Review: (You) Set Me on Fire

(You) Set Me on Fire
Mariko Tamaki
Penguin Canada
2012
9780143180937

Allison has been burned in the past – literally and figuratively. A failed high school romance resulted in emotional and physical scars, but now Allison is off to college, where she can be whoever she wants to be. When she meets Shar outside a frat party, Allison is instantly drawn to her. The two quickly become inseparable, blowing off school to party and making fun of the “normal” girls in their student residence. As their friendship begins to become toxic, will Allison once again go down in flames?

I was inspired to read this book after hearing author Mariko Tamaki read from it at The Word on the Street in September. I guess this book could be considered part of the emerging “new adult” trend since it is about the college experience. I found this to be a nice change from reading about younger teens in high school. While I can’t say my university life was anything like Allison’s, having recently finished graduate school at a school where last night’s partying was a frequent topic of discussion among the undergrads on the bus, I can still somewhat relate. Allison finds herself in a number of awkward situations throughout the book, and these stories, such as getting sick from too many shots after climbing the “Tower of Power” at a frat party, are laugh-out-loud funny. Tamaki does an excellent job of capturing a young adult’s dialogue and worldview. Readers will cringe at Allison’s misfortunes while still rooting for her to get her life in order.

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Review: Such Wicked Intent

Such Wicked Intent
Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada
2012
9781554683420

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.

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: Blood Red Road

Blood Red Road
Moira Young
2011
Doubleday Canada
978-0-385-67183-5

Saba lives in Silverlake, a desert wasteland, with her father, her twin brother, Lugh, her sister, Emmi, and her pet crow, Nero. Saba and Lugh are close, but Saba resents Emmi because their mother died giving birth to her. Although the lake they depend on for food and water is drying up, Saba’s father refuses to leave the place where his wife died. When four horsemen arrive amidst a sandstorm, killing Saba’s father and capturing Lugh, Saba sets out to rescue her brother. She soon discovers the outside world is full of danger, but she also finds out just how strong and capable she is.

The first time I tried to read Blood Red Road, I put it down because I found the characters’ way of speaking irritating to read and just couldn’t get into the story. I’m glad I gave it another chance, though, because it turned out to be a compelling story. Saba is a lot stronger than she realizes and endures a lot of physical hardships in her quest to find Lugh. Although Saba’s unalterable love for her brother is admirable, it’s her relationship with Emmi that is the most compelling. Over the course of the novel, Emmi proves that she is smart and just as much of a fighter as Saba, who eventually begins to respect her little sister rather than treat her as an annoyance. There’s also a touch of romance in the story between Saba and Jack, a boy who proves pivotal in helping her locate and rescue Lugh. The inside cover indicates this is “Dustlands Book One,” so I expect Saba’s adventures will continue. However, the book can stand on its own very nicely. Blood Red Road is an exciting adventure/survival story reminiscent of The Hunger Games and The Knife of Never Letting Go. The book is nominated for the 2012 White Pine award.

 

Review: Money Boy by Paul Yee

Money Boy
Paul Yee
2011
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-094-9
*Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy*

When Ray Liu’s father finds out he is gay, he is kicked out of the house. Ray’s dad, an army veteran and Chinese immigrant, can’t accept a son who doesn’t share his traditional values. Ray tries to make a life for himself in downtown Toronto, but is soon robbed. Left without money or his cell phone, Ray struggles to survive. Will he have to sell himself for sex in order to survive?

This gritty novel tells the tale of a young man who struggles to fit in. Ray’s friends, while immigrants like himself, have a much easier time learning English and adapting to Western culture. Ray’s family can’t accept his homosexuality, leaving Ray with nowhere to turn. Yee’s novel touches on two groups whose stories are often untold in mainstream YA: immigrants and GLBTQ teens. Ray’s descent into prostitution is heartbreaking to read. Fortunately, there is hope at the end of the novel. The subject matter makes this book more suitable for older teens.

 

Review: Tilt by Alan Cumyn

Tilt
Alan Cumyn
2011
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-119-9
*Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy*

Stanley Dart’s world is full of chaos. His mother is constantly suffering from anxiety, his little sister lives in her own little world, and his father hasn’t been heard from in years. Stan is determined to make the varsity basketball team, but when Janine Igwash begins paying him attention, he becomes distracted. When Stan’s father shows up with Stan’s half brother in tow, all hell seems about to break loose.

I found it refreshing to read a YA book told from a male perspective. So many of the books I have read have female protagonists, so I would like to see more books aimed at boys. Stan’s troubles felt very real, from his chaotic home life to his raging hormones. Cumyn does a great job of taking the reader inside the mind of a teenage boy. Some of the content is a bit graphic, so this book would be more appropriate for older teens.

 

Review: Words That Start With B

Words That Start With B
Vikki VanSickle
2011
Scholastic
978-1-4431-0235-3

Seventh grade was supposed to be the best year of Clarissa Delaney’s life. Instead, she ends up with the wrong teacher, a best friend who is bullied and can’t stand up for himself, a teacher’s pet trying to be her friend, and a boy with a crush on her. But none of these things can compare to the possibility of losing her mom.

This book hit close to home for me, having lost my own mother to breast cancer, though as an adult, not a twelve-year-old girl. Clarissa is too embarrassed by the “B word” to even talk about what is going on with her mom. Middle school is never an easy time, but Clarissa finds a way to get through everything that is thrown at her with a sense of humour and the help of some new friends. I really connected with these characters. Clarissa is a smart girl whose smart mouth may sometimes get her in trouble, but she has a good heart and tries to protect Benji from the bullies, and her relationship with her mom is truly special. A great coming-of-age story.

Review: The Darkest Powers

This was originally posted on another one of my blogs that I no longer update.

The Darkest Powers Omnibus (includes The Summoning, The Awakening, and The Reckoning)
Kelley Armstrong
2010
Doubleday Canada
978-0385670517 

I was very excited to read Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers trilogy. Why? Because she’s well-known, successful Canadian author, and until  recently, I had never read any of her books. This trilogy was on my “must-read” list for some time, but school kept me from reading them for a while.

The books tell the story of Chloe, a teenager with a special ability – she can raise the dead! Chloe’s newfound powers lead to some admittedly strange behaviour that lands her in a group home. But Chloe isn’t the only one who’s special. Her new friends have their own special abilities, too, and now an organization called the Edison Group is hunting them down to try to control their powers. Can Chloe and her friends escape?

What I liked about the series is that unlike some YA heroines, Chloe is fairly competent. She can take care of herself anf stand up for herself. Her stuttering did get old after a while, especially as her confidence build. At times she’s a bit too much of a “good girl” but overall she’s a strong character. The books were full of twists, which kept me turning the pages. Although one of the characters is a werewolf, it was nice to read a supernatural series that wasn’t all about werewolves and vampires. A necromancer is an interesting choice for a heroine and gives teens who love paranormal something a little different. Also…

*spoiler*

I also liked that Chloe didn’t end up with the obvious love interest. It was refreshing that Armstrong didn’t go the predictable route.