Fi50 Reminder and Double Dip Review

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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…

button_when-one-door-shuts

Good luck!


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I don’t know about you but I’m all chocolated out after Easter, so I’ll be opting for a savoury snack to accompany my musings about one middle grade sci-fi comedy novel and one YA coming of age tale.  Grab your snack and let’s nosh on!

First up we have The Broken Bridge by Phillip Pullman which we received from PanMacmillan Australia for review.  This is a re-release of the novel which was first published in 1994 and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At 16, Ginny finds that her love of painting connects her to the artistic Haitian mother she never knew and eases the isolation she feels as the only mixed-race teen in her Welsh village. When she learns she has a half-brother by her father’s first marriage, her world is shattered. Ginny embarks on a quest for the truth that will allow her to claim her artistic heritage–and face her father.

the broken bridge

Dip into it for…

…a solid family drama with authentic characters and believable problems.  Ginny is a resilient young woman with a strong desire to be an artist like her mother was, but is plagued by the usual stressors and angst that most teens fall victim to at sometime or other during adolescence.  She has the added problem of trying to catch hold of a solid identity as a girl with a Welsh father and Haitian mother while living in an almost all-white village.  The secrets hinted at in the blurb are revealed slowly and by about a third of the way through the book I began to share Ginny’s bewilderment about what on major hidden aspect she might find out about her past next.  The pacing is well done, allowing the reader to get a grasp on Ginny, her friends and the general feel of her hometown before throwing in the confusion of multiple family secrets.  Kudos to Pullman also for creating a social worker character who is actually human, rather than overbearing, cold-hearted and disconnected or patronising.

Don’t dip if…

…you want simple resolutions to easily-solved problems.  Every story has two sides here, even that of the villainous Joe Chicago.

Overall Dip Factor

This is an engaging coming of age story that paints family breakdown, death and abuse in a believable light without resorting to gratuitous teen melodrama.  By the end of the book the reader can appreciate how Ginny has matured in her outlook despite not having all the answers about how she will present herself in the world.  I enjoyed this book for its authentic portrayal of a young person carving out a place for herself in her family and in the world.

Next we have How to Outsmart a Billion Robot Bees, the second in the Genius Factor books featuring Nate and Delphine, by Paul Tobin.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and we will be submitting this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in the category of a book with a red spine and the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 AND my Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge in the category of something you’d take on a hunt.  I reckon a billion robot bees would be pretty handy.  You can check on my progress for all the challenges I’m undertaking this year here.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s Friday the 13th again, and for sixth grade genius Nate Bannister, that means doing three more not-so-smart things to keep life interesting. But he has bigger problems than his own experiments. His nemesis, the Red Death Tea Society, is threatening to unleash a swarm of angry bees on the city of Polt if Nate doesn’t join their ranks. But then a new group of people with murky intentions shows up — the League of Ostracized Fellows — and they want Nate as their own, too. To top it off, he’s convinced there’s a spy in his very own school.

Nate must once again team up with his new, resourceful, friend Delphine to save the day. They’ll need the help of Nate’s crazy gadgets, such as his talking car Betsy and super-powered pets Bosper the Scottish terrier and Sir William the gull, if they hope to see another Friday the 13th. Because they might be battling more than just sting-happy bees and villains with a penchant for tea this time around.

Dip into it for… billion robot bees

…silliness, wild inventions and bee stings in sensitive places.  I do enjoy the quirky tone and dry yet silly humour that Tobin has created in these books.  There is a certain imagery conjured up by his writing that is truly giggleworthy.  Nate and Delphine are also a fun pair and the introduction of Melville – a friendly robot bee adopted by Delphine – adds to the action in this installment.  Bosper, Nate’s genetically modified talking dog stole the show for me in this book however – something about his manner of speaking just cracked me up every time.  The plot of this one seemed a lot more straightforward than in the first book despite the inclusion of the socially awkward League of Ostracised Fellows and everybody, including the jealous Betsy the car, had a role to play in saving Polt from bee-mageddon: The Sting-en-ing.

Don’t dip if…

…you are after fast-paced action.  The one quarrel I have with these stories is that the quirky humour, when added to the action sequences, slows down the pace of the story interminably.  My edition clocked in at 340ish pages and by about halfway I was ready for the resolution to start coming into play.  While the humour is a massively important part of these books, the constant banter does really slow things down when it feels like things should be speeding up.

Overall Dip Factor

I can’t remember why I didn’t finish the first book in this series, but I think it was something to do with the pacing and a lag in the middle.  This book does suffer from the same ailment in my opinion, but I got a lot further along in this story before I really felt the lag, compared to the first book.  Nate and Delphine are so likable and the style of humour so enjoyable that I would still pick up a third in the series, but I would be hoping that the story overall would move a bit quicker.

Right, I’m ready for chocolate again after that.  Have you read either of these books?  Do you like a bit of silly, quirky comedy?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Zita the Spacegirl…

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Well it’s only been a few days since I borrowed a stack of graphic novels from the library, but I’ve already chewed through a couple of them and it’s time to focus in on Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl series.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of an eye.

When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don’t even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest in Zita’s quest.

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, captivating tale of friendship and redemption from Flight veteran Ben Hatke. It also has more whimsical, eye-catching, Miyazaki-esque monsters than you can shake a stick at.

zita-the-spacegirl

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Sci fi

Art Style:

Cartoonish and chock full of heart

Reading time:

I knocked this one over in about twenty minutes.

Let’s get gabbing:

Before I get into this book too much, I should point out that we Shelf-dwellers just love Ben Hatke.  It started with Nobody Likes A Goblin and now we are on a mission to acquire and read all of his work.  We already had Return of Zita the Spacegirl on our TBR shelf, but it was suggested that we read the first in the series before trying that one, so we were lucky enough to find this at our local library.

Plot wise, Zita and her friend Joseph are transported to another world after giving in to temptation and pushing a big red button that fell out of the sky.  The two are immediately separated and it is up to Zita to find Joseph and see them safely home, before the planet they are on is destroyed by a fiery meteor – nothing like a bit of time pressure to spice things up!.  Along the way, Zita meets some friendly and not-so-friendly folk and eventually has to make a decision about whether or not she is ready to return home.

The strength of this tale is in the characters.  From Zita herself to each and every character of whom we are given just a glimpse in the background frames, Hatke brings this story to life with all manner of weird and wonderful folk.  There’s Strong-Strong, a big, brown Domo-kun-like character with a heart of gold, Pizzicato, a mouse with some gnarly armour, and a vengeful and righteous killer robot named One, to name just a few.  Hatke has an incredible knack for drawing characters to which the reader can be sympathetic, even if they’re reasonably villainous.  They’ve inspired Mad Martha to create them in crochet before and as we were paging through Zita’s story, it was obvious that Mad Martha was ticking off on her fabric fingers which characters she would like to make next.

The story is more complicated than the basic rescue-a-friend, save-the-world plot type, with difficult decisions being thrown up along the way.  Zita also has to think on her feet and go with her gut about who to trust and who to avoid if she is to find her way home safely.  There are some delightfully creative inclusions here and there, my favourite of which is Door Paste – like a tube of toothpaste, but it creates a a door if you smear it on a flat surface.  Perfect for quick escapes!

Overall snapshot:

Hatke has done it again with Zita’s adventures.  If you are (or know of) a fan of science fiction, delightful artwork, exciting adventures, themes of friendship and loyalty and strong female protagonists, you must get your claws on Zita the Spacegirl.

And now here’s Return of Zita the Spacegirl, which is book three in the series.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ben Hatke brings back our intrepid space heroine for another delightful sci-fi/fantasy adventure in this New York Times-Bestselling graphic novel trilogy for middle grade readers.

Zita the Spacegirl has saved planets, battled monsters, and wrestled with interplanetary fame. But she faces her biggest challenge yet in the third and final installment of the Zita adventures. Wrongfully imprisoned on a penitentiary planet, Zita has to plot the galaxy’s greatest jailbreak before the evil prison warden can execute his plan of interstellar domination!

return-of-zita

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Sci fi

Art Style:

Cartoonish and chock full of heart

Reading time:

As above, this was about twenty minutes uninterrupted reading

Let’s get gabbing:

You may have picked up that I skipped book two in the series, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, because the library didn’t have it (boo!).  This wasn’t too much of a drama because the opening scenes cleverly work some of the key points from books one and two into the dialogue between Zita and her captor.  Yes, this book begins with Zita imprisoned and seemingly helpless, although it is apparent that in book two she had been gadding about making a name for herself across the galaxy and fostering the reputation of someone not to be trifled with.

The plot focuses on Zita’s attempts to escape her prison by finding a jump crystal with which she can power up the red-button thingy and take herself back home.  Along the way she is helped out by a mysterious masked boy and her cellmates, a skeleton named Femur who possesses some very interestingly shaped digits, and Ragpile, an animated pile of rags.  I absolutely loved the little twist at the end concerning Ragpile and Femur and it encapsulates the ingenuity and humour that is woven into these stories.  Old friends also make an appearance, including Pizzicato, Strong-Strong and One, as well as some folk from the second book who I hadn’t met before, most interesting of which being a space-pirate type lady and her mysterious cat.

Zita’s adventures eventually find her back on Earth and even though it is claimed that this is the final story in the series, the ending holds a little hope that there might be more.

Overall snapshot:

This was an action packed way to finish the series, full of escapes, ingenious ideas and teamwork.  Themes of betrayal and forgiveness loom large and the ensemble cast of characters ensures that there’ll be something for everyone in Zita’s final adventure.

I’m submitting Return of Zita the Spacegirl for my Mount TBR Reading ChallengeMount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017! You can check out my progress here.

Also, I can’t find a space to fit them on the blog, but I have also read and reviewed Livingstone Volume 1 and Bloody Chester from my stack of borrowed graphic novels.  Click on the book titles to see my reviews on Goodreads.

Until next time,

Bruce

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

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

Not So Much, Said the Cat (Michael Swanwick)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  not so much said the cat

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

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

Wildwitch: Wildfire (Lene Kaaberbol)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis: wildwitch wildfire

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

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

The Monstrous Child (Francesca Simon)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

the monstrous child

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

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

Norse code; Winners and losers; the unacknowledged child

The Changelings (Christina Soontornvat)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the changelings

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

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

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

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Carter and the Curious Maze (Philippa Dowding)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:carter and the curious maze.jpg

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

Time travel, extreme gardening, creepy old guys

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

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:rabbit and bear

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

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

Fuzzy (Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:fuzzy

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

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

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

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Double Dip Review Week #3: Short Story Collections for Fleshlings Mini and Grown…

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imageI must apologise for the lateness of today’s post – Nat King Cole sang about those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer being filled with soda and pretzels and beer (or something to that effect), but here in Brisvegas it’s more like heat-induced coma and sweat rash and bemoaning the fact that we are too poor for air conditioning.  I’m not making excuses (well, actually I am), but the heat is wearing down even my rock-solid resolve and that’s why I’m a bit behind on today’s post.

Nevertheless, I hope you are prepared for a third helping in our Double-Dip-a-thon, today featuring bite-sized short stories for grown ups and kiddies.  We received both of today’s titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s start with the offering for the younglings, shall we?  Things From Other Worlds by Anne E. Johnson is a short story collection aimed at a middle grade-ish audience, with a fantasy/sci-fi twist.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Many strange things wait inside these pages. There’s a fuzzy ball of kindness, camped out on a grumpy man’s porch. A chewed piece of gum with a mind of its own. A smart Alec who actually stands in line twice when they’re handing out brains. A girl who isn’t afraid when all the plants in her neighborhood come to life.

This collection of 15 science fiction and fantasy stories for kids by award-winning author Anne E. Johnson is perfect for ages 8-12, or anyone with a child’s heart.

Dip into it for…things from other worlds

…a fun collection of easy-to-read stories that would make great brain-breaks in a classroom setting.  The content runs the gamut from sentient beetles assisting with illustrator’s block to aliens that binge on Vitamin C.  For kids that enjoy fantasy and science fiction, this will be a welcome addition to the library.  The stories are basic enough for the younger end of the middle grade age range to manage on their own but have wide enough appeal for older readers to enjoy them as well.  Brains Coming Out of My Ears, featuring a boy who stood in line twice when they were handing out brains, was my stand-out favourite, being the story with (in my opinion) both the cleverest concept and the most humour in the telling.  I also really enjoyed To Be A Tree, in which a boy discovers that looking after the environment takes a lot of commitment, because it had a sinister undertone and creepy ending.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for short stories that have a twist in the tale.  I was a little disappointed with the lack of suspense in these stories.  Most of the fantasy and sci fi elements are given in a very matter-of-fact way through the narration and I felt that this didn’t do the stories any favours.  I suspect that having grown up in Australia, I have been spoiled by being raised (as many Aussie kids of a certain era were!) on the incredibly funny and brilliantly executed short story collections of Paul Jennings and therefore have a very high expectation of short stories aimed at children.  I am also a great fan of Chris Priestley’s Tales of Terror short story collections and Neal Shusterman’s Darkness Creeping, that feature similar fantastical themes, and this collection doesn’t live up to those by any means, having a much more placid narrative style.

Overall Dip Factor

While not being the most inspiring short story collection I’ve read for this age group, Things From Other Worlds is still worth a look if you have a budding fantasy or sci-fi fan who is beginning to read independently and is looking for a change from the standard chapter book format.

Now onto the grown-ups.  Joy to the Worlds is a collection of eight short stories by four authors (Gayle Clemans, Maia Chance, Raven Oak and Janine A. Southard), each featuring both a sci-fi or fantasy element and a certain festive twist.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What do you get when you mix mystery and speculative fiction, then toss in the holidays for good measure? A mobster Santa, genetic hanky-panky, Victorian villages, time-travelling detectives, Krampus, eerie bell spirits, and more–this collection of short cross-genre fiction is the perfect counterpoint to traditional holiday reading!

This collection stars four authors, each with their own distinct style. National bestselling author Maia Chance, who is famous for her cozy mysteries, dazzles with humor and folklore. IPPY award-winning science fiction author Janine A. Southard beguiles with unexpected time-travel science. Science fiction & fantasy bestseller Raven Oak offers a look into the gothic past. And for a whole new perspective, debut fiction author and art expert G. Clemans dives into the intersections of creativity and mystery.

Joy to the Worlds brings together eight short works that explore mysteries across time and space. Ranging from dark dystopian worlds to comedic retro-futures, four diverse writers find new ways to combine these disparate worlds.

Dip into it for… joy to the worlds

…a solid collection of fantasy and sci-fi jaunts that will leave you with a strangely satisfying Christmassy feeling.  The stories range from a murder mystery featuring the Wild Hunt to a YA offering that proves Christmas decorating can be deadly, via an intergalactic, political thriller set in a historical theme park and a cautionary tale about theft and the Krampus.  There’s also St Nicholas on a space ship if you’re into that sort of thing (Dr Who fans take note!).  Some of the stories seem heftier than others but they all have a strong narrative voice and the spread of content kept me returning with fresh eyes.  I’m still tossing up which of these is my favourite – I suspect Odysseus Flax and the Krampus will take the title, but I also enjoyed Wild Hunt, as I’ve been in a bit of a murder-mystery mood lately.  Each story has a little introduction and afterword also, which was quite fun and gave a taste of what was to come and how the story came about.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like sci-fi and fantasy or you don’t like Yuletide.  With such a broad range of stories, there’s sure to be something any lover of fantasy or sci-fi will enjoy here.

Overall Dip Factor:

I really enjoyed this collection and would have liked to have had more time (the eternal whinge of the book-laden reviewer!!) to dip into this at a more leisurely pace.  This would be a great choice for those looking for a festive read, but not willing to give up on their love of fantasy and science fiction.  It’s also a great introduction to these particular authors – one of whose other work I already have on my TBR.  I would suggest picking this one up if you’re after a Christmas-time read that is a bit out of the ordinary.

Starting to get full yet?  Well I suggest you go and have a good old burp, because we’ve still got one more course to go in our week of Double Dips.  That’s a double helping of fantasy fiction on Wednesday.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Adult Fiction (and a bit of non-fiction) Edition…

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imageStrap on your most grown-up looking cowboy hat and let’s ride into today’s Round-Up!  I’ve got four titles for you today suitable for the lover of fine novels and lateral thinking.  I received all of these titles from their respective publishers or authors in exchange for review.

Celluloid (Holly Curtis)

Two Sentence Synopsis:celluloid

Jimmy Clifford is thirty-something, depressed, shut-in and owner of a mildly successful video rental store.  When he finds out that The Crypt, a heritage cinema that shows classic films just a stone’s throw from his home, is due to be demolished Jimmy must fight the demons of depression, anxiety and being an impromptu events organiser to try and save his beloved theatre.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an indie offering that is dialogue-driven and will definitely leave you with an amused little smirk.  Jimmy is a very likeable character thrown into a difficult position and is surrounded by a bunch of quirky and generally pretty funny friends, enemies and hangers-on.  There are a lot of laughs to be had here from the dialogue and as we follow Jimmy through a few short weeks we are privy to a man emerging from a deep hole of depression into the slightly-too-sunny-but-quite-optimistic-nonetheless light of day. This is a book with a simple concept, but a lot of heart.  And chuckles.

Brand it with:

Play it, Sam; Two Dollar Tuesdays; Friends without the gorgeous women

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard (Lawrence M. Schoen)

Two Sentence Synopsis:barsk

Set in a futuristic world, on a planet where anthropomorphic, medically talented elephants known as the Fant are the dominant species and have developed medicines on which many offworlders depend, the time is coming when the Fant’s knowledge may be taken from them by force.  After developing a drug which allows some Fant to speak to the recently deceased, offworlders launch an offensive to find out the secrets of the Fant.

Muster up the motivation because:

Elephant doctors, obviously.  I was only granted access to an extract of this book, but the first few chapters really do a great job of world building.  We are immediately introduced to the death rituals of the Fant, and find out that a significant Fant’s death may also hide a significant secret.  There is also a young, misfit Fant introduced that may have a major part to play in protecting the Fant’s knowledge.  While the extract threw up many questions about the rest of the book, I am definitely interested in finding out more about this original story.

Brand it with:

Dr Pachyderm; Life after death; Watch out for the quiet ones

Dark the Night Descending: The Paderborn Chronicles #1 (Jennifer Bresnick)

Two Sentence Synopsis:dark the night descending

Arran Swinn is a ship’s captain who asks no questions about his cargo. He probably should have in this case however, as it lands him in a life or death struggle with a face-changing murderess, sees him making a bargain for his life he can’t hope to keep and being pursued by a single-minded Guild inspector who wants to see him hang.

Muster up the motivation because:

There is some really strong world building here and a rollicking adventure with a hapless but lovable anti-hero.  In this strange world are the neneckt – water-dwelling face-changers with a distrustful relationship with humans – and the Siheldi – a mysterious and deadly ghost-race that apparently come out only at night to suck the souls out of the unfortunate.  The tale is fast-paced as Arran races from one disaster to the next and enough creepiness balanced with humour to keep the reader engaged throughout.  There are some quite frightening scenes with the Siheldi and plenty of twists as Arran finds out who he can trust and who might just turn on him at the drop of a medallion. I’m not sure I’ll go the extra mile and continue with this series, but this first offering is certainly worthy of filling a fantasy/adventure-shaped gap in your TBR list.

Brand it with:

You look familiar, Did you pack this bag yourself?, High seas adventure

The Pilot Who Wore A Dress: And Other Dastardly Lateral Thinking Mysteries (Tom Cutler)

Two Sentence Synopsis:the pilot who wore a dress

A collection of lateral thinking puzzles, their solutions and instructions on how to use them to have a grand old time.  From old favourites to new tricks, this is an essential shelf filler for those who love to think outside the box and look superior to their friends.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are a lover of lateral thinking riddles, this book will provide satisfaction, as you confidently and correctly answer the riddles you’ve heard before, and frustration, as you grapple with hitherto unseen brain-bafflers.  The book is split into categories, starting off gently before moving to more complex puzzles.  The riddles are written out as stories, which began to annoy me after a while, but as the introduction mentions, the book is really intended to be used with a group of people, hence the elaborate story set-ups.  For dipping in and out of as an individual though, this book would be a lot of fun, with the added bonus of making you a decided expert in the field of lateral thinking puzzles.

Brand it with:

Outside the box, Questionable motives, Fun for introverts

Hopefully there’s something here you feel like lassoing and dragging home to your reading nook.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

An Adult, Sci-Fi Read-it-if Review: Master of Formalities…

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As strange as it may sound, while today’s book is clearly a futuristic science fiction novel, I am certain it would also appeal to lovers of Jane Austen. With that bold and ufounded claim I would like to welcome you to today’s Read-it-if review. I received Master of Formalities by Scott Meyer from the publisher via Netgalley, after requesting it due to the promise of a sci-fi comedy of manners from an author who has employed puns in the titles of his past works. If that’s not an iron-clad formula for successful book-choosing, I don’t know what is. But let’s crack on.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Even when finding oneself engaged in interstellar war, good form must be observed. Our story is set thousands of years after the Terran Exodus, where two powerful, planet-dominating families—the elegant House Jakabitus and the less refined Hahn Empire—have reached a critical point in their generations-long war. Master Hennik, the Hahn ruler’s only son, has been captured, and the disposition of his internment may represent a last and welcome chance for peace.

Enter Wollard, the impeccably distinguished and impossibly correct Master of Formalities for House Jakabitus. When he suggests that Master Hennik be taken in as a ward of the House, certain complications arise. Wollard believes utterly and devotedly in adhering to rules and good etiquette. But how does one inform the ruler of a planet that you are claiming his son as your own—and still create enough goodwill to deescalate an intergalactic war?

master of formalities

Read it if:

*you believe that an argument will always be won by the person who presents the precedent that is simultaneously the most relevant and the most obscure

*you believe that servants should always be stealthy and unseen when carrying out their lowly occupations…unless they make an embarrassing mistake, in which case their humiliation should be paraded around to the maximum number of viewers

* you suspect that the futuristic Hahn Home World could well have picked up the foundations of its culture – enacting the greatest inconvenience on the greatest number, whenever possible – from observing the modern-day customer service models employed by health insurance companies

*you support activities that foster the father-son bond

What a strange and amusing little offering I found this to be! I fear I am going through a minor aversion to science fiction at the moment, simply because engaging in new futuristicky worlds seems to be far too much effort. I must say though, that I thoroughly enjoyed this little romp for the strangely compatible senses of familiarity and originality that it provided.

I did find the first two or three chapters a little confusing as Meyer drops the reader in at the deep end of world-building, requiring that salient points about the world be deduced from general conversation. By the time we’re introduced to Master Rayzo’s first “Sports” meet though, I was swinging along with the strata of characters and revelling in the dry, understated approach of Meyer’s humour.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I honestly think that this book is going to have a much wider appeal than just to those who enjoy science fiction, because while the setting is a futuristic, interplanetary society, the subterfuge, social manipulation and general political skulduggery will be familiar to and enjoyed by lovers of any type of social comedy. While the blurb might give the impression that there are fairly solemn issues at play here, Meyer keeps the tone firmly tongue-in-cheek and I found it very easy to be drawn into the various awkward social conflicts of the various characters.

My favourite scenes were undoubtedly those featuring Rayzo and his “adopted” brother Hennik. I couldn’t help laughing aloud at Hennik’s valiant attempts to retain control over his predicament, as well as his impressive commitment to being a complete little turd at every opportunity, as dictated by his culture. The late inclusion of the ruler of a third planet – one that delights in finding himself in annoying and inconvenient situations for the opportunities these provide for self-betterment – added a wonderfully unexpected tonic to the superciliousness of the Hahn ruling family.

I feel I should also mention that another late highlight in the tale was the highly amusing and completely ridiculous walking chair that one of the rulers uses. It’s making me laugh again now just thinking about it.

I also enjoyed the ebb and flow of power in the novel, as those who appear to be on top take a metaphorical tumble, providing the impetus for some unexpected characters to rise to the top of the social food chain. I can’t say too much here without spoiling some of the twists, but Meyer has done a good job of fleshing out his characters so that you can never be certain that your alliances won’t change as more information comes to light.

Master of Formalities turned out to be an unexpectedly light and twisty foray back into science fiction for me and it has certainly given me a reminder to check whether I still have one of Meyer’s previous titles, Off to Be the Wizard, on my Kindle. I remember reading mixed reviews of it on its release, but having enjoyed Meyer’s writing style and sense of humour so much here, I will definitely give it a go….just as soon as I have an opportunity to hack away a bit more at Mount TBR.

Until next time,

Bruce