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



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,


*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…



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,


twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


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



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,


twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


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



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


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


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,


twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


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



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,


twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


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


manical book club button

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.



(*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.


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….

image  image image image


…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,


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

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


A Middle-Grade Historical Double Dip: Cave Boys and Gods of the Greeks…



Salty snacks at the ready for another Double-Dip review!  Today I’ve got a pair of titles suitable for the middle-grade bracket that will appeal particularly to lovers of history and ancient myth and legend.  I suspect that, while both books will be enjoyed by girls and boys, these two titles are skewed a little toward the boyish end of the market.  But let’s plunge in!

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age by David Zeltser is an illustrated prehistoric romp centering around a caveboy who just wants to Lug paint caves while the other caveboys bash small furry animals on the head with rocks.  When Lug and village weirdie Stony are banished from the tribe for failing to catch a jungle llama in the tribe’s Biggest Beast catching tournament, Lug thinks that he is doomed to wander the wilderness being a bit odd, like Crazy Crag.  After stumbling upon a rival tribe, Lug and Stony befriend Echo, a girl who has her own troubles fitting in with her people, her little brother Hamhock, and a friendly Mammoth, Woolly.  Together the group sets off to win their way back into Lug’s tribe – but little do they know that very soon, they will soon be facing a much greater challenge: trying to save their people from a rapidly changing climate (and its associated migrating sabre-toothed tigers).  Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age is a story about making friends, standing up for yourself, and the triumph of the little guy in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Dip into it for…

…plenty of humour, quirky illustrations and some cheeky takes on modern life reflected in a stone-aged context.  Despite appearances, this is a book that has a lot of heart and is trying to convey some complex messages about societal and environmental change in a way that’s accessible for younger readers.  There’s a nice spread of characters here too, so both boys and girls should find someone that they can relate to within its pages.

Don’t dip if…

…you want a quick read.  While this looks like it might be a book that you could knock over in one or two short sittings, there’s actually a lot going on.  There’s the initial storyline featuring Lug and his tribe and the Biggest Beast catching competition which results in Lug’s banishment.  Then there’s a section in which Lug and Echo meet and devise a plan to get Lug reinstated into his tribe, and finally there’s a whole new storyline about the encroaching environmental dangers to the humans in the story.  This last storyline pops up rather late in the piece, so at the point where I was expecting the story to wind down, a new major plot point was just beginning.  This may be off-putting for some if they are hoping for a reasonably short read.

Overall Dip Factor:

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age is packed with the sort of quirky humour that many kids in the target audience enjoy.  The illustrations are done in a cave-painting style and are a nice addition to the book.  As an adult reader I didn’t enjoy this as much as the target audience should, but having said that, there are plenty of issues raised in the book that could start some robust discussion between young people and their adults – issues such as the concept of climate change and peoples’ responses to it, and how to balance competing ideas about what to do in the face of impending danger.  There’s also a nice theme about leadership running through the story that would provide a nice launching point in the classroom for teaching about leadership styles.

Next up we have Hades Speaks!: A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead by Vicky Alvear Shecter and J. E. Larson.

In the vein of the Horrible Histories series, this fictional non-fiction tome is narrated by Hades, the Greek god of the dead as he takes the reader on a little tour of his Underworld kingdom.  Beginning with a quick overview of who he is and how he fits into the Ancient Greek pantheon, Hades quickly turns to more pressing matters, such as the importance of funerary rites and what to bring with you if you want to get across the river Styx and enter the fields of Elysium.  Along the way the reader will be introduced to the happy-to-let-you-in-but-unwilling-to-let-you-out guard beast, Cerberus, Hade’s part-time wife Persephone, and become privy to a whole range of stories about others who dwell in the Underworld, or who have attempted to breach its walls.  Stick close to Hades, pay close attention to his counsel, and you may just make it out of the Underworld alive!

Dip into it for… hades speaks

…a particularly thorough and cerebral take on Ancient Greek mythology for an upper-middle-grade audience.  I was surprised at the level at which this book was pitched – I was expecting something more along the lines of the Horrible Histories series, with cartoonish illustrations and a highly visual format, but the book follows a fairly standard format with page or double-page spread illustrations appearing between chapters.  The book actually goes into a fair bit of detail, recounting relevant myths about each part of the Underworld, and giving a very detailed overview of how Hades and the Underworld fit into the lives of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re a struggling reader.  In my opinion, this book would be best tackled by confident readers who have an interest in myths and legends, because even as an adult reader I felt that there was a lot of information to take in.  The book does have a glossary at the end, but I imagine it could be quite tricky for the uninitiated to take in all the detail, even given the modern references and Hades’ sarky style of narration.

Overall Dip Factor:

This would be a great addition or companion book for those interested in Ancient Greek mythology, or for those who are looking for a way to get historical information into the hands of middle-graders in a palatable way.  The whole vibe of the book suggests to me that it would best suit the upper end of the middle grade bracket, or even those in the younger YA set who are looking for an alternative to straight fiction.  The illustrations are stark (but stunning!) detailed black and white line drawings that really add to the impression that these are “serious” myths – ones that have shaped Western culture and literature.  As an adult reader, I found it to be a succinct but detailed introduction to Hades and the Underworld, with a narrative style that really leant authenticity to the concept of touring the Underworld.  I’d certainly recommend this book to confident young readers who like to indulge their intellectual appetites through myth and legend.

Have either of these titles whetted your appetite? I hope so! I’m going to submit BOTH of these to the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge in category four: a book with someone’s name in the title.  If you’d like to know more about the challenge, or sign up (there’s still time!), simply click this delightful little button:

small fry
Until next time history buffs,


*I received a digital copy of Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review*

*I received a digital copy of Hades Speaks from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review: Mr Wicker…




Cheerio my pretties! Today I have an indie fantasy-paranormal-horror story for the grown-ups that features all manner of creepy goings-on.  I was initially drawn to it because of the raven on the cover (cool!) and the fact that it was set partly in a ghostly library (super-cool!) and partly in a psychiatric inpatient facility (count me in!).  I received a digital copy of today’s book, Mr Wicker by Maria Alexander from the publisher, Raw Screaming Dog Press (now there’s a name that gives you a good idea what sort of books they publish) in exchange for review – thanks!

Alicia Baum is experiencing a run of failures – her husband left her, her last book bombed in sales, and the bank is foreclosing on her house – and decides to end it all.  As she loses consciousness during her suicide attempt, Alicia finds herself inside a mysterious library with the sinister librarian, Mr Wicker, who informs her that his library holds a book containing Alicia’s lost memory – the one that is the cause of all her suffering to date.  Before she can take possession of the book, or move on into the (proper) hereafter, Alicia wakes to find herself in Bayford Psychiatric Hospital, under the control of the odious Dr Sark. 

Dr James Farron is a paediatric psychiatrist with a special interest in Alicia’s case.  Using funding for a research grant, Dr Farron is attempting to find out more about the mysterious Mr Wicker, a name that continually arises in the sleep-talk of children suffering trauma who are brought to the hospital.  Alicia is the first adult Dr Farron has ever encountered who has mentioned Mr Wicker, and he intends to find out why.

As the two cross paths in the hospital, danger is closing in from all sides, threatening to end Dr Farron’s career and Alicia’s life.  Unless Alicia can untangle the mystery of her missing memory, Mr Wicker may just open the door to some very old secrets indeed, that have the potential to change Alicia and Dr Farron forever.



I’m going to do things a bit differently this time, as I tend to do when I feature books with some particularly sensitive or disturbing themes (and this book has a bit of both), so here is a “Don’t Read it if…” disclaimer for those who are faint of heart.

Don’t Read it if:

* you are in a fragile state of mind and the graphic description of a suicide attempt and violence against the female lead character is not something you want in your current reading experience

Now, onto the Read it if:

*you like your fantasy/horror stories to be raw, graphic and featuring more than a little violence, creepiness and smouldering sensuality

* you’ve ever been minding your own business and enjoying a quiet stroll in the park when out of the blue a large angry bird descends seemingly out of nowhere to chase, swoop and peck you … this point applies doubly if this has happened to you indoors

* when reading stories set in a psychiatric hospital, you prefer said hospital to employ practices more suited to a medieval torture chamber

*you believe fantasy/horror just isn’t fantasy/horror unless it takes a completely unexpected turn right in the middle of the story, preferably involving a little known ancient myth that features eternally repeating betrayal and murder

Mr Wicker was a lot more graphic in its horror and violence than the books that I usually read, but I suspect it will greatly appeal to those who regularly enjoy this genre.  Graphic descriptions aside though, the author manages to deliver a pretty complex storyline without losing control of any of the multiple plot threads.  Throughout the book, there’s a palpable sense of danger to Alicia, and the feeling that things aren’t what they seem.  A number of the hospital staff are less than professional, to say the least, and as the story unfolds the reader gets the idea that not only may Alicia be in danger from supernatural forces, but from some very human forces also.

Dr Farron is an instantly likeable, if somewhat stereotypical character, fulfilling the role of Alicia’s protector and champion when all around her seem to discount her experiences as the ravings of a madwoman.  The author manages to throw any stereotypes out the window with the introduction of a new and entirely unexpected (for me, anyway) plotline right in the middle of the book, that sheds light on the character of Mr Wicker and the reasons why he is so interested in Alicia herself.

Underlying all of this is Alicia’s missing memory and how this has contributed to her unraveling life.  This mystery is played out slowly, as Alicia dips into her family history in sessions with Dr Farron, but can’t quite grasp the memory that Mr Wicker guards so closely.  The inclusion of this personal psychological mystery as one of the major plotlines gives a nice break from all the other strangeness going on in the book and allows for a change of pace that I appreciated when it popped up every now and then.

Overall, I’d say that this book has a satisfying blend of fantasy themes, anticipated romance, family secrets, horror and mystery  and will appeal to those who are looking for a complex story with a lot of twists and turns.  And large, flapping birds appearing in odd places.  Mr Wicker is due for release on September 16th.

Until next time,


twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


ARC Adult Fiction Lantern Review: The Indifference League…


Good morning to you, you super reader, you! It is Mad Martha with you today, (AKA the Poetical Affliction!) with a lantern review of a book for the grown-ups.  Today’s offering is The Indifference League by Richard Scarsbrook.

The Indifference League focuses on a group of high school friends (although the term could be applied loosely) who have chosen to gather together in their collective 30th year to relive some memories and (maybe) rekindle some old flames.  But this is no ordinary group of friends, oh no….this is The Indifference League! You see, on finishing school, this group of friends decided to form a pact which involved the adoption of a range of made up superhero names, and a commitment to use these names exclusively whenever they gather together.  The name of the group may indicate to you that the plan, such as it was, did not extend to the friends actually doing anything else, above and beyond calling each other by these silly names when they get together.   So after being privy to the initial formation of the group, the reader is then akin to a fly on the wall as the present-day meeting of the Indifference League (and their associated spouses and girlfriends) descends into an interesting blend of reminiscence and competition to see who’s life has turned out the least worst.  Will Mr Nice Guy finally make the move from boy-friend to boyfriend?  Can the Statistician dampen the fuse on the Time Bomb before she blows? And will the Hippie Avenger ever win an argument against SuperKen and SuperBarbie? Stay tuned to find out – same Indifferent Time, Same Indifferent Channel!

the indifference league


In no

time at all

we all got old.


This was a fun, light read.  In fact, were it not for the fact that I particularly dislike the beach (sand in the sock dreadlocks is very difficult to remove), then I would class it as a perfect beach read for those who aren’t into fluffy romance, popular psuedo-erotica or chick-lit about the sassy divorcee starting over in a small coastal town.    The story is essentially about a group of people in the late twenty-early thirty sort of age bracket, who are just beginning to realise that their first flush of youth may be rapidly dulling into a faded, scratchy magenta.  All the expected existential themes are present and accounted for – the nagging discontent about marriage/job/direction in life (or lack of it), the dilemma of how to reinvent oneself while surrounded by old acquaintances, the disturbing realisation about not having moved up the social ladder since high school – and these are deftly depicted through the various superhero identities as they prepare and attend the gathering.

The story is told by focusing on one or two characters per chapter, so the pacing varies nicely and gives the reader a chance to really get to know each characters’ situation and how they fit into the overall picture.  I found the labelling of each character with a psuedo-superhero identity super-helpful while reading because it meant that I didn’t have to keep track of names, as the groups stretches to about nine at one point.  Also, the superhero names immediately encapsulated the characters’ personalities, meaning that there didn’t need to be a lot of individual character description and development which would have dragged the plot back. The book also contains little bytes of information in the form of collector cards at the beginning of each chapter, which I felt was a clever way of imparting information about the characters and their past interactions, and a quirky, appealing additionto the book.

While I wouldn’t say that this was a groundbreaking or outstanding read, it was peppered with funny situations and dialogue exchanges and the premise of giving the characters superhero identities was a fun, engaging twist on an otherwise fairly standard “hey we’ve all grown up” plot.  I will say however, that the ending for one of the characters (Mr Nice Guy, incidentally) was quite poignant and unexpected and ratcheted my good feelings toward the book up a notch.

Overall, I’d recommend this one to readers who want to experience the nostalgia of hanging out with a group of old (if not necessarily good) friends, or alternately, those who want a bit of inspiration for superhero names that they could secretly apply to certain “old friends” on the sly.

The Indifference League is released on September 1st.

Hi ho, Mad Martha, AWAY!!

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

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


Mondays with Marple: A break in transmission…



Welcome once again to the reasonably self-explanatory Mondays with Marple, in which we discuss Agatha Christie’s works featuring the delightful Jane Marple.  Today I’m doing things a bit differently, because I’m going to present to you a book that doesn’t feature Miss Marple, and of which Agatha Christie has only written a chapter.  The reason I’ve chosen this one is because I immediately became enamoured of the premise under which it was written and couldn’t wait to dive in and see how it all turned out.

The Floating Admiral is today’s book and it is a collaborative murder mystery written, chapter by chapter, by the members of The Detection Club, circa 1931.  What is the Detection Club? Well, it was a club comprised of a whole host of authors of crime fiction who met regularly to eat, drink and be merry.  Essentially, in the creation of The Floating Admiral, they decided to collaboratively write a murder mystery – but with a twist.  Here’s how it went down:

* Each author got to write one chapter of the mystery, which they then passed on to the next person in line to continue

* One author was chosen to tie all the loose ends together and reveal the murderer/s in the final chapter

* The authors, along with their chapter, had to include their solution to the mystery in a sealed envelope.  These were printed as an appendix at the end of the novel

* The authors had to “play fair” by the reader – that is, they couldn’t use any twee tropes such as “it was all a dream” to get out of solving the mystery, and they had to assume that any clues or characters included in the chapters before theirs was included for a reason and therefore needed to feature in some way in their proposed solution

Isn’t this a GREAT IDEA??! Well, I thought it was, and that’s why I’m reviewing it today.  All up there were 14 contributors,, including (in writing order): G. K. Chesterton, Canon Victor Whitechurch, G. D. H. Cole and Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane and Anthony Berkeley.

floating admiralPlot Summary:

When the vicar’s boat is found floating aimlessly down the river, no one expects it to contain the body of the his neighbour, the retired Admiral Penistone, featuring a nasty stab wound.  Inspector Rudge is called to take the case and immediately finds himself stymied when the Admiral’s niece and mysterious fiance leave town before they can be adequately questioned.  But this isn’t going to be Rudge’s only trouble – with the vicar clearly behaving in a slightly shady fashion, and some very odd stipulations in the Admiral’s will, it’s going to take all of Rudge’s wits (and some local knowledge of the tidal river currents) to unravel this mystery.

The Usual Suspects:

The slightly-unhelpful-while-appearing-to-be-helpful vicar, the niece of the victim (complete with attitude), the somewhat-shady fiance of said niece, the local old sea dog, a collection of house staff with secrets, a retired acquaintance of the deceased, and a number of absent relatives and hangers-on that may or may not have anything to do with the current circumstances.

Level of Carnage:

Reasonably low for most of the book, although towards the end there is a bit more reasonably graphic carnage to liven things up.


High.  Given that there’s 12 people adding to the story, the level of tricksiness is cumulative.  There are red herrings all over the place here and more arrive with every chapter.

Overall Rating:


Boat without mast Boat without mast  Boat without mast

Three Abandoned Punts

While the premise for the mystery excited me to begin with, it did take a long time to play out and the plot was pretty convoluted by the end.  The narrative ended up being not so much dialogue driven, as is the case with many Christie novels, but featured a lot of introspection on the part of Inspector Rudge as he works through the case.  I felt that an extra detective or assistant would have helped in this regard to avoid slowing the narrative too much – one of the chapters features 39 articles of doubt, in which Rudge postulates on 39 of the most puzzling bits of the case. At great length.  Which was good for getting everyone up to speed on what was happening and where the investigation might go next, but also became quite tedious after about article 20 or so.

The best thing about this book for me was the opportunity to sample the work of a whole lot of mystery writers who were contemporaries of Christie, and whose work I might like to try in the future.  Also, reading all the solutions at the end and the comments from the authors in the vein of “I’ve got no idea where such-and-such comes into it!” really brought home the idea that for the people that wrote it, mystery writing really was like a game of intellect that was fun to unravel.

Definitely give this one a go if you’re a fan of mystery writing from this era, but keep in mind that the end result was more a game for the writers than an exemplary piece of crime fiction for the readers.

Until next time,


twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)