Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: Dingo by Charles de Lint

Description: High school senior Miguel's life is turned upside down when he meets new girl Lainey, whose family has just moved from Australia. With her tumbled red-gold hair, her instant understanding of who he is, and her unusual dog a real Australian dingo, she's unforgettable. And, as he quickly learns, she is on the run from an ancient bargain made by her ancestors. There's no question that Miguel will do whatever he can to help her, but what price will each of them have to pay?

Stats: Young Adult Fantasy, 213 pages, First Published by Firebird, March 2008.

My Rating: 1.5 STARS

I was surprised by this book, very negatively surprised. Charles de Lint is a writer that knows how to write for Young Adult readers without sacrificing good storytelling. He has years upon years of writing experience, his short stories are down right enchanting, and he is the author I deem responsible in making me into a reader again with his book The Blue Girl. But Dingo feels like an entirely different writer, which has me incredibly disappointed and a little angry with this book.

Right off the bat I was a little confused, you see Dingo is not set in Newford. This book is set in a town, as the description says, "close to his beloved, invented city of Newford." Confusing? Yes. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to setting it outside of Newford, but still counting it in the Newford universe.

The story centres around Miguel. He works at the comic book/record store his dad owns even though he isn't all that into comics or records. That's where he meets Lainey, an Australian girl, who has just moved to their sea-side town. However, things get complicated when Miguel learns the secret behind Lianey's oddness and gets tangled up in an ancient bargain that threatens his life and hers (and also her dog's.)

What bothers me the most is that de Lint can do so, so much better then this. The best word I can come up with to describe the level of writing in Dingo this is not masterful, or magical, or wonderful, but stumbling. There was no real flow to the events, there was info-dumping, insane amounts of insta-love, and two manic pixie dream girls.

I really tried to love this book. I tried so hard that I was willing to be in denial and just focus on the good, but I feel let down. When things started to go bad, I hoped that it would get turned around. Maybe, just maybe, it was possible for me to still find something to enjoy in this and then the worst of it hit me.

Miguel reminds me a little of Bella. Yes, Twilight's Bella, that Bella. Miguel started off pretty well, he felt like a real teenage boy, with a very promising foundation for his character. Then he falls head over heels for a girl and essentially promises to marry her after meeting with her just five times and actually considers it. He completely shuns common sense in favour of making out on the beach. I was shocked.

The most well developed character is Miguel's dad. He was awesome, I felt like I knew him. However, the rest of the characters, the ones you're actually suppose to care about, are incredibly underwritten and undeveloped. Miguel didn't even feel like the protagonist by the end of the book, instead it felt like Johnny had taken centre stage.

Even the magical elements didn't impress. The concept was very unique with a Australian mythology twist, but the execution made it feel empty. I can't even explain it in more detail without feeling like I'm spoiling the entire book and that is not a good thing. The reveal of magic isn't a solid central idea, it's the story of the magic, the consequence of magic that make urban fantasy books interesting and engaging.

Don't even get me started on how they get out of the deadly ancient bargain thing. It was one of those things where I wonder how NO ONE THOUGHT OF IT SOONER. Seriously, the big bad had been stuck in limbo for forever and a day and it just never crossed his mind this easy little fix. I mean, come on.

I think part of the reason I'm so disappointed in this is that I champion de Lint's writing. I recommend The Blue Girl any chance I get. Now when I recommend his work I'm going to have to tack on "except for Dingo". I'm just incredibly disappointed and I feel that anyone else who is familiar with his writing will be as well.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: Runaways, #1: Pride and Joy by Brian K. Vaughan & Adrian Alphona

Description: All young people believe their parents are evil ... but what if they really are? Meet Alex, Karolina, Gert, Chase, Molly and Nico - whose lives are about to take an unexpected turn. When these six young friends discover their parents are all secretly super-powered villains, the shocked teens find strength in one another. Together, they run away from home and straight into the adventure of their lives - vowing to turn the tables on their evil legacy.

Stats: Superhero Comic YA Series, Volume 1, 144 pages, First Published by Marvel, April 2004.

My Rating: 4 STARS

A lot of people these days cringe when they hear the words "origin story" and I can't blame them. There's only so many times you can be told about Superman's fall to earth or how Spider-Man gets those fancy web-slingers. When it comes to the guys that have been around longer then I've been around I think it's safe to say we get the point. Despite this though, I have always had a thing for origins, especially when something new finally comes along.

Runaways has such an amazing story concept. Six kids find out that their parents are part of a very evil looking secret society and it turns out they've been keeping all sorts of secrets from their children, from superpowers to murder. Despite how awesome this all sounds, the odds that it would all work perfectly had me a little wary of Runaways. The success of an origin story has everything to do with establishing character and motive. What worried me initially was just how many introductions needed to be crammed into 144 pages. I mean, we're talking twelve parents and six kids in total. That's a lot of information on top of establishing the plot.

For the start of a series, this book actually surprised me. Not only did it manage to pull of the general introductions (although sometimes a little messily, which I can forgive) it also managed to create a sense of suspense and mystery that I wasn't expecting.

The way each teenager has their own distinct powers and personality made things really interesting. I mean, they've got it all in the stereotypical one from every click sort of way, yet they're not forcing their differences onto the reader. In this first volume the writing does a great job of making it clear that they're all in the same boat here. The only thing that bugged me about the characterization was the parents. Since they are the main antagonists I would have liked to have had more of an introduction to who they are so I could better understand their reaction to their teens going rogue.

My only other true complaint about the book would be the cover art on the paperback edition. Although I love the art inside, with it's vivid colouring and great character designs, the art on the cover makes me want to tack on a "I swear it's good.". It just doesn't do the art any sort of justice! I very much prefer the hardcover editions, which are a much better reflection of the characters and story. The paperback edition make them look more like cartoons meant for toy packaging.

Paperback Edition Cover
Runaways: Pride & Joy Premiere HC (Runaways)
Hardcover Edition Cover

Just look at the difference in tone and style! The cover on the right is much more like the art inside the book then the cover on the left. Which one would you be more likely to pick up off the shelf?

On the more positive side, and I almost hate to say this, but this is the book you should give to teenagers in their welcome to teenager-hood package. As a lot of reviewers have said before me, a large amount of the appeal is it's a question of "What would I do?" At the perfect time just when you're starting to doubt everything you've been told about life and where you fit in it, BOOM! Turns out it really was all lies! You don't only have hormones, but you have superpowers, you're parents really are evil, and now you have to deal with the consequences!

This volume one really was a promising start. I'm not only super excited to keep reading, but I want to know more about these characters, about just what is going to happen next and that note near the end filled me with glee. This is definitely going to be an interesting series!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

11389398Description: After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting high school. It's pretty terrifying. Maggie's big brothers are there to watch her back, but ever since Mom left it just hasn't been the same. Besides her brothers, Maggie's never had any real friends before. Lucy and Alistair don't have lots of friends either. But they eat lunch with her at school and bring her along on their small-town adventures. 

Missing mothers...distant brothers...high friends... It's a lot to deal with. But there's just one more thing.


Stats: YA Graphic Novel, 220 pages, First Published by First Second, February 2012.

My Rating: 5 STARS, A Reading Robyn Favourite. 

If you're interested in reading Friends With Boys and would like a free preview you can read the first 20 pages on the official website.

I'll just come out and say it, Friends With Boys is my favourite graphic novel I've read this year. Every graphic novel I read after this will have some stiff competition for my love. I honestly don't know if it can be done. 

Hick's is one hell of an interesting storyteller and a lot of that has to do with her artistic talent. The story itself is pretty simple. Maggie is about to make the big transition from homeschooling to her the first day of high school and with this she's going to have to get use to change. Also, there's this ghost women stalking her. All very straightforward, normal things. Where the story really comes to life is through the characters. The best sort of graphic novels are the ones where expressions say more than words. A look, a turn, a motion, all tell you everything you need to know and when paired with the perfect words it makes the story. It's a critical part of conversation and in the case of Friends With Boys it's the art that makes it stand out.

Needless to say, Hick's has quickly become my favourite person, so imagine my happiness when I realize she's done the art for Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong written by Prudence Shen. Like Friends With Boys, the praise for Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong caught my attention so much so that I've already put out a hold for it. I'm pretty sure I should just add everything First Second publishes to my to-read list. I don't normally have favourite publishers, but these people are super stars with everything from Anya's Ghost to everything Gene Luen Yang.  

In my search for everything Faith Erin Hicks I also discovered that she has a handful of webcomics, including the completed Demonology 101 and the incomplete The Adventures of Superhero Girl. You can see the full list on her official author website.

Now with all this new material to read and things to add to my list I realize I haven't talked much about the actual book I'm gushing over. 

Friends With Boys has this way of making a coming of age story both special (there's that mysterious ghost lady that I'm just going to continue to ignore) and yet also very grounded that it leaves you feeling like you know these people. You can feel the love Maggie has for her family and golly do you leave this story feeling the love. 

Each character has a stand out moment in the book, which means I want to talk about every single one of them, so here goes nothing. Everyone has their own history, which means their story doesn't start the same day Maggie's does. There is an unspoken history that everyone is dealing with. It's the way the characters weave together that brings each one of them to the forefront in a meaningful way. Aside from that they're all just adorable. From hiding behind tree's in shame, to zombie Shakespeare, to manly hugs. All I wanted to do was snuggle them. 

I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a lovely read with the best possible artwork. And yes, I'm going to finish this review not talking about the ghost because really this book isn't about her... although I do seriously love her hair. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
Description: Famously referred to as one of the "Axis of Evil" countries, North Korea remains one of the most secretive and mysterious nations in the world today. In early 2001 cartoonist Guy Delisle became one of the few Westerners to be allowed access to the fortress-like country. While living in the nation's capital for two months on a work visa for a French film animation company, Delisle observed what he was allowed to see of the culture and lives of the few North Koreans he encountered; his findings form the basis of this graphic novel.

Stats: Non-Fiction Graphic Novel, 192 pages, Edition Published by Drawn and Quarterly, September 2005.

My Rating: 3 STARS

When I think of North Korea I find it incredibly difficult to wrap my head around. There are a lot of How's? and Why's? attached to it and I always leave my search for answers with more questions. One being shown on the cover of Guy Delisle's, 'Pyongyang'. When I think of North Korea I think of a country staged for a performance to the entire outside world. Sometimes it's a performance of threat and danger and other times it's a performance of perfection. Either way, what I see is something rather confusing and scary even.

In Guy Delisle's graphic novel we get a look inside of North Korea unlike most others. As a foreigner, Guy is staying in Pyongyang for two months working as an animator for a French company. This alone was fascinating. When asking the question: "Who is traveling to North Korea?" Animators wasn't among the answers I was expecting. He is given a guide and a translator that follow his every move and spends most of his time working or seeing the tourist sights.

This graphic novel is very much about the bubble he lived in as someone visiting the country. We don't get a look at North Korea overall and we don't get to see much behind the curtain of the North Korean production as Guy walks within the strict perimeters he's given. It's a different perspective then what I was expecting, but a worthwhile read for the experience of Guy's day to day life in this unseen world.  

The art in this book is a very important part of the narrative. The expressiveness and movement of the people tells you a lot about their individual character. From the foreigner friends Guy makes to the North Koreans who act as his co-workers and his guides. Although every person has an important part in the story of Guy's experiences, we don't get to know a whole lot about them. You have to rely a lot on the character design to tell you things that aren't shared in the narrative.

Speaking of character design the only let down in the art would be the design of Guy himself. This being a memoir of sorts, he has to have his own image in the story. Unfortunately, despite the fact that much of the graphic novel is about his reactions and opinions, his character was stark, simple, paired back compared to other characters, and most of the time drawn without a mouth taking away much of his facial expressions. This as a creative decision doesn't make sense to me considering the tone of the book. But the time and detail spent on the backgrounds and formatting still made the book very visually appealing.

French edition cover
What I appreciated most about Pyongyang was that as a graphic novel it was an easier read for me then if I were to sit down and attempt a 300 page novel about the country. Although it lacked the detail I hoped for about North Korea overall, it has inspired me to look into reading more about the country, especially paying consideration to the aid workers that are given more freedom and see more of the country then people in Guy's position.

Overall, I would recommend it for the curious. It was certainly an interesting introduction to the country and perfect for the graphic novel form. I'll definitely be looking to read more of Guy's travel graphic novels and maybe even more in the travel genre itself.

Monday, September 30, 2013

4.50 from Paddington (Miss Marple #8) by Agatha Christie

Description: For an instant the two trains ran together, side by side. In that frozen moment, Elspeth witnessed a murder. Helplessly, she stared out of her carriage window as a man remorselessly tightened his grip around a woman's throat. The body crumpled. Then the other train drew away. But who, apart from Miss Marple, would take her story seriously? After all, there were no suspects, no other witnesses . . . and no corpse.

Stats: Historical Mystery, 351 pages, First Published in 1957, Edition Published by HarperCollins, March 2002.

My Rating: 3.5 STARS

Sitting in the middle of an autumn thunder storm with the heat cranked up and a whodunit by the fantastic Agatha Christie really is the perfect scenario.

Although 4.50 from Paddington was a slow build the end result was just wonderfully murderous. By half way through I was thoroughly puzzled by who it could possibly be, both the murderer and the murdered. The hows and whys and who were simply fantastic as one unlikely scenario after another is brought to attention with no simple explanation in sight.

Something I've always loved about Agatha Christie, especially concerning Miss Marple is just how wonderfully unique it is. As a lover of crime-dramas and murder mysteries you've seen it all after some point. There are plenty of detectives out there and more often than not there's something undeniably special about them, like a superhero. But when it comes to Miss Marple and the people she ropes into her mysteries, there are no supernatural abilities here. She's just a intelligent older lady with an eye for murder. She could just as easily be your grandma and that's not something you could say about someone like a Sherlock Holmes.

The historical aspects of the book are also worth noting. There just something so quaintly sinister about the upper class English in this time period. This book takes us away from Miss Marple's village and to a manor, built on a snack food fortune, filled to the brim with resentment and family complexities.

What really brings it all together is Lucy. Lucy is Miss Marple's younger eyes and ears in as she works to help sleuth out a dead body. It was her character and her interactions with the family that really brought out the human and not so human side of each character. I was just as eager to know who she would be romantically involved with by the end of the book as I was figuring out who murdered the girl.

Now all I have to do is figure out which book in the series I should read next. I have a feeling I'll be reading a lot of Agatha this season. Autumn is just too perfect for mysteries.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: OCD, The Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn

OCD, the Dude, and MeDescription: With frizzy orange hair, a plus-sized body, sarcastic demeanor, and "unique learning profile," Danielle Levine doesn't fit in even at her alternative high school. While navigating her doomed social life, she writes scathing, self-aware, and sometimes downright raunchy essays for English class. As a result of her unfiltered writing style, she is forced to see the school psychologist and enroll in a "social skills" class. But when she meets Daniel, another social misfit who is obsessed with the cult classic film The Big Lebowski, Danielle's resolve to keep everyone at arm's length starts to crumble.

Stats: Debut Young Adult Contemporary, 240 pages, First Published by Dail, March 2013

My Rating: 5 STARS - A Reading-Robyn Favourite!

“You are living far too much in the realms of your head. That is an ugly, mean, scary place to be. I am not just saying your head is nasty, everyone's head is. You need to vacate that premise immediately and start living in your heart. Your heart is a much nicer social venue.” - Page 75

I'll admit that I had a very superficial idea of what I would be getting from a book with a cover and title like OCD, the Dude, and Me. I mean, the girl is holding up a bowling ball over her face and "DUDE" takes up at least a third of the entire cover. All those expectations were very wrong. I almost feel like I should apologize they were so wrong.

What I expected was a book like Sean Griswold's Head. It's cute, it's quirky, it's a contemporary romance that also has an emotional center, but is still comprised of all-american YA fluff. OCD, The Dude, and Me was not that. Instead it was an honest, sometimes heartbreaking look, at what it's like to be inside the mind of a teenage outcast as she hates herself and struggles to understand other people. Danielle is a lot like me. I don't have OCD, but I do have capital A, Anxiety. So reading her journals and assignments it all felt very familiar, which was very much a part of why I loved this book so much.

Danielle is over-weight and socially inept. She hates the color of her hair; She doesn't know how to accept her damaged self. She loves to read, and write, and journal every little bit of her life. However, I, Jessica-Robyn, am also all these things. I was surprised how emotionally connected I became to this book. It's like that one book that speaks directly to you in that weird, person to fictional person, sort of way.

A lot of the book is about emotions and high school. As Danielle experiences her last year of high school primarily though her English class we experience things with her. Danielle goes through a lot of normal high school experiences, like a class trip to England and a school car wash, but through her worry and obsessive nature she finds it difficult to cope among her classmates. She is a wall builder, a with-holder, and she has, as we learn, a pretty good reason to be that way. ... That I can't talk about.

There are so many aspects of the plot I want to discuss and so many things I want to say to try and make a case for this book, but the honest truth is that I can't talk about my favourite moments because it would spoil it. I'm not even willing to use spoiler tags because I know you people, you'll be too tempted.

I don't know how this book is going to fly for other people, but I ended up loving it. Will other people also love it? I really don't know.

So, here I am, between a rock and a hard place. I want to recommend this, but I don't know if I can. So let me just lay it all out there.

I woke up late today at 4PM (yes, PM) because I haven't been sleeping well. When I joined my mother in the living room I sat down and decided to read because nothing good was on TV. It's been a very long time since I read a good book, I didn't expect this one to break the losing streak. But then I started reading OCD, the Dude, and Me, and did not stop until I was finished.

As a word of warning this is written in journal format. There's a lot of emails, Grade 12 English essays, and letters that ramble, meander, and leaves things out. With that said, this is the sort of story that should be written that way. It didn't come across as stiff or withholding, it felt like a very real person was laying all out there in her personal, private, record keeping space, fueled by her OCD, that sometimes crossed over into more public spaces. It made sense for her character and for the characters around her, which made it all work it a strange and wonderful, not patch-worky, sort of way.

I would recommend this book to psychology lovers and people looking for a very "inside-the-mind" coming-of-age story that reveals itself gradually with a lot of humour and a lot of heartbreak. OCD, the Dude, and Me made me feel that contradictory happy/sad that just leaves me wanting to keep this book and not give it back to the library. No seriously, I know there would be a fine, but how much would that really be? ... guys?

Also, note to self, see what this The Big Lebowski is all about.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

ONLINE: Princess Princess by Strangely Katie

winsome ...  I’m trying to come up with synonyms for “sweet”. 

“Sweet” just doesn't sound right when considering the webcomic Princess Princess. The story is just so that saying too much gives the whole dang thing away, but I would most definitely describe the webcomic as charming and thoughtful. Two delightful Princesses, Sadie and Amira, go off in search of adventure all in winsome shades of pink, purple, and burgundy.

I found this comic through a lucky click on The Mary Sue in a post by Isabella Kapur, Brooke Jaffe, and Susana Polo on 40 WEBCOMICS YOU NEED TO READ. Specifically, Princess Princess came recommended from Isabella Kapur.

I have always loved Webcomics; right now I’m in the middle of reading the ongoing Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag, (also on the The Mary Sue’s list) and the also ongoing Monster Pop! By Maya Kern. And as I continue to explore the 40 new suggestions I am guaranteed to have started many more by the end of tonight.

Before you think I’m about to send you off into the vortex of some webcomic that will drain away your entire afternoon. (As many a webcomic are known to do) Princess Princess is unique as it is a completed stand alone story that is only 44 pages in length. Short & darling just doesn't have the same alliteration to it.

The art of Princess Princess is probably what will get the most attention. From the masterful colouring to the character designs that express everything unsaid in just 44 pages. I could not have loved this more. It reminded me a lot of the graphic novel Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol in that the art is very expressive and colourful. If you enjoyed that tone of art and story you should check out Princess Princess.

Packed with a narrative punch and tons of blunt humor, Princess Princess is so nice you will most certainly read it twice!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

Sean Griswold's Head
Description: According to her guidance counsellor, fifteen-year-old Payton Gritas needs a focus object-an item to concentrate her emotions on. It's supposed to be something inanimate, but Payton decides to use the thing she stares at during class: Sean Griswold's head. They've been linked since third grade (Griswold-Gritas-it's an alphabetical order thing), but she's never really known him.

The focus object is intended to help Payton deal with her father's newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis. And it's working. With the help of her boy-crazy best friend Jac, Payton starts stalking-er, focusing on-Sean Griswold . . . all of him! He's cute, he shares her Seinfeld obsession (nobody else gets it!) and he may have a secret or two of his own. 

Stats: Young Adult Contemporary, 288 pages, First Published by Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, March 2011.

My Rating: 3 Stars

“I would be lying if I said I didn't get a kick out of the assignment. Here I am, a "troubled youth," and my self-chosen treatment is to become a stalker. Okay, not stalker. Research Analyst.” 

Sean Griswold's Head is more then what I expected it to be. I expected a cute, romantic, chick-lit, comedy about a quirky teen girl and the head of the boy who sits in front of her (all of which it undoubtedly was) but it was also much more then that. Sean Griswold's Head was about more then just a boy, but the experiences Payton goes through after tragic family news. 

Payton is just starting high school, she has a colour coded highlighter system for English, is psyched to buy a premium day planner, and likes to keep things orderly. So when her life gets surprisingly derailed, things being orderly is the least of her problems. Needless to say, I loved Payton. Her voice was equal parts truthful and neurotic. I also appreciate a girl who can write a properly organized list. Sisterhood!!

All the characters in this including Payton's family, her best friend Jac, and Sean Griswold himself were all well written and charming as hell. No one was perfect, but everyone had at least one really good giggle worthy line of dialogue. Incredibly cute I tell you!

However, what really got me hooked was how realistic the emotions were that Payton experienced throughout the story. She has the entire range of what a young girl trying to handle everything all at once experiences, from sadness, to anger, to defeat, to happiness. It's a bumpy ride and that made the core of the book feel very honest. One of my biggest book-peeves is when a character is experiencing something horrible but doesn't respond by getting angry, or crying, or having some sort of emotional outburst, like a perfectly normal human being does. Payton doesn't just grin and bare it, she is forced working at things and in doing so focus on something else. 

Which brings us to the set up of the entire story. Firstly, multiple sclerosis and secondly, Sean Griswold's head.

Before reading this I didn't know a whole lot about MS. Right now I'm more of a cancer specialist and although I pride myself on being well informed on all things, MS is a bit of a downer. I was happy to see that this book doesn't go into pages of medical jargon or explanations. Instead, the characters spoke for the diagnose in how it affects daily life and how each case is different. Which is what I found so scary about MS, it doesn't just go away, it can't be cured and can't be fixed. I think the story really got across what it was and what it does to the body without being clinical. 

Sean Griswold's HeadMoving on to Sean Griswold, I liked him more then I thought I would have as the story progressed. His blooming relationship with Payton was well paced. Although there were a few moments that didn't completely sell me I liked that he was a developed character and not just a head. 

The only reason I can think of for why this book doesn't get a higher rating from me is that I don't see this as being something that sticks out. It's a great book in the moment, but I can clearly see this as something I won't totally remember this same time next week.

With that being said, this book was incredibly cute with some really unexpected heart warming moments. I also see this as some sort of odd fate that I read this now because I have been pining for a bicycle over the last few days. I really, really, really, really want one! Unfortunately, I don't have cute boys giving me free wheels so I'll have to keep looking in the non-fictional world. Did I mention how much I want one? I'm like a little girl wanting a pony, only this pony can get me to the nearest book store.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Saving Jane by Hannah Harrington

Saving JuneDescription: Harper Scott’s older sister has always been the perfect one so when June takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen-year-old Harper is devastated. Everyone’s sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split her sister’s ashes into his-and-her urns, Harper takes matters into her own hands. She’ll steal the ashes and drive cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going, California.

Enter Jake Tolan. He’s a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession and nothing in common with Harper’s sister. But Jake had a connection with June, and when he insists on joining them, Harper’s just desperate enough to let him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanour and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.

Except June wasn’t the only one hiding something. Jake’s keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harper’s life upside down again.

Stats: Young Adult Contemporary, 322 pages, First Published by Harlequin Teen, May 2011.
My Rating: 3 Stars

"If she’d waited less than two weeks, she’d be June who died in June. But I guess my sister didn’t consider that."

Saving June follows a familiar tale of woe. We start at the beloved June's wake, the perfect student, the perfect daughter, who has committed suicide only days before. Now her younger sister Harper is left to pick up the pieces of her life and find where exactly she belongs in it now that June is gone.

Harper is a strong girl with a reputation as a disappointment compared to her sister. She's not particularly motivated, she only has one friend, she tries not to care about what people think of her, and loves photography and cigarettes. So, even if this is all about the common theme of learning to deal with grief, Harper's narrative was promising right off the bat. She constantly walked that line between being strong and weak, between angry and sad, between loving and losing. It's this variation in her emotions that made it so easy for me to connect with her. She wasn't picking one feeling and holding on to that. Instead, Harper is chaotic and confused  in the best way possible.

It takes a little while, but eventually Saving June becomes the story of a road trip from Indiana to California. June always wanted to go to the beautiful California ocean so what could be better then escaping the depressing homestead and bringing June's ashes to where she really wanted to be?

This of course means that Harper must steal said ashes and run away from home, but she has two very willing accomplices to get her there!

First we have Laney, the best friend. She is lovable, loose, and full of enthusiasm. She wants to help her friend, even if she doesn't entirely know what's best. Often times she was hit or miss for me, not because of then character, but because of how the writing often misplaces her. She's there, along for the journey, but wanders off at the drop of a hat for no reason, with no further mention of where she was or what she did, except that she has now returned from her convenient misplacement. But when she was around, she was interesting.

Then we have the mysterious Jacob, better known as Jake, who blackmails his way into the girl's plans, but provides in exchange wheels and enough cash to actually get there. He has some connection to June, but whatever it is he's not about to just come out and say it. Jake was by far one of the biggest reasons for why I enjoyed this book. His passion for music is a very, very key component in the storytelling. (of which this book would be completely different without.) He also has this reluctant charm to him that played well against Harper's personality. They had a rhythm of bouncing things back and forth between them with both their humour and their grief.

Now, because this is a road trip book, of course there are a few very colourful characters along the way. (In one case, colourful should be taken literally.) Some of which were interesting and charming, but the majority fell into a category of stock characters that you would automaticly expect from a road trip. This was disappointing since my stance on road trips is judged by the effectiveness of these side characters and the random destinations. Sometimes the side characters and pit stops worked, other times they left something to be desired.

I did however have a lot of things I liked about Saving June. The music references are a plenty but they aren't annoying or contrived. There are definitely some great one liners and fun conversation. Harper kept me invested and as the story progressed I found myself really enjoying all the road trip elements, even the ones I expected to see from the genre.

By the end I decided on three stars because this does have it's flaws. The plot is predicable. A nice, comfortable sort of predicable, but when it came to the events and characters I was looking for something a little bit more exciting. The side characters have very vivid personalities, but this was the Jake and Harper show. I was hoping that friendship would play a bigger part then romance, but Laney got treated like a third wheel and her side story that happens near the end of the book was treated the same way her character was, one second it's there and the next it's really not, with no real gravity or focus on the events which had to have taken place in-between.

I came off of reading this book on a high, it was amazing in those moments right after I closed the book, but the more time passes the more I settled out of my buzzing state and into one of a more subtle appreciation.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: My Parents Are Sex Maniacs by Robyn Harding

My Parents Are Sex Maniacs: A High School Horror StoryDescription: Louise Harrison's folks are destroying any chance she has of enjoying 11th grade... Sixteen-year-old Louise Harrison is insecure about a lot of things: her hair, her fashion sense and her "big-boned" build. At least her social status is secure because her BFF, Sienna Marshall, is a certified member of the mega-watt crowd. But all hell breaks loose when Louise's brother walks in on their father, Len, and her friend Sienna's mother, Sunny, in a flagrantly compromising position. Soon after, Len and Sunny move in together.

Stats: Young Adult Contemporary, 224 pages, First Published by Annick Press, February 2009.

My Rating: 4 Stars

My Parents Are Sex Maniacs: A High School Horror Story is about what happens when you are forced without a doubt to acknowledge that adults, despite their paternal role in your life, also have sex. When Louise's father is caught in a compromising position doing something he shouldn't have, with someone he shouldn't have, her calm family life takes a turn for the worse and we get to join the chaos as she gets thrown into the deep end with a surprising amount of humour.

Louise is such a stand out main character. I rooted for her like you wouldn't believe! I loved the way the focus of her story wasn't just about her friendships, or just about her romantic entanglements, or just about her family, but all of those things all at once. It made her experiences all the more real and all the more interesting as her life gets rather complicated.

Robyn Harding has reminded me how awkward and uncomfortable high school is. The high school experience is portrayed in this novel so realistically that I saw some of my own experiences and old friends echoed in her characters.

High school is a bitch. As much as we turn our noises down at popular harpies and jerk boy, the halls of any educational establishment is just as filled with hormones and uncertainty as it is teenagers trying to make their way to class. That showed through in this without the melodrama I expected.

I'll be the first to admit this type of novel won't be for everyone. Although I enjoyed the writing, I was thrown off initially by the genre. It has been a long time since I've read a contemporary YA novel set in high school without much of a romantic focus for the main character. I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I ended up enjoying it, but now I would definitely recommend this one. (There is even a lgbtq sub-plot that had me harkening back to my "everyone's flawed" Will Grayson, Will Grayson experience.)

A common theme for my YA reading appears to be sex ed. First, The Color of Earth graphic novel series and now My Parents Are Sex Maniacs. Although these two stories are entirely different when it comes to tone and presentation there are some surprising parallels.

When it comes to sex we first learn by witnessing how our parents relationships. This is where we get our beginners glimpse into the world of sexuality (without any of the icky stuff), before we even have the opportunity to do anything ourselves. In My Parents Are Sex Maniacs how parents influence their children can be seen within each character, especially with Louise's and her best friend Sienna.

Overall, I was very happy with this book and definitely plan to read more of Harding's work. Seeing a book set close to home has made me appreciate home grown Canadian writers even more. British Columbia represent! 

SPECIAL NOTE: For a preview of the book you can read the first two chapters on Harding's website.

Review: As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott

As I Wake
Description: Ava is welcomed home from the hospital by a doting mother, lively friends, and a crush finally beginning to show interest. There's only one problem: Ava can't remember any of them - and can't shake the eerie feeling that she's not who they say she is.

Ava struggles to break through her amnesiac haze as she goes through the motions of high-school life, but the memories that surface take place in a very different world, where Ava and familiar-faced friends are under constant scrutiny and no one can be trusted. Ava doesn't know what to make of these visions, or of the boy who is at the center of them all, until he reappears in her life and offers answers . . . but only in exchange for her trust.

Stats: Young Adult Dystopia, 269 pages, First Published by Dutton Juvenile, September 2011.

My Rating: 3 Stars

I am surprised I enjoyed this.

Going into As I Wake, I had very low expectations. The overall ratings on Goodreads are little all over the place, but the cover is absolutely beautiful. As with most things in a pretty packages that convinced me to at least give it a go.

Our story follows Ava, a girl within a girl. After losing her memories Ava starts having visions of another life. With her mind fighting for answers, As I Wake is about her completely questioning everything and everyone she knows. If she can't remember the Ava she is supposed to be, then why is she remembering an Ava from another world? And what could possibly explain why she doesn't belong in the life she's living?

The answer to those questions is kind of trippy. Out of everything in this story the plot, although understandably confusing at points, was fantastic. However, this is where my main issue also emerges. The writing that accompanied this plot wasn't always up to par.

To start with, as many other reviews will state, the writing style here is not for everyone. It is first person based and for the initial part of the book is written very rigidly. My first thought was that it read like a first person video game, however eventually, I either adjusted to the style or it became more fluid. Either way, after that shift I actually found it enjoyable for it's unique style.

Unfortunately, the writing had other issues for me to find fault in. Its biggest flaw is that it doesn't give you a lot to work with. My imagination was responsible for filling in a lot of the smaller details that were left blank. And although that's interesting from a mystery stand point, it's makes the experience less immersive and a little tedious. This is especially prominent when it comes to setting.

Giving me two or three details doesn't flesh out an environment!

From what I've read I understand that the characters are at a bar, sitting in a dark corner. I don't know what the bar looks like, what their table looks like, what the other people in the bar are doing, what the characters look like in this setting. It's like a low budget movie where they couldn't afford a full set or extras so they can just focus on a single dark table.

Although the plot relies on keeping the reader in the dark, I don't think the storytelling would have suffered had it taken more time to flesh out these environments, the world building, and initial character introductions. I think adding a bit more detail would have made the story easier to follow and more fulfilling to read. Overall, the writing needed to show a little less restraint.

Something I did enjoy about the book is that it doesn't follow any sort of formula that I'm familiar with. The love story isn't the one I've read time and time again. Actually, this isn't even really about romance, it's more about the mystery. You would think, pessimistic YA reader, that the mystery of Ava's life is just a backdrop for something else, (like say lusting after a boy or something else to do with the sexy time) but this has some serious focus. The way that everything is weaved together the romance elements actually further the story in a meaningful way! Let me repeat that, IN A MEANINGFUL WAY. Let's all join hands and happy dance!

So, you've heard the negative and the positive. Let me tell ya about the so-so.

Ava. She kind of went back and forth for me. Sometimes, I was completely into her, her narrative was great, and she acts realistically for the personality she has and situation she's in. The depth of character is great! Then the coin flips and all of a sudden she losing some of her dimension. But then things flip back and she's having meaningful conversations, and is putting her observations to good use, and the plot is advancing!!

There is so much about this book that I like, but then there is a lot that I'm not to keen on. It is definitely a very strange book, but strange in a good way. I got really into the story being told. Although I didn't always love the writing I was able to read through this rather effortlessly.

As I Wake has its flaws, so I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to read it. However, if the concept interests you I think the story is worth the bumpy ride.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review: The Hunt of the Unicorn by C.C. Humphreys

The Hunt of the Unicorn
Description: Elayne thinks the old family story that one of her ancestors stepped through a tapestry into a world of mythical beasts makes a great fireside tale. But she lives in the real world. In New York City. And she's outgrown that kind of fantasy.

Until she finds herself in front of a unicorn tapestry at the Cloisters museum and sees her initials woven into the fabric. And hears a unicorn calling to her. And slips and falls—into that other world.

Suddenly the line between fantasy and reality isn't so clear. But the danger is real enough.

Stats: Young Adult Fantasy, 341 pages, First Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 2011.

My Rating: 2 Stars

Is it possible to give unicorns a dark side? I've come to the conclusion that unicorns are probably the hardest sell of all magical creatures. Sure, they are right up there with rainbows and butterflies on the popularity scale for most females under the age of fourteen (or at least they used to be before Edward came along), but the mythology of unicorns is pretty simple. In the same way vampires are an embodiment of darkness, unicorns are an embodiment of purity. A unicorn is a healing creature with a thing for virgin girl companions. I guess when I ask if unicorns can have a dark side what I'm really asking is: Is there an interesting story to be found within the mythology?

Unfortunately, I'm not totally convinced. Although The Hunt of the Unicorns is a perfect example of a really great attempt the story here was just too... tame for me.

This isn't the sort of thing I would normally choose to read, but I got this book after meeting C.C. Humphreys in 2011 and have put off reading it till now. Confined to my bed I had only the books in front of me to choose from and I wanted something I knew I could read through quickly. The Hunt of the Unicorns fit the bill, so I started reading, and got incredibly bored, incredibly quickly. If I was reading this under different circumstances I can almost guarantee that I would have set it down for a looooong time before continuing, but desperate for entertainment I pressed on.

To give the author credit, he put a lot of work into creating an interesting magical world for his story to take place in. The imagination and variety of beasts that he uses was oddly fascinating and I feel he succeeded in what he was trying to achieve in that world. However, it was also very touch and go. In some places I feel he didn't take things far enough, in others you can see the development of the world getting to broad and getting in the way of the development of the characters and the plot. For me, the characters are the most important part of any story. In the Hunt of the Unicorn it was more about the world building then it should have been.

Our protagonist Elayne is a great character in concept, but not in execution. It wasn't till I finished the book that I realized that she wasn't really a character, but a story device. I had no idea of who she really was. She had plenty of motivation, but very little substance. She's sort of just a teenage girl who gets swept up in a adventure, which is fine, but I ask for a little more.

On the other hand I was happy to see that the unicorn character, Moonspill, was a character in his own right and not just a horse with a horn. He had his own motivations and of all the characters in the story he stands out as one of the more rounded. Also very noteworthy is the character of Amphisbaena. A two-headed snake with mouths like no other. Amphisbaena is a surprisingly funny character gifted with all languages of man, beast, and magical creature alike.

Overall, everything was pretty good. There wasn't anything I hated and I finished the book without many complaints. Then of course I sat down to write this review and really thought about it. I realized two things.

First off, near the beginning of the book there is a scene that is central to the unicorns role in Goloth, Land of the Fabulous Beast. The role of the unicorn is to apparently purify the water so all the animals in and around Goloth can drink from the rivers because of course the humans have f-ed it all up. Normally, I would have considered mentioning this to be a spoiler because at the time it seemed like a pretty big deal. I thought that it was going to be part of the central plot of the story, but it isn't. It actually amounts to nothing. I can understand wanting to showcase the unicorns powers, however there are quite a few moments later in the book where this water-purification thing should be brought up again, but it isn't.

Then my second problem, the big, giant, plot hole problem. Later on in the book, when talking about the unicorns, it is mentioned by Moonspill that there is a place that is far away, over mountains yonder, where his children are safe from the dangers of Goloth. In this magical world, or at least in Goloth, Land of the Fabulous Beast all creatures are hunted, hunting is what everything is all about, the book is called The Hunt of the Unicorn. So if there is a place that is safe, why don't all the creatures just leave and go there? If the forest is on fire, you leave the forest.

I will say, before I put a cap on this review turned unexpected rant, that while I was reading The Hunt of the Unicorn it was an enjoyable experience, but the more thought I put into it the more I'm disappointed. For a book that I went into with very low expectations it did pretty well! Now however, I just find myself wanting to move on.

If I were to recommend this to someone it would be to younger YA readers. If I was just coming into the YA genre and I loved adventure fantasy then this would have blown me away!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Description: Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. Having missed her flight, she's stuck at JFK airport and late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Stats: Young Adult Contemporary, 236 pages, Poppy/Little Brown, January 2012.

My Rating: 4 Stars

When I started The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, I didn't expect it to be a sit-in-one-spot-till-I-finish type of book, but it was. I mean, the premise sounds cute and the cover is pretty, all the makings of some madcap rom-com, but I was surprise how quickly this drew me in.

Hadley, our main dame, is having a bad day and that bad day leads to a sequence of events that some might call coincidence while others might call it fate. Either way, there is a cute British boy called Oliver involved and some major family drama.

I thought that because of the "love at first sight" / "24 hour" thing that the romance would be hard for me to believe within the confines of reality and my own scepticism. This had a 50/50 shot of being one of those: "You are the one, the only one!" type deals. So, when it ended up being more along the lines of "Hey, nice to meet you.", I was very pleased.

The plot is very chick-flick and had every opportunity to go somewhere bad, but it never did. Instead, within the simple plot it developed a story with a lot of heart and some very well written characters. That's what made this stand out for me, the heart and the characters. To start with I quickly found myself emotionally invested in Hadley. She seemed very real as she tried to tough things out and battle her ridiculous claustrophobia, while revealing in the past, and dreading the future. This is more then just the story of how she fell for some guy, but how she learned to accept the changes in her life.

Oliver, our boy, also did not disappoint. He was charming, funny, kind, and most importantly had his own thing going on. He was not just there to play a love interest, he too had places to go, people to see, drama to confront. It also wasn't all about how attractive he was or the blind hormone driven want of some sexy time, Oliver and Hadley were just getting to know each other.

Isn't that refreshing? They've only known each other for 24 hours and they probably know more about one another then some YA couples do over an entire trilogy.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First SightAlthough there was never a question of how it was all going to end, the getting there was fun. Smith sold the entire situation with her writing. The way the narrative tangled together the past and the present was masterful. With each memory and each moment the characters felt more real and the plot would get pushed forward.

The best part of it all was that this left me giddy the whole way through. The dialogue was done perfectly, the banter was adorable, and I enjoyed this with a school girl like enthusiasm that I love to have when reading contemporary romance. I'm sure there were some faults that I'm forgetting, but overall this was an incredibly fun read, if not a bit unexpectedly so.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator by Jill Baguchinsky

Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator
Description: Violet doesn't remember much about her late mother, but she is certain of one thing: she too can see ghosts and communicate with the dead. But when Violet discovers paranormal activity in the girls' locker room, she finds herself ill-equipped for handling the school's ghostly echoes. Through Violet's own investigation and with the help of some unlikely allies, Violet discovers there is a lot she doesn't know about her special skill--and more still that can stand in the way of its power. With sharp wit and determination, Violet sets out to uncover the truth behind her school's haunting, to finish the investigation that led to her mother's sudden death, and to learn why the only ghost she has ever wanted to see is the one that has eluded her forever.

Stats: Young Adult Paranormal, 256 pages, First Published by Dutton Juvenile, August 2012.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator is an easy to read standalone novel in the much beloved genre of teen-girl-sees-ghosts. If that's something you love then this should be a no brainer from the concept alone. I wasn't surprised that I ended up enjoying Spookygirl, but I feel like I can't totally praise it. There were a lot of things in the story that could have been improved upon that I'll be mentioning in this review, but these things didn't really affect my enjoyment because this delivered what I was looking for.

Spookygirl impressed me right off the bat with it's unique take on ghost mythos. The plot is centred around Violet and her first foray into paranormal investigation. In this world paranormal investigation takes on a more legitimate spin then the "reality" TV shows I normally relate the term to. In Spookygirl it's a combination of Ghostbuster science and medium abilities. Not all ghosts are created equal and being able to see them doesn't come with a vast understanding of what they are, what they can do, or why they do it, which makes room for the classic voice recordings, temperature gauging, and EMF readings. I found this concept really interesting and would love to see more ghost YA take on the paranormal investigator angle.

Over the course of the story Violet has a lot of interesting ghost encounters of a vast variety. We have everything from the jock who's back from the dead, to the killer in the haunted mansion, to the ghost that just loves it's squeaky hamburger, to cemetery ghosts, to violent locker-room hauntings. There is a lot of ghostly action! Although it may sound over-crowded, each encounter worked well in the story and kept things moving. This is mostly because the writing knew how to handle it. Although I wasn't always a huge fan of the themes in the book (more on that later) Baguchinsky's writing was very engaging, especially for a debut. I'll definitely be on the look out for whatever she writes next!

Something else that I give Baguchinsky some major credit for is that Violet is a teenage girl who sees ghost, but doesn't fall in love with one! YAY! It's a very nice change of pace to have a YA novel almost devoid of romance, where the main character doesn't for a second think about boys, and instead focuses on more pressing issues. This only makes Violet a better character. Despite having all the social worries most teenagers do, she wishes to embrace her abilities more so than hide them. Although she's not a huge fan of the spotlight she isn't afraid or ashamed of her "Spookygirl" status. It was refreshing to not have a character constantly trying to hide or lie about being able to see ghosts. She's not worried about fitting in when she knows that what makes her special is a good thing. It makes her a stand out among these sort of characters.

Even though I enjoyed Spookygirl it for what it is, there are things that should be noted for the prospective reader on the negative side of the spectrum.

For all it's originality, Spookygirl can come across as rather standard. The characters and plot lines are all pretty predicable and the lack of ghostly rules are sometimes used for convenience sake. This wasn't a problem for me because I went into this expecting something light and easy, but for people looking for something more this might not be it.

The overall theme on the book was one of my pet peeves. This is very much a representation of those high schools where the jocks and cheerleaders are evil and the outcasts are just so darn special because of reasons. It was all rather stereotypical and they were only ever used as characters for Violet and friends to hate rather than anything interesting. These jock characters garner so much scorn, despite only collectively having a estimated total of six or seven lines of dialogue... and one cheerleader's name is Cherry.

(Side note: When people wonder why athletes look down on reading, one may be able to make the argument that it's because they're generally represented as one-dimensional and evil. The book had more sympathy with a murdering ghost than the popular crowd. ... I'm just saying.)

The only real complaint I have was the occasional sense of deja vu, which I found to be a bit distracting at first. If your a fan of the genre and you've read the Mediator series by Meg Cabot recently, you may have a similar experience when comparing The Mediator's Suze and Spookygirl Violet. I love both of their characters, but it would be very easy to confuse one for the other. Which can be seen as either a good thing or a bad thing.

But these are all minor nick-picks. With all that being said, Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator should be a go-to for fans of the teen girl sees ghosts genre. It was a lovely read that would, indeed, be an great follow up for fans of the Mediator series (Shadowland) or The Ghost and the Goth and are looking for more of the same.

SPECIAL NOTE: According to Baguchinsky's blog she states: "Although it is slated as the first volume of the Riley Island Paranormal series, it stands on its own as a complete story." I would like to say I would totally read a second book!!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly Pauley

Cat Girl's Day OffDescription: Natalie Ng’s little sister is a super-genius with a chameleon-like ability to disappear. Her older sister has three Class A Talents, including being a human lie detector. Her mom has laser vision and has one of the highest IQs ever. Her dad’s Talent is so complex even the Bureau of Extra-Sensory Regulation and Management (BERM) hardly knows what to classify him as.

And Nat? She can talk to cats.

The whole talking-to-cats thing is something she tries very hard to hide, except with her best friends Oscar (a celebrity-addicted gossip hound) and Melly (a wannabe actress). When Oscar shows her a viral Internet video featuring a famous blogger being attacked by her own cat, Nat realizes what’s really going on…and it’s not funny.

Stats: Young Adult Fantasy, 334 pages, First Published by Tu Books, April 2012.

My Rating: 1 Star

The best way I can describe my experience with Cat Girl's Day Off would be that it was like having a bad day. A bad day is when you wake up late, drop your toothbrush on the bathroom floor, can't find the car keys, see some young kid screaming in the grocery store, and don't get the last piece of pizza at dinner. Sure, if any of these individual moments happened on a perfectly normal day it wouldn't really matter overall, but on a bad day it's the way the little things add up and build upon each other that makes it so bad.

With Cat Girl's Day Off the overall picture is actually very pretty. The main character, Natalie Ng, is so likeable that I was rooting for her almost instantly. Her world of superpowers being less-than super is also just a really great concept for a YA novel. The way Natalie's cat communication abilities played into her personality and the plot worked very well. 

Something else I would really praise the book for is the attention paid to the social environment of teenagers. The book acknowledges the popular use of blogging, tweeting, and characters actually calling each other without making it feel like a gimmick or dating itself with references that won't work a year from now. Here we get that acknowledgement as well as incorporation in a natural way that makes the story better for it. 

I would actually compare this book to something like the Mediator series with Shadowland or The Ghost and the Goth books. You have a main character that has this special ability, only here it's cats instead of ghosts, they are then put into a situation where they have to use their secret gift to try and get to the bottom of whatever unnatural event has presented itself at their front door. They are the only one who can help, but they don't necessarily want to stick their neck out. 

Unfortunately, although I am a fan of these sort of novels where Cat Girl's Day Off goes wrong is that it just doesn't give you enough. It needed more world building, it needed more character building, it needed more urgency, it needed some serious editing, and it needed to be a series instead of a stand alone.

Where the book starts off is very promising. We are introduced to Natalie and her family dynamic of being the middle child. She's also half-Chinese, which automaticly earns diversity points and a high five. We then get introduced to her friends Oscar, who is gay/Asian, another high five, and Melly who both seem like very interesting companions. All is going well until the mystery kicks in and every character (aside from Natalie) becomes unrealistic and unbearable. This is where the bad day started.

The characters of Melly and Oscar start off pretty good and go down hill fast. Oscar and Melly just don't seem like they're really Natalie's friends. They treat her like a play thing and it's a little condescending the way they act around her. There was never a moment where it seemed like this group even had anything in common. I never understood why she hung out with them, which is a fatal flaw considering most of the book is based around their friendship.

Oscar took the brunt of my dislike. He's a lot like Jack from Will and Grace, except not over-the-top funny. There were a lot of smaller moments centred around Oscar that left me wondering what the author was trying to accomplish with this guy. And then there's Melly who was almost completely defined by her looks. Any mention of her centred around how pretty she is or how she's using her attractiveness to get something.

This happened on page 40, which was possibly the worst moment in the entire book. Melly is about to use her feminine wiles to distract this guy at the front desk of a hotel so Oscar and Natalie can sneak into the elevator to get to one of the rooms. So, Melly has gone up to this guy who is older then herself with the intent of heavily flirting with him, even though she's only sixteen. This didn't bother me because it's been done before and keeps the plot moving. However, then our Natalie turns around in the middle of her sneaking to make the point that this guy is a "Dirty old man" because he's smiling and laughing at the attention. This bothers Natalie because she says it's clear Melly "doesn't look a day over sixteen". This is followed up on page 43, with "Melly still has that perv talking to her up at the desk". These two quotes bothered me. It bothered me to the point of complete rage... actually on behalf of the guy in this situation.

I'll be the first person to point out when some dude is acting creepy or pervy, screw those guys, but let's establish something here. He is not going up to Melly and initiating this sort of behaviour. As far as Natalie or the reader knows he is not touching her, grabbing her, harassing her, demeaning her, acting suggestively towards her, or in any way behaving inappropriately. All anyone sees him doing is smiling and laughing which makes him a both a "dirty old man" and a "perv". This guy was instantly vilified in a way that wasn't at all necessary in the story. It's true that guys should be respectful, but us girls should be expected to do the same, and I did not like the message this was sending about how it was totally fine for her to flirt with him with the intent to manipulate him, but not fine that he responded to it with anything less than "You shall not pass!". 

Then there were the complete gaps in logic at the climax of the story with unrealistic character behaviour involving a hostage situation and with even more unrealistic excuses in order to drive the plot forward including the way Natalie's older sister plays role in the mystery. (To view spoilers on some specifics of what bothered me, you can check out those in my GR review.)

On top of all that there would also be times when characters would be talking about the present, but using past tense. An example being when Natalie says on page 102 "I really hated that guy" when I believe she's talking about how much she hates him in that moment.  There were also sometimes words that were a letter off, like on page 100, "I snitched some of the pages". Or the way she says that her crush has the "same eyelashes" as his mother. Or the use of little sayings in place of swear words. "monkey poo" and "flagpole sitter" being two examples. Or how the title never plays a  part in the book. Day off from what?! 

All together this made Cat Girl's Day Off into a painful read that I only finished out of the bazaar hope that things would get better. Throughout the entire story I never lost hope that it might win me back because the potential was there! 

To get back to something I said above (before I burst into flames), I mentioned how I think this should have been a series. This may seem confusing since I didn't like the book, but when you look at the Mediator by Meg Cabot as a comparison it starts to make a lot more sense. The Mediator series wouldn't have worked as a stand alone because if Cabot had to tie everything up in a nice little bow at the end of Shadowland that story wouldn't have been as good. By opening it up to be a series it left the story with somewhere to go. Cat Girl's Day Off could have benefited from that. Instead we get the most unearned Happily Ever After that I've seen in a while.

I know that there will be plenty of people who will love this book, from the description I really did think I would be one of them, but even now I can see how this would still be enjoyable for some people. However, my experience did not do the concept justice. I really wish this could have gone better or maybe, more honestly, that I had just avoided it altogether.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you want a preview of the book you can read the first three chapters online on Pauley's website.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Series Review: Lovely*Complex by Aya Nakahara

Love*Com (Lovely*Complex), Volume 1 Description: Risa Koizumi is the tallest girl in class, and the last thing she wants is the humiliation of standing next to Atsushi Otani, the shortest guy. Fate and the whole school have other ideas, and the two find themselves cast as the unwilling stars of a bizarre romantic comedy duo. Rather than bow to the inevitable, Risa and Atsushi join forces to pursue their true objects of affection. But in the quest for love, will their budding friendship become something more complex?

Stats: Young Adult Romance Manga, 17 Volumes, English Editions Published by Viz Media LLC, from 2007 to 2010.

My Overall Rating: 4 Stars 

 Although Lovely*Complex (also known as Love*Com) was only first published in the 2000's it is by far a classic of the shojo genre. For anyone who is interested in romance manga this a must read. I would even venture to say to those who are just beginning to read manga this would be a great series to start with. For me, before I had even began reading Love*Com I had already watched the anime and the live-action Japanese movie adaptation. As I have said before, it was only a matter of time before I finally got around to reading the manga, which I did ... eventually.

Love*Com (Lovely*Complex), Volume 12 The story here is beautifully simple. Both Risa and Otani have a hight complex. A girl who's too tall and a boy who's too short, in both of their cases it has gone from less than desirable to down right troubling, especially as they realize it's becoming an obstacle to getting the true object of their affections. This is only made worse when their classmates keep throwing them together as the bickering comedy duo when their interest in each other is a grand total of zilch. But instead of giving up and just admitting defeat they decide to help each other pursue romance, but things never quite go as planned. With such charming tag lines as "Love Matters, Not Size"; "The Long and the Short of First Love"; and "They put the Comedy back in Complex" you know that Risa and Otani are perfect together, despite the hight difference.

I have to take a moment here to talk about the artwork. Nakahara has done some excellent work in Love*Com with her ability to draw expressions and unique characters. When I think of her design it stands out. From the textures to the cover art, everything worked flawlessly with the tone of the series.

This is the sort of manga I call a "happy and you know it" type. This is not the place to look for emotional depth or crazy fantasy. Over the 17 volumes of Love*Com we get to see the ups and downs of a possible romance in all of its cute RomCom glory.

What really makes this manga work is its characters. Risa is the perfect female lead who is both the awkward teenage girl looking for love and the hilarious wit with just the right amount of attitude. And Otani is perfect as the cute, athletic guy who isn't a jerkface or a douche, but just a normal (although sometimes frustratingly dense) teenage boy. The secondary characters also play their respective roles very well. Most join the cast as ridiculous love rivals, but end up also becoming fun and interesting characters.

A staple of the series is the way random antagonists pop up every volume or so to challenge our young lovers. Although I found it fun to keep track of them all, it can get old rather fast. Over the whole series there is probably one too many and hashing out the same thing over and over doesn't do a lot for dynamic story development. I think the zaniness of these events is what keeps the book going, but the series does dip near the end. Thankfully it does rebounds for the finale, which left me feeling all warm and fuzy. Some people chose to stop at volume 16 since colume 17 is more of an epilogue  but it made me happy to finish the series with such a nice send off so I'd recommend checking 17 out if you haven't already.

While I was reading the series I had a lot of fun writing reviews for each of the volumes as I went with such gems as "Koizumi takes another spin on the Otani: "duur?" roller-coaster. But while Otani is off acting like a space cadet, we get introduced to a brand spankin' new character Mighty!, the newly arrived class co-teacher and substitute basketball coach. He's "Mighty Fine!" - Volume 6. All such reviews can be read on my goodreads, although I would suggest waiting till after you've finished the series or volume in question before joining me in my giggles.

Overall, Love*Com is a series that just leaves you feeling good inside, which is why I recommend it to anyone up for a smile and hopefully some fangirl fun. The only disappointment here is the more of Nakahara isn't widely available for North American readers.