Thursday, 26 June 2014

Review: Millhouse by Natale Ghent

Tundra Books has yet to send me something I haven't loved!

Millhouse is a charming children's story about a peculiar, yet loveable hairless guinea pig, whose looks and interests make him the target of mockery in the pet store where he lives. Milly is an optimist who continues to hope for the day that someone will love him for who he is. 

Readers will certainly emphasize with this "ugly duckling" character. Milly's eccentricity paired with his deep love for the arts, his gentle soul, and optimism make him an irresistible hero. 

Summary: Millhouse is a faint-hearted, hairless guinea pig. A great lover of all things theatrical, most especially the work of William Shakespeare, Milly longs for the limelight and someone to love. However, after the death of his beloved owner, the great actor Sir Roderick Lord Kingswagger, Millhouse is abandoned to a neglected and dusty pet shop filled with other rodents -- some rude, some odd, some cute and some downright frightening. Finding himself a reviled outcast and a target of the nasty Pepper Brown ferret, Millhouse sets about trying to find a way back to the theater and a happy home, and in doing so experiences more drama than he could ever have imagined.                                      Google image. I do not own this picture.

Millhouse makes for great bedtime reading for older children, but the use of illustrations every few pages can open this story up to slightly younger children, too. This book is recommended for readers ages 
7-10, but Natale Ghent's writing channels beloved children's classics, making this book a perfect and timeless addition to any bookshelf.

Comparable titles include Watership Down and Charlotte's Web. Animal lovers will adore this story, and all kids can relate to Milly's feelings of alienation, of being teased, and of feeling lonely. But everyone has something in them that makes them extraordinary, and Milly teaches young readers that one day the world will see you for who you are. You just have to be brave enough to show them!

A beautiful and slightly heartbreaking story of hope, acceptance, kindness, courage, and bravery. Parents, librarians, educators: there's no content to be wary of, and nothing NOT to love! 

I'll never look at a hairless guinea pig the same way again!

4 Stars

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Review: Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Bethany Wiggins' teen dystopian thriller is currently doing fairly well in the U.S. book market, and I can see why. Stung has it all: romance, danger, horror, some elements of fantasy, and an adrenaline-rush of a plot. Stung is aimed at teen readers, but be warned that there is a lot of content that may be inappropriate and/or disturbing to young readers.

Summary: Fiona doesn't remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered-her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighbourhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right wrist-a black oval with five marks on either side-that she doesn't remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. And she's right. When the honeybee population collapsed, a worldwide pandemic occurred and the government tried to bio-engineer a cure. Only the solution was deadlier than the original problem-the vaccination turned people into ferocious, deadly beasts who were branded as a warning to un-vaccinated survivors. Key people needed to rebuild society are protected from disease and beasts inside a fortress-like wall. But Fiona has awakened branded, alone-and on the wrong side of the wall...

While I can appreciate the gripping and suspenseful story, and while I do not consider myself a sensitive or easily offended reader, Stung did leave a bad taste in my mouth for the sole reason of the heroine's nickname.

Fiona, or Fo, is frequently (and affectionately) called Fotard. At first, I was confused and figured, that this is 2014. No way in hell would Wiggins use a word that is so uncomfortably close to the R-word. I was so convinced that this affectionate nickname couldn't possibly be a play on the R-word until someone else pointed it out. Glass shattered. This is disgusting.

People will always find something about a book that offends them. Some people still won't tolerate these subjects when they are handled in a way to encourage readers to consider real issues. Fine. But it's a problem when the subject matter adds NO value and serves no purpose. It could have easily been cut from the book. Moreover, Fo is already a weak heroine who needs a man at her side to pull her out of dangerous situations. Does she really need to be useless AND show terrible self-esteem by choosing a boyfriend who essentially calls her the R-word? Fiona is officially worse than Bella Swan for setting an example for teen girls.

Moving on...

I did like how Wiggins explores the theme of gender in that it doesn't have to be strictly male and female. This was an interesting theme that played out through the character of Arrin. Arrin is a boy, pretending to be a girl, who is pretending to be a boy. In the end, the mystery of Arrin's gender is moot. Looks can be deceiving, and anyone can be a murderous lunatic.

Overall, the story is thrilling, and there's plenty of action, violence, and disturbing scenes to interest readers who aren't in it for the love story. I'm only giving Stung three stars, because while I can appreciate this book for all its positives, between Fo's nickname and the sad fact that there is not one admirable female character in this male-dominated society of violence, rape, and insanity, I'm tempted to rate it lower.

I will be reading the sequel, Cured, and I'm interested to read anything else by Bethany Wiggins. She's a talented writer and deserves the acclaim she's getting with her highly anticipated Stung novels.

3 Stars

Monday, 16 June 2014

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Ally Condie's Matched is yet another YA dystopian novel for readers looking for another book to cure their Hunger Games hangover. It is a love story set in a society where young girls and boys are matched by "the system." And, of course, this young girl is different from the rest of society. She doesn't fit in the system and her wrong choice will mark her as a threat that must be eliminated.

Summary: Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. 

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Matched is the first book in Condie's trilogy and it is a New York Times bestseller. It will do well with teens who like love triangles and love story filled with difficult choices. However, Matched has less adult-crossover appeal than other YA books. It was a light and easy read about following your heart and falling in love, but if the love story doesn't hook you, you likely won't enjoy it. 

Personally, I don't like Cassia and I think her feelings for Ky make her rather shallow. She acts every bit the seventeen-year-old girl that she is and compared to other dystopian YA heroines, she's less impressive. Cassia hates the system, but she's still technically inside the system by choosing Ky over Xander. A true act of rebellion (and a more interesting story) would have been where Cassia falls in love with someone she didn't see on the screen. 

And more than that, why can't she fall for Xander? A case wasn't made for why Xander isn't the right choice for her. Xander's characterization makes him the ideal match, but because he's the system's choice, Cassia won't pick him. I'd argue that she's simply at an age where the bad boy is more appealing than the right boy. Essentially, I felt the story was driven more by teen hormones than anything else. And I'm old enough to see that Cassia's treatment of Xander makes her not worthy of either boy's affection. But again, I'm an adult reading a book that was written for a younger audience.

Ally Condie brings a unique twist to the extensive variety of YA dystopian novels out there. Parents, librarians and educators will appreciate that this is a "clean read" for those who like the dystopian genre, but who read more for the love story. I'm not dying to read the next two books, but I am curious to see where the story goes in Crossed and Reached.

3 Stars

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Review: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

If you haven't heard of Maggie Stiefvater, welcome out from under the rock where you've been living.

While I love Maggie and I'm ALWAYS recommending her as a go-to fantasy/YA author, I'm not her biggest fan. Don't get me wrong: all her books are good. However, Lament and The Dream Thieves were a little TOO "teen" and fantastical for my taste. I was also more than a little disappointed with Linger when *** SPOILER ALERT *** Grace turned into a wolf. So when I say that Sinner is riveting, addictive, and beautifully written, you know that I'm genuinely praising this novel and Maggie for the exceptional author she is.

Cole St. Clair has come to California for one reason: to get Isabel Culpeper back. She fled from his damaged, drained life, and damaged and drained it even more. He doesn't just want her. He needs her. 

Isabel is trying to build herself a life in Los Angeles. It's not really working. She can play the game as well as all the other fakes. But what's the point? What is there to win? 

Cole and Isabel share a past that never seemed to have a future. They have the power to love each other and the power to tear each other apart. The only thing for certain is that they cannot let go.

While it is a companion novel to the Shiver trilogy, Sinner is strictly about Cole and Isabel. This is a love story about falling for the bad boy, about overcoming life's obstacles, and taking risks for love—and when you're in love with a rock star like Cole, who turns into a werewolf to escape his human problems, there are many risks. 

Sinner is the perfect summer novel for fans of supernatural romance. New readers can step into the series here as you don't have to have read Shiver to enjoy Sinner. Cole is unpredictable, funny, and sexy, with an undeniable magnetism, complete with fatal flaws and irresistible heartbreaker charm. 

Cole and Isabel each have their own personal obstacles to face, along with everything it is to be a teenager in love. Isabel and Cole are like fire and ice, but together, they balance each other. There's several make out scenes and sex is mentioned, but the book is aimed at readers ages 13 & up and therefore it is certainly not graphic (no more than Twilight: Breaking Dawn). 

Sinner is everything I wanted in a companion novel and more. I really like the Shiver trilogy, but I love Sinner. It offers exactly the kind of sexy, addictive, and exciting story the reader has craved since meeting Cole St. Clair in the Shiver trilogy. Maggie Stiefvater continues to deliver YA books that are gripping, full of danger, magic, and mystery, and that are populated by characters who continue to exist long after you've closed the book. 

This must-read novel is available now!

4 Stars

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Review: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

One book that's getting a lot of buzz right now that I couldn't resist reading is Danielle Paige's Dorothy Must Die. And while I've never read or had any interest in Pride, Prejudice and Zombies or any comparative titles, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this novel. It's still a great novel and I definitely recommend it for a fun weekend read!

Summary: I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know? Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still a yellow brick road—but even that's crumbling. What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe. My name is Amy Gumm—and I'm the other girl from Kansas. I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I've been trained to fight. And I have a mission.

Be warned that while it is categorized as YA fiction, it reads more on the adult side. Graphic violence, extreme language, death, sexual references, and disturbing scenes are peppered throughout the text. It's not slasher/horror fiction, and all of these things are used effectively, but younger readers may find some scenes frightening.

This book has sass, humour, action, suspense, a kick-ass heroine, and a fantastic satiric quality about it. I liked that this is a story where the lines of good and evil are blurred and we get to see characters in a new light, with a different ending to the story. Of course there's also a very bloodthirsty and fearless lion, a scarecrow whose thirst for knowledge has warped him into a psychopath on Leatherface's level, and a Tin woodman who would do anythingand kill anyone—to earn Dorothy's love. It's what happens when power, courage, knowledge, and love can turn you into something... wicked.

This a fun summer read for teens and young adults alike, though the book will really appeal and be appreciated by those who have read Frank L. Baum's original books. Dorothy's past and present, Ozma, Jellia Jam, and the transformation of Oz itself won't mean as much to you otherwise.

Dorothy Must Die already has a prequel novella, and I'll definitely be picking up a copy of the sequel when it comes out! You can check out the book trailer below!

3.5 Stars

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Review: The One & Only by Emily Giffin

Emily Giffin's long-awaited seventh novel is FINALLY here. The One & Only explores love in all its forms: loving the wrong person, loving the right person, loving your job, loving your family, loving your friends, and learning to love yourself.

Let me just preface this review by saying that I love Emily Giffin and I whole-heartedly agree with this review about Emily:

“A modern day Jane Austen.” — Cincinnati Enquirer.

I loved her books before she was popular and I frequently recommend them to my friends. Her books are charming, well-written, and easy to sink into. I'd even say that her books are cathartic! Better yet, she's truly talented; she doesn't need to write sex to sell books. She writes romance with substance, filled with relatable, memorable characters and masterfully writing the moments that make us ache, and smile, and laugh.

But sadly, The Only & Only did not stand up to her other books. Not even close. And it wasn't just that it's about a woman who falls in love with a man who is twenty years older... who is also her best friend's father... and a man who JUST lost his wife. It's because Shea is a painful protagonist to deal with. She's weak-willed, foolish, selfish, and a bad friend. She doesn't seem to know what she wants for herself in life, and she's never willing to think about the future in much detail. I found myself reading desperately through the book, hoping she wouldn't end up falling for her friend's father. But in the end, Lucy's deep, moral (and RATIONAL) beliefs actually meant nothing at all. Lucy very suddenly gives her friend her blessing, cuing the happily-ever-after for the reader. Ugh.

Emily's stories are so powerful BECAUSE of the realistic qualitiy to her books, specifically her characters. She is really good at writing about love, loss, and everything in between. But the relationship between Coach Carr and Shea doesn't feel real anymore than it feels right. A REAL happy ending (and a redeemable one at that) would have had Shea end up alone and starting fresh, dealing with her own personal issues and figure out how to love herself. THAT'S a happy ending!

I'm heartbroken to give such a low rating to one of my favourite authors. Emily Giffin is extraordinary and I'm looking forward to an eighth book from this talented author. But this story about a small-town girl with Daddy issues is something I'd like to forget.

2.5 Stars