The Wicked History of the World by Terry Deary

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Genres: Childrens, Non-Fiction
Publisher: Hippo Scholastic
Publication Date: October 17th 2003

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“So you can learn to say ‘Never again’.”

From cavemen to WWII history has always been horrible. The cruellest people and events are examined with charming illustrations and a few fun activities.

This book is disgusting – in a good way! Kids will love the gross-out humour and hilarious illustrations. History is a subject which can, too often, end up being a dry affair, but not so with The Wicked History of the World.

There are real facts and quotes in this book, all presented in easy to remember snippets. The book uses activities, comics, jokes and illustrations to liven up the subject matter and entertain young readers! While it might be a bit too gruesome for readers too young and a bit too silly for more serious readers (although come on who doesn’t like fun sometimes) there is clearly an age-group this will be a homerun with.

The book presents history from around the world and seems to do it’s best not to do it’s best to avoid bias. The atrocities committed by Christians are examined in just as much detail as the ones committed by Romance and so forth. It also has a touching moral at the end despite all the gore and puns.

This book is funny, charming and weird. Kids who don’t usually enjoy reading might very well get lost in a book like this. The gross content is definitely not for everyone, but it’s a fun way to learn facts and spend an evening.

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The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith

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Genres: Childrens
Publisher: Razorbill Canada
Publication Date: September 5th 2017

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It’s 1986, Bun is fourteen and has lived almost her entire life in a house filled with junk. When her hoarder mother tells her to “Go on, get out,” she does. With no money and nowhere to go Bun is taken in by a ragtag group of twenty-somethings. Maybe she can finally learn how to be a real person.

As a Canadian blogger I cherish any book set in Canada, and I have plenty of trouble finding ones I enjoy. The Agony of Bun O’Keefe is brilliant. Smith has a unique style, Bun is quirky, interesting and real. The character cast has depth and, despite several not having real names, are incredibly easy to connect with.Smith has an uncanny ability to write the world through an underdeveloped child’s eyes.

Although it’s a short read, and I would have loved to read it much longer, the plot is fascinating. Bun deals with love, loss, numbness all while finding herself. Her coping methods of spouting off interesting facts and quoting a specific documentary about drunks in Montreal are weird but also charming.

Smith deals with heavy subject matter like abuse, AIDs, and prostitution in a clear and clean way. It never delves into anything that would be too inappropriate for younger children. Smith explains the topics but never glamorizes them. Perhaps most importantly the author briefly touches on the epidemic of missing native women in Canada. The ultimate message is about real family and choosing your family. It’s sad and heartwarming all at once.

This is a book that will fascinate teens, and still hold interest for adult readers. Smith has written her young adults like young adults and her children like children, something that many authors don’t quite manage. I wanted more of Bun, Big Eyes, Chris and Cher, and Busker Boy. The relationships between the characters felt real. I miss them already.

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe is a fresh and fascinating story, and I highly recommend it.

For Fans Of: Eleanor & Park

Shattered Sky by Erin Hunter

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Genres: Childrens, Xenofiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: April 11th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“All the cats. All the clans.”

Darktail’s terrifying reign continues and it seems like the clans are helpless. Alderheart is positive that SkyClan is the answer, but how can they help another clan when things look so bad? ShadowClan is torn apart and Violetpaw is still trapped with the rogues, will StarClan tell them how to recover?

Like most books in the series, Shattered Sky is fast-paced, action-packed and full of adventure. Also like most books in the series, there are a few too many characters to handle and s most of them get very little characterization. Fans of the series will adore it, but new readers might find it impossible to ignore the thousands of little flaws longtime readers are accustomed to.

I was really pleased with Darktail actually having motivation. It’s a refreshing change from the previous arc where the villain was bad just because he was evil. Onestar also gets a nice taste of redemption after a few arcs of being the absolute worst. And for once I didn’t actually guess the plot twist!

The battles were exciting, some of the deaths were actually tragic and overall the Hunters did a good job in keeping the ball rolling. Unlike The Apprentice’s Quest this book didn’t feel long and drawn out even though there were travel scenes. Although the background characters, and even the protagonists, are beginning to bleed together a bit personality-wise I really enjoyed the read.

The ending is actually surprising, and leave me wondering where the rest of the arc will go. It feels like the series might actually take a bit of a fresh direction, which is great. The plot has felt a bit stagnant (aside from the prequel arc) for a while and it would be nice to see something new.

I think the rest of this arc has potential, I just hope they don’t flub it.

For Fans Of: Survivors

Jonesy Volume 1 by Sam Humphries

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Genres: Graphic Novel, Childrens
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Publication Date: September 28th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Jonesy is a typical teen with a weird power: she can make people fall in love with anything. Except herself. Jonesy is forced to work towards her secret crush the old-fashioned way while creating all sort of mayhem and mischief with her super special powers.

For those who loved Lumberjanes there is a very similar style of humour present in Jonesy. However the emotional bonds, character development and overall plot is much weaker. Jonesy is light fluff with very little real plot. It’s very light fare and doesn’t have much going on below the surface. Which can be good for people who just want something funny if Jonesy is your sort of humour.

One of the things that really brings the score down is the protagonist. Jonesy is a selfish jerk and not one that is easily loved. Jonesy uses her powers to caue problems for other people and only occasionally shows a glimpse of humanity to avoid hurting her friends. Characters can be bad and selfish whiile still being likeable but at best Jonesy is annoying. She’s very “not-like-other-girls” in her rejection of everything everyone else likes and just generally irritating.

There is a lot of diversity, from different ethnicities to sexualities without overtly making those characters seem different. A crush on a girl is talked about as though it’s no different from a crush on a boy and that is important – but it doesn’t make the plot or characters more interesting.

There are people who will enjoy this book, but it’s not something I’ll be picking up in the future.

For Fans Of: Lumberjanes

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schroder

Genres: Children’s, Contemporary
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Publication Date: September 1st 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the author in exchange for an honest review.

When Wren’s father dies her world ends. Suddenly her mom, who is always mad, is dragging her from city to city. Wren desperately wants to discuss her pain with her mother and more than anything she wants to stop moving every time her mother breaks up with a new man. As Wren struggles to come to terms with the loss she overcomes several other difficult issues and discovers who she is.

Be Light Like a Bird covers very serious subject matter, but Schroder has written it in a way that is appropriate and useful for younger readers. Wren’s journey dealing with loss, lies and fitting in is an excellent story for young readers. It will particularly resonate with younger readers who have also recently experienced a death and are struggling to deal with it.

Wren is relatable, likeable and just a little quirky. It’s easy to cheer for her as well as sympathize with her pain. Wren’s mother, unlike many adults in children’s fiction, is a complex character. She is not supportive of Wren, she makes mistakes but she is not a bad person. She is clearly dealing with the loss in her own negative way and it would have been easy for Schroder to cast her as a monster instead of a real, believable person. I am pleased that she chose the latter. Too often adults in children’s and YA novels are either all good or all bad and robbed of being actual people.

I did find that the book felt a little dated. In a way it felt sort of nostalgic but it was noticeably not present day. It might be more difficult for a child in the present to empathize with Wren when her world seems so far off from the one we live in now. There is a definite lack or present pop culture or technology – which can be seen positively as well because it makes the book timeless. However, I’ve always felt contemporary is better when it’s firmly rooted in a certain decade. As well, the secondary characters felt a little flat and stereotypical.

The weaving of Wren’s sorrow and the plot about saving her favourite nature spot was masterful. The way the nature plot was tied up actually surprised me with a clever twist. I thought Wren’s grief was tied up a bit neatly but because it’s a children’s novel a neat ending was probably the way to go.

I did find the excitement in the plot a little lacking, it was a very subdued story. There could have been more focus on Wren and her mother and less on the popular girls at school but overall I think this is a charming read for young readers.

A beautiful book about grief, forgiveness and letting go.

For Fans Of: Louder Than Words

Thunder and Shadow by Erin Hunter

Genres: Childrens, Xenofiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 6th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“‘You will take this Clan over my dead body.’ Delight sparked in Darktail’s gaze. ‘That sounds fair.’”

Separated from each other Twigkit and Violetkit struggle to fit in with their new clans. Meanwhile, the rogues who destroyed SkyClan have found their way to the lake. They’re ruthless – and it looks like ShadowClan will be their next target.

Thunder and Shadow has managed to breathe life into the Vision of Shadows arc after it’s dreadfully dull opening with The Apprentice’s Quest. I had very low expectations going in and this book far exceeded them.

There is very little of the dull travel plot that quite a few books in the series fall into, however the actual plot is a bit messy. There is a lot going on between the rogues’ reappearance, the kits struggling to fit in, ShadowClan’s sickness and Onestar’s madness. The original quest to save SkyClan is mostly pushed aside and following the several new plots is a bit messy but it’s still a major improvement from the previous book.

It was also refreshing to follow Twigkit and Violetkit instead of Alderpaw. Alderpaw was a rather bland character – and a sort of unnecessary third medicine cat. Twigkit and Violetkit have an exciting plotline and as a bonus Violetkit is in ShadowClan. It’s great to finally have a main series protagonist outside of ThunderClan. It was a wonderful new point of view and it made the relationship between Violetkit and her sister more interesting.

This book is not without faults of course. The characters are the most notable issue. Too many of them have extreme personalities that veer into nonsensical. Jayfeather is more crotchety than ever. Bramblestar makes several stupid and uncaring decisions. Needlepaw’s personality goes through a blender and comes out worse than before. Onestar no longer cares about the warrior code and it can no longer be argued that he’s even a decent leader when he used to be a friendly and well-meaning cat.

Overall it’s one of the better books in the series. It has drama, death, betrayal and high stakes. It does, however, have to be appreciated for what it is. It’s a children’s book. The writing is simple, most things are clear cut but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable for adults to read.

One of the better books in The Warrior Cats series, even if the series has far outlived it’s prime.

Read this if you’re a fan of: Watership Down

Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young

Genres: Childrens, Contemporary
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

Christine Gouda’s last year of elementary school is a roller coaster ride. It starts with her trying to shake an old nickname, Tink, and follows her as she struggles with romance, popularity, and her new body.

Young covers a lot of topics in this novel but in a way that isn’t quite appropriate for very young readers or interesting for older readers. Quite a bit of the book focuses on romance and sex with one of the girl’s in Tink’s class being a “slut”. The voice used in the novel is also uncomfortable – it doesn’t feel like a twelve-year-old. Tink’s thoughts feel much older than she is and this is beside the fact that Tink and her friends are just dull in general.

The biggest issue with this book was the awkward writing. The dialogue felt stilted, characters would suddenly be in another location without ever arriving there and, frankly, it was difficult to follow. The layout of the chapters is a part of this, each chapter covers a large part of a year and the time skips are not well written. I had trouble keeping track of what day it was and where Tink was even reading this as an adult.

The setting is also strange, I can’t quite pin down a time period. The music mentioned is all the adults’ favourites so it’s rightly a little dated. However, there are iPods but no laptops or phones or social media. It doesn’t evoke the feeling of any era and just feels odd and out of place in any time.

Despite taking place over a whole year Tink’s life is fairly mundane. The biggest plot points still feel slow. The characters don’t really draw any interest and are all pretty flat. Mean girls, cute boys, even Tink herself barely has any personality.

The crux is that the book lacks clear writing making it difficult to follow narratively and is written in a way that doesn’t really give it any appropriate target audience.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Cheating Lessons

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

Genres: Childrens, Play, Fantasy
Publisher: Little Brown UK
Publication Date: July 31st 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Hogwarts isn’t actually that pleasant a place when you don’t fit in.”

Nineteen years later and The Boy Who Lived is a father. Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus, is having a more difficult time fitting in at Hogwarts. For Harry Hogwarts was Heaven, for Albus it’s near Hell. As Albus tries to navigate his school years Harry begins to have disturbing dreams. Dark forces are returning to the wizarding world and somehow Albus will be involved.

This is a very hard book to review in part because it is a play script and not an actual novel and also because it follows such a huge franchise. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is an enjoyable adventure. Even as a script the characters are strong and the plot is fast-paced and exciting. If it were on its own it could potentially be a masterpiece, but it’s not.

The trouble with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is how it fits into the rest of the series as a whole. It doesn’t quite respect the series it came from. It changes several rules of the world, creates plots that rely on things happening during the duration of previous books which very obviously didn’t happen. It creates massive plot holes for itself by disregarding the world and rules the previous novels set up.

As a new writer taking on a beloved series Thorne does quite well; most of the characters are recognizable. Draco finally gets some redemption,something Rowling would have been loathe to give him, so in a way a fresh writer is good. Scorpius and Albus are brilliant characters, Rose is a little cruel (and forgiven too easily for it) but as a new cast they work. But Thorne’s character writing is not without fault. Ron was shafted worse than in the films, Harry is ridiculously childish and Hugo seems like an afterthought only mentioned past Act II.

Worse still were the parts featuring Dumbledore and Snape, that feel as though they were specifically inserted to “correct” fan feelings. Dumbledore and Snape are both morally grey at best, but Cursed Child very bluntly has characters explain how everything they did was really right. How fans are wrong to interpret them as anything but pure and good. Dumbledore’s character is entirely useless except to smack fans over the head with the writer’s desired interpretation.

The list of moments where the plot takes a wrong turn (looking at you Trolley Witch) is massive, but only because this play is following a series that already had a complex world full of rules. The consensus is, and with good reason, fanfiction. I’ve never read anything that felt more acutely like a plot written by teenaged girl with a self-insert actually included in canon. That doesn’t make the plot unexciting, after all, people read fanfiction plenty. People just don’t expect fanfiction to become part of a series they enjoy.

Is Cursed Child a fun read? Absolutely. Will fans of the series enjoy it? Probably. Everyone will be excited to return to Hogwarts, but it’s only enjoyable if you’re willing to accept all the strange faults it presents. It tampers with the old canon, the plot just borders on ridiculous but it still manages to be enjoyable.

It will always be risky to try and follow up something like Harry Potter and Jack Thorne has not entirely succeeded, but he did make something entertaining and perhaps that’s all we can ask from anyone who isn’t Rowling.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Carry On

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Genres: Childrens, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 30th 2008

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“It is neither fair nor unfair, Nobody Owens. It simply is”

After his family is murdered a babe is adopted by the spirits of a graveyard. He is christened Nobody Owens. The book follows his adventures while growing up in a graveyard and facing the dangers of the world outside.

The book covers a large portion of Bod’s life. It starts when he is an infant and follows him throughout his childhood. It might seem like this would mean the book is fast-paced and focuses on only Bod’s most exciting moments; but unfortunately the book is aggravatingly slow. It was especially hard to get through the first half.

The chapters are excruciating. Chris Riddell drew very few images for this book because there are very few chapters. It is a shame that we do not get to see more of his fascinating imagery. At one point a chapter dragged on for 73 pages, and keep in mind the entire book is not quite 300. A few more chapter breaks might have made the book feel a bit quicker and less like a slow trudge.

Aside from Silas, Nobody and Jack. the characters feel a bit tossed together. Scarlet in particular feels misused. She pops in and out of the story whenever it is convenient. I suppose real life is like that but in the novel it just feels a lot like she was rushed and Gaiman wasn’t quite sure where to end her.

The book could have been much improved if things were a little more explained. It feels as though Gaiman has this wonderful world in his head, but didn’t bother to put it on paper. The nuances of the world are barely touched upon, things seem to happen with no explanation. There are monsters and different sorts of people but Gaiman barely brushes over that and by the end of the book it’s still not quite clear what’s what. The world-building was weak despite the fact that the ideas were obviously there.

It is a book about growing up and moving on, and in that respect it performs quite well. It does have a slightly nostalgic feeling and touches on what it’s like to grow up. It’s whimsical and at times fun but overall it just is. It’s not outstanding or terrible. It’s unremarkable and inoffensive, a slow start but a good enough read. Not Gaiman’s best work but certainly not his worst either.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: The Darkest Part of the Forest

An Average Curse by Rue

Genres: Childrens, Fantasy
Publisher: Red Coat PR
Publication Date: June 20th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A copy of this novel was received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Flynn lives in a world full of magic, and all she can manage to do is watch. For some reason she’s never manifested powers, even though she should be the chosen one. Her birth fulfilled an ancient prophecy, but she lacks the magic that is meant to save her people. When Flynn realizes danger is imminent how will she fight when every witch is more powerful than she is?

Although this book classifies itself as YA, I think it’s more of a children’s novel. The characters are very young and it certainly reads as children’s literature – which isn’t a bad thing.

The main problem I had with this novel was the lack of introduction. This is high fantasy, a world entirely different from our own and, after reading the entire novel, it’s a world I can tell you very little about. It felt like being thrown into the middle of a story and the author barely bothers to explain anything. The protagonist has lived in this world her entire life so she rarely questions anything, which leaves the reader stuck only sort of understanding the world in which the story takes place.

The story itself is pretty stock. There’s a chosen one, an elderly mentor, the two best friends, professor Snape – oh I’m sorry Mistress Tamslin, and pretty much every other character fantasy stories generally have. The villain is ugly and very powerful and driven by nothing but the desire to be evil.

Flynn is “powerless” except that she isn’t. It’s very clear she has powers from the first few pages so any interest in that part of the plotline is lost to readers. Everything conveniently falls into place for Flynn, everything just manages to work out. The climax feels rushed and unsatisfying. Even in books where it’s obvious the hero has to win it shouldn’t seem easy.

The book just feels incredibly unfinished. It borrows tropes heavily and doesn’t manage to actually make anything of itself and the writing is far too fast paced for the sparse plot. It was a quick read, and not entirely unenjoyable, but there’s almost nothing here that you couldn’t find done better elsewhere.

Read this if you’re a fan of: The School for Good and Evil