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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows
Format: Hardcover|Change
Price:$6.98+ $3.59 shipping

on January 15, 2012
Before I begin my review, I thought I might take the time to state that I'm having a particularly difficult time reviewing "Spartacus: Circus of Shadows", as a children's book. If I had children, as a parent, I'd have a rough time letting my child under the age of 14 read a book that teaches us all the valuable life lessons of mistrusting everyone, how to tell the perfect lie, when it's justifiable to steal from your brother, when it's okay to use the "s" word in front of your dad (three times), and how not to preform a seance. "Spartacus" doesn't just leave it at that, but it also repeatedly uses the word "crap", various forms of the word "crap", and various times to use the word "crap", with one count of the "a" word, and one count of using the words "goddamn." I can track an extremely extensive and boring list of inappropriate moments in which this book displays, and in some cases, almost promotes, starting with the main character's whiny and juvinille behavior, which completely vaporizes any sympathy I could have had for him, but then I'd never get around to actually reviewing the book itself.

The most I can say is, Molly Johnson is off to a start. At first I thought I was trudging through a mind numbing, poorly written conspiracy theory, thought up by that of a young boy named Spartacus, who is paranoid of the fact that his mother may have been kidknapped by the circus. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the story itself due to a few unexpected twists which gave "Spartacus" a jump start of zany, wild, dizzy, drizzled in fun, kick to life. Spartacus Ryan Zander's tale moves along smoothly and swiftly at a breakneck pace, with a plethora of off-beat, wacky weirdos, acting as the vessells which keep this story moving. Spartacus is picked up by a tough-as-nails biker who may or may not by a murderer, a couple of psychotic old women on the run from the law, a trio of gothic teenagers with an Othello complex, a circus sideshow, and many more. Each new character he meets on his road trip contributing to the plot in unique, and sometimes even surprising ways. I'd say by the point the plot began to pick up, and reveal itself bit by bit, the tension, and the twists were enough to pull what I almost immediately expected to be complete flop into a worthwhile adventure.

But, Ms Johnson needs to do a lot of reconstructing. It's too innaproppriate for children with its profanity, and blatant promotion of immoralities (though I don't think the intended it.) And it's too juvinille for adults by featuring a whinny title character I can't bring myself to sympathize or relate with, and its constant returns to toilet humor for comic releif. It really isn't a bad start. And there is plenty of fun to be had. But it doesn't really target any age group particularly well.
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on January 11, 2013
This is a fantastic book for kids or adults alike-however my copy is mysteriously missing pages 97-128. It's bound and printed perfectly, but the pages just aren't there. Weird.
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on May 11, 2012
The combination of the name Spartacus and the idea of a "circus of shadows" certainly speaks of great adventure, laughs, and thrills. And Molly Johnson's debut novel proves to be just that. Taking her thirteen-year-old protagonist on a wild journey across the Western US, with her story Molly provides everything that her title promises.

The story all begins when Spartacus' mom goes missing. Except according to the note she left, she's simply run away with the Circus. But Spartacus doesn't believe that his hair-brained, slightly crazy mother would just abandon him for the circus without saying good-bye, and when postcards with hidden messages inside them start arriving (messages that say "help" and "come get me"), Spartacus knows what he has to do: he has to hunt down Bartholomew's Circus (which after a quick internet search seems to be a hot bed of crime and mystery) and rescue his mother.

It was so refreshing to read a middle grade piece with a great protagonist, great humor, great adventure, and no magic. Now don't get me wrong: I love fantasy. But it's nice every once in a while to pick up a book that could so easily be magical, and then find that the story works perfectly well without anything at all magical happening. Spartacus embarks on a crazy, hitch-hiking journey across the western US in search of the circus, and while he runs into a slew of odd characters--some scarier than others--they are all just normal people. Even the circus characters, just as wacky as circus people should be, are at their core, just normal people too. The only magic this story needed was the circus, and the imagination and tenacity of its main character.

Spartacus himself was perhaps the best part of this book. Self-conscious about his name--he prefers to go by his middle name, Ryan--tortured by his older brother, misunderstood by his father, he's not your average idea of a hero. But he's got courage, and that counts for a lot. At thirteen, armed only with a backpack full of granola bars, a flash light, and a two-button suit, Spartacus ventures forth into the world with only the help of his best friend (who's at computer camp at the time).

A great story, and a great read. I'm excited to see what Molly does next.
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on September 7, 2012
If the wonderfully illustrated cover wasn't enough to get you to pick up "Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows," surely the plot will. From the very first page, you are thrown into the crazy world Spartacus finds himself in after deciding to rescue his mother from the circus that kidnapped her.

The author manages to keep the main character grounded and believable despite all the outrageous things that happen to him. It's definitely a fun adventurous ride. There were some subplots that dragged the pace. The story would have felt less frustrating without them.

Also as a Portlander, I enjoyed "visiting" the places I was familiar with (here and around Oregon)- especially when Spartacus found himself in a library.

I didn't like the ending. I don't want to give anything away but it just felt unfinished. In that sense, I guess the book is a great reflection on life- that we don't always get what we expect. With that being said, if there were additional stories featuring Spartacus, his mom, and some of the other characters, I wouldn't mind reading them.

I'm not a reviewer or anything, but I wanted to support this book to support local talents- from the author Molly E. Johnson, illustrator Robin E. Kaplan, and publisher RainTown Press. So when Molly gave away copies on her Facebook page for review purposes, I jumped on the chance. I also enjoyed seeing how writers were employing social media to reach out to readers.
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on April 11, 2012
From the first lines of the prologue alone, I was hooked on Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows!

"A clown can be a scary thing. And a clown posing as a cop can be even scarier. And a mob of clown cops? Let me tell you--you haven't experienced real fear until you've been chased and cornered by a mob of pale, grinning clown cops."

Who wouldn't feel compelled to read on??? Regardless of your stance on clowns, this book is full of humor, adventure, suspense, and important life lessons. It is a great opportunity to talk about common sense, trust (and mistrust!), and perceptions (whether accurate or not) of the people we encounter in our lives. Spartacus Ryan "Poop Lip" Zander is a uniquely real character and the twists and turns in this book, though outrageous at times, reflect that genuineness. I think many middle schoolers,especially, can relate to Spartacus. He is awkward and unsure of himself and feels unheard. Although his adventure is one of a kind (I hope!!!), the humanity within the situation is very relatable. The adventure just puts it out there in a hilarious way.

I am impressed by Molly Johnson's first novel and hope there is much more to come! I highly recommend this book to 5th graders and beyond. I have passed it on to several adults too!
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on February 9, 2012
I loved this book and I laughed out loud!

When Spartacus's mom leaves town to join the circus, his father, brother and almost everyone in town accepts her absence -- but not Spartacus. With the online help of his nerdy, techno-wizard friend Eli, Spartacus hits the road to save his mom from her kidnappers - Bartholomew and World-Renowned Circus of the Incredible. Along the way, he meets a cast of characters, each more outlandish than the last. From the giant tattooed biker to the blue-haired criminal maniacs, Molly E. Johnson captures a colorful group - some helpful and some not so helpful to Spartacus's quest to find his mom.

Spartacus's travels will scare him and they will push him to become more than he ever thought possible. Along the way Spartacus may not be certain of much, but by the end he finds the meaning of family and friendship and love. You'll be rooting for Spartacus throughout this tight, quick-paced tale.

`Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows' is a funny, smart adventure story that will appeal to middle-grade readers and beyond.
Lisa Ard
Author of Fright Flight, Dream Seekers Book One
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on April 1, 2012
Ever pick up a book and think "I'll just read a couple pages," then get lost until you realize it's getting dark and you've been reading for hours? This is that kind of book.

Spartacus has a dad who doesn't get him, a brother who torments him, and a mother who dotes on him but has run away to join a circus. But Spartacus has reason to believe there are darker forces at work in his mother's sudden departure. To find out, he takes to the road.

Spartacus' voice is what makes the story. He is by turns awkward, insightful, confused, and cunning. Combine his personality with a string of zany (yes, zany) adventures and characters, and the result is a funny and engaging book. There are fantastical elements in the plot, but ultimately, Spartacus seems such a real adolescent that the story rings true.

I just hope there is a sequel.
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on December 5, 2011
I found this book to be a quick, fun and thrilling read. As a teacher I can see it being a hit with boys and girls in the 5th-7th grade range. The story is captivating and follows Spartacus as he goes on a quest for his mother. The characters were interesting and I couldn't put it down. Can't wait for another book by the author!
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on February 13, 2018
My son is in 5th grade and loved this book. He is an avid reader and goes through many books, but this has been one of his favorites.
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on April 26, 2015
Spartacus is a thrilling book with many suspenseful plot twists. It was a pleasure reading it. The few cusses included support the plot extremely well. As we join a runaway following a circus because they have kidnapped his mother, we meet people that no reader will easily forget! Pick this book up and get ready to begin a wild adventure including freaky monkeys, serial killers, and fire-breathers!
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