YAhoo! It’s a YA Review: Fir…

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It’s time for a little YA and today’s book is a dark, shadowy tale of the power of nature and the puniness of humans.  We received Fir by Sharon Gosling from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

We are the trees. We are the snow.

We are the winter.

We are the peace. We are the rage.

Cut off from civilization by the harsh winter of northern Sweden, the Stromberg family shelter in their old plantation house. There are figures lurking in the ancient pine forests and they’re closing in. With nothing but four walls between the Strombergs and the evil that’s outside, they watch and wait for the snows to melt.

But in the face of signs that there’s an even greater danger waiting to strike, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from illusion. All they’ve got to do is stay sane and survive the winter…

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I had high hopes for this one, given that it featured creepy trees – a collective character that, it must be admitted, surely doesn’t get enough coverage in YA – and a cold, dark setting that I hoped would be a mental escape from the unrelenting heat of Australian summer.  Unfortunately I ended up DNFing at just over halfway, having given the book plenty of time to grab my attention and hold it.

The two biggest problems I had with this one were the slow pace and the stilted dialogue mixed with tedious monologue. I just couldn’t be bothered to stick around and find out what the trees were planning, or indeed, if they were planning anything at all and not just a figment of the narrator’s imagination.  The suspense aspect takes its time in building up, which is perfectly forgivable, provided the characters around which the suspense is building are interesting enough to inspire a sense of protectiveness from the reader.  I found most of the characters to be reasonably unlikable – the teen narrator is angsty and moody, the father is arrogant and stubborn and the mother is overly conciliatory – and so would have happily seen them eaten by trees …or whatever…and for this reason, somewhere along the line the suspense morphed into a sense of impatience and a desire for the trees to get on with eating the characters…or whatever.

The one character who was written to be off-putting, the housemaid Dorothea, actually turned out to be my favourite, simply because at least she had a bit of nouse about her.  By the time I put the book down however, my feelings toward Dorothea had merged with my feelings for the hapless others and I would have been quite happy to have seen her eaten first…or whatever.

The setting was the definite standout of this story and set the appropriate tone of mild foreboding, and in some instances, blessed quiet.  Had the pace of the book been a bit quicker or had I given a hoot about any of the characters, I probably would have finished this, but I just wasn’t enjoying it enough to keep snow-ploughing on.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Yarning with Mad Martha about…New Adventures for Grug (+ a free Grug crochet pattern!)

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I’m very pleased to be with you today to chat about some new release books featuring everyone’s favourite bipedal Burrawang tree – Grug!  If you are not familiar with Grug, I am assuming it is because you live outside of Australia, because Grug is an Aussie icon of some 36 years standing, and today, thanks to Simon & Schuster (Grug’s publisher since 2009) I can present to you Grug Gets Lost and Grug Meets a Dinosaur.

If this weren’t exciting enough, I have also knocked together a free crochet pattern so that YOU can make your VERY OWN GRUG! (Provided you know how to crochet, of course).

For those still scratching their heads, Grug is a peaceful, industrious little bush creature who gained sentience when the top of a Burrawang tree fell to the ground.  Here is a Burrawang tree:

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And here is Grug:

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And here’s the little Grug that you could make for yourself, posing with his two latest adventures:

grug and books completed

In Grug Gets Lost, poor old Grug is returning home with his shopping basket when he detours around a fallen log blocking the path and ends up grug-gets-lost-9781925030518_lgin a part of the bush he’s never been before.  Grug becomes a bit nervous as the dark shadows play tricks on his eyes and he ends up spending the night alone in the bush.  Come morning though, our grassy hero navigates his way safely back to his cosy burrow to unpack his shopping.

This book quickly became the older mini-fleshling’s favourite read of the moment, which was a surprise to we shelf-dwellers.  We have tried to enamour him of Grug before and it never worked, but for some reason this particular adventure has turned him into a die-hard Grug fan!  Grug Gets Lost actually manages to pack an emotional roller coaster into just a few pages but this is tempered by Grug’s calm, assured attitude to life.  As always, our hero takes things as they come and we, as readers, are reassured that things will likely turn out well in the end.

In Grug Meets a Dinosaur, Grug is on his way for a swim in the creek whengrug-meets-a-dinosaur-9781925030525_lg he stumbles upon a creature resembling a dinosaur, sitting on a rock.  After a comedy of errors in which Grug and “dinosaur” engage in an ungainly two-step of chase and escape, Cara, Grug’s python friend, points out that the dinosaur is, in fact, a goanna and we are again reassured – mostly through Cara’s laconic acknowledgement of the fact – that nothing was ever amiss.

This one also warranted a few re-readings, but the mini-fleshling was most impressed with the list of Grug back-titles on offer inside the back cover of the book.  Having the opportunity to re-engage with Grug as a grown-up and seeing a whole new generations’ enjoyment of this unique character has been great fun.  While all around us the world seems to be going mad, at least we have Grug – steadfast, reassuring, low-tech Grug (although he does have his own website!) – to turn back to.

And the small size of the books makes them perfect as stocking fillers, don’t you think?

A meeting of the minds

A meeting of the minds

Now, if you aren’t a yarny type, you can probably finish reading here, but for all those desperate to know how to make their own Grug plushie, read on for the free pattern created by me – Mad Martha!

Amigurumi Grug – Free Crochet Pattern

You will need:

Yarn – I used cheap acrylic from my stash – in yellow and brown.  One skein of each colour will be plenty.

Smaller amounts of yarn in peach or pink (for facial features) and black (for eyes and mouth)

Yarn needle

4.5mm crochet hook (or the right size to suit the yarn you are using)

A small amount of stuffing

*This pattern is written in American crochet terms because that’s how I learned first.  I haven’t written too many patterns, so this one might have a few mistakes. Sorry in advance*

Body – worked from the bottom up

  1. Starting with brown yarn, make a magic ring.  Ch 3 and work 11 dc into the magic ring.  Join with a sl st to the top of the ch 3. (12)
  2. Ch 3, dc in the same stitch.  1 dc in the next st.  *2dc in the next st, 1 dc in next st* around.  Join with a sl st to the top of the ch 3. (18)
  3. Ch 3, dc in the same st.  *2dc in each stitch* around. Join with a sl st (36)
  4. Ch 3, dc in the same st.  1 dc in the next st. *2dc in the next st, 1 dc in the next st* around. Join with sl st. (54)
  5. Ch 3, dc in the same st.  *2dc in next st, 1 dc in next 2 st* around.  Join with sl st (72)
  6. From now on, work in spirals (don’t join the rounds).  Sc around (72)
  7. Sc around (72)
  8. Change to yellow yarn.  Sc around (72)
  9. Sc around (72)
  10. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 18 times (54)
  11. sc around (54)
  12. Change to brown yarn. Sc around (54)
  13. *Sc2tog, sc in next 2 stitches* 14 times (42)
  14. Sc around (42)
  15. Change to yellow yarn. Sc around (42)
  16. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 10 times (30)
  17. Sc around (30)
  18. Change to brown yarn. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 7 times (21)
  19. Sc around (21)
  20. Sc around (21)
  21. Turn inside out and stuff.  Change to yellow yarn. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 6 times (18)
  22. *Sc2tog, sc in the next st* 6 times (12)
  23. Sc2tog around (6)
  24. Using yarn needle, thread long tail in a running stitch through the final round of stitches and pull to close.  FO.
Hair
Using short lengths of yellow yarn, insert crochet hook into stitches at the top of Grug’s head, YO and pull up a loop.  YO both strands and pull through in a sl st to fasten.
Nose – using pink or peach yarn, working in spiral
1. Make a magic ring and sc 6 into the ring
2. 2sc in each st around (12)
3. *2sc, sc in the next st* 6 times  (18)
4. *2sc, sc in the next 2st* 6 times (24)
5 – 6. sc around (24)
7. 2sc, sc in the next 2st* 6 times (30)
8. sc around (30)
9. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 3 st* 6 times (24)
10. sc around (24)
11. *Sc2tog, sc in next 2 st* 6 times (18)
12. *Sc2tog, sc in next st* 6 times (12)
Turn inside out.
13-15. sc around (12)
16. Sc2tog 6 times (6)
17. sc around (6)
Flatten your work and sc across the top opening to close.  FO, leaving a long tail for attaching to body.
Eyes – make 2 in pink or peach yarn (working in rounds)
1. Ch 6, sc in second chain from the hook and in the next 3 ch.  3sc in the final chain.  Continuing to work in the remaining loops on the other side of the chain, sc in next 3 ch loops.  2sc in final chain loop.  Join with a sl st to the first sc. (12)
2. Ch 1, 2sc in the same st as the join.  Sc in the next 3 sc.  2 sc in the next sc.  Sc in the next sc. 2 sc in the next sc.  Sc in the next 4 sc.  2sc in the last sc.  Join with a sl st to the first sc. (16)  FO, leaving a long tail for attaching to the body.
Mouth – using peach or pink yarn, working in rounds
1. Ch 5. Sc in the 2nd ch from the hook.  Sc in the next 2 ch.  3 sc in final chain.  Continuing in the remaining ch loops on the opposite side of the ch, sc in the next 2 ch loops.  2sc in the final ch.  Join with a sl st to the first sc. (10) FO leaving a long tail for attaching to the body.
Legs – make two using pink/peach and brown yarn, working in spirals
1. Beginning with pink/peach yarn, make a magic ring and sc 6 into the ring.
2. 2 sc in each st around (12)
3. *2sc, sc in the next st* 6 times (18)
4. *sc in the next 2 st, 2sc in the next st* 6 times (24)
Change to brown yarn
5. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 6 times (18)
6 – 7.  Sc around (18)
8. *Sc2tog, sc in the next st* 6 times (12)
9-10.  Sc around (12)
Turn inside out, FO, stuff and attach to body.  Embroider toes using French knots.
Arms – make 2 using pink/peach and brown yarn, working in spirals
1. Beginning with pink/peach yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6 sc into the ring. (6)
2. 2 sc in each st around (12)
3. *2sc, sc in the next st* 6 times (18)
Change to brown yarn
4.*Sc2tog, sc in the next st* 6 times (12)
5. Sc around (12)
Turn inside out, FO, stuff and attach to body.  Embroider fingers using straight stitch in brown yarn.
Assembly
Using the pictures as a guide, sew nose, eye patches and mouth patch to the body.  Embroider pupils and mouth using black yarn.  Add texture by using straight stitches, placed all over Grug’s body in brown yarn.
Done!  Now you have your very own Grug cuddle buddy.  Again, as this is one of my first patterns, there are more than likely going to be mistakes.  Sorry about that.  Feel free to point them out if you find them.
Cheerio, my dears,
Mad Martha

An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: Of Things Gone Astray…

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Today’s read-it-if features a very unusual book.  With multiple points of view and interconnected yet mildly bewildering stories, Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson is part anthology, part unified narrative and thoroughly engaging, once you get past the first few loss-beleaguered chapters.

Delia can’t seem to find her way to places that were once as familiar as the back of her hand. Jake collects and catalogues lost and discarded items that he finds in the street. Mrs Featherby is missing the front wall of her house.  Robert turned up to work one day to find the building had disappeared. And Cassie is turning into a tree in the middle of Heathrow Terminal Two Arrivals.  As these wildly different characters, and others, try to come to terms with their various obscure conditions, their stories become entangled in different ways.  What once was lost may never be found for this motley group…or it may just be that they have gone temporarily astray.

 

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Read it if:

*your standard response to being thrust unexpectedly into public view is to carry on as if nobody can see what you’re doing

* you are one of those people who, upon realising that you cannot for the life of you find what it is you’re looking for, makes little tutting noises before going on to complain loudly about how modern supermarkets should just leave things where they are instead of changing everything about to try and get us to buy things we didn’t come in for

* you’ve ever patted yourself on the back for helping a stranger who’s asked for directions, only to realise a few moments later that there were at least three other ways to get to the destination that are quicker, safer and less complex than the way you told them to go

After reading the blurb of this book, I was initially under the impression that it was a collection of short stories.  As it turns out – rather obviously in fact, given that the words “a novel” appear on the front cover – Of Things Gone Astray is actually a single novel, but it’s told from the alternating points of view of half a dozen characters.  In the first few chapters we are introduced to these characters in turn, and discover to some extent what it is that they have lost – for in this novel, everyone has lost something.  Or someone. Or they’re waiting for something or someone.  I found it a bit tricky in the beginning to remember who was who as the point of view shifts every few pages with each new chapter. Is Martin the bloke with the missing piano keys or the bloke with the missing job, I would ask myself as I came across his chapter heading.  Is Cassie the tree girl or the disoriented girl? Once the story gets going and the characters start bumping into each other, as it were, it was a lot easier to keep everything sorted in my mind, and by the end I had each character down pat.

I thoroughly enjoyed the brevity of the chapters and the multiple points of view in this book, as I feel I am slipping into a bit of a book slump of late, and I appreciated the choppy, quick dips into each characters’ tale that allowed me to pick the book up and put it down repeatedly without feeling like the plot wasn’t moving forward. The narrative has a certain sense of poignancy about it, dealing as it does with ways in which people cope with loss, but there was also a sense of hope and even ambiguity that pervaded the book.  I felt at the end that some people might be a bit disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any kind of moral or take-away message about dealing with grief  or moving on from loss, but I felt very content with the fact that the stories just ended, some with loose ends tied up and some without.

I don’t think this book will be for everybody, but if you don’t mind something a bit different from the usual linear, one-narrator type novel then Of Things Gone Astray might be the perfect out-of-the-box find for you.  Don’t forget to go into it with bookmark at the ready though – you wouldn’t want to lose your place.

Until next time,

Bruce

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