A KidLit Haiku Review: The Snowbirds…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for another haiku review, so plump up your feathers (or feathered pillow) and join me in my wintry foray into a  fable-esque tale for youngsters, set in Japan and including elements of Russian legend: The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

In a small Japanese mountain village, young Shoji enters an ice carving competition. He soon finds he has a rival in Orochi, another boy in the village, who tries to sabotage Shoji’s entry, but with the help of his family Shoji creates a most beautiful Snowbird.

When the other ice carvings are revealed they discover that Orochi has stolen Shoji’s idea and has also carved an equally beautiful Snowbird. The judges cannot decide the winner of the competition so they announce that the result will be declared the next morning.

During the night Jack Frost discovers the two Snowbirds and thinks one of them will make an ideal companion for his Grandfather Frost, the Snow King. At the same time Shoji, anxious for the safety of his Snowbird, sneaks out of his house and meets Jack Frost who explains his plan. Shoji agrees to let him have his Snowbird, but they are both interrupted by the arrival of Orochi who demands payment in return for his.

Jack Frost brings the Snowbirds to life and tells them they must travel to the North Pole where his Grandfather will choose one of them to be his companion. On their journey they meet different characters and encounter many difficulties until they both finally arrive, but which one will be chosen? Jack Frost has a cunning idea to help his Grandfather decide…

 

the snowbirds

Adversarial 

actions lead to hard choices

Noble heart thaws ice

Fitzsimmons has developed an original and interesting story here, but at the same time it feels incredibly familiar due to the style of writing that can only be described as a fable.  I think this style will appeal both to grown-ups, who will appreciate a new and different “fairy tale” to read to their youngsters, and to children, who will be assisted into independent reading by the familiarity of the format.  At only 78 pages (in the digital version), the story is also very attainable for younger readers who are venturing into reading on their own.  The tale is very atmospheric, with the wintry surrounds leaping off the page through the descriptive writing and I could almost feel the snowflakes as I read.  The descriptions of some of the scenes, and of the snowbirds themselves are quite beautiful and lend themselves to easy visualisation for the reader.  I can certainly imagine youngsters and their grown-ups wanting to hop onto Google to have a look at some real ice sculptures after reading these sections.

Kids will love to despise the odious Orochi and his devious and spiteful actions towards Shoji’s delicate creation.  I’m sure they will also relish the fact that Orochi’s snowbird bears an incredible resemblance in personality to its maker.  The story is illustrated with line drawings that give a sense of naivety and reflect the tone of the story.

I was quite surprised at how quickly and how easily I became engaged in the story.  Not being a massive fan of traditional fairy tale formats, I appreciated the way that Fitzsimmons has mixed old and new.  The interesting setting helped me engage in the story also, as did the fact that the story was devoid of princesses.  I think parents and carers will really like the strong family bonds represented in Shoji’s family and the emphasis on perseverance,  truthfulness and generosity underlying Shoji’s actions.

If you are a fan of fairy tales and fables, The Snowbirds is well worth seeking out to add to your collection.

Yours in wintry, icicle-laden magic,

Mad Martha

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monsters, Widows and Random Body Parts” Edition…

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imageWelcome to another Reading Round-Up pardners! Today I have an eclectic collection of bookish beasts so hopefully there’ll be something to satisfy even the most fussy lariat-wielding reader.  I received all of these books from their respective publishers (two via Netgalley, one via Simon & Schuster Australia – thanks!) for review.  Let’s ride read!

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse (Leslie Bulion & Mike Lowery)random  body parts

Two Sentence Synopsis:

This one does exactly what it says on the box: you guess which body part a cheeky verse is describing.  Some are blindingly obvious, and some take a little more deciphering, but all in all there’s a lot of fun to be had here mixing science and literacy.

Muster up the motivation because:

…it’s fun, funny and pitched perfectly for the middle to upper primary age bracket.  There are also plenty of illustrations, and a glossary and annotations so there’s a lot going on visually for those who get bored looking at print on a page.  Really, this book harnesses the brilliant (and educationally useful) idea of linking two subject areas that rarely see the light of day together, except in picture books for the early years, and executes it with vim and vigour.  *My kindle version did have a few problems in the formatting of the imagery with the print, but I got a good overall impression of the book despite this.  I would also love to see the finished version in print because of this*

Brand it with:

innovative educational text, shakesp-ears (and eyes and brains etc), poetry in motion

Read my Goodreads review here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1207887128

I’m also submitting this one for my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge in the category of books with an odd language element.  To find out more about the challenge and join in, just click on this cute little button:

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 My Daylight Monsters: A Gothic Novella (Sarah Dalton)my daylight monsters

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Mary has been seeing visions of creepy ghosty-zomboid monsters since a devastating accident in which she lost some of her friends.  She checks herself into a psych ward for teens to get some respite, but it appears her monsters follow her even into the safety of daylight.

Muster up the motivation:

Overall this is a solid, psych-ward adventure-drama, with all the expected patrons in attendance and some unexpected ones also.  The ending got to be a bit unlikely for my tastes but the bulk of the storytelling is done well with some interesting twists and reveals.  As a novella, it’s also a quick read and a great opportunity to try the series before committing to the full length novels featuring Mary in other adventures.

Brand it with:

unhelpful helpers, daytime hauntings, tall-dark-mysterious strangers, take your medication

See my Goodreads review here!

 

 

The Widow’s Confession (Sophia Tobin)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  widows confession
Two American sisters come to Broadstairs, Kent in 1850 to hide from a secret in their past (and enjoy the bracing sea breezes and picturesque painting opportunities – obviously).  When the corpses of young girls start turning up, more than just sand is churned up as the townsfolk try to keep the past buried.

Muster up the motivation because:

…there’s plenty of broody atmosphere to go round, as well as a piecemeal approach to the reveal of past secrets as each chapter is preceded by parts of a letter of confession.  As a period piece and murder mystery, all the tropes are there – the holidaying dapper young gent, the worried vicar, the cold-hearted physician and the mysterious foreign lasses with a shady past.  If you are looking for a book that will make you feel like you’re really there, wuthering on the clifftop (being wuthered? Not sure of the correct verb usage there!) then cosy up with The Widow’s Confession and be blown back and forth with the changing tides as characters’ secrets are revealed.

Brand it with:

An American in Kent, pretty young things (deceased), blustery clifftop strolls, historical fiction

Read my Goodreads review here!

So there you have it. Three rather different books, but hopefully something there has piqued your interest.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge goal: 4/16

I’m a quarter of the way there! How are others going in the Oddity Challenge? Anyone else want to join in? There’s plenty of time. Come on! Get on it!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Adult Fiction Haiku Review: The Room…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for another dip into oddity – specifically, the oddity of Jonas Karlsson’s translated, magical realism tale, The Room.  This one certainly qualifies under the “odd subject matter” category of the Oddity Odyssey reading challenge and also the “odd language element” category, as this one is a translation from the original Norwegian. For more info on the O.O. Reading challenge, just click on the image above.

Bjorn works in a government office as a public servant and discovers a room between the toilets and the lift on his  floor.  He finds that the room houses a perfectly ordinary office space, and as the space seems unclaimed, he begins to take his breaks in the calming quiet of the room.  When his colleagues refuse to acknowledge the existence of the room, Bjorn realises that an elaborate conspiracy must be afoot. Is it a strange, collective case of workplace bullying, designed to drive Bjorn (and his significant talent) out of the office? Or is it a more sinister plot to see Bjorn unhinged? Regardless, workdays in Bjorn’s office are about to get a lot more interesting.

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Anomaly in

Norwegian architecture

draws us into fray

Regular readers of this blog would know that Bruce does not have the greatest relationship with magical realism.  I can understand why. Is it meant to be an allegory? A metaphor for some greater meaning that’s going over his head? Or is it meant to be taken at face value? Just a bit of craziness in an otherwise ordinary setting, perhaps?

I experienced a bit of mild confusion after finishing this book, but decided that overall, I wouldn’t bother trying to assign deeper meaning to some of the odder parts of the story and just appreciate it as  a gem of weirdness in the midst of the mundane.  So Bjorn goes to work, finds a room in his office and hangs out there.  The other people in his workplace deny that there is a room at all.  Interoffice conflict ensues. And it’s eventually resolved in a satisfying (from my point of view, anyway) fashion.

The great things about this book include it’s brevity and the fact that the main character is just as puzzled about the turn of events as the reader.  Bjorn is a singularly unlikeable character – he’s arrogant, socially awkward and self-centred – which kind of added to the perversity of the situation for me. I certainly didn’t feel sorry for him or the predicament in which he finds himself, and I think that helped me just go with the magical elements of the story.  Bjorn is also so sure of himself throughout the majority of the crazy events that are happening around him that he just brings everyone else along with him and by the end everyone else is questioning their own sanity – including me, at some points.

This is a reasonably quick read, with short chapters and very few wasted words or scenes, which I also appreciated greatly.  There’s nothing worse than having to puzzle over nonsensical content while the author revels in their own superior, prescient knowledge of the outcome. Overall, I have to say I definitely enjoyed this story and, while magical realism won’t be going on my favourite genres list, The Room is definitely worth a look when you’re in the mood for something a bit unexpected in a totally mundane context.

This book is the perfect reading choice after a long, hard day working in your non-existent office.

Progress towards Oddity Odyssey Challenge total: 2/16

Ta-ra, m’dears!

Mad Martha

Stella by Starlight: An MG Haiku Review…and Giveaway!

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Hello my little book-loving chooks! It’s time once again for one of my haiku reviews, and today I have one of those books that leaves a deep feeling of cuddly special-ness in your heart-cockles after you’ve finished reading.  I was lucky enough to receive a beautiful hardback copy of Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper from Simon & Schuster Australia for review…and since I enjoyed the story so much, and the edition is so beautiful (with dust jacket and everything) I am also offering it in a GIVEAWAY at the end of this post.  But the giveaway is for Australians only. Sorry everyone else.

Stella is a young girl just trying to get along during the Great Depression in Bumblebee, South Carolina.  Her head is full of ideas but she has all sorts of trouble putting them down on the page, so Stella creeps out of her family’s shack each night to practise that troublesome writing.  On one of her night-time jaunts, Stella and her younger brother Jojo spot a burning cross across the river, surrounded by men on horses, dressed in white sheets.  The Ku Klux Klan has come to Bumblebee.

As the adults worry and keep watch over the neighbourhood children as they go to and from school, all Stella wants is to win the writing competition at school and have her words published in a real newspaper.  But when Stella’s daddy is among a few local men who decide to register to vote in the upcoming election, the danger posed by Klan members in the town comes to a terrifying head.  Will Stella be brave enough to do what needs to be done, or should she keep her head down to keep her family safe?

stella by starlight

This revolution

can be fought with pen, paper

Solidarity

Stella By Starlight is a thought-provoking piece of historical fiction that is all too relevant to contemporary young people.  Stella is an immediately relatable character – a cheeky but protective big sister, a keenly intelligent student who wants to be heard, and a sensitive member of a community that is brought low by persecution.  Draper has done a wonderful job of pitching these quite scary and disturbing historical events at a level that will best engage the intended age-group.  The scenes involving the Klan are (rightly, I think) frightening, but are tempered with the presence of steadying adult characters, so that the children (and young readers) aren’t left to process the implications of these events alone.

I also appreciated the depth that Draper has delivered in the various character groups – not all the white folk are horrible, violent racists, and not all the African-American folk are lion-hearted revolutionaries – so the story reflects the graduations of feeling and action found in any community, and particularly in a community in the grips of conflict.

Throughout the book there is a pervasive feeling of familial love and affection, driven by the closeness of Stella’s family.  It was in these parts that I really became most engaged, and enjoyed Stella’s attempts to put her thoughts down on paper.  The passages in which Stella gains access to a typewriter were quite funny, as both her thoughts and her commentary on the difficulty of wrangling the machine are collected in the one essay.

I think this is an important book for youngsters to read from a historical perspective, as it is vital for the building of peaceful communities that young people know what went before.  But just as important, this is a warm, winsome and witty story that will draw young readers in through the strength and diversity of its young characters.  I highly recommend Stella By Starlight and I wish there were more novels in this style, pitched at this age group, that deal with Australia’s difficult history from the perspective of our indigenous people.

So as this book is too good to keep to myself, on to the GIVEAWAY!  Many thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing the giveaway prize.

If you live in Australia, you can enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  The winner will receive a hardback copy of Stella By Starlight.  Rafflecopter will choose a random winner and I will contact the winner at the end of the giveaway. Ready? Set? Enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to all!

Until we meet again, may your days be filled with the simple warmth of a homespun haiku,

Mad Martha

The Book of Storms: An MG Haiku Review…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today bringing you the first haiku review of the year and ticking another book off the mile-high TBR stack.  I was intrigued by the gorgeous cover and the beautifully written first chapter of this one and so I pre-ordered it…and then let it sit on the stack for a month or two, as is the way with so many of the books that I just have to have right now.

Allow me to introduce you to the original, exciting, disturbing, fantasy action-adventure that is The Book of Storms by Ruth Hatfield.

Danny’s parents are storm-chasers and it isn’t unusual for the pair of them to leave Danny alone at the drop of a hat (or cloud) to race off after an impending downpour.  When Danny awakes one morning to find that his parents have not returned, he doesn’t know just how much his life is about to change.  After finding a pristine stick in the charred remains of a lightning-struck tree in his backyard, Danny suddenly discovers that he can talk to animals and nature and uses this unexpected skill to try to track his parents.  He sets off, accompanied by next-door’s cat Mitz, on a wild chase after a reclusive old man who may hold the key to his parents’ disappearance.  Little does he know however, that someone is on his tail – an ancient and sinister someone who will stop at nothing, even death, to take possession of what Danny holds.

book of storms

It’s raining, pouring

So here’s a little warning:

Hold onto your sand

I am pleased to report that this truly is an undiscovered gem in the pebblemix of middle grade fantasy.  I know there’s a lot of great middle grade fantasy out there – I have enjoyed more than my share, to be sure – but Hatfield has created a highly original and fresh overall experience in The Book of Storms.  I was impressed by this book, which is a rare thing these days as having so many review books cross my part of the shelf, it can get to feeling like I’ve seen it all before.

The first impressive part of this book for me was Hatfield’s creation of the truly disturbing and complex character of Sammael.  I was surprised and, later, engrossed by the inclusion of Sammael; a seemingly immortal being who trades creatures whatever they most desire for their life force (or soul, or sand or whatever else you would like to call it).  He is utterly amoral and is clearly missing the empathic part of a human brain, as his dealings demonstrate.  His companion is a wolfhound-who-is-not-a-wolfhound, Kalia, who suffers daily from Sammael’s temper and dislike but offers only adoration in response.  I was surprised at Sammael’s inclusion because I really haven’t seen a truly, deeply unsettling villain such as this in literature for this age group since J.K. Rowling gave us old Lord Voldy.

The other impressive bit was some incredibly engaging pieces of descriptive prose scattered throughout the book.  The prologue, describing Danny’s dream experience as the storm that takes his parents rages outside his window, drew me in immediately.  Hatfield’s writing is vivd and emotive and it was a real joy to come across these bits in a book intended for this age group.  Clearly, the lady’s got narrative game.

So while there were parts of this book that had me applauding its ingenuity and non-conformity, there were other parts that read exactly like your standard, common-or-garden middle grade fantasy.  There’s all the expected tropes – the parentless child, forced to embark on a life-changing quest; the insurmountable enemy; the disbelief of family and friends leading to the child hero going it alone – and at a couple of points I really just wanted things to hurry up a bit.  I got a tad bored with the recurring conversations between Danny and his older cousin Tom, regarding the latter’s disbelief about the former’s ability to speak to animals.  There was a little bit too much thinking before doing in the first half of the novel for my liking.

But then…the ending!  Not the climactic ending, although that was good in itself, but the post-climax ending, in which a little conversation sparks an ambiguous resolution to the whole shebang.  Brilliant. Well done you, Ruth Hatfield.  This nice little attention to detail (and character) right at the end of the story, when the reader is lulled into thinking that everything is all neatly wrapped up is what made me really sit up and take notice.  Hatfield is definitely going on my “watch list” from now on.

I hope you have enjoyed this beginning jaunt into haiku for the year.  May it be the first of many!

Cheerio 2015ers,

Mad Martha

A Post-Festivity Chance to Get Creative: An Fi50 Reminder…

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Looking for a post-Christmas-binge workout? A chance to burn off those festive calories?

No, neither are we.

Instead, why not hunker down in the air conditioning or central heating, depending on your hemisphere of residence, and put the kibosh on thoughts of food-related guilt by participating in December’s Fiction in 50 challenge?  I know, it’s a genius idea.

This month’s prompt is….

into the great beyond

To participate, just come up with a piece of fiction or poetry in 50 words or less and come back on Monday to add your link to my Fi50 post.  For more information on the challenge, just click on that big attractive picture at the start of this post.

Stay tuned on Monday for the next six months of Fi50 prompts – for those who like to prepare in advance 😉

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Tita…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today presenting a very unusual little offering in the world of literary fiction.  I was lucky enough to win a review copy of this one through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program and because of this have been introduced to a little gem of a read that is a perfect pick for holiday hermit reading.  The book of which I speak is Tita by Marie Houzelle.  Here is the blurb, from Goodreads:

Tita is seven, and she wonders what wrong with her. She has perfect parents. She puts on plays with her friends, spies on adults, challenges her teacher, and even manages to read forbidden books. She should be happy. But she dreams of a world without meals, and keeps worrying about her mother’s whereabouts, spoiling her own life for no reason at all. Tita wants to be good – but how?
As her small town vibrates to age-old Latin rituals on the verge of slipping away, Tita finds refuge – and a liberation- in books.

TitaPoppet muses on

life and certain adult themes

in multiple tongues

Now I usually make up my own description of books that I review, but I have slacked off today and used Goodreads’ blurb because I really can’t think of how to describe the happenings in the book, as they are a distant second to the characters’ relationships.  Tita is a precocious seven-year-old who is greatly interested in the workings of the adult mind and the way the social world works.  Fortunately for the reader, while Tita is precocious, she manages to be so without the usual irritiating attitude that goes along with it – in a sense, Tita knows how much she doesn’t know and is perfectly happy to annunciate the gaps in her knowledge in order to fill them.  Our fleshlings happen to be Catholic, so the references to Catholicism and its traditions and Tita’s schooling were both familiar and amusing.  If you don’t know much about Catholicism, I’m not sure how you’ll take those passages – hopefully they’ll give a good measurement on the ole’ odd-ometer.

I can best describe this book as charming.  Tita is a sensitive and astute narrator and the reader is left to ponder her observations, particularly those relating to the relationship between her father and mother, from an adult perspective.  I very much appreciated the introduction to French culture and language that I received in reading this book – I have always considered it a particular failing that of the many languages that I have studied, French was (and is) conspicuously absent.  Houzelle has redressed this to some extent, as the French language and its influence are threaded through almost every scene in this book.  There’s also a little glossary at the back, so non-French-speakers can better understand particular phrases or references.

This is a gentle read, where events move at the pace of a Sunday morning breakfast and I suggest that’s exactly the sort of feeling you should bring when embarking on Tita’s journey of musing.

Au revoir mes chers,

Mad Martha