Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Lint Boy

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Today’s graphic novel pick is a bit of a hybrid for fans of fables and weird creatures.  We received Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lint Boy and Lint Bear live in their cozy dryer home, carefree and happy—until the day Lint Bear is snatched away by a cruel woman with a vendetta against dolls! Can Lint Boy unite a group of lost dolls to vanquish the villain and save his brother?This magical story is showcased in the stunning full-color art of this young graphic novel. A gently gothic, age-appropriate blend of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton, Lint Boy is a compelling tale of good vs. evil that will leave readers spellbound.

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Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Fable

Art Style:

Quirky, gothic

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

Lint Boy and Lint Bear are born from the remnants of lint floating in the dryer. When Lint Bear goes missing, Lint Boy must venture forth from the dryer in search of his best and only friend – but will he be prepared for the wickedness in the world outside the whitegoods?

This book felt like something different right from the very first page.  The setting – the inside of a clothes dryer – and the protagonists – creatures made from discarded lint – are not the most obvious candidates for middle grade fare, so straight off the bat there was some originality apparent in the story.  The format of the book is similarly different from the usual.  The narrative style is fable-like and combines small blocks of text with graphic novel style dialogue and illustrative panels.  The book is divided into chapters but these chapters are largely driven by imagery rather than text.

The story is simple enough – after Lint Boy and Lint Bear vacate the dryer it becomes apparent that they are in danger from the particularly nasty owner of the house.  The reader is given some backstory as to who this woman might be and what her motivations are for being such an unpleasant (and downright torturous) individual.  Throughout the story, Lint Boy and Lint Bear are given opportunities to break out of their everyday roles and become leaders to a band of lost and cowed toys.  The story is all wrapped up in this single volume which makes it a good choice for when you are looking for an original, interesting fantasy tale but don’t want to commit to a series.

There was definitely something missing in my reading experience of Lint Boy and I think that something was production values.  The story reminded me strongly of Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce, a similar beautifully illustrated story about a missing toy and a bully with a tortured past, but with much greater attention to presentation and the overall feel of the book.

While the illustrations in Lint Boy are gorgeous, the formatting of the text and dialogue – and particularly the font – didn’t quite fit the gothic style of the pictures.  This may be an “uncorrected proof” issue and might be different in the final version of the book, but as it is, the mismatch of hand-drawn illustrations and computer-generated font didn’t work for me.

Similarly, I felt that the book, while a solid read, couldn’t quite decide whether it was going to be a novel or a graphic novel and so the story suffered a little in being too sparse in parts and over-explained in others.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen Lint Boy’s story fleshed out a little more and lengthened into a middle grade novel, without sacrificing the excellent illustrations.  Alternately, getting rid of the blocks of text and making the tale a full graphic novel would have worked equally well to rid the tome of its “not one thing or another” feel.

Overall snapshot:

If the quality and depth of the story had matched the quality of the illustrations in this tome, I think I would have had to nominate this one as a Top Book of 2017 pick.  As it is, it’s still a quirky and original tale with beguiling illustrations and characters, but I was hoping for a meatier reading experience here.

I’m nominating Lint Boy for my Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #30: A book with pictures.  You can check out my progress toward all my reading challenges for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Funny “Ha-Ha” and Funny “Peculiar”: A Double Dip Review That May Contain Oddity…

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Today’s double dip requires a whimsical, unexpected sort of a snack.  A snack that makes you giggle and might cause others to look at you askance while you snack upon your unlikely choice of foodstuff.  The books I have for you today are a delightful blend of the funny and the peculiar, the delightful and the unexpected…so I shan’t burden you with my ramblings any longer. Let’s dip in!

First we have Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker, which we received with glee from PanMacmillan Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A delightful and quirky compendium of the Animal Kingdom’s more unfortunate truths, with over 150 hand-drawn illustrations.

Ever wonder what a mayfly thinks of its one-day lifespan? (They’re curious what a sunset is.) Or how a jellyfish feels about not having a heart? (Sorry, but they’re not sorry.)

This melancholy menagerie pairs the more unsavory facts of animal life with their hilarious thoughts and reactions. Sneakily informative, and wildly witty, SAD ANIMAL FACTS will have you crying with laughter.

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Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker. Published by PanMacmillan Australia, 30th August, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dip into it for…  

…a not-to-be-missed opportunity to revel in an atmosphere of schadenfreude directed squarely at our animal friends.  Most times, when a blurb promises that I will laugh out loud or that the contents of said book is hysterically funny, I become immediately wary that the actual level of humorous content is sadly lacking.  Sad Animal Facts did, however, have me laughing aloud within the first three pages, and by the end I’m pretty sure a little laughter-tear had leaked out.  I’m pretty sure that no matter how much you love animals and deplore your suffering, it will be hard not to have a little mean-spirited giggle at the predicaments of some of the animals contained within.  There’s the poor old long-tailed skink who embodies the shame of every hungry and impulsive human that ever lived, the gorilla who is as disgusted by your poor hygiene practices as the rest of us are (wash your damn hands, dammit!), and the downcast gnu who know exactly how multiple-birth kids feel about sharing birthdays.  The illustrations are sparse, simple and perfectly capture the various glumnesses of a menagerie of cute and crestfallen animals.

Don’t dip if…

…you can’t bring yourself to have a giggle at the woes of animals large and small.  And if that is the case, allow me to note what a sad little animal you are.

Overall Dip Factor
If this chunky little tome isn’t made into a desk-sized, tear-off calendar in time for this year’s office Kris Kringle season, then someone has dropped a huge marketing ball.  Sad Animal Facts is exactly that kind of read – one to flick through at leisure and enjoy piecemeal, savouring a few animal adversities at a time.  I would love to see a few copies of this one dropped into the waiting rooms of hospitals and, perhaps, funeral homes, to see how long it takes for someone to laugh inappropriately loudly in such a space while flicking through this book. I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of humour and illustration, and as the perfect gift for that acquaintance who likes to complain a lot about their situation in life.

Next up we have The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami and translated from the original Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, which we excitedly received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Hitomi takes a job on the cash register of a neighbourhood thrift store, she finds herself drawn into a very idiosyncratic community. There is Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies’ man with several ex-wives; Masayo, Mr Nakano’s sister, an artist who has never married; and her fellow employee Takeo, a shy but charming young man. And every day, customers from the neighbourhood pass in and out as curios are bought and sold, each one containing its own surprising story. When Hitomi and Takeo begin to fall for one another, they find themselves in the centre of their own drama – and on the edges of many others.

A tender and affecting exploration of the mystery that lurks in the ordinary, this novel traces the seemingly imperceptible threads that weave together a community, and the knots that bind us to one another.

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The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami. Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th August, 2016. RRP: $27.99

Dip into it for…  

…a quirky, funny and dreamy story that drills down on the relationships between the employees of a Japanese thrift shop.  Our excitement upon receiving a copy of this book could have been considered unseemly; Mad Martha adores thrift shops, flea markets, suitcase rummages and any opportunity to rifle through strangers’ cast-offs, so the chance to read about a Japanese version of the same was enticing indeed.  What this ended up reminding me of the most, oddly, was the narrative style of Alexander McCall Smith, with its intense focus on relationships and conversations, and a plot that is clearly secondary to the characters.  I could not help but become enamoured of Hitomi, the narrator, self-deprecating as she was, and Mr Nakano is so well described that a distinct image of him (adorned with a bobble hat) sprung immediately into my mind.  Masayo seems to be a strange yet endearing version of comic relief, often bringing up indecorous topics to be reviewed in the cold light of conversation, and Takeo…well, he seems like an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, wrapped in a shirt.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re hoping for a book with a solid plot.  As I mentioned, this story is about the characters and their interactions, and as such, nothing in particular “happens”.  The chapters work more like separate but consecutive snapshots into the lives of the characters, with a specific small event forming the focal point of each snapshot.

Overall Dip Factor

I interpreted the blurb to mean that the story would focus a fair bit on the customers of the shop, and the stories behind their items for sale or purchase, but the heart of the book really is Hitomi and her relationships with Takeo, Mr Nakano and Masayo.  There are a few other characters that influence the story – Sakiko, Mr Nakano’s mistress of the moment, is the most significant of these, but a few trading partners and customers have stories of their own highlighted throughout.  This style of narrative is certainly not going to appeal to everyone.  Some readers just need some kind of action to hold their interest.  I found that this one grew on my as I was reading and while I started off enjoying the dry and quirky humour, I remained reading because I really wanted to know what was going to happen for each of the four main characters.  This is a story that will no doubt stick in my head for a while yet.

Alas, it is now time for you to finish your peculiar snack and decide which of these books (or both!) you will be popping on your TBR list next!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Graphic Memoir GSQ Review: Tomboy…

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Welcome once again to a Good, Sad and Quirky review.  Today I have a memoir in graphic novel format that relates the tale of one Liz Prince, a girl who struggles to fit into the pre-packaged image of how a girl should look and how a girl should behave.  It’s a fantastically engaging book and one that may well become essential reading for anyone who feels that their biological attributes don’t match with society’s expectations as to how those attributes should be deployed.

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Tomboy is the story of Liz Prince – it chronicles the difficulties and triumphs she experiences from childhood into young adulthood and beyond, in identifying as a “tomboy”.  Liz likes baseball, superheroes and action figures, and feels most comfortable in jeans, a t shirt and her favourite cap.  She’s happy like this.  For her it is not a problem, it just is.  Imagine her surprise then, on discovering that the people around her, from her own siblings, to her classmates, to her teachers and coaches, seem to find this disconcerting in the extreme.  Tomboy covers the bullying that Liz experiences due to her boyish appearance, the difficulties in making and keeping friends that goes hand in hand with being visually different to one’s peers and the emerging problems that Liz encounters when trying to get to know boys in a romantic way while looking like a boy herself.  Tomboy is an important and emininently readable piece of work that speaks clearly to one girl’s struggle to figure out what exactly it is that makes a girl and where she fits on the spectrum of womanhood.

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Wow. Don’t be fooled by the cartoony style of the artwork, this is a book that packs an ideological and personal punch.  Before even a third of the way through the book, Mad Martha was nodding and tearing up, so close to home were the situations and emotions presented here by Liz.  The book follows a a chronological order, opening on a scene in which four-year-old Liz is screaming in an attempt to stop her mother from putting her in a dress.  From there we move on with Liz into her years in primary school and on towards middle and high school, by which point being the only comfortable tomboy in a crowd of pubescent teens becomes quite a challenge indeed.  The book finishes with Liz finding some stable ground as an adult in accepting how she is and how she wants to be and discovering that there is a community in which she can be socially accepted.

The art, as I mentioned, is in the traditional cartoon style and is both easy on the eye and perfect for conveying the humour underlying many of the situations Liz finds herself in.  See for yourself:

There’s plenty in the storyline that is though-provoking and touching and challenging, but there’s also a lot here that will be very familiar to anyone who’s beyond the age of 15, whether they had trouble fitting in with peers or otherwise.  In one sense, Liz is telling the story of any-teen in the struggles she has in making friends and finding her place and her passions, but over the top of that is her specific story of gender-image, which will also strike a chord with many teens, wherever they fall on the spectrum of appearing to be socially-acceptable.

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The only problem I had with this graphic novel is that I felt the pace started to drag a bit during the high school section of the memoir.  By that stage the issues that Liz was struggling with – particularly in terms of finding a romantic partner – had already been raised and the narrative seemed to get bogged down a little at this point.  That’s just my personal interpretation though, and I’m sure others will think differently.

There are also a few instances of swearing and “adult situations”, so if you’re not into that, steer clear.

Otherwise…I got nothing.  I really enjoyed Prince’s style in both artwork and written word.

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Two parts of this memoir really stood out to me as being original, in the sense that I hadn’t encountered them in fiction before.  (I realise that this is technically factual, in that it actually happened, but it’s a subjective retelling and presentation of a particular person, and in that sense, it reads like fiction).  The first was the very clearly outlined difficulties that Liz encounters as a heterosexual female whose personal fashion preference is decidedly masculine.  I haven’t encountered this in any YA before and I think it provided a real sense of depth to the story.  It got me thinking about how personal presentation and sexual preference are linked in our minds…if we see a woman dressed in man’s clothing, do we automatically assume she is a lesbian? If so, why?  How does this affect young people as their identity is emerging in the teen years – do they feel pressure to conform to gender image expectations and how does this affect them psychologically if they do conform or if they don’t?  These are things that I am still pondering and it was wonderful to see these presented realistically for a YA and new adult audience.

The second thing that jumped out in this particular memoir was Liz’s personal dislike (bordering on gut-wrenching hatred) of anything considered to be “girly”.  This was articulated fantastically throughout the memoir, and resolved somewhat in the latter part of the story as Liz begins to separate the idea or image of “girliness” being bad from the idea that being a girl (or a woman) is bad.  This part of the story raises some great questions about attitudes in wider society about females and femininity and the worth that is placed on boys’ activities (and therefore, boys) as opposed to girls’ activities (and therefore, girls).  While I’ve definitely come across these arguments in reading on feminism that I have eagerly devoured in the past, it was refreshing to see it presented in situ, as it were, as it unfolded in Prince’s life and development.

My overall take on the book?

A must-read, must-discuss, must-unpack book for anyone working with young people or anyone who has any interest in gender stereotyping.  And anyone who likes a good graphic memoir, really 😉

I realise I’ve blabbed on a bit here, but this really is one of those rare books that comes along and touches a nerve, inspires important discussions, and makes one cling all the more defiantly to one’s favourite, comfy, non-fashion-forward hat.

Tomboy is due for release on September 28th from Zest Books and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Jake and the Giant Hand: A Review for The Good, The Sad and The Quirky!

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Welcome, welcome, come in, make yourself comfortable…for today I have for you a story so strange, so mind-bendingly eerie, so unbelievably weird and bizarre that….no, wait.  I don’t know if you’re up to it. Really.  Maybe you should go somewhere else for your review today, because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any weirdness-related heart attacks or strange-induced night terrors.  Really? You think you’ll be fine? Well, if you say so. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  But at least allow me to tell you about this book via my various emotional identities – the Good, the Sad and the Quirky!

Today I present to you Jake and the Giant Hand by Philippa Dowding, a book in the new series for middle-grade readers, Weird Stories Gone Wrong.  We are well-disposed to Ms Dowding round the shelf because she has also written a few books featuring gargoyles.  They sold quite well too, I believe.  We have one sitting on the shelf waiting to be read.  Soon my pretty.  But I digress.  In Jake and the Giant Hand, we meet Jake, an ordinary sort of boy who has gone to visit his Grandpa for the summer holidays.  This is a yearly occurence for Jake and most of his prior visits have seen him spending time with neighbours Kate and Chris, riding bikes and telling ghost stories.  This year, Kate tells a tall tale about a giant’s dismembered hand discovered in a farmer’s field over 100 years ago.  Jake doesn’t believe the tale could be true, but he can’t deny there’s some weird stuff going on around the farm this year.  Take the giant flies, for instance.  Or the weird stone he discovers in a post-hole.  Not to mention his Grandpa’s uncharacteristic reserve about the events in the story.  Depending on what Jake finds out, this could be a summer holiday to remember!

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This is the kind of book that will draw young male readers to it like flies to a particularly stinky pile of rotting compost.  It is the perfect subject matter with which to tempt reluctant readers, and it dovetails nicely with an age group that is just beginning to gain some independence from parents and take on experiences laced with adventure.  So I suspect this one will be a hit with middle-graders.

image* The content is great – ghost stories, tall tales, the potential to uncover a particularly bizarre and freakish secret in one’s own backyard – all of this points to popularity amongst middle grade readers

* This is a relatively quick read, and it is peppered with illustrations here and there, so it’s not too off-putting for reluctant or struggling readers

*I suspect this will be a great read-aloud choice for teachers wanting to freak out kids on school camp

The only thing I didn’t really rate in the story was the abrupt manner of the reveal.  There’s a lot of creepy, odd build up before Jake eventually solves the mystery, and I felt that the scene in which the the mystery is revealed didn’t quite gel with the rest of the book.  There is an epilogue of sorts in which we find out what happens later, and it may just be the nature of the genre, with a slow build-up and quick surprising reveal, but I was left wanting, just a little.

image* The surprise ending seemed a bit forced to me, and didn’t quite match the creepy weirdness of the events leading up to it

* Jake has issues with Gus, his Grandpa’s stinky dog.  I felt it was a bit unfair that Gus was held accountable for his stinkiness when it wasn’t really something he could control.  I realise this is a small quibble, but as a self-appointed spokesthing for unsightly/malodorous creatures everywhere, one I felt should be mentioned

If you’re looking for quirky, and let’s admit it, we all are in one form or another, you will not be disappointed with this book.  As a citizen of the country that brought you the hat-with-the-dangly-corks as a low-tech fly repellant, I was with Jake all the way in the creep-out stakes here.

image* Quirkiness abounds – there are flies at least as big as the family dog, tales of wandering swamp hags and oversized dismembered limbs to be encountered as you follow Jake’s adventures

* There is also the opportunity to discover the purpose and manner of working of an auger, for those who are unschooled in the ways of this important piece of equipment

Overall, I’d have to say this was a great, fun read and I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the rest of the series.  There’s plenty of humour here, crazy, exciting mystery and just the right level of strange goings-on to provide an enjoyably creepy atmosphere without scaring the pants off anyone.  A definite “read it to your middle-grader” I reckon!

Jake and the Giant Hand is due for release in September 2014.

Of course you all noticed that this title would perfectly acquit two categories of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) and category five (a book with something that comes in pairs in the title).  There’s still plenty of time to sign up and join in the fun!  Click on the image to find out more:

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Until next time,

Bruce

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

emily and the strangers cover

Krakenish Guru

wields tentacular guitar

Can Strange measure up?

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

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

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

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

Cheerio my fellow oddbods!

Mad Martha

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Skycastle, The Demon and Me: Introducing the GSQ Review!

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Good morning all! I am very excited today because not only do I have a fun, cheeky fantasy book to share with you, but I’ve also got a whole new review format to unleash! You see, my psychologist decided that I was too stony faced…not adept at sharing my emotions…unskilled in letting forth my true feelings about books…and so I have delved deep into my psyche to present a review that really encompasses a range of emotions about this book. I give you the very first “The Good, The Sad and The Quirky” review!

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So away we go! Today’s offering is Skycastle, the Demon and Me by Andy Mulberry, the first in a new series for middle grade lovers of fantasy and adventure and unhelpful demons who have been accidentally foisted on you.  The book follows Jack Harper, who discovers a strange piece of advertising under the fridge (as you do) and inadvertently uses it to order a demon for his castle-turned-museum home.  Brinkloven Crowley (III), or Brink to his (non-existent) friends, is the aforementioned demon, and a more surely young example of his kind you would be hard pressed to find, although part of the surliness may be attributed to Brink’s imprisonment in a reasonably small crate prior to delivery at Greencastle.  As Jack attempts to use Brink as a hauntingly exciting addition to current tours provided at the castle (with mixed results), he begins to think that maybe having a demon around isn’t such a bad idea after all.  But when the Demon Collection Agency shows up to receive payment for Brink (or to repossess the demon…no pun intended), if Jack can’t come up with the money Brink might be looking at another eternity stuffed in a crate.  What are a boy and his demon to do?!

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What else can I say but, this book was meant for readers of my ilk.  That is, readers who love a story about unearthly creatures that is mixed with the funnies.  I loved this story and I predict that middle graders will love it too.  Jack is your typical “everyboy” and Brink is your typical slightly emo, understandably cranky demon kid.  It was a fun, fast-flowing romp/cautionary tale that everyone should read prior to ordering a demon for their home.  So here’s the Good:

image* Characters with loads of kid appeal (and grown-up who likes kid stories appeal)

* A well-paced plot that doesn’t waste time on overburdening the reader with detail, but leaves plenty of space for humour

* The provision of a useful cautionary tale for those considering demon-ownership…remember kids, a demon is for life, not just for Christmas.

 

The only problem I had with the story (if problem it could be called, was that I was left wanting more…and more and MORE!  I know this is the first book in the series (and I will certainly be hanging out for the next), but after finishing the book in one quick sitting, I had that feeling that I often get when reading graphic novels – the bittersweet pang of contentment at finishing a good story, mixed with a yearning to know the next bit. Immediately.  This struck me as an adult (and super-speedy, if I do say so myself…and I do) reader, but may not affect readers of the target age-group quite so much (due to their inferior reading speed, you understand).  So here’s the Sad:

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* As I finished it in one sitting, I was left wanting more, which is a little painful when the second book hasn’t been released yet.

This book has got quirky in bucketloads.  While reading I was reminded of  the cheeky characterisation in Matt Haig’s “Shadow Forest”, and the wry tone of Caro King’s “Seven Sorcerers”.  This book is a lot shorter than either of those though, so it was just enough of a hit to keep me going until the next wry, cheeky novel comes along to entice me.  So here’s the quirky:

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* A cliffhanger ending that involves an inanimate structure in a very deft piece of escape artistry

* The hiding of a very important plot device in the last place you would ever look…under the fridge

So there you have it.  My emotions laid bare for your entertainment.  And if that wasn’t enough, I will also be featuring Andy Mulberry, author of Skycastle, the Demon and Me in an author spotlight in the very near future.  And there may even be a giveaway.  You’ll just have to wait and see…..oh, who am I kidding, there’ll DEFINITELY be a giveaway.  So keep your eyeballs peeled!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the various facets of his personality)

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Read-it-if Review: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain…

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Howdy superfriends! Today I have a very different YA novel for you filled with action and gadgets and cool outfits.  It’s Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts, and I received a digital copy of the book for review from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, via Netgalley – thanks!

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain is told from the point of view of Penelope, a young teen with superhero parents who is anxiously waiting for her own superpowers to appear.  Her friends, Claire and Ray, are similarly eager to come into their superpowers, and when Penelope unexpectedly builds an incredible machine that responds to her every command, without quite knowing how she did it, it appears the dream has become reality for at least one of the trio.  After some usual teenage unpleasantness involving another girl at her school, Penny and her friends seek revenge by using their newfound powers for evil, rather than good, and in doing so they inadvertently style themselves as supervillains rather than heroes when their antics (but not their identities) are caught on camera.  Working under the name The Inscrutable Machine, the trio venture out onto the town – but is it ever really too late to make a new name for yourself as a superhero? Or is it true that supervillains just have more fun?

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Read it if:

* you have a secret identity that you keep hidden at all costs…down the back of your undies drawer with your super-stretchy super-lycra superhero suit

* you’ve ever suspected that, if they found out the truth, your parents may be slightly disappointed in your chosen (or potential) career path

* you believe your teachers when they tell you that advanced mathematics has numerous practical applications in everyday life

* you believe that the ability to be cute and charming in order to get your own way is, in fact, a superpower

Now I first requested this title because (a) the cover is eye-poppingly awesome and (b) the title had me instantly interested.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t 100% live up to my high expectations.  Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of bits I enjoyed and I appreciated the unusual premise, but the execution didn’t get me that excited for some reason.  Let’s start with the positives though.

I suspect that this book is going to be a hit with discerning readers in their early teens who are looking to move on from the prolific middle grade market, but also want to read a book with ordinary teen problems played out with action and humour.  The thing that really stood out for me while reading the book was the fact that the premise is so different form anything else that’s out there at the moment.  The superhero content seems to be an area that isn’t really featured in a lot of books for this age group just now, and it should certainly be a drawcard for younger readers, as it was for me.  There’s also plenty (PLENTY!) of action in the book, with superhero-versus-supervillain clashes aplenty, as well as some great one-liners and comedy woven into the action.  So in that regard, I think this will be a book that appeals to both genders, as there’s something for everyone here.

I think the main reason this didn’t grab me in the way that I thought it would is that I suspect it’s a bit overly long.  It takes a reasonably long while for Penny to unleash her superpower and then after she gets a handle on her newfound talents, it takes another reasonably long time before the first showdown occurs.  For some people this may not be a problem, but I felt that there could have been a bit of judicious editing here and there to tighten up the flow of the story and keep it moving at a steady pace, particularly as this is a book aimed at the young adult bracket (read: those of us with shortish attention spans…ooh, a shiny thing!).  Also, I suspect that the book will require readers who don’t mind a bit of explanation – there’s a lot of jargony, computery, mathsy, type language in there (due to Penny and her father having superpowers relating to the field of mathematics and computation) and that may put off those who just want the guts of the story without having to wade through such specifics.

So overall, I don’t think this one is for me unfortunately, but I think that there will definitely be a fan base out there for whom this is exactly the type of quirky YA action-adventure they’ve been waiting for.  I’ve also had a look at some of Richard Roberts’ other works, and there are definitely some in there that I want to get my paws on despite not quite loving this effort.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Henry and the Incredibly Incorrigible, Inconveniently Intelligent Smart Human: An R-I-I Review, Author Interview and Giveaway!

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Cheerio my flesh and non-flesh friends and compatriots! I have a delightful little cross-species tale for you today, and for extra delightedness, it has a delightfully long title.  I speak, of course, of middle grade sci-fi adventure story, Henry and the Incredibly Incorrigible, Inconveniently Intelligent Smart Human by Lynn Messina.  The book was published in 2012 and it has been a grave disservice indeed that I have not been exposed to it earlier than this, for it is a fun, funny and very clever read.  So it was incredibly lucky that I received a digital copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

The book follows the story of young robot Henry Jacobson, who has a tough time in Bot school due to a problem in his processor that causes him to shut down at inopportune moments when he is under stress.  As well as teasing at school, Henry has to put up with working with the drooling, stupid and frustrating human units that do the drudge work at his mother’s Beauty Salon.  After one of the human units goes beserko, smashing up the store with a mop and repeating nonsense at regular intervals, Henry finds himself teased even more at school when his mother gets the credit for sorting out the beserko unit and saving the lives of all the bots in the salon.  Things get even stranger for Henry when, after a mysterious visit from his father’s boss, an experimental human unit (the HueManTech ETC-420- GX-2) comes to live in his home.  After an initial period of distrust, Henry begins to discover that this particular unit seems to be able to do far more than just drool and threaten bots with household cleaning products.  Soon, Henry and E (as he comes to be known) are playing video games, making up new words and generally doing plenty of things that Henry would have thought were impossible for a lowly human.  When a threat is made to send E to be compacted, Henry knows that he must find out the truth behind this seeming superhuman who has become his friend.  Cue misadventure! Cue sneaking around! Cue the uncovering of secrets that will change the Bot universe….forever!!

Henry coverRead it if:

* you ever have days when you suspect that your reality affirmulator might be on the blink

* you have ever had fond feelings…the basis of friendship really, …for a household appliance

* you are acquainted with some human units who are capable of little more than drooling and mopping…on their good days

* you know a bot or two in their tweens or teens who can’t go past a good adventure based sci fi

I am so pleased that I was introduced to this story.  For a middle grade sort of a story, it is very, very clever.  There’s a lot to appreciate here for older readers, with lots of little wry observations of human nature, reflected back through robot society.  Henry is a very believable bot, with all the flaws and worries of any thirteen year old being and human unit E is laid back, quietly confident and a joy to read about.  The book is great fun with heaps of funny situations and some fantastic one-liners.

To top all of that though, there’s also plenty of action and suspense.  At one point, Henry and E break into a government agency and get chased by the authorities, get captured, uncover some shocking secrets and use their wits and wiles to save themselves from danger.  I was really worried for the lads during this part as there were some real challenges for them both to surmount.

If you’ve got young male readers around your dwelling, this is definitely a book you should add to your collection.  It will be thoroughly enjoyed by confident independent readers, but if you have to read it aloud to less confident readers, there is plenty here for grown ups to enjoy along with their mini-fleshling.

So who exactly came up with this highly read-worthy tome? Well I’m glad you asked because you’re about to meet her!

Lynn Messina grew up on Long Island and studied English at Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked at the Museum of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media), TV Guide, In Style, Rolling Stone, Fitness, ForbesLife, Self, Bloomberg Markets and a host of wonderful magazines that have long since disappeared. She mourns the death of print journalism in New York City, where she lives with her husband and sons. She is author of seven novels, including Fashionistas, which is in development as a feature film and has been translated into 15 languages.

You can find out more about Lynn’s work here, but for your convenience, I asked her some questions about Henry, E and her writing so you can be well prepared if you bump into her at a dinner party/sock hop/other impromptu social occasion.

Why Henry and E? What was it about their story that won out over other stories that may have been jostling for space in your CPU?

To be honest, my CPU isn’t as busy as you think it is. I find good ideas are really hard to come by, and when I get one, I run with it. I might not sit down and start writing immediately, but the idea takes up all my mental energy. So when I came up with the idea of robots inventing humans it was all I thought about for months. I jotted down notes about it everywhere. In fact, I was just cleaning out a drawer yesterday and found a scrap of an envelope from, like, six years ago on which I’d written some early ideas while at my day job.

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of Henry?

The ideal reader for Henry is the same ideal reader I have for all my books, and it’s the sort of reader I am: someone who will love the story enough to reread it at least once to discover all the little things she missed the first time around.

The title is absolutely astoundingly all-round alliterative…Are you a fan of wordplay? And how did you choose the title?

The title has been a problem for me from the start. The working title was Henry, ETC, and that’s the title under which I submitted it to publishers. When I decided to put it out on my own, I realized I needed a much more descriptive title, one that really said what it was about, so I threw in all the adjectives and made them alliterative because I think that’s so much fun. I wasn’t daunted by the long title because one of my favorite books when I was little wasAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Recently, however, a librarian suggested that the title was off-putting to young readers, and now I’m conflicted. But, yes, I love wordplay, and that was one of the things that made me really excited about the story. There were so many opportunities to turn words on their heads.

What are the best parts about writing for young readers?

I feel like the answer should be that writing for young readers allowed me be as silly as I wanted, but the truth is I love writing silly scenes and all my books descend into silliness at one point or another. The unique thing about writing Henry—and this was all the best part—was that it was science fiction. Henry was the first book I ever wrote that left the real world behind. I got to invent everything and make up all the rules (and change them when they no longer suited my purpose) and use my imagination freely. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Who are some of your favourite authors?

This is tough because I feel like the authors I mention should be relevant to the genre and I can’t think of many middle-grade writers I’ve read. Recently, I’ve been reading the Ivy & Bean series to my six-year-old and have been really enjoying it. I will say that J.K. Rowling (of course!) was a big influence because she’s so good with language and wordplay. I had Diagon Alley in my mind almost the whole time I was writing as a sort of talisman of the wit I was going for.

What do you imagine Henry will be doing when he reaches his 21st upgrade? And E?

This is an impossible question for me to answer. I have notes somewhere with ideas for two sequels and I’m fairly certain the trilogy ends with the entire transformation of robot society. But I can’t see beyond that. To be honest, I can’t even see that far because the ideas are so vague. I hope to write at least one of the sequels one day, but it’s been six years since I wrote the book and now there are definitely other things taking up space in my CPU.

And now, the giveaway!  We are offering one lucky reader the chance to win a print copy of the book and better yet, the giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY!

Here’s the deets:

– The giveaway is open internationally, so provided you live on planet Earth and have a postal address, you should be right to enter

– One winner will be chosen at random via rafflecopter and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a redraw will occur.

– No responsibility will be taken for packages lost in the mail. Sorry.

– The giveaway is in no way related to WordPress, Goodreads, Rafflecopter, Facebook or any other individual or company that is not me.

– I will be checking entries, so be honest.

click to enter button

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I should probably also point out that the book would fit nicely into a couple of categories in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge…category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) and category eight (a book with wordplay in the title).  Click on this attractive button to find out more and jump on the safari bus!

small fry

In short? Get it, it’s clever. And we all know that there’s nothing better than a clever book that’s meant for kids but sneakily discovered by a grown up.

Until next time,

Bruce

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

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

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

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

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

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Read it if:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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Litera-tees: Tees for Readers (#3)…

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Afternoon all – I present you with a lazy, consumerist post for a lazy Tuesday afternoon….here are some more tees for the literary-minded, plus some very convenient information on who designed them and where you can spend your hard-earned cash purchasing them. You’re welcome, shoppers!

First up, some Harry-related loveliness:

master-of-death

—we have Master of Death by Catch A Brick, available at RedBubble….

Just-As-Sane-As-I-Am

…and Just As Sane As I Am by the unnecessarily talented Megan Lara, also available at RedBubble…and if you like Megan Lara’s nouveau art, she has produced a whole range of tees in this style with various characters – Hermione and many of the recent Doctor Who companions to name a few.

For the Tolkien fans, apparently it is possible to simply walk into Mordor, if this tee is anything to go by:

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It’s titled Simply Walk, is designed by Tom Kurzanski and is available at RedBubble

For those who like to express their opinions on the classics:

moby dicky…we have Moby Dicky by Budi Satria Kwan available at threadless

For those who like a bit of film with their bookery:

read-a-book

…here’s Vader Read A Book available at WeLoveFine shop…

movies-ruining-the-book1

…and Movies: Ruining the Book since 1920 by Jayson Dougherty, available at threadless

And finally, just because I love it and want someone to buy it for me (Att: Santa Claws!):

grim-readers

It’s the Grim Readers’ Book Club by WinterArtwork, available at Shirt.Woot

Layby now for Christmas!

Until next time,

Bruce

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