A Maniacal Book Club Review: The Frankenstein Journals…

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Allow me to bid fair morning to you, be you fleshling, stone-ish or monstrosity uncategorised.  Today the Maniacal Book Club is proud to present and discuss the soon-to-be-released middle grade novel The Frankenstein Journals by Scott Sonneborn, dealing, as it does, with the growing pains of a monster on a quest.  We were delighted to receive a digital copy of this illustrated lovely from the publisher via Netgalley – our sincerest thanks!

The Frankenstein Journals follows fourteen-year-old J.D. (John Doe) from the moment he learns that the only home he has ever known – Mr Shelley’s Orphanage for Lost and Neglected Children – is about to become his ex-abode, as Mr Shelley is no longer financially able to keep it open.  Before leaving, J. D. discovers his father’s old journal and is astounded to discover that he is the son of Frankenstein’s monster, and made up of a collection of …shall we say…recycled body parts.  Rather than being daunted by this new information, J.D. sees it as the perfect opportunity to obtain what he’s always wanted – a proper family – and resolves to seek out the descendents of those who once belonged to his parts and inform them of their tenuous biological link.  Before setting off on his quest, J.D. meets one Fran Kenstein, the daughter of the famous scientist and finds out that she too would like to meet J.D.’s family…but for reasons that are distinctly more sinister.  Now it’s a race against time, and J.D. is determined to find his long-lost cousins before Fran gets there first and sets whatever dastardly plan she has concocted into devillishly devious motion.

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Now pop in your most high-functioning spare eyeballs for the thoughts of the Maniacal Book Club!

maniacal book club toothlessToothless 

This was a fun book to read even though there were no dragons.  There were some monsters though, so that was almost as good.  In one part there’s a sports mascot convention and there’s an enormous building filled with a huge crowd of people dressed as all kinds of animals and monsters.  And then a wolf-man turns up and started slashing things.  That was my favourite bit.  I really liked J.D.  He sounds like a fun and adventurous kind of guy. Shame there were no dragons though.  Maybe there’ll be some in the next book.

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha

Being from the patchwork-monster genus myself, I found much to empathise with as I read J.D’s adventures.  And what a loveable young rogue he is, as pure of heart as any monster could feasibly be.  As usual, I have created a poem to express my enjoyment of this book.  I thought I’d branch out this time to limerickery.  Enjoy.

A lad formed from patchwork quite frightful

Met a lass with a plan truly spiteful.

He hoped for the best

and set out on a quest,

Sure his family would find him delightful!

maniacal book club guru dave

Guru Dave

Brothers and sisters, I hope with every stony fibre of my being that you grasp the message of hope that the son of Frankenstein’s monster presents to you in this book – the message that no matter how different one may be from others, by trusting in the goodness of one’s fellow wayfarers on life’s journey, a place of belonging can be found for all of us.

Heed also, my friends, the bad example of Fran Kenstein – that evil can dwell even in the hearts of the cutest teenage scientist.

 

maniacal book club bruce

Bruce

Now I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade fiction of this genre lately, and while this doesn’t quite match up to the slick, funny and original Origami Yoda series, for instance, The Frankenstein Journals has a charm all its own.  In this offering we are treated to the first two legs of J.D.’s body-part hunt (see what I did there?!), as he searches for the relations of his feet and one of his eyeballs (the green one, incidentally).  In the middle of the book there’s a sort of short recap of the first half of the story,  so I’m not sure whether the publishers originally intended on even shorter episodes, or whether they are catering to readers with short attention spans.  Either way, the plot is simple and flows from scene to scene with very little to slow the action. J.D., the main character, is so perfectly friendly and positive that you can’t help but hope for the best for his quest across continents to seek out his long lost family members. 

While the book would easily suit the interests of both genders, this will be a particular hit with boys.  In fact, I would suggest that while this is a middle grade novel, its appeal would lean toward the lower end of that age bracket, and I can certainly see confident readers around the eight to nine year old mark being thoroughly sucked in to J.D.’s silly and humorous adventures. 

What really added to the overall appeal of the book for me was the eye-poppingly colourful illustrations that appear throughout the story.  They absolutely bring J.D.’s story to life and will no doubt be very much appreciated by younger readers.  I have to say, the illustration of the “crowd scene” during the mascot convention that Toothless has already alluded to has got to be my favourite – like a Where’s Wally? of the animal kingdom, but without the distinctive bobble hat.

Our final deliberations have led us to the conclusion that this will be a hit with the monster-loving tween set, and for that reason it receives 8 thumbs up from the Maniacal Book Club.

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The Frankenstein Journals is due to be released on August the 1st.

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)

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Broken Branch Falls: A GSQ Review and Author Interview….

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Howdy pardners and welcome to another GSQ Review! Today’s book is also going to be my submission in category eight of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with wordplay in the title.  So I invite you to put your claw hand in mine as we take a stroll into the leafy suburban utopia that is…Broken Branch Falls by Tara Tyler.  Stay tuned after my review for an interview with Tara about the book and her other, equally intriguing, work.

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At Gingko High in Broken Branch Falls, every beast sticks to their stereotype – goblins are smart, ogres are sporty and stupid, and pixies play pranks.  Gabe Thorntry, is your average goblin boy (except for his ears – large, even for a goblin) and while he dreams of breaking out of his socially-approved role, he knows that this is unlikely ever to happen.  Until, that is, Gabe’s friends convince him to help pull a prank on an opposing football team.  When the prank goes slightly wrong, Gabe finds himself forced to PLAY on the Gingko High team and against all odds, he discovers that he quite enjoys taking on an ogrish activity for once.  But when it becomes obvious that Gabe’s punishment has backfired and interspecies mingling spreads like never before, the High Council make a decision that will ultimately ensure that no species strays outside its own kind – ever again.  Gabe and his friends now have to take on a seemingly insurmountable quest to retrieve the Book of Ages and prove once and for all that with a bit of cooperation, the Beasts will not fall prey to the wars that plagued humanity, and that a mixed society can be more than just a dream.
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Broken Branch Falls is a fun and original take on the dramas of fitting in and finding oneself in the social jungle of high school.  Likeable characters and plenty of incidental humour make the story very easy to fall into and a steady forward progression in the action encourages readers to keep turning the pages. The friendship story and quest saga also cleverly disguise a plot that raises plenty of questions about freedom, social responsibility, the right to choose and the origins of authority.  For a book pitched at middle graders, there’s a lot going on here, so I think Broken Branch Falls will best appeal to those who enjoy a read that balances the lighter moments with some real-life issues….even if the real-life issues are being dealt with by non-humans.
 
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Honestly, there isn’t much I could find to criticise about this book.  For a debut title in the middle grade age bracket, Tyler has got this mostly right.
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Tyler has done a great job of using familiar creatures and building an original world around them.  The alternate history in the plot, in which the humans have wiped themselves out, gives a fantastic depth to the predicament in which Gabe finds himself.  I LOVED the cheeky little touches that made the Beast World come alive, like the fun “goblin ears” hand sign – those are the touches that I feel really bring a book to life and give the characters and the world a genuine, authentic feel.  Just for interest’s sake, I am now in the process of developing a similar hand sign for gargoyles.  I’ll get back to you when it’s ready with details of the launch party.

My overall take on the book?

Broken Branch Falls is a strange mix of action, humour and brain-food, for the thinking lover of MG fantasy!

And now you can meet the brains behind the book!

Tara Tyler has had a hand at everything from waitressing to rocket engineering. After living up and down the Eastern US, she now writes and teaches math in Ohio with her three active boys and Coach Husband. Currently, she has two series, The Cooper Chronicles (techno-thriller detective capers) and Beast World (MG fantasy) She’s an adventure writer who believes every good story should have action, a moral, and a few laughs!

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Firstly, congratulations on a beast-packed romp! Did you ever consider including gargoyles in BBF?
THANK YOU!! No. There aren’t even any castles in this one, but there are in the third one – maybe a gargoyle can show up there! (my favorite gargoyles are from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame!)
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If you could have been a member of one of the beast species in BBF, which would you choose?
My first choice would be a dragon, then I could fly! I had an awesome dragon collection growing up.
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Who do you picture as the ideal reader of BBF, and what would you like them to take from it?
Middle graders or anyone who likes fantasy – I think it’s an entertaining story with a solid message behind it that you can do anything you set your mind to, and you should be able to stand up for your rights.
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Was it hard to come up with an original world for your story in such a crowded genre? And how did you think up all the little quirks, like the goblin-ears hand sign?
I feel like I live in a fantasy world… It wasn’t too hard to create this world – I started with how things are, like kids in high school and living in our world, and adapted them to the characters and setting. I tweaked our society to keep it simple and relate-able, yet unique, how they communicate, jobs, slang, etc, plus their magical specialties, and I didn’t go too far so it seemed more natural. I think epic fantasy (like the Hobbit) is much harder. That’s like starting from scratch!
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You’ve also published a novel for adults – is there a different process that you go through when writing for a younger audience?
Well, I feel a lot younger than I am, so writing younger was easy. The adult story, POP TRAVEL is definitely for a more mature audience. It’s a futuristic techno-thriller, but it’s not dark and dismally serious. I love action and adventure and humor, so those elements are in all my stories. POP TRAVEL has more mature vocabulary and situations, but I think it still appeals to a younger audience, as well. My 13 & 14 yo boys enjoyed it and they don’t like to read… I say it’s PG-13.
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Have you got any projects in the works right now that we should look out for? And will there be gargoyles appearing?
I’m hoping to have SIMULATION ready to submit in September (next book after POP TRAVEL). And I’m writing the rough draft of CRADLE ROCK (sequel to BBF in the Beast World series). Plus, in my spare time (ha!) I’m working on an anti-princess story that I’m hoping to put on youtube with storyboard animations (via my awesome illustrator) and songs! Just wish I had more time for it all! (I will have to animate a gargoyle just for you in WHEN THE WIND BLOWS, book three in Beast World)
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I really enjoyed the book as well – really original world and story.
I’m so glad you did! This is all so exciting! Thanks for your fun questions! You ROCK! (get it? gargoyle? hee hee)
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AhAAA! I see what you did there! BBF was released on June 24, so it’s hot off the press and ready for your grubby little paws to grab.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – if you’d like to find out more about this challenge, and jump on the safari bus, simply click here!

Until next time,
Bruce

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Read it if: 8-Bit Christmas….

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Today I have a belated Christmas present for all you children of the eighties and contemporary eighties revivalists – the gem of nostalgic goodness that is Kevin Jakubowski’s 8-Bit Christmas.  I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review – thanks!

8-Bit Christmas is an epic roller coaster of a tale revolving around nine-year-old Jake Doyle and his soul-crushing, arm-twisting, sister-enlisting quest to get the brand new Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas, 1987.  Only one kid in Jake’s town has the power that comes with owning an NES (coincidentally, the richest and most spoilt kid in town) and he wields this power by forcing the neighbourhood kids to beg, borrow or steal their way into his house on a Saturday morning in the vain hope of securing a few minutes playing time.  After a tragic (and messy) event during one of these Saturday morning sessions, the parents of Jake’s town ban the purchasing of Nintendo systems, and the successful completion of Jake’s quest suddenly seems a lot less likely.  Cue Jake’s sister and her comparably crippling desire for a Cabbage Patch Doll, the collected baseball card resources of Batavia’s kid population and a whole lot of wishin’, hopin’ and prayin’ and Jake may just find that Christmas wishes do come true!   Or maybe not.  You’ll have to read to find out.

8 bit christmasRead it if:

* you’ve ever felt the keen, incisor-sharp sense of desperation for some new-fangled consumer product that is woefully beyond your ability to attain

* you’ve ever known the pain of having to kowtow to some jumped up little snot in your class/neighbourhood/(dare I say it) family in order to experience some tiny sliver of the joy that comes from owning the aforementioned new-fangled consumer product

* you were a kid in the 80s or are currently experiencing a sense of faux-stalgia for a time period in which you were not born, but feel you know due to the proliferation of pop culture references currently doing the rounds on the interwebs

*you can’t go past a book that so expertly conjures up the atmosphere of your own childhood, that you feel that you probably actually knew the author as a kid, but have somehow forgotten

I LOVED this book.  Jakubowski has somehow managed to reach through a wormhole and pull out the sights, sounds and yearnings of kids in the late eighties.  The pop culture references are spot on.  The descriptions of the social pecking order and the factors that really influence kid friendships are flawless.  It is a fantastic read.  If you were a child in this time period, particularly if you were a boy and especially if you know, deep in your heart, the excitement and desire created by Nintendo at this time, I daresay you will thoroughly enjoy this book.

If you are a child (or teen) TODAY, with any kind of interest in toys, gaming and pop culture of yore, I suspect you will also thoroughly enjoy this book.  Jakubowski has written this with such kid-knowledge, that even contemporary kids will recognise the importance of Jake’s quest and relate to the difficulties of getting one over on the adults to attain the object of your desire.

But the best bit is the ending.  I had already rated it a five-star read in my mind before I got to the ending. The ending pushed me over into the elusive (and some say mythical) territory of the six star review.  And I’m not telling you what happens.  But you should read it.

Until next time,

Bruce

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