Life's hard.

It's even harder when you're stupid.

John Wayne

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Freaks by Kieran Larwood ★★★☆☆

Even freaks have a role to play.
Fiction – Juvenile – Steampunk/Mystery
Age Level: 10 and up | Grade Level: 5 and up
256 pages

Publication Date: March 1, 2013

When impoverish children in Victoria London, begin to go missing, supposedly taken by a monster in the river, Sheba, the Wolfgirl, and her fellow sideshow freaks use their unique gifts to track down the crooks.

FreaksBeing a parent finally pays off (you know apart from it being so very glamorous)!  My daughter’s school has book fairs; a new venue where I can purchase – for the kids, of course– new books for a good price.  Growing-up I loved the book fair and all of the amazing possibilities it held.  Most of the time I fell back on the tried and true Babysitter’s Club or the like, but just seeing the possibilities of the worlds these books held took my breath away.  It opened my closed little world to the potential, even I might have.  And frankly they still inspire those feelings.

The title, Freaks, immediately caught my attention and with the back blurb being interesting and the price great I took a chance.  I am trying to explore more books in the juvenile age now that my kids are getting close to that age, so this was a great chance to make that happen.  Also, I read a lot of inappropriate books as a kid, so I want be very aware of the books my kids are reading. 

The fun infusion of steampunk for kids with a non-glamorous look at Victorian London was great.  Plus the fun extra sections at the back about the characters and author notes about Victorian London, gave it a little depth.  Mr. Larwood starts feeding out info at a very comfortable pace and creates an entertaining story.  I liked the main character, Sheba, from the beginning, but the book was a bit too in your face about her past.  As for the other characters while each was unique in background, temperament and interest, I found a lot of holes in Monkey Boy’s back story.  But for the age group this was intended for I doubt they will see any flaws.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Shredded by Karen Avivi ★★★★☆

ShreddedAction, realism and heart, a great combo.
Fiction – YA – Contemporary
314 pages
Publication Date:  2013

I received this book free from the author in exchange for a fair review.

Josie Peters is ready to take her BMX riding to the next level when she finds a chance to join a girls’ team and travel to competitions.  With some new friends and support from the old ones Josie spends the summer trying to make her dream of qualifying for the Ultimate BMX freestyle event and a possible sponsorship deal come true.  To the most of the BMX world sponsorship is a sign of success, but just when Josie might have everything she thinks she wants she has to decide for herself what success looks like.

So, first of all I know this is a story about BMX bike riding, but you don’t have to know about that world to read it.  The themes transcend the setting, (Yep, I just got all philosophical and used a big concept.  My parents like to occasionally see my college education shine through.) and things like the tricks are reasonably explained.  So don’t let that put you off.  Okay now that the BMX thing is covered we can get onto the actual review.

At the beginning I was a little nervous for the story, but quickly got over it as I fell into Josie’s world.  I mean, I read it in one day so that is always a good sign when a book can compete with the rest of my life.  The writing is straight forward with no frills and focuses mostly on Josie’s emotional journey from a first person perspective.  The story itself is very realistic from the high school experiences, online issues and complicated relationships Josie has with others and herself.  It is also exciting and action pact taking on some very unexpected turns.  The story touches on romance and sex, but neither of those are the real important focus and I loved that; a real positive message to teenage girls about putting things in perspective.

 All of the characters are carefully and lovingly crafted to have texture, depth, individuality and a nice realism – no real comic relief characters in this one.  Josie, is a real teenage girl, with normal and natural reactions.  She is emotional, but self-contained, driven to achieve her goals, and trying to grow up, amongst others expectations and even her own.  Josie fights not only against external constraints, but also against the mental blocks she puts up herself.  She has to figure out how to be strong enough to do “her own thing” and decide what is more important, her own false glory or being an encourager to others.  I like how Josie’s new teammates show how different styles of girls can still participate in and be good at sports, whether it is girlie, boy crazy Alexis or no nonsense Lauryn.  And I really like how the story lets the girls remain girls even though they are in a “boys sport”.  I also respect Ms. Avivi’s choice not to vilify Josie’s parents and keep them on the same team.  Ms. Avivi chooses to make them into real parents who are genuinely concerned and wanting the best for Josie, even it scares them or stresses Josie out.  As a parent myself I really could understand their motivation and how hard it was for them to make wise choices.  

Finishing the book all I could think about how much I enjoyed it and my wish to read more about Josie soon.  Definitely a winner!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happy, Happy, Happy by Phil Robertson ★★★☆☆

A fan favorite
Non Fiction - Autobiography
224 pages

Publication Date:  2013

Written by the patriarch of the Robertson Clan and original Duck Commander and bearded star of Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson, this book shares what went into shaping Phil, his family and their business.

Happy, Happy, HappyFirst of all, this book will very obviously appeal mostly to the Duck Dynasty fan.  Clean, quick flowing writing, with a good helping of fun told in Phil’s unique voice marks every chapter and direct storytelling, with straight-forward unabashed values (you don’t have to agree with everything he believes in to appreciate this story).  His story is a true American dream story.  Through gumption, hard work and God, Phil pulled together his life.  He came up from being dirt poor and making horrible life decisions to getting it together and creating a full, purposeful life for him and his family.  These are the kind of stories that fuel the American imagination.
Okay, one blanket statement for the technical duck stuff.  I am not a duck hunter, so I’ll be honest, I found those sections boring.  However, I could see how someone interested in those things would really like them.

Side Note:  I read this book before any the controversy surrounding Phil came up, but I have to say that doesn't change my view of this memoir, though it did give me pause for a moment before posting.  I chose to go ahead with it, because it just illustrates to me another example of our society’s intolerance toward different viewpoints.  Sure as humans we are all naturally judgey, but there is a line.  When does one aspect define a whole person be that Phil or someone who is gay.  I find it sad in our society that we have gotten to a point where instead of having an open dialogue – and yes I’m talking to conservatives and liberals alike – we call each other idiots and refuse to give each other the basic respect each human being deserves.  I don’t agree with many of my friends and family members’ decisions or even a lot of the world’s at large, but I also don’t need to agree with them.  I have enough to deal with just holding my own self and actions accountable (yeah, and my kids too of course - we are raising trying to raise responsible adults, people).  All I need to do is love them; the rest of it is between them and God.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison ★★★★☆

Awesome debut!
Fiction – Juvenile – Urban Fantasy/Mystery
Grades 5–8
368 pages
Publication Date:  2009
Literary Awards:  Waterstone's Children's Book Prize (2009)
Thirteen Treasures #1

13 Treasures (Thirteen Treasures, #1)Sent away to live at Elvesden Manor with her Grandmother  by her exasperated mother, Tanya knows even in the country she cannot escape the weird and scary stuff happening to her.  Tanya can see what should not be seen and the fairies do not take kindly to trespassers; they have their own way of dealing with intruders.  Is Tanya doomed to repeat history and disappear like a girl fifty years before under mysterious circumstances or can she finally solve the mystery that has haunted her family for generations.

This book was decidedly darker and more ominous than the typical juvenile book, but I really like the depth it added.  This story uses the older, more visceral form of fairies and their interactions with human, not the Disneyfied version.  The original Grimm fairy tales come to mind.  Something that helped fend off some of the darkness was even though you see the fairies powers over humans, the book never gives the sense that humans are completely powerless.  The writing is clean and the action starts quickly and sweeps you up in it.  This is one of those stories I found so absorbing that I had a hard time tearing myself away from it to deal with actual real life things.  The mythology is effortlessly woven through out with book references, stories and discovery; well-formed plot and great backstories with a variety of character types.  And frankly who doesn’t love the Secret Garden type of story where the main character is sent into a new world of discovery. 

For Ms. Harrison’s debut it is pretty awesome.