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: Origin

Origin
Jessica Khoury
Razorbill
2012
978-1595145956

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
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.

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky
1999
MTV Books
978-0671027346

Told through a series of letters written by teen Charlie to an unknown person, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of a socially awkward youth who stands on the edges of society, carefully observing everything around him. When he attempts to stop being a wallflower and start “participating,” he quickly discovers all the ups and downs of adolescence, from first love to experimenting with drugs and alcohol and even a brief part in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I was excited to read this book both because it is considered by many to be a YA classic, and also because of the upcoming film. I absolutely loved Emma Watson as Hermione in the Harry Potter franchise, but I admit I am nervous about seeing her “all grown-up” in a different sort of film. As for the book, you really can’ t help but feel for Charlie. The teen years are awkward for all of us, but circumstances in Charlie’s past have made connecting with others even more difficult for him. He is very intelligent and often notices things that other people don’t, while at the same time he is often clueless in social situations, which results in much of the novel’s humour. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found Charlie to be one of the most memorable characters I have encountered recently.

The movie trailer is here:

The Word on the Street

On Sunday I braved the chilly temperature and threat of rain to venture over to Queen’s Park Circle in Toronto for the 23rd annual Word on the Street book and magazine festival. It had been a few years since I was able to attend, so I was happy to be back. My first stop was  This Is Not the Shakespeare Stage, where I was able to take in Norah McClintock, Ted Staunton, Shane Peacock, and Richard Scrimger (see photo below) as they discussed their recent collaboration on the young adult series Seven. The series is about an adventuresome grandfather who, upon his death, leaves a will outlining seven tasks, one for each of his grandsons that will take them on journeys from Iceland to Mt. Kilimanjaro. Other authors who contributed to the series include Eric Walters, John Wilson, and Sigmund Brouwer. Interestingly, the books do not need to be read in any particular order, so the “ending” of the series is really dependent on the reader. For more information about the series, visit http://orcabook.com/seventheseries/#!/main.

Moderator Dory Cerny leads the discussion with Norah McClintock, Ted Staunton, Shane Peacock and Richard Scrimger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up was author Megan Crewe. Crewe discussed facing your fears through writing and talked about the inspiration behind her novel The Way We Fall, about a teenager whose island community is quarantined following the outbreak of a deadly virus.  After hearing Crewe read a passage from the book, I am adding it to my “To be read” pile! If you’ve already read it, fear not: the second book in the trilogy, The Lives We Lost, is out in February.

Next onstage was the “Out of the Ordinary” panel featuring Deborah Kerbel, Lesley Livingston, Mariko Tamaki, and Natalie Zina Walschots. Kerbel began with a reading from her latest book, Under the Moon, in which Lily’s health suffers after she loses the ability to sleep following her aunt Su’s death. She meets Ben, who works the night shift at the local drive-through, who at first seems just plain rude but who might actually be the key to saving her. Next up was Lesley Livingston, reading a storm scene from her new release, Starling. Appropriately enough, during the reading heavy rain came down and the wind was blowing. Very creepy. Fans of Livingston’s Wondrous Strange trilogy will be pleased to know that Fennrys Wolf shows up just in time to save our heroine, Mason, from the storm and he just happens to be…naked. And suffering severe memory loss. He and Mason must work together to figure out what is happening around them and who Fennrys is. Following Livingston, Mariko Tamaki read from (You) Set Me On Fire, about a college student named Allison who’s been burned before – both literally and figuratively. Allison revels in the opportunity to reinvent herself at college, but will her relationship with Shar cause her to earn more scars? Tamaki’s hilarious reading of a scene in which a college party goes horribly wrong thanks to the “Tower of Power” and its accompanying shots was certainly well-received by the crowd. Finally, Natalie Zina Walschots read a few poems from Doom: Poems for Supervillains, impressing us with her vocabulary while offering up a different take on classic bad guys like Bane.

Following the panel, I was able to get my copy of Starling signed by Lesley Livingston, and then it was off to explore the rest of the festival. Unfortunately my camera battery died and I have no idea how to get the rest of my pictures out of my (non-smart)phone, but I can say I did Kevin Sylvester rocking an awesome chef’s hat while signing books for his fans, and I also saw Olivia leaving the festival, Chirp over at Owl Kids, and Polkaroo hiding out behind the TVO Kids stage waiting to make a grand entrance. Despite the chilly weather, I had a great time and hope to return next year.

Indigo’s Fall YA Picks

Indigo has posted a list of top picks for teens. I am super excited to read The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. I really enjoyed The Scorpio Races as well as her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. I am also keen to read Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel, the follow-up to his Frankenstein retelling This Dark Endeavor.  I did find that book a bit slow in parts but I am still intrigued to see what happens to Victor next. Also on deck is Reached, the finale of Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy; Days of Blood & Starlight, Laini Taylor’s sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone; and Starling by Lesley Livingston. Have I mentioned how much I love fall?

Review: Matched

 

 

 

 

 

Matched
Ally Condie
2010
Dutton Books
978-0-525-42364-5

In Cassia’s world, everything is controlled by the Society. They decide where you will work, who you will marry, and when you will die. At her Matching Banquet, Cassia anxiously waits to see who will be her ideal mate. The face she sees on the screen is her best friend, Xander. But later, when she goes to look at Xander’s image on her microcard, which contains all sorts of data about her new Match, she sees another face – Ky Markham, a boy who has always kept to himself. The Officials assure her it was just a prank, but now Cassia finds herself drawn to Ky. Until now, she has always accepted the way her Society functions, but what if all of their rules and plans are not in their citizens’ best interests after all?

Matched was a very quick read for me. I was expecting it to be mainly a story of forbidden love, but the Society’s corruption runs much deeper than that. The reader discovers along with Cassia the dubious means the Society uses to maintain control over the citizens, which made me eager to keep reading in order to understand how the Society operates. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Xander, who really does love Cassia, but Cassia does try to be honest with him about her feelings. Condie handles the love triangle well by showing that Cassia really does care for Xander and doesn’t want to hurt him, but Ky is just a better fit for her. I look forward to reading book two, Crossed.

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: Shiver

Shiver
Maggie Stiefvater
2009
Scholastic
978-0-545-12326-6

As a young girl, Grace was attacked by wolves. She could have died, except that one wolf saved her, forcing the others to back away. Ever since then, Grace has looked out into the woods to catch a glimpse of her wolf. But this is no ordinary wolf. During the spring and summer, Sam turns human. But only for a few years, until one year he will remain a wolf forever. He and Grace fall in love instantly, but as the temperature drops, can they find a way to keep Sam human forever?

It took me a long time to get around to reading this book, but I am glad I waited, because now the third book is out and I won’t have to wait to find out what happens to Grace and Sam. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. Grace’s obsession with wolves seemed a little odd to me. But what won me over was the relationship that developed between Grace and Sam. Even though they have only just met as humans, the love between them is believable and heartbreaking because we know it can’t last. Or can it? I
look forward to reading books two and three to find out.