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 YA, Road-Trippin’ Double Dip of Lies and Desolation…

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I hope that you have selected a snack that is easy to transport for today’s Double-Dip because if you haven’t, there’s a high probability that you might be wearing it by the end of the trip!  Both of today’s YA titles feature road trips and nicking off in a big way, so hold onto your snacks and let’s hit the road.

First up we’re travelling with Desolation, the second book in the Demon Road trilogy, by Derek Landy.  We gratefully received a copy of this one from Harper Collins Australia for review.  In case you missed our review of the first book in the series, you can check that out here.  And here’s the Desolation‘s blurb from Goodreads:

Reeling from their bloody encounter in New York City, Amber and Milo flee north. On their trail are the Hounds of Hell – five demonic bikers who will stop at nothing to drag their quarries back to their unholy master.

Amber and Milo’s only hope lies within Desolation Hill – a small town with a big secret; a town with a darkness to it, where evil seeps through the very floorboards. Until, on one night every year, it spills over onto the streets and all hell breaks loose.

And that night is coming.

Dip into it for…  desolation
…another adrenaline-fuelled trip featuring violence, banter and a whole bunch of new characters.  The tale takes place in Desolation Hill this time around, a small town that might offer protection from the Hounds of Hell, and as small town oddities go, Desolation Hill has the mother of all quirks.  I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what it is, but I can tell you that Amber isn’t the only supernatural being getting around the place this time around.  I enjoyed the plethora of new characters that were introduced in this book, which include (but are not limited to) a Scooby-esque supernatural crime fighting squad that travels the Dark Highway in a van, some town officials that are older than they look, two old actors in the middle of a personal feud, a very shady police department and a character from urban legend come to terrifying life.  The fact that the story unfolds in one place means that more space is given over to developing characters and delving more deeply into the nature of Amber’s demonhood.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not up for face-shredding violence and general debauchery.  If you’ve read the first book you’ll notice that apart from the violence, Landy doesn’t shy away from including really horrible misogynistic and/or generally depraved characters.

Overall Dip Factor

I felt that this book had a bit more of a male skew to it, with some token lesbian action and more of the poor attitudes to women exhibited by many of the male characters.  While I enjoyed the changes in the story and the interesting possibilities generated by the twist at the end, the general tone of this book felt more adult and grimy that the first.  It’s certainly a series for the upper end of the YA bracket, merging into the adult market, rather than for younger readers.  I’m expecting that the final book in the series is going to shake things up even more.

Next up we have There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake, which has been shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal.  We received our copy from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In four hours, Shelby Jane Cooper will be struck by a car.

Shortly after, she and her mother will leave the hospital and set out on a winding journey toward the Grand Canyon.

All Shelby knows is that they’re running from dangers only her mother understands. And the further they travel, the more Shelby questions everything about her past—and her current reality. Forced to take advantage of the kindness of unsuspecting travelers, Shelby grapples with what’s real, what isn’t, and who she can trust . . . if anybody.

Award-winning author Nick Lake proves his skills as a master storyteller in this heart-pounding new novel. This emotionally charged thrill ride leads to a shocking ending that will have readers flipping back to the beginning.

Dip into it for…  there will be lies

…an unscheduled road trip that will leave you wondering what’s real and what the future holds.  There is an awful lot going on in this book including a mysteriously protective and manipulative mother-daughter relationship, some magical realism with a possibly North American indigenous twist, and the limitations (and advantages) of disability.  Shelby is certainly an authentically teenage narrator who is obviously working things out along with the reader.  The ending is quite satisfying in a strange, unexpected sort of way – at least I was happy to see Shelby making decisions for herself, even if they were a bit odd from an ordinary person’s perspective.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re hoping for a straightforward contemporary with some mysteries along the way. When the story begins to alternate between Shelby’s journey in the real world and her quest in the strange dream-state, I felt a strong preference for the bits anchored in reality.  In my opinion, the dream-state bits felt contrived and didn’t particularly add anything to Shelby’s actions in real life.

Overall Dip Factor

Overall, I was quite engaged with the real-life bits – which featured enough twists, reveals and unexpected surprises to carry the story on its own merits – and could take or leave the dream-state bits.  This is certainly an ambitious way to tell a story and I’m sure some people will love the parallel narratives of Shelby’s life, but for me there was too much interference from flights of fancy in what was essentially an absorbing read about a teenager with an atypical past discovering who she is and who she wants to be.

If you’re in the mood for a road-trip featuring violence and/or the supernatural, you could do worse than pick up one of these two new release offerings.  Let me know what you think!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

How Not To Disappear: A Top Book of 2016 Pick!

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Bruce's Pick

Ding Ding Ding! It’s another Top Book of 2016!

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss is a YA road-trip novel featuring dementia, secret pregnancy and lots and lots of gin slings.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from Simon & Shuster Australia for review – thanks!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to “find himself” and Kat’s in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby… Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.

how not to disappear

Apart from the excessive drinking that no one on the shelf (except for Shouty Doris) really goes in for, this book had everything we enjoy in a good novel:  England (Whitby in particular), road trips, poor decision making, flashbacks and snarky elderly ladies.  I’ll be honest with you – it was a slow-burn decision to nominate this book as a Top Book of 2016, but the ending is so sensitively written that it would be a travesty for us to leave it off the list.

The narrative moves back and forth between the present (narrated by Hattie) and the past (narrated by Gloria) and so the reader slowly discovers the events that have led Gloria to her current living conditions.  It is made clear from the start that Gloria’s past was not a happy place and as Hattie finds out more about Gloria and Gwen (Hattie’s grandmother), she begins to question whether or not the road trip down unhappy-memory lane was such a good idea.

It is obvious to the reader pretty early on that Gloria must have experienced some life events that might resonate with Hattie’s current condition and so it turns out to be.  The first half of the book unfolds much as one might expect it to, with Hattie wavering over what to do about her pregnancy, and Gloria wielding pointy, pointy words with a mastery that comes from a lifetime of practice.

It is the second half, or possibly final third, of this book which really sets it apart from the common herd.  For a start, there are a few twists in Gloria’s tale that I didn’t see coming until they were upon me, and Hattie’s character development goes into overdrive.  The final chapters, which focus on life for the two ladies post-road-trip are moving and authentic and really touched this old gargoyle’s stony heart.

The best recommendation for How Not To Disappear I can give is that it is a story that transcends its YA categorisation.  Sure, the main character is a young person, with young person friends, dealing with young person problems, but the story as a whole avoids YA tropes and clichés and allows Hattie to be read as a protagonist in an adult fiction novel.  If you are after a contemporary read that is funny, realistic and moving and approaches the legacy of damaged family ties with real authenticity then you could do a lot worse than picking up How Not to Disappear.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Trio of MG Mysteries: The Shelf Revisits Knightley and Son (+ a Giveaway!)

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imageIt has been a good long while since we at the shelf first encountered the middle grade mystery debut, Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin, but out of the blue last month Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us copies of the first two books of the Knightley and Son series – being the aforementioned Knightley and Son and Knightley and Son: K-9 – dressed in quite alluring new covers.  Admittedly, this inspired mixed feelings – more about that in a bit – but our feelings were about to be thoroughly tossed about by the arrival on our doorstep of the third book in the series – 3 of a Kind.  Let it never be said that Bloomsbury is not generous with their review copies!

And speaking of generosity, ONE lucky reader (who happens to also be AUSTRALIAN! – sorry, international readers) will have the chance to win PAPERBACK COPIES of THE FIRST THREE books in the Knightley and Son detective series!! You’re welcome!

Let’s get the giveaway business over with so our non-Australian friends can get back to enjoying my review.  To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link.  Ts and Cs and in the rafflecopter.  The giveaway will be open until February 25th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

For those who are unaware, Knightley and Son is a middle grade detective series featuring Darkus “Doc” Knightley, his father Alan Knightley and his step-sister, Tilly, as they battle against the formidable, mysterious and manipulative Combination – a shadowy organisation that has some seriously dastardly plans in mind for the innocent folk of London (and the wider world).  We first came across the first book in the series in early 2014 and reviewed it at the time.  For those who missed it, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet Knightley and Son – two great detectives for the price of one …

Darkus Knightley is not your average thirteen-year-old: ferociously logical, super-smart and with a fondness for tweed, detective work is in his blood. His dad Alan Knightley was London’s top private investigator and an expert in crimes too strange for Scotland Yard to handle, but four years ago the unexplained finally caught up with him – and he fell into a mysterious coma. Darkus is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and find out what really happened. But when Alan suddenly wakes up, his memory is wonky and he needs help. The game is afoot for Knightley & Son – with a mystery that gets weirder by the minute, a bestselling book that makes its readers commit terrible crimes, and a sinister organisation known as the Combination …

A funny, warm, fantastical crime caper with an unlikely hero and a brilliant comic cast, perfect for fans of Sherlock and criminally good storytelling.

Knightley and Son 1

If you’re wondering why that cover doesn’t look at all familiar, considering we have featured this book on the blog before, that’s probably because the original cover looked more like this:

k & s…which is also quite alluring.  If you want to wade into the thoughts of the shelf circa January 2014, my entire review of the book can be found here.  For those of you who ain’t got no time for that, the essence of my feelings on the book can be summarised in this handy quote from the review:

“I found pretty much all of the characters in this book to be fairly two-dimensional which distracted me from the story.  I couldn’t go along with the more fantastical elements of the plot because I didn’t even believe the ordinary people, doing ordinary things, were authentic.  Going hand in hand with the flat characters was the unfolding of the plot in a whole host of pat and convenient ways.  Things just seemed to work out too simply for my tastes.  I didn’t feel that there were enough major setbacks for the characters to overcome, as solutions to problems seemed to conveniently pop up just when they were needed in ways that didn’t require the characters to struggle particularly hard.  Given the complicated nature of the actual crime that was being investigated, once again, things just didn’t ring true.”

Ouch! Looking back on things now, having read the next two in the series, this criticism was probably a little bit harsh.  There were a few elements of the book that didn’t work for me as a reader, but overall the book was an “okay” read.  After finishing this one, I actually noted that:

I will see the next book in the series, with its no-doubt eye-popping cover art, and will be reminded of the disappoint-ivity that blossomed into great blossoming clouds as I delved deeper into this book. Sigh.

So melodramatic, Bruce-of-the-past!! But I did promise myself that I was not going to pursue this series any further….UNTIL shiny new paperback copies were thrust under my prominent nose.  And it would be plain rude not to have a crack at free books, if someone went to the trouble of sending them.

The good news is that….I didn’t hate the next two books!

Here’s the blurb for book two, K-9, from Goodreads:

Darkus Knightley – tweed-wearing, mega-brained, thoroughly logical 13-year-old investigator of the weird – was just getting used to having his dad back in his life. Then Alan Knightley went off-radar, again, leaving Darkus with a traumatised ex-bomb-disposal dog as his only partner in crime-solving.

Now things are getting even stranger. Family pets are being savaged by a beast at a top London beauty spot. Policemen have been tracked and attacked by a particularly aggressive canine. And two curiously alert hounds seem to be watching Darkus’s house. No one is using the word werewolf – yet – but as the full moon approaches, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out that someone or something sinister is messing with the minds of London’s dog population. A mysterious canine conspiracy is howling for the attention of Knightley & Son …

Criminally good detective adventure, perfect for fans of Sherlock and sharp-minded sleuths of all shapes and sizes …

k-9

Out of all three books, I enjoyed this one the most.  The story was just complicated enough to be interesting, without having twists that were too complex or unbelievable for the age group.  The characters – particularly Uncle Bill – were generally less annoying to me (although I will make an exception for Clive, who seems to be trying for the “Most Annoying Character Ever Penned” award), and I really liked the inclusion of Wilbur, the ex-war dog.  We get to find out a little more about each of the characters here, and I particularly enjoyed seeing another side of Darkus, which is developed through his work with Wilbur.  Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable and engaging read, despite the fact that my favourite character, Tilly, was missing from the plot for a good deal of the book.  The ending left a question mark over the detective agency’s continuation and generally, the two-dimensionality that so irked me in the first book seemed to be slowly oozing away.  Essentially, while I didn’t love it to bits and some characters were still giving me the irits, K-9’s focused plot seemed like an improvement over book one.

On then, to Three of a Kind.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Who will hold the winning hand? Sherlock meets Ocean’s Eleven in this wickedly funny, action-packed crime caper.

Darkus Knightley is used to expecting the unexpected. An extraordinary solver of crimes, with immense powers of deduction, and regularly found bedecked in tweed, Darkus is anything but the average 13-year-old. But he is the person to call when strange goings-on are afoot!

Despite trying to leave his detective ways behind to lead a normal teenage life, when his father’s loyal housekeeper, Bogna, goes missing, Darkus must return to the family fold and follow the clues to America and the bright lights of Las Vegas. Alongside his father, Alan, and stepsister, Tilly, Darkus must once again face the deadly criminal organisation the Combination – and this time, all bets are off. With danger at every turn, Knightley and Son will need an ace or two up their sleeves in order to win this game. Will the odds be in our detective duo’s favour? Or will this be the Knightleys’ final roll of the dice?

Perfect for fans of Sherlock, this thrilling crime adventure will keep you on the edge of your seats.

three of a kind

Three of a Kind took on a “road trip” format, with Darkus, Tilly and Alan jetting off to the USA in pursuit of housekeeper Bogna, who it appears has been kidnapped by the Combination in order to force the Knightley’s into some bizarre kind of game.  Excepting Clive, who I would be quite happy to whack in the face with a brick, the characters  hardly irritated me at all throughout this book.  Win! The road trip element was also an interesting touch, with some of the places visited – Survival Town, particularly – laden with the potential for imaginative exploration.  Unfortunately, not a lot of time was devoted to each place – the Knightley’s are on a time-sensitive chase, after all – but again, the plot seemed quite focused and featured enough variety in setting to keep the reader on their toes.  I was quite impressed with the action-packed, firecracker ending of this one, and was a bit sorry that the same level of adventure couldn’t have come into the story earlier.  We also get to find out more about Tilly’s mother in this one, with some quite shocking secrets revealed that cause Tilly no end of identity-crises.

The biggest problem that I have with these books is that there isn’t enough suspense woven into the story to keep me turning the pages.  I feel like the foundations are all there to have a brilliant series of books, but the actual stories are lacking in atmosphere.  Perhaps the amount of attention that has gone into creating quirky characters (and every character in these books has at least one obvious quirk) has been at the expense of developing a pervading sense of menace and danger in the plot.

I suspect that if I was a typical reader – ie: not a reader who chews through 100+ books a year just on this blog – and was wandering in a library or bookshop, I might well think, “Oh look, the next Knightley and Son! Why yes, I’ll have that!”  But as things stand, I want more from this series to really be satisfied.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Exotic, Memoirish Double-Dip Review…with a side order of Alphabet Soup

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imageIt’s time to settle back with a fond-memory-inducing snack and enjoy today’s Double-Dip review that also features a side order of the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas.  We received both of today’s books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Both are memoirs of sorts, one featuring multiple road-trips in pursuit of knitting utopia, the other featuring the wacky world of one Pakistani-Canadian Muslim film-maker.  And on that appetising note, let’s get stuck in, shall we?

First up we have Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Zarqa Nawaz has always straddled two cultures. She’s just as likely to be agonizing over which sparkly earrings will “pimp out” her hijab as to be flirting with the Walmart meat manager in a futile attempt to secure halal chicken the day before Eid. Little Mosque on the Prairie brought Zarqa’s own laugh-out-loud take on her everyday culture clash to viewers around the world. And now, in Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, she tells the sometimes absurd, sometimes challenging, always funny stories of being Zarqa in a western society. From explaining to the plumber why the toilet must be within sitting arm’s reach of the water tap (hint: it involves a watering can and a Muslim obsession with cleanliness “down there”) to urging the electrician to place an eye-height electrical socket for her father-in-law’s epilepsy-inducing light-up picture of the Kaaba, Zarqa paints a hilarious portrait of growing up in a household where, according to her father, the Quran says it’s okay to eat at McDonald’s-but only if you order the McFish.  

laughing all the way to the mosqueDip into it for…

…a two-parts funny, one-part serious and one-part bizarre foray into the unfamiliar (to me!) world of Islam in the context of a Pakistani-Bengali-Canadian family.  I’m in two minds about this book because I assumed that, sitting, as I do, on the shelf of a pair of Catholics, there would be plenty of situations here that would feel like the familiar frustrations and giggle-worthy moments of those of us raised and immersed in institutionalised religion…but for most of the book I felt like I was reading something completely outside my experience.  Apart from the many humorous situations described, including the “cleanliness” section described in the blurb – who knew about THAT?! Muslims, I suppose – and Nawaz nonchalantly taking on the role of hostess for over one hundred family, friends and neighbours for a major religious holiday, there are also some quite serious issues discussed as well – such as how the author’s family dealt with a neighbour reporting her father-in-law to the authorities soon after 9/11 for having a “suspicious” shipping container in his front yard.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not prepared to embrace a story that flips from funny to unexpected to thought-provoking within a few pages.  If you are not a Muslim, and don’t know much about Islam, don’t dip if you aren’t prepared to discover rituals, theological points of contention and aspects of daily life that you never suspected existed.

Overall Dip Factor

While I did enjoy this book, I will admit to feeling an ever-present sense of slight discomfort while reading – mainly because it was during reading this book that I realised that while I thought I knew lots of “stuff” about Islam, I actually know VERY little about it.  I would certainly recommend this book as a fun, yet important, eye-opening reading experience about an ordinary family’s experience of their faith.   If there’s one thing I would have liked to hear more about though, it would be the TV series developed by Nawaz – Little Mosque on the Prairie.  How could this have gone for six seasons without me ever hearing about it? Bizarre.

Next, let us move on to Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Knitting aficionado and notable artisan Clara Parkes delves into her storied travels with this inspiring and witty memoir on a creative life enriched by her adventures around the world.

Building on the success of The Yarn Whisperer, Parkes’s rich personal essays invite readers and devoted crafters on excursions to be savored, from a guide who quickly comes to feel like a trusted confidante. In Knitlandia, she takes readers along on 17 of her most memorable journeys across the globe over the last 15 years, with stories spanning from the fjords of Iceland to a cozy yarn shop in Paris’s 13th arrondissement.

Also known for her PBS television appearances and hugely popular line of small-batch handcrafted yarns, Parkes weaves her personal blend of wisdom and humor into this eloquently down-to-earth guide that is part personal travel narrative and part cultural history, touching the heart of what it means to live creatively. Join Parkes as she ventures to locales both foreign and familiar in chapters like:

Chasing a Legend in Taos
Glass, Grass, and the Power of Place: Tacoma, Washington
A Thing for Socks and a Very Big Plan: Portland, Oregon
Autumn on the Hudson: The New York Sheep & Wool Festival
Cashmere Dreams and British Breeds: A Last-Minute Visit to Edinburgh, Scotland

Fans of travel writing, as well as knitters, crocheters, designers, and fiber artists alike, will enjoy the masterful narrative in these intimate tales from a life well crafted. Whether you’ve committed to exploring your own wanderlust or are an armchair traveler curled up in your coziest slippers, Knitlandia is sure to inspire laughter, tears, and maybe some travel plans of your own.

I1342768.pdfDip into it for…

…a fairly self-indulgent lark around various knitting hotspots aimed at those who are deeply embedded in the US and International “Knitting Scene”.  The book is replete with vignettes of Parkes’ time in various places around the world, for reasons related to knitting conferences, teaching and general knitting-based travel.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a hardcore knitter.  Or if you cringe at name-dropping.  Or if you don’t want to read excessively wordy descriptions of various hotel foyers.  Or if you don’t particularly care about “famous” people in the knitting scene and Parkes’ deep and abiding friendships with them.

Overall Dip Factor

I was really hoping that this was going to be the perfect contender for a Utopirama post.  Knitting and travel – what else could one want in life? Well, plenty, if you don’t enjoy any of the factors I’ve just mentioned above.  While there were plenty of chapter headings to draw me in here, I found the writing overall to be such that it seemed to specifically aim to alienate readers who are not knowledgeable about the movers and shakers in the knitting and design world.  As a friend of a crocheter, I had very little knowledge, or indeed, interest, in Parkes’ name-dropping.  The first story relates how Parkes came to know a particularly well-known (to everyone but me apparently) hand-spinner and dyer, which I would have found interesting if Parkes hadn’t insisted on ramming home HOW famous and HOW selective this lady was with her friendships.  There was a section on a trip to Iceland that was reasonably interesting, but I suspect this is because Iceland is an interesting place, not because Parkes’ writing made it so.  **On a side note, in this section, Parkes mentions two Australian co-travellers who she reckons say “Perth” like “Pith”.  This nearly had me throwing my kindle at the wall.  Australians would not say “Pith”. Ever.  The vowel sound in “Perth” is a diphthong and therefore it would be ridiculous for anyone to use a short vowel in the word.  I could have handled it if she said they pronounced it “Peer-th”, even though that would be closer to a Kiwi pronunciation, but not “Pith”.  Being a linguist, I feel like I’ve got the knowledge to pull Parkes up on this oneAnd if you have been slightly irritated by my digression into minutesubject-specific analysis and assertions that I know more stuff than you about linguistics, then you’ve probably just developed a good sense of what I was feeling while reading this book.** Despite my early misgivings, I soldiered on and was unimpressed to discover that the name-dropping and self-indulgent “I’m more into the knitting scene than you” tone continued.  Shame really.  Approach with caution.

As I mentioned before, I am submitting both of these books for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

If you want to see my progress so far in this challenge, click here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

A Japanese Double-Dip Review…and an Fi50 Reminder!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Before we get started on a double dip from the far East, allow me to inform you that our first Fiction in 50 writing challenge for 2016 kicks off on Monday, the 25th of January.  Our prompt for this month is…

dredging up the past

If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and then post the link to your work in the comments of the Fiction in 50 post on Monday.  For more detailed information on the challenge and future prompts, click here.

Now onto our…

imageWell, I promised earlier in the month that I would be bringing you more books featuring Japan and today I deliver on that promise.  I have one middle grade classic revamped for a new generation and one adult contemporary fiction that is perfect for lovers of the quirky road-trip subgenre.    I received both of these from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s start with the one I liked most, which was the middle grade classic revamp: The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, first published in 1967 and translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

On the first floor of the big house of the Moriyama family, is a small library. There, on the shelves next to the old books, live the Little People, a tiny family who were once brought from England to Japan by a beloved nanny. Since then, each generation of Moriyama-family children has inherited the responsibility of filling the blue glass with milk to feed the Little People and it’s now Yuri’s turn. 


The little girl dutifully fulfils her task but the world around the Moriyama family is changing. Japan is caught in the whirl of what will soon become World War II, turning her beloved older brother into a fanatic nationalist and dividing the family for ever. Sheltered in the garden and the house, Yuri is able to keep the Little People safe, and they do their best to comfort Yuri in return, until one day owing to food restrictions milk is in shorter supply…

blue glassDip into it for…

…a bewitching and moving account of one family’s – and in particular, one young girl’s – attempt to care for others in a desperate situation.  I really loved discovering this story for the first time and I think other adult readers will enjoy it too, never mind the younger ones!  The text reads like a classic children’s story and, being historical fiction, the tale doesn’t have the action-packed pace that one might have come to expect from contemporary middle grade reads, but the story is a deeply engaging take on the theme of the Borrowers, with much to say to a new generation of children.  Yuri is a wonderfully relatable character and readers will be hoping for the best along with her as times get tougher, as well as cheering for her and the Little People as they develop some ingenious methods to overcome hardship.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for fast-paced action and obvious magical themes.  This is a far more subtle offering, combining the hardship of war with the growth and changes of two families.

Overall Dip Factor

The Secret of the Blue Glass is an absolute winner, in my opinion, either as a read-alone for independent youngsters who aren’t afraid to take on some historical content, or as a pre-bedtime read-aloud serial for parents and their mini-fleshlings.  It was wonderfully refreshing to read a story that examined the goings-on of the second World War from a Japanese perspective, touching on patriotism, dissent and political propaganda  in wartime in a way that is accessible to young readers.  This is definitely worth getting your hands on, if you haven’t come across it before.

And now for the adult contemporary fiction, Yuki Chan in Bronte Country by Mick Jackson.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“They both stop and stare for a moment. Yuki feels she’s spent about half her adult life thinking about snow, but when it starts, even now, it always arresting, bewildering. Each snowflake skating along some invisible plane. Always circuitous, as if looking for the best place to land . . .”

Yukiko tragically lost her mother ten years ago. After visiting her sister in London, she goes on the run, and heads for Haworth, West Yorkshire, the last place her mother visited before her death. Against a cold, winter, Yorkshire landscape, Yuki has to tackle the mystery of her mother’s death, her burgeoning friendship with a local girl, the allure of the Brontës and her own sister’s wrath. Both a pilgrimage and an investigation into family secrets, Yuki’s journey is the one she always knew she’d have to make, and one of the most charming and haunting in recent fiction.

yuki chanDip into it for…

…a chick-lit, road trip, finding one’s self novel with a difference.  “Charming and haunting” certainly sums up the atmosphere of this book, written in a strangely compelling present tense perspective.  Yuki is a likeable, if somewhat neurotic, heroine on a quest to find some peace with her mother’s untimely death in England, ten year’s previously and seems to collect experience that are by turns touching and awkward.  Readers of contemporary who are looking for a main character who is well-developed, but certainly not your average, should take to Yuki like a duck to water.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a no-brainer holiday read.  I felt like this one had me working quite hard –  whether from the unusual use of present tense, the oddity of Yuki herself of the injections of bizarre dry humour, or a combination of the above – and I suspect that this will take an active, on-form reader to appreciate it.

Overall Dip Factor

If you’d like a change of pace from whatever it is you’ve been reading lately, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Yuki Chan in Bronte Country will scratch that itch.  It’s a strange mash-up of ye olde world charm with an idiosyncratic main character and a very mysterious back story that will engage readers who are looking for something out of the ordinary and don’t mind leaving a book scratching their heads a little and wondering, “What on earth was that?”

alphabet soup challenge 2016

With such a handy “Y”-based title, I just have to submit Yuki Chan in Bronte Country for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.  You can check out my progress in this challenge (and maybe suggest some books for the trickier letters!) here.

Until next time,
Bruce

Post Number 100!: A Double Read It If Review….

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Yes, that’s right – 100 posts! How the time has flown….

Well, after Tales of the Nunexpected in post number 99, I bring you read-it-if reviews of two books that turned out to be entirely different to what I anticipated.  The first of these is Moose Baby, by Queen of the Quirky, Meg Rosoff.

I found this one during a random browse, and while I wouldn’t consider myself a real fan of Meg Rosoff, I have read and enjoyed a few of her books.  Moose Baby seemed to promise a similar level of thought-provoking oddity that I had experienced in my previous Rosoff encounters.  I was wrong. Moose Baby broke the pointer on my homemade weird-o-meter.  Let me explain.

moose baby

Moose Baby is the story of a 17 year old girl who gives birth to a moose. Now on reading the blurb, I assumed that either (a) “moose” was a metaphor for something I would discover during reading or (b) the girl did not actually give birth to a moose, but had to look after a young moose in some kind of “Preparing for Motherhood” type school project.

Nope. She actually gives birth to a moose. The book follows the trials and tribulations of a young couple attempting to raise a moose baby in a world designed for humanoid bipeds.


Read it if:

* you’re looking for a cheerful, quick, light read – I finished this one in 40 minutes

* you’re a teenager who thinks it would be so awesome to have a baby right now

* you’ve ever experienced that awkward moment when deciding how to compliment the new parents of an unattractive baby

* you are a parent and you suspect that your sweet, intelligent, genial and well-behaved infant was accidentally swapped at the hospital and that’s how you ended up with this loud, energetic, misbehaving, dirt-magnet for your offspring 

While I personally found this book a bit too left-of-centre for my usual tastes, I think it would appeal greatly to its teenage target audience as it is a funny, engaging and not-at-all-demanding take on the young parent theme.

My second not-quite-what-I-anticipated read this week was Doll Bones, by Holly Black, of Spiderwick Chronicles fame.  I had been looking forward to this one for a loooong time as the blurb seemed to indicate an appropriately atmospheric and promisingly creepy story centred around a spooky haunted doll. Somewhat disappointingly for me, given the level of my anticipation, the blurb was….well, not exactly inaccurate, but emphasised minor parts of the story.

Doll Bones tells the story of middle-schoolers Zach, Alice and Poppy, who enjoy playing an elaborate role-play type game of their own creation after school.  When Zach’s dad throws out the action figures that are an integral part of the game in an attempt to make Zach “grow up”, the friendship between the three is tested. Faced with the disintegration of their game and a new prickliness in their friendship, the three set out on a quest to lay to rest the ghost of a young murdered girl that is trapped in the form of a china doll.  Cue adventure!

doll bones

If that explanation seems a bit disjointed, it reflects the narrative in Doll Bones – while the story itself is engaging and action packed, the horror and paranormal elements championed by the title, blurb and cover actually play a very small role in the story. The meat of it revolves around the relationship between Zach, Poppy and Alice and the challenges they face in maintaining their friendship as they experience the changes of growing up.

Read it if:

* you are certain that the creepy china doll in your mother’s/grandmother’s/aunt’s/neighbour’s cabinet is watching you…

* No, seriously. It just moved. Didn’t you see it move?

* you still like to indulge in certain childish activities…even though by all accounts you are way too old for them

* you’ve ever indulged in quite significant levels of theft to overcome minor problems with the full expectation that the rightful owners of the stolen goods would be perfectly happy for you to be using (and damaging) their stuff

* you are quite happy to pick up a book with the expectation that it will be a spooky ghost-ish story…only to find it is actually a road trip/coming-of-age tale instead

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy this book – very much in fact, and I think it would be greatly enjoyed by middle readers.  I do feel though that the blurb is significantly misleading – this is by no means a ghost story. My only other problem with the book was the theft mentioned above….

***SPOILER ALERT****

The characters willingly steal and capsize a sailing boat, then abandon it when it runs aground, and make up for this by saying that they’ll phone the marina when they get the chance to let the owners know where it is. As if this will excuse the possible charges of grand theft and wilful damage to property that could be coming their way.  Then they steal some bikes too.   I’m all for the adventure element in kid’s books, but as there was no consequence mentioned in the narrative for what is unquestionably a pretty significant crime, I felt that this was a bit of a stretch.  But maybe that’s because I’m a cranky old curmudgeon who can’t remember what it’s like to be young.

****SPOILER OVER!!****

Thanks to all who’ve joined in at some point over these last 100 posts – let’s hope I’ve got at least another 100 in me somewhere!

Until next time,

Bruce