Told from the eyes of Patroclus, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles follows the Greek hero Achilles from his childhood in Phthia to his death whil...moreTold from the eyes of Patroclus, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles follows the Greek hero Achilles from his childhood in Phthia to his death while fighting in the Trojan War. In the Iliad, Patroclus doesn’t have a huge role; but, his death at the hands of the Trojan Prince Hector is vital in turning the tide of the Trojan War in favour of the Greeks since it causes Achilles to put aside his wrath in order to get revenge. Here, Miller makes Patroclus the same age as Achilles – instead of being older like in the Iliad – and explicitly makes him Achilles’ lover so that the reader can understand why Achilles goes mad with grief once Patroclus dies.
My biggest hesitancy when reading The Song of Achilles was that I was concerned about how much the focus would be on Achilles’ and Patroclus’ sexual relationship rather than on things I would find more interesting – namely, the retelling of the Trojan War. While it was slightly annoying to read about the smitten Patroclus go on about Achilles’ beauty, there was actually only one sexual scene (though there were a couple of instances where physical intimacy is alluded to).
I liked that Miller chose to make Patroclus her narrator because it really highlighted the differences between him and Achilles. While Achilles is destined for greatness even before birth, Patroclus isn’t even close to being a great warrior. But, unlike the demi-god Achilles who seems to be incapable of caring for anyone other than Patroclus, the merely ordinary Patroclus is continually concerned about the welfare of others.
I also liked how Miller incorporated foreshadowing into her novel. For those who have read the Iliad, the foreshadowing in The Song of Achilles lends an element of tragedy to the novel because while Achilles hopes that he’ll get a happy ending and Patroclus repeatedly wonders how he’ll survive after Achilles’ death, we know the fates of both Patroclus and Achilles. My favourite instance of foreshadowing though would have to be the conversation between Neoptolemus (nicknamed Pyrrhus), the arrogant son of Achilles, and Odysseus where Odysseus says that he might end up becoming more famous than Pyrrhus in the future. The crafty Odysseus of course will eventually come up with the idea of the Trojan Horse and star in his own adventure in the Odyssey whereas Pyrrhus* remains unknown to those unfamiliar with the story of the Trojan War.
Although kind of sappy at certain moments – particularly when Patroclus is younger – and taking some time to reach the point involving Troy, The Song of Achilles is a novel that’s easy to read if you enjoy Greek mythology or want to learn more about Achilles without having to read classical works.(less)
Scary School by Derek the Ghost is a fun, entertaining MG novel that will appeal especially to boys. Although I didn’t learn much about the narrator,...moreScary School by Derek the Ghost is a fun, entertaining MG novel that will appeal especially to boys. Although I didn’t learn much about the narrator, Derek the Ghost, since he doesn’t really talk about himself; I found his voice to still be very distinct.
I also really liked the way Scary School was narrated because rather than providing a concise plot, Derek the Ghost tends to go off on tangents. As a result, each chapter of the book focuses on a different teacher or student at Scary School, with the central plot being interwoven in. My favourite character ended up being Dr. Dragonbreath, a dragon who expects his students to follow five simple rules (that most students eventually disobey).
Some of the subtler humour in Scary School though may go over a child’s head. For example, there’s a joke about minotaurs being aMAZEd and talk about survival of the fittest.
Karleen Bradford’s The Stone in the Meadow was a short book that took me a really, really long time to read because I kept putting it down to read oth...moreKarleen Bradford’s The Stone in the Meadow was a short book that took me a really, really long time to read because I kept putting it down to read other books in between. As was the case with Bradford’s The Other Elizabeth, I thought the amount of historical detail in the novel was great but had a difficult time caring about the characters or getting invested in the story. Furthermore, I found the depiction of Bron as being Jenifer’s first love in the synopsis to be misleading because a) Jenifer is only thirteen and b) the two speak different languages and therefore don’t understand each other. First crush, maybe; but saying he’s her first love is taking it a little too far.(less)
Friendship on Fire by Danielle Weiler is like the Aussie version of Miranda Kenneally's Catching Jordan, minus the football. Although Weiler’s book wa...moreFriendship on Fire by Danielle Weiler is like the Aussie version of Miranda Kenneally's Catching Jordan, minus the football. Although Weiler’s book was released earlier, since I read Catching Jordan first and just before reading Friendship on Fire, it was hard not to notice the similarities in plot.
However, while Catching Jordan has Jordan slowly counting down the days until her trip to Alabama, Friendship on Fire really has no goal per se because it’s just a story chronicling Daisy’s Year 12. What makes Friendship on Fire meaningful is that it reminds the reader of their own high school years. Most of us had/have very boring, ordinary lives, and the drama in high school came from arguing with friends, falling in love, sucking at driving lessons, etc. These events wouldn’t be particularly memorable to others but they’re important to us, and I think that’s what Friendship on Fire emphasizes.
Just as I found the story to be realistic, I also thought that Daisy acted like a typical teen. Sometimes she acted wise, but at other times she was sort of naïve and immature. There were times when I liked her, and there were times when I wanted to strangle her because she refused to listen to anybody.
Although I sometimes questioned Daisy’s parents’ decisions, I liked that rather than trying to control their daughter, they allowed her the freedom to make her own choices and mistakes. At the same time, it wasn’t as if there was no parental (or sibling) involvement at all; Daisy actually had a very close family that spent time with each other, and her parents and older brothers were there for her when she needed them to be.(less)
Unlovable by Sherry Gammon was a book that started off slowly. But, I soon found myself captivated by the story because although the plot is kind of a...moreUnlovable by Sherry Gammon was a book that started off slowly. But, I soon found myself captivated by the story because although the plot is kind of a little too perfect, Unlovable has characters that are easy to care about and is well-written.
The main character, Maggie, has grown up in relative poverty with an alcoholic and verbally abusive mother. Despite this, Maggie remains a generous and caring person. She even continues to care for her mother in the hopes that her mother will reward her with some attention and affection! Still, Mrs. Brown’s horrible words do have an effect on Maggie, making her believe that she is unworthy of being loved when she catches the interest of Seth.
There are also some occasional chapters from the perspective of Seth and the villains in the story. Bill was bad, but he was nothing compared to his brother whose behaviour suggests that he has antisocial personality disorder. Normally, I don’t find villains very terrifying but Alan scared me because there are actually people like him out and about in the world. Hopefully, we never have to encounter them!
My favourite part of Unlovable was the romance. I thought it was realistically portrayed and found it sweet how Seth got Maggie to open up and let him into her life. Unlike Maggie, you know that Seth is an undercover cop and so as you’re waiting for things to blow up in his face, you can only hope that Maggie’s trust in Seth and their love is strong enough to withstand the doubts and obstacles.
The first in a trilogy, I was pleasantly surprised by how good Gammon’s Unlovable was. What’s nice for older YA readers is that Seth is twenty-one so it doesn’t feel as inappropriate to crush on him (not that age would stop me anyway) :) Even better, the next two books in the series are told from Seth’s friends’ POVs; and I know Cole and Booker are older than him. The two were well-developed secondary characters in Unlovable so I’m looking forward to reading their stories in Unbelievable and Unbearable.(less)
With its attention to historical detail, The Other Elizabeth by Karleen Bradford takes you back to October 1813, just as the Canadians are about to en...moreWith its attention to historical detail, The Other Elizabeth by Karleen Bradford takes you back to October 1813, just as the Canadians are about to engage in war against the Americans in the Battle of Crysler’s Farm. Although I love historical fiction, The Other Elizabeth seemed really dry because before Elizabeth goes home, there was very little action and just a lot of day-to-day stuff so you got an accurate feel for how the pioneers lived. As well, there was no explanation for why Elizabeth travels back into the past when she enters Cook’s Tavern or why she soon enough starts acting like Elizabeth Frobisher and forgets her life as Elizabeth Duncan. I normally love MG books, but The Other Elizabeth, sadly, wasn’t for me.(less)
In My Royal Pain Quest, the sequel to My Sparkling Misfortune, Lord Arkus is back, determined to find a way to awaken Jarvi. A book of fables may prov...moreIn My Royal Pain Quest, the sequel to My Sparkling Misfortune, Lord Arkus is back, determined to find a way to awaken Jarvi. A book of fables may provide the answer, but is Arkus willing to spend the time and effort to go on a quest that might just prove to be entirely useless?
In My Sparkling Misfortune, Arkus was a proud villain who slowly became more heroic/less villainous (depending on how you want to see it) thanks to the efforts of Jarvi. Here, Jarvi’s presence is initially noticeably absent, but it’s quickly filled up by the additions of Cassandra, a girl who’s more than she seems to be - I guessed her secret halfway through the book but keep in mind that the book’s target audience is MG readers - and the Swirg named Reggie. It’s not all new characters though; Prince Kellemar also appears in My Royal Pain Quest – and perhaps will be seen by Arkus in a new light.
An amusing sequel to one of my favourite books of 2011!(less)
Shelley Workinger’s Settling, the sequel to Solid, was really hard to get into. I thought the pacing was extremely slow (though it did pick up a littl...moreShelley Workinger’s Settling, the sequel to Solid, was really hard to get into. I thought the pacing was extremely slow (though it did pick up a little near the end), and found the ending to be kind of abrupt. Also, it continues to be hard to get emotionally attached to the characters, and this was especially the case with the main character, Clio, who was moody and kept pushing away her friends. Even though there was a reason for this (and it was nice to learn a little more about Clio’s abilities), it made the plot sort of drag along. Moreover, the book still only gives you a rough idea of what Clio and her friends are capable of doing. Ultimately, Settling has the same issues that I found with Solid – and this time the story just wasn’t as interesting. (less)
Based on the tone of the novel, the characters’ actions and the important message of being careful of what you post online, Dancergirl by Carol M. Tan...moreBased on the tone of the novel, the characters’ actions and the important message of being careful of what you post online, Dancergirl by Carol M. Tanzman is a book that I think is better suited to teens on the younger side. As Ali, the main character, can attest, anything that gets put online becomes open to public opinion. Tanzman however chooses to forego dwelling on cyber-bullying, and instead gives Ali a mysterious stalker as the biggest consequence of having a friend post an online video of her dancing.
While the ending felt rushed and things were resolved a little too easily for my liking, the identity of the stalker kept me guessing and left me surprised in the end. Tanzman did a really good job of showing how increasingly terrified and suspicious Ali became as the situation escalated, and I’m sure I would have reacted exactly the same if I was in her position.
The biggest reason why I didn’t like Dancergirl more though was because of the characters. Besides the fact that a lot of them felt one-dimensional, I found it really hard to care about Ali and her friends. It didn’t help that they were prone to being occasionally immature (e.g. refusing to tell a parent that you’re being stalked because you’re worried about being grounded) and that I didn’t understand a lot of the technical dance terms.(less)
Crave by Melissa Darnell begins with a really intense prologue. The actual story then shows how Savannah and her boyfriend, Tristan, got to the point...moreCrave by Melissa Darnell begins with a really intense prologue. The actual story then shows how Savannah and her boyfriend, Tristan, got to the point in the prologue and continues it from there. The problem: getting to the actual scene in the prologue takes a really long time! I thought a lot of unnecessary mundane stuff like going to school and finding a way to sneak in a makeout session could have definitely been cut in order to let readers reach the dramatic parts of the story faster.
The characters themselves aren’t really memorable. It’s been a couple of weeks since I read Crave, and all I can remember is that Savannah and Tristan seemed like the typical paranormal YA teens – you know, they fall in love fast and don’t take too long to accept that they’re more than human. I did like Savannah’s best friend, Anne, however. She was smart, snarky, and just an overall awesome friend.
Crave was a decent start to The Clann series and the way it ended made me at least a little curious to see what’s going to happen next to Savannah and Tristan. Hopefully its sequel, Covet, will have plenty of action and be more exciting right from the beginning. (less)
Told from the perspective of three teenagers, Heather Davis’ Wherever You Go is a novel about love, loss, hope, family and friendship. Although there...moreTold from the perspective of three teenagers, Heather Davis’ Wherever You Go is a novel about love, loss, hope, family and friendship. Although there is a paranormal element in that one of the leads is a ghost, the spotlight isn’t on him and so the book feels like a contemporary for the most part.
Holly Mullen, the first person narrator, is a very mature and likeable character. Faced with the task of managing the household and taking care of her little sister and grandfather because her single mom has two jobs and is rarely home, Holly accepts her responsibilities and handles them with grace rather than whining and complaining about the unfairness of life.
I actually felt like the Mullen family was real based on the way that Davis portrayed them. Too often, YA novels feature dysfunctional families; but in Wherever You Go, I sensed genuine love and a strong sense of loyalty to each other. Like any family though, the Mullens aren’t perfect. Holly, for example, gets annoyed at her mother for questioning her decisions about the way she’s running things since she’s been the one doing it all along.
Rob’s point-of-view felt a little strange because it was narrated from the second person, but this didn’t stop me from being able to relate to him. It’s easy to understand his avoidance of the memories surrounding his accident and confusion at wondering why he’s still stuck on earth. By making Rob a ghost, Davis enables him to see how his death affected those close to him and yet realize that life continues to go on. This is probably best exemplified in the romance that develops between Jason and Holly based on attempt at friendship.
Told from a third person narration, Jason’s perspective allows the reader to not only be aware of how Holly feels about him (from her narration) but also know how he feels about her. Despite the fact that both Holly and Jason are still trying to get over Rob’s death and that Holly has doubts about him (since Rob’s friends weren’t very nice to her while he was alive), Jason isn’t afraid to fight for their relationship. I thought it was really sweet that unlike a lot of guys in high school, Jason was willing to spend time with Grandpa Aldo and Lena because he understood that they were important to Holly and that she was in charge of taking care of them.
Aside from the great cast of characters and the emphasis on family, I liked that Davis chose to deal honestly with the subject of mental and neurological disorders. I cried when Grandpa Aldo showed Holly the list of things he never wants to forget because I can’t even imagine what it’s like to slowly be robbed of your most meaningful memories. Watching his condition worsen later was pretty tough too. Davis successfully demonstrates that having something like depression or Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) isn’t just hard on the person suffering from it but also on those close to them, and not seeking help can be disastrous.(less)
Set in Victorian England, The Poisoned House by Michael Ford is a ghost story/murder mystery. Ford does a good job making the setting feel as realisti...moreSet in Victorian England, The Poisoned House by Michael Ford is a ghost story/murder mystery. Ford does a good job making the setting feel as realistic as possible in terms of the time period, especially considering that most of the story takes place in Greave Hall. Since Abi is a maid however, there’s a lot of description of her chores and not much action. The mundane day-to-day stuff is disrupted by the occasional appearance of Abi’s mother’s ghost who will rest only after her murderer is discovered. Though it was hard to figure out who the murderer was because there weren’t that many clues in the novel, the story ends satisfactorily with all loose ends being tied up neatly.(less)
Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett is a re-telling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. As a huge lover of Greek mythology and having taken Classic...moreDark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett is a re-telling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. As a huge lover of Greek mythology and having taken Classics courses, I debated whether to read Dark of the Moon because I was a little worried about the Minotaur now becoming a boy with a childlike mind rather than the fearsome creature that’s part bull and part man from the original myth. Thankfully, Barrett’s version works and managed to pleasantly surprise me.
Dark of the Moon’s strength is in its impeccable world building. I really felt as if I had been transplanted to Crete and yet as a modern reader, the setting also retained an element of fantasy because of people’s belief in the divine realm. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost when I first started the novel, but things slowly became clearer once the Athenians arrived on Crete because you begin to see how the Athenian and Cretan religions differ (though there is some overlap). Also, I found it interesting that the Athenians held some false assumptions about Crete because they didn’t know much about the Cretans.
The story is told through the eyes of two narrators: Ariadne and Theseus. Since not much is known about Ariadne in the original myth other than that she helps Theseus kill the Minotaur and is abandoned by him on the island of Naxos where she later marries the god Dionysus, Barrett was free to do whatever she wanted with Ariadne. Thus, in Dark of the Moon, Ariadne becomes a regular girl who loves her older brother Asterion and is rather lonely because as She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, she commands a lot of respect and fear. It’s not surprising then that Ariadne delights in the company of Prokris and Theseus (who have their own plans for her).
Whereas you see the strength in Ariadne in that once things go wrong, she’s able to make fast decisions and isn’t afraid to do the hard thing; Theseus never really came into his own. His POV starts around the time that his mother tells him that his father left something for him under a boulder (but after Ariadne has already met him), so the transition to his story was abrupt and unexpected. Nevertheless, you soon experience his uneventful journey from Troizena to Athens and then onwards to Crete.
If you’re looking for a re-telling which incorporates Theseus having all sorts of adventures and fighting monsters, you won’t find it in Dark of the Moon. Rather, Barrett uses the well-known myths about Theseus – for example, he also encounters the Crommyonian sow and Procrustes in the book – to show how myths and legends develop and gain a life of their own.
A thoughtful, original and convincing re-telling!(less)
Jessica Martinez’s Virtuosity draws the reader into the world of classical music and one girl’s attempt to rediscover her passion for it. As someone w...moreJessica Martinez’s Virtuosity draws the reader into the world of classical music and one girl’s attempt to rediscover her passion for it. As someone who doesn’t know much about music and has absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, I tend to shy away from YA contemporaries dealing with the subject since I don’t know whether I’ll be interested. Fortunately, Martinez managed to captivate me with her plot and characters.
I found Carmen to be appealing and very relatable. Despite having a Grammy and being a successful musician, she has horrible stage fright and is so anxious about performing that she’s become addicted psychologically to Inderal. Now with the Guarneri coming up, she can’t help but obsess over it and her competition.
With her world completely revolving around music, it’s not surprising that Carmen does whatever her (horrid) mother Diana tells her. Rather than being a supportive mom, Diana is a control freak who keeps Carmen on a short leash and lives vicariously through her daughter since her own singing career was cut short. It’s only when Carmen meets Jeremy and the two spend time together that you start to see Carmen questioning her life and becoming more assertive.
Is it wrong that I loved the character of Jeremy – what’s not to like about a hot, confident and snarky guy with a British accent – even while I kept waiting for him to break Carmen’s heart and thus prove Diana right? The romance was a little too fast for me to consider that Carmen and Jeremy were in love – I’m very cynical if you haven’t figured this out by now – but I can believe that they really liked each other because as famous musicians, they understood each other’s life unlike the average person.
My favourite aspect of the book though was the climax and the prelude to it. Martinez managed to totally surprise me with how the Guarneri played out and the decision that Carmen chose. I love and admire Carmen for staying strong and doing something that a lot of people probably wouldn’t do in her situation.
With a fantastic debut like Virtuosity, I can’t wait to see what Martinez comes up with next!(less)
Katrina Kittle’s Reasons to Be Happy is a book that explores the overarching theme of beauty. Juxtaposing Hannah’s North American life with the time s...moreKatrina Kittle’s Reasons to Be Happy is a book that explores the overarching theme of beauty. Juxtaposing Hannah’s North American life with the time she spends in Ghana, Kittle allows Hannah to realize that inner beauty and learning to accept oneself are much more important than outer beauty; and in the process, enables Hannah to see the little joys in life once again.
Hannah is a girl that anyone can relate to, especially tweens – the intended target of Reasons to Be Happy. Feeling like you don’t belong, wanting to be prettier and trying to please your parents are all things most people experience growing up, and Reasons to Be Happy definitely made me remember those times. To make herself better and regain some control over her life, Hannah however resorts to binging and purging.
Kittle’s portrayal of eating disorders is very realistic and her vivid description of Hannah gorging on food – frequently stolen – and then trying to vomit it up sometimes made me nauseous. It’s often harder for people to notice bulimia because unlike anorexics, bulimics usually tend to be normal in weight or be overweight. Thus, nobody notices that Hannah seems to have a problem even as she desperately wants somebody to help stop her.
Reasons to Be Happy is a novel that will resonate with readers and leave them thinking about their own reasons to be happy!(less)