Timestoppers: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Today’s offering is a middle grade, magical, wintry adventure: perfectly atmospheric if you live in the southern hemisphere, and one to help you cool down a bit if you happen to be sweating it out in a northern hemisphere summer.  We received our copy of Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones from Bloomsbury Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Annie Nobody thought she was, well, nobody; living in a nowhere town where nothing goes her way. Day one at her newest foster home proves to be dreadful, too …and things get even worse when she’s chased by something big and scary that definitely wants to eat her. Luckily for Annie, not everything is what it seems, and she gets swept up – literally – by a sassy dwarf on a hovercraft snowmobile and taken to Aurora: a hidden, magical town on the coast of Maine. There, she finds a new best friend in Jamie Hephastion Alexander – who thought he was a normal kid (but just might be a troll) – and Annie discovers that she’s not exactly who she thought she was, either. She’s a Time Stopper, meant to protect the enchanted.

Together, Annie and Jamie discover a whole new world of magic, power, and an incredible cast of creatures and characters. But where there’s great power, there are also those who want to misuse it, and Aurora is under siege. It’s up to the kids to protect their new home, even if it means diving head first into magical danger. A thrilling adventure with heroes children will relate to – and more than a smattering of magic!

timestoppers

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones:

  1. Never make the decision to dispose of a garden gnome lightly.  Apart from the fact that artistic integrity is everything in backyard design, it could be an important magical artifact whose removal could bring about the collapse of magical society.

  2. When you are burdened with the surname “Nobody” it is a given that the universe will ensure you end up being a “somebody”.

  3. Never underestimate the power of a fluffy dog to bring hope to the bleakest of circumstances.

  4. Librarians always know more than they are saying.

  5. If your angry, bullish relatives consistently look at you while drooling and making noises that indicate unsatisfied hunger, you should ensure that you are either an excellent cook or an excellent runner.

Time Stoppers is an adventurous middle grade offering with some highly original elements and a few problems with pacing.  To highlight the positives first, the book features two protagonists – Annie and Jamie -who are likeable, down-to-earth, and will appeal to most readers of the target age group.  The story is told in chapters that alternate between Annie and Jamie’s situations and this definitely boosts the engagement factor.  Annie is a foster child who is on her last placement…which turns out to be a horrid, trailer-based version of the Cinderella story.  Jamie lives with his father and grandmother, neither of whom show him any affection and demonstrate their opinion of him through hostility and bullying.  However, both of the children seem to be natural optimists, and try to find hope in what look like hopeless situations.    When strange happenings start to kick off, both Annie and Jamie take it in their stride and try to make the best of a bizarre situation.

Some of the magical elements are quite original for a middle grade fantasy tale – magical creatures who get around on hovering snowmobiles, for instance, and the important role of the garden gnome (I’ve always said there should be more books featuring garden gnomes!) – and there is plenty of humour in the banter between our heroes and their new friends from Aurora.  Eva Beryl-Axe, the battle-ready dwarf girl, is the main source of this humour and most of the wacky situations in which the children find themselves are related, in part, to Eva’s impulsive ideas.  The city of Aurora is peopled with a wide variety of magical beings, some dangerous, most benign.

The two major problems I had with the story were pacing and the way in which the magic is presented.  After an action-packed and magnetic set of opening chapters, which include a chase by trolls, a house fire and the appearance of a dwarf on a hovering snowmobile, the children are introduced to the city of Aurora and the pace slows to a crawl.  Obviously, some world-building is necessary to introduce the town, its purpose and its inhabitants, but I found that the time the children spend in Aurora – and it is a significant portion of the book – really damaged my engagement with the characters and their struggles.  Although there are some indications that the town is not safe for the children, for a considerable amount of time the kids sit and ponder the meaning of their new existence in this magical space, and things just get a bit tedious.  It was in this section that the dual-perspective narrative really didn’t help the story, as we had to experience the town from the point of view of Annie, then Jamie, in turn, when both had similar feelings about the place. The pace does pick up again in the final third of the book with the introduction of the villain, but by then the slow-paced middle section had done its work and I was not as invested as I could have been in the outcome of the action.

My second problem with the story was the scatty way in which the magic, its rules and limitations were introduced.  There is a lot of magical stuff going on within the story, but I didn’t feel like it was explained well enough to make it believable.  For example, Annie is a Time Stopper – but the concept of this and why it is important and even how it works, isn’t explained until toward the end of the book and even then it is glossed over as the action takes precedence.  Similarly, there seem to be many different types of magic going on within the town, through its inhabitants and even its buildings and books, but there is a bit of a sense that anything goes; that any type of magic one might think of could happen just because one would like it to be so.

For example, in one scene, a note and pen appear out of thin air and disappear when their function has been served, a series of words and arrows appear to guide a character along within a house, and dishes wash themselves.  Who is making this happen? Is the house itself magical? If not, is it the inhabitants casting a spell?  If so, how does that work?  I really felt that more needed to be done in developing the hows and whys of the magical world, in order to make it more believable.  Admittedly, this may not particularly bother readers in the target age group, but I prefer a narrative in which the limitations and workings of the fantasy elements are clear, so that I can better engage with the characters and their struggles.

Overall, as a series opener, I think this book was more focused on introducing the characters, the setting of Aurora and the beginnings of Annie and Jamie’s powers than providing a particularly terrifying or worrying villain to vanquish.  The ending opens the way for the villain to be developed in the second book, so perhaps I will find more of what I hoped for in the next offering.  As it stands, Time Stoppers is an ambitious and original example of the genre and should be well received by readers in the target age range.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during…TrollHunters!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s Bruce and Doris with you today with a new release YA novel that features trolls, adventure and illustrations! I excitedly received a copy of Trollhunters by Guillermo del Torro and Daniel Kraus from Five Mile Press and was happy to dive right in. Let’s get stuck in before Doris falls asleep.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In San Bernardino, California, children are going missing. The townspeople don’t believe the rumours of trolls, but fifteen-year-old Jim Jnr knows that they’re a very real threat. At night, is anyone safe? TROLLHUNTERS is a funny, gruesome and undeniably del Toro-esque adventure perfect for teen readers and fans of Pan’s Labyrinth.

trollhunters

As well as being wildly excited to read this book based on the awesome cover, the eye-poppingly brilliant illustrations and a terribly engaging extract, on discovering that Daniel Kraus was a co-author, my anticipation levels went into overdrive. Kraus is the author of Rotters, one of the most compelling and unforgettable books I have ever read and so I was expecting big things from Trollhunters. I have to say that all up, while the story was interesting enough, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The first chapter drew me straight in, finding out about how Jim Jr’s uncle went missing all those years ago, and I was gearing up for a fast-paced romp until…..we meet up with Jim Jr at school. With his fat best friend and handsome jock bullies.

I have reached a point in my reading life at which I am confident to say that I am thoroughly over the popular/sporty boy bully picking on the weedy and/or fat unpopular kids.

Seriously.

Over it.

Shouty Doris interjects

You can say that again! How many stereotypical handsome, sporty, popular bullies can we stomach before we start feeding authors to their own tedious creations? Honestly, get some new material! Fancy being creative enough to come up with trolls and troll hunters and a missing child conspiracy and then fobbing us off with a bullying plotline that’s been done ad nauseum!

Indeed. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the predictable, tedious chapter at the start of the book was setting up some interesting twist later on, but unfortunately it just led up to a quick, also fairly predictable incident after the climax.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yep. Even I could see that one coming from a mile off, and I lost my glasses six years ago.

One of the things I loved about the book was the incredible illustrations.   I really think more middle grade and YA books could benefit from the kind of sporadic, full page illustrations that appear in Trollhunters. Apart from the fact that they are gorgeous to look at, I love being immersed in a tale only to turn the page and be surprised by an eye-popping bit of artwork. It’s like a secret reward for being engaged in the story.

I also loved the two main troll characters in the story. I can’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but these two really lifted the humour and pace of the story whenever they appeared. The ending gives a fitting tribute to the role that they played in Jim’s journey and was both sentimental and all kinds of awesome. Tub, Jim’s only friend, provided great comic relief and while I was mildly irritated by the fact that there was a romantic plotline added when it really didn’t need to be, Claire was a spot of sunshine also. The twist in her narrative arc was actually quite satisfying and I didn’t see it coming, so that was definitely a plus.

On the other hand, Jack, the uncle who disappeared forty years earlier and reappears in an unexpected fashion had the uncanny ability to slow things down and generally be a bit annoying every time he turned up.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes, you’d think that after forty years he’d get a bit of maturity about him. Surly little bugger.  For someone who didn’t say a lot, I certainly dreaded him opening his mouth.

After finishing the book I am overwhelmed with the sense that this COULD have been a brilliant, engaging, fast-paced read…..IF it had been pitched at a middle grade audience.

As a YA fantasy/urban fantasy with humour, this fell far short of other books I have read in the genre, such as Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez or Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron. It didn’t have either the mythical complexity or the humour that I was hoping for and I just wanted things to move a bit quicker. However, with a slightly younger protagonist and cutting out all of the bullying and girl-angst stuff that did nothing but add mediocrity, this could have really taken off. As it is, I feel that it misses the mark.

Shouty Doris interjects

More trolls, fewer kids, I say.

Until next time,

Bruce

Lariats at the ready for..Bruce’s Reading Round-Up! (Quirky Edition)

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Welcome to a new feature on the blog – my reading Round-Up! This is where I very briefly drag into focus some great books I’ve had the pleasure of encountering and believe should be wrestled into the spotlight for a good bout of oohing, aahing and appreciative nodding.  Today I’ve got four titles that are fun and odd and quirky and highly readable, so saddle up, pop on your book-herding hat and let’s chase some wild tomes!

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest (A. Lee Martinez)15791459

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Helen, a teenaged minotaur, and Troy, an ordinary (extraordinary) lad reluctantly become questers after almost being sacrificed by their employer to a God made of animated hamburger meat.  While encountering funny and poignant quest tropes a-plenty, Helen and Troy must succeed or die – or alternately be violently murdered by a group of reluctant orcs.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s funny, with well-rounded characters in ethical-dilemma-inducing situations.  It’s a YA featuring a positive, hairy, giant, female role model, which is rarer than gelatinous-blob teeth.  It also includes almost every possible questing stereotype ever written, so will appeal to those who are part of various quest-related gaming/reading fandoms.

Brand it with:

Fantasy, questing, mythical creatures, rampant silliness, vintage cars

See my Goodreads review here!

 

Doctor Who: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Time Traveller (Joanne Harris)

23157198  Two Sentence Synopsis:

The Third Doctor is on the run from an alien race intent on executing him, when he accidentally lands in what looks to be a quaint English village.  Something about the creepy toy parade and false cheeriness of the residents tips him off that this might, however, not actually be a quaint English village.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s a brief Doctor fix that will certainly satisfy those who can’t be bothered with reading a whole novel or watching a whole episode.  The story has all the hallmarks of a classic D.W. adventure, with an ominous sky vortex, an unseen entity controlling the village and its residents, and a slightly rebellious companion known only as “The Queen”.  Plus, it’s a great introduction (or reacquaintance) to the third Doctor for those who haven’t encountered him.

Brand it with:

Sci-fi, timey-wimey, creepy monsters, horse chases

Read my Goodread review here!

Hildafolk (Luke Pearson)

9700137Two Sentence Synopsis:

A happy trip to draw in the mountains takes a frightening turn when Hilda accidentally discovers a troll.  After escaping to the welcoming warmth of home and hearth, adventure ignites when the troll comes knocking.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s whimsy in the non-cliched sense, with art that catches the eye and melts the heart.  Hilda is accompanied by a range of odd characters, including the enigmatic wood man who turns up to Hilda’s house when the door is left open and silently lays by the fireplace.  Take a chance on Hilda who is one-part Pippi Longstocking, one-part Clarice Bean and a million-parts friend-worthy.

Brand it with:

graphic novel series, mountain adventures, artistic endeavours, cute woodland weirdies.

See my Goodreads review here!

 

Duck, Death and the Tulip (Wolf Erlbruch)

4009037Two Sentence Synopsis:

Duck notices a coy but persistent presence lurking behind her and invites it to make itself known.  Interesting conversation and friendship ensue, until the inevitable end of Duck’s story.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an accessible, gentle and thoroughly matter-of-fact treatment of existential angst and how one can engage with it to one’s benefit.  The characters are sparse but recognisable, the plot features ordinary events overlayed with important conversations and themes of acceptance and friendship  abound.  This is a great picture book for adults who like to ponder on the big questions of life in no more than 32 pages.

Brand it with:

picture books, existentialism, life and death, kids’ books for grown ups

Read my review on Goodreads here!

These are just some of the books I’ve been reading and enjoying lately but haven’t found space for in their own right on the blog.  I do post a lot of review on Goodreads that don’t make it to the blog, so feel free to send me a friend request if you like to frequent Goodreads yourself.  What books have you been rounding up lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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