Book links roundup

I’m always looking for book news online. Here are some of the things I’ve come across recently:

Publishers Weekly: Insiders Talk Young Adult Blockbusters: An interesting discussion of mega-hits such as the Twilight an Hunger Games series that are taking over children’s publishing.

Casting rumours for the movie adaptation of Veronica Roth’s Divergent.

If you love reading YA, considering filling out the 2012 YA Readers Survey.

Kirkus Reviews chooses the Best Children’s Books of 2012.

Taylor Swift talks reading, from Scholastic.


Review: Origin

Jessica Khoury

Piya lives in the scientific community called Little Cambridge, hidden away in the Amazon rainforest. She is not like other teenager girls – she is immortal, the first of her kind. Piya dreams of becoming a full-fledged scientist so that she can learn the secret to creating immortals and eventually help to create others like her. At the same time, she yearns to explore the world beyond the glass walls of her bedroom. One night, she spots a hole in the electric fence surrounding the compound, and decides to sneak out and explore the jungle. There, she meets Eio, a member of the Ai’aon tribe that lives in the jungle. As she begins to fall in love with Eio, Piya feels torn between her destiny and her desire for freedom, and she begins to discover that her life in Little Cambridge may not be what it seems.

I found Origin a bit slow to get going. Khoury does an excellent job of describing the jungle and the various plants Piya encounters and these vivid descriptions help immerse the reader in Piya’s world. At the same time, I am someone who gets bored easily with too much description so for me I found the pacing a bit slow. Fortunately, things pick up in the second half of the book as Piya begins to question her world and seeks to find answers about what is really going on in Little Cambridge. I got a little exasperated by all the obstacles she encounters in her quest for truth. It is necessary for the plot, as otherwise there would be no story, but I find sometimes the number of things that stand in the way between the heroine/hero and what they desire just becomes a bit much. Nonetheless, Origin raises a lot of important questions about biological engineering and is still a worthwhile read for sci-fi fans.

Review: Such Wicked Intent

Such Wicked Intent
Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada

In this sequel to This Dark Endeavour, Victor Frankenstein is mourning the death of his twin brother, Konrad. The dark library has been closed off and all its books burned following Victor’s failed attempt at creating the elixir of life in order to save his brother. When Victor pulls a book from the ashes of the fire, what he finds inside seems to be the answer he’s been seeking – a way to bring Konrad back from the dead. But as Victor and his friends Elizabeth and Henry travel to the spirit realm to save Konrad, what they find is far more dangerous than they expected. Will magic be enough to reunite Victor with his twin, and can he win Elizabeth’s affections even as she continues to mourn his brother?

I liked this book a lot more than the first one. As I mentioned in my review, I found that This Dark Endeavour was slow in places and had expected more action during Victor’s quest to make the elixir of life. This book was a lot more action-packed and I found it easier to get invested in the story line. I do find it a bit puzzling that every boy she encounters somehow ends up falling in love with Elizabeth given that at times she is seriously unlikable. True, Victor is often self-centred and has a tendency to scheme, but I think Elizabeth could stand to lighten up a bit. Anyway, just my opinion. I still enjoyed the book and hope to see more of Victor’s adventures.

Book Awards Roundup

Over the past month, several major books awards have been announced. Here’s a brief recap of the winners:

Scotiabank Giller Prize – 419 by Will Ferguson

Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-fiction – A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape by Candace Savage

Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize – Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy

Governor General’s Literary Awards (English)

Fiction – The Purchase by Linda Spalding
Non-fiction – Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King
Poetry – Monkey Ranch by Julie Bruck
Drama – It Is Solved by Walking by Catherine Banks
Children’s Text – The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Laresen by Susin Nielsen
Children’s Illustration – Virginia Wolf by Isabelle Arsenault
Translation –  Mai at the Predators’ Ball by Nigel Spencer

Governor General’s Literary Awards (French)

Fiction – Pour Sûr by France Daigle
Poetry – Une drap. Une place by Maude Smith Gagnon
Drama – Contre le temps by Geneviève Billette
Non-fiction – Comment tuer Shakespeare by Normand Chaurette
Children’s Text – Un été d’amour et de cendres by Aline Apostolska
Children’s Illustration – La clé à molette by Élise Gravel
Translation – Glenn Gould by Alain Roy


2012 Canadian Children’s Literature Awards

Last night, I had the privilege of attending the 2012 Canadian Children’s Literature Awards, held at the glamorous Ritz-Carlton hotel in downtown Toronto. How did I score an invite? In addition to being a member of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, which puts on the annual gala, I also volunteered for the CCBC as part of the Young Adult Jury to choose books for the fall 2012 edition of its publication Best Books for Kids and Teens. I am happy to support the CCBC and all the great work they do throughout the year to promote Canadian children’s authors and illustrators. I had an excellent time at the awards ceremony and would like to thank the CCBC for putting on such a great event. ou can find out more about the CCBC here. As for the awards themselves, the winners were:

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

Winner: Stones for My Father by Trilby Kent (Tundra Books)
Short list:

The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock (Tundra Books)
No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books)
Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World by Susan Hughes (Owlkids Books)
Seal Song by Andrea Spalding with illustrations by Pascal Milelli (Orca Books)

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

Winner: Without You, written and illustrated by Geneviève Côté (Kids Can Press)
Short list:
Cinnamon Baby by Nicola Winstanley, with illustrations by Janice Nadeau (Kids Can Press)
Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid (North Wind Press/Scholastic Canada)
Pussycat. Pussycat, Where Have You Been? by Dan Bar-el with illustrations by Rae Maté (Simply Red Books)
Small Saul by Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press)

Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction

Winner: Loon by Susan Vande Griek with illustrations by Karen Reczuch (Groundwood Books)
Short list:
Beyond Bullets: A Photo Journal of Afghanistan by Rafal Gerszak with Dawn Hunter (Annick Press)
Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature by Dora Lee with illustrations by Margot Thompson (Kids Can Press)
Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World by Susan Hughes (Owlkids Books)
Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives by Marthe Jocelyn (Tundra Books)

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

Winner: The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley (Annick Press)
Short list:
I’ll Be Watching by Pamela Porter (Groundwood Books)
Shot at Dawn by John Wilson (Scholastic Canada)
This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins Canada)
The Whole Truth by Kit Pearson (HarperCollins Canada)

John Spray Mystery Award

Winner: Charlie’s Key by Rob Mills (Orca Books)
Short list:
The Case of the Missing Deed by Ellen Schwartz (Tundra Books)
The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock (Tundra Books)
Held by Edeet Revel (Annick Press)
True Blue by Deborah Ellis (Pajama Press)

Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy

Winner: What Happened to Serenity? by P.J. Sarah Collins (Red Deer Press)
Short list:
Dreamline by Nicole Luiken (Great Plains Teen Fiction)
Hunted by Cherly Rainfield (WestSide Books)
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier (Puffin Canada)
Tempestuous by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins Canada)

Apocalypse Tour at Indigo

Megan Crewe, Cherly Rainfield, Leah Bobet, Maureen McGowam, and Lesley Livingston

Last week, I attended the Apocalypse Tour at Indigo Yorkdale. The event featured five authors who have recently written dystopian-ish novels: Megan Crewe (The Way We Fall), Cheryl Rainfield (Hunted), Leah Bobet (Above), Maureen McGowan (Deviants), and Lesley Livingston (Starling). I love reading YA and have read three out of the five books, so I decided to go and listen to the authors discuss their craft. The authors discussed their writing process, how they got published, what intrigues them about writing dystopian fiction, and why they love Toronto. Afterward, the authors stuck out to sign books and give out some free swag. This was a great event, and I hope Indigo will continue to host YA authors in the future.

Review: Whirl Away

Whirl Away
Russell Wangersky
Thomas Allen Publishers

This collection of short stories explores what happens when people feel their lives slipping out of control, such as the elevator inspector with the crumbling marriage or the woman having an affair with her married boss. The characters are often deeply flawed and it’s safe to say there are no happy endings here. I don’t typically read short stories because I find I don’t have enough time to really care about the characters and the endings sometimes feel abrupt and leave me wondering what the point of the story was. As an English major I would have to spend hours writing essays to answer such questions but now that I’ve been out of school for a while I guess I am too lazy. Thankfully, Wangersky’s stories are well-written and just long enough that by the end you feel something for the characters, whether it be sympathy or that they got what they deserved. Whirl Away was short listed for the 2012 Giller Prize.

Review: The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy
J.K. Rowling
Little, Brown and Company

J.K. Rowling’s first adult novel begins with the death of Barry Fairbrother, a prominent member of the Pagford Parish Council who devoted much of his time to helping underprivileged kids from the Fields, the rough neighbourhood on the outskirts of town where he himself grew up. Barry’s death results in a casual vacancy on the council. The council is divided between those who wish to return the Fields to the city of Yarvil and shut down the local methadone clinic that aids several of its residents, and those who believe the Fields belong in Pagford and want to keep the clinic open. Conflict also exists in the homes of Pagford’s residents, and even those who appear to be the most upstanding of citizens have skeletons in their closets. Who will win the election, and what will the consequences be for the townspeople?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book given its mixed reviews. I loved the Harry Potter series, but this book is definitely not anything like Harry Potter and it’s not really fair to compare the two. I did find the book overly long. Not much happens in the first half, and some of the characters are just not that interesting. I was much more interested in reading about the teenagers’ struggles with their parents and their relationships with one another than I was in the election itself. The adults often seem too concerned about how they are perceived by others and obsess over trivial matters to a degree that is sometimes comical but oftentimes tedious. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read but I didn’t completely dislike it. I am curious to see what Ms. Rowling comes up with next.

Review: 1982

Jian Ghomeshi
Penguin Group (Canada)

1982 is the story of an Iranian teenage boy growing up in the highly suburban (and highly Caucasian) community of Thornhill in the early 80s, desperately trying to be cool. In this case being cool means David Bowie, lots of black clothing, a little eyeliner, and a whole lot of hair gel. The book chronicles both Jian’s musical education and attempts to be “New Wave” as well as his desire to win the affections of a Bowie-esque girl named Wendy.

I was curious to read this book based on the popularity of Ghomeshi’s program, Q. I admit I don’t really listen to the radio or watch CBC on a regular basis, but he seems to be something of a Canadian media icon so I figured why not? I should be broadening my horizons and reading more non-fiction, so I gave 1982 a try. I did enjoy some parts of the book, such as the story of how the Ghomeshi’s home was mistaken for a brothel because of the red lamps his father so loved or the loss of young Jian’s prized Adidas bag at the hands of an angry punk. I got frustrated in places where I found the text a bit too repetitive. I get it, Wendy looks like Bowie. Bowie is cool. Thornhill is full of white people. Some of these points were belaboured a bit much for my liking, but I was still able to enjoy most of the book, including all the references to 80s technology that I still remember with something resembling fondness. Who knows, maybe I’ll check out Q one day.

Review: The Way We Fall

The Way We Fall
Megan Crewe

When Kaelyn’s best friend, Leo, leaves their small island community to go to dance school, Kaelyn doesn’t say goodbye. She’s too upset after the fight they had. But when a deadly virus breaks out and the island is quarantined, Kaelyn fears she will never see him again. Instead, she is left to watch helplessly as her friends and neighbours succumb to the symptoms of the virus. In order to survive, she must work with those who are still left standing in order to secure supplies and offer help to those who are suffering in the hopes that the virus can be stopped before it claims everyone she cares about.

I decided to read The Way We Fall, the first book in a trilogy, after hearing Megan Crewe speak at the Word on the Street. I like the fact that book is set in Eastern Canada rather than the usual big cities. Kaelyn is not only a very brave young woman, but also very compassionate. Her priorities must change quickly from worrying about fitting in at school to trying to survive and do everything she can to help those around her, which results in her changing her opinions about some of her schoolmates, including love interest Gav. Given that Kaelyn had previously had a crush on Leo, I am wondering if there will be some kind of love triangle in the second book (or maybe love square given the presences of Leo’s girlfriend, Tessa). I hope not, because it seems every YA trilogy must have a love triangle these days and I prefer the possibility of exploring Kaelyn and Leo as friends, especially since we have only seen Kaelyn’s point of view at this time. The second book will be out in February, so I will have to wait a few more months to find out. The Way We Fall is nominated for the 2013 White Pine Award.