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Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great - Bob Shea Haiku Review at: http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/haiku-review-unicorn-thinks-hes-pretty-great/

Who could go past a kid's book with such a provocative title? Not me, that's for sure. This will appeal to anyone (young or old!) who has ever harboured that creeping feeling of envy mixed with feigned indifference toward some tall poppy in their sphere of social interaction.

The enormously appealing illustrations are an added bonus to a fun, funny story for the early school years market.

Although for those of us in the adult world, it could be amusing to leave this one lying around in a communal space at your workplace and see who picks it up.

Cold Fusion 2000

Cold Fusion 2000 - Karl Drinkwater I gratefully received a copy of this book from the author for review.

My synopsis:
Alex Kavanagh is a single, failed physics PhD candidate and unsatisfied teacher still living (rather unhappily)at home at age 30. While bemoaning the end of another romantic relationship and questioning his ability with women generally, Alex bumps into an ex-lover, Lucy, whose unfaithfulness in their past encounter caused Alex great pain and generally derailed his happy existence. The story unfolds as Alex and Lucy become reacquainted and Alex discovers some truths about love and about himself.

Unlike some of the other reviewers here, I was immediately engaged by the character of Alex - yes, he's immature and socially inept and generally a bit painful to all who encounter him, but the early parts of the novel had enough humour and quirkiness to draw me in and keep me barracking for Alex despite his general un-like-ability. When Lucy enters the picture, (in a way that sets us up for a twist later in the book) I was further drawn into the story and really wanted to find out how the relationship would unfold. At this point, the characters in Alex's family were playing a supporting role and the focus was on Alex and Lucy.

Events in the second half of the novel see the focus shift to Alex and his family, and at this point I really lost interest in what was going on. It seemed to me at this point that the momentum that had been building up, was lost as the story took a completely unexpected turn into what, in my opinion, was a much less interesting realm. Yes, it demonstrated that Alex was growing as a person, but by the time the twist at the end of the book was revealed, I had moved beyond worrying about Alex.

This is an engaging read with enough lightness and humour to keep the reader interested for the most part. Alex has enough foibles to produce interesting results in the social situations in which he has been placed. Lucy, for my money, is the more interesting of the two main characters and there is a lot of scope for the reader to try and deduce the twist before it is revealed.

Pick this book up if you're looking for a light but quirky read, and a love story with a difference.
Fortunately, the Milk . . . - Neil Gaiman Okay. As a big Neil Gaiman fan, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this one unexpectedly. I've just knocked it over in one very short sitting, and I have to say, it reads like a cross between Douglas Adams and that game kids play where each person adds a random sentence in order to make a story. I found it merely okay...BUT I am not in the target age group for this book, and I honestly think middle readers will thoroughly enjoy this offering.
Riddell's illustrations add greatly to the experience ... And am I mistaken in thinking that the father in the story looks suspiciously like the author himself?
Definitely recommended reading for those in the 8 - 12 years age bracket.
Broken Homes - Ben Aaronovitch First things first, it's actually a 3.5 from me. I had been eagerly anticipating this one, being a big fan of the series.
Things started off well, with a body discovered in mysterious circumstances, followed by a suicide-that-wasn't, so everything was pointing towards another rollicking adventure for Peter, Lesley and Nightingale (and Toby, of course). And then.....
....well the pace slowed considerably. I found that Broken Homes really sagged in the middle, much to its detriment. If I wasn't such a fan of the series, I may have been tempted to put this one down halfway through, in all honesty. But then...
...I'm very glad I didn't because the story is rescued by a quite spectacular and totally unexpected climax.

Overall, if you aren't already a fan of the series, this won't be the book that wins you over. If you are a fan, and can happily forgive a little bit of boring on the basis of past enjoyment, then this will be another positive addition to the series.

The Screaming Staircase - Jonathan Stroud More at: http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/read-it-if-review-lockwood-co-the-screaming-staircase/

I received a digital review copy of this title via NetGalley from Random House Australia.

Synopsis: In a London in which ghosts harrass the living and require special attention to be properly laid to rest, we encounter Lucy Carlyle as she attempts to gain employment with a reputable Psychic Investigation Agency. Lucy finds work with Lockwood & Co, a slightly renegade outfit comprised of fellow teens-with-paranormal-sensitivities, Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins. Together the three attempt to employ their skills against the Problem while simultaneously dealing with looming bankruptcy and a years-old murder mystery.

Firstly, although I was immediately drawn to the title, cover art and synopsis of this book, I honestly didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Don't get me wrong, I expected to enjoy it - this is a genre I particularly like and I had read and enjoyed Stroud's work before. I also expected, however, that this would be your standard, readable tale of ghost-busting by a plucky and quirky teen cast.

In actual fact, the voice of the main character and the way the plot unfolded were highly engaging - so much so that I found myself continually snatching time to read (even though that required me to switch on the computer, wait the interminable time while it boots up etc etc).

The early events of the story, and the information about Lucy's childhood, put me in mind of Sabriel, she of Garth Nix's brilliant Abhorsen trilogy - a strong, young female character with wit and pluckiness to spare, but drawn in such a way as to not be stereotypical or overdone in any way. In fact, each of the three main characters was nicely balanced with flaws and foibles that fleshed them out beyond the two-dimensional. I particularly enjoyed the exchanges between Lucy and George, the humour in which really added to the more action-charged scenes later in the book.

There were a few quirks to this book that I feel the need to mention. Although the references to rapiers and ghost-lamps etc in the first part of the book may put you in mind of a historical time-frame, the story takes place in modern-day London. Also, the screaming staircase of the title doesn't come into the book until after the halfway point -this doesn't detract from the events at all, but I found that the pacing picked up considerably after this point and raced on to a very satisfying conclusion.

I highly recommend this title to readers from early teens onwards, who enjoy a good ghost romp, a bit of murder mystery and a lot of dry humour packaged in some fantastic, engaging writing.


Skulk - Rosie Best This review is based on an ARC print copy received with thanks from the publisher. More at http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/skulk-arc-review-read-it-if/

The story: Meg, under-appreciated daughter and unrecognised graffiti artist, gains the power to shape-shift into fox form after witnessing the death of another shifter. She is then drawn into a hidden world of shifters and finds herself the focus of attention of a highly sadistic (yet utterly modern) sorceress. Suddenly, an ordinary life doesn't look quite so bad after all.

I've found that I'm becoming a bit of an urban fantasy buff, and I have to say that Skulk is a welcome addition to that genre and ticks a lot of my "good-read-o-meter" boxes..

Ordinary, believable main character? Tick.
Great cover art sans broody-faced, long-haired girl? Tick
Romance that isn't shoved awkwardly into the plot? Tick
An easy-to-follow fantasy set-up that remains engaging throughout the book? Tick

As a young adult novel with paranormal/fantasy elements, Skulk stands out on the strength of Best's characterisation and plot-pacing. Meg and her supporting cast are not overblown, nor reduced to stereotypes, as happens in a lot of YA stuff going around. Similarly, the plot unfolds at a decent pace, allowing for some breathing space between the action, but not so much that you're required to flip ahead to get the story moving again.

The only real trouble I had with this one was trying to keep the names of the different shape-shifting groups in my head as I was reading (and there are only five, so it shouldn't be too hard!) - might I suggest a small pictogram with labels at the start of the book for the visual learners among us?

The element that put me most off balance while reading was the references to parental abuse that crop up now and again - Meg lives with a particularly cruel and abusive mother,an indifferent and distant father and some hired help who, oddly, seem to side with the parents against Meg. I'm not sure what it was about these scenes that threw me, but it was these, rather than the drug references or graphic descriptions of blood and gore that would have me placing this one squarely in the realm of older teen readers and above.

If you're new to urban fantasy, Skulk would be a great place to start, and if you're looking for a refreshing twist on YA paranormal/fantasy/romance, you could certainly do a lot worse than this title.


Nell's Festival of Crisp Winter Glories

Nell's Festival of Crisp Winter Glories - Glenda Millard, Stephen Michael King Actually 3.5 rating from me. I love this series, but didn't feel this one was quite as good as the rest. A nice, fitting end to the series nevertheless. Recommended.
Absent In The Spring - Agatha Christie, Mary Westmacott Full review at: http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/whats-in-a-name-challenge-absent-in-the-spring/

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I was expecting more soppiness, given that the Westmacott collection had been touted as romance novels, but was happy to find not-too-far a departure from Christie's more familiar work. This is an engaging psychological portrait of a self-assured woman, and is presented with humour and some great character studies.
Everwild - Neal Shusterman Full review at: http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/double-haiku-review-everlost-and-everwild/

It had been a couple of years since I'd read Everlost when I picked this one up, but I had hardly any trouble jumping straight back into the world of the Afterlights. There is a lot going on in Everwild and the action is fairly consistent although I found the first section featuring Allie, Mikey and Milos to be slower than I would have liked. While the cliffhanger ending certainly sets things up for a compelling finale to the series, I was a bit surprised by the sinister tone and events in the last few chapters, but perhaps I shouldn't have been knowing Shusterman's style. Overall, this was a solid middle book with enough new stuff to keep the plot moving, but not too much to remember and take in if it's been a while between reading book one and two.

Chasing Butterflies (Little Life Lessons)

Chasing Butterflies (Little Life Lessons) - Harry Toews Firstly, I actually would rate this one 3.5 stars.

Chasing Butterflies is a gentle read that follows Sophia and Matteo as they discover an important lesson about judging by appearances. The illustrations are simple, colourful and appealing and perfect for the ebook format in which this book has been released. Young children will thoroughly enjoy the reveal of the "magic" and no doubt be inspired to begin their own quest to discover something similar in their own backyard.

Given the amount of text in the book, I would recommend this story for early independent readers. Alternatively, given the inter-generational theme to the tale, it would be the perfect book for grandparents to gift to and read with their grandchildren.

Thanks to the author for the opportunity to read and review Chasing Butterflies.

The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses

The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses - Lisa Wheeler, Zachariah OHora Full review at http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/two-quirky-picture-books-read-it-aloud-if/

This is a really enjoyable picture book. The poems follow on from each other, creating a narrative, and are jam-packed with funny observations from the intrepid little investigator searching out the perfect candidate for pet-hood. The length of the text and the format would probably be more suited to young independent readers, or alternately, make it a great option for a classroom read-aloud on the subject of taking a scientific approach to decision-making.

The illustrations are quirky and humorous and add a great deal to the appeal of the book.
The Wind Singer (The Wind on Fire, Book 1) - William Nicholson The Wind on Fire is one of my all time favourite series. The Wind Singer seemed to me a hefty read as there was so much going on. The world creation was very well done in this novel, and Nicholson has a great handle on suspense and writing to elicit emotion.

Highly recommended.
Shark vs. Train - Chris Barton, Tom Lichtenheld Full review at http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/two-quirky-picture-books-read-it-aloud-if/

This is the perfect book for any little boy (or indeed any person, of any gender and any age), who just loves a good hypothetical debate. The illustrations are appealing, the scenarios are quirky and well-chosen and the whole book just exudes imagination.

Mrs Queen Takes the Train

Mrs Queen Takes the Train - William Kuhn Full review at http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/read-it-if-the-gargoyles-reviews-for-the-time-poor-or-goldfish-sized-attention-spans/

This is a delightful little read that is perfect for those times when you just need a bit of light-heartedness to lift your mood. There's nothing particularly cerebral going on here, but there are plenty of quirky characters to keep you engaged, not least of whom is old ER herself. In a hoodie. On a public train. Really, what more could you want?
I Want My Hat Back - Jon Klassen Full review at http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/mad-marthas-haiku-review-jon-klassens-classics/

This is the definitive cautionary tale about hat theft and its consequences.

Highly recommended.
Finders Keepers - Emily Rodda Full review at http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/retro-reading-finders-keepers/

This is a great little blast from the past - a tight story with engaging characters. I'd recommend it for any kid who has an adventurous spirit.