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

Book Review: The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr

I’ve read a great many augmented literary classics, but this was my first adventure in augmented history. And I must say, the adventure was truly enjoyable! The Book of Whispers is a delicious blend of history, mythology, adventure and imagination.


whispersTitle: The Book of Whispers

Author: Kimberley Starr

Publisher: Text Publishing Company

Publication Date: October 3, 2016; US/ Canada Release Date: September 2017

Genre: Historical Fiction, Augmented History, YA Fiction, Literary Fiction, YA Romance

Themes: Adventure, Crusades, Demons, Friendship, Romance


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Tuscany, 1096 AD. Luca, young heir to the title of Conte de Falconi, sees demons. Since no one else can see them, Luca must keep quiet about what he sees.

Luca also has dreams—dreams that sometimes predict the future. Luca sees his father murdered in one such dream and vows to stop it coming true. Even if he has to go against his father’s wishes and follow him on the great pilgrimage to capture the Holy Lands.

When Luca is given an ancient book that holds some inscrutable power, he knows he’s been thrown into an adventure that will lead to places beyond his understanding. But with the help of Suzan, the beautiful girl he rescues from the desert, he will realise his true quest: to defeat the forces of man and demon that wish to destroy the world.


My Review

First things first, can we please get a huge Hells Yes! for a YA book that deals with sexual consent without overtly stating that it is a lesson in consent? Narlo is a shady enough character that it’s pretty easy to pick up on that fact that his actions are wrong in an obvious sort of way, but just because someone gave you permission once before doesn’t entitle a person to continual access. It was great to see a character too, that stood up against such actions even when the dominant group discourse was to engage in such behaviours and deem it as acceptable. I think those moments where Luca defended informed consent (for his sister, his own betrothed, and Bianca) absolutely made this book for me.

Now, into the nitty-gritty. I really enjoyed this book, especially the seamless interweaving of religion, mythology, and documented history. I particularly loved those elements of Greek mythology such as the Graeae, the Arthurian element of the fail-not bow of Tristan, and the Egyptian usage of mirrors to reflect and part the veil between the worlds. I felt like I was immersed in a cross-over episode where a Medieval English Romance meets up with Wrath of the Titans and Constantine. The smorgasbord of beliefs and how they interacted with one another was wonderful to see in a work of historical fiction, as too often this time period assumes unwavering belief and wholesale conversion. Through omitting the names and origins of such objects Starr encourages not only the independent exploration of the origins of such objects, but also empathy and awareness of varied beliefs and a better understanding of how current representations have evolved over time.

Another element that I found particularly noteworthy, especially in a YA book, was that all actions had consequences! Even with the aid of magical objects, there was no such thing as an easy fix or a free ride. But, much like how the scenes depicting a violation of consent are depicted, these moments inspire introspection, self evaluation, and a critical view of the actions of each character.

The split narration between Luca and Suzan worked really, especially since their stories came together relatively quickly. The alternation between the two points of view, and the relatively short chapters, kept the pace quick and helped to create tension and drama even in the simplest of moments. Although, I must say that the romance between Luca and Suzan was the main reason why this book stayed at a 4 star instead of a 5, as I found that element of the book could have used a little spicing up.

Regardless, I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, fantasy, or the blending of both. The writing is captivating, the characters engaging and believable, and the imagination that The Book of Whispers inspires in wonderful. And, at a time where dominant ideologies are being aggressively pushed in public forum, this book is as timely as it is entertaining.


Up Next: Patchwork by Karsten Knight

Early Review: The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish

If there is one thing that gets an immediate advance up the TBR pile it’s YA Graphic Novels. I simply can’t resist them, no matter what real-world obligations I have going on at the time. Beyond any shadow of a doubt The Wendy Project was worth the express pass and the guilt that comes with not reading books that have been waiting longer. This hauntingly beautiful retelling of Peter Pan, with it’s enigmatic artwork and colouring, had me hooked within the first five pages and then I was reading like there was no tomorrow…


wendyTitle: The Wendy Project

Author: Melissa Jane Osborne

Illustrator: Veronica Fish

Publisher: Super Genius 

Expected Publication Date: July 18, 2017

Genre: Literary Fiction, YA Fiction, Comics, Graphic Novel, Fantasy

Themes: Peter Pan, Loss, Overcoming Grief, Fantasy Worlds, Friendship, Siblings


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Amazon

16-year-old Wendy Davies crashes her car into a lake on a late summer night in New England with her two younger brothers in the backseat. When she wakes in the hospital, she is told that her youngest brother, Michael, is dead. Wendy ― a once rational teenager – shocks her family by insisting that Michael is alive and in the custody of a mysterious flying boy. Placed in a new school, Wendy negotiates fantasy and reality as students and adults around her resemble characters from Neverland. Given a sketchbook by her therapist, Wendy starts to draw. But is The Wendy Project merely her safe space, or a portal between worlds?


My Review

I don’t know where to begin when it comes to expressing my love for this graphic novel, and my wish that there were more like it out there. Not only does The Wendy Project take on big ticket topics like grief, responsibility, teen romance, bullying and rejection it is done with sensitivity and emotion that I don’t think a traditional text could have come close to the same effect.

To start with, the artwork is absolutely out of this world. The juxtaposition of the pen-line sketches against the whimsy of the watercolours creates a beautiful effect. It clearly delineates what is reality and what is fantasy and lends so much meaning to the reading experience. It allows for connections to be made, life to be infused, and really drew me in and left me wanting so badly for the beauty of this softer and more vibrant world to be Wendy’s reality.

I loved the snarky comments in the margins too. They made me feel as though I was reading the drawing journal that Wendy’s therapist asked her to draw in a very meta way. There was so much happening in the gutters that these little quips caught me off guard, and offered some much needed comic relief for some very heavy material.

Finally, I am absolutely in love with the intertextual nature of The Wendy Project. The reworked J. M. Barrie quotes throughout the text, as well as the rich visual imagery, really works to bring this adaptation to life. Sometimes, escaping into a fantasy world is the only way that we can deal with reality, and the essence of growing up/ coming of age is maintained beautifully in Osborne’s retelling. My heart broke all over again for Wendy, Michael and John and I wanted to linger with them just a little longer by the Lagoon.

Etherial, enigmatic, and absolutely mesmerizing this modern twist on a classic story is a gripping and hauntingly beautiful read. Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! I’d even go so far as to tag it as a must read for teens (and maybe even adults) dealing with loss.


Up Next: The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr

Book Review: Internet Famous by Danika Stone

It seems that we have come to the last of the ARCs that I received at SALC2017 earlier this year, and Internet Famous was sure not to disappoint. It was another one of those captivating reads that I devoured in a single sitting, and then had to go back and read it again just make sure that I hadn’t missed any of the details.


internet famous

Title: Internet Famous 

Author: Danika Stone

Publisher: Swoon Reads

Expected Publication Date: June 6, 2017

Genre: Fiction, YA Fiction, YA Romance

Themes: Internet Bullying, Coming of Age, Fame

Features: The MadLibbers Dictionary


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

High school senior and internet sensation Madison Nakama seems to have it all: a happy family, good grades, and a massive online following for her pop-culture blog. But when her mother suddenly abandons the family, Madi finds herself struggling to keep up with all of her commitments.

Fandom to the rescue! As her online fans band together to help, an online/offline flirtation sparks with Laurent, a French exchange student. Their internet romance—played out in the comments section of her MadLibs blog—attracts the attention of an internet troll who threatens the separation of Madi’s real and online personas. With her carefully constructed life unraveling, Madi must uncover the hacker’s identity before he can do any more damage, or risk losing the people she loves the most… Laurent included.


My Review

This is another one of those books that I sat down to read a few chapters of and then suddenly I had read the whole thing. I loved it. A lot. It was fun, light hearted, and really demonstrated the strength that can be found in community. Not to mention the fact that it tackles first loves, internet bullies, and the potential dangers of meeting people over the Internet in one fell swoop.

One of my favourite aspects of this book lies in that it taps into the myriad of ways in which people (especially teens) are communicating with one another and acknowledges that multiple conversations in multiple mediums are the norm. Everything from traditional writing to texting, snapchat to twitter, blog posts to memes is utilized throughout the text, and the language and topics of conversation are authentic to the ages that they are representing. I mean seriously, there is nothing that annoys me more than a YA book where juvenile characters think, act, and speak like adults – how is that in any way relatable or engaging?! The multimodal approach really captured the ways in which communication is taking place around us, and the implications that engaging in such technologies can have. Plus, I really loved the photographs and memes that we included as they really worked to enhance the moment.

I really enjoyed Stone’s writing, and felt that the characters were real and believable. Okay, a few stood out as so very stereotypical, but they played their roles well and worked to advance the plot in some new and interesting directions so all is forgiven. I enjoyed the twists and turns in the story line, and found myself cheering for Maddie and Laurent despite my firm resolutions not to get as emotionally invested in the books that I have been reading. Also, can someone please please please take me on a snapchat date as cute and romantic as Laurent’s?

Would I recommend this book? Heck yes! I would suggest this book to anyone who enjoys teen romances, mysteries, and some detective sleuthing. It is also particularly relevant to those who are just stepping out into, or are already actively engaged with, any form of social media. Parents, this means you too!

Oh, and for those of you living in and around Southern Alberta I would highly recommend the lovely Danika Stone for an author talk (she has no idea that I am shamelessly promoting her, so please be gentle). I have now seen her speak at both a library conference and at a local book club and she is an incredibly engaging speaker that really goes beyond the words on the page.


Up Next: The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish

Book Review: Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant by Linda Ellen

I had the pleasure of receiving a copy of this book from the author herself, and am really glad that I set aside my normal reading tastes when it comes to this book. Typically, I don’t read romances and had never paid attention to the term ‘clean romance’, so I had no idea what to expect going in. It turned out to be the perfect sunshine and lemonade read one afternoon, and I would definitely consider taking the rest of the series to the beach when we head off for our winter pick me up later in the year.


 

sergeantTitle: Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant

Author: Linda Ellen

Publisher: Self Published

Publication Date: December 19, 2016

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance

Themes: WWII, USO Clubs


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

He has his life all planned out – until one night at a dance at the USO in town, he meets her…

A secret blurted out in a moment of anger had turned Staff Sergeant Eugene Banks’ life upside down, but he moved on and made a good life for himself. At the moment, he’s concentrating on solving a mystery he had stumbled onto at his job over the motor pool at Fort Knox.

Vivian Powell is contented with her life; she has family, friends, and a good job as a bank teller. Although she was nursing a broken heart, she has since moved forward and isn’t looking for love. At the urging of a friend, she decides to join the war effort by becoming a junior hostess at the local USO…
These two people meet one fateful night at a dance, and their lives are everlastingly changed. What follows is a beautiful courtship, while dodging the fact that she signed an agreement to be available every Saturday night to dance with dozens of soldiers, and in spite of two confusing mysteries that refuse to be solved. Beautiful, that is, until Vivian catches Gene doing the very thing that he swore he would never do, and it nearly rips their romance in two!
If you love stories about WWII and the “Greatest Generation” that read like you’re watching a classic movie, with handsome soldiers and beautiful girls-next-door, then Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant is for you!


My Review

I’m not normally one to read romances, let alone clean romances (I must admit this was my first time ever encountering the term), so I didn’t really know what to expect when I started on reading this book. And I have to admit, despite my initial misgivings, I actually had a wonderful time getting caught up in the romance and drama of Gene and Viv.

What’s more than that though, is that I got really caught up in the music mentioned throughout the text. I grew up with swing always playing in my grandmother’s kitchen and as a result always had a tune running in the back of my head while reading. I have since endeavoured to create a playlist of all the amazing music mentioned throughout the book and may have been listening to it non-stop since – having The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B playing in the background really brought the USO club dances and NCO parties to life.

While I really enjoyed this book, I struggled with whether or not I was going to rate it a 3.5 or a 4. Because Goodreads only allows whole numbers I opted to round up as I did I have good giggle. Ultimately, my struggle to rate this text lies predominantly in stylistic choices and because I am neither a writer not overly familiar with the genre I decided that Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant deserved the benefit of the doubt. My main complaint was the foreshadowing at the end of each chapter – the first few times I thought it was cute, but I quickly grew tired as the premise had already been established. But, even then I was completely unprepared for the mystery of Gene’s past and was completely caught of guard!

Additionally, I was really impressed with how the local history was over throughout the book. Often times I get irritated with background and context appearing as disjointed plugs throughout a text. And I didn’t even get close to feeling that way with the histories of the various buildings, Fort Knox, and Louisville throughout this text. The comments were very much in passing, and it felt like I was being told about the locations by someone who had lived their their entire lives which I really appreciated.

This was the perfect book to read on a sunny day with a glass of ice cold lemonade. It had me dreaming of soldiers, tapping my toes, and imagining the night that my grandmother met my grandfather at a servicemen’s ball.


Up Next: Internet Famous by Danika Stone