Bruce’s MG Reading Round-Up: The “Quite Frightening…ly Good” Edition…

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Welcome, welcome, welcome to another Reading Round-Up (do you feel welcome?)!  Today we are going to encircle a collection of titles for the middle grade age group that are high on humour and jolly good fun.  And zombies and deadly necklaces and mummies and other slightly frightening stuff.  But I’m sure you’re up for the challenge, a brave thing like you!  Saddled up?  Let’s crack on!

Firalphabet soup challenge 2016st up we have Zombified: Outbreak by C.M. Grey, being the third book in the humorous Zombified series.  We gratefully received a copy from Harper Collins Australia for review and wish to offer them our ongoing warm feelings because they provided us with a book to fulfill the “Z” criteria of our Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge!  What a weight off our collective minds!

Zombified: Outbreak (C.M. Grey)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

zombified

Ben, twelve-year-old half-zombie, has his powers under control and life seems to be carrying on as normal, until his older brother, Michael, disappears, leaving nothing but his game machine and a cloud of glitter in his wake. When Ben and Sophie start to investigate, little do they realise that they are about to uncover some secrets that will blow their understanding of zombie issues right out of the water!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a fun, adventure-filled zombie romp speckled with illustrations throughout and featuring some larger-than-life (or undeath) characters.  I have been keeping an eye on this series as books have been published but this is the first I’ve managed to pick up.  The back story is briefly explained and I found that I didn’t have any trouble picking up the thread of the story or the characters.  Ben is a super-likable young lad who just seems to want to get on with his half-life and keep outsiders’ knowledge of his “condition” to a minimum.  Sophie is a stalwart friend and I really enjoyed the loyalty that they show each other, even in situations where it may be in the best interests of each to cut ties with the other.  It’s refreshing to see a boy-girl friendship taking centre stage in an age bracket that is often plagued by “boy book” and “girl book” characterisation.  While this was a pretty amusing adventure, with some classic reveals, I think  it is one that will be best enjoyed by the target market, rather than adult readers of middle grade.  Having said that, I think I will be taking some time to seek out the first book in the series to see how Ben ended up as a half-zombie because he’s certainly personable (zombie-able?) enough to make me want to go back for another bite.

Brand it with:

Aaargh! Half Zombies!; Suspicious school staff; Family Secrets

Next up we have Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp, which we received with some trepidation from Bloomsbury Australia for review.  If you have chanced upon our review of the first in the series, Anyone But Ivy Pocket, you will understand from whence our trepidation sprang (sprung? springed?).

Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket (Caleb Krisp)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

somebody stop ivy pocket

Ivy Pocket is working for a pair of unsightly undertakers, reading poems for the about-to-be-deceased to ease them on their way. When Ivy’s necklace shows her images of Rebecca (the supposedly dead), Ivy must try to puzzle out a way into a whole new world and stage a rescue.

Muster up the motivation because…

…it might surprise you to hear, given our rather frosty reception of the series-opener, that I found this book considerably more tolerable than the first.  I will even admit to letting out a few guffaws at Krisp’s pointy, pointy dialogue.  While the inherently irritating Ivy is still up to all her old tricks, they didn’t seem quite so insufferable this time around.  I suspect that the story, which involves some very shady funeral directors, was closer to my preferred narrative in middle grade books.  Having said that, I still couldn’t say that I really enjoyed the book.  Ivy’s inability to take obvious hints with regards to major plot twists was still too infuriating to be borne.  There is something about the character of Ivy that is a bit like Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean.  Watching that television show was like watching a car crash in slow motion: everyone but the protagonist could see the outcome, but were powerless to stop it and forced to endure every agonizingly awful second of it.  Except I got many more laughs out of Mr Bean than I have from Ivy.  I suspect that Ivy and I are just too different to be friends.  Still, the lass is getting plenty of love from other quarters so don’t let my curmudgeonly attitude put you off.

Brand it with:

Social ineptitude; Deadly bling; Underhanded Undertakers

Finally, we have a super-engaging encyclopaedia of the damned, of a sort.  We received a copy of Frightlopedia: An Encyclopedia of Everything Scary, Creepy and Spine-Chilling, from Arachnids to Zombies by Julie Winterbottom and Rachel Bozek from the publisher via Netgalley.

Frightlopedia (Julie Winterbottom & Rachel Bozek)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

frightlopedia

Frightlopedia is an easy-to-read collection of a diverse range of scary stuff. From vampires and zombies to bizarre burial practices and creepy insects, Frightlopedia has you covered if you are in the mood for learning about things that go bump (or slither or boo) in the night.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is actually a really well put-together, informative and fun non fiction text.  Far from being a “kid’s book”, I found myself drawn in to some of the interesting entries, such the monastery whose crypt contains the perfect conditions to naturally mummify corpses so tourists can wander through and have a look.  There are cryptids, bizarre buildings, deathly illnesses and nasty humans to explore and learn about and it’s all set out in an enticing format. Entries are organised alphabetically and there are plenty of absorbingly creepy topics to get one’s teeth into.  Each topic is addressed in one to two pages, accompanied by illustrations or photographs, and some topics even include an activity for kids to complete so that the frights keep on coming.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this book and would highly recommend it to the  little creepy kid  fan of frightful happenings of your acquaintance.  It would make a fantastic gift book or the perfect tool to quieten kids down in the classroom!

Brand it with:

Boo-tiful Books; Learning Made Creepy; Faces and Places (you don’t want to meet)

I hope you’ve found something in this lot of frighteningly good middle grade titles and have duly lassoed at least one to drag home to your reading pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during…The Casquette Girls!

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Shouty Doris interjectsShouty Doris and I would like to welcome you to another tag-team review, this time for a three-quarters intriguing, one-quarter dragging new release YA novel.  We received The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden from the publisher via Netgalley.  It’s a book that nearly made my Top Books of 2015 list for originality and a cracking tale, but by the end, I opted to leave it off the TB2015 and just recommend it to you as an exciting story with familiar themes but some quite intriguing ways of expressing them.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Seven girls tied by time.
Five powers that bind.
One curse to lock the horror away.
One attic to keep the monsters at bay.

After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne wants nothing more than her now silent city to return to normal. But with home resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.

As the city murder rate soars, Adele finds herself tangled in a web of magic that weaves back to her own ancestors. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, who can she trust when everyone has a secret and keeping them can mean life or death? Unless . . . you’re immortal.

casquette girlsI was initially drawn to this title because of its setting in “Post-Storm” New Orleans.  The catastrophic event that was Hurricane Katrina is as mesmerising as it is heartbreaking.  It appears that publishers have decided that the “too-soon” period has passed, as there seem to be a number of YA titles around at the moment that are set in New Orleans in the close aftermath of the hurricane.  The added bonus of a magic curse or family secret alluded to in the blurb just sweetened the deal and for the first few chapters I was riveted by Adele’s cautious return to the remnants of her hometown.

Shouty Doris interjects

Riveted, were you? 

Not at all concerned about this young woman’s safety then!  What kind of person would bring their 16 year old daughter into a lawless, foodless, shelter-less disaster zone,  just because the girl begs to return? Shocking parenting, if you ask me. 

Well, yes, I will admit to a little bit of disbelief at the apparent lunacy of returning to a place with no electricity, scarce food, hardly any security, no school and a primary place of residence that any ordinary person would consider to be structurally unsound.  But I pushed past this minor quibble and got caught up in the weird goings-on that materialise around Adele – there’s a bird attack, a very creepy incident with an old convent…and the fact that corpses keep turning up in non-Storm-related circumstances.  Just as I was getting into the story however, one of my pet peeves turned up: unnecessary romance.Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t mind at all when those handsome young lads turned up.  Lovely European manners, too!

Now come on Doris,  you knew they were going to be trouble as soon as they appeared.

Shouty Doris interjectsWell, boys will be boys now, won’t they?

Well, as it turns out, boys will be…..actually that would be a major spoiler.  Essentially, a number of handsome (of course – why can’t they just be ordinary looking?) young men turn up to vye for Adele’s attention and apart from fulfilling some major plot points, generally end up slowing everything down as we are subjected to your typical swooning girl/smarmy-but-drop-dead-gorgeous-older guy/disgruntled-initial-suitor-who-would-be-a-much-better-fit-for-the-female-protagonist-but-has-temper-issues attraction triangle.  Bummer. 

Just as I thought the magic/paranormal part of the story would start rolling along, we are introduced to the diary of  Adeline Saint-Germaine – a young French girl who has some unspecified connection to Adele and the odd circumstances surrounding her return to New Orleans.  Cue historical fiction interludes!  I quite enjoyed this unexpected jaunt into the strangely similar events of a couple of centuries pre-Adele, but again, after a while I felt that these sections also slowed the pace of the book and made it seem much longer than it needed to be.

Shouty Doris interjectsDon’t forget all the French.  It’s je suis this, and croissant that all the way through.  It’s a wonder I could make out any of the story at all!  Honestly, the book should have come with a cautionary sticker: Only attempt this book if you have studied French at tertiary level.

Hmmm. Yes.  I agree there is quite a bit of French language scattered throughout – appropriately enough, given the story’s setting and the fact that Adeline Saint-Germaine and her cohorts are French – but this may be a bit annoying if you are reading the book in print format.  Luckily, I was reading on the Kindle so the translation function got a good workout.

French aside, by the halfway mark in the book there are a number of parallel storylines playing out with plenty of secrets left to be uncovered.  By this stage I was still certain that this would end up being one of my Top Books of 2015, but by two thirds of the way through, it just…

I just…

Shouty Doris interjectsSpit it out. While we’re young. Or some of us, anyway.

That’s just it!  By two thirds of the way through, I wanted the book to be over.  I was ready for the action-packed climax, wherein all the twisty turns were explained and Adele and her friends set themselves to the task of ridding their fair city of the curse that plagues it.  Instead, I got more drawn-out interludes between Adele and both lots of handsome young men that seemed hardly believable, given the fact that the one she likes most is….dangerous.

Shouty Doris interjectsI agree.  Despite ol’ Mr Handsome-Pants’ suave European romancing, I think young Adele is far too intelligent to fall for his life-threatening charms.  But then again, the authors these days have to put SOMETHING in to keep the young ladies reading books instead of shutting themselves away on the Tweeter all day.  A bit of descriptive courting is sure to draw them in.

*muffled giggling from the younger shelf-denizens*

My dislike of romance (especially gratuitous romance) is well known and the amount of simply unbelievable romance bits in this book really brought my enjoyment level down by the end.  I can’t help but thinking if a lot of these sections were more tightly edited, the pace of the book would have benefitted immensely.

On the whole though, this is a complex tale with action, magic, paranormal elements, historical fiction and some standard contemporary-teen problems, all wrapped up in a highly engaging setting and brought to life with the help of some extremely colourful characters, almost all of whom are not who they appear to be.  Despite my decision to ultimately not add this to my TB2015 list, it’s still a cracking and fascinating read that will keep you hooked – provided you don’t mind a bit of teenaged mooning over handsome Europeans.

Shouty Doris interjects

Don’t forget the doe-eyes.  Or the illegal hooch. 

Which reminds me, it’s time for my afternoon snifter. 

It’s ten in the morning, Doris.

Shouty Doris interjectsIf anyone wants me, I’ll be in the drawing room.

That’s the door to the bathroom, Doris.  Doris?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Scaling Mount TBR with some Irish MG Fiction: Brilliant…

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imageYes!

Believe it!

I have managed to knock another tome from atop the teetering peaks of Mount TBR!

Today I present to you Brilliant by Roddy Doyle, a delightfully Irish bit of middle grade fiction, dealing with depression – both psychological and economic – and its insidious effects, with a touch of magical realism. I spotted this one a while back and was taken in by its enticing cover and promise of mental health related content. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Uncle Ben’s Dublin business fails, it’s clear to Gloria and Raymond that something is wrong. He just isn’t his usual cheerful self. So when the children overhear their granny saying that the Black Dog has settled on Ben’s back and he won’t be OK until it’s gone, they decide they’re going to get rid of it. Gathering all their courage the children set out on a midnight quest to hunt down the Black Dog and chase it away. But they aren’t the only kids on the mission. Loads of other children are searching for it too, because the Black Dog is hounding lots of Dublin’s adults. Together – and with the help of magical animals, birds and rodents – the children manage to corner the Black Dog …but will they have the courage and cleverness to destroy the frightening creature?

brilliant

Regular followers of this blog would know that I adore a good bit of UK fiction, and if it’s aimed at a young audience, then that’s even more reason to rejoice. It’s not often though, that I come across an Irish fiction novel that is so quintessentially Irish. Prepare yourselves now for stereotypically twee cooing over the wonderfulness of the Irish and their Irishness.

I could not help laughing and laughing at the dialogue in this book. Not because it’s hysterically funny, but because it’s so delightfully, drolly, mirthful. Observe this exchange between the protagonists’ parents (and their granny, chipping in alzheimically at the end):

“Is there anything worth watching on telly?”

“Your man is on.”

“Who?”

“That fella who used to be on the other thing. That fella with the hair. You know him.”

“I don’t.”

“Ah, you do.”

“I don’t. What about his hair?”

“It’s not his. It’s a rug.”

“Oh, him?”

“Who?”

“I’m not watching him.”

“Who?”

P23

Honestly, it’s just brilliant. And obviously, I had the whole story narrated by Ardal O’Hanlon in my head which upped the mirthfulness by the power of one million. If they don’t get Ardal O’Hanlon to voice the audio book, it will be a travesty.

In fact the linguistic patterns of English-speakers in Dublin are key to the plot of this book. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that as a reader with a non-preference for magical realism, the magical realism in this book is deftly done.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit with this review, but I suspect it’s the lingering after-effects of reading this book. It really is a surreal adventure that will have your head spinning by the end with the wonder of it.

And the silliness of it.

And the seriousness of it.

And the brilliant Irishness of it.

It’s even got a real life vampire.

Brilliant.

I’d definitely recommend this to any readers of middle grade fiction looking for something with a voice all its own.

Although I wouldn’t recommend choosing it as a read-aloud unless you’re proficient in the accent of a Dubliner.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Graphic Novel Read-it-if Review: Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer…

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Cheerio all – today I have a little graphic gem that also happens to be a reimagining of the well-known story of Pinocchio, he of the honesty-related nose tumours.  Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer  by Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins, in the complete edition presented here, is a hefty, action-packed, beautifully drawn retelling of the original tale, with added monsters.  If you’re a fan of graphic novels that take more than fifteen minutes to flick through, this may well be the one for you.

When Pinocchio’s town is invaded by mysterious, deadly vampires, he makes the serendipitous discovery that a nose that grows when you lie can also be harnessed to produce pointy stakes on demand – stakes that can then be used to have at those nasty undead monsters!  Armed with nothing but the truth and a stake-producing schnoz, Pinocchio and his friends Master Cherry and Fairy Carpenella vow to travel together until the vampire menace is eradicated.  Along the way they’ll face tragdy, friends-turned-foe, a puppet army of reinforcements, a potential romantic relationship and a little bit of magic.  He may not be a real boy, but Pinocchio could well turn out to be a hero.

pinocchio vampire slayerRead it if:

* you’ve ever serendipitously come across a hitherto undiscovered function for an under-utilised body part

* you associate fluffy bunnies with a sense of impending doom

* you are of the opinion that being a magical, sentient, vampire-slaying puppet outweighs being a real boy any day of the week

* you can’t resist a familiar tale that has been spruced up by the addition of a famous beast of myth

Let me start by saying that while this tale didn’t pan out quite as I expected it to, based on the cover and blurb, I really enjoyed it and found myself engrossed in the toils of Pinocchio and friends.  As has happened quite often over the course of my “Fairy Tale Makeovers Review Series”, I became aware of the fact that I have a very sketchy memory of the original tale, so I can’t comment on how the addition of vampires enhanced or ruined the story.  I will say however, that the book provides a very comprehensive (and enlightening) foreword explaining how this particular incarnation of the story is faithful to the original tale.  The first few pages also display a basic retelling of the original story to bring readers up to speed on how vampires have come to inhabit an originally vampire-free fairy tale.

The story was originally released as a trilogy which has been collected here in this complete edition.  I was only able to access half to two-thirds of the book through Netgalley due to the file size, but I found it a very satisfying reading (and viewing) experience.  The artwork is of the traditional comic/cartoon style and the frames are really well formatted and designed – one gripe I have with graphic novels, especially in digital form, is the fact that sometimes there’s too much text in certain frames or the text is too small or something of the sort, requiring a great deal of concentration to follow.  I’m happy to report that I experienced no such drama here and I was able to immerse myself in the art and narrative as quickly as my download speed would allow. (Which incidentally wasn’t very fast…I’d suggest getting this – or any other graphic novel – in print).  Here’s an example for you…

pvs_2monsterminator

As far as the story goes, there was a great mix of humour, action, intrigue and vampire-slaying.  There was also a tiny bit of potential romance, which rounded the story out nicely and gave a bit of realism to Pinocchio’s desire to become human.  The puppet army was a really interesting development to the story and ratcheted the action and humour up at an opportune time, but the stars of the tale for me were the Rabbits of Ill-Portent – a quartet of furry doom-sayers that turned up unexpectedly an injected a bit of a giggle swathed in impending destruction.  Here they are in action:

rabbits of ill portent

Overall, I found this to be a surprisingly engaging read.  I should point out that the surprising part relates to my surprise at how engrossing I found the story, given that it was in graphic novel format – not because I thought it wasn’t going to be any good.  I recommend you have a look if you’re a fan of retellings that feature a bit of monster-mayhem but also hold their own in the “good narrative” stakes.

Until next time,

Bruce

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