Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Book Review: Self Love

Self Love: A British Tale of Woe and Wit by T.L. Clark is the story of thirty-something, aspiring entrepreneur (her own florist business), attractive but overweight Molly. Our heroine is plagued by what seems to be a malevolent fate. Her weight has become an obsession, her self-doubts are fuelled by the voice in her head that sounds very much like her mother, her boyfriend – Nigel the wanker - has dumped her, and she seems to be spiralling downward in a cycle of binge eating and despair. What’s it going to take for Molly to turn her life around, regain her confidence, and realize that loving yourself must come before anyone else can love you?

Full of charm, realism and British humor, Self Love will resonate with most, possibly all readers. I defy anyone who reads this story not to have experienced at least one of Molly’s issues, be it being dumped by the boyfriend before a client’s wedding, despairing of one’s weight, enduring the worries of a fledgling business, discovering health issues, undergoing the humiliations of online dating, trying yet another diet… the scenarios are myriad and real. There are funny moments, and bitter-sweet moments. The reader hopes that Molly does discover the value of true friendship, real love, a relationship with her mother and, mostly importantly, a relationship with herself just as she is, and embraces who she is.

The story is simple, as most life stories are, without complex plot twists and turns, but that very simplicity is part of the appeal of this tale of woe. Molly is hilarious in dealing with her dramatic events, and her inner monologue/stream of consciousness narration ensures the reader is with her all the way. Molly is very real and relatable and the secondary characters, while not so fleshed out, are still very credible. Her parents, especially her mother, are hilarious. The dialogues are natural, and this makes the events believable. The story flows well and events transpire smoothly. I enjoyed Molly’s story and rooted for her all the way. Most readers will nod their heads in a ‘been there, done that’ way while turning the pages. A delightful, witty, and hilarious escapade through life with an unlikely but tenacious heroine.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Book Review: The Mystic Video Game

The Extraordinary Tales of Melody Magic: The Mystic Video Game by Alex Woburn is the third book in this series, filled with color, magic, action, danger, ghastly monsters, fun and whimsical creatures, and lots of adventure. Melody and her mom, Violet, find themselves homeless after their house was burned down. While Melody stays with her friend Max, Violet gets a job helping to clean up a charming cabin in the woods and is able to live there while doing so. The owner, Saxon, and his son, Charlie, just disappeared many years ago, and Dante, Saxon’s brother, has finally decided to tidy things up and put the cabin on the market. Melody and her friends decide to help Violet, but while cleaning up they discover a very old video game console … and are invited into the World of Whimsy by Ollie, the singing octopus. The kids need to help save the World of Whimsy from great evil. Will they survive the terrible dangers contained within the game? Are they ready for the incredible surprises waiting there?

Since this is the third book, young readers might like to pick up the first two books to acquaint themselves with Melody’s story and how she got her powers. However, since Alex Woburn drip-feeds backstory into the rollicking adventure as it unfolds, there is enough detail to keep readers apprised. The story is a non-stop, helter-skelter ride that whisks young readers headlong into a world of magic and mayhem. The author has an incredible imagination and kids will just love the amazing creatures – both the frightening and then fun ones - he has created. Ollie the singing octopus is just adorable. There are numerous life lessons and messages interwoven into the action and the encounters Melody and her friends have with the real world and the magical one. Teamwork, accepting others for who they are, being kind to others, believing in yourself, looking for answers from within, caring for the environment, and many more.

The author sets the scenes in the real world very well, with Melody’s school and social life nicely outlined. Young readers will relate to the teachers and the mean girl scenario. The entry into the magical World of Whimsy is done in a way that reminded me of the movie Jumanji, where the kids get to choose various powers. These powers are suited to their personalities. The question of would anyone really want superpowers in their daily life is addressed in an interesting way at the end. The story wraps up nicely with, of course, a new adventure looming as Violet takes a job helping the owner of a creepy old mansion turn it into a lovely hotel… A wonderful tale for young readers who love adventure and action stories with a difference!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Book Review: Johnnie Mr. Tough Guy

Johnnie Mr. Tough Guy is an adorable children’s picture book written by Raffaella Buffolino and illustrated by Michael Monochello. Johnnie was a tough little guy, and he wasn’t afraid of anything – bugs, storms, monsters, not even the kid next door. When his mom says they’re going to visit the zoo that day, Johnnie decides to find an animal there that’s as tough as he feels he is. They went early and so there were no crowds and long lines of visitors. Johnnie and his mom had the place to themselves. Johnnie visits a number of exhibits – the lion, the gorilla, the giraffe, the snakes, the elephants, the hippos – and tries to decide who is the toughest guy there… He thought about what the zookeeper said about the lion; even in a cage, the lion was still the king. Johnnie wonders if he is the king of the house, like the lion?

This is a delightful book that gives children food for thought as Johnnie examines each animal and comes to his conclusion about it. I liked that Johnnie had his own opinions and related each animal to his own experiences or people in his life. The illustrations are well done and brightly colored, the type that grabs a young reader’s attention and makes them want to discover more. The images above each actual animal image are just wonderful and I loved the imaginative take on the rat and the snake. There is a lot for children to explore in each illustration and these offer topics for discussion. Parents and teachers can use this book for further discussion, as well as some research into wildlife. This is a delightful, deceptively simple tale that offers youngsters a lot more than at first glance.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Book Review: The Fox and the Train

The Fox and the Train by Alice Gent is hard to define by genre. Part fable, part folk story, part allegory, part fairy tale. From the first page, the reader is invited into a world of magic and the seemingly impossible. “For we have some flax golden tales to spin…” From that moment I knew I would love this tale of the fox and the train. The story is set some time in the last century, and there is a war and hardship. Thirteen-year-old Anna has lost her father, but he was “lost” from the time of the previous “Old War” anyway. With the help of her grandmother, Anna cares for her mother, whose memories have been stolen by “the black foxes.” Her brother Anderson is away fighting on the front, and her other brother, Michael, works on the mine. Bad news comes of the cave-in at the mine. When the train and the tracks are damaged by a treefall, someone must go on foot to help the miners. Anna decides to go with her friend, Benny, who is clever and strange and not like other people. However, to get to the mines, their journey takes them into the magic, danger, and darkness of the woods, the home of the Spirit King.

The descriptions are detailed, intense, and lyrical, giving an immediacy that draws the reader right into Anna’s experiences. The first part of the book is quite realistic with hints of magicality and the pace is slow as the author sets the scene of Anna’s life and the events leading up to the tragedy of the mine collapse and the damage to the train tracks. The second half dramatically speeds up the chain of events as it plunges the reader and Benny and Anna into a world that isn’t quite real. One wonders if Anna’s visions of the Spirit King, in the form of a fox, are perhaps hallucinations from the cold and hunger. The pace becomes quite frantic as the two teens must combat fatigue, cold, hunger, the environment, and enemy soldiers. The story itself is fascinating as the reader is taken along with Anna in her quest, both internal and external, and in her being able to overcome the tests presented to her. I found myself completely absorbed in the unfolding of events and I loved the appearance of the Spirit King.

I am not very fond of present tense in a story but somehow this works in The Fox and the Train. There is a lot of telling as the author sets the scene, which I find did slow things down a bit, and perhaps it would have been better for the reader to work out the meaning behind the apparitions of the Spirit King. However, the author has delved into many themes that will resonate with readers and perhaps the most important message to take from this story is the power of love, and how courage comes from the most surprising places.