Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Amy By Any Other Name by Maureen Garvie

Amy By Any Other Name is a kind of redo of "Freaky Friday" that doesn't end quite so happily.
Two teen girls have accidents on the same day in May; 15 year old Goth girl Krystal Maria Marques steps in front of a car in downtown Toronto while 16 year old wealthy over-achiever Amy Wexford dives off a cliff in a quarry hitting a rock. Both girls begin to die and when they are brought back to life at the same hospital in Toronto, their out of body souls collide and they end up switching bodies. This soul switch leads to some serious identity crises for both girls, which in my opinion is somewhat glossed over in the novel. I would think anyone undergoing this experience would have some serious emotional and mental health issues. Instead, Amy seems to approach the entire situation with a maturity that seems almost super-human.

Despite this, I thought  Amy By Any Other Name was well written and fascinating. The story is told from the point of view of Amy inside Krystal's body. Amy and Krystal are complete opposites both in body type, looks and likes. Although both girls have been seriously injured, Krystal's body has suffered the more severe injuries. Amy not only has to cope with being in a different body that's injured but also with being in a body that is completely unsuited to the life she led as Amy. Amy essentially has to remake Krystal's body to fit the person she was in her own body. But she also now has Krystal's life, which was not going well and which was not a privileged as Amy's former life. Amy tells a few people whom she thinks she might be able to trust, what has happened to her. These people do not really believe her because the whole idea is preposterous.
We eventually learn how Krystal is coping with being in Amy's body and adapting to Amy's life when the two meet later on. Although Krystal gets the better deal, in some ways her life is just as much a struggle as Amy's is.
Amy is determined to recover her body and sets out with a plan and the same sort of determination she had when she was Amy the elite rower and top student. But will her plan succeed or will she be forever trapped in a body that is not hers? Either way, she and Krystal will face many challenges.

This story has us consider what defines us. Are we just our souls, thoughts, feelings and experiences? Do our bodies matter? Can we really exist in another body? What Garvie wants us to consider is both disturbing and unique.

A well crafted book suited to teens and adults.

Book Details:
Amy By Any Other Name by Maureen Garvie
Key Porter Books

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I went to see Tangled on Friday night and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Generally I'm not a big fan of Disney movies and especially their fairytale animations. I saw the Frog Princess in the summer and thought it was terrible. The two lead characters were frogs for most of the movie. Not exactly exciting to watch. I also wasn't keen on the use of voodoo in the movie which my younger daughter thought was creepy.
Tangled was in a different class all together. Tangled is the title Disney gave to it's animated version of the fairytale, Rapunzel. Although initially the studio focused on the female character, Rapunzel, it was decided to redo the movie from the point of view of the prince. The story begins with the king and queen of a country having a baby. When the queen has difficulty during the birth, the citizens of the kingdom scour the countryside looking for a rare healing flower. Once found, the queen is given the essence of the flower to help her recover. A baby girl, Rapunzel is soon born. However, that flower had been hidden for years and used by an old witch to remain young. Now that the flower is gone she decides to kidnap Rapunzel who retains the flower's power to heal and restore youth. Rapunzel is imprisoned in a tower hidden deep within the forest. The story picks up when Rapunzel is 18 years old.

Along comes Flynn Rider, not a prince but a thief on the run after stealing the princess's crown and who escapes into the forest to hide. He finds Rapunzel in the tower. This "prince" however is NOT interested in rescuing Rapunzel and she must convince him to help her escape so that she can see the special lanterns that float into the sky every year on her birthday.
What follows is a series of exciting adventures leading to Rapunzel eventually reuniting with her royal parents.

In many ways, Flynn Rider is typical of many modern young men - self-absorbed, immature, uncommitted and interested in only saving himself. But Rapunzel is not to be put off. She is a take-charge kind of girl whose virtues of loyalty, purity and honesty gradually rub off on Flynn. For Rapunzel the decision to leave the tower is a difficult one because she is torn between being an obedient daughter and doing what she so desperately wants – to be a grown up making her own decisions in life.

Gradually Flynn Rider changes and becomes a “knight in shining armor” in part due to Rapunzel’s influence on him. She is the classic young woman of virtue and beauty who redeems a man. In the end, there is a "happily ever-after"!

This movie was excellent because it had an interesting plot, absolutely incredible animation, excellent singing, and some great characters. The horse, Maximus, stole the show in this movie. He was hilarious and most of the adults in the theatre seemed to enjoy this character the most. The medieval bar characters are also well done.

The animation is beyond belief especially well done when combined with the 3D. The lantern scene has to be one of the best to date.

Enjoy the trailer and then go see Tangled!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

The much awaited second book in Westerfeld's WWI steampunk trilogy, Behemoth was exciting but at times, confusing.
Like the first book, it was jam-packed with action, racing from one exciting adventure to the next. While this kept me as a reader engaged, at times it was confusing to follow and difficult to see just where Westerfeld was going with the plot.

The book opens with the Leviathan encountering two German warships and almost being destroyed by a Tesla cannon - a type of electrical weapon whose purpose is to ignite the hydrogen warships that Britain flies, thus destroying them.

Eventually the Leviathan reaches its destination of Constantinople, Turkey where Dr. Barlow has a secret mission to the Sultan. At this time, Alek, Volger, Klopp, Hoffman and Bauer attempt to escape the Leviathan as they come to realize that they are now in fact, prisoners of war. Alek, Klopp and Bauer are successful but instead of going into hiding, Alek becomes involved in with the revolutionary Committee of Union and Progress to overthrow the Sultan. While in Instanbul they come to realize that the Germans have managed to bring the Sultan to their side and have heavily mechanized the city.  The Germans are also constructing a enormous Tesla cannon above the city. The Germans wish to block the supply lines to Russia, thus starving the army and preventing them from aiding the British in the war. To accomplish this they want to close the Dardanelles.
To prevent this from happening, Deryn (as midshipman Dylan Sharp) is sent on a secret mission to open up the Dardanelles Strait so the Leviathan can lead the Behemoth in to destroy the German warships and thus keep The Straits open. Deryn's attraction to Alek, leads her back to Istanbul to try to locate and help him. She too is eventually drawn into helping Alek and the revolutionaries in overthrowing the Sultan. This all builds to an exciting confrontation on various levels.

To be honest I don't feel the book is accurately titled. There is very little in the way of build-up as to what the behemoth is and in fact, the Behemoth plays only a very small part in the overall storyline.

There is no doubt that the book has breathtaking action, imaginative creatures (vitriolic barnacles and Spottiswoode Rebreather, "an underwater apparatus created from fabricated creatures...."), outrageous machines of all types including djinns, golems and elephants, and colourful characters (Eddy Malone, an American with a talking bullfrog). There are the wonderful pencil illustrations by Keith Thompson which add to the overall visualization of the storyline, although a map would have been a welcome addition to the book since geography is pivotal to the plotline.

It is interesting to see how Westerfeld has created two societies who are the extreme opposite of each other. Clankers have taken technology to an extreme with their highly mechanized society. The Darwinists have taken genetic engineering to its extreme with their fabricated creatures. Of the two cultures, the Darwinist culture seems to be the more humane in some ways, showing an understanding of the ecological relationship between living things they have fabricated. The Leviathan is an ecosystem by itself. The Darwinists however, draw the line at these creatures not being capable of independent thought.

Although both Clankers and Darwinists show repulsion for the other's society, it seems that when each is exposed to the other's culture their views are modified somewhat. This is especially true for Alek who tells Dylan "Perhaps I'm putting this stupidly. But it's almost as though...I'm in love with your ship (the Leviathan)."
"It feels right here." Alek shrugged. "As if this is where I'm meant to be."

Overall, a good second part to this trilogy and highly recommended!

Book Details:
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse: New York 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

The Chosen One is one of several titles released in 2009 that deal with plygamist cults. Sister Wife explores the issue of forced marriage of young girls in these cults in Canada while The Chosen One is set in rural United States.
Kyra Carlson, 13 years old, is part of a polygamist family made up of 20 children her father and his three wives. The story opens with her family receiving a visit from The Prophet, Mark Childs and his Apostles who inform Kyra's parents that she will be her Uncle Hyrum's 7th wife! Kyra is horrified and determined to avoid this marriage even if it means leaving the cult. But she is fearful too becuase she knows people have disappeared in situations similar to hers where there was resistance and she knows the girl is always forced into the marriage.
Complicating matters is the fact that Kyra is attracted to 16 year old Joshua Johnson, whom she has been secretly meeting for the past 7 months.

Kyra's father attempts to intervene for her but is unsuccessful. Joshua's request to marry Kyra is disastrous, leading to violence and his being run out of the cult. The entire situation further escalates to the point where Kyra must make a decision that may place her not only herself but her family in great danger.

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Kyra has been secretly visiting the Ironton County Mobile Library van that has been stopping on a rural road near her cult's commune. She befriends the driver, Patrick and it is he who offers to help her in her dire need. But the cult is not willing to let Kyra get away so easily.

The Chosen One deals with the many concerns the we as a society have about polygamous cults including issues of control, forced marriage, violence, isolation and the social displacement of young men who are referred to as "Lost Boys".

Overall, this novel was well-written and fast-paced. We walk with Kyra as she explores her options and how she reasons her way through, hoping to find a solution. A few loose ends could have been tidied up by the author but otherwise this was a good presentation of an unusual, but important topic.

Sister Wife and The Chosen One are very similar in many ways but the subject matter is more realistically portrayed and better balanced in the former novel. Both touch on the difficulties former members of polygamous cults must face when attempting to assimilate into modern culture. In these novels we see how young children are conditioned to accept forced marriage and how every aspect of life is controlled. Kyra seemed less troubled by the effects her choices might have on her family than Celeste in Sister Wife.

It's hard to understand how such cults have continued to exist in our society today when it's obvious that they cause great harm to both young women and men.

Book Details:

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
St. Martin's Griffin: New York 2009

Friday, November 19, 2010

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Double Identity is a strange exploration of the issue of cloning and especially cloning humans.
Just before Bethany Cole's 13th birthday, her parents pack her into the family car and drive thousands of miles nonstop to the small town of Sanderfield, Illinois. Once there, she is left with Myrlie an aunt she has never met, with no explanations, some strange bits of conversation overheard and no idea when or even if her parents will return. Overhearing her father mention that she "does not know about Elizabeth" only adds to her fears. Who is Elizabeth?
The puzzles deepens as Bethany discovers her aunt seems to know many of her personal perferences and that she seems to resemble someone familiar to Sanderfield residents. When Bethany receives a package from her father containing 4 different sets of ID and a large amount of cash, the mystery and fear escalate. Who are her parents running from and why have they hidden her here?
Haddix gradually reveals who Elizabeth is (although the reader likely figures this one out very quickly), who Bethany is and the tragedy that led to the secret now unraveling Bethany's family and life. But the mystery of why her parents are in hiding is not revealed until the very end and in a somewhat contrived manner.
Double Identity explores issues of identity, selfworth and especially how new reproductive/scientific technologies might impact the people created by their use.
Athough this novel was written in 2005, we are beginning to experience a consideration of these issues in society at large today. Children created through the use of artificial insemination (AI) from anonymous sperm donors are seeking the right to know details about their biological father. They are asking society to consider the rights of the child and the right to know who he or she is.
Similarly Bethany feels betrayed and as though she has no real, unique self or value. But by the end of the novel, she begins to discover that her life had meaning before and will continue to do so.
I am thirteen years old now - nearly thirteen and a half. And with each second that passes, I mover further into territory Elizabeth never entered. Nobody knows what Elizabeth would have been like at fourteen, at fifteen, at sixteen. She is a ghost that will haunt me less and less, the older I get.

Although the ending is somewhat contrived and it seems that events come together in a too easy manner, this conclusion is typically satisfying. There is lots to think about here, in particular, the age old question regarding the use of scientific technology; just because we are capable of doing something, does this mean we ought to do it?

Book Details:

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Toronto

Friday, November 12, 2010

Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Turnabout explores the themes of ageing and perpetual youth. Could we live forever? Would we want to? What if we could unage or stop aging altogether?

Turnabout tells the story of two of 50 elderly volunteers at a nursing home who are selected to participate in Project Turnabout. They will undergo a series of injections of PT-1 - a drug that caused laboratory rats to unage. The unaging process was then stopped in middle age and the rats simply stopped aging. Among the volunteers are 100 year old Amelia Lenore Hazelwood and 102 year old Anny Beth Flick. Unexpectedly, there are glitches from the beginning of the experiment. But when the second stage of the experiment fails, Amelia (Melly) and Anny decide to leave "The Agency" nursing home and live their unaging lives in freedom and quietly.

Haddix tells her story in alternating time frames. The first time frame is from a current perspective, from April 21 to June 3, 2085, as Melly and Anny try to cope with unaging from adolescence. Melly having just had her 16th birthday is becoming increasingly distraught over who will be her caretaker as she unages to babyhood. The second time frame tells the story in flashback from 2000 when the experiment was undertaken, to the present in the story which is the year 2085. So although time moves forward from 2000; instead of aging, Amy and Melly are growing younger and reliving their lives.

This book was fascinating to read because the author explores how we might feel if we had a chance to live our lives over again. The two main characters, Melly and Anny have different perspectives on this. The novel also explores the idea that when we go against our nature, disastrous things often happen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of Dawn Treader

It will be interesting to see just how much the movie follows the book which was exceptional. At any rate, have a look and see what you think:

Here's the international version:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sphinx's Princess by Esther Friesner

Sphinx's Princess is historical fiction at its very best. This novel tells the fictional story of Egyptian princess Nefertiti, - her life before she became queen of Egypt.
Esther Friesner has crafted an exciting story that captures the intrigue of the Egyptian Royal Court and provides young readers with an imaginative and informative look into life in 14th century BC Egypt.

The story opens with Nefertiti's early life in Akhmin with her father, Ay; her stepmother Mery and younger step-sister, Bit-Bit.
From this beginning, Friesner presents Nefertit as a strong, young girl who knows her own mind. And what Nefertiti wants is to learn to read and write, a skill not usually taught to women. She develops a true friendship with Henenu, a scribe whom her father has known since boyhood. Henenu agrees to teach Nefertiti. Nefertiti is also characterized as a kind, just woman. Horrified at the murder of a young slave girl, Nefertiti takes in her younger sister.
Nefertiti's life undergoes a dramatic change when she is ordered to marry Thutmose, son of Pharoah and his Great Royal Wife, Tiye who is Nefertiti's paternal aunt. However, Nefertiti wishes to marry for love and her father, Ay manages to get his sister to agree to wait 3 years before marrying Nefertiti to her son. Instead, Nefertiti is sent to the royal court at Thebes to learn her duties. She encounters intrique, plots and a royal prince Thutmose who is less than eager to marry her. When Pharaoh and Tiye decide to go to Dendera and leave Thutmose in charge, Nefertiti is placed in grave danger.

Although a little slow off the mark, this story gradually draws the reader in. The action itself is evenly paced throughout the rest of the book and the ongoing intrigue within the palace kept my interest to the end. I enjoyed the fact that Nefertit is portrayed as a likeable, sensible young woman who treats others kindly and with a great sense of equanimity.

The second book in this series, Sphinx's Queen, tells the story of Nefertit's continuing struggle to cope with royal politics and in particular Thutmose, the Royal Prince Nefertiti is expected to marry. Although this book began in a promising way, it was largely anticlimactic. The most exciting part of the storyline occurs in the middle of the book. leaving little to be settled at the end. Nevertheless, fans of historical fiction will enjoy both of Esther Friesner's books about Nefertiti. For one thing she is a historical figure who hasn't often been written about and since we know very little about Nefertiti, this gives the author a great deal of freedom to work with.

Highly recommended.

Book Details:
Sphinx's Princess by Esther Friesner
Random House 2009

Sphinx's Queen by Esther Friesner
Random House 2010
352 pp.