Monday, August 22, 2016

Girl in the Blue Coat - Monica Hesse

Title: Girl in the Blue Coat
Author: Monica Hesse
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 301 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: August 21, 2016
Finished: August 22, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days finding and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, nights hiding he true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning he boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the German army invaded. Her illegal work keeps her family afloat, and Hanneke also likes to think of it as a small scot of rebellion against the Nazis.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke foe help. Expectingo hear that Mrs. Janssen wants her to find meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman's frantic plea to find a person: a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such a dangerous task but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations - where the only way out is through.

Review:
This just seemed like an interesting story, so I picked it up. Hanneke is an 18-year-old Dutch girl in the midst of the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands in 1943. She works in delivering black market goods around her neighbourhood, which allows her family to survive. In her mind constantly is Bas, her boyfriend killed in the Battle of the Netherlands a few years before. When one of her customers asks her to find Mirjam Roodvelt, the fifteen-year-old daughter of a family friend who she had been hiding in her home but had recently vanished, Hanneke is reluctant to get involved. When Ollie, Bas' brother, involves her in his activities with the Dutch Resistance movement, Hanneke begins to realize the extent of the treatment of Jewish citizens since the Nazi invasion and decides to commit to finding Mirjam. What follows is a tumultuous adventure through the streets of Amsterdam in which Hanneke examines guilt and action versus inaction that led to events regarding Mirjam, Bas, and others.

The novel was well-written and engaging to the point where I read most of it in one sitting. Hanneke was a relatable character, and her feelings quite reminiscent of an average teenage girl despite the situation that she's in. The actual mystery of Mirjam's disappearance is quite good and ends in a way I didn't expect it to.

Recommendation:
An engaging story that is sure to be a enjoyable read for those that like historical fiction, particularly stories related to World War II.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the cover is made to look like a strip of film (from Mina's love of photography) with relevant images throughout it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dream Jumper - Greg Grunberg & Lucas Turnbloom

Title: Dream Jumper Book One: Nightmare Escape
Author: Greg Grunberg & Lucas Turnbloom
Publisher: Graphix (Scholastic), 2016 (Paperback)
Length: 204 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel
Started: August 20, 2016
Finished: August 20, 2016

Summary: 
From the back cover:

Ben has a gift. He can jump into other people's dreams. So when his classmates start falling victim to an evil dream monster, he knows he has to do something. But can he get to them in time? With help from a mysterious companion, Ben just might be able to defeat the monster and save his friends...if he can harness the power within.

Review:
I'm always on the lookout for new graphic novels for kids, and this one caught my eye. This is an interesting story about young Ben's ability to be a presence in the dreams of others, and though it seems like a cool ability to have, he's constantly exhausted from waking up from nightmares. His mother schedules him into a sleep clinic to get to the bottom of her son's sleep issues, and while there they discover a room full of patients trapped in sleep that cannot be woken. Ben falls into that same realm of endless sleep and is informed of his rather unique abilities from a rabbit named Lewis. But at the same time, the Nightmare Lord wants the Somni Stone that Lewis has given to Ben. Can Ben wake up his friends and escape the clutches of Erebus and the Nightmare Lord?

The art style in this book isn't quite my cup of tea, but the story is engaging and I think will be a hit amongst boys and other reluctant readers. If you teach the middle grades, you should add this to your classroom library.

Recommendation:
A good addition to middle grade classroom libraries, especially for the boys.

Thoughts on the cover:
Nice dynamic image as a cover with a nice colour palette.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 327 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult/Adult; Fantasy
Started: August 5, 2016
Finished: August 6, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts...

It was always difficult being Harry Potter, and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and a father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: Sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play by Jack Thorne. It is the eighth Harry Potter story and the first to be officially presented on stage. This special rehearsal edition of the script brings the continued journey of Harry Potter and his friends and family to readers everywhere immediately following the play's world premiere in London's West End on July 30, 2016.

The stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender, and Harry Potter Theatrical Productions.

Review:
Harry Potter had a considerable effect on my childhood. I was a teenager when the first book was published, but I still read them voraciously throughout my teenage years and saw the movies with my friend years later when they came out. Now, at least in some of the schools I've taught in, the first Harry Potter book is used as a novel study in grade 9 classes, and almost all kids are at least familiar with the movies if not both the books and films. The novels are considered a staple in household libraries, and families flock to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida. So needless to say, it was a no-brainer to pick up the newest instalment.

This new story and script takes place where the Deathly Hallows left off, with an adult Harry, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron seeing their children off to Hogwarts years later. The script mainly focuses on Albus Severus Potter, Harry and Ginny's second son (after oldest son James and younger daughter Lily) and his struggles at Hogwarts and how he copes with being the son of the infamous Harry Potter. He is sorted and begins a surprising friendship with Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco. Albus overhears a conversation between Amos Diggory and his father, after which he takes it upon himself to change the course of history and takes Scorpius along for the ride.

I won't say much for fear of spoilers, but I was quite satisfied with the story itself. It is a script, so you only have the dialogue and scant direction notes to follow, so of course you will have a different impression of if when you see it performed on stage or even listening to an audio-only version (same principle behind why we teach Shakespeare plays with the audio books or a BBC movie production). Based on the story itself, I quite enjoyed it; it shows all the original characters as near middle-aged adults rather than teenagers, as mothers and fathers with different priorities and readers get to see how those manifest in their personalities we've come to know. I liked the things the play did focus on, like how did Harry's children deal with being in the spotlight all the time, how does Harry cope with having a child with a different personality from his, what are the consequences for the adult characters regarding the choices of their teenage years? Those are the areas I wanted to see addressed in a story taking place many years after the original novels, and I was pleased with what was presented. Other readers might not be awe-struck, and it probably won't blow you away plot-wise, it's more of a play about relationships between characters rather than relying heavily on plot. I do admit that the play does read like fan fiction at times, and though that is fine by me, some readers might be completely turned off by it. Some of the lines of dialogue actually made me tear up a bit, but granted since becoming a mom I can cry at the drop of a hat at anything sappy regarding kids. I really enjoyed Albus and particularly Scorpius as characters, and would love to see this story actually performed on stage one day.

Recommendation:
Obviously if you're a Harry Potter fan, you've either already got your hands on this or are in the process of obtaining and reading it. If you haven't and enjoyed the original novels, you should read this, just go into it remembering that it is a script, so though it is a quick read you only have lines of dialogue here which doesn't provide as much insight as a full fledged novel written in prose.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very pretty, I love the gold and black/brown colour scheme. I'm trying to figure out who the child in the middle of the nest is supposed to be (I'm assuming Albus?)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Court of Mist and Fury - Sarah J. Maas

Title: A Court of Mist and Fury (sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses)
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 626 pages
Genre: Adult/Young Adult, Fantasy
Started: June 15, 2016
Finished: June 29, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Feyre survived Amarantha's clutches to return to the Spring Court - but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can't forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms - and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future - and the future of a world torn apart.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sarah J. Maas expands Feyre's world beyond even her wildest imagination in this seductive and stunning sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Review:
Oh. My. Stars.

Abso-freaking-lutely phenomenal.

 I thought A Court of Thorns and Roses was good, but this is probably one of the only times in recent memory where I thought a sequel blew the original away, and whooo baby did it ever.

Warning, spoilers likely to follow...

Feyre has been resurrected by the High Lords and is now Fae, complete with powers from each court. About to marry Tamlin, he wants her kept safe after almost losing her to Amarantha, but Feyre is quickly getting cabin fever from not being allowed to hone her new-found abilities or being able to help Tamlin in court. Desperate and unable to be confined to Tamlin's home any longer, Feyre is rescued in a way by her contract with Rhysand, forced to spend a week at a time at the Night Court with him. He offers to help her hone her powers and to teach her how to read and write, which Feyre accepts. When Rhys tells Feyre of the war brewing across the seas which will surely reach them and the mortal realms, Feyre must decide whether she will forsake Tamlin and the Spring Court to align with Rhysand and the Night Court in their efforts to defend against Hybern.

First off, I will forever thank the author for pairing Feyre with Rhys, I love the two of them together, and this book is either fraught with sexual tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, or incredibly steamy sex scenes that will make you blush (so obviously this is not the kind of young adult novel you'd give to a thirteen year old). The interactions between the two of them are amazing due to the witty, biting banter back and forth.

I also appreciate that the beginning of this novel was mostly about Feyre evaluating her situation and trying to figure out what exactly she wants given her new circumstances. She really examines things and comes to the right decision that is truly right for her.

Amren, Cassian, Mor, and Azriel are freaking awesome, the four of them with Rhys and Feyre make an amazing team (Cassian is my personal favourite).

Recommendation:
You must read this, go plow through A Court of Thorns and Roses just so you can read A Court of Mist and Fury.

Thoughts on the cover:
Continuity from the previous cover with a glimpse of Feyre from the side, this time in a blue and black colour scheme, notice the detail of the tattoos on her hand.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Exit, Pursued By A Bear - E.K. Johnston

Title: Exit, Pursued By A Bear
Author: E. K. Johnston
Publisher: Dutton Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 243 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: June 9, 2016
Finished: June 14, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Hermione Winters has been a flyer. She's been captain of her cheerleading team. The envied girlfriend and the undisputed queen of her school. Now it's her last year and those labels are fading fast. In a few months she'll be a different person. She thinks she's ready for whatever comes next.

But then someone puts something in her drink at a party, and in an instant she finds herself wearing new labels, ones she never imagined:

Victim. Survivor. That raped girl.

Even though this was never the future she imagined, one essential thing remains unchanged: Hermione can still call herself Polly Olivier's best friend, and that may be the truest label of all.

Heartbreaking and empowering, Exit, Pursued By a Bear is the story of transcendent friendship in the face of trauma.

Review:
I saw the title and was immediately drawn to this book, then I read the summary and knew I had to read it. Then upon reading it, I discovered the author is Canadian and the story takes place in Southern Ontario where I live, and love the book just that much more.

Hermione is the captain of her well-renowned cheerleading team in her small town. When she and her team arrive at the same cheerleading camp they have attended for the past few years in late summer north of Barrie, they are expecting the usual things: friendly competition between cabins, pep talks, and grueling training. They didn't expect for Hermione to be slipped date rape drugs and raped. In the aftermath of the rape, Hermione is faced with returning to school, how to function after a trauma she doesn't remember experiencing, and how outsiders view the incident as her fault rather than her rapist's.

I loved how the author approached a really difficult subject. Hermione has a lot of support both in the immediate aftermath of the incident and up to a year later: her coach, her friends, her parents, her teachers, her therapist, the police officer in charge of her case, and the hospital and clinic staff. It was a really overall positive portrayal of the aftermath of an experience that most victims do not always have. Polly is a friend that most readers would kill to have, and I think that is the key element in the outcome of Hermione's story, that she has such a fierce advocate in her best friend that can help her weather the rumours and breakups and panic attacks. I particularly enjoyed that the author did make Hermione and Polly have a confrontation with a reporter who makes a comment about "things she could've done to prevent this," and the girls immediately address the inherent sexism in the comment, replying "if I was a boy would you be asking me that?"

The fact that the story takes place locally made me smile. The camp the cheerleading team goes to is in an area I've personally visited, and all the Ontario universities (including both the ones I attended) are mentioned when the characters are deciding which schools to attend after graduation. The local aspect of the story is just an added bonus to an excellent book.

Recommendation:
An excellent book on a delicate subject that's actually explored thoughtfully and positively.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very fitting and dynamic cover.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Lie Tree - Frances Hardinge

Title: The Lie Tree
Author: Frances Hardinge
Publisher: Amulet Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 377 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction, Thriller
Started: June 1, 2016
Finished: June 8, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is modest and well-mannered - a proper young lady who knows her place. But inside, Faith is burning with questions and curiosity. She keeps sharp watch of her surroundings and, therefore, knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing - like the real reason her family fled Kent to the close-knit island of Vane. And that her father's death was no accident.

In pursuit of revenge and justice for the father she idolizes, Faith hunts through his possessions, where she discovers a strange tree. A tree that bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit, in turn, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father's murder. Or, it might lure the murderer directly to Faith herself, for lies - like fires, wild and crackling - quickly take on a life of their own.

Review:
I read the summary for this and knew it was right up my alley, plus the award winner aspect really intrigued me. Thankfully my instincts were right and this little gem of a book really impressed me.

Faith's father is a Reverend and also a budding scientist who's traveled all over Europe and Asia in search of specimens. Faith takes after her father in terms of intellect and natural curiosity, but in Victorian era England, girls are not permitted to engage in scientific pursuits if they want to be thought of as proper young ladies. Faith feels constrained by society's expectations towards her, but has more pressing matters to attend to, like her family's relocation due to scandal, and eventually her father's death. As Faith reads her father's journals and learns about the lie tree, she realizes she may be able to gain proof of her suspicion that her father's death was murder rather than suicide.

First off, I loved all the biblical allusions and allegories in this book. The main protagonist's name is Faith, she has a pet snake, she tends a tree that feeds on lies and produces fruit that when eaten will bestow a truth in the form of a vision. The author includes some great themes of gender expectations and individual versus society as well. This is a great book for discussion and would be a wonderful choice for a classroom across subjects (English, Religion, Philosophy, etc.)

Recommendation:
A great story with an intriguing plot, a likeable heroine, great themes and allusions, in addition to being well-written.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very appropriate and catches your interest.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 404 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 17, 2016
Finished: May 30 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

When magic has gone from the world, and a vicious king rules from his throne of glass, an assassin comes to the castle. She does not come to kill, but to win her freedom. If she can defeat twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition to find the greatest assassin in the land, she will become the King's Champion and be released from prison.

Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her.

And a princess from a foreign land will become the one thing Celaena never thought she'd have again: a friend.

But something evil dwells in the castle - and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying, horribly, one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival - and a desperate quest to root out the source of the evil before it destroys her world.

Review:
This has been recommended to me so many times (including by other teacher coworkers) so I finally got around to reading this. It isn't as impressive as I anticipated, and I think I'm more of a fan of the author's newest work, A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Celaena Sardothien, known as Adarlan's Assassin, is serving a prison sentence in the mines of Endovier when the Crown Prince comes to visit her with news that she has the choice to compete in a series of tests to determine the King's Champion, his own personal assassin, and that if she serves a number of years in this role, she will obtain her freedom. Celaena accepts and travels with the prince, Damian, and the Captain of the Guard, Chaol, to Rifthold, where Damian's father rules Adarlan.

Once the twenty-four contestants have all gathered in Rifthold, the competition begins; however, competitors soon turn up dead, mutilated in the most horrible ways. Celaena realizes that something sinister is at work, and since she is a competitor and also a target, she decides to investigate.

The premise is interesting, and Celaena is a pretty kick-ass heroine, but there were a couple of things that irked me. Celaena is described as being this amazing assassin, but I felt she was too flightly: obsessed with her appearance and lets her guard down easily. Plus, I felt the romance between Celaena and Damian was a little too into insta-love territory, it wasn't really believable, at least in my opinion. Granted, I do like the fact that Celaena is a massive bookworm and spends all her time in the castle's library, so that redeemed her quite a bit, and I do really like Chaol's character.

Recommendation:
I like the author's new series better, but this one is still worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
I loathe this cover, it makes Celaena look like a beauty queen rather than an assassin. Granted, this is an old cover, and the new cover looks more appropriate (see below).