Exit, Pursued by Smugglers: The Spectacular Spencer Gray…

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spectacular spencer gray

If you are looking for a bit of adventure to spice up your life, delivered with a side order of cute furry marsupial then The Spectacular Spencer Gray by Deb Fitzpatrick is clearly what you have been missing in your life.  We received a copy from Fremantle Press for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Spencer Gray is just an ordinary kid, but he manages to get into some pretty extraordinary situations.

When Spencer stumbles on a sinister operation in the bush, his life goes into overdrive – midnight rescue missions, super-endangered animals, hair-raising adventures.

To survive, Spencer will need to pull off something spectacular.

It’s refreshing to come across a book which is fun but touches on serious subjects, is laconic but allows the reader to learn something (surreptitiously!) and is action-packed, but also feels creepily authentic.   It’s safe to say then, that I felt refreshed after having read of Spencer’s escapades.

Before we get started, let me point out that this is the second adventure of the titular Spencer Gray, the first of such adventures having been chronicled in The Amazing Spencer Gray which was published in 2013.  Also allow me to point out that I was not aware that this wasn’t Spencer’s first dangerous outing and it made not one jot of difference to my enjoyment of the book.  This tale can certainly be read as an exciting standalone novel with no need for prior knowledge of Spencer’s situation.

The book opens on Spencer’s unwitting discovery of a bizarre, homemade setup in the bush just outside his school oval containing a collection of native Australian animals.  Spencer makes the split second decision to bring one of the animals – that he later learns is a Potoroo (google it) – back to his home, because it looks on the brink of death.  When Spencer and his mates Charlie and Leon decide they should return the Potoroo to the bush, things start to go pear-shaped because it immediately becomes clear that someone…or multiple someones…are not happy that Spencer has discovered their criminal activities.

The pacing of the story is truly Australian, in that it takes its time to warm up and the boys are remarkably laid back about (a) finding a bunch of native animals in a slapdash shelter in an unlikely place and (b) keeping an endangered animal in box under a bed.  The second half of the book however, in which Spencer’s marsupial-saving activities come home to roost in the worst outcome possible, is all go, go, go and I whipped through these chapters like a Potoroo with its pants on fire.   Although the events of the second half of the book are, when viewed objectively from an adult’s point of view, pretty far-fetched, the suspense in the writing somehow made them feel decidedly authentic and I really felt for Spencer’s parents as they waited with mounting terror for news of their son’s whereabouts.

Overall, Fitzpatrick has done a great job with balancing the adventurous and more down-to-earth elements of the story, as well as providing information to the reader in a readily digestible form about one of Australia’s most endangered animals.  And in case you’re wondering, no, I had no idea what a Potoroo looked like before reading this book.  Or that it was endangered.  In fact, after reading the book, I visited Google to run a comparison on Potoroos and Quokkas and while typing in Potoroo vs… the option for Quokka immediately came up, so clearly I’m not the only one still learning here.

I would recommend The Spectacular Spencer Gray to young readers looking for a quick yet involving read featuring an unlikely hero and the adventure that awaits in the great outdoors.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

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

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image manical book club button

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