Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Offering by Kimberly Derting

"That the measure of a true queen didn't lie in her magic. It had more to do with who she was, and what she was willing to give of herself, than it did with the powers she possessed."
The Offering is the final installment in The Pledge series about an ancient evil queen who has achieved immortality through her ability to move from body to body. That queen, Sabara, had her attempt partly thwarted when she was forced to transfer herself to Charlaina, who apparently is able to resist the ancient queen's ability to destroy her own existence. The two queens now co-exist within Charlaina's body.

The novel opens with a prologue that tells readers what has happened to Niko and Xander's peace mission to Astonia's Queen Elena. Xander is a prisoner of the Queen as a result of the betrayal by Niko who appears to be in league with Astonia's Queen Elena.

Back in Ludania, Queen Charlaina continues with her reforms and reunification of the country. The work camps have been abolished, those sentenced to the Scablands reintegrated, and communication re-established across the country between Charletown and the southernmost city, 11South.

For Charlie, the struggle between her and Sabara is ongoing, as they are "two queens trapped in the same body".For now Charlie is winning the battle with Sabara relegated to the back of her mind.

One day four messengers from Astonia arrive bearing a paper box containing a gruesome gift hidden amongst layers of purple flowers. Both Zafir and Eden are distraught over the loss of their brother and leader respectively. Eden strikes out at the messengers, killing one before she is prevented from further action by Zafir and hauled off to be ministered to by Charlie's younger sister, Angelina.

Charlie returns to the hall pondering Queen Elena's motivation for sending her such a gruesome package. Upon closer inspection of the box, Charlie finds a letter from Queen Elena in the false bottom making her an offer she can't refuse. That offer is eventually revealed after Charlaina heads to Astonia with Eden as her bodyguard and accompanied by Brooklyn, head of the army. Charlaina hopes that Elena has a means to banish Sabara's Essence forever, to cure her of the evil ancient queen's insidious presence. But destroying Sabara will prove more difficult than Charlie ever imagined, as the threat to herself and Ludania grows more terrible by the minute.

Derting has crafted a good, if not predictable, ending to The Pledge series that delivers what most readers will want, hope and a happy ending. This third novel has multiple narrators offering perspectives from most of the important characters including Charlie, Max, Niko, Aron, Brooklyn and Queen Elena's sister, Sage. Charlie's perspective is in first person, while the other characters narratives are done in third person. Despite this switch in perspective, they are easy to follow, each advances the storyline and is seamlessly connected to the preceding narrative.

There are a few unanticipated plot twists in The Offering that will catch the reader by surprise, helping to hold interest, especially in the prologue and the first part of the novel. Although the middle section which describes Charlie's journey across Ludania towards Astonia is slow, it is important because the reader is given a glimpse into the tenuous existence of the abandoned children in the camps outside the cities. These experiences make Charlaina realize how her country has regressed during the lengthy reign of Sabara, reinforcing Charlie's determination to ensure that Sabara never regains the throne.

Charlie is a strong female character demonstrating integrity and sacrificial love for her country - something neither Elena nor Sabara exhibit. These qualities inspire loyalty from those around her, even unto death.

Overall, this is a fitting conclusion to an interesting, well written trilogy.  You can read about Kimberly Derting's next novel, The Taking on her website.

Book Details:
The Offering by Kimberly Derting
Toronto: Margaret K. McElderry Books       2014
286 pp.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Paige Torn by Erynn Mangum

Author Erynn Mangum, well known for her Maya Davis series, quickly sets the tone of this first novel in the Paige Adler series. Twenty-two year old Paige's best friend Layla Prestwick excitedly announces her engagement to boyfriend, Peter, and immediately draws Paige into helping her plan her fall wedding. But before that event, Layla is also organizing her parent's 25th wedding anniversary party and for that she desperately needs Paige's help. Paige can't turn down her best friend and is quickly drawn into helping her for this event too.

Meanwhile at work, Paige who is a receptionist at a private adoption agency, Lawman Adoption Agency, is busy organizing the agency's fundraising banquet, also to be held in February. Paige has a degree in child learning and development, hopes to take on cases some day, but so far that hasn't happened. Paige finds herself doing whatever it takes to keep the office running smoothly, including transcribing three interviews one night for one of the counselors.

Paige is also very involved in her church, Grace Church in Dallas, attending services and teaching the ninth grade girls youth group. At church she meets twenty five year old newcomer, Tyler Jennings, a computer software specialist, who has volunteered to take over the ninth grade boys group. The pastor of the church, Rick and his wife Natalie are expecting their first child any time now, meaning that Paige will be needed even more. Once Natalie's baby arrives, Paige is asked to fill in even more at the church and even ends up spending a weekend helping Natalie with her new baby.

It soon becomes apparent that Paige's life is off track. Between the demands of her coworkers, her pastor, the kids at the church, and her beloved best friend Layla, Paige can't find the time to eat, shop for groceries, or do her laundry. And she has even more trouble making time to pray. Her inability to say no has put Paige Alder on a treadmill she can't get off. When Tyler begins calling to ask her out, Paige, who finds Tyler very handsome, is almost too busy to accept. But Tyler has a way of making dates with Paige happen, all the while warning her that she needs to slow down and learn to say no to people. Paige is also reluctant to get involved with another guy and is still not completely recovered from her break-up with Luke Prestwick, Layla's older brother. Can Paige get her priorities in order and recognize

Erynn Mangum does a good job of demonstrating how Paige's life quickly becomes too busy and loses it's focus. However, Paige gradually recognizes that there is something amiss with her life. She ends each day looking at her Bible sitting on the nightstand, yet again untouched and thinks "tomorrow". But she seems powerless to change things until friends intervene.

Paige thought that God's plan for her was to spend each and every moment serving him through service to others. But when she reads the story of Jairus and his daughter, she realizes that Jesus was careful to spend the time he had not trying to do everything people wanted of him, but to do what mattered and to make time to pray.This revelation helps Paige begin to bring some order and perspective into her life and to change her behaviour. Instead of micromanaging everything for her friends and coworkers, she begins to try to look realistically at what she ought to be doing.

Against this backdrop is the blossoming relationship between Tyler and Paige and that's the hook which draws readers into this novel and ultimately the next in the series. The author focuses their relationship on the formation of a friendship, which if successful, will perhaps lead to something more. Tyler is respectful and tender towards Paige, and acts as a leader in their friendship. At the same time he encourages Paige to make her needs and views known, thus modelling a healthy friendship for readers. The hanging ending, a total surprise in a rather predictable book and the possibility of a love triangle in the next book will leave readers yearning for more.

Although this novel was placed in our Young Adult section it really is part of a new genre termed "New Adult", which refers to young adults who are at least 18 years of age up to about 25 years of age. Themes in this genre deal with leaving home, sexuality, courtship, marriage, and work, essentially all those areas that new adults who are either off to college or finished their education and now working, must navigate. Mangum's offering will be appreciated by her many fans because it is also Christian fiction, part of publisher Think, an imprint of NavPress the publishing ministry of The Navigators, a Christian organization that encourages personal development. The front of the novel indicates that "some of the anecdotal illustrations in this book are true to life".

Book Details:
Paige Torn by Erynn Mangum
Colorado Springs: NAVPRESS     2013
289 pp.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

"I am scared almost all the time. But I never tell anyone. I can't afford to. I have to go on pretending I'm this confident person, because if I don't, if I'm quiet, I become invisible. People treat me as if I'm not there. I remember being tine, about Benjamin's age, standing in the sweet shop, and the woman behind the counter asking Mum,...How do you manage with her? It must be very hard...
The woman kept on and on, and Mum didn't know what to say, and I just stood there, feeling more and more upset, and as she went on, I suddenly though it was as if she was the one who was blind, and couldn't see me, not the other way around."

This fascinating short novel opens with sixteen year old Laureth Peak and her seven year old brother, Benjamin flying from London to JFK in New York in search of their father. It is seven o'clock in the morning Saturday London time when they board the plane and the events in the book take place over the span of one day -Saturday in London and Saturday in New York City.

Laureth's father, Jack Peak, is a well known author, whose first five books were extremely popular. She checks her dad's fan mail that comes in via his website and responds using pre-written replies. One evening while checking his emails, she encounters one about the "Black Book" which is what her father calls his notebook. The email, from a Michael Walker, indicates that he has found Jack Peak's notebook. Michael's use of the currency dollar leads Laureth to suspect he is in America. Laureth responds as though she is her father and asks Michael to prove that he has the journal. He sends Laureth some scanned pages of the journal confirming it is her father's. After arranging how much reward he will receive they arrange to meet him at the Queen's Library in Long Island City.

The discovery of her father's journal in New York city is upsetting to Laureth because she understood her father was in Switzerland. When she questions her mother, she tells Laureth that she doesn't care that they haven't heard from her father and that he is the one who is responsible for whatever has happened. Instead Laureth's mother continues packing for an overnight visit to Aunt Sarah's in Manchester; a visit that will leave Laureth and Benjamin on their own for the day and one night. Laureth tries contacting her father but his phone just rings.

At this point Laureth decides that she is going to go in search of her father. She takes one of her mother's credit cards and purchases two tickets to New York. She and Benjamin wait until their mother leaves the next morning (Saturday) for Manchester and then unbelievably they manage to circumvent security and board a plane to New York.  It is during her travel to the airport, that we learn that Laureth is almost completely blind and that this is the reason she has "abducted" her younger brother, so he can be her eyes.

Several interesting things happen in the airport and on the trip over to America. First, it seems that Benjamin has the ability to crash electronics, an anecdotal effect (that is not scientifically verified) known as the Pauli effect. Secondly Laureth has Benjamin read through the first of three pages of the notebook that Michael emailed to her and she realizes that her father is obsessed with trying to understand coincidences and whether they have any meaning in our lives.

On the six hour flight over to New York, Laureth meets a young man named Sam who befriends her and tries to give her his phone number until he finally realizes that Laureth is blind. When Benjamin and Laureth arrive in New York, they meet up with Michael Walker who is not as they thought he would be. He is twelve years old and has a funny habit of speaking like someone out of a Dickens novel. But he does have Laureth's father's notebook which he gives to Laureth. Laureth tells him that their father is missing and asks Michael how he came into possession of the notebook and if he knows anything more about the notebook. Michael tells them that he found a receipt in the book from the Black King Hotel in Manhattan.

With the notebook as their only guide, Laureth and Benjamin set off on a race against time to solve the mysterious disappearance of their father and in the process learn much about themselves and their parents.

The first part of the novel is quite interesting, especially as Laureth learns about the research her father did regarding coincidence.  Jack Peak was going to incorporate coincidence into his next book and was doing research on it. Using this as a springboard, Sedgwick weaves in many interesting ideas that readers may not have encountered; numinous (the feeling that you have experienced God), apophenia (the tendency to see patterns in events), Benford's Law (on the frequency a digit will be the first digit in a number), as well as famous scientists such as Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, and Paul Kammerer. The storyline itself is filled with numerous coincidences and chance meetings, all of which work together to help Laureth and Benjamin in their quest to find their father.

Laureth is a fascinating character, a teenage girl who's blind and who has worked hard to make sure she is not invisible in life. This drive to force herself to be assertive has been scary but in the end pays off when Laureth travels halfway around the world to try to find her father. Laureth's determination and initiative saves her father and her family. Through all of this Sedgwick does an excellent job of conveying to his readers a sense of what it is like to be blind, busting a few myths about the blind along the way.

The resolution to the problem of Laureth's father's disappearance is somewhat disappointing but is offset by the dangerous situation Laureth and her brother find themselves caught up in. Sedgwick uses Jack Peak's diary to build tension in the novel, as the entries grow ever more mystifying and darker, leading Laureth to suspect the worst about her father and her parent's marriage.

She Is Not Invisible is a departure from Sedgwick's novels which tend towards horror and the occult. Because of the numerous interesting concepts put forth in this novel, it would make an excellent book club selection.

Book Details:
She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
London: Indigo    2013
354 pp.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Her Dark Curiosity picks up Juliet Moreau's story several months after she returns to England. Previously in The Madman's Daughter, she had barely escaped her father's island and its terrible beast men created by her father. The man she loved, Montgomery, her father's assistant had stayed behind to try to tend to the creatures. Juliet was picked up, adrift in the dinghy, three weeks later by a ship bound for Cape Town, South Africa. From there she traveled to Dakur and onto Lisbon, Spain. Desperately ill during the last part of her journey, Juliet was cared for by her best friend, Lucy Radcliffe.

But in London when Dr. Hastings learned of her whereabouts, he had Juliet thrown in jail for attacking him. Fortunately, Juliet was rescued by her father's colleague, Professor von Stein who successfully had the charges dropped. Von Stein was the colleague who reported Juliet's father to the police for his unethical experimentation/research. He is now determined to save Juliet and has taken her into his home.  Despite his kindness to her, Juliet has never told the Professor about her father's continued experimentation nor his creation of the beast men. She has never told him about the creation of Edward Prince, "a young man created from a handful of animal parts chemically transmuted using human blood." Edward loved Juliet but he was a man who contained a beast within, who at any moment could take control and murder.

Juliet too has her own secrets - the most important of which involves her condition. Born with a deformed spine, her father straightened her spine and replaced several of her missing organs with those from a fawn. Her body is always attempting to reject the foreign tissue, causing Juliet bouts of dizziness and tremors. To prevent this Juliet has always taken daily injections, but now they are no longer working.

To try to find a serum that works, she has rented a small attic in a lodging house in Shoreditch. She feels more at home in the attic with its rustic atmosphere, where she can be herself and where she uses animal parts from a butcher to try to replicate the serum her father made for her.

Nevertheless, living most of her time at the professor's home, Juliet must try to adjust to London society. As Juliet continues to try to assimilate back into London society, the city is gripped in terror by four gruesome murders. Each of the bloody murders has seen the victims badly mauled, leading newspapers to dub the murderer the Wolf of Whitechapel. Upon learning the names of the victims, Juliet is horrified to discover that they are all people she knew and who had harmed her in some way.

Determined to examine the victims, Juliet sneaks into the Kings College of Medical Research morgue. From the type of injuries, she comes to the conclusion that Edward Prince did not die on the island, but has survived and managed to travel to London.

Meanwhile, Juliet's friend, Lucy, reveals that she has two suitors, neither of whom she particularly likes; Inspector John Newcastle who is leading the investigation into the Wolf of Whitechapel murders and a strange man named Henry who has a strange appeal to Lucy. When Juliet meets Henry, who goes by the name of Henry Jaykll from Finland, she recognizes him at once as Edward Prince.

Juliet confronts Edward in private and tells him he must stop the Beast within him from murdering. Edward reveals to Juliet that Montgomery is alive and has been hunting him on the island. Scared he would kill Montgomery, Edward escaped the island to come to London in the hopes of finding a cure for his transformation into the Beast. Edward admits to loving Juliet, telling her that the Beast loves her too. He is finding it more and more difficult to control the beast, that the beast is able to retain his form longer each time and that he feels he is losing himself to the beast. Juliet takes Edward to her attic room begging him to chain himself there. During this time, Professor von Stein's neice, Elizabeth arrives from Scotland. She tells Juliet that both of their families have secrets in their past.

Shortly after Edward begins staying at the attic, Juliet arrives to find Edward covered in blood with torn clothing. Juliet realizes that the Beast has stuck again. Despite the horror of this, Juliet and Edward become lovers. In the morning however, Juliet regrets her actions of the previous night and tries to explain to Edward that she still loves Montgomery. This causes the Beast to reappear and attack her. Juliet escapes but vows to cure Edward and save him from the Beast.

The night of the Radcliffe masquerade, Juliet and Lucy share the secrets they have both been keeping from one another. Lucy reveals that her father has in his possession, letters with strange information about Juliet's father's research. Since Lucy's father is an investor, Juliet now believes he has been financing her father's research on the island. Juliet reveals to Lucy Henry's identity and origins. The two girls decide to search Lucy's father's study but find little to help them understand further what the connection is between the two men.

It is at the masquerade that the mystery deepens further; Juliet meets Montgomery who explains that he has received notes from both Edward and the Beast stating that Edward wants to find a cure, the Beast is hoping to experience all the "pleasures and pains" of life. While talking with Montgomery, they overhear a conversation between Lucy's father, Radcliffe, and another man which reveals that they know about the existence of Edward and that they are attempting to capture him at the ball.

Juliet and Montgomery are in a race against time to find Edward. For Juliet, time is running out to find a cure for Edward and to save him from both Montgomery and Radcliffe and the King's Club.

Once again, Megan Shepherd has crafted a unique story that takes many of the elements of the classic novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to create completely new story. From this novel, it appears she will then segue into Frankenstein, weaving together a trilogy that encompasses three classic gothic/horror novels.

Both the characters and the storyline are compelling in this novel, as they were in The Madman's Daughter. The forbidden romance between Edward and Juliet is deeply disturbing and not surprisingly, Shepherd continues to develop the love triangle which was hinted at in the first novel, with the reappearance of Montgomery.

The characters of Edward and Juliet are primarily the focus of this novel. It would have been wonderful to see more development of both Lucy and Elizabeth, both of whom are interesting characters. Hopefully we will see more of Elizabeth in the third novel as she appears to be a linking character whose purpose is to transition the storyline into the third novel.

The essence though of Her Dark Curiosity is the relationship between Edward and Juliet and the tension they experience. Edward tries to convince Juliet that he has more in common with her than does Montgomery; that they are both creations of her father and are part animal. This is only partly true, since Juliet is the biological daughter of Dr. Moreau but Edward is made out of animal and human. Edward is referring to the fact that he comes from animal parts while Juliet had animal organs grafted into her. He also suggests that her civilized behaviour is only a veneer that covers the animal inside. This theme is demonstrated using some interesting symbolism in the novel; Juliet's corset becomes a symbol of her civilized side which both Edward and the Beast ask her to remove. This suggests that Edward is not quite so separate from the Beast as he leads Juliet to believe. Juliet's corset is symbolic of the social norms which prevent her from acting on her baser impulses. Once Juliet removes the corset (her civilized nature) she is easily seduced by Edward - in fact quite willingly, despite him being covered in blood after the Beast committed a murder. What kind of woman would make love to a man who has just murdered someone and is drenched in blood?

The title of the novel refers to Juliet's curiosity about herself, but more importantly, about Edward and the Beast. The Beast accuses her of sabotaging her own attempts to develop a cure as a result of her dark curiosity.

"You're dying of curiosity -- that's why some deep part of you is sabotaging any attempts for a cure. You're desperate to know what you'll become, and as far as Edward goes, let's just come out with the truth, shall we: You don't want to cure him, either, not deep down, because the one who fascinates you is me."

Earlier in the novel Juliet demonstrates a dark curiosity about Edward. She is curious about what Edward experiences when he transforms into the beast; what he feels and what he might remember. This curiosity upsets Edward greatly when he sees Juliet's desire to know more because he is repulsed by the Beast and wants to destroy him.

Juliet also recognizes her unnatural curiosity. "A part of me thinks he was right. There is something unnatural about me. I can feel it, deep inside. I don't care for the things other girls do. I'm curious about things I shouldn't be. I'm so fascinated by Father's research that I can hardly stop thinking about it. I feel like a monster for thinking that."

Overall, this novel was engaging with its decidedly gothic tone, but has disturbing elements too. Due to the graphic violence and sexual content of the book, it is recommended for older teens.

Book Details:
Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd
New York: HarperCollins Children's Books    2014
422 pp.

Monday, March 31, 2014

DVD: First Position

For students and those who love dance, especially ballet, First Position is a must see. This revealing documentary gives us a peek into the mysterious world of ballet by following seven young dancers from around the world as they seek to win the coveted prizes and scholarships of the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world's most prestigious ballet competitions.

The documentary opens with the semifinals and introduces us to the seven dancers who will be followed; tall, elegant and beautiful Rebecca Houseknecht, graceful Miko Fogarty and her younger brother Jules Jarvis Fogarty, the quiet and determined Aran Bell, handsome Juan Sebastian Zamora, the athletic Michaela DePrince and the lyrical Gaya Bommer Yemini.

Through the camera lens we experience the sacrifices each dancer's family makes so that he or she can develop their talent to the fullest. There are sequences showing the damage done to bodies and feet especially. Other scenes show the devastation that follows after a poor performance. Not everyone can win.

Some of the dancers featured in the documentary are especially engaging. Michaela DePrince was living in an orphanage in Sierra Leone when she was adopted by an American couple, Charles and Elaine DePrince. Her best friend, Mia was also adopted by the DePrinces. Michaela began taking lessons at age four and studied at The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia. Her interest in ballet began though back when she was a small child in Africa and she found a picture of a ballerina in a magazine. Michaela's powerful dancing and beautiful leaps make her enthralling to watch! Michaela DePrince's professional debut was in 2012 with the South African Manszi Ballet Company. Michaela DePrince is living proof of what we have always known - that black women can dance ballet with beauty and grace. You can read about Michaela from this BBC article, Michael DePrince: The War Orphan Who Became A Ballerina. Michaela's website is

It's also fascinating to see how some of the young dancers featured in this documentary from four years ago are faring now. As this video demonstrates, Miko Fogarty who is now sixteen has continued to develop into a beautiful dancer with amazing technique:

Bess Kargman, Director, Producer and Editor of First Position, studied ballet at the Boston Ballet School, but never entered ballet competitions. According to the documentary website, Kargman set out to make the documentary she wished had existed. The crew traveled all over the world to film the dancers, who were chosen based on their unique stories and who reflected the social, cultural and economic diversity of students in ballet.

This remarkable and award winning documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in the performing arts.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

DVD: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks is an entertaining if somewhat  inaccurate portrayal of Walt Disney's efforts to make the book, Mary Poppins, written by P.L. Travers into a movie. Disney made a promise to his daughter, Diane, to make a Mary Poppins into movie. It would be a promise that would take him twenty years to fulfill because he didn't count on the calculated resistance of Pamela Lyndon Travers, author of the beloved children's novel. Walt Disney was a man accustomed to having things done his way, but he would have to wait twenty years to make his Mary Poppins movie. Saving Mr. Banks is about the process Disney and his company went through in collaboration with P.L. Travers to make Mary Poppins happen.

Saving Mr. Banks alternates between the present and the past; the present in which Mrs. Travers travels to and collaborates at Disney studios and the past as flashbacks about her life growing up in Allora. The movie opens with Pamela Travers reluctantly journeying to Los Angeles to meet Walt Disney with the intention of refusing to sign over the rights to the movie. When she does meet Disney, she refuses to sign over the rights, but does meet with the Sherman brothers, Robert and Richard, who are composing the songs for the musical. They find Mrs. Travers prickly and stubborn;  she is critical of almost everything Disney has planned for the movie. Among her criticisms: the Banks house is too grand, Mary Poppins is not proper enough, she can't abide words like "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"  and the character of Mr. Banks is too severe. The Sherman brothers manage to win Pamela over to some degree with their song, Let's Go Fly A Kite!

In the midst of all this are P.L. Travers' recollections of her difficult childhood in Australia. In flashbacks she remembers her experiences as young Helen Goff (her real name) who adored her quirky father, Travers Goff. Helen's father moved the family from it's genteel existence in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia to the dusty, small town of Allora where he was to work in a bank. Helen was close to her father who told stories and encouraged her to develop her imagination. Her mother however, was left to struggle with the fallout from Travers Goff's drinking. After her mother considering suicide, her aunt arrives to bring some order to the Travers household.

When Pamela flees Los Angeles and returns home to London with the rights still unsigned, Walt Disney reflects on what might have happened. He eventually seeks out Pamela in London and convinces her to let him make Mary Poppins.

It all makes for a heartwarming story about an obstreperous author who cares very much for the characters she created and who is convinced to let the lovable, charismatic Walt Disney make her book into a wonderful movie.

P.L. Travers is portrayed in Saving Mr. Banks as a quiet, lonely spinster but in fact her life was much more complicated and interesting. At the age of seventeen, according to biographer, Valerie Lawson, Pamela met Lawrence Campbell, an actor in London. She had hoped to become an actress in London, but it was eventually her writing that got her noticed.  She also had a relationship with George William Russell, an Irish writer and poet. Pamela eventually lived for ten years with Madge Burnand in what was thought to be a lesbian relationship. At the age of forty, and unlikely to be married, Pamela decided to adopt a child. She adopted only one of twin boys, as advised by her astrologer. That boy, Camillus Hone was never told he was a twin nor that he was adopted, facts he later learned as an adult when he met his twin brother in a bar. All of this is something that Disney would not want in its film about a much loved children's movie.

However, this film did capture the frustration both the Sherman brothers and Walt Disney experienced in dealing with Pamela Travers. Although she seemed happy with Mary Poppins when it was released, as the years went by, Pamela became increasingly unhappy with the Disney movie version of her book and never agreed to it becoming a broadway musical.

Viewers will enjoy Emma Thompson's performance and she really is the star of this movie capturing the essence of P.L. Travers. Tom Hanks is a passable Walt Disney, effectively portraying his ever-present enthusiasm and positive outlook. Travers' chauffeur, "Ralph",  played by Paul Giamatti was a compilation of several men who drove her around Los Angeles.  An interesting look at the making of one of Disney's most popular classic movies.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Erased by Jennifer Rush

Erased picks up where Altered left off  with Anna, Sam, Cas and Nick now living in a house near Millerton, Michigan. Anna O'Brien is certain her sister Dani is dead, but is unsure about whether the Branch killed their parents and this is something she needs to find out. After a grocery trip, Nick decides he needs some space and disappears for several days, likely to spend some time with the cashier at the grocery store.

When Nick returns two days later, he tells everyone that the girl he spent time with told him that someone came into the grocery store asking about Anna. Shocked, Anna needs to know if this woman is her sister Dani, whom she was told was dead. Anna, accompanied by Sam, returns to the store and manages to talk the cashier into letting them watch the security video. They confirm that it was Anna's sister, Dani, who came to the store, but also learn that Dani has been taken again by the Branch who were waiting for her in a nearby alley.

The group decides to abandon their house and using a prepaid cell phone, Anna contacts Trev, the other member of their lab group who lived with them in the farmhouse and who was a double agent. Trev had given Anna a flash drive containing a file with a phone contact which Anna now makes us of. Trev tells Anna to meet him in Hart, Michigan where he will provide information on Dani's whereabouts. At the meeting Trev leads Anna and the boys to believe that Dani is being held at another Branch lab known as Delta.

Nick, Anna, Cas and Sam break into Delta lab and after a deadly battle with Branch agents, rescue Dani and liberate three boys, Greg, Jimmy and Matt. Dani and Anna reconnect but Anna feels suspicious of Dani. Since Dani was one of the first candidates in the Branch's genetic alteration program, along with Sam, Nick and Cas, they do not know if she was turned into an assassin as well. Not only that but Dani seems surprisingly ambivalent about Anna being with Sam, her boyfriend before she disappeared.

They flee to a motel where the new boys and Dani are checked for tracking devices. They decide to send the new boys on their own way but when Dani says something, it triggers them into attacking Sam, Nick and Cas. Dani tries to convince Anna to flee with her but she insists on helping her friends fight. They manage to disable Jimmy and Matt, and with the odds against him, Greg flees. Dani believes they were brainwashed and programmed into attacking.

The group of friends find an empty house to regroup and determine their next course of action. Concerned that Cas and Sam may have also been reprogrammed with the new alteration, they decide to separate into two groups; Nick and Anna and Cas, Sam and Dani. Anna learns that Dani has seen their Uncle William, who may be their only surviving relative. Dani tells her that Uncle William has been tracking the Branch for years and is trying to bring them down. She also tells Anna that he knows what happened that night five years ago when their parents died because he was there. Based on this, Anna tells Dani to contact William and arrange a meeting.

The two groups go their separate ways but Anna is not happy being paired with Nick as their relationship is strained at the best of times.  Anna decides that she wants to return to Port Cadia to locate her Uncle William. Although Nick is not pleased with this he agrees to accompany her. On the way to Port Cadia however, Nick and Anna have yet another encounter with Branch agents who attempt to capture them. Barely escaping the agents, Nick and Anna continue on their way to Port Cadia. Anna is determined to find out about her family, and how and why she ended up in the Branch. But can they trust Uncle William, after everyone they know seems to be entangled in the Branch.

Erased is certainly filled with numerous action scenes and plenty of violence, to the point that it almost seems overdone. For example, picking up a railway tie with one hand and hitting someone over the head with it is no small feat, especially for a woman who's been shot in the leg. There are many plot twists throughout the novel to move the storyline along and which work to hold the reader's interest. Woven into the action is the romance between Sam and Anna, but also a hint of a possible relationship between Anna and Nick too. Almost all of Anna's flashback memories involve Nick and although in the present he seems angry and distant, Anna senses that Nick cares for her.

The most dominant theme is this novel is that of identity as Anna and the four boys are all struggling to regain their identities, to remember who they were and to escape from the hold the Branch has on them.

There will be a third novel in the Altered series despite the fact that Rush seems to have wrapped up the situation with the Branch quite neatly. However, Riley, the agent who was second in command has not been accounted for and perhaps he will play a big part in the third novel.

Book Details:
Erased by Jennifer Rush
New York: Little, Brown and Company   2014
275 pp.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

A galactic love story with shades of Titanic, These Broken Stars is unlike any science fiction novel you will read.

Lilac Rose LaRoux is the only child of Roderick LaRoux, the wealthiest and most powerful man in the universe. Lilac is traveling through dimensional hyperspace on the Icarus, one of her father's spaceships with a friend, Anna and her bodyguard, Swann, on her way home to Corinth. On the same ship is decorated war hero, eighteen year old Major Tarver Merendsen, heading home for his next posting. Men consciously avoid Lilac LaRoux, heiress to an unimaginable fortune, because even to be seen talking to her can have deadly consequences for a man.

Tarver is unaware who Lilac is when he first sees her. He moves to intervene in an altercation and manages to meet Lilac, whose beauty, red hair and straightforward manner appeal to Tarver. They spend a few minutes talking until Anna returns and Tarver understands he is supposed to leave. When they meet a few nights later on the observation deck of the Icarus, instead of a friendly encounter, Tarver finds he is dismissed abruptly by Lilac. Although Lilac finds she likes Tarver, she knows that he might be in danger from her father if they are seen together.

Their lives are suddenly thrown together again when the Icarus is ripped from hyperspace and begins to collapse. As Tarver is making his way to his escape pod he manages to save Lilac from the chaos of panicking crowds. They make it to a pod which aborts its launch due to a power failure but Lilac hotwires it and they escape the dying ship.  Tarver and Lilac are shocked to discover that they are near a planet on which they crash land.Both Tarver and Lilac are uninjured, but their communication array has been destroyed.

Tarver decides  to hike to the top of a nearby hill to get a look at the surrounding area. They appear to be on a terraformed planet, but Tarver notes that the vegetation is unusually uniform and very large, despite the planet's rich air. Lilac insists on accompanying Tarver, despite wearing a long gown and designer high heels.During their hike, they watch the destruction of the Icarus as it enters the planets atmosphere and crashes beyond mountains in the distance. Tarver tells Lilac that if they are to have a hope of being rescued they need to be where the Icarus crashed as that is where the rescue crews will search.

Most of the novel now recounts their journey towards the Icarus and the change in their relationship as they endure the hardship of survival on an alien planet. Their walk through the forest is slowed by Lilac's large dress and her unsuitable footwear which cause her feet to swell and blister. She is convinced that they should stay at the escape pod and this leads to an argument and the two of them separating with Lilac determined to return to the pod. It is at this time that Lilac begins to notice the background whispers of the forest; "Snatches of sound rise up from the awful, untidy forest all around me for a moment sounding just like voices, high and distressed." Lilac notes that Tarver doesn't seem to hear the voices or if he does, they don't seem to bother him.

 On her journey back to the pod, Lilac is immediately confronted by a large cat-like animal.When Tarver returns to rescue Lilac they continue their journey onward but things rapidly begin to change.  While waiting in the forest as Tarver scouts ahead, Lilac again notices "The forest is full of sound and movement I can't track, things that flicker out of the corners of eyes, vanishing before I can focus on them. The major doesn't seem to notice...But it's as though the forest is whispering all around us...".

From his scouting, Tarver finds an escape pod at the edge of the forest with all the occupants dead. He buries them but does not allow Lilac to see how many or who they are. He strips the boots off a dead woman and gives them to Lilac. She is horrified but agrees that if they are to make it to the Icarus she needs something more suitable to wear. When they arrive at the edge of the forest they make camp at the beginning of the plains. That night Tarver is awakened by Lilac who insists she can hear a woman crying - a woman whom she later realizes sounds like her. All night searches by Tarver reveal the no human presence.

As they journey across the plains, they see no signs of colonists, but Lilac insists she hears a man's voice. Worried, Tarver urges Lilac to rest, concerned that she is suffering from exhaustion and hallucinating. Because they are running out of the nutrition bars they have been surviving on, Tarver collects grasses for them to eat and also sets snares to catch small animals.

The struggle to survive gradually begins to draw Tarver and Lilac closer together. The previous misconceptions that had about one another begin to dispel as they learn more about each other. They spend time talking about their lives and Tarver reveals that his mother is the famous poet, Emily Davis, whom Lilac happens to read. Lilac also learns that Tarver's older brother, Alec, was killed in action. For the first time since meeting Lilac, Tarver feels that she is finally seeing him as he really is, and not as a war hero or a lower class soldier. Similarly, Lilac begins to sense that Tarver is becoming more comfortable with her and that he considers her beautiful.

Lilac continues to hear the voices but now they are coming from the direction of the mountains and the Icarus wreck. She also notices for the first time, that what they thought was a second moon appears to be an array of lights in orbit. As they journey across the plains in a soaking downpour, Lilac hears heartbreaking sobs over the rain. Struggling to maintain her sanity, Lilac is further frightened when she goes to the river to get water and sees a group of people pointing towards the mountain pass leading to the wreck of the Icarus. Lilac however, doesn't believe she is going insane because she tells Tarver that one woman wasn't wearing boots and of the five people she saw, one was a soldier with dog tags and two were men in evening dress. She is convinced that these are the dead people from the escape pod and she knows she is correct by Tarver's reaction.

The view of what is happening on the planet changes drastically when Lilac is warned by the voices to leave the cave they have sheltered in during a blizzard. Both Tarver and Lilac begin to realize that she is not going mad and they must consider "the possibility that she's receiving communications..." from something or someone. They are pushed further in this direction when both see the same vision of Tarver's home.

When they arrive at the Icarus they work to unravel a startling mystery about the planet that will forever change their lives.

These Broken Stars is a brilliantly written novel that is both a romance and a piece of unique science fiction. The main strength of this novel is the relationship between Tarver and Lilac and how that relationship blossoms from one rooted in prejudice and misunderstanding to one of mutual love. The authors take their time developing Tarver and Lilac's relationship, having them develop respect and support for one another that leads ultimately to them both developing the maturity to take on Lilac's powerful father.  My only complaint is that the characters should have been slightly older, perhaps twenty-one and nineteen. Nevertheless, their story is tender and beautifully written.

Although the romantic element of the story is entirely predictable, the mystery of the whispering voices set on an alien planet adds a decidedly science fiction touch that makes this novel extremely appealing.

Kaufman and Spooner tell their story in the alternating narratives of Tarver and Lilac. In between sections of this narrative is a short page featuring part of Tarver's debriefing by authorities, which of course tells readers that the two are ultimately rescued and indicates that Lilac's father and the scientists know Tarver has not revealed what really happened on the planet.

This is the first in the Starbound series written jointly by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. The second novel in this series is a companion novel which tells another story with different characters.If it's as unique as the first novel, readers will be in for yet another treat from this wonderful writing duo.

Book Details:
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
New York: Hyperion      2013
374 pp.

Monday, March 24, 2014

This STAR won't go out by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl

Esther Grace Earl was a vibrant teenager, with her entire life before her; a life a many possibilities. One of those possibilities Esther thought, might involve becoming a writer someday and to that end she kept a diary. From these diaries and from those who knew her comes this beautiful and deeply touching book that is part memoir/part biography about a young girl whose life inspired young adult author, John Green to finally complete a book he had been working on prior to meeting Esther. That novel was the immensely popular, The Fault In Our Stars.

Green met Esther at a Harry Potter convention, LeakyCon in Boston in 2009. They were both Potter fans obviously, but Esther was also a fan of Green's novels. Post-LeakyCon, they continued to talk via Skype and while Green knew Esther was ill with cancer, the internet allowed Esther to have a friendship with Green and others that was not defined by her cancer and her illness. To her internet friends, she was simply Esther. Compassionate, funny and intelligent. Esther became one of Green's many vlog followers (named nerdfighters). As Esther's illness progressed, her "Internet" friends, including Green, soon discovered that this young woman was indeed very ill and was dying. This came about through a Skype chat group which collectively called itself Catitude. As Esther's health began to decline she was able to meet some members of Catitude as well as John Green in a sort of "reverse Wish". In his foreword to this book, Green writes that we often place the terminally ill on a pedestal, claiming for them a uniqueness that has its basis in their illness. But Green felt that Esther was special simply because she was Esther and not because she had terminal cancer.

 Esther was born in 1994 in Beverly, MA. She was the middle child in a family of five children, a spunky girl with wild hair. In 2006, at the age of twelve, Esther, who was living in France with her family,  had been feeling unwell for some time. A persistent cough, shortness of breath and pain in her chest forced her to seek medical help and she and her family were stunned to learn that she had thyroid cancer. Although this cancer usually has a very good survival rate, Esther's cancer was different; she had metastatic papillary thyroid cancer. This meant that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in her neck and lungs. Esther had her thyroid and some lymph nodes removed and underwent radiation therapy. The prognosis was not promising. In 2008, Esther took a turn for the worse, and she and her family decided to try two new experimental therapies.  The experimental drugs stymied the cancer for a period of time allowing Esther and her family a short reprieve. Esther's condition slowly began to deteriorate and during the summer of 2010 she developed kidney failure. She passed away with her family at her bedside on August 25, 2010.

This Star Won't Go Out is a compilation of Esther's diary entries, miscellaneous writings, poetry and drawings. The book also includes a foreward by John Green, entries written by her online group who called themselves Catitude and Lori, Wayne and Esther's entries from Caringbridge a website that helps families with seriously ill children.

Besides being a book about one person's journey through a difficult circumstance in life, This Star Won't Go Out is also a magnificent example of faith in God; Esther by her own admission stated she "was not close to God. I didn't want to deal with Him. I liked enjoying the material things that don't matter...But one day I realized, without God, nothing maters. So, I asked Him into my heart. Look, I don't understand anything, basically, about God except He loves me, He made me, without Him I'm lost." But yet after becoming sick, she really did come to know God in a way she probably wasn't even aware of just how much she really knew Him.

This deeply moving tribute to Esther Earl is well organized, drawing from many sources, chronicling Esther's life and giving those of us who did not have the privilege of knowing Esther, a very good sense of who she really was. The pink pages are Esther's Caringbridge pages which can be found online, the cream pages are her blog and diary entries, while the light green pages are friends and family writing about her.  Be prepared to cry and laugh through Esther's difficult journey. I was deeply touched by this book, because Esther's life proves that one doesn't have to be exceptionally beautiful (although she was very pretty) or smart or talented to make a difference in this world. One simply has to be true to oneself. Esther Earl did all of that as This Star Won't Go Out demonstrates.

My only criticism is that the entries by numerous Catitude members overwhelms the last part of the book, detracting from the message that Esther lives on in the work her foundation, This Star Won't Go Out does to help families struggling with cancer. Unless readers are a part of Catitude, they will probably find themselves skimming these entries.

You can watch the videos that Esther Earl made on her youtube channel. Esther's Caringbridge page is still live and you can read about her story, the journal her parents posted online and sign the guest book on her page. Esther Earl is a star whose light will never go out. After Esther's death, her parents, Wayne and Lori founded a nonprofit organization, This Star Won't Go Out which aids families in crisis with a seriously ill child suffering from cancer. Please take the time to check out their website and if you are a young person looking for a good cause, this might just be one to consider helping out. Both this organization and the book by the same name,  This Star Won't Go Out is one of many ways Esther will live on in the hearts of those who loved and knew her, and those of us who wished we had.

DFTBA today in memory of Esther Earl. :)

Book Detail:
This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl
New York: Dutton Books      2014
431 pp.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Deepest Blue by Kim Williams Justensen

The Deepest Blue explores the idea concerning how much input teens who are minors should have the right to determine how they live their lives when tragedy strikes. Justensen explores this theme through her character, fifteen year old Mike Wilson who lives with his dad, Richard (Rich),  in Moorehead, near Atlantic Beach. They've been on their own for the past ten years.  Mike's dad runs a charter boat business in the spring and summer and works as a handyman during the fall and winter. As Mike's gotten older he has gradually assumed more responsibility, helping his father on charter trips.  Mike's life is typical; he has a girlfriend, Rachel, whom he just doesn't understand, and like many young men he's struggling to discover what he wants to do with his life, in particular if he wants to take over his dad's business some day.

Five years ago his dad met Margaret (Maggie) Delaney, his girlfriend whom he is now considering marrying. Maggie has been good for Mike, accepting him into her life and helping Rich parent his son. Mike considers Maggie to be his "real" mom since he hasn't spoken to his mother in years. Mike is thrilled that his dad has finally decided to ask Maggie to marry him. In order to do this, Mike's father decides to drive up to Raleigh to purchase an engagement ring. Sadly, the trip ends in a terrible tragedy with Mike's father being killed by a drunk driver.

In shock, Mike learns that there is even worse in store for him; his mother, Julia, whom he hasn't seen in years is his only legal guardian and she is intent on coming to Moorehead to bring him to live with her in Seattle.  Mike asks Maggie to adopt him and to be his legal guardian, which she agrees to do. However, she tells Mike that this will not be easy, as the courts often give priority to a living biological parent.

Maggie contacts Chuck Marshall, a friend of Rich's, who is a lawyer. He tells Maggie that they need to get a lawyer for Mike quickly and arrange for a hearing to determine what will happen to Mike. Chuck arranges for Ms. Young, a lawyer from Jacksonville to represent Mike at a hearing that will happen after the funeral.

As Mike struggles to come to terms with the death of his father, he must now begin to fight for the life he wants, a life that doesn't include the mother who abandoned him ten years earlier.

The Deepest Blue is completely predictable with its satisfying ending, but this novel does serve to highlight the predicament some teens find themselves caught up in during custody battles following the death of a parent of a minor child. In this novel, Justensen slowly builds the background to her story by showing the easy and close relationship Mike and his dad, Rich, have. The scene where Mike and his dad take customers on a charter fishing trip only serves to emphasize their close relationship and the conflict Mike feels about whether or not he should take on his father's business.

Mike is further shown to be a typical teenage boy in his relationship with his girlfriend, Rachel, whom he doesn't understand. Their immaturity and implusiveness is shown in how they relate to each other and is realistic. Mike is also thrilled that his father is finally going to propose to his longtime girlfriend, Maggie, in part because this means they will become a real family.

However, all this falls apart when Rich dies in a car accident. The author realistically portrays Mike's reaction to his father's death; disbelief and anger as well as extreme emotional upset that affects his ability to eat and to make good choices. Despite the turmoil, Mike becomes determined that he will not return with Julia  and he sets out, with the help of several caring adults in his life, to work towards what he believes will be best for him. This process means he will have to learn to control the anger he feels towards his mother and to behave responsibly.

Justensen walks her readers through the court process, although this aspect of the novel seemed less credible. It's unlikely much weight would be given by a judge to Michael's memories as a four year old child. It is also possible that the young teen might be interviewed separately by the judge. While the courts do give considerable weight to a minor teen's desires, it's likely that the legal procedures and the outcome would vary considerably depending upon the jurisdiction, and the particulars of each case.Certainly minor teens like Michael should and often do have a say in what happens in their lives.

Nevertheless, as Justensen demonstrates, rarely are these cases simple. In Michael's case we learn that his mother was dealing with post-partum depression as well as other mental health issues. However, the judge must  take into account that Mike's life, his school and his friends are now all situated in North Carolina. It is a fine line between balancing Mike's desire to control his life with his mother's right to reconnect with her son.

Justensen has chosen an unusual story to tackle the themes of self-determination, identity and family in The Deepest Blue. The title refers to the color of the water that Mike sees when he looks into the ocean and where he often finds solace - on the ocean in his father's boat.Without his father as his anchor in life, Mike must find his own inner strength and count on those around him to help him.

Book Details:
The Deepest Blue by Kim Williams Justensen
Terre Haute, IN : Tanglewood Press              2013
292 pp.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Rule of Three by Eric Walters

Sixteen year old Adam Daley's life changes suddenly one afternoon when everything electronic crashes at his high school. Like everyone else, he and his friend, Todd, believe that the power failure is just limited to computers and phones and will be temporary. However, they soon discover that anything run by computers, including cars and planes, will not function. Lucky for Adam, he drives a 1981 Omega to school, so while those students with BMWs are left stranded, Adam is able to drive Todd and Lori Peterson, a girl he's been crushing on, home.

Adam picks up his younger siblings, twins Rachel and Danny. with their cars not working, people begin walking home and without planes, this means Adam's father, who is a pilot, is stranded in Chicago.

When Adam arrives home he meets his quirky neighbour, Herb Campbell who has only recently moved into their neighbourhood of Eden Mills. Almost seventy, Herb is a retired government employee and is a  ham radio operator and all around handyman. He'd lent Adam and his father tools as they built the ultra light plane in the family's garage. Adam has recognized that there is something different about Herb - that he always seems to be studying people. From the very beginning of the crisis Herb begins to reveal the many talents he has for reading people and situations, as well as for planning.

Immediately Herb has Adam drive him to the nearest pool shop where he purchases enormous quantities of chlorine. Herb explains to Adam the rule of survival in emergency situations: a person can go three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. The chlorine tablets are for water purification, suggesting that Herb believes that this computer blackout will be lasting much longer than three days.  That night Adam learns that his mother who is a police captain, has stationed a cop, Brett in Eden Mills and he sees Herb standing guard at the top of their street. Herb has learned that while most people are calm, there has been some looting overnight and without computers,  most first responders (police and fire) are unable to assist.

Things quickly turn ugly in Adam's neighbourhood when the local mini-mall is attacked by a crowd of people desperate for food and water. Adam's mother stops the crowd but it is Herb who organizes the distribution and payment of the supplies. They decide to organize patrols of the Eden Mills using the older noncomputerized vehicles they have found. The patrols include the four police officers, Howie, Brett, Sergeant Evans and Officer O'Malley organized into two checkpoints and four patrols.

Adam and Herb go out to check on Adam's friend, Lori who lives on a farm. Herb and Adam meet Lori's father, Stan Peterson who tells Herb that people showed up at the farm trying to take food and water. Mr Peterson wants to remain on the farm and Adam and Todd are left to help guard the property. When people show up that night demanding water, Adam manages to talk the situation down but it's evident that the farm will soon be under attack by people desperate for food and water.

Meanwhile in the suburbs and the surrounding city, assaults, robberies, fires and looting continue. Herb suggests that they increase their patrols and also take a census of Eden Mills to learn  what skills are available to them. Adam and his mother also learn that Herb is considering the possibility that they might have to abandon the neighbourhood because they will be unable to defend it and also they will be unable to feed the population living there. But Adam has another idea; to use all the available land to grow crops including the large green area underneath the power lines  behind the house. Herb considers that this plan will only work if they can get the Petersons to abandon the farm and move into Eden Mills. That turns out to be easier than they anticipated when the farm is attacked by men in a truck. Herb tells Stan Peterson that it is only a matter of time before the farm is overrun and that they are best to leave while they still can.

Adam now realizes he needs to finish his ultralight plane because being airborne means they can learn what is happening around them. When they take to the air, they discover that a nearby police station has been destroyed by what appears to be rocket propelled grenades - an indication that someone somewhere is willing to take on the police for control. This discovery pushes Herb to convince Adam's mother to abandon her station and move the officers into the neighbourhood. With the Peterson's now moved into Eden Mills, Herb, Kate, Adam and the rest of the leaders begin to organize. They reinforce the walls around the neighbourhood, begin preparing for planting, organize a committee of civilians that includes Dr. Morgan, Councilwoman Stevens, Judge Roberts, the fire chief Captain Saunders and an engineer, Mr. Nichols.

But the flights also reveal something more sinister coming their way. When a nearby neighbourhood, Burnham, whom they have befriended, is attacked and almost everyone killed, Herb and Adam set out to discover who has committed this act of aggression. Evidence suggests that a rogue military group with rocket propelled grenades (RPG) and heavy assault weapons attacked the neighbourhood. They took no prisoners and killed everyone they could find. Knowing they will be next, Herb, Adam, Todd, Brett and Kate must do everything in their power to defend their lives and more importantly the values they hold, if the world they want to preserve has any chance of survival. In a life and death battle, they must determine how to confront a group more powerful and better armed.

Walters, a well known Canadian author, builds his story brick by brick, methodically outlining all the steps ordinary civilians must do so as to survive when all social structure and civil authority has broken down. Most of us live day to day, without reserves of basic items like water, canned food, batteries and candles, matches and windup clocks and radios. But if a disaster struck many of us would be at the mercy of those who have the supplies needed to survive. Walters does a fantastic job at demonstrating how quickly social norms and authority would collapse and how people who normally wouldn't steal and murder, begin to act very badly, very quickly when placed under enormous pressure. He also portrays the power struggle for resources that begins to develop both locally (in Adam's neighbourhood) and also on a much larger scale when Adam and Herb are faced with taking on the rogue military group. In this respect, The Rule of Three is frighteningly realistic.

The author maintains tension in the novel by never revealing the cause of the loss of power and the use of computer technology in the novel. Herb tells Adam that whatever the cause it must be worldwide because if it were not, other countries would have come either to help or attack them. This leads Adam to realize that whatever Eden Mills is experiencing is likely a reflection of what is happening all over North America and the world.

Against this dystopian backdrop, the author does a great job of developing both his characters and their relationships to one another. By far the most interesting character in the novel is Herb Campbell. From the beginning Walters establishes Herb as a mysterious person with a cool demeanor that masks some rather interesting talents. Everything Herb predicts will happen eventually does happen leading the Adam to conclude that he has experienced this exact situation at least once before. This causes Adam to open his eyes and really study Herb, just as Herb studies everyone around him. But Herb is also a highly conflicted character. He tells Adam that he was both "used" and "almost used up" and that he has done things he isn't proud of and that he hopes Adam will never have to do. Herb proceeds cautiously in everything he does, but acts when he feels it is necessary. It is obvious he is trying to protect Adam from falling into similar situations but also trying to develop in him the skills he will need to survive. In this respect, Herb is a mentor for Adam, guiding him towards what will likely be a leadership role in this new world. Their relationship is a major strength of this novel as the two characters are very different; Herb is the experienced, mature former government "operative", while Adam is young, naive and trusting. However, Adam begins to adopt some of Herb's techniques in dealing with people and also develops some of his forward thinking ways.

Walters plans two more books in the series. Walters has based this series on his own neighbourhood in Mississauga, Ontario but the novels are set in America (as noted by the reference to the "Stars and Stripes" at the local police station).

With its exciting cover to draw in readers, The Rule of Three is a great novel for young teen boys and anyone who enjoys adventure novels and the great stories being written by Canadian author, Eric Walters.

Book Details:
The Rule of Three by Eric Walters
Toronto: Razorbill     2014
405 pp.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Jacob Portman along with a motley crew of peculiars, children with special abilities, have left the island of Cairnholm, to seek safety on the mainland. Jacob is also a peculiar, being able to sense hollows or hollowgast which are monsters who are hunting the peculiars. Scattered among three lifeboats the peculiars include Emma Bloom who can make fire with her hands, Millard Nullings the invisible boy, Olive Abroholos Elephanta who is lighter than air, Bronwyn Bruntley an unusually strong girl, Horace Somnusson who has premonitory visions, Enoch O'Connor able to animate the dead, Hugh Apiston the boy with bees in his stomach, Claire Densmore the girl with two mouths and Fiona Frauenfeld who can make plants grows. Accompanying them is Alma LeFay Peregrine, a ymbryne or time manipulator and shapeshifter. Miss Peregrine is the protector of the peculiars but she has been injured and is in bird form. She can create time loops and manipulate time.

Out on the sea, the children suffer through a violent gale that causes them to lose most of their food and belongings and to land on an unknown shore. The children are being pursued by the wights in a submarine and they must be off the water by nightfall. Wights are hollowgasts who have matured after eating a sufficient number of peculiar souls. They can assume human form and can exist among humans.

On the island the children find a brief reprieve until the wights land and begin tracking them at nightfall. Mysteriously the children manage to avoid them and in the morning seek a way out of the forest. The night before the children read a story from the Tales of the Peculiar about a giant named Cuthbert who is turned to stone in the middle of a lake. Unbelievably they discover a lake with a rock formation that looks like a giant's head. Emma decides to wade out to the rock and climbs into the mouth of the formation, discovering a new time loop.

The new time loop turns out to be exceedingly dangerous however, when they encounter a hollowgast bent on eating them. After destroying it, the peculiars meet Miss Wren's menagerie which includes a talking bulldog who smokes a pipe and various other odd creatures.  The bulldog, Addison MacHenry, was brought to this loop by another ymbryne named Miss Wren who they learn has left for London to help her ymbryne sisters.  Miss Wren is the only remaining uncaptured ymbryne. Her spies, a flock of peculiar pigeons, have told her that the ymbrynes have been captured and are being held in punishment loops which were originally designed to hold wights. Now the wights and their hollows are guarding these loops.  With all of the ymbrynes captured, there will be no one to maintain the time loops and they will collapse.

The peculiars decide to reveal Miss Peregrine to Addison and explain to him that she is unable to revert back to human form.  Addison is certain Miss Peregrine has been poisoned so that she cannot change back. He tells the peculiars that they must find another ymbryne to help her change. The more time Miss Peregrine spends as a a bird, the less likely she will be able to return to human form. Addison tells Emma and Jacob that she has at most three more days before returning to human form will become impossible.

The Peculiars decide they must go to London to find Miss Wren and have her heal Miss Peregrine.Addison tries to dissuade them, telling them the loops are guarded by hollows. However, Emma and Jacob realize this is the only way they can save Miss Peregrine.

They return to the 1940 loop and take a road to a town named Coal.  However, the wights have resumed their pursuit of the children. When they encounter a gypsy caravan on the road, the peculiars take shelter among them. Upon arriving in Coal, the peculiars manage to purchase train tickets for London, but are intercepted by the wights who capture them. Hugh and his bees save the day and they reconnect with the train, arriving in London.

In 1940 London, turmoil reigns as the city is being bombed by the Germans. The peculiars now face a race against time to find help for their beloved Miss Peregrine. They must first locate Miss Wren's pigeons, who they hope will lead them to the ymbryne herself. But in devastated London, hunted by hollows, this proves to be more difficult than they ever imagined. Jacob, Emma and their fellow peculiars must deal with new peculiars, a deceit that destroys all their hope and a murderous plot that seeks to destroy peculiardom once and for all.

Hollow City is a strange story told in a unique way with a collection of photographs that reinforce the storyline. The strength of Rigg's second novel is that it further develops the main characters we met in the first novel, expanding on their peculiarities while revealing more about the world of the peculiars. It appears that Jacob's peculiar ability to detect hollows is either evolving or he is discovering more about what he is capable of. This ability provides a unique twist near the end of the novel just when it seems that all is lost. Jacob grows in confidence in his ability not only to detect and destroy hollowgast but also discovers he can manipulate them.

The other peculiar characters are presented in more detail through their interactions with the narrator, Jacob. Emma is a confident, caring young woman who is concerned for all the children and stands up to Enoch, who despite his sarcasm, can be insensitive. Horace struggles with his fear of the unknown while Hugh often feels neglected and useless.

Emma and Jacob's relationship deepens in this second novel, as their adventures together serve to draw them into falling in love. However Jacob's feelings for Emma are a source of conflict for him because he wants to stay with Emma in her time loop and yet he longs for a normal life back with his family in his own time. Emma too is conflicted. While she loves Jacob she knows he cannot stay with her. She wants Jacob to have a proper life and not one like what she has experienced for the past seventy years. She tells him that she is an old woman hiding in the body of a young girl and that she and the others would never choose the life they have over the life Jacob has a chance to live back in his own time.

Hollow City tends to drag somewhat through the middle, with most of the action happening in the last few chapters. Ransom Riggs manages to keep the reader engaged however through the clever use of strange photographs. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers wondering how Ransom Riggs will wrap up his story in the third novel. This novel is definitely not to be missed by fans of Miss Peregrine and Ransom Riggs!

You can enjoy the very original book trailer:

Book Details:
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
Philadelphia: Quirk Books      2014
396 pp.