Library Larks: A Graphic Novel and a Picture Book after my own heart…

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library larks button proper

It’s the first rule of book reviewing that when you are suffocating under a pile of books for review and finding less and less time to get to the review pile, the first thing you should do is go to the library and get more books.

It just makes sense really.

So, given that I am woefully behind in my review schedule and have no less than seven books to read and review by the end of next week, I decided it was only fitting to pop to the library and grab two more to bring to your attention.  I’m glad I did actually, despite the stirrings of guilt, because I thoroughly enjoyed both of my choices.

First I picked Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol, which I had had my eye on since it was first released and I found it featured an old lady protagonist, knitting and telling people to bugger off – incidentally, three of my favourite things.

leave me alone

Given that Brosgol is the author/illustrator of multi-award winning graphic novel Anya’s GhostI suspected that the illustrations here were going to be great.  They were. Brosgol’s style features clean lines, blocks of colour and some fantastic facial expressions.  Most of all, I just loved this book because it was so funny.  The old woman is the matriarch of a home with an excessive amount of small children and so it’s unsurprising that she doesn’t get much alone time in which to knit.  After tramping out of the village with naught but a shouted “Leave me alone!”, the old lady traipses off through a variety of unlikely environments until she can get some peace and quiet in which to work on her knitting.

My favourite part of the story is when the woman passes through a wormhole to avoid her latest pursuers.  Honestly, the line “She swept the void until it was a nice matte black” has got to be one of the best in children’s literature.

This one is going to become a keeper for us.  I am left with no option but to buy my own copy I liked this story so much.

I also requested Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez because it’s far cheaper to borrow all the graphic novels I want to read from the library than buying them.  nightlights

Despite being in large picture book format, this is undoubtedly a graphic novel aimed at middle grade readers and older.  The story revolves around Sandy, a young girl who loves to draw and has trouble focusing in class …or anywhere for that matter…due to the intense concentration she exerts while drawing.  When Sandy meets Morfi, a new girl, their friendship at first seems to be buoying for Sandy, but as time progresses and Morfi appears in Sandy’s dreams, things aren’t quite as peachy for the pair as they appear.  The author has slipped in a neat little solution to the problem that will require a bit of reasoning out on the part of younger readers, but is satisfyingly clever and opens the door for Sandy to throw off the shackles that are holding her back.

The colours in Sandy’s drawings are so eye-catching and lush that they’d look just as good stuck in a frame on your wall.  The scenes set in Sandy’s dreamscapes are just creepy enough to indicate danger, yet are also filled with tiny details that call out to be pored over.  I enjoyed this story a lot and I think its larger format will make it a great choice for primary (and secondary!) school libraries.

Now, back to the review pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Exotic, Memoirish Double-Dip Review…with a side order of Alphabet Soup

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imageIt’s time to settle back with a fond-memory-inducing snack and enjoy today’s Double-Dip review that also features a side order of the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas.  We received both of today’s books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Both are memoirs of sorts, one featuring multiple road-trips in pursuit of knitting utopia, the other featuring the wacky world of one Pakistani-Canadian Muslim film-maker.  And on that appetising note, let’s get stuck in, shall we?

First up we have Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Zarqa Nawaz has always straddled two cultures. She’s just as likely to be agonizing over which sparkly earrings will “pimp out” her hijab as to be flirting with the Walmart meat manager in a futile attempt to secure halal chicken the day before Eid. Little Mosque on the Prairie brought Zarqa’s own laugh-out-loud take on her everyday culture clash to viewers around the world. And now, in Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, she tells the sometimes absurd, sometimes challenging, always funny stories of being Zarqa in a western society. From explaining to the plumber why the toilet must be within sitting arm’s reach of the water tap (hint: it involves a watering can and a Muslim obsession with cleanliness “down there”) to urging the electrician to place an eye-height electrical socket for her father-in-law’s epilepsy-inducing light-up picture of the Kaaba, Zarqa paints a hilarious portrait of growing up in a household where, according to her father, the Quran says it’s okay to eat at McDonald’s-but only if you order the McFish.  

laughing all the way to the mosqueDip into it for…

…a two-parts funny, one-part serious and one-part bizarre foray into the unfamiliar (to me!) world of Islam in the context of a Pakistani-Bengali-Canadian family.  I’m in two minds about this book because I assumed that, sitting, as I do, on the shelf of a pair of Catholics, there would be plenty of situations here that would feel like the familiar frustrations and giggle-worthy moments of those of us raised and immersed in institutionalised religion…but for most of the book I felt like I was reading something completely outside my experience.  Apart from the many humorous situations described, including the “cleanliness” section described in the blurb – who knew about THAT?! Muslims, I suppose – and Nawaz nonchalantly taking on the role of hostess for over one hundred family, friends and neighbours for a major religious holiday, there are also some quite serious issues discussed as well – such as how the author’s family dealt with a neighbour reporting her father-in-law to the authorities soon after 9/11 for having a “suspicious” shipping container in his front yard.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not prepared to embrace a story that flips from funny to unexpected to thought-provoking within a few pages.  If you are not a Muslim, and don’t know much about Islam, don’t dip if you aren’t prepared to discover rituals, theological points of contention and aspects of daily life that you never suspected existed.

Overall Dip Factor

While I did enjoy this book, I will admit to feeling an ever-present sense of slight discomfort while reading – mainly because it was during reading this book that I realised that while I thought I knew lots of “stuff” about Islam, I actually know VERY little about it.  I would certainly recommend this book as a fun, yet important, eye-opening reading experience about an ordinary family’s experience of their faith.   If there’s one thing I would have liked to hear more about though, it would be the TV series developed by Nawaz – Little Mosque on the Prairie.  How could this have gone for six seasons without me ever hearing about it? Bizarre.

Next, let us move on to Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Knitting aficionado and notable artisan Clara Parkes delves into her storied travels with this inspiring and witty memoir on a creative life enriched by her adventures around the world.

Building on the success of The Yarn Whisperer, Parkes’s rich personal essays invite readers and devoted crafters on excursions to be savored, from a guide who quickly comes to feel like a trusted confidante. In Knitlandia, she takes readers along on 17 of her most memorable journeys across the globe over the last 15 years, with stories spanning from the fjords of Iceland to a cozy yarn shop in Paris’s 13th arrondissement.

Also known for her PBS television appearances and hugely popular line of small-batch handcrafted yarns, Parkes weaves her personal blend of wisdom and humor into this eloquently down-to-earth guide that is part personal travel narrative and part cultural history, touching the heart of what it means to live creatively. Join Parkes as she ventures to locales both foreign and familiar in chapters like:

Chasing a Legend in Taos
Glass, Grass, and the Power of Place: Tacoma, Washington
A Thing for Socks and a Very Big Plan: Portland, Oregon
Autumn on the Hudson: The New York Sheep & Wool Festival
Cashmere Dreams and British Breeds: A Last-Minute Visit to Edinburgh, Scotland

Fans of travel writing, as well as knitters, crocheters, designers, and fiber artists alike, will enjoy the masterful narrative in these intimate tales from a life well crafted. Whether you’ve committed to exploring your own wanderlust or are an armchair traveler curled up in your coziest slippers, Knitlandia is sure to inspire laughter, tears, and maybe some travel plans of your own.

I1342768.pdfDip into it for…

…a fairly self-indulgent lark around various knitting hotspots aimed at those who are deeply embedded in the US and International “Knitting Scene”.  The book is replete with vignettes of Parkes’ time in various places around the world, for reasons related to knitting conferences, teaching and general knitting-based travel.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a hardcore knitter.  Or if you cringe at name-dropping.  Or if you don’t want to read excessively wordy descriptions of various hotel foyers.  Or if you don’t particularly care about “famous” people in the knitting scene and Parkes’ deep and abiding friendships with them.

Overall Dip Factor

I was really hoping that this was going to be the perfect contender for a Utopirama post.  Knitting and travel – what else could one want in life? Well, plenty, if you don’t enjoy any of the factors I’ve just mentioned above.  While there were plenty of chapter headings to draw me in here, I found the writing overall to be such that it seemed to specifically aim to alienate readers who are not knowledgeable about the movers and shakers in the knitting and design world.  As a friend of a crocheter, I had very little knowledge, or indeed, interest, in Parkes’ name-dropping.  The first story relates how Parkes came to know a particularly well-known (to everyone but me apparently) hand-spinner and dyer, which I would have found interesting if Parkes hadn’t insisted on ramming home HOW famous and HOW selective this lady was with her friendships.  There was a section on a trip to Iceland that was reasonably interesting, but I suspect this is because Iceland is an interesting place, not because Parkes’ writing made it so.  **On a side note, in this section, Parkes mentions two Australian co-travellers who she reckons say “Perth” like “Pith”.  This nearly had me throwing my kindle at the wall.  Australians would not say “Pith”. Ever.  The vowel sound in “Perth” is a diphthong and therefore it would be ridiculous for anyone to use a short vowel in the word.  I could have handled it if she said they pronounced it “Peer-th”, even though that would be closer to a Kiwi pronunciation, but not “Pith”.  Being a linguist, I feel like I’ve got the knowledge to pull Parkes up on this oneAnd if you have been slightly irritated by my digression into minutesubject-specific analysis and assertions that I know more stuff than you about linguistics, then you’ve probably just developed a good sense of what I was feeling while reading this book.** Despite my early misgivings, I soldiered on and was unimpressed to discover that the name-dropping and self-indulgent “I’m more into the knitting scene than you” tone continued.  Shame really.  Approach with caution.

As I mentioned before, I am submitting both of these books for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

If you want to see my progress so far in this challenge, click here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Mondays are for Murder: The Norfolk Mystery…

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Welcome to another Mondays are for Murder feature. I feel I must apologise for perhaps leading some of you up the garden path.  You see I mentioned in my last MafM feature that I would be featuring Dorothy L. Sayers work this time around.  Well, I did try. I picked up Whose Body? and tried to wade through it alongside Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, but I just couldn’t do it.  I don’t know whether it was the writing, the character or my mood at the time (or a combination of all three) but I quickly tired of Lord Peter (who, let’s face it, is no Poirot or Marple) and made an executive decision to move on.  Sorry.

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So instead, today I have the first in Ian Sansom’s “County Guides” series, The Norfolk Mystery.  I’ve had my eye on this one for a while and I finally found it at our new library so was spared the expense of buying it. Which turned out to be quite a spectacular turn of good luck, as you will discover. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In The Norfolk Mystery, the first in the County Guides series, we meet Swanton Morley. Eccentric, autodidact – the ‘People’s Professor.’ Morley plans to write a series of guides to the counties of England. He employs a young assistant, Stephen Sefton, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and together with Morley’s daughter, Miriam, they set off through Norfolk, where their sightseeing tour quickly turns into a murder investigation.

As Morley confronts the conventions of class, education and politics in 1930s England, as Sefton flees his memories of the war, and as Miriam seeks romance, join them on their first adventure into the dark heart of England.  When Morley’s map leads to mystery, no one is above suspicion!

norfolk mystery

I feel I should shed more light on the above blurb by mentioning that on arrival in their first port-of-call in Norfolk, to peruse a church of some significance, Sefton and Morley are greeted by a duo of upset ladies and are shown to the rectory, in which hangs the lifeless body of the village vicar.  I’m not entirely sure why the blurb is so obtuse about the central plot point, but consider yourself enlightened.

The Usual Suspects:

For all intents and purposes, the vicar’s death appears to be a suicide so until Morley mentions the possibility of murder, nobody had actually considered it.  Immediately upon mentioning murder, Morley and Sefton become chief suspects, being strangers who have conveniently turned up out of nowhere and happen to have stumbled upon a not-very-suspicious death.  When Morley and Sefton take up the potential case however, a host of village regulars come into play – the odious local professor, the village doctor, and various wives and barfolk who wish to keep themselves to themselves.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Again, since there is no official cause to suspect that the vicar’s death is murder, the investigation is kept somewhat on the down-low by Morley and Sefton, who conduct their interrogations through the veil of polite inquiry and socially-sanctioned conversation.  Suffice to say, this is one murder-mystery the likes of which I have never encountered.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip art

Two poison bottles for an abundance of unnecessary confusion and delay

In detailing some important point during the investigation, Morley notes that for most suicides, if one were to detail one’s thought processes, one might say “I would not have committed suicide, but for (insert situation here)”.  For example, “I would not have committed suicide, but for the fact that I went bankrupt” or whatever.  I feel it is appropriate to comment in the same vein on my enjoyment of this book.  So here goes:

I would have enjoyed this book, but for the inclusion of Morley himself, as I found him possibly the most distracting, annoying and generally convoluting character I have ever encountered, and would have enjoyed nothing more than to poke him with great force in his flabby underbelly with a sharpened fork.

If you are familiar with British sitcoms of the early 1990s, you will gain a fuller understanding of the character of Morley should I compare him to one Gordon Brittas, from  the BBC’s The Brittas Empire.  Only Morley is considerably more intelligent than Mr Brittas.  If you are unfamiliar with the aforementioned program, allow me to elaborate.  Morley is so verbose as to derail, it seems, even the author in his attempts to keep the plot following a reasonably efficient tack.  He is a well-intentioned character, but his entire reason for being appears to involve distracting, deflecting and otherwise drawing away the attention of the reader (and the poor, suffering Sefton) from the situation at hand.  In my opinion, what this book really needed was this, courtesy of Monty Python:

I had great hopes for this series, but as Morley has annoyed me so greatly I will not be continuing on and will leave Sefton to suffer in silence.  I will however, still have a go at the Mobile Library series written by Sansom, because I enjoyed his writing style, if not his main character.  I’d love to know what others have thought of this series if there are any among you who have read it though.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Feature Travel

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Today I’m indulging in one of my rare forays into communal blog posting, by participating in The Broke and the Bookish’s very popular (and discussion-inducing) TTT feature.  This week’s topic is…

my TOP TEN BOOKS THAT FEATURE TRAVEL IN SOME WAY!

I’ve divided my picks into categories for ease of perusal…

PICTURE BOOKS

possum magicThe quintessential travel guide to Australia for foodies and animal lovers alike!

are we there yet

Another award winning Australian picture book – this one features a family’s journey around the continent, with fantastic illustrations and great bite-size information about well-known (and not so well known!) Australian landmarks.

oh the places youll go

With brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose! Just watch your step so you don’t end up in a slump.

MIDDLE READERS/YOUNG ADULT FICTION

magician's nephew

Ah, the first (and my favourite) instalment in the Chronicles of Narnia, this tome has travel by magic ring, out-of-control-hansom-cab and flying horse…what more could one ask for?

attica

I came upon this book unexpectedly in the time before blogging and it has now become one of my absolute favourite books in the Narnian theme – that is, travel to another world through some sort of household orifice…in this case through the attic of a terraced house.  I’m not a die-hard fan of Garry Kilworth by any means, but this is a deeply engaging read that is perfect for independent readers in the pre-teen/early teen age bracket.

ultraviolet

Another unexpected favourite of mine – this one springs the travel theme on the reader about two thirds through the book.  I won’t say where or how the travel occurs because it was a great surprise to me when I first read it…but it’s unexpected, to say the least.  Incidentally the book deals with a teenage girl’s time in a psychiatric facility dealing with her suspected involvement in the disappearance of a classmate. Oh, and she’s also a sinaesthete.

sabriel

This modern fantasy tale sucked me back into reading many years ago after a reasonable period in which I had neither the energy nor the inclination to pick up a book.  Also the start of a great trilogy, it features cross country ski travel, enchanted paper plane travel, long-time-in-a-leaky-boat travel, wading-into-Death travel and the added accompaniment of quick-let’s-get-out-of-here, running-away-from-shuffling-hordes travel.

BOOKS FOR BIG PEOPLE

mrs queen

Imagine if you will, the Queen (yes, old ER herself!), wrapping up in a hoodie and taking off on the train.  Delightful, charming and oh-so-British.

call of the weird

I love Louis. And this book sees him travelling all around the US in search of those who practice…alternative lifestyles…of one sort or another.

andthentherewasnone

Ten people travel to an inaccessible island at the behest of a mysterious stranger. Nope, nothing could possibly go wrong.

Feel free to let me know what you think – and what I’ve missed!

Until next time,

Bruce