Thursday, January 31, 2013

Animated Short Film: Paperman by Disney

If this isn't one of the cutest shorts ever made. Created by a small team of animators at Walt Disney Animation Films, Paperman is an animated short film that uses a new, innovative software called Meander which allows hand-drawn animation to be seamlessly merged with computer generated animation. In the film, Paperman, two young people experience an impromptu meeting that changes their lives. The film is done in soft blacks and greys, with the woman's red lipstick as the only colour.

Watch it and enjoy!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline

In this revealing and thoughtful look at clothing and consumerism, author Elizabeth Cline sets out to reform how we look at fashion and how we shop for clothing. After purchasing SEVEN pairs of flats from KMart in 2009, Cline decided to take a hard look at why she, like so many other Americans (and Canadians), buys so many clothes. After gathering every single piece of clothing she owned and sorting through it all, she discovered that she had 354 pieces of clothing, excluding undergarments and socks. She owned more clothing than anything else AND she had no idea where the clothes were made or what brands they were. Cline found herself buying clothing simply because it was cheap and trendy. How had it come to this?

The United States makes only 2 percent of the clothing sold in the country; China makes 41 percent of clothing sold in the US. The trillion dollar fashion industry is now divided into two camps; high end expensive clothing and cheap, poorly made clothing. The latter is sold by stores such as H&M, Forever 21, WalMart and Target.

Chapter 1, "I Have Enough Clothing To Open A Store" explores the transition in fashion retail from the production of quality garments that are expensive to mass production of cheap, poor quality clothing.

It seems that GAP has done to the garment industry what McDonalds did to fast food production. GAP changed the way people shopped for clothing. Originally a Levi's shop in the 1960's, GAP changed how it operated and brought in designers to create its own cheap clothing line. This has been stunningly profitable for the company and is the industry standard now for how clothing is made, marketed and sold. Clothing discounters like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 all produce poor quality clothing that sells cheap.

Cline gives a fascinating historical account of fashion in America - which of course also is mirrored in Canada. Clothing was initially made in the home until approximately 1900 when factory-made clothing became available. It was very expensive however, so people continued to make their own where possible. It wasn't until after World War II when incomes began to increase, that Americans began to follow fashion and purchase their clothing rather than make it. Clothing was produced by independent businesses that sold their clothing through the department stores.

In the 1970's malls opened in suburban areas and began offering cheaper clothing in competition with the big department stores. By the 1980's department stores continued to markdown prices, training the consumer to buy only when there were sales. The intense competition drove department stores to consolidate and others to close. Today, the retail landscape consists of clothing discounters such as H&M, Forever 21, Target (soon to open in Canada) and Walmart.

Chapter 2 How America Lost It's Shirts outlines the fate of the garment industry in America.

Chapter 3 High and Low Fashion Make Friends discusses the generally poor quality of  most mass produced clothing today. This is due in part, Cline says, to the ignorance on the part of the consumer about fabrics and the loss of seamstress skills. It is also due to manufacturers attempting to cut costs and raise profits. Making clothing is labour intensive since this product cannot be made by machine but requires specialized labour. The desire of manufacturers to cut costs and the consumer to only buy "on sale" has resulted in poorly crafted clothing that is made out of cheap fabrics. In contrast high end fashion has gotten more expensive as shoppers try to prove status through their purchases of expensive clothing. Cline explores some of the history of fabrics and how changes in income and society have led to the situation we have today of cheap, poor quality clothing.

Chapter 4 Fast Fashion focuses on a special retail method which places new merchandise out every few days or weeks, rather than by the season. Selling by this method drastically increases profits and creates a shopper who consumes continuously. Fast fashion stores like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara, "earn their profits...by taking a small sliver of profit on a large amount of goods."
Fashion is not only sold fast, it changes quickly too. This is in part due to the effect of the digital age, where information on styles is shared quickly and where no one style predominates now. Fast fashion and low price tells the consumer that clothes are a disposable commodity, one they can throw away after only a few wears.

Chapter 5 The Afterlife of Cheap Clothes is an exploration into the textile recycling industry. Most people donate their clothing once they no longer want it and assume that someone will use it. But less than 20 percent of donated clothing actually gets sold by charities. Most of it goes to textile recyclers, and much of it is sold overseas in countries in sub-Saharan Africa. However, people in these countries are also looking for stylish pieces of clothing and most of what is sent over from America is rejected.

Chapter 6 Sewing Is a God Job, a Great Job enlightens consumers on the job of sewing, which is a highly skilled job. Although some factories have raised the wages of workers who make clothes for the most part, these people are not paid a "living wage". Cline encourages the consumer to use their purchase power to help change conditions in factories in the developing world. She also suggests that the major clothing companies "could afford to raise wages significantly, without passing the cost on to consumers."

In Chapter 7 China and the End of Cheap Fashion, Cline considers the future of cheap, fast fashion. The quality of clothing made in China has been declining steadily. Although garments are made in countries such a Cambodia, Vietnam, Turkey, and the Philippines, China is the leader in clothing quality, having both the skilled workers and the technology. An interesting feature of this chapter is Cline's trip to China's factories as a the "owner" of an imaginary company. The author's experiences  of China's massive garment factories are eye-opening. Cities in China do not have two or three factories, but thousands. There are several factors which suggest that the era of fast fashion may be coming to a close, one of which is that China is running out of cheap labour in part due to its one child policy and subsequent dearth of younger workers. Those currently toiling in its massive factories are intent upon moving to better paying jobs. As these workers become consumers, the world is faced with the prospect of 1.3 billion people consuming at Western levels. This is likely not sustainable.

Chapter 8 Make, Alter, and Mend extols the virtues of sewing one's own clothing. Cline learned to sew basic items and makes some very good points about why this is a skill people should develop, while also recognizing that for some modern life means it might not be possible.  The art of sewing clothes has definitely not been passed onto the recent generations. This skills gap has resulted in several generations of young women who do not know how to repair their clothing nor how to create their own clothes. Sewing one's own clothing means having pieces that are unique. She also highlights the benefits of shopping vintage and attending clothing swaps.

Chapter 9 The Future of Fashion is somewhat anti-climatic and essentially recaps some of the more important points in the book. Cline encourages consumers to think wisely about their purchases, where they shop and to look at the quality of the clothing being sold in stores. She also wants shoppers to consider making their own clothes and to consider using seamstresses and tailors to repair or remake clothing.

Skirt made by blog author
The main thrust of Cline's Overdressed is to help consumers realize that clothing, now made fast and cheaply, has become a disposable commodity. We have gone from well- made pieces which displayed exquisite craftsmanship and lasted a lifetime, to cheap, fast fashion which encourages the consumer to buy and buy, wasting vast amounts of the world's resources. This over-consumption will ultimately place severe stress on some of our valuable commodities. We have only begun to feel this stress as the rest of the world catches up to the consumption levels of developed countries. Because clothing is made by human beings we should have some connection to the clothing we wear, and we should like what we wear. Cline asks us to consider our relationship with the clothes we wear, and to rethink our shopping habits. We can change the way clothes are made today and we can have an effect on the quality of clothing by choosing our purchases carefully. Although Cline presents statistics and describes situations chronicling the experience of the American textile industry, the same can be said for Canada.

For example, in 2008 (the latest figure on Industry Canada's website, Canada imported $4 BILLION of clothing made in China.The small city I work in had its origins in the textile industry with the founding of several mills that produced clothing and fabrics. Those mills have long since closed, and several of the buildings that once housed fabric shops are now condos. For those who love to sew, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a fabric store. Walmart stopped selling fabric about four years ago. We need to revitalize the art of making our own clothing.

For anyone interested in fashion, Overdressed is an eye-opening must read!

Book Details:
Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline
Toronto: Penguin Group 2012
243 pp.

Canadian retailers that sell made in Canada clothing include:

Le Chateau (up to 40% of their clothing is made in Quebec.)
Danier Leather
Stanfields
Roots (check the label as only some are made in Canada)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Lady of Milkweed Manor

The Lady of Milkweed Manor was Julie Klassen's first novel and, in my opinion, it is her best. The Lady of Milkweed Manor tells the story of four people whose lives and families are forever entwined.

The novel opens with twenty year old Charlotte Lamb on her way to a lying-in home in London. She is being sent away by her father, the Reverend Mr. Gareth Lamb, the vicar of the Parish church of Doddington. Rev. Lamb is a strict, legalistic Anglican minister who is scandalized by his daughter's out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Charlotte is being sent away in the hopes of limiting the damage done to her family, especially her older sister, Beatrice who is attempting to secure a marriage proposal.

So Charlotte is sent to Manor Home, also known as Milkweed Manor, which aims to reform women of poor character. Initially, we don't know who is responsible for Charlotte's situation, but we gradually learn about what happened through flashbacks and we also learn about Charlotte's life prior to coming to Manor House.

Her mother, sickly after Charlotte's birth, never fully recovered and died when Charlotte was seventeen. Charlotte's mother was attended by Dr. Webb and his assistant, Mr. Daniel Taylor, who is now Dr. Taylor. Daniel asked Charlotte's father for permission to marry her, but was turned down because his social status was lower than that of her family. To improve his position in society, Daniel studied medicine, and he now works at Manor House.

Her older sister, Beatrice, has her hopes of securing William Bentley, a young suitor who frequently comes to the vicarage. Charlotte, on the other hand, was only interested in Charles Harris, an older uncle who was always affectionate towards her. However, when Charles's estate home burns, Charlotte seeks to comfort him, but when things go too far she finds herself "ruined".

Shortly afterwards, Charlotte's cousin, Katherine, announces her engagement to Charles. Charlotte knows she in deep trouble because her only recourse to being restored - marrying Charles Harris, now no longer exists. When she meets Charles, he tells her that he must make the choice between saving his family's estate by marrying wealth or being honourable and marrying her. This choice sets in motion a entire chain of events that forever change their lives and those closest to them.

And so at Manor House, Daniel, who is shocked to see Charlotte living there, agrees to undertake her care, treating her without prejudice and very kindly. Charlotte, meanwhile discovers Dr. Taylor's secret:  that he is now married to a French woman, Lizette, who is pregnant and suffering from "puerperal insanity" a type of mental illness brought on during pregnancy or after childbirth.

Charlotte gives birth to a beautiful little boy, whom she names Edmund. Meanwhile, Charles wife, Katherine, also gives birth to a baby boy several days later, but their child does not survive, despite being taken to the the Manor Home for care. Charles is now desperate because Katherine has vowed never to have another child if this one does not live. In an ironic twist this means that had Charles done the right thing, Charlotte's baby would be Charles legitimate heir to his estate. Desperate to save Katherine's sanity and his own estate, Charles Harris begs Daniel Taylor to allow him to talk to Charlotte and make her an offer she can't refuse.

The Lady of Milkweed Manor is a very good novel, engaging the reader from beginning to end with a fascinating look into late 19th century English society, with its strict rules regarding behaviour. Klassen adds to this interest with the development of several minor but interesting storylines. There are lots of fascinating details about what it was like giving birth in this era.


All of the characters are very well drawn, each showing different facets. Klassen effectively shows how Charlotte learns from her mistake and matures enough to recognize the fatal flaw in Charles Harris. Her journey is a difficult one, fraught with terrible choices that are the source of tension in the novel.  Plain but noble and caring Daniel Taylor is a contrast to the fashionable Charles Harris and Charlotte's severe, unbending father.

There are plenty of themes in the story, including the imagery of unwed mothers being like the dreaded milkweed, a poisonous plant that gardeners dislike and struggle to control. However, Dr. Taylor uses the milkweed for medicinal purposes, explaining that the plant can be used to help others, that it has redeeming qualities. Similarly, he encourages the young women at the manor home to help others by being wet nurses and tending to the abandoned babies.

Klassen draws somewhat upon Jane Eyre, with the inclusion of the doctor's wife who is insane and locked away in an upper room at Manor House. In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester, the brooding master of Thornfield Hall, hides his insane wife away in an upper room. And similar to Jane 's growth from innocent girlhood to woman, Charlotte also follows a similar path,

Lady of Milkweed Manor is a well written novel that will appeal to older teens and adults.

Book Details:
Lady of Milkweed Manor by Julie Klassen
Bloomington, Minnesota: BethanyHouse Publishers
410 pp.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky

Bianca Turetsky's The Time-traveling Fashionista is a nice change from the usual young adult novels of vampires, zombies, and strife-filled future worlds. Twelve year old Louise Lambert is a "fashionista" with a flare for vintage. She lives with her mother and father in a "large rambling Tudor home" in Fairview, Connecticut, has braces, and a best friend named Brooke.

One day Louise receives an unusual invitation to a vintage sale called The Time Traveling Fashionista vintage sale. When Louise arrives at the location of the sale she finds a decrepit, musty store run by two odd ladies; tall, red-haired Glenda and small, mousy Marla. Searching through the racks of clothing Louise locates a powdery pink gown which smells like fish. Although Glenda and Marla attempt to dissuade her, Louise insists that this is the dress for her. When Louise tries it on, she blacks out only to awake on the deck of a steamship traveling from England to America. The date, according to a newspaper, is April 12, 1912.

On board the steamer, Louise is known to everyone as Alice Baxter, an accomplished 17 year old actress. Louise doesn't ask what the name of the ship is and perhaps that is in part due to her being only 12 years old and her not paying attention to her history teacher's lesson just the other day, about a special event in 1912. To everyone on the ship, she looks like Alice, but when Louise sees herself in the wardrobe mirror in her stateroom, she sees her real self - a twelve year old girl with braces.

At first she tries to enjoy herself, reveling in the beautiful dresses, the delicious food, and the handsome gentlemen. Louise meets the famous Lady Madeleine Astor, the young wife of millionaire, John Jacob Astor,  and Lady Duff-Gordon, who, in 1912, was a well known English fashion designer of couture. But when she learns that she is on the ill-fated Titanic, Louise is no longer interested in having fun. She alone knows the fate of Titanic and she is panic-stricken. She must warn Captain Smith to change course. When she attempts to do so, the Captain becomes angry, telling her he will not have her alarm the ship's passengers. She is forced by Miss Baxter's personal physician to her room where she is sedated.


Glenda and Marla appear to her in a dream and tell her that she cannot change history and that the key to saving herself is the dress. When Louise awakes, she reveals her true identity to her maid, Anna and they seek to try to either change the course of the Titanic or escape. They are unsuccessful.

Glenda and Marla finally tell Louise that she must find the dress, which has been sent to the Titanic's laundry. Without the dress, Louise will remain trapped in 1912 and on the sinking Titanic. Desperate to help people on the ill-fated ship as well as to find her dress, Louise enlists the aid of her maid, Anna. Will Louise succeed in saving herself? Is it really possible she cannot change the course of history and save thousands of lives?

The concept behind this novel was interesting blending fashion, history and time travel, but it seems to never reach its full potential. The heavy foreshadowing (see below) and then the history lesson by Louise's teacher, Miss Morris, steers the reader to the inevitable conclusion as to where Louise will time travel. Despite this, Louise herself, seems to take forever to figure out where she is. I am certain that the Titanic's name would have been on more than just the hull of the steamship!

There is plenty of foreshadowing in the novel. For example when Louise has a dream one night before she goes to the vintage sale, she dreams she is in a grand ballroom rather than the gymnasium at school - a foreshadowing of the Titanic ballroom. She awakens at 2:20am - the time the Titanic sank. The dress she picks out from the sale smells fishy, suggesting that it had been soaked in sea water, also another foreshadowing of being near water and boats.

There's not really much characterization in the novel, as the story is mostly action driven. We know Louise fairly well, but her parents are just shadows in the background and even Brooke and Anna are mostly just one dimensional people who support Louise and her obsession with clothing. Glenda and Marla could have been interesting characters in the novel, but they were never fully developed. Again early hints suggest what the reader later learns; they are witches. The large number of cultural references will likely date this novel.

There are a more than a few weaknesses in the storyline. For example, Anna seems remarkably self-possessed when Louise tells her who she is and proves her identity. Readers may be confused as to why Louise ends up in Alice Baxter's body rather than just being herself on the Titanic and the question of where Alice went while Louise was Alice, was never answered. It was also puzzling as to why the author made her main character so young. I would think it would be very difficult for a 12 year old to pass as a mature 17 year old one hundred years ago. The author utilizes Louise's fainting as an explanation for her inability to recognize people and remember names of close associates.

The characters which Louise meets onboard the Titanic are all real people who were on the ill-fated boat in 1912. Bianca Turetsky's website has a short slide show featuring information on Captain Smith, Benjamin Guggenheim, and Jacob and Madeleine Astor.

Really the best feature of this novel is the lovely drawings done by fashion illustrator, Sandra Suy. Not many young adult novels are illustrated these days and it's one thing publishers should take a second look at considering our media is predominately visual. I remember one of the biggest enticements to reading Louisa May Alcott's books were the lovely coloured plates throughout her novels in the Little, Brown editions. I would take these books home, read them and draw the dresses in those plates.

Suy's drawings are detailed and very elegant, giving readers a good idea of how each beautiful article of clothing looks. Illustrator, Sandra Suy lives in Barcelona, Spain, where she was born and where she studied art at La Llotja. One complaint I have here is that there is no information given on the illustrations for the novel. If you'd like to see more of Sandra Suy's work check out her Tumblr page.

The book trailer from Turetsky's website is below:


The Time-Traveling Fashionista Book Trailer from Bianca Turetsky on Vimeo.

This book should appeal to younger teens and is part of a series. Turetsky has already written a second book, At The Palace of Marie-Antoinette.

Book Details:
The Time Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky
New York:  Hachette Book Group       2011
263 pp.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder is simply amazing! It is R.J. Palacio's debut novel which tells the story of August Pullman, a 10 year old boy born with mandibulofacial dysostosis complicated by a hemifacial microsomia, which adds up to a series of severe facial deformities. August (also known as Auggie) has had numerous surgeries to correct the problems with his face. Because of his health problems, he has been home schooled through to grade 4. But now, going into 5th grade, it's time for him to confront the real world, the world he must learn to live in.

His parents decide to enroll him in Beecher Prep, a private middle school. Everyone in his family, his mom and dad and his older sister Olivia (known as Via), have mixed feelings, because they know this will be a difficult, but necessary step for August. August's story is told through a series of narrators including August, Olivia, Summer Dawon, Jack Wills, Justin who is Olivia's boyfriend, and Miranda who is Olivia's former lower school friend. From each we get a different perspective on what happens to Auggie when he begins school.

The novel begins with August narrating. His parents take him in before school to meet Mr. Tushman, the principal, and to take a tour of the school with some of the students. Those students include Charlotte Cody, Jack Will, and Julian Albans, who on first appearance seem to be quite nice. However, it is Julian who seems to view August as a "freak" pointedly questioning him on his face.

However, August finds that it is very difficult to settle into school life. The three students whom he met earlier don't really hang out with him. Instead, he finds a new friend in a girl, Summer Dawson, who sits are his table during lunch just because she wants to. Summer's friendship encourages Auggie and helps make school a bit bearable.

After a terrible situation which Auggie calls "The Halloween Incident", he almost drops out of school. But Via tells him he's not a quitter and Auggie continues on, intent upon forming friends and completing the year. Can Auggie help his classmates to look deeper, go past his facial abnormalities to discover the wonder of who he really is?

The use of six different narrators for the novel works splendidly. Palacio does a brilliant job of establishing a unique quality to each narrator's voice. Using the various narrators allows the reader to get inside the head of the main characters, offering a window on the situations in the novel from their personal perspective. For example, from Via we see how she feels sometimes neglected and is struggling to build an identity for herself outside of being Auggie's sister. She loves her brother, and empathizes with all the pain and isolation that he's had to deal with, but she also wants people to focus on her and not always on her brother.

Some readers might wonder about the inclusion of Olivia's boyfriend as a narrator, since really, he is not an essential character to the story. However, Justin's experience of Olivia's family serves to show the reader how important it has been for Auggie to be raised in such a loving family and how with the support of his family he has been able to overcome many obstacles. Justin has never experienced anything like this before, coming from a family where he is mostly an afterthought. His experience has a profound effect on him.

August Pullman is an endearing character, with his sense of humour and his obsession over Star Wars. His favourite holiday is Halloween because he can wear a mask like everyone else and no one gives him a second look. August, is a sweet boy, who struggles to get people to accept him for who he is, just an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face.

Another excellent character is Mr. Browne, the grade five English teacher. Mr. Browne is a kind teacher who seems to care about his students. Each month he writes a precept, which is a type of rule, on the blackboard. Students are also encouraged to come up with their own precepts too. Overall, Browne's precepts are great, but the first one he gives his students is a Dr. Dwayne Dyer quote, " When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind." is problematic. Is it not possible to be right and kind? Is it kind to tell someone that an action or belief is right, when in fact it is morally wrong? Is kindness the standard by which we must govern all our actions? The rest of Browne's precepts are listed at the back of the novel and are interesting. But his first precept, in my opinion, is questionable, since it is relativistic and really says nothing about kindness nor about being right.

Wonder leads us to think about how integral our face is in forming our identity - who we are. It is our face that provides people with a first impression. What if we met a person without first seeing their face? Would that change our first impressions? August wonders this at Halloween.

"I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks."

Wonder is simply wonderful! A great book for children's book clubs. A great book for young teens.

Book Details:
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
New York: Alfred A. Knopf             2012
315 pp.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen

"Don't hold on to the knots and forget the life ahead."

                                                                                      Amy Merryweather

The Girl in the Gatehouse is Klassen's fourth book and was published in 2010. With another book just published this month (which I will be reviewing soon), I thought I would try more of her novels since I so enjoyed The Maid of Fairbourne Hall..

Mariah Aubrey is being sent away to live on her own at her aunt's estate in Whitmore. She is accompanied by her former nanny, Miss Dixon, who will be her companion. All we know is that Mariah has done something terrible that has damaged her reputation and brought dishonour to her family. Her father, not wishing to sully Mariah's younger sister, Julia, sends Mariah to Windrush Court where she is to live on her aunt's manor, in the gatehouse. When Mrs Prin-Hallsey, or Aunt Fran as Mariah used to call her, comes to visit Mariah at the gatehouse, she gives her a trunk containing her old diaries and warns Mariah about her step son, Hugh Prin-Hallsey.

One stormy night a man comes to the gatehouse after being thrown from his horse. Mariah helps the stranger, whom she learns is Captain Matthew Bryant, to retrieve his horse. When during the winter, Mrs. Prin-Hallsey becomes ill and dies leaving her step-son Hugh to take charge over the estate, he decides to lease Windrush Court to Captain Bryant. Bryant has recently retired from the Royal Navy, having made his fortune and is determined to win back the heart of Isabelle Forsythe whose father deemed him not rich enough nor good enough for his daughter. 

With the death of her aunt, Mariah finds herself suddenly at the mercy of Hugh Prin-Hallsey who tells her that she will no longer be able to live au gratis at the gatehouse. Since the allowance her father has given her will soon run out, Mariah makes the difficult decision to submit her writing for publication so as to support herself for the remainder of the year. With Henry at first acting as her agent, Mariah has her first book published under the pseudonym of Lady A.

Mariah and Dixon settle into life at the estate, developing a friendship with some of the occupants of Honora House, a poorhouse located across from the gatehouse. Mariah and Captain Bryant along with his house guest, Lieutenant William Hart often meet and socialize. Matthew Bryant however, finds himself increasingly distracted from his goal of enticing and winning Isabelle, by the beautiful and well spoken Mariah. His distraction is tempered rumours of Mariah's fallen character of which he eventually learns later on.

Bryant continues planning his attempt to win the heart of Isabella back, even though she is now engaged to another man. He decides to host a small house party inviting Isabelle, her fiance, and other friends. Bryant hopes that when Isabelle sees that his fortunes have improved greatly since their last meeting years ago, she will consent to break off her engagement and marry him. The captain encourages Mariah to attend, but she vigorously declines initially and then appears bearing a mask she made for a play to be staged. Drawn into performing, Mariah has no idea what is about to happen. The house party is an unmitigated disaster that brings everything to a head and sees Captain Bryant recognize that his love for Isabelle is an illusion and that his heart lies elsewhere.

The Girl in the Gatehouse is a complex novel, with numerous storylines which Klassen ultimately and effectively weaves together to achieve a predictable end. In some ways there are almost too many threads to follow, although they are interesting. There is the storyline of the two sisters, Amy and Agnes Merryweather, that of Captain Prince and Jeremiah Martin, Lizzy and George Barnes, Captain Bryant and Isabelle, of Hugh Prin-Hallsey, and of Mr. Crawford and Mariah.

The climax of the novel which occurs at Captain Bryant's party is overly melodramatic. After one of the guests has humiliated Mariah,  Mr. Crawford, Isabelle's fiance, declares in front of all of Bryant's guests that he alone is responsible for Mariah's "fall" and that he led her into thinking that he would marry her. He then expounds on the unfairness of society in how it treats women! A lovely sentiment really, but probably not likely to have happened. Most 19th century upper class men simply accepted the double standard that existed in society towards women for it worked to their advantage. Although they too were bound by ridiculous notions of propriety, such as a man writing letters to a woman was considered to be tantamount to a marriage proposal!  It was also out of character for Mr. Crawford to behave this way - he was a bad man who led a young woman into thinking he would marry her so he could seduce her and yet suddenly he cares for what he has done?

Nevertheless, The Girl in the Gatehouse is an enjoyable read that focuses once again on the "fallen woman" theme. The characters are reasonably well drawn and each is very different. Klassen maintains the suspense by not revealing exactly what happened to Mariah until the very end and by providing the reader with juicy tidbits through the novel that Mariah is working on. And once again Klassen bases a character's situation on one from a Jane Austen novel, that of Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park. As Klassen mentions in the back of the novel, Captain Bryant was inspired by Captain Wentworth of Persuasion as well as Forester's Horatio Hornblower. I found he reminded me most of the latter. Klassen's use of situations and similar characters from well known English literature is partly what makes these novels so much fun.

Book Details:
The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen
Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House         2010
391 pp.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

looking for jj by Anne Cassidy

Looking for jj explores the interesting topic of a juvenile offender attempting to reintegrate into society.
Told in the voice of the offender, the story is divided into four parts, each focusing on a segment in her life.

In the first part of the book we learn about the present. Alice Tully reads everything she can about Jennifer Jones, the girl who has served six years for the murder of another girl. The newspapers are all about Jennifer being released after serving her sentence. Alice is obsessed because Alice is Jennifer. Jennifer was in fact released six months earlier and set up with a new identity and a job. Now living under the name of Alice Tully, and working at a coffee shop, she lives with a social worker named Rosie Sutherland in Croydon. Only three people know that Jennifer Jones is now Alice Tully and that she was paroled early; Rosie, Patricia Coffey who is director of Monksgrove where Alice was incarcerated, and Jill Newton, her probation officer.

But it's not long before the hunt is on for Jennifer Jones. One day Alice notices that a stranger has been frequenting the coffee shop. When he leaves the shop forgetting some papers on the table, Alice discovers that he has written down the names of the three girls involved long ago in the event that ended in the murder of one of them. For Alice this is more than coincidental. Panicked, Alice leaves her job, and races home. However, Rosie encourages her to go back to work, telling Alice it is impossible that anyone could know where she is. But Alice knows that the private detective is there because of the birthday card she sent her mom a few weeks ago. Rose, Patricia, and Jill don't know about the card but do eventually find out and they realize that the private detective is someone hired by "Alice's" mother to locate her.

In an attempt to throw off the detective they create a diversion but ultimately this proves unsuccessful because Alice is found out by someone her mentor and her probation officer never suspected; someone who is working undercover. This person essentially forces Alice to consent to an in-depth interview.

In this part of the book, through a series of flashbacks, we also learn about Jennifer's life up until she commits murder at the age of ten. Her mom is a beautiful woman who works as a model. But as she ages, Carol Jones finds it increasingly difficult to gain employment. As a result, Carol gradually abandons Jennifer, first leaving her alone in their flat when she is only six years old. Eventually over the years Jennifer is either left alone, left to live with her grandmother, or comes to live at home for short periods of time with her mother. Jennifer is desperate to with her mother but her mother is too busy trying to eke out a life as a model. As Jennifer's anger at being abandoned grows, she begins to act out becoming violent.

The second part of the book focuses on the year when Jennifer and her mother move to Berwick Waters, when she is ten years old. Jennifer forms a friendship with two girls in the complex where she lives; Michelle Livingstone and the younger, vulnerable Lucy Bussell. The three girls have a complex relationship in which Lucy is often bullied by the two older girls, while Michelle and Jennifer often fight. One day when the three girls go on a walk to the reservoir in Berwick Waters, to hunt out Lucy's brother's "den" the strained relationship between them comes to a head. An unexpected discovery enrages Jennifer and she almost causes one friend to drown. But a second provocation isn't so innocent and of the three girls that went to the reservoir that day, only two return. It is a day that forever changes their lives.

The third part of the book returns to the present and picks up the story of Alice. as she takes her boyfriend, Frankie, up on his offer to spend some time at his house in Brighton. Once there Alice tries to settle in, but the specter of doing the interview places an overwhelming shadow over her. When the story unexpectedly leaked to the press, Alice must confront Frankie and the realization that her current life is probably over. She will have to start anew with yet another identity. This new identity is briefly covered in part four of the book. We also learn, through flashbacks, the rest of what happened that fateful day in Berwick Waters.

Looking for jj is a well written novel that explores the thorny issue of child murder. Cassidy builds a believable backstory of abandonment and emotional neglect that leads a ten year old girl to commit murder. Jennifer's progression to an increasingly violent and disturbed child is accurately portrayed, from her cruelty towards her grandmother's pet to an assault on a classmate, to her impulsive actions with her friends. Yet this is juxtaposed with Jennifer's innate kindness towards the smaller, timid Lucy, and her innocence at what her mother is doing to earn money. The author creates a situation where it is impossible not to empathize with Jennifer who admires her mother and who so desperately wants to be with her. Jennifer is a solid, realistic character with a complex personality. She is still struggling to come to terms with what happened six years ago and doesn't believe she deserves to have any sort of happiness.

Equally well developed is the character of Jennifer's mother, Carol Jones, a young mother who slips from catalogue modelling into pornography and prostitution. Carol not only neglects Jennifer but eventually decides to use her daughter in an act of ultimate betrayal. Even when Jennifer is as Monksgrove, she manipulates her for her own gain. This pattern of betrayal continues into the present, making Jennifer realize she cannot let her mother back into her life, despite her need for a mother's love.

In contrast to Carol Jones, is the loveable, stable Rosie, who cares for Jennifer and offers her protection and a chance to start over. Rosie offers Jennifer the first real home she has ever had.

The novel asks readers to consider some fairly heavy questions such as whether or not children who commit serious crimes such as murder can be rehabilitated, whether the public has a right to know when they are released and where they live and whether they have the right to privacy?

Looking for jj was first published in 2004 and won both the Carnegie Medal in 2005 and the Whitbread Children's Book Award in 2004. Cassidy specializes in writing crime novels and thrillers for teens. This is a good novel, with an interesting and unique topic.

Book Details:
Looking for jj by Anne Cassidy
Toronto: Scholastic Press    304 pp.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas by Tony Wilson

Imagine the difficulty of finding the right princess to marry. Especially if you want a princess that is a little different from the average princess. That is exactly the predicament Prince Henrik finds himself in. He just wants someone who likes the same things he does, namely hockey and camping.

When he asks his brother for advice, Prince Hans tells him that a real princess is very beautiful and very sensitive, just like his wife, Princess Eva. But observing Princess Eva causes Prince Henrik to wonder. Perhaps he just needs a princess who is like him? When Prince Henrik tests his potential princess' mettle, and finds them lacking, he is pleasantly surprised by an old friend, Pippa, who drops by for a visit.

Tony Wilson's unusual variation on the Princess and the Pea fairytale is uniquely illustrated with the quirky but delightful drawings of Sue deGennaro. The illustrations are done in gouache, pencil as well as collage, and help to convey the message in an amusing manner,  that being true to yourself is often the best path in life.

Unbelievably, deGennaro once worked as a circus aerialist and was a member of an all girl flying trapeze group!  And Wilson got the idea for this picture book from an essay he wrote about meeting his wife, Tamsin. Wilson never liked the original Princess and the Pea story where the prince falls in love with a princess after she demonstrates great sensitivity in being able to detect a pea under twenty mattresses.

Book Details:
The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas by Tony Wilson
Atlanta, Georgia: Peachtree Publishers 2012

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Truth About Style by Stacy London

"If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people."
                                                                                                      Virginia Woolf

Those of us who love Stacy London will once again enjoy reading her latest book about finding your style niche and how style can heal our inner selves. The Truth About Style is a more personal go-around this time, part-bio and part style health care. I say style because fashion isn't style. Fashion is the creative part of the industry that comes out with new trends every six months. But style is something personal, a reflection of our intimate selves. The clothes we wear are a statement of who we are and comprise our "style".
"Trust me when I way that it is always better to wear what works, what feels organic to you, than to force yourself into a current trend that simply feels wrong. Dress for yourself and what suits your lifestyle, and you will always look good."
In an interesting few pages at the beginning of the book, Stacy London defines what she believes style is and why it is important for women (and men) to develop their own style. Style, as she notes, ends with an E, for emotion. Emotion is what we feel about ourselves and how we feel about ourselves often determines how we dress. This sort of interplay became very evident in the show she co-hosts, What Not to Wear. It was easy to see that many people who dressed terribly had body issues or self-esteem issues. For some, clothing was a way to blend in or hide themselves. And this is precisely what London does in this book; she takes a close look at a few specifically chosen women to see what might be causing their style problems. I will come back to this part of the book later. By the way, I love the quote from her father that Stacy includes in the first chapter, What This Book Is Not. When Stacy was doing poorly in grade 10 trigonometry, her father told her "You limit your options every time you don't try your best." What truth!

Applying this to style, London says that poor style limits our choices and control. It's a rather obvious connection, yet one that is often missed (as is evidenced repeatedly on What Not To Wear). Because when we don't present ourselves well, what we offer are poor first impressions. We influence all the other possibilities in our lives by the image we project -- something many people either ignore or don't understand.
"Style is about creating possibility. It's taking passionate, strategic control of your image -- not just to dress for a job you may not even have known your were going to want but for oodles of other things you can't predict for your future."
As a result of this, London chose nine women from the stories she received on social media with whom to work with on their style disconnect, as she terms it. She chose these nine women because their issues were common to many women and because she could identify with them. The women came to New York for "start-overs" which are a sort of style reboot based on what each woman wants/needs for her life.

The first person Stacy tackles is herself because as she writes, she too has gone through this process. With plenty of cute and interesting pictures of herself way back when, Stacy tells about her struggle with psoriasis, a skin condition that can make life truly miserable. I know because I have a good friend who has it and who also has several children who have this condition. Sea water and ultra violet light provide relief, but it's difficult to deal with the scaly red patches that can cover legs, arms, face and scalp. Stacy's battle with psoriasis continued until she was in grade seven at which point she found a cream that worked. From this point on, Stacy started to heal from the emotional and physical scars of dealing with a condition that made her want to hide her body. Stacy could wear the clothes she really wanted to - she could choose the skin she wanted to present to the world. She could finally be herself.

Woven between the rest of her personal story which includes anorexia and self-esteem issues are the stories and "start-overs" of the nine women. For each there is a picture of the outfit they wore to New York, followed by some commentary on each woman's story and how Stacy can relate their particular situation to her own life. It's a personal encounter both ways and the end results for each woman Stacy meets are, not surprisingly, fantastic. I found it wonderful to get to know Stacy London on a more personal level and to see how she sleuths out the style disconnect for each woman. At the end of all this, as London writes, "Style is a form of self-expression and aspiration."

The Truth About Style is engaging, well written and is organized so you can read the book really anyway you want. I flipped through the chapters on the individual women and read those first, but Stacy's story is no less interesting. I didn't know she worked at Vogue and her anecdote about catching an elevator with Anna Wintour was quite humorous. I found it incredible that while suffering from anorexia, Stacy managed to get hired at Vogue without a second glance. On second thought, not really all that surprising considering the models that show up in Teen Vogue.

What I love about Stacy London is her take-no-prisoners attitude towards style and her ability to approach a person's style disconnect with compassion and humour, helping people understand why they dress the way they do and then offering them a way to be true to themselves.

The following book trailer will give readers a quick view into the content of The Truth About Style, demonstrating London's gift for helping women empower themselves through fashion:



Book Review:
The Truth About Style by Stacy London
Viking Penguin:   2012
216pp.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Movie Review: Les Miserables 2012


Undoubtedly one of the best movies in 2012 is the musical drama, Les Miserables which is based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same title. First published in 1862, the novel is a story about the redemption of a man, Jean Valjean, convicted for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving family. Valjean is sentenced to five years of hard labour for the theft and another fourteen years for attempting to escape.

In this musical adaptation of the novel, the story begins in the year of 1815 when Valjean has been released from prison but must carry with him at all times, papers identifying himself as an ex-convict. Bitter and railing against God, Valjean tries to find work only to be repeatedly turned away. Arriving in the village of Digne, hungry and exhausted, Valjean is taken in by Bishop Myriel who invites him to supper and offers him a clean bed. During the night, Valjean steals the good bishop's silverware and leaves, only to be caught by the police. When they tell the bishop that Valjean has robbed him of his silverware, Bishop Myriel tells the police that in fact, he gave Valjean the silver as a gift. After the police leave, Myriel tells Valjean that he has been given a second chance and to become an honest man.

Valjean manages to reinvent himself as Monsieur Madelaine, a wealthy factory owner who is also Mayor of the small village where he lives. In his factory he employs Fantine, who is essentially a single mother working to pay for the care of her daughter, Cosette. Cosette lives with Madame and Monsieur Thenardier who use her as a slave. When gossip about Fantine being single with a child surfaces, she is thrown out of Monseiur Madelaine's factory by his foreman without his knowledge.

At this point Inspector Jalvert, a fanatical and rigid police inspector comes to Montreuil sur Mer. Jalvert was a guard when Valjean served his time and he remembers the ex-convict for his amazing strength. Valjean has simply vanished and Jalvert has not been able to find any trace of him for the past six years. At first he thinks he recognizes Madelaine as Valjean, but quickly apologizes when Madelaine appears upset. However, when a worker named Fauchelevant becomes trapped under the wheels of a heavy cart and Madelaine frees him, Jalvert is certain that Monsieur Madelaine is in fact, the missing Valjean.

Meanwhile, Fantine, who is without any means to support herself or her child, turns to prostitution. When she assaults a man who has come to use a prostitute, Jalvert tries to arrest her but is prevented from doing so by Monseiur Madelaine. Upon learning how she came to work on the streets, Madelaine takes her to the nuns to be cared for and promises to find her daughter Cosette and take care of her.

At this point Jalvert confronts Valjean and tells him that he has reported his whereabouts and identity to the police but that he realizes that he must be in error because the authorities have arrested a man whom they claim is the real Jean Valjean. Monsieur Madelaine decides he cannot allow an innocent man to suffer and he travels to the trial to reveal that he is the real Jean Valjean.

Fantine dies without seeing her daughter Cosette, and Jalvert confronts Valjean in the hospital. Valjean asks Jalvert to give him three days to locate Cosette and jumps out of window into the water, escaping. Days later he manages to locate Cosette while she is in the woods getting water. Valjean takes Cosette from the Thenardiers and they move to Paris and go into hiding. They are happy for some time until one day Jalvert discovers their hiding place. With the help of Fauchelevant a gardener at the convent of Petit-Picpus, they flee into hiding at the convent. Cosette grows up in the safety of the convent.

Eight years later, revolution is now brewing in Paris. French students have organized to begin another revolution and one of the students involved in Marius Pontmercy, who lives with his wealthy grandfather, Monsieur Gillenormand. One day while walking in Paris, Marius sees Cosette, and is instantly infatuated with her. When she vanishes from sight after an altercation with the Thenardier's who are now destitute and living in Paris, Marius asks his friend, Eponine, who loves him, to find out where Cosette lives.

Cosette and Marius meet at the entrance to her home at Rue Plumet but when Jalvert also discovers where they are living, Valjean decides that he and Cosette must flee to Britain. Cosette manages to get a note to Marius, who is now in the middle of planning to set up barricades throughout Paris as the launch to the revolution.

As the revolt begins, Marius and the leader of the revolt, Enjolras manage at first to keep the soldiers at bay. Jalvert has infiltrated the revolution but when he returns from a trip outside the barricades, Gavroche tells the revolutionaries that he is really a soldier. Jalvert is taken aside to be executed but Valjean, who has learned of Cosette's love for Marius and has come to take him with them to England, tells Enjolras he will deal with him. Instead, Valjean refuses to murder Jalvert, sets him free, and tells him that he no longer hates him. In reply, Jalvert says he will continue to hunt down Valjean to the very end and bring him to justice saying, once a thief, always a thief.

When the barricades are rushed in one final attack, Marius is seriously wounded. Valjean, rescues him, carrying him through the sewers of Paris, to his grandfather's home where he is tended. Meanwhile Jalvert cannot abide the fact that he is in debt to a thief and he commits suicide. As Marius heals, Valjean realizes that he cannot hold onto Cosette forever. He gives his blessing for their marriage. Valjean retreats to the convent where he eventually dies. Cosette and Marius visit him just before his death and Fantine returns as a spirit to take him to heaven.

Les Miserables ends with a rousing version of "Do you hear the people sing?" which includes all the cast, and provides a spectacular finale to the movie.

Unlike the musicals produced by Rogers and Hammerstein in the 1950's and '60's, in which the music we hear during the film is polished vocals recorded in a studio prior to filming, the actors in Les Miserables sing on camera. Instead of miming their singing during filming, in Les Miserables, the actors gave live performances on camera while using an ear piece which allowed them to hear a piano played offstage. This allowed the cast to concentrate on their acting, capturing the emotions of the moment in the vocal performance and works very well, even though not all of the actors in the film are strong vocalists. Another way in which this musical is different from say The Sound of Music or Oklahoma is that the film is sung through with very little added dialogue.

There are many excellent vocal performances by broadway veteran, Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, by Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche.

Jackman brilliantly transitions from the gaunt, angry ex-convict to the sacrificial, heroic Monsieur Madelaine. Anne Hathaway's performance of I dreamed a dream is unforgettable - deeply moving, easily conveying the profoundly tragic situation of Fantine. It is worthy of an Oscar.

Redmayne with his rich vocals was absolutely superb as Marius, a revolutionary in love with Cosette.

Russell Crowe is physically well cast as Jalvert, with his imposing physique, but his vocal performance is only adequate. His singing simply lacks the power one might expect from the character of Jalvert. Daniel Huttlestone is wonderful as Gavroche, his singing fresh and his performance, endearing. Both Helen Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen come within a hairs breadth of stealing the show with their comedic portrayal of the thieving, conniving Thenardiers. They provide the much needed comic relief in the movie especially with their hilariously ribald rendition of "Master of the House". And who knew Sasha Baron Cohen could sing?!

In the video below, the actors discuss the merits of singing live on camera for Les Miserables.



One aspect I especially enjoyed about this move was the incredible camera shots of the moon in the night scenes. When Valjean is released and is walking through the countryside at night, the moon glowing down upon him serves to emphasize his isolation and hopelessness. When Jalvert stands on the ramparts and sings "Stars" under the glow of a brilliant moon we sense his intensity and determination.

But one thing I didn't enjoy was the extreme close-ups of some of the characters while they were singing. A good example is when Eddie Redmayne sings "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" - a poignant ballad expressing his longing for Cosette, but somewhat marred by the close camera.

This musical offers several nods to the Broadway version of Les Miserables. The death of Enjolras in this version is similar to that in the play; he is shot and falls backwards out the window hanging upside down. The barricades constructed by the revolutionaries are also almost identical to those in the stage production.

One enjoyable and rather humorous scene was that of all types of furniture being thrown out of windows as the students call for help in constructing the barricades.

Directed by Tom Hooper, Les Miserables was filmed on location in France and England and also at Pinewood Studios. Overall, Les Miserables is a wonderful production that effectively tells the story and conveys the some of the many themes of the novel including those of forgiveness, redemption, sacrificial love, justice, and mercy. Go see it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Anything But Ordinary by Lara Avery

Anything But Ordinary is a book filled with much promise but which ultimately will leave readers disappointed.

Seventeen year old Bryce Graham is a promising diver who suffers a devastating, coma-inducing brain injury during an Olympic trials dive competition. Anything But Ordinary opens when Bryce awakens five years later in Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Her younger sister, Sydney, is now seventeen, her father's hair is grayer and things have changed immensely as Bryce is about to learn. She has missed graduating from Hilwood High and four years of college. Bryce wonders about what has happened to her best friends and teammates, Greg and Gabby.

In the days immediately after awakening from the coma, Bryce makes a remarkable recovery. She can talk, use her hands and use a wheelchair. She is even beginning to stand and take a few steps. This makes her recovery all the more astounding and of interest to researchers in neurology. Although Bryce's recovery appears to be going well, in fact, she is having strange visions accompanied by intense pain. While most of the visions are of events that have already happened, Bryce does have a vision of the future as well. She decides that she will not tell anyone about what is happening, despite being asked about her memory by her doctor, Dr. Warren.

Dr. Warren, who suspects Bryce isn't being truthful about what's going on, wants Bryce to remain in hospital for several more weeks to undergo tests, but Bryce wants to leave as soon as possible. Anxious to get on with her life, Bryce is allowed to go home. At home though, Bryce discovers that life for her family has changed a great deal. Her parents argue and are no longer close. Her father has quit coaching and stopped working on the airplane he was building. And her sister Sydney is a party animal, often getting drunk and staying out late at night to party.

As she begins to take her life back and heal from her brain injury, Bryce feels trapped by her past and the years she has missed. While she has been in a coma, life has gone on for Gabby and Greg, both of whom went to Stanford instead of Vanderbuilt which they received scholarships for.  Bryce's world is further turned upside down when she learns that Gabby and Greg are engaged to be married and that they are moving to D.C where Gabby will study law. Greg was Bryce's boyfriend before her accident and now she must come to terms with the fact that he is marrying her best friend. This is even more difficult because Gabby seems oblivious to the effect this has on Bryce whom she has asked to be her maid of honour.

When Bryce returns to Vanderbilt for a CAT scan, she has a vision while undergoing the scan. The results puzzle her doctors but she refuses to stay in hospital and has her new friend, Carter, who is a second year medical student drive her home. Eventually Carter does tell Bryce the result of the scans and what it means for her future.

Bryce continues to prepare for Gabby and Greg's wedding, by agreeing to be Gabby's maid of honour and going shopping for dresses. Greg, however, is having second thoughts about the wedding and tells Bryce he is still in love with her. He begins to see her behind Gabby's back and although Bryce tries to discourage him and continually walks away from him, she does become involved with him again, while also beginning a relationship with Carter.

Bryce tries to encourage her parents to reclaim their lives again and to develop a life outside of looking after her. She eventually manages to talk to Sydney and come to an understanding of what her younger sister's life must have been like while she was in a coma for five years and her parent's life revolved around keeping watch at the hospital.

It takes Sydney to help Bryce come to the realization that her relationship with Greg belongs in the past. At the rehearsal dinner when Greg once again confronts Bryce about his marriage to Gabby, Bryce asks him what he really wants in life and tells him that this is something he alone must determine. At this time, Carter reveals to Bryce the result of the earlier CAT scan and the true state of her health.

While the concept behind this story was interesting, Avery does some things well but misses the mark on others. Lara Avery does a great job of portraying the difficulties a young person might encounter after being sidelined for just long enough to make a substantial difference. Bryce is physically 22 years old but still emotionally only 17 years old. While her friends have finished university and are socially more mature, Bryce is still very much a teen. The author also does a good job of capturing the emotional toll of Bryce's injury on her family. Sydney, who feels abandoned by both her parents as they focus on Bryce, rebels with her goth clothing and acting out.

Because Bryce's physical abilities return so quickly (she is walking within a matter of days) that aspect of her recovery takes a second hand to the relationships in her life - especially her friends from high school.  In fact, the relationship between Gabby, Greg and Bryce takes the forefront of the storyline. Bryce seems to become completely focused on Greg and Gabby, who have developed a life together but which gradually unwinds after Bryce comes back into their lives. Bryce seems unable to come to terms with their relationship and to recognize the blossoming interest of Carter, who has more than a passing interest in her. She repeatedly tells Greg that she doesn't want to meet him again, yet continues to do so.

Greg is confused and behaves in a very dishonorable way by refusing to acknowledge that he is leading Gabby on, meeting Bryce behind her back and even trying to pursue a physical relationship with Bryce. And Gabby doesn't seem to recognize Greg's interest in Bryce. This strange triangle is frustrating and predictable. We know Greg is probably going to call off the wedding and when he does, it's really no surprise.

Bryce received little help in terms of psychological counselling to help her pick up the pieces of her life. She was simply allowed to sign out of the hospital because she was legally an adult and she refused to return for check-ups. This was ostensibly due to the visions which Bryce wanted to keep secret, but this wasn't believable.  The visions were never really explained and while most were of events that happened while Bryce was in a coma, one inexplicably was of a future event that allowed Bryce to save her sister.

Near the end of the novel, Bryce finally confronts Sydney, who has suddenly "burnt out" from her bad behaviour and now appears to be open to talking to her sister. Bryce learns what life has been like for Sydney for the past five years. This was a very interesting scene and it was too bad their relationship wasn't explored more in the book. It would have added considerable depth to both characters.

The ending of the novel was a complete shocker and very disappointing. I can't imagine how Carter felt after discovering what Bryce had done. It was inexplicable and even strange.I also didn't really understand the unusual cicada motif which appears throughout the novel.

I feel that this book had much potential, but lots of loose ends and under developed characters. A great cover and an interesting opening chapter will draw readers in. They will stay to find out what happens but will be left with lots of questions.

Book Details:
Anything But Ordinary by Lara Avery
New York: Hyperion       2012
327 pp.