Magrit: An MG Good, Sad and Quirky Review…

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Today’s review nearly ended up being a “Great Expectations…” review because my level of expectation for today’s book was impossibly high, but I have decided to unleash my psyche on you instead.  Magrit by Lee Battersby (author of such bizarre adult fiction favourites of the shelf as The Corpse-Rat King and The Marching Dead) is a middle grade, beautifully presented foray into a graveyard full of surprises.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Magrit lives in an abandoned cemetery with her friend and advisor, Master Puppet, whom she built from bones and bits of graveyard junk. One night as Magrit and Master Puppet sit atop of their crumbling chapel, a passing stork drops a baby into the graveyard. Defying Master Puppet’s demands that the baby be disposed of, and taking no heed of his dire warnings, Magrit decides to raise the baby herself. She gives him a name: Bugrat. Magrit loves Bugrat like a brother But Master Puppet know all too well what will happen when Bugrat grows up – that the truth about them all will be revealed.

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The Good:image

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and have wished that there existed a book very like it, but suited to a younger audience, Lee Battersby has fulfilled that wish in Magrit.  The book is set in a beautifully atmospheric cemetery, wherein the inhabitants lie forgotten and a self-contained, private sanctuary has been chiseled out of the silence.  Magrit is an easy character to follow along with; a carefree nearly-ten year old, whose imagination is fed to bursting by her mouldering home and her questions answered by the all-seeing Master Puppet.  Master Puppet is a great, original character, I must say – a skeleton patched together from various discarded bones and lashed to the cross atop the cemetery’s chapel, dispensing wisdom and criticism in a voice that is practically audible while you read.  The plot is easy to follow for young readers, and while adult readers (and indeed, canny youngsters) may pick up on which way the wind is blowing reasonably early in the story, the ending is unexpected and satisfactorily ambiguous.

The Sad image

If you have not read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, then this criticism will pass you by and not affect your reading of Magrit at all.  If this is the case for you, I am truly happy that you have yet to discover the magic of both of these wonderful books.  The only problem I had with this story is that it felt far too much like The Graveyard Book.  So much so, in fact, that I felt like Bod and Magrit could have easily lived in Bod’s graveyard at the same time, with Magrit’s corner cordoned off in some way so that the two never got around to meeting.  The reason this was a problem is that because I read The Graveyard Book years ago on its original release (our dust-jacketed, hardbacked edition has pride of place on our shelf, with only slight paper-specklage after eight years), and have since re-read it multiple times, Bod, Silas and the gang have taken up residence in my brain as the superior graveyard-dwelling crew.  Again though, if you haven’t read The Graveyard Book, you should find Magrit and Master Puppet entirely original and thoroughly unique.

I would also have loved to have seen a bit of the quirky, bizarre humour that Battersby inserts into his adult fiction works make its way into Magrit’s story.

The Quirkyimage

The presentation, both inside and out, of this first edition of Magrit is something else entirely.  For a start, the textured hardback cover fits neatly in your hand and the raw edges of the pages are tinged an inviting pale purple.  The beautiful papercut illustration on the front sets the tone for the gorgeous reading experience awaiting you.  The pages inside are bordered in similar papercut designs and Master Puppet’s dialogue is always printed in a spectacularly eye-popping font, which is both a handy visual cue for younger readers and serves to enhance that unique character voice that I mentioned earlier.  Overall, there has been a great deal of consideration put into the visual presentation of this book and it greatly enhances the reading experience.  I can just imagine the coveting that will go on amongst mini-fleshlings when this one hits the school library shelves!

I also loved that Battersby references Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead in his acknowledgements.  This is a reasonably large and dense non-fiction tome that I checked out of the library years ago, before I started blogging, as part of my attempt to read all the death-related things.  I just like the idea that other people have read a reasonably obscure book that I randomly checked out of the library many years ago.

Overall, I am so glad I pre-ordered this one and didn’t wait around on the off-chance that I would get the opportunity to get a free review copy.  This is definitely a book that you won’t regret purchasing and displaying in a prominent place on your shelf to amaze your friends and confuse and dismay your enemies.

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

 

 

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

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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.

Toothless

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.

Bruce

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:

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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,

Bruce

An MG Double-Dip, A Top Book of 2015 and a Giveaway!

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imageWelcome to a very special Double Dip review and giveaway! Today I have two books for a middle-grade audience that were kindly provided to the shelf for review by HarperCollins Australia – thanks! – and that would make perfect stocking stuffers for a worthy young person of your acquaintance.  One of these is hands-down one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015! Read on for details on how to enter the giveaway – I will be providing one winner with their choice of one of these books! Hurrah!

Let’s get on with it!

First up is my TOP BOOK OF 2015 pick – The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.

Archer B. Helmsley longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?

It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures since she ended up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps a crocodile ate it. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).

And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.

Well, it’s not bad, anyway.

But nothing goes quite as they expect.

Dip into it for…

…a gently unfolding story of friendship and breaching self-imposed limits.  Before I get into dissecting the story, let medoldrums point out that the lovely hardback edition to which I was given access is illustrated throughout with FULL PAGE, FULL COLOUR illustrations that are just exquisite and lend that extra bit of specialness to the book.  The story begins by introducing us to Archer B. Helmsley, his unusual family circumstances and desire to break out of his mother’s overprotective clutches.  Soon enough, Oliver Glub (it’s good to be a Glub!), Archer’s next door neighbour and schoolmate, joins the fray, lending the voice of reason to Archer’s ill-thought-out plans.  Finally, just when the reader thinks they have learned all there is to learn about Archer and Oliver, and can predict how the story will unfold, we are introduced to Adelaide, French immigrant, ex-ballet dancer, and possessor of one wooden leg (possibly oak).  Adelaide was the real stand-out character for me and I absolutely adored the way that she was rendered by the author – confident but not sassy, self-possessed but not selfish and exceptional but not freakish.

The story is filled with dry, subtle humour and an atmosphere that suggests that anything is possible, despite the fact that most of Archer’s plans are foiled by fate or foe quite early on in proceedings.

Don’t dip if…

…you are expecting a story replete with action and conquest.  While there is some action in the story, not least of which being the unexpectedly life-threatening ending, the story focuses more on the developing friendship between the three protagonists and mystery surrounding the disappearance of Archer’s grandparents.  In a sense, Archer is caught in the doldrums in this story, and the adventure is more in the incidental surprises thrown up by an ordinary life rather than those encountered by well-travelled explorers.

Overall Dip Factor

Being a regular reviewer means that I am granted access, on occasion to some very high quality books.  The Doldrums really blew me away with how beautifully produced this hardback edition is – it’s something unusual and provided a wonderful print reading experience (which is why I’m not giving my copy away!!).  Just in terms of its look and feel, this book would make a great “Wow!” book to slip into a Christmas stocking.  The story is also unusual in that I expected, from the first few chapters, that the plot would quickly set up the mystery of Archer’s grandparents, provide some useful friends for Archer, and send them off on a whirlwind, whacky adventure.  Much more is going on in the story however, and it is definitely worth a look for young and older readers who enjoy subtle humour, a touch of the ridiculous and characters that you will want to be friends with, long after you’ve finished the book.

Now onto some Aussie middle-grade, also illustrated throughout and featuring a touch of the ridiculous – Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Olive has always dreamed of attending boarding school, but Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers is not what she expected. To tell the truth, dear reader, it is not what anyone expected!


The headmistress is completely bonkers and Pig McKenzie, school bully and all-round nasty swine, is determined to make Olive’s life unbearable.


Olive, however, is clever, sweet and kind, and soon gains the loyalty and devotion of three rats, a short-sighted moose, a compulsive liar and a goose who faints at the sight of cherries.


But will friendship and wits be enough when Pig McKenzie puts his Truly Wicked Plan into gear? Or will Olive be cast out of Groves forever?

Dip into it for…

…the kind of school that kids have longed to attend since time immemorial.  Groves is a school in which explosions, mess, general naughtiness, high-flying acrobatics, and throwing one’s dinner around the room are commonplace.  It olive of grovesalso features a wonderfully diverse group of talking animals as students – including my favourite, the perpetually anxious goose, Glenda (Oh, mercy!) – and a headmistress who turns a blind eye to practically every strange thing happening in her school.  Olive is a charming, steadfast, courageous young lass who does a wonderful job of making the best of a very tricky (and in some cases, literally sticky) situation and with the help of her ratty roommates, sets about proving that she is not a perfectly ordinary girl and deserves a place at Groves, in all its diverse glory, even if she has to scale a highwire wearing only tatty old long-johns to prove it.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a story that makes a lot of sense.  I suspect that this is one of those stories that will appeal to kids much more than adult readers of middle grade (although its complexity did grow significantly toward the end), but if you’re not into characters that are over-the-top and general silliness abounding, then this book is probably not for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I can imagine Olive of Groves as a wonderfully cheeky read-aloud for a classroom of mischief-loving grade three or four children.  The book has a narrator that certainly does not mince words and provides a particularly amusing commentary on the antics of Olive and her friends (and nemeses).  Apart from the chaos and high jinx that seems to invade Groves’ every corner, this book also provides some solid inspiration for those needing to stand up and be counted when it seems that the world (or even just one Very Despicable Pig) is against you.

And now it’s……

Giveaway Time!

I am going to offer ONE winner their choice of one of these books.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight November 27th (Brisbane time).  The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen!

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win – either The Doldrums or Olive of Groves.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Fi50 Reminder and a MG DNF that Middle Graders will probably love…

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Just a quick reminder for the eager hordes hoping to join in October’s Fiction in 50 challenge, the prompt for this month is…

beware the button

(You fill in the blank!)

To play along, create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more detailed instructions and future prompts, just click on the button at the top of this post.

Now it’s not often that I choose to give up on a book but today I have one that I just couldn’t push on with.  I normally wouldn’t tell you about books that I didn’t finish on the blog – just quietly give some feedback to the publisher, pop a short, unstarred review on Goodreads and move on with my life – but I’m making an exception with this book because even though it didn’t resonate with me, I think it’s one of those middle grade books that will really appeal to middle graders, but maybe not so much to adults.

I received a copy of The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari (possibly the greatest name ever bestowed on an individual, in my opinion) from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Are you average? Normal? Forgettable? If so, the League of Unexceptional Children is for you! This first book in a hilarious new adventure series is for anyone who’s struggled to be noticed in a sea of above-average overachievers.


What is the League of Unexceptional Children? I’m glad you asked. You didn’t ask? Well, you would have eventually and I hate to waste time. The League of Unexceptional Children is a covert network that uses the nation’s most average, normal, and utterly unexceptional children as spies.

Why the average kids? Why not the brainiacs? Or the beauty queens? Or the jocks? It’s simple: People remember them. But not the unexceptionals. They are the forgotten ones. Until now!

unexceptional children

I was drawn to this book for two reasons: firstly, I’ve got a thing for books with “League” in the title at the moment and secondly, for the resemblance the blurb bore to Patrick Ness’s YA offering The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which builds a plot around a group of kids who are NOT the chosen ones.   I thought this might be a middle grade offering of a similar, quite amusing premise (and it well might be, considering I didn’t finish it, and I haven’t read Ness’s work yet).  The thing is, there was nothing WRONG with the League of Unexceptional Children, it’s just that it didn’t really suit my tastes.

I felt a bit hot and cold on the two main characters, Jonathan and Shelley, as I found about half of their behaviour and dialogue funny, and the other half just plain annoying.  The chapter headings each had a “quote” from an average kid and some of these gave me a giggle and others I just found a bit odd. Similarly, the style of humour in the book just didn’t click with me, even though the plot moved quickly and there was a lot of banter and funny-enough situations in the chapters that I read.

I will admit to losing interest once the “mission” had been explained and that was the deciding factor in my deciding not to finish the book – essentially, the idea of the kids having to save a kidnapped vice president didn’t fire my imagination enough to make me want to invest more time in this one.

I suspect that this is the kind of book that readers in the target age range will probably enjoy due to the fast paced plot and the idea of “average” kids getting a chance to save the day.  For me as an adult reader though, I think Daneshvari succeeded a little too well in making the characters unexceptional.  It’s a case of irreconcilable differences between me and  this book, I’m afraid, but I’d be interested in what others thought of it, especially those in the target age group.

Until next time,

Bruce

A “Top Book of 2015” MG Read-it-if Review: Hoodoo…

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If you’ve been wandering around in a fog of “what-do-I-read-next?” then you have stumbled into the right place. I heartily recommend today’s cracking and original tale and I have taken the rather rash and possibly disputable decision to elevate it to a place in my “Top Books of 2015” list. I received a copy of Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith from the publisher via Netgalley. Apart from that stunning cover, this historical tale has folk magic, family secrets, stranger danger, talking crows, dream travelling and one very nasty demon…not to mention the fact that it is a book that could easily slot into the “promoting diversity” category.

But enough with the tantalising descriptions! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher was born into a family with a rich tradition of practicing folk magic: hoodoo, as most people call it. But even though his name is Hoodoo, he can’t seem to cast a simple spell.   

Then a mysterious man called the Stranger comes to town, and Hoodoo starts dreaming of the dead rising from their graves. Even worse, he soon learns the Stranger is looking for a boy. Not just any boy. A boy named Hoodoo. The entire town is at risk from the Stranger’s black magic, and only Hoodoo can defeat him. He’ll just need to learn how to conjure first.     

Set amid the swamps, red soil, and sweltering heat of small town Alabama in the 1930s, Hoodoo is infused with a big dose of creepiness leavened with gentle humor.    

hoodoo

Read it if:

*you’ve ever had a bad dream that seemed incredibly real…then woken up to discover that it was actually…incredibly real.

*you are possessed of a name that implies characteristics that are absent from your personality

*you’ve ever thought the whole “Stranger Danger” thing is a big overreaction from helicopter parents

*you’ve ever ignored sage advice from a trusted elder. Or a deceased relative.  Or indeed, a talking bird.

What an original little offering this book is! I truly enjoy meeting books that stand out from the thoroughly well used plotlines and characters that have populated middle grade fiction since Moses was a lad. On reading the blurb, one might be forgiven for thinking that this was, in fact, a typical “chosen one finds magic within himself and saves the world” sort of a story, but there are some important details that set this one apart.

First off, this is historical fiction, with events taking place in the 1930s, when segregation was alive and well. The author manages to weave in aspects of the period as well as some nifty little informational nuggets while keeping the plot flowing and the setting authentic. I quite enjoyed the little historical tidbits and as the book is set in the US, there were some interesting things I learned from the tale, such as the use of patterned quilts hung in cottage windows that held secret instructions for slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad. I always liken fiction that teaches you something to a bonus prize you win after you think the game is over.

The sinister elements of this book are very sinister indeed, and I was surprised at how creepy the content got considering that this is a middle grade offering. Apart from the Stranger (who starts off merely unsettling and finishes in full-blown demon possession), old sulphur-boots himself makes an appearance (albeit off-stage) and the second half of the book certainly felt to me like it had a fog of malevolence blanketing the action. The plotline that requires Hoodoo to solve the riddle of the Stranger and use his folk magic to protect himself is tightly woven and will provide a challenge to those who like to puzzle things out along with the hero.

I almost wish that this was part of a series because Hoodoo is such a likeable character, and I really felt like part of his extended family as I followed his adventures. The supporting characters are well developed and there is a distinct theme of loss and re-connection as the story unfolds. The sense of warmth and welcome that exudes from the descriptions of Hoodoo’s home with Mama Frances and the obvious reliance on others that is evident in the community definitely balances out some of the more frightening aspects of the story and provides a consolation for the losses that Hoodoo has experienced in his young life.

Having read a few early reviews of Hoodoo, I do agree with some reviewers that there is something lacking overall in the execution of the tale. While I was highly impressed with the originality of the story and the way in which the author has pulled off the scarier bits, I did feel mildly dissatisfied at the end. Strangely though, I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly was missing or lacking. I did find the pacing to be unusual, with the earlier chapters almost devoid of anything magical at all (except Hoodoo’s first encounter with the Stranger) and the later chapters particularly intense in terms of danger and macabre doings. Perhaps it was this disparity in pacing that put me slightly off, making Hoodoo seem younger than his twelve years in the beginning and much older by the end.

Having said that, this was definitely a stand-out book for me for this year, for its original content, historical setting and the masterful way in which the author has developed the more frightening aspects of the story. This is certainly not a read for the faint-hearted or suggestible, but for advanced middle grade readers of stout heart and steady nerve this would be an excellent choice.

Until next time,

Bruce

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)

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Mysterious and Intriguing” MG and YA Edition…(featuring a Top Book of 2015!)

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Well I hope nobody’s still saddle sore from Friday’s Round-Up because today I have three YA and MG titles that you are definitely going to want to hitch to your TBR post. I received all three from their respective publishers via Netgalley and was pleasantly surprised to find them to be thoroughly enjoyable, with a sense of the unexplained. In fact, I enjoyed one of them so much, it has made my list of TOP BOOKS OF 2015! On that exciting note, let’s ride on in!

First up, we have a YA title featuring multiple contributors and a quick, relatable read.

M is for Autism (The Students of Limpsfield Grange School and Vicky Martin)

Two Sentence Synopsis: M is for autism

M isn’t sure why she sees things differently from other people but it certainly makes things harder for her to fit in with her peers. With the possibility of a medical diagnosis looming, M wonders whether a label will help her blend in…or make her stick out even more.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is unlike any book you’ve read with a main character who displays characteristics on the Autistic Spectrum. For a start, the main character is female, and as you delve into M’s readable-in-one-sitting journey, it is highly likely that you will recognise many of M’s fears, experiences and characteristics as similar to those you might have personally experienced or displayed. With eye-dazzling illustrations dotted throughout giving a glimpse into M’s inner turmoil, this book is a highly polished piece of work that will appeal greatly to teenagers who feel like they don’t fit in, as much as it will to older readers looking for an original take on an “autism” novel. The experiences of M’s mother are also realistically portrayed and it was intriguing to see how M internalised her family’s reactions to her behaviour. I highly recommend this book to everyone: it won’t take you long to get through, but it will leave you with some things to ponder well after you’ve finished.

Brand it with:

Sisters doing it for themselves, square peg/round hole, parental freakouts

Next up, as promised on Friday, we have everyone’s favourite stinky monster: Bigfoot!

Sasquatch (Andrea Schicke Hirsch)

Two Sentence Synopsis:sasquatch

Since his parents’ divorce, Jake elected to live with his dad, which means moving to his late Uncle Horace’s cabin in the deep woods of a tiny town. Uncle Horace was known as the town crackpot because of his fascination with Sasquatch and his belief that one lived in the very woods surrounding Jake’s new home – but with malodorous wafts, strange calls in the night and even stranger happenings when he goes walking in the woods, Jake’s not so sure his uncle was crazy after all.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s rare to find a YA novel with a strong male protagonist who isn’t either bully or bullied, labelled as a nerd or a jock, and who possesses confidence and the ability to look after himself and manage his own emotions. Plus, it’s about Bigfoots (Bigfeet?). There was something very refreshing about this novel and I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it steered away from the overused YA tropes I’ve mentioned above and just stuck to good old-fashioned, realistic monster hunting. Of course, one can’t spend all one’s time hunting Sasquatch and there are plenty of non-monster related problems that Jake gets himself into with his new neighbours and friends and the book is better for it. The author has managed to blend the “real-life” issues of a young lad with a mythical overlay and realistic characters and the result is a quality read. Overall, this is a fun, engaging novel with a fantasy edge, some satisfying twists and authentic portrayals of teenagers left to their own devices with a mythical beast (possibly) on the loose.

Brand it with:

Who cut the cheese?, love lies bleeding, live and let live, revenge served hot

Finally, onto our middle-grade offering for today and one of my…..TOP BOOKS OF 2015!

Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods: Twenty Chilling Tales from the Wilderness (Hal Johnson and Tom Mead)

Two Sentence Synopsis: creatures of the lumberwoods 2

Reader, find in this tome the true-life stories of fantastical beasts that roam the North American landscape. From the Gumberoo to the Hodag, and the Snoligoster to the Timberdoodle (although this one only gets a passing mention), everyone’s favourite obscure mythical beasts are given their terrifying due in this not-to-be-missed instructional guide.

Muster up the motivation because:

The disarmingly hilarious turns of phrase, dry humour that creeps up and forces a chuckle and running joke about the French will have you giggling unexpectedly and furrowing your brow by turns in equal measure. This illustrated collection of tall tales is like Monty Python for nine-year-olds. The book is beautifully presented (although I did have MAJOR issues reading this on both Adobe Digital Editions and Bluefire Reader – perhaps due to the large file size) and deserves to be read in print. The individual stories are short enough to dip into before bedtime but long enough to leave a lasting imprint on the individual’s psyche. I’m certain the image of one hunter, returning to civilisation “brokenhearted, with only a timberdoodle in his sack” will be one I cherish for some time to come. Same goes for the killing technique of the deadly Snoligoster, the effect of which, according to the author, is “quite delightful to watch, but also tragic and disgusting”. I heartily recommend this new imagining of an old work to intrepid, confident young readers in about grades 4 to 7, and to adults with a sense of humour of around the same age.

Brand it with:

Tall tales, if you go down to the woods today, instructional guides

So there you have it. I will admit to a bit of cheekiness, hiding one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015 within a Round-Up, but I like to keep you on your toes and see who’s really paying attention. I have gone on a bit in this Round-Up, but occasionally you find some real gems out there but can’t necessarily fit them in to the individual posting schedule, and these three warrant a bit of long-windedness. I hope you find something here to please.

Until next time,

Bruce