Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Fifth Rule: An Unforgettable and Intense Read

It's been two years since the incident that changed Reef and Leeza's lives forever. Two years since that angry young man threw the rock off of a bridge, causing an accident that nearly resulted in a young woman's death. Two years since he met Frank Colville, his mentor, and since he started to believe that he could be more than the sum of his parts. Back in Halifax for his mentor's funeral, Reef is flooded with memories, and has no intention of staying in Halifax longer than necessary.

Leeza in the meantime has recovered physically from her accident, and is feeling stifled by her over-protective mother. Regretting her decision to stay at home for university, she finds solace in running, and tries to keep herself from thinking about Reef and what they shared.

Despite Reef's best intentions to stay away, when an eager political crusader wants to close his group home, he finds himself at the centre of controversy. Now Reef will be forced to face his demons once and for all or risk losing everything he's worked for- including the girl he loves.

I've long been a fan of Nova Scotia author Don Aker, and his latest book The Fifth Rule does not disappoint. It is gripping, emotionally complex, and it will stay with you long after you finish reading it. Picking up two years after the end of The First Stone, Aker completes the story of Reef and Leeza with absolute mastery.

There is a lot going on in this novel, and at its centre are themes of betrayal, loss and second chances. Reef made a lot of mistakes, and he's worked hard to prove that he's a different person than the one who threw that rock. It seems like he's succeeding.  Living in Calgary for the last year, Reef has spent everyday regretting his mistake, and working to prevent other kids from making a similar one. Unfortunately, second chances mean little to a politician angling for media coverage, and Reef finds himself doubting himself, and believing everything the media says about him. Maybe he is that bad. Maybe everybody was right about him. Maybe he should just do what everybody expects and let them be right about him. Through all of that, somewhere in the back of his head, he hears Frank's voice telling him that he's proud of him, but is it enough to break through?

Leeza is equally as complex.. Now 19, she knows betrayal well. Her father betrayed her and her sister by leaving them when she was just eight years old. Reef betrayed her by being the same person who caused her accident. She consistently betrays herself by pretending she's fine, and that in spite of everything, she doesn't miss Reef.  In her heart she knows that he's not the boy who threw that rock, but when his words are manipulated by the media, she questions whether she actually knows him at all. It also has begun to occur to her that her life has become about doing what people think she should do and not what she wants to do. For two years since the accident it's been easier to just go with the flow, but

From the first page, this novel grabbed me, and I just couldn't put it down until I finished it.  If you haven't read the first book don't worry. While there's definitely some back story to catch up on, the author recounts enough to catch you up, and it stands solidly on its own. If you have read the first book, you'll find this a satisfying conclusion to Reef and Leeza's story. Some swearing, as well as drinking and Marijuana use make this a more appropriate high school read, but once you read it, you'll be as engaged and invested in it as I was, and you'll be glad you gave it a chance.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Better Than Weird- A Thoughtful and Compelling Read

In this stand alone sequel to The Mealworm Diaries, Anna Kerz revisits Aaron, a character from the previous book, to tell his story. Aaron  is a smart, sweet, gentle, and extremely well-meaning boy. He is extremely smart, and very self-aware, and he knows that those around him think he's weird.  Usually, this doesn't bother him too much because he's got Gran, who has seemingly endless patience for his oddities, and his friend Jeremy from school. Lately, however, there seem to be a lot of things for Aaron to cope with. There's Tufan, the bully at school, there's the news that his dad is coming back for a visit for the first time in the eight years since Aaron's mother died, and that he has a pregnant wife, and there's the news that his beloved Gran is having an operation. But through it all, it's his big heart and his sense of humour that help him to face the challenges that he encounters.

This is a very sweet read, and one with some positive messages. Though not explicitly stated in the text, readers will be able to infer from certain clues that Aaron has some kind of Autism Spectrum Disorder. He generally dislikes being touched, he's often clumsy, and extensive lists help him to make sense of things he has to do. He also has a great deal of trouble reading people, and works hard with the counsellor in his school to understand their facial expressions and fit in better.

Despite his efforts, the road isn't always smooth for Aaron, and I like that the author doesn't gloss over it to create a warm and fuzzy world where everybody just accepts him and accommodates him. The adults surrounding him are flawed. They try their best, but they lose patience, get angry and grumble, and it's an important part of Aaron's emotional growth in learning to understand this. This is particularly important for his new relationship with his father, which is often awkward and uncomfortable. Aaron's friend Jeremy (the featured character in the previous book) is also an interesting foil, and the author has done a nice job of creating a believable dynamic between them. Jeremy likes Aaron, but sometimes he's just a bit too much.

There are many important lessons that Aaron learns throughout the novel, including how to handle a bully, and how to slow himself down and exhibit some patience, and the author handles it sensitively and simply. The book is a fast and easy read, and teachers will find lots to discuss if it's read in a classroom setting.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Eleventh Plague: A Chilling Post Apocalyptic Novel

In an unspecified time in the future, wars have nearly destroyed civilization. A superflu virus has wiped out most of the population, and the United States is in ruins. Twenty years later, those who are left must either create something new, or find a way to survive in this devastated and dangerous landscape.  Fifteen-year-old Stephen travels with his father and his tough ex-marine grandfather. They are scavengers, living by whatever supplies they can find, and they avoid other travellers. When Stephen's grandfather dies, and his father is gravely injured, he is left on his own for the first time. 

A chance encounter leads Stephen to a community called Settler's Landing- a seeming Utopia where they live off the land, the kids go to school, and patriotism still means something. Distrustful of people by nature, Stephen quickly falls in with the town outcast Jenny Tan. As the two grow closer, he learns some unsettling facts about this perfect community, and what results is a conflict that will change everybody's lives forever. 

There are a lot of things to like about this book, but also some things that I disliked about it that keep me from rating it as highly as I would have liked to. The story is believable and chillingly realistic. Since 9/11, the possibility of chemical or viral warfare has become an ever-growing concern, and I have no difficulties picturing it. It reminds me a great deal of Ilsa J. Bick's summer release Ashes, but with a male character. 

Which brings me to the next point that I liked, which is that the protagonist is a teenage boy. So many of the books in this genre feature female characters that it's refreshing to find one that will have appeal to teen boys who are fans of the genre. 

The book is fast-paced and exciting, and teens will race to the end to see where it goes. There is a hint of romance, but that aspect of the story is minor. Jenny has her own reasons for being jaded, and Stephen's distrustful nature draws him to her. I think he eventually would have figured things out for himself, but Jenny really is the accelerant that exposes the flaws of the community in more rapid fashion. When the conflict between Settler's Landing and a neighbouring community reaches a head, it's no surprise that the result is war, and the author does a good job of making a point about how seemingly harmless acts can have devastating consequences. 

The thing I really didn't like about the book was that it felt like it lacked the emotional depth that other books in the genre have. I admire the fact that it's a stand-alone, and that it has a comparatively short page count, but the book suffers for it. There was not enough character development for me, and I just didn't feel satisfied at the end of it. There is a very definite formula that dystopian and post-apocalyptic books follow, and the author has followed it to the letter. There is no real original ground covered here, and if you're looking for a unique spin, you won't find it here.

Despite its flaws, the short length and straightforward storyline makes this a perfect read for reluctant readers, and it's a tame enough read that you can safely hand it to an eleven or twelve-year-old reader without having to worry about sex, language and gratuitous violence. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wonderstruck by Wonderstruck

Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, June 1977 and Hoboken, New Jersey, October 1927: Two stories set fifty years apart, weave back and forth until they converge at the end. The first, Ben's story is told with words. The second, Rose's story, is told entirely in pictures. What do these stories have in common? Most importantly is that both children are deaf. They also both run away, and ultimately end up at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. There is also something else that will link these stories together, but that's up to you to find out for yourself.

When I first saw The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I immediately knew that Brian Selznick was something special. I had never seen any book that was as beautiful or as unique as that, and until Wonderstruck came along last month, I hadn't again.

Being one of those readers who actually reads the acknolwedgement pages, I was particularly struck by a comment that he made about early cinema. Before the "Talkies" as they were often referred to, movies were accessible to both the hearing and non-hearing community. Once the talkies came, an entire community was suddenly cut off from this particular form of entertainment, and although there have been some strides made (like captioning in select theatres and movies), it's amazing to think that 80+ years from when Rose's story begins, it is still largely true.

Rose's story is much like the world she lives in- silent, and entirely visual. There is some text in the illustration, but the author challenges readers to do something that perhaps we don't do enough- really look at what you are seeing. The illustrations are the story, and without a narrator to tell you what you need to know about the character, they become doubly important to pay attention to.

Ben's story is somewhat more straightforwardly told, but is equally as compelling. What develops is the story of a lonely boy who latches onto the idea of finding the father he never knew after his mother's death, and who is learning how to cope in a recently silent world. 

Although the story is largely about deaf culture, it is also about much more than that. With Wonderstruck, Selznick reminds readers how much magic and wonder there actually is to be seen in this world.