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Category Archives: Canadian Reading Challenge

Book Review: Fall for Anything

Eddie Reeves is the daughter of famous photographer and revolutionary Seth Reeves.  She has not followed in her father’s footsteps of being an artist, but is so proud of what her father has accomplished and how much he values art and sharing his work with the world.  When her father commits suicide, she finds herself shocked beyond belief, trying to cope and grieve while her mother refuses to take off her father’s housecoat and can’t seem to move on or understand.  Milo, Eddie’s best friend, seems to be the one helping her through her plethora of emotions, but when an old student of her father’s shows up, Eddie believes he is the answer to finding out the mystery of her dad’s death.

Author Courtney Summers has, unsurprisingly, captured beautifully grief and the darkness surrounding death and suicide.  The pacing, wording and description of emotions are perfectly aligned to bring us a revealing novel, yet not one bogged down and held back by the dark side of experiencing death.  As we follow Eddie throughout the novel, there seems to be no interruptions for clarification of night or day.  The novel flows in a way that it never really matters whether the sun is up or everyone else in the town is sleeping, which puts us directly in the mind of Eddie and her mother, who cannot seem to establish normalcy in their lives, rightfully so.

Besides Eddie and her mother, other dynamic characters in the story shine.  Beth, her mother’s oldest and best friend, is practically living with them and trying to get them down a healthy physical and emotional track, accomplishing little more than driving Eddie away.  With her healthy green-tinted morning shakes and her demands for Eddie to get herself together, it becomes very easy to hate Beth.  Yet the author has not kept her a one-dimensional character, as there is more revealed about Beth that helps us peer into her helpful yet controlling heart.  Culler, Eddie’s father’s former student, is also a character to be mentioned.  As he plays a very important role in the grieving process for Eddie, it is critical for us to understand him, but only to a point, as is revealed towards the end of the novel.  Alongside Eddie, we feel the excitement, confusion and doubt in Culler’s presence.

Although every reader may not experience a death so tragic in their lifetime, Fall For Anything is not one to be missed.  The depth to which the author goes into the psychology and mannerisms of humanity is to be applauded and admired.

Fall For Anything

by Courtney Summers

Published by St. Martin’s

December 2010

This novel satisfies both the Canadian Reading Challenge and the Contemps Challenge.

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Book Review: The Agency #2

Mary Quinn has taken on another case with the Agency, a group of female detectives disguised as an academy for girls. Only this time, Mary not only has to use her wits and acting skills to solve the mystery, but she has to pose as a young boy the entire time.

Mary is set on proving herself capable of being a detective, and a great one at that.  When she accepts the mission of solving a murder case, she has no idea how emotional the case will be, as she returns to her past, basically living on the streets and being looked down upon.

As you might know, I was a big fan of Y.S. Lee’s first Agency book, A Spy in the House.  Filled with action, intrigue and a touch of romance, the second book in the series does not disappoint.

Unlike the first book, I felt like the case took a while to unfold.  There were a lot of characters to follow, and I found myself having to go back and re-read some paragraphs, but each character added a new element and aspect to the mystery and the novel itself.  We get to see a different social circle of London, as Mary (or Mark) works at a construction site and lives in a boarding house.  This setting introduces a whole new cast of characters.

Brought into the story again is Mary’s semi-love interest James, bringing with him a new set of challenges for Mary and the Agency.  The romance is subtle, yet an important part of the novel.  While we still see Mary’s independence and strength shine through, the swooning after James is perfect, as she tries so hard to cover it up.  While we as the readers can see how perfect they are for each other, it might take a while for this relationship to develop.

During the course of the first book, we were introduced to a bit of Mary’s past, the complications of her former family life and her biracial background.  The second book reveals a bit more of Mary’s inner struggles and what she has been through during her short twenty-some-odd years.  She faces the challenge of remembering what it was like living on the streets and stealing in order to survive.  Y.S. Lee takes us fill circle with her personality, revealing her “weakness” and emotions that she actually does possess.  Mary Quinn is a character you can’t help but love.  The Body at the Tower only does more to reveal that.

The Agency #2: The Body at the Tower

by Y.S. Lee

Published by Candlewick

August 2010

 

Mini Book Reviews: Canadian Challenge

In July of this year, I joined the Canadian Reading Challenge, a commitment to read 13 books set in Canada or by a Canadian author, by July 1, 2011.  I recently finished two that I would like to share with you.  Consider these mini-reviews of books going towards my challenge goal.

Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony

Published by Putnam in May 2010

Sixteen-year-old Molly finds herself on an adventure of a lifetime in the year 2041, after the Collapse, during which the “big governments” seized the last of the oil in the world and everything changed for Canadian and American citizens.  Molly is a resident of a farming island off the coast of western Canada, but she is chosen by her family to rescue her grandparents living in Oregon, and bring them back to live with her.  All of this is made difficult when her grandfather refuses to come with her and she runs out of money.  She must befriend a member of a local crime organization and put her farming skills to good use in order to return to her family.

Molly is an extremely likable character, being brave, kind, affectionate and musically talented.  The fact that she literally risks her life to save not only her sick grandmother, but also her pregnant mother, speaks volumes about the value she finds in the lives of others.  The novel follows her fast-paced adventure well, with romance, family ties and adoption all in the mix.  However, the world that we find her living in seems to have some holes and discrepancies.  I found it difficult to follow through the author’s descriptions, and was quite confused about what exactly the “Collapse” was.  For instance, how would her sister be planning a huge wedding when it seems as if people barely have money for nutritious food?  Also, why would her brother work at a winery when people are paying big money for imported alcohol?  While I was distracted by these bits and pieces of the novel, I enjoyed Molly and Spill as characters and found their tale one of courage and inspiration.

Boys, Bears and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots

by Abby McDonald

Published by Candlewick in April 2010

Seventeen-year-old Jenna is pumped to leave her comfortable Jersey life and her environmentalist group to put her plans and ideas into action in the Canadian wilderness.  As she begins her summer living with her godmother, helping her start a bed & breakfast and making friends with the locals, she realizes just how different life is across the continent.  This coming-of-age novel highlights the need to solid identity and true friendships.

I feel like I would have appreciated this book a bit more if I would have read it during the summer, right after it was published.  Reading about Jenna’s experiences learning how to climb rocks, mountain bike and canoe were very entertaining.  I could easily follow her realization of her true self.

While the pacing of the novel made it a bit difficult to follow at times (sometimes days drug on, while at other times a month passed in a few pages), Jenna’s friendships are worth reading about.  And being a bit of a geography nerd, I was confused at the fact that she would go swimming and sunbathe (and where, for a week or so, they are “baking” in the heat wave) in an area of Canada where the summer high temperatures barely reach 85 degrees.  Just a minor detail, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it bothered me.

All in all, great summer read, wonderful coming-of-age novel, likable characters.  Check it out!

 

Book Review: Losing Faith

Brie wants nothing to do with religion.  Her sister Faith wants everything to do with God. Though close in age and formerly close in heart, Brie and Faith are as different as night and day and Brie would like to keep it that way.  Until Faith meets an untimely, suspicious death, and Brie is forced to face the reality of her sisters secret life.

Filled with confrontation and the tackling of touchy subjects such as religious cults and grief, Losing Faith shines a light on the importance of family, honesty, and loving others well.

The plot and background to the plot of this novel are incredibly creative.  Author Denise Jaden has taken a leap of faith (no pun intended) in addressing the subject of religious cults.  The one she introduces in this novel is believable and well-constructed.  The fact that I was awestruck at the actions of the characters involved speaks volumes about her manner of description throughout the story.  Though the foreshadowing is quite obvious, I consider this a necessary aspect of the novel, in order to keep from extreme drama in the end.

Brie’s character, while frustrating in the beginning, does bring resolve in the end.  Her lackadaisical, selfish attitude just disgusted me, especially in the light of her saintly sister.  The situation that Brie finds herself in, however, allows her to change and transform into a character you cannot help but root for.  Her parents, on the other hand, are dry and lifeless.  While the story is focused on Brie and her actions, I do wish the parents could have been a little more dynamic.  Understandably, they are grieving the loss of their favorite daughter, but their involvement could have brought a lot more to the story.

Be prepared for some conflict within yourself if you choose to pick up Losing Faith.  The author tackles tough, necessary issues that we could all stand to take some time considering.

This novel is my first read in the Contemps Challenge, as well as my fifth read in the Canadian Reading Challenge.

Losing Faith

by Denise Jaden

Published by Simon Pulse

September 2010

 

Library Find (3)

As mentioned previously here, I have started a new feature in which I choose a book from the “New Books” shelves at my local library, a book that I have not heard about but peaks my interest somehow.  The third edition of this feature brings a book that puts me closer to finishing my Canadian Reading Challenge, as it is written by a Canadian author AND takes place in Ontario.

Grease Town takes place in 1863, in Oil Springs, Ontario, a place to which a fair amount of American slaves escaped, but were not welcomed by all.  The novel is told from the POV of twelve-year-old Titus, who befriends a young African-American boy.  The new friends start a business carting around non-locals that want to see what exactly happens in the oil boomtown. Meanwhile, white men looking for jobs are unhappy that escapees from America are working the same jobs for lower wages and a race riot begins.

Throughout the novel, I loved Titus’ voice and character.  He is frustrated trying to be as manly and strong as his older brother, and works hard to prove himself.  The resolution to this conflict takes a little long to play out, in my opinion.

I did enjoy the family aspect of Titus living with his uncle after having “escaped” from his aunt, and being allowed to stay there because of his uncle’s change in character.  Aside from his uncle, the characters were a little flat.  Actually, after the boys’ first few days in Oil Springs, the secondary characters get a little muddied and awkward.

The most frustrating part of the novel was the end section.  What happens to Titus after he witnesses a bad situation is so out-of-the-blue, I was lost for the rest of the novel.  Therefore, the ending itself didn’t work for me as it was dependent on the prior events.  I apologize that I can’t explain more, but I can’t without revealing spoilers.

As I have stated before, I do enjoy historical fiction and don’t regret picking out this book, but it was unfortunately not one of my favorites.

Grease Town

by Ann Towell

Published by Tundra Books

February 2010

 

24-Hour Read-A-Thon Final Post

Having finished the 24 Hour Read-A-Thon, here are my final numbers:

Books finished: 4 (Losing Faith. Grease Town, Henry Huggins and Betsy-Tacy)

Hours read:  probably around 8

Comments written on readers’ blogs:  10

Pages read: 643

And the first mini-challenge:

Where are you reading from today?

From my comfy little apartment in northeast Kansas.  Will be moving from futon to desk chair to porch chair throughout the 24 hours.  I also might spend some time reading at Bluestem Bistro.

3 Facts About Me:

My favorite genre of book is contemporary YA.

I am addicted to coffee, which comes as no surprise as my husband is a barista at the aforementioned coffee shop.

I am a graduate of Kansas State University, with a bachelor of arts degree in geography.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?

7 books, one of which I just finished

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon?

Actually, no, I have not set any goals for myself, but I am concentrating on making progress in my reading challenges, keeping track of number of pages read, and being intentional about leaving comments and cheering others on.

I did not choose to do all mini-challenges, but here is the mini-challenge hosted at Intrepid Reader for Hour Seven, in which we are to describe the setting of one of our favorite books or the books we are reading today.

As I have stated previously, I am participating in the Canadian Reading Challenge, and the book I just finished is a historical fiction novel taking place in Oil Springs, Ontario.  Having spent a few summers in Canada, I enjoy reading novels set in Canadian provinces.  Not only is the topography, natural resources and climate as diverse as the United States, but the culture is rich from province to province.  I am very excited to continue reading novels set in provinces from our northern neighbor.

Books read for my Canadian Challenge: 2, bringing me to 5 out of 13 to read before June

Books read for the Contemps Challenge: 1, bringing me to 1 out of 18

Books read for my Top 100 Challenge: 2, bringing me to 33 out of 100 to read before June

Unfortunately, after my second update, I didn’t participate in any more mini-challenges and only finished one more short book, but I am very happy with my progress.  Now I have a huge stack of books to write up reviews/posts about.  Thanks again to the hosts and cheerleaders which made this Read-A-Thon fantastic for myself. 

 

Book Review: Watching Jimmy

I first read Watching Jimmy a few weeks ago and ended up so frustrated with the book, I had to hide it on a shelf where I couldn’t see it.  After a few days consideration, I decided that I would read it again and give the book another shot.  While I can say I’m glad that I read it again, I cannot say that I would recommend this book.

In the novel, twelve-year-old Carolyn witnesses her friend Jimmy’s uncle abuse him, resulting in an accident that is permanently scarring to Jimmy’s mental and physical abilities.  Jimmy’s uncle tells a completely different story than what happened, painting it as an accident in which he is not at fault.  Carolyn holds this secret tight as everyone deals with the change in Jimmy and his need for medical attention.  That’s basically all you need to know.  Carolyn is way too mature to be a twelve-year-old.  The story jumps around through so many themes that you just feel lost most of the time, trying to decipher what exactly you are supposed to glean from the story.  Carolyn mentions a few too many times the limitations of being a “child.”  And the character of Ted, the uncle, is way too under-developed to even put all of the themes and characters together.

I will say this: the writing is good.  The language is good, the scenes are easy to follow, but the novel as a whole is all over the place.

And, I’m shocked to say, this novel won the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award.  Seriously, shocked.  I honestly dislike giving such negative reviews of books, but I felt the need to this time.  Also, this is the second book read and reviewed for my Canadian Reading Challenge, so I did need to give it a fair and posted review.

Watching Jimmy

by Nancy Hartry

Published by Tundra Books

April 2009