It’s Time for a Spontaneous Giveaway!

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spontaneous

Remember how I said I had another Aaron Starmer book coming up soon, in my review of The Riverman?  Well thanks to Harper Collins Australia, I also get to give you the chance to WIN a copy of said Aaron Starmer book: new release YA read, Spontaneous!

So you know what you’re getting yourself in for, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It’s an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard from the President of the United States.

Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye.

Yep, you read that right.  This book features multiple spontaneous combustions and the resulting messiness that accompanies such a phenomenon.  The copy of the book that I will be giving away even comes with a free splatter jacket for your convenience!

So, Spontaneous.  I would be lying if I said I enjoyed it as much as I did The Riverman – the two books are wildly different in narrative style – but Spontaneous has a gory, bizarre charm all its own.  The book reminded me strongly of Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn, in that it hinges on one absolutely wacky and unexpected concept – in this case, spontaneous combustion of students in a particular high school class – and tries to wring an entire novel out of the same.

Mara, the narrator, has a serious problem with flight of ideas.  As a storyteller, she’s all over the place, hopping from topic to topic like a bunny trapped in a geodesic dome constructed entirely of springs, in a manner that readers will either find hilarious or extremely irritating. There are some genuinely funny scenes and one-liners here, but I’m pretty sure some readers will find Mara’s rapid changes of topic tiresome after a bit.  Apart from Mara, characters include Dylan, a mysterious and possibly delinquent boy that Mara immediately falls for (which, rather than being a case of insta-love, seems to just be how Mara rolls), and an X-files-esque FBI agent who Mara may or may not have an unhealthy fascination with.  I won’t mention any other teen characters because I don’t want to spoil the surprise when one or another of them goes pop when you least expect it.

Overall, I found this to be a fun, if utterly outlandish, read and I would recommend it to those of you who are stout of heart and happy to just go with the flow as the world of your current read falls down (or blows up, as the case may be!) around you.

If you are still game to have at Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer, then click on the Rafflecopter link below to try your luck.  One winner will win a copy of the book plus a splatter jacket.  This giveaway is open internationally and other Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce
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A Wild, YA Double-Dip Review: Chronicling Dementia and Obesity…

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Today I have a diary-ish Double-Dip for you, with two very different social issues discussed from the point of view of teenagers past and present.  We received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s settle down with a memorable and/or healthy snack and check them out.

First up, we have The Dementia Diaries: A Novel in Cartoons by Matthew Snyman and the Social Innovations Lab, Kent.  here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Brie’s Granddad has always been a serious man, never without a newspaper and knowing the answer to everything. But now he keeps losing track of the conversation, and honestly, Brie doesn’t really know how to speak to him. At first, Fred was annoyed that Gramps had come to live with them, it meant he had to give up his room! But then he starts to enjoy watching old films with him and spending time together… although there’s the small problem of Gramps calling him Simon.

Follow the stories of Brie, Fred, and other young carers as they try to understand and cope with their grandparents’ dementia at all stages of the illness. Adapted from true stories, and supplemented with fun activities and discussion ideas, this book for children aged approximately 7-14 cuts to the truth of the experience of dementia and tackles stigma with a warm and open perspective.

Dip into it for…dementia diaries

A highly engaging and light-hearted read that sheds some light on a major health issue around the world, from the perspective of youngsters living with a relative who has dementia.  The book is structured to reflect the progression of the disease, from the early stages, through the diagnosis, and what happens when the patient can no longer be looked after in their own home.  The young people’s illustrated stories are accessible and demonstrate the range of emotions, challenges and changes that the family experiences when trying to support a family member with dementia.  Each chapter also suggests further tasks, research and discussion questions, making this a perfect resource for the classroom.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for an in-depth exploration of how supporting a person with dementia affects a young person psychologically.  The stories related here are intended to be a teaching tool and point of access for young readers to get a glimpse into what might be expected when caring for a family member with dementia.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is a clever method of providing young people with information on a relevant topic in an enjoyable and non-confrontational way.  The different experiences of the diarists are perfect conversation starters and allow young people who may be feeling alone in their situation to realise that many others face similar challenges and have similar emotions about the changes happening for their loved one.  More than that however, the book is simply an interesting, fun and touching read, regardless of whether or not one has experience with the illness and its affects.

Next up, we have a bit of historical narrative non-fiction with My Mad Fat Diary by Rae Earl.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s 1989 and Rae Earl is a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint green bathroom and a refrigerator Rae can’t keep away from. She’s also just been released from a psychiatric ward. My Mad Fat Diary is the hilarious, harrowing and touching real-life diary Rae kept during that fateful year and the basis of the hit British television series of the same name now coming to HULU. Surrounded by people like her constantly dieting mum, her beautiful frenemy Bethany, her mates from the private school up the road (called “Haddock”, “Battered Sausage” and “Fig”) and the handsome, unattainable boys Rae pines after (who sometimes end up with Bethany…),My Mad Fat Diary is the story of an overweight young woman just hoping to be loved at a time when slim pop singers ruled the charts. Rae’s chronicle of her world will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been a confused, lonely teenager clashing with her parents, sometimes overeating, hating her body, always taking herself VERY seriously, never knowing how positively brilliant she is and keeping a diary to record it all. My Mad Fat Diary – 365 days with one of the wisest and funniest girls in England.

mad fat diary

Dip into it for…

…some of the greatest, angsty, rhyming teen poetry ever seen.  There were echoes of Adrian Mole in this amusing foray back to the eighties, except Rae is obviously a lot smarter and more insightful than fictional Adrian.  Some parts – such as the name-calling from random strangers and friends alike – are quite hard to read and other parts are simply quite funny.  This being a North American edition of the book, there is also a glossary of sorts in the front, explaining all the British terms that our friends across the Pond might not be familiar with.  For me, this was the funniest part of the whole reading experience as I imagined confused Americans flicking back to the glossary to decipher Rae’s cryptic ramblings.  Adrian Mole art imitating life indeed!

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a reading experience that involves enormous changes in the diarist by the end of the tome.  One of the problems of diaries is that much of the change recorded happen little by little, and by our very habitual nature, much of the content becomes repetitive after a while.

Overall Dip Factor:

Rae is a supremely relatable narrator and her anguish and triumphs and daily struggles will be recognisable to teens of today as well as those of us who were there the first time around.  It will no doubt be quite an eye-opener for youngsters of today to note that Rae has to use the phone booth down the street because her mother won’t get a phone at home! Overall, this is an absorbing read in parts and generally a humorous jaunt into the mind of a teenager on the outer.

Until next time,

Bruce

A YA Fiction Double-Dip: Bobby Ether and Drawing Amanda…

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G’day folks and welcome to my YA Double-Dip.  I’ve got two YA indie fiction titles for you today (obviously) – Bobby Ether and the Academy by R. Scott Boyer and Drawing Amanda by Stephanie Feuer.  I received a digital copy of both books from the publisher (Bobby via Netgalley and Amanda via Hipso Media) in return for an honest review.  So let’s get cracking!

One minute Bobby is shooting the miraculous winning basket at his school’s basketball match and the next hebobby ether‘s being whisked away by a mysterious woman named Cassandra, with two large men in suits in hot pursuit.  It seems Bobby has a hidden talent – an ability to manipulate the energy in himself and in the outside world, in order to do extraordinary things – but this is the first Bobby’s heard of it!  Before he knows it, Bobby is stolen away from Cassandra by the suited men and taken to The Academy – a boarding school hidden high in the mountains of Tibet, run by monks and teachers with extraordinary abilities.  Bobby tries to blend in and slowly makes a few good friends, but the snooty Ashley and her thuggish sidekicks immediately begin to make Bobby’s life difficult.  And making friends with Ashley’s younger brother Jinx sure doesn’t helped that relationship.

As Bobby learns more about the Academy, he and his friends discover that there is something sinister going on that may reach all the way to the headmistress.  But can Bobby stay out of trouble long enough to uncover the secret? Or will Ashley and her friends always be there to get in the way?

Dip into it for….

…a very original premise.  I’ve not read anything much like this before in YA – the book has a real focus on power coming from the natural energy available within ourselves, as opposed to a paranormal type of talent.  There’s  a bit of focus on meditation and how to unlock the potential within and the monks in the book are a really interesting addition to the overall makeup of characters.  Master Jong, one of Bobby’s teachers, turns out to be quite the (metaphorical) ass-kicking, supermonk by the end of the story and ended up being one of my favourite characters.  The plot is also pretty complex, featuring a shady agency (the Academics) whose motives and intentions for the talented young people they educate isn’t exactly clear, and there are a lot of characters whose true loyalties are shrouded, making it difficult for Bobby (and the reader!) to know who to trust.

There is also a clear (but not cheesy) theme of the strength of friendship and the power inherent in knowing oneself that runs throughout the book, freshening the whole plot up a bit and helping it avoid descending into a teen version of a politico-psychological thriller.

Also, there’s a creepy bald kid with a malevolent ferret. You’ve got to admit, you don’t see that every day.

Don’t Dip if…

…you’re not into plots that take a while to unfold or plots that have a lot of twists and turns and red herrings thrown in.  I also felt that a lot of the mean-girl type bullying from Ashley and her goons was a bit contrived, given the setting (would super-talented kids trained in mindfulness and meditation locked away in the Himalayas (some since birth) really bother with petty schoolyard antics to such a degree?).  Some of the initial action which results in Bobby’s arrival at the Academy, and his responses afterward also didn’t ring true to me.  I can’t really elaborate much, due to potential spoilers, but Bobby’s behaviour didn’t seem in character for someone who had been through a recent personal trauma.

Overall Dip Factor:

Take a risk on something different.  Despite a few flaws, I was drawn in and despite feeling that I should put it down in a few places, I didn’t and was quite satisfied that I stuck with it because I ended up enjoying the adventure of the resolution.  Plus, Jinx is a cool character.  And of course there’s the malevolent ferret.

In Drawing Amanda we follow “Inky” Kahn as he struggles on entering high school afteDrawing Amandar the recent death of his father in a plane crash.  His mother has left him to his own devices and to manage his grief, Inky turns to his artistic abilities.  Amanda is new to school following her family’s migration from Nairobi to New York, and is finding it more than difficult to fit in amongst the various groups at the international school.  When Inky’s best friend Rungs gives him the link to a website developing a new video game, Inky thinks he might have a chance to show his art to a wider audience. Unbeknownst to Rungs and Inky, Amanda manages to copy the link and also logs in to the game-in-development, Megaland.  When Inky starts submitting his drawings for the game, based on his classmate Amanda’s looks, things start to get  complicated.  And when Rungs delves a bit deeper into the makers behind Megaland, it becomes apparent that things are about to get very tricky indeed.  Unless he can convince both Inky and Amanda of what he has discovered, both his friends may be exposed to more danger than either can handle on their own.

Dip into it for…

…a contemporary tale about fitting in, growing up and facing your demons.  This was a nice change of pace from my usual fare because I don’t often read books in the YA category that don’t have some kind of paranormal or fantasy or psychological twist.  This was a very straightforward plot and I enjoyed the simplicity of the story, while also appreciating the various trajectories of character development for the main four characters.  The setting of an international school gave rise to a diverse range of characters and I loved how Feuer managed to seamlessly work cultural and religious backgrounds into the story without making it sound contrived.  I even learned not to show the soles of my feet to a Buddhist if I wish to remain in their good karmic books!

Central to Inky’s character development is the idea of grief and bereavement, and the pressure that can be placed on the bereaved to “move on” and regain one’s former pace of life after a particular period of time has passed.  It was interesting to see this played out with both a male and female character simultaneously in the book, as Inky’s ex-friend Hawk is also recovering from the death of a parent.  The theme of creating one’s identity is also quite strong as Amanda attempts to find a new way of being in a context in which everyone else seems to have already cemented their place.

The underlying plot point about internet safety is played out with a fair amount of realism and Feuer manages to avoid preaching about it, instead demonstrating how easy it is for those who feel emotionally vulnerable to be taken advantage of by someone they think they know.

Don’t Dip if…

…you’re looking for anything particularly fast-paced or with a focus on action or romance.  It aint’ here.

There is however a fair chunk towards the end of the book that deviates from the main story arc and focuses on the main characters’ major assignment for the year.  While this section was interesting in itself, I felt it popped up at a weird place in the story because Rung’s investigation into the Megaland maker had just become exciting and this deviation slowed the pace a little bit.  This wasn’t reason enough to abandon the book by any means, but you might want to watch out for a few asides now and then.

Overall Dip Factor:

This will appeal greatly to kids in the younger YA age group, say 12 to 15 years, because it features very relatable characters and deals with the issues that many kids face when trying to stake out an identity in a crowded social arena.  Also, the story is simple and relevant to anyone who uses the internet for social activities – so I suspect this story will appeal to parents and teachers of readers in this age bracket as well.  In fact, it would probably make a great launching point for discussion in lower secondary classrooms about mindful internet usage amongst young people.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Skin and Bones ARC: Read it if…

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Afternoon all! Today’s offering Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan is due for publication in March 2014, so this review will be based on an eARC obtained from the publisher via NetGalley – thanks!

Skin and Bones follows the story of Jack (aka Bones) as he spends some time in a hospital inpatient program designed for teens with eating disorders.  Ever since a shop assistant handed Bones a pair of “husky” jeans to try on, he has had a troubling relationship with food.  Bones enters the program obviously in need of a few good hot meals and some probing therapy and finds himself  sharing a room with Lard, a compulsive overeater who is learning the cooking trade.  While in the program Bones meets Alice, a ballet dancer and fellow sufferer of anorexia – although from Alice’s point of view, she glories in it rather than suffering.  The book takes us on Bones’ journey of inner discovery, with some comic relief on the way, towards his eventual return to the outside world.

skin and bonesRead it if:

* you can’t go past a novel set in any kind of pyschiatric facility (surely there is a word for this sort of compulsion?)

* you have ever wondered how you could repurpose an idle dishwasher for the task of low-fat cooking

* you have ever been accidentally (or deliberately) insulted by an unthinking shop assistant/relative/friend/passerby and considered changing your entire lifestyle as a result

* you have any kind of interest in eating disorders, how they manifest, and how one might go about addressing them

Skin and Bones was an enjoyable and reasonably engaging read from my point of view.  I happen to have the (as yet) unnamed compulsion of attempting to read any and all novels set in psychiatric facilities that I can lay hands upon.  From that perspective, this book is pretty formulaic.  You have the cast of slightly odd but loveable patients, the ward staff who range from motherly to smothering, and the head therapist who is inevitably considered inept and patronising by all his patients.  The point of difference for this book however is the particular disorders with which it concerns itself.

As noted at the end of the book, eating disorders are highly prevalent among young people and on the rise among young men in particular.  This novel then could really hit a chord with teen readers who have experienced, or know someone who is experiencing, issues with food and/or body image.  Having not a great deal of prior knowledge in this field, the wily tricks that Bones and Alice used to assist them in their constant pursuit of weight loss were quite mind-boggling, and a real eye-opener into the complexity of this disease.  Also, given the relatively small amount of attention given in the media to males who are battling with negative perceptions of body image, this book could have great value in shining some light on how our crazy modern world has adversely affected young men.

Overall I found this to be an interesting addition to the genre, but not one that particularly stood out from the crowd.  For those YA readers who are into a bit of realism in their reading, this book will scratch an itch and hopefully allow readers to gain some new insights into the spectre of mental illness and eating disorders.

Just out of interest, for those thinking of joining the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge for 2014, Skin and Bones could potentially be an ideal choice for category five (a book with something that comes in pairs in the title), or category seven (a book with something unsightly in the title).  Hint, hint!

Also, just a reminder that the Kid Lit Giveaway Hop Holiday Extravaganza is still running for another week – click here to enter my giveaway and see the list of other participating blogs!

Until next time,
Bruce

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Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)