A Middle Grade Double-Dip Review: Magical Realism vs Legendary Monsters

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Sit back, relax, grab your favourite two opposing snacks and get ready to dip into some intriguing upper middle grade reads.  Before we get started, I’m just going to let you know that all of today’s books are going to contribute toward my Colour Coded Reading Challenge for 2017.  You can see my progress toward that challenge here.

I should also point out that I received all today’s books from HarperCollins Australia for review – thanks!

First up I have the companion novel to Time Travelling With A Hamster by Ross Welford, which I reviewed last week: What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible.  Also by Ross Welford, obviously.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Turning invisible at will: it’s one way of curing your acne. But far more drastic than 13 year-old Ethel Leatherhead intended when she tried a combination of untested medicines and a sunbed.

It’s fun at first, being invisible. And aided by her friend Boydy, she manages to keep her extraordinary ability secret. Or does she…?

When one day the invisibility fails to wear off, Ethel is thrown into a nightmare of lies and deception as she struggles to keep herself safe, to find the remedy that will make her seen again – and solve the mystery of her own birth…

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Dip into it for…

…charming characters, a solid friendship and some shenanigans involving a sunbed and seriously dodgy alternative medicine.  On immediately finishing the book I felt that I didn’t feel this one as much as Time Travelling with a Hamster, but with a bit of distance since the time I finished it, I’ve decided that I’m actually more fond of the main characters of this novel than the previous.  Ethel lives with her grandma and is bullied for having terrible acne.  Elliot is a recent blow-in from London and seems unaware of his status as social pariah.  An unlikely but heartwarming friendship is formed over the course of the book (and I mean that in the least vomit-inducing way possible) and by the end one can really believe the bond between Ethel and Elliot is authentic.  Did I mention that Ethel also suffers from spells of invisibility now and then?  Well, she does, and that’s where most of the humour comes in, but really, this is a story about family past and present and the family you build for yourself.

Don’t dip if…

…you have a pathological aversion to sunbed use.  I, hailing from the country with the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, have a natural and pathological aversion for sunbeds given the fact that they are proven to increase rates of deadly skin cancers, and have rightly been banned here.  It did grate on me that Ethel happily gets into one multiple times throughout the story and I feel there should be some author’s note at the end (or the beginning, or throughout) that plainly points to the dangers of placing your naked skin under intense UV radiation for any period of time for the sake of a bit of a tan.  It will kill you people.

Admittedly, this is not a good enough reason not to read the book though.

Overall Dip Factor

This was a thoroughly enjoyable story that skilfully incorporates elements of magical realism to lift the plot out of the expected boundaries for contemporary middle grade and YA “issues” books.  Yes, Ethel is dealing with some difficult issues about identity, bullying, loyalty and honesty, but the inclusion of the invisibility works both as a humorous side plot, and a metaphor for escaping one’s problems and taking decisive action.  Elliot is a fantastic character who, it seems, can only be himself and this provides a nice foil for Ethel’s desire to become someone different.  All in all this is a strong contemporary story about growing up, with the added bonus of fun and fantasy woven in.

Next up, I have a two for one deal, with the first two books in the Darkmouth series by Shane Hegarty – Darkmouth: The Legends Begin and Darkmouth: Worlds Explode.  These have been out for a while now, but I received them to review as part of a jacket  re-design release.  Here are the blurbs from Goodreads:

Darkmouth: The Legends Begin

A monstrously funny debut from the new star of middle-grade adventure. Ages: 9+

There are towns where the border between our world and the world of monsters – properly called Legends – is thin. One of those towns is Darkmouth.

There, our hero Finn is the son of the last remaining Legend Hunter – which means that one day soon he will be the last remaining Legend Hunter.

Except… he’s a bit rubbish at it. And in a spectacularly unfortunate coincidence, the terrifying leader of the monsters is in the midst of planning an all out attack on earth… in Darkmouth.

Darkmouth: Worlds Explode

The second book in the monstrously funny and action-packed new series: Darkmouth. It’s going to be legendary.

The adventures of the most unfortunate Legend Hunter ever to don fighting armour and pick up a Dessicator continue…

On a list of things Finn never thought he’d wish for, a gateway bursting open in Darkmouth was right up there. But that’s about his only hope for finding his missing father. He’s searched for a map, he’s followed Steve into dead ends, but found nothing. And he’s still got homework to do.

But soon Finn and Emmie must face bizarre Legends, a ravenous world and a face from the past as they go where no Legend Hunter has gone before. Or, at least, where no legend Hunter has gone before and returned with their limbs in the correct order.

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Dip into it for…

…a pedestrian series opener that improves by the end of book two.  I found the second book of a much higher quality than the first mostly due to the fact that in the first book Finn, the protagonist, is sulky, his father Hugo is pushy and I could pick the inevitable betrayal from a certain character from the second they stepped on to the scene.  There is something seriously slow about the first book in the series that made me hesitant to pick up the second, but thankfully the second book featured much more of what I was expecting.  There was far more humour, a more interesting setting and problem to solve and the new character, Estravon, was far more interesting than any of the characters in the first book.  The action in the second book seemed more natural – in that there seemed to be obvious reasons as to why conflicts were occurring and the ending was both surprising and fast-paced.

An unexpected bonus in the books is the full page illustrations scattered here and there, as well as various other smaller images placed in between bits of text.  Regular followers of this blog will know that I think pictures make every book better and it was a nice touch to see the artist’s renderings of the Legend characters particularly.

Don’t dip if…darkmouth-2

…you’re expecting, as the blurb promised, that the stories will be “monstrously funny”.  There are a few smile-inducing moments here and there as well as a few dry asides, but unless you find sadsack teenagers and overbearing parents particularly amusing, you aren’t going to be slapping your thighs throughout.

Overall Dip Factor

I wish that I had just completely skipped The Legends Begin and started with Worlds Explode because it is far the better written of the two.  The pacing is more balanced, the reveals are more surprising (and therefore engaging) and generally the story flows a lot better than in the first book, which is marred by Finn’s constant musings about how he will never be as good as his father and woe is him etc, etc.  The second story also allows for more character development, as Emmie, Steve and Finn are thrown into situations that they haven’t prepared for and therefore have to draw on their own wiles to solve problems rather than have Hugo, Finn’s father, step in to solve everything.  I’m still a little hand-shy about the series to tell you the truth, but the ending of Worlds Explode in particular has me interested in what might happen next.  If only Hegarty could have brought the quality of writing at the end of the second book to bear in The Legends Begin, I’d be giving this series an unreserved thumbs up.

I hope your snacks lasted the distance and didn’t pita off toward the end (see what I did there?!)

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Top Book of 2017 Pick!

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Today’s book is one that I definitely didn’t think I would enjoy as much as I did.  It features an absorbing story, flawed characters, a bleak, unforgiving landscape and intricate, fleshed out folklore, and for these reasons and more it is our first Top Book of 2017 pick for the year!  We received our copy of The Bear and the Nightingale by debut author Katherine Arden from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

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I was a little afraid on starting this book that it would turn out to be a bit like wading through molasses, but although its a hefty tome the narrative voice is so compelling that I could have happily gone on reading for another hundred pages once it had finished.  The book begins before protagonist Vasya’s birth and the reader is made aware of the fact that there is something special about this child.  Even though her birth results in her mother’s death, we are aware that this is something Vasya’s mother chose, because Vasya will be the key to…something…in the future.  As the tale progresses we find out that Vasya has the ability to see household and woodland spirits and she, like the people of her village, ensures that these spirits are kept happy with small offerings of bread and the like.

Later, when a charismatic priest is sent to the village, the delicate balance between the people and the spirit world is upset, resulting in catastrophic changes for the village – crops fail, children die, and the muttering of the villagers begins to turn against Vasya, with the aid of her stepmother’s urging.  From here the story takes on more of a traditional fantasy atmosphere, as Vasya ventures further into the spirit world in order to save herself and her loved ones.

The greatest thing about this book is the fact that the author has remained true to the humanity of the characters while intertwining indispensable parts of the narrative that feature fantasy.  This gives the overall story an incredible feeling of authenticity even as winter demons and the walking undead plague Vasya’s village.  Real lives, innocent lives, are at stake, through folly brought about by flawed human behaviour, yet at the same time the ethereal, and the way it has been traditionally linked with the mundane by the villagers, is the key to a return to normalcy.

Vasya is a well-developed heroine, growing from the headstrong and flighty young girl into a determined young woman who is not afraid to take risks in order to secure her own path.  The women in the story are confined by the roles assigned to them by society but Vasya is different and refuses to be hemmed in, even when it seems impossible for her to resist.  Alongside Vasya are two women who are foils for each other – Dunya, the long-standing nurse of the household, who protects her charges as if they were her own children, even to her death; and Anna Ivanovna, Vasya’s stepmother, who cares more for herself than even for her own child, unless that child, Irinya, is reflecting credit on her mother through her beauty.  The male characters of Vasya’s family are both strong and gentle, fiercely protective of their daughters and sisters, yet bound to societal expectations.  The priest, Konstantin, is deeply flawed and blinded by his ego and need for attention.

While the fantasy elements of this tale, drawn from Russian folklore, are fascinating and terrifying by turns, the real heart of this story is in its humanity, and the decisions that individuals make when adversity falls in their lap.  I honestly thought that the fantasy creatures, the household spirits and the completely creepy upyr would be the highlight of the book for me but the ordinary characters were so engaging that while I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy elements, it was Vasya and her family that tipped this story over into brilliance.

I have to say that if this is the first offering from Katherine Arden, she is certainly going to be an author to keep on my watch list from now on.  If you are looking for a totally absorbing fantasy tale that never loses sight of its humanity, and have the time to devote to an epic story, I highly recommend getting lost in The Bear and the Nightingale.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Attack of the 14 Nights of Halloween Giveaway – and some Creepy Crochet Monsters!

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I’m excited to be participating in the 14 Nights of Halloween Giveaway hosted by Laughing Vixen Lounge!  This is a different sort of hop from the usual ones in which I participate, so make sure you have a good gander at the information below before you enter.  There are two awesomely generous prize packs and locks of fun spooky activities to indulge in leading up to the big, scary night.  Enjoy!  Don’t forget to check out Mad Martha’s review (below) of Creepy Crawly Crochet by Megan Kreiner, which we received for review from the publisher via Netgalley.  It’s chock-full of delightfully detailed spine-chilling cuties to crochet before Halloween!

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler and the nights are getting spookier. Yes, it’s time for tricks and treats, goblins and ghouls, chills and thrills and huge amounts of sugary sweets. But at the Laughing Vixen Lounge blog it’s also time for the 5th annual Attack of the 14 Nights of Halloween Giveaway. Join Laughing Vixen Lounge and our bewitching co-hosts The Kids Did It, The Mommy Island, Herding Cats and Burning Soup, The Hopping Bloggers, Mama Smith’s Reviews and Women and Their Pretties for a spooktacular Halloween event.

Enter to win a $250 Prize Pack filled with goodies from 10 wickedly fabulous shops. All shops are offering Gift Cards or your choice of item(s) so there will be something for everyone. Many of the shops have items perfect for any book lover along with lots of unique, handcrafted and custom designs to choose from.

Visit the Laughing Vixen Lounge blog daily during the giveaway for the Halloween Movie Marathon. Test your movie knowledge with the Guess the Movie Game. Then try to solve the Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt, if you dare! Each event will get you daily entries in the giveaway plus a special giveaway for the Scavenger Hunt. Find full details for these events HERE.

Yarning with Mad Martha about…Creepy Crawly Crochet by Megan Kreiner

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Well my dears, I think we have a new Halloween favourite here on the Shelf!  If you are a fan of crochet (and we know there are more than a few of you!), you would have to look far and wide to find a collection of more detailed patterns for a selection of your favourite monsters.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

They’re creepy but they’re cute and cuddly, too! Inspired by classic literature, film, and folklore, these 17 crochet monsters will delight everyone with a taste for old-fashioned thrillers and modern tales of horror. Detailed instructions include assembly diagrams for ease of construction along with full-color photos. The patterns are suitable for beginners, but advanced crocheters will find them irresistible as well.

These fetching fiends include Boo Boo the Voodoo Doll; Jack, the Headless Horseman, and his horse, Nightmare; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Carl of the Dead and Daisy, his Zombie Dog; and other sinister characters. In addition to their value as handmade keepsake treasures, these characters also make great gifts for fans of horror and science fiction.

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Alas, I haven’t found time to make any of these scary shelf-mates yet, but I am just itching to get cracking on the Zombie Dog pattern for starters.  This is a remarkably well thought out pattern book.  Since I’ve been blogging about craft books in my Yarning series, I’ve been able to get a handle on what makes a craft book actually usable and what doesn’t, and this book has a number of features that set it apart as a book that you will actually USE to create the finished product.  

The finished products here look like they’ve been made from patterns that have been thoroughly tested, with all the kinks ironed out.  While this may mean that, at first glance, you might think “I couldn’t make that!!”, the thoroughness with which the patterns and instructions are set out means you can be confident that you won’t be left flailing about trying to figure out what goes where and how to get from (Round) A to (Round) B.  Kreiner has used a whole range of unusual needlecraft techniques that add plenty of character to her..characters and the patterns include illustrated diagrams showing how to create the features on the characters’ faces and bodies, so that readers can authentically replicate the finished product, rather than just get an approximation.  

There is plenty of variety in terms of types of creepy critters, from the undead to the never-alive to creatures from literature and folklore.  I loved the chubby-bellied werewolf and Frankenstein’s monster, but the Zombie Dog was my absolute favourite of the lot.  I couldn’t go past his withered skin and bony ribcage and think he’d make a great little guardian for anyone who is looking for a quirky desk companion.

I have to say that I think most of the patterns in this book are more suited to experienced amigurumi crafters, due to the wide range of techniques required, as well as the fact that many of the patterns require more technique than just crocheting a couple of different body shapes and stitching them together.  The Headless Horseman uses magnets, for example, to allow his head to come on and off as the user pleases, and while these are enormously handy skills to learn, they may put beginner crafters off a little.  The up-side of this is that the end product will actually look professional and reflect the level of skill that went into making it, so if you are game to give these a try, you will have something to really show off at the end.

I would heartily recommend this to those experienced in the art of crocheting amigurumi plushies who like to dabble in the dark side…mwahahahahahaaaaa!

So what’s your favourite Halloweenish book or movie?  Tell us in the comments!

You can start by entering the Rafflecopter widget below. To experience all the games, movies, shop features, giveaway info and all around awesome fun make sure to stop by the Laughing Vixen Lounge blog HERE.

The giveaway runs October 18th – November 1st and is open worldwide to anyone 18+. 1 winner will win the Prize Pack and 1 winner will win the Scavenger Hunt Prize Pack. Laughing Vixen Lounge is responsible for all giveaway details. Click HERE for full details.

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Until next time,

Bruce (and Martha)

Finales and New Beginnings: A YA Double Dip Review…

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Today’s YA Double Dip Review will require a snack that won’t repeat on you easily because today’s books feature a fair bit of graphic gore.  We received both of today’s titles from HarperCollins Australia for review, so let’s get dipping!

First up is the conclusion to Derek Landy’s action-packed, monster-fuelled Demon Road series, American Monsters.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Bigger, meaner, stronger.

Amber closes in on her murderous parents as they make one last desperate play for power. Her own last hopes of salvation, however, rest beyond vengeance, beyond the abominable killers – living and dead – that she and Milo will have to face.

For Amber’s future lies in her family’s past, in the brother and sister she never knew, and the horrors beyond imagining that befell them.

Dip into it for…  american-monsters

…a finale that really does the series justice.  I am so glad that Landy didn’t fall into the trap of trying to draw the ending out as long as possible while attempting to eke every last ounce of readability out of the story because its an all too common tactic of authors finishing up a profitable series.  American Monsters is perfectly paced, switching between action and banter, with some excellent twists to keep the ending interesting.  The book is a reasonably quick read, which I was pleased about, and there is no faffing about introducing new characters or new plotlines that take up space. Rather, Amber and Milo get straight down to the business of hunting down her parents (with a few Astaroth-ordered stop offs along the way) while trying to figure out a way to backstab both her parents and Astaroth in one (or at the most two) easy manoeuvres.

Don’t dip if…

…you haven’t read the other books in the series.  You could probably still enjoy the action parts of the book, but as all of the characters and back story are well and truly established, you may find yourself a tad confused about what’s going on.  I myself had a bit of trouble remembering exactly who was who with a few of the bad guys and serial killers that made an appearance, and a character glossary at the beginning would have been helpful for old fogeys like me who suffer from a touch of the Old Timer’s disease.

Overall Dip Factor

I have to reiterate what a satisfying series finale this is.  It’s pacey, familiar faces turn up in unexpected places and while I did say there are no new characters to muddy the waters, there is a hitherto unmet mysterious trucker who certainly throws a few hellish spanners in the works for Amber and Milo.  There’s a lot more soul-searching going on for Amber here (although not so much that it slows the pace) as she attempts to reconcile being a demon’s servant with the more human and humane parts of herself.  The ending wraps things up nicely, while leaving the way open for a possible fourth story, but Derek Landy returning to a series after it’s obviously finished? Pfft, as if that’s likely to happen!

Next up is a story of new beginnings: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

A deeply moving portrait of a teenage girl on the verge of losing herself and the journey she must take to survive in her own skin, Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

Dip into it for… girl-in-pieces

…one part standard psychiatric hospital story, one part standard recovery story and one part interesting take on “homeless girl makes good” story.  What Glasgow has done particularly well here is the realistic depiction of the post-hospitalisation experience, in which Charlie is left on her own with no support and is expected to manage both her illness and the basic problems of life, like finding a job and somewhere to live. The short, choppy chapters, particularly at the start and towards the end of the book, reflect Charlie’s state of mind and her precarious situation. It’s obvious that Glasgow has insider knowledge about the internal conflict experienced by someone trying to recover from trauma or mental illness that swings between choosing life-affirming strategies and giving in to familiar impulses.  Charlie is a young woman who has experienced abandonment, the loss of family and friends, drug abuse, homelessness and sex trafficking before her sixteenth birthday and as a result, is left with a steep hill to climb towards a comfortable life.  Hope prevails though, surprising as that is, and Charlie keeps putting one foot in front of the other, despite being rocked by those around her.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a story bathed in sunshine and rainbows.  Even though there are some hopeful aspects to the story, overall it can come across as a pretty depressing read.  The amount of struggling that Charlie has to do just to catch a break is a bit of a downer, but once again, that’s often the reality for people on the bottom rung of society trying to climb up.  There’s also a fair amount of violence (self-harm in particular), drug use and sexual assault, so if those are topics that you’d rather steer clear of, this is definitely not the book for you.

Overall Dip Factor

While I think this is an authentic and engaging story about a traumatised young woman trying to make a go of her life against all odds, I still feel like I’ve read this all before.  Call it an occupational hazard of blogging, or the consequence of having a special interest in fiction (and particularly YA fiction) relating to mental health, but I do feel like I’ve seen this story, or versions of it, umpteen times before, in Girl, Interrupted, The Mirror World of Melody Black, The Pause, Skin and Bone, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Cracked and pretty much all of Ellen Hopkin’s work, not to mention the memoirs of Kate Richards, Sandy Jeffs, Anne Deveson and Patrick Cockburn.  If you have not delved quite as deeply as I into the realms of fiction relating to mental illness and trauma, then Girl in Pieces would probably be a good place to start, provided you are prepared for some confronting content in places.  Glasgow has left out no detail of the travails and triumphs on the road to recovery from a place of deep suffering and readers will be wishing Charlie the best of luck and all good things by the time the novel reaches its conclusion.

Have either of these titles given you an appetite for more reading?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monster McGhost-Face” Edition…

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Yep, you read that title correctly – today’s books are a selection of monstery-ghosty tomes for the young and the slightly-not-so-young-anymore.  If you are into social history, cryptids or actual genuine science, you might want to strap on your spats and saddle up as we ride on it.  Yeehah!

Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (and Thrive!) In the Real World? (Helaine Becker & Phil McAndrew)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monster science

A high quality meeting of science and mythology in which everyone’s favourite monsters are placed under the cold, hard microscope slide of fact. Kids can read up on the facts behind the myths to see if their favourite monster could exist in the real world.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a beautifully presented tome featuring a topic that most kids love to read about (monsters, of course!), covering some pretty complex scientific principles in a fun way.  I was impressed with how much detail this book provided on the hows and whys of whether a monster could actually exist.  For instance, in the first chapter on Frankenstein’s monster, the book gives information about organ transplants, the electrical workings of our brains and bodies, historical information about grave-robbing and how early doctors made discoveries, and the principles of genetic engineering.  The page spreads are colourful, and although there is a fair amount of text per page, there are also plenty of diagrams and illustrations to break things up a bit.  I would definitely recommend this to those with a mini-fleshling who loves non fiction reads, especially those filled with wacky facts.

Brand it with:

Monster mash-up; mad scientist in training; science is cool

Haunted Bridges: Over 300 of America’s Creepiest Crossings (Rich Newman)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  haunted bridges

Apparently, ghosts love bridges.  This handy tome gives an exhaustive run down on the paranormal stories and phenomena associated with specific bridges across the US.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a concise and well-formatted collection that neatly summarises social oral histories of the paranormal in localities across the US.  I will admit to being unaware of the apparently strong link between paranormal sightings and bridges, but this book certainly opened my eyes on that score.  The author is a self-confessed ghost-hunter of sorts and the aim of the book is to provide other would-be ghost hunters with some well-worn paths to tread in their pursuit of supernatural phenomena.  Happily though, the book can also be read as a collection of popular urban myths and oral histories of specific areas, as the author throws in some definite tongue-in-cheek comments throughout.  The book is divided into categories related to the content of the stories – hangings, invisible hands (this is a ghosty “thing” apparently), historical hauntings, criminal hauntings and so on – and this makes it easy to see the common motifs in stories from varied locations.  My favourite section was the “Unaccounted Oddities” chapter, which deals with bridges that have an original or bizarre story attached – a portal into hell, for instance or a unidentified monster or some sort.  If you live in the US, this would be a fun book to have handy when planning a holiday or day trip!  While these hauntings aren’t local to my area, I still found plenty in this book to draw me in and fire the imagination, as well as give me a picture of how social stories develop over time.  Recommended for when you’re feeling in a quirky, paranormal mood.

Brand it with:

Ghost crossings; unlikely travel guides; social science is cool

A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts: Encounters with Cryptid Creatures (Ken Gerhard)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  menagerie of mysterious beasts

A collection of the author’s own encounters and research on a range of cryptids.  Includes witness accounts and case studies of the same.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a fan of monster-hunting, or just have an interest in mythical creatures that may (or may not) walk (or crawl or slither or swim) among us, then this will provide an irrepressible outlet for your interest.  I DNFed this one at 12%, after the first chapter on the Minnesota Iceman because although the author claims to be approaching these sightings from a scientific angle, it is obvious that he is, in fact, not.  He makes note of the fact that his viewing of the Minnesota Iceman as a child (that is, when the author was a child, not the Iceman), was one of the events that sparked his interest in monster-hunting and it is clear that this is a man who wants to believe.  He makes links between accounts of iceman-type encounters from places as disparate as the USA and China, glosses over the highly dubious provenance of the specimen, and makes wild leaps of fancy as to how the Iceman could have made it to US soil.  As I said, if you are looking for a book on cryptids that will pique your adrenaline levels, this is probably a good choice.  If you are looking for a book that actually takes a scientific approach to the evidence on cryptids, read Darren Naish’s excellent and engaging Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths.

Brand it with:

We’re going on a cryptid hunt; the extraordinary; beyond belief

Got your monster-trapping gear ready by now? Of course you have, because I know you’ll want to track down at least one of these beauties!
Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

A Maniacal Book Club Review (and Top Book of 2016 Pick!): The Girl Who Drank the Moon…

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Well, we all agree – today’s book is a Top Book of 2016 pick!  

Bruce's Pick

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is a delightfully original fantasy tale for middle grade readers featuring dragons, swamp monsters, magic, abandoned babies and a whole lot more.  We received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley for review, but were unprepared for the complex and well-plotted story upon which we were about to embark.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
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And here’s what the Maniacal Book Club have to say on the topic…

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

If a baby is left in the forest and no one is around, will anyone hear its plaintive cries?  That depends on who you ask, according to the stories passed down in the Protectorate and the Free Cities. Perhaps it will be heard by a witch.  Perhaps a saviour.  Perhaps its heart-broken mother.  If you were to ask a Guru, he might say that a special child like Luna will always find a way to have her voice heard by the people who matter.  Even if that voice is silenced by loss and witchery.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

 

THERE IS A DRAGON IN THIS BOOK!!!!  Fyrian is the dragon and he is tiny and funny and he is Luna’s pet but before that he was Xan’s pet.  Xan is the witch and Fyrian calls her Aunty Xan.  There is a sad story about what happened to Fyrian’s family but I can’t tell you what it is because Bruce says that would be spoiling it.  Even though Fyrian is really tiny he turns out to be important in the end.  I really liked Aunty Xan too and especially Glerk.  Glerk is a swamp monster and also a poet.

I think kids who love adventure and dragons would like this book.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

Under the moon, 

in a dark, hidden forest,

a baby is taken from her home.

Under the moon, 

in a dark hidden forest, 

a girl finds a home.

Under the moon, 

in a dark, hidden forest,

a girl makes a home

in her heart.

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

It’s a tricky thing these days to find a book – in any genre, for any age group – that feels like a breath of fresh air.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon, while using some familiar themes from children’s literature, feels like it has been put together in a wholly new way.

The story is a complex mix of fantasy, family drama and socio-political tussle that plays out over the span of Luna’s young life, culminating in a satisfying finish in which the inner doubts and flaws of various characters are realised, overcome (in some cases) and incorporated into new lives, and we witness Luna’s transition to almost-adulthood.

There are a great range of original characters here, from Xan, the “witch” who does what she deems to be right despite not understanding why a certain city continues with a bizarre and seemingly useless ritual; there’s Glerk, the swamp monster who was born at the beginning of the world (or did he birth the world at the beginning?) and is Xan’s firm friend and resident poet; and Fyrian, the tiny dragon who thinks he is enormous and seems capable of nothing but pure love and joy for his odd little family.  There is also an unexpected villain (about whom I shall say no more in order not to spoil things), a desperate, grieving mother who becomes far more than the madwoman she is branded to be and a pure-hearted, and a pure-hearted ordinary man who loves a pure-hearted ordinary woman and wants nothing more than to live a peaceful life in the bosom of his family.

Reflecting on this one, I can see some underlying themes of integrity in the midst of confusion, standing up for what’s right, even if it means standing alone, and the fact that great suffering can, in some cases, find great healing, given time and the right circumstances.  While these themes aren’t laboured by the author, their inclusion gives this story depth and raises it above the level of your typical middle grade fantasy adventure.  There are real lives playing out in this world of magic, and it’s a wonderful thing for authors to trust that young readers can handle difficult topics if they are presented with authentic characters.

I highly recommend this to adult readers as well as younger ones, as the story is one that defies being labelled with a particular age-grouping.  We definitely suggest having a crack at this one if you are a fan of magic and fantasy in a context that doesn’t discount the need for characters that feel real and deep and developed.

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)