Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Keeper of the Mist - Rachel Neumeier

Title: The Keeper of the Mist
Author: Rachel Neumeier
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 391 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: April 21, 2016
Finished: April 30, 2016

From the inside cover:

Keri has spent much of her life trying to go unnoticed, and as a young woman running her mother's bakery, the death of the Lord of Nimmira should have little impact on her. But the Lord of Nimmira was Keri's estranged father, and ancient magic has unexpectedly decreed that she will take his place as the new Lady.

The powerful position has never been so dangerous: the magical mists that hide Nimmira from its vicious, land-hungry neighbours have failed. Now Keri's people are visible to strangers for the first time in generations. Meanwhile, half brothers with their own eyes on the crown make life within the House just as dangerous as the world outside.

Keri has three sources of guidance: her mysterious Timekeeper, a wise and intimidating man; her clever Bookkeeper and best friend since childhood, Tassel; and her steadfast Doorkeeper, Tassel's stoic but noble cousin. Thrust into the spotlight after a lifetime of avoiding it, Keri must find the will to lead - or lose everything.

It's been a while since I've read a good high fantasy, so I figured this would be a good pick.

Kerianna is the youngest (and illegitimate) child of the Lord of Nimmira. When the Lord dies and the Mist must choose a successor, Keri never thinks it will be her, everyone in town wants her older half brothers Brann or Domeric to inherit, since youngest brother Lucas is not an ideal ruler. So when Lord Dorric's Timekeeper, Bookkeeper, and Doorkeeper come to her bakery to appoint her as the new Lady, Keri has a lot to take in. She doesn't have much time to adjust to her new role though, because the Mist around Nimmira is weakening, exposing their tiny country and making them vulnerable to invasion. Keri must figure out a way to repair the Mist and keep the lords of the neighbouring countries at bay, all while trying to navigate her new role as Lady and trying to gauge how trustworthy her three brothers are.

The world-building was interesting here, though I wish the magic system was explained more. Keri just automatically comes into her magic without any training, so that was slightly unrealistic in my opinion. The world-building and characterization could've been developed a bit more, but I felt like those elements were sacrificed in order to keep moving along with the plot.

Keri fell a little flat in terms of characterization, she was your average fantasy heroine who is thrust into a position of power who feels conflicted yet persists, there wasn't much to distinguish her. I liked Tassel, but Cort fell into that same trap of the stoic male who's really rather devoted. I adored Lucas though, he's more of an original character and really made me laugh.

Interesting premise that is worth checking out.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the multi-coloured mist against the silver background, very eye-catching.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Year Without Mom - Dasha Tolstikova

Title: A Year Without Mom
Author: Dasha Tolstikova
Publisher: Groundwood Books, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 168 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic novel; Realistic Fiction
Started: April 19, 2016
Finished: April 20, 2016

From the back cover:

A Year Without Mom follows twelve-year-old Dasha through a year full of turmoil after her mother leaves for America.

It is the early 1990s in Moscow, and political change is in the air. But Dasha is more worried about her own challenges as she negotiates family, friendships, and school without her mother. Just as she begins to find her own feet, she learns that she is to join her mother in America - a place that seems impossibly far from everything and everyone she loves.

This gorgeous and subtly illustrated graphic novel signals the emergence of Dasha Tolstikova as a major new talent.

I picked this up because I love graphic novel accounts of kids living in other countries, especially during important times in history, so I figured this fit the bill.

Dasha lives in Moscow in the Soviet Union of the 90s with her mother and grandparents, while her father lives in Los Angeles. When her mother is accepted to study at a university in Chicago and leaves for a year, Dasha feels lonely and unsure of how she will cope with everything with her mom gone. She proves herself resilient though, navigating crushes, friends, and school more or less on her own. When her mother comes for a visit, she tells Dasha that she is coming with her to America for the next year before they both return to Russia. Dasha realizes she has grown and changed in the year her mother was gone, and whereas before she would've gone with her mother in a heartbeat, now she is reluctant to leave.

I assumed before picking this up that because the story takes place in Russia around the time communism fell that the political climate would have more of a focus in the story, but aside from some differences in the school system and some vocabulary, I honestly forgot I was reading a story that even took place in Russia. Dasha's struggles are quite universal, and she worries about the same stuff every other twelve year old does, which makes this a good pick for the middle grades to show that we as humans are really more alike than we are different no matter where we live.

Very nice story with universal struggles all kids can relate to, with an interesting art style as well (normally not my cup of tea but I actually liked it).

Thoughts on the cover:
You can get a good feel for the art style here, and the image is strangely representative of the atmosphere of the book (Dasha alone being slightly apprehensive about it all).

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Tragedy Paper - Elizabeth LaBan

Title: The Tragedy Paper
Author: Elizabeth LaBan
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 312 pages
Genre: Young Adult; RealisticFiction
Started: March 27, 2016
Finished: April 4, 2016

From the inside cover:

Time Macbeth is a seventeen-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is "Enter here to be and find a friend." Time does not expect to find a friend; all he really wants to do is escape his senior year unnoticed. Despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential it-girl Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving's most popular boy. To Tim's surprise, Vanessa is into him too, but she can kiss her social status good-bye if anyone finds out. Tim and Vanessa begin a clandestine relationship while looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving's version of a senior-year thesis, assigned by the school's least forgiving teacher, Mr.Simon.

Elizabeth LaBan's stunning novel unfolds from two alternating viewpoints: Tim, the love-struck new kid, and Duncan, a current senior who uncovers the truth behind Tim and Vanessa's story and will consequently produce the greatest Tragedy Paper in Irving's history.

Someone recommended this book to me, saying it is somewhat similar to Thirteen Reasons Why, which I loved. Upon reading it, though it does share some very superficial similarities to Thirteen Reasons Why, I enjoy the book moreso for its commentary on tragedy outside of the literary sense.

Duncan is a senior at the Irving School, a private boarding school in New York state. When Duncan arrives on the first day of school to find his room and his treasure, a present the previous year's graduate leaves for the new senior that occupies their dorm room, he is disappointed not only that he has received the worst room on the floor, but also that his "treasure" is a bunch of CD's. Upon closer examination, the CD's are recordings by Tim Macbeth, the room's prior occupant, who was involved in some unfortunate events that occurred last year that the reader isn't completely informed of until the end of the novel. Duncan begins to play them, getting caught up in Tim's story of himself and Vanessa, a classmate that he finds himself falling for.

The chapters alternate viewpoints between Duncan and Tim. The dual narration is well-done, the voices are clearly distinct and I never got them confused. Tim's story was engaging. Even though I never cared much for Vanessa as a character, I read on purely because I wanted to know what happened to Tim. I also love how the author made this novel very much like a modern-day equivalent to a classic tragedy, from the character names from tragic literature (Tim Macbeth, Duncan, Daisy) to the presence of tragic flaws, and the adherence to the proper structure of tragedy. Duncan is afraid his senior year will be tragic like Tim's and Vanessa's, so it is interesting to see the dichotomy between Tim and Vanessa's actions and Duncan and Daisy's.

Now go forth and spread beauty and light by reading this book, especially if you're a literature enthusiast.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the image of Tim (I'm assuming Tim) running in the snow with his back to the reader. The colour scheme of blue, silver, and grey is very aesthetically pleasing as well.