Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Yetis, Ants and Unruly Hair…

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It’s a Bloomsbury Australia triple-dipping rodeo today with three new release picture books guaranteed to delight and amaze your mini-fleshlings!  Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copies.

I’m Going to Eat This Ant (Chirs Naylor-Ballesteros)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  i am going to eat this ant

A hungry ant-eater is determined to eat an ant but has trouble deciding which delicious method he will use to prepare his snack. Meanwhile, the ants have ideas of their own and anteater’s snack isn’t going to be quite so easy as that!

Muster up the motivation because…

…from the seriously sinister look on the anteater’s face to the enormously imaginative ways that he dreams up to prepare his ant meal, young readers will be able to tell at a glance that the main character of this book is one nasty customer.  The creative culinary mind of said anteater, while inexplicably fixated on the letter “s”, takes in every possible method of food preparation, from sauteeing, to smoking, sandwiches to drinks with straws.  One of the highlights of the book is surely the look on the unlucky ant’s face as he is mentally sloshed in sauce and sizzled on a stick.  Our favourite page would have to be that on which the poor little ant is depicted sliced like a salami – I will always marvel at how illustrators manage to convey so much emotion with just a few slashes of line!  We particularly enjoyed the final endpapers depicting the ants marching along with all the anteater’s imagined foodstuffs and utensils…and the cheeky surprise as you turn over the very last endpaper page!  As the methods of dispatching the ant become nastier and nastier, it was somewhat of a relief to note that the other ants in the nest have a cunning plan to save their comrade and see off the nasty anteater.  The ending will no doubt have mini-fleshlings cheering as the anteater gets his comeuppance.  This is a wickedly funny picture book for young ones who enjoy subversive humour.

Brand it with:

Ant-i-establishment; the circle of life; alliterative eats

Henry and the Yeti (Russell Ayto)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  henry and the yeti

Nobody believes Henry when he says he is off to find a Yeti. With determination, a little mountain climbing and his trusty camera, Henry is sure that he can provide the evidence his headteacher needs to prove that Yetis exist.

Muster up the motivation because…

…summing up the oft-touted exhortation of “pictures or it didn’t happen”, this story is a fun, reverse take on the fable of the boy who cried wolf.  Rather than pretending that something exists when it doesn’t, Henry is adamant that Yetis are real and what’s more, he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is and go on an expedition to prove it.  Young readers will no doubt find something to relate to in the early scenes of the book, in which Henry is ridiculed for believing in something so outlandish, but with determination and his trusty camera by his side (for evidence, of course) Henry backs himself and sets off to glory and beyond.  After a mishap with his camera however, it looks like Henry’s successful mission might be in jeopardy…but a friend in need is a friend indeed and a surprising ally turns up in the nick of time to support Henry’s claims.  This story is replete with dry humour – “Now the headteacher is having a little lie down” says the text, with the illustrations showing that he has clearly fainted – and bears a wonderful message about believing in yourself.  We particularly enjoyed the fact that the illustrator didn’t overstretch himself in creating the character of the Yeti.  (That was dry humour too).

Brand it with:

Cryptozooloogy in the classroom; documentary evidence; expeditionary forces

I Don’t Want Curly Hair (Laura Ellen Anderson)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  curly hair

A girl with unruly curls tries everything to make her hair straight, with no success.  Upon meeting someone with a different outlook, both girls start to appreciate what they have.

Muster up the motivation because…

…it’s the age old tale of wanting something that everyone else has, before finding out that what you have ain’t so bad after all.  This isn’t the most original picture book getting around the place – which is surprising, given that Anderson is the creator of The Phoenix magazine’s brilliant Evil Emperor Penguin comic series – but its message, and the protagonist’s daily struggles to tame her wild curls, will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to brush a child’s curly hair without the assistance of a detangling spray, detangling brush and several litres of spray-on hair anaesthetic.  The rhyming text and the inventive ways that the girl comes up with to solve her curly problem will have little ones entranced and giggling along and the ending clearly demonstrates how the greener grass – or in this case, the straighter hair – isn’t necessariily the boon that our protagonist thinks it is.  Overall, this story has been done before, many times, but the humour and rhyming text make this worth a look if you have a mini-fleshling with wild, untamed curls.

Brand it with:

Getting things straight; tangled tales; opposites attract

I hope you’ve found something to herd into your book-pen!  What have you been rounding up to read lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Three for A New Year

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For the second day of the new year, I present to you an overload of books.  Well, not an overload, but given that it’s only day two of 2017 and I have three books for you, less voracious readers than ourselves may consider it a bit excessive.  I have a YA contemporary set in Paris, a middle grade series continuation and a middle grade fantasy adventure about identity and chocolate.  So for the first time in 2017, let’s saddle up and ride on in!

Lisette’s Paris Notebook (Catherine Bateson)

*We received a copy of Lisette’s Paris Notebook from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

lisettes-paris-notebook

Lisette’s Paris Notebook by Catherine Bateson.  Published by Allen & Unwin, January 3rd, 2017.  RRP: $16.99

Lisette (Lise) is taking a gap year in Paris and staying with her mother’s friend, a clairvoyant. While in Paris she meets some interesting people through her imposed French language class.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you’re in the mood for a languid yet exotic holiday that evokes feelings of romance, European style and new experiences, but don’t have the money to afford such a holiday, Lisette’s Paris Notebook could be the next best thing.  Lise is young, ready for adventure and raring to stamp her own style on the world’s capital of haute couture and finds herself cramped in a tiny bedsit above a clairvoyant’s storefront.  While Paris doesn’t immediately turn out to be what she expected, Lise nevertheless commits to attending a French language class as a small concession to her mother’s dreams for her.  The class is filled with college-aged art students from around the world and Lise is both attracted to and intimidated by the easy style and sophistication of her classmates.  I will admit to DNFing this one about halfway through, at 144 pages – chapter 14 – not because the story was bad, but because I just don’t think I’m the intended audience for the book, not being a massive contemporary fan.   The only thing that had me cringing a bit was the fact that all the French characters that I encountered seemed to be weirdly stereotyped – abrupt to the point of rudeness, dismissive of other cultures or ways of doing things and set in their ideas about what one should do in France.  I’m not entirely sure what that was about, or whether it changes later on in the book, but I found it set my teeth on edge a bit.  Ardent fans of contemporary YA, and especially YA that borders on new adult and features coming-of-age issues and themes of identity should find lots to enjoy here.  The tone is light, there are some funny situations and generally this fits the bill as a relaxing, escapist holiday read.

Brand it with:

Enchante!; new adventures; fun with fashion

The Thornthwaite Betrayal (Gareth P. Jones)

*We received a copy of The Thornthwaite Betrayal from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

thornthwaite-betrayal

The Thornthwaite Betrayal by Gareth P. Jones.  Published by Allen & Unwin, January 3rd, 2017.  RRP: $16.99

Siblings who have previously enjoyed plotting each other’s demise have called a truce, when a long lost uncle turns up to make a claim on their ancestral home.  Mistrust ensues, as well as some new found interest in friendship with others, on the part of the twins.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is the second book following on from The Thornthwaite Inheritance, in which Ovid and Lorelli Thornthwaite enjoy attempting to kill each other – must be a twin thing – and their manor ends up being burnt down.  Unfortunately, I have not read the previous book, even though it’s been on my TBR list for quite some time, and it is this single factor that led to my putting down The Thornthwaite Betrayal after 44 pages. I’m generally a fan of Jones’ work – Constable and Toop and Death by Ice Cream being two of his back catalogue that I thoroughly enjoyed – but found this one hard to get into simply because I didn’t have the context of the previous book to draw on.  Some of the characters in this second book obviously made an appearance in the previous one, and some characters from the previous book are mentioned, but I really needed a bit more background information to get a picture of what exactly was going on and how the characters were linked.  Also, given that the thing that would draw me in most about these books is the idea of murderous twins, the fact that the twins weren’t being particularly murderous in the part of this I read meant that some of the expected shine was missing.  I will have to go back and read the first story before I can make proper comment on this one, I think.

Brand it with:

It’s a twin thing; long lost relatives; personal growth

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Stephanie Burgis)

*We received a copy of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart from Bloomsbury Publishing via Netgalley for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  dragon-with-a-chocolate-heart

A dragon ventures out of her cave to show her parents she can make it on her own and ends up inadvertently being turned into a human. She then does what any spell-cursed dragon would do: become an apprentice to a chocolatier.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are looking for a fantasy tale that has an original premise and is guaranteed to appeal to any foodie fans in your life, this is the book for you!  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart blends a dragon dynasty with a nasty spell, a class-based society and business competition to create a completely new storyline in middle grade fantasy reads.  Aventurine is a dragon who inadvertently falls under the spell of a food mage and is trapped in a human body.  After tasting chocolate for the first time, the determined girl (ex-dragon!) decides that if she must be trapped in a puny human body, the least she can do is apprentice herself to a chocolatier and learn the finer arts of creating her new favourite food.  The “dragon” part of the story takes a bit of a backseat during this time as Aventurine learns to navigate the human world and its unfamiliar trappings – two of which being human friendships and social interactions – until her family turns up wanting their darling dragon back and Aventurine’s temporary home is in the firing line.  While the story is undoubtedly fresh and original, my overall feeling while reading was that this is a strange sort of tale that can’t quite decide whether it should be a fish-out-of-water fantasy or a being-true-to-oneself friendship story.  While Aventurine is human, the very human experiences of friendship, betrayal, manipulation and position in society play a major role, and even if Aventurine herself never forgot her inner-dragonness, I certainly did at some points during the book, which meant that the story didn’t reach the heights of brilliance for me at any stage.  Nevertheless, I always welcome fresh takes on familiar tropes in middle grade fiction and Burgis has certainly delivered on that score.

Brand it with:

Feral foodies; master’s apprentices; fish out of water

Two days into the new year and three new books for you to hunt down: surely one of these titles takes your fancy?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Utterly Magical” Edition…

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Saddle up your most mythical beast because I have four magical titles for you today: three for younger readers and one for the grown-ups.  Let’s get cracking!

Not So Much, Said the Cat (Michael Swanwick)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  not so much said the cat

This is a cracking collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories well worth immersing one’s self in.  The stories span multiple fantasy worlds with humour and plenty of twists.

Muster up the motivation because…

…all of the stories in this collection reek of quality writing.  Swanwick clearly knows his craft because each story, though set in its own discrete universe, feels like a complete world in itself.  The opener, The Man in Grey, is a mind-boggling speculative piece steeped in humour that will have you questioning every set piece of your ordinary existence.  Some of the stories read like fables or fairy tales, others like cutting-edge science fiction.  There really is something for everyone here and as most of the stories span more than a few pages each, you can take the time to get lost in your particular little world without fearing it will be over before it really begins.  The best thing about these stories is that they don’t feel like they are variations on a similar theme or even slight twists on familiar tropes, but like actual original tales.  Our favourites of the bunch are The Scarecrow’s Boy, a bizarre but touching story about a child on the run, and Goblin Lake, a fairy tale complete with revenge, riddles, ruination and redemption.  I would definitely recommend this to lovers of all things left-of-centre.

Brand it with:

Tales of sadness and wo–ah, that’s a bit weird; sci-fantasy; speculative

Wildwitch: Wildfire (Lene Kaaberbol)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis: wildwitch wildfire

Clara always thought she was ordinary until strange, dangerous things start happening around her. Whisked off to learn the ways of the wildwitch from her aunty, Clara thinks she’ll be safe, if a little bored, but nothing could be further than the truth.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a delightful, timeless-feeling story of witchery and magic with a down-to-earth heroine.  There’s something charmingly old-fashioned about the style of narrative here, as the focus is entirely on the action, rather than establishing Clara as a child of a particular contemporary time.  It’s refreshing to read a middle grade novel that doesn’t faff about with done-to-death school bullies and all that rubbish and just sticks to the trials of the main character.  The villain of the piece is scary indeed, with a malicious streak that could spell disaster for Clara.  The book is quite a quick read and the pacing is spot on, with no time wasted as Clara is moved to her aunt’s house to begin her training.  I loved the particular magical world and lore that was built up in this story and I would be very interested to see what happens next.  I’d recommend this one to lovers of simple but action-packed magical stories and those who would just adore having their own magical familiar to hang out with.

Brand it with:

The trouble with cats; large wings don’t an angel make; born to be wild

The Monstrous Child (Francesca Simon)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

the monstrous child

The Monstrous Child (Francesca Simon) Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 June 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Hel is a corpse child, born with a living body and dead legs, and destined to become the Queen of the Underworld. This is her story, from her humble and grimy beginnings to her humble and grimy end.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a fan of Norse mythology, this will be everything you could hope for in a novel for younger readers.  I was unaware that this is actually the third book in the Mortal Gods series (the first of which, The Sleeping Army, I have had on my TBR list since it was published).  This may explain why the writing seemed so obfuscating; it seemed like Simon expected the reader to know more about Hel’s life and background than Hel was prepared to tell us.  I had trouble with this one because the narrative style, which sees Hel explaining her entire life to the reader, focused heavily on telling, rather than showing.  Hel, as a character, is also reasonably dire and grim, and so the reader isn’t exactly invited to engage deeply with her as a person (god).  Having not read the first two books in the series, I can’t say whether this is a departure or continuation from the earlier novels, but I would recommend reading the first two books before picking this one up, unless you are the sort that loves a challenging, and slightly discombobulating read.

Brand it with:

Norse code; Winners and losers; the unacknowledged child

The Changelings (Christina Soontornvat)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the changelings

Izzy and Hen are forced to move to their grandmother’s old house in the most boring town in the universe, where their next-door neighbour is probably a witch. When Hen goes missing however, Izzy finds out that sometimes it pays to make friends with your (possibly witchy) neighbours.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you enjoy your standard down-the-rabbit-hole stories based in Celtic folklore then this will scratch your itch.  The beginning of the tale is fairly typical for middle grade magical fare – kids move to a seemingly boring new home before discovering a magical world and being plunged into adventure – but there are so many interesting and quirky characters sprinkled throughout that the tropes can be overlooked a little.  Our heroines are immediately split up of course, leading to a two-pronged narrative attack, with Izzy on one side and the kidnapped Hen on the other, and historical, cultural and (magically) political motives coming into play.  Overall, this is a fun romp with some likable and unexpected characters, plenty of humour and exactly the sort of derring-do you would expect from a pair of kids lost in the land of faerie.

Brand it with:

If you go down to the woods today; grandmother’s secrets; fun with faerie

Take your magical pick, my friends.  Surely there is something here to entice you!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Gritty UKYA” Edition…

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Pull out your best Round-Up hat, because today’s three UK YA titles are ones that you will be wanting to chase down.  We received copies of today’s books from Allen & Unwin for review.  Keep your eyes open my friends, we’ve got some live ones here!

Bad Apple (Matt Whyman)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

bad apple

Bad Apple (Matt Whyman) Published by Bonnier, 25th May 2016.  RRP: $16.99

When Maurice goes on a school trip to observe “trolls” in their settlement for his modern history class, he doesn’t expect to get quite so “up close and personal” with the inhabitants. When he discovers what is going on in the settlements, Maurice decides to risk doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and in doing so, blurs the boundaries between troll and human behaviours.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one road-trip that bumps along apace and while it doesn’t take itself too seriously, still manages to raise some questions about the labels that we put on each other.  The first few chapters, in which we discover the origin of the under-dwelling trolls, are particularly engaging and the pace never slows enough to register any lag.  Maurice, Cindy and Wretch (not to mention Governor Shores) all have obvious flaws and strengths, which helps to drive the philosophical question about who should be classed a troll and who shouldn’t.  There is a certain sense of the ridiculous laced throughout the main trio’s antics, but the story is so fun and fast that there’s not enough time to dwell on whether or not the happenings are believable.  I’ll definitely be seeking out more of Whyman’s work after this – the absorbing but flippant narrative style really appeals to my sense of humour and I love a story in which fantasy or speculative elements are seamlessly inserted into an otherwise rather ordinary setting.  This is the sort of YA book that would certainly also appeal to adults who appreciate oddity in writing, as well as adult characters who would remind them strongly of the mix of enemies and allies that appear in any workplace.  I recommend this one for those looking for a quirky, fun change of pace with a thought-provoking twist.

Brand it with:

Notes from the underground, genetic testing, born to be wild

The Fix (Sophie McKenzie)

 

the fix

The Fix (Sophie McKenzie) Pulished by Faber Factory Plus (FfP), 25th May 2016.  RRP: $13.99

 

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Blake is a star striker on his football team, but at home his mum is struggling to pay the rent.  When Blake is offered the opportunity to earn some money by deliberately throwing his next match, it seems like the solution to Blake’s rent problem is right in front of him.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this book is touted as “super-readable” by a helpful sticker on the back, and as a “low reading level, high interest” book, it is a great choice for struggling or reluctant readers in the YA bracket who prefer shorter reads that get straight to the action.  This book is easily read in one or two sittings, with no unnecessary segues into side plots that might lessen the interest of the story overall.  The characters are quite two-dimensional, given the short word count, but there is plenty of action to ensure the reader stays engaged.  The book starts with a botched getaway attempt from a midnight kick-around session in Blake’s city’s brand new football stadium, and from that point on, Blake is forced to make some hard decisions over where his loyalties lie.  As it is so short, it’s hard to drum up too much excitement over having read this book, but it does exactly what it says on the tin, which is to pitch a tale of high interest to YA readers at an easily accessible reading level for those in the target age group.

Brand it with:

Money for nothing, divided loyalties, pacey reads

Johnny Delgado (Kevin Brooks)

 

johnny delgado

Johnny Delgado (Kevin Brooks) Published by Faber Factory Plus (FfP), 25th May 2016 RRP: $13.99

 

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Johnny lives in North Tower of the estate with his mum, after his dad – a policeman – was killed in a botched drug raid.  Hoping to make it as a private detective, Johnny will stop at nothing to find out the truth, particularly when it involves his family, but in doing so, will put those he loves in danger.

Muster up the motivation because…

…for a high interest/low reading level YA offering, this is a remarkably engaging and suspenseful book.  Despite this not being my particular preference for content in YA contemporary, I will admit to being riveted by Johnny’s story because it is action-packed from beginning to end.  This bind-up includes the first two stories in what has previously been published as two separate books – Johnny Delgado: Private Detective and Johnny Delgado: Like Father, Like Son – and despite the reasonably naff titles of those two books, the stories are actually aimed at readers of YA who can handle mature themes such as drug use, gang warfare and urban poverty.  The stories don’t shy away from the overbearing sense of despair and entrapment in the poverty cycle that pervades the estate in which Johnny lives, and the writing brings to life the depressing conditions of council house tenants living cheek by jowl.  The characters are, for the most part, authentic representations of the kinds of folk who might populate such an estate and Johnny himself is believable as a young man driven to discover the truth behind his father’s death.  The vivid action and, dare I say, believable violence contained in the stories will no doubt be a drawcard for reluctant male readers, but overall I would recommend having a look at this series simply for the exciting narrative style, suspenseful action and graphic depictions of urban life in a rough locale.

Brand it with:

Is that a gun in your pocket?, stairs or lift?, urban jungle

Have you mentally grabbed one of these books and stuffed it in your proverbial tucker bag yet?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

A Foolhardy Reading Round-Up: Kidlit Titles for April!

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Welcome to April and a Kid-lit-a-thon Round-Up!  Today’s Round-Up features three picture books and two middle-grade graphic novels.  One of these will be submitted for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge AND the Title Fight Reading Challenge, but you’ll have to read on to find out which.  We received all of these titles from Netgalley for review.  Now, let’s get (whip) cracking!

Little Red (Bethan Woollvin)

Ten Second Synopsis: little red.jpg

Red Riding Hood with a skandi twist, this book is a retelling with sass.

Muster up the motivation because:

There are a lot of fairy tale retellings getting around at the moment, but the bold, minimalist colour scheme, chunky woodcut-style illustrations and text that oozes subversive wit sets this one apart.  The general arc of the Red Riding Hood story is preserved here, but Red is presented as one independent and resourceful young lass.  The simple combination of red, black and white in the illustrations is incredibly effective and makes this book a joy to look at, as much as to read.  I’d love to see what is coming next from Woollvin and how she might tackle an original story.

Brand it with:

Girl power, Woodland Survival, You’re Axed!

Far Out Fairy Tales (Joey Comeau, Louise Simonson, Sean Tulien, Otis Frampton)

Ten Second Synopsis: far out fairy tales

This is a collection of fairy tale retellings with a definite pop-culture flavour.  Each fairy tale has been modernised with popular motifs, including zombies, ninjas and computer games.

Muster up the motivation because:

Apart from the graphic novel format, the point of difference in this collection is a neat summary at the end of each story giving the differences between the modernised version and the traditional tale.  While I found most of the tales a little bit too contrived for my tastes – the Cinderella ninja in particular gave me reading-indigestion – they are perfectly pitched for a younger middle grade audience and varied enough for at least one or two of the tales to appeal to every reader.  The standout favourite for me was the retelling of the Billy Goats Gruff, set inside a video game with boss fights and dungeon crawling, but the Snow White story featuring robots was also quite subtle and well thought out.  The illustrations are varied in style and because each retelling has a different author, the book has a sense of the original with each new story.  This would be a great pick for youngsters looking for familiar stories in a fun, graphic format.

Brand it with:

Zombies and Ninjas and Robots, Oh My!, graphic tales, fairy tales levelled up

Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home (Kazue Takahashi)

Ten Second Synopsis: kuma chan

Kuma Chan is an unassuming little bear.  In this tale, a young boy gets an invitation from Kuma Chan to visit his home, resulting in a relaxed day of doing nothing much at all.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is another classic Japanese character that will have you flip-flopping between “Oh, so Kawaii!” and “What on earth is going on here?”  Apparently Kuma Chan, or Little Bear, is a big hit with mini-fleshlings in Japan and this is the second book in the series.  Kuma Chan himself gets around looking rather bemused most of the time, and nothing much happens in the book, aside from the boy’s journey to Kuma Chan’s house, but overall this is just a delightful read.  The fact that the boy and Kuma Chan literally just hang out together in silence for most of the book results in a calming sense of satisfaction with one’s lot.  I will definitely have to seek out the original book in the series and I would love to see what the Little Bear is up to next.  This would be a perfect choice for a reader of your acquaintance who loves books that defy conventional description.

Brand it with:

Chillin’ with my homies, Bear necessities, kawaii

Squirrel Me Timbers (Louise Pigott)

Ten Second Synopsis: squirrel me timbers

A pirate squirrel must follow a map to discover buried treasure.  Will the treasure live up to his expectations? And what’s a squirrel to do with all that booty?

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are a bit over the whole pirate thing that seems to be booming in children’s books these days, I can guarantee that adding in a squirrely twist livens things up nicely.  The rhymes are a little awkward to read aloud at times, but the cheeky illustrations and the unexpected “treasure” are fun and original.  Sammy is a very likeable protagonist and I did have a bit of a giggle at some of the twists in his nutty quest.  This should appeal greatly to young swashbucklers looking for a new perspective on what makes a pirate tick.

Brand it with:

Pieces of eight (nuts), X marks the spot, Treasure hunting rodents

Fluffy Strikes Back (Ashley Spires)

Ten Second Synopsis:  fluffy strikes back

Fluffy, sergeant in charge of Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel (P.U.R.S.T.) must come out of retirement to foil an invasion of aliens with spray bottles.  Will Fluffy be able to meet the challenge and rescue the pets in his charge?

Muster up the motivation because:

Despite the utter weirdness of the concept of this graphic novel series, it is actually a guffaw-worthy tale.  This is the second book in the P.U.R.S.T. series and I hadn’t read the first, so I didn’t realise that this was a graphic novel.  This meant I wasn’t prepared for the high level of visual humour contained within this tome.  The concept of the book is a little confusing when read – cats, dogs and other small animals working together in a secret (literally) underground organisation to save the world from aliens (insects) – but makes perfect (and hilarious) sense when absorbed visually.  The humour is actually pretty dry for a graphic novel aimed at kids, but there are plenty of just-plain-funny aspects as well, such as the entrance to the P.U.R.S.T. headquarters being accessed through a litter tray and the alien insects using spray bottles to ward off the cats.  I would definitely recommend this to mini-fleshlings or adult readers looking for a quick, off-beat and strangely compelling graphic novel series that doesn’t take itself – or anything else – too seriously.

Brand it with:

Alien Invasion, Notes from the Underground, Thankless tasks

Yes, you guessed it: I will be submitting Fluffy Strikes Back for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge and the Title Fight Reading Challenge.  It fits quite nicely into the first category: something related to fighting in the title.  For more info on the challenge, just click this attractive button!

Title Fight Button 2016

 

Also, you can check out my progress for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, hosted by Escape with Dollycas, here.

alphabet soup challenge 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

A Middle-Grade Round-Up of Epic Proportions…

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imageI hope you’ve picked your most comfortable saddle and spats for today’s Round-Up, because I have no less than SIX middle grade reads to hunt down with you.  We received all but one from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  These titles run the gamut from silly to super realistic so hopefully there’s something here for every middle grade fan.  Let’s ride out!

The Thickety: A Path Begins (J.A. White)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the thickety

Twelve-year-old Kara has been shunned by the villagers ever since her mother was executed as a witch when Kara was five years old. Now it seems that her mother’s powers are developing in Kara and the whole foundation on which the Village is built could crumble if Kara isn’t careful in mastering her new skills.

Muster up the motivation because…

…This is an impressively-written, complex read for advanced middle grade readers and even those at the lower end of the YA bracket.  The content gets quite sinister at times, not least of those times being the execution of Kara’s mother in the first chapter.  The characters, while somewhat clichéd in some cases – the beautiful, powerful mean girl for instance – are well drawn to fit into the suspicious, insular world of the Village.  I was stunned at reading, towards the end of the book, that Kara is only twelve years old.  I’m sure this was mentioned earlier in the book, but because of the complexity of the language and plot, I had imagined Kara as closer to sixteen or seventeen years old.  It seemed unbelievable to me that the maturity of the protagonist here could be attached to such a young character, but that may just be my old fuddy-duddy ways.  I would definitely be interested in reading the next in this series, but this first instalment was so full of action and twists that I feel I need a bit of a rest before I seek it out.  I highly recommend this to those looking for an absorbing adventure and I’m happy to knock this one off my TBR list! Hooray!

Brand it with:

Beyond the perimeter; nature magic; dangerous books

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**Bruce just knocked another book from Mount TBR!**

Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings (Edward McLachlan)

Two Sentence Synopsis: simon in the land of chalk drawings

A fully illustrated collection of four short stories featuring Simon and his chalk drawings and all the mischief that befalls them.  Simon’s penchant for becoming distracted while drawing leads to a whole range of disasters that need to be mitigated with the clever use of chalk and creativity.

Muster up the motivation because…

…This is a fun collection of stories pitched at the lower end of the middle grade bracket and would work well as pre-bedtime read-alouds.  The stories aren’t particularly complicated and all follow the same format: Simon draws (or forgets to draw) something that then causes havoc in the land of chalk drawings, which is accessed by climbing a ladder over a fence.  The illustrations are appropriately naïve and chalky and the stories should inspire creativity in eager young readers.  I haven’t seen the TV series, so had no prior knowledge of Simon and his chalky world, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the stories.  I’d recommend these stories for some simple, charming fun.

Brand it with:

Losing control of one’s creation; fostering creativity; boredom busters

The Girl in the Well is Me (Karen Rivers)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the girl in the well is me

Kammie has fallen down a well and may never get out. Come along with Kammie as her feverish mind wanders while she waits for rescue.

Muster up the motivation because…

…It’s not often you get to be privy to the ever more desperate rantings of a young person stuck down a well through only slight fault of her own.  I had massive hopes for this one but there was just a bit too much monologue for me by the end.  Obviously, when your protagonist is down a well, there isn’t much character interaction that can be expected, but I was hoping for either more humour or more oddness from Kammie’s narration.  I wasn’t entirely convinced of the reasons why she ended up down the well in the first place, given that Kammie doesn’t seem like the kind of kid that would crave the attention of the popular/mean girls’ clique, but this is addressed somewhat in the tale.  The Girl in the Well is Me is certainly a quirky, unusual read for middle graders – albeit with some familiar and ten-a-penny elements – but didn’t quite deliver in the way I was expecting.  Younger readers may have more luck, however.

Brand it with:

Caution: Well!; Mean girls; Family Dramas

The Dog, Ray (Linda Coggins)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  The Dog ray

Daisy takes a wrong turn in the afterlife and accidentally ends up in the body of a dog. While she is desperate to find her parents and assuage their grief, life as a dog isn’t quite as free and easy as Daisy expected and she has to lean on her friends and strangers to attain her goal.

Muster up the motivation because…

…This is an interesting new take on “afterlife” themed books, managed deftly and with lightness and humour.  I was absolutely certain that the title of the book would end up being a quote from Daisy’s mother – “The Dog, Ray! Look at the Dog! It’s our daughter!” – but Ray is the name that is given to the dog that Daisy becomes.  There’s a lot going on in this book as it touches on homelessness, loyalty, family connections and the treatment of animals, but there is a solid friendship story at the core that drives the action.  Daisy/Ray is an upbeat narrator whose cheery optimism was reasonably irritating to this curmudgeonly old reader at times, but I particularly appreciated the unexpected ending of the book.  The author takes the story up a notch in the maturity stakes here and trusted her readers to make their own conclusions, which is always welcome in books for this age group.  I’d recommend this one to animal-loving readers of middle grade who are ready to move on from the seemingly endless “cute puppy” themed series and step up to a story with a bit of heart and realism – apart from the “girl becoming a dog” bit, obviously.

Brand it with:

“Here girl!”; boys’ best friend; homeward bound

These Dark Wings (John Owen Theobold)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  these dark wings

After the death of her mother in wartime, Anna finds herself apprenticed to the Ravenmaster – her uncle – at the Tower of London. As the horror of the blitz unfolds and the ravens come to harm, Anna must make difficult choices and find the courage to face secrets and lies.

Muster up the motivation because…

…This is an unusual and welcome interpretation of a period in history on which almost everything that can be said, has been said.  The story has a maturity about it which lends itself toward the upper end of the middle grade bracket, and the lack of many characters of Anna’s age adds to a pervading atmosphere of grim reality and responsibility.  The setting is interesting and lends its own character to the proceedings.  The book sneakily provides fascinating social history lessons around ways in which rationing and the Blitz affected all the residents of London during the early 1940s.  The plot is complex and it is obvious that Anna is not being given the whole story about many things, including her parents and some of the goings-on at the tower.  I was quite disappointed when I reached the end of the book and discovered it was, in fact, a series-opener.  There is so much going on in the story that is only hinted at, that I felt like I wanted it all on the table by the end of the book.  Sadly, this was not to be and the book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger reveal.  I’m not sure whether I will pursue the second book in the series.  The writing is certainly of high quality, but the looming sinister atmosphere throughout means that I would have to be in the right sort of mood to enjoy it.  I’d recommend this one to readers who enjoy works by an author who isn’t prepared to talk down to a young audience.

Brand it with:

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler?; Blitzed Brits; Birds as Pets

Diary of Anna The Girl Witch # 1: Foundling Witch (Max Candee)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  diary of anna

A baby found amongst a family of bears, Anna was rescued by an uncle and brought up in a convent orphanage.  On her thirteenth birthday, Anna discovers that there is a lot she doesn’t know about her past – including the strange powers she seems to be developing – and that these powers may have a key role in stopping a horror being perpetrated on her friends.

Muster up the motivation because…

…While this isn’t the most sophisticated middle grade magic story getting around, it has a certain charm and a method of magic that is different enough to pique the interest of youngsters.  Anna is a delightful and optimistic narrator with a mysterious past that isn’t ever fully explained.  As her powers develop, Anna realises she may have to use them to save her friends from some adults who know more than they are saying about Anna’s magic, and who will stop at nothing – even kidnap – to ensure their plans come to fruition.  At times it felt like the author couldn’t decide whether this would be a bit of a girls’ own, Famous Five sort of adventure or a more deeply imagined fantasy tale but overall the plot blends enough action and magic to keep younger readers turning the pages.

Brand it with:

Raised by bears; magical orphans, Kidnap!

Saddle sore yet?  I hope you’ll muster up the motivation to round up at least one of these diverse middle grade titles!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monsters, Mythical and Otherwise” Edition…

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imageReading Round-Up is here again and today’s prey of choice is books about monsters.  Be they mythical or firmly accepted in reality, we’re on the hunt for monsters big and small.  But mostly big.

I’ve got two nonfiction tomes and two middle grade adventure novels for you today, all but one of which we received from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  The last we received from Bloomsbury Australia  Let’s kick off with some excellent nonfiction….

Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths (Darren Naish)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Hunting Monsters is a thorough treatment of the state of cryptozoology today and the hunting monsterschanging face of this oft-maligned (by real scientists) field over time. It covers all your favourite monsters of lore plus some you’ve probably never heard of, including monsters from the African continent and Australia.

Muster up the motivation because…

Don’t let the naff cover design fool you – this is a remarkably engaging read that had me pondering various monstrosities days after I finished reading it.  The book is divided into handy sections – from sea monsters, to hominids, to giant mammals and more – so you can flip around to get the latest on your favourite cryptid, or alternately, as I did, read it cover to cover and fill up your empty brain space with all sorts of in-depth information.  I, for one, was unaware of the varieties of sea monster sightings on record, or of the purported existence of an enormous quadrupedal beast (other than an elephant or giraffe, obviously) getting around in Africa.  Naish also examines how no solid evidence exists  that withstands scientifically rigorous scrutiny that would point in favour of these beasts being actual living beings, but proposes a different direction for the field of cryptozoology regardless.  The only thing I wanted more of in this book was photographs – many “famous” photographs were mentioned throughout, particularly in the Loch Ness Monster section, but it would have greatly enhanced my experience if I’d been able to lay eyes on these photos, rather than having to go and google them later.  Nevertheless, this is a highly recommended read for those who are interested in monsters that may, but almost certainly don’t, wander about in the undiscovered wilds of our planet.

Brand it with:

Did you see that?; The truth is out there; If you go down to the woods today…

Now on to some middle grade adventure fiction with…

The Venom of the Scorpion: Monster Odyssey #4 (John Mayhew)

Two Sentence Synopsis:venom of the scorpion

Dakkar, Indian prince and agent intent on dismantling a group of brothers who are trying to take over the world, is accused of murder and drawn into a complicated web of goddesses, tyranny and violence. As the plot thickens, will Dakkar be able to trust those closest to him?

Muster up the motivation because…

Apart from the attraction of giant scorpions and a plot that reads like Indiana Jones, but without the archaeology, there’s something that no young lover of adventure could pass up featured in this book: Dakkar has his own steampunk-esque submarine!!  This is the fourth book in this series, but the first I have read, so I did find myself in the deep end considering much of the plot surrounding Dakkar’s mission to destroy an evil organisation run by a group of brothers is only glossed over here.  Similarly, not much quarter is given in allowing new readers of the series to get to know the characters and their background and relationships, so I would definitely recommend interested punters start at the beginning of the series.  There is action galore in this book however, so I can imagine it appealing greatly to young male readers who are happy to trade complex character development for the excitement of monsters, piracy, murder, desert cults worshipping giant insect gods, sea battles and the aforementioned steampunk submarine!!  I would be interested in going back and having a look at the earlier books in the series, because although this isn’t my preferred style of middle grade book, the character development and complex plot that are hinted at in this book indicate some high quality adventure in the earlier books.

Brand it with:

Is there a (giant) insect in my hair?; Young Indiana Jones; murder most foul

You’d like more nonfiction, you say?  Coming right up…

Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species (Jeff Campbell & Adam Grano)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

This is an in-depth exploration of giant species – loosely defined – that have become last of the giantsextinct, aimed at a secondary-school aged audience.  The book features recent and historical extinct species and examines how these extinctions can inform our conservation efforts today.

Muster up the motivation because…

You’ll definitely find out some things you didn’t know – or expect – while exploring the life patterns of extinct animals while reading this book.  I, for instance, discovered that Maoris of old apparently epitomised that “hangry” feeling and that if you happened to be a large, tasty reasonably defenceless sort of creature in the olden times, chances were high that you, and all of your relatives, would eventually end up as a human’s dinner. The Steller’s Sea Cow case study I found to be appallingly sad – it beggars belief the amount of times you humans have continued to eat a species until it was extinct! The most interesting thing about this book is that the author  has not just defined “giant” as “physically large”, but includes the Passenger Pigeon, due to its immense swarming impact, and the Tasmanian Tiger, due to its achievement of hanging on to top predator spot when other large mammals in the same location went extinct.  Overall, this is an interesting read with some concerning implications for the current state of the world’s wildlife…including humans.

Brand it with:

My, what big teeth you have!; dominant species; it’s the end of the world as we know it

And finally, one more middle grade adventure…

City of the Yeti (Robert A. Love)

Ten Second Synopsis:city of the yeti.png

It is 1922 and Danny and Rachel leave their home in India and travel to Nepal, pursuing Danny’s interest in the Yeti.  What they discover will change their ideas about humanity forever and plunge them into deadly battles, undiscovered cities and a search for their long-lost grandfather.

Muster up the motivation because…

City of the Yeti is historical fiction with a fantastical twist in a setting that is certainly not often seen in books for this age group.  There is plenty of action and excitement throughout the story, tempered with sections in which our young protagonists must make difficult decisions in an unfamiliar environment.  The one thing that really got my (mountain) goat while reading was that while this is obviously a historical novel, set toward the end of British rule in India, the language is not true to the period.  At one point, Danny’s father, a British aristocrat, says, “Well, uh, sure. That would be nice,” in a spectacularly uncharacteristic display of vernacular speech from a different time and place.  Similarly, the word “spelunking” is used, which, apart from not being coined until some twenty years after this story is set, is decidedly North American in tone.  While younger readers may not mind this so much, I find historical fiction that doesn’t accurately reflect the time that it’s written hugely annoying to read.  If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you however, and you are after an unusual and rollicking adventure that will have you thinking about differences in culture, then definitely give this one a try.

Brand it with:

Under the misty mountains cold; monsters with brains; untouched by civilisation

I will be submitting Hunting Monsters for the Alphabet Soup Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress toward this challenge, here.

Until next time,

Bruce