Death or Ice Cream? A Maniacal Book Club Review and International Giveaway!


Welcome to today’s Maniacal Book Club Review and giveaway! Today’s book is one that I have wanted to get my grubby claws on ever since I first saw it and I was lucky enough to be sent a review copy by Allen & Unwin (thanks Onions!)…but by that time I had already bought myself a copy, on account of not wanting to have to wait around like a chump to read it.  So that extra copy means….GIVEAWAY!  More about that in a minute.  I haven’t even told you what book you could be winning.

It is Death or Ice Cream? by Gareth P Jones, who brought you such middle grade gems as Constable and Toop and the Ninja Meerkats series.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Larkin Mills: The Birthplace of Death!

Larkin Mills is no ordinary town. It’s a place of contradictions and enigma, of secrets and mysteries. A place with an exquisite ice cream parlour, and an awful lot of death.

An extraordinary mystery in Larkin Mills is beginning to take shape. First we meet the apparently healthy Albert Dance, although he’s always been called a sickly child, and he’s been booked into Larkin Mills’ Hospital for Specially Ill Children. Then there’s his neighbour Ivor, who observes strange goings-on, and begins his own investigations into why his uncle disappeared all those years ago. Next we meet Young Olive, who is given a battered accordion by her father, and unwittingly strikes a dreadful deal with an instrument repair man.

Make sure you keep an eye on Mr Morricone, the town ice-cream seller, who has queues snaking around the block for his legendary ice cream flavours Summer Fruits Suicide and The Christmas Massacre. And Mr Milkwell, the undertaker, who has some very dodgy secrets locked up in his hearse. Because if you can piece together what all these strange folks have to do with one another . . . well, you’ll have begun to unlock the dark secrets that keep the little world of Larkin Mills spinning . . . 

death or ice cream  Want to win a copy?  Just click on the Rafflecopter link! Ts & Cs are in the entry form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And here’s what the club thinks of it:

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

Inspired by the title of this book, I too am called to question.  What is life? What is death? Is death the final ending for we mortals or does such a thing exist that can restore the dead to life? Is it likely that such an object could be related to poultry? The ending of this book raised more questions for me to ponder.  Not all the questions raised in the story were answered by the end.  This book should only be given to those who are willing to shut off the television and open their eyes.  Unless, of course, the competitive basket weaving championships are being televised.


maniacal book club toothlessThere are no dragons in this book.  But there is a super-cool egg and a creepy guy with hooves and a wax museum and a guy stuck in a statue.    I really liked Park.  She’s a cool, funny, brave girl who has to figure out some of the mystery.  It would have been better if the egg was a dragon’s egg. Kids who aren’t afraid of some really weird stuff should read this book, especially if they want something different with lots of murder and sneakiness and strange ice cream flavours.

Mad Martha

There once was a being called Larkin maniacal book club martha

Your doorstep just pray he won’t darken,

He joined up with Mills

In a battle of wills,

And a townful of oddness they’ve sparkened.


maniacal book club bruceWhat a strange and refreshing ride this book took us on!  I haven’t been this impressed with a book’s genre-bending originality since Ishbelle Bee’s John Loveheart Esq series for grown-up readers.  While Death or Ice Cream? doesn’t reach that level of carnage and mind-twistery, this is definitely not a book for young readers who are faint of heart, or who are used to middle-grade books that follow a traditional narrative format.

The  book begins with a series of seemingly unconnected chapters featuring various residents of Larkin Mills, including (my personal favourite) Olive and her unwanted accordion and Ivor and his missing artist uncle.  At first reading, it appears that these chapters could possibly stand alone as representations of the oddness of Larkin Mills, but the further one delves into the novel, the easier it is to see the links between the earlier chapters and the book’s climax, which ends up reading more like a traditional story format.

In order to appreciate this book, the reader needs to have acquired a taste for dry, dark humour and not be too bothered by unpredictable turns of events.  For this reason, this book will not appeal to every reader in the target age-group, but if you are looking for something different for a sophisticated upper-middle grade- or early-YA-aged fleshing of your acquaintance, you should definitely leave this lying around in their eyeline.  Having said that, it’s a great choice for adult readers looking for something layered, irreverent, quirky and fun.

The Book Club gives this book:


Eight thumbs up!

I’m also submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check on my progress in that challenge here.

Until next time,


An Indie MG Double Dip: Mystery, Humour, Amateur Detectives and Ice Cream Entrepreneurs…



Ahoy my Literati-hearties!  For today’s double-dip review you will need to select a snack that evokes youthfulness and responsibility, coupled with a dipping agent that is equal parts mystery and levity because the middle-grade indie titles that I now present to you are the perfect blend of the aforementioned qualities.  Personally, I’m going for chocolate-coated, ruffle-cut, salted chips paired with a marshmallow and avocado dip, but I trust that you’ll make the right choice for you.  Let’s dive in!

22066928Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor by Julie Anne Grasso (Australian! Woo!) follows a snippet in the life of Frankie Dupont, young aspiring detective.  Upon noticing that his cousin (and good friend) Kat has not made her daily pre-school phone call, Frankie soon discovers that Kat is missing from her parent’s room at Enderby Manor.  Knowing that the chances of the police assigned to the case, and in particular the incompetent Inspector Cluesome, finding Kat are less than that of a wet tissue in a wind tunnel, Frankie immediately springs into action, questioning the staff at the Manor and finding very interesting clues and suspicious characters aplenty.  But as Frankie uncovers more pieces of the puzzle, things just don’t seem to fit and it looks like Kat may in fact be stuck in a place that’s beyond the help of an ordinary boy (or even an extraordinary one like Frankie).  With Kat’s time running out, Frankie and his new friend Lachy must work together to outwit and outmanoeuvre some of the Manor’s quirky residents who definitely do not want this mystery to be solved.

Dip into it for…

…a fun and fast-paced mystery adventure that will be right up the alley of any budding detectives in the middle grade age bracket.  There’s plenty of off-beat and silly humour here that is pitched perfectly for the intended age-range and the characters are also of the slightly cartoonish sort that are reminiscent of the characters found in the works of Roald Dahl and David Walliams.  There’s the chef with a pet parrot that inevitably contradicts everything he says, a remarkably unhelpful little person (or is he?) who hangs about around the gardens and then, of course, there’s Inspector Cluesome fulfilling the role of annoyingly pompous know-nothing know-it-all.

I could not predict the fantastical twist that is at the heart of the mystery and I was both surprised and pleased at the turn of events that saw a bit of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey science fiction injected into the plot.  The ending was quite satisfying really, because it came out of the blue and really gave the plot a bit of a boost just as the mystery was being solved.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a plain, garden variety mystery story.  A little bit of bending of the laws of time and space is at the heart of solving this mystery, so if you’re just into your standard, all-laws-of-the-universe-are-obeyed, I-can-guess-the-ending-before-it-happens sort of detective story I can imagine that you will be heartily disappointed with this one.

I suspect that this story will also appeal much more to the target age range than those outside of it.  I enjoyed it as an adult reader, but it is very much pitched at middle-graders, so don’t expect anything too deep going into it.

Overall Dip Factor

I would recommend this book to anyone in the middle grade age bracket who likes a good puzzle or two, is enamoured by the thought of a manor house with a garden maze (and a few secrets hidden away inside the walls), and likes a surprise twist in their reading.  The cartoon-style  illustrations scattered throughout the book also add kid-appeal and provide a nice visual element to the story.  This is the first in a new series about Frankie and his detective work and for that reason this should also be a great choice for kids whose reading appetite is insatiable once they find a character they like.

Now, onto book number two in this double dip!

22589546The Secrets of Ice Cream Success by A. D. Hartley introduces us to Carlo Leodoni, your typical fourteen year old boy who, as it turns out, is about to inherit his family’s ice cream factory after the untimely (but unrelated) deaths of both his parents.  From spending his summer holiday trying not to make a fool of himself in front of the cute girls who visit his dad’s ice cream van, Carlo is suddenly catapulted into the cutthroat business of ice cream production and has to deal with his dad’s business partner Mr Randolph, who thought the factory would be left in his capable hands, and the local competition, Mr Hill, who is doing all he can to keep Leodoni’s from reaching the top of the ice cream trade. 

With the help of his best friends, and with a bit of supernatural assistance, Carlo decides that he will do his best to bring Leodoni’s back to the top of its game – but he hasn’t reckoned with the tyranny of sabotage, the unexpected resurfacing of someone Carlo thought was out of the picture, and a rumour that threatens to change everything Carlo has ever thought about himself.  Unless Carlo can find some answers and take control of the factory, specks in the ice cream might be the least of his worries.

Dip into it for…

…an original story packed with humour, believable characters and a bit of the ol’ supernatural charm.  This book is probably going to appeal most to the high end of the middle grade bracket and the lower end of the YA audience and along with a fantastic friendship and adventure tale, it features some cracking mysteries to solve and red herrings to trick the reader into complacency.  The story moves at a steady pace and there are enough twists here and enough paranormal elements to keep the reader guessing to the very eventful and emotional ending.  The great thing about this book for me was the depth of the characters and the banter that goes on between the group of friends – it gave the book a light, fun atmosphere that nicely balanced the darker aspects of the plot.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t prepared to suspend your disbelief in a big way in the first few chapters of the book.  This paragraph might contain a few spoilers, so skip to the next one if that offends you…Hartley’s got gumption, I can tell you that, because in the very first chapters of the book he reveals a quite shocking secret about Leodoni’s ice cream – all the more so if you work in any part of the food safety and regulatory business! – and then kills off Carlo’s father in possibly the most ridiculous death ever penned.  While it turns out that this death is necessary to the plot, the manner of the death was so bizarre and unexpected (to me, anyway!), that I nearly put the book down.  I’m glad I didn’t though, because I would have missed a fun and original story.  But heads up, anyway.

Overall Dip Factor

The plot of this book really stood out to me as something different for the target age-bracket.  A thoughtful mix of summer adventures with friends, ghostly goings-on and coming of age tale, Hartley has done a great job at creating a book that is both engaging and light-hearted while at the same time featuring grittier elements of grief, family secrets and the ugly side of getting ahead in business.   This would be the perfect read for young people who want something a bit out of the ordinary, that embraces the paranormal without a single vampire/werewolf/human love triangle in sight, and features ordinary kids in an extraordinary situation.

So there you have it – two more reasons to get some indie into you!  I was lucky enough to be offered copies of both of these books by the authors in exchange for honest reviews.  I’m sure the authors would also love it if you visited them on Goodreads or Twitter to tell them how intriguing you find their books.  Here are some links for you to do just that:

Julie Anne Grasso:     Goodreads    Twitter

A. D. Hartley:     Goodreads     Twitter

Until next time,


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