Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Fairy Doll and Other Tales from the Dolls' House - Rumer Godden

Title: The Fairy Dolls and Other Tales from the Dolls' House
Author: Rumer Godden
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 468 pages
Genre: Children's Classic, Fantasy
Started: January 19, 2013
Finished: January 25, 2013

From the back cover:

Dolls cannot tell you anything, but often their wish is as strong as telling. Have you ever felt a doll's wish?

Discover the secret life of dolls in this wonderful collection of classic stories by one of the most celebrated writers for children of the last century.

The Fairy Doll
The Story of Holly and Ivy
The Dolls' House
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower
Little Plum
Impunity Jane
Candy Floss

I have a soft spot for children's classics, especially old ones, so after reading one of Rumer Godden's doll books a few months ago and seeing the listing for this collection I knew I'd be picking it up.

This collection includes seven books, and I appreciate collections especially in cases like this since most of these individual stories are either out of print or otherwise hard to obtain. My favourites were the stories of the Japanese dolls (no surprises there): Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, and Little Plum. The Story of Holly and Ivy I'd read before and it's a great Christmas story, as is The Fairy Doll, and they're both short too.

A wonderful addition to a little girl's library, especially one with an appreciation for classic stories.

Thoughts on the cover:
I think the designers were trying to go for an old fashioned look for the cover and it works here, the border with the embellishments and the gold accents, plus the nice shade of pink, it stands out in that it doesn't look like your typical modern children's book.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Anna Dressed in Blood - Kendare Blake

Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Publisher: Tor Teen, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 316 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Horror
Started: January 20, 2013
Finished: January 22, 2013

From the inside cover:

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story...

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: he kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead-keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian house she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

This peaked my interest, plus I hadn't read a good scary book in a while and wanted a dose of creepy.

Cas, whose real name is Theseus Cassio, is a ghost hunter; a job he took over after his father was killed.  He goes from place to place with his mother in tow, killing local ghosts that have in turn been killing the living. When Cas receives a tip about a ghost in Thunder Bay (woot for the Canadian reference!), he feels drawn to the case. After he encounters Anna Dressed in Blood and realizes she's not your average ghost, he needs to find out why she's so different and why he feels drawn to her.

The first part of this book really got me hooked, learning about Cas and what he does (and why he reminds me of a young Dean Winchester from Supernatural) and Anna's introduction and how wonderfully bad-ass she was. Then we find out why Anna is the way she is, Cas manages to 'fix' her, and the whole living-dead romance thing pops up...all which made the second half not quite as amazing as the first. There are a lot of things that go unanswered (the issue of the athame, why Anna didn't kill Cas) and it was enough to bug me.

Starts off good and scary, but quickly loses steam.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it a lot, the black and white with just a hint of red, plus the fact that you can't see Anna's face really reinforce the scare-factor.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Eve and Adam - Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate

Title: Eve and Adam
Author: Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 291 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction
Started: January 9, 2012
Finished: January 10, 2012

From the inside cover:

In the beginning, there was an apple.

And then there was a car crash, a horrible, debilitating injury, and a hospital. But before Evening Spiker could regain consciousness, there was a strange boy checking her out of the hospital and rushing her to Spiker Biopharmaceuticals, her mother's research facility. Once there, Eve has to heal, and cope with an eerie isolation only interrupted by her overbearing mother, a strange group of doctors, and the mysterious boy who brought her there.

Just when Eve thinks she will die-not from her injuries, but boredom-her mother gives her a special project: Create the perfect boy.

Using an amazingly detailed simulation that is designed to teach human genetics, Eve starts building a boy from the ground up: eyes, hair, muscles, even a brain, and potential personality traits. Eve is creating Adam. And he will be just perfect...won't he?

I was super excited about this book when I first saw the cover and summary. It's co-written by the author of the Gone series (that I love to pieces) and his wife. The plot seemed intriguing and original, which it is, but unfortunately was underwhelming in every other aspect.

The novel is told through a series of alternating narratives: Eve, Solo, and later on, Adam. The problem is that all three narratives sound exactly the same and are essentially interchangeable, if I hadn't read the top of each chapter telling me who was narrating I actually had a hard time figuring it out (though Adam is slightly easier to decipher than the other two since his narratives always mention men and women fawning over him due to his extreme hotness). Some authors can pull off multiple narratives, but this is not the case here.

In terms of characters, most of them fall flat. Eve is fairly average and I did like her, though the fact that she didn't question how she could re-grow a chipped tooth or heal insanely fast and never got sick seems really unrealistic. Solo comes off as a complete asshole (seriously, who can have sexy thoughts about a girl that was in a nearly fatal car crash who's screaming in pain?), and Adam seems to exist only to be beautiful and instantly love Eve (for a created human complete with a brain and personality he's very limited in that regard). Aislin was annoying and hyper-sexualized and just made me want to smack her, and the subplot with her loser drug-dealing boyfriend was a complete waste of time, and just illustrated how much of a doormat Aislin was and how stupid Eve was for giving them money to keep him out of trouble. Eve's mom, Terra, was interesting; but even she was pretty much the frigid ice queen and seemed like a trope rather than a well rounded female character with a tendency to be cold and calculated.

The premise of the novel and the ethical questions raised relating to genetic modifications, cloning, and playing God in general are wonderful and thought-provoking, this book had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it just wasn't executed very well at all.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. The apple made up of puzzle pieces and the spark (of life maybe?), complete with binary code in the background, plus the colours are appealing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius - Kristine Barnett

Title: The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius
Author: Kristine Barnett
Publisher: Random House, April 9, 2013 (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 250 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction, Parenting
Started: January 5, 2013
Finished: January 8, 2013

From the back of the book:

Kristine Barnett's son Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein's, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. At nine he started working on an original theory in astrophysics that experts believe may someday put him in line for a Nobel Prize. Last summer, at the age of twelve, he became a paid researcher in quantum physics. But the story of Kristine's journey with Jake is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. At age two, when Jake was diagnosed, Kristine was told he might never be able to tie his own shoes.

The Spark is a remarkable memoir of mother and son. Surrounded by "experts" at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake's most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests-moving shadows on the wall, stars, plaid patterns on sofa fabric-Jake made no progress, withdrew into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. Kristine knew that she had to make a change. Against the advice of her husband, Michael, and the developmental specialists, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob's "spark"-his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn't do? Why not focus on what he could?

Dramatic, inspiring, and transformative, The Spark is about the power of love and courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and the dazzling possibilities that can occur when we learn how to tap the true potential that lies within every child, and in all of us.

I'll admit I was a little skeptical when I first received this book. My first thought was that it was another "Tiger Mom" type of book that advocated very rigid rules with little leeway to force kids to succeed. Then when I read the summary and saw that the boy in question was autistic, I thought that it was another story about "curing autism." Thankfully, The Spark is neither of those things. It's a memoir about a mother's instincts about how to respond to her son, as well as other children in her care (both typical and special needs), and how such a simple idea led to the fulfillment of the potential of every single one of those children.

The Spark begins with describing how bright Jacob was in infancy (like memorizing and reciting the Japanese language track from his dvds kind of bright), then the change beginning at 14 months (classic autism symptoms), his autism diagnosis, followed by complete withdrawal by age 3. At that point, Kristine pulled him out of his special ed preschool which focused solely on life skills, and vowed to prepare him for mainstream kindergarten herself. Along with the other children in her home daycare, she focused on Jake's interests regardless of how mundane they seemed and encouraged him to pursue them, while at the same time giving him carefree childhood experiences that constant autism therapy lacked. She recounts how other kids both typical and special needs flourished under the same principle, that allowing them to really pursue what they wanted to led to improvement in all other areas. When Jake was allowed to study astronomy and physics (simply letting him read a textbook at age three and attend lectures at the local university), he started speaking again, having conversations, and was better able to handle social situations that are difficult for autistic kids. Kristine goes on to describe their journey through the years and the foundation of many programs for autistic and other special needs kids, as well as Jake's increasing skills as a math and science prodigy.

Most educators like myself believe in the same principles Kristine practiced and have seen it work. Rewriting a word problem in mathematics to include a child's favourite characters will make a math-phobic child actually want to solve it. A reluctant-reader will devour books if they are about one of his hobbies or something else he finds interesting. A teenager who normally doesn't like to write will gladly compose a novel if allowed to pick their choice of topic. These are all personal examples from my own teaching career and the principle between these and Kristine's ideas are the same: cater to and allow a child to pursue their interests wherever possible and not only will the child be more likely to succeed, they'll have a better attitude about themselves.

The Spark is a wonderful book about a very simple but powerful idea. In Kristine's case, it allowed her child with a genius level IQ to fulfill that amazing potential. In other kids, who knows what it could do. It also conveys the strength of a mother's love and instincts to advocate for their child in the face of adversity, which I'm sure every parent can identify with.

Wonderful, inspiring read for just about anyone, but especially parents and educators. Although the author's son is autistic, the ideas presented in the book can apply to people of all ages and ability levels, as shown by the anecdotes about the other children. The book releases in April, so be on the look-out and give it a read. Plus, Jacob made me think of a junior version of Sheldon Cooper (had to get the Big Bang reference in after it was mentioned that Jacob studied string theory).

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the equations at the top with Jacob popping up in the corner with the backwards baseball cap as the author describes him frequently wearing.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland And Led The Revels There - Catherynne M. Valente

Title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland And Led The Revels There
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 258 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Children's; Fantasy/Fairy Tale
Started: January 3, 2012
Finished: January 5, 2012

From the inside cover:

All is not well in Fairyland...

September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows-and their magic-to the world of Fairyland Below. This world has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September's shadow. And Halloween has no intentions of giving Fairyland's shadows back.

Fans of Valente's bestselling first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September's journey, all brought to life by fine artist Ana Juan. Readers will also welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren't always what they seem...

After reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making last year and falling in love with it, I was more than pleased to find out there would be more books coming. As expected, this installment has everything that made me fall in love with the first book: the charm, the language, and the subversive quality of the writing.

This book picks up where the first left off, September has since turned thirteen and trying to reengage in 'normal' activities since returning from Fairyland, while at the same time desperately wanting to go back. When she gets her wish, she discovers things aren't as they should be, and travels to Fairyland Below to find out what has happened to everyone's shadows (and the one she left behind the first time she went to Fairyland).

Since September is now older, the themes still relate to her coming-of-age, but they're more mature than  the first book; dealing with ideas such as embracing your dark side even though you try to hide it, how things aren't always so clear-cut all the time, and deciding that your actions determine what kind of person you will be.

If you liked the first book, you will have all kinds of love for the sequel. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland is a bit darker and more melancholy, but just as imaginative and charming as the previous book, which equals near perfection for me.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how they kept the theme from the first book's cover, just in a purple colour scheme. The addition of the shadows and September's pose add to the somber atmosphere.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Son - Lois Lowry

Title: Son (Conclusion to The Giver)
Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 393 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: December 31, 2012
Finished: January 2, 2013

From the inside cover:

"They called her Water Claire."

When the young girl washed up on their shore, no one knew she had been a Vessel. That she had carried a Product. That it had been carved from her belly. Stolen.

Claire had had a son. She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible. When he was taken from their community, she knew she had to follow.

And so her journey began.

But here in this wind-battered village, Claire is welcomed as one of their own. In the security of her new home, she is free and loved. She grows stronger.

As tempted as she is by the warmth of more human kindness than she has ever known, she cannot stay. Her son is out there; a young boy by now.

Claire will stop at nothing to find her child...even if it means trading her own life.

With Son, the two-time Newbery Medal-winning Lois Lowry has spun another mesmerizing tale in this thrilling and long-awaited conclusion to The Giver.

I never had to read The Giver in school, I read it as an adult, but several schools I've taught in do have it as required reading for grades 7 or 8. With that in mind, I loved The Giver and Lowry's writing in general, and was intrigued by this installment. Even though I haven't read the sequels, Gathering Blue and The Messenger, I decided to give this a go anyway. Thankfully, Son can stand on its own without reading any of the previous books, but I think reading them definitely helps.

The book is divided into three parts, the first takes place in the same community that serves as the setting for The Giver, and opens with 14-year-old Claire giving birth to her first (and only) Product as a Vessel/Birthmother. After a difficult labour and eventual c-section, Claire is decertified and reassigned to work in the fish hatchery. Since Claire wasn't given the feeling-killing pills to take after the birth (Birthmothers don't take them during pregnancy), Claire begins to yearn for her son and seeks him out by volunteering in the childcare centre where number 36 is being kept. After being involved in her child's life for almost two years, Claire hears that Jonas escaped with Gabe to save his life, and she goes after them.

Part two takes place in a new, slightly primitive yet more humane village surrounded by the water and mountains where Claire washes up on after escaping. Since she doesn't remember much other than her name, she stays in the village until attending a birth opens up memories of her son, driving her to find a way out despite the harsh landscape.

Part three follows Claire's journey from the village to the community described in The Messenger after an encounter with the Trademaster. After sacrificing nearly everything to find Gabe again, Claire doesn't have much time left to reveal herself to the son that longs to know if he ever had someone that mothered him.

I liked this book overall, I appreciated the first part essentially being another perspective to events in The Giver, and showing how truly emotionally absent the community was. I thought the portrayal of a mother's love for her child was very true to life and poignant. I loved Einar and his relationship with Claire and how he was willing to train her even though he knew she would leave, because he loved her enough to know she needed to find her son.

The third part felt a little rushed to me, the Trademaster seemed to pop out of nowhere and Gabe's fight with him and the resolution seemed slightly off. I was also disappointed with Jonas' relationship with Gabe, I figured after sacrificing everything to save the kid, Jonas would maintain a brother-type relationship at least. I can understand having Gabe live elsewhere because Jonas wasn't a fit caregiver, but the contact they have seems wanting.

A wonderful conclusion to The Giver, but Son can also stand on its own without needing to read the other books.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love cover redesigns, and these books benefitted greatly from them. The new slew of covers for all four books have the same elements (face against the trees with a light solid colour background), and the look very nice.