Bruce’s Shelfies: DNFs with Potential…

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A while ago I decided to take on a DNF (Did not finish) default policy for all books that came across my path, inspired by this post by Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings blog.  As a result, I no longer push myself to finish books when my interest is waning or I’m just not feeling the story….

…but…

…that doesn’t necessarily mean that because I decide to DNF a book, it’s because the book is bad.  Sometimes I DNF because I can’t push through fast enough, or I started off enjoying the book but then lost interest.  So it is for today’s two titles.  Read on to find out why I made the decision to put them down…and why you might like to pick them up.


 

built on bones

 

I received Built on Bones:15000 Years of Urban Life and Death by Brenna Hassett from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Humans and their immediate ancestors were successful hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but in the last fifteen thousand years humans have gone from finding food to farming it, from seasonal camps to sprawling cities, from a few people to hordes. Drawing on her own fieldwork in the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and beyond, archeologist Brenna Hassett explores the long history of urbanization through revolutionary changes written into the bones of the people who lived it.

For every major new lifestyle, another way of dying appeared. From the “cradle of civilization” in the ancient Near East to the dawn of agriculture on the American plains, skeletal remains and fossil teeth show evidence of shorter lives, rotten teeth, and growth interrupted. The scarring on human skeletons reveals that getting too close to animals had some terrible consequences, but so did getting too close to too many other people.

Each chapter of Built on Bones moves forward in time, discussing in depth humanity’s great urban experiment. Hassett explains the diseases, plagues, epidemics, and physical dangers we have unwittingly unleashed upon ourselves throughout the urban past–and, as the world becomes increasingly urbanized, what the future holds for us. In a time when “Paleo” lifestyles are trendy and so many of us feel the pain of the city daily grind, this book asks the critical question: Was it worth it?

Built on Bones is a nonfiction look at how our species evolved from roaming nomad hunter-gatherers, through a settled farming lifestyle to our current incarnation as urban couch potatoes and asks whether the trendy “paleo” way of living really is based on the actual way that hunter-gatherer societies functioned.  Hassett begins at the beginning, with the oldest remains of settled societies before moving on chapter by chapter toward our present-day urban living.  I put this one down after 109 pages – about halfway through chapter five – in the middle of an interesting discussion on equality and ways in which social power structures (in early societies as well as more modern ones) tend to shape who gets access to which food resources and how this then affects our understanding of historical societies when we dig up their bones.

This was a completely fascinating read, and one to use against that annoying “clean-eating, whole-food” aficionado that we all have in our social circle.  Hassett injects lots of humour into what is essentially an academic work, as well as plenty of footnotes that I came to think of as snide asides, and the only reason I have DNFed this as a review book is that it is taking me far too long to get through.  If you look at my Goodreads challenge you can see I’ve been reading it for over a month and I’m still only a third of the way through.  Seeing as the book is released this month, I really couldn’t see how I could possibly get through it all in order to give it a proper review in a timely fashion.

So this was a DNF for me review-wise, but I am certain that I will keep reading it until the end, although I can’t imagine how long that will take.  Definitely give it a go if you are interested in anthropology and how our access to and methods of making and consuming food impacts on our lifespan and general health.

carmer and grit

We received Carmer and Grit #1: The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.

In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.

This story is a complex steampunk/fantasy tale aimed at middle graders.  I enjoyed the initial chapters immensely, as they featured solid world building and a clean introduction to the problems that the characters were going to face later on, but I ended up putting this one down at 33%.  I have a hit and miss relationship with steampunk stories generally, but it was the magic elements of the story that put me off. I found that I was much more fascinated with the automatons that Carmer had dreams of building (and the mysterious, sinister automaton cat that appears early on) than with Grit, the fairy princess with a chip (and only one wing) on her shoulder.

While the mystery and the danger that the main characters would face was set up nicely, I just found my interest waning after a little while.  I can see this series gaining plenty of fans though, so if you enjoy your fantasy stories blended with another genre I would definitely give this one a go.


So what do you think?  Have either of these titles sparked your interest?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Children’s Book Week Chaser: Three Visually Stunning Australians…and a Giveaway (Int)!

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I know, I know, I’m a week late, but what I have for you this week is definitely worth the wait.  As you may or may not know, last week was Children’s Book Week in Australia and, never one to let the party end once the official celebrations are over, I am happy to announce that the rest of this week will be Children’s Book Week around the Shelf! Woo hoo!  You can expect new release (and a couple of older titles) perfect for the younglings in your life, right here, every day until Friday.

I am also pleased to announce that we’re kicking off with THREE (count ’em!) TOP BOOK OF 2016 PICKS!!

Bruce's Pick

As well as an International GIVEAWAY!!

Before you explode with excitement, let’s crack on!

Today I have three eyeball-burstingly attractive books for you from Australian authors.  One is a heartwarming book about numbers for the littlies, one is a steampunk cautionary tale for the tweens, and one is a jaw-droppingly incredible, atmospheric and significant piece of wordless storytelling for pretty much any age reader.  We should begin with heartwarming, don’t you think?

theres not one

There’s Not One (Jennifer Higgie) Published by Scribble, September 2016. RRP: $24.99

*We received a copy of this title from Scribble Publishing for review*

From Goodreads:

This joyous debut from well-known writer and editor Jennifer Higgie (Frieze Magazine) celebrates both the individual and the diversity of the world around us. In kaleidoscopic colour, Higgie takes young readers on a journey from some of life’s most important things (baked beans!) to some of life’s biggest wonders (stars!). The perfect early picture book for budding art lovers!

To give you an idea about how different There’s Not One by Jennifer Higgie is to your typical “counting” book for preschool aged children, here’s a glimpse of one of the double page spreads:

theres not one page spread

So much for the “One monkey, two bananas, three chunks of poo being flung” format you were expecting!  There’s Not One bypasses the smaller numbers and makes a beeline for those things which are, in many ways, quite difficult to quantify.  Raindrops, for instance.  Stars.  Colours.  Methods of transportation.  This book will attempt, in the most gentle way possible, to stymie your little one’s counting finger and open their mind to a broader perspective on number.  The eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling seemed to take the phrase “too many to count” as a personal challenge and repeatedly attempted to count the individual stars on the star-counting page.  He happily gave up after a few attempts, and turned his attention to the page with “a zillion” baked beans instead, so in that regard, this is a great book for occupying the attention of the more stubborn younglings of  your acquaintance.

There is a completely unexpected twist at the end of this book that is the perfect way to round out the imagining of numbers of such large scale.  The aforementioned mini-fleshling, on hearing the last few pages of the book, stared off into the distance for a few silent moments, before slowly smiling in a way that indicated a revelation of incredible magnitude had just slithered into his consciousness.  It was quite the most heartwarming thing this stony old gargoyle had seen in quite a while and made the reading experience completely worthwhile.

I would recommend this heartily to those aged between three and maybe seven years; those children who are of an age to get a grasp on the fact that some things come in quantities to large to be counted with a child’s pointing finger.  Having said that, those younger than that will adore the bright colours and patterns, even if they don’t quite grasp the concepts being relayed.

Judging from the mini-fleshling’s reactions to There’s Not One, we have to note that Higgie is on a winner here.

mechanica

Mechanica (Lance Balchin) Published by Five Mile Press, 1st September 2016. RRP: $24.95

*We received a copy of this title from Five Mile Press for review*

From Goodreads:

In this field guide from the future, a dashing explorer—Miss Liberty Crisp—details amazing creatures known as Mechanica: human-created life forms designed to replace extinct species. 

Set in the twenty-third century, the book describes how Earth could no longer support wildlife. The warnings had been ignored. Corporations continued to expose the environment to chemical and radioactive waste, and many Earth species began to disappear. By 2200, vast areas of the world had become uninhabitable and wildlife extinct. In place of the lost wildlife species, the corporations began to create Mechanica. But the Mechanica escaped their confinement, and started to develop in the wild on their own. Filled with inventive and awe-inspiring images and details, this book is sure to spark readers’ imaginations! Kids will marvel at the steampunk-inspired renderings of mechanical bugs, birds, bats, snakes, and more!

Who doesn’t love awesomely inventive creatures repopulating a post-apocalyptic landscape?  No one, that’s who!  Mechanica, with its slightly larger than average hardback format is sure to pull in both reluctant and unstoppable readers alike.  The book begins with a few pages detailing the world in which the mechanica thrive and the circumstances in which they were brought about.  Each page spread features clear and detailed images of the mechanical creature under discussion, plus a brief description of how it came to be and where it is commonly found:

mechanica page spread

The effective use of white space means that younger readers shouldn’t become overwhelmed by the amount of text per creature, and the handy index at the back means that youngsters can look up their favourite mechanica in a snap.  As an adult reader, this is quite an absorbing picture book, given the history and background that has been created for each creature.  The brief descriptions bring to life the environmental chaos that has resulted from the actions of humans and the overall sense of the book had me bringing to mind the “life finds a way” mantra/warning from the original Jurassic Park film!

This book has so many applications for the upper primary classroom that teachers would be foolish not to pick it up.  Off the top of my head I can think of curriculum links for art, history, geography, science, drama and both creative and nonfiction text creation.  Curriculum links aside, though, this is quite simply a beautifully produced text with original and engaging subject matter that will draw the eye of discerning readers of any age.

small things

Small Things (Mel Tregonning) Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th August, 2016. RRP: $29.99

*We received a copy of Small Things from Allen & Unwin for review*

From Goodreads:

On the cusp of having everything slip from his grasp, a young boy has to find a way to rebuild his sense of self. An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. With no words, only illustrations, Small Things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with worries but who learns that help is always close by. An extraordinary story, told simply and with breath taking beauty.

Even before opening this book, it’s obvious that it’s going to be an eye-popping reading experience.  Perhaps it’s for the best then, that this is a wordless picture book and one from which readers will take their own diverse impressions.  Small Things follows a period in the life of a young boy who is obviously struggling emotionally at school and home.  Given that there are no words, it is not explicitly stated that he is suffering from depression or anxiety, but for those who have experienced these afflictions for themselves, the visual cues will be obvious.  As the book continues, the reader is given glimpses into why things might seem so bad for the protagonist – but there are also clues that hope and support are around the corner.

The page spreads range from single page illustrations to the more typical graphic novel format of multiple frames to a page:

small things page spread

I found that these multi-framed pages required a bit of time and energy to peruse, as I didn’t want to miss anything that might be tucked away in the corners of the images, or misinterpret the story because I was skimming.  The monochrome colour scheme is essential to convey the atmosphere of the boy’s headspace, but I found that it too required a more focused approach to “reading” the story.

Despite the end of the story offering some sense of hope and normalisation to the boy’s experience, I was left with a lingering sense of dread that may or may not be related to the personal mental health experiences of the she-fleshling in our dwelling.  Because I jumped straight into the book without first reading the press release that accompanied it, I was unaware that this book is published posthumously to the author’s suicide, and the final illustrations were completed by that giant of Australian story-telling, Shaun Tan.  I left the book with the feeling that the story was poised on a knife-edge, even though the boy’s demeanor indicates that things might be looking up for him.  This ambivalence is no bad thing I suspect, because the complexity of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety invite such contradictions and this is something that needs to be openly discussed and acknowledged.

Although I would recommend this for older children, say upper primary and above, as well as adults, I think readers will engage with this book on their own level.  The more disturbing nuances of the imagery will probably go over the heads of readers at the younger end of the age bracket, but they should still appreciate the need for a sense of belonging and support that the book conveys.  Similarly, older readers will be able to uncover much more complex themes in the visual journey.  Whatever the age and maturity level of the reader however, this is a story that deserves a conversation – so be sure to share your opinion once you have drunk it all in.

Giveaway Time!!

One winner will be able to choose one of the above books as their prize!

This contest is open internationally – hooray!

To enter, answer this question in the comments below: 

Which of these books would you most like to win and why?

Giveaway will run from the moment this post goes live (now!) until midnight, Sunday September 4th, 2016, Brisbane time.

I will select one winner from the pool of eligible comments using a random number generator.  The winner will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen.  I will not be responsible for prizes lost or damaged in transit.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Graphic Novels Featuring Family Secrets” Edition…

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Saddle up suckers (and I mean that in the politest sense), it’s time for another Reading Round-Up! Today I have three graphic novels for you that are about as different as it’s possible for three graphic novels to be, yet they are all linked by a theme of family secrets. Or secret family. Or secretive family members. You get the idea.

We’ll roll through these in descending order of age-appropriateness, so let’s begin with one for the grown-ups.

October Faction, Volume 1 (Steve Niles & Damien Worm)october faction

Two Sentence Synopsis:

A family with an ancestral job of monster-hunting comes under attack from some seriously supernatural forces. In order to survive though, they’ll also have to deal with backstabbing, betrayal and secrets that are all too human.

Muster up the motivation because:

Along with the blood-splatting, monster-killing, robot-deflecting, zombie-evading action story, you will also get quite a delightful and charming tale of family bonding. So it’s the best of both worlds, really. I was surprised at how well developed the characters were, for the graphic novel format and I particularly enjoyed the twist at the end of this volume that, while satisfying, set the scene for increased monster-destruction in the next volume. I’d be very interested to see where this series goes, but as an opener, this was a fun, action-packed, engaging tale.

Brand it with:

Sibling rivalry, History coming back to bite you, family diversity

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

Now one for the YA set:

The Clockwork Sky, Volume 1 (Madeleine Rosca)clockwork sky

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Teenaged Sally Peppers is sent to stay with her Uncle, London’s foremost provider of steampowered automatons, after some anti-social behaviour at her school. After managing to escape from the clutches of her odious governess, Sally reluctantly teams up with steampowered police-bot Sky and uncovers some sinister facts about her Uncle’s business empire.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you enjoy steampunk, you’ll enjoy the rich world that Rosca has created here. Steambots aside, the story itself is fast-paced with Sally’s headstrong thoughtlessness balanced by the overly cautious, right-thinking Sky. The story ends on a cliff-hanger, leaving us hanging just as the meat of the story is revealed but there is at least one clue to how things might turn out partway through. The art style is manga and the story is easily short enough to be read in one sitting. I’m hanging out to see how the series develops.   Oh, and did I mention that Rosca is Australian? Bonus points!

Brand it with:

Steamy conflict, sewer-racing, behavioural problems in teens

And finally, one for the MG kids:

Punky Brewster, Volume 1 (Joelle Selner & Lesley Vamos)punky brewster

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Loveable homeless rogue Punky Brewster is found aiding and abetting a hustler in a store robbery, and sent to a group home. On discovering a long-lost cousin, the grouchy old Henry, Punky sees her chance at a great home – but can she and her dog Brandon convince the authorities (and Henry) that this is where she belongs?

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s Punky Brewster for a whole new generation. I’m sorry, I would have thought that was the obvious reason to read it. And fans of the original (and I definitely include myself among that number) will be happy to know that this is true to the original story, right down to the annoyingly quirky word mix-ups that Punky indulges in every so often. For purists, Henry does seem significantly younger as a cartoon than he was in the original, but apart from that, the tale contains all the cheekiness and hair-brained schemes that one could hope for. I did find it a bit strange that modern references to mobile phones and computers and texting and things were plonked right in the middle of a classic 80s environment, but it surely won’t phase young readers discovering Punky for the first time. Long live the random-bandana-tied-around-the-leg fashion statement.

Brand it with:

Young Punks, lonely old widowers, petty crime, 80s pop culture

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

I hope you can find something to rope you in amongst this lot. And just for old times’ (old-timers?) sake, here’s the Punky Brewster theme song.

 

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Oddly Unmoved: A Review of Unseemly Science…

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Today I have another submission for my personal Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge. I received this book from the publisher, Angry Robot, via Netgalley after pondering whether or not I should request it. You see, today’s book is the second in a series and I haven’t read the opening book. I speak of Unseemly Science: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2 by Rod Duncan. I um-ed and ah-ed a bit over whether I should attempt a sequel without having read its predecessor, but decided in the end that the blurb looked intriguing enough to override my worries.

I am submitting this book into the Challenge under the categories of Odd Setting, given that the book features a strange version of the United Kingdom (I think – my mild confusion over this will become apparent) which is split into a monarchy and a republic. I’m also submitting under the Odd Character category because the main character is a lady who is also her own brother.

Let’s crack on into the unknown then, shall we? Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In the divided land of England, Elizabeth Barnabus has been living a double life – as both herself and as her brother, the private detective. Witnessing the hanging of Alice Carter, the false duchess, Elizabeth resolves to throw the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook into the fire, and forget her past. If only it were that easy! There is a new charitable organisation in town, run by some highly respectable women. But something doesn’t feel right to Elizabeth. Perhaps it is time for her fictional brother to come out of retirement for one last case…? Her unstoppable curiosity leads her to a dark world of body-snatching, unseemly experimentation, politics and scandal. Never was it harder for a woman in a man’s world…

unseemly science

Intriguing blurb, no?  I concur.

So what’s the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook? No idea.  Why was Alice Carter hanged? Couldn’t tell you.  What’s haunting about Elizabeth Barnabus’ past? Not an inkling.

It turns out that in this particular series, all the world building happens in the first book and if you haven’t read it, you will be mired in slight confusion for at least the first third of the story.  This is fair enough, I suspect.  If you go into a second book with an obviously obtuse blurb, as I chose to, you probably shouldn’t expect to be coddled by the author with all the information you missed by not bothering to read the first book.  And while it was obvious that the world of this story had been built while I wasn’t paying attention, the actual thrust of the story was perfectly simple to follow, albeit without the nuances that knowing Elizabeth’s past would have added.  Suffice to say, she’s an ex-monarchy-dweller on the run from a powerful Duke to whom she was sold.

It turns out that she also moonlights as some kind of detective, and sometimes impersonates her fictitious brother.  This is where we dip into the part of the story that drew me in – the mystery of the charitable organisation and the body-snatching and unseemly experimentation promised in the blurb.  It takes literally half the book to get to the real meat of any investigatory business, as the first half is devoted to Elizabeth’s attempts to escape from the Republican officials’ new law to repatriate monarchists to their place of birth.  Once we get to the investigation part, the action explodes and the pace of the plot quadruples as we charge toward a twisty, dangerous ending.

Surprisingly (for me, anyway…maybe not for you), the action and autopsies of the second half of the book didn’t make up for the slow start and extended running and hiding of the first half.  I really enjoyed the ladies’ foray into the territory of the ice farmers and Julia’s code-breaking attempts were a bit of fun riddle-solving, but otherwise I felt this to be a reasonably slow burn, with an ending that didn’t quite provide the thrill I was looking for.  Plus, of course, there was the general sense that I was missing something important pretty much the whole way through.

To my surprise, at the end of the book I discovered a glossary of sorts that spelled out all the nuances of the Gas-Lit Empire and much of the stuff I had missed.  As I came upon this after having ploughed through the whole book, I decided that I couldn’t be bothered filling myself in on the vital information that would probably have made the reading experience a bit more enriching.  I feel I have discharged my duty by having told you about it though, so if you wish to attempt this book without having read the first one, you’ll know to start with this elusive glossary first.

Discounting the fact that I didn’t have a full working knowledge of the world in which the story is set (given that this was entirely of my own choosing), I would have to say that overall this was an interesting diversion into an original imagining of England.  While the pace was slower than I expected, there was enough mystery and intrigue to keep me turning the pages.  If you’re a fan of alternative history, steampunk and strong female protagonists with mad evasion skills, then this will probably tickle your fancy, although I would strongly recommend starting with book one and saving yourself some brainache.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 9/16

Until next time,

Bruce

A Middle-Grade Steampunk Maniacal Book Club Review: The League of Seven…

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manical book club button

Hold on to your clockwork propeller hats and affix your brass goggles firmly to your face, because the Maniacal Book Club has a rip-snorting steampunk adventure for you today!  Now in the past I’ve been a bit ambivalent about the whole steampunk genre – it seems like something that I should really enjoy but for some reason I had not found any examples of it that I could really get excited about.  But that all changes today, because with The League of Seven by Alan Gratz and Brett Helquitz, I have discovered a book that had me wound up (clockworky pun intended) for days.  It’s got monsters, clockwork robot butlers, scary mind-controlling insect she-goddesses, unusual powers, secret societies and it’s set in an alternate version of the 1800s.  Let us plunge in – full steam ahead!

The League of Seven

Archie Dent’s parents are part of the mysterious and secret Septemberist society – a group existing since ancient times, whose job it is to protect the world from the monstrous Mangleborn.  The Mangleborn have been trapped in underground prisons for a milennia, but it seems that once again they are attempting to rise up and destroy humanity.  The legends say that every time the Mangleborn rise, a new League of Seven is created – humans with particular skills that come together to put the Mangleborn back into their earthly prisons once more.

When Archie and his parents (along with their clockwork robot valet, Mr Rivets) are called to a secret Septemberist society meeting, the last thing Archie expects is to find his parents – and the entire High Council – controlled by a swarm of evil insects burrowing into their necks.  It appears that someone is attempting to re-harness electricity in this steam-driven world in order to unleash the Mangleborn once again.

The only thing for it is for Archie and Mr Rivets to follow his insect-laden parents and try to stop the Mangleborn Swarm Queen, Macasah Ahasherat, from breaking out into the world.  Along with the technologically talented Fergus and brooding warrior girl Hachi, Archie must try to undo the evil that is about to be unleashed – but Archie himself is harbouring a secret so deep that not even he knows how it will affect his destiny…

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

Friends, long has it been the case that stories for the young have told of the battle between good and evil.  Archie’s tale  reminds us that no matter how small, we all have a part to play in creating a world of peace and freedom for each other.

The friendship between Hachi, Fergus and Archie inspires us to lean on our friends in our time of need, as we are all important cogs in the great machine.  And finally, Mr Rivets demonstrates to us that even in the face of mind-manipulating insect minions burrowing into one’s spinal column, the proper use of etiquette can make all the difference.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothlessNo dragons in this book….but there are BIG MONSTER INSECTS and ZAPPING ELECTRICITY AND WHACKING AND BASHING AND AIRSHIPS CRASHING AND GIANTS WHO CRUSH THINGS AND….

(*Bruce here: He goes on in this vein for quite some time, so I’ve done some judicious editing*)

…AND THEN THERE’S A BIG ROBOT WITH RED EYES THAT TRIES TO KILL EVERYONE and…and…did I mention the big monster insects?

A couple more dragons would have been nice, but I think boys who like monsters and insects and zapping and crashing will like this book.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club marthaIf you want to be a Septemberist, you may face dangers on this list,

including (but not limited to), monstrous beings that will kill you,

rogue robotic clockwork men, for whom hate is a state of zen,

and scientists, in loony glee, who’ll murder indiscrim’nantly.

But on the bright side, you’ll find those who’ll walk with you through wretched woes,

and you’ll travel, (with some gripes), through pneumatic postal pipes,

proving true, why I’ll be sworn, that you can beat those Mangleborn.

Bruce

maniacal book club bruceI think I’m just going to put it out there: this book was the surprise favourite of the year so far for me.  As I mentioned, I feel like steampunk is something that should appeal to me, given my taste in reading, but it just hasn’t turned out to be my thing.  Gratz however, has created such an interesting, engaging, complex and exciting world here that I couldn’t help but be drawn straight in.

One of my favourite things about The League of Seven is the alternate history of the world.  Gratz has created an America of the late 1800s in which Native Americans and European settlers live together under the banner of a United Nations.  As such, the First Nations people of North America are afforded an equal status as characters and the differences between tribal groups are accepted and form part of the rich tapestry of the world.  Now I know that this is a fantasy story, but it is fantastic to see a story for young people, (even a made-up one), in which First Nations characters and culture are given equal standing with those of European heritage – and I must say, the world-building is much stronger for it.

The early part of the story, in which the legend of the Mangleborn is explained and Archie’s parents come under the control of the Swarm Queen, put me in mind of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy, featuring as it did, extremely powerful monsters that have been imprisoned in the earth with wards and codes and puzzles in the hope that they’ll never get out.  The world and the background underpinning it is so unique though, that this feeling of familiarity soon turned into a happy glow in the back of my mind as I ventured deeper into the story with Archie, Fergus and Hachi.

The characters are complex and well-developed, with each of the three protagonists having comprehensive back-stories that feed nicely into their placement in the emerging League of Seven.  Archie is immediately likeable and as I didn’t see the twist in his personal history coming, I found that it provided a satisfying bit of emotional grist to balance out the action of the final chapters.  Mr Rivets is also a wonderful character, providing the much-needed grown-up’s perspective in the temporary absence of any trustworthy adult humans to assist the three adventurers.

Overall this is a hefty, electrifying (pun-intended!), fun, nail-biting ride with a fantastic setting and thorough world development.  I highly recommend it to those in the upper end of the middle grade bracket who enjoy steampunk, or who are looking for a story in the fantasy genre, that is packed with action and puzzling mysteries.  Older readers will also find plenty to get their teeth into here, expecially lovers of the steampunk genre.  The Book Club gives it….

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FOUR THUMBS UP

…which is a big call, given that at least two of us don’t actually have thumbs.

The League of Seven is the first of a trilogy and I will definitely be hanging out (of my airship!) to see  how the fortunes of the League pan out.

Until next time,

Bruce

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review*

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Flash Giveaway (Australia Only): The Buried Life…

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Yes, you heard right! It’s a flash giveaway and it’s exclusively for Aussie residents – yipyah!

Thanks to Angry Robot Books, I am giving away one print ARC copy of The Buried Life by Carrie Patel.  This gaslight/steampunk murder mystery is due for release in early August, so the lucky winner will be among the first to get their paws on a copy.

the buried life

Here’s the synopsis (from Goodreads):

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Ricoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

Sound like your kinda thing? Of course it does. So enter using the rafflecopter link!

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Good luck,

 

Bruce

 

 

 

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The Rithmatist: Read it if….

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Rejoice fleshlings, for today I bring you tidings of great joy – the good-book drought has broken!  Today’s offering from Brandon Sanderson, The Rithmatist, has brought me back to the lush, green delta of compulsive reading.

rithmatist

The Rithmatist follows the fates of Joel, son of a chalk-maker and all round ordinary sort of guy, who is completing his schooling at an institution dedicated partly to the teaching of Rithmatics. Rithmatists have a special ability to bring chalk drawings to life, an ability which comes in useful in Sanderson’s particular alternate universe given that wild chalklings (two-dimensional creatures made of chalk) can eat people…skin first in most cases.  Joel desperately wants to be a Rithmatist, but must content himself with studying the theory – until Rithmatic students on Joel’s campus start disappearing and he becomes much more involved in the fates and fortunes of the Rithmatic community than he could ever have hoped.  Thus begins a wholly original tale that has it all – murder, mayhem, mystery, monsters, mystical doodling and…much else besides, not necessarily starting with M.

 

Read it if:

* you are unable to walk past an author with a rhyming first and last name

* you can stand the sound of chalk scraping on a blackboard

* you believe that the fantasy/gearpunk/murder-kidnapping mystery/coming-of-age sub-genre is woefully under-represented in modern YA literature

* you like your alternate universes original, solid and drawn (pardon the pun) from an interesting new premise – I mean chalk monsters! Way more interesting than your run-of-the-mill shuffling horde

* you fervently believe YA fiction is far better off without (a) a broody looking long-haired girl on the cover and (b) crappy, forced love triangles between aforementioned broody-looking girl, attractive clean-cut young man number one and attractive rebel without a cause young man number two

 

I  am, quite frankly, astounded that I have not come across Mr. Sanderson’s work before, but I will definitely seeking out more of his stuff in the future.  One of the stand-out bits of The Rithmatist is the confident world-building that Sanderson has accomplished. He has managed to pull off a story set in a completely original and believable alternate-Earth, without getting bogged down in describing the ways and workings of the whole deal.  This in turn allows his characters to drive the narrative – another strength of the work.

If you’re looking for something completely different, with engaging characters and some really novel concepts, you could do a lot worse than this book.  And if the cover above doesn’t take your fancy, it’s also been released in the cover below!

Rithmatist 2

Ahhh, it’s good to be back in the world of enthusiastic reading again. Mr Sanderson, I thank you!

Until next time,

Bruce