Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Doctor Who Day

Apparently today is Doctor Who Day - a celebration of the day Doctor Who first graced our television sets.
And who am I to turn down any chance to show a bit of love for my dearly loved Doctor and the absolutely most amazing TV show I've ever seen!?
So Happy Doctor Who Day!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Walter the Farting Dog

I have a new favourite book character. His name is Walter, and he's a farting dog. Whether you are familiar with Walter or not, you really need to read all about his farting adventures.  I have not laughed at or loved a picture book so much since I was a wee tot reading Graeme Base.

There are five Walter books in this hilarious picture book series - Walter the Farting Dog; Walter the Farting Dog: Trouble at the Yard Sale; Rough Weather Ahead for Walter the Farting Dog; Walter the Farting Dog Goes on a Cruise; and Walter the Farting Dog: Banned from the Beach. I hear now there is also going to be a movie in 2013. Not sure how well it will translate to the screen (anyone remember the Garfield movie?) but I can see the appeal.

I guess it would be easy to run with the easy humour idea of a farting dog, but these books are warm, genuinely hilarious, witty and Walter such a lovable creation, despite his frequent troubles with gas. The books are also quite irrelevant, but that's what I love about them. They are also gently mocking/ridiculing, but in a way appropriate to kids. And the illustrations are strange but suit the story so well. Everything about the books just fits perfectly together.

I love a good underdog, and I guess Walter is the perfect one in every sense of the word. Although good-natured, he is frequently judged for his smelly farts and how they inconvenience everyone around him. Often when someone tries to help Walter control his problem, it just makes it worse. And then something happens and Walter will save the day with his enormous gas build-up. A dog who saves the day by farting - you've just got to love it.

Pretty much the perfect picture book, and hits all the right notes for kids. I just adore Walter the Farting Dog!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

This edition published in hardback by Bloomsbury, 2008.

I do love me some Neil Gaiman - he has done some terrific, wacky, original and touching (especially his shorter fiction) stuff over the years. And as a lover of children's fiction, The Graveyard Book has been on my radar since its release - even if I've only got to it now!

On the night his family is murdered, a toddler wanders into a graveyard, where the ghosts and supernatural residents who live there agree to raise him as one of their own. Bod, as he is named, grows up with all the dangers and adventures possible in a graveyard, but he is not allowed to leave - or the man Jack, who killed Bod's family, will kill Bod too.

Although The Graveyard Book was all the things I thought it would be - clever, magical, well-written, quirky - for me it lacked an emotional punch. I wanted it to kind of chew up all my emotions, as well as my imagination - like the best fantasy does. But I feel like it never quite got there.

Although certainly creative and well-written, I think the way The Graveyard Book is written might be part of the reason why I never really fell in love. It's very episodic, each chapter concerning an event every two years in Bod's life, with the threat of the man Jack hanging loosely over everything. Each chapter could be a short story, in fact I'm sure I have read some of the chapters in short story compilations, and all throughout the book I was in that weird, sometimes annoying state of going, 'I'm sure I've read this before.'

Gaiman's books have such a wonderful folklorish feel to them, and that is certainly present here. It's a special kind of gritty whimsy. The chapters about the ghoul-gate and the danse macarbe are the best kind of creepy and lovely respectively. That sense of the other, of longing for fantastic worlds just out of reach, is done with a great sense of understanding and love.

Gaiman's secondary characters are always a joy - I especially had a lot of love for Silas, Miss Lupescu and Liza. They are the kind of strange, mysterious and charming characters we make stories about as a kid. They, and others, provide just the right amount of wisdom and fun.

There are, of course, obvious metaphors - namely Bod growing up and learning about the world outside the graveyard, learning from his own mistakes, is reflective of any young person's journey into the unfamiliar world of adulthood. This is never done in twee or over-the-top ways. Bod is often thoughtless and makes mistakes but we see throughout the book how he learns from them and respects those he does ask for advice. The mistakes he makes always seem justified because we are put so fully in his head that we understand them - this is great, effective writing. Bod is quite an endearing little character and we see how his life and actions are enriched by others.

The Graveyard Book is lots of fun with some widsom and depth to boot, but not quite the emotional attachment to tie it all together. Book two in my quest to read 10 children's classics before the end of the year. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Siren's Storm, by Lisa Papademetriou

First published by Random House in 2011

A new summer is starting and both Will and his best friend Gretchen are troubled, recovering from a tragedy that took Will’s brother’s life the summer before. Gretchen’s sleepwalking is taking her closer and closer to the water, and Will is intrigued and a little bit beguiled by mysterious newcomer Asia, who has an unnatural effect on people. What is her story, and what do Will and Gretchen have to do with the sinister goings on in their sparkling summer town?

I’m seeing a trend. Vampire paranormal YA seemed to take well to the high school setting. Fallen angel books were all about boarding schools. Mermaids have got summer vacations covered all across the genre – nice for me, I guess – mermaids, the beach and young love – some of my very favourite things.

Siren’s Storm was another book that grew on me. When I first started reading I just thought: bleh. I couldn’t really find anything to like, and it all felt a bit juvenile. But it’s an easy enough read, and after a while I warmed to it.

I didn’t think the introduction of The Odyssey mythology blended into the story, or really suited it. For it to work, I think it needed to infuse all the pages, needed to be engrained more. Getting it in a chunk at the end kind of felt just like a way to give weight to a pretty lightweight story. A shame, because oh my goodness, I would love to read a book where bringing that kind of history and mythology into a modern story was done really well.

Also, the revealing of Gretchen’s true nature – I didn’t really get it, or what she was supposed to be. Once again, I would have liked to see that build up through the story, rather than just getting it in a scene at the end.

I liked Asia and Gretchen as characters. Will was okay. I actually really enjoyed reading from the male perspective, and I also liked all the details about his family business and his stall and the farm and the fact that Papademetriou actually gave him a life and hobbies away from the romance/mermaid plot. Some good supporting characters too, although the dialogue was perhaps just a little cringey.

Look, it’s an easy read, the writing is okay, and it will be interesting if you’re into the whole mermaid/siren thing. Plot wise and structurally I could pick a few holes. If I had really high expectations I would be disappointed. But I kind of just took Siren’s Storm for what it was, and in that way it’s pretty harmless.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Peter S. Beagle wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Peter S. Beagle won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Fantasy Awards 2011.
I think this is wonderful - I have long been an admirer of his gorgeous books, especially those for kids. They are full of wit, wisdom, imagination and warmth. Well deserved.

Journey to the River Sea, by Eva Ibbotson

First published in 2001. This edition published in 2002, by Macmillan.

Maia, an orphan, is about to leave the boarding school she has grown up in and start a long sea voyage to Brazil. Up the Amazon River, she will begin a new life with her governess, Miss Minton, and relatives she has never met. In the jungle she will find exotic worlds under the canopy of trees, the colour and life of the local Indians, friendships and adventures like she has never had before. But it can’t all be good, of course, or where would the story be?

Journey to the River Sea is a lovely little story, rich and warm-hearted, with great doses of energy and imagination. The baddies get their come-uppance, the good guys get their happy ending, and everything in-between is uplifting and told with wisdom and humour.

I think perhaps because everything was just as it should be, that I didn’t quite love this as much as I hoped. I found it all just a little too nice and lacking in a bit of pizzazz; although at the same time I can’t really find anything wrong with it. It’s just there is never that sense of danger or intrigue, because I knew, from the tone of the book, that everything would always work out in the end.

I did enjoy the sly digs and knowing humour. It’s great the way Ibbotson took a stab at the ‘baddies’ whenever the opportunity arose – and it’s never nasty, just enough to show them up.

There is a great sense of discovery in Journey, both with Maia discovering what she is capable of, and of a strange and wonderful world waiting to be explored, if only you are brave enough to do so. Actually, the whole book is big on bravery. But the Amazon jungle has a very real presence here, and Ibbotson paints its humidity, its colour, its sound and its secrets with love and energy.

Maia has lots of spirit and enterprise but I really loved Miss Minton – the fearsome old governess with, really, a heart of gold. And not done in a sappy way either. Above all others, I wanted a happy ending for her.

An enjoyable story, with pleasant humour, racing adventure and overall a nicely satisfying quality. I want to read ten ‘children’s classics’ by the end of 2011. This was book one.