The Song of Seven: A Read-it-if Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

If you are a fan of classic children’s literature of the style of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and even Enid Blyton (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) then I will be pleased to introduce you to another author who definitely belongs within the ranks of these writers, but of whom you have probably never heard.  Today’s book is The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt, which was first published in 1967 under the title De Zevensprong, in the original Dutch.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from Allen & Unwin for review – a copy which Laura Watkinson has ably translated for its release in English and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the end of every schoolday, new teacher Mr Van der Steg entertains his pupils with tall tales of incredible events, which he claims really happened to him – involving hungry lions and haunted castles, shipwrecks and desert islands. One day, when he can’t think of anything suitably exciting to tell them, he invents a story about a very important letter which he’s expecting that evening, with news of a perilous mission. Evening arrives and so, to his surprise, does an enigmatic letter…

And so Mr Van der Steg is drawn into a real-life adventure, featuring a grumpy coachman, a sinister uncle, eccentric ancestors, a hidden treasure, an ancient prophecy and Geert-Jan, a young boy who is being kept prisoner in the mysterious House of Stairs. Although the treasure rightfully belongs to Geert-Jan, his uncle is determined to seize it for himself. As Mr Van der Steg, with the help of his pupils, sets out to rescue the boy, he becomes more and more entangled with the strange history of the Seven Ways, the House of Stairs and the powerful Conspiracy of Seven.

 

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The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November, 2016.  RRP: $29.99

 

Read it if:

*you are a fan of classic old children’s literature in the vein of C. S. Lewis’s early Narnia tales

*you can’t go past a story that involves a tricky riddle, a grand old house and getting out of school work to listen to stories

*you are the type of person who, when a complete stranger turns up to your house in a mysterious coach in the night and tells you to hop in, would probably put down your hot chocolate, kick off your bunny slippers and climb aboard

*you’ve ever been invited to an illicit party that really brought the house down

After having put Dragt’s The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood on my TBR list when they first came out, but never having got to reading them, I was excited to see The Song of Seven released, not least because it’s a standalone novel.  It took me a couple of chapters of delightfully vintage-feeling prose before I looked at the publishing information to find that rather than just being vintage-feeling, the text actually was vintage!  I must applaud Laura Watkinson, the translator, for recreating that nostalgic tone of great children’s literature of times gone by in this contemporary English release, because the story just oozes retro charm.

The most interesting thing about this book for young readers is that the protagonist, Frans van der Steg (or Frans the Red, as he calls himself when telling stories to his class) is an adult, and more than that, a schoolteacher!  It’s so rare to find contemporary children’s stories that aren’t told from a child’s perspective these days that it certainly made the book immediately stand out for me as something different, and perhaps even timeless, as no doubt to a child, an adult is an adult is an adult, no matter what historical period you find them in.  In fact, apart from the supporting cast of Frans’ class and Geert-Jan, the boy confined in the House of Stairs, all of the main characters are adults.  This collection of unlikely  companions makes up a group of conspirators, who are invested in dealing with the prophecy connected with the House of Stairs, and Geert-Jan himself.

While the vintage tone of the book was definitely refreshing and cosy to fall in to, I did find that there were a lot of chapters in which not a lot happened.  The author seems to delight in leaving Frans the Red in the lurch, and just when it seems he is about to make a breakthrough regarding the conspiracy, his fellow conspirators decide not to tell him, or something happens to ensure that the next key piece of information is left dangling, like a carrot on a stick, for Frans and the reader to chase.

Once Frans makes it into the House of Stairs as Geert-Jan’s tutor, however, the pace begins to pick up and we are treated to yet more oddball adult characters, as well as a setting that must be seen to be believed.  The climax of the tale comes together quite quickly and it is an exciting and unexpected ending that balances out the slower pace of the first half of the story.  Throughout the book there is a definite sense of magical realism lurking behind the ordinary happenings, the fact that one of the characters is a magician notwithstanding.  Even though I wouldn’t class this as a typical fantasy book, there is an undeniable undercurrent of the uncommon and extraordinary between the lines of each page.

If you have a confident, independent reader in your dwelling who isn’t afraid to solve a riddle, and wishes that their classroom teacher would spend a good portion of each day telling stories, then you should definitely nudge The Song of Seven in their general direction.  If you are an adult fan of books for young readers and you love a book where the magic is in the nuance of the story, then I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Tomes from the Olden Times: Encyclopedia Brown…

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I have come to the conclusion that I am lagging so far behind on my review schedule that I might as well throw in the towel and bring you a Tomes from the Olden Times post instead.  Time seems to be getting away from me this month, and although I’ve read a bunch of the books I need to read, I don’t seem to be getting the time to post.  I will do my best to rectify this as soon as is gargoylely possible.

Some months ago now, someone, on some blog, somewhere, mentioned the Encyclopedia Brown books and I just knew I had to revisit them in a TftOT post.  (Actually, I’ve just had a search and it was a post on Sunlit Pages that brought these books to my renewed attention).  As far as I know, Encyclopedia Brown wasn’t a big thing in Australia and I can’t remember how I originally stumbled across the books as a youngster…probably the library had something to do with it…and I think I only read two of the fifteen plus titles in the series, but when the post from Sunlit Pages reminded me of the interesting formatting of the stories, I just knew I had to hunt the books down and see what memories surfaced.

I managed to order the first in the series, Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol from the Book Depository and promptly let it sit on the TBR shelf until I noticed how thin it was and decided I could knock it over in half an hour or so.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Leroy Brown, aka Encyclopedia Brown, is Idaville neighborhood’s ten-year-old star detective. With an uncanny knack for trivia, he solves mysteries for the neighborhood kids through his own detective agency. But his dad also happens to be the chief of the Idaville police department, and every night around the dinner table, Encyclopedia helps him solve his most baffling crimes. And with ten confounding mysteries in each book, not only does Encyclopedia have a chance to solve them, but the reader is given all the clues as well. Interactive and chock full of interesting bits of information—it’s classic Encyclopedia Brown!

encyclopedia-brown

In case you haven’t come across these books before, they are set out like a book of short stories – the case of the missing this, the case of the mysterious that – but with one fun twist.  Each story ends on a cliffhanger, with Encyclopedia claiming he has solved the case…but leaving the reader to figure out the solution for themselves!  The solutions for each case are provided at the back of the book and I distinctly remember spending most of my time flicking through to the back to figure out the answer, back in the day.  Happily, this time around I was able to solve all but one of the mysteries on my own (take THAT, mystery book for children!!), but I can certainly see why I found this book frustrating as a young reader.

For a start, the book is constrained by its now-historical (1960s) setting as well as the fact that it is set in America and at least one of the mysteries requires a little bit of American history knowledge (although admittedly, the mystery can be solved without that tidbit of information).  Also, some of the cases involve knowledge and life experience that kids just might not have, but were blindingly obvious to me as an adult (or perhaps my subconscious just remembered the answers from when I read it the first time around!).  The Case of the Happy Nephew, for instance, requires a bit of knowledge about cars, while The Case of the Champion Egg Spinner requires knowledge about cooking – both of which may have been perfectly common pieces of information in the ’60s, but might not be so common to child readers of the 20teens.

I quite enjoyed the fact that it felt like Idaville was a hot-bed of crime, with Encyclopedia’s services in demand around every corner.  There was something charming and endearing about revisiting a character and series that hasn’t been updated for modern readers and sits as a perfect snapshot of kids of the time period, with not a screen or online message in sight.  I think today’s young readers would get a definite kick out of Encyclopedia’s escapades, because they really require the reader to think and observe and watch out for those hidden clues.  Then again, there’s always the fun of skipping ahead to the solutions and then proclaiming, “That’s what I thought.  I knew that.”

Until next time,

Bruce

A Mythological MG Mystery, Read-it-if Review: The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB…

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Welcome to another Read-it-if Review, where the decision regarding whether to add another book to your tottering TBR pile is made simple by the perusal of a short, attemptedly witty collection of bullet points. Today I have a diverting middle grade read which features Norse mythology, Russian folklore, talking animals and two clued in kid detectives. We received The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB by Adam Shaughnessy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“What is the Unbelievable FIB?”  

That’s the question eleven-year-old Prudence Potts discovers on a baffling card no one else in Middleton–except ABE, a new kid with a knack for solving riddles–seems to see. Then a mysterious man asks for ABE and Pru’s help investigating mythical beings infiltrating the town, and that’s just one of the things Pru finds hard to believe.

Soon Pru and ABE discover another world beneath the surface of their quiet town, where Viking gods lurk just out of sight. They must race to secure the Eye of Odin, source of all knowledge–and the key to stopping a war that could destroy both human and immortal realms.

Author Adam Shaughnessy draws from classic lore to create a new world where uncertainty opens the door to magic and the last thing you should do is believe your own eyes.

the ubelievable fib

Read it if:

*you believe chicken feet would be a savvy renovation addition for your current dwelling

*you are a dab hand at riddle-solving, and would be over-the-moon (as opposed to mildly confused or completely creeped out) to find a mysterious note from an unnamed stranger in your backpack

*you are convinced that hanging out at the local watchhouse and chatting to interesting inmates will reap benefits in an as yet unimagined future scenario

*you really love middle grade fiction that is fun, fast-paced and cleverly blends myth, fairy tale and good old fashioned detective work

I was pleasantly surprised by the Unbelievable FIB in that it was a while between when I requested it for review and when I actually got to reading it, so I had forgotten that it featured Norse mythology. Now, I haven’t read many books featuring Norse mythology, so this felt quite fresh and shiny-new. I can’t say if it would feel the same for seasoned readers of Norse-mythology-based books, but the blend of the mythological with elements of the Baba Yaga fairy tale really set off the exciting, puzzling detective bits of the story.

Pru and ABE are both likeable characters and neither felt particularly clichéd to me, which is always a relief. Pru is an intrepid, cheeky, forthright young lady who has recently experienced the loss of her father, a police detective, while ABE is the reserved, quietly clever, new kid in town. Together, their skills complement each other and provide all the resources necessary to get to the bottom of some of the stranger happenings that have been occurring around town. There are also enough eccentric and shady adult characters here to keep the kids (and the reader!) on their toes regarding who can be trusted – there’s Pru and ABE’s teacher, the pompous Mrs Edleman; the kindly Fay Loningtime; the enigmatic and reclusive Old Man Grimnir; the dashing and unexpected Mister Fox and a very odd looking customer residing in the town’s watchhouse.

The author has done a great job of keeping the explanations of the more complex aspects of Norse mythology contained within the story. The various salient parts of the myths are related in a variety of ways – through a story read for the main character’s homework, for instance – which avoids any slowing of the plot while important world-building and background knowledge is given. Shaughnessy has also employed a light and humorous tone throughout, with lots of banter and quippery, which made this story very enjoyable to wander through.

Overall, this story felt like a breath of fresh air in the crowded marketplace of middle grade fiction, in which one often comes across the same sorts of stories told in similar sorts of ways. While this isn’t so outrageously original it blew my mind, it was definitely different enough from other recent releases that it made me sit up and take notice.  If you have a young reader in your midst who loves solving mysteries and enjoys a bit of fantastical adventure, then I would definitely recommend placing The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB in their hands…or at least within easy reach.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction Double-Dip: Posthumous Shenanigans…

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imageI don’t wish to alarm you but if you haven’t yet secured a tasty snack to accompany today’s Double-Dip, it’s probably already too late.  For today we are delving into the world of post-death mischief, in which those that are dead pose all sorts of riddles and problems for those left behind.  I received both of today’s books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s get on before our snacks (and the bodies) get cold.

Our first pick today is Disturbed Earth: Ritual Crime Unit (#2) by E. E. Richardson.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A hard-nosed career officer in the male-dominated world of British policing, DCI Claire Pierce of North Yorkshire Police heads Northern England’s underfunded and understaffed Ritual Crime Unit. Injured in the line of duty, Pierce returns to work to find her new Detective Inspector has brought in a self-proclaimed necromancer to question the victim of a murder, there’s a coven of druids outside protesting the sale of their sacred site, and an old iron lantern in the evidence room has just sent out a signal.

Pierce is going to have to hit the ground running. A suspected ritual murder and a string of puzzling artefact thefts initially seem unconnected, but signs point to something bigger: buried skulls possessed by evil spirits start turning up, and they may only be the beginning. Someone is planning something big, and the consequences if they succeed could be catastrophic. With a rebellious second-in-command, an inexperienced team, and a boss who only cares about potential bad publicity, Pierce has to make the connections and stop the ritual before it’s too late…

Dip into it for…disturbed earth

…a good old-fashioned urban fantasy police-procedural lark featuring a redoubtable yet self-deprecating middle-aged female protagonist.  On first getting into the book, it reminded me strongly of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series (which is one of my favourites) in that it has a similar style and, of course, it’s an urban fantasy police-procedural.  DCI Pierce has a dry British wit and a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude and apart from neromancers who do more harm than good and vicious attacks on frail old academics, she has to put up with a DI who is far too arrogant for his own good.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like starting in the middle of the series.  As I didn’t realise that this was the second book in the series, I did spend a little time wondering why the author wasn’t giving us more background to the characters.  Once I’d figured out that I had, in fact, missed the first book, the reason for these strange gaps in the backstory became apparent and I just went with the flow.  It wasn’t that hard to catch up, but I did feel I was missing some of the finer points of the world-building.

Overall dip factor:

I’m glad to have found another candidate in the urban fantasy police-procedural sub genre as I think there’s a lot of scope for story content and I’m a little worried that Aaronovitch’s series has already reached its peak.  If you’re fan of either murder mysteries, or police work with a supernatural twist, you should definitely give this one a try. It’s dark, intense but with an underlying sense of humour. File under W for “weird-ritual-shit-gone-pear-shaped”

Next up, we have Mortom by Erik Therme.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads…

Andy Crowl barely knew his recently deceased cousin, Craig Moore, so he’s especially surprised to be named as the sole beneficiary in Craig’s will. Not that there’s much to inherit: just an empty bank account and a run-down house.

Once Andy arrives in the town of Mortom, however, he’s drawn into his puzzle-obsessed cousin’s true legacy: a twisted and ominous treasure hunt. Beckoned by macabre clues of dead rats and cemetery keys, Andy jumps into the game, hoping to discover untold wealth. But unsavory secrets—and unanswered questions about Craig’s untimely demise—arise at every turn, leading Andy to wonder if he’s playing the game…or if the game is playing him.

Something’s rotten in Mortom. And this dead man’s game might not be all that Andy is doomed to lose.

Dip into it for…mortom

…what felt like a scaled-down version of The Westing Game for adult readers.  This book has everything for those who, like me, love trying to outwit the author and figure out the puzzle before it’s revealed to the characters.  There are a number of little puzzles that Craig leaves for his cousin Andy to solve, and then there are some bigger challenges as Kate and Andy try to unravel the mystery of who Craig really was and the circumstances surrounding his death.  There’s a little bit of humour, a little bit of mystery and one very engaging story wrapped up in a small town setting.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of books in which the protagonists get the run-around from someone who isn’t even part of the story.  Or, you don’t like it when characters give a tiny, teasing bit of pertinent information and then storm, flounce or otherwise exit the scene in a reticent fashion.  Oh, and if you’re an activist for the humane treatment of rats, this probably isn’t the book for you.

Overall Dip Factor:

I found this book to be one part suspense, one part mystery and two parts fun. I really enjoyed trying to solve the tricky little puzzles along with Andy and while the characters weren’t particularly fleshed out, they had enough depth to muddy the waters as to what was actually going on in Mortom. This is a great pick for those times when you want to do a little bit of mental detective work, but don’t want anything too violent, weird or unsavoury.

And with that reference to flavour, we will bring this Double-Dip review to a close. I hope you’ve found something to chew over in this duet of post-death doings.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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

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

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:

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

Muster up the motivation because:

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

Brand it with:

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

Read my Goodreads review here:

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

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

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:

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

Muster up the motivation:

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

Brand it with:

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

See my Goodreads review here!

 

 

The Widow’s Confession (Sophia Tobin)

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

Muster up the motivation because:

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

Brand it with:

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

Read my Goodreads review here!

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

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge goal: 4/16

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

Until next time,

Bruce