The Lost Boy: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Today’s book is a graphic novel for those who love a bit of creepy, atmospheric, magic-infused adventure, which, I am assuming, is all of you.  The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth is one that has been on my TBR list for quite some time, so when I spotted it at a great price in the Scholastic Book Club catalogue recently, I knew I had to grab it.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Some mysteries are too dangerous to leave alone . . .

Nate’s not happy about his family moving to a new house in a new town. After all, nobody asked him if he wanted to move in the first place. But when he discovers a tape recorder and note addressed to him under the floorboards of his bedroom, Nate is thrust into a dark mystery about a boy who went missing many, many years ago. Now, as strange happenings and weird creatures begin to track Nate, he must partner with Tabitha, a local girl, to find out what they want with him. But time is running out, for a powerful force is gathering strength in the woods at the edge of town, and before long Nate and Tabitha will be forced to confront a terrifying foe, and uncover the truth about the Lost Boy.

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And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth:

1. It is a fact of life that moving to a new house will always lead to an exciting (and possibly slightly sinister) discovery, usually concealed under a loose floorboard or other enticing, secret space.

2. The probability of exciting (and possibly slightly sinister) discoveries are exponentially increased if said new house is adjacent to a wood.

3. If, upon moving to a new town, you notice something out of place (such as a grasshopper riding a dog, for instance) that others don’t seem to be able to see, you can assume that an exciting (and possibly slightly sinister) discovery is imminent.

4. When moving to a new town, always make friends immediately with the strangest and most oddball of your neighbours.

5. On moving to a new house in which exciting (and possibly slightly sinister) discoveries are likely, ensure you have access to a range of historical recording devices in order to be prepared in case your predecessor has left some audiological clues as to their sudden disappearance.

I am so glad I actually made time to (a) purchase this book and (b) read it, because it is such an absorbing and atmospheric read featuring a well-developed world and enticing mystery.  The book follows two parallel stories – those of Nate, and Will, the boy who lived in the house Nate has just moved to, but who disappeared years before.  Without giving too much of the story away, Nate discovers a recording left by Will that details some strange sightings and happenings that Will has experienced, and opens up the mystery of the circumstances surrounding Will’s disappearance.  After Nate meets his new neighbour Tabitha, who also knows something about the mystery of Will, it is obvious that the pair need to investigate.  When some extremely strange visitors come calling however (including a talking doll and a deadly tree), it is obvious that Nate and Tabitha are going to have to risk much – and possibly even their lives – if they want to solve any mysteries anytime soon.

The illustrative style is quite realistic, which lends a sense of authenticity, and more than a little creepiness, to the events.  I was sucked in almost immediately by the allure of a historical mystery and the author does a great job of drip-feeding information about the non-human characters in the story so that the reader has to keep going if they want to find out the truth about these diverse and strange beings.

I had thought I had seen somewhere that there was a sequel to this one, but I can’t seem to find anything about it now so perhaps I was mistaken.  It’s a shame though – such a world could do with a follow-up story.  You can see some preview pages of The Lost Boy at Greg Ruth’s website, though, to see for yourself how exciting the book looks.

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha…about Book Week!

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Welcome to an all new feature here on the shelf – Yarning with me, Mad Martha! Bruce has kindly given over some extra space in our posting schedule to yours truly so that I can share with you my passion for crochet (and yarn craft generally). I can feel your excitement levels growing, and I thank you in advance for the deep love and affection for what will no doubt become your favourite feature.

Essentially, yarning with me will involve either reviewing a crochet (or craft) related book, or sharing some of my latest projects as they relate to books that we have been reading. I already have a very exciting project book lined up for late September (wherein you can crochet your own camping adventure!), as well as an amigurumi pattern for a very popular contemporary children’s book character (hint: he’s Irish, large and hairy).

Let’s start things off with everyone’s favourite dress-up day: Children’s Book Week! This wonderful week has just passed here in Queensland, along with another year’s worth of parental anxiety over having to fashion some sort of complicated, homemade costume out of rubber bands and superglue, because their offspring neglected to mention that it was, in fact, their school’s dress up day tomorrow, until about 8.15pm of the evening before.

Happily, the only mini-fleshling in this dwelling that was required to dress up has a strong aversion to cosplay of any description and so I was called in to provide a “prop”, to ensure that said mini-fleshling could participate in the dress up in a non-stressful way and to avert any teacher-held suspicions that mini-fleshling’s parents are just (a) indifferent to reading/literacy/dressing up or (b) the negligent sort.

Enter: Mad Martha, cape neatly tied and undies on the outside, to swoop in and create the perfect bookish buddy: an amigurumi Fly Guy!

fly guy posing

If you are unfamiliar with the Fly Guy series, I can guarantee that you are missing out. Essentially a picture book disguised as an early reader, Hi Fly Guy! is the series opener, in which we meet the titular fly and discover how he forms a firm friendship with a young boy, Buzz. There are currently about fourteen books in the fiction series, with a half dozen more recently released nonfiction tie-ins, Fly Guy Presents. The nonfiction books feature Fly Guy and Buzz exploring a range of kid-friendly topics, including space, sharks and insects.

hi fly guy fly guy presents

Our collective favourite at the moment is I Spy Fly Guy! in which a particularly challenging game of hide and seek is carried out in a location that tends hilariously in Fly Guy’s favour. Poor Buzz! The delightful friendship betwixt boy and fly is the champion of all the Fly Guy stories and the books are a perfect blend of humour and calamity, minus the bodily-function related content that often plagues books aimed at boys of the targeted age group.  It is easy to see why the first book in the series won the Theodore Seuss Geisel award.

This series, with its bright cartoon-style illustrations and clear, short sections of text, will appeal greatly to young male readers particularly and seem to be designed to slot neatly into that difficult space between picture books and early chapter books, in which young readers want to feel like they’re reading big-kid books, but aren’t quite ready to manage longer books independently. The stories are divided into chapters, but the whole book can easily be read in a single sitting, much like a standard picture book. An added bonus, of course, is the fact that kids can become familiar with the enjoyment of reading a series – particularly the anticipation of waiting for another book to appear – and gain a sense of familiarity with the characters, settings and in turn, language used in each story.

fly guy and back catalogue

I must admit to being incredibly proud of my finished Fly Guy plushie – almost as proud as the mini-fleshling was of writing Fly Guy’s jar label allfly guy and jar on his own! Having brashly agreed to save the day, I immediately jumped onto that giant of time-wasting, Pinterest, certain in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, would have definitely created such a plushie before, and as such, all I would have to do would be to follow a simple pattern and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour.

I was wrong. Pinterest let me down. Apparently, no one, anywhere, has ever had need to crochet a cuddly version of everyone’s favourite insect. Who’d have thought? And so I toiled and frogged and toiled until I had created a friend that one could cuddle with pride. Given the short time frame (and the rage-quitting that occurred during the creation), I neglected to note down my stitches as I was working, and therefore I cannot provide the illusive pattern for Fly Guy that Pinterest so sorely needs. For this, I am not at all sorry. Pinterest didn’t help me, so Pinterest is on its own when the time for a Fly Guy amigurumi comes.

Welcoming Fly Guy to the shelf. Bruce is stunned at my crochet prowess.

Welcoming Fly Guy to the shelf. Bruce is stunned at my crochet prowess.

Well, that about wraps up our first Yarning session – I hope you have enjoyed it! I’d love to hear what you think of my work, the Fly Guy series or Book Week, so don’t leave without commenting, will you?

Yours in craftiness,

Mad Martha

 

A Middle-Grade Steampunk Maniacal Book Club Review: The League of Seven…

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Hold on to your clockwork propeller hats and affix your brass goggles firmly to your face, because the Maniacal Book Club has a rip-snorting steampunk adventure for you today!  Now in the past I’ve been a bit ambivalent about the whole steampunk genre – it seems like something that I should really enjoy but for some reason I had not found any examples of it that I could really get excited about.  But that all changes today, because with The League of Seven by Alan Gratz and Brett Helquitz, I have discovered a book that had me wound up (clockworky pun intended) for days.  It’s got monsters, clockwork robot butlers, scary mind-controlling insect she-goddesses, unusual powers, secret societies and it’s set in an alternate version of the 1800s.  Let us plunge in – full steam ahead!

The League of Seven

Archie Dent’s parents are part of the mysterious and secret Septemberist society – a group existing since ancient times, whose job it is to protect the world from the monstrous Mangleborn.  The Mangleborn have been trapped in underground prisons for a milennia, but it seems that once again they are attempting to rise up and destroy humanity.  The legends say that every time the Mangleborn rise, a new League of Seven is created – humans with particular skills that come together to put the Mangleborn back into their earthly prisons once more.

When Archie and his parents (along with their clockwork robot valet, Mr Rivets) are called to a secret Septemberist society meeting, the last thing Archie expects is to find his parents – and the entire High Council – controlled by a swarm of evil insects burrowing into their necks.  It appears that someone is attempting to re-harness electricity in this steam-driven world in order to unleash the Mangleborn once again.

The only thing for it is for Archie and Mr Rivets to follow his insect-laden parents and try to stop the Mangleborn Swarm Queen, Macasah Ahasherat, from breaking out into the world.  Along with the technologically talented Fergus and brooding warrior girl Hachi, Archie must try to undo the evil that is about to be unleashed – but Archie himself is harbouring a secret so deep that not even he knows how it will affect his destiny…

Guru Dave

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Friends, long has it been the case that stories for the young have told of the battle between good and evil.  Archie’s tale  reminds us that no matter how small, we all have a part to play in creating a world of peace and freedom for each other.

The friendship between Hachi, Fergus and Archie inspires us to lean on our friends in our time of need, as we are all important cogs in the great machine.  And finally, Mr Rivets demonstrates to us that even in the face of mind-manipulating insect minions burrowing into one’s spinal column, the proper use of etiquette can make all the difference.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothlessNo dragons in this book….but there are BIG MONSTER INSECTS and ZAPPING ELECTRICITY AND WHACKING AND BASHING AND AIRSHIPS CRASHING AND GIANTS WHO CRUSH THINGS AND….

(*Bruce here: He goes on in this vein for quite some time, so I’ve done some judicious editing*)

…AND THEN THERE’S A BIG ROBOT WITH RED EYES THAT TRIES TO KILL EVERYONE and…and…did I mention the big monster insects?

A couple more dragons would have been nice, but I think boys who like monsters and insects and zapping and crashing will like this book.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club marthaIf you want to be a Septemberist, you may face dangers on this list,

including (but not limited to), monstrous beings that will kill you,

rogue robotic clockwork men, for whom hate is a state of zen,

and scientists, in loony glee, who’ll murder indiscrim’nantly.

But on the bright side, you’ll find those who’ll walk with you through wretched woes,

and you’ll travel, (with some gripes), through pneumatic postal pipes,

proving true, why I’ll be sworn, that you can beat those Mangleborn.

Bruce

maniacal book club bruceI think I’m just going to put it out there: this book was the surprise favourite of the year so far for me.  As I mentioned, I feel like steampunk is something that should appeal to me, given my taste in reading, but it just hasn’t turned out to be my thing.  Gratz however, has created such an interesting, engaging, complex and exciting world here that I couldn’t help but be drawn straight in.

One of my favourite things about The League of Seven is the alternate history of the world.  Gratz has created an America of the late 1800s in which Native Americans and European settlers live together under the banner of a United Nations.  As such, the First Nations people of North America are afforded an equal status as characters and the differences between tribal groups are accepted and form part of the rich tapestry of the world.  Now I know that this is a fantasy story, but it is fantastic to see a story for young people, (even a made-up one), in which First Nations characters and culture are given equal standing with those of European heritage – and I must say, the world-building is much stronger for it.

The early part of the story, in which the legend of the Mangleborn is explained and Archie’s parents come under the control of the Swarm Queen, put me in mind of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy, featuring as it did, extremely powerful monsters that have been imprisoned in the earth with wards and codes and puzzles in the hope that they’ll never get out.  The world and the background underpinning it is so unique though, that this feeling of familiarity soon turned into a happy glow in the back of my mind as I ventured deeper into the story with Archie, Fergus and Hachi.

The characters are complex and well-developed, with each of the three protagonists having comprehensive back-stories that feed nicely into their placement in the emerging League of Seven.  Archie is immediately likeable and as I didn’t see the twist in his personal history coming, I found that it provided a satisfying bit of emotional grist to balance out the action of the final chapters.  Mr Rivets is also a wonderful character, providing the much-needed grown-up’s perspective in the temporary absence of any trustworthy adult humans to assist the three adventurers.

Overall this is a hefty, electrifying (pun-intended!), fun, nail-biting ride with a fantastic setting and thorough world development.  I highly recommend it to those in the upper end of the middle grade bracket who enjoy steampunk, or who are looking for a story in the fantasy genre, that is packed with action and puzzling mysteries.  Older readers will also find plenty to get their teeth into here, expecially lovers of the steampunk genre.  The Book Club gives it….

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FOUR THUMBS UP

…which is a big call, given that at least two of us don’t actually have thumbs.

The League of Seven is the first of a trilogy and I will definitely be hanging out (of my airship!) to see  how the fortunes of the League pan out.

Until next time,

Bruce

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review*

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