Sunday, 8 December 2013
Hiatus time! It seems like I never seem to manage going a full year without taking a pause. This time, it's just before winter break; the snow's fallen and falling here already, and it looks like Christmas will be well and truly white. I hope you have as many good books to read over the break as I do.
Good things and good books and good reviews await on the other side. 'Til then,
Posted by Eden Labels: blog
Monday, 2 December 2013
Little, Brown BFYR, December 24 2013
young adult contemporary
ARC received via publisher (thank you!)
It's the end of their last high school year, and Elizabeth and Lauren are going to be roomates at Berkeley in California in the fall. The start of their cross-cuntry email exchange coincides with the start of a summer that will be momentous for both.The cover:
The pink and green work exceedingly well together (they're much softer in real life than this image makes them seem), and the casual line-drawn illustration style will likely have a wide appeal. Safe choice in the sans serif font, too, with the tagline in a contrasting cursive font.
Roomies is the type of novel that stumps all my efforts to write a professional, at least semi-objective review. This book has all the ingredients for a heartwarming and potentially thoughtful contemporary bildungsroman, but somehow it left me feeling vaguely unsettled and disappointed.
Perhaps it's the very fact that the book contains all the typical ingredients. With two co-authors exchanging very brief, quick chapters, it's difficult to get any sense of style to distinguish the story from a generic YA contemp. The same goes for the voice of our two protagonists, and it's easy to confuse Elizabeth's and Lauren's lives.
On top of the neutral narration, the dual cast ends up flattening the secondary characters until they hover between one- and two-dimensional. Elizabeth's relationship with her mother has a tonne of potential to show growth in both characters, but the limited pagetime in this short novel doesn't allow for both her mother and her best friends to develop. This also means that Elizabeth's and Lauren's new boyfriends seem a little too perfect, with not nearly enough chemistry. Keyon may be a stand-out, though:
Outside, the air cools my face and I try to sort through the last 20 minutes. When Keyon comes out, he asks quietly, "Why say you're okay when you're not okay?" (p.189)As with most YA contemps, the plot is driven mostly by character interactions and the consequences that derive from them. The pace is brisk as Lauren and Elizabeth jump from character to character, so Roomies doesn't drag, at least. It's also lightly sprinkled with humorous and feel-good moments, perhaps enough to satisfy the casual reader.
But for me, the connection with the characters was never there, never strong enough to overcome the inevtiably differences to make this story relatable. (People surf in New Jersey? White people are really more comfortable dealing with gay people rather than black people in San Francisco? Girls really feel the need to call each other "bitch" after five minutes' acquaintance? Really?)
Anyway, personally, Roomies wasn't a good fit for me. I will reserve judgement before saying "not recommended" to anyone else.
Ethnic balance: 2.5 out of 5. Good job for trying, I guess.
Rating: 2.4 out of 5
Tuesday, 26 November 2013
Quirk Books, November 5 2013
review copy received via publisher (thank you!)
Nick and Tesla's parents dumped them in small-town USA to live with their eccentric uncle for the summer, and they're not exactly sure what they're supposed to do for two months. Turns out their uncle is a pretty cool, if kooky, scientist, and the assorted materials and gadgets to be found in his house are just what Tesla and Nick need to solve the mystery lingering about their new neighbourhood.The cover:
Lovely! The colours are clean and bright, and the illustration style is wonderfully suited to a middle-grade novel; the sense of movement in the art makes for an engaging, attractive cover. The fonts are well-situated and pleasingly embellished, without being too decorated.
Omniscient voice never worked so well as in middle-grade. Nick and Tesla are characterized in a few brief, efficient strokes, and the narration dips into both their heads for the occasional internal thought to further develop them. Their sister-brother dynamic is wonderfully authentic and delightful fun to read, making their interactions with the friends they make all the more heartwarming.
And oh gosh, the secondary characters are good. Silas and Marco's interactions -- banter, really -- and a few scenes with their family help to develop them as fully as Nick and Tesla. Their contributions to Tesla and Nick's escapades only further endear them to the reader.
"Pleasure doing business with you," Elesha said as she folded the bills and stuffed them in her pocket. She cocked an eyebrow at her brother. "Good acting, crybaby. Or was it acting?"The plot unfolds on two levels: the self-contained mystery arc develops briskly and enjoyably, while the larger, series-wide arc concerning their parents is established slower, a hint dropped here and there. This sets up the anticipation that will carry readers into the next book, while the book-by-book mysteries will keep them going.
DeMarco showed her his fist.
"I'll show you what real crying is, if you'd want," he said.
"Ha. As if you'd dare."
Elesha turned her back to DeMarco, flipped her cornrows over her shoulders and went sashaying away.
"Your sister is one tough second-grader," Nick said.
DeMarco shivered. "You should meet the one in kindergarten." (p. 135 - 136)
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab is the four or five DIY science experiments that come with complete instructions and neat illusrtations. These experiments are perfectly integrated into the story itself, which goes to show their real-life practicality. I'm positive these experiments will be happily received by any adventurous kid, science-minded or not.
Ethnic balance: 2 out of 5. DeMarco and his family are POC, yay.
Rating: 4.3 out of 5
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
by Doogie Horner
Quirk Books, September 10 2013
review copy received via publisher (thank you!)
Ghosts aren’t that scary; they come in all sorts and types, just like humans. “A gallery of harmless haunts” perfectly describes this collection of 100 likeness of paranormal beings.The cover:
Not much to say; a bright, attractive blue background helps the jovial, hand-lettered font and simple ghost centrepiece (with shadow!) pop.
Novelty books are usually either hit or miss with little area in between (like the unfortunate All My Friends Are Dead). Thankfully, 100 Ghosts stays true to its premise and delivers. After an endearing, humourous introduction, the portraits start, with the title of each ghost hand-lettered in white on black on the page opposing each illustration.
And the illustrations are simple fun at its best. The most creative ones naturally are the most memorable, but even oddball like “pepperoni” and “vinyl” are pleasing to look at when divorced from the context of a gallery of types of ghosts. Then you have the truly clever and amusing ones: “ironic”, “fitted sheet”, “checking iPhone”, “marsupial”, “some assembly required” and my personal favourite, “all up in your grill”. The best variations take the standard bed-sheet-with-eyeholes concept and apply a clever twist.
The variations span the range, from pop culture references to animals, from vocations to randomsity (“filled with bees”???). 100 Ghosts is a very fun, well-drawn and sturdily-packaged little book, suitable for any reader at all.
Ethnic balance: N/A.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5