Thursday, September 29, 2016

Wolf Hollow - Lauren Wolk

Title: Wolf Hollow
Author: Lauren Wolk
Publisher: Dutton Children's Books (Penguin), 2016
Length: 291 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: September 25, 2016
Finished: September 28, 2016

From the inside cover:

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby's strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. Soon, she will need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl's resilience and strength help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.

This book has received quite the hype, even likening it to To Kill a Mockingbird, and it is completely

Annabelle lives with her parents, brothers, and members of her extended family on a farm in a rural town in 1943. When their neighbours' granddaughter arrives from the city to live with them, everything begins to change. Betty targets Annabelle right from the beginning, demainding money and valuables from her and threatening her younger brothers if she doesn't comply. When Toby, the reclusive veteran who has always been kind to Annabelle, witnesses Betty hitting her, he then becomes a target. This fuels the town's existing wariness and thinly veiled hostility towards Toby when he is blamed for a horrible incident perpetrated by Betty. When Betty injures her youngest brother, Annabelle finally goes to her parents, which only leads to more blame directed at Toby. When both Betty and Toby suddenly disappear, even those sympathetic towards Toby like Annabelle's parents begin to suspect him. Annabelle knows that Toby is innocent and begins to take things into her own hands to clear his name.

First off, the story has this incredible prologue that sends shivers down your spine (the majority of which is the text you see on the front cover). I can see the first line as the type to be included in those lists of famous opening lines of books that cultured people love to quote.

The story really does read like a children's version of Mockingbird, just minus the racial issues. Annabelle is an older Scout, Toby is our Boo Radley, Betty is our Bob/Mayella Ewell mashup, Annabelle's parents both serve as Atticus (yay for showing both parents as equally involved even in 1943), and the townspeople resemble Maycomb's. There's a clear disgust towards the unjust accusations and mob mentality employed by the others towards Toby, and the animal imagery of the wolves replaces the mockingbirds with similar symbolism. While Annabelle has more agency than her Mockingbird counterpart, and does affect change, there isn't a happy ending with unicorns and rainbows, she does come the the realization that life sucks and is unfair sometimes, but still learns that one person can make a difference.

I liked how cruel the author made Betty, some might say it's a bit unrealistic but then I'd say those people never taught children. Betty is a psychotic, sadistic, fourteen-year-old; and while rare they aren't non-existent. The friendship between Annabelle and Toby is well-crafted, it's believable without coming off as creepy or inappropriate. Annabelle is narrating the book as an adult looking back on her youth, so while the character is eleven turning twelve, the voice is much older and sophisticated. The maturity in the voice is believable, but I'm not sure if children reading this book would really grasp the intricacies of the book itself; a teenager would, and a mature twelve year old might, but any younger and it might just go right over their heads.

Every classroom needs this book, this needs to be required reading for older children/teens, not just for how beautiful the writing is, but because of the themes and the messages delivered to readers.

Thoughts on the cover:
Beautiful. It's hard to tell from the picture, but the text and the trees surrounding the silhouette of Annabelle is embossed and shines a nice copper colour.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Seven-Letter Word - Kim Slater

Title: A Seven-Letter Word
Author: Kim Slater
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 298 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: September 19, 2016
Finished: September 24, 2016

From the inside cover:

Stutter. That's one seven-letter word I wish didn't exist. Fifty points extra or not.

Scrabble genius Finlay McIntosh is a different lad to the one his mother left behind. One day she was there, the next she was gone. And his dad won't even mention her name. All Finlay has to remember her by is a bag of letter tiles and an empty journal.

Then a chance remark by a mysterious new player he meets online changes everything. Has he stumbled on to a major clue that could help him find his missing mother? Finlay will do whatever it takes to find out the truth. But can he find his voice...before it's too late?

Finlay is fourteen and its been two years since his mother left. His father moved the family to Nottingham and Finlay has to deal with a new school, just as his stuttering has worsened. He is bullied by Oliver at school during the day and copes by playing Scrabble online in the evenings while his dad is working. When a new online player named Alex mentions a stepmother that left her family, Finlay suspects that his mother could be connected. When he is asked by a teacher to join the school Scrabble club and potentially represent the school during a competition, Finlay thinks its another way to somehow make himself known to his mother.

This was really intriguing story with a sympathetic set of characters. Finlay is a kid who really can't catch a break: his mother left, his dad is trying his best but isn't coping well,  and he gets picked on for stuttering. Maryam is probably the best aspect of the whole book, a Muslim girl at Finlay's school who helps him with his Scrabble skills. She is bullied for wearing a hijab and for being a foreigner in Britain, so not only do we have a diverse character (something we need more of in children's books), but we actually get to see an unfortunately common occurence that their real-life counterparts experience.

This was a relatively quick read and the plot twist involving the mother was relatively easy to ascertain, but still worth the read.

An intriguing read with some amazing characters.

Thoughts on the cover:
I appreciate how the Scrabble elements were added to the cover, it makes for a nice touch.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ghosts - Raina Telgemeier

Title: Ghosts
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: Graphix (Scholastic), 2016 (Paperback)
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy/Realistic Fiction, Graphic Novel
Started: September 17, 2016
Finished: September 17, 2016

From the back cover:

There's something different about this town...

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahia de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbour lets them in on a secret: there are ghosts in Bahia de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake - and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.

As a teacher, Raina Telgemeier's books are a staple in classroom libraries, not only because they're kid-friendly stories that feature female protagonists (you'd be amazed at how rare that is in kids' graphic novels) but that they're just simply amazing stories of growing up. Smile, its sequel Sisters, Drama, and now Ghosts are all engaging pieces with a wonderful art style.

Catrina's family has moved further north from their California home for the benefit of her younger sister, Maya. Carlos, the new neighbours' son, tells them of the supernatural aura that permeates their new town, and Maya is ecstatic over the news. Cat definitely does not want to meet any of the ghosts that inhabit their new home, but begrudgingly goes along with things when Maya claims she wants to ask the ghosts what happens when you die. When something goes wrong and Maya is hospitalized, Cat rejects not only the spiritual aspects of Bahia de la Luna but the cultural as well. Cat's mother is Mexican American (their dad is white), but their family isn't really in touch with their Mexican heritage, so when the whole town is planning to attend a Dia de los Muertos event that features the town's ghosts, Cat definitely isn't interested. But when Maya begs Cat to attend in her place, Cat must reconnect with her culture and reconcile her fears for the sake of her sister.

This new story not only has the author's trademark awkward story of a girl growing up, but it also enters into the realm of the metaphysical. It's established that there is no cure for Maya's cystic fibrosis and that she will eventually die, this is even acknowledged by her several times in the story. Maya even dressed up as an angel for Halloween, which makes it particularly poignant, and asks Cat if she'll be afraid of her ghost when she dies. Cat realizes that the town ghosts are simply spirits of loved ones and don't mean her any harm. The artwork is very appealing, the characters realistic and the story engaging.

Definitely worth picking up, and definitely if you're a fan of the author's works already, in this case I think this is the best of her books to date.

Thoughts on the cover:
Definitely fitting, but I would've liked something a little more dynamic.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Serafina and the Twisted Staff - Robert Beatty

Title: Serafina and the Twisted Staff (sequel to Seafina and the Black Cloak)
Author: Robert Beatty
Publisher: Disney Hyperion, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 370 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Started: September 10, 2016
Finished: September 15, 2016

From the inside cover:

Serafina's defeat of the man in the black cloak has brought her out of the shadows and into the daylight realm of her home, Biltmore Estate. Every night she visits her mother in the forest, eager to learn the ways of the catamount. But Serafina finds herself caught between her two worlds: she's too wild for Biltmore's beautifully dressed ladies and formal customs, and too human to fully join her kin.

Late one night, Serafina encounters a strange and terrifying figure in the forest, and is attacked by the vicious wolfhounds that seem to be under his control. Even worse, she's convinced that the stranger was not alone, that he has sent his accomplice into Biltmore in disguise.

Someone is wreaking havoc at the estate. A mysterious series of attacks test Serafina's role as Biltmore's protector, culminating in a tragedy that tears Serafina's best friend and only ally, Braeden Vanderbilt, from her side. Heartbroken, she flees.

Deep in the forest, Serafina comes face-to-face with the evil infecting Biltmore - and discovers its reach is far greater than she'd ever imagined. All the humans and creatures of the Blur Ridge Mountains are in terrible danger. For Serafina to defeat this new evil before it engulfs her beloved home, she must search deep inside herself to embrace the destiny that has always awaited her.

After reading Serafina and the Black Cloak last year, I fell in love with it and was excited when I heard the author was planning a sequel. While I enjoyed the first book more in terms of plot, this second installment has all of the same great characters and writing style that I enjoyed in the first.

Taking place three weeks after the conclusion of the first book, readers see Serafina persist in her efforts to understand her newfound identity as a catamount and also try to gain acceptance from those at Biltmore. When Serafina is out visiting her mother in the woods and comes across strange man and a pack of wolfhounds that attack her, she knows that something is horribly wrong. When she finds another strange man visiting Biltmore, she thinks the events are linked. When she notices the animals acting out of character, including Braeden's dog Gideon, she is in fear for everyone at Biltmore. With the help of Braeden and Waysa (a catamount with ties to her mother), Serafina investigates the events at Biltmore to try to save it once again.

This installment wasn't quite as satisfying in terms of plot, it was more predictable and not as wow-inducing as the first. The characters are back with a bang though, Serafina is still wonderful, and we get to see some major development regarding both her and Braeden's characters. Waysa was a nice addition too, and a great point of internal conflict for Serafina to decide whether to remain at Biltmore or go off with the other catamounts.

Not as good as the first in my opinion, but still worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
Some nice continuation from the first cover, this time in a warmer colour scheme with the animal silhouettes accompanying Serafina's.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Crown - Kiera Cass

Title: The Crown (Book 5 in The Selection series)
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 279 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: September 6, 2016
Finished: September 9, 2016

From the inside cover:

When Eadlyn became the first princess of Illea to hold her own Selection, she didn't think she would fall in love with any of her thirty-five suitors. She spent the first few weeks of the competition counting down the days until sh could send them all home. But as events at the palace force Eadlyn even further into the spotlight, she realizes that she might not be content remaining alone.

Eadlyn still isn't sure she'll find the fairy tale ending her parents did twenty years ago/ But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you...and soon Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more impossible - and more important - than she ever imagined.

And yet another beloved series come to an end, I really enjoyed this one over the past couple of years. The SelectionThe Elite, and The One make up the first arc of this series, focusing on America Singer and her journey through the Selection to become Maxon's queen. The Heir takes place twenty years later and focuses on Eadlyn, America and Maxon's eighteen-year-old daughter who is the heir to the throne and a Selection she wasn't supposed to have.

The Crown takes place immediately after the events of The Heir, and concludes Eadlyn's Selection. She narrows down the group of suitors to the Elite and works to improve her reputation among her people to avoid a revolt while she is acting as regent. She's not sure who she can trust and doubts herself constantly at the beginning but really comes into hew own by the end of the novel. Eadlyn is a truly admirable character, she's strong, smart, kind, and would sacrifice herself for her country, but still insecure enough to make her human.

The Elite are more developed in this installment. Ean and Hale's stories were quite clever and unexpected and fit in quite well. I can't mention more details of the others for fear of spoilers, but the relationships in this novel are very well developed and definitely do not disappoint.

If you are a fan of the Selection series, you've already read this. If not, grab the first book and get ready to be hooked. Eadlyn's arc of the series is certainly different than America's, but still delivers a satisfying story.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity amongst all the covers in this series, but I think this one doesn't wow me like the others did, it just looks like a bad photoshop job.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting - Brian Gordon

Title: Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting
Author: Brian Gordan
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016 (Paperback)
Length: 128 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting, Graphic Novel
Started: September 1, 2016
Finished: September 1, 2016

From the back cover:

Are you a mom or a dad? How wonderful and annoying for you! Do you know someone who will soon have a baby? How exciting and terrifying for them! Are your friends parents too? Of course they are, those poor sons of bitches...

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Fowl Language is for you. And if you answered no, then congratulations, and feel free to sleep in this weekend!

If you're a parent or know people who are, you've probably seen the Fowl Language comic strips floating around the internet. They perfectly capture the frustrations  and joys of being a parent to small children, and every parent can relate to them (while laughing hysterically along the way). The book essentially gathers a large portion of the comics into one volume, and I really hope the author/artist comes out with subsequent books because I will gladly fork over my money if he does. This happens to be one of my favourite ones below:

If you're a parent, you probably already love these comics and own this book. If you're going to be a parent, then you need to buy this, it will make you feel much better about yourself when mommy/daddy guilt threatens to ruin your day.

Thoughts on the cover:
This evokes the style of all the comics, simple, clean, colourful, and funny.