April 30, 2013

Rex Zero to the rescue

Rex Zero and the End of the World
by Tim Wynne-Jones

In this case, the end of the world refers to the looming nuclear threat in the summer of 1962. This was the time when the Russians were exploring space, the fear of communism was rampant, and the Cold War was heating up. Rex Zero, however, doesn't really understand any of it, and he's not interested anyway. Just recently transplanted to Ottawa from Vancouver, he just wants to find some new friends. He soon hooks up with Kathy, James, and Buster. They're convinced that a panther is on the loose, and set out to catch it.

Today's kids may not get all the historical references, but they'll enjoy Rex's adventures. Rex and his friends have lots of freedom to do what they want, without parental supervision. Rex also has some interesting siblings with some of the best names - Cassiopeia, Letitia, Annie Oakley, Flora Bella, and the Sausage. 

April 25, 2013


This World We Live In
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

It's been a year since a meteor hit the moon. Miranda's friends and neighbors are dead. She and her brothers spend their days scavenging for food and other household items while their mother tries to keep some semblance of their previous lives. Their situation becomes even more perilous when Miranda's father suddenly shows up, with his wife, baby, and 3 other strangers in tow. Two of them are Alex and Julie Morales, whom we met in the previous book. Their presence means less food for everyone and lessens their chances at survival. 

The tension is not as palpable in this book. Miranda's growing attraction to Alex seems to dominate the narrative. Their relationship is bound to be rocky; Miranda is a little less whiny, but Alex has gotten even more controlling and his religious fervor is bordering on masochistic. Yet he's afraid to act. It's exasperating. When a tornado destroys the town and everyone is forced to leave, it's Miranda who makes the difficult decision, proving that she's stronger, realistic, and heartless. 

Despair is evident throughout the novel, but it ends with a slight bit of hope. Even though this book is not the best in the trilogy, it is still worth reading.

April 23, 2013

The end of the world as we know it

Life As We Knew It
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

A meteor is going to hit the moon, and 16-year-old Miranda, like the rest of her family and neighbors in rural Pennsylvania, intends to watch it from the comfort of a lawn chair on the front yard. But the event is not the benign impact scientists had predicted. The moon is knocked closer to Earth, setting off a chain of horrific events: violent earthquakes, massive tsunamis, and millions of deaths. Thanks to frantic preparations by her quick-thinking mother, Miranda's family is in better shape than many as the electricity goes out, gas supplies dwindle, and public services break down. If that's not bad enough, a flu epidemic kills off thousands. Then the volcanic eruptions start. With clouds of ash blocking the sun, the temperatures plunge and crops wither.  As Miranda's family begins to starve, her diary entries become more and more desperate.

Terrifying in its realism, this is a book so anxiety-filled that you will not be able to stop reading.

The Dead and The Gone
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

A companion to Life as We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone focuses on how the meteor strike affects the residents of New York City. Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales doesn't even give the moon much thought, as he's more interested in school and his part-time job. But with news of subway floodings and worldwide tsunamis, Alex quickly realizes that with his father in Puerto Rico and his mother unreachable at her job in Queens, he is in charge of the care and safety of his two younger sisters (Briana, 14 and Julie, 12). 

Not knowing if their parents are dead or alive, Alex tends to make questionable decisions, making this book not quite as good as Pfeffer's first. Nonetheless, the scenes of danger and horror can be overwhelming, especially in a harrowing description of Yankee Stadium, where women's bodies are lined up for identification. 

Not to be read late at night.

April 18, 2013

Not a sad story

Johnny Kellock Died Today
by Hadley Dyer

It's 1959, and Rosalie Norman is facing a long, boring summer in her Halifax neighborhood. A late child, Rosalie was born when her mother was nearly fifty. So she's a little different from her much older brother and sisters. A daydreamer, Rosalie lives in her mind and her comics. But when her cousin Johnny Kellock goes missing, she's forced to wake up a little. As she and her new friend David, whom the other kids cruelly call Gravedigger, search for Johnny, she learns more about family and the secrets that they hold.

A gentle story, well-written and funny, that expertly captures a forgotten time and place.

April 16, 2013

Kidnapped by a circus

The Boy in the Box
by Cary Fagan

Eleven-year-old Sullivan Mintz helps his parents run the Stardust Home for Old People. Operating on the point of bankruptcy, they don't have time to deal with his problems. Nor do they take his interest in juggling seriously. So when the travelling medicine show comes by, he's naturally intrigued. The performers are kids his own age. But when he steps onstage as a volunteer, he ends up being kidnapped!

Sullivan is frightened at first, but his homesickness soon wears off. Life with the medicine show is much more interesting than his ordinary life. He can't help but admire the other kids' talents and stage presences. They even help him develop his own juggling act. Meanwhile, his parents are left mourning his supposed death and his little sister Jinny is still out looking for him. But after his successful stage debut, Sullivan's developed a taste for show business and found himself a new family. He may try to escape, but for now, he's happy.

The Boy in the Box is a very unusual novel. The children are prisoners. They're locked in the caravan every night, and punished if they try to contact their families. Yet they enjoy the life they now have. It's as if they're all bewitched to some degree. It's up to the reader to decide whether Sullivan is better off. Full of ethical dilemmas,The Boy in the Box would be a good choice for a book club discussion.

April 11, 2013

Saving crows

Crow Medicine
by Diane Haynes

Jane Ray works at BC's Urban Wildlife Rescue Centre (UWRC), where she cares for her favorite birds, crows. But the inexplicable deaths of crows in the city lead the UWRC to change their policy and euthanize all crows in an effort to stave off West Nile Disease. This touches off a media frenzy, resulting in vandalism and abuse. So Jane sets off for Alberta to pick up a controversial vaccine, hoping to save both the birds and the Centre. 

That's the main plot of Haynes' book, but it's not the only one. There's political corruption, lethal pesticides, family problems, and a very public humiliation, which should probably result in court action. Plus, Jane has to land a plane when the pilot has a heart attack! That's a lot of stuff to cram into 350 pages, with the result that none of the situations are thoroughly or satisfactorily dealt with. The most interesting bit, Jane's "crow medicine" - her spiritual connection with crows - is given very short shrift. There are just too many stories competing with one another.  All the mystery/survival/adventure/suspense/romance can be a little exasperating. Haynes would have done better without all the extra drama.

April 9, 2013

Rainbow Crow

Rainbow Crow
by David Bouchard
art by David Jean

The animals could not survive the harsh winter. They sent Crow to ask help from the Creator. Charmed by her beautiful song, he gave her the gift of fire. But in returning to Earth, Crow had to fly close to Grandfather Sun. Her beautiful plumage was burnt black, and her voice was destroyed by pain. This is why the crow has shiny black feathers and a hoarse cry.

A sensitive Ojibwa legend, told respectfully by David Bouchard.

April 4, 2013

A special birthday

13 Gifts
by Wendy Mass

Mildly delinquent behaviour gets Tara Brennan banished to Willow Falls to stay with relatives she hardly knows. It doesn't take long for Tara to realize that strange things happen in Willow Falls, especially after an encounter with Angelina D'Angelo. The old woman gives her a job: Tara has to collect thirteen objects before her thirteenth birthday. If she doesn't, she risks doing irreparable harm to her immortal soul.

Tara gets help from a bunch of new friends, turning her treasure hunt into something much deeper. By the time it ends, Tara will have figured out that some actions have world-changing consequences, and that everyone, even herself, can repair the broken shards.

A book that'll make readers laugh, think, and wonder.

April 2, 2013

Turning twelve can be perilous

by Wendy Mass

Rory Swenson can hardly wait until she's twelve. She's got a whole list of things she's going to do, like getting a cellphone, staying home alone, wearing makeup, and piercing her ears. Rory knows it'll all be great! But reality soon sets in. She quickly loses her phone, panics when left by herself at home, and discovers she's severely allergic to natural makeup and gold earrings. It takes a while before Rory realizes that growing up only happens when you're truly ready. 

Rory's growing list of calamities gets funnier and funnier as her story progresses, making for a wonderfully entertaining and comic read.