Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Win an MG or YA title!” Edition (with an Aus only giveaway!)

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Well, it looks like this week shall henceforth be known as “Bruce’s Mega Awesome Week of Giving Stuff Away” because in addition to my participation in the Stuck in a Good Book Hop (international), I’ve got a giveaway for Australian residents today, another giveaway for Australian residents on tomorrow (with a prize for adult readers this time), and I’m participating in a completely new international Hop on Friday, for internationals who wish to win stuff.

Whew!

Before I launch into our Round-Up, let me just say that if you are an Australian resident, I am giving you the opportunity to WIN one of the books I am reviewing today – huzzah!  

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win.  

The winning comment will be chosen by a random number generator at the end of the giveaway.  The giveaway will run from now (go!) until midnight on Sunday the 16th of October, 2016, Brisbane time.  We’re NOT on daylight savings, by the way.  

Good luck!

Now, on to the books!

Swarm: Zeroes #2 (Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti)

*We received a copy of Swarm from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September, 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September, 2016. RRP: $19.99

The Zeroes are trying to make a safe space in which to explore their new-found powers, but their world is shattered by the appearance of two newcomers who seem to have no regard for ordinary people. Not only that, but they look like they’re bringing danger in their wake.

Muster up the motivation because…

…given the hype that surrounded Zeroes, the first book in this series, it stands to reason that fans would want to be getting their grabby hands on Swarm.  I had heard of this series, and in particular, the interesting three-author aspect of it, but had not read Zeroes when Swarm landed on my doorstep.  For the uninitiated, the book follows the fates of a small band of teenagers who have developed a range of what could be termed superpowers.  These range from seeing through other peoples’ eyes, to deflecting the attention of others away from oneself, to the ability to destroy electronic equipment with the power of the mind.  Interestingly though, it appears that these powers only seem to manifest in people within a certain age range, and usually have some connection to crowds and the energy generated by crowds.  As I said, I haven’t read the first in the series, but the authors have gone to great lengths to inform new readers of what’s what in the first few chapters.  The book flicks back and forth between the points of view of all the Zeroes – about six in all, who all have code names as well as regular names.  I found this to be a handy way to quickly be introduced to each character and their power, as well as to get a handle on some of the happenings of book one.  After the opening round of chapters however, the constant switching between perspectives really slowed the pace.  I grew a little bored with hearing about various situations from each person’s point of view and a few plot points get rehashed over and over as certain characters have to explain to other characters things that we, as readers, already know, because we just experienced it through the point of view of the character it happened to.  I ended up DNFing Swarm at Chapter 23, or 135 pages of the total 388, not because it was a sub-par read, but because I felt I had missed out on some of the action and excitement and character connection that may have been generated in the first book.  I would recommend starting at the beginning (which is what I plan to now do) if you think this series sounds like your cup of superpowered tea.

Brand it with:

Teen super-angst; secret societies; crowd  control

Artie and the Grime Wave (Richard Roxburgh)

*We received a copy of Artie and the Grime Wave from Allen & Unwin for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  

Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh.  Published by Allen & Unwin, Octboer 2016.  RRP: $16.99

Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh. Published by Allen & Unwin, Octboer 2016. RRP: $16.99

Since his dad died and his mum became catatonic from grief, Artie has navigated life under the care of his shouty big sister and with the help of his best mate Bumshoe. When the boys stumble across a potential (no, probable…okay, definite) stash of stolen goods, they must work to unravel an organised crime racket that (probably) goes all the way to the top.

Muster up the motivation because…

…apart from the slightly disturbing illustrations that sort of creeped me out, Artie and the Grime Wave is a fun and bizarre adventure for primary school kids.  Artie is an unassuming young lad with an over-sized best friend who happens to bear the nickname Bumshoe, and for those reasons alone, attracts the unwanted attention of local bullies.  On the plus side though, Artie is also surrounded by a collection of family and friends to support him.  There’s his mum (stricken with grief), his sister (Shouty McShoutface), Aunty-boy (the crazy, lolly-giving lady down the street) and the lovely Ukrainian family next door who may have hidden talents (the Unpronounceable-enkos).  So you see, despite being picked on by ruffians, Artie has plenty of oddity to keep him busy and distracted.  When Artie and Bumshoe accidentally stumble upon some stolen goods, Artie’s life takes a turn for the adventurous as he and his strange collection of family, friends and neighbours fall into a dastardly hotbed of organised crime.  The humour here is a familiar Australian blend of dry and silly and characters alone make the story funny enough to keep youngsters entertained.  The book is illustrated here and there throughout (with the aforementioned slightly creepy and unnecessarily toothy pictures) and also employs some different fonts to mix things up a bit.  All in all, this story can probably best be compared to the style of David Walliams, except with a bit more Aussie grittiness.  I would definitely recommend this one to young readers who prefer their reading to feature a bit of larrikinism, a bit of stealth and silliness and a bit of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure.

Brand it with:

Where have all the flowers pets and whitegoods gone?; suburban skulduggery; everybody needs good neighbours

The Wolf Wilder (Katherine Rundell)

*We received a copy of The Wolf Wilder from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  wolf-wilder

Feo and her mother are wolf wilders; wolves kept by the Russian aristocracy as pets are brought to Feo and her mother when they are no longer welcome amongst polite society, and the women retrain the wolves to live as wild animals.  When the women are warned by Russian soldiers that they will be arrested if they are seen with any more wolves, Feo’s life is turned upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a beautifully presented book with an engaging concept for lovers of animal stories and historical fiction.  I have to say up front that I made the decision to stop reading this one quite early on, after about four chapters, because the story looked like it was heading towards war and soldiers breaking down doors and young children (Feo in particular) fleeing for their lives, and I didn’t feel like I was in the mindset to take that in, even in a children’s book.  I am offering it for giveaway though because the book is absolutely gorgeous and I know some of you would love the opportunity to immerse yourself in this story.  The black and white illustrations are atmospheric and the story (or what I read of it) has a definite fable-like tenor, but also a strong feel of realism and authentic historical flavour.  I’d recommend The Wolf Wilder to readers young and old who like realistic adventure, historical fiction, animal stories and more than a hint of magic.

Brand it with:

An icy reception; howling good reads; animal adventure

Alright Aussies!

Don’t forget to comment on this post with the title of the book that most takes your fancy to be in with a chance to win it!  Good luck 🙂

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Some Middle Grade Wolfishness: A Double-Dip Review…and a Fi50 Reminder!

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Before we break out the extreme nacho cheese snack dippers, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for March will be kicking off on Monday.  Our prompt for this month is…kernel of truth

If you’d like to join in, simply compose a piece of poetry or prose in 50 words or fewer and link it to my Fi50 post on Monday in the comments.  For more detailed instructions, and to find out more about the challenge, click here.

Now onto the main course!  Today I have two middle grade books that feature wolfishness in a variety of forms.  One is a fable, the other is an urban fantasy detective lark.  I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Select your snack food of choice and let’s get dipping!

First up, for those who love a good old fable we have A Wolf at the Gate by Mark Van Steenwyk.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Blood Wolf prowls near the village of Stonebriar at night. She devours chickens and goats and cows and cats. Some say children are missing. But this murderous wolf isn’t the villain of our story; she’s the hero! The Blood Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. How will she react when those she loves are threatened?

Dip into it for…  wolf at the gate

… a retelling of the story of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio, Italy.  I was not familiar with the story before reading the book, and I think this probably heightened my enjoyment of the story, as although I could predict where the story might go, I didn’t have the ending in mind before beginning.  While not a super-fan of fables, I found this retelling to be very easy to engage with, as the narrative style certainly reflected the familiar style of fables and moral stories, but there was enough original material here to stave off the “I know where this is going and how it’s going to get there” boredom of being stuck listening to a fable.  The plot moves quickly and there are enough changes in setting and the situation of the wolf to keep things interesting.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like fables. Or wolves.  Or forgiveness.  Otherwise, I think this is a very appealing little tome.

Overall Dip Factor:

A Wolf at the Gate would be a great choice as a read-aloud for the early to middle primary classroom when studying fables, Christian mythology or just ethics in general.  Van Steenwyk never refers to St Francis in the text, creating instead the character of “The Beggar King”, a wandering wise man, so there’s no worry here about getting bogged down in Christian ideology if that isn’t your thing.  As a reading choice for middle graders (and even slightly younger children) this is a quick read with plenty of discussion-starting material, as well as being an engaging story peppered with stylised illustrations.

Now, onto the urban fantasy detective lark, Howl at the Moon: A Liarus Detective Novel by L. A. Starkey.  Here’s the blurb from Patchwork Press:

Eighth graders, Ben, Jake, and Leah need cash, and mowing lawns in the winter just isn’t cutting it. Their need for cash births the Liarus (Liars R Us) Detective Agency! Their first client is Old Lady Smitz, who is said to have murdered her three sons and husband. She’s missing a family heirloom, but it’s not just any old trinket, it’s the crest of Lykoi.

There are only two rules: No girls are allowed and never seal a deal with the witch doctor. Disregarding danger, these three discover that money is usually more trouble than it’s worth!

Dip into it for… howl at the moon

…a rollicking adventure that is squarely aimed at the  upper middle grade/lower YA market, and has a definite male skew, with the two main characters being ladsy boys.  There’s plenty of banter and social goings-on not entirely related to the detective work happening here alongside the supernatural elements.  There are the obligatory people involved who aren’t what they seem and a seemingly anti-feminist angle with the stipulation that no girls are allowed on the job.  Of course though, there’s a twist in the tale (tail?) and what began as a foolproof plan becomes slightly more complicated for our intrepid heroes.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a novel that focuses in on the detective agency part.  There is a LOT of romance-y, who-likes-who, unrequited crush business going on here and it took a little time to actually get to the forming of the detective agency.

Overall Dip Factor:

To be honest, I had a hard time with this book.  I was really looking forward to a new series with a supernatural AND detective angle, but there was just way too much adolescent romance going on that just slowed the whole thing down.  I couldn’t figure out why it was included, when there was perfectly good supernatural stuff that could have held the tale on its own. There was also a lot of banter and back-and-forth dialogue between the two main male characters and at times I just wanted to shout, “Alright! Just shut up and get on with it!”

If convoluted teen romance and adolescent chatter is no problem for you however, and you enjoy supernatural mysteries, then definitely give this one a go.  I suspect I will be leaving the Liarus Detective Agency with this novel, but I wish them well on their future endeavours.

So there we have two wolfish tales that may have whetted your appetite.  Although if you have any dip left over, perhaps you should consider sharing it with the dog. Or wolf.

Until next time,

Bruce