Thursday, October 5, 2017

Celebrating 25 years of Owl Babies
Owl Babies, Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the timeless treasure that is Owl Babies.  I'm delighted to see this story in board book format because it has really resonated with our readers from a very young age.  The parallel construction, varied character personalities and suspense is so perfect for little humans.  This book was part of a very small group of favourites in Esky's (memorised) bedtime canon.  Ivy continued the tradition of favouring it, and Mia has proven to have a matching (or stronger) affinity for it.  Mia has always empathised most with stories of separation (she really loves to be near her mama!) and so the youngest owlet's longing really speaks to her (and as an added bonus, the youngest is the littlest of three, like her!).  The unique rich blacks of the illustrations and careful cross-hatching makes for exquisite night scenes without being too scary -- so detailed and dark they resemble wood-cuts.  If this has been loved in your household as well, now is a great time to revisit it -- perhaps to share it with a nibling, grandchild or expectant mother.  It would make a great first or second birthday board-book gift!  This title's withstood the test of time and will prove popular in many more homes yet.  It has been a real hit in ours (and it is so good for doing voices!).  If it's somehow escaped your radar, get on it for little ones.  Here's an animated trailer! 

NB:  As a bonus, there are great teaching ideas online for this book, if you're orbiting in education circles.  Google away!

Review copies received from Walker.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Klassen and Barnett Collab Again!

The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
We thoroughly enjoyed and still enjoy the fruits of other Klassen and Barnett collaborations (like Triangle, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, and all the Hat stories) -- the humour is so quirky and fun!  So when we saw The Wolf, the Duck & The Mouse fresh-out this month we were delighted to discover it abounds with the same quirky fun and a tight little fable to boot.  For such a short book, there is a very clear narrative and some pleasantly surprising developments, all enhanced by detailed, comical, earthy illustrations (such a great combo!).  It's the kind of book parents and children both enjoy reading and it looks great on the coffee table!  You can check out Barnett and Klassen's trailer for this absurd and funny book here.

Review copy received from Walker.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Jessica, Bryce Courteney
Well holy moly!  This book had rave reviews from more than one member of my book club -- they'd read it as adolescents and felt forever-changed by it -- now I know why!  *gasp*  
I repeat: HOLY MOLY.  

Courtenay can really write.  He's also not afraid to really take to the trenches with his characters.  I feel as though Jessica's title (and cover art) don't accurately represent the kind of story you're in for; to me Jessica resembles (but does not match, I daren't profess!) an Australian East of Eden

If you take nothing else from that comparison, hear this: the characters do not travel easy roads nor meet happy ends.

Further notes:
  • In terms of parental guidance, this one's "new adult" or adult fiction all the way, for me.  I'd make this my personal designation not so much for the swearing and sensuality (although there's quite a bit of both of those, including masturbation and seduction scenes) as I would for the horrific and graphic violence (including violent actions, torture, and crime scenes described).  It's all story-relevant, but it is all as vividly told as every other image in the narrative, which is to say: holy moly (thrice, I know).  Genitalia are described without sensuality and more objectively, as an observation.
  • I ached over the tragedy of this tale.  There is familial pain, marital grief, racial injustice, cruelty towards those mentally-unwell, social snobbery, and many more causes for aching.  It's quite a ride, in that way -- it's like a prejudice salad -- having so many varieties of intolerance in one book.  I could see so many things coming and wasn't sure I could bear them.  I did, but...#stillhurting.
  • The protag is exceptionally well-developed and admirable.  For her time, she does an incredible job of seeing through the dogma, racism and gender inequality that are the norm of her time.  I wanted more wins than I got, but I see the beauty in what was achieved in terms of narrative. 
  • There are true villains in this one; people that make you want to scream!  They deliver a gamut of unkindness and prove uncharitable natures can also persevere.  I finished more than one night's reading in a very angry mood.
  • The Australian elements are just right.
  • The legal aspect was a pleasant surprise.
  • There's something honest and clear in the telling -- yes, it's sad -- but the details make it feel so authentic and alive!  The flies on a pony's rump or "veins knitting a bulbous nose together" -- wow!  
It has elements of Pride and Prejudice, A Time to Kill, To Kill a Mockingbird, Clan of the Cave Bear and The Poisonwood Bible, intermingling to form a strong character tale with a bigger picture message.  Overall, I'm glad I read it, but I don't think I'd care to again.  Nope.

This title is available via BorrowBox (Dunedin Library's electronic book platform), if you're a local reader.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

More Ness: A Monster Calls

After Chaos Walking, I had to read A Monster Calls -- especially having seen the movie-tie in edition making the rounds.  I flew through it in about an hour and a half, but not because it was trivial or plain.  On the contrary.  It is one of the best books I've read this year, indubitably.

While in no way being trivial or plain, it is elegantly simple and tight.  It's also imagery-rich, funny, real-feeling and Gaiman-esque.   I became pre-occupied in marvelling how Ness' brain works at its close.  The writing is so good, the story so strong and the entire thing so tastefully and masterfully executed, I have to recommend it to one and all.  Unlike Chaos Walking (a.k.a. a profound gut-puncher), this one's for everyone.

Review copy received from Walker.

*I hear a nuanced performance by the child star in the film adaptation steals the show.  I will most definitely be seeking it out.  So glad I read this.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Knife of Never Letting Go (and the Chaos Walking trilogy)

Earlier this year, I read Patrick Ness for the first time.  I made my dip into his writing via his latest novel, Release, and while his writing reminded me of Stiefvater (of whom I'm a serious fan), the content was more confronting, crass and cursey than I prefer.  I could tell he could write though.  So when I saw Walker email signatures blazing with banners promoting the film adaptation of another of his books (and one geared towards a slightly younger audience), I was resolved I needed to read something else by Ness.  I am so. glad. I did.  I began with the Chaos Walking trilogy and moved onto A Monster Calls (review follows tomorrow).  Guys, if Release was not for you, that does not mean Ness is not for you.

Overall: The Chaos Walking trilogy is a robust and rousing world-build which I felt deserved a chef kiss of bennisimo at its conclusion.  

Let's break this down a little more, book by book;

The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
  • I was reminded of Stiefvater all over again in style and The Dream Thieves in particular.  In atmosphere, of The Wasp Factory and Lord of the Flies -- only The Knife is more compelling and...better (to my taste).  Either of those classics would serve well as a comparative class study, but holy crackers I would salivate at the prospect of studying this alongside Ender's Game.
  • There are multiple narrative perspectives, and I think the devices employed to distinguish between these two personalities make them impressively distinct from each other.
  • Strong language is used tastefully and very intentionally (two major curses in this one, by my count).
  • I devoured the varied sentence-lengths and paragraphs and found the story crazy-compelling.  At first I felt like I was picking my way through and deciding how I felt about it all, but from the inciting incident onwards I was in, and in deep.  I saw some things coming, but others I did not and it made for a thrilling ride.
  • There's a lot of violence --  both implied and graphically described.  The most insidious images are those I insinuated, however.  (Typical.)
  • No sex scenes; euphemisms and vague references to sex are brief and tasteful.
Overall: Book 1 is so well done, and one I'm quick to recommend to people I think would enjoy it;  but it's certainly not for everyone.  I saw Laini Taylor say in her GR review that it's good...but it's also a punch to the gut.  So true.

The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness
  • It is like a gift from the English Teacher gods; because Book 2 in this series is a perfect comparative study for Speaker for the Dead!  AH!  (I also would love to write and read essays drawing on links to Peter Pan.)
  • One sad thing about having a roaring, crazy-compelling first book built upon intrigue, is that it is one tough act to follow.  Book 2 is by no means a weak book, but after becoming accustomed to the pace set in Book 1 and after having so many questions answered, I didn't drive through the sequel with the same urgency; I could put it down (and even read another series in the middle of it -- I needed something lighter, and indulged myself accordingly).  BUT THEN -- chapter four introduces a new narrative voice that upped the investment anti-, and later, from the three-quarter mark, I was so obsessed all over again!  
  • Reveals are less for fun and less contrived than say The Maze Runner, and have greater relevance to the story.
  • I appreciate that as this story develops there is a greater emphasis on hope in spite of all of the loss and pain.  I needed that.  It made me feel a little fist-pumpy even.
  • Small beef:  The horses.  Oh Patrick, how you've short-changed these majestic creatures!  I'll say no more for those yet to read, but c'mon, they're so majestic and intelligent!
Overall:  Book 2 is slower (a very relative term!) than Book 1, but still essential and strong!

Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness
  • It was finally, in Book 3, that I put my finger on what exactly made it so difficult for me to rip through all three novels in immediate succession; it's the humour situation!  There is humour in these, no doubt, but it is served sparingly.  If I had read these as they were released -- with more space (and stories) between, I doubt I would have encountered the same stumbling block.  Back-to-back though, they're pretty dark and dry. 
  • It was because I didn't see enough warmth from characters, I think, that I didn't care as much in the battle scenes as I should have.  I think one of the greatest stories being told in Book 3 is how war changes people, but sadly war is so much the default mode in Book 3 that change is barely detectable; I was not charmed by endearing characters to be shaken by their gravitas on the battlefield, because things are mostly serious, most of the time.
  • In the third installment, I also sadly found the switching perspectives at times unnecessary and too frequent.
  • But there are so poetic beauties in the writing.
  • GOLLY did the protags make some annoying choices in this one.  
  • Good thing the chief villain had chops. (Yeah, there are multiple villains in this series.)
  • On a related note: I'm team Spackle.  Let it be known.  If you've read these, let me speak to this point.
  • I had so many rich, enjoyable moments in the trilogy's resolution; the final book is really gratifying, even profound.  The morals and allegory may be spelled out a little, but they're morals worth making clear.  I was so pleased hope continued to triumph.  
  • Disclaimer-wise, there's some blasphemy, allusions to sexual intimacy and plenty more violence.
Overall: Book 3 brings everything together in a way that makes the stuff I sniffed at better; even the elements I'd thought, "this isn't great" seem "all good" in retrospect.  That's quite a feat!  What a conclusion!  I closed Book 3 and thought, "Darn good!"  My rec: Ride this one to its end, it magnifies the overall memorability of the world and impact of its themes and characters.

I'm very fortunate to have enjoyed reviewing the clean-design new editions of this series.  I'm reluctant to lend them to anyone because their spines are so darn pretty...but I can't stop talking about them, so I'm guessing I'll suck it up.  Or you can all just buy them unread in good faith!  Go on.

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