Saturday, 30 August 2014

Review: Is It Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman

Is It Night or Day? is a beautifully written and touching story for YA readers set during World War II. Fern Schumer Chapman tells mother's story of how she was sent to America by her parents to have her best chance at life. This novel is an excellent choice for students studying World War II, particularly because it brings to life America's One Thousand Children project; a virtually unheard of, but heroic and extraordinary humanitarian effort to save German children during the Nazi regime.

Summary: It’s 1938, and twelve-year-old Edith is about to move from the tiny German village she’s lived in all her life to a place that seems as foreign as the moon: Chicago, Illinois. And she will be doing it alone. This dramatic and chilling novel about one girl’s escape from Hitler’s Germany was inspired by the experiences of the author’s mother, one of twelve hundred children rescued by Americans as part of the One Thousand Children project. 

Edith's story, like all wartime stories, is tragic. But the story is told through the eyes of a little girl with hope, strength, and an inspiring resilience. The language and content is clean, though the novel does mention suicide. Edith's mother becomes depressed early in the novel and is caught by Edith stringing a rope in the attic. Ultimately, this is not how her mother dies, but this moment in the plot is a notable content flag.

Is It Night or Day? offers readers a unique view into the effects of the war on German and Jewish people. I very much enjoyed reading this novel and recommend it for both educational and personal uses. My copy of the book includes bonus material, including a discussion guide and a real story of how Edith and another emigrant child are reunited after the novel was published.

4 Stars

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review: The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson

Steven Arntson's The Wrap-Up List is a sweet story about a girl whose life is coming to a tragic early end. Set in a world on the verge of war, this is a place where Death selects people at random, accounting for a small percent of fatalities. An interesting concept to say the least, but what I really like about The Wrap-Up List is its diverse cast of characters and inclusion of sensitive subjects into a modern story of friendships, family, kindness, and acceptance. 

Summary: In this modern-day suburban town, one percent of all fatalities come about in the most peculiar way. Deaths—eight-foot-tall, silver-gray creatures—send a letter (“Dear So-and-So, your days are numbered”) to whomever is chosen for a departure, telling them to wrap up their lives and do the things they always wanted to do before they have to “depart.” When sixteen-year-old Gabriela receives her notice, she is, of course devastated. Will she kiss her crush Sylvester before it’s too late? Friendship, first love, and fantasy artfully mesh in this magically realistic world that ultimately celebrates life. 

Although the book is about death and dying, the book isn't heavy-hearted or tragic. Gabriela's story focuses on the celebration of life in the now, in accomplishing her wrap-up list, and largely helping others to find love, happiness, and hope regardless of whether or not she earns a Pardon from Death.

However it is the characters that interested me most. Gabriela learns her best friend is gay and feeling confused, speaks to her priest about it. The priest tells Gabriela that it is less offensive to God for a woman to be gay than it is for a man. And while my hackles were raised at these archaic opinions, Gabriela's definitive decision that her priest was wrong suddenly changed everything. Well done, Steven Arntson. Thank you for having a modern teen disagree with such an outrageously offensive statement.

Other sensitive subjects include racism (Gabriela has never met her mother's parents as they shunned their own daughter for marrying a Mexican man), and the book's heavy use of religion. Gabriela attends Mass, prays, and God comes up quite often. 

Although some of the content may be objectionable for some parents or educators, I quite enjoyed the story. It was refreshing to see sexuality, religion, race, etc. all bound up in a story about life and death. Gabriela's "wrap-up list" is enormously generous to others and her choices and actions are self-sacrificing, brave, and kind. In the end, there is only kindness, love, and generosity. 

This is a great novel for middle grade readers and an excellent choice to spark some discussion about character, the world, and the nature of life, death, and the afterlife. 

3.5 Stars

Monday, 11 August 2014

Review: A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey

From the author of The Last Dragon Chronicles comes a new middle grade fantasy series. Chris D'Lacey's Ufiles #1: A Dark Inheritance was published by Scholastic on June 1, 2014.

Summary: When Michael Malone discovers his supernatural ability to alter reality, he is recruited by an organization dedicated to investigating strange and paranormal phenomena. He joins in hopes of finding his father, who mysteriously vanished three years earlier. 

Michael's first task is to solve the mystery of a dog he rescued from a precarious clifftop — a mystery that leads him to a strange and sickly classmate and a young girl who was killed in a devastating accident. Stakes are high as Michael learns to harness his newfound ability and uncover the deadly truth about his father's disappearance. 

This new action-adventure series will appeal to a wide range of readers. Chris D'Lacey writes a captivating story of a boy who possesses an extraordinary, but dark talent, who is unexpectedly dragged into a chilling mystery. Don't be dissuaded by the book's use of the word "UNICORNE" as I originally was. I can assure you there's nothing frilly or girly about this story. There are zero unicorns running around in the story. 

I liked this book more than I expected I would. The synopsis seemed interesting enough, but the summary doesn't really do it justice and I don't like to fill my reviews with spoilers about all the twisted, cool, exciting, and suspenseful moments that kept my eyes glued to the page. Bestselling author Chris D'Lacey hasn't let us down yet! The book is a fast-read with a great fantasy hook for readers like me who don't particularly like mysteries or feeling nervous when I read. 

A Dark Inheritance is a well-written and captivating story that will keep you guessing throughout. I'd recommend this one for pre-teen boy readers who enjoy fantasy/adventure novels and who can handle a more mature middle grade read. A great back-to-school choice to get kids away from the TV and back into reading!

3.5 Stars

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

35 Girls. 1 Crown. The Competition of a Lifetime. 

Kiera Cass' The Selection series is a romance/drama/fairy tale story with a reality show premise. The first book is called The Selection and was published in 2012 by HarperTeen. Aimed at teen readers, this three book series now has a companion novel and is sure to charm teen fans who like a girly romance that will unconditionally end with a happily ever after.

Summary: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. 

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks. 

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself—and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

I'm not particularly fond of America Singer, but the colourful cast of girls and handsome Prince Maxon make up for America's sometimes irritating quirks. Regardless, the books are a bit of delicious treat. An easy, no-stress read of an average girl who is given the chance to marry Prince Charming. The premise of the series is an interesting one—it's why The Bachelor still thrives on TV!

I flew through the first two novels and am about to start on the third. It's not my favourite series, but Kiera Cass is a fantastic author who appeals to teen girl readers who love a good love triangle and a match-up of a girl who could be you, who ends up marrying the perfect guy. As a YA fan, this is more of a guilty pleasure for me and my dislike of the heroine pulls down my overall rating. However, I can certainly attest to the fact that preteens who like this type of story will enjoy this series!

A well-written series choice for teens!

3 Stars