A Middle-Grade Historical Double Dip: Cave Boys and Gods of the Greeks…

0

image

Salty snacks at the ready for another Double-Dip review!  Today I’ve got a pair of titles suitable for the middle-grade bracket that will appeal particularly to lovers of history and ancient myth and legend.  I suspect that, while both books will be enjoyed by girls and boys, these two titles are skewed a little toward the boyish end of the market.  But let’s plunge in!

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age by David Zeltser is an illustrated prehistoric romp centering around a caveboy who just wants to Lug paint caves while the other caveboys bash small furry animals on the head with rocks.  When Lug and village weirdie Stony are banished from the tribe for failing to catch a jungle llama in the tribe’s Biggest Beast catching tournament, Lug thinks that he is doomed to wander the wilderness being a bit odd, like Crazy Crag.  After stumbling upon a rival tribe, Lug and Stony befriend Echo, a girl who has her own troubles fitting in with her people, her little brother Hamhock, and a friendly Mammoth, Woolly.  Together the group sets off to win their way back into Lug’s tribe – but little do they know that very soon, they will soon be facing a much greater challenge: trying to save their people from a rapidly changing climate (and its associated migrating sabre-toothed tigers).  Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age is a story about making friends, standing up for yourself, and the triumph of the little guy in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Dip into it for…

…plenty of humour, quirky illustrations and some cheeky takes on modern life reflected in a stone-aged context.  Despite appearances, this is a book that has a lot of heart and is trying to convey some complex messages about societal and environmental change in a way that’s accessible for younger readers.  There’s a nice spread of characters here too, so both boys and girls should find someone that they can relate to within its pages.

Don’t dip if…

…you want a quick read.  While this looks like it might be a book that you could knock over in one or two short sittings, there’s actually a lot going on.  There’s the initial storyline featuring Lug and his tribe and the Biggest Beast catching competition which results in Lug’s banishment.  Then there’s a section in which Lug and Echo meet and devise a plan to get Lug reinstated into his tribe, and finally there’s a whole new storyline about the encroaching environmental dangers to the humans in the story.  This last storyline pops up rather late in the piece, so at the point where I was expecting the story to wind down, a new major plot point was just beginning.  This may be off-putting for some if they are hoping for a reasonably short read.

Overall Dip Factor:

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age is packed with the sort of quirky humour that many kids in the target audience enjoy.  The illustrations are done in a cave-painting style and are a nice addition to the book.  As an adult reader I didn’t enjoy this as much as the target audience should, but having said that, there are plenty of issues raised in the book that could start some robust discussion between young people and their adults – issues such as the concept of climate change and peoples’ responses to it, and how to balance competing ideas about what to do in the face of impending danger.  There’s also a nice theme about leadership running through the story that would provide a nice launching point in the classroom for teaching about leadership styles.

Next up we have Hades Speaks!: A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead by Vicky Alvear Shecter and J. E. Larson.

In the vein of the Horrible Histories series, this fictional non-fiction tome is narrated by Hades, the Greek god of the dead as he takes the reader on a little tour of his Underworld kingdom.  Beginning with a quick overview of who he is and how he fits into the Ancient Greek pantheon, Hades quickly turns to more pressing matters, such as the importance of funerary rites and what to bring with you if you want to get across the river Styx and enter the fields of Elysium.  Along the way the reader will be introduced to the happy-to-let-you-in-but-unwilling-to-let-you-out guard beast, Cerberus, Hade’s part-time wife Persephone, and become privy to a whole range of stories about others who dwell in the Underworld, or who have attempted to breach its walls.  Stick close to Hades, pay close attention to his counsel, and you may just make it out of the Underworld alive!

Dip into it for… hades speaks

…a particularly thorough and cerebral take on Ancient Greek mythology for an upper-middle-grade audience.  I was surprised at the level at which this book was pitched – I was expecting something more along the lines of the Horrible Histories series, with cartoonish illustrations and a highly visual format, but the book follows a fairly standard format with page or double-page spread illustrations appearing between chapters.  The book actually goes into a fair bit of detail, recounting relevant myths about each part of the Underworld, and giving a very detailed overview of how Hades and the Underworld fit into the lives of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re a struggling reader.  In my opinion, this book would be best tackled by confident readers who have an interest in myths and legends, because even as an adult reader I felt that there was a lot of information to take in.  The book does have a glossary at the end, but I imagine it could be quite tricky for the uninitiated to take in all the detail, even given the modern references and Hades’ sarky style of narration.

Overall Dip Factor:

This would be a great addition or companion book for those interested in Ancient Greek mythology, or for those who are looking for a way to get historical information into the hands of middle-graders in a palatable way.  The whole vibe of the book suggests to me that it would best suit the upper end of the middle grade bracket, or even those in the younger YA set who are looking for an alternative to straight fiction.  The illustrations are stark (but stunning!) detailed black and white line drawings that really add to the impression that these are “serious” myths – ones that have shaped Western culture and literature.  As an adult reader, I found it to be a succinct but detailed introduction to Hades and the Underworld, with a narrative style that really leant authenticity to the concept of touring the Underworld.  I’d certainly recommend this book to confident young readers who like to indulge their intellectual appetites through myth and legend.

Have either of these titles whetted your appetite? I hope so! I’m going to submit BOTH of these to the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge in category four: a book with someone’s name in the title.  If you’d like to know more about the challenge, or sign up (there’s still time!), simply click this delightful little button:

small fry
Until next time history buffs,

Bruce

*I received a digital copy of Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review*

*I received a digital copy of Hades Speaks from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

ARC Read-it-if Review: Last God Standing…

2

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but finally today I have for you a review of the finest book about god-wars and stand up comedy I have read in the whole of this year, Last God Standing by Michael Boatman.  I was luckyenough to unexpectedly wrangle a copy for review from Angry Robot books – thanks!

Last God Standing follows everyman and stand-up comedian, Lando Cooper, as he struggles with all the problems inherent in being the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition attempting to reside in a mortal, human guise.  As if regular human problems such as nagging parents and relationship dramas weren’t enough, Lando is coming under consistent attack from other disgruntled deities who seem to have tapped into some extra divine power.  After being warned about a mysterious being called The Coming who appears to wish Lando and all of humanity nothing but ill, things begin to spin out of control and (human) life as he knows it starts falling apart.  How, in His name, is he going to keep his parents and girlfriend happy, save the earth while trapped in a human body AND make it as a stand up comedian without going crazy? Well it ain’t my job to tell you – you’ll have to read the book.

last god standing

Read it if:

* you have ever felt that you should, in fairness, have been blessed with some kind of divine power in order to make up for the fact that your parents are certifiable – as in, riding around on an ostrich to advertise their small business certifiable

* you’re the type that loves to hop on to any new spiritual fad, while simultaneously denouncing your most recent spiritual fad for screwing up your chi/karma/angel guide dog/spiritual GPS/(insert spiritual-ish term here)

* you have ever thought that awkward, messy or otherwise unsavoury experiences should come with an internal reset function

* you’re the kind of person who lives for the “Boss Battles” in level-grinding games – just to reassure yourself that what you have always suspected about yourself is true – that you are, in fact, a god in the body of a mortal

Alrighty.  Last God Standing was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  The author, Michael Boatman, is a well known actor who has appeared on many shows that I have not seen.  His face is a bit familiar though.  Regardless, going into this without any expectations about the sort of comedy he might write was probably a plus I think.

There are a number of things about this book that I really enjoyed – Lando was a really likeable narrator and the other characters in the book are all pretty well fleshed out.  There’s also a nice mix of crazy deities and arguably crazier humans that brings a nice bit of variety to the situations that Lando finds himself embroiled in.    I particularly liked Lando’s inner voice, Connie (or Constant) who is the representation of a Native American Indian goddess (of the Navajo people, apparently)  known as Changing Woman.  I admit to having no knowledge whatsoever of Native American Indian deities, of Navajo origin or otherwise, but Boatman’s writing of this particular representation was fun and added a lot to plot twists that would otherwise have seen Lando monologuing a lot about his actions.  If you’ve read any of my reviews on Goodreads lately, you’ll know that excessive monologuing is currently one of my pet hates.  So a win for Boatman!

I was surprised how much I enjoyed what I’ve termed the Boss Battles in the story.  As mentioned, Lando has a number of encounters with deities of once-great religions (Zeus, Dionysus, and even Hannibal – who, while not a deity, does come equipped with a show-stealing quartermastodon named Persi) which involve a lot of action and whacking with sharp weapons and carnage and humiliating defeat.  Normally I’m not a big fan of long action sequences in books, but these really drew me in, possibly due to the amusing banter that went on alongside all the hacking and slashing and quartermastodon headbutting and so on.

There were a few things that did drag this down for me.  Well, not a few, specifically one thing. And that was the middle of the book.  I do not in any way wish to imply that nothing happens, or that the story drags or anything like that in the middle.  Essentially, I didn’t like it because things just get weird.  A whole lot of stuff started happening that seemed to come out of the blue and unless I applied great focus and concentration while reading, I had a tendency to lose the thread of what was going on.  Now towards the end of the middle, this became something of a problem, because there are certain things that happen at this point in the story that directly contribute to the climax.  So I found myself having to go back a bit and re-read in order to fully get a handle on the events at the most exciting point of the book.  At one point, I even considered putting the book down because it was all getting too confusing….

…BUT I’m glad I didn’t, because I REALLY liked the ending.  Somehow, after a spate of weirdness in the middle, things suddenly righted themselves and the last few chapters ended up being really quite exciting.  I really enjoyed the reveal – finding out about the nefarious being known as The Coming, finding out who was behind it, who was supporting it, how Lando was going to save us all from some very unpleasant business – and by the end, I didn’t want to put the book down.  Again, a win for Boatman!

So while there were a few blips on the “this book isn’t for me” radar, when looking back on it a few weeks after finishing it, I am pleased to find that there is a little feeling of fondness for Last God Standing.  In all honesty, I don’t think this book will be for everyone, but if you enjoy a bit of comedy, a bit of divinity, a bit of gratuitous carnage and some general silliness in your reading, I would recommend giving this one a go.

Last God Standing is due for publication on the 25th of March.

Until next time,

Bruce

TumblrButton

Follow on Bloglovin

my read shelf:
Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)