April 30, 2014

Kill the fly!

Revenge on the Fly
by Sylvia McNicoll

Revenge on the Fly takes place in Hamilton in 1912. Young Irish immigrant Will Alton has just arrived in the city. When a fly-catching contest is announced, Will is determined to win. Since flies are believed to spread disease, Will sees the contest as a chance to avenge the deaths of his mother and baby sister.

The war on the fly naturally makes up most of the action, but I couldn't help but wish that Will had other hobbies. He does come up with some innovative ways to kill flies, though.

Will's also trying to outwit his cheating classmate Fred Leckie. Yet I felt that there wasn't enough conflict. McNicoll is a subtle writer; her characters tend to have more internal turmoil than their behaviour would let on. Will has a lot of anger, but he rarely expresses it overtly. Will and Fred only have one physical fight; their enmity is revealed in taunts and insults. The two girls, Ginny and Rebecca, who are both fond of Will, limit themselves to glaring at each other.

I also felt that the story could have been funnier. The overall tone is a serious one, which Will's fall into manure can't quite overcome. 

What I liked was Will's ethical conundrum - should he try to win at all costs? His inner debate is skillfully done. I also liked the character of Ginny. She's a complex girl with many facets that were particularly endearing. In fact, I wished that she had been the main character! She also has a lively, fly-catching dog named Finnigan.

Being a very critical reader (and an adult), I probably sound too picky, but middle reader audiences should be more accepting. They'll no doubt want to start catching flies, or train their dog to do it!

April 24, 2014

Fallen World trilogy

The Way We Fall
by Megan Crewe

It begins with an itch that doesn't go away, followed by fever and a tickle in the throat. The paranoid hallucinations only confirm it. You're going to die.

A strange flu is sweeping through Kaelyn's island community, killing everyone young or old. As the population dwindles, survival instincts take over until there's no one left to trust.

Crewe does a masterful job in slowly building the ever increasing suspense until the slightly hopeful ending.

The Lives We Lost
by Megan Crewe

The friendly flu, named for its victims' lack of inhibitions, has taken the lives of Kaelyn's friends and family. With its spread to the mainland, no place is safe. But when Kaelyn finds samples of a vaccine in her late father's research lab, there's a glimmer of hope. Maybe someone somewhere can replicate it. So Kaelyn and her remaining friends set out on the dangerous journey to Ottawa, where they'll find scientists to help them.

The Worlds We Make
by Megan Crewe

Finding no help in Toronto, Kaelyn and her friends must get to the Centers of Disease Control in Atlanta. On the way, they have to avoid the Wardens, a band of mercenaries who are after the vaccine. 

Crewe's Fallen World trilogy comes to a satisfying close in this final volume. Throughout, she depicts a believable, tension-filled journey as her characters struggle for survival. Their continuous search for food, shelter, and transportation will remind many readers of the travails of the Walking Dead survivalists, except there are no zombies. But the friendly flu is no less dangerous; it may even be worse, because the enemies are not as obvious. Kaelyn is forced to make some hard choices, leaving her to wonder if she's losing her morality. At the end, her decisions will either save humanity or destroy it.

An excellent book that will leave readers questioning their own beliefs and values. 

April 22, 2014

Spanish Flu epidemic

Yesterday's Dead
by Pat Bourke

Thirteen-year-old Meredith Hollings must leave her small town to work as a servant in a doctor's home in Toronto. Helping with the cooking, serving the meals, and minding the doctor's youngest son is hard work, made harder by the butler's condescending attitude. Maggie, the doctor's spoiled, ill-tempered daughter, makes things difficult as well. Then the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic hits. One by one, the members of the household fall ill, and the doctor must spend all his time at the hospital. Soon, only Meredith and Maggie are left to care for the others.

As the story progresses, the sense of dread increases. You know that one or more of the characters is going to die, but you don't know which one. A fortuitous ending provides relief before the final, happier chapter. An historical note about the Spanish Flu follows, which is helpful in putting the events of the novel into context.

A compelling, realistic survival story that many readers will find hard to put down.

April 16, 2014

A stowaway on Noah's ark

by Donna Jo Napoli

The rain comes suddenly, fast and hard. Sixteen days later, it is still raining. The waters have taken Sebah's family and friends. Sebah herself is trapped in a tree, with only her cat and a boy named Aban for company. They build a raft to wait out the storm. When the ark appears, only Sebah has the strength to climb on board. 

A survival tale like no other, Napoli takes readers on a harrowing voyage full of desperation and fear. The non-religious Sebah feels great empathy for the animals and tries to ease their discomfort by letting them out of the cages. She must do this with great care, afraid of being caught not only by the predatory beasts, but by Noah's family as well. Their faith is severely tested as they must wait for nearly a year before the waters fully subside. Trapped on board the dark and stinking ark, they start to argue and fight, questioning Noah's trust in the Creator.

An often strange, complicated novel, with surprising twists and intriguing characters. The drama is full of heightened emotion, made even more intense by the claustrophobic setting.  Dry land, when it appears, is a relief. But despite this, it still seems to end rather abruptly. It is up to the reader to imagine what comes next.

April 9, 2014

Female robot inventor

My Robots: The Robotic Genius of Lady Regina Bonquers III
by Johan Olander

Regina Bonquers was an eccentric Scottish inventor who mysteriously disappeared in the 1970s. She left behind a treasure trove of articles and blueprints pertaining to her bizarre robotic creations. She invented the nose-shaped Odoro, which sniffed out strange odors, the Build-O-Bot, which destroyed buildings instead, and Interplanetary Autonomous Battle-Bots who didn't want to fight. As you've no doubt realized by now, this is a fictional book. Still, many children may find it amusing. Plus, they'll be inspired to draw their own robots.

For the real history of robots, go to my blog Interesting Nonfiction for Inquisitive Kids. There you'll find books about past and current robotic inventions.

April 3, 2014


Three Million Acres of Flame
by Valerie Sherrard

As the story begins, Skye Haverill's main problem is getting along with her father's new wife, whom she's determined not to like. But her troubles soon pale when compared to the disaster that is to come - the 1825 Miramichi wildfire that devastates her community. Homeless, Skye and her family are forced to seek shelter with the Chapman family in the neighboring town of Chatham. 

As the family struggles for normalcy despite unbearable suffering - Skye's brother Tavish loses his sight and her Uncle Collin, his entire family - Skye discovers a resilience she never knew she had.

Anyone who has lost a home to floods or earthquakes will no doubt empathize with the Miramichi victims and may even find the story difficult to read. For those who have never lived through disaster, the book shines a light on the devastating aftermath.

April 1, 2014

Survival stories

Chocolate River Rescue
by Jennifer McGrath Kent

Shawn, Craig, and Tony are trapped on an ice floe on New Brunswick's fast-flowing Petitcodiac River. At first, they think they've been saved when twelve-year-old Petra is able to reach them by boat. But then the motor dies.

Kids will warm to the very likeable characters, while the exciting story will keep them on the edge of their seats.

White Cave Escape
by Jennifer McGrath Kent

Shawn, Craig, Tony, and Petra are back in another adventure that's even more perilous than their previous one. This time they're trapped by a forest fire. Their only hope is underground through the White Caves. 

Gripping and suspenseful, kids will not be able to put this book down until the final, satisfying word.