Friday, June 22, 2012

Starters - Lissa Price

Title: Starters
Author: Lissa Price
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: June 18, 2012
Finished: June 22, 2012

From the inside cover:
Callie lost her parents when the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of 20 and 60. She and her little brother, Tyler, are on the run, living as squatters with their friend Michael and fighting off renegades who would kill them for a cookie.

Callie's only hope is Prime Destinations, a disturbing place in Beverly Hills run by a mysterious figure known as the Old Man. He hires teens to rent their bodies to Enders-seniors who want to be young again. Callie, desperate for the money that will keep her, Tyler, and Michael alive, agrees to be a donor. But the neurochip they place in Callie's head malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, and going out with a senator's grandson.

It almost feels like a fairy tale, until Callie discovers that her renter intends to do more than party-and that Prime Destinations' plans are more evil than Callie could've ever imagined...

I figured it had been a while since I'd had some new, non sequel, dystopian sci-fi, and the premise of this one seemed pretty good: swapping bodies and minds, paying underage minors for the use of said bodies, it was rife with ethical and moral questions. I wasn't expecting a huge post-modern kind of tale, but I was hoping it would at least be interesting and thought-provoking, sadly I didn't get any of those.

Starters starts out okay, but right from the beginning it expects the reader to rely a lot on the concept of "suspension of disbelief." We're never told why there was a war, why the spores were so lethal, why the government decided not to vaccinate people from age 20-60 when individuals can live as long as 150 (you'd think they'd up the ages to compensate), why in such an age of medical advancement does Tyler have a 'rare lung disease', why when there are so many unclaimed minors was there no kind of philanthropic attempts by these many rich Enders to somehow house and educate the orphaned Starters rather than use them as slave labour in institutions? So right off the bat I felt like I wasn't given enough information to really get into the story.

The characters seemed very flat and don't develop much. Callie seems incredibly protective of her brother yet leaves him with a stranger (her motivation seemed weak), we get no backstory on how Michael got to be there, Florina shows up and disappears just as fast, and Blake is so fake it's obvious. The plans of the antagonists in the story, once revealed, made me think "that's it?". So the novel didn't elicit a 'woah, that's eeeeevil, Callie's got to kick their butts!' kind of thought. Everything was just underwhelming I suppose, plus the way the plot came together seemed forced and very convenient, it wasn't believable.

Things did perk up right at the end with a bit of a twist leading into the next book (this is the first of either a duology or a trilogy), which makes me think this might've been just a shaky start, so I'd have to read the second book to see if the concerns I listed are improved upon.

Didn't blow me away by any means, so borrow it from the library rather than buying it to see if you like it more than I did.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the microchip background and the silver and blue colour scheme. The model on the cover irks me, the image would seem more fitting if the story revolved around a robot or cyborg (the model has a very dead-like quality), but that's not the case here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shadows on the Moon - Zoe Marriott

Title: Shadows on the Moon
Author: Zoe Marriott
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2012 (Hardcover), originally published 2011
Length: 447 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Historical Fiction
Started: June 9, 2012
Finished: June 16, 2012

From the inside cover:
Sixteen-year-old Suzume is a shadow weaver, trained in the magical art of illusion. She can be anyone she wants to be-except herself. Is she the girl of noble birth, trapped by the tyranny of her mother's new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama's kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Land? Even Suzume is no longger sure of her true identity. But she is determined to steal the heart of the Moon Prince and exact revenge on her stepfather for the death of her family. And nothing will stop her. Not even her love for fellow shadow weaver Otieno, the one man who can see through her illusions.
Set in a fairy-tale version of ancient Japan, Shadows on the Moon shakes up the Cinderella story with its brave, resourceful, and passionate heroine.

I'd heard great things about this book last year when it was first released, but I only recently got around to reading it. Cinderella is not my favourite fairy tale by any stretch of the imagination (along with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White). I always thought Cinderella was very passive and wimpy, so I'm slightly reluctant to even pick up retellings of the tale unless I hear amazing things about them. Ash by Malinda Lo is one of the few Cinderella retellings I love to pieces, and luckily Shadows on the Moon now gets to join that group.

Picture a version of Cinderella that takes place in feudal Japan with fantasy elements (I was hooked right there), featuring a girl whose family is murdered, her mother knowingly marries the man responsible for it, she can manipulate what people can see, plus she becomes a courtesan in order to carry out her plan for bloody that's what I call a kick-ass Cinderella.

The book naturally divides itself into a few sections: Suzume's life before and after her family's death, her experience as Rin the drudge, and her experience as Yue the courtesan. This allows for the acknowledgement of many parts of the original fairy tale while still having a very unique story, almost to the point where I forgot I was reading a retelling.

The fantasy element (including Suzume's shadow weaving) was something that I felt was given a minor mention. For me that wasn't a detriment at all because I love stories of feudal Japan (the fantasy elements of the Moonlit Land are easily overlooked), and the shadow weaving is something that becomes so subtle throughout the book that you forget Suzume and Otieno even have the ability. Again, some readers might be put-off by it if they're expecting a typical fantasy story, but I enjoyed the book just as well without a heavy emphasis on the magic.

Suzume is a very real character. She struggles with her identity and desire for revenge after the trauma of witnessing the deaths of her father and cousin. She desperately wants her mother to love and care about her like a mother should, and it's this aspect that I think touched me the most since its hard to stomach a mother character that so completely ignores her child and acts only to serve her own selfish interests. Despite this, Suzume grows throughout the book; moving beyond her self-injury and revenge obsessed fantasies to seek out an existence that truly makes her happy.

The majority of the characters were well-developed and intriguing, and they're very well explored considering Suzume's first person narration. I loved Akira particularly, and her gender-bending aspect fits well in a Japanese tale for anyone familiar with Japanese story tropes, plus I just love characters that dare to be different. I liked Otieno but felt that he deserved a little more fleshing out, he seemed a little flat and unrealistic in some sections.

A Cinderella story that doesn't read like a Cinderella story (in a good way). A lush and gorgeous setting, a must-read for anyone that likes Japanese and Asian-inspired historical stories. Suzume is a very strong yet heartbreakingly human female protagonist, but a warning that there is a fair bit of cutting/self-injury behaviour, so proceed with caution in terms of reader's ages or trigger experiences on this part.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the new cover pictured in this review compared to the original cover, but I still feel like something's missing, maybe it's because her eyes are closed and downcast rather than defiant and staring at the reader head on. A thumbs up to actually having an Asian model on the cover and not succumbing to cover whitewashing like so many other books.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

It's OK Not to Share - Heather Shumaker

Title: It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids
Author: Heather Shumaker
Publisher: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin (Penguin Books), August 2, 2012 (Review Copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 369 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: May 29, 2012
Finished: June 2, 2012

From the publisher's website:

Parenting can be such an overwhelming job that it’s easy to lose track of where you stand on some of the more controversial subjects at the playground (What if my kid likes to rough house—isn’t this ok as long as no one gets hurt? And what if my kid just doesn’t feel like sharing?). In this inspiring and enlightening book, Heather Shumaker describes her quest to nail down “the rules” to raising smart, sensitive, and self-sufficient kids. Drawing on her own experiences as the mother of two small children, as well as on the work of child psychologists, pediatricians, educators and so on, in this book Shumaker gets to the heart of the matter on a host of important questions. Hint: many of the rules aren’t what you think they are! The “rules” in this book focus on the toddler and preschool years—an important time for laying the foundation for competent and compassionate older kids and then adults. Here are a few of the rules:

  • It’s OK if it’s not hurting people or property
  • Bombs, guns and bad guys allowed.
  • Boys can wear tutus.
  • Pictures don’t have to be pretty.
  • Paint off the paper!
  • Sex ed starts in preschool
  • Kids don’t have to say “Sorry.”
  • Love your kid’s lies.

IT’S OK NOT TO SHARE is an essential resource for any parent hoping to avoid PLAYDATEGATE (i.e. your child’s behavior in a social interaction with another child clearly doesn’t meet with another parent’s approval)!

I saw this featured in a book newsletter and I knew it was the kind of parenting book that was right up my alley. I've been reading parenting books and magazines since before I even thought of having children, mainly because being a teacher means parents ask you for parenting advice because you're around their kids almost as often as they are. The information in this book pertains mainly to the 2-6 year old set, so much younger than the kids I teach, but a lot of the tidbits presented will have a positive affect on older kids if introduced in these early years (plus most can be modified to suit an older group). 

The author begins by introducing the place where all these "Renegade Rules" come from, a preschool that she herself attended as a child, and where her mother taught for years. When trying to find a preschool for her own children years later, she couldn't find a school that practiced similar principles. Realizing how unconventional her experience was, she decided to compile all the 'rules' so people could replicate the ideas in their own homes and neighbourhoods. 

The book is well organized and has a format that is very easy to follow. Each chapter introduces a concept (such as "Kids Need Conflict", and "Go Ahead, Let Him Hate the Baby!"), shows the typical way parents approach the issue vs. the unconventional "Renegade" way, how children interpret the messages given to them when each way is used, and phrases to use and avoid when trying the concepts out. 

Perhaps it's just because I'm a younger mom and I'm around kids all the time so I have an idea of what works and what doesn't, but some of these concepts aren't as unconventional as I expected. A few of the chapters seem fairly common sense, such as "Sex Ed Starts in Preschool" (explaining proper words for things and giving age-appropriate answers to their questions), "All Feelings Are OK, All Behaviour Isn't" (saying that it's okay to feel a certain way but that doesn't mean you can take it out on other people), and "Don't Steal Play" (saying that young children need free unstructured play vs. hammering them with academics). Even though some of these ideas weren't new to me, I did find a lot of good material that was relevant, particularly the words and phrases to use and avoid sections.

However, some of the topics that I did find unconventional were doozies. The sections on not forcing kids to share, letting them hog whatever toy/activity they want for how long they want, allowing weapon play, letting kids swear, and not forcing kids to play with someone they don't want to were all pretty groundbreaking. These are all the unspoken rules of dealing with kids, especially for me as a teacher. From sharing and not swearing to making sure kids don't exclude others, these are considered practically solid, and if you asked me last week if someone could convince me it was okay to do the opposite of these I'd have been pretty skeptical. But after reading it, it all makes sense. I always wondered why we make kids share their things when we as adults don't have to, and why we force kids to play together when they don't want to. I really value treating children with respect and honouring their voice, and forcing them to do things when they aren't hurting anyone (and they are getting hurt in the process) doesn't do our kids any justice. The author not only manages to dispel these parenting cliches, she reinforces practical ways to allow our kids to be who they are (not to mention better off emotionally) so long as they aren't hurting people or property (the Renegade Golden Rule). I fully plan to implement these concepts in parenting my own daughter, as well as with the kids in my classroom. 

A must-read if you're a parent, teacher, or simply interact with children on a consistent basis. The ideas here are thoughtfully presented, and will actually make you stop and reconsider what you thought were the 'no-brainers' of raising kids. Plus there's a wonderful resource list for adults and children in the back with some wonderful books that I will be looking into. The book is being released in early August, so mark your calendars.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the beige cover with red accents, and the image of the girl hogging all the toys is very cute. Actually, all the illustrations in the book are quite charming, I wished there were more of them (my favourite was one of a little boy giving the death glare to a baby in a stroller).