An MG Double-Dip, A Top Book of 2015 and a Giveaway!

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imageWelcome to a very special Double Dip review and giveaway! Today I have two books for a middle-grade audience that were kindly provided to the shelf for review by HarperCollins Australia – thanks! – and that would make perfect stocking stuffers for a worthy young person of your acquaintance.  One of these is hands-down one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015! Read on for details on how to enter the giveaway – I will be providing one winner with their choice of one of these books! Hurrah!

Let’s get on with it!

First up is my TOP BOOK OF 2015 pick – The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.

Archer B. Helmsley longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?

It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures since she ended up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps a crocodile ate it. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).

And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.

Well, it’s not bad, anyway.

But nothing goes quite as they expect.

Dip into it for…

…a gently unfolding story of friendship and breaching self-imposed limits.  Before I get into dissecting the story, let medoldrums point out that the lovely hardback edition to which I was given access is illustrated throughout with FULL PAGE, FULL COLOUR illustrations that are just exquisite and lend that extra bit of specialness to the book.  The story begins by introducing us to Archer B. Helmsley, his unusual family circumstances and desire to break out of his mother’s overprotective clutches.  Soon enough, Oliver Glub (it’s good to be a Glub!), Archer’s next door neighbour and schoolmate, joins the fray, lending the voice of reason to Archer’s ill-thought-out plans.  Finally, just when the reader thinks they have learned all there is to learn about Archer and Oliver, and can predict how the story will unfold, we are introduced to Adelaide, French immigrant, ex-ballet dancer, and possessor of one wooden leg (possibly oak).  Adelaide was the real stand-out character for me and I absolutely adored the way that she was rendered by the author – confident but not sassy, self-possessed but not selfish and exceptional but not freakish.

The story is filled with dry, subtle humour and an atmosphere that suggests that anything is possible, despite the fact that most of Archer’s plans are foiled by fate or foe quite early on in proceedings.

Don’t dip if…

…you are expecting a story replete with action and conquest.  While there is some action in the story, not least of which being the unexpectedly life-threatening ending, the story focuses more on the developing friendship between the three protagonists and mystery surrounding the disappearance of Archer’s grandparents.  In a sense, Archer is caught in the doldrums in this story, and the adventure is more in the incidental surprises thrown up by an ordinary life rather than those encountered by well-travelled explorers.

Overall Dip Factor

Being a regular reviewer means that I am granted access, on occasion to some very high quality books.  The Doldrums really blew me away with how beautifully produced this hardback edition is – it’s something unusual and provided a wonderful print reading experience (which is why I’m not giving my copy away!!).  Just in terms of its look and feel, this book would make a great “Wow!” book to slip into a Christmas stocking.  The story is also unusual in that I expected, from the first few chapters, that the plot would quickly set up the mystery of Archer’s grandparents, provide some useful friends for Archer, and send them off on a whirlwind, whacky adventure.  Much more is going on in the story however, and it is definitely worth a look for young and older readers who enjoy subtle humour, a touch of the ridiculous and characters that you will want to be friends with, long after you’ve finished the book.

Now onto some Aussie middle-grade, also illustrated throughout and featuring a touch of the ridiculous – Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Olive has always dreamed of attending boarding school, but Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers is not what she expected. To tell the truth, dear reader, it is not what anyone expected!


The headmistress is completely bonkers and Pig McKenzie, school bully and all-round nasty swine, is determined to make Olive’s life unbearable.


Olive, however, is clever, sweet and kind, and soon gains the loyalty and devotion of three rats, a short-sighted moose, a compulsive liar and a goose who faints at the sight of cherries.


But will friendship and wits be enough when Pig McKenzie puts his Truly Wicked Plan into gear? Or will Olive be cast out of Groves forever?

Dip into it for…

…the kind of school that kids have longed to attend since time immemorial.  Groves is a school in which explosions, mess, general naughtiness, high-flying acrobatics, and throwing one’s dinner around the room are commonplace.  It olive of grovesalso features a wonderfully diverse group of talking animals as students – including my favourite, the perpetually anxious goose, Glenda (Oh, mercy!) – and a headmistress who turns a blind eye to practically every strange thing happening in her school.  Olive is a charming, steadfast, courageous young lass who does a wonderful job of making the best of a very tricky (and in some cases, literally sticky) situation and with the help of her ratty roommates, sets about proving that she is not a perfectly ordinary girl and deserves a place at Groves, in all its diverse glory, even if she has to scale a highwire wearing only tatty old long-johns to prove it.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a story that makes a lot of sense.  I suspect that this is one of those stories that will appeal to kids much more than adult readers of middle grade (although its complexity did grow significantly toward the end), but if you’re not into characters that are over-the-top and general silliness abounding, then this book is probably not for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I can imagine Olive of Groves as a wonderfully cheeky read-aloud for a classroom of mischief-loving grade three or four children.  The book has a narrator that certainly does not mince words and provides a particularly amusing commentary on the antics of Olive and her friends (and nemeses).  Apart from the chaos and high jinx that seems to invade Groves’ every corner, this book also provides some solid inspiration for those needing to stand up and be counted when it seems that the world (or even just one Very Despicable Pig) is against you.

And now it’s……

Giveaway Time!

I am going to offer ONE winner their choice of one of these books.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight November 27th (Brisbane time).  The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen!

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win – either The Doldrums or Olive of Groves.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Lucky Dip: Paper Dolls You Never Played With as a Kid…

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It’s lucky dip time again, and have I got some ripping (pun intended) offerings for you today! For those who don’t know, my lucky dip feature involves typing a carefully selected term into the Book Depository’s search box and presenting you with the delightfully weird results.

So, paper dolls. Those favoured playthings of fleshlings fond of fun in two-dimensions. Who would’ve thought that scratching the surface of such an innocuous activity would  uncover a veritable treasure chest of oddity? Well, after the utter strangeness encompassed by the range of colouring books on offer, one probably shouldn’t really be surprised.  But one will be.

For your perusing pleasure, I present to you some of the real gems of paper-related play – click on the covers if your appetite for origami-esque shenanigans is whetted!

For the Buddhist who wants to add “right-dressing” to their list of rules for living:

dalai lama paper dolls

 

In a similarly religious vein, for the paper-doll enthusiast with a penchant for swift, undetectable revenge:

voodoo paper dolls

For the book enthusiast who really wants to get inside their favourite author’s head…and wardrobe:

literary greats paper dollsI’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m only certain of Shakespeare out of that lot…can anyone enlighten me as to who the rest are? Is that Sylvia Plath in the straight jacket? Virginia Woolf? And the bloke on the right looks like a close relation of Colonel Sanders the KFC man, but I’m guessing is somebody more literary minded….

For the pet-lover whose real-life animal friend is averse to wearing cute little outfits:

lucky cats paper dollsFor the man in your life who always liked to play with his sister’s dolls as a little boy:

naughty girls paper dolls

And my personal favourite….***DRUM ROLL PLEASE****…..

For the political enthusiast who wants to recreate famous scandals in their own home:

richard nixon paper dolls

Now before you start scratching your head at the utter surreal-ness of the book immediately above, the BD has a whole range of paper doll books featuring American presidents and their families.  So whatever your political persuasion, there is a paper doll out there for you, voter!

If paper dolls are not your thing, I have also recently discovered two more fantastically different colouring books that I just had to share with you:

For the littlest scholar of feminist philosophy:

girls are not chicks colouring

And for the colouring enthusiast who can’t resist using one of those fancy rainbow pencils:

sometimes the spoon colouring book

 

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and flex your creative muscle! And be sure to chime in with any other exciting paper-doll or colouring related titles that we need to know about.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spine Poetry: Domestic Drama

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And now for something completely different! Well, a bit different, considering I do poetry fairly regularly.  A month or two ago I was introduced to Spine Poetry – I can’t remember which blog I was browsing, or indeed the meme that spawned it (feel free to enlighten us all if this happens to be something you indulge in regularly!) – but this fantastic concept involves creating a poem using the titles of books…and taking a photo of their spines in poetic order.

For my first attempt I have selected some YA/Kid Lit tomes from the shelf to create a poem entitled: “Couched in Casualty”

spine poetry one

My place:

The curious incident of the dog in the night time.

Our big blue sofa, cracked.

Breathe.  Unwind.

It’s kind of a funny story.

For those interested, the details of the books pictured are as follows (links to more info in the thumbnails):

my place curious incident

 

My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

 

big blue sofacraccked

Our Big Blue Sofa by Tim Hopgood

Cracked by K. M. Walton

 

 

breatheunwind

 

 

Breathe: A Ghost Story by Cliff McNish

 

 

 

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

 

 

its kind of a funny story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This was harder than I thought it would be, but I believe I’ll still indulge when the mood takes me.  I’d love to hear of the work of other spine poets also!

Until next time,

Bruce

Monstrously Awesome: Goodies for those who type…

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Be you blogger, author or internet troll, have I got a find for you! Given that it’s winter round my neck of the shelf, I thought it was high time to consider the very real problem of typing-related hand-chilliness.  While pondering ways to overcome this issue, I came across two fantastically fashionable solutions…..

Looking for ways to brighten up the unending toil that is writing (or reading) an epic fantasy novel? Look no further than these stylish dragon or monster knitted fingerless gloves by HotScones, available at etsy.com:

And while these next ones aren’t fingerless – perhaps more suited to readers rather than typists – the little grizzly faces are just darling!
image

 

 

Next up from Scoper Monstar and also available at etsy.com are these absolute gems for the more flamboyant icy-fingered literacy fan.  This first offering is perfect for the out-there author of that ground-breaking book exposing bet-fixing scandals in miniature goat racing – fingerless hooves!

 

image

And for the fan of horror or the late-night reader of Where the Wild Things Are, who could go past these fantastic monster paws (available in a wide range of colours!)?:
image

Both of these provide snuggly warmth to your hands while allowing your fingers to get on with the business of doin’ stuff!

Click on the pictures above to be taken straight to the etsy shops of these fine craftspeople!

Until next time, may your every paw be cosy!

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Lucky Dip: Tales of the Nunexpected…

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Nuns. Those habit-wearing, good-habit-enforcing ladies of virtue.  One could be forgiven for thinking that a search for tomes about Nuns could turn out to be a banal and unrewarding exercise. As it turns out though, one would be mistaken.

For those unfamiliar with Bruce’s Lucky Dip feature, it involves my good self entering a particular search term into the Book Depository’s mighty search engine, and collecting the most interesting and unexpected results for your perusal.  To that end, I present to you some of the fruits of this most enlightening of search terms…..”Nuns”….arranged in ascending order of raised-eyebrow-height:

Nuns Having Fun Calendar 2013

nuns having fun

The perfect gift for those misguided souls who believe that nuns do little more than eat, pray and love.

Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art and Arson in the Convents of Italy

nuns behaving badly

I can only assume that the arson resulted from overzealous use of candles during Adoration.

Nun Bowling Kit

nun bowling

This delightful little kit provides the perfect post-Christmas-dinner activity for everyone from Great-Grandma Mary down to little baby Paddy.  As the tagline promises, “It’s Sinfully Fun!”

Flying Nuns Kit

flying nuns

For the slightly more irreverent nun-fancier, this kit includes a miniature catapult and Judgement Day landing mat.  Alternately, use it as a platform for giving expression to your repressed desire to be Sally Field.

Nun-Chuks Kit

nunchucks two

For the most extreme of nun ninjas (or nunjas, as I prefer to think of them), those with aggression impulse control issues relating to early experiences in Catholic schooling, or simply those who support the practical application of the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”, these nun-chucks actually have nun-shaped handles. Genius.

The Secret Life of Nuns

secret life of nuns

Nuns. In compromising positions. Not for good boys and girls.

So there you have it. Just a smattering of the nunexpected on offer for those prepared to delve into more spirited forms of book-hunting.  As ever, please feel free to chime in with your own nun-related tomes!

Until next time,

Bruce

Read it if: The Ministry of Pandemonium….

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ImageI have decided to take a leaf out of Mad Martha’s book and post today about another favourite lining the shelf: Chris Westwood’s Ministry of Pandemonium and its sequel, The Great and Dangerous.  Not wanting Martha to have all the fun, I too have proved that I can arrange an attractive photo of myself for your viewing pleasure with the tomes to which I will be referring.

So! The first of this series, The Ministry of Pandemonium was one which came to the shelf after my fleshling owner decided to take a punt on an interestingly titled tome at a large chain book store which has since gone out of business.  It was a punt which has returned plentiful gains in the satisfaction department for me, as I devoured the tale, pillaged the second book for its engaging content and am now eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.

The Ministry of Pandemonium deals with young Ben Harvester, a talented artist with a hard working single mum, who is surprised to discover that death, much like life, is shrouded in bureaucracy.  Ben also finds out he has certain talents that the Ministry of Pandemonium could put to good use, and agrees to work with the ministry under the tutelage of the enigmatic Mister October.  Thus begins a sometimes harrowing journey as Ben helps to get the deceased on their way to wherever it is they’re going, while attempting to uncover some family secrets on the way.

ministry of pandemonium

Read it if:

* you’ve ever suspected that the time immediately following your death may well be spent filling out life-relinquishment forms in triplicate

* you find cemeteries atmospheric, peaceful and relaxing as opposed to overgrown, creepy and downright depressing

* you’ve ever found it tricky to fit in with your peers

* your difficulties in fitting in are related to your ability to see people who have shuffled off their mortal coils and really should be doing whatever it is the dead do, rather than disrupting your ability to fit in with your peers

great and dangerous

I found these books refreshing and perhaps more importantly, re-readable, as they seem to hit a deeper level than one ordinarily sees for books for this age group (say, 12 to 16 years).  They deal with death openly and the characters are sensitively drawn, without any gimmicky stereotyping or character-flaws-for-the-sake-of-it that often crop up in tales for middle readers and young adults.  Ben is an ordinary boy with ordinary problems, placed in an extraordinary circumstance.

As an extra piece of trickery, the two books reviewed here have been released under different titles, with different cover art, in the US.  The Ministry of Pandemonium has been titled Graveyard Shift (rather underwhelmingly, I thought), with the following cover art:

graveyard shift

I personally think that the original art (and title!) more accurately reflect the tone of the book – from the US cover art, one might be expecting a no-holds-barred, boys-own, rollicking adventure from cover to cover, and that’s just not what you get with this book. While there is adventure and action there’s intellect and emotion too, which I find much more satisfying, particularly in a book for young fleshlings.

Right. I’ve blabbed on too much. The self-portrait phenomenon must have gone to my head.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Haiku Review: Shadow Forest….

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Hello my pretties! For today’s dose of haiku I’ve dug one of my favourite tomes off the shelf: Matt Haig’s Shadow Forest.  To prove it’s one of my regularly thumbed books, I’ve thoughtfully included a picture of myself with the book and it’s (slightly less engaging but still worth a read) sequel, The Runaway Troll:

mad martha shadow forestFrom the opening sentence of the book’s blurb, “Samuel Blink is the hero of this story but he doesn’t know it yet”, the discerning reader knows that a particularly intriguing tale is in the offing. Handily, this book is one of those special little paper-gems that will not disappoint.

Samuel Blink (our soon-to-be hero of the moment) and his sister Martha (selective mute) find themselves suddenly living in Norway with a long-lost aunt (ex-Olympic javelin champ) after the untimely death of their parents.  Aunt Eda’s only rule for their stay is this: Do not enter the forest. Ever. For any reason.  For the forest is the known home of creatures of ill-repute and has already claimed the life of the children’s literally long-lost Uncle Henrik.

Obviously, both children end up entering the forest. And from there, as they say in the classics, the fun begins!

shadow forest

Picturesque arbour

not suited to tourist groups

Hold fast your shadow

I had forgotten how much I really love this book until I was casting my eyes over the shelf for re-reading inspiration recently. It’s obviously a kid’s book but the comedic undertones have appeal across age groups. I still can’t read the chapter involving the Truth Pixie without giggling to myself for days afterwards.  Incidentally, the picture above shows a different cover to the edition I own – I believe the art on my edition is vastly superior, but I’m sure you can make up your own mind.

Until next we meet, keep reading, and stay out of the forest…

Mad Martha