Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ink - Alice Broadway

Title: Ink
Author: Alice Broadway
Publisher: Scholastic, 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 324 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: March 8, 2018
Finished: March 18, 2018

From the inside cover:

There are no secrets in Saintstone.

From the moment you're born, every achievement, every failing, and every significant moment are all immortalized on your skin. There are honourable marks that let people know you're trustworthy. And shameful tattoos that announce you as a traitor.

After her father dies, Leora finds solace in the fact that his skin tells a wonderful story. That is, until she glimpses a mark on the back of his neck...the symbol of the worst crime a person can commit in Saintstone. Leora knows it has to be a mistake, but before she can do anything about it, the horrifying secret gets out, jeopardizing her father's legacy...and Leora's life.

In her startlingly prescient debut, Alice Broadway shines a light on the dangerous lengths we go to make our world feel orderly - even when the truth refuses to stay within the lines. This rich, lyrical fantasy with echoes of Orwell is unlike anything you've ever read, a tale guaranteed to get under your skin...

The premise behind this was just so compelling I had to give it a try, and the cover and overall visual presentation is just so stinking pretty.

Leora's world is one where babies are welcomed into the world by tattooing their names on their body. As they grow up, new marks are added as they age and enter professions. But criminals are also marked, and the worst punishment is to be Forgotten, to have the book that's made from your skin after you die be burned rather than kept safely by your family for generations. When Leora's father dies from an illness and she and her mother glimpse his book for the first time, something seems off but she can't quite figure out why. When she sees a person being marked publicly as Forgotten for stealing someone's skin, she realizes that her father bore the same horrible mark: that of a crow. With her mother refusing to talk about it with her, Leora is forced to piece things together on her own.

The world building here is truly well done, it really immerses you in a place where people are immensely afraid of being deceived and can't possibly imagine not being able to tell a person's story by looking at their skin. Leora wants to be seen as more than just a set of tattoos, but struggles with the sheer disgust and fear towards "blanks" that she's been raised in. The author writes quite well too, I never thought I'd ever think a scene about inking a tattoo could be written so eloquently and with such feeling.

My only complaint with the story is that this beautiful world building is done at the sacrifice of pacing. We get a wealth of information about Leora's world, but the main plot of trying to figure out what crime her father committed and what will become of his book goes by at a snail's pace and isn't even revealed until the last fifty pages of the novel. This is the first of at least two books, so the story will continue thankfully, but I can see readers losing patience with the pacing here.

An incredible dystopian with an original premise and amazing world building that's unfortunately done at the expense of pacing. But still worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
So. Freaking. Pretty. The copper metallic effects with the images of the owl and the crow becoming recognizable after a couple seconds is a lovely touch here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Behind the Legend: Unicorns - Erin Peabody

Title: Behind the Legend: Unicorns
Author: Erin Peabody
Publisher: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing), 2018 Paperback
Length: 121 pages
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Started: March 12, 2018
Finished: March 12, 2018

From the back cover:

Do you think elegant, elusive unicorns are real or just a myth? You decide in this new book in the nonfiction series, Behind the Legend!

Behind the Legend looks at creatures and monsters throughout history and analyzes them through a scientific, myth-busting lens, debating whether or not what is known about the creature is adequate proof of its existence. In Unicorns, readers learn about all the sightings and evidence, from ancient stories of acclaimed figures such as Julius Caesar and Marco Polo who sought to capture unicorns to the reasons behind why they were hunted so fiercely to being with. It also explores additional history about the creatures, including why their horns were so valued in the medieval era, their presence in pop culture, and people's ongoing search for unicorns in modern times.

Complete with engaging anecdotes, interesting sidebars, and fantastic illustrations, Unicorns is a book kids won't want to put down!

I initially picked this up for my unicorn-obsessed six-year-old, but realized this is a bit of a difficult read for her, its much more suited for the 8-12 age range.

The book opens with ancient historical records of animals believed to be unicorns from varied sources such as the Bible and Pliny the Elder, moving on to medieval records and then examining modern-day animals that resemble unicorns like the rhinoceros, oryx, and narwhal. The author includes a nice list of bibliographical sources, as well as a list of books and novels that feature unicorns for further reading.

This is a lovely series that is perfect for middle grade readers that are interested in fantasy and folklore. Other instalments include: Dragons, Zombies, Werewolves, Big Foot, and the Loch Ness Monster.

Thoughts on the cover:
Nicely designed with an appealing colour scheme.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

Title: Between Shades of Grey
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 344 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: March 1, 2018
Finished: March 7, 2018

From the inside cover:

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch. 

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. they are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honour her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experiences in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?

Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit.

This book is on reading lists for several courses at the school I teach at; its the reason I was tempted to pick it up, and after reading it I can see why. Between Shades of Gray is a beautiful story about a time period in history that is decidedly cruel and ugly. This novel also has the difficult job of educating readers about events that most people know nothing about; unlike the Holocaust and other atrocities of the modern age, this was the first I'd heard about a genocide taking place in the Baltic countries.

Lina is a normal teenager with an artistic talent living under Soviet occupation in Kaunas, Lithuania. In June 1941, Soviet police storm her house and she, her mother, and ten-year-old brother Jonas are taken in the night. Unbeknownst to them, their father has already been taken to prison. After a journey in train cars reminiscent of those experienced by victims of the Holocaust, Lina and her family arrive at a farm in the Altai region in Siberia where they are expected to work in conditions similar to those of a concentration camp. After refusing to sign documents admitting they are criminals and agreeing to sentence of 25 years hard labour, their conditions deteriorate even further. Despite the occasional kindness shown to them by both their own, locals, and Soviet guards, the deportees continue to die. Being moved even farther north past the Arctic Circle forces Lina and her family to call upon a degree of strength they're not even sure they possess.

The novel is divided into 85 short chapters that contribute to the immersive atmosphere; the story envelops you from the first lines and before you know it you've read a third of the book. Lina is an engaging narrator, peppering her observations with flashbacks from the past relating to the events happening in front of her. The romance between she and Andrius isn't as well developed as I'd like, but it has the whole "shared trauma" angle to suspend your disbelief regarding it.

The main purpose of this book is shedding light on the historical events that had been kept secret for so long, and it does the job very well. It also manages to tell a very touching tale of the human spirit managing to triumph in the most horrific conditions. I also particularly enjoy Kretzsky as a character and what the author chose to do with him in the novel (won't elaborate for fear of spoilers, but it would make for an interesting discussion in relation to said themes).

Read it, it's just amazing. Especially before the film version is supposed to release later this year.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like my cover (older release) better than the newer cover art that decidedly screams "YA teenage girl". The older cover actually conveys something about the themes, whereas the new cover just looks pretty with not much substance.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Big Mushy Happy Lump - Sarah Andersen

Title: Big Mushy Happy Lump: A "Sarah's Scribbles" Collection
Author: Sarah Andersen
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 125 pages
Genre: Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: March 1, 2018
Finished: March 1, 2018

From the back cover:

Sarah Andersen's second comics collection picks up right where the first left off-huddled under a pile of blankets avoiding the responsibilities of the real world. These new comics (and illustrated personal essays!) follow the ups and downs of the unrelenting self-esteem roller coaster that is young adult life: budgeting woes, cramps, the nuances of sweater theft, and the joy of staying home all day with box of pizza. All aboard.

I can almost guarantee you've seen this artist's work on social media; in fact, the comic that was my first exposure to her work is included in this collection (that I first saw on Facebook what seems like eons ago). If you scroll down below, you'll see it's totally bang on for how I spend money...except nowadays I spend money on books for my kid rather than books for myself. Needless to say, after reading her first collection last year, picking up this one was a given.

This collection has more of the same aspects of the first: quirky, introvert humour that appeals to those in their 20s-30s about surviving this thing we call adulthood. The little addition to this instalment is that the author has some written thoughts collected along with the graphic panels that help to convey her intent behind some of the social anxiety pieces.

If you liked the first collection, or if you haven't and just recognize her work from online, pick this up and read it.

Thoughts on the cover:
Continuing in a blue colour scheme rather than the red of the first volume, I like how the title font and the sweater are velour/fuzzy, similar to the first volume. Continuity in book covers satisfies my inner collector.