Operation Bunny is a sweet little novel for younger readers that is sure to enchant and thrill. I wouldn’t call the novel middle grade literature as t...moreOperation Bunny is a sweet little novel for younger readers that is sure to enchant and thrill. I wouldn’t call the novel middle grade literature as the tone and content are far younger than anything on the market for middle graders right now but it would be a perfect fit for kids from grades five to ten. The novel is about Emily Vole, a little girl with mysterious origins, who is adopted by a horrible yuppie family who value plastic far more than nature. The novel tells her adventures as she escapes the horrid family she has been enslaved by, becomes the keeper of the keys and has many adventures.
The art in the novel is quite exquisite and I am looking forward to seeing what the finished copy looks like. The novel sets itself up immediately as something younger readers would be comfortable reading by invoking the storytelling voice. The voice of the nameless narrator is kindly and reassuring and so even when there are scarier elements present, the younger reader will always know that what they are reading is a story and is removed from reality. Another thing I appreciated about the novel is its attention to and usage of more sophisticated vocabulary than is usually present in a book aimed to younger readers. Gardner uses the words and then explains what they means and how they are pronounced but rather than feeling sonorous, the explanations are interwoven into the story.
Emily Vole is a great character and though as an adult reader, I felt the novel to be a bit too simple for my taste, for that younger reader in your life, the novel will be fun and uplifting, a triumph of the underdog. I recommend it.(less)
Blues for Zoey, is, if I am not mistaken, Robert Paul Weston’s first foray into the YA genre after writing successful and award winning books such as...moreBlues for Zoey, is, if I am not mistaken, Robert Paul Weston’s first foray into the YA genre after writing successful and award winning books such as Zorgamazoo for middle graders. I have read his middle grade offerings and found them compelling and complex, being able to offer as much to an adult reader as they would to a middle grader. This then was my reasoning for accepting the review copy.
Blues for Zoey is about Kaz who works in a Laundromat in order to save money so his mother who suffers from a rare disease that makes her fall asleep for hours (even days) at a time, can go to a hospital and be cured. After his father died, the family’s economic circumstances changed and they moved from the plush side of town to a not-so-plus side. His eight year old sister is precocious and already using words like “stress” in her daily vocabulary. His girlfriend dumped him after an unfortunate experience in bed and well, his life is not fun. Then Zoey walks past the Laundromat he works at (and lives over) and his life…I wouldn’t say it changes, I’d say that things become more interesting for him than they were. Perhaps.
I liked the diversity of the characters present in the novel. Kaz is half-Japanese and half-Black, his mom being Japanese and his dad being Black. His book is Portuguese and his across the street neighbor is Algerian. I like that but what I couldn’t understand is why their differences were not used to spice up the narrative, give Kaz a more unique perspective as someone who is struggling with his identity would view the world in much more interesting ways. There are no signs of either of his heritage in his daily life, no mention of food that his mother would like or stuff his father did that paints him as being from a different place. See, I am of the camp who thinks that this whole “colour doesn’t matter, we are all the same” is disrespectful. I love that I am a person of colour and I want my differences celebrated. That’s why I was puzzled when even though the potential was rich, the novel doesn’t utilize it.
Another thing that got me riled up was how Kaz and the other boys in the novel treated this girl they apparently have all been crushing on for ages. They completely objectify her and treat her as this stall which is sometimes occupied (when she has a boyfriend) and empty (when she doesn’t) and the queue in the front is long as other boys wait for their chance. This character is not given depth or a substantial personality; she is used to soothe Kaz’s ego, get him into trouble etc. She is never seen as a person with her own thoughts, dreams, etc. She stops at her physical looks and that was not happy-making.
As for Zoey, honestly, I do not have anything much to say about her. She is the manic pixie dream girl who teaches Kaz about life and then disappears. The way she teaches him is very interesting and unexpected so kudos to that but as a character, she didn’t do anything much for me. My favourite character in the novel is the little sister and she gets far too little page time.
So yes, the book did disappoint me as I was expecting something a lot more complex and layered considering Weston’s previous novels. However, my opinion is just one many so check out Lindsay’s review before making your decision.(less)
Neverwas is the second installment in The Amber House trilogy and continues the story of Sarah Parsons and Amber House, the estate that has been in he...moreNeverwas is the second installment in The Amber House trilogy and continues the story of Sarah Parsons and Amber House, the estate that has been in her family for years (centuries?). The previous novel in the series ends with a choice that Sarah makes, the decision that alters time and as the reader finds out, changes history.
It has been a while since I read the first novel in the trilogy and at first, I was completely baffled by the sequel. It took me a good while to situate myself in the narrative and if you, too, read the first novel some time ago, I recommend that you flip through the last few pages of The Amber House before beginning Neverwas to refamiliarize yourself with the story and its characters.
There are many things to appreciate about Neverwas First is the attention given to Sarah’s character – she’s distinct from the person she was in the first book and this hints at the dichotomy between nature and nurture. Sarah of Neverwas grows up in a different time (literally) and this is evident in the way she expresses herself and in some of the decisions she makes (and some she doesn’t make). I liked her awareness of this difference both in herself and in Richard and I liked that the love triangle has been pared. I didn’t mind his presence in Neverwas as I appreciated the complexity he throws into the narrative. It would have been so much easier for Sarah to accept his advances and let herself be carried away by everyone’s expectations where their relationship is concerned but she actually makes a choice that is consistent with who she is and that, again, threw me back to the nature/nurture conundrum.
Racial discrimination is at the forefront of the issues in this novel; the struggle for equality made dire by the fact that in the alternative history in which Sarah lives, the Nazi Germans won World War 2 and along with Japan have managed to subjugate two thirds of the world. The only power remaining unconquered is North America, part of which is sympathetic to the Nazi regime. Canada does not exist which makes sense considering London (and I’m assuming England) was burned down by its enemies but I’m Canadian so I needed to mention this, hah.
The book takes a look at the issues that would be natural to a world such as the one described but the authors do not let these issues subsume the primary narrative. The Amber House and Sarah are still at the heart of the story and it is Sarah’s growth through the narrative that is given prominence. The romance, too, is sweet but only a part of the story. Jackson is a wonderfully relatable character and his plight invites the reader’s sympathy. Sarah’s brother has a slightly lesser role in this novel but he is no less important. Sarah’s mother and Sarah continue to have issues and I’m afraid that it’s going to take a lot for her to be redeemed for me .
I enjoyed the novel immensely, especially in the second half when the tension kicks up a notch and the villainous characters show their hand. I wonder if Richard’s mother has more to her than is revealed because she has a rather sinister mien to her that is intriguingly hinted at but never really explored in much detail. I’m hoping the next installment features her a bit more prominently as it feels she has a story within her.
The only thing that I did not like was Sarah’s waffling. She runs away a lot in this novel and after the second or third time she did so, I was at my limit. And while I understood that running away from responsibilities and difficult tasks is fitting with the society she grew up in and the person she is at the moment, I felt that the action was also contradictory to the attitudes and opinions she had expressed concerning the racial discrimination. If she has a chance to make it better, why does she not take it? However, once she does decide, things pick up and come to a resounding climax that leaves me eager for and anticipating the final installment in the trilogy.(less)
I did not love The Nightmare Affair, the first in the Arkwell Academy series but I did not hate it so I requested the sequel with the hope that this i...moreI did not love The Nightmare Affair, the first in the Arkwell Academy series but I did not hate it so I requested the sequel with the hope that this installment would show growth in both the writing and the story. I believe in giving second chances though I have been burned enough times to completely abandon that belief now.
See, The Nightmare Dilemma did not work for me at all. I was able to at least push aside my complaints in the first novel, and enjoy the story for what it was but that was impossible to do in the sequel because the bad was just so bad. First, the writing is the biggest obstacle when it comes to enjoying the story. It’s not polished, the use of language is stale and there is no attention being given to rhetoric. I would give examples but I have an ARC copy and we’ve been requested not to quote from ARC copies.
Then there are the characters. Dusty shows no emotional growth but Eli has somehow regressed. Their relationship, which was the highlight of the first novel for me, has become the clichéd “I love you, You love me But We Must Not Because ______” or until Paul makes a reentrance and then it becomes two puppies fighting over a particularly choice morsel or so it seems. The progression of the story is predictable and Dusty’s development into superawesomesauce savior is unbelievable. Oh and the airport scene at the climax of the novel rather than being sad and tugging at heartstrings is laughable in its aggrandized melodrama.
Yeah, this sequel did not work for me on so many levels. But maybe it’ll be awesome for people who really liked the first novel. I can see them liking it. Maybe.(less)
Absent is a relatively short novel discussing the events occurring after a girl finds herself dead and stuck at her high school where she died. I just...moreAbsent is a relatively short novel discussing the events occurring after a girl finds herself dead and stuck at her high school where she died. I just thought that the novel was lacking something intrinsic. First is the mystery of how this girl dies. When it is answered, it is tragic and I just couldn’t get over how easily the perpetrator was forgiven. I think it was the lack of emotional drama that got me. I wanted something more, something heightened that convinced me that the protagonist felt anger, relief and despair. What I got instead was a rather lukewarm acceptance of the circumstances – which though logical and pragmatic did not get me on the visceral level I was looking for.
Then there are the less than interesting characters. I thought the characterizations were 2-dimensional. It cannot be fun to be stuck in high school physically when everyone goes home and yet there is never any discussion about loneliness. About how time does not pass or even if it does pass quickly, is it because they are dead and do not feel time the same way humans do? As I said, I lacked an emotional connection with any of the characters.
However, the novel is not without its merits. I loved the mural and how it functions in the end. It is just an amazing way to signal both freedom and release. I also liked the pacing. The novel is very short and it has an appropriately brisk pace to march it along to its climax. If anything, this will appeal to those looking for a quick entertaining read.(less)
Crankenstein will appeal to any child because they will be able to relate to the protagonist’s feelings as things go wrong and keep on going wrong for...moreCrankenstein will appeal to any child because they will be able to relate to the protagonist’s feelings as things go wrong and keep on going wrong for the poor little Crankenstein. The typography is appropriate and matches the emotions – happy sentences are told in bright, rainbow coloured letters, which are sprightly and fresh while the Crankenstein’s “Mehhrrr” is told in big chunky putrid colours that leave no uncertainty about Crankenstein’s state of mind.
The picturebook will afford lots of fun as parents/guardians read and have the children act out Crankenstein’s groans and moans in most mournful or dismal voices. Then there can be conversations about what turns the children into Crankensteins which could lead to more rereading. Also wonderful is that one turn in plot when the Crankenstein becomes a normal little boy illustrating to the child reader the origin of the Crankenstein and by doing so, creating a segue to discussion about what turns a normal boy or girl into a Crankenstein.
The illustrations are amazing and the writing is spot on. I recommend this to anyone who has a child at home. This would be especially great if your kid has had a bad day. This little book will create a great opportunity for the child to release some stress in a benign manner. Strongly recommended.(less)
I spent the entire novel feeling sorry for Sahar. That could be a title on its own, couldn’t it? Feeling Sorry for Sahar. I reckon it could give Feeli...moreI spent the entire novel feeling sorry for Sahar. That could be a title on its own, couldn’t it? Feeling Sorry for Sahar. I reckon it could give Feeling Sorry for Celia a run for its money. But I am digressing.
Let’s ignore the fact that Sahar lives in Tehran for now or that she’s Muslim. Let’s focus on the fact that Sahar lost her mother at a very young age and that her father has chosen to withdraw from life and wrap himself up in his grief to the detriment of his relationship with his daughter. Sahar is in love with her best friend who seems to be in love with her. They spend their time kissing, making out, and generally doing all the things that would be deemed sinful. It would be difficult enough to be gay in the western world but when you live in a country where you can be jailed for showing your elbows, things become a lot more serious.
I found the novel to be interesting but while I felt for Sahar, I couldn’t completely connect to her. Perhaps it is because I couldn’t see what she found so enticing in Nasrin who, to all intents and purposes, seemed to be spoiled and selfish. Her inability to recognize and accept other peoples’ differences also turned me off quite a bit. I liked Parveen quite more than I did Nasrin because Parveen’s struggles sound genuine and Nasrin for all that she claims to love Sahar, does not ever show it.
The novel itself seemed to be giving a rather polished look at what it means to be gay in Iran. Ali’s celebrity status is destroyed far too easily to be credible. The ending is promising but again, is far too smooth for my liking. I did like that Sahar managed to extract herself from Nasrin but there is an ambiguity to the entire thing that troubles me. Of course, it is not like Sahar can change her country’s attitude and perspective by herself and I did like that Farizan addressed Sahar’s ill-advised and wrongly motivated desire to turn into a man. A woman who likes other women or a man who likes other men are different from people who feel wrong in their skins and to force a person to change sex just because of their sexual orientation is inhumane.
If You Could Be Mine is an interesting book but I think what makes it interesting are the settings and the sexual orientations of the characters rather than the story itself. I’m not sure how authentic the portrayal of lesbian culture is in the novel though. Sara Farizan is Iranian but I am not sure whether she has lived in Iran as a teen. However, the YA genre does need more diversity and this novel certain accomplishes that.(less)
Alex Woods is catapulted to fame (of a sort) when a meteor bursts through the roof of his house, hits him on the head and sends him in a coma from whi...moreAlex Woods is catapulted to fame (of a sort) when a meteor bursts through the roof of his house, hits him on the head and sends him in a coma from which no one expects him to emerge. But emerge he does, only to be faced with epilepsy that, as he muses, traps him in his brain. The novel is a vast sprawling read that I feel goes down better in short gulps than in one long draught. The pace is rather slow as Extence takes his time creating Alex’s voice.
Alex is a contradiction. He is cynical but at the same time he is naïve. He is unwittingly funny and his observations about the world he lives in are sharp and poignant. His experiences in the school with the teachers who don’t seem to understand him and the bullies who seem to find perverse pleasure in not understanding him are all narrated with a curious lack of emotion that serves to delineate the impact of these experiences on Alex. Alex’s use of the “worst word in the English language” brings about an interesting discussion about language, meaning, context and intent.
Though the focus of the novel is mainly on Alex and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Peterson, the side characters are well developed. While I would have expected the novel to spring immediately into the heart of the matter – how Alex reaches the point we initially meet him at – Extence chooses instead to create the foundation and give us the relationship between Mr. Peterson and Alex first. Their meeting, their gradual friendship and the madcap plan that takes them to Switzerland and brings Alex back. While this technique is frustrating at times, it ultimately pays off in the final scene between Alex and Mr. Peterson. The scene would not have had as much emotional depth if the readers had not seen how much the two meant to each other.
The novel asks some difficult questions about euthanasia but it doesn’t presume to have the answers on a general scale and I appreciated that. It gives the story of one man and how he chooses and perhaps why as well. It does not preach or attempt to proselytize. The story is handled with a fine hand and Alex’s part in it is profound. It is the depiction of the friendship between two such unlikely people that makes The Universe Versus Alex Woods such a strong novel. Though the book is being marketed as literary fiction, I think it has crossover appeal and will attract readers of realistic YA fiction.
Personally, I really liked this novel. It had something quintessentially British about it and evoked the same sort of feelings that Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy did. Both novels look at the same world but in very different ways. Recommended.