Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Mighty Jack…

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

Today I’m bringing you another Ben Hatke graphic gem because Ben Hatke is awesome.  I picked up Mighty Jack from the library a week or two ago and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed it even more than the Zita the Spacegirl books.  It’s a big call I know, but bear with me.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jack might be the only kid in the world who’s dreading summer. But he’s got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s boring, too, because Maddy doesn’t talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. It’s the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

mighty jack

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Fantasy, fractured fairy tales

Art Style:

Ben Hatke style!

Reading time:

Took me about half an hour total spread over two sittings

Let’s get gabbing:

I’m going to dispense with reiterating how much I love Ben Hatke’s illustrative style and adorable original creatures and just get on with talking about the story.  Although, if you’ll indulge me, this series has a ridiculously cute little onion headed species that Mad Martha is dying to recreate in yarn, but as she doesn’t have the time just now, we’ll have to wait for that particular treat.

This is the good old fashioned kids-stumbling-upon-hidden-magic-right-in-their-own-backyard combined with meeting-a-friend-with-a-bizarrely-cool-skill style of fantasy that anyone who has loved fantasy and magic stories since childhood will definitely appreciate.  Since Jack’s mum has to work two jobs just to make ends meet, Jack is often left to look after his little sister Maddy, who is nonverbal.  When Maddy wanders off at a local market, Jack manages to find her talking to some strange people (who you will certainly recognise if you have read the Zita the Spacegirl series!!) and ends up trading his mum’s car for a box of seed packets when Maddy unexpectedly starts talking.

When the kids plant the seeds in the yard they’re in for a massive shock – because the garden that sprouts is full of sentient plants, adorable onion-headed creatures and some vines that are a bit too grabby for comfort.  When Jack’s swordplay-mastering, home-schooled neighbour Lilly (oh, I’ve only just realised that she has a botanical name…coincidence?) turns up to help out, Jack has to decide whether to trust her and let her into the family’s troubles or take the easy route and keep shutting everyone out.

I love, love, love, love this story.  Apart from the fantasy elements (enormous snails, anyone?) there is a strong subplot about acceptance, trust and the perils of relying on oneself when others are willing to contribute.  Mighty Jack doesn’t have the humorous undertones of the Zita series, relying instead on a sense of adventure and risk to drive a suspenseful, but exhilarating plot.  Once again Hatke has created female characters that are full of depth, with unexpected skills and for this reason, the book will appeal to both boys and girls.  There’s a certain echo of the Spiderwick Chronicles in this story, but Hatke has done it better.  I really can’t wait now to get my paws on the second book in the series – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – by hook or crook.

 

Overall snapshot:

This is another brilliant addition to Hatke’s growing catalogue of work.  If you haven’t yet introduced his graphic novels or picture books to your younglings, you must really correct that oversight because these are modern classics that deserve to be re-read again and again.

Until next time,

Bruce

A YA Double Dip: Beasts of Fantasy and Rocky Realities…

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Sit down, relax and take up your favourite snack for today’s YA-focused double dip review.  I’ve got a contemporary that deals with mental health and teen friendships, and a fantasty retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in a mythical Japan, so take your pick and let’s wade on in.

First up we have Made You Up by Francesca Zappia. which we received from HarperCollins Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.

made-you-up

Dip into it for…

…a funny and engaging story full of quirky characters that won’t make you work too hard, but still contains some unexpected twists here and there.  Despite the potential heaviness of the topic – the lead character Alex has schizophrenia and has difficulty differentiating her hallucinations from reality on occasion – this book has quite a light tone for the most part and characters with personality traits that will make you laugh.  Alex can be forgiven for having trouble figuring out what’s real and what’s not at her new school, because it is a bit of a bizarre place.  There’s Miles, the sometimes-German-speaking head of the detention club, a scoreboard that gets more attention from the Principal than the students do, and a bunch of strange goings-on that would have even the least imaginative person around scratching their heads and wondering whether they had slipped into the twilight zone.  As well as Alex’s condition, the book also deals with making new friends in an untrustworthy situation, caring for ill parents, navigating the precarious halls of high school and finding a place to fit in.

Don’t dip if…

…you like a straightforward story where everything is as it seems.  Alex tells us straight up that for her, reality isn’t always exactly as it appears, and unless she records it on her trusty camera, she won’t have a hope of keeping reality straight.  Funnily enough, this bleeds over a bit into the story, so if you don’t like second-guessing every single action and word of every character to test for its voracity, this probably won’t be the book for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I did enjoy this book, although not as much as I expected to.  I had heard great things about it around the blogs and given that it has a mental health theme, I thought it would be up my alley, but there were a few elements that didn’t ring quite true to me.  I loved Alex’s little helpmates – her camera and magic eightball, that help her separate the real from the unreal – but the book situated the schizophrenia more as a cute quirk than as the actual, devastating and debilitating (and in a third of cases, deadly) condition that it is.  There were also a few parts with Alex’s parents right at the end which seemed like a pretty unbelievable response to the situation in question, but I can’t say any more about that because, spoilers.  I suppose I shouldn’t really complain because the book never claimed to be one that was going to deal with mental illness in a realistic and meaningful way, and I really did enjoy the light tone and the main characters (and especially the triplets!) so I can recommend it to those looking for a humorous, reasonably light YA coming-of-age tale with some elements that you won’t see coming.

Next up we have Barefoot on the Wind by Zoe Marriott, which we received from Walker Books Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A companion title to Zoë Marriott’s critically acclaimed Shadows on the Moon, BAREFOOT ON THE WIND is a darkly magical retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in fairytale Japan.

There is a monster in the forest…

Everyone in Hana’s remote village on the mountain knows that straying too far into the woods is a death sentence. When Hana’s father goes missing, she is the only one who dares try to save him. Taking up her hunting gear, she goes in search of the beast, determined to kill it – or be killed herself.

But the forest contains more secrets, more magic and more darkness than Hana could ever have imagined. And the beast is not at all what she expects…

Dip into it for…  barefoot-on-the-wind

…a deeply atmospheric foray into family tragedy and having the strength to follow one’s own mind in the face of opposition.  As retellings of fairy tales go, setting one in a fantasy version of historical Japan is a stroke of genius.  I will admit that this was the element that drew me in to this book.   The first few chapters, in which we are introduced to Hana, her peculiar ability to talk to trees, and the shadowy curse plaguing her village, had me immediately hooked.  The writing is laden with imagery and Hana is shown to be kept on the outer by her peers, troubled by grief and family tragedy and yet steadfast in knowing her own mind.  The historical setting of the book felt so unlike any fairy tale I have read before that even though the book is a retelling (or re-imagining, I suppose), there is no deference to the usual tone and motifs typically seen in YA retellings of such familiar tales.

Don’t dip if…

…you are hoping for a Disney-esque retelling of a Beauty and the Beast, complete with twirly skirts and singing furniture.

Overall Dip Factor

As I mentioned earlier, the strongest parts of the novel for me were the beginning and end, as both of these took place in Hana’s village.  In the beginning, as the story moved on and we discover more about the curse of the Dark Wood, I was a little bit sad to let go of the down-to-earth aspects of the story to engage with the fantasy elements, which is unusual for me, but I’m sure those that love fairy tale retellings will adore the unique setting for the Beast and the other forces that manipulate the Dark Wood.  It was great to see a bit of influence of Japanese fantasy culture included here, with a truly frightening spirit throwing her weight around in the latter stages of the story.  If I’m honest, I could take or leave the “romance” bit, which read more like a developing relationship and building of trust than romance (thank goodness!) but the atmosphere and imagery generated by the writing were absolutely absorbing and so I can definitely recommend this to those who love retellings, or indeed those who love a good historical fiction with a fantasy twist.

If neither of these has prompted you to go in for a bite today (really?!), stay tuned, because tomorrow I have a round up of enticing middle grade titles (including some of the best indie reading I’ve done this year!), while on Thursday you can pick over some of my recent DNFs for potential new reading fodder.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Foolhardy Reading Round-Up: Kidlit Titles for April!

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Welcome to April and a Kid-lit-a-thon Round-Up!  Today’s Round-Up features three picture books and two middle-grade graphic novels.  One of these will be submitted for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge AND the Title Fight Reading Challenge, but you’ll have to read on to find out which.  We received all of these titles from Netgalley for review.  Now, let’s get (whip) cracking!

Little Red (Bethan Woollvin)

Ten Second Synopsis: little red.jpg

Red Riding Hood with a skandi twist, this book is a retelling with sass.

Muster up the motivation because:

There are a lot of fairy tale retellings getting around at the moment, but the bold, minimalist colour scheme, chunky woodcut-style illustrations and text that oozes subversive wit sets this one apart.  The general arc of the Red Riding Hood story is preserved here, but Red is presented as one independent and resourceful young lass.  The simple combination of red, black and white in the illustrations is incredibly effective and makes this book a joy to look at, as much as to read.  I’d love to see what is coming next from Woollvin and how she might tackle an original story.

Brand it with:

Girl power, Woodland Survival, You’re Axed!

Far Out Fairy Tales (Joey Comeau, Louise Simonson, Sean Tulien, Otis Frampton)

Ten Second Synopsis: far out fairy tales

This is a collection of fairy tale retellings with a definite pop-culture flavour.  Each fairy tale has been modernised with popular motifs, including zombies, ninjas and computer games.

Muster up the motivation because:

Apart from the graphic novel format, the point of difference in this collection is a neat summary at the end of each story giving the differences between the modernised version and the traditional tale.  While I found most of the tales a little bit too contrived for my tastes – the Cinderella ninja in particular gave me reading-indigestion – they are perfectly pitched for a younger middle grade audience and varied enough for at least one or two of the tales to appeal to every reader.  The standout favourite for me was the retelling of the Billy Goats Gruff, set inside a video game with boss fights and dungeon crawling, but the Snow White story featuring robots was also quite subtle and well thought out.  The illustrations are varied in style and because each retelling has a different author, the book has a sense of the original with each new story.  This would be a great pick for youngsters looking for familiar stories in a fun, graphic format.

Brand it with:

Zombies and Ninjas and Robots, Oh My!, graphic tales, fairy tales levelled up

Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home (Kazue Takahashi)

Ten Second Synopsis: kuma chan

Kuma Chan is an unassuming little bear.  In this tale, a young boy gets an invitation from Kuma Chan to visit his home, resulting in a relaxed day of doing nothing much at all.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is another classic Japanese character that will have you flip-flopping between “Oh, so Kawaii!” and “What on earth is going on here?”  Apparently Kuma Chan, or Little Bear, is a big hit with mini-fleshlings in Japan and this is the second book in the series.  Kuma Chan himself gets around looking rather bemused most of the time, and nothing much happens in the book, aside from the boy’s journey to Kuma Chan’s house, but overall this is just a delightful read.  The fact that the boy and Kuma Chan literally just hang out together in silence for most of the book results in a calming sense of satisfaction with one’s lot.  I will definitely have to seek out the original book in the series and I would love to see what the Little Bear is up to next.  This would be a perfect choice for a reader of your acquaintance who loves books that defy conventional description.

Brand it with:

Chillin’ with my homies, Bear necessities, kawaii

Squirrel Me Timbers (Louise Pigott)

Ten Second Synopsis: squirrel me timbers

A pirate squirrel must follow a map to discover buried treasure.  Will the treasure live up to his expectations? And what’s a squirrel to do with all that booty?

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are a bit over the whole pirate thing that seems to be booming in children’s books these days, I can guarantee that adding in a squirrely twist livens things up nicely.  The rhymes are a little awkward to read aloud at times, but the cheeky illustrations and the unexpected “treasure” are fun and original.  Sammy is a very likeable protagonist and I did have a bit of a giggle at some of the twists in his nutty quest.  This should appeal greatly to young swashbucklers looking for a new perspective on what makes a pirate tick.

Brand it with:

Pieces of eight (nuts), X marks the spot, Treasure hunting rodents

Fluffy Strikes Back (Ashley Spires)

Ten Second Synopsis:  fluffy strikes back

Fluffy, sergeant in charge of Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel (P.U.R.S.T.) must come out of retirement to foil an invasion of aliens with spray bottles.  Will Fluffy be able to meet the challenge and rescue the pets in his charge?

Muster up the motivation because:

Despite the utter weirdness of the concept of this graphic novel series, it is actually a guffaw-worthy tale.  This is the second book in the P.U.R.S.T. series and I hadn’t read the first, so I didn’t realise that this was a graphic novel.  This meant I wasn’t prepared for the high level of visual humour contained within this tome.  The concept of the book is a little confusing when read – cats, dogs and other small animals working together in a secret (literally) underground organisation to save the world from aliens (insects) – but makes perfect (and hilarious) sense when absorbed visually.  The humour is actually pretty dry for a graphic novel aimed at kids, but there are plenty of just-plain-funny aspects as well, such as the entrance to the P.U.R.S.T. headquarters being accessed through a litter tray and the alien insects using spray bottles to ward off the cats.  I would definitely recommend this to mini-fleshlings or adult readers looking for a quick, off-beat and strangely compelling graphic novel series that doesn’t take itself – or anything else – too seriously.

Brand it with:

Alien Invasion, Notes from the Underground, Thankless tasks

Yes, you guessed it: I will be submitting Fluffy Strikes Back for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge and the Title Fight Reading Challenge.  It fits quite nicely into the first category: something related to fighting in the title.  For more info on the challenge, just click this attractive button!

Title Fight Button 2016

 

Also, you can check out my progress for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, hosted by Escape with Dollycas, here.

alphabet soup challenge 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Odd MG Edition…

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Welcome wild readers to another Reading Round-Up, where we take a look at the books that I’ve had round the shelf f recently, but can’t quite fit into the usual blog schedule.Today’s round-up features a whole bunch of books with an odd element – odd characters, odd worlds, odd takes on old favourites – and most of these offerings are fit for middle-grade readers and older.  Mounts at the ready? Let’s round ’em up!

Chimera: Book One (Phil Gomm)

imageTwo Sentence Synopsis:

Kyp finds himself lost in a strange world of discarded things when his not-parents commit an act of treachery.  It is up to Kyp to use his wiles and protect his Elsewhere Light as he fights his way past the deadly detritus of human memory and makes his way home.

Muster up the motivation because:

Gomm has created a new and different world from a concept that has endless possibilities.  Like a beautiful hybrid between Labyrinth and Attica (one of the shelf’s favourite ever books, by Garry Kilworth), the story weaves between danger and discovery with something unexpected at every turn.  Filled with incredible descriptions that bring the story to life, the only thing missing here is a slew of pen and ink illustrations to round things out.

Brand it with:

Strange new worlds, now where did I put that, anthropomorphic furniture, treachery and betrayal      

Check out my Goodreads review here!

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley *

 

Doctor Who: Lights Out (Holly Black)

doctor who lights outTwo Sentence Synopsis:

An alien with an unfortunate past finds itself next to the Doctor in the queue for the third-best coffee in the universe.  Unfortunately, a number of their fellow queue-ers (queueees?) don’t survive to get a stamp on their loyalty cards.

Muster up the motivation because:

Hey, it’s the new Doctor so it’s as good a chance as any to get to know more about him outside of the television representation. Also, this is Holly Black’s first ever contribution to the Doctor Who stories and she’s done an alright job here.  As this is part of the eBook Shorts series featuring a different Doctor per story, it’s also an excellent opportunity to dip a toe into the storybook world of the Doctor in a super-quick, achievable in one sitting read.

Brand it with:

Caffeine and Health Risks, mutants scorned, shady scientists, nyctophobia

Read my Goodreads review here!

*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Lights Out is also going to be my entry in Category 3 of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge for this year – a book with a specific time in the title. Which means I only have one category to go – wahoo!

small fry

And now I bring to you an offering in my Fairy Tale Makeovers Review Series – it’s been a while I know, but to make up for the time you’ve had to wait I now present you with two reimagined tales.

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Moldylocks and the Bear (Bertram Boo)

moldylocksTwo Sentence Synopsis:

Moldylocks loves bears and can’t wait to audition for the main bear role in the town production of Grizzlylocks. When real bears move into town Moldy sees an opportunity to discover how to go full bear and win the part – but only if the machinations of the Stinkpot family don’t see the bears run out of town first.

Muster up the motivation because:

Fairy tales and zombies are a natural pairing really, aren’t they?  This is the second offering in the Plainfield Chronicles, which started with Scar and the Wolf, and is significantly longer with a plot that features the difficulties of interspecies (and inter-life-status) relations, alongside a coming-of-age, becoming your true undead self, feel-good story.  It’s the perfect antidote for those who are well and truly over the saccharine sweet Disney versions of the traditional fairy tale.

Brand it with:

shuffling hordes, conspiracy and blackmail, pushy stage parents, going full bear

Read my Goodreads review here!

* I received a copy of this title from the author in exchange for an honest review *

 

Cinderskella (Amie & Bethanie Borst)

cinderskella  Two Sentence Synopsis:

After her mother’s death, Cindy discovers that she has the power to turn into a skeleton at night. Can Cindy turn this curse into a blessing or is she destined to gross-out potential dates forever?

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a surprisingly complex and original take on a tale that has been reimagined to the nth degree. While the narrative style is certainly pitched to appeal to pre-teen girls, there is a really enjoyable story with plenty of original elements waiting to be discovered by those outside this age-range.  Plus, there are some classically terrible bone-related puns in here that can be tucked into your repertoire for later use on unsuspecting passers-by.

Brand it with:

recently deceased, And-you-thought-you-had-styling-problems, character cameos, the anti-princess

Read my Goodreads review here!

I hope one of these oddities has sparked your interest enough to go out and round it up.  Stay tuned tomorrow when I participate in the Getting to Know You blog hop and giveaway – there’ll be another chance to win some of my favourite books, odd and otherwise.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Rump and Stiltskin: Fairy Tale Retellings for Young and Old(ish)…

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imageWelcome to another exciting episode of my Fairy Tale Makeovers review series!  Today I have two retellings of the same fairy tale – Rumpelstiltskin –  he with the penchant baby thievery and silly name-guessing games.

One of the retellings is a middle grade read full of adventure, laughs and a fresh, complex new take on the traditional Rumpelstiltskin tale, and the other is an adult fiction novel full of adventure, laughs and….well, you get the idea.  Let’s begin with the middle grade offering, shall we?

rumpRump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

Liesl Shurtliff

The Tome:

In Rump’s world, your name is your destiny.  Unfortunately, Rump’s mother died before she could get his full name out and so he has been stuck as the butt of many jokes ever since.  After accidentally finding out he possesses the ability to spin straw into gold, and then accidentally dooming the (greedy, selfish) miller’s (vacuous, unreasonable) daughter Opal to a life spent spinning gold for the king, Rump knows that he must step in to make things right.  But things take a turn for the (much, much) worse when Opal accidentally promises Rump her first-born son in return for his spinning.

Now, stuck with a magical ability he doesn’t want, a pre-emptive baby that he certainly doesn’t need, and a donkey that’s good for Nothing, Rump must use all his wits to overcome his expected destiny at the bottom rung of the social ladder.  With the help of his friend Red, some very unusual trolls and the power within himself, Rump might just be able to untangle this knotty dilemma…but he may have to fly by the seat of his pants to do it.

Why You Should Read It:

Shurtliff has done a great job here in creating complex, neatly interwoven plot threads that slowly build into a well thought out and satisfying narrative.  There’s a lot of humour in both the characters and the situation, and some fun new twists on the traditional tale.  I expecially enjoyed the trolls and their cheeky ploy to remain out of the way of humans.  All the elements of the original tale are here (except, possibly, the more violent bits) but they’ve been used in clever, creative ways to put the focus back onto Rump and how he will fulfill his destiny.

Makeover Point of Difference:

The main point of view here is Rump’s, and he’s a really likeable character.  With Rump leading the narration, this book will certainly be a hit with middle grade-aged kids looking for a familiar(ish) tale of magic with lots of humour to lighten things up.

And now for the grown ups….

StiltskinStiltskin

Andrew Buckley

The Tome:

Don’t let the rubber duck on his head fool you, Rumpelstiltskin is one cranky, murderous, rabbit-stabbing dwarf.  After escaping from The Tower in Thiside (the place where all the fairy tale mob live) with the help of the (clearly mad) Mad Hatter, Rumpelstiltskin immediately sets off to pass on a message to the unsuspecting Robert Darkly in Othaside (the place where us mob live).  On unexpectedly discovering said murderous dwarf in his bathtub, Robert is clearly somewhat distressed to discover that his world is about to get a damn sight weirder (and more dangerous).  And all this on the day that his girlfriend dumps him and he loses his job.

Luckily for Robert, he is immediately taken under the (metaphorical) wing of Lily (of the Agency) and introduced to the White Rabbit.  Along with a number of other (hitherto mythical) creatures, Lily and Robert must set out after Rumpelstiltskin and foil his dastardly plan before any more fluffy bunnies succumb to the unforgiving steel of his blade.  But what Lily and Robert are about to find out is that the Dwarf’s plan may go deeper than any of them had ever expected…

Why You Should Read It:

We love a bit of silliness around the shelf and this book has silliness in bucketloads.  Not just silliness though, oh no.  There’s a fair bit of violence towards sweet defenceless fairy tale creatures.  There’s warrior gnomes and random facts about the mechanics of sex between fairies.  There’s a smidgeon of old-ladies being subjected to hallucinatory shifts in reality. Really, there’s something for everyone over the age of eighteen to be found here, and a lot of it is pretty funny.  Buckley maintains a light, humorous tone throughout and there are many little asides that are designed to throw out your train of thought and give you an unsought-after giggle.  Rumpelstiltskin is suitably evil and the Mad Hatter is appropriately devious and conniving.  Robert is adorably clueless and the White Rabbit imposing in his managerial capacity.  Overall, it’s just a good, fun romp and you should probably give it a go if you’re into retellings. Or even if you’re not.

Makeover Point of Difference:

Once again, it feels like the familiar fairy tale character that we know and love (to hate), but there’s a strange and beguiling Urban Fantasy twist going on that reminded me of books like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and Un Lun Dun by China Mieville but with a lighter tone.  It’s got an atmosphere all its own though and I’d like to see what other delights Buckley has/will come up with.

So there you have it.  Two takes on the famous Rumpelstiltskin, Esq.  I’d love to know about any other Rumpelstiltskin retellings out there because I’ve grown quite fond of the repugnant/redeemable little guy.

Until next time,
Bruce

*I received a digital copy of Stiltskin from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, in return for an honest review.

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Read-it-if Review: The Ratastrophe Catastrophe (The Illmoor Chronicles #1)…

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imageGood morning my valued minions readers! Today I have a little ripper for you.  It’s been a while since I’ve brought you a little ripper.  But here one is. It’s a rippingly, shreddingly, gnawingly good read.  It is Book 1 of The Illmoor Chronicles…The Ratastrophe Catastrophe by David Lee Stone.  I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley, for which I am truly grateful.  You might have noticed the button over there indicating that this book is also part of my Fairy Tale Makeovers Review Series, as it is based on a fairy tale.  See if you can guess which…

The Ratastrophe Catastrophe follows a …colourful…cast of characters as they deal with a series of events that threaten to bring life in the city of Dullitch to a veritable standstill.  Simple farm lad Diek Wustapha is key to these events, in that it is he who is chosen by an ancient being of dark magic to be its new vessel.  After being commandeered by this ancient being, Diek finds that his flute playing suddenly ratchets up a notch (hooray!) but this newfound talent seems to come with the added complication of a compelling voice invading his thoughts and making him complete tasks that are somewhat ethically questionable (boo!).  Meanwhile, the Duke of Dullitch has his own problems. Big, hairy, rat-faced problems.  The city has been overrun by rats of all sizes and the Duke can find no other alternative than to advertise for mercenaries to neutralise the problem.  Enter Gordo and Groan, Jimmy Quickstint, Tambor the ex-sorceror and ex-town-councilman and of course the newly supercharged Diek, and you can be sure the problem will be dealt with in the quickest possible timeframe with the least amount of disruption to the people of Dullitch.  Or not.

ratastrophe catastropheRead it if:

* you don’t mind a bit of a rat infestation to liven up your town’s calendar of events (and drive out those pesky tourists)

* you’d happily swap some of the children around your dwelling in payment for a thorough and successful pest control program

* you’ve ever been considered woefully inept at a particular task…only to have your talent bloom like the last flower of the season to the astonishment, jealousy and mild-to-middling unease of those around you

* you adhere fervently to the motto “Never trust a simpleton with a flute and a parade of children trailing after him”

This was an unexpected fun, funny and surprising read.  I requested it thinking that it would be a dark, twisted retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin story, but instead found it to be a complex and hilarious politico-slapstick comedy of (mostly) errors.  I expected it to be a middle grade read, but the language and the plot are tricky enough as to place it almost at adult level in some places.  There is some wonderful satire based on the internal workings of a town council, and much of the humour is extremely dry – incidentally just the way I like it! – but I can’t imagine a middle-grade audience settling into the humour in the way I did as a grown-up.

The characters are a parade of wonderfully flawed and suspicious individuals.  There’s the barrowbird, purveyor of insults and spurious advice to its unlucky owner; Burnie, the translator turned town councillor who could easily be one of the cleverest of the bunch despite being a troglodyte; the unfortunate, pint-sized Mick, unwilling associate of unsuccessful adventurer Stump; Vicious, the Duke’s pet dog (at least we think it’s a dog); not to mention the inimitable mercenery duo of Gordo Goldaxe (dwarf) and Groan Teethgrit (barbarian).  And that’s mostly just the supporting cast!

This reminded me of nothing so much as the early episodes of the TV series Blackadder, and there are certainly a few “cunning plans” bandied about throughout the pages of this book (with generally the same success rate of those dreamt up by Baldrick).  Now obviously, given that this is based on the story of the Pied Piper, the reader generally knows how the story is going to turn out.  The author has thrown in so many supporting characters however, that there really is plenty of new stuff here to get your teeth into.

small fry

I am very pleased that this is just the first in a series and I’ll be scouting about to get my hands on The Yowler Foul-Up which is book number two, and of which there is a small excerpt at the end of this edition.  Oh, and it would make the perfect choice for category eight of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with wordplay in the title.  Click on the attractive button for more information about the challenge and to board the Safari bus!

You want my advice?

(“Yes!” they chorused, “Tell us, Bruce!”)

Don’t bother with the middle graders – buy this one for yourself.

Until next time,

Bruce

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