An Unseasonal ARC Haiku Review: Santa Clauses…

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Welcome one and all to our unseasonably jolly post! It’s Mad Martha with you today, bringing you an early Christmas present – Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Chuck Groenink!  Despite having verbal first names in common, these two clever blokes have combined their talents to create an eye-soothing Christmas miracle of a picture book, filled with haiku to enhance the poetical pleasure of your preparations for the big, exciting, big, stressful, exciting, big celebration that is Christmas.

The book opens on December 1st, with a haiku-ish weather report accompanied by Santa (in casual attire) amidst a snowstorm of just-delivered mail.  From there we are treated to a haiku a day, covering all the bustle and administrational organisation that goes on at the North Pole in preparation for that night of nights.  Who would have thought that Santa himself is subjected to the trifling annoyances of the season, such as untangling festive lights and replacing faulty bulbs? Other poems inform us that Santa and his Northern folk also partake of the more joyful traditions of the season, including stringing popcorn garlands and sharing favourite Christmas stories beside the fire (or in the barn!).

santa clauses

Advent calendar

of haiku will be our new

yearly tradition

As lovers of haiku, we around the shelf were overjoyed to find this beuatiful new rendering of the familiar lead-up to Christmas type of book.  It’s such a simple idea and a fantastic way to introduce children to this form of poetry.  I suspect parents will enjoy it also, given that it provides a nice break from having to read rhyming stories about Santa repeatedly from September onwards!  So the haiku format was always going to be a winner for us, but the icing on the cake is the amazing quality of illustration that Chuck Groenink has achieved.  The pictures are soft and inviting and but still reflect the mystery and anticipation of the season.  For someone living in the (blistering) Southern Hemisphere, Christmasy books that emphasise the snowiness that we don’t experience here can often feel a little bit annoyingly exclusive, but Groenink’s imagery conveys the comfort of familiar family traditions and the atmosphere of a little community coming together drew us in as something we could connect with, rather than emphasising our lack of cold at Christmas time.

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We at the shelf love this book so much that we are going to buy it in hardcover and begin a new pre-Christmas advent ritual of reading it in the run-up to Christmas.  Much more satisfying than that Elf on the Shelf business. Does anyone else find that Elf a little bit disturbing? Like a little malevolent minion watching all that’s going on…with his eyes…always watching.  It’s all a bit too 1984 for me (the book, not the period in history).  We suggest that you do the same and bring a bit of haiku into the Christmas season.

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole is released on September 1st, so you have plenty of time to acquire it before December!

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

*I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

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Jake and the Giant Hand: A Review for The Good, The Sad and The Quirky!

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Welcome, welcome, come in, make yourself comfortable…for today I have for you a story so strange, so mind-bendingly eerie, so unbelievably weird and bizarre that….no, wait.  I don’t know if you’re up to it. Really.  Maybe you should go somewhere else for your review today, because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any weirdness-related heart attacks or strange-induced night terrors.  Really? You think you’ll be fine? Well, if you say so. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  But at least allow me to tell you about this book via my various emotional identities – the Good, the Sad and the Quirky!

Today I present to you Jake and the Giant Hand by Philippa Dowding, a book in the new series for middle-grade readers, Weird Stories Gone Wrong.  We are well-disposed to Ms Dowding round the shelf because she has also written a few books featuring gargoyles.  They sold quite well too, I believe.  We have one sitting on the shelf waiting to be read.  Soon my pretty.  But I digress.  In Jake and the Giant Hand, we meet Jake, an ordinary sort of boy who has gone to visit his Grandpa for the summer holidays.  This is a yearly occurence for Jake and most of his prior visits have seen him spending time with neighbours Kate and Chris, riding bikes and telling ghost stories.  This year, Kate tells a tall tale about a giant’s dismembered hand discovered in a farmer’s field over 100 years ago.  Jake doesn’t believe the tale could be true, but he can’t deny there’s some weird stuff going on around the farm this year.  Take the giant flies, for instance.  Or the weird stone he discovers in a post-hole.  Not to mention his Grandpa’s uncharacteristic reserve about the events in the story.  Depending on what Jake finds out, this could be a summer holiday to remember!

jake and the giant hand

This is the kind of book that will draw young male readers to it like flies to a particularly stinky pile of rotting compost.  It is the perfect subject matter with which to tempt reluctant readers, and it dovetails nicely with an age group that is just beginning to gain some independence from parents and take on experiences laced with adventure.  So I suspect this one will be a hit with middle-graders.

image* The content is great – ghost stories, tall tales, the potential to uncover a particularly bizarre and freakish secret in one’s own backyard – all of this points to popularity amongst middle grade readers

* This is a relatively quick read, and it is peppered with illustrations here and there, so it’s not too off-putting for reluctant or struggling readers

*I suspect this will be a great read-aloud choice for teachers wanting to freak out kids on school camp

The only thing I didn’t really rate in the story was the abrupt manner of the reveal.  There’s a lot of creepy, odd build up before Jake eventually solves the mystery, and I felt that the scene in which the the mystery is revealed didn’t quite gel with the rest of the book.  There is an epilogue of sorts in which we find out what happens later, and it may just be the nature of the genre, with a slow build-up and quick surprising reveal, but I was left wanting, just a little.

image* The surprise ending seemed a bit forced to me, and didn’t quite match the creepy weirdness of the events leading up to it

* Jake has issues with Gus, his Grandpa’s stinky dog.  I felt it was a bit unfair that Gus was held accountable for his stinkiness when it wasn’t really something he could control.  I realise this is a small quibble, but as a self-appointed spokesthing for unsightly/malodorous creatures everywhere, one I felt should be mentioned

If you’re looking for quirky, and let’s admit it, we all are in one form or another, you will not be disappointed with this book.  As a citizen of the country that brought you the hat-with-the-dangly-corks as a low-tech fly repellant, I was with Jake all the way in the creep-out stakes here.

image* Quirkiness abounds – there are flies at least as big as the family dog, tales of wandering swamp hags and oversized dismembered limbs to be encountered as you follow Jake’s adventures

* There is also the opportunity to discover the purpose and manner of working of an auger, for those who are unschooled in the ways of this important piece of equipment

Overall, I’d have to say this was a great, fun read and I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the rest of the series.  There’s plenty of humour here, crazy, exciting mystery and just the right level of strange goings-on to provide an enjoyably creepy atmosphere without scaring the pants off anyone.  A definite “read it to your middle-grader” I reckon!

Jake and the Giant Hand is due for release in September 2014.

Of course you all noticed that this title would perfectly acquit two categories of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) and category five (a book with something that comes in pairs in the title).  There’s still plenty of time to sign up and join in the fun!  Click on the image to find out more:

small fry

 

Until next time,

Bruce

*I received a digital copy of this title for review from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!*

 

 

Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Supernatural Enhancements…

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Before we begin today’s review, I would like you to ask yourself the following questions: Do I like to be challenged by twisty, turny bizarre happenings in my reading?  Do I love a good old family mystery involving an apparent curse passed through the male line that results in certain death?  Would I ever name my dog “Help”?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then this book might just be for you.

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero is part mystery, part sinister game and part historical essay.  When A. inherits Axton House as part of an estate from a distant American cousin that he didn’t know he had, he discovers it is just the first of a range of surprises in store for him and his young friend Niamh.  The circumstances preceding A’s inheritance  involved the sudden death of his cousin, Ambrose Wells, through self-defenestration (incidentally at the same age and in the same circumstances as his father before him), and on arriving in Point Bless to take possession of the property, A. and Niamh discover a well-known ghost, The Ngara Girl, is somehow connected with the house.  When A. begins having terrible nightmares and thinks he sees the ghost in one of the house’s bathrooms, things become far more serious.  Niamh and A. begin recording their actions using surveillance cameras to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.  But when someone breaks into Axton House for reasons A. and Niamh can’t quite work out, it marks the beginning of their involvement in a dangerous game of codes and ciphers, left behind by Ambrose Wells and due to be continued with a secret group of his acquaintances.  What started as a simple examination of his rightful inheritance appears to be turning into a dangerous mystery that could see the curse of the Wells family exerting itself once again.

supernatural enhancementsRead it if:

* as a kid (or an adult!), you always liked to write notes in invisible ink and sneakily record people’s conversations, a la Macauley Culkin in Home Alone

* as a kid (or an adult), you always fancied yourself to be a bit of an Indiana Jones type – an exotic blend of intellectual pariah and treasure-hunting extrovert

* you believe that secret societies should at least have the decency to put up signs to notify outsiders of secret activities, lest said outsiders accidentally stumble upon said secret activities and do themselves a mischief

First off, this was not the book I thought it was going to be when I first read the blurb.  Happily, it turned out to be a lot better in that it was far more complex than I expected, was written in a way that embraced a whole range of narrative styles and managed to strike a perfect balance between light humour and dense mystery.

The best part for me about this book was the fact that it is written as a collection of diary entries, notebook exchanges, excerpts from textbooks, letters (to a mysterious Aunt Liza), and transcripts of video and audio recordings.  Now I know this kind of format is not for everyone, but it seems to suit my gnat-sized attention span perfectly.  I love books that jump around in POV or in different styles because I find it keeps me, as a reader, on my toes and for this particular story, which ended up quite complicated towards the end, it broke up the plot twists nicely, as well as giving me time to digest different bits of information.

As well as the initial mysteries that are presented here – namely, who is the mysterious Ambrose Wells, why did he leave his estate to a distant relative he’d never met and what’s with all the throwing one’s self out windows? – the innocent investigations by A. and Niamh into their new home quickly throw up more and more questions – such as why did the butler bugger off after his master’s suicide, is there really the ghost of a slave girl who haunts the house and what are these weird coded notes left about the place addressed to dead Ancient Greeks?  It seems that the further you read into the story, the more layers are uncovered, culminating in a fantastically imaginative reveal followed by a violent and unexpected climax.

The two main characters are well-drawn, although we never quite get to find out their entire backstories.  Why are we never told A.’s full name? What happened to cause Niamh to be mute? And what is the exact nature of the relationship between the two?  To whom is Aunt Liza related?  While this lack of information did irritate me a little in the beginning as I tried to piece together who these people were, it eventually became something that didn’t really matter and sort of added a bit more intrigue to the goings-on.

I found this book to be both incredibly engaging – I was sucked in right from the first few pages, due to A.’s likeable and matter-of-fact voice – and possessed of a storyline that was designed to fire the imagination and get the puzzle-centres of the mind working.  The ending was a little bit enigmatic, but at the same time I found it weirdly satisfying and appropriate.  Having said that though, I could imagine some readers being annoyed with the lack of any definitive answers regarding some of the characters and their associated mysteries.  I also found this book to be one that deserves your full attention.  It didn’t strike me as a book that you’d pick up for a light break or even one that you could put down for any significant length of time, due to the complex nature of the plot.

For the right reader at the right time though, this is going to be an absolute hidden gem and one that will keep you thinking about it long after the story is finished.  For sheer originality and Cantero’s ability to keep hold of a whole bunch of twisting plot threads, I have to give this book a high recommendation.

Until next time,

Bruce

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An Indie MG Double Dip: Mystery, Humour, Amateur Detectives and Ice Cream Entrepreneurs…

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Ahoy my Literati-hearties!  For today’s double-dip review you will need to select a snack that evokes youthfulness and responsibility, coupled with a dipping agent that is equal parts mystery and levity because the middle-grade indie titles that I now present to you are the perfect blend of the aforementioned qualities.  Personally, I’m going for chocolate-coated, ruffle-cut, salted chips paired with a marshmallow and avocado dip, but I trust that you’ll make the right choice for you.  Let’s dive in!

22066928Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor by Julie Anne Grasso (Australian! Woo!) follows a snippet in the life of Frankie Dupont, young aspiring detective.  Upon noticing that his cousin (and good friend) Kat has not made her daily pre-school phone call, Frankie soon discovers that Kat is missing from her parent’s room at Enderby Manor.  Knowing that the chances of the police assigned to the case, and in particular the incompetent Inspector Cluesome, finding Kat are less than that of a wet tissue in a wind tunnel, Frankie immediately springs into action, questioning the staff at the Manor and finding very interesting clues and suspicious characters aplenty.  But as Frankie uncovers more pieces of the puzzle, things just don’t seem to fit and it looks like Kat may in fact be stuck in a place that’s beyond the help of an ordinary boy (or even an extraordinary one like Frankie).  With Kat’s time running out, Frankie and his new friend Lachy must work together to outwit and outmanoeuvre some of the Manor’s quirky residents who definitely do not want this mystery to be solved.

Dip into it for…

…a fun and fast-paced mystery adventure that will be right up the alley of any budding detectives in the middle grade age bracket.  There’s plenty of off-beat and silly humour here that is pitched perfectly for the intended age-range and the characters are also of the slightly cartoonish sort that are reminiscent of the characters found in the works of Roald Dahl and David Walliams.  There’s the chef with a pet parrot that inevitably contradicts everything he says, a remarkably unhelpful little person (or is he?) who hangs about around the gardens and then, of course, there’s Inspector Cluesome fulfilling the role of annoyingly pompous know-nothing know-it-all.

I could not predict the fantastical twist that is at the heart of the mystery and I was both surprised and pleased at the turn of events that saw a bit of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey science fiction injected into the plot.  The ending was quite satisfying really, because it came out of the blue and really gave the plot a bit of a boost just as the mystery was being solved.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a plain, garden variety mystery story.  A little bit of bending of the laws of time and space is at the heart of solving this mystery, so if you’re just into your standard, all-laws-of-the-universe-are-obeyed, I-can-guess-the-ending-before-it-happens sort of detective story I can imagine that you will be heartily disappointed with this one.

I suspect that this story will also appeal much more to the target age range than those outside of it.  I enjoyed it as an adult reader, but it is very much pitched at middle-graders, so don’t expect anything too deep going into it.

Overall Dip Factor

I would recommend this book to anyone in the middle grade age bracket who likes a good puzzle or two, is enamoured by the thought of a manor house with a garden maze (and a few secrets hidden away inside the walls), and likes a surprise twist in their reading.  The cartoon-style  illustrations scattered throughout the book also add kid-appeal and provide a nice visual element to the story.  This is the first in a new series about Frankie and his detective work and for that reason this should also be a great choice for kids whose reading appetite is insatiable once they find a character they like.

Now, onto book number two in this double dip!

22589546The Secrets of Ice Cream Success by A. D. Hartley introduces us to Carlo Leodoni, your typical fourteen year old boy who, as it turns out, is about to inherit his family’s ice cream factory after the untimely (but unrelated) deaths of both his parents.  From spending his summer holiday trying not to make a fool of himself in front of the cute girls who visit his dad’s ice cream van, Carlo is suddenly catapulted into the cutthroat business of ice cream production and has to deal with his dad’s business partner Mr Randolph, who thought the factory would be left in his capable hands, and the local competition, Mr Hill, who is doing all he can to keep Leodoni’s from reaching the top of the ice cream trade. 

With the help of his best friends, and with a bit of supernatural assistance, Carlo decides that he will do his best to bring Leodoni’s back to the top of its game – but he hasn’t reckoned with the tyranny of sabotage, the unexpected resurfacing of someone Carlo thought was out of the picture, and a rumour that threatens to change everything Carlo has ever thought about himself.  Unless Carlo can find some answers and take control of the factory, specks in the ice cream might be the least of his worries.

Dip into it for…

…an original story packed with humour, believable characters and a bit of the ol’ supernatural charm.  This book is probably going to appeal most to the high end of the middle grade bracket and the lower end of the YA audience and along with a fantastic friendship and adventure tale, it features some cracking mysteries to solve and red herrings to trick the reader into complacency.  The story moves at a steady pace and there are enough twists here and enough paranormal elements to keep the reader guessing to the very eventful and emotional ending.  The great thing about this book for me was the depth of the characters and the banter that goes on between the group of friends – it gave the book a light, fun atmosphere that nicely balanced the darker aspects of the plot.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t prepared to suspend your disbelief in a big way in the first few chapters of the book.  This paragraph might contain a few spoilers, so skip to the next one if that offends you…Hartley’s got gumption, I can tell you that, because in the very first chapters of the book he reveals a quite shocking secret about Leodoni’s ice cream – all the more so if you work in any part of the food safety and regulatory business! – and then kills off Carlo’s father in possibly the most ridiculous death ever penned.  While it turns out that this death is necessary to the plot, the manner of the death was so bizarre and unexpected (to me, anyway!), that I nearly put the book down.  I’m glad I didn’t though, because I would have missed a fun and original story.  But heads up, anyway.

Overall Dip Factor

The plot of this book really stood out to me as something different for the target age-bracket.  A thoughtful mix of summer adventures with friends, ghostly goings-on and coming of age tale, Hartley has done a great job at creating a book that is both engaging and light-hearted while at the same time featuring grittier elements of grief, family secrets and the ugly side of getting ahead in business.   This would be the perfect read for young people who want something a bit out of the ordinary, that embraces the paranormal without a single vampire/werewolf/human love triangle in sight, and features ordinary kids in an extraordinary situation.

So there you have it – two more reasons to get some indie into you!  I was lucky enough to be offered copies of both of these books by the authors in exchange for honest reviews.  I’m sure the authors would also love it if you visited them on Goodreads or Twitter to tell them how intriguing you find their books.  Here are some links for you to do just that:

Julie Anne Grasso:     Goodreads    Twitter

A. D. Hartley:     Goodreads     Twitter

Until next time,

Bruce

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Fiction in 50 August Challenge: The Last Place You Look…

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Welcome to the August edition of Fiction in 50, where challengers brave and true undertake an epic quest to create a piece of fiction in fifty words or less, based on a monthly prompt.  New players are always welcome and if you’d like to know more, simply click on the image at the top of the post.

This month’s prompt is…

last place you look

If you want to join in, simply add your contribution to the linky below or leave a link to your post in the comments.  The linky will remain open for a month, so there’s plenty of time to join in.

So here’s my effort. This one was inspired by Hades Speaks! which I reviewed last week, dealing with Ancient Greek death mythology.

I call it:

Paying the Ferryman

“Coin?”

Frowning, I considered.  Immediately before my coronary I’d been rehearsing for Panto, perfecting my stride using that old trick.

Ah.

Unclenching, I rummaged in my trousers for the desired token; offered it up.

His expression: unveiled disgust and…was that…awe?

“Let’s pretend that never happened.  Trip’s on me.”

Over to you, jotters and scribes!  Don’t forget to share the challenge with anyone you think might be interested.  I’ve also taken to using the hashtag #Fi50 and sharing your entries on twitter.  Feel free to do the same!

Our prompt for September is…

a worthy adversary button

Until next time,

Bruce

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Standing Up for the Little Guy: El Deafo! …and a Fi50 reminder…

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It’s that time again – break out your narrative-constructing brains and your writing utensil of choice and join in with Fiction in 50! Each month a new prompt is given and intrepid challengers are required to create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less.  This month, the prompt is:

last place you look

If you’d like to join in, simply create your piece of fiction and link it up to the linky in my post on Monday, or post a link in the comments.  If you want more information about the challenge, click on that large attractive button at the beginning of the post.

Now, on to the newest superhero on the block – El Deafo!

El Deafo by Cece Belle is a graphic novel about turning your physical difference into a show-stopping party trick that serves the greater good.

Cece was an ordinary bunny child until the age of four when she is struck by an illness that keeps her in hospital for much longer than anyone would like. On emerging once again into the world outside the hospital, it becomes apparent that Cece has suffered some major hearing loss. After taking possession of a shiny (and rather bulky) phonic ear, Cece’s spends her first summer in a new town attempting to make sense of what people are saying, and tries hard to master this new hit-and-miss thing called lipreading. On starting school, Cece discovers that her teacher has a special machine that enhances the working of her phonic ear – and that her teacher is also rather forgetful with regard to switching it off. Suddenly Cece is able to hear a lot more than any child in grade one ever should and decides to put this new-found super power to good use. Thus, El Deafo, Listener for All is born!el deafo

Dip into it for…

…a fun, unique story with irresistable artwork. I’m not sure why the author has chosen to make the characters bunnies, but they are the cutest darn bunny-people that have ever graced a page. The artwork just has a charm and an innocence about it that made me yearn for more than just the twenty-odd pages of this sample.

The story is cheekily crafted too, with the initial section (provided in this sample) dealing with Cece’s illness and the confusion of all concerned as she recovers, only to experience resultant hearing loss. Then there’s the difficulties of trying to explain to people that while the phonic ear helps her to hear sounds, Cece can’t necessarily decipher what the sounds mean – if they are language, or music, for instance. The section in which she discovers she can hear her teacher in the staffroom and (teehee!) the toilet are just priceless.

Don’t dip if…

…um. I can think of no reason that you would not want to read this book. Honestly.

Oh, okay here’s one. Don’t dip if you are a cranky old buffer who doesn’t like charming, cheeky little bunnies with hearing loss struggle to come to terms with their differences.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is going to be a winner with the younger end of the middle grade bracket. It will appeal to girls, it will appeal to boys, it will appeal to graphic novel lovers and graphic novel noobs, it will appeal to confident readers and those who struggle – it’s the quintessential text for anyone who suspects that their differences can make them super!

El Deafo is released on September 2nd and I want to find out how it ends.

Until Monday then,

Bruce

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A Middle-Grade Steampunk Maniacal Book Club Review: The League of Seven…

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Hold on to your clockwork propeller hats and affix your brass goggles firmly to your face, because the Maniacal Book Club has a rip-snorting steampunk adventure for you today!  Now in the past I’ve been a bit ambivalent about the whole steampunk genre – it seems like something that I should really enjoy but for some reason I had not found any examples of it that I could really get excited about.  But that all changes today, because with The League of Seven by Alan Gratz and Brett Helquitz, I have discovered a book that had me wound up (clockworky pun intended) for days.  It’s got monsters, clockwork robot butlers, scary mind-controlling insect she-goddesses, unusual powers, secret societies and it’s set in an alternate version of the 1800s.  Let us plunge in – full steam ahead!

The League of Seven

Archie Dent’s parents are part of the mysterious and secret Septemberist society – a group existing since ancient times, whose job it is to protect the world from the monstrous Mangleborn.  The Mangleborn have been trapped in underground prisons for a milennia, but it seems that once again they are attempting to rise up and destroy humanity.  The legends say that every time the Mangleborn rise, a new League of Seven is created – humans with particular skills that come together to put the Mangleborn back into their earthly prisons once more.

When Archie and his parents (along with their clockwork robot valet, Mr Rivets) are called to a secret Septemberist society meeting, the last thing Archie expects is to find his parents – and the entire High Council – controlled by a swarm of evil insects burrowing into their necks.  It appears that someone is attempting to re-harness electricity in this steam-driven world in order to unleash the Mangleborn once again.

The only thing for it is for Archie and Mr Rivets to follow his insect-laden parents and try to stop the Mangleborn Swarm Queen, Macasah Ahasherat, from breaking out into the world.  Along with the technologically talented Fergus and brooding warrior girl Hachi, Archie must try to undo the evil that is about to be unleashed – but Archie himself is harbouring a secret so deep that not even he knows how it will affect his destiny…

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

Friends, long has it been the case that stories for the young have told of the battle between good and evil.  Archie’s tale  reminds us that no matter how small, we all have a part to play in creating a world of peace and freedom for each other.

The friendship between Hachi, Fergus and Archie inspires us to lean on our friends in our time of need, as we are all important cogs in the great machine.  And finally, Mr Rivets demonstrates to us that even in the face of mind-manipulating insect minions burrowing into one’s spinal column, the proper use of etiquette can make all the difference.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothlessNo dragons in this book….but there are BIG MONSTER INSECTS and ZAPPING ELECTRICITY AND WHACKING AND BASHING AND AIRSHIPS CRASHING AND GIANTS WHO CRUSH THINGS AND….

(*Bruce here: He goes on in this vein for quite some time, so I’ve done some judicious editing*)

…AND THEN THERE’S A BIG ROBOT WITH RED EYES THAT TRIES TO KILL EVERYONE and…and…did I mention the big monster insects?

A couple more dragons would have been nice, but I think boys who like monsters and insects and zapping and crashing will like this book.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club marthaIf you want to be a Septemberist, you may face dangers on this list,

including (but not limited to), monstrous beings that will kill you,

rogue robotic clockwork men, for whom hate is a state of zen,

and scientists, in loony glee, who’ll murder indiscrim’nantly.

But on the bright side, you’ll find those who’ll walk with you through wretched woes,

and you’ll travel, (with some gripes), through pneumatic postal pipes,

proving true, why I’ll be sworn, that you can beat those Mangleborn.

Bruce

maniacal book club bruceI think I’m just going to put it out there: this book was the surprise favourite of the year so far for me.  As I mentioned, I feel like steampunk is something that should appeal to me, given my taste in reading, but it just hasn’t turned out to be my thing.  Gratz however, has created such an interesting, engaging, complex and exciting world here that I couldn’t help but be drawn straight in.

One of my favourite things about The League of Seven is the alternate history of the world.  Gratz has created an America of the late 1800s in which Native Americans and European settlers live together under the banner of a United Nations.  As such, the First Nations people of North America are afforded an equal status as characters and the differences between tribal groups are accepted and form part of the rich tapestry of the world.  Now I know that this is a fantasy story, but it is fantastic to see a story for young people, (even a made-up one), in which First Nations characters and culture are given equal standing with those of European heritage – and I must say, the world-building is much stronger for it.

The early part of the story, in which the legend of the Mangleborn is explained and Archie’s parents come under the control of the Swarm Queen, put me in mind of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy, featuring as it did, extremely powerful monsters that have been imprisoned in the earth with wards and codes and puzzles in the hope that they’ll never get out.  The world and the background underpinning it is so unique though, that this feeling of familiarity soon turned into a happy glow in the back of my mind as I ventured deeper into the story with Archie, Fergus and Hachi.

The characters are complex and well-developed, with each of the three protagonists having comprehensive back-stories that feed nicely into their placement in the emerging League of Seven.  Archie is immediately likeable and as I didn’t see the twist in his personal history coming, I found that it provided a satisfying bit of emotional grist to balance out the action of the final chapters.  Mr Rivets is also a wonderful character, providing the much-needed grown-up’s perspective in the temporary absence of any trustworthy adult humans to assist the three adventurers.

Overall this is a hefty, electrifying (pun-intended!), fun, nail-biting ride with a fantastic setting and thorough world development.  I highly recommend it to those in the upper end of the middle grade bracket who enjoy steampunk, or who are looking for a story in the fantasy genre, that is packed with action and puzzling mysteries.  Older readers will also find plenty to get their teeth into here, expecially lovers of the steampunk genre.  The Book Club gives it….

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FOUR THUMBS UP

…which is a big call, given that at least two of us don’t actually have thumbs.

The League of Seven is the first of a trilogy and I will definitely be hanging out (of my airship!) to see  how the fortunes of the League pan out.

Until next time,

Bruce

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review*

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