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, July 31, 2012

Code Name Verity: A Compelling YA Read

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, her Nazi interrogators give her a terrible choice- record her confession of her mission, or be executed. With each page, Verity intricately weaves her confession, uncovering her past, her friendship with Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked and burning fuselage of their plane. With each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life. But will it be enough to save her from the enemy?

Wow! Wow! Wow! Really- those were the first words that came to mind the entire time I was reading this, and while it started out a bit slow, it became a book I stayed up late reading. I first heard about this on Twitter, and when enough people start raving about something, I take notice!  It's suspenseful, engaging, gut-wrenching, and just an all-around emotional roller coaster. I just don't feel like there are enough words to properly describe what a mind-blowing and essential read this book is.

Code Name Verity is one of those books that is so intricate and complex that you'll keep thinking about it long after you finish reading. It's also the kind of book that adult readers will absolutely devour. You don't read it and think "Wow, this is a great YA novel." You think "Wow! This is a great novel- period!" The first section, structured as a written-confession is told from Verity's point of view (we don't learn her real name until later), and through it, we come to know and love this incredibly brave woman. What does she actually know about the plans of the British? Something, or nothing, but she knows that whatever she tells them, she'd better make it good if she wants to stay alive. On the brink of exhaustion, cold, hungry, and a victim of torture, Verity never falters. She is courageous, gutsy, and quick-witted, and the story she tells is one of tremendous friendship and loyalty.

In an unexpected twist, the perspective shifts to Maddie for the second part of the book, who unbeknownst to Verity has survived the crash and is alive and well, and working with the resistance. Her mission is not as much about the war, as it is about finding a way to rescue Verity. Maddie's story perfectly compliments Verity's story, filling in the gaps in her story. There is, it turns out, a great deal about Verity and Maddie's mission that we didn't know about, and Maddie fills in many of those details. I know I had several "holy crap" moments as a fuller picture came into focus.

The WWII backdrop offers readers fascinating insight into the lives of female pilots during the war, but above all, Code Name Verity is a story of friendship, loyalty and courage. It is about two young women who become as close as sisters, and who are fully prepared to die for one another. It's about friendship and the loyalty, and how far they would go to protect one another.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Middle Grade Monday: A Tinfoil Sky

12-year-old Melody knows what it's like to live rough. For as long as she can remember, she and her mother Cecily have moved from place-to-place, searching for a place to call home. When Cecily gets arrested and sentenced to a month in jail, Mel is sent to live with her grandmother. Although everything is not working out as she'd hoped, the arrangement does allow Mel to find out more about her mother's past, and to gain an understanding of herself and the kind of person that she wants to be.

Cyndi Sand-Eveland's follow-up to Dear Toni, offers readers a gritty and realistic look at what it's like for children without a place to call home.

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. All the reviews talk about how it's a gritty look at homelessness, which it is, but I don't really see that as being the main theme of this novel. Yes Mel and Cecily have lived under bridges and in their car, but it's less about being homeless than the need and desire to have a home.

Mel's mom Cecily is a mess.  She's immature, irresponsible, and selfish. Her drinking and shoplifting are out of control, and goes from one deadbeat guy to another. She tries to take care of Mel, but she can barely take care of herself, and Mel is often forced to be the adult in their relationship. Mel doesn't approve of her mother, but she loves her, and Cecily loves her. Possibly the single mature decision that Cecily makes is knowing that she is not what's best for Mel, regardless of how hard it is to leave her.

When Cecily announces that they are going back home to live with Mel's grandmother, Mel imagines a loving and nurturing woman whom she can call grandmother, and who will welcome them with open arms. What she doesn't expect is that her grandmother won't even open the door, and that she and Cecily end up once again with no money and nowhere to go.

Mel is a wonderful character. She's world weary, yet vulnerable.  Her life isn't easy, but as we see when she's forced to spend a rainy night hungry and alone in her mother's car, we realize just how young she actually is.

Things seem to go from bad to worse when Cecily is thrown in jail for 30 days, and she's forced to live with her grandmother. She wants to believe that she's important like the judge said, but her grandmother treats her like an unwanted burden. My heart completely broke for Mel the first morning when she's locked out of the apartment because her grandmother is afraid she'll steal her stuff.

Mel finds solace at the town library, and I love that books play such an important role in transforming this girl. Wherever she's gone and whatever she does, she always takes solace in reading. In fact, books are so important, that when the judge asks Mel if there is anything she needs, she shocks everybody by asking for a library card. As the month ticks by, Mel starts putting down roots. She finds a sense of belonging, makes a friend, and even finds a part-time job reading to kids at the library once-a-week. In the back of her mind she knows there's a chance her mother will want to leave, but she desperately wants to believe that they will stay.

I also really liked the way that the relationship between Mel and her grandmother transforms. At first, she can only see Mel as an extension of Cecily- a person who has betrayed her trust and devastated her before. She's understandably not eager to open up her home or her heart, and Mel, feeling rejected and unwanted responds in kind.  Without even realizing it, they start to care about each other, and the house key is a subtle but important representation of the bond that grows between them.

A Tinfoil Sky is a novel about growing up, about finding your place, and about having the maturity to choose what kind of life you want to live, as Mel does at the end of the book. It is a beautifully and sensitively written book, and one which will give readers a lot to think about and discuss.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Middle Grade Monday on Tuesday: Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy

After getting hit by lightning at her mother's wedding, 12-year-old Lilah Bloom is shocked to discover that she has developed a new talent- she can hear dead people! Among them are her deceased Bubby (Grandmother), a fashion designer and a mischievous boy. Together with a few other ghosts, they help Lilah navigate seventh grade and to face her one big fear- talking to a boy!

As one of the hosts of the weekly Middle Grade Lit chat on Twitter, I made a pledge to myself that I would make a concerted effort this year to try and read even more middle grade this year than I usually do. Thankfully, Canadian author Joanne Levy made this an easy pledge to keep with her debut.

Lilah is a typical 12-year-old. She's wrapped up in school, friends, and of course, boys. What she really wants is for crush Andrew Finkel to notice her and maybe even ask her to the seventh grade dance, but at the same time, the prospect of going out with a boy terrifies her.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book is how completely realistic Lilah is. (Despite having the ability to talk to ghosts.) She's smart, but not obnoxiously so, pretty, but not drop-dead gorgeous, and she has a small circle of friends, but isn't popular. She's a regular, likeable kid, and I would have liked to be friends with her when I was 12.

I also really enjoyed the way the author uses the ghosts, and especially the ghost of her Jewish grandmother  and the prissy fashion designer who of course, bonds with her bubby and is equally full of advice. Lilah's bubbe reminded me a great deal of my own grandmother (who also had a talent for bonding with strangers), and I suspect that were I able to hear ghosts, that's pretty much what it would be like. While it would have been easy to make this a story completely about using her ability to help people (which she does), or to make it something Sixth Sense creepy, that's not what this novel is really about. It's about getting your first bra (and without spoiling it, this scene will make you laugh-out-loud), going to your first dance, kissing your first boy, and helping your hapless divorced Dad get back on the dating scene. The different ghosts all help Lilah understand something new about herself, and the people around her, and to navigate some hilarious, but often embarrassing stumbles.

Overall, Small Medium At Large is a fun and original read, and if you are a fan of books by authors such as Wendy Mass or Laurel Snyder, this is definitely a book to put in your pile!