Thursday, 15 October 2015

Review: Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond

I am by no means a comic book junkie. I don't go to Comic Con, and I couldn't name heroes or villains outside those featured in multi-million dollar blockbusters. Not that there's anything wrong with any of that—let your geek flag fly! I just want to establish that in spite of my inexperience with the superhero genre, I loved Gwenda Bond's novel Fallout

Not only is Fallout a fantastic modern retelling of the Superman story, but it takes a talented author to write a page-turning mystery with characters who are so well-known to readers. And Bond does do them justice, capturing fearless Lois and mild-mannered Clark in their teenage years. 

Summary: Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over — and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight. As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won't be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They're messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it's all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screen name, Smallville Guy…

Although Clark Kent has a strong presence in the book,  he remains off-page throughout the story. While this was a disappointing twist, Lois does not need Superman to save her. She is no damsel in distress. This is Lois' victory —with a tiny bit of Super help, of course. Clark and Lois met on an online chat forum for the strange and supernatural, but they've never actually met. Instead of a pair of glasses, Clark hides behind a screen name and alien avatar. Clark and Lois have a "more than friends" vibe, but the romance angle is extremely PG.

I love that the book revolves around illegal experimentation with simulation gaming and technology's effect on the mind. As Lois and her friends work together to crack the case, they risk losing a lot more than a few friends to the pack of brainwashed teens.

Although the publisher indicates that this book is for readers ages 14+, it's actually a clean read (clean language, mild violence set in a video game, etc). If it wasn't for the length of the book and the detailed narrative requiring a confident reader, I would be recommending this story to middle graders. 

The world has been calling for more female superheroes and Gwenda Bond gives us a female hero we can rally behind. If you, like me, enjoy the odd Marvel movie, you liked Smallville, or you're just a fan of the Man of Steel, Fallout is a fantastic choice. Smart, witty, and incredibly well-written. Lois Lane is the female [mortal] superhero you've been waiting for!

4 Stars

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Review: Frozen Heart

A Frozen Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick is one of three Disney fairy tale retellings in novel-format. Aimed at readers ages 10-14, A Frozen Heart explores Hans' back story, allowing readers to better understand his character and his actions. As excited as I was to finally read this novel, I was a bit disappointed that compared to A Beast Within and Maleficent, it had less to offer Frozen fans who want more.

Summary: Told in alternating chapters from both Anna’s and Hans’ perspectives, A Frozen Heart takes a sophisticated look at events of Frozen, exploring the couple’s backstories, motivations, and doomed relationship.

Although the story is aimed at readers ages 10-14, A Frozen Heart is a fairly clean story. There is some on-page drinking of wine (though it's not excessive drinking), and some violence that is hinted at off-page (Hans' father rules the Seven Isles using violence to enforce laws, but we don't get much detail). Other than that, A Frozen Heart is a word-for-word retelling of the Disney movie. And yes, that's how well I know the movie, because I could read this book word-for-word and recognize when dialogue was in any way modified (which was not all that often).

You do get some background on Hans and it does offer an explanation for why he does what he does. For me, that was worth the read. If you love Frozen and you're a fan of Elizabeth Rudnick's retellings, this is definitely a must-read. If you're looking for something darker and edgier, try her retelling of A Beast Within

3 Stars


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Cover Reveal: Spark by Holly Schindler

I'm very excited to be participating in the cover reveal of Holly Schindler's new YA novel, Spark. You'll want to make room on your bookshelves whether you've read her previous novels or you're looking for your next great teen read!

Published by HarperTeen, Spark is scheduled to be released in hardcover on May 17, 2016. 

Summary: When the right hearts come to the Avery Theater—at the right time—the magic will return. The Avery will come back from the dead. 

Or so Quin’s great-grandmother predicted many years ago on Verona, Missouri’s most tragic night, when Nick and Emma, two star-crossed teenage lovers, died on the stage. It was the night that the Avery’s marquee lights went out forever. 

It sounds like urban legend, but one that high school senior Quin is now starting to believe, especially when her best friend, Cass, and their classmate Dylan step onto the stage and sparks fly. It seems that magic can still unfold at the old Avery Theater and a happier ending can still be had—one that will align the stars and revive not only the decrepit theater, but also the decaying town. However, it hinges on one thing—that Quin gets the story right this time around. 

Holly Schindler brings the magic of the theater to life in this tale of family ties, fate, love, and one girl’s quest to rewrite history.

A note from Holly: “In my hometown, the restoration of a former movie theater on the town square provided the genesis for my new YA novel, SPARK. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of seeing their name in blazing neon across a gigantic marquee? Let me invite you to dim the lights and draw back the velvet curtains—let your imagination run wild as you enter my fictional Avery Theater, where literally anything goes…”     —Holly Schindler

About the Author: 
Holly Schindler is the author of three previous YA novels: PLAYING HURT as well as the critically acclaimed FERAL (starred PW review) and A BLUE SO DARK (starred Booklist review, ForeWord Book of the Year silver medal, IPPY gold medal). A writer of books for all ages, Schindler’s MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, has made the master list for children’s book awards in Illinois, South Carolina, and Alabama. She is also a hybrid author, having independently released comedic women’s fiction (FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS) and the forthcoming PLAY IT AGAIN, her adult follow-up to her YA PLAYING HURT. She can be reached through her author site:, and hosts special sneak peeks and giveaways for subscribers of her newsletter.

Spark “Premieres” May 17, 2016, but you can buy your “tickets” now. Click the links below to visit these retailers, or pre-order wherever books are sold!

You can learn more about Holly and her books on her website. Or get in touch with her on social media.

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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Review: A Shiloh Christmas by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

It's been years since I read Shiloh. In fact, I was probably in elementary school when I last read it. But the time span between having read Shiloh and reading A Shiloh Christmas did not at all affect my enjoyment of the book. It is a heart-warming holiday story about hope, family, holiday miracles, and friendly. And it is perfect for reading cuddled up with your own furry friend.

Summary: Christmas is coming and Marty and his rescued pup Shiloh are sure glad about that—for their town is sure low on love and understanding and they hope that the joy of the holiday will bring with it the generosity of spirit that’s so lacking. 

It’s been a year since Marty Preston rescued Shiloh from Judd Travers and his cruel ways, and since then, Marty and Shiloh have been inseparable. Anywhere Marty goes, the beagle’s at his side, and Marty couldn’t be happier about that. Even Judd has been working to improve his reputation. 

But just as townsfolk grow more accepting of Judd, a fire in the woods destroys many homes, including Judd’s, and Judd’s newly formed reputation. Doubt, blame, and anger spread faster than the flames—flames that are fanned by the new minister, who seems fonder of fire and brimstone than love and mercy. And why are his daughters so skittish around him? And what’s happened to Judd’s dogs? With Christmas right around the corner, Marty has a lot of questions, and how they’re answered might just take a Christmas miracle.

I was surprised how little the story is actually about Shiloh. There are many references to the original classic novel so the reader doesn't need to worry about remembering what happened in Shiloh. But the story is largely about a person's ability to change. We see how Judd has changed from his abusive ways, and in the end, we see the new minister is capable of great change, too. 

While a fire tests the community's strength and resiliency, the Bible-thumping new minister brings his own kind of fire to the community. He preaches about sin and the fires of hell, warning of a vengeful God to those who stray from His path, as was common in the South at this time. Marty's family does not take well to his way of teaching the Bible. Though religion is a major theme, the characters do not encourage the readers to accept this way of thinking. Especially when the readers learn that the minister is as fiery at home with his children and wife as he is at church. 

Yes, child abuse is a startling theme of the novel. Besides the heavy religious themes in the long-winded Old Testament sermons from the preacher, parents and educators need to be aware that there is emotional/psychological child abuse. HOWEVER, the novel is set during early 20th century West Virginia. Marty's parents comment that while the preacher's discipline methods are frowned upon, they are NOT illegal and they consider it to be in his right, so long as he does not resort to violence. That is the accepted social thinking of the time period. 

Due to the mature content, I'd like to be clear about what is in this book:
  • The preacher never hits his children and has never hit his children. They never have marks or injuries to suggest physical abuse. The eldest daughter confirms he does NOT beat them
  • The abuse all takes place OFF-PAGE
  • The eldest child is locked in a cold shed with no coat and no bathroom, for an unknown amount of time
  • They used to own a chair with manacles of some sort to restrain the kids (the eldest daughter managed to throw it out)
  • The youngest was forced to put her feet in ice water as punishment
  • The youngest was forced to put all her food in her milk and drink it as punishment
  • The wife and children all show outward anxiety about defying the preacher. He is severely strict, limiting their social engagements with others
Overall, the content does not feel inappropriate for middle grade readers. It is NOT graphic or upsetting, I would advise it is best for ages 10 & up. As long as the reader can appreciate the historical cultural views and the fact that the protagonist's family sees this behaviour as wrong, I don't see it as being an issue.

A Shiloh Christmas is the fourth book in The Shiloh Quartet. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is an award-winning author whose stories are very much worth the read. The book ends with a warm-and-fuzzy hopeful Christmas moment for the minister's family. In a Christmas miracle, it seems he has seen the error of his ways. It is the holidays, after all! 

I very much enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to anyone looking for a new children's classic for middle grade readers! It is a heart-warming holiday tale about friendship, about a heroic dog, and the lesson that people can change for the better.

4 Stars