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

 

An MG Ghostly Haiku Review: Remembering Kaylee Cooper…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for a poetical look at a new release middle grade ghostly tale from Curiosity Quills – Remembering Kaylee Cooper by Christopher Francis.  I only discovered after finishing the book that the author hails from my very own city of residence, so I had a moment of imagined comeraderie that he too was experiencing the ridiculous temperatures Brisbane turned on especially for the G20 summit…then I noticed that he no longer lives in Australia, so I silently cursed him for not sharing the ridiculous temperatures Brisbane turned on for the G20 summit.  But weather gripes aside, let us examine Remembering Kaylee Cooper.

From Goodreads:

Kaylee Cooper is certain that Alex will become friends with a ghost this year. Alex thinks that he is far too old to be listening to a first grader and encourages Kaylee to stop jeopardizing his important sixth grade social life. Kaylee doesn’t listen and finds awkward ways to spend as much time with Alex as possible, even if it means following him into the boy’s washroom.

Fed up, Alex develops a strategic plan to ultimately help him get rid of Kaylee Cooper for good.

However, he soon learns about the mysterious legend of Screaming Ridge that pulls an unlikely group of friends together, including the girl of his dreams, and the school’s meanest bully. When they discover that the legend is real, and that Kaylee Cooper is at the core of the mystery, Alex stares death in the face and helps save her from an eternal life of misery and confusion.

remembering kaylee cooper

Wouldn’t be seen dead

Hanging with a first-grade girl

Maybe vice versa 

Oh the mixed feelings about this book!  This is a quick, middle grade ghost story that is pitched at the perfect level for a young audience. There is just enough creepiness to satisfy those who enjoy a scare and just enough mystery for those who like a puzzle. Alex is a likeable protagonist and there is a palpable sense of comaraderie that develops between Alex’s classmates as the story progresses and the mystery deepens, which I particularly enjoyed.  It gave the story a bit of life and energy and opened up a sense of adventure.  The ghostly elements vary between being a bit predictable and hiding some unexpected twists and by the end I felt like everything had been wrapped up in a neat little package.  Depending on whether you enjoy your ghost stories with loose ends tied up, this will be satisfying or not so much.  I suspect though that middle grade readers will appreciate the resolution to the various puzzles that are presented in the story.

There was one inexplicable element to this tale that drove me nuts while I was reading and disrupted my ability to remain in the story world.   For some strange reason, the author has given ridiculous surnames to all the teachers in the story, and alliterative names to most of the kids (but not all). The teachers were called Stoolpigeon, Humblewick, Allthumbs and Monobrow….really? Monobrow? The kids were called Damian Dermite, Madelyn Mayfeather, Henry Horkenminder…Why? For me, the use of unlikely names just gave the characters a silly, cartoonish feel when the plot seems to be aiming for an atmosphere of mystery and slight danger.   This really affected my overall enjoyment of the book and I wish it hadn’t been the case.

This next bit is a bit spoilery, so skip ahead to the next paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled!!

Another small niggle I had with the plot was the fact that Kaylee was supposed to have died in 1962, having been born in 1954. Why then, I wondered, was she described by more than one character as as being dressed as if she lived 100 years ago, in long dresses and leather boots with long stockings? This bit didn’t tally for me and as I’m a pedantic sort of a reader, caused me to be mildly cranky with the whole book.

Spoilery bit over – normal service resuming….NOW!

Putting aside my minor irritations, this is a solid ghost story that should appeal to fans of middle grade mystery of your acquaintance. There are a few elements in the plot that are fairly predictable, but also a few that come completely out of left field and add to the puzzle that Alex and his friends are trying to solve. Pick this one up if you’re looking for a light, fun read with a spooky twist.

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

Forbidden Fruit: An Adult Fiction, Cosy Mystery Haiku Review…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today to present a new, exciting find in the world of cosy mysteries! Well, it’s a find that’s new to ME anyway – the book we will be talking about is actually number three in a series.  Forbidden Fruit by Ilsa Evans is the third in Australian series the Nell Forrest Mysteries – Nell being the heroine of the books; the first two being titled Nefarious Doings and Ill-Gotten Gains respectively.  Now why did I start with number three?  Well I’d had Nefarious Doings on my want list for a while, ever since being enticed by its beautiful cover and when I saw a very similar cover pop up on Netgalley, I immediately pounced.  Besides, starting with the first in a series is overrated don’t you think?

Nell Forrest – middle-aged woman, magazine lifestyle columnist and mother of five daughters – has recently bought the house and shop that her family owned back when she was a wee one.  On attempting to plant an apple tree in her new (old) backyard, Nell inadvertently uncovers the skeletal remains of a mystery woman.  Nell’s involvement in a murder mystery couldn’t have come at a worse time – two of her daughters are due to give birth in the near future, with only one of the two prepared to keep their baby; Nell is facing pressure from her new beau to commit to something more permanent; and the Council has seen fit to name a street after her.   As the investigation starts turning up some facts that place the murderer worryingly close to home, Nell must deal with the return of her long-estranged father on top of everything else.  Worst of all however, is the discovery that old skele-bones may have been a swinger.  It’s questionable whether Nell can retain her sanity and solve this mystery – even with a self-promoting street sign in her corner.

forbidden fruit

Is Nell Forrest Close

or do suspects keep swinging?

Police are tight-lipped 

I found this to be a fun, funny, engaging and complex mystery and I am now very motivated to collect the first two books in Nell’s adventures and begin again at the beginning.  I didn’t have too much difficulty starting with book number three in getting to know the characters, although keeping the names, birth orders and current activities of Nell’s five daughters straight was pretty tricky during the first third of the book.  There is a reasonable amount of back story that I felt I was missing in terms of Nell’s family and marriage that I suspect had been dealt with in the previous novels but I did manage to pick up enough snippets and connect the dots well enough to be going on with and it didn’t disrupt my enjoyment of the story too much.

So Nell uncovers a skeleton in her backyard and things go pear-shaped from there.  The ensuing debacle involves the return of a happy-go-lucky father who abandoned Nell, her sister and mother 30-odd years ago, a set of in-laws linked to one of the expectant mothers  who cause a whole bucketload of inter-family dramas and the revelation that the small country town of Majic actually played host to vibrant swinging scene in the late 1960s.  You can see that there’s a lot going on in the story, aside from just the murder-mystery part and these extra bits just add to the fun and muddy the waters slightly in terms of discovering who the murderer might have been.  The beginning of each chapter begins with a short snippet that I assume is meant to reflect the letters that Nell receives as a columnist for middle-aged ladies and the majority of these I found hilarious.  I’m not sure how they related to the story overall but I’m glad they were included because I now have a fantastic new joke to rip out at shelf parties on the subject of mothballs.

The mystery element of the book is complex enough that I feel it would be hard to pick the murderer/s too early on in the proceedings.  I did have a hunch reasonably early on that turned out to be correct in a sense, but the ending is so surprisingly action-packed that there is very little chance that any reader could have seen it coming.

Once again, I’m glad to have finally engaged with Nell and her family and I am super-happy to have a new cosy-mystery series to turn to during reading slumps.  For those of you looking to relax during the upcoming holiday season (be it freezing or blistering), I can certainly recommend Forbidden Fruit as a great pick for a down-time read.

Until we meet again may all your skeletons remain deeply buried (or at least be uncovered in someone else’s yard),

Mad Martha

An Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Nyctophobia…

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Welcome, seekers of the light, to a spooky haiku review with me, your host, Mad Martha.  Today’s book focuses on a fear common to fleshlings and sock-creatures alike: the fear of the dark.  Light your candle/gas lamp/super-powered LED torch and let’s creep quietly down the darkened corridors of Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler.

Callie hasn’t had the easiest of journeys so far in life, but since marrying older, dark, handsome Spaniard Matteo, things have been looking up.  Giving up work as an architect, Callie moves with Matteo to Spain and is immediately drawn to the remote and mysterious Hyperion House, with its strange architectural style that keeps the majority of the house in direct sunlight for the greatest part of the day.  After moving in, Callie begins to research the history of the house in an attempt to discover the reasons behind some its more bizarre features; apart from the lack of shadows in the main living area, the back of the house appears to be built into a cliff, rendering it into almost total darkness, and the servants quarters seem to be built as an exact replica of the main house, but at a third of their size.  As Callie digs deeper into the house’s secrets she becomes convinced that there are “others” living in the locked, dark servants’ quarters – others that wish to do her family harm.  As Matteo is increasingly absent due to work and Callie has no one to turn to but his nine-year-old daughter Bobbie, things become very confusing for Callie very quickly.  But perhaps some secrets are best left buried: for if we do not heed the lessons of history, we may be doomed to repeat them.

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Noises in the walls

are the least of her worries

What price, happiness?

This is not your typical gory, deaths-aplenty horror story (although there are a few deaths here).  Nor is it your run-of-the-mill ghosts in the attic story (although there are indeed ghosts inhabiting various rooms also).  Nyctophobia is instead a psychological, mess-with-your-head, things aren’t what they seem (or are they?) type horror story, and as such, Christopher Fowler has done a very thorough job at creating an atmosphere of confusion and secrecy throughout the book.

If you enjoy haunted house stories, you’ll probably enjoy this.  While defining it as a “haunted house” story is a major simplification – this is a complex book that layers traditional motifs with Spanish history, familial history and episodes of mental illness – it is Hyperion House itself that is the star of the tale here.  I love the idea of a house built specifically to cater to those who are afraid of the dark – for in this story, the original builder of the house designed it with his nyctophobic wife in mind, to ensure that not one shadow penetrated the facade.  The bizarre architectural quirks add interest to the tale and provide Callie (and the reader) with hours of fun as she tries to figure out why they were built and why they are kept perpetually locked and in darkness.

The story has a well-thought out twist in the end that I didn’t see coming.  I won’t give you any clues as to what it might be, but it really threw everything that had happened before into a new light (pun intended!) and had me re-thinking earlier parts of the story.  The twist was nicely handled in that it was revealed matter-of-factly and the realisation of the implications of the twist were allowed to slowly percolate through Callie’s head (and the readers’!) before a slightly ambiguous ending.

The one problem I had with this book is that it felt to me like a hefty, dense read.  It’s only 320 pages, but it seemed to take a long time to really get into the meat of the “horror” elements – in fact, Callie’s first really frightening encounter with the suspected “others” doesn’t take place until chapter twenty-two, and for some people I suspect that’s going to be too long a wait.  If you are in the market for a ghostly, psychological thriller that takes a few Spanish siestas here and there, Nyctophobia could well be the book for you.

Until we meet again, may your torch batteries be ever inserted the right way round,

Mad Martha

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

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A Poetical Read-it-If Review: Rhyme Schemer…

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Are you the kind of reader that loves it when an author tries something a little bit different…and NAILS it? Me too.  Happily, today’s offering is from an author that does just that.  Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt is a verse novel for a middle grade audience, so I suspected when I requested it for review that I would probably enjoy it.  What did surprise me was the way that Holt has managed to create a clever, funny and sensitive novel that hits all the right notes and authentically portrays the troubles and triumphs of a young lad who is considered to be a bit of a ne’er-do-well.  So, in fact, I ended up loving it. Hurrah!

If you were to describe Kevin as a class bully, you would not be too far off the mark.  Kevin has a reputation for being the kind of guy who might hide all your pencils.  And then politely inform you that your pencils are missing.  And then laugh at you.  Kevin also has four older brothers and two parents who don’t have a lot of time for him.  Kevin also has a particular skill in manipulating pages in classic children’s stories and posting them around the school.  But when a classmate discovers Kevin’s love of poetry, he suddenly realises how much of an impact words can have on other people.  Is it too late for Kevin to redeem himself? Or is he going to be stuck as the villain of the story forever?

rhyme schemerRead it if:

*you’ve ever thought that many classic children’s books could do with a cheeky, handwritten makeover

*you’ve ever felt like the smallest fish in a very large pond…comprised mostly of annoying brother fish

*you’ve ever had a secret passion for something that might be considered a bit embarrassing were it to be revealed in public

*you’re looking for a book with an authentic male protagonist that features poetry in a clever and very engaging way

As someone who enjoys the odd bit of poetry (and a bit of odd poetry) this book could not have been more perfect.  It is a super-quick read – I think I read it in two sittings, but could easily have managed it in one – and has a storyline that had me glued to the pages.  The book opens with Kevin revealing that he is the mastermind behind a spate of guerilla-poetry attacks, in which pages torn from classic children’s books have been manipulated with pencil to create funny new poems and stuck up around his school.  If you can’t imagine what I mean, here’s a handy illustration from the book to demonstrate:

 

rhyme schemer illustration example

 

Kevin is a self-proclaimed bully who seems to take great delight in humiliating others, but as we move deeper into Kevin’s journal, we quickly discover that he has family problems that may account, in some part, for his less-than-kind behaviour towards his classmates.  It’s really hard to dislike Kevin though, as his voice is at once self-promoting and self-deprecating – he knows that his behaviour is not winning him friends, but he also seems to know that he has a gift that might open up some opportunities for him if he can keep out of trouble.

This is an ingenious new take on the moving-into-the-teenage-years style of story that will most definitely appeal to kids in the target age group because of the style of humour and excellent characterisation.  I suspect this will also appeal to those with a subversive streak (including, but not limited to, reluctant readers and those who like to deface library books), and those who are just looking for a familiar story of friendship and personal growth told in a fun, accessible fashion.

Actually, writing this review has done two things: it’s encouraged me to pick up That Shakespeare Kid, another verse novel that’s been sitting on my TBR pile for at least six months, and it’s also reminded me to put Rhyme Schemer on my Christmas list. Because now I wish to own it in print, not least because it features the funniest collections on the subject of the school principal’s tie ever written.

Until next time,

Bruce

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MG Haiku Review: Fat and Bones and Other Stories…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today and I bring to you a special little tome of interconnected short stories featuring a range of delightfully wicked characters, topped off with some wonderfully atmospheric illustration.  Take my hand and let’s enter the world of Fat and Bones…

Fat & Bones and Other Stories by Larissa Theule is a collection of short, interconnected stories set on Bones’s mother’s farm.  Before we go much further, it should be pointed out that Bones is a grown up and Fat is a tricksy fairy – so named because of his paunch.  The first story opens with the death of Bones’s father and the somewhat accidental commencement of open hostility between Bones and Fat.  As we delve deeper into this bizarre little world, we discover that Bones is fond of Pig Foot Stew, and as a result, most of the porkers inhabiting the farm are missing a little something below at least one ankle.  Other occupants of the farm that we meet along the way include a tea-loving spider who wants to be brave and a pair of flowers whose friendship is about to be sorely tested.  But who is the narrator of these tales, the spinner of these odd and unsettling yarns? You’ll just have to read and see!

fat and bones

If fairies were real

would they be starlight and charm?

Or lardy and sly?

As you can probably guess from the cover this book has a feel of magical realism, with strange and unexpected twists emerging in every one of the interlaced stories.  The characters are at once likeable and a bit off-putting, their actions two parts self-serving and one part self-sacrificing.  In each of the stories there’s a little bit of humour to offset the overarching fog of bleakness and decay that seems to surround the farm and its residents.

The illustrations perfectly complement the tone of the stories and are masterfully completed, really adding to the overall reading experience.  Once again I would recommend getting this book in print, rather than in digital form, because it was hard to get the full impact of the illustrations having to flick back and forth through digital pages to see the whole image in most cases.

The stories are short and interspersed with interjections from the mysterious narrator and I easily managed the book in one sitting.  As the book is for younger readers though, it would be perfect for a read-aloud as the tales provide obvious stopping points during which readers may muse about folk of the farm.  I very much enjoyed this book for its original characters and the atmospheric setting and narrative style.  The illustrations are just a beautifully crafted bonus.

This might be a good pick in the lead up to Halloween if you are looking for something a bit unsettling and odd, but not actually scary, in the middle grade age bracket.

Yours in delightful oddity,

Mad Martha

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

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An Unseasonal ARC Haiku Review: Santa Clauses…

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Welcome one and all to our unseasonably jolly post! It’s Mad Martha with you today, bringing you an early Christmas present – Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Chuck Groenink!  Despite having verbal first names in common, these two clever blokes have combined their talents to create an eye-soothing Christmas miracle of a picture book, filled with haiku to enhance the poetical pleasure of your preparations for the big, exciting, big, stressful, exciting, big celebration that is Christmas.

The book opens on December 1st, with a haiku-ish weather report accompanied by Santa (in casual attire) amidst a snowstorm of just-delivered mail.  From there we are treated to a haiku a day, covering all the bustle and administrational organisation that goes on at the North Pole in preparation for that night of nights.  Who would have thought that Santa himself is subjected to the trifling annoyances of the season, such as untangling festive lights and replacing faulty bulbs? Other poems inform us that Santa and his Northern folk also partake of the more joyful traditions of the season, including stringing popcorn garlands and sharing favourite Christmas stories beside the fire (or in the barn!).

santa clauses

Advent calendar

of haiku will be our new

yearly tradition

As lovers of haiku, we around the shelf were overjoyed to find this beuatiful new rendering of the familiar lead-up to Christmas type of book.  It’s such a simple idea and a fantastic way to introduce children to this form of poetry.  I suspect parents will enjoy it also, given that it provides a nice break from having to read rhyming stories about Santa repeatedly from September onwards!  So the haiku format was always going to be a winner for us, but the icing on the cake is the amazing quality of illustration that Chuck Groenink has achieved.  The pictures are soft and inviting and but still reflect the mystery and anticipation of the season.  For someone living in the (blistering) Southern Hemisphere, Christmasy books that emphasise the snowiness that we don’t experience here can often feel a little bit annoyingly exclusive, but Groenink’s imagery conveys the comfort of familiar family traditions and the atmosphere of a little community coming together drew us in as something we could connect with, rather than emphasising our lack of cold at Christmas time.

image

We at the shelf love this book so much that we are going to buy it in hardcover and begin a new pre-Christmas advent ritual of reading it in the run-up to Christmas.  Much more satisfying than that Elf on the Shelf business. Does anyone else find that Elf a little bit disturbing? Like a little malevolent minion watching all that’s going on…with his eyes…always watching.  It’s all a bit too 1984 for me (the book, not the period in history).  We suggest that you do the same and bring a bit of haiku into the Christmas season.

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole is released on September 1st, so you have plenty of time to acquire it before December!

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

*I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

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