A Maniacal Book Club Review: The Royal Rabbits of London…

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It’s middle grade reading time again and today’s book will be deconstructed with the help of the Maniacal Book Club.  The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montifiore and Simon Sebag Montifiore blends the sweet innocence of animal stories with the high-action world of secret agents, and we received our copy from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage

Shylo has always been the runt of the litter, the weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them. But when Shylo stumbles across a band of ratzis and overhears their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie, it’s up to this unlikely hero to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot! The Royal Rabbits of London have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the ratzis… But can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that Queen is in danger?

The Hobbit meets Fantastic Mr Fox meets Watership Down in this charming novel from bestselling authors Santa and Sebag Montefiore, which proves even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero.

royal-rabbits-of-london

Now let’s hand over to the Book Club!

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

In a world that is so concerned with outward appearances, it is difficult for those who do not fit stereotypical ideas of beauty to find value in themselves.  So it is as well, apparently, in the world of woodland creatures.  Shylo is diminutive when compared to others of his ilk and is consequently dismissed by those around him as without merit.  It takes but one soul to offer belief in his abilities and this belief, like a flame across a row of candles, takes hold and spurs Shylo on to achieve great things.  Take heed my friends, for here is a lesson for us all! Even the smallest rabbit in the burrow can play a starring role in defending all the side of good.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

There are no dragons in this book.  There are some very strange, sneaky rats though, that like to take photos of people and embarrass them.  There are some angry, snappy little dogs too and the rabbits don’t like them because these dogs like to eat rabbits.  I think I wouldn’t mind eating a rabbit.  Maybe. But not Shylo.

I like Shylo because he is brave but ordinary too.  And I like Horatio, the old bunny, because he is mysterious and has scars and no one knows how he got them.  I didn’t like Shylo’s big brother.  He’s a meanie.  Maybe I could try eating him for my first taste of rabbit.

That would teach him.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

 

Who is hiding ‘neath that tree?

A red-pawed rabbit I can see!

Do you think he’ll play with me?

He looks as if he’s too busy!

Where’s he gone so hurriedly?

To save the Queen for you and me!

Bruce

maniacal book club brucePlease excuse me a moment while I inwardly bemoan Mad Martha’s increasingly appalling poetry……right, that’s done.  The Royal Rabbits of London is a delightful read for youngsters with an underlying gentleness that balances out the scenes of action and close escape.  Shylo Tawny-Tail is the runt of his litter and his older, bigger siblings miss no opportunity to remind him of this fact.  Shylo finds refuge with the elderly Horatio rabbit, who tells him stories of the Royal Rabbits of London, a secret society of agent rabbits living under Buckingham Palace, whose job it is to protect the Royal Family.

When Shylo overhears a plot to embarrass the Queen, he is suddenly thrust into a much more exciting life, as he attempts to contact the mysterious and reclusive Royal Rabbits and make them aware of the pending plot.  The first part of the book has a bit of a town-mouse, country-mouse feel (except with rabbits!), as Shylo ventures forth from the safety of his burrow and steps out into the dangers of the big city.  After making contact with the Royal Rabbits, Shylo finds himself caught up in a high-stakes adventure that might result in saving the Queen – at the expense of some rabbity lives.

Reading a chapter of this book per night was the perfect way to build the tension in the story and keep my interest up.  The text is ideal for young readers who are newly confident with longer chapter books and the story is illustrated throughout with beguiling line drawings that help bring the characters to vivid life.  Shylo shows such strength of spirit that I am certain young readers will just love him and be caught up in the challenges he faces.  There are a few (reasonably) scary (for young children) scenes toward the end of the book as Shylo and his friends attempt to escape from the Pack – the resident dogs of Buckingham Palace – but overall, the story has an innocence about it despite the high-tech, battle ready situation of the Royal Rabbits.

The rabbits who make up the secret society all have their own larger-than-life personalities and adult readers will notice some nods to the sorts of characters who populate grown-up spy stories in these furry fellows.  The world of the Royal Rabbits is also richly imagined, filled with structure, hierarchy, and international co-operation.

The ending of this book is not left up in the air, so can be enjoyed on its own, but for those thirsting for more adventure, a second book in this series will be published in 2017.  Overall, this is a delightful, engaging and colourful foray into the hidden world of animal secret agents!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

The Unforgettable What’s His Name: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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It’s been a number of years since I’ve read a book by Paul Jennings, so the Book Club was more than delighted to receive a copy of The Unforgettable What’s His Name, by Mr Jennings, and illustrated by Craig Smith, from Allen & Unwin for review.  Before I unleash the Club on this quirky and heartwarming tale, here’s the blurb from A&U:

Now you see him, now you don’t – an action-packed adventure about a boy who just wants to blend in, from a bestselling author/illustrator team.

Even before all this happened I had never been like the other kids. I tried not to be seen. If I climbed a tree or hid among the bins, no one could find me. ‘Where’s What’s His Name?’ they’d say.

Then, one weekend, I got what I wanted. First, I blended in with things. But on the second day I changed.

I mean, really changed.

The hilarious story of a boy with an unusual problem, from children’s book legend Paul Jennings. Includes fantastic look-and-find colour illustrations.

 

The Unforgettable What's His Name by Paul Jennings & Craig Smith.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016.  RRP: $14.99

The Unforgettable What’s His Name by Paul Jennings & Craig Smith. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $14.99

And here’s what the Maniacal Book Club have to say on the topic…

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

When the eyes of the world are watching, will you step into the limelight or shrink into the shadows?  This is the dilemma faced by young What’s His Name.  To stand up and be counted, or overlooked, like a single monkey amidst a herd of leaping banana-chewers: only you can make the decision to be seen as you truly are.  We would all do well to take a lesson from young What’s His Name.  Blending in with your surroundings may solve your problem in the short term, but eventually, one must show one’s true colours, or risk remaining forever like a statue over a pond, while the moss slowly grows over one’s head.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

 

There are no dragons in this book.  There are a bunch of crazy monkeys that run all over town though, and a dog with no ears and a motorcycle gang, and even a boy who can transform into lots of cool things.  It sounds like a cool superpower but most of the time it isn’t very convenient for What’s His Name.  One time, one of the monkeys even tries to pee on him! They call that monkey the Big Pee!

I really liked Sandy the dog too.  This book has a lot of funny things in it and I think kids who like wacky adventures and unexpected things will like this book.  It would be fun to have a teacher read this book out in class because I think all the kids would be laughing.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

This poem is inspired by Simon and Garfunkle’s folk hit Feelin’ Groovy.

Hello lampost, whatcha knowing?

It appears you have two ears growing.

And is that a hair or three?

Do, do, do, do, do

You’re transforming!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

 

Paul Jennings, it must be said, is a master of magical realism, with a narrative style all his own.  Whether it has been two weeks or twenty years since you last read one of his books, I can guarantee that you’ll fall straight back into his familiar way of storytelling.  The Unforgettable What’s His Name is a book about a boy who wants to fade from sight.  Painfully shy, the boy gets the jitters whenever he thinks people are watching him and this leads to some unique and giggle-worthy problems.  All the expected Jennings features are included here: unexpected and hilarious situations involving our protagonist, things going wrong at exactly the wrong moment, characters who aren’t necessarily what they appear to be on the outside, and at least one reference to pooh.

The book didn’t seem to me as laugh-out-loud funny as some of Jennings classic works, but there are certainly a range of events that will have readers cringing with embarrassment and wriggling with glee as all sorts of silly situations unfold, requiring skin-of-your-teeth escapes and some truly innovative solutions to problems.  The book is illustrated throughout with both black and white line drawings and double-page spread, full colour illustrations, which add to the magical aspects of the book.

Putting aside the craziness of being able to turn into a human chameleon when anxious for a moment, this book is at its heart a story about facing one’s fears and carving out a place to belong.  As in most of Jennings’ work, the bottom line notes that you don’t have to be the same as everyone else in order to fit in somewhere.

I’d definitely recommend this as an insta-buy for classroom libraries or as a treat for fans (new and old) of the quirky, unexpected mind of Paul Jennings.

Until next time,

Bruce and the gang

 

Tell The Story to its End: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

The team has come together again to bring you our thoughts on an intriguing middle-grade offering that acknowledges the power of stories to manipulate the mundane world.  We received a copy of Tell the Story to its End (which also goes by the title Eren) by Simon P. Clark from the publisher via Netgalley, and were pleased to discover an atmospheric and nicely paced tale that lulls the reader into a place of comfort…or does it? Mwahahahaha!

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

People are keeping secrets from Oli. His mum has brought him to stay with his aunt and uncle in the countryside, but nobody will tell him why his dad where his father is. Why isn’t he with them? Has something happened? Oli has a hundred questions, and only an old, empty house in the middle of an ancient forest for answers. But then he finds a secret of his own: there is a creature that lives in the attic…

Eren is not human.
Eren is hungry for stories.
Eren has been waiting for him.

Sharing his stories with Eren, Oli starts to make sense of what’s happening downstairs with his family. But what if it’s a trap? Soon, Oli must make a choice: learn the truth—or abandon himself to Eren’s world, forever.

Reminiscent of SKELLIG by David Almond and A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness, EREN is richly atmospheric, moving, unsettling, and told in gorgeous prose. A modern classic in the making.

Here are the two versions of the cover:

tell the story to its end

eren

And here’s the Club’s thoughts:

Guru Dave

If you fail to master your words, your wordsmaniacal book club guru dave may become your master.  Such is the power of stories, fables, myths, to change the way we think, the way we act and the way we are.  Are we the product of our ancestors’ stories or do we create our own narrative? What happens to the stories that have faded from human memory? And is the book always better than the movie?  These are the questions that Oli will explore with his new, mysterious friend, Eren. Well. Except for that last one.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothlessThere are no dragons in this book.  But there is a cool talking cat and a king of trees and a strange winged guy called Eren who hides in attics and really likes stories.  He sounds a bit like Bruce really.  There’s not a lot of whiz-bang action in this book.  It would have been better if Eren was the kind of monster that eats people.  There was a cool story about a witch too.  This was an okay book but it would have been better with dragons.

Mad Martha

There once was a boy called Oli,maniacal book club martha

Who truly enjoyed a good sto’ry,

Do he and his friends,

Come to grief in the end?

You’ll just have to read to be sure-y.

*Toothless interjects: Worst. Limerick. Ever. *

Bruce

You know how books often have some comparison on the cover, like “if you liked *insert series name here*, then you’ll love this!” or “for fans of *insert author here*”.  Most of the time, the book ends up being nothing like the assertion, but Tell the Story to its End really IS a lot like the work of David Almond.  If you enjoy the feel of Almond’s work, then I can assure you that this book has a very similar narrative style, comparable pacing and more than a touch of the ol’ magical realism.

This book isn’t going to appeal to all readers in the target age bracket, but will certainly suit those who like a slow-burn mystery and stories-within-stories.  Oli is your average young lad who finds himself suddenly moving to the country with his mother, to live with her brother, for reasons that he’s not exactly clear about.  His mother is keeping some sort of secret about his father, and while Oli puzzles this out, he discovers the mysterious Eren living in the attic.

The addition of two other young folk, Em and Takeru, whom Oli befriends, deepens the plot as local legends are brought to light.  As the situation with Oli’s father comes out in bits and pieces, Oli finds himself drawn more deeply into Eren’s world and influence.  The reader is kept in a cloud of obscurity surrounding who Eren really is and whether he knows more of Oli’s family than he is saying.  The ending was surprising (to me, at least!) but felt quite fitting for the style of story.

The Book Club gives this book:

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Three thumbs up (Toothless wanted more fiery destruction)

I feel pretty safe in corroborating the claim in the blurb, that fans of David Almond should certainly enjoy Clark’s work here.  This is one for those who savour an enigmatic approach to storytelling.

Until next time,

Bruce and the Gang

An MG Maniacal Book Club Review (with Extra Gargoyle!): Stonebird….and a Giveaway!

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manical book club button

Welcome one and all to an extra gargoyley Maniacal Book Club review….and GIVEAWAY…for those living in Australia. Sorry everyone else, although I will have an international giveaway kicking off on Friday, so don’t feel too left out. I received a copy of today’s book from its lovely author, Mike Revell, who, on hearing of our stony nature here at the shelf, sent us a SIGNED ARC copy of his debut middle grade, UK fiction novel, Stonebird. Thanks Mr Mike!

For those wishing to enter the giveaway, the link is below the Club’s review. But I won’t keep everyone else waiting, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When eleven-year-old Liam moves house to be closer to his grandma, he’s thrown into an unfamiliar place, with a family that seems to be falling apart. Liam doesn’t remember what Grandma was like before she became ill with dementia. He only knows the witch-like old woman who snaps and snarls and eats her birthday cards. He desperately wants to make everything better, but he can’t. Escaping the house one evening, Liam discovers an old stone gargoyle in a rundown church, and his life changes in impossible ways. The gargoyle is alive. It moves unseen in the night, acting out Liam’s stories. And stories can be dangerous things . . . But Grandma’s illness is getting worse, Liam’s mum isn’t coping, and his sister is skipping school. What if the gargoyle is the only thing that can save Liam’s family?

stonebird

Let’s hear from the Book Club!

Guru Dave  maniacal book club guru dave

So many lessons to be learned from the lonely child and the reclusive gargoyle! Can we ever be truly ourselves when we rely on another to fight our battles? To whom can one turn when one feels alone in a sea of hostility and confusion? What hope do we have when our parents need parenting? So many good hearts lost in the dark, wandering the alleyways of sorrow and grief and anger. And over them all watches a creature from another world, a warm heart beating in a chest of stone.

 

 

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. But there is a huge gargoyle, way bigger than Bruce and Guru Dave and he’s got red eyes and claws and everything! He’s like a protector guardian but he can get really scary too and if you cross Liam, Stonebird might chase you down and eat you! Well, maybe not eat you, but scratch you or something. There’s a cool dog in this book too – Liam’s dog, Jess. And there are some bullies who are really nasty – I wanted Stonebird to eat them. But he doesn’t. It was okay that there wasn’t a dragon in this book because Stonebird was just as cool as a dragon.

 

Mad Martha  maniacal book club martha

If you possessed a magic egg

what magic would it do?

Could your special magic egg

Your errors all undo?

Or would you use it just for good

and help those close to you?

Perhaps your enemies you’d smite

Your tormentors, subdue.

The choice is yours, and so ensure

You stop and think this through:

If you possessed a magic egg,

What magic would it do?

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I must start off by saying that Stonebird is a handsome old brute! Obviously, as a Bookshelf Gargoyle, I am of a different family of stone creature than Stonebird, but I do envy his stately proportions and ability to perch regally on rooftops. That aside, it was wonderful to read another book wherein my kin are central to the story. There are so few around and I’m not sure why, for we provide so much atmosphere and gravitas. But I digress.

Stonebird is of that exciting category of books that feature important and difficult subjects pitched at just the right level for a middle grade audience. In this particular case, Revell touches on dementia and the experience of grief, loss and confusion that can envelop those close to the sufferer even while the sufferer is still alive; bullying, its effects and possible causes; parenting, and the effects of prolonged stress on a parent’s ability to relate to their children; among other things. There is a lot going on here besides an exciting fantasy tale about a gargoyle who can protect a boy with the help of a possibly magical egg.

I’m going to mark this one down as magical realism, rather than fantasy, because while there are obviously fantastical elements, the focus of this book is the authentic portrayal of a young lad trying to solve problems that are beyond his age and ken. This could have been a great, engaging and thought-provoking read even without the addition of a (handsome, powerful) member of my species, but the magical elements provide the cherry on top of the icing on a cake of quality reading.

As the main character is male, and there is a significant plotline of boy-to-boy bullying running through Liam’s story arc, I am certain this will appeal to young male readers, while young female readers will be drawn in by the inclusion of a storyline relating to Liam’s grandmother in her early teen years. As a considerable amount of the story takes place in the classroom, this would also be a fantastically engaging pick as a class read-aloud for around grades five to seven.

If you only read one book featuring a strong, silent, gargoyley type this year, make it this one!

The Maniacal Book Club gives this book:

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Six thumbs up! (Guru Dave and I gave it two thumbs each…)

Now, for the giveaway! If you are an Australian resident, you are welcome to enter to win a paperback copy of Stonebird by Mike Revell. Just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

*Bruce just ticked another book off Mount TBR!*

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Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

The Dreamsnatcher: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

 

Welcome to another pick from the Maniacal Book Club! Today’s tome is a middle grade fantasy adventure featuring gypsies, curses, companion wildcats and all manner of escapades. I speak of The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone, which was released earlier this year and a copy of which I was lucky enough to be sent by Simon & Schuster Australia.  Before we delve into the deep and insightful thoughts of the Club, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Molly Pecksniff wakes one night in the middle of the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare – the one with the drums and the rattles and the masks. The Dreamsnatcher is waiting. He has already taken her dreams and now he wants her life. Because Moll is more important than she knows… The Oracle Bones foretold that she and Gryff, a wildcat that has always been by her side, are the only ones who can fight back against the Dreamsnatcher’s dark magic. Suddenly everything is at stake, and Moll is drawn into a world full of secrets, magic and adventure.

 dreamsnatch

Enticing, no? Now let’s hear what the Book Club made of it…

Guru Dave  maniacal book club guru dave

This tale, like a well-polished cubic zirconia, has many facets. There is adventure, certainly, but it is tinged with danger, bordered by loss and regret and dotted with broken trust. There is fear, undoubtedly, but it is cloaked in the colourful livery of bravado, bolstered by the strength of true friendship and lightly dusted with a sprinkling of cat hair.  From Molly’s exploits we can take many lessons, but the most important of these is that home is where the campfire burns the brightest.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothless

No dragons in this book. There’s a creepy guy with a skull mask called Skull though. He’s got a weird power that makes Molly dream things and he tries to lure her away from the camp with his dreamsnatch power. There’s a cool wild cat called Gryff too who does some awesome fighting and protects Molly. This book gets pretty scary in some parts with magic and everyone trying to stop Skull but it’s good scary. I’ve never read a story like this before. Would’ve been better with a dragon.

 

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

Dream snatch, mind snatch, night time sounds,

Beat to bring the guardian down

With myths and secrets buried deep

The nasty magic starts to creep

Can guardian Moll defeat the foes

And put to rest the gypsies woes?

Or will Skull’s poisons overcome

And put to rest the plucky one?

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

I have been amazed and gratified of late to see the incredible originality coming from authors of UK middle grade. There seems to have been a constant stream of books from this group that come across our radar and set off the “Insta-buy!” alarm. Of course it doesn’t help that they all have alluring covers to boot. Really, if I wasn’t lucky enough to receive a small portion of print books from publishers, I would be broke and/or bereft! The Dreamsnatcher is certainly part of this parade of quality storytelling.

Apart from the adventurous storyline and themes of belonging, identity and loyalty that pervade the book, there is also a palpable sense of newness about this tale. Elphinstone has created a really engaging and original world comprising magic, ancient prophesies, sacred roles and age-old rivalries within a setting that invites the imagination to take flight.

I must admit that I had a little difficulty getting into the story. Although the book starts off with some adventurous doings on the part of Molly, as she attempts to steal back her pony from the altogether-creepy Skull, I found the first section of the story slower than I would have liked. In this section Molly is attempting to discover some truths about herself and her place in the camp while the adults try to keep this information from her. Soon after this though, all is revealed and events become more dangerous as Skull increases his efforts to lure Molly to his clearing.  The book steadily picks up the pace from there and Molly, Sid, Gryff and the other members of Moll’s camp attempt to uncover the secrets of the Bone Oracle before it’s too late.

Kids in the target age bracket are really going to enjoy this story, as much for its suspense and pacing as for the magical elements and original world building. And of course for the alluring cover.
The Maniacal Book Club gives this book:

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Four thumbs up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)