29 June, 2015

The Protected

From Goodreads: I have three months left to call Katie my older sister. Then the gap will close and I will pass her. I will get older. But Katie will always be fifteen, eleven months and twenty-one days old.
Hannah's world is in pieces and she doesn't need the school counsellor to tell her she has deep-seated psychological issues. With a seriously depressed mum, an injured dad and a dead sister, who wouldn't have problems?
Hannah should feel terrible but for the first time in ages, she feels a glimmer of hope and isn't afraid anymore. Is it because the elusive Josh is taking an interest in her? Or does it run deeper than that?
In a family torn apart by grief and guilt, one girl's struggle to come to terms with years of torment shows just how long old wounds can take to heal.

Thoughts: This is the sixth and the last of the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) shortlisted Older Readers books. 
Another wow. This book had me sobbing. I felt so much for Hannah, for everything that happened before Katie died and everything that followed. She is a girl in a world of pain with no anchor and nothing to cling to. Completely heartbreaking.
Claire Zorn captures the total isolation of someone who is bullied mercilessly. She shows the nastiness of it and the feeling of helplessness experienced by the victim. She then takes it a step further and shows what happens when a tragic event occurs and no one knows how to react. For Hannah the death of her sister meant the bullying stopped, but it also meant the destruction of the family she knew. Nothing is right any more and Hannah can count on no one any more.
What I loved about this is there was no magical transformation. Change came slowly and was difficult. Neither of Hannah's parents had a sudden epiphany about their daughter and became completely present in her life again. The old friend didn't become the saviour and Hannah didn't transform into a beautiful swan after being the ugly duckling. However, by the end of the book things were a little better, a little easier and you could see the light at the end of the tunnel. You were left with the feeling that the events in the book would forever leave a mark on the characters, that this was a life changing time for them and they would never be the same. And that's ok, in fact that is important.
Zorn is an author to watch. I think she will go far in the YA genre.

The Protected gets 4 stars.

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing 

Review: A Man Called Ove

From GoodreadsIn this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.
Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him "the bitter neighbor from hell." But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time.
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.
A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fryand Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Fredrik Backman's novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.

Thoughts: I decided to get this on the advice of a good friend.  She had said it was a great book and by the end had her sobbing. I love a good cry, so when looking for a new audio, I downloaded this.
Ove (pronounced Oover, to rhyme with hoover or mover) really appears to be a sad, bitter old man. As far as he is concerned, the only correct way to do things is his way and truly can't understand why everyone cannot see it like him.
I will admit, to start with, it's hard to like Ove. I've lived in housing complexes with people similar to him and they are very difficult to deal with at times. Lord forbid you park your car in the wrong place, or leave a bike where it shouldn't be left - there are no reasons or excuses to placate them. However, as the author starts to expose us to the back story of Ove, we start to see why he is like the way he is. While I won't say I ever really warmed to him, I did have a certain admiration and a bit of a soft spot for him in the end. And there were times I thought he was quite justified in being annoyed with people. In particular, I found Pavarna quite pushy and at times rude. I mean who tells a new neighbour, who you have only known a week or so that they have to drive you and your children to the hospital. Ask, yes; tell, no.
A Man Called Ove is a book about love, loss, rules and community. It's about the importance of letting go and learning to bend a little. It's a truly beautiful book and well worth your time.

A Man Called Ove gets 4 stars

*        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing 

28 June, 2015

Book Review: The Minnow

From GoodreadsTom survived a devastating flood that claimed the lives of her sister and parents. Now she lives with Bill in his old shed by the lake. But it’s time to move out—Tom is pregnant with Bill’s baby.
Jonah lets her move in with him. Mrs Peck gives her the Fishmaster Super Series tackle box. Nana is full of gentle good advice and useful sayings.
And in her longing for what is lost, Tom talks to fish: Oscar the carp in the pet shop, little Sarah catfish who might be her sister, an unhelpful turtle in a tank at the maternity ward. And the minnow.
The Minnow is a moving and powerful coming of age story with a whimsical element that belies the heartbreaking truth of grief and loss. Tom is a character you will never forget.

Thoughts: This is the fifth of the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) shortlisted Older Readers books. Wow. I loved this. I don't think I have ever read a YA book like this before.  I think I've read a few that tried to be like this and totally missed the mark, but this hit it full on.
Tom is a 14 year old girl in very difficult circumstances. She lives in a small community devastated by a flood that killed many, including Tom's parents and sister. Tom has been living with Bill, but moves in with her friend Jonah when she finds herself pregnant by Bill, who is much older and obviously involved in something shady.
The author's use of short sentences was very effective. To me it gave a feeling of Tom being slightly disconnected from everything around her. Finding herself pregnant should have been traumatic, but Tom just accepts it as part of her lot. She seems to move through the world slightly apart from it all. She has wonderful conversations with her dead grandfather, various animals and the minnow - the child growing inside her. Her ease with this makes you feel like the veil between the real world and the netherworld is very thin for Tom. In fact her ease with it may mean it takes you awhile to work out who is living and who isn't since it's all the same to Tom.  This shows you this is nothing extraordinary, that it's just the way Tom is and that's OK.
I was slightly uncomfortable with the fact it appeared to be perfectly OK and acceptable by this small community for Tom to live with Bill and then for Tom and Jonah to live together despite their young age. No social workers turned up to assess a girl who had lost her whole family, was pregnant in suspect circumstances and wasn't attending school. But then it occurred to me there was no date given. Apart from the fact they drive cars and have TV, there is no indication as to when the story is set. It's quite probable in earlier years there would have been little or no intervention.
I can see The Minnow being a very polarising book - you will either love or hate it. For me it's uniqueness alone is enough. It's definitely a book for the older end of older readers with many of the concepts and ideas simply being beyond younger readers. 

The Minnow gets 5 stars.

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing 

25 June, 2015

Book Review: Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain

From GoodreadsA new, laugh-out-loud novel from award-winning author Steven Herrick.
Some things are too big for a boy to solve.
Jesse is an eleven-year-old boy tackling many problems in life, especially fitting in to a new school.
Luckily he meets Kate. She has curly black hair, braces and an infectious smile. She wants to Save the Whales, and needs Jesse’s help.
Both haven’t counted on Hunter, the school bully, who is an endless font of meaningless names. 
With Hunter’s catchphrase 'Ha!' echoing through their peaceful school, someone has to give.
But will it be Jesse? Kate? Or is there more to Hunter than everyone thinks?
An inspiring and funny story about the small gestures that help to make the world a better place.

Most Steven Herrick stuff I have read previously has been books in verse and I've really liked them. This however fell short of the mark for me. Jesse and Hunter are both great characters, although I felt Hunter's story was the stronger of the two and I engaged with him a lot more than Jesse, but quite a few things just did not gel for me in this book.
The alternative school just didn't work for me. For a place that promoted calling teachers by their first name, giving children a say and supporting a meat free diet, I couldn't understand why the teacher stopped Kate's talk about how the Japanese eat whales. There were a few other incidents where things occurred that just didn't seem to fit with the school's philosophy.
The highlight of the book was Hunter. So nice to see a child portrayed as complex and not just the bully or the bullied. Hunter at school is a different kid to Hunter outside of school and while you start out not liking this little bully, it doesn't take long before you see a completely different side of him. He's a lot older than his years and a lot smarter than people think.
Bleakboy and Hunter isn't a bad book, it's just not as good as I thought or wanted it to be.

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand  Out in the Rain gets 2 stars

Withering-by-Sea gets 4 stars!

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it

*****   It was amazing 

23 June, 2015

Book Review: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

From GoodreadsAlba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends.
The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:
Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails. 
And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.
Also, the world might be ending – which is proving to be awkward.
As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.

Thoughts: This is the fourth of the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) shortlisted Older Readers books. I will admit this is the title and cover and I was most dubious about - truthfully it's not something I would have naturally gravitated to. I would have missed out. This is a true gem. What's more, a quick scan of it's reviews on Goodreads and it seems to be connecting with it's audience as well. Keil has avoided so many of the young adult cliches - no love triangle, a female protagonist who has curves and an positive body image and a supporting cast that are believable and great characters in their own right. Alba and her friends are having their last summer before they scatter or stay. Everyone seems to be fairly certain what they want to do, where they want to go. Alba thought she knew, but now she's not so sure.  I'm sure it's a feeling many young people have when they finish school - what now? Is what I want to do really what I want to do or just what everyone thinks I should do?
Alba is an incredible character. She is sassy, smart, talented and sure of herself. She is a fantastic teenage female character and there should be more of them. Cinnamon Girl does sneak up on you. The book just grows in strength with each chapter until by the end you are blown away with how natural it all feels. The characters have become your friends and you want to find them and ask how they are doing. Fabulous book and my front runner to take out the top prize.

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl gets 4 stars!

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing 

22 June, 2015

Book Review: Soon

From Goodreads: After the Nazis took my parents I was scared. After they killed my best friend I was angry. After I joined the partisans and helped defeat the Nazis I was hopeful. Soon, I said, we'll be safe. I was wrong.
Soon continues the incredibly moving story of Felix, a Jewish boy still struggling to survive in the wake of the liberation of Poland after the end of World War Two.

Thoughts:  There was Once, followed by Then and Now. A little bit after that, there was After and now there is Soon. Gleitzman doesn't call this a series of books, he calls it a family of books. The order I have listed them in is the order they were published in. Chronological order puts Now at the end. Read them in published or chronological, you're in for an experience either way.
The war is over, so everyone should be safe, you should be able to go back to building a normal life. The story is over, right? Everything will be a-ok. Nice theory, reality however, is very different.
Felix, who has survived so much still has a ways to go. Gleitzman has continued where so many have stopped. He has shone a light on them continuing persecution of  those already so badly damaged by the Nazi's. Soon see's Felix and Gabriek surviving by repairing things people need.  They trade their skills for food, supplies and money. Felix still dreams of being a doctor and does what he can to help. They try to keep things simple, but sometimes things just get complicated.
There are several things I love about this family of books. Despite the subject matter they are full of hope. Felix never seems to lose that drive to do good, to see people in the best light possible, to try and understand their motivations. What's even better is he continues to find others who share this hope, who are willing to help, although often with a little more caution than Felix. At the same time Gleitzman doesn't hide the brutality of the time. People die, people do mean and nasty things and life is really, really hard. 
My 13 year old has read this whole series - devoured them. It's been a great jumping off point for some fantastic discussions, good history and social justice lessons. This is a series well worth reading.

Soon gets 3 stars

*        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it

*****   It was amazing G

21 June, 2015

Book Review:Preludes and Nocturnes - Sandman Volume 1

From GoodreadsNew York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman's transcendent series SANDMAN is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision.
In PRELUDES & NOCTURNES, an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. After his 70 year imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine, and an all-powerful madman.
This book also includes the story "The Sound of Her Wings," which introduces us to the pragmatic and perky goth girl Death.

Thoughts: I have a love/hate relationship with graphic novels - I either love them or hate them. Maus was brilliant, The Exile terrible. Whenever you look at lists of graphic novels to read, Neil Gaiman's Sandman rates within the top 3, often as number1. Gaiman has been a relatively new discovery for me, no more than 12 months. I'm still reading him thinking "Dude, where have you been all my life!"
My first indication that Sandman was good - it took me more than a day to read. There was a real, intriguing story to follow. There were characters I cared about, characters I really didn't like and being able to raise that kind of feeling in only a few words - your words have to be good. The second indication it was good is the fact I put volumes 2 & 3 on hold at the library before I finished one. Third indication, I put other things aside to read it.
For me, the pictures in a graphic novel are secondary. If the storyline isn't good, it doesn't matter how good the pictures are. The words still tell the story and without them everything is lost. Gaiman tells a good story. He leads you through the story, literally leading you to hell and back. And his version of Death - not a s funny as Pratchett's but every bit as inspired. If you want to explore graphic novels, enjoy the fantasy/ horror genre there would be worse places to start. Gaiman is a true story telling genius regardless of format.

Preludes and Nocturnes gets 4 stars

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it

*****   It was amazing