Front Lines by Michael Grant

front lines

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

Michael Grant has written an alternate history of WWII, one in which women are allowed to enlist in the army. The novel follows the path of three different teen girls as they enlist in the US army. One is a Jewish girl who ends up in intelligence, one is a farm girl who is a foot soldier with her best friend, and the third is an African-American girl who dreams of being a doctor and becomes a medic.

The thing about this book is that it doesn’t really do anything fantastically interesting with the premise it has. The girls face the obstacles you expect they would: sexism and racism. They face them bravely, but it does not change the course of the war in any discernible way. For all the difference it made, this could just be another WWII novel. Most of the story focuses on the training to become soldiers and the fear and uncertainty that come from being a soldier, but gender does not make too much of a difference. Even the sexism is no more than an annoyance through the majority of the book.

Michael Grant’s Gone series sucked me in immediately. It had a ton of action, a fairly unique plot and it took its premise and ran with it. Sometime to almost sickening detail (the characters resort to cannibalism less than halfway through the series). It was not always pleasant, but it was REALLY hard to stop reading. This book just did not have that grab-you-and-not-let-you-go quality. I was expecting to be dazzled by the promise of such an interesting world, but it really did not go anywhere too magnificent. The girls’ experience is pretty identical to other WWII stories from a male perspective, just with some sexism tacked on for good measure.

My initial disappointment aside, the characters are realistic and well-written. They are not perfect and respond to stress as most humans do. They are not portrayed as angels or saints, but 3 girls who have identifiable and reasonable reasons for doing what they do. You can imagine these stories being real ones that come out of the Second World War. They make friends and enemies and succeed and fail as they will.

If anyone has any female readers who are tired of war stories being all about boys, this would be a good pick. Overall though, it is another book like many others on a subject that has been thoroughly explored, that does not live entirely up to the promise of its premise.

Advertisements

A Grimm Curse by Janna Jennings

a grimm curse

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a rewrite of Cinderella, with dashes of other fairy tales mixed in.

Cynthia is living as a servant in her own house, tirelessly working away to please her stepmother and stepsisters. She is at the market shopping when she stumbles across an enchanted frog who claims to be a prince. Cynthia promises to help Remi find a princess to break his enchantment, on top of her other work.

I really liked this version of Cinderella because Cynthia has a backbone and gets some of her own back in her interactions with her step family. The Disney version always annoyed me (especially the new live-action one) because the Cinderella character is basically a doormat and never tries to rebel or act out. In this version she does, and I appreciate the interesting ways she finds to make her stepfamilies lives just a little harder.

Cynthia is also not trying to escape her fate by marrying a prince. She decides to go to the royal ball in order to find a princess for Remi. It is a complete accident when she catches the eye of the prince, and she tries to avoid him afterwards. Cynthia is prepared to find her own way out of her predicaments and is not using marriage as an escape.

Jennings included the dead mother as a tree component from the original fairy tale and I really appreciated that. I like it when authors refers to the original and not just the popular Disney versions of the fairy tales. The originals have interesting and sometimes gruesome details that really spice them up.

Cynthia’s relationship with Remi is wonderfully done. It is a very realistic portrayal of friendship and how important it is, without it immediately dissolving into romance. It is so nice when a girl and boy can have a non-romantic, meaningful relationship in books and this one is sweet and recognizable as a true friendship.

This is another excellent addition to a  series I have thoroughly enjoyed. Jennings does some very interesting things to her fairy tales and they end up being a joy to read.

The Hunt by Megan Shepherd

the hunt

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book.

This is the sequel to something I have already reviewed, so there may be some spoilers for the first book in here.

In the first book, 6 teens are kidnapped from earth and placed in an alien habitat, to be studied and to reproduce as their alien overlords demand. They are told the Earth is destroyed and that they are as safe as possible under the care of the aliens in their habitat. Of course, the teens soon find reason to doubt that these things are true and start planning an escape.

The second book is about that attempted escape. In the first book the teens are prized human specimens and are treated to a fairly decent existence as long as they obey the rules. In this addition, they have broken the rules and end up in different parts of the alien station, living very different existences. Cora is an entertainer in a safari-themed entertainment environment, while Nok and Rolf are being studied in a 50’s themed house and Leon has joined a group of alien smugglers.

Cora might be able to save all of humanity from slavery if she can master her new psychic abilities, but time is running out for her and her friends, and she needs Cassian’s help to succeed.

This book was a really strong second book in the series. It had everything I liked about the original (diverse cast of interesting characters and cool world building) with enough new stuff to keep me interested. The characters adapt to their circumstances and the tension builds nicely.

This book does end on a cliffhanger, so if you were expecting a conclusion, do not hold your breath. It is a very solid second book in a genre that usually has weak middle books in trilogies. Stuff happens in this one and the characters moving out into the station in general means some world building and exploration happens. I cannot wait for the third one!

Burn by Elissa Sussman

burn

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book.

This is the companion to a book I really loved, Stray. Eleanor, a rebel, is ready to take out the evil queen who has a stranglehold on the land and has a group of friends, both new and from the first book, to help her.

This book, while a solid read, does not have the character of the original. What I adored about Stray was the world building. Elissa Sussman had built an entire weird religion around the idea of princess purity and suppressing magic in the first book and that creativity really made the book for me. It was such an original idea! This addition does have a bit of that, but not with the intricacy of the first. This read a lot more like a standard fantasy mixed with a dystopian. A scrappy group of rebels need to take down a powerful despotic tyrant. There are questions of loyalty and hardships, a fight, and then the conclusion.

There are some shades of the original here. The rebels worship characters from an origin story from Stray, but it does not wind itself as deeply into the story as the religion in Stray, and I found that disappointing.

Eleanor is a good foil for Princess Aislynn. Eleanor is a lot rasher and bolder than Aislynn, and while Aislynn gradually had to come to the realization that her life is not ideal, Eleanor knows it right off the bat. The two girls play off of each other nicely as characters, with very different background stories and experiences.

Burn is also full of a lot of interesting secondary characters. The rebels join the characters from Stray to build a pretty solid cast of people that you do get involved with. I found there were a few too many to keep track of completely solidly, but at least they had separate personalities, which is something you cannot always say about rebels in YA literature.

Despite not being as overwhelmingly wonderful as the first, this is still a solid book and I really want to read anything else this author offers.

Lord and Lady Bunny- Almost Royalty by Polly Horvath

lord and lady bunny

4 out of 5 stars

I reviewed this book for the Rocky Mountain Book Awards

This is the second in the series and I have to admit to really disliking the first one. For some reason I found it extremely creepy that the girl’s parents were kidnapped by foxes and the illustrations just turned me off. This one I found hilarious and charming though.

Madeleine’s current life goal is to save enough money for college, since her hippie parents have a total of six dollars and some cents in their possession. The family receives a letter that they have inherited a candy store, but it is in England. Being the sensible and grounded people they are, Madeleine’s parents immediately uproot themselves to head overseas.

Luckily for Madeleine, Mr and Mrs Bunny have also decided to go to England. Mrs Bunny wants to become Queen and is convinced England is the only place to do that. Mr Bunny is sceptical but the promise of a lifetime of free carrot cake convinces him to humour her. They simultaneously plan to become royalty and help Madeleine afford college.

The main draw of this book is the language. Polly Horvath is a master of humour in the way she presents her characters, world, and dialogue. It is all funny in a very dry British way. If parents are looking for a book to read to  their kids, this would be a really good choice. It has enough action to appeal to kids but parents should giggle their way through this as well. It is flat out funny, especially the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bunny. She is working on her next novel and Mr Bunny, mad at not being given enough credit, keeps scribbling suggestions into her notebook. For a kids book, it represents a married couple in a very good way: not always perfect and sometimes quarrelsome, but loving when it gets down to it.

Just like The Summer We Saved The Bees, Madeleine is shackled to a pair of ridiculous parents. I don’t know how this is apparently a Canadian book trope but it seems to be. If there are many more of these this year I just have to conclude my having sensible parents was a fluke.

 

5 Elephants by Rob Laidlaw

5 elephants

4 out of 5 stars

I reviewed this for the Rocky Mountain Book Awards

Another nonfiction! Go me!

As you may have guessed from the title, this one is about elephants. This is generally a positive as elephants are wonderful. The book presents the story of 5 elephants, all true and some of whom are even still alive. One of the stories featured Lucy, an elephant that until recently resided in Edmonton and whom I have seen! The stories are a balance of wild and captive elephants and the theme of the book is generally how cool elephants are and how they should not be kept in captivity. It is nicely opinionated for a more mature and thought-provoking read.

The main 5 stories are interspersed with fun facts and a general overview about elephants. The language is simple, but there is enough substance to keep a reader’s interest. I tend to like nonfiction that still contains narratives and this one does that nicely. It packages all of the straight-up facts about elephants within the personal stories of 5 different elephants which makes it very palatable. This is definitely a nonfiction that I can see kids reading for pleasure.

The one downside is that it is just such a specific topic that it is not going to appeal to people who do not like elephants. I cannot imagine that these people exist, but if they do, they might not get a lot out of this.

The Summer We Saved the Bees by Robin Stevenson

the summer we saved the bees

3 out of 5 stars

I reviewed this book for the Rocky Mountain Book Awards

Some spoiler!

Wolf’s mother has decided it is her personal mission to go out and save the world’s honeybees from extinction. Not content to go at it alone, she recruits the whole family. Now Wolf, his mother, stepdad, stepsister and  two half sisters are setting out on a cross-country trip to bring awareness of the issue to the people. Of course this means that all the kids get dragged out of school early, have to wear bee costumes and get to live out of a van for the foreseeable future.

Violet, the eldest, rebels and wants to bring her boyfriend along with her. The twins are delighted at the idea, but shy Whisper starts having problems and goes completely mute quickly. Wolf is stuck in the middle, knowing that the death of honeybees is serious, but not altogether thrilled about what the trip is doing to his family and his future.

Wolf is a very well written, sympathetic character. He is very caring and loyal to his family. Mature enough to realize that not all of his parents’ decisions are sane, yet still young enough to make poor decisions of his own. I liked him right from the beginning. He seems like such a believable, realistic character and really portrays the agony of being old enough to want to do your own thing but still being young enough to have to do what your parents tell you.

What I very much dislike about the book was the parent characters. There is a certain genre of book (I am look at you, Diana Wynne Jones and Lemony Snickett) where the kids tend to have to manoeuvre around stupid adults and draw a lot of their tension from children having to put up with the foolishness and selfishness of their parents and guardians. I do not enjoy these books very much as the unfairness of putting idiots in charge of things infuriated me as a child. Reading about clever children having to do what stupid adults tell them made me see red as a kid and I still carry around the emotional baggage of that hate even now.

While Wolf eventually confronts his parents and manages to convince them that living out of the back of a van and making a shy girl way a bee costume every day in front of strangers is a bad idea, it seems like a fundamental miscarry of justice that a 10 or 12 year old boy would have to make such an effort in the first place. If this book had had another central conflict I would have enjoyed the premise and characters a lot more, but the reality, and reality it is, of many parents being stupid, selfish, irresponsible jerks is not something I like spending my leisure time considering.