Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Lint Boy

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Today’s graphic novel pick is a bit of a hybrid for fans of fables and weird creatures.  We received Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lint Boy and Lint Bear live in their cozy dryer home, carefree and happy—until the day Lint Bear is snatched away by a cruel woman with a vendetta against dolls! Can Lint Boy unite a group of lost dolls to vanquish the villain and save his brother?This magical story is showcased in the stunning full-color art of this young graphic novel. A gently gothic, age-appropriate blend of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton, Lint Boy is a compelling tale of good vs. evil that will leave readers spellbound.

lint boy

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Fable

Art Style:

Quirky, gothic

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

Lint Boy and Lint Bear are born from the remnants of lint floating in the dryer. When Lint Bear goes missing, Lint Boy must venture forth from the dryer in search of his best and only friend – but will he be prepared for the wickedness in the world outside the whitegoods?

This book felt like something different right from the very first page.  The setting – the inside of a clothes dryer – and the protagonists – creatures made from discarded lint – are not the most obvious candidates for middle grade fare, so straight off the bat there was some originality apparent in the story.  The format of the book is similarly different from the usual.  The narrative style is fable-like and combines small blocks of text with graphic novel style dialogue and illustrative panels.  The book is divided into chapters but these chapters are largely driven by imagery rather than text.

The story is simple enough – after Lint Boy and Lint Bear vacate the dryer it becomes apparent that they are in danger from the particularly nasty owner of the house.  The reader is given some backstory as to who this woman might be and what her motivations are for being such an unpleasant (and downright torturous) individual.  Throughout the story, Lint Boy and Lint Bear are given opportunities to break out of their everyday roles and become leaders to a band of lost and cowed toys.  The story is all wrapped up in this single volume which makes it a good choice for when you are looking for an original, interesting fantasy tale but don’t want to commit to a series.

There was definitely something missing in my reading experience of Lint Boy and I think that something was production values.  The story reminded me strongly of Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce, a similar beautifully illustrated story about a missing toy and a bully with a tortured past, but with much greater attention to presentation and the overall feel of the book.

While the illustrations in Lint Boy are gorgeous, the formatting of the text and dialogue – and particularly the font – didn’t quite fit the gothic style of the pictures.  This may be an “uncorrected proof” issue and might be different in the final version of the book, but as it is, the mismatch of hand-drawn illustrations and computer-generated font didn’t work for me.

Similarly, I felt that the book, while a solid read, couldn’t quite decide whether it was going to be a novel or a graphic novel and so the story suffered a little in being too sparse in parts and over-explained in others.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen Lint Boy’s story fleshed out a little more and lengthened into a middle grade novel, without sacrificing the excellent illustrations.  Alternately, getting rid of the blocks of text and making the tale a full graphic novel would have worked equally well to rid the tome of its “not one thing or another” feel.

Overall snapshot:

If the quality and depth of the story had matched the quality of the illustrations in this tome, I think I would have had to nominate this one as a Top Book of 2017 pick.  As it is, it’s still a quirky and original tale with beguiling illustrations and characters, but I was hoping for a meatier reading experience here.

I’m nominating Lint Boy for my Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #30: A book with pictures.  You can check out my progress toward all my reading challenges for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Robots, Insomnia and Plague…

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Welcome to another reading round-up! Today we have a bit of YA thriller, a bit of literary fiction and a bit of graphic novel gore, so hopefully you’ll find something you like within the herd.  I received two of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley, and a third from the author.  Let’s ride!

Sleepless: Narrowdale #1 (Michael Omer)

Two Sentence Synopsis:sleepless

When Amy moved from L.A. to the boring suburb of Narrowdale she was pretty sure she was about to experience some big changes in her life – not necessarily for the better. Finding new friends turns out to be the least of her worries however and when the terrifyingly realistic nightmares begin, Amy knows that there’s something strange running beneath the ordinary exterior of her new town.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a fairly original and engaging take on a paranormal horror story for the YA set. It’s probably not going to win any awards for the standard of the writing, but there’s plenty of spook factor here – cue creepy whistling outside a young girl’s window at night – and enough snarky banter to keep the young folk interested. Omer has created an interesting setting in Narrowdale, where the homeless folk seem to be telepathic (and mildly prescient) and you’re never quite sure whether you’re talking to an ordinary person or a revenant from the past, so for that alone, this is worth a look.  Extra points for the awesome cover art.

Brand it with:

Catchy tunes; missing, presumed dead; heated daydreams, YA paranormal

Spread: Volume 1 (Justin Jordan, Kyle Strahm [ill], Felipe Sobreiro [ill])

Two Sentence Synopsis:Spread-Preview-1

A bloke named No is trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden world, when he stumbles across a dead woman’s baby. No’s life looks set to become far more complicated, until the baby inadvertently reveals an extremely handy post-apocalyptic, plague-destroying ability.

Muster up the motivation because:

If gore and blood splats and hand-to-hand violence is your kind of thing, Spread will be right up your plague-festering alley. If you like heartwarming stories featuring gruff men saving cute little babies, this will also be right up your alley (presuming you can handle large amounts of blood-splatting gore). I don’t normally go for highly violent graphic novels, but I picked this one up because the fantastic juxtaposition of No and baby (named Hope, for the present time) on the cover screamed “Oddity Odyssey Challenge!” at me and I found that the story was engaging enough that I could put up with the graphic violence. I quite enjoyed the wily and carnivorous ways of the plague creatures too, and No is really just a big softy carrying a throwing axe.

Brand it with:

Post-apocalyptic cuteness, awwww-ful violence, fun with plague creatures

A Robot in the Garden (Deborah Install)

Two Sentence Synopsis:robot in the garden

Ben wanders outside one day to find a decrepit and slightly confused robot sitting under his tree, looking at the horses. Ben seems to think the robot – Tang – can be useful, but is there really a place in a world full of android servants for a rustbucket like Tang?

Muster up the motivation because:

If nothing else, this is a cute story of an unlikely friendship. The plot arc is fairly predictable – underachieving man finds useless robot and tries to integrate it into his home, man stubbornly sticks with robot despite disruption to his marriage, man undergoes dramatic personal change and rectifies underachieving ways with robot in tow. I didn’t really connect with the character of Ben (or Tang, for that matter) and so I think that affected my enjoyment of the overall story but if you’re looking for a gentle, unusual and fairly humorous story featuring unexpected robots, this would be a good pick.

Brand it with:

DIY, it’s-me-or-the-robot, postmodern fable, artificial intelligence

So there you have it, another herd of wild books rounded up and safely corralled.  Hopefully there’s something in there that takes your fancy.  I’m also submitting Spread for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of odd subject matter, because I don’t normally read such graphically violent books.  Particularly graphically violent books narrated by a baby.  If you’d like to find out more about the challenge, just click this button:

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Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 7/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Some Middle Grade Wolfishness: A Double-Dip Review…and a Fi50 Reminder!

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Before we break out the extreme nacho cheese snack dippers, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for March will be kicking off on Monday.  Our prompt for this month is…kernel of truth

If you’d like to join in, simply compose a piece of poetry or prose in 50 words or fewer and link it to my Fi50 post on Monday in the comments.  For more detailed instructions, and to find out more about the challenge, click here.

Now onto the main course!  Today I have two middle grade books that feature wolfishness in a variety of forms.  One is a fable, the other is an urban fantasy detective lark.  I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Select your snack food of choice and let’s get dipping!

First up, for those who love a good old fable we have A Wolf at the Gate by Mark Van Steenwyk.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Blood Wolf prowls near the village of Stonebriar at night. She devours chickens and goats and cows and cats. Some say children are missing. But this murderous wolf isn’t the villain of our story; she’s the hero! The Blood Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. How will she react when those she loves are threatened?

Dip into it for…  wolf at the gate

… a retelling of the story of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio, Italy.  I was not familiar with the story before reading the book, and I think this probably heightened my enjoyment of the story, as although I could predict where the story might go, I didn’t have the ending in mind before beginning.  While not a super-fan of fables, I found this retelling to be very easy to engage with, as the narrative style certainly reflected the familiar style of fables and moral stories, but there was enough original material here to stave off the “I know where this is going and how it’s going to get there” boredom of being stuck listening to a fable.  The plot moves quickly and there are enough changes in setting and the situation of the wolf to keep things interesting.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like fables. Or wolves.  Or forgiveness.  Otherwise, I think this is a very appealing little tome.

Overall Dip Factor:

A Wolf at the Gate would be a great choice as a read-aloud for the early to middle primary classroom when studying fables, Christian mythology or just ethics in general.  Van Steenwyk never refers to St Francis in the text, creating instead the character of “The Beggar King”, a wandering wise man, so there’s no worry here about getting bogged down in Christian ideology if that isn’t your thing.  As a reading choice for middle graders (and even slightly younger children) this is a quick read with plenty of discussion-starting material, as well as being an engaging story peppered with stylised illustrations.

Now, onto the urban fantasy detective lark, Howl at the Moon: A Liarus Detective Novel by L. A. Starkey.  Here’s the blurb from Patchwork Press:

Eighth graders, Ben, Jake, and Leah need cash, and mowing lawns in the winter just isn’t cutting it. Their need for cash births the Liarus (Liars R Us) Detective Agency! Their first client is Old Lady Smitz, who is said to have murdered her three sons and husband. She’s missing a family heirloom, but it’s not just any old trinket, it’s the crest of Lykoi.

There are only two rules: No girls are allowed and never seal a deal with the witch doctor. Disregarding danger, these three discover that money is usually more trouble than it’s worth!

Dip into it for… howl at the moon

…a rollicking adventure that is squarely aimed at the  upper middle grade/lower YA market, and has a definite male skew, with the two main characters being ladsy boys.  There’s plenty of banter and social goings-on not entirely related to the detective work happening here alongside the supernatural elements.  There are the obligatory people involved who aren’t what they seem and a seemingly anti-feminist angle with the stipulation that no girls are allowed on the job.  Of course though, there’s a twist in the tale (tail?) and what began as a foolproof plan becomes slightly more complicated for our intrepid heroes.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a novel that focuses in on the detective agency part.  There is a LOT of romance-y, who-likes-who, unrequited crush business going on here and it took a little time to actually get to the forming of the detective agency.

Overall Dip Factor:

To be honest, I had a hard time with this book.  I was really looking forward to a new series with a supernatural AND detective angle, but there was just way too much adolescent romance going on that just slowed the whole thing down.  I couldn’t figure out why it was included, when there was perfectly good supernatural stuff that could have held the tale on its own. There was also a lot of banter and back-and-forth dialogue between the two main male characters and at times I just wanted to shout, “Alright! Just shut up and get on with it!”

If convoluted teen romance and adolescent chatter is no problem for you however, and you enjoy supernatural mysteries, then definitely give this one a go.  I suspect I will be leaving the Liarus Detective Agency with this novel, but I wish them well on their future endeavours.

So there we have two wolfish tales that may have whetted your appetite.  Although if you have any dip left over, perhaps you should consider sharing it with the dog. Or wolf.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A KidLit Haiku Review: The Snowbirds…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for another haiku review, so plump up your feathers (or feathered pillow) and join me in my wintry foray into a  fable-esque tale for youngsters, set in Japan and including elements of Russian legend: The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

In a small Japanese mountain village, young Shoji enters an ice carving competition. He soon finds he has a rival in Orochi, another boy in the village, who tries to sabotage Shoji’s entry, but with the help of his family Shoji creates a most beautiful Snowbird.

When the other ice carvings are revealed they discover that Orochi has stolen Shoji’s idea and has also carved an equally beautiful Snowbird. The judges cannot decide the winner of the competition so they announce that the result will be declared the next morning.

During the night Jack Frost discovers the two Snowbirds and thinks one of them will make an ideal companion for his Grandfather Frost, the Snow King. At the same time Shoji, anxious for the safety of his Snowbird, sneaks out of his house and meets Jack Frost who explains his plan. Shoji agrees to let him have his Snowbird, but they are both interrupted by the arrival of Orochi who demands payment in return for his.

Jack Frost brings the Snowbirds to life and tells them they must travel to the North Pole where his Grandfather will choose one of them to be his companion. On their journey they meet different characters and encounter many difficulties until they both finally arrive, but which one will be chosen? Jack Frost has a cunning idea to help his Grandfather decide…

 

the snowbirds

Adversarial 

actions lead to hard choices

Noble heart thaws ice

Fitzsimmons has developed an original and interesting story here, but at the same time it feels incredibly familiar due to the style of writing that can only be described as a fable.  I think this style will appeal both to grown-ups, who will appreciate a new and different “fairy tale” to read to their youngsters, and to children, who will be assisted into independent reading by the familiarity of the format.  At only 78 pages (in the digital version), the story is also very attainable for younger readers who are venturing into reading on their own.  The tale is very atmospheric, with the wintry surrounds leaping off the page through the descriptive writing and I could almost feel the snowflakes as I read.  The descriptions of some of the scenes, and of the snowbirds themselves are quite beautiful and lend themselves to easy visualisation for the reader.  I can certainly imagine youngsters and their grown-ups wanting to hop onto Google to have a look at some real ice sculptures after reading these sections.

Kids will love to despise the odious Orochi and his devious and spiteful actions towards Shoji’s delicate creation.  I’m sure they will also relish the fact that Orochi’s snowbird bears an incredible resemblance in personality to its maker.  The story is illustrated with line drawings that give a sense of naivety and reflect the tone of the story.

I was quite surprised at how quickly and how easily I became engaged in the story.  Not being a massive fan of traditional fairy tale formats, I appreciated the way that Fitzsimmons has mixed old and new.  The interesting setting helped me engage in the story also, as did the fact that the story was devoid of princesses.  I think parents and carers will really like the strong family bonds represented in Shoji’s family and the emphasis on perseverance,  truthfulness and generosity underlying Shoji’s actions.

If you are a fan of fairy tales and fables, The Snowbirds is well worth seeking out to add to your collection.

Yours in wintry, icicle-laden magic,

Mad Martha

 

Waving the Pro-Gargoyle Banner: Two Kid Lit Titles Featuring Everyone’s Favourite Monster…

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Hello all and welcome to a post that’s very close to my stony heart.  Today I have for you two books for the littlies that feature my stony brethren.  Yes, that’s right, at least two authors have loved Gargoyle kind so much that they felt the need to create stories around them.  Admittedly these books don’t feature my sub-genus (the type of gargoyle found only on bookshelves) but all publicity is good publicity as they say.  The two titles through which we will be taking a scenic constitutional are Heart of Rock, a shortish story in a very fairy-tale-ish vein by Becca Price, and middle grade crowd-pleaser, The Gargoyle in my Yard by Philippa Dowding.

First up – Heart of Rock.  I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher, Wyrm Tales Press (great name!), via Netgalley. Thanks!

In this read-in-one-sitting fable, a community of wizards come under attack from hideous Night Mares (ie: flying monster horses, not bad dreams).  In order to save their people from this menace, the wizards carve oversized gargoyles out of stone and bring them to life using a rock that has been formed by nature into the shape of a heart.  After defeating the nightmares, the wizards and gargoyles part on friendly terms.  Years pass and another kingdom falls under what seems like an insurmountable attack.  After hearing of the legend of the heart of rock, a champion sets out to regain it and ensure the safety of his home.  But the gargoyles need the Heart of Rock to survive – whose need will triumph?

heart of rockWhen I first read the blurb for this book I was expecting an epic adventure, so I was slightly surprised to find out that it really is just a short story – only 36 pages of text with some small illustrations throughout.  After readjusting my expectations slightly, I was drawn in by the traditional fairy tale style of narration that Price uses throughout.  The story is quite simple, with the wizards, then the new kingdom, then the gargoyles facing a seemingly impossible dilemma, and then overcoming it.  The plot follows a fairly stable trajectory, with nothing too scary or unexpected occuring.

As a standalone story, I felt it was a bit lacking, but at the end of the book the author notes that this story will be released as part of a collection of fairy-tale style stories.  I think that in that context, it will be well received by young readers and their grown-ups, due to the overall themes of considering the needs of others and working together to achieve shared goals.

I would have liked the gargoyles to have had a bit more personality to them, but the fable style of story-telling didn’t really allow for any in-depth character development.  Incidentally, if Price were to extend this story to a full-length YA title, I’d be interested in picking it up!

Recommended for:

*Parents who will choke on their own words if they have to read “Snow White”, “Cinderella” or “The Princess and the Pea” to their fairy-tale mad offspring one more time

*Early readers who enjoy the familiar style of a traditional fairy tale, but are keen to experience a new storyline

Next up, I have The Gargoyle in My Yard by Philippa Dowding, book one of the Lost Gargoyle series for early middle grade readers.

Twelve year old Katherine has a mother that loves garden statues, but Katherine begins to think she’s losing her mind when she glimpses the new gargoyle statue her mother has bought stomping her prize Asters – in Katherine’s new sneakers, no less.  Even more surprising is the fact that Katherine’s mother knows that the little gargoyle is actually alive!  But now what is the Newberry family to do? With a 400-year-old, grumpy, house-guest scaring, apple munching gargoyle living in your backyard, it suddenly becomes very difficult to host a barbecue or invite little children up the path for Halloween.  Katherine and her family have to figure out a way to keep Gargoth happy before things get out of hand.

gargoyle in my yardThis is such a charming little book.  Katherine is a sensible sort of a kid and I very much enjoyed the twist that got her parents involved in solving the problem of Gargoth.  In fact it’s nice to see a book for kids of this age group in which the protagonist’s parents are (a) living and (b) useful!  Gargoth himself undergoes some poignant character development also as we find out more about his back story and how he came to be stranded in the Newberry’s yard.

This would be a lovely serial  read aloud before bed for kids aged seven to ten. Because the story is reasonably short and manageable, the book would also be a perfect choice for confident readers aged from around nine to twelve. The writing is laced with humour and the imagery is certainly chuckle-worthy at times.  The book would definitely appeal to kids who are looking for a bit of magic and fantasy in their reading and a story that features a not-often-seen fantastical creature.

I also very much appreciated Dowding’s sympathetic rendering of gargoyle history and the often lonely predicaments that we gargoyles find ourselves in.  As a bookshelf gargoyle I am shielded from much of this in that I spend much time surrounded by humans and small, domesticated animals, but for those of my species that live out-of-doors (or on top of doors or as knockers on doors) the sense of being overlooked can become overwhelming.

Do something compassionate. Smile at a gargoyle today.

As this is also part of a trilogy, I will be putting books two and three on my TBR list forthwith.

Recommended for:

* kids who have sophisticated taste regarding preferred mythical creatures in their reading

* anyone looking for a fun, light read that also has some poignant moments and pathos

So there you have it.  If there are any other Gargoyle-ish books out there, I’d love to hear about them so that I can add them to my list.  It always pays to keep abreast of what the humans are putting out there about us.

Until next time,

Bruce

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