “An entire life devoted to a fishbowl will make one die an old fish with not one adventure had.”

fishbowl

So I’m submitting this one to the Odyssey in the category of “odd character” given that the main character is a flying (plummeting) goldfish. On reading the blurb on this one, I got the impression that Ian (the fish) would be the narrator and for that reason alone, I wanted to read this book. It turns out that Ian, while having significant input into the story, is not actually the narrator and the story is told from the alternating perspectives of Ian, Katie (the downtrodden girlfriend), Connor (the villainous boyfriend), Faye (the unassuming homewrecker), Petunia Delilah (the pregnant homebirther), Jiminez (the building superintendent), Garth (the labourer with a hidden hobby), Herman (a time-travelling homeschooler) and Clare (an agoraphobic sex-line telephonist). I may have missed someone there, but those are the main ones I remember.

As one might expect, at the beginning of the tale, the characters mostly know each other from brief nods in the stairwell or lift (or in some cases, not even that) and by the end of the tale, also as one might expect, their lives have intersected in unexpected ways. As is often the way in multi-perspective tales, there were some characters that interested me far more than others. I quickly grew bored with the Katie/Connor/Faye debacle, following as it did the general scorned lover storyline. I experienced a sense of satisfaction with Garth’s narrative arc and the eventual happiness that he discovers after revealing his secret. Clare provided a good laugh in places, but for me the hero of the tale was Petunia Delilah and the live-action homebirth that we are treated to toward the end of the book.

I also enjoyed Ian’s interjections and the big reveal that finally explains those strange occurrences in which fish have been reported falling from the sky.  You thought it was tornadoes lifting the fish from lakes and depositing them over land in unexpected places, didn’t you? Please.  You’ll forgive me for mentioning how naïve you must be if you believe that “scientific” explanation. I won’t shatter your simple assumptions here though.  If you truly wish to see the light, you’ll have to read the book.

Given that I didn’t absolutely love all of the characters’ tales, my interest peaked and troughed. Overall though, I think this is an appealing story with enough humour to lighten things up, enough twists to keep the reader guessing (oh, that ending!), and enough diversity in the cast of characters to produce a hero for every reader. The tone is generally light and conversational and as such, I think this would be a great pick for a holiday read.

Provided, of course, you like your holidays to include a bit of weirdness and hilarity.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 12/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Choose Your Own Adventure for Big Kids: Superpowered (Click Your Poison #3)…

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Hold your horses! Stop the press! Today I’ve got an early Christmas present for anyone who wants to feel like they did way back when, as they flicked through a Choose Your Own Adventure tale. But today’s book is designed specifically for adult readers.  Intrigued? Come on, of course you are!  I was lucky enough to snag a copy of today’s tome through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and I am glad I did, because I haven’t had such a fun experience with an ebook for a long time as I had with Superpowered by James Schannep, the third offering in the Click Your Poison series.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

You know the superhero fantasy. What would life be like if you had superhuman abilities? But really, given the choice, would you save the world or conquer it? In SUPERPOWERED, the choice is yours.

After a bizarre experiment leaves you with one of three superpowers (play the book multiple times to explore all three!), you must ally with or confront the other two test subjects while the fate of Mercury City–nay, the world!–hangs in the balance.

Live your own interactive comic book adventure and Get SUPERPOWERED!

3 Unique Storylines. Over 50 Possible Endings. Just one question… Will YOU Be a Hero or a Villain?

 

superpowered

This was a light, fun read that immediately had me thinking out my old-school strategies for how I would approach the story.  I initially took the path of least resistance, which resulted in a quickly ended storyline, and then I backed up and got my head in the game.  There are three superpowers you can choose from once the story gets going and I took my time deliberating – you don’t want to end up choosing a sucky one and having to start all over again, after all. Or maybe you do, if that’s the way you want to play it!

Once it becomes apparent that you are no longer an ordinary human, paths unfold that allow you to choose whether you will be a bleeding heart hero with designs on making the world a super place, or a black hearted villain with no regard for the common people.  The thing that impressed me the most about this book was the smooth and responsive “click your choice” format in the Kindle edition that allows the reader to click on the chosen option to be taken straight to the corresponding page.  I admit, I did wonder how the author was going to get past all the flicking forward and back of the traditional print CYACs in the electronic format, but it worked like a dream and kept me focused on the story.

I did find it was tricky to go back once you’d made a selection – I learned to take note of the prior location in case I muffed it up – but that was a minor drawback to something that really delivers an enjoyable, nostalgic experience in a modern, adult-friendly format.

There are two other adventures in the Click Your Poison series – one a murder mystery and the other an apocalyptic plague zombie survival adventure – and I would be interested in checking them out.  I reckon that this series is perfect for those who enjoyed the CYAC format as a youngster and are looking for a fun, interactive reading experience to brighten up their daily commute, boring appointment waiting time or other tedium from which there is no physical escape.

I’m submitting this one into my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of Odd Language Element due to the interactive format.  For more information about the challenge and to join in, click here.

Progress Toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 11/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Picture Book Oddity: The Princess and the Fog…

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If I was looking for a picture book featuring some odd elements, say, for an Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge, then today’s book would surely top them all. Or at least most of them.  I am submitting today’s book, The Princess and the Fog by Lloyd Jones, which I received from the publisher via Netgalley, under the categories of Odd Title, Odd Subject Matter and Odd Character.  That made your eyebrows raise in slight awe, didn’t it?  And so it should.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Once upon a time there was a Princess. She had everything a little girl could ever want, and she was happy. That is, until the fog came…

“The Princess and the Fog” is picture book to help sufferers of depression aged 5-7 cope with their difficult feelings. It uses vibrant illustrations, a sense of humour and metaphor to create a relatable, enjoyable story that describes the symptoms of childhood depression while also providing hope that things can get better with a little help and support.

The story is also a great starting point for explaining depression to all children, especially those who may have a parent or close family member with depression. With an essential guide for parents and carers by clinical paediatric psychologists, Dr Melinda Edwards MBE and Linda Bayliss, this book will be of immeasurable value to anyone supporting a child with depression, including social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, arts therapists, pastoral care workers and school staff, as well as parents and carers.  

princess and the fog

So let’s go through the checklist:

A title that’s a play on words? Well that’s odd.

A book about depression aimed at 5-7 year olds? Don’t see too many of them around!

A main character who’s a princess? That’s not odd at all.  But a princess with clinical depression?!

AWOOGA!AWOOGA!

That’s the Oddity Alarm ringing at all 5 bells.

As soon as I read the blurb of this book, I simply had to request it, despite the fact that I Really. Don’t. Like. Princesses.

Not the real life ones. I’ve got nothing against Kate Middleton. I certainly don’t have a bad word to say about Mary of Denmark (she’s from Tasmania, don’t you know?).

But I really dislike princesses in literature*. That goes for any age, any style, any kind of princess. I think they’re overused, undercharacterised and I simply don’t understand why they’re promoted as some kind of idol for young girls.

But I put that aside because here was a picture book about depression written for small children.

Essentially in this tale, the princess has a normal, princessy life of happiness, until one day she doesn’t. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t be as happy as she was before. Nothing has particularly changed. But she doesn’t feel like doing the things she used to enjoy. She doesn’t feel like playing with her friends like she used to. Generally, she just doesn’t feel much of anything good.

The author has done a wonderful job here using metaphor and the evocative illustrations to present to children the feelings associated with depression. I’m sure any child who has experienced depression themselves (or seen it in someone close to them) will definitely resonate with the creeping sadness that is represented by the Fog and the ways in which it absolutely changes the Princess.

As the friends and family of the princess gather round and support the princess against the Fog in whatever ways they can, the princess slowly begins to come back to herself. By the end of the book, there is hope that the princess can once again experience the happiness she had at the start of the story, with the understanding that with help, the Fog can be kept mostly at bay.

I’m not entirely convinced that the end of the book is as strong as the beginning in the way it draws young readers into the world of the depressed person, but this is such a difficult topic for adults, let alone for young children. I applaud the author for addressing such a tricky topic and I think that this book will be a great conversation starter for little ones about depression and, importantly, the things that friends and family can do to support someone who isn’t behaving like themselves.

This is definitely worth a look if you work with early years-aged children in any kind of caregiving or educational capacity.

Progress Toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 10/16

Until next time,

Bruce

*The only exception to my dislike of princesses in literature (or on television) is the northern-accented, pillow-case wearing lass from the UK children’s show Little Princess. Partly because it’s narrated by Julian Clary and partly because her accent is brilliant, her parents are frumpy and she doesn’t wear pink.