Sunday, March 30, 2014

Flora & Ulysses - Kate DiCamillo

Title: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 233 pages
Genre: Children's Realistic Fiction, Fantasy
Started: March 26, 2014
Finished: March 30, 2014

From the inside cover:

She is a natural-born cynic!

He is an unassuming squirrel!

Together, Flora & Ulysses will conquer villains, defend the defenseless, and protect the weak. Or something.

From Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo and artistic superhero K.G. Campbell comes a laugh-out-loud story of friendship, hope, love, and seal blubber.

I've read several of this author's books in the past and have loved all of them. They're very touching and surprisingly deep for children's books. This new book is a bit of a departure from her usual fare: this one is hilarious and quirky.

Flora is ten and cynical. Her parents are divorced; her mother writes romance novels and her father is an accountant. She loves The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! comics that her father introduced to her, and encounters her own superhero when she witnesses a rogue vacuum cleaner sucking up a squirrel in her neighbour's backyard. As a result of the squirrel surviving being devoured by the vacuum cleaner, he develops super powers: he has super strength, he can fly, type, and even composes poetry. Flora vows to help protect him from his nemesis and fulfill his true destiny. Hilarity ensues.

The writing here is amazingly advanced for a kid's book but not to the point where it's a turn off to the average child reader. Any book that manages to work in the word "malfeasance" properly is one that gets my instant respect. Flora as a character is quite intelligent and precocious, so the opportunities for higher vocabulary there are plenty.

I can't give away too much for fear of spoiling the fun, but this is truly an excellent middle grade book (it won the 2014 Newbery Medal, so the gods of books agree with me), perfect for readers that love silliness. Plus, Ulysses just steals the book, I love that squirrel.

Quirky, silly, and engaging. Plus, squirrel poetry, you can't beat that.

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple but appropriate, I love how Flora's clutching her comic book.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cruel Beauty - Rosamund Hodge

Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2014 (Hardcover)
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fairy Tale, Mythology
Started: March 26, 2014
Finished: March 28, 2014

From the inside cover:

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom - all because of a reckless bargain her father struck. And since birth, she has been training to kill him.

Betrayed by her family yet bound to obey, Nyx rails against her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, she abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, disarm him, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle - a shifting  maze of of magical rooms - enthrals her. As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. But even if she can bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him?

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and the power to change our destinies.

This received a lot of hype when it was released back in January, and I finally got my hands on it. In short, reading this book was an experience I savoured. I didn't read it at my normal pace because I didn't want the book to end, but I could not put it down because I swear it called to me whenever I did.

Nyx Triskelion is angry, bitter, and fiery; and she has every reason to be. Before she and her twin sister Astraia were born, their mother could not conceive a child. Their father made a bargain with the  Gentle Lord (the demon lord that has ruled Arcadia for the past 900 years), that his wife would give birth to two daughters but that he would need to choose one that would wed the Gentle Lord when she turned seventeen. As expected in similar tales, the deal backfires and their mother dies in childbirth. Since Astraia is the favoured daughter that looks like their mother, she is adored and loved while Nyx is chosen to wed the Gentle Lord. From the age of nine, her father trains her in Hermetic magic and conceives a plan to seal the demon lord in his castle, freeing the land from his influence, which would trap Nyx as either way her future is a death sentence. She hates her sister for being able to be happy at her expense, but constantly feels guilty for those thoughts. She feels duty-bound to carry out the plan, but hates her father for putting her in this position and wants him to show her some remorse or fatherly affection.

So in this state of mind, Nyx is wed to Ignifex, who appears with an attractive human form except for red slitted eyes like a cat's. He gives her two rules: that every night he will give her the opportunity to guess his true name but if she guesses wrong she dies, and that she cannot go into any of the rooms in the castle that her personal key does not open. Not one to do what she's told, Nyx steals Ignifex's keys and explores the various rooms in the constantly shifting castle with Shade, the Gentle Lord's living shadow. In the midst of putting the plan into action, Nyx is nearly consumed by demons, saved by Ignifex, abandons him in the darkness that depletes him, and then rescues him. She learns about his background and how he came to be the Gentle Lord, realizing that though Ignifex is cruel and evil, he is not fully at fault for the terror he causes in Arcadia. When Nyx's plans shift to trying to uncover a way to free Ignifex from bondage, she realizes she cannot save both her husband and her country and must choose where her duty lies.

This book is all kinds of awesome for several different reasons, the main one being that the story is a mix of Beauty and the Beast and Cupid and Psyche but with a really dark undertone. There's nothing cutesy Disney here, and though I love the Disney version I also love my dark and gothic stories.

The world-building is vast, excellent, and inspired by Greek mythology, but comes on kind of fast and takes some re-reading and getting used to in the beginning of the book. The writing is, forgive my language, pornography for those that love the written word; there are quotes here that will send shivers down your spine for the pure beauty and impact of the language. I almost forgot I was reading a YA book, because it definitely did not fit the mould writing-wise.

Nyx is my favourite type of heroine: fiery, fierce, and amazingly realistic. She's pissed off and delightfully sarcastic throughout most of the book (and for good reason) and just cannot let go of the anger she feels for her family for the crap they put her through even though she really tries to. When she first meets Ignifex, she tries to stab him as per her first instinct, and then rips off her bodice and spouts lines taught to her by her aunt when she remembers she's supposed to seduce him. This very visible example of the fight between her instincts and what she "should" do encompasses Nyx for most of the book. She wants to hate her sister when she should be forgiving, she wants to clobber Ignifex when she should be the shy new wife so as not to attract undue attention to her exploring, she wants to stop everything and love Ignifex when she should be trying to kill him and save the world; I loved the theme of it. Some reviewers don't like Nyx saying she's too negative and can't make up her mind, but to me I think this just makes her more realistic as a person considering her background.

Ignifex is a charming little bastard, just the way I like my fictional men. He is an amazingly complex character with a backstory that changes the tone of the whole book. Plus, the dialogue between him and Nyx is just delicious, there were whole sections of dialogue I re-read because they were just that good. Their romance is flawed, deeply so, but it's supposed to be; and some reviewers either love it or hate it. I'm in the love category again because their love is portrayed as very realistic and realistic portrayals get my respect more than anything. Some readers will be turned off by the "love triangle" aspect with Shade, but you need not worry because it's not really a love triangle (that's as much as I can say without spoiling it).

In terms of questionable content for the younger readers, there's nothing beyond kissing and cuddling. Sex is alluded to and later confirmed but not graphically described.

The ending is one you might need to read twice to absorb it all. It kind of caught me off guard because I wasn't expecting it, but when I thought about it, it was just perfect. I love the fact that this book is a one-shot because sometimes you just get tired of series, but was strangely sad because I really wanted more of it.

One of the best books I've read so far this year. This will have a coveted space on my shelf and it will continue to be deeply loved. Read this, you simply have to give it a shot.

Thoughts on the cover:
Stunning. I love how they worked the folds of the rose into the turns of the staircase, it's just perfect.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cress - Marissa Meyer

Title: Cress (Book Three of The Lunar Chronicles)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, 2014 (Hardcover)
Length: 550 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: March 23, 2014
Finished: March 25, 2014

From the inside cover:

In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they're plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she's just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

After reading Cinder and Scarlet, this has become one of my new favourite series, so picking up the rest of the books was a no-brainer.

Continuing the fairy tale theme, now we are presented with a Rapunzel character that joins Cinderella and Red Riding Hood. Cress is a Lunar shell, imprisoned at the age of 10 in an orbiting satellite between Earth and Luna. She acts as a hacker and information gatherer/Earthen spy for the Lunar government and is ordered to track down Cinder's ship. Instead, she contacts Cinder directly, pledging allegiance and asking for rescue. When the rescue is intercepted by the Lunars, Cress and Thorne are lost in the Sahara, Scarlet is taken to Luna, and Cinder and Wolf try to track down the others. Once the group is reunited, they need to come up with a plan to save Emperor Kai from his impending marriage to Queen Levana and how they're going to dethrone her and reinstate Cinder (aka Princess Selene) as the true Lunar heir.

I enjoyed this instalment a little more than Scarlet (book 2). The plot, though fractured due to the different experiences and points of view after the group is separated, was very engaging and well-written, which I didn't expect. Things are brought together really well in the end (excellent Cinder and Kai scene), and sets the stage for the conclusion in book 4, Winter.

If you've already read Cinder, and Scarlet, you've already read Cress. If you haven't picked up this series, give it a go, it's popular for a reason.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity from the covers for books 1 and 2, with Cress off to the side so her face isn't visible, but how the red ribbon (always something red in these covers) is woven through her long hair.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Of Beast and Beauty - Stacey Jay

Title: Of Beast and Beauty
Author: Stacey Jay
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House), 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 389 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction, Fairy Tale, Fantasy
Started: March 20, 2014
Finished: March 22, 2014

From the inside cover:

In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...

In the domed city of Yuan the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city's vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, known as the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to their worlds.

Isra wants to help the city's Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan's enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.

As secrets are revealed and Isra's sight, which vanished during her childhood, returns, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.

Stacey Jay has reimagined the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast with a dark new twist that will enchant modern audiences.

I've read Juliet Immortal by this author and quite enjoyed it, so when I saw she had written a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I knew I had to read it.

This is a really interesting set-up. People from different planets come to settle on a different planet and somewhere along the line while they're building domed cities to live in to escape the harsh deserts, some of their people (the Smooth Skins) lock out another group of people (the Monstrous). The group doomed to the deserts evolve and soon develop "Monstrous" traits to help them survive: thicker calloused skin, claws ala  Wolverine, etc. Because the original group became divided, the deity of that land curses both groups until a Smooth Skin and a Monstrous can learn to love one another, and their love will reunite both groups. Part of the curse for the Smooth Skins is that in order to keep the city alive, Yuan's queen must sacrifice herself and feed her blood to the magic roses once every 15-30 years. Isra's mother died when she was 4 years old, and she has always known that she is next in line to give her life for the good of her people, especially after her father's death. After Gem is captured trying to steal the magic of Yuan's roses for the good of his tribe in the desert, Isra uses him as labour to help her build a garden to help her people suffering from deformities and sickness. They begin to fall in love along the way, and both begin to question all the tales and stereotypes they've internalized about the other. When they both begin to hope for a new way to save themselves and their peoples, they question if they will be able to pull it off amidst the treachery and hate of Isra's court.

The plot has enough of a twist on the original tale to be really enticing and keep you reading, the writing is well done too, which helps. The romance is handled amazingly well, showing how they gradually fall in love versus telling the exact moment when it happens. Both Isra and Gem are really well-rounded characters, both damaged but hopeful in their unique ways. I even liked Bo, Isra's suitor, definitely not the Gaston-like character I assumed he'd been put there for.

An extremely well-done retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a sci-fi twist that's really hard to put down. This is one I'm adding to my collection for sure.

Thoughts on the cover:
Considering the possibilities and potential for image to use, the cover is kind of underwhelming, so don't let the blah-ness turn you off of reading this.

Friday, March 21, 2014

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit - Judith Kerr

Title: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
Author: Judith Kerr
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2013 (Hardcover) (Originally published in 1971)
Length: 191 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: March 18, 2014
Finished: March 21, 2014

From the inside cover:

Suppose your country began to change. Suppose that without your noticing, it became dangerous for some people to live in it any longer. Suppose you found, to your surprise, that your own father was one of these people.

This is what happened to Anna, in Germany in 1933.

She was nine years old and too busy to take notice of political posters, but out of them glared the face of Adolf Hitler, the man who would soon change the whole of Europe - starting with her own small life.

Anna suddenly found things moving too quickly for her to understand. One day her father was unaccountably missing. Then she and her brother Max were whisked away by their mother, in alarming secrecy - away from everything they knew, right out of Germany.

The family was reunited in a foreign land, to start the adventure of being refugees that was to go on for years through country after country. For Anna and Max it meant learning all the way, and against all expectations Anna found she could actually enjoy herself. So long as the family stayed together, that was all that mattered. Together, nothing else mattered. But if anything should crack them apart...

This special edition of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit has been published to celebrate the 90th birthday of Judith Kerr.

This is an unique middle grade Holocaust book in that it takes place in the years before WWII and doesn't actually deal with concentration camps and ghettos like most other accounts entail. Anna is nine in 1933 and her family are non-religious Jews. Her father is a writer and quite well known in Berlin, which automatically makes him a target. In the days before Hitler is elected into power in 1933, her father seeks out accommodations for the family in Switzerland and they immediately relocate. Not being able to take everything, many of the family's possessions are claimed by the Nazis  after they leave. After a year in Switzerland, their father secures a job writing for a newspaper in Paris, so the family moves yet again. Throughout all this, the book goes through the family's trials and tribulations of living as refugees facing discrimination, lack of funds due to joblessness and the Depression, and difficulties adjusting to their new lives.

I like this book because it's an introduction to the atrocities of that era without all the more difficult conversations about ghettos, concentration camps, gas chambers, etc. There can be conversations about discrimination and the effects of that on the Jewish people during this time (losing jobs, feeling the need to leave the country, being singled out as an intellectual known for speaking out against the ruling government. The tone is very light-hearted despite the issues Anna's family goes through, and there's no immense trauma like the family being separated, so I'd recommend this for readers under 10, or those who are older but might be more sensitive and can't yet handle Holocaust stories that include the more disturbing content.

A pre-Holocaust story more appropriate for younger readers due to the lighter tone.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how they included the author's illustrations, especially since they're in that old-school style.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

See Jane Run - Hannah Jayne

Title: See Jane Run
Author: Hannah Jayne
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire, 2014 (Paperback)
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: March 18, 2014
Finished: March 18, 2014

From the back of the book:

When Riley first gets the postcard tucked into her bag, she thinks it's a joke. Then she finds a birth certificate for a girl named Jane Elizabeth O'Leary hidden inside her baby book.

Riley's parents have always been pretty overprotective. What if it wasn't for her safety...but fear of finding out their secret? What have they been hiding? The more Riley digs for answers, the more questions she has.

The only way to know the truth? Find out what happened to Jane O'Leary.

The plot seemed really intriguing to me, so that's why I picked this one up. Unfortunately, it just didn't make that great of an impression.

Riley Allen Spencer finds a birth certificate in her baby book while rooting around in her parents' stuff. The birth certificate isn't hers though, it has a completely different name and birthdate on it, but what is it doing in her baby book. Rather than ask her parents directly about the birth certificate, Riley gets it in her head (thanks to her friend Shelby) that her parents actually kidnapped her and changed her name to keep the secret. So Riley actually skips out on a school trip to tour colleges to go to Oregon to investigate the birthplace listed on the birth certificate. After finding no trace of Jane O'Leary in any public records, she finally confronts her parents. She learns that she and her family aren't actually the Spencers, they're the O'Learys, and she is actually the Jane Elizabeth O'Leary from the birth certificate. Her parents were whistle blowers on an Irish kid-smuggling ring in Oregon (I know, it sounds completely ridiculous), and had to go into the Witness Protection Program after the head boss threatened Jane's life. They moved to California and Jane was given the identity of a dead baby boy, Riley Allen Spencer. Then back to present day, stuff happens and Riley is threatened and kidnapped and rescued and such.

The main character, Riley, was too easily persuaded by random strangers; she just seemed way too naive considering she's seventeen. Riley's best friend, Shelby, was infuriating and kept egging Riley on to do completely stupid stuff, to the point where I was actually happy when (spoiler alert) Shelby was hit by a car later on in the book. JD, the love interest, is a complete stereotypical bad boy: detentions all the time, rough kid from foster care, encourages Riley to skip out, etc. The writing is actually more like a movie script with the overabundance of dialogue rather than a novel with a balance between dialogue and descriptions.

The plot is incredibly unrealistic. First off, when Riley goes to the hospital in Oregon where Jane was supposedly born, the nurse eventually looks into the records for her but finds nothing. Due to privacy laws, that nurse would've lost her job for sure. Secondly, the witness protection program only moved the family one state away to California from'd think they'd put some more distance there. Third, this whole thing could've been prevented if Riley's parents had either trashed the original birth certificate or simply told Riley some details at an appropriate age so that their daughter wouldn't have an existential crisis upon finding out at age seventeen that her name and birthday aren't actually hers. Fourth, Irish mob-like child smuggling ring? Really? Last I checked Ireland actually had laws in place and is a first-world country where sending/selling kids across the ocean to the USA would likely get caught, especially when parents raised a stink about not getting them back.

Had potential but didn't deliver, pass.

Thoughts on the cover:
I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to be looking at. If Riley's in the Chuck Taylor shoes then the reflection is Jane?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween - Melissa Atkins Wardy

Title: Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween
Author: Melissa Atkins Wardy
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, 2014 (Paperback)
Length: 225 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction, Parenting
Started: March 13, 2014
Finished: March 18, 2014

From the back cover:

All-pink aisles in toy stores, popular dolls that resemble pole dancers, sexy halloween costumes in tween sizes. Many parents are dismayed at how media, marketers, and manufacturers are sexualizing and stereotyping ever-younger girls but feel powerless to effect change. Mother of two Melissa Atkins Wardy channeled her feelings of frustration into activism - creating T-shirts with girl-positive messages; blogging and swapping parenting strategies with other concerned families; writing letters and organizing petitions to corporate offenders; and raising awareness through parent workshops and social media. Now she shares her hands-on parenting and activism strategies with others dedicated to raising a confident and healthy girl in today's climate. She provides tested advice for getting family, friends, and community on your side; thinking critically about sexed-up toys and clothes; talking to girls about about body image; creating a home free of gender stereotypes; using your voice and consumer power to fight the companies perpetuating them; taking the reins to limit, challenge, and change harmful media and products; and much more.

I've followed this author's blog and business for several years (her clothes are adorable and very appropriate for both genders) and consider her a model for fighting against childhood sexualization, especially that of little girls. She goes through almost every scenario parents can encounter (having conversations with kids while watching certain shows and movies, kids wanting a specific toy that you're morally against) with her 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son and posts her responses via articles on her blog. So when I found out she was writing a book, I knew I'd be reading it for sure.

The book begins with the author outlining her initiation into the concept of the new sexualized girlhood when her daughter was born. Her experience resembles mine with my daughter: the pink horde of baby items that suddenly invade the house, the lack of choice in purchasing things for girls, the really inappropriate Halloween costumes, and the toys that look like something out of a porno.

Chapters follow on changing things up in your own home, getting others on board, appropriate toys to have, and proper channels to go through to achieve change. She has little excerpts throughout the book from authors, business owners, doctors, and other key figures in the fight against childhood sexualization that weigh in with their own strategies that readers can use. The best part of the book in my opinion are the real-life hypothetical scenarios that are in every chapter that include very good responses to kids, relatives, teachers, professionals, companies etc. The scenarios presented are incredibly realistic (already encountered a few myself), and the responses are appropriate to get your point across, especially in the dialogues geared towards kids (no honey, we aren't buying you a Monster High doll and here's why), since I find it difficult to come up with lines to use that get the message across to children in an age-appropriate way without making it a complete power struggle.

She also lists a bunch of books (many of which I've already read an reviewed this past month), websites, and films to further your research. Also valuable is the list of companies that carry approved items free of gender stereotypes to help raise a healthy, confident girl (many of which I have bought from already and recommend).

A must-read for parents of girls, or anyone involved in a little girl's life (or even a boy's for that matter, since the sexualization of girls effects boys as well).

Thoughts on the cover:
A really nice choice for the main image here, the model looks very natural and her expression has a hint of a spark that I just can't quite identify.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Impossible Knife of Memory - Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Viking (Penguin),014 (Hardcover)
Length: 391 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: March 11, 2014
Finished: March 17, 2014

From the inside cover:

For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both. They moved back to Andy's hometown to try a "normal" life, but the horrors he saw in the war threaten to destroy their lives. Hayley watches, helpless, as her father turns to drugs and alcohol to silence his demons. And then her own past creeps up, and everything falls apart.

How do you keep your father alive when death is stalking him? What are you supposed to do when your parent stops acting like an adult? And what happens if a sweet guy who can make you laugh barges his way into your world and for the first time, you find yourself thinking about the future?

Timely, compelling, surprising - this is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest.

I've read several books by this author and she is truly one of my favourites. I've read her gripping "hard issues" books like Speak, Wintergirls, and Twisted; as well as her historical fiction titles for middle grade readers, I will literally read anything this woman writes and am never disappointed. Luckily she hasn't proven me wrong with her newest book.

The Impossible Knife of Memory deals with memories of different sorts and how people process, live, and cope with the aftermath of them. Hayley is seventeen and has had a harder life than most. Her mom died when she was a baby, her grandmother who raised her afterwards died when she was seven, her pseudo-stepmother that raised her from age 7 to 12 ran out on her, and her father has developed PTSD after several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. After five years of unschooling and living a nomadic lifestyle, Hayley and her father decide to return to his hometown to try to have a more normal existence. Hayley's memories are selective, while her father can't escape his, and both have poor coping mechanisms for dealing with them. Andy self-medicates with drugs and alcohol, Hayley turns caustic and doesn't entertain any possibilities of a future.

Since the foreshadowing is impossible to ignore, you know Something Bad will happen. Once it does though, it isn't nearly as huge and life-altering as I'd expected, the results I felt were kind of downplayed for a happy ending that isn't quite realistic. That was my only beef with the book, but being YA I know the endings are going to be more upbeat than if this were an adult novel on PTSD. I liked how even though Andy shows the classic signs of PTSD, you slowly realize Hayley has a form of it as well due to the instability and trauma from her having to be her father's caretaker. Hayley narrates with a great, sarcastic voice that draws you in and doesn't let go.

Another great novel by one of my favourite authors on an engaging subject matter.

Thoughts on the cover:
Different than the other books by this author, this one isn't as obvious to figure out.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Prisoner 88 - Leah Pileggi

Title: Prisoner 88
Author: Leah Pileggi
Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 142 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: March 10, 2014
Finished: March 10, 2014

From the inside cover:

Ten-year-old Jake Oliver Evans is the newest - and youngest - inmate at the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary. It's 1885 and he's been sentenced to five years for shooting a man who had threatened his father.

Alone in a dark cell at night and ordered to muck out ho pens by day, Jake makes the most of prison life. A boy among men, he refuses to be bullied by hardened criminals and lifts the spirits of the inmates who befriend him. Mostly, though, he's just happy to be fed.

When the warden forces him to learn to read and write, Jake feels truly punished. Being incarcerated is bad enough without having daily lessons.

Inspired by an actual ten-year-old prisoner in the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary, Prisoner 88 tells the story of a courageous boy who finds companionship and security under the most unusual circumstances.

The synopsis attracted me to this story right away, and even though it's a quick read it's quite satisfying.

The novel opens with Jake arriving at the prison with most of the men in charge shocked at his arrival, thinking the age listed on his paperwork was a mistake. Though he does get some special treatment due to his age (private cell, extra food, reading lessons, working with a kind family), he's treated the same as the other men and subject to some very disturbing sights. While the warden is concerned with getting Jake in touch with a good lawyer to try and get him pardoned, Jake is only concerned with surviving and taking advantage of actually getting decent meals.

The novel is written in a 'wild west' type vernacular, which though that would normally irritate me I feel it adds to the authenticity here. There's some good themes here about the effects of poverty and lack of education on a population, and whether people who commit certain crimes actually belong in prison. Jake's character (who also narrates), draws you in and makes you care for the spunky little guy. The author also includes some good notes at the end about the prison and the sparse historical account of the real ten-year-old prisoner she based the book on.

Excellent piece of historical fiction on a rarely explored subject matter that will likely appeal to readers.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the art style used here, it reminds me of old-school advertisements or something in an art museum.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Independent Study - Joelle Charbonneau

Title: Independent Study (Book Two of The Testing series)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2014 (Hardcover)
Length: 310 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: March 3, 2014
Finished: March 6, 2014

From the inside cover:

With her brutal Testing experience forgotten thanks to a government-issued memory wipe, seventeen-year-old Cia Vale is eager to begin her studies at the Commonwealth's elite University, as is Tomas, the boy she loves.

Their bright futures are threatened by the past, however, when violent nightmares that feel more like memories force Cia to question reality and the true memories lurking behind the friendly faces of their classmates.

Embarking on a forbidden course of study that could get her killed, Cia delves into the Commonwealth's darkest secrets. What she learns changes everything...

The Testing was just the beginning.

After reading the first book, The Testing, a few months ago and loved it, I knew picking up the sequel was a no-brainer. Luckily for me this whole series is releasing fairly quickly so I haven't had to wait that long.

Independent Study picks up several months after The Testing left off. Cia is about 6 months into her entry level studies and the time has come to take the exam that determines if the students that passed the Testing get to stay at the university and what field they will be sorted into. Once in their new departments, the students undergo their Induction, a kind of hazing gone wild where the upper level students put the first-years in life-threatening situations to see who is worthy of actually staying in the program and who will be considered first for the competitive internships that are necessary for graduation. In the midst of all this, Cia begins to have flashbacks of her Testing experience and starts to suspect that things aren't as clean-cut as she wants them to be. This is when she is introduced to the idea of the rebel groups and starts to work with them to eliminate the Testing for good.

Independent Study felt fairly similar to the first book in terms of pacing and action, though it didn't have as much intrigue in my opinion. The action builds and builds and you're expecting this big reveal of something to make your jaw drop and it just didn't happen, so that was a little disappointing but that was by far my only complaint.

If you enjoyed the first book, you won't be disappointed by the second. Thankfully the third book is supposed to be released in June so you won't wait long for the conclusion.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity from the first cover, and particularly the awesome shade of green used.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know - Shari Graydon

Title: Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know
Author: Shari Graydon
Publisher: Annick Press, 2013 (Paperback)
Length: 150 pages
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Started: March 3, 2014
Finished: March 5, 2014

From the back cover:

Have you ever noticed that ads are everywhere? Ads are trying to be your friend on Facebook or message your phone. You might even be wearing an ad right now (check out your T-shirt or shoes). But what exactly are ads, and how do they influence us?

Made You Look is the essential guide to advertising's secret strategies. Discover the history of advertising, where ads come from, how they work, and why you need to be informed.

This revised and updated edition maps out the modern ad landscape, from digital tracking and cookies to social media, viral videos, and reality television.

Media Literacy is part of our curriculum here, so I'm always on the look-out for appropriate resources that can be used. As soon as I saw this, I knew I had to read it and see if it would work for classroom use. I'm happy to say that it would be a wonderful addition to elementary and high school libraries.

This is a revised and updated version of a 2003 release originally, so it includes more relevant information on advertising through social media and smartphones. The book is broken up into several chapters full of bite-sized snippets of information: one on what ads are and the forms they take, one on how ads target specific audiences, another on advertising techniques, one on advertising in more subtle forms, and one on what you can do to as a consumer.

The information conveyed here doesn't go as in-depth as I would go in a classroom (given enough time of course), but for an introductory book it's very good and covers a breadth of information. The cartoon illustrations are eye-catching and appealing for kids, and there's even a section at the end with  advertising resources for Canada and the USA.

A wonderful book on advertising in the digital age, intended for children and appropriate for elementary and high school readers.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the style of illustrations and how they employed the metaphor of "to the fish, water is invisible," with the swimmer surrounded by ads.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ozma of Oz - L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower, Skottie Young

Title: Ozma of Oz
Author: L.Frank Baum, Eric Shanower, Skottie Young
Publisher: Marvel, 2013 (Paperback)
Length: 200 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel
Started: March 1, 2014
Finished: March 1, 2014

From the back cover:

Dorothy is back, and she's not in Kansas anymore. But she's not in Oz either!

L. Frank Baum's magical world comes to life once again as our beloved Dorothy Gale takes yet another unexpected trip to a mystical, faraway land. This time, Dorothy winds up in the land of Ev; she meets new friends such as Tik-Tok the mechanical man and Billina, perhaps the cleverest chicken you'll ever encounter. Dorothy will also have to face the wicked Nome King, who's imprisoned the royal family of Ev. Lucky for her, she'll get help from her Oz friends such as the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow - along with the new Queen of Oz, the lovely Ozma! But can even their combined might win the day and see Dorothy back home? Find out in Marvel Comics' third amazing series adapting the L. Frank Baum classics!

I'm always on the look-out for graphic novels that are appropriate for younger kids, and ones based on classic books tend to attract my interest, especially classic books that kids are less likely to read these days. As soon as I saw this, I remembered the Disney movie from the 80s that I loved and picked it up.

This instalment is the third in the series of five (a sixth is in progress now) based on L. Frank Baum's Oz books: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz, The Emerald City of Oz (I'm not sure if Marvel plans to do versions of the other books that come after these). These adaptations are closer to the original books than any of the films, which I like, and the artwork is amazing and slightly quirky, perfect for Oz stories. I'll definitely be picking up the rest and keeping them for my collection.

Excellent adaptation of the Oz book with wonderful, appealing artwork. Perfect for kids and even older readers who like the stories. I encourage those who like it to pick up all 6 in the series.

Thoughts on the cover:
Again, I love the artwork, so no complaints here.