Superheroes, Secrets and Tiny Horses: Kid Normal…

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kid normal

It’s time for a bit of good old fashioned, super powered fun and I have just the book to fit the bill.  We received Kid Normal by Greg James and Chris Smith from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The first book in a laugh-out-loud funny adventure series for 8+ readers from popular radio personalities Greg James and Chris Smith.

When Murph Cooper rocks up to his new school several weeks into the beginning of term, he can’t help but feel a bit out of his depth.

And it’s not because he’s worried about where to sit, and making friends, and fitting in, or not knowing where the loos are. It’s because his mum has enrolled him at a school for superheroes by mistake. And unlike his fellow students, who can all control the weather or fly or conjure tiny horses from thin air, Murph has no special abilities whatsoever.

But just because you don’t have superpowers, it doesn’t mean you can’t save the day. Let’s hope Murph realises that, and quick – because not far away is a great big bad guy who is half man and half wasp, and his mind is abuzz with evil plans …

It’s time for Kid Normal to become a hero!

What a fun read this was!  It felt like a cross between X-Men and Little Britain and was a refreshing change of pace from the books I’ve been reading lately.   Kid Normal is not the most original story in the world – untalented kid makes good being the order of the day in many middle grade reads – but it is certainly funny, pacey and tongue in cheek, with a likable protagonist, a band of lovable misfits and some truly ridiculous(ly evil) villains.

Murph is a boy who has moved around a lot and when his mother finally discovers a school in which to enrol him in their new town, it is to Murph’s chagrin that the school turns out to be a secret school for the super-powered.  Having said that, not all of the “powers” evident in the attendees could really be classed as “super”, unless you count making a screeching noise with your teeth particularly super, so Murph, while the only one not endowed with a superpower, is not the only one struggling to fit in.

If you discount the superpower element, Kid Normal is a tried and true story of a young man who is lost and alone developing some solid, if unusual, friends and working together to overcome their difficulties.  In this case, the difficulty happens to be a giant wasp-human hybrid villain with a plan to take over the picnic world through the means of enslavement-inducing helmets, but apart from that, the story is one with which middle grade readers will be generally familiar.

The humour really is the driving force behind the story, with the book using a narrative style that invites the reader in and addresses them here and there.  The narrative style is fun and fast-paced and there were many moments that had me giggling along at the imagery produced.  Many of the adult characters are larger than life and readers won’t be able to help having a laugh at their over the top antics.  We absolutely fell in love with Hilda, the girl whose power is to produce two tiny horses at will.  I mean, what a brilliant power! Who wouldn’t want such an adorable skill at their disposal?

While my copy didn’t have any illustrations, the final edition of the book will be illustrated throughout, which will no doubt enhance the reading experience even more.

Kid Normal was a wonderful brain-break that celebrates the outsider, the kid who doesn’t fit the mould, in a supremely humorous way.  There is enough action and mystery to keep young readers happy and I highly recommend this to readers who love a rollicking tale that uses super-charged laughs to drive the action-packed outcome.

Until next time,

Bruce

Death Tourism, Mountain Climbing and the Third Man: The White Road…

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the white road

If you are the sort of person who enjoys caving, climbing and generally squeezing yourself into dangerous and risky spaces, I should probably let you know that you and I may well have personalities that are polar opposites.  Not being a fan of tight spaces like caves (gargoyle generally showing more preference for wide open spaces) and not seeing the point of pointlessly risking one’s life to climb Everest, it was with slight misgivings that I delved into The White Road by Sarah Lotz, which we received from Hachette Australia for review.  Brace yourselves my friends, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Adrenaline junkie Simon Newman sneaks onto private land to explore a dangerous cave in Wales with a strange man he’s met online. But Simon gets more than he bargained for when the expedition goes horribly wrong. Simon emerges, the only survivor, after a rainstorm trap the two in the cave. Simon thinks he’s had a lucky escape.

But his video of his near-death experience has just gone viral.

Suddenly Simon finds himself more famous than he could ever have imagined. Now he’s faced with an impossible task: he’s got to defy death once again, and film the entire thing. The whole world will be watching. There’s only on place on earth for him to pit himself against the elements: Mt Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.

But Everest is also one of the deadliest spots on the planet. Two hundred and eighty people have died trying to reach its peak.

And Simon’s luck is about to run out.

Despite my pathological fear of getting stuck in a tight space, the first chapter of this book – which deals with protagonist Simon’s ill-advised venture into a disused cave system with a complete nutter of a guide, to photograph the corpses of some lads who had previously undertaken the same ill-advised caving venture – had me hooked throughout.  The author manages to blend mental banter with a fear of the dark and the off-putting instability of Simon’s guide Ed to create a thoroughly absorbing situation.  It is in this first experience that the ills that plague Simon for the rest of the book are set up and it is certainly masterfully done.

There are a few convenient plot twists immediately after this.  Simon’s blog partner and cold-hearted prick of a room-mate Thierry decides that after the “success” of Simon’s caving mission – in website traffic, if nothing else – Simon should pop off to Everest to film some corpsicles.  The money is duly raised and after mild protests from Simon due to his fragile mental state, the plan is enacted.  These little niggles with Thierry’s actions were forgivable I found, because this is really a book about Simon and his demons; an introspective thriller, if you will, based on why things happen rather than how they happen.

The book is split into a number of parts.  The first deals with Simon’s caving experience.  The second part introduces Juliet by means of her diary.  Juliet is a female mountain climber of some repute (both good and bad) whose goal is to summit Everest without oxygen aids.  Her diary reveals her interesting mental state at the time and her story becomes intertwined with Simon’s bid to scale Everest and take photos of frosty corpses, both as its happening and once it’s finished.  The next part deals with Simon’s ascent of Everest and the complex interpersonal relationships between the climbers and the secrets they seem to be hiding.  Finally, the denouement observes Simon’s descent into unreality as he grapples with the need to bring closure to his experiences.

I became gripped by Simon’s struggles the further into the book I read.  The thriller part of the story was being enacted totally within Simon himself but was beautifully balanced with the physical action of the caving and mountain climbing sections.  The dark, frosty atmosphere of the settings made this a perfect winter read – if you can call Brisbane’s mild drops in temperature “winter” – and I quite happily rugged up under the covers to escape into Simon’s deteriorating sense of self.  (Schadenfreude for the win!)

Overall I was impressed with the way that the author managed the multiple threads of each character’s story to create a complex mix of psychological thriller and action.  The ending was satisfyingly ambiguous and deliciously creepy, which was a nice payoff for having slogged up Everest and through a horrid cave system with Simon while plagued by the thought of a malevolent watcher – twice each.  If you are looking for a book that will truly provide an escape from the mundane, I can heartily recommend The White Road.

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Kung Fu and a Backstage Crew…

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got two graphic novel beauties for you today – a young adult paranormal comedy sample and a middle grade retro-styled, martial arts based comedy.  We’ll kick off with one for the big kids, hey?

The Backstagers V. 1 *Sample Chapter* (James Tynion IV & Ryan Sygh)

*We received this sample from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Jory transfers to the private, all-boys school St. Genesius, he figures joining the stage crew would involve a lot of just fetching props and getting splinters. To his pleasant surprise, he discovers there’s a door backstage that leads to different worlds, and all of the stagehands know about it! All the world’s a stage…but what happens behind the curtain is pure magic!

backstagers

Target Age Range: 

YA

Genre:

Humour/fantasy/contemporary

Art Style:

Cartoonish and colourful

Reading time:

I knocked this one over in about ten minutes, but please note I only had access to a sample chapter, not the whole grapic novel.

Let’s get gabbing:

 

This sample left me wanting to find out more about this series and the characters, which is a great sign.  Jory turns up at to his school’s drama club and is immediately sent on an errand to the backstage crew.  Expecting to discover ordinary backstage tasks going on, Jory is surprised to be drawn into a dangerous parallel backstage world containing monster vermin thingies and a whole lot of action.  This story was easy to get into and is awash with visual and verbal gags.  I enjoyed getting to know the different characters that made up the backstage crew and the monster rodents that swamp the backstage area are just adorable (as well as being bitey and undesirable to have around).  Jory gets to play a key role in averting the adorable bitey rodent monster problem and at the end of this segment he is clear that the glory of the stage no longer holds any delights for him and he’d much rather spend his time in the weird and wonderful world of backstage.

Overall snapshot:

This was a promising beginning and I’d love to see what happens next.  The Backstagers is the perfect choice for fans of fantastical creatures turning up in unexpected places, and groups of misfits banding together to create their own brand of awesomeness.

The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot: How to Make a Peanut Butter, Jelly and Kung Fu Sandwich (Jason Bays)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Kung Fu Robot is an international machine of mystery and the savior of all things awesome and cool. He’s the world record holder for ice cream sandwiches eaten in one sitting, the reigning champion of continuous nunchucking, and once won a bronze medal for the simultaneous stomach rubbing and head patting. Together with his 9-year old sidekick, Marvin, he faces his arch-nemesis, Kung Pow Chicken: a robotically-enhanced, foul fowl bent on destroying the city’s peanut butter and jelly supply. Kung Fu Robot and Marvin must save the day . . .  and their lunches!

The pursuit for the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich can’t be contained on the page—it leaps onto your mobile screen with a FREE interactive companion app for an innovative, augmented reading experience.

kung-fu-robot

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Humour/action

Art Style:

Retro/vintage style cartoon with few panels per page and yellow, red and black the predominant colour scheme

Reading time:

At 208 pages, this would be a solid read for a middle grader, around the same size as an early chapter book.

Let’s get gabbing:

This one didn’t grab me in the way I thought it might and I suspect this is because it is a story aimed squarely at the middle grade age group, and young boys in particular.  I found the art style a bit distracting, as many of the panels featured the characters busting out of their squares and the text seemed a little small in comparison to the large illustrations.  Reading this on a screen may have made a difference to the reading experience also because I kept finding myself having to zoom in to read the text and zoom out again to see the illustrations.

There’s plenty of child-friendly humour and action here, with Kung Fu Robot going about making a sandwich in a rather silly and action-packed way.  The first “story” in the book is all about Kung Fu Robot making a sandwich and a mess in the kitchen before the villain even comes into the piece, which I found a tad tedious but I’m sure kids of the right age will enjoy.  I did get a bit lost regarding what was actually going on between Kung Fu Robot and Kung Pow Chicken to be honest, but I suspect that that’s because I’m an old fuddy duddy and this is aimed at kids who like silliness.  Marvin, Kung Fu Robot’s human friend, seems to be the voice of reason throughout but it still wasn’t enough to drag me along for the ride.

Overall snapshot:

With plenty of action, colour and silliness, this is a story that will appeal greatly to early middle grade readers and fans of the style of comedy of Dav Pilkey and Andy Griffiths.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Deathly Dangerous Double Dip Review: Cell 7 and Circus Werewolves…

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If you are hankering after a book-sized snack with a dangerous flavour, then I’ve got just the thing for you today.  Two things in fact – one YA suspense tale and one MG horror comedy (horromedy?), so let’s jump straight in!

First up I have the fourth book in indie (yes, I know I said I wouldn’t, but I love this series too much), middle grade scary humour series, The Slug Pie Stories: How to Protect Your Neighbourhood from Circus Werewolves by Mick Bogerman.  We received this one for review from the author.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The circus is in town, and Mick Bogerman has a fail-proof plan to sneak inside the adults-only Macabre Pavilion. But there’s something weird about the A. Linville & Purnima Bros. Circus this year. Angry parents and crying kids exit early by the carload. Maybe it’s the clowns. Yes, they wear the standard stark-white faces and red bulbous noses, but underneath their painted smiles, there’s something not quite right. What’s more, after the full moon rises . . . they howl.

When Mick and his friends rescue a caged boy from the clown’s clutches they set off a series of disasters that threaten their entire neighborhood. Can Mick become the leader his neighbors need and protect them from the pack of hungry predators infiltrating their town?

Dip into it for… circus-werewolves

… fast-paced adventure, escaping death by the skin of one’s teeth and improvised werewolf deflecting weaponry.  It’s no secret that I love the originality of this series as well as the salt-of-the-earth narration from Mick Bogerman himself.  There are no frills to Mick – he’s a boyish boy with a strong sense of justice, a stronger sense of humour and a fierce protective streak for his younger brother Finley.  In this offering, Mick, Finley and their friends are excited to visit the circus, as they do every year, but are also wary of the reports they’ve been hearing about clowns that are far scarier than clowns have any right to be.  After the boys make a split-second decision to rescue a boy trapped in the “freak show” tent, they discover that they will now have the opportunity to see the clowns up close and personal.  

Don’t dip if…

…you’re a wussy wussbag.  Each of the books has a (possibly tongue-in-cheek!) warning to parents at the beginning, noting that the books are not for the faint-hearted and should only be read by kids of a strong constitution.  Otherwise, there’s nothing not to like.

Overall Dip Factor

The best thing about this series is that it is evolving with every book.  In this book a collection of Mick’s friends are integral to the action, and Mick and Finley’s globe-trotting Uncle George makes an important (and life-saving!) appearance.  The addition of so many extra characters gave the story a fresh energy, and as each of the characters is a bit quirky and unusual, the group of friends has quite a collection of unexpected skills and resources to hand, which is lucky when terrifying monsters seem to pop up around every corner. This book, like the others, is a reasonably quick read and the clever pacing means that there is no time to sit on one’s hands, as the action unfolds so quickly.   I’d highly recommend this one, especially to male readers of middle grade age.  Did I mention that you can also vote for the plot of the next Slug Pie Story by visiting their website?  I don’t want to get too excited, but the story featuring GARGOYLES is at the top of the rankings right now!! You can check it out and cast your vote here.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Now that that’s sorted, if you haven’t read the others in this series, you really should rectify that as soon as possible.

Next up we have Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery, a YA tale of suspense, privilege, choices and reality TV set in a speculative near-future.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Should she live or die? You decide

An adored celebrity has been killed. Sixteen-year-old Martha Honeydew was found holding a gun, standing over the body.

Now Justice must prevail.

The general public will decide whether Martha is innocent or guilty by viewing daily episodes of the hugely popular TV showDeath is Justice, the only TV show that gives the power of life and death decisions – all for the price of a phone call.

Martha has admitted to the crime. But is she guilty? Or is reality sometimes more complicated than the images we are shown on TV?

Dip into it for…cell-7

…an intriguing take on the mob mentality and the ways in which mass media, entertainment and critical thinking intertwine in today’s society.  In a near-future that doesn’t look too far different from our present, courts have been abolished and the fate of prisoners is decided over a seven-day public voting period.  The motto “an eye for an eye” is the driver behind the TV program Death is Justice, and the viewers feel that they have a personal stake in dealing out deadly justice to perceived wrong-doers.  This book is a bit unusual in that it flicks between a number of points of view – Martha, from the inside of her death row cell; and Eve, her counsellor, in particular – as well as employing flashback scenes and running scripts from the Death is Justice television show.  This variety of style actually kept me more interested in the story than I otherwise would have been because it allows the situation in which Martha finds herself to be explored from a number of angles, and exposes the motivations of various characters.

Don’t dip if…

…you are hoping for a pacey story.  This book takes its time in giving the reader the full picture, although the information that is held back at the start of the novel does provide for an interesting mystery.

Overall Dip Factor

There was something about this book that screamed “high school set text” to me because it is such an issues-focused book, with justice, fairness and power being the issues under examination.  It was obvious from the beginning that there was more to Martha’s case than initially meets the eye, and it seemed to take quite a while to get to the crux of the issue.  I did enjoy the final few chapters of the book, when the flaws of the public voting system become apparent for all to see.  This part of the book was faster-paced than the earlier sections, and the impending and inevitable sense of danger added a bit of excitement to proceedings.  Because this did feel a bit didactic to me as an adult reader, I was a little disappointed to find out that there is a second book in the works.  I was quite satisfied with the ambiguity of what might happen to the characters given the events of the ending and I think it would have been a stronger conversation-starter if the story was left there.  Whatever the case, you should probably give it a read and let me know what you think!

After all that danger and daring, you could probably do with a cup of tea and a good lie down, so I’ll let you go, but do let me know which of these books takes your fancy.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: A Historical, First Nations MG Epic…

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imageToday’s Oddity Odyssey selection I am submitting in the categories of Odd Title and Odd Subject Matter.  In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall and illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk is an absorbing journey into the history of the Lakota people – an indigenous tribe of North America – and their struggle to prevail and maintain their traditional lands and culture in the face of advancing white folk.  The oddness in the title is the “Crazy” part – which is a synonym for “odd ” – and the oddness of the subject matter relates to the fact that I have never read a book so focused on North American First Nations people.  Thanks to Abrams Kids, the book’s publisher, from whom I snagged a review copy through Netgalley, for the opportunity to extend my knowledge in this subject area.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge for 2015, feel free to click on the challenge button at the top of this post.  There’s still time to join in!

But back to the book.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you would not guess it by his name: his father is a white man and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota history. Drawing inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition and the Lakota cultural mechanism of the “hero story,” Joseph Marshall provides readers with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

crazy horse

If you know any middle grade boys who are ripe for an action-packed, rite-of-passage adventure with a difference then this is a book you definitely want to get into their hands.  While I by no means wish to deter young ladies from reading this book, it has a definite male skew and has many aspects, including riding, fighting and learning from older mentors that will especially appeal to young boys.

The story begins with young Jimmy discussing with his grandfather the ways in which some boys at his school try to make him feel different.  Jimmy’s grandfather, a proud Lakota man, takes it upon himself to teach Jimmy some of his history and culture, and point out that one of the Lakota’s most famous warriors, Crazy Horse, also found life as a young man less than smooth sailing.  The tale alternates between conversations and interactions between Jimmy and his grandfather in the present day as they travel to sites of historical significance for the Lakota people, and a narrative following the snippets of the life of Crazy Horse, as he grows from a lad of about Jimmy’s age, to a man and a leader of his people in a time of upheaval.

While not being from North America, or having much knowledge of the First Nations people of that area of the world – outside that dubiously provided by watching Dances With Wolves and the like – many of the situations in which Crazy Horse and his loved ones found themselves felt eerily similar to the historical incidences of genocide, oppression and discrimination levelled against Australia’s own indigenous people since the arrival of European settlers.  I imagine the stories of many First Nations groups across the world share themes of destruction of culture and loss of land, accompanied by an inexplicable astonishment from the oppressing forces as to the audacity of various indigenous populations in fighting against impending death and displacement.  This book will no doubt open up important discussions for North American readers, but could also be used in Australian schools and families as an oblique way to introduce our own history of indigenous oppression, which remains a contentious topic for many.

In terms of the narrative, the writing felt a little didactic to me as an adult reader at times, but overall I found this to be a highly accessible story that addresses issues such as finding one’s identity, the social impact of civil conflict, and coping with difference.  It’s also a reasonably quick read with plenty of action and this is aided by the switching between present and past.  I’d highly recommend this as a class read-aloud to engage reluctant male readers in discussions about history, identity and ethics.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Challenge Total: 15/16

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

 

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

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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.

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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