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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The One and Only Ivan: An Enchanting Middle Grade Read

Ivan the gorilla is used to being something of a spectacle. Taken into captivity as a juvenile, he's lived most of his life in a domain at the Big Top Mall and Arcade. Life, in general is pleasant for Ivan. He's got his favourite stuffed gorilla toy, friends in Stella the elderly elephant and Bob the stray dog, and his television. Ivan hardly thinks about the jungle at all anymore. Mostly he thinks about his art, and how to capture his thoughts with colour. Then he meets Ruby. Ruby is a baby elephant, taken from her family and brought to Big Top Mall to renew interest in the exhibit. Through her eyes, Ivan comes to see their home, and his art in a different light, and it's up to him to make things change for the better.

It's not very often that a book comes along that gets spoken about in the same breath as Charlotte's Web, but Katherine Applegate's new book has received lots of well-deserved praise and attention since it's release in January, and when we reach the 60th anniversary of its publication, I believe it will be as fondly remembered.

There's no question that animal stories are heart-tugging, but this one is especially so because it challenges us to think about the lives of animals being kept in captivity, and what it does to their quality of life and their happiness.

From the moment you meet him, you know that Ivan is special. Once the star-attraction at the Big Top Mall, he knows that people are not as interested in him as they once were, but that doesn't really bother him.  He has his friends and his art, and his memories of life in the jungle with his parents and twin sister are faint. It has been many years since he's even seen one of his own kind, and though he doesn't initially understand what the feeling is, he's lonely. Ivan's voice is pitch perfect. He has a very simple and straightforward way of viewing the world, and much like Charlotte, he finds his purpose in his promise to Stella to save Ruby.

The novel illustrates the best and the worst of humanity, and captures the both the heart-warming and the heart-breaking aspect of these animals and their relationships. Katherine Applegate is a masterful writer, and the quality of the prose alone makes this a book not to be missed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Middle Grade Monday: The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

12-year-old Roo is an expert in hiding. Living in an unstable family, there are times when she needs to just disappear out of sight. When her parents are murdered, it's her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life. Much to Roo's surprise, a wealthy, eccentric uncle agrees to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a Sanatorium for children with TB, the island is full of legends and secrets. Roo doesn't believe in fairy stories, but what are the strange noises she keeps hearing in the house at night, and who is that strange boy on the river? Roo knows that people are keeping something from her, and she's determined to learn the truth.

Ellen Potter has been a favourite author of mine ever since she published Olivia Kidney back in 2005, and when I learned that she had written a new novel inspired by my childhood favourite The Secret Garden, I knew I had to read this.

What a wonderful treat this was to read! If you are familiar with The Secret Garden, you'll recognize the references to it in this novel,  but it isn't a necessity. Roo, the Mary Lennox character is a quiet and solitary child. When her arrival on Cough Rock Island is met with general indifference by her uncle, she's initially puzzled, (and maybe a bit hurt), but being used to counting only on herself, she's content to "disappear" all day and explore the island.

What I loved most about this book is the gradual transformation of Roo from someone who wants to be left alone to a child who cares about others and is cared about in return. Like the nearly forgotten garden that she lovingly nurtures, the island nurtures something in Roo, and awakens the part of her that probably always wanted to be loved.

The Humming Room is a beautiful novel about friendship, love, and the transforming power of nature, and is a perfect gift for the little girl in your life who still believes in magic.

Monday, May 7, 2012

White Horse: A Post Apocalyptic Debut

30-year-old Zoe is working as a janitor in the labs for Pope Pharmaceuticals when the world comes crashing down. People are dying around her from a cancer-like virus, and nobody knows what it is or how to stop it. When the American President declares that humans are no longer compatible with life, she knows it's time to flee. Scared and alone, she sets off on a journey that will take her halfway around the world. Along the way, she will see the best of and worst of human nature, and realize, that it is our actions and not genetics that define who we are.

This is one of those books that I would have no reason to know about if not for some well-timed tweets from its publisher Simon and Schuster. Being the curious sort, I clicked the link to the description, and was intrigued enough to put it on my to read list. It certainly sounded like a book I'd enjoy, and while there are infinite numbers of MG/teen novels that I'd like to read, I promised myself that I'd devote more time to doing some non-work-related reading. I'm very glad I did.

This book absolutely fascinated me. The author skilfully alternates between the past and the present, allowing the reader to witness the diminishing population, and Zoe's ultimate purpose. The past very much influences Zoe's present, and each glimpse into the past fills in another blank of where she's going and why.

Zoe is a basket case. She's intelligent, but she's a bit of a wandering soul, and took the job at Pope to do something that didn't require her to think too much, and give her some time to sort her life out. Married once in lust, as she described it, she was widowed before she had a chance to love him, and she's really not sure if she knows what love is. She wants to feel it, and maybe could feel it if she'd allow herself, but it takes something bigger than herself to realize what it is.

One of the things that makes post-apocalyptic novels interesting is that they are a study in human nature, and this book is no different. A crisis can both create anarchy and bring out the best in people, and both of these things happen. The name of the virus, White Horse, is coined by a priest who believes the virus is another plague meant to wipe sinners off of the earth. The real source of the virus is even more disturbing, and what's worse, not a stretch to imagine.

The writing is excellent, and Alex Adams fully drew me into this world that became increasingly bleak and terrifying. You can feel the world falling apart, and feel it become more sparse and desperate.  I also really like the randomness of how the virus affects people, and there are some truly deep moments.  A Larger-than-life figure proves to be flawed and human, and a quip about the virus having killed Oprah the month before offers a sobering reminder that in the end, we are all the same. There are a few story elements that definitely ask the reader to stretch their imaginations, but they don't detract from the plot.

The book can be a bit gruesome and has some violent moments, but it would make a good cross-over title for older teens and "new adults" who are graduating from the YA offerings into something a bit more mature. First in a trilogy, this book does have a definitive ending and can be read as a stand-alone, but I am definitely curious to read the next book and see how Zoe's story evolves.