The Many Worlds of Albie Bright: A GSQ Review

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It’s time to look at all that’s good, sad and quirky about The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge, a new release middle grade romp that features science fiction, science fact and lots of sciencey faffing about with bananas and wayward cats.  We received a copy of this one from Allen & Unwin for review after eyeing it covetously on various “coming soon” lists of middle grade fiction.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Albie’s mum dies, it’s natural he should wonder where she’s gone. His parents are both scientists and they usually have all the answers. Dad mutters something about Albie’s mum being alive and with them in a parallel universe. So Albie finds a box, his mum’s computer and a rotting banana, and sends himself through time and space to find her…

the many worlds of albie bright

The Good

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As UK middle grade reads go, this one is quite original.  If you discount the oft-used “child coping with the death of a parent” storyline, there is plenty here that goes beyond the usual bounds of middle-grade fare.  We’ll discuss those bits more in the “quirky” section though.

Albie is a character who will resonate with many readers; a young man trying hard to honour his mother’s memory, while his father just works to forget.  There are a number of competing themes going on here including family realignment after the loss of a parent, dealing with grief, finding one’s purpose and challenging accepted boundaries of thought.  The pace of the book is even, with an episodic plot that follows Albie as he hops from one world to another.  I particularly enjoyed the character of Alba and her interaction with Albie and would have loved to have seen more interactions like this throughout the book.

The Sad

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There was something missing throughout this book for me and I suspect that the missing something was a strong supporting character.  For much of the book Albie goes it on his own, so the narration comprises a lot of Albie telling us what’s going on or relating his thoughts without much to break this up.  A bit more banter between Albie and …someone…would have made the book a bit pacier and more engaging in my opinion, and allowed for a bit of unexpectedness in a plot where the reader suspects everything will turn out in the end.

I also had a problem with the straightforward way in which Albie manages to solve all the problems of inter-dimensional travel without much effort. The plot is full of complex, nebulous scientific ideas that even proper scientists have trouble with, but Albie’s scientific problems – such as getting from one world to another and how to get home again – are solved by accident or dumb luck.  I felt that the author couldn’t quite decide whether this was supposed to be first and foremost a book about science and parallel universes, or a book about grief and personal growth, so left both plotlines a little underdeveloped in order to manage such big ideas in a book for young readers.

The Quirky

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I can safely say that this is the first time I have encountered such a focus on science in a middle grade fiction offering.  Throughout the story many theories, experiments and facts are brought up – including, but not limited to, the Large Hadron Collider and Shrodinger’s Cat – and this will really appeal to those young readers who can’t get enough of science fact and how it might be imagined as science fiction.  I can imagine that after reading this book at least one kid (or adult!) will grab a bunch of balloons and their younger sibling’s favourite toy and attempt to launch the two into space.

Overall I enjoyed this book but not nearly as much as I expected I would.  I was hoping for a little more challenge and struggle in Albie’s journey toward healing, and a little more zany danger in his romp through the unknown universe.  It is certainly an ambitious undertaking to attempt to blend high level scientific concepts with the enormity of a child’s grief, but for me it didn’t quite hit the mark.  I certainly enjoyed it while I was reading, but I don’t think it will be one of those books that makes it into the regular rotation of books I recommend to others.

Unless they’re looking for a middle grade read featuring cats that are simultaneously dead and alive.

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

 

 

 

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

Unhappenings Review Tour…

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Welcome to my stop on the Review Tour for new release, time travel, sci-fi, adventure novel Unhappenings by Edward Aubrey.  Make yourself at home!  This tidy and complex little number is published by Curiosity Quills, from whom I received a copy of this book.

Feast your eyes on this gorgeous cover:

unhappenings coverIsn’t it beautiful? But of course, judging a book only by its cover would just be silly *cough*, so here is some further information to entice you:

When Nigel Walden is fourteen, the UNHAPPENINGS begin. His first girlfriend disappears the day after their first kiss with no indication she ever existed. This retroactive change is the first of many only he seems to notice.

Several years later, when Nigel is visited by two people from his future, he hopes they can explain why the past keeps rewriting itself around him. But the enigmatic young guide shares very little, and the haggard, incoherent, elderly version of himself is even less reliable. His search for answers takes him fifty-two years forward in time, where he finds himself stranded and alone.

And then he meets Helen.

Brilliant, hilarious and beautiful, she captivates him. But Nigel’s relationships always unhappen, and if they get close it could be fatal for her. Worse, according to the young guide, just by entering Helen’s life, Nigel has already set into motion events that will have catastrophic consequences. In his efforts to reverse this, and to find a way to remain with Helen, he discovers the disturbing truth about the unhappenings, and the role he and his future self have played all along.

Equal parts time-travel adventure and tragic love story, Unhappenings is a tale of gravely bad choices, and Nigel’s struggle not to become what he sees in the preview of his worst self.

And of course you’re now wondering what kind of finely-tuned, creative, literary mind could conjure such an audacious story, and so here is some information about Mr. Aubrey himself:

Edward Aubry is a graduate of Wesleyan University, with a degree in music composition. edward aubrey unhappenings tour Improbably, this preceded a career as a teacher of high school mathematics and creative writing.

Over the last few years, he has gradually transitioned from being a teacher who writes novels on the side to a novelist who teaches to support his family. He is also a poet, his sole published work in that form being the sixteen stanza “The History of Mathematics.”

He now lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife and three spectacular daughters, where he fills his non-teaching hours spinning tales of time-travel, wise-cracking pixies, and an assortment of other impossible things.

Find Edward Aubry Online:

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

And ultimately, of course, you are waiting to hear what I thought of the book.  Well, wait no longer, weary traveller, for I shall now metaphorically spill the metaphorical beans on this very intriguing take on time travel and its consequences.

I haven’t read a good time-travel yarn in quite a while – I think the last one was Backward Glass and that was ages and ages ago (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that being the last one) [*update* I just checked my records and I’ve read at least four time travel jaunts since Backward Glass…obviously they didn’t leave much of an impression...] – so I was most pleased to jump back into one of my favourite sub-genres of science fiction.

Unhappenings is a highly original take on the well-trodden time travel path, and has a much greater focus on the consequences for human relationships from meddling with time than any other story I’ve read in the genre.  The book begins with Nigel recounting his early experiences with the mysterious and confusing unhappenings that occured at random intervals throughout his teenage years.  Essentially, Nigel began to notice that time seemed to move differently for him than for most people – he’d mention conversations or experiences that none of the other people involved seemed to remember, his teachers would suddenly disappear, alter or reappear without so much as a passing comment from his classmates, and in the most severe instances, people he became close to were retroactively wiped from existence.

This was a really intriguing premise and I fell right into the story as Nigel recounts the major incidents of these early unhappenings and reflects on the patterns he felt were forming at the time.  Of course, as the story is narrated by a much older Nigel, the reader is privy to a few extra intriguing tidbits that poor old teen Nigel is not.  This added to the puzzle solving element of the story for me and of course I became enthralled in trying to figure out what was going on before it was revealed.

This, however, turned out to be nigh on impossible.

The story is set out in parts, with each part relating to a different person in Nigel’s sphere of reference.  The early part is dedicated to Nigel’s experiences with a mysterious girl who appears at certain points in Nigel’s journey and gives him little to no information about what’s going on – except the fact that she too experiences these unhappenings.

Actually, before I get sucked into explaining the different characters and so forth, I’m going to abandon the attempt because I don’t think it’s the best way to describe the experience of reading Unhappenings.

If you are a fan of sci-fi, you will probably enjoy this book.  If you are a fan of stories featuring time travel, you will probably enjoy this book.  If you enjoy a book with a strong premise that is executed with precision and skill, you will definitely enjoy this book.  This is a story with a lot going on, both action-wise and relationship-wise, and there is plenty of bang for your buck with over 100 pretty meaty chapters.

Aubrey has done a stellar job at creating an original take on time travel that is highly complex, and best of all, he doesn’t let the mechanics of it all get away from him.  There are multiple time-streams in play here and Aubrey masterfully controls each and every one, so there are no points at which I was forced to go, “HEY! That couldn’t have happened because *insert plot hole here*”.  By the end of this mind-bendingly extensive tale, I was perfectly content that I had just experienced a fresh and daring take on an old favourite theme.

Overall, I was really impressed with this offering, and I suspect that Aubrey will pop onto a whole bunch of “one to watch” lists for those who are introduced to him through Unhappenings.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Retro Reading: Finders Keepers…

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Today’s Retro Reading offering is, for me, a quintessential book of childhood.  I first encountered it as a school-aged stone, through a teacher’s (inspired!) choice for a classroom read-aloud.  I remembered it fondly and was very excited to dip back into it as a grown stone.  finders keepers

Finders Keepers by perennial Australian author Emily Rodda, (she of Deltora Quest and Rowan of Rin fame), follows the exploits of Patrick, a young lad who is contacted through a computer game and invited to take part in a mysterious game show and win fabulous prizes.  After accepting, Patrick is pulled through “the Barrier” separating our world from…well…another very similar world…and is tasked with finding three objects that have slipped through the Barrier and been lost by their owners.  Cue all the fun and suspense that goes along with any adventure in which a child is continually thwarted by perfectly ordinary problems – such as not having anyone to drive him to the shop where he suspects one of the objects may be found.

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I am happy to report that re-reading this book produced everything I remembered and adored about it the first time round.  Emily Rodda possesses a remarkable ability to draw the reader in to the world she has created, even when crafting everyday domestic conversations or describing the simple problems faced by her young protagonists.  In Finders Keepers, she weaves suspense through the story beautifully and has crafted her characters – particularly Patrick and Estelle – in such a genuine way that one finds oneself glued to the page and cheering them along.

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This story also features some riddles – a bit of a Rodda signature move – which are quite fun to solve and would appeal to its target audience.  Finders Keepers, having won the Childrens Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award for Younger Readers in 1991, was followed up with The Timekeeper, and later made into a television series.  You can see a bit of it at the link below.  Incidentally, if you’re a fan of early 1990s fashion and culture in Australia, you’re in for a treat!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3Mnh_eJ54M&list=PL7A4147BF2FB6412F

This book is a perfect choice for any kid aged 8 and above.  Actually, seven-year-olds would probably get a kick out of it too.  It really is one of those rare gems that comes along and sticks in your memory, and is well worth hunting out, particularly for readers outside Australia who may be discovering it for the first time!

finders keepers 3As has been my wont recently, I have included all the different versions of cover art that I could lay paw on…my favourite is the first as it is the one I remember. The last one pictured (with backwards hat boy) is my least favourite…I think it makes the main character look like an individual lacking the capacity for independent thought….or any thought, really.  Do not let this distract you, book Finders – I challenge you to seek out this book, even if you have to cross the Barrier to get to it!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Ode to a…Publisher?: Mad Martha breaks ranks…

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Afternoon my sweeties! Today I have decided to do something a little bit different with my ode.  You may be able to guess what it is if you cast your eyeballs even briefly over the title of this post.  Yes, that’s right – instead of a single author, I am going to laud a whole publishing house! Bruce has already mentioned our love for Angry Robot Books in a previous post but I must reiterate that AR is fast becoming our go-to publisher when we are looking for something just a bit different.

Angry Robot

To give you an idea of what I mean when I say different, it’s something just a little bit quirky.  A tad odd.  Both funny ha-ha and funny peculiar.  They have superheroes with demon sidekicks.  Seven foot tall skeleton kings.  Houses with whole worlds hidden inside. And of course the usual, run-of-the-mill complement of robots, zombies, armies of people in various states of death and undeath, people with animal familiars and various telepathic abilities, and so on and so forth.  Our absolute favourite of their authors (and one of the first we discovered!) is Mike Shevdon, creator of the Courts of the Feyre series…..do go and buy it, won’t you?  We also like Lee Battersby, he of the Corpse-Rat King, and we have dallied with Chris F Holm, Matthew Hughes and Guy Adams to name a few…their works are pictured below:

sixty one nailscorpse rat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dead harvestdamned busters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

world house

 

And so, to the ode.  See if you can spot the intended pun in the fifth line!

 

For Zombies and Monsters and Weirdies, oh my!,

on Angry Robot I always rely. 

For the kooky, the freakish or old-fashioned gore,

this publishing house really comes to the fore!

Want bold savage tomes and a wild, novel quest?

Then grab ye a bookmark and raid AR’s chest!

I’m not sure why I went all pirate in the last line, but such is the effect of Angry Robot.  It makes one step outside the box…usually into another larger box filled with flesh eating caterpillars or some other such freakishness.  So if the sound of an aggressive larval Lepidoptera squishing under your boot is music to your ears (…..shame on you…you should take a good long hard look at yourself Mr…or Ms….) then this is the publisher for you!

Until next time,

Mad Martha

 

 

 

Harold and the Purple…..Dalek?: Picture book pop culture…

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Just came across this gem of a tee design, based on the classic picture book Harold and the Purple Crayon. As I preside over that tome, as well as a small collection of Doctor Who novels (although none featuring the eleventh Doctor), it would seem the perfect gift for anyone wanting to purchase a gift for a sweet-natured, stony-faced gargoyle….not that I’m hinting or anything.

Although, if one were in the market for such a gift, one could purchase it here: http://www.anotherfinetee.com/  but only for the next three days.

Until next time,

Bruce