Friday, 6 January 2012

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

For me, this book is the ultimate fantasy. Adventure, romance, magic- it's got it all in one gorgeously wrapped package. The way it gives you a line drawing of a story at the beginning and then fills it in and fleshes it out as the book goes on is very similar to On the Jellicoe Road.

Speaking of fleshing things out, this is what it's about. Finninkin lives a perfect life in Lumatere, with loyal friends, a respected father, and a clear destiny. Within five days, it's torn apart. In a mysterious turn of events, the entire royal family is slaughtered and an impostor becomes the king. Worse, a barrier around Lumatere forms, trapping some people inside to endure the brutality of the new king and leaving others exiled with no homes. Finnikin journeys with his mentor Sir Topher, trying to find land for the exiles. Their journey changes when they meet Evanjalin, who is determined to get back to Lumatere, no matter what the cost. As they follow her troubling dreams and search for allies, they begin to realize Evanjalin has many dark secrets. Then again, no one is who they seem to be in this intensely fast paced novel.

The plot is incredibly complex, with key information revealed at just the right time. The enigma surrounding the five days of unspeakable kept me flipping pages, frantic to find out what really happened. The characters are all multifaceted, with plenty to discover about each. As the author peels away the layers of mystery of the events, she also exposes the different characters' roles during that time and how it changed the way they lived the rest of their lives. The relationships are realistic, and in some cases heartwarming; the banter between stubborn Finninkin and strong-willed Evanjalin is entertaining and lightens the sometimes heavy mood. I like how strong Evanjalin is, and how she actually turned out to be the bravest of them all (no matter what the men thought). There are many lessons that the characters learn, such as how to deal with overwhelming tragedy and keep hope. Though this book is set in a fantasy world, the messages about protecting those who are weaker and not hating what we do not understand can be applied to many conflict situations in our own world. All in all, this was an extraordinary book- you'll enjoy collecting pieces of the puzzle until the final picture is so beautifully intricate you never want to let it go.

If you loved this book, you'll like:

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Fire by Kristin Cashore
The Attolia series by Meghan Whalen Turner (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia)
Mimus by Lili Thall

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

A quirky title for a quirky book! After reading it, I still have no idea what it means. It doesn't really have a lot to do with the story, except for a quote that gets brought up a few times, 'Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie, who cares for the crinkling of the pie?'. I looked it up and found out that it means however nice something's outward appearance is (the 'crinkling', or decoration), it's what's on the inside that counts (the 'sweetness at the bottom' ie the filling). Anyway. Food for thought. (No pun intended).

This book is a mystery, one of the few classic who-done-it mysteries there are for teens that I've seen. After a dead bird with a postage stamp stuck on its beak appears at the doorstep, murder takes place in the garden of the De Luce house. Flavia, an eleven year old girl who's obsessed with chemistry, is the first one to see the dying man. Now I know your hackles just went up when I said 'eleven year old' and 'chemistry', but don't worry. Keep reading, I'll get to that later (promise!). Her father is the most obvious suspect, so he is arrested. However, Flavia is convinced of his innocence- but she has to prove it to Inspector Hewitt. So off she goes sleuthing around town, picking up clues of her father's past. She uses her extensive knowledge of lockpicking, chemistry, and charming people to achieve these ends. Mixed in with all this is her constant battle with her two older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, cheeky descriptions of life around her, and obscure facts about chemists.

The fact that she was an eleven year old didn't bother me so much. She was sassy enough to keep me thoroughly entertained, though sometimes I found her blathering commentary a little too long. Similarly, her stories about the chemists were interesting at first, but after a while I started to get an urge to shake her by the shoulders and yell 'get on with it, for crying out loud!'. The book is quite slow paced, but I guess most mysteries are, since they can't just reveal the facts that are important. Still, I found this quite a roundabout read, and it was easy for me to put down. I'd say it would make for an excellent rainy-day read, when you have nothing to do but read snuggled on your couch. Not terribly exciting or intense, it's a pleasant, meandering read. I've heard many people say that his portayal of the times is spot on, and while I don't really appreciate historical fiction, I did notice a lot of detailed desctiption that I'm sure would delight readers who do enjoy historical fiction.The character is cute and orignial, if a little rambly here and there.

All in all, it wasn't my favourite book, since I like more fast-paced stories.  But I liked reading it to get to meet Flavia, who is one of the most lovable characters I've read about.

If you loved this book, you'll like:

Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock
Something Wicked by Alan Gratz
Something Rotten by Alan Gratz

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This is a unique book about an issue that’s not commonly talked about. Parts are hilarious, parts are illuminating, and parts are so profound you want to just sit there and think about it before you continue reading.

Junior lives on a 'rez' for Spokane Indians. He was born with ‘water on the brain’, some very complicated medical thing that I don’t really want to explain right now. What it means is that he stutters, has a massive head, and has to wear big glasses. Needless to say, he gets bullied. A lot. He gets beaten up quite often- but the rez community is pretty brutal like that. Many are alcoholics and druggies, and they’re all very poor. After Junior moves to a ‘white’ school, his prospects begin to brighten. However, there are still many problems in his life. Like Rowdy, his best friend from the reserve, who refuses to talk to him after he changes schools. And Penelope, a white girl who he’s hopelessly in love with- but she may not be as perfect as he thinks she is. Not to mention his family. His sister lives in the basement writing novels and his uncle is an alcoholic.

As you can probably tell, this book is chock full of discussion topics. Racism, friendship, alcohol addiction, bullying, First Nations people and poverty, with a touch of bulimia thrown in just to spice things up. But the narrator’s voice is just so funny (and at times, unbelievably dirty) that you can’t help but grow to care for him. He tells the story in a ‘hey, guess what happened today’ kind of voice- friendly, open, and honest. He describes all the details of his sometimes miserable life without moping about it; he says it in a matter-of-fact way and leaves the reader to go ‘oh, that’s awful’. The illustrations in this book are fun and give it a less formal kind of feel, kind of like- well- a diary.

So. Writing style and voice: check. Discussion topics: check. Pacing and interest level: check. Memorableness (and yes I know that’s not technically a word): triple check.

A fascinating and eye-opening, yet lighthearted, read. 

If you loved this book, you'll like:

Ooh, this is pretty tough. But:

Swim the Fly (and series) by Don Calame
Paper Towns by John Green
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green

Monday, 2 January 2012

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Books by John Green have a lot in common. They're always very intellectual, have some hidden philosophical message, and have killer humour. They feature a nerdy (is that politically correct?) boy who chases after an unattainable, beautiful, sexy girl and learns something through all this unrequited love.

Looking for Alaska is exactly this. The main character, Miles- nicknamed Pudge as an irony because of his gawky build- has an obsession with last words (here's where the intellectual mentions come in). He moves to a boarding school and meets the crazy, gorgeous Alaska Young, who he instantly falls in love with. Unfourtunately for him, she has boyfriend who she's devoted to. But this doesn't stop her (along with some other unforgettable friends like Takumi and the Colonel) from catapulting Pudge into the Great Perhaps: a world filled with covert smokes, lots of booze, and well-planned pranks. When a terrible event happens, Pudge has to overcome his grief and re-examine his thoughts on one of the saddest aspects of life (that's it, no more spoilers!).

What I will say now is that if you haven't read anything by John Green, read Paper Towns. That was by far his best. Then read An Abundance of Katherines. It's still pretty good. But after reading those two, I've gotta say, this book falls a little flat. It's not that it's horrible- it isn't by a long shot. It just doesn't stand up to the other two books. The rapping scene is funny, but other than that there wasn't much hilarity. The messages were good, but without the aforementioned hilarity they feel a little heavy. I think the main problem with this book is that it's just too short. After the climactic event, there isn't a lot of time given for Pudge to puzzle through his feelings. His conclusion seems a little abrupt, because in less than half the book he goes from a blubbering mess to a person with concrete resolve who is ready to face the world. Even with this abrupt change, the book (especially after the central event) is a bit slow at times; it was easy for me to put down.

That said, this book is still worth a read because of its unique subject matter. This review may seem really negative but don't get me wrong- it's still a great book. The end was still tear-inducing and the characters were still quirky. It's just not as wonderful as John Green's other books.

If you loved this book, you'll like:

Paper Towns by John Green
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby