Sunday, 26 January 2014

Review: The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

The Big Crunch is a sweet and entirely relatable story of teenage love. June and Wes don't expect to fall in love, let alone the forever-type while they're so young. With so many unknowns, true love seems doomed. But is it ever really doomed when it's for real (as we all want to believe as teenagers?).

Summary: Wes and June do not "meet cute." They do not swoon with desire. They do not instantly feel like soul mates. This is not that kind of love story.

Instead, June and Wes hang around in each other's orbits... until eventually they collide. And even after that happens, they're still not sure where it will go. Especially after June starts to pity-date one of Wes's friends. Especially after their orbits don't align so closely anymore. This is a love story for readers not particularly biased toward romance. But it is romantic, in the same way that the truth can sometimes be romantic, and uncertainty can be a big come-on.

The characters are neither exceptional nor social outcasts, which was a refreshing change from many other teen books. June is a plain-Jane; not ugly, not pretty. She's emotional and silly. She's an average girl, and while Wes is far more attractive, he's not without common flaws. He's not always a good friend and he doesn't think before he acts. He's OCD and can be overly sensitive.

Hautman is a master at realistic characterization. I loved June's voice I saw myself in her, even the petty parts that I wish I didn't relate to. I experienced everything she did, from being aware that I'm picking a stupid fight with my boyfriend, to allowing my emotions to cloud my judgment, to obsessing over a relationship and not being able to let go, even when logic dictates that I should. Any teen who's ever been in love will see themselves in this story.

The cover is GORGEOUS. And although the cover reveals the direction of the story before you even start reading, it spoils nothing for the reader. The point of this love story isn't knowing how it ends; it's the journey of how they got there.

The Big Crunch is targeted at teen female readers, although I sincerely enjoyed it as an adult. The book is so relatable that it was almost cathartic for me. It was like reading my journals, but without the shame and embarrassment of seeing how dramatic my teenage years were. The Big Crunch is an amazing backlist book for Scholastic, and I'm sad that it has not done as well as similar books such as Eleanor & Park.

If you're looking for the perfect book for an on-the-mend heartbroken teen, or a teen reader who loves a light, yet page-turning modern love story, this is it.

4 Stars.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Review: I Am #10: Cleopatra by Grace Norwich, illus. by Elisabeth Alba

Part of Scholastic's I Am series, Cleopatra was published January 2014. Aimed at readers ages 8-10, this is an excellent historical reference in a biographical/autobiographical hybrid format. It's a light, yet in-depth look at Cleopatra's life, politics, and legend.

Summary: As the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt, I ruled alone without the help of my husband. I was a powerful and courageous leader, and I passionately loved my people. Much has been written of my beauty, but I was also known for my composure, wit, and strength. I was a queen who was worshipped as a god. I am Cleopatra.

To this day, Cleopatra remains a popular figure in Western culture, with books, plays, and movies devoted to her story. I Am Cleopatra will follow her journey from its illustrious beginning to its tragic end. Learn all about this legendary queen's fascinating life in Scholastic's I AM biography series.

Filled with illustrations and divided into concise chapters, Cleopatra is a well-written and beautifully illustrated book. Readers will learn of Cleopatra's early years, her rise to becoming pharaoh, her family, her romantic relationships with Caesar and Antony, her children, politics, and her demise. Told in a narrative format, the text is accessible and meets the needs of the target audience. (Short attention spans and reluctant readers of educational texts won't find this book difficult!) Each chapter is only a few pages long, and includes sub-headings to further break up the text. The illustrations are a cross between sketches and cartoon-like drawings, which will deter readers from considering the book to be a dry, history lesson in disguise. 

The book includes side notes, terms, and timelines which introduces relevant subjects such as hieroglyphics and understanding BCE and CE. It also provides the reader with photographs of art and of important geographical locations. Cleopatra is perfect for beginner readers who need to gain an understanding of Cleopatra and of her connections to the Roman empire for both educational and personal interest purposes.

Furthermore, the book is an excellent companion for readers who enjoy Rick Riordan's books. The writing style is comparable and the information is relevant to expanding on the content Riordan writes about, particularly in The Kane Chronicles

5 Stars 

Note: This review is written using an ARC version of I Am #10: Cleopatra.

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell has been getting a lot of online buzz. It's recognized as an amazing YA book that is also recommended for adults. At first, I found there was nothing special about this awkward, odd love story between two misfits (a slightly overweight, bullied red-head and a comic-reading loner Asian), but by the end, I was hooked. This is a beautiful and slightly tragic love story that will tug on your heartstrings and stick with you long after you close the book.

Summary: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits--smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you'll remember your own first love--and just how hard it pulled you under.

Told in alternating narratives, Eleanor and Park fall in love, in spite of how difficult love is to someone who has never truly experienced it anywhere in life. Bullied by kids at school, abused by her stepfather, and humiliated and neglected in her own home, Park becomes her shining ray of hope in all the darkness. Along with the ups and downs that are teenage love, Park endures the judgment of his family and friends for loving a girl who isn't liked, and whose family has a bad reputation.

When Eleanor's living situation worsens, it becomes clear that as much as we need someone, sometimes loving a person means giving them up. The end of the book doesn't bring justice or the satisfaction of punishment for those who made Eleanor's life hell, but there is a sense of closure, and more importantly for me, a happy ending.

Eleanor & Park is a book that teens and adults alike can enjoy. It doesn't read like typical YA/teen books, so don't be put off by the target audience. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and recommend it!

While there's nothing overly special about the writing, narrative, or the characterization, it is a great read.  I feel like Eleanor & Park is a great backlist book that just so happened to surface and gain some momentum. Scholastic's The Big Crunch is very similar to Eleanor & Park. Sadly, The Big Crunch didn't rise above the mass of other books in the YA/Romance/Drama genre, so if you're looking for a comparative title, I'd check that out.

3.5 Stars

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Review: Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow is a fantastic Canadian YA novel. It is as beautifully written as the beautiful overarching metaphor of weaving/creating. This is a fantasy YA story for readers ages 12 & up.

Summary: In the world of Sorrow's Knot, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter's mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known.
But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what's more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people's only hope against the shadows that threaten them. Will the challenge be too great for her? Or will she find a way to put the dead to rest once and for all?
Along with the metaphor of weaving/creating/protecting, the art of storytelling also has great power and influence. I loved that the book contains two powerful metaphors. The power of a good storyteller, the power of words, the power of stories all have great effect on the world. This is a timeless idea and with the supernatural element, we see the power of stories intensified. A truth that the reader can see developed throughout the book.
Spirits and magic play a large role in this book, and the heroes are underdogs, fated to bring peace and balance to the world. Death is also prominent and threatens the characters with its violence and unpredictability. Ideas about the afterlife and the manifestation of spirits may upset parents/readers with strong religious values. However, the book doesn't push native (or any!) type of belief system. It's simply a fact of life; people die and their spirits linger and must be held at bay. No propaganda present. 
I enjoyed the beauty of the story, especially the writing. However, to be honest, I had difficulty getting invested in the story as I often found myself getting bored and distracted. There wasn't enough character development or enough background or explanation about this supernatural world to appease me. I also think it would have been better as a darker story; more detail, more violence in the supernatural area, more mystery, and more suspense. Then again, this book reads very "literary." It's certainly not teen-trash or a fluffy read, that's for sure!

Lastly, I dislike having a generalized evil to oppose the heroes. The antagonists are uneasy spirits and their touch is poison to a living person; a sign of doom. The other great evil is human error. I wanted someone to blame, to fear; the handprint of a spirit on a living person was too reminiscent of Treasure Island's black spot. Sorry-- this was a yawn moment for me. 
Overall, after reading this book, I can see why Sorrow's Knot is an award-winning book and I do recommend it. It is a fabulous piece of Canadian YA fiction. The content didn't interest me much, but the writing is wonderful, the plot is deep and filled with the supernatural. 
3 stars. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Review: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

I cannot even begin to describe how much I enjoyed Stolen by Lucy Christopher. It's well-written, gripping, shocking, sad, dark, realistic, and beautiful.

Summary: This is how it happened: Gemma is on a layover in Bangkok, en route to a family vacation in Vietnam. She steps away for just a second. To get a cup of coffee. Ty--rugged, tan, too old, oddly familiar--pays for her frink. And drugs it. They talk. Their hands touch. And before Gemma knows what's happening, Ty takes her. The object of a long obsession, Gemma has been kidnapped by her stalker and brought to the Australian Outback. To sand and heat. Emptiness and isolation. Where he expects her to love him.

Stolen is written in first-person narrative, as a letter to her kidnapper. The content is disturbing and sometimes uncomfortable, but like Nabokov's Lolita, it is also beautiful. We hate Ty on sheer principle. We want to run screaming from him, but we also see the allure to his character; he's so much more than a twisted criminal. Ty lives the language of love, just as Humbert does in Lolita. If we didn't know what was happening in Stolen, we might not know that Ty's feelings for Gemma were anything but feelings of true love and respect. If you liked Lolita (in the way that you liked the book, but were also repulsed and couldn't tear your eyes away), then you will enjoy Stolen.

I went through a myriad of emotions while reading this book. I pitied Gemma, I was scared for her, I was annoyed, I was angered by her developing feelings for Ty, and I understood her. Christopher shows how easily any girl (or person, for that matter) can become a victim of something like this. Gemma does not "ask for it" and she doesn't make bad choices. This is a frightening, but all too real scenario of an everyday teenage girl who manages to survive a terrible, terrible situation.

Stolen is also a story of psychological and emotional distress. Christopher brings to life the crippling emotions of the victim and what it's like to live with Stockholm Syndrome. Mental illness is such an important topic and I'm glad that Christopher makes the story about so much more than the crime itself. Stolen makes it clear that surviving the kidnapping is only half the battle

Although Stolen is a teen book, I enjoyed it very much as an adult. Lucy Christopher is a talented writer whose story has stuck with me from the moment I started reading, to the moment I finished (and I finished reading this book days ago!). It reads a little like The Lovely Bones, but I see more similarities to Lolita. This is a powerful, beautiful, and amazing book, and I sincerely recommend you add this to your reading list!

5 Stars

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Review: The Last Thirteen Book Two: 12 by James Phelan

The second book in the thrilling The Last Thirteen multi-platform series by James Phelan. This book takes us to Egypt and Rome in the race against evil. The Dreamers and the heroes from the Academy are often separated so there's a lot more going on than there was in Book One. The two biggest story arcs are the protagonist, Sam, recruiting another Dreamer and Alex's being kidnapped by the Enterprise, thereby sparking a brainwashing/betrayal story arc that is sure to pay off in future books. Unlike the first book, there's a little more violence as we see some real gunfire, more danger, and even some physical altercations.

We finally get a real showdown between Sam and Solaris, but Solaris' capabilities and his story are still shrouded in mystery. We've still got eleven books to go, so I'm guessing it'll be a while before we get the really juicy stuff about Solaris' powers and his past. Too bad.

The characters are flat, with most detail being left up to the reader's imagination. With a novel that will come to include so many important main characters, I think this works for the series. Book Two is a fast-paced read with lots of destruction and mayhem.

I was surprised and a little disappointed at Alex's willingness to forgive his parents and overlook their lies and the current situation, but the book moves fast so I guess we don't have time for his hesitation. Hopefully Alex's loyalty to Enterprise will be an exciting story arc that will be developing over the series. If you're looking for a book with great characterization, this series can't offer you that.

The book opens with a one page, bulleted summary of what happened in Book One: 13, which is a great feature. The books are short (about 200 pages), and include a few hand-drawn pictures to break up the text. Book Two:12 concludes with an exciting cliffhanger that will get readers anxious to pick up the next book.

I'm not sure how great the series will be by book thirteen, let alone book ten, since the books follow the same general story like clockwork: nightmare, travel to a new city, get pursued by the Enterprise/Solaris, track a powerful artefact, darts, gunfire, nightmares, cliffhanger. Hopefully Phelan has some plot twists up his sleeves that will keep readers interested and coming back for more.

3.5 stars

The Last Thirteen Book Two: 12 will be published February 1, 2014.
The Last Thirteen Book Three: 11 will be published March 1, 2014. 
Visit the official website

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Reading Challenge: What I Read in 2013

I'm thrilled to say that I completed the 2013 Goodreads Reading Challenge. I set myself a goal of 75 books, wishing I could strive for more, but afraid of not completing the challenge as I was finishing graduate school and trying to get a real job. I've always thought of myself as a reader, but university does take the fun out of reading.

I managed to read 97 books out of my goal of 75, not including the books I re-read. Here's what I read in 2013:

1.   The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
2.   Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy     The Best Classic Book
3.   Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

4.   Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh     The Funniest Book
5.   Son by Lois Lowry
6.   Inside by Alix Ohlin     The Best Canadian Fiction
7.   The Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
8.   Messenger by Lois Lowry
9.   Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
10.   A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
11.   A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam
12.   The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
13.   The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

14.   The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls     Unexpected Favourite
15.   Rick Mercer: A Nation Worth Ranting About by Rick Mercer

16.   Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott     The Book that Surprised Me
17.   The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
18.   The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
19.   Allegiant by Veronica Roth     The Book that Disappointed Me a Little
20.   The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
21.   Openly Straight by Bill Koenigsberg     Best Controversial Topic Book
22.   The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder
23.   The Maze Runner by James Dashner
24.   Marie Antoinette Serial Killer by Katie Alender
25.   Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson
26.   Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater     The Best Teen Supernatural Book
27.   Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
28.   Abandon by Meg Cabot     The Best Paranormal Romance [Series]
29.   Defy by Sara B. Larson
30.   Underworld by Meg Cabot
31.   Awaken by Meg Cabot
32.   The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher      The Best Mystery/Thriller
33.   Lament by Maggie Stiefvater
34.   Legend by Marie Lu
35.   Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia
36.   Insurgent by Veronica Roth
37.   The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
38.   Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
39.   Divergent by Veronica Roth     The Best YA/Teen Dystopian

40.   The Fault in our Stars by John Green 
41.   Rip Tide by Kat Falls 
42.   Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer
43.   The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
44.   The House of Hades by Rick Riordan  Book I was Most Excited For 
45.   Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys     Best War Story
46.   Who Could That Be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket
47.   The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
48.   The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan
49.   The Demigod Diaries by Rick Riordan
50.   The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
51.   The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
52.   In My Enemy's House by Carol Matas
53.   Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Middle Grade
54.   Smile by Raina Telgemeier     The Best Graphic Novel
55.   Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown     The Best Middle Grade
56.   The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman
57.   A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Llyod     The Best Lovable Book
58.   Spirit Animals, Book One: Wild Born by Brandon Mull

Picture Books
59.   Fox and Squirrel by Ruth Ohi     
60.   Swamp Water by Robert Munsch
61.   The Very Brave Bear by Nick Bland     The Sweetest Picture Book
62.   The Night Before Christmas by Barbara Reid     The Best Holiday Book
63.   How Do Dinosaurs Say I'm Mad by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
64.   There is a Bird on Your Head! by Mo Willems
65.   I Love My New Toy by Mo Willems
66.   The Duckling Gets a Cookie by Mo Willems
67.   The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems
68.   Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems
69.   The Pigeon Wants a Puppy! by Mo Willems
70.   Chester by Melanie Watt     
71.   Boo! by Robert Munsch
72.   Press Here by Herve Tullet
73.   Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. 
74.   Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
75.   Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems  The Funniest Picture Book
76.   My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems
77.   The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! by Mo Willems
78.   Finding Christmas by Robert Munsch
79.   Moose! by Robert Munsch
80.   No Clean Clothes by Robert Munsch
81.   We Share Everything! by Robert Munsch
82.   Zoom! by Robert Munsch
83.   Get Out of Bed! by Robert Munsch
84.   Playhouse by Robert Munsch
85.   Andrew's Loose Tooth by Robert Munsch
86.   I Am So Embarrassed by Robert Munsch
87.   Look at Me! by Robert Munsch
88.   Seeing Red by Robert Munsch
89.   Down the Drain by Robert Munsch
90.   The Sand Castle Contest by Robert Munsch
91.   Mmm, Cookies! by Robert Munsch
92.   Makeup Mess by Robert Munsch
93.   Too Much Stuff! by Robert Munsch

Graphic Novels
94.   The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan     The Best Cover
95.   Fables by Bill Willingham
96.   The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
97.   The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan     

In 2014, here are my reading resolutions: 

  • Read 150 books (shooting for 175!)
  • Read 10 classic novels
  • Read more Canadian fiction
  • Read more middle grade 
Happy Reading in 2014, Everyone! 

Review: Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott

Victoria Scott's new novel Fire & Flood comes in hot on the trail of the teen/dystopian fiction books that emerged in the wake of The Hunger Games. Contenders volunteer to enter a deadly race where only one person can win a cure for any one person's ailmentany ailment. It is a bloody race for the ultimate prize, driven by the lengths that humans will go to out of desperation and determination.

This book was so much better than I expected it was incredible! It is so well-written and exciting that it doesn't need my Hunger Games hangover to be a great read. This isn't a knockoff and it's definitely a YA must-read for spring 2014.

That's not to say fans of Suzanne Collins won't be a little bitter. There ARE several similarities, but that's what sells in this market. Everyone is looking to write the next Hunger Games, Twilight, or Harry Potter.

Fire and Flood
Game: Race
The Arena: Cut-throat Contenders, alliances, finding means of survival in each arena
The enemy: The government
Dangerous competition: The Triggers
The Hunger Games
Game: Fight to the death
Hero's Participation : I VOLUNTEER TO SAVE MY SISTER!
The Arena: Cut-throat Tributes, alliances, finding means of survival in whatever arena is chosen by the Game Makers
The enemy: The government
Dangerous competition: The Careers

One of the main differences is that each Contender is provided with a genetically engineered animal to assist them called a Pandora. Tella's Pandora is Maddox; an adorable black fox with superior powers. He, like Tella, is braver, stronger, and is clearly more than what he appears to be. So to sum up, F&F is like a cross of Pokemon and The Hunger Games. 

As a protagonist, Tella was difficult for me to like. Scott plays up the love interest aspect a bit too much and it makes Tella seem immature and silly. Tella spends too much time wishing/whining that Guy would share all of his deep dark secrets. What? You haven't shared everything with him and Sweetie, you JUST met him. It's okay that he's not spilling his soul to you. Please pull it together and remember why you're here. Then again, the writing is so good that it's difficult to stay irritated when Scott writes love and passion so well.

"He could make me hot in the ninth circle of hell." Damn. 

While Tella isn't a warrior or in possession of any extra talent, she is a girl who made a very brave choice to save her brother. She gets as far as she does because of her Pandora and with the help of her allies. I respect the strength she has and her ability to recognize that it's okay to accept help; that you don't have to risk your life to go it alone. 

Just when you think the book is good, the ending will leave you breathless. You'll be turning the pages as fast as the blood-thirsty desperation of the other Contenders emerges. There's plenty more drama, suspense, betrayal, danger, and blood to be spilled even after this pulse-pounding conclusion. 

I'm really looking forward to reading the second book. Do NOT write this book off because of its similarities to The Hunger Games. It's a thrilling novel of heart-stopping proportions in its own right. Go and reserve your copy! 4 stars.

Fire & Flood will be published March 1, 2014.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Review: The Last Thirteen Book One: 13 by James Phelan

The Last Thirteen Book One: 13 by James Phelan is the first book in a new multi-platform series for 10-14 year olds. The publisher compares this book to Inception and The Da Vinci Code, but I also see similarities with Divergent and with Rick Riordan novels. Essentially the plot is this: thirteen kids are prophesied to save the world from impending doom with their powers of true Sight and mysterious ability to dream things before they happen or to dream the answers they seek.

The series skews towards a male audience. The characters are fairly flat, but the lack of character development allows for more action, destruction, and suspense. The series features teen heroes with a lot of power and responsibility. These are characters to look up to, who make selfless and logical decisions based on the greater good of others. The adult characters in this book tend to be unreliable and suspicious, if not dangerous. Make of this what you will, but all the heroics are achieved by the younger characters.

There is violence, but it's fairly muted in the use dart guns and smoke grenades. No matter what potentially fatal situation occurs, the characters remain as resilient as cartoon characters. They walk away from explosions and helicopter crashes without as much as a broken bone. For readers who like this kind of excitement, parents can feel good that the kids are reading something they like, something with as much destruction as Allegiant, without the deaths and gore.

There was something that bothered me in the opening scene. The main character (Sam) is dreaming of Solaris (the enemy), who is telling him to surrender a mysterious and obviously important crystal that has appeared in his pocket. I'm a #Potterhead... this scene was a little TOO familiar to me. Really? A powerful magical item appearing in one's pocket and a villain creepily taunting a kid? For example, Harry Sam wouldn't surrender the stone crystal to Voldemort Solaris, even when he threatened to kill everyone he knows.

"So brave, right until the end…” Its voice rattles around inside my skull. “At the final battle, just like the prophecy says, you will lead me to my rightful power, thinking all the while that you are saving these foolish people.”
"I have no idea what it is talking about but then I sense a weight in my pocket. I have something important that this thing wants… this heavy, round object.”

Regardless, it didn't sway my enjoyment of the story. The book ends with a heart-stopping cliffhanger, which will definitely get readers excited to start reading Book Two: 12. I was lucky to have access to both books, so I closed book one and went right to book two! These books are short, fast-paced, and great for reluctant chapter book readers. The book is accessible, full of action, destruction, and suspense. There are thirteen books in all; Book Two will be released February 1st, and then one book a month after that!
3.5 Stars
 Thirteen books. Thirteen Nightmares. Are You One of Them?

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Review: Inhuman by Kat Falls

Inhuman by Kat Falls is a YA dystopian novel from Scholastic Inc., but it's not like any other YA dystopian story out there. Inhuman reads like a cross between Alice in Wonderland and The Walking Dead. I also find it hilarious to note that Chicago is again the setting of this dystopian society. Poor Chicago. Why do YA authors think this city is going to hell?

Set in the future, the world has been ravaged by a virus that essentially turns humans into animalistic creatures. Those afflicted are trapped on the other side of a heavily guarded defensive wall in attempt to control another outbreak and to protect the population from the danger posed by the infected. This abandoned area of the U.S. is nicknamed the Feral Zone- something that you can't really appreciate until the courageous female protagonist (Lane) adventures through it on a mission to save her father.

Inhuman is a mix of horror, suspense, action, and adventure. There's guns, bloodshed, corrupted and power-hungry antagonists, a light love story, and of course-- humans who have turned into savage part-animals. The protagonist is courageous, smart, and yet another strong female character to inspire readers. I enjoyed the fact that she's not immune to the horror around her; she's humanized in her reactions to the violence and danger in the Feral Zone.

The book explores the differences between being human and being animal, suggesting that with or without a virus, we all have a little "feral" in us. You can be "all human" and still be driven to feral qualities or actions in moments of pure desperation or in an attempt to survive; it's human nature. We see that not all "animals" are feral, but we also see that all humans have some animal in them; whether they were infected or not. It's a vague reference to evolution in that this a virus that exposes who we are at the most basic level, by turning man back into beast.

Inhuman is a fact-paced adventure through a mutated, desperate, and violent world. It is a fantastic fantasy/dystopian story that is well-written, exciting, and different from the wealth of other dystopian YA novels out there. Kat Falls is an extraordinary writer! If you enjoy teen action/adventure and dystopian novels, this is a must-read!

4 stars

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Review: Swamp Water by Robert Munsch

Swamp Water is another witty and colourful tale from Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko. 

Victoria's grandmother takes Victoria out for lunch. Chaos ensues because fancy food and kids don't mix. Victoria tries to order kiddy foods such as hamburgers, chicken, and PB & J sandwiches. Poor Victoria has to explain to the waiter and the chef what a PB & J sandwich is and how to make one, since the restaurant has the ingredients, but they insist they don't have them. 

The title refers to Victoria's drink of choice (swamp water is a mixture of pop/juice that resembles the colour of a swamp). It's the last insulting straw to the waiter, who has already been offended by her choice of food.

I chuckled at how the waiter phrased his asking Victoria what she would like to order: "Would you like our Fancy Restaurant Fancy Lunch?" Whatever the waiter actually asked doesn't matter; this is what a child would hear when someone spews strange words at them, when there's fancy china on the table, and a well-dressed waiter staring down at them.

I can't decide if I dislike the waiter, or if I pity him. Victoria isn’t as bratty as some of the kids that Munsch writes about, but the grandmother does let her get away with her behaviour. The grandmother smiles good-naturedly throughout Victoria's outbursts, as if her charming granddaughter is being adorable, rather than stubborn and rude. There is no parental control over children here, but it wouldn't be funny if Grandma sternly told Victoria to calm down and ordered something edible for her. 

Nonetheless, Swamp Water is a hilariously realistic story that gently mocks fancy restaurants that do not accommodate kids. This is not a story with a moral at the end, but it is funny in typical-Munsch fashion. Kids can appreciate Victoria's determination to order something edible at a fancy restaurant and parents can appreciate the hilarious and realistic comment on what it's like to dine at a fancy restaurant with kids. 

Bottom line: we've all been the kid who just wants chicken fingers at a place that would never DARE serve anything like it.