May 30, 2013

House of horrors

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls
by Claire Legrand

Victoria likes everything "just so." She detests imperfection and any hint of sloppiness. Which is why her friendship with Lawrence is so puzzling. He's everything Victoria is not - messy, dreamy, and obsessed about piano. She's often had to be sharp with him. But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out…different. Or they don’t come out at all.

A creepy, sinister book, with immediate appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman's Coraline.

May 28, 2013

Teaspoon detectives

The Case of the Missing Deed
by Ellen Schwartz

Five cousins gather at their grandmother's cottage for their annual summer vacation. However, they find their grandmother in a severe depression. A mining company is threatening to seize her land unless she can provide proof of ownership. Her late husband, an eccentric puzzle-loving secret keeper, hid the deed somewhere and she can't find it. The cousins, ranging in age from 9 to 13, are determined to help her. They discover clues that their grandpa wrote onto old recipe cards, which should lead them to the deed.

The Case of the Missing Deed is a very wholesome, undemanding mystery. The clues are easily deciphered, except where code-breaking occurs. The author describes various codes that one of the cousins, Sébastien, tries to decipher, but the explanations tend to weigh down the narrative. Sébastien actually does most of the sleuthing, hindered at times by the others' skepticism. This is due to his paranoia and suspicion of nearly everybody close to his grandma. His sister, Geneviève, is his most vocal critic. She's supposed to be 13, but behaves and sounds a lot older. Boy crazy, she's immediately attracted to Shane, who's new in town. But that's about all we know about him. He appears so seldom, it's a wonder why Schwartz created him in the first place.

The other characters, Claire, Olivia, and Alex, aren't as clearly defined, but they do contribute in small ways.  As for the villains, they're not very menacing or dangerous, so expect no violence or inappropriate behaviour.

Not the most satisfying of mysteries, the book is nonetheless a good way to pass a lazy summer day. Kids will be tempted to try out the many recipes.

May 23, 2013

Mermaid tales

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings
by Hélène Boudreau

Jade's first period comes with an unpleasant surprise - she sprouts fins! Yes, Jade is a mermaid and apparently, so was her late mother. So how could her mother drown? Turns out there's a few secrets in the town lake, including an underwater prison. Jade's determined to rescue her mother, but that's pretty difficult when your hormones are fluctuating, you're self-conscious about your weight, and you don't like getting wet.

Breathless and funny, Boudreau's modern take on the traditional mermaid tale is a refreshing mix of fantasy and reality.

Real Mermaids Don't Hold Their Breath

Jade has finally reunited with her mother, but now she's lost her boyfriend, Luke. Plus, the tide pool, where mers wait to transform, is being threatened by a nearby mall extension. Jade, beset as always by anxiety, impulsiveness, and a tendency to panic, tries to sort everything out in this frantic, yet entertaining sequel.

Real Mermaids Don't Need High Heels

The mermaid shenanigans continue in the madcap finale. This time Jade has to prevent the Mermaid Council from forcing the Webbed Ones to return to the ocean permanently. To make things complicated, first-time land dweller Serena is her new classmate. Physical activity is a requirement this school year, so Jade unhappily finds herself drafted onto the underwater hockey team. Since she and Serena are supposed to keep their mermaid tendencies a secret, this is so not a good idea. But conveniently, Port Toulouse is practically a mer haven. With their help, Jade pulls off a last minute rebellion. Along the way, some surprising revelations come to light before everything is neatly wrapped up in a very happily ever after ending.

May 21, 2013

Family secrets

The Whole Truth

And Nothing But The Truth

Secrets cause a lot of pain and misunderstandings in these two novels by Kit Pearson. The strain of keeping them is wholly apparent in Polly, almost nine, who is sent to live with her grandmother after her father's mysterious death. Polly's older sister, Maud, seems much more comfortable keeping silent. Set in 1932 British Columbia, the two novels wonderfully evoke comfortable island life, social sensibilities, and the complexities of family. Above all, they show the fallibilities of even those closest to you, and their propensities for change.

Pearson ably captures the thoughts and feelings of a maturing young girl, making for a thoroughly believable and appealing character, despite her faults. The epilogue marking the end of the second book is extraordinarily happy, bringing both novels to a close in the best of ways.

May 16, 2013

The line between the real and the make-believe

A Very Fine Line
by Julie Johnston

Rosalind Kemp is the youngest of six girls, living a comfortable life in a small Ontario town in 1941. Twelve-and-a-half when we first meet her, Rosalind is artistic, active, and independent. When she starts having headaches, nosebleeds, and other queasy feelings, she discovers that she has second sight. A chance encounter with an elderly great-aunt only confirms it. Not wanting to have anything to do with it, Rosalind attempts to thwart fate by cutting her hair and pretending to be a boy. This doesn't go over well with her classmates, leading her to drop out of school. When she falls for Adrian, the tutor her mother hires, Rosalind realizes that she can't deny her so-called gift. 

An interesting take on the coming-of-age story, with warm-hearted, loving characters.

May 14, 2013

Growing up with autism

Eighteen-year-old Taylor Jane Simon has autism/Asperger's Syndrome. She has difficulty making eye contact, can't stand the colour yellow, sticks to strict routines, and often misconstrues other people's reactions. Prone to temper tantrums and inappropriate outbursts, she is a trial to her long-suffering mother, who's not too stable herself. Impatient and extremely overprotective, Taylor's mother comes across as uncaring and unsympathetic.

In these three novels by Beverley Brenna, we follow Taylor as she tries to negotiate society and live an independent life. As we listen to Taylor's voice, we gain an understanding of her challenges, and learn to appreciate a whole new perspective.

In Wild Orchid,Taylor must adjust to a new situation when she spends the summer away from home. She would like to find a boyfriend, but instead finds new friends, a rare orchid, and even a job. By the end, Taylor has begun to find her identity and starts to make plans for the future.

Taylor seems to have regressed a bit in the next novel, Waiting For No One.Her obsessive-compulsive tendencies cause her to muff a job interview, and she can't stop wanting to clean. Still, she's able to study biology at university and goes to a weekly dance class. She also meets poetry-quoting Luke Phoenix, and forms a bond with Luke's brother Martin, who has cerebral palsy.

The White Bicyclehas Taylor, her mother, and the Phoenix family in France. Taylor has been hired as Martin's personal assistant. When she's not looking after Martin, she's painting or visiting an elderly friend, with whom she has a surprising connection. Taylor also has time to reflect back on her childhood and how it has affected her. Along the way, she learns to be more assertive when dealing with her mother, who is even more controlling this time out. The trilogy concludes positively as we see Taylor taking control of her adult life and embracing the future.

May 9, 2013

Underestimating the differently abled

Out of My Mind
by Sharon M. Draper

Melody can't talk, walk, or feed herself. For eleven years, she's listened to conversations around her, learned songs and jokes and poetry, and words, words, words. But she isn't able to let anyone know.

Melody's life improves significantly when she gets a talking computer. At last, she can express all the thoughts and feelings that are trapped inside her. Still, it isn't enough. Other kids laugh and stare, while adults constantly underestimate her intelligence. Super-smart, with a photographic memory, Melody earns a spot on her school's Whiz Kids quiz team. Her performance gets them into the national championships, but cruelly, she is left behind when nobody tells her about a changed departure time. Heartbroken, Melody's only recourse is to carry on. A measure of satisfaction is achieved when the team only manages a ninth-place finish. Ashamed and sorry, they actually present her with the minuscule trophy, which Melody rightly rejects.

A bittersweet story.

May 7, 2013

Rex Zero strikes again

Rex Zero, the Great Pretender
by Tim Wynne-Jones

Rex's family is moving again. It's just to the other side of town, but it puts him into a new school district. That means leaving his friends James, Buster, Kathy, and Polly, whom Rex has a crush on. But Rex is a pretty resourceful kid. He hatches a plan - continue going to his old school while pretending to be registered at the new school. Unfortunately, this involves a fair bit of lying and eventually stealing. Plus, bully Spew Lessieur is on his tail. 

So you can see that Rex has a lot on his mind. His mother seems to have something on her mind too, but she's not saying. As the story progresses, Rex's feelings of guilt and fear drive him to plot a preemptive strike against Spew. How it all ends is both inevitable and surprising.

Wynne-Jones brings a satisfying end to his Rex Zero trilogy. He has a good knack in capturing the 1960s culture, as well as Rex's confusion over his life's events. He also does a wonderful job of describing family dynamics, with an appealing mix of warmth and eccentricity. A very worthwhile read.

May 2, 2013

Rex Zero - quite a hero

Rex Zero, King of Nothing
by Tim Wynne-Jones

Rex Zero and his friends are back! You don't need to have read the previous book to enjoy this one, which is actually superior. This time, Rex has a few more things to figure out. Like, why does his father hide letters written in German? How can his class deal with their scary, bullying new teacher? And how can he help his friend Kathy from getting a stepfather? These problems seem serious until Rex finds an old address book. In trying to track down its owner, Rex meets the beautiful Natasha. Entranced by her vulnerability, Rex wishes he could be a hero and save her from an abusive husband.

Moments of hilarity take the sting out of these situations, which all come to wonderfully satisfying conclusions. Highly recommended.