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Summer on Fire – Kevin Craig

15 Nov

“Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout?
Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell-the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence.
But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.”

I don’t real a lot of what is considered “boy books”. But when I come across a book like Kevin Craig’s Summer on Fire, it makes me want to head to the bookstore and grab all the boy-centered YA books I can find.

I think what I loved most about this book was the tone. It was very reminiscent of Stand by Me. It had that coming-of-age-with-your-buds kinda feel to it. Throw in the whole trying to figure out what really happened with the fire angle and you have the perfect YA mystery read.

While I enjoyed the mystery of the fire and the murder angle, what really struck a cord with me was the relationship between Zach and his friends. The dynamic with Zach, Jeff and Arnie changes throughout the book and the boys each have some pretty tough decisions to make. It was a realistic portrayal of a friendship stressed by some pretty big events.

Kevin’s writing really drew me into the story, and his dialogue (from what I can remember being a teen and hanging with boys) was dead on.

*side note* Kevin and I “met” on Twitter. He was looking for reviewers and I asked to be included. This is one of the things I LOVE about Twitter. Getting introduced to new authors.

Thanks so much to Kevin for sending me a review copy.

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Ash by Malinda Lo

10 May

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Hachette Group)
Released: Sept 1st 2009
Genre: YA, fairytale, GLBTQ
Purchased for Coco by Kobo.

Cinderella retold

In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

From Little, Brown Books for Young Readers website.

What a beautiful, beautiful story. Lyrical, heartbreaking and warming, Ash was the first fairy tale retelling I’ve read and I fell instantly in love with it.

I was never a huge fan of fairy tales when I was a child. I only ever remember reading Disney-fied versions, so that may be why. Once I finished Ash I wanted to go on a fairy tale binge, especially if the original tales were written in a similar style to Ash.  I just really liked the feel and the tone of the book.

Lo’s writing style is both lyrical and plain-talking at the same time. I know that probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s the best way for me to describe it. Her words were beautifully woven together but I never once felt like I was lost in a description or didn’t know what she was trying to say.

I loved the relationship between Ash and Kaisa. Reading about their new friendship blossoming was one of the sweetest and truest things I’ve read in a long time. I know I’ve already used the word umpteen times, but it was simply beautiful.

Ash is far from the usual books that I read, and I think that is part of the reason that I loved it so much. It was fresh, exciting and yes, beautiful.  I can’t see anyone not loving this book.

Review: Storked by Wendy Delsol

29 Oct

Publisher: Candlewick Press
Released: October, 2010
Genre: YA supernatural
Review copy from publisher.

Sixteen-year-old Katla has just moved from Los Angeles to the sticks of Minnesota. As if it weren’t enough that her trendy fashion sense draws stares, she learns to her horror that she’s a member of an ancient order of women who decide to whom certain babies will be born. Add to that Wade, the arrogant football star whom Katla regrettably fooled around with, and Jack, a gorgeous farm boy who initially seems to hate her. Soon Katla is having freaky dreams about a crying infant and learns that, as children, she and Jack shared a near-fatal, possibly mystical experience. Can Katla survive this major life makeover and find a dress for the homecoming dance? Drawing from Norse mythology and inspired by THE SNOW QUEEN by Hans Christian Andersen, debut author Wendy Delsol conceives an irreverent, highly entertaining novel about embracing change and the (baby) bumps along the way.

Oh baby! A hip heroine discovers that she has the ability to decide who gets pregnant in this witty YA blend of romance and the supernatural from a debut author.

From Candlewick Press website.

 

 

I think from now on when I’m trying to decide the awesomeness of a humorous book, I’m going to gage it in snortability.  And Stork had snortability coming out its wazoo. This book was laugh out loud funny. And I’m not just saying that. I was reading Stork while waiting for a presentation to start. I ended up snorting OUT LOUD in a room full of soccer moms. Seriously. Then it happened again a few pages later. Finally I put the book away and just stared at my water glass.

Katla was funny and sarcastic, if a bit obsessed with fashion. But after all she is from LA. I also found some of her fashion choices pretty hilarious, but I think that’s because of my major ass-backwardness when it comes to clothes. I am strictly a Tshirt and jeans kinda gal.

I’m not familiar with Norse mythology at all, but the mythos surrounding Katla and the secret society was very cool. The other women in the society were freaking hilarious old bitties and their relationships with each other added a neat dimension to the story.

Wade’s a douche and Jack’s a sweetie and both have some things going on in the background that the reader isn’t sure of. Neither is Katla for that matter.  It’s not the typical love triangle (thank the gods!) and I really enjoyed trying to figure out what the deal was with both of them.

Like I’ve said, this was one hilarious book. Except for a few of the chapters. I found the dream chapters uber-serious and kinda out of sync with the overall tone of the book.  Don’t get me wrong, they were just as well written and important stuff happens in them. I guess because the rest of the book was funny after funny, that I just found the seriousness of the dreams a bit jarring.

But I still loved this book. Lots. And I was so thankful to hear that there’s a sequel in the works because these are definitely characters I want to see more of.

Review: Dust City by Robert Paul Weston

26 Oct

Publisher: Penguin Canada
Released: October,2010
Genre: YA  fantasy, urban fantasy
One sentence summary: Disney gone bad, but in a good, good way
Review copy from publisher.

Henry Whelp is a big bad wolf—or will be,someday. The only son of the infamous Red Riding Hood Killer, Henry is worried that he may be following in his father’s violent footsteps. He tries to distance himself from his past, and avoids the other teens at St. Remus Home for Wayward Youth, a detention centre in Dust City—a rundown, gritty metropolis known for its production of fairydust. But when Henry’s psychiatrist turns up dead, Henry finds himself on a trail of clues that may lead to proof of his father’s innocence—and the horrifying secret behind fairydust.

From Penguin Canada website.

 

Holy shit Dust City is all kinds of twisted. And I liked it! I mean, first of all, this book is gritty and dirty and violent and oh-so much FUN! I read a lot of urban fantasy and I love when I stumble across one that really knocks my socks off, you know?  This one was very different from the usual YA urban fantasy that I read.

I’m not going to go into the plot or the characters, which sounds kinda funny for a review, but there are so many surprises and wonderful “a-ha!” moments throughout  Dust City that I don’t want to ruin it for you guys. Part of the appeal and fun of the book was figuring out who characters where, what they were up to.

I loved the writing style of this book and I think that it fit in perfectly with the gritty story-line. I haven’t read a lot of old fashioned  murder mysteries, but that’s kinda what the writing reminded me of.  You know, the whole “a dame walks into my office” kinda deal. And I guess that’s another reason why this was such a  cool, unique book: it had both an urban and an old school feel to it.

So, yeah, I have all kinds of love for this book. Really. I think anyone who enjoys fantasy, urban fantasy, murder mysteries or just a well told tale will dig Dust City.

 

Review: Rough Magic by Caryl Cude Mullin

25 Oct

Publisher: Second Story Press
Released: September, 2009
Genre: YA fantasy
One sentence summary: Mystical magic with some Shakespeare thrown in.
Review copy from publisher.

Out in the midst of the ocean, rising out of the rough seas, lies a mysterious island.

It has seen visitors over the years, and has learned to fear them. Humans have done nothing but take, stealing the island’s magic and enslaving its spirits.

Caliban, born to a great sorceress who was marooned on the island’s shores, grew up half-wild with its creatures. Having escaped the island to live amongst kingdoms and courtiers for many years, he now finds himself returning with his young charge Chiara, a girl who has a power within her that no one suspected. Once back on the island they are joined by Calypso, a magical young woman with ties to them all.

Inspired by The Tempest, Shakespeare’s famous play of love, loyalty, and magic, it is the island and its power that draws them all back. But this time the dragon who lives at the bottom of the sea has been awakened and must be satisfied. It will be up to the humans to strike a balance between their power and the natural world.

From Second Story Press website.

 

Here’s the thing: I don’t read a lot of straight fantasy (or really ANY straight fantasy) but Rough Magic sounded interesting and I’m all for supporting local writers, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. And I really enjoyed it – for the most part.

I was surprised by how quickly I was sucked into Rough Magic. Usually when I try to read fantasy my eyes glaze over and I have a hard time keeping all of the characters straight. But this was an engaging book and straight off I was interested in the story. I am, after all, a sucker for the dark arts.

While the blurb on the back of the book makes it seem like the whole book is about Caliban and what happens when he’s back on the Island, this is really just a small part of the story. The book actually starts off with him Mom as a child and a good chunk of the book is about her life, the choices and sacrifices she made, and I really, really dug it. A lot. I thought, “Wow, this is a super book!”. Then I hit around page 171 and, unfortunately, things went a bit downhill from there.

Now, this is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play I have neither read nor seen, so my misgivings about the latter part of the book may be because of that. But once they return to the Island, things got really wonky and weird for me. There’s a Leviathan and people turning into dragons  but not really and just a lot of stuff I didn’t understand.

Like I said, I don’t generally read fantasy, and  maybe if I did I would have liked the last chapters of Rough Magic a lot more. But for me they were far fetched and I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as the first parts of the book.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that since it’s a genre unfamiliar to me based on a play that’s unfamiliar to me, you should take this review with a grain of salt. If you’re a fan of fantasy, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. For me, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if Caliban hadn’t returned to the Island, because up until that part Rough Magic was a super read.

Review: Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen

19 Oct

Publisher: Tundra Books
Released: August, 2010
Genre: MG/YA contemp
One sentence summary: Quirky characters + a quest for George Clooney = one hilarious, lovable book.
Review copy from publisher.

Violet’s TV-director dad has traded a job in Vancouver for one in Los Angeles, their run-down house for a sleek ranch-style home complete with a pool, and, worst of all, Violet’s mother for a trophy wife, a blonde actress named Jennica. Violet’s younger sister reacts by bed-wetting, and her mother ping-pongs from one loser to another, searching for love. As for Violet, she gets angry in ways that are by turns infuriating, shocking, and hilarious.

When her mother takes up with the unfortunately named Dudley Wiener, Violet and her friend Phoebe decide that they need to take control. If Violet’s mom can’t pick a decent man herself, they will help her snag George Clooney.

From Tundra Books website.

 

Let me just pause for a moment and worship the awesomeness that is Susin Nielsen. Seriously. I love her writing so much I’m thinking of setting up a shrine.  I’ll call it The Queen of the Quirky Character and it will include a scrabble board, stocking hat, and season 1 DVD of ER. Each day before I sit down to start writing, I’ll pray to The Queen of the Quirky Character to guide me and let me create characters half as interesting as hers.

So, yeah, I kinda fell in love with this book. I mean, the title alone would make anyone wanna give it a read. In a sea of one and two worded titles, it sticks out like a sore thumb. A glorious, wonderful, inspired sore thumb.  And the innards of the book match the awesomeness of the title, for sure.

Violet isn’t always a nice kid and that’s cool. I mean, in the opening scene she does something so horrible, so gross, so funny that I was shaking my head in awe of Nielsen. It takes a lot of guts to start a book off the way she did. I won’t say anything else, but trust me, it’s horrifically cringe-worthy stuff.

In fact, the whole book is filled with cringe-worthy stuff, and that’s what I love so much about Nielsen’s writing. This isn’t a book filled with gorgeous, perfect characters who always say and do gorgeous, perfect things. Oh, no. Violet, her family and their friends are awkward, imperfect and so realistic. She’s a kid who acts like a kid. Kinda refreshing, no?

I also love that we see the characters from Nielsen’s Word Nerd, too, although it took my slow brain until almost the end of the book to realize this. I think it’s awesome that her books are kinda, sorta companion books, but not really.

Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom made me happy. It put a smile on my face and made me sigh blissfully. And the George Clooney parts made me snort, for real. Funny stuff. Hell, the whole book was filled with funny stuff, another reason why I love it so freaking much.

Review: Plain Kate by Erin Bow

22 Sep

Publisher: Scholastic Canada
Release year: 2010
Genre: MG/YA fantasy, fairytale
One sentence summary: A cat, a curse and a wonderful fairytale.
Rating:5 out of 5
Review copy from publisher

Plain Kate lives in a world of magic and curses, where cats can talk and shadows can bring back the dead. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans seem to reveal hidden truths about their owners. But she and her village have fallen on hard times: Kate’s father dies, crops fail, and a strange sickness is spreading across the countryside. The village is looking for someone to blame, and for her skill with a knife, Kate is accused of witchcraft. Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: If Kate gives him her shadow, he’ll grant her heart’s wish, and he’ll also find a way for her to escape the angry townspeople. Kate reluctantly agrees, not realizing that she’s given a powerful tool to a man driven mad with grief. Aided by new friends and armed with the carving knife that has never failed to show her the truth, Kate must stop Linay in his terrible plan of revenge and become the heroine she knows is within her.

From Scholastic Canada website.

I don’t do straight fantasy. EVER. I’ve tried to read various high fantasy books shoved at me lovingly by the hubs, but I haven’t managed to get past the first chapter or so. Different lands, different places, I just can’t get into them. My dislike of fantasy started young: I was never a huge fan of fairytales. I remember reading them but not really being impressed. And I was so not a Disney kid. So you would think that I wouldn’t like Erin Bow’s Plain Kate, a fantasy novel steeped in fairytale.

But – let the gushing commence – Plain Kate was a wonderful, amazing, heartwarming tale. And it will definitely end up on my best of for the year.  I whipped through it and at one point near the end when the hubs came in to talk to me, I waved the book in his face and glared. He backed out of the room. Smart man.

It’s hard for me to actually put into words why I loved this book so much, but I’m gonna try my hardest to be at least a bit coherent.

For me, this book is about a feeling. It might sound dorky, but I almost felt like this book was a friend, giving me a big hug. It’s not always a happy book, and there are hard, sad events throughout. But it didn’t depress me. Sure there were times I felt sad (I dare you to read Plain Kate and not cry) but mostly I felt for Kate and what she was going through. I also connected with her simply wanting a place where she fits in, something I think we all crave.

Ok, Taggle. I loved him so, so much. I think he’s one of my favorite characters of forever. He was such an amazingly well written character. It’s hard to explain, but she captured the personality of a cat perfectly. Oh, did I forget to mention Taggle is a cat? He is. He’s the most self-absorbed, awesome cat EVER.

The whole book was beautifully written, and so vivid that I could almost smell the wood shavings as Plain Kate carved. Erin’s writing pulled me into Plain Kate’s world from the get-go and it was definitely a world I didn’t want to leave.

There were a lot of happy sighs as I read Plain Kate. I just kept thinking, “Thank God I’m getting a chance to read this book.” And when I finished I immediately told everyone I know to go buy it and read it.

This is probably going to sound cheesy and cause a few eye-rolls, but for me this book was a gift. Not only was it an amazing story I know I’ll come back to again and again, but it’s also made me curious about fantasy and fairytales. Very cool.

As for who I think will enjoy Plain Kate, that’s easy. Everyone.

Don’t believe me? Enter to win a copy and see for yourself.

Frostbitten by Kelley Armstrong

13 Nov

Random House, 2009

In the latest installment of her Women of the Otherworld series, Kelley Armstrong returns to one of her most beloved characters, female werewolf Elena Michaels.

This time around Elena and her mate Clay are off to Alaska in pursuit offrostbitten a mutt (a werewolf without pack affiliation), while also checking in on two werewolves who left the pack but remained friends. There are also some suspicious deaths in the area that their pack leader, Jeremy, wants them to look into.

While there was a lot going on in Frostbitten, Armstrong once again hits a literary home run, giving her readers what they want and expect: excellent storytelling, character growth, elements of the supernatural and a touch of romance.

The plots were tightly woven and as usual the characters were not only believable, but our understanding of their past, especially Elana’s, deepened, allowing the reader to get a better grasp on who she is.

Some new characters were introduced and while they may have been minor characters, I have a feeling that we will be seeing a few of them again in future books.

I have yet to read anything by Armstrong that I haven’t loved, and Frostbitten wasn’t an exception.

Browse inside Frostbitten.

Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter by R.J. Anderson

29 Oct

Published by HarperCollins Canada, 2009
Reviewed by Colleen McKie

The faeries that live in the Great Oak are a shadow of their former selves. No longer possessing the ability to perform their magic, they never leave the Oak, fearful of the world around them, in particular humans.

Knife is different from the other faeries, not content to merely exist. faery_rebelShe wants to find out where the faery magic went and why. Her quest for the truth leads Knife to disregard not only her people’s customs, but also to disobey her Queen by befriending a human.

While I love urban fantasy, this was my first book that was a bit heavier on the fantasy than the urban and I must say that I really enjoyed it. I got caught up in Knife’s quest to find out where the faery magic went and there was just enough mystery surrounding who she could trust and count on to help her and who was an enemy.

Without giving anything away, I was a wee bit disappointed in the direction that the author went with elements of the ending. I feel that she took the expected route and the story may have faired better if she had gone out on a limb, so to speak, and taken a different approach to elements of the subplot.

But with that being say, I really enjoyed Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter and I look forward to the next book in the series.

Browse inside Faery Rebel.