Review: Swarm by Scott Westerfeld

23989925*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Swarm (Zeroes #2)

Authors: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: September 27, 2016

ISBN:  9781471124914

Swarm (Zeroes, #2)

Synopsis from Goodreads:
They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes. These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers and mobsters. Now they’re trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground. But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister. Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him. Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army?

I will confess, I’m not sure why I didn’t realized, but I did not know that this was book two in a series. Silly me! That being said, there was hardly any need for me to read book one, and going back now would merely be out of curiosity. Book one, I believe, would probably provide me with a better understanding of characters and how they came to be who they are–their development so to speak, but these authors do a wonderful job of providing enough information about how the characters got to be where they are so that I was fully informed of the story up until this point.

I’m glad of this series, because after reading Westerfeld’s last novel, Afterworlds, I was so disappointed. I’m a huge fan of his Uglies series and this last novel was a huge let down for me. But he’s back in business with Swarm! It’s an excellent collaborative work. I’m not often a fan of YA novels with multiple authors, but this one is quite cohesive and compelling. The story is strong, the characters are diverse and very interesting. Their powers are completely fascinating.

The only thing I would have enjoyed seeing more of–and again this may be something that I missed out on in book one–is reading about the characters practicing their powers. They do this to some extent in Swarm however, it’s minimal and I would have loved to see the authors touch on it a bit more. I always enjoyed reading about characters who are working on self development to further their story and their quests.

This is definitely a series that I’d encourage YA readers to try out. I very much enjoyed it.

Review: The Spawning Ground

28185966*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Spawning Grounds

Author: Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: September 6, 2016

ISBN: 9780345810816

The Spawning Grounds
Synopsis from Goodreads:
On one side of the river is a ranch once owned by Eugene Robertson, who came in the gold rush around 1860, and stayed on as a homesteader. On the other side is a Shuswap community that has its own tangled history with the river–and the whites. At the heart of the novel are Hannah and Brandon Robertson, teenagers who have been raised by their grandfather after they lost their mother. As the novel opens, the river is dying, its flow reduced to a trickle, and Hannah is carrying salmon past the choke point to the spawning grounds while her childhood best friend, Alex, leads a Native protest against the development further threatening the river. When drowning nearly claims the lives of both Hannah’s grandfather and her little brother, their world is thrown into chaos. Hannah, Alex, and most especially Brandon come to doubt their own reality as they are pulled deep into Brandon’s numinous visions, which summon the myths of Shuswap culture and tragic family stories of the past.
The Spawning Grounds explores various relationship: between the Shuswap community and the white developers; between Hannah, her brother, Brandon, and their father; between the living and the spirit world; and so many others. This natural and visceral novel is full of spiritual understanding and acceptance. It passes stories and myth down from generation to generation. In tandem with these stories, the natural land belonging to the Shuswap community faces potential destruction.  This place of peace, nature, and spirit is at risk of disappearing at the hands of white developers. Amidst this threat, Hannah risks losing her brother to something eerily similar to what took her mother from her when she was young.
Anderson-Dargatz brings a very beautiful, complex world to life in her novel. The characters struggle to understand and accept the supernatural, spirit world that has intersected with their own. Alex bring forth the teachings and uninhibited belief in the river and salmon spirits. Hannah battles her affection and trust in Alex with her education and her ideas and her secular upbringing. Their father returns after many years away and struggles to gain the trust of his family. His relationship with his family and the people in the town is incredible complicated.
I didn’t find this novel hugely exciting, however it is breathtaking in it’s description of the land and the stories of the past. I found it a little slow moving, however the characters are intricate and compelling. It’s a wonderful Canadian story that shares the wonder of our land and our history. I quite enjoyed this novel overall.

Review: Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking

27833835*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Three Years with the Rat

Author: Jay Hosking

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, from Penguin Canada Books Inc.

Publication Date: August 9, 2016

ISBN: 9780670069378

Three Years with the Rat

Synopsis from Goodreads:
After several years of drifting between school and go-nowhere jobs, a young man is drawn back into the big city of his youth. The magnet is his beloved older sister, Grace: always smart and charismatic even when she was rebelling, and always his hero. Now she is a promising graduate student in psychophysics and the centre of a group of friends who take “Little Brother” into their fold, where he finds camaraderie, romance, and even a decent job. But it soon becomes clear that things are not well with Grace. Always acerbic, she now veers into sudden rages that are increasingly directed at her adoring boyfriend, John, who is also her fellow researcher. When Grace disappears, and John shortly thereafter, the narrator makes an astonishing discovery in their apartment: a box big enough to crawl inside, a lab rat, and a note that says This is the only way back for us. Soon he embarks on a mission to discover the truth, a pursuit that forces him to question time and space itself, and ultimately toward a perilous confrontation at the very limits of imagination.

This is one of the most imaginative and exciting novels that I’ve read this year. Taking place in my local city, Toronto, it was familiar yet so very strange and mysterious. It’s sci-fi meets noir mystery. It’s full of theoretical science that becomes very real in the folds of these pages. Hosking writes to his reader without shying away from technical terminology and scientific theory, meeting his reader on an equal plain. It’s an intelligent story with incredibly complex characters and situations who address ideas of existentialism and being. It’s thought provoking and the narrative moves along quickly.

This story questions time and space. It posits the idea of alternate dimensions wherein every and any possible can and does exist. Characters face feelings of love and loss as they try to navigate familial and romantic relationships. The narrator, nameless, but so clearly defined by his actions and interactions with those around him, drives this story forward, finding passion only in the search for his sister. Like the narrator, we are on the outside. We are learning as he does, but our capacity to understand only stretches as far as the narrator’s knowledge. This story is fragmented, alternating between past and present, seemingly at random. We construct the story in fits and starts in a manner that only ceases to enhance our positioning alongside the narrator. On the other hand is his sister, Grace. She is the one character who clearly understands everything in her world(s), however her knowledge seems to be inaccessible to us, the reader. Because of this distance, the ending is a bit convoluted so I’m not entirely sure what it is intended to mean, but I loved it nonetheless. 5 stars!

Review: And The Trees Crept In by Dawn Kirtagich

28449150*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: And the Trees Crept In

Author: Dawn Kurtagich

Publisher: Little, Brown

Publication Date: September 2016

ISBN: 9780316298704

And the Trees Crept In
Synopsis from Goodreads:
When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?
This new book from The Dead House author Dawn Kurtagich bring the creep factor that her previous novel had, but not quite to the same level. Where The Dead Houshad me nervous to turn the page, scared of what might come next, And the Trees Crept In had a much more fantastical element. I feel like this is one for lovers of Coraline. It’s got that same kind of whimsical, yet scary feel. However, it was very easy for me to tell where this story was going, before I even got about halfway through.

This story brings together a haunted rising of the unimaginable, the unstable mental state of a family member, abuse, a threat of war, and a desperate love between sisters. There’s a lot going on. The chaotic state brings this element of fear for the characters and is meant to inspire similar feelings in the reader. It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not. The impossible occurs page by page, so much so that you cannot trust the narrator nor the world she describes to us. We cannot trust the words on the page. The only way to know the truth is to get to the end of the story. With such an unreliable narrator, even in the end, the reader is left to question if what has happened is true.

I loved that this book incorporated the journals of both sisters. We see the pages burning away as Silla writes each letter. These burning pages are suggestive of the impermanence and instability of this every evolving world. Within each of Silla’s letter there is a “hidden” message, demonstrated by larger bolder letters. It was a little silly in my opinion, however this is a YA so the author may not have wanted the hidden message to be too cryptic or difficult to find.

Overall, it reminds me of those ghost stories that are told around the campfire by friends of family members just trying to have a good time. Definitely not as good as The Dead House, but still entertaining.

Review: Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson

26150409*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Precious Cargo

Author: Craig Davidson

Publisher: April 12, 2016

Publication Date: Knopf Canada

ISBN: 9780345810533

Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077

Synopsis from Goodreads:
One morning in 2008, desperate and impoverished and living in a one-room basement apartment while trying unsuccessfully to write, Davidson plucked a flyer out of his mailbox that read, “Bus Drivers Wanted.” That was the first step towards an unlikely new career: driving a school bus full of special-needs kids for a year. Armed only with a sense of humour akin to that of his charges, a creative approach to the challenge of driving a large, awkward vehicle while corralling a rowdy gang of kids, and surprising but unsentimental reserves of empathy, Davidson takes us along for the ride. He shows us how his evolving relationship with the kids on that bus, each of them struggling physically as well as emotionally and socially, slowly but surely changed his life along with the lives of the “precious cargo” in his care. This is the extraordinary story of that year and those relationships. It is also a moving, important and universal story about how we see and treat people with special needs in our society.

I’ve been finding myself reading more about Craig Davidson’s works in the past few years, and I’ve been curious about nearly every title. Precious Cargo is an especially heart-warming memoir that shows tremendous growth on the part of the author over the course of the year that this book encompasses. His story is much more fun than I expected and I was pleasantly surprised by his smile-worthy stories and the hilarious children that he encountered throughout his year as a bus driver.

Davidson is in low spirits in the beginning. He is not succeeding as a writer, he can’t get or hold a job, and he’s not sure if he’ll continue to even be able to eat. Luck is on his side one day when he happens upon an ad for Bus Drivers Wanted. He is hired almost immediately and begins the most life-changing year of his life until that point. He drives a short, yellow school bus. He has 6 students on his bus each with a different disability. Although at first apprehensive, Craig comes to love Bus 3077 and the kids he drives to and from school every day. They teach him to love life and the simple pleasures again. He forms friendships with them and they help to bring a smile to his face. He becomes fiercely protective of the bus and the glorious children that he drives.

It’s a sweet story and it will most definitely make you smile. Craig’s narration is so joyful and hilarious. Even in times of struggle, he still managed to make him laugh. I certainly developed a fondness for him and his loyalty and protectiveness of his bus, especially when he camps out overnight in the freezing cold to protect his bus from vandals. Craig learns to control his temper, he learns devotion and loyalty, he learns to understand and be empathetic. His journey is great and he comes so far over the course of this book. It’s a fantastic insight into what started out as a particularly trying time in his life.

Review: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

23590716Title: Birdie

Author: Tracey Lindberg

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 9781554682942


Synopsis from Goodreads:
Birdie is a darkly comic and moving first novel about the universal experience of recovering from wounds of the past, informed by the lore and knowledge of Cree traditions. Bernice Meetoos, a Cree woman, leaves her home in Northern Alberta following tragedy and travels to Gibsons, BC. She is on something of a vision quest, seeking to understand the messages from The Frugal Gourmet (one of the only television shows available on CBC North) that come to her in her dreams. She is also driven by the leftover teenaged desire to meet Pat Johns, who played Jesse on The Beachcombers, because he is, as she says, a working, healthy Indian man. Bernice heads for Molly’s Reach to find answers but they are not the ones she expected. With the arrival in Gibsons of her Auntie Val and her cousin Skinny Freda, Bernice finds the strength to face the past and draw the lessons from her dreams that she was never fully taught in life. Part road trip, dream quest and travelogue, the novel touches on the universality of women’s experience, regardless of culture or race.

This book came to my knowledge when it was featured as one of the finalists for CBC’s Canada Reads. I’m always inclined to check out these books because it’s so wonderful to discover new and established Canadian talent. Plus, it’s been compares to Robinson’s Monkey Beach which is one of my most beloved books. I love when Canadians highlight their own, because so often in the book industry, Canadian books are overtaken by bestselling international authors. I couldn’t not pick this book up.

Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie is such a visceral book. It’s a book that encourages the reader to connect through feeling and intuition. It is often disjointed, reflecting the broken life of Birdie/Bernice. Abandonment, abuse, rape, and shame have been a prominent part of Birdie’s upbringing and young adult life. We piece together her story, learning through Birdie’s eyes as she reaches her breaking point. Her story is powerful and moving. She has struggled and she comes so close to failure, to death. Her story is full of her spirit and life. Birdie is a character that the reader comes to love as you turn each page. She is incredibly strong. She refuses again and again to be beaten down, but even she is not immune to the terrible outcomes of a lifetime of abuse and struggle. I love Birdie because even in her darkest hour, she is able to gather her courage and to find a bright light. We learn of her life as she confronts her past. As we read, Birdie heals, drawing on the spirit of her ancestors and family.

Has any one else ready this book? What are your thoughts?

Review: Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devin

25372971*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Tell Me Something Real

Author: Calla Devin

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: August 30, 2016

ISBN: 9781481461153

Tell Me Something Real

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Three sisters struggle with the bonds that hold their family together as they face a darkness settling over their lives in this masterfully written debut novel. There are three beautiful blond Babcock sisters: gorgeous and foul-mouthed Adrienne, observant and shy Vanessa, and the youngest and best-loved, Marie. Their mother is ill with leukemia and the girls spend a lot of time with her at a Mexican clinic across the border from their San Diego home so she can receive alternative treatments. Vanessa is the middle child, a talented pianist who is trying to hold her family together despite the painful loss that they all know is inevitable. As she and her sisters navigate first loves and college dreams, they are completely unaware that an illness far more insidious than cancer poisons their home. Their world is about to shatter under the weight of an incomprehensible betrayal…

Devin’s book is completely shocking and gut-wrenching. The outcome of this novel is something I could never have guessed, not in a million years. And I really liked it for this twist! Even though the twist was hard to stomach. This is a story of a family wracked by terminal illness. Three sisters have united together to survive and to help keep the family afloat. With their mother’s declining health and their father constantly at work, it falls on the shoulders of Adrienne, Vanessa, and Marie to join their mother on trips to the hospital in Mexico, to cook, to clean, and to take care of each other. When Beth and the adorable Caleb move in, suddenly their lives have structure again. But just when things look like they’re turning around, things get completely out of control.

I really connected with the protagonist, Vanessa. She’s a piano genius who processes and feels her emotions best through her music. She wants so badly to pursue this passion, but her complicated life means that she may have to give up everything she’s ever dreamed of. Her sister, Adrienne, is an artist, but she’s also angry, vulgar, and seems constantly on the edge of breaking. I felt her to be the most realistic, although not the most likeable. Her fear and pain is channeled through anger. She’s beautiful, but she lashes out. You see her softer side emerge in her love for her sisters, especially Marie, who she takes care of and crafts with.

Romance provide a bright spot in the story that is absolutely necessary in a very tragic tale. I’m not always a fan of a romance thrown into stories like this, especially one about family struggling in the most terrible time of their lives, but I think it does well here to provide a happier juxtaposition to the tragedy unfolding. It’s necessary and it’s a breath of fresh air in all the darkness. Caleb is recovering, but he is by no means healthy. He’s near-death experiences give him a much wider perspective of his world. He’s no-nonsense and straight to the point. He encourages Vanessa to be open and honest. He wants only for her to be herself and loves her for it. Their relationship is sweet and provides some much needed relief.

Overall, I was quite enthralled by Devin’s text. I read it in a night and would definitely read it again. It didn’t make me cry like I thought it would but it certainly gave me all the feels. I hope you’ll give it a chance!