The Maniacal Book Club Reviews….Lilliput!

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manical book club buttonToday you, the Book Club and I will follow along with Gulliver on a little side-track from his famous Travels and muscle in on an adventure and daring escape with Lily, a feisty Lilliputian with a no-holds-barred attitude to getting away from her giant captor and making it safely to her diminutive home.  We gratefully received a digital copy of Lilliput by Sam Gayton from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Inspired by Gulliver’s Travels, Lilliput is an exhilarating adventure filled with cunning escape plans, evil clock makers, and very talkative parrots. Join Lily as she travels through 18th century London over rooftops, down chimneys, and into chocolate shops on a journey to find the one place in the world where she belongs…home.

lilliput

Now let’s turn it over to the Book Club!

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

When the world looks small, perhaps it is time to consider it from a new perspective. What Gulliver did, he did out of ignorance and wonder, never considering how his actions may affect young Lily. Can we really blame her for wanting to return to her home? We can learn a lot from Lily’s adventures but it is to Finn Safekeeping, Lily’s stalwart friend, that we must turn to find the real gentle hero of this tale. It is in him that we can claim the redemption of the big people. If we were all a little more like Finn Safekeeping, we might use our wasted minutes for the benefit of the little people in our world.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothless

No dragons in this book. There is a talking parrot but, who is pretty funny and says funny things in Spanish. There’s a scary clockmaker with a scary, nasty watch and it cuts up Finn’s arm. Finn was my favourite. He’s pretty brave. There’s a brave bird called Swift too. I would have carried Lily back to Lilliput but she didn’t ask. It would have been good to have a dragon in this book.

 

Mad Martha

maniacal book club marthaHome!

Not too big, not too small.

Just right for a feisty, angry girl,

Imprisoned by giants.

Nothing will stop her.

Not time. Not fear. Not pain.

Fly Swift, fly!

For home!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

Lilliput was an out-of-the-box, pleasant surprise for me to say the least. Not having a particularly in-depth prior knowledge of Jonathan Swift’s famous tale about Gulliver, or indeed any particular interest in finding out about the same, I requested Lilliput solely on the striking, atmospheric beauty of the cover art and the promise of a (slightly) familiar tale told from a new perspective. I found this book to be a deeply engaging and action-packed story about freedom, friendship and perseverance against all odds.

Lilliput is aimed at a middle-grade, or even slightly younger, audience but I think it will have a much wider appeal due to the strong, fairy-tale style of the narrative and the promise (for adult readers) of an adventure based on a familiar and much-loved story. The events of Lilliput occur after the events of Gulliver’s Travels and Gulliver has essentially kidnapped Lily and brought her back to London in an attempt to prove that his travels actually happened. The action moves apace throughout the book, beginning with Lily’s unsuccessful escape attempts from a birdcage in Gulliver’s study, to a dynamic and dangerous ending that requires the combined efforts of all of Lily’s new friends to pull off.

I appreciated the way that Gayton did not shy away from portraying the less attractive features of his characters. Gulliver is portrayed as a cruel kidnapper, Lily can be truculent, vituperous and hot-blooded, the clockmaker is violent and conniving and even a group of three little girls, to whom Lily falls victim, are by turns grubby, sly and unfeeling. Finn Safekeeping really is the hero of the story in my opinion and provided a foil for the baser aspects of humanity portrayed in the other characters. With Mr Ovinda and his jive-talking parrot providing the comic relief, this story really does have everything you could want in a neat little package.

The story has the feel of a traditional fairy-tale in some parts due to the realism with which Lily’s plight is portrayed. She is not simply a funny little fairy person in an uncomfortable new home – Gayton has deftly drawn out the real emotions behind Lily’s imprisonment and her desperation to return to her loved ones before time catches up with her. This aspect of the book would be a great conversation starter for young readers about perspectives and needs in our own world, particularly with regard to displaced peoples and indigenous populations.

The short chapters and eye-catching illustrations also add to the appeal of the book and overall I think this would be a wonderful choice for adult fans of Gulliver’s Travels to read with their offspring.

The Book Club gives this book:

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Four thumbs up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

 

An Indie, MG Maniacal Book Club Review: Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang…

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manical book club button

Today’s pick from the Maniacal Book Club features a Korean main character, some American bullying and some all-out, strange, generational magic. We received a copy of Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang, the first in an indie series for middle grade readers, from the author, Tim Learn, for review.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chewy Noh has problems. He was born with them. Two weeks after his birth, the family fortune-teller saw bad things in his future…and she was right. The school bully hates him and will stop at nothing to get rid of him. His mother suddenly can’t get out of bed, complaining of horrible headaches. And worst of all, the secret his grandmother is hiding may be at the root of it all. But why should he worry? He’s a superhero with a power no one’s ever seen before!

chewy noh

Let’s hear what the Book Club have to say, shall we?

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

While many have sought my wise counsel over my many years of existence, I have never been fortunate enough to wield powers like those of the Mu-dang. In this tale, Chewy takes on the power of an ancient spirit and finds the power within himself to change the course of his existence. But is a young boy worthy of such knowledge, such advantage? I would urge caution and prudence should you ever come into a magically-rendered gift of your own, thoughtful reader.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. There’s some pretty cool witchy stuff though and a whole bunch of people who aren’t really what they seem. I didn’t like the bullies – I wouldn’t mind if they got eaten by a dragon. And the girls were a bit weird too. But Chewy and Clint were pretty cool. Ordinary, but cool. It would have been better if there were dragons. To eat the bullies.

 

Mad Marthamaniacal book club martha

When selecting a secret new power

Be prepared for your gift to turn sour

For with greatest intentions

Magic interventions,

Your best laid of plans, can devour

maniacal book club bruce Bruce

Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang is going to greatly appeal to those young readers looking for something a little different. For a start, Chewy himself is Korean, an ethnicity we don’t often see in middle-grade books and the author has included a host of interesting mythology and magic narrative from that part of the world. Secondly, this isn’t the expected sort of superhero book, where the main character suddenly sprouts an obvious and visible power and has to decide how to wield it.

Chewy is a laid-back every-man sort of a kid and his power is just as understated as he is. Because of this, the story follows the common, new-kid-being-picked-on plot line, with some superpowered antics thrown in. Having said that, the book does have a few features that make it stand out from the norm. There are the references to the Mu-Dang and the storyline related to Chewy’s family and secrets that have been kept that could change who Chewy is and how he thinks about his family. There’s also the fact that Chewy and Clint, although experiencing bullying, are more curious than vengeful toward their bullies’ behaviour.

I did have a few problems with the story. While I enjoyed the supernatural bits, the other parts – in which Chewy and Clint form a friendship and deal with the bullies – was pretty run-of-the-mill. I would have loved to have seen more focus on the magical side of the story. A plotline involving two girls in Chewy’s class also muddied the waters as it just seemed to range all over the place. I couldn’t follow why the girls were behaving as they were or what their motivations might have been and the whole plot line seemed tacked on and superfluous.

Also interrupting my enjoyment of the story was the bugbear of many an indie publication – a lack of hard-core editing. I found that the overall narration lacked a clear voice and that there was far too much unnecessary dialogue and description of mundane things as a result. I had that uncanny feeling that I’ve had before while reading indie works, that I was actually reading a translation, because the words don’t flow as well as one would expect.

Overall, this would be a good pick for middle-graders looking for some diversity in the characters that they are reading about and for those who want an unexpected twist on the superhero genre.

The Maniacal Book Club gives this book:

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Three Thumbs Up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

 

The Dreamsnatcher: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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Welcome to another pick from the Maniacal Book Club! Today’s tome is a middle grade fantasy adventure featuring gypsies, curses, companion wildcats and all manner of escapades. I speak of The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone, which was released earlier this year and a copy of which I was lucky enough to be sent by Simon & Schuster Australia.  Before we delve into the deep and insightful thoughts of the Club, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Molly Pecksniff wakes one night in the middle of the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare – the one with the drums and the rattles and the masks. The Dreamsnatcher is waiting. He has already taken her dreams and now he wants her life. Because Moll is more important than she knows… The Oracle Bones foretold that she and Gryff, a wildcat that has always been by her side, are the only ones who can fight back against the Dreamsnatcher’s dark magic. Suddenly everything is at stake, and Moll is drawn into a world full of secrets, magic and adventure.

 dreamsnatch

Enticing, no? Now let’s hear what the Book Club made of it…

Guru Dave  maniacal book club guru dave

This tale, like a well-polished cubic zirconia, has many facets. There is adventure, certainly, but it is tinged with danger, bordered by loss and regret and dotted with broken trust. There is fear, undoubtedly, but it is cloaked in the colourful livery of bravado, bolstered by the strength of true friendship and lightly dusted with a sprinkling of cat hair.  From Molly’s exploits we can take many lessons, but the most important of these is that home is where the campfire burns the brightest.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothless

No dragons in this book. There’s a creepy guy with a skull mask called Skull though. He’s got a weird power that makes Molly dream things and he tries to lure her away from the camp with his dreamsnatch power. There’s a cool wild cat called Gryff too who does some awesome fighting and protects Molly. This book gets pretty scary in some parts with magic and everyone trying to stop Skull but it’s good scary. I’ve never read a story like this before. Would’ve been better with a dragon.

 

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

Dream snatch, mind snatch, night time sounds,

Beat to bring the guardian down

With myths and secrets buried deep

The nasty magic starts to creep

Can guardian Moll defeat the foes

And put to rest the gypsies woes?

Or will Skull’s poisons overcome

And put to rest the plucky one?

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

I have been amazed and gratified of late to see the incredible originality coming from authors of UK middle grade. There seems to have been a constant stream of books from this group that come across our radar and set off the “Insta-buy!” alarm. Of course it doesn’t help that they all have alluring covers to boot. Really, if I wasn’t lucky enough to receive a small portion of print books from publishers, I would be broke and/or bereft! The Dreamsnatcher is certainly part of this parade of quality storytelling.

Apart from the adventurous storyline and themes of belonging, identity and loyalty that pervade the book, there is also a palpable sense of newness about this tale. Elphinstone has created a really engaging and original world comprising magic, ancient prophesies, sacred roles and age-old rivalries within a setting that invites the imagination to take flight.

I must admit that I had a little difficulty getting into the story. Although the book starts off with some adventurous doings on the part of Molly, as she attempts to steal back her pony from the altogether-creepy Skull, I found the first section of the story slower than I would have liked. In this section Molly is attempting to discover some truths about herself and her place in the camp while the adults try to keep this information from her. Soon after this though, all is revealed and events become more dangerous as Skull increases his efforts to lure Molly to his clearing.  The book steadily picks up the pace from there and Molly, Sid, Gryff and the other members of Moll’s camp attempt to uncover the secrets of the Bone Oracle before it’s too late.

Kids in the target age bracket are really going to enjoy this story, as much for its suspense and pacing as for the magical elements and original world building. And of course for the alluring cover.
The Maniacal Book Club gives this book:

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Four thumbs up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

 

 

The Case of the Cursed Dodo (The Endangered Files #1): A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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It’s time for another gathering of the Maniacal Book Club and this time we have an offering that will also fit comfortably into category two of the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: books with an odd author.  For you see, this book is penned by a Giant Panda. Who happens to be a detective.  The book also fits quite nicely into category three (books with odd subject matter) as the noir style is not one often seen in books for middle-graders, nor is the fact that the story is written in the format of a chaptered screenplay.  So pretty odd all round, I should think. Allow our discussions about this odd little contender to sway you towards taking a walk on the wild side.

Jake G. Panda is a bit of a loner.  The in-house detective at the Last Resort, a hotel refuge for endangered species, attracts trouble like spilled sugar attracts ants.  When Jake gets a phone call from his Professor friend that is cut suspiciously short, the detective hightails it straight to the last known deserty whereabouts of his friend to get to the bottom of things.  Captured by a smuggling cartel, Jake and an unlikely band of fellow endangered animals escape and return to the Last Resort to sort out the mystery of a lost suitcase and a jade Dodo.  But at least one familiar face from Jake’s past has got there first.  Can Jake keep his wits about him and unravel this age-old mystery or will some double-crossing creatures rain on his parade?

the case of the cursed dodo

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Ah, the panda. So alone and yet, he pretends to enjoy his lonely existence. So it must be for many who find themselves endangered.  The message then, is to lean on one’s friends, to see one through the tough times.

But at the same time one must beware upon whom one leans – because the smiling face of a friend could simply be a mask behind which a deadly assassin hides.

Or perchance not.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book.  But there were some cool lizard-type guys and a really cool snake.  That’s close enough I suppose.  There was lots of action and animals being captured and escaping and stealing things and swapping stuff around.  There was lots of mystery which was pretty cool.  And there are some nasty rats.  I would have liked to eat the rats.  Jake G. Panda seems like a cool customer.  Maybe he can take me on his next case.

Mad Marthamaniacal book club martha

Take some advice

from the school of hard knocks,

Should you move to the desert

Take sand-proof jocks.

 

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I was surprised by the originality of the format of this book.  When I heard this was pitched at middle-graders, but had a noir flavour, I wasn’t sure how the author was going to pull it off.  Noir is not my favourite narrative style, and I wondered how the gritty overtones would suit a book for a younger audience.
I needn’t have worried.  The book is written like a screenplay, with most of the noir elements contained in Jake’s introspective voiceover monologues.  These all have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek vibe and there’s plenty of dry humour throughout the book, as well as a few slapstick scenes thrown in for good measure.  Reflecting on it, it reminded me of movies like the Naked Gun, but aimed at kids.

For the most part I enjoyed the twists and turns and the action-adventure scenes throughout the book, but I felt that the inclusion of an old flame of Jake’s around about the middle of the book slowed things down a bit and I’m not sure how that storyline will appeal to young readers.  Other than that though, there are thrills, spills, mystery and mayhem and a whole slew of obscure endangered animals to whet the curious appetite.

This series of books is something really different for this age-group and the illustrated format and the interesting narrative style will no doubt have fans of Jake G. Panda holding their collective breath for the next instalment.

Overall Rating:

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(Noir of any kind is not Mad Martha’s cup of tea)

Oddity Odyssey Challenge Progress Total: 1 of 16 books

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

Welcome young and old to another meeting of the Maniacal Book Club.  Today we have a book for middle grade readers who are not afraid to be scared right out of their swimming pools.  We received How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid by Mick Bogerman through the Goodreads First Reads giveaways and how grateful we are to have been introduced (albeit through book number two) to this action-packed, thrill-filled story of monsters, mayhem and malevolent mermaidery.  This book is part of the Slug Pie Story series, which began with How To Navigate a Zombie Cave and Defeat Pirate Pete and is currently at How to Destroy the New Girl’s Killer Robot Army.  Clearly, we were drawn to both the fantastical content and the fact that these books hinted at providing helpful tips for conducting oneself in the aforementioned frightening circumstances.

bloodthirsty mermaid

Mick thinks he’s bartered a sweet deal when he trades seven mows of rich neighbour PJ’s lawn for seven swims in PJ’s pool. Since last month’s incident fighting zombie pirates in which Mick’s little brother Finley nearly drowned, Mick has decided to take no more chances and seize the opportunity to teach Finley to swim.  Things don’t go according to plan however, because when Mick and Finley accidentally feed a mysterious substance to PJ’s beloved sea monkeys, a large, deadly, scaly problem that no one could have foreseen suddenly surfaces to throw all humans in the vicinity into mortal danger.  The boys’ mistake somehow causes the growth of a real-life mermaid – not the lush-tresses, coquettish, tail-flicking sort of mermaid, but an enormous, gorilla-hairy, hypnotic-eyed, human-eating mermaid.  Now it’s up to Mick, Finley and the utterly inept PJ to find a way to get Marilyn (PJ’s choice of name) out of the pool before anyone else becomes her lunch, dinner or midnight snack.

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Friends, fellow-readers and lovers of acquatic life take heed! The Bogerman boys’ story is a cautionary tale for all those who do not read the fine print.  It is so easy to be seduced by advertising and fail to consider the consequences of our purchases.  Add to this the growing gap between rich and poor and the communication breakdowns that occur between those in the two camps, and before you know it a scaly, hungry water-demon has been unleashed to reign down merry hell on the hired help.

Let this story be a lesson for all those who send off for the offers at the back of vintage comic books.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book.  But there is a really scary mermaid who hypnotises people into the water and then EATS THEM!! That was pretty cool.  And her name’s Marilyn.  That was funny.

I like Mick because he’s fearless and does lots of cool stunts to try and get Marilyn back to the ocean.  Finley’s pretty cool too because he always thinks things through.  PJ is a bit of a baby.  But he turns out okay in the end.

I hope one of Mick’s next books has dragons in it. But the killer mermaid was okay as a substitute.

Mad Martha

Let us all heed advice from our mothersmaniacal book club martha

We should not judge the books by their covers

For like Disney’s she ain’t

This Mer-lass needs restraint

As with flesh-ripping death you’ll discover

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this tale.  The story is pitched at a middle grade audience, but Mick himself warns parents at the very start with a disclaimer that this book is not for the faint-hearted reader.  On the other hand, if you have a young male reader (or female, obviously, but particularly male) who loves action, fantasy violence, heroic actions, kids having to solve problems out of their depth (pun intended) and just general mayhem and adventure, then get them onto this series right this second.

Mick is a rough-as-guts narrator with a strong sense of right and wrong, and is highly protective of his younger brother. Finley is the thinker of the partnership, considering problems from all angles before making a decision.  And PJ….well, PJ learns some valuable lessons about moving out from under his rich parents’ shadow and thinking for himself.

I read this book in one sitting I was so riveted by the narrative style and the action and I think it’s a book that will have great re-reading value.  I’m excited to see what happens in the other adventures in the Slug Pie stories series as this seems to be a fresh, action-packed take on the standard middle grade fantasy genre. The back of the book features a handy little recap of all the tips and tricks that the boys have picked up for dealing with mermaids of the bloodthirsty variety, which was a nice touch.

What I liked most about this tale, as an adult reader, was the references to the retro sea monkey ads that used to feature in the back of comic books.  Like PJ, oh how I wanted a little kingdom of sea monkeys to brighten up my shelf, with their waving, webby fingers, and their happy capering amongst the fernery.  Really, it took me back. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, here’s the ad that had me pining and yearning for such exotic pets.

sea monkeys

How did they get away with such false advertising I wonder? Oh, that’s right, it was the 70s.

I would definitely recommend giving this particular Slug Pie story a go – particularly if you are in summer right now, because there’s nothing better than reading a story about bloodthirsty pool-dwelling monsters in temperatures which demand regular swimming as an antidote to heat-related death.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

BirdCatDog: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

Welcome, bookish creatures of all persuasions, to this Maniacal Book Club review.  Today we are discussing the wordless graphic novel BirdCatDog by Lee Nordling and Meritxell Bosch.birdcatdog2

BirdCatDog is a wordless picture book that follows three animals (guess which ones!) simultaneously as they go about their daily errands.  For each animal, there is at least one surprise in store and as paths cross and some other animals from the wild side of the fence make an appearance, things become very tangled indeed.  All ends happily enough though, and the reader is left with the message that no matter who the “main character” portrayed in the story happens to be, we are all the heroes of our own little tail tale.

 

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Creatures of flesh, creatures of stone – it matters not.  What matters, dear friends, as is pointed out to us in this tale-with-a-hidden-message is that perspective is all important!  Each of us sees the story in our own way, but if we look at it from a different angle, we may notice something we haven’t seen before.

This book will help you to look at things from a new perspective.  Perhaps if Messrs Nordling and Bosch were to follow us all around and document our daily doings in such a way as they have for these lucky animals, there would be much less conflict in the world.  It is possible.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. There is a wolfish big dog, and a hawkish bird of prey and a nasty looking mountainish cat, so if you mashed them all together they would make a pretty cool predator creature.
I liked the way the stories get all mixed up at the end and how each animal gets into scary trouble and gets chased around by bigger, nastier animals.

There’s no words either, which is good because sometimes it’s better just to look at the pictures really closely and make up your own story.  It would be better if there was at least a small dragon in it.

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha

A dog, a cat, a bird

form a story and each gets a third.

So keep your eyes peeled

once they’re further afield

or you may find your path becomes blurred.

 

maniacal book club bruceBruce

Take it from me folks, this book is going to be a hit in upper years primary classrooms, because there is nothing more fun than a wordless book with a complex story.  BirdCatDog is unusual in that it sets up a challenge for the reader right at the very beginning – do you try and “read” it like a normal book and take in the story in its entirety, page by page, or do you follow the handily colour-coded strips and take it in one animal protagonist at a time?  And if you pick the latter option, which animal will you choose to follow first?

The genius element to this book is that it demands rereading.  In order to appreciate the overarching story, you simply have to flick back to the beginning multiple times, so this will be a great choice for engaging those reluctant readers in a book-based activity. 

The art is beautifully done in a cartoon style, with the colour-coding followed throughout to lend continuity – blue for bird, green for cat and yellow for dog.  The imagery in each vignette is deceptively simple, but when taken together at the page level, creates a complex visual experience that demands closer attention. 

Another engaging element of the book is the questions posed by all the characters in the story – who is the hero of the story? Are there multiple heroes? How can that be?  There is so much potential here for the classroom in opening up discussion about storytelling and bias – whose perspective is important and who gets left out? How do we decide whose perspective is the most important?

Leaving the classroom applications to the side though, this book is simply a visual treat and will provide plenty of entertainment for readers young and old as they unravel and then retangle the threads of each creature’s escapades.  I definitely recommend having a look at BirdCatDog if you are a fan of stories told in a visual medium (and even if you aren’t!).

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)

*I received a digital copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley*

 

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A Zombified Maniacal Double Dip (and an Fi50 reminder….)

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manical book club button  image  fiction in 50

Welcome to this (rather crowded) Friday post.  First up, a reminder to all those intrepid writers of mini-narrative, Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday for this month, and the prompt for October is….

the darker side of

You fill in the blank! To play along, just create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less and then come back on Monday and add your effort to the linky or leave a link in the comments.  For more detailed instructions and for future prompts, click here.  New players are always welcome!

Now onto business.  Today the Maniacal Book Club is going to attempt a double dip review. Please bear with us as this has never happened before and it could go horribly (and amusingly) wrong.  To add to the potential chaos, we have also chosen two books featuring the living impaired that would be perfect for middle graders (particularly boys) with an interest in combating undeath in all its stinky forms.  Let us begin with Mr Katz is a Zombie by M.C. Lesh.mr katz is a zombie

Twelve year old J.D. has a fairly interesting life – his parents are ghost hunters (as well as being perfectly ordinary people) and J.D. himself can see and communicate with ghosts.  When J.D. acquires an old book of spells during one of his parents’ ghostbusting jobs, he suspects it might lead to trouble.  This suspicion turns out to be correct when his friend Rodney accidentally reads a spell out loud and turns their teacher into a shuffling, stinky zombie.  Never one to turn a blind eye to injustice, J.D., Rodney and Rodney’s twin younger brothers take on the task of figuring out how to turn Mr Katz back into his non-stinky self before brains are splattered all over North Goethalsburg.  Cue action!   Cue adventure! Cue extra-large sacks of jam-filled doughnuts!

Dip into it for…

…a fun romp that features a remarkably sensible and compassionate protagonist, some well-meaning and inventive zombie-herding techniques and a general reminder to always read the fine print.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of zombies.  Or fine print. Otherwise you’ll find this to be a light, entertaining read.

Overall Dip Factor:

maniacal book club guru dave

 Guru Dave says: The message of this tome is clear: Mess not with that which is beyond your understanding! Although if you must delve into the magical arts in a crowded public place, at least direct your spells toward someone who is NOT responsible for providing an in-depth report to your parents on your behaviour.

maniacal book club toothless

Toothless says: No dragons in this book. But there is one zombie and one ghost so that nearly makes up for it.  This was a fun book.  I would have liked to be running around with J.D. and Rodney and the twins, chasing after Mr Katz.  It would have been fun with more brain splatting too.  Oh well. The stinky bits were funny.

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha says: While chasing zombies, four young boys learned magic spell books are not toys.

maniacal book club bruce

Bruce says: I ended up really enjoying this one for its snappy dialogue and the amusing narrative that J.D. keeps up throughout the story.  The second half seemed to move a lot more quickly than the first and the twist in the tail of the plot was  unexpected,  convenient and really quite funny.  I’d recommend this particularly for young male readers (although girls will like it too) and as this is the first of a series, I’ll be keeping an eye out for J.D’s next adventure.

Four thumbs up!

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Now on to the intriguingly named Ben Fox: Squirrel Zombie Specialist At Your Service by Daisy Whitney.

ben fox zombie squirrelsBen is really more of a dog person.  It’s not that he dislikes cats, but he just isn’t particularly enamoured of his own family cat, Percy – a haughty siamese that showers affection on Ben’s little sister Macy.  When the Fox family gets a new doggy door installed for their dog Captain Sparkles, things begin to get weird.  On investigating a strange noise in the night, Ben comes across a creepy, blank-eyed squirrel staring in through the doggy door…and as Ben continues to investigate, he discovers that a whole army of squirrels that have clearly succumbed to untimely death due to squishing by car, has been raised in his backyard and appears to be doing the bidding of Percy the cat.  With Percy’s intentions for his undead squirrel army unclear (yet obviously nefarious), Ben must rely on the one person he never thought he’d need if Percy’s evil plans are to be thwarted before the Animal Zombie Apocalypse begins right in his own backyard.

Dip into it for…

…a surprisingly original and engaging novel with a strong protagonist and a plot that doesn’t waste words.  And for the zombie squirrels. Obviously.

Don’t dip if…

…the thought of villainous zombie woodland creatures (or doggy doors) offends you.

Overall Dip Factor:

maniacal book club guru dave

Guru Dave says:  Once again, a book that appears flippant on the surface, carries an important lesson for young minds.  Sometimes we are so preoccupied fighting the Animal Zombie Apocalypse in our backyard, that we forget to notice the conflict arising in our own living rooms.  Those who wish to take up the mantle of zombie hunter would do well to dwell on the wisdom contained in this tome.

maniacal book club toothless

Toothless says: No dragons. Again. But zombie squirrels are super-awesome.  I haven’t seen zombie squirrels before.  And this book also tells all about other zombie animals like zombie raccoons, zombie dogs, and my favourite, zombie ducks.  I’d love it if Ben Fox could fight off the Zombie Duckpocalypse next! Quaaaaaaaaaaack!

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha says: When fighting zombie woodland creatures, focus on their beastly features.  To defeat these undead rodents, requires planning that is cogent.

maniacal book club bruce

Bruce says: You could be forgiven for thinking, as I did when I requested this book, that a middle grade book about the Squirrelpocalypse set in motion by an evil feline overlord could well end up being a complete load of rubbish.  Thankfully, I can assure you that this particular book about the Squirrelpocalypse and its evil feline overlord is an undiscovered gem!  I really, truly enjoyed this book from beginning to end, and finished it off in two short sittings. 

The great strength of the tale is the totally believable main character, Ben, who really is an “everyboy” who happens to have Cerebral Palsy.  While this condition does factor in to some parts of the story, it’s not a big deal and it’s not emphasised – just as in real life, it just is.  I applaud Whitney on creating a character who has a disability, but whose disability is not in any way the focus of the story.

This book is fun, it’s got a solid plot underpinning the slightly ridiculous squirrely invasion, and there’s enough action and humour to keep you turning pages at a rate of knots.  It will appeal to both boys and girls, particularly if they have a pet cat or dog (or both) and can imagine at least one of these plotting to take over the world.  This could easily provide some very entertaining pre-bedtime read-aloud experiences, or it would be a great choice for confident middle graders looking for a fresh twist on the zombie/monster theme.

Five thumbs up! (Bruce added a second thumb)

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So there you are – two zombie treats for the middle graders (and older MG fiction junkies) who would benefit from undeath mixed with action and humour.

Until next time,

Bruce (and the Book Club)

* I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley*

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