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

Warrior Cats: A Vision of Shadows by Erin Hunter

Genres: Childrens, Animals, Xenofiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: March 15th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Embrace what you find in the shadows, for only they can clear the sky.”

The clans have lived in peace for many moons since the great battle, however, a new prophecy threatens to destroy the peace. A time of great change if coming for cats of all clans, and they’ll need to figure our how to find what’s in the shadows if they want to save themselves.

Though the Warrior Cats series is long running, it’s never been amazing. A Vision of Shadows is perhaps one of the weakest books in the main series. It opens with a prophecy, as all the arcs do, but then it’s pretty stagnant. There’s a lot of walking, then a short bit of action before more walking. Opening books are traditionally more exciting, if I was not already invested in the series I wouldn’t have made it to the end, which does show some potential.

The characters aren’t as robust and relatable as they should have been. Alderpaw definitely has a personality, but it doesn’t have levels. The same goes for Needlepaw and Sparkpaw, they aren’t well-rounded characters despite being the protagonists. Worse off are Cherryfall and Molewhisker who have almost no character traits at all. There was a good opportunity for Hunter to use older characters, or at least characters with substance in Cherryfall and Molewhisker’s place.

As mentioned before the ending is the highlight of this book. It finally feels like something is happening. Granted, the book ends immediately after the most exciting moment, but promises that the rest of the books in the series could be better.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Survivors

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Genres: Childrens, Fantasy, Humour, Illustrated
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: January 1st 2013

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“‘You have your milk,’ he said. ‘Where there is milk, there is hope.’”

Mother has gone away, Dad is in charge and there is no milk left for breakfast. In the morning, Dad sets off to the corner store to get some milk. It takes him ages and ages to return, what could he have been doing all that time?

Aliens, dinosaurs, pirates, ponies and time travel, Gaiman has created an absolutely hilarious adventure. Riddell’s work is whimsical and often incorporates the text of the story.

The narration in the story is excellent, and very much feels like a story being told out loud. Indeed it would make an excellent book to read aloud to children. There were numerous colourful characters and references poking fun at Twilight and My Little Pony. Despite being short and extremely fast-paced, it’s an easy book to get lost in.

This book is fun for all ages, suspenseful without ever being frightening, and weird without ever being disturbing. Most importantly it’s absolutely hilarious. Adults and children alike will be able to appreciate Gaiman’s clever humour along with Riddell’s fantastical illustrations.

A quick and fun read.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes

 

Warriors: Tallstar’s Revenge by Erin Hunter

Genres: Childrens, Adventure, Animals, Xenofiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: January 1st 2013

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Sandgorse chose his own destiny. Why should he get to choose yours, too?”

When Tallstar is just an apprentice tragedy strikes Tallstar is determined to blame a rogue, Sparrow, and needs revenge. He will have to leave his clan and family if he is to punish Sparrow properly. Along the way Tallstar will discover that sometimes your friends know you better than you know yourself.

This is definitely one of the weakest Super Editions Erin Hunter as written. The age old adage “show don’t tell” seems entirely lost on this novel. Characters are meant to be the best of friends suddenly over very few interactions. The two characters barely know each other and I’m supposed to believe their ond is more powerful than anything because the book tells me so.

Unlike the other Super Editions I’ve read it does very little to give insight into Tallstar’s life. Why does he become leader? He doesn’t seem like the sort of cat that deserves the position but the book conveniently skips over any development straight to his leadership ceremony.

It dawdles far too much on his appreticeship and his travels and it makes his development seem sudden. Tallstar spends a huge portion of his life seeking revenge and in a split second he decides not to, which is reasonable, but he’s also totally fine with how things have changed.

It was a good premise, but it would have done better as a single book in an arc. As a super edition it tried to cover too much and left the characters and relationships suffering for it. We hardly see any growth, the book just tells you how the characters have grown without any evidence. Erin Hunter has written plenty of better super editions and if you’re not a completionist, feel free to leave this one out.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Crookedstar’s Promise

Warriors Cats: A Path of Stars by Erin Hunter

Genres: Childrens, Xenofiction, Animals
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 1st 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“A word that reflected the kinship he felt with those he hunted and fought beside. ‘They have their own Clans.’ He meowed suddenly.”

The cats have begun to settle into their different groups. Rules have been made and followed by the group cats. The rogues are not as happy. A dangerous cat called Slash is determined to make trouble for the clans. He is more cruel than any cat they’ve faced before. If the group cats want any chance of surviving Leaf-bare they must work together.

Meant to be the finale the the prequel arc, Path of Stars falls short. It is quite a fast-paced and interesting story. The problem is that the series promised to demonstrate how the clans became the well-oiled machines they are in the rest of the series and it doesn’t quite manage that. It’s easy to see the ghosts of the ideas. There’s faint references to mentors, medicine cats and deputies, but nothing is ever concrete. A naming system is never developed. We don’t really get a full sense of all these traditions and rules becoming official.

The ending, while bittersweet, feels like it cut the entire story short. So many ends are left untied. Even if there were plans to continue with these characters it feels as though the arc is left unfinished. The villain isn’t quite dealt with, the clans are not quite formed. Romances feel rushed or unfinished. So many questions about the lore that SHOULD have been answered in this prequel are left hanging. It was entirely enjoyable as a story, but as an ending it was handled poorly.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Crookedstar’s Promise