Bruce’s Reading Round Up: Music school, Stranded Cows and Grub to be Grateful for…

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We’re only in for a short ride today, with three new release picture books all received for review from Allen & Unwin.  Let’s strike while the iron is hot and ride on in!

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too (Jane Milton & Deborah Hinde)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

moo and moo

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too by Jane Milton and Deborah Hinde.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP:$17.99

In the November 2016 earthquake in New Zealand, two cows and a calf ended up stranded on a tiny bit of land.  What was this new situation in which the cows found themselves and how could they get out of it?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a cute and heartwarming story about animals in predicaments; specifically, three animals in one very large predicament.  Children from New Zealand will no doubt take to this book with great fervour, given that they no doubt heard it on the news when it actually happened.  For the rest of us, there is a handy little paragraph at the back of the book describing the events on which the book is based, as well as some facts about earthquakes.  The story is told in rhyme which, although a tad forced at times, keeps a good rhythm for reading aloud.  The illustrations are all double page spreads with a subtle palette of blues, greens and browns.  The author has done a good job of giving imaginative voice to the cows as they stand stranded on their grass island, awaiting rescue or whatever happens next for stranded bovines.  Overall this is a sweet story that provides a perfect conversation starter for discussing natural disasters and their impact on the environment.

Brand it with:

bovine bravery; animals in predicaments; earthquake aftermath

The Thank You Dish (Trace Balla)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

thank you dish

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March, 2017.  RRP:$ 19.99

A girl and her mother sit down for dinner and decide to give thanks.  But who would have thought there were so many people to thank for a simple meal?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a delightful and authentic missive that gently introduces the concept of gratefulness and being mindful of how many people contribute to things we might take for granted.  The illustrations are so charming here, with simple line drawings complemented by an earthy colour scheme.  I particularly like how the empty dinner table becomes fuller with each “thanks” given, as little stick drawings of the various “thankees” begin to populate the table.  The text is simple and repetitive and I wouldn’t be surprised if young readers carry the line, “Why would you thank the …….?” outside of the context of the text! The small size of the hardback means it would be perfect to bring to the dinner table or picnic blanket to share before a meal.  The Thank You Dish is a perfect gem of a book, reminding us of the need to be thankful for what we have without being preachy or labouring the point.

Brand it with:

anti-fast food; think before you eat; fun with food

The School of Music (Meurig and Rachel Bowen & Daniel Frost

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

school of music

The School of Music by Meurig and Rachel Bowen & Daniel Frost.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP: $29.99

Ever wondered how to decide which instrument is right for you, what links maths and music or how you can compose your own music? Step inside The School of Music and satisfy your curiosity!

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you ever had lingering questions about music, musical instruments or how musicians work together, this is the book for you!  On flicking through the book, my first thought was that this would make a perfect launching text for primary teachers who are forced to teach music curriculum in the classroom (in the absence of a specialist music teacher at their school) and don’t feel they have the background knowledge to do so.  Although this is an illustrated nonfiction text, I would definitely place it as an upper primary/lower secondary text, simply due to the amount of text and the length of the book.  The book begins with an illustrated “acceptance letter” to the school of music, upon which the owner of the book can write their name and is henceforth divided into “terms” based around different concepts.  Each page features a different question – What does it take to make a star singer? What different kinds of music are there? Which instruments do we recommend learning? – that is answered in the text below, accompanied by a full page background illustration in cartoonish art deco style.  The questions become increasingly more involved as the book progresses, and it would take a considerable time for a young reader to get through the whole book, if they were so inclined as to read it from cover to cover.  As a reference book, or a gift for a young musical prodigy, this would be a great choice.

Brand it with:

extracurricular activities; a curious composition; taking notes

I think The Thank You Dish was my favourite out of these three.  Have you come across any of these or do you know someone who might like them?

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for the Open Minded…

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Saddle up my friends, because I have four picture books for you today that will open your mind, test your heart and generally stretch your imagination!  Let’s ride on in!

A Perfect Day (Lane Smith)

*We received a copy of A Perfect Day from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  a perfect day.jpg

As a collection of animals and one young boy go about an ordinary day, they all seem to find the one thing that makes them most happy.  Until, that is, a big hairy bear comes along to spoil the perfection.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one picture book that proves that perfection depends entirely on perspective.  The beautiful pastel palette of the illustrations reinforces the gentle unfolding of an ordinary day, made special by the simple things.  Of course, in the second half of the book, things become a lot less perfect – unless you’re a big burly bear looking for somewhere to snack, play and nap of course – and there’s a certain delight in seeing the bear making dirt angels in the flowerbed, splashing in the wading pool, flashing a corn-cob smile and generally enjoying himself in a bearish fashion.  The emphasis provided by the font as bear spends his leisure time inadvertently ruining everyone else’s also contributes to the humour and would be perfect for teaching younger independent readers how to take cues from the text when reading aloud.  The final illustration depicting the animals and little boy inside the house looking out, accompanied by the text, “It was a perfect day for bear,” opens up the text for conversation with little ones about how the other characters might feel.  The edition I have received shows a similar image to that of the last page as its cover and I think this image gives a better sense of the book’s content than the one above.  All up, this is a delightful reading experience that is visually appealing and the perfect choice for sharing a gentle giggle before bed.

Brand it with:

Bears in them there hills; Bear necessities; simple pleasures

Old Pig (Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks)

*We received a copy of Old Pig from Allen & Unwin Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

A grandmother and granddaughter pig share their days and nights in a comforting rhythm of chores, food and relaxation.  When grandmother pig begins slowing down, the two confront together the spectre of a final goodbye.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this 20th anniversary edition classic children’s tale is almost achingly poignant in places and deftly broaches that hardest of topics, the death of a loved one.  As it becomes apparent that Grandmother Pig is facing her final days, the two pigs take solace in spending time together and appreciating the small, simple things in life and the rhythms of each day.  While death isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is obvious that the book is about leaving and leaving behind.  The final illustration, featuring granddaughter pig on her own is awash with hope, and allows the reader to leave the story on an uplifting note.  As much as this story would be a useful tool in gently opening up discussions with young readers about reality of death, it is also a celebration of a life well lived and the connections that we make with those dear to us.  If this book doesn’t tug at your heartstrings and make you appreciate the small moments of joy in the mundane, then you must have a colder, stonier heart than even I do.

Brand it with:

Grief, sensitively handled; quality of life; inter-generational connections

There’s a Tiger in the Garden (Lizzy Stewart)

*We received a copy of There’s a Tiger in the Garden from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  theres-a-tiger-in-the-garden

In an attempt to cure her granddaughter’s boredom, a grandmother casually mentions that there is a tiger in her garden.  The resulting, fruitful search is enough to dent the certainty of even the most sceptical of child explorers!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is the kind of book that will have you doing exercises to expand your imagination.  While the concept of children “discovering” untapped worlds in the garden isn’t new to picture books, the ambiguous ending of this story provides a fun twist.  As Nora and Jeff (her toy giraffe) take a turn about the garden, the illustrations become more and more detailed and jungle-like, blending a sense of magical realism with the richly coloured sense of adventure inherent in nature in all its glory.  The deep greens that permeate most of the illustrations are so lush and inviting that I just couldn’t help plunging on in to this story. Within Nora’s imagination, her grandma’s small garden morphs into the home of butterflies the size of birds, a grumpy polar bear fishing in the pond and some extremely robust (and hungry) plants.  Young readers will love trying to spot the tiger in the earlier pages of the book and there is plenty of visual humour for older ones to notice and enjoy also.  If you have a young explorer in your midst, they will revel in this tale that celebrates things that are more than they seem on the surface.

Brand it with:

Wild green yonder; imagine that; grandma’s secret garden

My Friend Tertius (Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan)

*We received a copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

my-friend-tertius

My Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 February 2016.  RRP: $24.99

A WWII code breaker working in Singapore for the British takes a gibbon for a pet.  When the war forces him to leave Singapore, he makes the decision not to abandon his friend, but smuggle him along on the journey.

Muster up the motivation because…

…for one thing, there certainly is a dearth of war related picture books featuring a gibbon on the market, so My Friend Tertius fills that niche nicely. The washed out colour palette is reminiscent of the tropical heat of the southern hemisphere, and there are many historical clues hidden in the pictures for keen-eyed young readers to inquire about – the radio set in Arthur’s room for instance, Arthur’s neatly initialed gladstone bag and the fact that most pictures of people show at least somebody smoking a cigarette.  This was a bit of a strange beast of a tale for me – on one hand, it is fascinating, unexpected and had me immediately questioning the hows and whys of the story. On the other, the picture book format meant that I didn’t get the answers I was looking for. The narrative begins abruptly with a question that presupposes a knowledge of the social context of war generally – that people might have to leave – and the War in the Pacific specifically – that people did have to leave Singapore, with or without their loved ones.  The book has no afterword giving more information about Arthur Cooper and the eventual fate of either man or gibbon, and the book finishes on the rather cryptic statement “He [Tertius] taught me how to love.”  This is cryptic because nowhere in the previous pages of the book is there any mention of Arthur having any particular difficulty with human emotions, so I found myself asking, “How? How did he teach you to love? And why didn’t you know how to love in the first place?!” These questions, as well as my inner pedant’s shock at Arthur’s laissez faire attitude toward animal quarantine issues, meant that this wasn’t a particularly satisfying read for me as an adult reader, and I wonder how it might be received by the upper primary age range for which it is intended.  To be honest, I would have loved to have seen this story told in a chapter book format because I suspect there is so much more to the story than is being shown, and it is a pity not to be privy to it.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; BFFs in wartime; gibbons on the run

Bet you weren’t expecting any of those mind expanding picture books, were you?  I hope there is something here that tickles your synapses and causes you to add it to your TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Eclectic Chaos” Edition…

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I’ve got five books for you to chase down today, from middle grade adventure to adult paranormal to non-fiction art and photography, so saddle up, get your eye on your quarry and let’s hunt those tomes!

Tree Houses Reimagined: Luxurious Retreats for Tranquility and Play (Blue Forest & E. Ashley Rooney)

*We received a copy of Tree Houses Reimagined from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  treehouses-reimagined

Did you have (or yearn for) a treehouse as a kid?  This book is a collection of imagination-expanding treehouses featuring child-like creativity and adult engineering.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you love to browse Pinterest or other sites for inspirational images, then this book will be one you’ll want to “pin” to your coffee table for easy access.  The book features a diverse collection of actual treehouses from around the world (although mostly in the UK) that have been designed to reflect the imaginings of their owners.  Some look like fantasy castles with turrets, while others are designed to blend into the environment.  Quite a number feature those metal slippery slides of old that would take the skin off the back of your legs on a hot day.  The images also show the interiors of many of the treehouses, noting their special features. It was quite fascinating to read about how the builders had to use special techniques to place the foundations of the treehouses without disturbing the root systems of the trees.  It also includes lots of architectural drawings and floor plans of the featured houses.   I really wanted (and expected) to love this book and hoped it would fire my imagination and provide me with a warm fuzzy feeling that these places truly exist, but instead I became more and more irritated by the fact that the majority of these treehouses are owned by rich people and therefore beyond the reach of the average person ever to attain.  The further I read, the more bitter I became, until by the end I was angrily swiping the pages and thinking, “Keep your damn treehouses, Richie Rich!” If you are not as small minded and bitter an individual as I am, you’ll probably enjoy this tome.

Brand it with:

Up where we belong; hangin’ out; fun with timber

The Ferryman Institute (Colin Gigl)

*We received a copy of The Ferryman Institute from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-ferryman-institute

Charlie is a Ferryman – a guide charged with catching souls as they die and guiding them towards their individual afterlife – for over 200 years and has never failed on an assignment.  When, during a fairly simple assignment he is faced with a hitherto unencountered choice, Charlie must decide whether to take the opportunity presented to him or carry on with the status quo.

Muster up the motivation because:

As “afterlife” stories go, this one is well-constructed with a deeply considered world.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to have the pace and action to go with the deeply considered world and DNFed at 34%.  While I found the first part of the story and the set-up of the institute and its patrons, and Charlie’s surprise choice, quite interesting, the author continually slowed down the action by introducing Charlie’s philosophical issues with his life as a Ferryman through extensive chunks of dialogue with his colleagues.  I certainly feel like I was reading long enough to have covered far more than 34% of the story.  The book flicks back and forth in time and place, opening with the events that lead to Charlie being presented with an unexpected choice, and then swapping between Charlie’s life at the institute and the events in Alice’s life that lead to her being moments from death, and a major factor in Charlie’s fate.  For me, this was a slow-burner that I just wasn’t prepared to be patient with.

Brand it with:

Key in the door; decisions, decisions; change of career

The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey (Carlo Collodi & Alessandro Gallenzi)

*We received a copy of The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  pipi

Pipi lives with his monkey family in the jungle and happens to be pink.  This isn’t the only thing that sets him apart though – Pipi is the most mischievous monkey you’ll ever meet!

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a re-branding of Collodi’s (of Pinocchio fame) Pipi stories which were originally published in the early 1880s.  The tone of the stories exudes that old-fashioned feel, with the language reminiscent of Blyton or your standard fairy tale, with a dash of Roald Dahl.  Pipi really is a naughty little monkey; a risk-taker who isn’t afraid to break the rules if doing so will satisfy his curiousity.  Young readers will find plenty to giggle about in Pipi’s tricky adventures, and parents will be pleased to see that Pipi gets his comeuppance a few times, though it is never enough to put him off his next bout of mischief.  There are small illustrations peppered throughout the text (by Axel Scheffler, no less!) but I would have liked to have seen more of these to make the book a little more accessible for youngsters.  The final pages of the book include some easy-to-read information about Collodi’s life and works (including a hilarious letter from the author to his young fans about the importance of keeping your word), the characters in Pipi, and a quiz about the events of the book.  If you are a fan of classic stories (or would like your mini-fleshlings to become so), this is a quality revision of the original tales, with added extras to entice the youngsters in.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; truth and fibs; classics reimagined

Fizzlebert Stump and the Great Supermarket Showdown (A.F. Harrold)

*We received a copy of Fizzlebert Stump from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  fizzlebert

Fizzlebert (Fizz to his friends), member of a travelling circus, finds himself in an unexpected position when the circus is sold to a local supermarket.  Will Fizz and his friends be able to use their special skills to serve the supermarket – or is there a way to return to the circus?

Muster up the motivation because:

Fizzlebert Stump delivers plenty of offbeat humour and general silliness and if you are a fan of the humorous stylings of folk like David Walliams, you should find plenty to enjoy here.  I was quite relieved at the book unexpectedly beginning with Chapter Four, given that it made me feel like I had made progress before I had even started reading, but this is cleared up in due course and the book re-starts at Chapter One.  Having not read the earlier five books in the series was not a problem thanks to the very thorough narrator (who interjects at regular intervals to take the reader off at a tangent) thoughtfully presenting a concise recap of important things to know about Fizz and the circus.  Essentially, this story features a blackmail attempt that results in the circus folk being forced to work as cashiers, packers and night staff at Pinkbottle’s supermarket, with predictably ridiculous results.  Luckily though, Fizz and his friend Alice are on the case and all ends well, provided you consider police officers being shanghaied into impromptu circus acts a satisfying ending.  The book is peppered with black and white illustrations throughout, and the general presentation is designed to inspire fun and reflect the chaotic and quirky life of Fizz and his circus family.  If you have a mini-fleshling who is at chapter book level and loves stories featuring silliness and slapstick, the Fizzlebert Stump series, and this offering in particular, could be a savvy choice.

Brand it with:

No business like show business; the daily grind; this place is a circus

Quest of the Sunfish: Escape to the Moon Islands #1 (Mardi McConnochie)

*We received a copy of Quest of the Sunfish from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  quest-of-the-sunfish

In a world suffering the effects of rising sea levels, Will and Annalie live a simple existence with their father Spinner.  When Spinner must suddenly disappear to avoid capture by the Admiralty, Will and Annalie discover that there was more to their father than they could ever have imagined.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an adventurous story set in a world that has adjusted to rising sea levels and the unexpected loss of livelihood and lifestyle.  The book begins with an exciting scene in which Spinner has moments in which to escape from mysterious people coming to get him and Will is left in the dark as to what is happening and why.  His sister, Annalie, ensconced at her fancy boarding school, is questioned by members of the Admiralty as to her father’s whereabouts, and it is obvious to both siblings that their father is in danger.  Being a general fan of seafaring stories, I expected to enjoy this one but I ended up DNFing at page 77, after about ten chapters.  I could see that the adventure part was about to get underway, but the pace was moving too slowly for my liking so I made the decision to leave the story there.  The author has gone to a lot of trouble to set up the world and the characters, but I felt that there was too much “telling” rather than “showing” going on and I couldn’t conjure up any imagery of the world as I was reading to anchor me in the story.  I suspect I could have enjoyed this more if I had no competing reads to compare it with, but after an interesting opening few chapters, this one didn’t measure up for me.

Brand it with:

Salty seadogs; environmental disaster; escape!

So, me hearties, which of these titles will you be rounding up today?

Until next time,
Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monster McGhost-Face” Edition…

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Yep, you read that title correctly – today’s books are a selection of monstery-ghosty tomes for the young and the slightly-not-so-young-anymore.  If you are into social history, cryptids or actual genuine science, you might want to strap on your spats and saddle up as we ride on it.  Yeehah!

Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (and Thrive!) In the Real World? (Helaine Becker & Phil McAndrew)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monster science

A high quality meeting of science and mythology in which everyone’s favourite monsters are placed under the cold, hard microscope slide of fact. Kids can read up on the facts behind the myths to see if their favourite monster could exist in the real world.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a beautifully presented tome featuring a topic that most kids love to read about (monsters, of course!), covering some pretty complex scientific principles in a fun way.  I was impressed with how much detail this book provided on the hows and whys of whether a monster could actually exist.  For instance, in the first chapter on Frankenstein’s monster, the book gives information about organ transplants, the electrical workings of our brains and bodies, historical information about grave-robbing and how early doctors made discoveries, and the principles of genetic engineering.  The page spreads are colourful, and although there is a fair amount of text per page, there are also plenty of diagrams and illustrations to break things up a bit.  I would definitely recommend this to those with a mini-fleshling who loves non fiction reads, especially those filled with wacky facts.

Brand it with:

Monster mash-up; mad scientist in training; science is cool

Haunted Bridges: Over 300 of America’s Creepiest Crossings (Rich Newman)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  haunted bridges

Apparently, ghosts love bridges.  This handy tome gives an exhaustive run down on the paranormal stories and phenomena associated with specific bridges across the US.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a concise and well-formatted collection that neatly summarises social oral histories of the paranormal in localities across the US.  I will admit to being unaware of the apparently strong link between paranormal sightings and bridges, but this book certainly opened my eyes on that score.  The author is a self-confessed ghost-hunter of sorts and the aim of the book is to provide other would-be ghost hunters with some well-worn paths to tread in their pursuit of supernatural phenomena.  Happily though, the book can also be read as a collection of popular urban myths and oral histories of specific areas, as the author throws in some definite tongue-in-cheek comments throughout.  The book is divided into categories related to the content of the stories – hangings, invisible hands (this is a ghosty “thing” apparently), historical hauntings, criminal hauntings and so on – and this makes it easy to see the common motifs in stories from varied locations.  My favourite section was the “Unaccounted Oddities” chapter, which deals with bridges that have an original or bizarre story attached – a portal into hell, for instance or a unidentified monster or some sort.  If you live in the US, this would be a fun book to have handy when planning a holiday or day trip!  While these hauntings aren’t local to my area, I still found plenty in this book to draw me in and fire the imagination, as well as give me a picture of how social stories develop over time.  Recommended for when you’re feeling in a quirky, paranormal mood.

Brand it with:

Ghost crossings; unlikely travel guides; social science is cool

A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts: Encounters with Cryptid Creatures (Ken Gerhard)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  menagerie of mysterious beasts

A collection of the author’s own encounters and research on a range of cryptids.  Includes witness accounts and case studies of the same.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a fan of monster-hunting, or just have an interest in mythical creatures that may (or may not) walk (or crawl or slither or swim) among us, then this will provide an irrepressible outlet for your interest.  I DNFed this one at 12%, after the first chapter on the Minnesota Iceman because although the author claims to be approaching these sightings from a scientific angle, it is obvious that he is, in fact, not.  He makes note of the fact that his viewing of the Minnesota Iceman as a child (that is, when the author was a child, not the Iceman), was one of the events that sparked his interest in monster-hunting and it is clear that this is a man who wants to believe.  He makes links between accounts of iceman-type encounters from places as disparate as the USA and China, glosses over the highly dubious provenance of the specimen, and makes wild leaps of fancy as to how the Iceman could have made it to US soil.  As I said, if you are looking for a book on cryptids that will pique your adrenaline levels, this is probably a good choice.  If you are looking for a book that actually takes a scientific approach to the evidence on cryptids, read Darren Naish’s excellent and engaging Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths.

Brand it with:

We’re going on a cryptid hunt; the extraordinary; beyond belief

Got your monster-trapping gear ready by now? Of course you have, because I know you’ll want to track down at least one of these beauties!
Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Domestics, Servants and Robotic Appliances” Edition…

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We’re rounding out our Children’s Book Week Chaser with some longer reads for the middle grade age bracket.  I’ve got three books here featuring everything from cats to robotic siblings, so surely there’ll be something in the mix to entice you.  Got your spats sorted?  Then let’s crack on!

Brobot (James Foley)

*We received a copy of Brobot from Fremantle Press for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  30120603

Sally Tinker is an inventor extraordinaire, so when her baby brother doesn’t measure up to her expectations, she creates her own.  But is a robotic sibling really all it’s cracked up to be?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this fun graphic novel is chock-full of humour, chaos and unexpected bugs in the program.  Sally is a girl who knows what she wants and even has the skills to create it, while her baby brother is….well, a bit of a messy, stinky, noisy baby.  Sally, with the best of intentions, takes it upon herself to invent an improved version of a little brother, but doesn’t count on her invention learning from the real thing.  Of course disaster strikes and Sally comes to learn that perhaps the good things about having a living, breathing sibling outweigh some of the bad – although maybe not the stinky bits.  The narrative parts of the book are broken up here and there with some text-heavy diagrams but for the most part, this is exactly the kind of book that will draw in the more reluctant base of young readers due to the saturation of illustrations, the interesting fonts and the easy-to-digest chunks of text.  Add to that the humour of stinky nappies, exploding machines and general mayhem and you’d have to agree that this book has everything that young readers love, all wrapped up in a visually appealing package.  I’d definitely recommend this one for readers aged from about seven or eight on up, who enjoy funny, fast-paced stories.

Brand it with:

Artificial intelligence; super siblings; experimental relationships

The Twins of Tintarfell (James O’Loghlin)

*We received a copy of The Twins of Tintarfell from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  30173433

Dani and Bart are twins, orphans and servants in the castle of the King of Tintarfell.  When Bart is unexpectedly kidnapped, Dani tries to rescue him – but has no idea of the sacrifices she may need to make along the way.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as fantasy adventure stories go, this one has its fair share of twists, turns, humour and warthogs.  This was a really unexpected read for me and I’m still not sure quite what to make of it.  The story has elements of adventure, betrayal, murder and secrecy, yet at the same time has a light tone and a strong dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.  It reminded me of a strange blend of The Princess Bride, The Chronicles of Narnia and a Monty Python film to be honest.  There was something a little off about the pacing, I felt; I kept expecting the bit I was reading to be the precursor to a BIG event, but each time the book just slid quietly into the next twist or reveal.  At the same time though, there were bits of the story that felt really original and intriguing, like the Soarers, the curse upon Dani and Bart’s special talent.   The three main characters, Dani, Bart and Edmund, are all well-developed and we are privy to each of their strengths and flaws as the story unfolds.  The final few chapters neatly work the protagonists through a number of key choices that will ultimately define the people they will become, and so the ending is feels satisfyingly meaningful after all the derring-do and (in the case of Edmund) some derring-don’t (or should that be derring-didn’t?).  I definitely enjoyed this book and the author seems to hit his stride about a third of the way in, but at times I felt like he couldn’t quite decide whether the book was supposed to be primarily a comedy or an adventure, and so we are treated to each in turn.  If you are fan of light fantasy and adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then I would encourage you to give this a read.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves (and everyone else); Good vs Evil; Animal magnetism

Malkin Moonlight (Emma Cox)

*We received a copy of Malkin Moonlight from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  31139009

Malkin Moonlight is a cat blessed by the moon, who loves a domestic cat named Roux.  Together they will do great things and heal a rift in their new home.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a gentle tale about using one’s life (lives!) well in the pursuit of peace and happiness.  While not being the biggest fan of books featuring animal societies, I still found this to be an enjoyable read due to the episodic chapters and old-fashioned narrative style.  As the story progresses the reader finds out more about Malkin and Roux as they discover new things about themselves through various challenges and sticky situations.  After the relationship between Malkin and Roux is thoroughly established, the story moves on to a different setting – a world of cats, if you will – which is in sore need of a peacemaker.  Malkin comes to fill that role in the nick of time before a man made disaster looks set to threaten the existence of the cats’ new home.  I think this book will hit the mark for middle grade readers who love a good animal story and the illustrations here and there throughout will give an added context to their imagining of the story. There was a subtle sense of schmaltz underlying the story that put me off slightly – something to do with the cats’ (and particularly Roux’s) turns of phrase, I suspect – but that is possibly to be expected from a tale that promises a hero finding his destiny in the blurb.  This is one to watch out for if you have a crazy cat person in training in your dwelling.

Brand it with:

Wild at heart; warring factions; moonlight shenanigans

Well, with that round-up our Children’s Book Week Chaser comes to a close.  I hope you have found at least one book that will suit a mini-fleshling of your acquaintance!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Middle Grade Goodness” Edition…

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I’m ready to hunt down an eclectic bunch of middle grade titles with you today, so let’s saddle up and ride!

Carter and the Curious Maze (Philippa Dowding)

*We received a copy of Carter and the Curious Maze from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:carter and the curious maze.jpg

When Carter says that the Fair is super-boring this year, a creepy old man challenges him to try to beat his hedge maze. Once inside, Carter realises that this maze isn’t a typical fairground attraction and it might take him far longer than expected to find his way home.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is another fun addition to the author’s Weird Stories Gone Wrong collection of standalone books, featuring quick, engaging and unexpected tales.  The book revolves around Carter, a young boy who mistakenly believes that he is too old to have much fun at the local funfair.  On being invited to have a go at the admittedly less-than-enticing hedge maze, he soon discovers that some fairground attractions might harbour more secrets than they appear to at first glance.  Carter’s journey takes the reader on a whirlwind trip into various historical periods, from the present all the way back to the very beginnings of European settlement in his local area. I was hoping, overall, for a bit more depth in the characters and the problem-solving required from Carter to get back to the present, but because these are designed to be manageable reads, the word-count doesn’t necessarily allow for extended character development.  The character of Mr Green hits the mark in terms of creepiness and the “creepy leaf girl” that Carter encounters early on also exudes fairly sinister vibes (which are compounded upon seeing the illustration of her!), so there is quite enough weirdness to add a bit of uneasiness to the overall atmosphere.  I suspect that this would be a fantastic choice as a read-aloud for any teachers working on local history with their classes, as it really promotes the idea of thinking beyond the “now” and imagining (or even researching!) how what we consider to be our place or home has changed over time.  It’s probably alright to mention that while reading this story I became covetous of Carter’s sister’s squid hat and would quite like any tips on where to pick one up.

Brand it with:

Time travel, extreme gardening, creepy old guys

Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits (Julian Gough and Jim Field)

*We received a copy of Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:rabbit and bear

When Bear wakes early from hibernation, she immediately begins to look for food…which has gone missing…so she makes a snowman instead. This simple act sparks a friendship with Rabbit, which, while rocky at first, is forged in the fire and comes out stronger on the other side.

Muster up the motivation because…

…aside from its visual appeal, this story provides some extremely funny dialogue exchanges about poo and the eating thereof.  If you’re still with me, having digested the thought of conversations about eating one’s own poo (pun intended), then you will probably enjoy the non-pooey parts of the story as well (of which there are many).  Rabbit and Bear is a fully illustrated early chapter book (with no chapters), featuring a trusting and forgiving bear and a reasonably self-centred and tetchy rabbit.  Aside from these two protagonists we are also introduced to a wolf (undoubtedly the villain of the piece) and a collection of snowpeople (inanimate).  There isn’t a great deal of plot going on here, possibly due to the fact that this is a series-opener and needs to do the work of introducing the characters in a short amount of text, but the dialogue exchanges between Rabbit, Bear and occasionally the Wolf, are quite funny in places and there are enough changes in pace to keep the interest up and the reader turning the pages. During the non-poo-eating parts of the book, a quite touching friendship develops between Rabbit and Bear, albeit with a few (non poo-related) teething issues, and the ending is saccharine sweet and will no doubt make you go “Awwwww!”  I’d recommend this as a pre-bedtime read-aloud for mini-fleshlings with a taste for quirky animal stories, or a read-alone for confident readers at the lower end of the middle grade age bracket who can’t go past a bit of poo-based humour.

Brand it with:

The odd couple, fun with rotting vegetables, run rabbit run

Fuzzy (Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger)

*We received a copy of Fuzzy from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:fuzzy

Max Zelaster is a good student with a fascination for robots, so when her school is chosen to participate in a new robot integration program, Max is super excited. After being assigned to help “Fuzzy” learn the ropes of middle school, Max finds herself getting into more and more trouble – will and Fuzzy be able to figure out what’s really going on behind the scenes before both suffer dire consequences?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a quality story about friendship and bucking the system, reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s work.  Set in the near future, Max and her friends exist in a school system for which the pinnacle of academic achievement is scoring correctly on standardised tests, while following all behaviour rules to the letter.  Max is a character to whom one can’t help but be sympathetic when it becomes apparent that someone or something is tweaking the system to ensure that she doesn’t measure up to standards.  Fuzzy starts off the book as a bit of a non-entity, but quickly develops his programming and blossoms into an unlikely hero with conflicting feelings about his origins and purpose.  This is a bit of a deceptive story: on one level it can be read as a simple story of friendship and standing up for one’s rights in an unjust situation, while on deeper reflection there is plenty to spark conversation on larger social issues including the purpose of education, the relativity of truth and the positive and negative implications for society of rapid technological advancement.  There is a lot to get one’s teeth into here, whether you are in the target age-bracket or not, although the story does read like a middle-grade tale in terms of language and character development.  I’d definitely recommend this book for its originality of content and the authors’ unabashed opening of various cans of  worms.

Brand it with:

All hail the robot overlords, no running in the halls, big brother is watching you

Now go forth and round up these titles for your TBR list, d’ya hear?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “All the Single Ladies (and one Man)” Edition…

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Welcome to another Reading Round-Up!  Today’s books all feature single ladies (or single men) and we received all of them from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s hop to it!

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (Phaedra Patrick)

Ten Second Synopsis: the curious charms of arthur pepper

Elderly Arthur finds out after his wife’s death that there is much he did not know about her life before she met him. He sets off on a quest to unravel the secrets of her charm bracelet.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you enjoy quirky, feel-good stories featuring intrepid old folk then you should enjoy this.  Having said that, I do enjoy such stories, but elected not to finish this one.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the book per se, but the characters were a bit two-dimensional for my tastes and some quite unbelievable events had me not particularly connecting with the story.  I must have had the US edition as well, because Arthur uses the word “bangs” for fringe, and “trunk” for boot.  This completely threw out my engagement with the story, because it is inconceivable that an Englishman of Arthur’s vintage would ever have used the word “bangs” in that context, ever, for any reason.  **Honestly, can’t we give Americans more credit? I’m sure they could figure out what “fringe” meant given the context of the scene.  **  This would be a great choice for those moments when you’d like a light uplifting read that certainly won’t ask you to work too hard.

Brand it with:

Positively charming, oldies’ road trip, secrets from beyond the grave

The Woman Next Door (Yewande Omotoso)

Ten Second Synopsis:  the woman next door

Hortensia and Marion don’t like each other. Both have a hidden history. Both are alone. Slowly, and with great mistrust, they might grow to like each other. Or at least not loathe each other.

Muster up the motivation because:

This has all the features of your typical grumpy-old-ladies story, but with the added interest of being set in South Africa and delving unapologetically into the social and racial divides that plague that nation.  I did enjoy parts of this story but found it to be quite heavy going in certain sections.  Add to that the fact that Hortensia is thorny and often acerbic while Marion is the absolute reflection of late-to-the-party, trying-to-atone-for-years-of-racial-disinterest white privilege and the book might inspire some very uncomfortable moments of self-reflection for certain readers.  There’s a lot going on in this book, not least of which is the women’s fears about aging, regrets and surprises from their deceased spouses and whether the ship bearing the chance to atone for past transgressions has sailed.  I will admit to an expectation that this book would be more humorous than it is – the humour here being so dry as to be crumbling to dust.  Certainly though, this is an unexpected and unusual examination of many aspects of womanhood, motherhood, wifehood and sisterhood.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves, grey areas, mean (old) girls

Sister Eve and the Blue Nun: Divine Private Detective Agency #3 (Lynne Hinton)

Ten Second Synopsis: sister eve

Sister Eve returns to the monastery after a brief leave of absence to attend a conference. All goes to pot however, when one of the key note speakers is found dead the night before an important speech.

Muster up the motivation because…

If you enjoy murder mysteries that are more about the enjoyment of a good murder romp than actually being believable, you should get a kick out of this.  It didn’t particularly float my boat, only because the events of the second chapter were so unbelievable that I couldn’t take the rest of the story seriously in any way.  I speak of the immediate aftermath of the murder in which, upon hearing of the death of the victim, Sister Eve doesn’t immediately rush to the scene to render first aid or at least see what the situation is, and instead has a prolonged chat with the victim’s brother.  Then there’s the fact that on arriving at the murder scene, Sister Eve interferes with a crime scene and actually BREAKS a major piece of evidence.  Finally, there’s the fact that nobody who hears of the fact that there may be someone dead or dying on the premises bothers to call the police.  These three things in quick succession diminished my engagement with the story tenfold.  The rest of the book follows the usual murder-mystery path with red-herrings and set-ups and the rest before an action-packed reveal.  A fun addition to the genre, but not my cup of tea, sadly.

Brand it with:

(Religious) sisters doin’ it for themselves, brotherly love, murder in the monastery

I hope you find something to lasso and take home in this lot!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Bloomsbury Middle Grade” Edition

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Today’s Round-Up features three middle grade books from the same publisher – Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us all three, unexpectedly, for review and we loved one, thoroughly enjoyed another and were left scratching our heads at the positive hype we’d heard about the third.  Regardless, we’ve corralled them all here for your consideration. Giddy-up!

First up, we have the one we loved:

Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den (Aimee Carter)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  simon thorn

Simon lives a pretty lonely life with his uncle while his mother travels the world for work, offset only by his ability to communicate with birds and animals. When Simon’s mother returns unexpectedly and Simon receives a message from an eagle warning him of danger, everything Simon knows is turned upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…although the cover screamed “pedestrian book for reluctant male readers” to me, I loved the unexpectedly complex and twisting plot, where no one is completely trustworthy and motives are as murky as unstrained tea. I knocked the book over in two sittings, such was the pull of the adventure and mystery. Simon is a solid and honourable character who just wants to peel back some of the layers of secrecy that have shrouded his existence for so long and there are many surprises in store for him along the way, none of which I feel I can really talk about because they all relate to twists in the tale. The supporting cast of young characters, including Winter, Ariana, Jam and Nolan are believable and, unusually for most middle grade writing, all carry authentic flaws that relate to their backgrounds and loyalties. While the story does have its typical middle grade tropes – a semi-orphaned protagonist, a potential “chosen one” theme, bullied kid makes good and so forth – these aren’t laboured or made the focus of the plot and instead play an integral part in guiding the twists. Best of all, the ending is almost impossible to pick (although seasoned readers of middle grade adventure fantasy will have their theories early on) because all of the main characters, apart from Simon, have motivations that are partly hidden from the reader. This is the first middle grade offering from Carter (and I certainly won’t be examining her YA work, that looks suspiciously like paranormal romance-y type stuff – blerch!) but I am heartily impressed and looking forward to the next instalment in Simon’s adventures. I would recommend this book highly to readers of middle grade looking for an absorbing take on animal shape-shifters and urban fantasy.

Brand it with:

Pigeons vs Rats, sibling rivalry, choose your side

Next up, we have a reissue of an old classic from a master of middle-grade storytelling:

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom (Louis Sachar)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  there's a boy in the girls bathroom

Bradley Chalkers is the most obnoxious, odious child in school – even the teachers can’t stand him! But when new kid Jeff, and school counsellor Carla come along, things might start looking up for Bradley, if only he can stop sabotaging himself.

Muster up the motivation because…

…You can’t go wrong with Louis Sachar really, can you? Whenever you pick up one of his books you can be assured of interesting (if, in some cases, annoying) characters, amusing writing and some unexpectedly embarrassing events. There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom delivers in all of these areas. Bradley Chalkers is possibly the most deliberately obnoxious character ever written for this age-group and having a purposefully unlikable main character, while seemingly counter-intuitive, actually drew me further into the story. Apart from a few hints at some frightening events in Bradley’s father’s past, we aren’t ever privy to how Bradley got to be so unpleasant and self-defeating, but it is obvious that his problems are long ingrained and almost expected by all those around him, including teachers. The story rolls on toward an inevitable happy ending (with a few speed-bumps and tough decisions toward the end, of course) and the resulting fond feelings on closing the book are the icing on the cake. One of the great things about Sachar’s books is that there always seems to be room for forgiveness, with the young characters often changing their viewpoints and friendships in an authentic way by the end. And speaking of forgiveness, you would be forgiven for wanting to poke Bradley Chalkers in the eye after the first few chapters. I’d recommend this one for young readers looking for a realistic story of friendship and fitting in, with a good dash of humour.

Brand it with:

That weird kid, no one understands me, pay attention to signage

Finally, here’s the one that didn’t live up to the hype from our point of view.

Anyone But Ivy Pocket (Caleb Krisp)

Two Sentence Synopsis: anyone but ivy pocket

A half-witted maidservant is entrusted with delivering a precious jewel to a certain person at a certain time. She does so, while ignoring obvious cues toward villainy and making up stories.
Muster up the motivation because…

…if you enjoy stories featuring “delightfully” oblivious heroines embroiled in the delivery of a (possibly magic) valuable gemstone that people are prepared to kill to possess, then you will probably enjoy Anyone But Ivy Pocket. This one has been on our radar for a while and having heard that it was a funny adventure, with a strong, unique female protagonist, I was quite interested to dive in to the story. Unfortunately for us, Ivy can only be described as either wilfully blind to obvious social cues or spectacularly unintelligent and self-centred. Either way, it proved to be an excruciating reading experience because Blind Freddy (or Fredrika!) could see the glaring plot points that Ivy was missing. This was clearly intentional on the part of the author and I’m not sure why this technique was employed. As an adult reader, I found it to be tedious at best and I can’t imagine that younger readers would find Ivy’s dull-headedness particularly amusing. The narrative style was flippant and light and overall the book is obviously intended to be a humorous, wacky adventure with two-dimensional characters that each fill a particular function in the story. We just couldn’t get over our irritation with Ivy however, in order to enjoy the actual plot. Regardless, plenty of people have really enjoyed this book, but we shelf-dwellers don’t count ourselves amongst that happy number.

Brand it with:

Are you being served?, mystery maids, wacky historical fiction

Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say, so I hope you have found something here, as we did, to amuse and entertain. Thanks again to Bloomsbury Australia for this Round-Up-worthy haul!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Ghostly Murders” Edition…

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Welcome to another Reading Round-Up.  I hope you’ve got your paranormal crime-solving hat on today because you’ll need it to round up this group of titles.  All of the books we’ll be chasing down today feature a crime plus at least one ghost and we were lucky enough to receive two of them from the publisher via Netgalley.  The other one we got out of the library.  Let’s kick off with that one, shall we?  It’s early YA mystery series opener…

Mondays are Murder  (Tanya Landman)

Two Sentence Synopsis: mondays are murder

Poppy’s mum sends her to a week-long camp as one of five “guinea pig” kids to test a out a new adventure sport centre before it opens to the public. When Poppy gets to the camp on a desolate island and people start dropping dead from apparent accidents, things start to get serious and Poppy uses her sharp observational skills to try and find the killer before the island becomes unpopulated.

Muster up the motivation because:

At just over one hundred pages, this is a murder mystery that doesn’t hang around and wait for you to catch up.  Straight from the off, we are privy to a seriously nasty “accident” and very soon after that we are introduced to the adult cast – all of whom had better have their wits about them if they don’t want to end up in a murderer’s sights.  Poppy is a likeable narrator and is possessed of very sharp observational skills.  I must say that I was very pleased that Landman decided not to make these skills “extraordinary” or feel the need to give Poppy any other strange quirks.  It was refreshing to read an ordinary teen girl character with some talents in a particular area that aren’t linked to any label or diagnosis.  Graham, Poppy’s schoolmate and partner in not-dying, is also a fun character and I think the pair make an excellent combination. There is a ghostly element to the plot that is not overdone and while the pace is quite quick, as murder mysteries go, there are enough clues and red herrings dropped to keep young fanciers of detective stories well and truly engaged. I enjoyed this brief yet action-packed foray into Landman’s world, so I will definitely be popping a few more of Poppy and Graham’s adventures on my library reserve list.

Brand it with:

Not the outdoorsy type, What could possibly go wrong?, Summer holiday fun

I am submitting this title for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check on my progress for this challenge here.

Next up we have a cosy mystery for lovers of character-driven series:

The Girls in the Woods: Annie Graham Mysteries #5 (Helen Phifer)

Ten Second Synopsis:  girls in the woods

When a skeleton turns up in the woods in Annie’s town, she tries to stay out of things and concentrate on having a happy pregnancy. As more bodies turn up and Annie’s niece goes missing, it looks like Annie will have no choice but to go in on the frontline of investigation.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a murder mystery with a whole lot going on.  There’s a paranormal element in that Annie can see dead people – indeed they seem to seek her out – there is a heavy dose of domestic violence and more than a passing nod to the Memento Mori photographers of Victorian times.  I didn’t find it was a big problem not having read the earlier books in this series.  The plot was easy enough to follow, but there were some references to Annie’s prior adventures that were quite intriguing and so in that regard it would probably be worth starting at the beginning with this series.  It is made obvious from the beginning and throughout who the perpetrator of the killings is in this novel, but there were a couple of cheeky twists right toward the end that should prove satisfactory to those looking for a more complicated read.  I really liked the premise of this particular murder mystery despite the fact that some aspects of it beggared belief – surely someone would comment on the whacking great mortuary fridges tucked away in the killer’s garage?! – but there were a number of sections that concentrated on developing character relationships that I probably would have appreciated more had I read the earlier books.  As it was I just wanted Annie to get on and solve it!

Brand it with:

If you love her, let her go; fun with photography; I see dead people

And finally, one for the banter-fiends with:

The Haunting of Melmerby Manor: Spookies #1 (David W. Robinson)

Ten Second Synopsis:melmerby manor

Paranormal investigator Lady Concepta Rand-Epping (Sceptre), ex-cop Pete Brennan and all-round chicken Kevin Keeley make up the Spookies detection agency…despite the fact that one of them is a card-carrying sceptic where the paranormal is concerned.  When a routine investigation of a haunted manor house reveals 2500 pirated DVDs, the influence of the paranormal may give way to a much more mundane sort of danger.

Muster up the motivation because:  

If you enjoy a rollicking sort of tale featuring quirky characters and a lot of banter then you’ll probably get a kick out of this one.  Along with the three protagonists mentioned above, Sceptre is ably assisted by the centuries-dead gentleman’s gentleman of her ancestral home, Fishwick, who handles some of the herding of the recently deceased toward the Light.  Along with the host of paranormal characters generally bothering our heroes, the trio becomes inveigled in a more down-to-earth problem involving local thugs and a pirate DVD racket.  I quite enjoyed the paranormal elements to be honest and the banter between the three main characters was a lot of fun but the sections dealing with the pirate DVDs slowed things down, such that by the end I was feeling that this was an okay read, but not great.  While this title didn’t particularly do it for me,  I can see it having a great appeal to those who enjoy irreverent urban fantasy with a realistic, edgy twist in the style of Guy Adams or Lee Battersby.

Brand it with:

Keep your friends close; dirty old men; dirty DVDs done dirt cheap

Get them before they get you my friends!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

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

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

Broken Prophecy (K. J. Taylor)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  broken prophecy

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

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

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

Brand it with:

Marked by fate, band of companions, demons v humans

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the midnight gardener

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

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

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

Brand it with:

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

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

The Tea Machine (Gill McKnight)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the tea machine

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

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

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

Brand it with:

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

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  fuck feelings

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

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

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

Brand it with:

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

Demon Road (Derek Landy)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  demon road

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

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

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

Brand it with:

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

Monsterland (Michael Phillip Cash)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monsterland

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

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

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

Brand it with:

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

Camp Midnight (Steven T. Seagle & Jason Katzenstein)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  camp midnight

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

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

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

Brand it with:

Stepmonsters, unhappy campers, born to be wild

The Children’s Home (Charles Lambert)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the childrens home

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

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

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

Brand it with:

Unexpected parental responsibilities, personal growth, unusual gardening methods


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

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

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

venturing forth buttonUntil next time,

Bruce