Monday, 7 September 2015

Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a fantastical fairy tale retelling of the Snow Queen. Although I'm not a fan of the cover art, Karen Foxlee has crafted a beautifully written story of adventure, friendship, magic, and danger for middle grade readers. Ophelia is an asthmatic, underdog hero who must rescue a magical boy and help him find a sword to defeat the evil Snow Queen once and for all.

Summary: This is the story of unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard who doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty, the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia's help. As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world. A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

Although the publisher has rightly targeted this chapter book at ages 8-12, the narrative style feels better suited for older, more confident readers. Foxlee's magical adventure requires a reader who can appreciate the imagery and what I can only describe as an original "Brothers Grimm"-type feel. This story might actually make a really good read-aloud or bedtime story, too. You can view a sneak peak on Penguin Random House's website.

Personally, I would have liked to see this story written for an older audience, with thrills and chills to amp up the plot. The Snow Queen is a frightening villain (as scary as middle grade will allow without actually scaring anyone). The writing style certainly translates for a well-read audience who can appreciate the narrative. 

Content-wise, this is a clean read. There are no frightening scenes or objectionable language to upset the target audience. Frozen fans might appreciate hearing a story about the original fairy tale that inspired Disney's multi-million dollar success.

All in all, this is a beautifully written book with lessons about being brave and not putting vanity above all else (Ophelia's sister, and countless other girls, were captured by the Snow Queen because of this weakness). With plenty of starred reviews to back it, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a great choice for confident readers who love fairy tales and magical adventures. 

3 Stars

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules was my second Erin Bow novel—and is easily my favourite. It is a dystopian and sci-fi hybrid, set in a world where AIs rule over humanity, and where the children of world leaders are used as pawns in the game of maintaining world peace. Gripping dystopian story? Check. Beautifully written? Check. Hooks the reader? Check—my subway rides were painfully short. I love Erin Bow's writing. From the nail-biting drama to the beautiful and sometimes haunting imagery, her stories and characters have a habit of sticking with you long after you turn the final page.

SummaryGreta is a crown princess—and a hostage to peace, held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. Greta and the other royal hostages are Talis’s strategy to keep the peace: if her country enters a war, Greta dies. Greta will be free if she can make it to her eighteenth birthday. Until then she is prepared to die with dignity, if necessary. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives, a boy who refuses to play by the rules and opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system and to her own power. 

The Scorpion Rules is a perfect balance of [believable] sci-fi and dystopian society. This is a YA novel, aimed at readers ages 14 & up. Parents and educators should be aware of on-page sex, violence, possibly disturbing scenes, and mature language (ranging from "hell" to the f-bomb). 

Most dystopian novels follow this formula: the corrupt "system" emerges after a long war and is maintained with violence. The protagonist has never felt loyal to the system and spends the book trying to hide his/her differences, while rebelling against it. While this is happening, there is a love triangle. Sounds like 95% of dystopian novels today, right? So I was surprised when The Scorpion Rules suddenly diverged from the formula that I was positive it was following. Surprised, but pleased, I should note. [[spoiler ahead]] The protagonist, who I was sure was going to fall for the "new boy," actually ends up in a sexual and romantic relationship with her best female friend. A break from the love triangle at last!

The Scorpion Rules finally gives the tired dystopian genre a story that is both fresh and that has real substance and merit to young adult readers. It is a beautiful love story, a tale of friendships and alliances, of murder and violence, of humanity vs. technology, of power and peace, and ultimately, good vs. evil. 

Erin Bow's writing, as always, is powerful and poetic. The Scorpion Rules is perfect for teen readers looking for their next dystopian/thriller fix. 

4 Stars

This novel has a pub date of September 22, 2015.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me an ARC for review.