Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: A “Down the Rabbit Hole” Reimagining You Never Saw Coming…

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It’s an absolute travesty, I know, but I haven’t posted an entry in the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge 2015 since JULY. Yep it’s been Two. Whole. Months.  Considering this challenge was devised by me, that is incredibly slack. To make up for this dire transgression, I have a triple-bunger of oddness for you with a reimagining of falling down the rabbit hole that is completely out of left field. Today I have the first three volumes in a new release graphic novel series for the middle grade set that is a bit odd in pretty much every sense, but I will officially be submitting it under the category of Odd Subject Matter, given that it is a new twist on an old favourite.

As an aside, if you’d like to find out more about the challenge (and join in – there’s still time with levels starting at completion of just three books!), just click on the image at the top of this post.

Now back to business. I received copies of the first three volumes of Malice in Ovenland (yes, you read that correctly) by Micheline Hess, from Rosarium Publishing via Netgalley – and at first, I wondered what on earth I’d gotten myself into. But about halfway through volume two….well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s the blurb from Rosarium:

Lily Brown is a bright, curious, energetic young girl from Queens, New York. She lives with her mom and loves reading and writing and spending time with her friends. But she hates cleaning!

So, when her mom forces her to stay home for the summer instead of going off to some fun soccer or riding camp, Lily fumes. She wanted excitement and adventure. She didn’t want to do chores.Little did she know that the greasy oven in the kitchen was going to give her more excitement and adventure than she could possibly handle.

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And so begins the tale of Malice in Ovenland. The first volume introduces Lily’s fall down the Ovenhole, as it were, and is replete with elements of middle-grade appeal – disgusting smells, blobby, gross monsters, vomit and general yuckiness. The art style is cartoony and this, coupled with the stomach-churning subject matter, very nearly put me off but for some reason, when I saw the second volume pop up on Netgalley I threw caution to the wind and gave Lily and her grease monsters a second go.

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I’m glad I did. The action ramps up in the second volume and we are given a bit more plot and a little less grotesquerie (although there’s still plenty to please yuck-loving young readers). In this volume, Lily is thrown into the dungeon of the grease monsters’ castle, wherein she encounters a helpful pile of bones and a possible ally in this hostile environment. The cliffhanger at the end of this volume actually had me really wondering where the story would go, so when volume three popped up on Netgalley….well, you can guess what I did.

The third volume again upped the plot twists and provided more puzzles to solve, as Lily encounters a foodie ghost and attempts to escape from some relentless pursuers. By this volume, the yuckier elements have receded somewhat and I was quite drawn in to Lily’s escape. malice in ovenland 3

I did decide to leave the series here, even though the next volume was available for request, but having read the first three volumes, I can see how the series could well continue to become more engaging with each instalment. Malice in Ovenland will have great appeal to the “reluctant reader” camp of middle graders (and possibly even a slightly older audience) at whom I suspect this is squarely aimed, but I was surprised by how much I was enjoying it by the end of the third volume, compared to what I thought of the first. This suggests that if you can get past the initial grease-based humour of the first volume, there could be a fun bit of mindless escapism waiting for you if you pick this one up.

Although if you do venture into Ovenland, I’d recommend wearing gloves.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge goal: 13/16

Until next time,

Bruce

A “Top Book of 2015” MG Read-it-if Review: Hoodoo…

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If you’ve been wandering around in a fog of “what-do-I-read-next?” then you have stumbled into the right place. I heartily recommend today’s cracking and original tale and I have taken the rather rash and possibly disputable decision to elevate it to a place in my “Top Books of 2015” list. I received a copy of Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith from the publisher via Netgalley. Apart from that stunning cover, this historical tale has folk magic, family secrets, stranger danger, talking crows, dream travelling and one very nasty demon…not to mention the fact that it is a book that could easily slot into the “promoting diversity” category.

But enough with the tantalising descriptions! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher was born into a family with a rich tradition of practicing folk magic: hoodoo, as most people call it. But even though his name is Hoodoo, he can’t seem to cast a simple spell.   

Then a mysterious man called the Stranger comes to town, and Hoodoo starts dreaming of the dead rising from their graves. Even worse, he soon learns the Stranger is looking for a boy. Not just any boy. A boy named Hoodoo. The entire town is at risk from the Stranger’s black magic, and only Hoodoo can defeat him. He’ll just need to learn how to conjure first.     

Set amid the swamps, red soil, and sweltering heat of small town Alabama in the 1930s, Hoodoo is infused with a big dose of creepiness leavened with gentle humor.    

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Read it if:

*you’ve ever had a bad dream that seemed incredibly real…then woken up to discover that it was actually…incredibly real.

*you are possessed of a name that implies characteristics that are absent from your personality

*you’ve ever thought the whole “Stranger Danger” thing is a big overreaction from helicopter parents

*you’ve ever ignored sage advice from a trusted elder. Or a deceased relative.  Or indeed, a talking bird.

What an original little offering this book is! I truly enjoy meeting books that stand out from the thoroughly well used plotlines and characters that have populated middle grade fiction since Moses was a lad. On reading the blurb, one might be forgiven for thinking that this was, in fact, a typical “chosen one finds magic within himself and saves the world” sort of a story, but there are some important details that set this one apart.

First off, this is historical fiction, with events taking place in the 1930s, when segregation was alive and well. The author manages to weave in aspects of the period as well as some nifty little informational nuggets while keeping the plot flowing and the setting authentic. I quite enjoyed the little historical tidbits and as the book is set in the US, there were some interesting things I learned from the tale, such as the use of patterned quilts hung in cottage windows that held secret instructions for slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad. I always liken fiction that teaches you something to a bonus prize you win after you think the game is over.

The sinister elements of this book are very sinister indeed, and I was surprised at how creepy the content got considering that this is a middle grade offering. Apart from the Stranger (who starts off merely unsettling and finishes in full-blown demon possession), old sulphur-boots himself makes an appearance (albeit off-stage) and the second half of the book certainly felt to me like it had a fog of malevolence blanketing the action. The plotline that requires Hoodoo to solve the riddle of the Stranger and use his folk magic to protect himself is tightly woven and will provide a challenge to those who like to puzzle things out along with the hero.

I almost wish that this was part of a series because Hoodoo is such a likeable character, and I really felt like part of his extended family as I followed his adventures. The supporting characters are well developed and there is a distinct theme of loss and re-connection as the story unfolds. The sense of warmth and welcome that exudes from the descriptions of Hoodoo’s home with Mama Frances and the obvious reliance on others that is evident in the community definitely balances out some of the more frightening aspects of the story and provides a consolation for the losses that Hoodoo has experienced in his young life.

Having read a few early reviews of Hoodoo, I do agree with some reviewers that there is something lacking overall in the execution of the tale. While I was highly impressed with the originality of the story and the way in which the author has pulled off the scarier bits, I did feel mildly dissatisfied at the end. Strangely though, I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly was missing or lacking. I did find the pacing to be unusual, with the earlier chapters almost devoid of anything magical at all (except Hoodoo’s first encounter with the Stranger) and the later chapters particularly intense in terms of danger and macabre doings. Perhaps it was this disparity in pacing that put me slightly off, making Hoodoo seem younger than his twelve years in the beginning and much older by the end.

Having said that, this was definitely a stand-out book for me for this year, for its original content, historical setting and the masterful way in which the author has developed the more frightening aspects of the story. This is certainly not a read for the faint-hearted or suggestible, but for advanced middle grade readers of stout heart and steady nerve this would be an excellent choice.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Mysterious and Intriguing” MG and YA Edition…(featuring a Top Book of 2015!)

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Well I hope nobody’s still saddle sore from Friday’s Round-Up because today I have three YA and MG titles that you are definitely going to want to hitch to your TBR post. I received all three from their respective publishers via Netgalley and was pleasantly surprised to find them to be thoroughly enjoyable, with a sense of the unexplained. In fact, I enjoyed one of them so much, it has made my list of TOP BOOKS OF 2015! On that exciting note, let’s ride on in!

First up, we have a YA title featuring multiple contributors and a quick, relatable read.

M is for Autism (The Students of Limpsfield Grange School and Vicky Martin)

Two Sentence Synopsis: M is for autism

M isn’t sure why she sees things differently from other people but it certainly makes things harder for her to fit in with her peers. With the possibility of a medical diagnosis looming, M wonders whether a label will help her blend in…or make her stick out even more.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is unlike any book you’ve read with a main character who displays characteristics on the Autistic Spectrum. For a start, the main character is female, and as you delve into M’s readable-in-one-sitting journey, it is highly likely that you will recognise many of M’s fears, experiences and characteristics as similar to those you might have personally experienced or displayed. With eye-dazzling illustrations dotted throughout giving a glimpse into M’s inner turmoil, this book is a highly polished piece of work that will appeal greatly to teenagers who feel like they don’t fit in, as much as it will to older readers looking for an original take on an “autism” novel. The experiences of M’s mother are also realistically portrayed and it was intriguing to see how M internalised her family’s reactions to her behaviour. I highly recommend this book to everyone: it won’t take you long to get through, but it will leave you with some things to ponder well after you’ve finished.

Brand it with:

Sisters doing it for themselves, square peg/round hole, parental freakouts

Next up, as promised on Friday, we have everyone’s favourite stinky monster: Bigfoot!

Sasquatch (Andrea Schicke Hirsch)

Two Sentence Synopsis:sasquatch

Since his parents’ divorce, Jake elected to live with his dad, which means moving to his late Uncle Horace’s cabin in the deep woods of a tiny town. Uncle Horace was known as the town crackpot because of his fascination with Sasquatch and his belief that one lived in the very woods surrounding Jake’s new home – but with malodorous wafts, strange calls in the night and even stranger happenings when he goes walking in the woods, Jake’s not so sure his uncle was crazy after all.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s rare to find a YA novel with a strong male protagonist who isn’t either bully or bullied, labelled as a nerd or a jock, and who possesses confidence and the ability to look after himself and manage his own emotions. Plus, it’s about Bigfoots (Bigfeet?). There was something very refreshing about this novel and I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it steered away from the overused YA tropes I’ve mentioned above and just stuck to good old-fashioned, realistic monster hunting. Of course, one can’t spend all one’s time hunting Sasquatch and there are plenty of non-monster related problems that Jake gets himself into with his new neighbours and friends and the book is better for it. The author has managed to blend the “real-life” issues of a young lad with a mythical overlay and realistic characters and the result is a quality read. Overall, this is a fun, engaging novel with a fantasy edge, some satisfying twists and authentic portrayals of teenagers left to their own devices with a mythical beast (possibly) on the loose.

Brand it with:

Who cut the cheese?, love lies bleeding, live and let live, revenge served hot

Finally, onto our middle-grade offering for today and one of my…..TOP BOOKS OF 2015!

Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods: Twenty Chilling Tales from the Wilderness (Hal Johnson and Tom Mead)

Two Sentence Synopsis: creatures of the lumberwoods 2

Reader, find in this tome the true-life stories of fantastical beasts that roam the North American landscape. From the Gumberoo to the Hodag, and the Snoligoster to the Timberdoodle (although this one only gets a passing mention), everyone’s favourite obscure mythical beasts are given their terrifying due in this not-to-be-missed instructional guide.

Muster up the motivation because:

The disarmingly hilarious turns of phrase, dry humour that creeps up and forces a chuckle and running joke about the French will have you giggling unexpectedly and furrowing your brow by turns in equal measure. This illustrated collection of tall tales is like Monty Python for nine-year-olds. The book is beautifully presented (although I did have MAJOR issues reading this on both Adobe Digital Editions and Bluefire Reader – perhaps due to the large file size) and deserves to be read in print. The individual stories are short enough to dip into before bedtime but long enough to leave a lasting imprint on the individual’s psyche. I’m certain the image of one hunter, returning to civilisation “brokenhearted, with only a timberdoodle in his sack” will be one I cherish for some time to come. Same goes for the killing technique of the deadly Snoligoster, the effect of which, according to the author, is “quite delightful to watch, but also tragic and disgusting”. I heartily recommend this new imagining of an old work to intrepid, confident young readers in about grades 4 to 7, and to adults with a sense of humour of around the same age.

Brand it with:

Tall tales, if you go down to the woods today, instructional guides

So there you have it. I will admit to a bit of cheekiness, hiding one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015 within a Round-Up, but I like to keep you on your toes and see who’s really paying attention. I have gone on a bit in this Round-Up, but occasionally you find some real gems out there but can’t necessarily fit them in to the individual posting schedule, and these three warrant a bit of long-windedness. I hope you find something here to please.

Until next time,

Bruce