Early Review: Poe: Stories and Poems – A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds

I’m a sucker for Graphic Novels, and this adaptation of Poe’s classic works was absolutely spot on. Hinds’ experience and expertise in adapting the classic really shone through and the result was a text that will hopefully inspire a new generation of horror readers.


poeTitle: Poe: Stories and Poems – A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Author: Edgar Allen Poe

Illustrator: Gareth Hinds

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: August 1, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Graphic Novel, YA Fiction, Poetry, Horror, Classics

Themes: Darkness, Death, Disease

Features: Annotations and Supplementary Information, Biographical Information


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

In a thrilling adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe s best-known works, acclaimed artist-adapter Gareth Hinds translates Poe’s dark genius into graphic-novel format.

It is true that I am nervous. But why will you say that I am mad?

In “The Cask of Amontillado,” a man exacts revenge on a disloyal friend at carnival, luring him into catacombs below the city. In “The Masque of the Red Death,” a prince shielding himself from plague hosts a doomed party inside his abbey stronghold. A prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, faced with a swinging blade and swarming rats, can t see his tormentors in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a milky eye and a deafening heartbeat reveal the effects of conscience and creeping madness. Alongside these tales are visual interpretations of three poems “The Raven,” “The Bells,” and Poe s poignant elegy to lost love, “Annabel Lee.”

The seven concise graphic narratives, keyed to thematic icons, amplify and honor the timeless legacy of a master of gothic horror.


My Review

I loved this book, so much. Which says something because Poe always gave me nightmares growing up! Hinds adaptation is the perfect blend of classical horror with a modern medium. And, seeing as Poe’s works are still on most Canadian school curriculum, I seriously want to find a way to get class sets into every school library – especially since it includes annotations and supplementary materials!

The only complaint that I have about this text is that I would have preferred for more of the dialogue to be incorporated into graphics as it would have really enhanced the graphic novel experience. Regardless, the artwork is beautifully rendered with vibrant colours, exceptional expression, and really serves to heighten the narrative. I enjoyed the variety of styles and colour palettes between the stories from the pencil sketches to the watercolours, and from those in varied palettes to monochrome. The distinct style of each story really served to establish the mood making each story or poem distinct from one another.

The structure itself is very word specific, with Poe’s original texts accompanying the illustrations. It reads a little like an exceptionally mature picture book, but the art is so wonderful and expressive that I could have followed Poe’s stories and understood the horror even without his words. The panels are arranged with a logical flow, and enough action happens in the gutter that the eye is drawn from one panel to the next while the imagination in constantly firing. Further, Hinds does a fantastic job of capturing the invisible realm of sense and emotions through the variation in letting styles for the sounds represented, the encapsulation of movements, and the externalization of fears.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Not only is it a perfect read for those who enjoy Poe and graphic novels, but it is also the kind of book that could easily find a home in a school library. Poe’s language is so far removed from our current vernacular that the  skillful illustrations create a beautiful and seamless reading experience that brings these classic stories to life.


Many thanks to Gareth Hinds and Candlewick Press for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Early Review: Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn by Elizabeth Kiem

I seem to be on a bit of a Cold War kick as of late, so requesting Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn via NetGalley happened entirely on a whim. I didn’t even realize that this was the last book in the Dukovskaya series until the authors notes at the end, and I have to say that it was a truly captivating read. Kiem creates an immersive experience that can be enjoyed by teen and adult readers alike, and especially by those who love ballet Cold War era Russia!


orphanTitle: Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn

Author: Elizabeth Kiem

Publisher: Soho Teen

Publication Date: August 22, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

Themes: Cold War, Espionage, Orphans, Family, Spies, Ballet

Features: Character guide, glossary of terms, recommended reading


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

The year is 1958, and sixteen-year-old Svetlana is stuck in a Moscow orphanage designated for the unwanted children of Stalin’s enemies. Ballet is her obsession and salvation, her only hope at shedding a tainted family past. Sveta’s dream is to make a new life as a dancer.

Her dream comes true: she’s invited to join The Bolshoi Ballet, whose power as a symbol of Soviet prowess is unmatched—except perhaps by the dreaded KGB secret police. Sveta is stunned when officers show up at her door. Inexplicably, they know about a fainting spell she once had: a trance she slipped into. Something like a vision.

Some very powerful people believe Sveta is capable of serving the regime as much more than a dancer. They want to enlist her against the West as a psychic spy. She must explore this other talent if she is to erase the sins of her family, if she is to dance on the world stage for the Motherland—if she is to survive.

 


My Review

Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn has a lot going for it from the integration of Russian words and phrases to the incorporation of meticulously researched historical fact, and from the beautiful imagery to a complicated love story that could have entertained on it’s own. But what I love the most about this book is how strong and prominent the female characters are – very rarely do we see a damsel in distress, and the only mention of hormones comes from the protagonist herself in a completely understandable situation. While I absolutely loved this aspect of the book, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there may a narrower audience of readers than some other YA espionage reads, but that’s absolutely ok!

I really enjoyed how the narrative was divided into four distinct sections, which really gave a sense of organic growth and development and helped to establish Svetlana’s degree of involvement with the KGB. It mirrored nicely the rise and fall of the Soviet leaders mentioned throughout the text, and didn’t downplay the harsh realities and endings that faced many who existed behind the iron curtain. The interweaving of memory and the story within a story created some beautifully emotional, as well as exceptionally effective, transitions between periods. In this was, time jumps of several years and many major events seemed very natural and I was never left feeling like there was a hole in the plot.

I struggled bit, however, with the love triangle between Svetlana, Gosha, and Viktor. Admittedly, it did get a little bit more exciting at the very end, but I felt that the good boy/ bad boy/ prima ballerina thing has been done a few too many times. But, and here’s the big thing, it’s still fun and will very likely not be met with the same degree of ‘oh that’s cliche’ from the intended target audience! And, truth be told, given that the text is filled with echoes of classical ballets such as Swan Lake, The Firebird, and Romeo and Juliet the choice of this particular plot device is completely understandable.

Now, onto the asymmetrical warfare aspects of the book – I loved this concept! At first I did a little double take, but I ended up really enjoying the twist that it put on the Cold War as perceived through pop culture. It was interesting to watch how perceptions of not only self, but also actions, shifted and developed as Svetlana matured. Despite significant fictional liberties being taken, the ability to connect to a universal mind or tap into others memories and feelings really forces introspection and the consideration of multiple narratives – which I think are fantastic elements in YA reads! And seriously, who doesn’t love the idea that dance can course of history…

I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait for it to hit the shelves later in August as I have a whole host of little ballerinas that I think will absolutely love it! I loved Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn as a stand alone text as it was easy to follow, but I have no doubts that I will be tracking down the first two texts in the series ASAP. If you love Ballet, the Cold War, and the KGB and their alternative warfare this might just be the book for you!

 

 


Many thanks to Elizabeth Kiem and Soho Teen for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Loyalty: Secrets by David Wiltcher

Lately I have been taking a few gambles on the books that request via NetGalley, and hot dang, I was not disappointed by Loyalty: Secrets! Filled with action, suspense, wit, and perfectly timed snark from a strong female lead this novel hits in all the right places.


loyaltyTitle: Loyalty: Secrets

Author: David Wiltcher

Publisher: Cameron Publicity & Marketing Ltd

Publication Date: January 31, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Cold War, Espionage, Orphans, Family, Spies

Features: Historical timeline


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Kathy, an orphaned and feisty child and young woman, instinctively rebellious, drawn to challenges, a chancer but an idealist, is compelled to confront these issues, making choices and commitments that have major political and personal impacts on herself and others who are drawn to her.

The story follows her journey from quiet East Anglia to the growing nightmare of 1930s Berlin, meeting an inspirational agent, thenfighting her way out and across Europe to confront new challenges and dangers in wartime and post-war London. Here she discovers her true identity, a name change, and is compelled into an ideological choice of allegiance.

These are worlds of dreadful violence and hatreds, of nationalisms and developing Cold War conflicts, of treachery, paranoia and endless intrigue, of secrecy and deadly ideological rivalries, times of lethal danger.


My Review

There isn’t much about this book that I don’t love. After having read a good number of texts lately that have alternating perspectives, following a single character from childhood through to maturity was as refreshing as it was beautifully executed. The mixture of memory and event creates a believable balance and you really get the sense of who Kathy is and why she does what she does. I love her bold, bolshy, attitude and found myself laughing at the spectacle of this precocious girl saying exactly what aggravates the most.

Loyalty: Secrets had all of the elements that you come to expect from a WWII novel – persecution, loss, a daring escape and the depravity of many of those in power, as well as all of the key elements of a Cold War espionage adventure – subtle recruiting, corporate and government infiltration, a touch of poison, and more than a few clandestine meetings. Although either could have a been a stand alone tale on it’s own, these two elements are perfectly married through the tale of orphan Kathy, his discovery and loss of her family, and the exploration of the moments that defined her life. I really appreciated the subtle interweaving of major historical events such as crucial radio broadcasts, key newspaper articles, and the trickle-down reporting and even the tactful misrepresentation of certain events. The inclusion of a historical timeline was a really nice touch as it helps to contextualize the tumultuous atmosphere in which Kathy was raised.

And, just as this book had all of the elements that you would expect given the time frame, it also had enough twists and turns that I simply couldn’t stop turning the pages. Trying to avoid spoilers, but man! Wiltcher got me right in the feels more than I thought he would. I was ready for so horrible concentration camp/ captured spy torture, and instead I found myself bawling when Hanne wasn’t a drunk, broken after the passage through the mountains, and furious with the American in the Foreign Office. I was shocked, I was angry, and ultimately I was thrilled with how everything turned out.

I loved the writing style and found it easy to engage with. The vocabulary was playful and had a beautiful and challenging variety that I haven’t come across often enough. I enjoyed how difficult concepts and word were introduced as it allows for readers to learn alongside Kathy if they are unfamiliar with the concepts, as well as humour, innuendo, and abounding personality and snark. I particularly loved the use of the word ‘bolshy’, the prevalence of dictionaries and definitions (they make my librarian heart sing!), and subtle message that all news should viewed through a critical lens and with constant questioning.

Would I recommend this book? Oh, heck yes! I have already ordered a few copies to give as gifts to family and friends. Loyalty: Secrets is the perfect marriage of historical facts, espionage, and feminism. For anyone who loves WWII, Cold War spies, or even just lovers of strong female leads this book is an absolute must read.


Many thanks to David Wiltcher and Cameron Publicity & Marketing Ltd for providing a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell

I read this book right after it came out, and picked it up again just recently after seeing one of my friend’s daughters toting it about. Normally I don’t a like a book as much the second time around, but I am delighted to say that I loved El Deafo just as much on round two! Funny, heartfelt, and beautifully written and drawn this graphic novel is one that will appeal to parents and children alike.


el deafoTitle: El Deafo

Author: Cece Bell

Publisher: Amulet Books

Publication Date: September 2, 2014

Genre: YA Fiction, Fiction, Comics and Graphic Novels, Memoir, Autobiography

Themes: Friendship, School, Family, Self Acceptance, Deafness

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.


My Review

Where do I begin? I LOVED everything about this graphic novel from being semi autobiographical to the difficulties of friendship in the face of being different, from the arrangement of the panels to the bold and almost innocent nature of the artwork. My inner librarian screams absolute triumph when I see children with this book in their hands because it is absolutely wonderful to see younger souls taking an interest in memoirs, but more importantly it is amazing to see that a memoir has been created that appeals to children. And when all of the elements of this book come together they create a story that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

I must mention though that I relate to Bell’s narrative on a personal level as my mother is hard of hearing and came to be so later in life. As a child it was confusing to watch how friends and acquaintances changed their treatment of my mother despite knowing who she was as a person before her viral infection. The simple misinterpretations, forced/ bad sign language, and even isolation were all spot on! I think too, that it is important to acknowledge that acts of isolation can be innocent misunderstandings. Bell’s graphic novel does a beautiful job of capturing these moments and really encourages readers to consider situations beyond the self, and to think more deeply about how actions might impact others as well as what might have been the motivation behind them.

When considering a younger audience, I think that this text is perfect for teaching social interaction and helping to understand factors in group dynamics. Tt does a wonderful job depicting bullying, peer pressure, and the ins and outs of school atmospheres. There is so much that can be related to that El Deafo is sure to appeal to wide audience, and has much to offer older readers as well. I love that Cece is real, that her reactions are plausible, and that the character is both honest and vulnerable. What’s more though, is the emphasis placed on finding one good friend and finding your inner super hero to get through the tough spots – we all need one of those every now and then!

Finally, I can’t review a graphic novel without touching on the art. At first I was little disappointed in overly simplistic nature of the panels, and dare I say even bored. But, in time I really grew to appreciated how everything worked together. The simple cartoon-like drawings, block colours, and animalistic characters really brought out the innocent nature of the narrative. At the same time, the lack of detail and human characteristics beyond emotions and actions really worked to make the characters more relatable and universal. Panel composition was clear and easy to follow, even for those who are new to the genre, and just enough closure takes place in the gutters to ignite the imagination. Also, I really loved the representations of sound in visual mediums – from the way words were broken down to represent speech patterns, text was faded or bolded to show malfunction with the phonic ear, and even everyday sounds – all created a reading experience where you could imagine both hearing and feeling just as Cece might. Whatever initial misgivings I might have had have since been completely dispelled!

Would I recommend this book? In a heart beat! Buy it, borrow it, take it out from the library – and be sure to share it with friends and family along the way. I look forward to seeing not only more of Bell’s work, but also some more graphic memoirs that kids can’t wait to sink their teeth into!

 

 

Book Review: We’ve Come to Take You Home by Susan Gandar

I had the honour of receiving a copy of this book directly from the author (thanks for shipping all the way from Australia!), and was absolutely delighted. I don’t normally read WWI fiction but I am glad that I ended up stepping out of my comfort zone as this book had everything that I wanted – mystery, drama, historical context, and characters that form a vice-grip on your heart strings.


weve comeTitle: We’ve Come to Take You Home

Author: Susan Gandar

Publisher: Matador

Publication Date: March 28, 2016

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: Family, WWI, Romance, Time-slips

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

It is April 1916 and thousands of men have left home to fight in the war to end all wars. Jessica Brown’s father is about to be one of these men. A year later, he is still alive, but Jess has to steal to keep her family from starving. And then a telegram arrives – her father has been killed in action.

Four generations later, Sam Foster’s father is admitted to hospital with a suspected brain haemorrhage. A nurse asks if she would like to take her father’s hand. Sam refuses. All she wants is to get out of this place, stuck between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a place with no hope and no future, as quickly as possible.

As Sam’s father’s condition worsens, her dreams become more frequent – and more frightening. She realises that what she is experiencing is not a dream, but someone else’s living nightmare…

We’ve Come to Take You Home is an emotionally-charged story of a friendship forged 100 years apart.


My Review

It took me a few chapters to get used to the alternating narration and Sam’s time-slips into Jess’ world, but once I did it was easy to see how beautifully detailed and carefully crafted this book is. There is no detail that can be overlooked from the descriptions of jewellery and clothing to places and feelings many of the elements are interchangeable and equally important to both characters. While my love for this book developed as a slow-burn, even after a few days the vivid descriptions and raw emotions have failed to fade.

While I enjoyed Sam’s narrative and her connection to Jess, it was Jess’ story and the depictions of life during WWI that kept me turning the pages. It is all too easy to forget the food and fuel shortages, rationing, the presence of a class stratified lifestyle, and the horrors trench warfare that persisted throughout this time. And yet, the minute details bring these circumstances and so much more to life. The level of research that went into crafting this text is undeniable – I had never thought so much about maid’s-of-all-work, but my heart goes out to all that endured long hours, harsh employers, and often deplorable conditions.

The writing is sophisticated and flows seamlessly between Sam and Jess. I can see how the transitions might be confusing to some, but if you focus on the details and the subtle repetitions the transitions are easier to follow. The pace is fast, and very rarely are there lulls in the action or so much explication that the narrative feels bogged down. I found Jess’ plot to be somewhat more engaging than Sam’s, but really enjoyed the juxtaposition of modern and historical tragedies being lived out by fifteen year old girls 100 years apart. I found the introspective elements to be subtle, but they certainly pack a punch.

Tragic, beautiful, and bittersweet We’ve Come to Take You Home is a poignant and emotional marriage between tragedy and immeasurable hope. The problems portrayed are realistic, with real responses to the situations portrayed, despite the other-worldly elements of Sam’s time-slips. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, and have no doubt that it will be enjoyed by lovers of drama, historical fiction, and emotional reads alike.


Many thanks to Susan Gandar and Matador Publishing for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Defiance by A. L. Sowards

This is one of those books I had to pause and catch my breath after reading. not only was it incredibly well written, but it was impossible not to feel for Lukas as he transformed from school boy to soldier then prisoner. If you love WWII lit, Defiance is well worth the read!


DefianceTitle: Defiance

Author: A. L. Sowards

Publisher: Covenant Communications

Publication Date: April 18, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction

Themes: WWII, POW Camps, Bastogne, Resilience, Survival

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Eight years after immigrating to the United States, German-born Lukas Ley embodies the American dream: successful athlete, gorgeous girlfriend, loving family. But beneath the surface, eighteen-year-old Lukas is driven by ambition, resolved to avenge the murder of his father at the hands of the Nazi regime. Unfortunately, a failed physical throws his plans for flight school off course. Unlike his war-hero older brother, Lukas’s purpose is unclear. He can’t fly, and in the eyes of the military, he’s good for only one thing—the front lines.

From the foxholes of war-ravaged Luxembourg to the devastation of an enormous German offensive, Lukas’s journey is fraught with peril. But when he’s taken as a prisoner of war, he realizes life is about to get much worse. In the enemy camp, Lukas is viewed as a German fighting for the wrong side. Ripped from the innocence of an idealistic youth, he becomes a man beaten by the horrors of war. Now his only hope of survival is to hold tightly to his faith in God and his love of family and home. But even if he manages to make it out alive, can he ever be whole again?

Sometimes survival is the ultimate act of Defiance.


My Review

I loved this book. Not because it was particularly happy, or because it had a hopeful ending, but because it focused on one character and told their story exceptionally well. Through all of the emotional ups and downs I was enraptured in Lukas’s experience and I was incredibly thankful that not too much time was dedicated to the explication of others. The result was that the narrative was personal, heartfelt, and impossible to look away from.

Another thing that worked incredibly well was the division of the narrative into distinct sections. This allowed for enough background to be established without waisting time and words moving from one major event to the next. At first I was a little surprised that the whole of basic training was left out, but ultimately everything worked amazingly well. The pacing was smooth and quick with enough action to keep me turning the pages well after midnight on more than one occasion.

Also, it was refreshing to read a fictional work about the events in Luxembourg that led up to Bastogne. With so much out there on the battle of the Bulge, especially Bastogne, it was refreshing to pick up a piece that focused on a single moment in an obscure town, and where success wasn’t imminent. Similarly, it was both heart-wrenching and fascinating to read about the work camps and conditions that POWs had to endure. Although somewhat lesser known in the greater dialogue of WWII, it is clear that the places and events discussed were well researched and grounded in fact. I never felt for one instance that I was reading a work of fiction, and my heart soared with ever escape attempt and broke with the loss of every friend.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Not only is it well written, it is an emotional ride that will leave you rooting for the under-dog and always wanting more. Defiance is a wonderful work of historical fiction, and I am certain that I will be seeking out some of Sowards’ other titles. Buy it, borrow it, check it out from the library – this baby is well worth the time!


Many thanks to A. L. Sowards and Covenant Communications for providing a digital copy for review via Net Galley.

Early Review: The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

If there is  one book that you should read this summer, it should be The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wisemen. Filled with mystery, drama, unexpected plot twists, hope, and heartwarming moments of unconditional love this novel is sure to please lovers of historical fiction, family dramas, and mysteries alike.


life she was givenTitle: The Life She Was Given

Author: Ellen Marie Wiseman

Publisher: Kensington Publication Corporation

Expected Publication Date: July 25, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: Family, Sense of Self, Defiance, Discovery, Circus

Features: Author Q & A, Book Club Question Guide


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time–and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.


My Review

When the publisher and Net Galley granted my wish to review this book, the timing was almost perfect. That is, my wish was granted on the day that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus staged their final show in New York. So when I started reading The Life She Was Given I was already emotionally raw and nostalgic, which meant that this book got me right in the feels and then refused to let go.

The Life She Was Given is beautifully written, with the narration alternating between Lily in the 1930s and Julia in the 1950s. The pacing is quick, and those moments where context is being provided and character development is taking pace feel natural and not at all forced. The result is that The Life She Was Given has a beautiful balance between being a plot-driven and character-driven. Additionally, the descriptions of circus life are vivid and imaginative, and the depth of the feelings and mystery that surround Blackwood Manor are entirely captivating.

The depth of Wiseman’s research shines through as well, and I really appreciated the acknowledgement of some of her more important sources. As someone who spends a great deal of time educating others on Information Literacy and how to properly reference sources, to see this included in a work of fiction makes my heart go pitter-patter. Not only that, the truthfulness and factual basis of many of the big moments throughout the text – Lily being sold to the circus, the elephant execution, and the circus traditions and superstitions – means that these moments are entirely believable and easy to get wrapped up in.

I want so badly discuss those moments that absolutely ripped my heart out, but have to refrain as I don’t want to be a spoiler! All I can say is this book comes with the warning of read with tissues – especially the end. Holy crap, I never saw it coming. If you guessed it you must be psychic, or maybe I’m just too nice, but the depravity of some people never ceases to amaze me.

Would a recommend this book? An astounding YES! I can’t wait for this book to come out in July as there are so many people that I want to give it to. It is beautiful, emotionally demanding, heartbreaking, and shocking in the moments where you least expect it. The Life She Was Given is an absolute must-read!

If anyone is interested, Ringling’s final live performance is included below. It might be two hours, but it was an epic end to an institution older than hockey and baseball.


Many thanks to Ellen Marie Wiseman and the Kensington Publication Corporation for providing an advanced copy for review via Net Galley.

Book Review: Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

This is the perfect book for teens that enjoy Harry Potter but refuse to pick up the books because they have already seen the movie. Filled with suspense, ample ups and downs, and mysterious creatures that you can’t help but want to know more about Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is sure to capture the hearts of kids and teens craving escape into a magical world.


ewan pendleTitle: Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith

Author: Shaun Hume

Publisher: Popcorn & Rice Publishing

Publication Date: July 31, 2013

Genre: YA Fiction, Fiction, Fantasy

Themes: Friendship, Adventure, Mystery, Magical Schools

Features: N/A


My Rating: 3.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Ewan Pendle was weird. Really weird. At least, that’s what everyone told him. Then again, being able to see monsters that no one else could wasn’t exactly normal …

Thinking he has been moved off to live with his eleventh foster family, Ewan is instead told he is a Lenitnes, one of an ancient race of peoples who can alone see the real ‘Creatures’ which inhabit the earth. He is taken in by Enola, the mysterious sword carrying Grand Master of Firedrake Lyceum, a labyrinth of halls and rooms in the middle of London where other children, just like Ewan, go to learn the ways of the Creatures.


My Review

I struggled reviewing this book, not because I didn’t enjoy it (as I did!), but because there are a number of stylistic personal preferences that I had to think hard about including. Ultimately though, this is a fun and engaging read, especially for those craving a world filled with magic, mystery, and a solid group of friends ready and willing to take on the world.

For those like myself who grew up on a steady diet of Harry Potter, the parallels between the texts are obvious – the weird boy plucked from obscurity at the age of 11, sent to a magical boarding school where he is picked on by a select group of students and one teacher in particular, and who works with his two closest friends to solve a mystery of national import that might get them kicked out of school. But, there is just enough Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones with a dash of something completely different that Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is a fun and fanciful read. And, although I was irked by the similarities, it was those elements that were completely different such as Ewan’s connection with the wraiths, the element of the animal sentinels, and the ghost train that kept me turning the pages.

Personally, I struggled with the stylistic choices and the language throughout. But, as I was humbly reminded by my friendly 11 year old stealer of books, while I personally may not appreciate the frequent repetition of descriptive phrases and flowery language the kids reading the books may (and do) enjoy it. There is no arguing that everything of import is well described, and that the imagery is clear and consistent throughout the text. It is easy to form a clear image of each character, right down to picturing their facial expressions and idiosyncratic ticks.

The story of Ewan Pendle holds much promise for the future, especially if it continues to diverge and develop those elements that are truly unique to it. I am excited to see where this series will go, and will be sure to check back in once the second instalment is available.

Would I recommend this book? Sure thing! I have already passed a copy along to a young man who has adamantly resisted reading Harry Potter because ‘the movies are good enough’ and he seems to be devouring Ewan Pendle and White Wraith quite happily.


Many thanks to Shaun Hume for providing a copy of his text in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

I know I said that my next review would be Shaun Hume’s Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith but when a friend asked me to read and recommend whether or not Friends with Boy’s was suitable for her 10 year old daughter my TBR pile ended up getting a little jumbled. I read this beauty when it first came out in 2012, and I am delighted to say that I think as much of it now as I did just over four years ago.


friendsTitle: Friends With Boys

Author: Faith Erin Hicks

Publisher: First Second

Publication Date: February 28, 2012

Genre: YA Fiction, Fiction, Comics and Graphic Novels

Themes: Friendship, First Love, Family Dynamics, Divorce

Features: Early drawings and concept sketches


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting high school. It’s pretty terrifying.

Maggie’s big brothers are there to watch her back, but ever since Mom left it just hasn’t been the same.

Besides her brothers, Maggie’s never had any real friends before. Lucy and Alistair don’t have lots of friends either. But they eat lunch with her at school and bring her along on their small-town adventures.

Missing mothers…distant brothers…high school…new friends… It’s a lot to deal with. But there’s just one more thing.

MAGGIE IS HAUNTED.


My Review

As many of you may have guessed by now, my heart belongs to teen graphic novels. I simply can’t resist them. And you want to know the funny part? I never read them as a teen growing up!

Friends with boys had just about everything – beautiful art work, an easy to follow flow, and just enough left up to the imagination in the gutter. And that’s not even mentioning the believable characters, beautiful haunted twist, and the acknowledgement and support of teens individuality and need to express themselves.

The dual plots of Maggie entering high school while dealing with her mom leaving their family, and the ‘Reaper’s’ widow worked really well together and came together in a way that didn’t seem tired and overdone. I think the only thing that I would want more of is a little bit more on what happened to the ghost after all of the action at the museum. But, with that being said the ambiguity works really well because when you’re a teen in high school who’s navigating the post-divorce landscape of a family you have no idea what’s coming down the pipe anyways, and that’s okay.

The exploration of the family dynamics amongst the different sets of siblings is both touching and genuine. As is the honest view of bullying in high school. The acknowledgement that some wounds cut so deep that no amount of apologizing can ever be enough is both painful and poignant. What’s more important though is that there are characters who stand up against such treatment throughout the text and without becoming bullies and tormentors themselves.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Innocence, romance, independence, emotion, and the supernatural are all entangled in this beautifully sweet coming of age tale. The emotions never feel forced, the actions stay true to the characters, and it is exactly the kind of story I think so many tweens and teens will resonate with.

 

Book Review: Patchwork by Karsten Knight

Patchwork is gripping, action packed, and an emotional rollercoaster at the moments when you least expect it. It broke my heart to have to put it down for a few days when life got busy but the ending was well worth the anticipation. This modernized retelling of the phoenix myth is the perfect read for lovers of YA action, fantasy, and thrillers and I can’t recommend it enough!


patchworkTitle: Patchwork

Author: Karsten Knight

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Publication Date: February 28, 2017

Genre: YA Fiction, Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller

Themes: Friendship, Time Travel, First Love, Hindsight, Adventure

Features: Sneak peak for Nightingale, Sing


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Before I Fall meets Inception in this time-bending YA mystery from the author of Nightingale, Sing.

“My last thought before the black seas consume me is to wonder what morbid twist of fate allowed a prom, a proposal, an act of terrorism, and the deaths of everyone I know to converge on the same night.”

Renata Lake thought her relationship would be the only casualty of prom. Then the bomb went off.

It was supposed to be a night to remember—a cruise through Boston Harbor, dancing beneath the stars. But when an explosion tears the ship apart, Renata wakes up in Patchwork, an ethereal world where all her memories have been stitched haphazardly together.

In order to catch the assassin who murdered her friends, she’ll have to navigate the twisted landscape of her mind and relive critical moments from her past in search of clues. Can she uncover the killer’s identity and find her way back to the man she once loved before it’s too late?


My Review

Right from the first few pages I found this to be a gripping and thought provoking book – not just because it’s a thriller that had me guessing at who the killer was until the final reveal, but because it asks deep philosophical questions in the most unassuming way. The unwinding of Renata’s life in reverse and the interspersing of poetry and flashbacks of Renata’s most cherished family memories created a world and character that impossible not to get invested in. The imagery throughout the book is fascinating and so vivid that it’s nearly impossible not the visualize the joins between memories in Patchwork or the strength of her emotions as events come to pass.

Initially I noted that I loved how broken and self centred Renata was. I actually prefer a  flawed hero as I feel that it makes them a little bit more believable and a whole lot more relatable. But, as the story progresses it quickly becomes clear that Renata is not some horrible, selfish sixteen year old but rather grieving girl who is struggling to come to terms with the loss of her father. Add into the mix the fact that she must now relive some of her most horrible moments over again in order to save people that she loves most and you have the perfect recipe for hero that grips you right by the heartstrings. Bit by bit as her story is unravelled Renata transforms from the girl that you love to hate into a character that you can’t help but root for.

The elements of mythology throughout the text are seriously on point. From the recurrence of fire, to the original Ignatius, and descriptions of Renata’s movements between worlds it is impossible not to pick up on hints of the phoenix before it is actually named. The presence of Thanatos and Osiris were also incredibly well done, and I thought that it was really interesting to have both the Greek personification of death and the Egyptian god of the afterlife woven throughout the same text even if they never interacted with one another. And while all of these mythological elements stayed true to their roots, their adaptations breathe fresh life into their stories and keep them from being the same old thing told over and over again.

Word of warning though, there is a smattering of profanity and sex throughout this novel. But in my humble opinion, these elements are neither excessive nor gratuitous. Rather, they are aptly timed and appropriate for the situations in which they are used. The profanity throughout is one-off, emphatic, and in all likelihood much less than what real teens would be employing in such situations. For those scenes dealing with sex, nothing is explicitly described but actions are implied. While I write this gushing review I know that there will be some parents and readers that might be uncomfortable with such elements, however I feel very strongly that this book is more than suitable for most teen readers and adults who enjoy a healthy dose YA in their reading repertoires.

Would I recommend this book? A thousand times yes! It is one of the best thrillers that I have read in a long time, and one of the few where I didn’t see the ending coming. Patchwork is beautiful, terrifying, and impossible to put down – and just the type of book that I would love to see made into a kick-ass movie!


Up Next: Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume