Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Kung Fu and a Backstage Crew…

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got two graphic novel beauties for you today – a young adult paranormal comedy sample and a middle grade retro-styled, martial arts based comedy.  We’ll kick off with one for the big kids, hey?

The Backstagers V. 1 *Sample Chapter* (James Tynion IV & Ryan Sygh)

*We received this sample from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Jory transfers to the private, all-boys school St. Genesius, he figures joining the stage crew would involve a lot of just fetching props and getting splinters. To his pleasant surprise, he discovers there’s a door backstage that leads to different worlds, and all of the stagehands know about it! All the world’s a stage…but what happens behind the curtain is pure magic!

backstagers

Target Age Range: 

YA

Genre:

Humour/fantasy/contemporary

Art Style:

Cartoonish and colourful

Reading time:

I knocked this one over in about ten minutes, but please note I only had access to a sample chapter, not the whole grapic novel.

Let’s get gabbing:

 

This sample left me wanting to find out more about this series and the characters, which is a great sign.  Jory turns up at to his school’s drama club and is immediately sent on an errand to the backstage crew.  Expecting to discover ordinary backstage tasks going on, Jory is surprised to be drawn into a dangerous parallel backstage world containing monster vermin thingies and a whole lot of action.  This story was easy to get into and is awash with visual and verbal gags.  I enjoyed getting to know the different characters that made up the backstage crew and the monster rodents that swamp the backstage area are just adorable (as well as being bitey and undesirable to have around).  Jory gets to play a key role in averting the adorable bitey rodent monster problem and at the end of this segment he is clear that the glory of the stage no longer holds any delights for him and he’d much rather spend his time in the weird and wonderful world of backstage.

Overall snapshot:

This was a promising beginning and I’d love to see what happens next.  The Backstagers is the perfect choice for fans of fantastical creatures turning up in unexpected places, and groups of misfits banding together to create their own brand of awesomeness.

The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot: How to Make a Peanut Butter, Jelly and Kung Fu Sandwich (Jason Bays)

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

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Kung Fu Robot is an international machine of mystery and the savior of all things awesome and cool. He’s the world record holder for ice cream sandwiches eaten in one sitting, the reigning champion of continuous nunchucking, and once won a bronze medal for the simultaneous stomach rubbing and head patting. Together with his 9-year old sidekick, Marvin, he faces his arch-nemesis, Kung Pow Chicken: a robotically-enhanced, foul fowl bent on destroying the city’s peanut butter and jelly supply. Kung Fu Robot and Marvin must save the day . . .  and their lunches!

The pursuit for the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich can’t be contained on the page—it leaps onto your mobile screen with a FREE interactive companion app for an innovative, augmented reading experience.

kung-fu-robot

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Humour/action

Art Style:

Retro/vintage style cartoon with few panels per page and yellow, red and black the predominant colour scheme

Reading time:

At 208 pages, this would be a solid read for a middle grader, around the same size as an early chapter book.

Let’s get gabbing:

This one didn’t grab me in the way I thought it might and I suspect this is because it is a story aimed squarely at the middle grade age group, and young boys in particular.  I found the art style a bit distracting, as many of the panels featured the characters busting out of their squares and the text seemed a little small in comparison to the large illustrations.  Reading this on a screen may have made a difference to the reading experience also because I kept finding myself having to zoom in to read the text and zoom out again to see the illustrations.

There’s plenty of child-friendly humour and action here, with Kung Fu Robot going about making a sandwich in a rather silly and action-packed way.  The first “story” in the book is all about Kung Fu Robot making a sandwich and a mess in the kitchen before the villain even comes into the piece, which I found a tad tedious but I’m sure kids of the right age will enjoy.  I did get a bit lost regarding what was actually going on between Kung Fu Robot and Kung Pow Chicken to be honest, but I suspect that that’s because I’m an old fuddy duddy and this is aimed at kids who like silliness.  Marvin, Kung Fu Robot’s human friend, seems to be the voice of reason throughout but it still wasn’t enough to drag me along for the ride.

Overall snapshot:

With plenty of action, colour and silliness, this is a story that will appeal greatly to early middle grade readers and fans of the style of comedy of Dav Pilkey and Andy Griffiths.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

TBR Friday…and an Fi50 Reminder!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

aged to perfection

Be there or be square!

TBR Friday

It’s back to YA for my TBR Friday effort this month, with A Bad Day For Voodoo by Jeff Strand.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When your best friend is just a tiny bit psychotic, you should never actually believe him when he says, “Trust me. This is gonna be awesome.”

Of course, you probably wouldn’t believe a voodoo doll could work either. Or that it could cause someone’s leg to blow clean off with one quick prick. But I’ve seen it. It can happen.

And when there’s suddenly a doll of YOU floating around out there—a doll that could be snatched by a Rottweiler and torn to shreds, or a gang of thugs ready to torch it, or any random family of cannibals (really, do you need the danger here spelled out for you?)—well, you know that’s just gonna be a really bad day …

bad day for voodoo

Ten Second Synopsis:

After receiving an unfair failing grade in a test, Tyler’s well-meaning but slightly deranged best friend obtains a voodoo doll of the teacher in question.  After a completely innocent poke that causes the teacher’s leg to fly off in a spectacular display of bloody cinema, Adam experiences an episode of paranoia in which he obtains a voodoo doll of Tyler, and the shenanigans begin in earnest.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

I’m not entirely certain – It was published in 2012, but probably made it on to the shelf sometime in 2013 or 2014…or 2015.

Acquired:

Received as a birthday gift

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

I really, really wanted to read it for ages and so relegated it to the shelf.  As you do.

Best Bits:

  • There were a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments in this one, particularly during the “teacher’s leg flying off” scene.  The writing is casual and full of banter and this is obviously meant to be a funny book, rather than a book with any serious subplots, so it was a fun, light interlude.
  • Tyler is a protagonist one can relate to, who, through no fault of his own, finds himself in a series of unlikely, but amusing, life-or-death situations
  • The voodoo sellers are pretty funny characters who almost steal the show.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • The banter-y style started to get old for me about halfway through the book.  By the last quarter I just wanted the author to get on with the story, as things become a race against time, but the obligatory banter kept up until the end, which I felt slowed the pace a little.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it wasn’t my money that paid for it, yes.

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it.

This is another chink off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

An MG Double-Dip, A Top Book of 2015 and a Giveaway!

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imageWelcome to a very special Double Dip review and giveaway! Today I have two books for a middle-grade audience that were kindly provided to the shelf for review by HarperCollins Australia – thanks! – and that would make perfect stocking stuffers for a worthy young person of your acquaintance.  One of these is hands-down one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015! Read on for details on how to enter the giveaway – I will be providing one winner with their choice of one of these books! Hurrah!

Let’s get on with it!

First up is my TOP BOOK OF 2015 pick – The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.

Archer B. Helmsley longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?

It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures since she ended up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps a crocodile ate it. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).

And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.

Well, it’s not bad, anyway.

But nothing goes quite as they expect.

Dip into it for…

…a gently unfolding story of friendship and breaching self-imposed limits.  Before I get into dissecting the story, let medoldrums point out that the lovely hardback edition to which I was given access is illustrated throughout with FULL PAGE, FULL COLOUR illustrations that are just exquisite and lend that extra bit of specialness to the book.  The story begins by introducing us to Archer B. Helmsley, his unusual family circumstances and desire to break out of his mother’s overprotective clutches.  Soon enough, Oliver Glub (it’s good to be a Glub!), Archer’s next door neighbour and schoolmate, joins the fray, lending the voice of reason to Archer’s ill-thought-out plans.  Finally, just when the reader thinks they have learned all there is to learn about Archer and Oliver, and can predict how the story will unfold, we are introduced to Adelaide, French immigrant, ex-ballet dancer, and possessor of one wooden leg (possibly oak).  Adelaide was the real stand-out character for me and I absolutely adored the way that she was rendered by the author – confident but not sassy, self-possessed but not selfish and exceptional but not freakish.

The story is filled with dry, subtle humour and an atmosphere that suggests that anything is possible, despite the fact that most of Archer’s plans are foiled by fate or foe quite early on in proceedings.

Don’t dip if…

…you are expecting a story replete with action and conquest.  While there is some action in the story, not least of which being the unexpectedly life-threatening ending, the story focuses more on the developing friendship between the three protagonists and mystery surrounding the disappearance of Archer’s grandparents.  In a sense, Archer is caught in the doldrums in this story, and the adventure is more in the incidental surprises thrown up by an ordinary life rather than those encountered by well-travelled explorers.

Overall Dip Factor

Being a regular reviewer means that I am granted access, on occasion to some very high quality books.  The Doldrums really blew me away with how beautifully produced this hardback edition is – it’s something unusual and provided a wonderful print reading experience (which is why I’m not giving my copy away!!).  Just in terms of its look and feel, this book would make a great “Wow!” book to slip into a Christmas stocking.  The story is also unusual in that I expected, from the first few chapters, that the plot would quickly set up the mystery of Archer’s grandparents, provide some useful friends for Archer, and send them off on a whirlwind, whacky adventure.  Much more is going on in the story however, and it is definitely worth a look for young and older readers who enjoy subtle humour, a touch of the ridiculous and characters that you will want to be friends with, long after you’ve finished the book.

Now onto some Aussie middle-grade, also illustrated throughout and featuring a touch of the ridiculous – Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Olive has always dreamed of attending boarding school, but Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers is not what she expected. To tell the truth, dear reader, it is not what anyone expected!


The headmistress is completely bonkers and Pig McKenzie, school bully and all-round nasty swine, is determined to make Olive’s life unbearable.


Olive, however, is clever, sweet and kind, and soon gains the loyalty and devotion of three rats, a short-sighted moose, a compulsive liar and a goose who faints at the sight of cherries.


But will friendship and wits be enough when Pig McKenzie puts his Truly Wicked Plan into gear? Or will Olive be cast out of Groves forever?

Dip into it for…

…the kind of school that kids have longed to attend since time immemorial.  Groves is a school in which explosions, mess, general naughtiness, high-flying acrobatics, and throwing one’s dinner around the room are commonplace.  It olive of grovesalso features a wonderfully diverse group of talking animals as students – including my favourite, the perpetually anxious goose, Glenda (Oh, mercy!) – and a headmistress who turns a blind eye to practically every strange thing happening in her school.  Olive is a charming, steadfast, courageous young lass who does a wonderful job of making the best of a very tricky (and in some cases, literally sticky) situation and with the help of her ratty roommates, sets about proving that she is not a perfectly ordinary girl and deserves a place at Groves, in all its diverse glory, even if she has to scale a highwire wearing only tatty old long-johns to prove it.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a story that makes a lot of sense.  I suspect that this is one of those stories that will appeal to kids much more than adult readers of middle grade (although its complexity did grow significantly toward the end), but if you’re not into characters that are over-the-top and general silliness abounding, then this book is probably not for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I can imagine Olive of Groves as a wonderfully cheeky read-aloud for a classroom of mischief-loving grade three or four children.  The book has a narrator that certainly does not mince words and provides a particularly amusing commentary on the antics of Olive and her friends (and nemeses).  Apart from the chaos and high jinx that seems to invade Groves’ every corner, this book also provides some solid inspiration for those needing to stand up and be counted when it seems that the world (or even just one Very Despicable Pig) is against you.

And now it’s……

Giveaway Time!

I am going to offer ONE winner their choice of one of these books.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight November 27th (Brisbane time).  The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen!

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win – either The Doldrums or Olive of Groves.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

An Unconventional YA Double Dip: Goldfish and Geriatrics..

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Grab a snack and assume a comfortable semi-reclined position and let’s dip into a pair of YA titles…well, actually one is upper middle grade… featuring teen girls and their relationships with their fathers. I received both of today’s titles from the publisher via Netgalley and having looked at some of the early reviews on Goodreads, it appears I enjoyed these quite a bit more than the average punter. Let’s dive in though, shall we, starting with the more conventional of the two of these unusual stories.

Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart by Jane St. Anthony is the gentle and understated tale of a young girl working through grief. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In Milwaukee, Isabelle Day had a house. And she had a father. This year,Isabelle Day on Halloween, she has half of a house in Minneapolis, a mother at least as sad as she is, and a loss that’s too hard to think—let alone talk—about.

It’s the Midwest in the early 1960s, and dads just don’t die . . . like that. Hovering over Isabelle’s new world are the duplex’s too-attentive landladies, Miss Flora (“a lovely dried flower”) and her sister Miss Dora (“grim as roadkill”), who dwell in a sea of memories and doilies; the gleefully demonic Sister Mary Mercy, who rules a school awash in cigarette smoke; and classmates steady Margaret and edgy Grace, who hold out some hope of friendship. As Isabelle’s first tentative steps carry her through unfamiliar territory—classroom debacles and misadventures at home and beyond, time trapped in a storm-tossed cemetery and investigating an inhospitable hospital—she begins to discover that, when it comes to pain and loss, she might actually be in good company. In light of the elderly sisters’ lives, Grace and Margaret’s friendship, and her father’s memory, she just might find the heart and humor to save herself.

With characteristic sensitivity and wit, Jane St. Anthony reveals how a girl’s life clouded with grief can also hold a world of promise.

Dip into it for…

… a leisurely pace and an authentic representation of a grieving young person trying to adjust to loss and a new environment. Nothing really bad happens in this story and there aren’t really flashpoints or dramatic upswings in action, but Isabelle certainly experiences some significant growth over the course of the book. This really reminded me of the impactful and gentle stories in Glenda Millard’s exceptional Kingdom of Silk series, that deal with difficult topics in an accessible way, but pitched at slightly older readers.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for an upper middle grade book that features familiar tropes and episodic action. This has neither. In the early reviews I’ve read for this book, a number of reviewers have noted the lack of action as a negative feature, and I agree that there is something that does feel lacking in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be a discernible climax.

Overall Dip Factor:

I suspect that this is going to be a bit of a niche read, appealing to those who prefer relationship-driven tales to those featuring lots of action and the usual YA tropes of cliques, bullying and boys. I was quite impressed with the warmth and hope of the ending and while I wanted there to be more development in Isabelle’s relationship with her elderly neighbours, the ending sort of made up for that. I think the author has done a good job of authentically relaying Isabelle’s feelings of grief and disorientation and as this is at the crux of the story, younger readers who haven’t had these life experiences may find it hard to relate to Isabelle and the importance she places on milestones such as making a new friend.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart and found it to be a solid upper middle grade choice for those young readers who are ready to explore a difficult life experience in narrative.

Next up we have a supremely unconventional YA story that also features some startling conventionality. I immediately related to the main character of Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher, and I’m still dissecting the layers of this book. Like a good trifle. Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

My name is Tess Turner – at least, that’s what I’ve always been told. I silence is goldfishhave a voice but it isn’t mine. It used to say things so I’d fit in, to please my parents, to please my teachers. It used to tell the universe I was something I wasn’t. It lied. It never occurred to me that everyone else was lying too. But the words that really hurt weren’t the lies: it was six hundred and seventeen words of truth that turned my world upside down.

Words scare me, the lies and the truth, so I decided to stop using them.

I am Pluto. Silent. Inaccessible. Billions of miles away from everything I thought I knew.

Tessie-T has never really felt she fitted in and after what she read that night on her father’s blog she knows for certain that she never will. How she deals with her discovery makes an entirely riveting, heart-breaking story told through Tess’s eyes as she tries to find her place in the world.

Dip into it for…

…a selective mute with an imaginary talking goldfish for an ally, weathering the storm of family drama, cyberbullying and teenaged identity confusion. I related to Tess straight away and reading of her solitary, passive, silent protest made me wish I’d thought of it as a young gargoyle going through various mental health dramas. Pitcher has written Tess as an incredibly authentic 15-year-old: immature, naïve, self-focused, struggling with issues outside her control and desperate for connection. I particularly enjoyed the way in which Tess grew throughout the story, eventually claiming her appearance and existence and using this knowledge to achieve her ends.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t think you can relate to a rendering of a teen as immature, naïve and self-focused. I suspect that some people will find Tess to be just irritating, particularly if they have never experienced any kind of major mental upset. Also, as Tess becomes a selective mute for much of the book, there is a fair bit of monologue here…or at least, dialogue between Tess and her imaginary fish friend…which some might find tedious after a bit. I’m not the greatest fan of monologuing and I did feel there was a bit of a sag in the middle of this tale.

Overall Dip Factor:

Admittedly, there were a few things that I didn’t love about this book, including the oft-used clique of three popular bitch girls (why is it always three?!) and the quick change in friendship fortunes early on, which seemed unlikely to me. On the other hand, one of the strengths of this book is that Tess is clearly naïve in that she wants her imagining of certain relationships to be real, and it is clear that while she knows that some people may not be working in her best interests, she prefers to rely on what she would like to be true than to accept the signs that are pointing to reality.

One of the interesting things about this book is that it will be obvious to the reader where the wind is blowing, so to speak, with many of the plotlines in the book, but knowing what is likely to happen didn’t dampen the satisfaction I found in going along with Tess toward the inevitable discoveries that were going to be made. It was like reading an interesting case study: because I already knew (or suspected) what the outcome would be, I could better observe Tess’s actions and appreciate her journey through denial to acceptance – of herself and the circumstances.

Clearly, this book isn’t going to be for everyone. But it was for me. I think I shall reserve a special place for Tess (and Mr Goldfish) on the shelf should they ever wish to visit.

That’s it from me for now.  I’m off to find out if they sell Eccles cakes in Australia, so I’ll be prepared for the next double-dip outing.

Until next time,

Bruce

Tomes from the Olden Times: The Third Form at St. Clare’s…

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So today’s Tomes from the Olden Times – the feature in which I re-read a book from my ancient past and pass on some insightfully insightful insights into the experience – has gone off the rails a little bit.   The reason for this will become apparent as you read on. I did intend for this to be the crème de la crème of Tomes of the Olden Times posts; a real ripper that shot you straight back to childhood and in a way, that could still happen. It did for me while I read this offering. And afterwards, it has left me wondering if I don’t have some kind of early onset senility. But anyway, on with the show!

Today’s tome is The Third Form at St. Clare’s, part of Enid Blyton’s wildly popular boarding school stories (the other of course being Malory Towers, in which I also indulged long ago), featuring twins Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan as the main players. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The holidays are over and twins Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan are dying to get back to school. The big question on everybody’s lips is, who will be head girl? But a terrible accident and an hilarious school play show the true leaders in the third form, but they also show up the cheats and cowards.

third form

Sounds like a typical Enid Blyton adventure, right? Well, my friend, I thought so too. But herein lies the confusion. This title is, in fact, NOT part of the original series, but an add-on penned by Pamela Cox as a way to flesh out the original Blyton series.

Shocked?

So was I. Not so much by the fact that another writer had been called in to modernise Blyton’s work, but by the fact that I would have sworn blind that I had read this book as a kid. And yet I couldn’t have, because it was written in 2000. This was the bit that had me scratching my head and trying to remember the number for the Alzheimer’s hotline. As I was reading this story, I even deluded myself that I knew how it was going to turn out (due, of course, to my incredible ability to recall children’s literature). I predicted correctly, but I suspect that this was because the story follows the expected Blyton formula, rather than the fact that I had read it before (which I obviously hadn’t).

Confused yet?

Yes, me too. So it turns out, on further research, that for some reason Blyton didn’t stick to the one-book-per-year formula found in most boarding school series (including her own) for the girls of St. Clare’s but instead wrote three first form stories, one second form story, skipped third form altogether, wrote one apiece for forms four and five and left sixth form out. Cox was brought in around the time of the series’ latest re-release to pen tales for the missing form years and it was one of these gap-fillers that I managed to pick up in my search for a blast from the past.

On the surface, everything appears as it should be. All the familiar characters are there, including wild circus gypsy girl Carlotta (who was a favourite of mine back in the day) and the book obviously reads enough like a Blyton to have tricked me into thinking I had already read it. There are a few little signs along the way that the story has been brought into the new millennium, with mention of coffee shops (Egad! Surely tea is the only reputable beverage in an English boarding school!) and a few turns of phrase that didn’t ring quite true to the old stories. There are also the old favourite plotlines of practical jokes, midnight feasts and sending people to Coventry.

I did feel that the retribution of the girls toward one particular wrong-doer in the story read entirely differently in a contemporary setting though. As the entire form decide to punish a girl for her underhanded behaviour by sending her to Coventry (ie: completely ignoring her and actively excluding her from membership of the form group), I did get a strange sense that this scene might come off seeming far more sinister to modern-day youngsters than Cox might have bargained for. As a youngster, when I had read such a scene in Blyton’s works, I’m sure I didn’t bat an eyelid and probably cheered along at such justice being done to an obviously guilty party but on reading it with the current social climate in mind, the scene felt uncomfortably like mass cyberbullying of the sort that sends young people to mental health wards or, in some tragic cases, suicide. It’s probably lucky that the St. Clare’s girls didn’t have access to social media or things could have gotten completely out of hand.

Overall, I think Cox has done an admirable job in penning a story that could slot right into the series without a second thought and young contemporary readers discovering Blyton’s school stories for the first time will no doubt be thankful that the series has been given these additions.

As a “Tomes from the Olden Times” pick, this turned out to be an incredibly disorienting experience. I feel mildly cheated that I haven’t actually re-read a St. Clare’s book and so now I have to go and seek out another one (although I suspect I’ll jump ship back to Malory Towers – you know where you are with the Malory Towers girls).

I’d love to know from any of you though: What are your favourite St. Clare’s moments? And have you read any of Cox’s new additions? What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

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Welcome to my new murderous feature for 2015, which will replace my Mondays with Marple series from last year – Mondays are for Murder!  I have grown so fond of murder-mysteries over the past few years that I decided I couldn’t just restrict myself to Agatha Christie (although I will certainly still feature her works) and had to branch out into other murder-filled tales.

You may also notice another bright image at the top of this post – when you see this image on one of my posts this year it will indicate that the book being discussed is from somewhere in my teetering TBR pile.  I really let things go a bit last year, pre-ordering and winning and gathering more books than I was able to get to and now things have gotten a bit out of control.  So this year I am committed to working through the pile, even as I gather more tomes.  Wish me luck.

Today’s Monday is for Murder features a Victorian murder mystery for the YA market: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry.

When Mrs Plackett, the headmistress of St Etheldreda’s School for girls drops dead in her roast dinner, swiftly followed by her brother Aldous, her seven young charges make an impulsive decision to hide the murders (as they undoubtedly appear to be) in order to prevent being sent home.  But this is easier said than done, when a whole host of guests turns up at the door moments later expecting to be admitted to Aldous’ surprise birthday dinner.  After fending off the unwanted intruders and keeping their macabre secret safe, the girls are then drawn in to the practicalities of disposing of the bodies, putting off the hired help, and running the school on Mrs Plackett’s dire finances.  As problems (both living and deceased) pile up around them, the girls are no closer to catching the murderer – but will a dalliance at the Strawberry Social shed light on the riddle of the dead Placketts? Or will the girls’ cunning venture be uncovered as their plans go awry?

scandalous sisterhoodThe Usual Suspects:

Well, aside from the seven young ladies, whose names are helpfully prefixed with adjectives to assist the reader in separating one from t’other, we have the slightly distasteful local Doctor, the farmer’s boy who harbours a romantic attachment to one of the young ladies, the weasel-faced solicitor’s assistant whose intentions no one is sure of, the hired help whose mother is ailing, the landlady of Aldous’ boarding house and the un-put-offable matronly friend of Mrs Plackett, plus a variety of hangers-on and village folk.  Oh, and there’s a mysterious and handsome young man who makes a few appearances to muddy the waters (although keen-brained readers – and I include myself smugly among their number – may well figure out who he might be before it is officially revealed).

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Right at the beginning of the story, Mrs Plackett and her brother Aldous are murdered (or so it would seem) by poison. The resulting chaos that hiding these murders causes rather puts the hunt for the murderer on the backburner for most of the book.  In fact, while I was reading I often forgot that the girls were intent on investigating these murders given all the other dilemmas they found with which to occupy themselves.  I suspect that solving the murders wasn’t high on their to-do list either.  But eventually, the murders are in fact solved. But not in the way one might expect from a whodunnit type of story.

Overall Rating:

poison clip art poison clip art  poison clip art

Three poison bottles for a mildy disorienting reading experience

While I generally enjoyed this book, its focus is more on the hiding of the deaths than on solving any murders.  The first few chapters read like a Victorian “Weekend at Bernie’s” with a comedy of errors playing out as the girls attempt to hide their newly deceased guardians from a parade of pushy adults.  I did get a perverse giggle out of the burial process selected by the young ladies and there were a few other points in the book at which I released an audible guffaw.  The reveal of the murderer and the supposed “riddle” of the doubloons definitely took a backseat to the developing comaraderie of the girls and I felt the book suffered for that a little, but if you go into this knowing that the mystery isn’t the main element of the story, you shouldn’t find much to dislike.

I did, however, pick up – don’t ask me how, perhaps it was some bizarre sixth sense of Britishness – that the author was not British, despite this book being set in England and this subtle disorientation annoyed me at various points throughout the story.  Irrational, I know, but there you have it.

This story is definitely worth a look if you enjoy historical fiction with a good dose of general silliness and interference with a corpse. Or two.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Poetical Read-it-If Review: Rhyme Schemer…

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Are you the kind of reader that loves it when an author tries something a little bit different…and NAILS it? Me too.  Happily, today’s offering is from an author that does just that.  Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt is a verse novel for a middle grade audience, so I suspected when I requested it for review that I would probably enjoy it.  What did surprise me was the way that Holt has managed to create a clever, funny and sensitive novel that hits all the right notes and authentically portrays the troubles and triumphs of a young lad who is considered to be a bit of a ne’er-do-well.  So, in fact, I ended up loving it. Hurrah!

If you were to describe Kevin as a class bully, you would not be too far off the mark.  Kevin has a reputation for being the kind of guy who might hide all your pencils.  And then politely inform you that your pencils are missing.  And then laugh at you.  Kevin also has four older brothers and two parents who don’t have a lot of time for him.  Kevin also has a particular skill in manipulating pages in classic children’s stories and posting them around the school.  But when a classmate discovers Kevin’s love of poetry, he suddenly realises how much of an impact words can have on other people.  Is it too late for Kevin to redeem himself? Or is he going to be stuck as the villain of the story forever?

rhyme schemerRead it if:

*you’ve ever thought that many classic children’s books could do with a cheeky, handwritten makeover

*you’ve ever felt like the smallest fish in a very large pond…comprised mostly of annoying brother fish

*you’ve ever had a secret passion for something that might be considered a bit embarrassing were it to be revealed in public

*you’re looking for a book with an authentic male protagonist that features poetry in a clever and very engaging way

As someone who enjoys the odd bit of poetry (and a bit of odd poetry) this book could not have been more perfect.  It is a super-quick read – I think I read it in two sittings, but could easily have managed it in one – and has a storyline that had me glued to the pages.  The book opens with Kevin revealing that he is the mastermind behind a spate of guerilla-poetry attacks, in which pages torn from classic children’s books have been manipulated with pencil to create funny new poems and stuck up around his school.  If you can’t imagine what I mean, here’s a handy illustration from the book to demonstrate:

 

rhyme schemer illustration example

 

Kevin is a self-proclaimed bully who seems to take great delight in humiliating others, but as we move deeper into Kevin’s journal, we quickly discover that he has family problems that may account, in some part, for his less-than-kind behaviour towards his classmates.  It’s really hard to dislike Kevin though, as his voice is at once self-promoting and self-deprecating – he knows that his behaviour is not winning him friends, but he also seems to know that he has a gift that might open up some opportunities for him if he can keep out of trouble.

This is an ingenious new take on the moving-into-the-teenage-years style of story that will most definitely appeal to kids in the target age group because of the style of humour and excellent characterisation.  I suspect this will also appeal to those with a subversive streak (including, but not limited to, reluctant readers and those who like to deface library books), and those who are just looking for a familiar story of friendship and personal growth told in a fun, accessible fashion.

Actually, writing this review has done two things: it’s encouraged me to pick up That Shakespeare Kid, another verse novel that’s been sitting on my TBR pile for at least six months, and it’s also reminded me to put Rhyme Schemer on my Christmas list. Because now I wish to own it in print, not least because it features the funniest collections on the subject of the school principal’s tie ever written.

Until next time,

Bruce

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