Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Diary from the Edge of the World - Jodi Lynn Anderson

Title: My Diary From the Edge of the World
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
Publisher: Aladdin (Simon & Schuster), 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 419 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Started: January 18, 2016
Finished: January 27, 2016

From the inside cover:

Spirited, restless Gracie Lockwood is a typical girl in a world that isn't exactly typical: one where sasquatches helped win the American Civil War, where dragons glide over Route 1 on their way south for the winter (sometimes burring down an Applebee's along the way), where giants hide in caves near LA and mermaids hunt along the beaches, and where Dark Clouds come for people when they die.

To Gracie, it's all pretty ho-hum...until a Dark Cloud comes for her little brother, Sam. Her parents pack the family into a used Winnebago and set out on an epic search for a safe place that most people say doesn't exist: the Extraordinary World. It's rumoured to lie at the ends of the earth. To reach it, the Lockwoods will have to learn to believe in each other...and to trust that the world holds more possibilities than they've ever imagined.

Perceptive, playful, and bittersweet, My Diary From the Edge of the World is a story about protecting those you love at all costs. Captured in diary form by an irresistible heroine, it's a coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of wonders; a gentle family portrait that sparkles with science, myth, magic, and the strange beauty of everyday marvels we sometimes forget to notice.

This was probably the most charming middle grade book I've read in a while, and the story is fairly unique, at least I don't recall anything similar that I've come across recently.

Gracie lives in an alternate reality to ours: everything is more or less similar except that their world is inhabited by all the magical creatures we've only read about. The world-building is really well-done, Gracie leads us through lesson-type entries in her diary informing us about how the world is actually flat, and how she broke her arm when she accidentally brushed against a dragon flying past her. Dark Clouds act as grim reapers, slowly approaching the houses of people that are about to die. When a Dark Cloud appears in Gracie's neighbourhood, she assumes it's for one of the elderly neighbours, until it settles over her house and she realizes it's come for her sickly little brother. Her academic father packs the family up to go on the road to escape the cloud to a place only he believes actually exists: the Extraordinary World, aka our world. On the way from the eastern coast to the west, Gracie and family encounter many amazing things including the addition of an orphan to their caravan, kidnapping a sasquatch, hiring a guardian angel, and being attacked by a Kracken.

I love the themes of sticking together as a family, dealing with loss, and how the journey itself is more important than the destination. The relationships between the characters I thought were realistic and well-portrayed. The English teacher in me loved the Hamlet quote in the beginning, it makes sense once you read the entire book. The only thing that irked me was that the plot twist of an ending wasn't really explained and I wanted more information.

A really engaging novel that will make you laugh (and also cry at the end), definitely worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
 I like the view of Gracie from the side so we can't see her face looking at the Winnebago driving off. The fact that she's holding her diary is a nice touch, as well as the little dragon by the title font.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Family Pets - Pat Shand and Sarah Dill

Title: Family Pets
Author: Pat Shand and Sarah Dill
Publisher: Silver Dragon Books, 2015 (Paperback)
Length: 160 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult; Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Started: January 16, 2016
Finished: January 16, 2016

From the back cover:

Ever since her parents died on her fifth birthday, Thomasina has been daydreaming that something amazing will happen in her life to make up for everything she's been through.

After turning sixteen, Thomasina begins to accept that her life will remain unremarkable...but when she wakes up one morning to discover that her foster family has been turned into pet animals, her ordinary life will turn into an extraordinary adventure!

I hadn't read some good graphic novels in a while, hence the plethora of graphic novel reviews lately, so this was yet another to add to the pile. Family Pets is a short but cute all-ages comic that everyone can enjoy.

Thomasina's parents died when she was five, and she's been raised by her grandmother (Abuela in Spanish) ever since. The two of them now live in the basement of her aunt and uncle's house, but you'd never know she lives with family the way her aunt, uncle, and cousins ignore her.

Like most kids, Thomasina has been raised on the same books that give way to the dream that a mysterious person will show up at your door to tell you you're magic or otherwise special and take you on a great adventure. Thomasina has mostly given up on that hope until one morning when her pet snake Sebastian turns into a human while her uncle, aunt, and cousins turn into household pets. When Thomasina, Abuela, and Sebastian try to discover how this has happened, the race is on to undo the spell cast on her family before they remain animals permanently.

The artwork for this series is really appealing, the characters have very defined faces and expressions, and even the animals are well drawn. I enjoyed all the characters, but Sebastian really stole the show for me, he's hilarious. This volume is a one-shot as far as I can tell, so things move rather quickly and some plot points are a little rushed, particularly the ending, but hopefully the creative team will choose to continue it because I would definitely read more from this universe.

An all-ages appropriate story with diverse characters and an engaging storyline. This would make a great addition to a classroom library or a choice for readers just getting into graphic novels.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the spotlight on Thomasina (this is the only colour illustration we really see) with the family members as pets around her with their human silhouettes in the background. I will Sebastian or Abuela or even Smitty could've been added into the picture but I can see why they chose the image they did.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Friends with Boys - Faith Erin Hicks

Title: Friends with Boys
Author: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: Square Fish (Macmillan), 2015 (Paperback)
Length: 220 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Graphic Novel, Realistic Fiction, Fantasy
Started: January 11, 2016
Finished: January 11, 2016

From the back cover:

After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting high school. It's pretty terrifying.

Maggie's big brothers are there to watch her back, but ever since Mom left, it just hasn't been the same.

Besides her brothers, Maggie's never had any real friends before. Lucy and Alistair don't have lots of friends either. But they eat lunch with her at school and bring her along on their small-town adventures.

But when a ghost won't leave Maggie along, can her new friends help her? Or is she destined to be haunted forever?

This is a really cute coming of age story of Maggie, her three older brothers, her friends, and a local ghost. Maggie and her older brothers Daniel, Zander, and Lloyd were all homeschooled by their mom until reaching grade 9 when they moved on to the public high school. As the youngest, Maggie is about to embark on her first day of high school, with the very obvious difference that their mom left recently and it's up to their police chief father to finish raising his children alone.

The relationship between Maggie and her brothers is really sweet while still being realistic. Daniel, Zander, and Lloyd all look out for Maggie and help her out while still being involved in their own lives, leaving Maggie to fend for herself for certain things and become more independent. I also liked how all the other characters besides Maggie had some backstory going on which unraveled as the story progresses, I can genuinely say I really enjoyed all the characters (to the point where I wanted Maggie's older brothers for my own).

The artwork is gorgeous, edgy enough to be unique and recognizable while not weird to the point of being unappealing. Maggie learns a great lesson that most kids need to accept at some point in their lives: you can't fix everything, so stop making yourself crazy trying to do so. The ghost is actually worked into the plot of the story rather than a weird add-on, which I appreciated.

A sweet coming of age story with great characters and beautiful artwork, what's not to like?

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how all the main characters are pictured (though I kept turning the cover upside down to a get a good look at the non-Maggie end).

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Owner's Manual to Terrible Parenting - Guy Delisle

Title: The Owner's Manual to Terrible Parenting
Author: Guy Delisle
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly, 2015 (Paperback)
Length: 192 pages
Genre: Adult; Graphic novel, Parenting
Started: January 11, 2016
Finished: January 11, 2016

From the back cover:

Guy Delisle knows knows all the worst parenting techniques. Slipping grammar lessons into bedtime stories, picking a favourite child, and experimenting with explosives: it's all in a day's work for Guy Delisle. In The Owner's Manual to Terrible Parenting, Delisle (author of Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, and A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting) pays tribute to all the ways parents can drive their kids crazy, and vice versa, making it the perfect antidote to frustrating car rides filled with "Are we there yet?" and epic battles over homework.

I love parenting books, and I devoured this one since it's a graphic novel as well.

This book is a series of comics drawn in a simple style of two images per page (not a traditional multi-panel type of cmic) about the author's adventures in parenting his two young children. The different scenarios are all pretty laughable, but more about the sarcasm and jaded attitude the dad has in front of his children. One of my favourites was one where walking his daughter to school turns into a "life sucks and then you die" discussion and then he happily drops his daughter off as if the whole prior conversation never took place. Another is where he treats video games like homework and forces his son to play them when he would rather read in an effort to purposely make him hate video games. Here's an example of the art style from the comic where his daughter asks him who his favourite child is:

Very funny parenting moments, especially if you have a jaded or sarcastic sense of humour. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple, but very fitting. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Patrick Ness

Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 317 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction, Fantasy
Started: January 1, 2016
Finished: January 10, 2016

From the inside cover:

What if you aren't the chosen one? The one who's supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you're like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week's end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness' bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

I love pretty much everything this author writes, I haven't been disappointed by one of his books yet. Thankfully his newest one wasn't one to break the cycle.

I love the concept the author worked with: he focuses on the people in the background. While the "indie kids" with names like Finn and Satchel have already saved the world a few times in recent memory, the main characters are other kids in the high school the indie kids attend: siblings Mikey and Mel (and younger sister Meredith), Jared, and Henna. Each chapter opens with a short paragraph on what's happening with the indie kids and the fight against the Immortals, but otherwise readers are immersed in Mikey's experiences of dealing with his workaholic mother who's a politician, alcoholic father, a bad case of OCD that's rearing it's ugly head again, watching out for his older sister Mel who previously dealt with an eating disorder, and trying to have the guts to ask childhood friend Henna out before they all graduate in a few weeks.

Some who have read this book expressed that a book about boring everyday people turned out pretty boring and ordinary, but I was quite hooked by it, so I suppose that's one thing to warn you about.

I for one really enjoyed the novel, especially Jared (yay for more LGBTQ characters in YA lit!). He's such a cool character and very sweet as well...and I won't give away the spoiler for why he's worshipped by all types of felines.

Even if some find the end result boring (I didn't), this is worth the read purely for the unique concept of focusing on the background characters while the fight against evil happens on the sidelines.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the drawings of Mikey, Mel, Jared, and Henna are in colour so your attention is drawn to them compared to the other random kids in shades of blue. Also, something I found out completely by accident when looking at the book on my bedside table in the dark, the cover glows in the dark!