YAhoo! It’s a YA Review!: Living on Hope Street…

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If you like your YA gritty and realistic, you’ve come to the right place because today’s book, Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren shines a light on the diversity of modern Australia and the changing face of the typical Aussie neighbourhood.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

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Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017. RRP: $19.99

We all love someone. We all fear something. Sometimes they live right next door – or even closer.

Kane will do everything he can to save his mother and his little brother Sam from the violence of his father, even if it means becoming a monster himself.

Mrs Aslan will protect the boys no matter what – even though her own family is in pieces.

Ada wants a family she can count on, while she faces new questions about herself.

Mr Bailey is afraid of the refugees next door, but his worst fear will take another form.

And Gugulethu is just trying to make a life away from terror.

On this street, everyone comes from different places, but to find peace they will have to discover what unites them.

A deeply moving, unflinching portrait of modern Australian suburban life.

There’s a certain grittiness wrapped in dry humour inherent in many Australian stories and Living on Hope Street is no exception.  The book opens on a shocking scene of family violence, that deftly introduces the protagonists, Kane, Sam and their mother Angie and sets the scene for further conflict later in the story.  Chapter by chapter, the reader is introduced to the other characters who live on Hope Street and the ways in which their stories are interconnected.

There’s Mr Bailey who has lived on Hope Street with his wife Judy since the distant past, and who struggles with the brown faces that seem to populate his space. No matter how hard he tries, he always seems to say the wrong thing to his Indian son-in-law. Mrs Aslan is Kane and Sam’s Turkish widower neighbour, who provides support to Angie, the boys’ mother, even as she mourns her own estrangement from her daughter and granddaughter.  Ada, Mrs Aslan’s granddaughter, comes to play a role in Kane’s life later in the book and we are also introduced to Gugu, a young girl from a family of African refugees, whose presence and friendship provides stability for Sam.  Along with these main players, Kane and Sam’s violent father is an ever-lurking presence, while the Tupu family across the road, a group of friendly Arab young men and Mrs Aslan’s daughter (and Ada’s mother) play bit parts to round out the experience.

The constantly changing narrators and the fact that some of these narrators, like Mrs Aslan and Sam, have idiosyncratic ways of “talking” in their particular chapters, might be off-putting to some, but I found it enhanced my experience of the story because each character contributed a new perspective to each situation.  The chapters aren’t overly long either, which means that you are never more than a few pages away from a fresh voice and a new take on what is going on.  I was impressed with the way the author managed to give each narrator an authentic voice and clear motivations and back story.

Overall, I found this to be one of those books that you can’t help but read one more chapter and one more chapter until you are thoroughly sucked in to the lives of the characters.  With a dramatic ending that hints at a renewal of hope for many residents of Hope Street, this book really has everything you could ever want in a realistic contemporary YA tale.

I can see this one being up for CBCA nominations next year, that’s for sure.  Living on Hope Street is flying the flag for an inclusive, diverse community and shows that this is possible, despite cultural differences.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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YAhoo! It’s a YA Review: Wonderful Feels Like This…

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Now if you’re one of those people who roll their eyes when they hear YA slapped in front of a contemporary novel, you can happily give your eyes a rest today because Wonderful Feels Like This by Swedish author Sara Lovestam could quite easily be classed as adult fiction given the fact that one of the main characters is an octogenarian.  Also, it’s about historical jazz music.  And World War II.

We received a copy of Wonderful Feels Like This from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A celebration of being a little bit odd, finding your people and the power of music to connect us.

For Steffi, going to school everyday is an exercise in survival. She’s never fit in with any of the groups at school, and she’s viciously teased by the other girls in her class. The only way she escapes is through her music–especially jazz music.

When Steffi hears her favourite jazz song playing through an open window of a retirement home on her walk home from school, she decides to go in and introduce herself. The old man playing her favorite song is Alvar. When Alvar was a teenager in World War II Sweden, he dreamed of being in a real jazz band. Then and now, Alvar’s escape is music–especially jazz music.

Through their unconventional friendship, Steffi comes to realise that she won’t always feel alone. She can go to music school in Stockholm. She can be a real musician. She can be a jitterbug, just like Alvar.

But how can Steffi convince her parents to let her go to Stockholm to audition? And how is it that Steffi’s school, the retirement home, the music and even Steffi’s worst bully are somehow all connected to Alvar? Can it be that the people least like us are the ones we need to help us tell our own stories?

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Wonderful Feels Like This is a delightful blend of historical fiction and contemporary coming of age story.  Steffi, in grade nine at the local school, is bullied relentlessly by her peers and has no friends to speak of.  Alvar, an octogenarian in an old folk’s home located on the route of Steffi’s walk home, is a musician whose body may be frail but whose heart and mind have never lost their passion for jazz.  When Steffi stops to chat to Alvar after hearing 1940s jazz music wafting out his window, it is the beginning of a friendship that will change both their lives and cement the bond that began with a few bars of swing.

What an intriguing read this book is!  Firstly, it’s set in Sweden – a country that I know very little about, barring IKEA and…IKEA. Oh, and ABBA.  Secondly, it’s told from alternating historical perspectives – Steffi and Alvar in the present and Alvar as a young man in 1940s Stockholm, overshadowed by the war.  I loved the information that was woven in about the political situation of Sweden and its neighbours during World War II because (a) I’m a big nerd and (b) I’ve never encountered a WWII story told from this perspective before so it was great to add to my general knowledge here.  Finally, the characters are beautifully authentic and the author hasn’t resorted to YA tropes in Steffi’s sections of the story, as could so easily have been the case given the theme of bullying.  Steffi is given equal footing with Alvar as a rounded, developed person, rather than reduced to a teen girl with certain musical hobbies and a low social standing.

Steffi’s biggest tormentors, Karro and Sanja, are merciless in their harassment, never shying away from an opportunity – be it in person or online – to denigrate Steffi and spit vitriol and humiliation in her general direction. Steffi’s lack of friends her own age lends a certain sadness to the atmosphere of her parts of the story, although it is obvious that she is determined to remain faithful to her passions and dreams for her future, in spite of the unprovoked persecution that is constantly heaped upon her.

Alvar, appearing to the reader simultaneously as a bright light of the rest home and a nervous, uncertain young man making his way in a big city in a time of social upheaval, provides the anchor for Steffi’s unsettled school experiences.  Through Alvar’s narration of his youth, Steffi begins to draw strength and confidence and understands that the path to success rarely runs smooth.

I loved that the author left the bullying element of Steffi’s story fairly unresolved.  This felt particularly authentic to me because in many people’s experience, there is no intervention or specific incident that causes the bullying to stop, rather circumstances, or physical distance mean that access to the victim by the bully is somehow cut off. This seems to be the case at the end of the book and although it’s possible – likely even – that Steffi’s tormentors may have continued their harassment after the end of the story that we see here, there is hope for Steffi and the promise of new and true friends.

In fact, one of my favourite parts of the book comes in the last paragraph of the author’s acknowledgements, where Lovestam writes:

Thank you, children and teenagers, sitting in schools all over the world, thinking about chords, shading, pi, medieval aesthetics, adverbs, metaphysics, Neanderthals, lace-making, chromatics,  and making flambes, instead of letting schoolyard pecking orders get to you.  Your time will come.

That is essentially what this story is about: having one’s time and following one’s passion – the precursor to it, the attainment of it, the living through it and the satisfied reflection on it after a life well-lived.

I’ll be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge under category #26: a book by an author from a country you’ve never visited.  Sweden (and Scandinavia generally, you’re on the bucket list).  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Night Shift: After Dark in a Department Store…

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We received YA novel Night Shift by B. R. Meyers from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At Willard’s department store, none of the night security guards survive for long, and eighteen-year-old Daniel Gale is about to discover why.

Tired of living out of his backpack, he ignores the clerk’s gossip about the old building being haunted and accepts the latest vacated position of night guard. On his first shift Daniel narrowly escapes a fatal fall down an elevator shaft and is rescued by Mary—a bossy and intriguing girl far too beautiful for after hours inventory.

Anticipating every night shift as a chance to be with her, Daniel thinks his traveling days are over hoping that Manhattan is the place to call home. But as his life becomes more entwined with Willard’s, Daniel senses unnatural changes and bizarre coincidences both with Mary and the store itself. Soon he begins to suspect Willard’s is hiding something more sinister than gossip about ghosts—something that could make him the next casualty of the NIGHT SHIFT.

I was really in the mood for some creepy, atmospheric horror – or at least paranormal – when I requested Night Shift and while there are some aspects of the story that I praise for being original and unexpected, this wasn’t atmospheric or paranormal in the slightest.  Daniel is a solid protagonist around which to build a narrative – he has a fascinating past, he seems like a reliable narrator and generally I wanted him to succeed against whatever foes were lurking in the dark of Willard’s.  In the interests of an exciting story, I also wanted him to have the absolute willies scared out of him at least once…and preferably multiple times…during the story so that I could live vicariously through him.

This isn’t that kind of book.  It’s not a ghost story in the typical sense of the word (or even at all) and while it does have a fantastic twist that I didn’t see coming – but admittedly, probably should have, if I’d used my puzzling-things-out brain (more about this later)- there is far too much in-between filler that sucks the suspense out of the story quicker than a recently serviced Dyson cyclonic.  I felt like this book was at least a third longer than it needed to be and this is chiefly due to whacking great chunks of dialogue that doesn’t progress the story, but exists, it seems, to develop character relationships that I felt were already quite solid.

The stringing out of the mystery went for so long that I very nearly put the book down before the twist had even happened.  As I stumbled across the twist in the mystery, I wsa surprised enough to emit a little “Oh!” and quickly flick on in the hopes that the suspense and excitement would ramp up.  Unfortunately, the author took the route of stretching things out to the extent that by the end I didn’t really care about the whys of the plot and just wanted it all to be over.

Admittedly, there is a full and developed story toward the end of the book that links Daniel’s past to his present situation and provides some feel-good moments and action scenes, but by then it was too late to salvage my interest.  There are plenty of interesting and original things going on in Night Shift but because the first part of the book is so focused on ghosts, I had certain expectations of what the story was going to be about.  The twist provided a momentary respite from those dashed expectations, and the thought that maybe there was going to be a more original take on the ghost gossip, but I just couldn’t seem to get past my pre-conceived ideas of what the book was going to be in order to fully enjoy what it is.  Night Shift turned out to be more focused on relationship building and romance than the paranormal/magical realism elements, and as regular readers of this blog know, I’m a sucker for the latter.

If you are looking for a story that is high on romance and budding relationships featuring an unexpected couple, you will probably find something to enjoy in Night Shift.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

From Sudan to Australia: YA Novel Trouble Tomorrow

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Trouble Tomorrow by Terry Whitebeach & Sarafino Enadio.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 25th January 2017.  RRP: $16.99

 

Given the current global refugee crisis, it is more important than ever that we hear stories of people who have been forced to leave their homes, and YA novel Trouble Tomorrow by Terry Whitebeach and Sarafino Enadio is an absorbing and eye-opening addition to this canon of literature.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin Australia for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Based on a true story, this compelling novel tells an incredible tale of courage, resilience and hope, about a Sudanese boy who survives civil war, a treacherous journey and many years in a refugee camp before finding peace.

Obulejo dreams he is standing by the stream with his friend Riti, hauling in spangled tilapia fish, one after the other … Tat-tat-tat-tat! Brrrmm! Rrrrr! Ul-lu-lu-lu-lah! Obulejo slams awake, heart racing, and scrambles up off his mat. Gunshots and screams jab the air. Flashes of light pierce the darkness. The Rebels! Run!

Obulejo’s name means ‘trouble tomorrow’ in the Ma’di language, and there is plenty of trouble for sixteen-year-old Obulejo when his town is attacked by Rebel troops. Separated from family and close friends, Obulejo flees into the hills and then makes a terrifying journey, full of danger from wild animals and pursuing soldiers. Once across the border in a refugee camp, he is safer but has no future – until he joins a pioneering peace education program and begins to find ways to create a more hopeful life for himself and others.

Much like Obulejo’s journey to freedom, this story is not one for the faint of heart.  Right from the off it is made clear that violence and hardship will form a large part of Obulejo’s story and within the first few chapters the boy has lost his family, his home and most of the people he knows and trusts.  The book opens on Obulejo’s blind run through the night to escape the Rebel’s gunfire and the possibility of capture, before reverting to tell a little of his homelife before danger descends.

The book can be loosely divided into three stages: Obulejo’s flight from his home toward the safety of the Sudanese-Kenyan border; his first years in refugee camps and his decision to make a better life for himself through education – both his own and others’.  Thus, the first section of the book is action packed, the fear and desperation almost palpable as Obulejo and a random assortment of people he ends up with go to incredible lengths to put themselves out of the reach of the Rebels, with varying amounts of success.  The middle section keenly relates the despair and monotony of life in a refugee camp, as well as the ever-present dangers of starvation, sickness and violence that mar the daily routine of survival.  It was fascinating to see how quickly a person’s ethical code is broken down in times of such enormous stress and fear, as shown by Obulejo’s decisions to steal, fight and generally go against his own personal morals in order to stay alive.

The final section of the book deals with Obulejo’s decision to move away from those actions that cause him such trouble, despite the fact that his stealing meets his basic needs in an immediate way.  His decision to return to education – such as it is offered in the camp – appears to be a life-changing one, not only for him but for many around him as Obulejo becomes a force for good in his own life and in the camp.  The prologue deals briefly with Obulejo’s life after the camp when he and his eventual wife and child are accepted for residency in Australia.

While not always an easy read, Trouble Tomorrow is an important story for all Australians – and indeed, any resident of planet Earth – to explore, in order to better understand the reasons why people leave their homes for a life of uncertainty, and why prosperous nations have an obligation to support refugees in any way they can.  Interestingly, I found not the violence and chaos of the flight from the Rebels the most disturbing part of the story, but rather the endless, tedious monotony of the refugee camps.  To think of young people, children, families having the prime years of their lives leeched away in a state of basic survival, not knowing when, if ever, they will be able to resume a “normal” life, is confronting and deeply saddening.

If you are stout of heart and ready to open your mind to the plight that many people in our world are currently experiencing, I would recommend having a look at Trouble Tomorrow.

I am submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #25:  a book set in the wilderness.  You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Tomes From the Olden Times: The Boyfriend…

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Today’s Tomes from the Olden Times is really a TBR Friday post in disguise because I plucked The Boyfriend by R. L. Stine right off my TBR shelf after having had it sit there for an indeterminate amount of time (more than one year but less than three).  I can’t even remember exactly where I got it from, save that it is a second hand copy – it either came from a jaunt to the Lifeline Bookfest or from the Library cast-off shop at Nundah.

Even though this is a Tomes from the Olden Times post – the book having been originally published in 1990 as part of the Point Horror series of YA books – I’m not entirely sure, even after reading it, whether or not I did actually read this one way back when.  I certainly read others of the series, Beach Party,  along with Beach House, being two I am 100% certain I read, while the covers of Hit and Run, The Baby Sitter and April Fools all look very familiar and were no doubt passed around the class during the height of the horror-reading frenzy of ages past.

Anyway, back to The Boyfriend.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Sometimes, love is murder.

Too bad about Dex. He was in love with Joanna. She broke up with him. And then he died.

Joanna’s sorry, of course. But it’s not her fault he’s dead, is it? Besides, she never loved him. Boys are just toys, to be used and thrown away.

But this time, Joanna’s gone too far. Because Dex is back. From the dead. For one last date with her….

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Now doesn’t that bring back memories of flimsy paperbacks with tiny print?  This story turned out to be exactly what you probably think it would be judging by the cover and blurb.  I still can’t figure out whether or not I read it all those years ago, but on the whole I think I must have because I remember the name Shep as well, bizarrely, as the scenes featuring Joanna practicing with her tennis coaches.  I could not, however, remember any of the “horror” elements.

This is probably a good thing, because they weren’t all that horrifying really.  I remember being irrationally terrified of the events of Beach House back as a young gargoyle, but I can’t imagine that this one ever scared me that much, if in fact I did read it as a youngster.  If you picture all those celluloid teen slasher films like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream, than you’ll have a pretty good idea how this story turns out, although there is a lot less violence, which surprised me.

Joanna is a right piece of work – selfish, horrid to her mother and generally a bad seed – and she discovers toward the end that the undead appreciate a little acknowledgement during their living years, otherwise they might just come back with a vengeance.

The best thing I can say about this one is that it was a quick read.  Nothing particularly unexpected happens, there are no shocking horror bits and generally this can be considered a fun, no-brainer of a read for when you want to escape.

I’d love to get hold of Beach House again though and see if it actually is scary.  Even a little bit!

Did you read any of these books as a youngster?  What did you think of them?

I’m submitting The Boyfriend for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017.  You can check out my progress toward my challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

YAhoo! It’s a YA Review: Optimists Die First…

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Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen combines craft, social anxiety and art therapy in a light-hearted tale of love overcoming fear.  We received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from GoodreadsGoodreads:

Life ahead: Proceed with caution.

Sixteen-year-old Petula De Wilde is anything but wild. A family tragedy has made her shut herself off from the world. Once a crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula now sees danger in everything, from airplanes to ground beef.

The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class. She has nothing in common with this small band of teenage misfits, except that they all carry their own burden of guilt.

When Jacob joins their ranks, he seems so normal and confident. Petula wants nothing to do with him, or his prosthetic arm. But when they’re forced to collaborate on a unique school project, she slowly opens up, and he inspires her to face her fears.

Until a hidden truth threatens to derail everything.

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Having read and enjoyed Nielsen’s work before, I had a pretty good idea what I was in for going into this and I wasn’t disappointed.  Much like in Word Nerd, Nielsen combines a quirky hobby with a serious social issue – in this case, young people’s mental health – and manages to successfully blend seriousness and humour.

Petula is still grieving the loss of her younger sister and has developed a major generalised anxiety disorder partly from the guilt she feels about her possible role in her sister’s death. New boy in therapy group, Jacob, seems to take his prosthetic arm in stride and although he is secretive about the reasons he is in therapy group in the first place, is able to bring the group together in a way they haven’t managed before.  As the two become better friends, it will be the issue of guilt – perceived and actual – that may drive the two apart even as it brings them together.

Even though there is a bit of romance in this one, I still quite enjoyed Petula and Jacob’s road to friendship and the connections they make with the others in their therapy group.  There are a few twee bits here and there – particularly the ridiculous activities suggested by the leader of the art therapy group – but overall the book shows the growth of the characters and the group in a realistic (if simplistic) way.

I particularly enjoyed the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Cosmo, a character in one of Nielsen’s other books.  Despite the fact that the ending is pretty predictable from the outset, I liked spending time with these characters and I appreciate the way that Nielsen manages to address difficult issues without ever losing the ability to inject humour into the situation.

I’m also submitting this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in the category of a book by or about someone with a disability.  You can check out my progress toward this year’s challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Kung Fu and a Backstage Crew…

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I’ve got two graphic novel beauties for you today – a young adult paranormal comedy sample and a middle grade retro-styled, martial arts based comedy.  We’ll kick off with one for the big kids, hey?

The Backstagers V. 1 *Sample Chapter* (James Tynion IV & Ryan Sygh)

*We received this sample from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Jory transfers to the private, all-boys school St. Genesius, he figures joining the stage crew would involve a lot of just fetching props and getting splinters. To his pleasant surprise, he discovers there’s a door backstage that leads to different worlds, and all of the stagehands know about it! All the world’s a stage…but what happens behind the curtain is pure magic!

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Target Age Range: 

YA

Genre:

Humour/fantasy/contemporary

Art Style:

Cartoonish and colourful

Reading time:

I knocked this one over in about ten minutes, but please note I only had access to a sample chapter, not the whole grapic novel.

Let’s get gabbing:

 

This sample left me wanting to find out more about this series and the characters, which is a great sign.  Jory turns up at to his school’s drama club and is immediately sent on an errand to the backstage crew.  Expecting to discover ordinary backstage tasks going on, Jory is surprised to be drawn into a dangerous parallel backstage world containing monster vermin thingies and a whole lot of action.  This story was easy to get into and is awash with visual and verbal gags.  I enjoyed getting to know the different characters that made up the backstage crew and the monster rodents that swamp the backstage area are just adorable (as well as being bitey and undesirable to have around).  Jory gets to play a key role in averting the adorable bitey rodent monster problem and at the end of this segment he is clear that the glory of the stage no longer holds any delights for him and he’d much rather spend his time in the weird and wonderful world of backstage.

Overall snapshot:

This was a promising beginning and I’d love to see what happens next.  The Backstagers is the perfect choice for fans of fantastical creatures turning up in unexpected places, and groups of misfits banding together to create their own brand of awesomeness.

The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot: How to Make a Peanut Butter, Jelly and Kung Fu Sandwich (Jason Bays)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Kung Fu Robot is an international machine of mystery and the savior of all things awesome and cool. He’s the world record holder for ice cream sandwiches eaten in one sitting, the reigning champion of continuous nunchucking, and once won a bronze medal for the simultaneous stomach rubbing and head patting. Together with his 9-year old sidekick, Marvin, he faces his arch-nemesis, Kung Pow Chicken: a robotically-enhanced, foul fowl bent on destroying the city’s peanut butter and jelly supply. Kung Fu Robot and Marvin must save the day . . .  and their lunches!

The pursuit for the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich can’t be contained on the page—it leaps onto your mobile screen with a FREE interactive companion app for an innovative, augmented reading experience.

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Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Humour/action

Art Style:

Retro/vintage style cartoon with few panels per page and yellow, red and black the predominant colour scheme

Reading time:

At 208 pages, this would be a solid read for a middle grader, around the same size as an early chapter book.

Let’s get gabbing:

This one didn’t grab me in the way I thought it might and I suspect this is because it is a story aimed squarely at the middle grade age group, and young boys in particular.  I found the art style a bit distracting, as many of the panels featured the characters busting out of their squares and the text seemed a little small in comparison to the large illustrations.  Reading this on a screen may have made a difference to the reading experience also because I kept finding myself having to zoom in to read the text and zoom out again to see the illustrations.

There’s plenty of child-friendly humour and action here, with Kung Fu Robot going about making a sandwich in a rather silly and action-packed way.  The first “story” in the book is all about Kung Fu Robot making a sandwich and a mess in the kitchen before the villain even comes into the piece, which I found a tad tedious but I’m sure kids of the right age will enjoy.  I did get a bit lost regarding what was actually going on between Kung Fu Robot and Kung Pow Chicken to be honest, but I suspect that that’s because I’m an old fuddy duddy and this is aimed at kids who like silliness.  Marvin, Kung Fu Robot’s human friend, seems to be the voice of reason throughout but it still wasn’t enough to drag me along for the ride.

Overall snapshot:

With plenty of action, colour and silliness, this is a story that will appeal greatly to early middle grade readers and fans of the style of comedy of Dav Pilkey and Andy Griffiths.

Until next time,

Bruce