Tuesday, February 26, 2013

YA Book Review: The Gift

 Seventeen-year-old Michael decides to end it all one day. He feels he has nothing to live for. His life at school is a misery because of a gang of bullies; he has never kissed a girl; and his diary, in which he documents all his troubles, seems to be his only consolation. However, when he tries to commit suicide with pills washed down with alcohol, he wakes to find himself alive with no trace of pills, alcohol, or his suicide note. There is, however, a note telling him he will receive a visit from a stranger, offering him a chance at a new life. He can have all he desires, based on a handshake and a promise. This chance—aka the Gift—comes with a price. In 66 years’ time, Michael must do the strange visitor a small favour. If he accepts, then he cannot break this bargain. Michael reasons that 66 years is a long time. What can possibly go wrong? His life is transformed when he changes physically and mentally to a state of almost-perfection; his mother wins a vast fortune; and he begins a relationship with the girl he always worshipped from afar. But the man in black returns sooner than expected and demands his price.

From Goethe's Faust
What an interesting read! This book is a YA paranormal thriller with wide appeal. Author Jonathan Lynch has a gift for description, and knows how to turn up the tension. My only criticism here would be that in some very exciting scenes, the descriptions tend to slow down the pace. The characters are well-drawn and believable, especially Michael. The reader can really identify with him. The plot moves in and out of various people’s lives, drawing dark threads together as the mysterious stranger works on his own (otherworldly) agenda. Can Michael escape the fate he has chosen for himself? When dark forces conspire to claim the blood price, can Michael break this deadly pact? Reminiscent of the legend of Faust, who surrendered moral integrity for power and success, the story also throws up interesting questions of good versus evil; what is truth, and what things are beyond price. The book ends in a fascinating way, and I’m sure readers would love a continuation. Recommended.
4 Stars
by Fiona Ingram
First reviewed for Readers Favorite
(b/w illustration from Wikipedia - see link)


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: A Pirate, A Blockade Runner and a Cat

Just how bad can one kid’s life get? When 13-year-old Erik Burks discovers a black lace bra in the glove compartment of his dad’s car his life falls apart. Totally! His mom leaves his father and drags Erik from being king of the hill in Texas to the bottom of the pits in South Carolina. No Dad, no baseball, no friends, just Starry Knight (a girl who reads minds) and her equally weird brother, Stormy, the twins that live down the block.

Just when Erik thinks life can’t get any worse, while hanging out at the beach one evening, he and the twins notice lights radiating from an old, deactivated lighthouse. Stranger still, a ship materializes in the moonlit harbor. On closer inspection, the kids discover the ghost of a blockade runner, a phantom cat, and a pirate who prowls Charleston Harbor, all searching for rest. The ghosts may be the answer to his desire to return home. Erik wants his old life back and he wants answers from his dad. He makes a deal with the ghosts. He’ll help them find what they’re looking for so their spirits can rest in peace. In return, the ghosts will scare Erik’s mother so she’ll be on the next flight back to Texas.

Blackbeard's capture!
What a great tween adventure. This book has everything for kids who like action, mystery, pirates, and ghosts. Author Beverly Stowe McClure very cleverly intersperses real piratical and nautical facts between her fictionalized account of the feud between (historical figures) Major Stede Bonnet and Edward Teach aka Blackbeard. Danger abounds when Erik and his friends board the pirate ghost ship and set sail on their quest to resolve the ghosts’ issues. Magic and mayhem keep the action going, without being too scary. I liked the author’s handling of Erik’s inner turmoil, his confusion over his father’s behavior, and his longing for his life and friends back in Texas. A subtle theme is how children deal with parental break-ups. The author creates a lovely character in Erik, which kids will relate to very well. Storm and Star were less well-developed, but no less entertaining. Very enjoyable. Recommended. Available on Amazon.


By Fiona Ingram
First reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: Stranger Moon

Stranger Moon by Heather Zydek
Moths, mystery, and growing up are the focus of Stranger Moon. Twelve-year-old Gaia (and she hates her name!) is not your typical tweenager. Anyone who can recite screeds of information about moths, and in particular the elusive Luna moth, just has to be labeled ‘nerd.’ Gaia finds refuge in her love of unusual insects and her little gang of equally geeky friends. Her dad is glued to his computer, her mom died when she was little, and she is bullied by the ghastly duo, ‘The Emmas,’ at school. Could life get any worse? The night she and her friends go on a moth hunt, they find a bug-eating, scary wild woman living in the woods, in an abandoned ice cream van. They spend the summer spying on her, as they investigate her history, as well as defending their tree house from invasion by the Emmas. They discover the identity of the crazy lady, and must decide if they should use the information to exact revenge on Gaia’s worst enemy.
Female Luna moth
This book is so much more than a story about kids growing up. Gaia and her friends display typical tweenager idiosyncrasies as the author taps right into what makes a tween tick. Each character is well drawn and believable. As the story unfolds, the gang find themselves tested on several levels. They need to learn friendship, compassion, and basic kindness: to boring Leonard with his yo-yo and his crippled hand, and to the mad woman herself. The ultimate challenge comes with how they deal with the vital information about the woman’s identity. Gaia’s strained relationship with her emotionally distant father also changes, bringing some interesting revelations. I loved the tone of thinking that author Heather Zydeck instils in Gaia’s inner narrative. As in most tween lives, everything is Dramatic and Tragic, with some Big Words to enhance the seriousness of it all. I laughed aloud at various points.

Male Luna moth
The fragile and sometimes uncertain life cycle of the Luna moth resembles the rite-of-passage that Gaia and some of the other characters experience. The completion of the cycle offers redemption, understanding, and acceptance as they move onto a happier level. There are moments of great sensitivity as Gaia tries to understand life and people, and wrestles with conflicting emotions and ideas. A sensitive and humorous look at the angst and conflicts of tweenagers and their issues. The author impressed me with her perception and insight. I found the resolution and tying up of loose threads a little rushed at the end. However, a great book for tweens, and for parents to learn how tweens think. Highly recommended.

First reviewed by Fiona Ingram for Readers' Favorite
Images from Wikipedia (see link)
by Fiona Ingram

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book to Movie: Does it Work?

Books to film: do they work? In the case of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, yes. I chose to watch this film because the title alone is ridiculous. You can’t fish for salmon in the Yemen, or can you? I also liked the combination of Blunt and McGregor as leads.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a 2011 British romantic comedy and drama film directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Amr Waked. Based on the 2007 novel of the same name by Paul Torday, and a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, the film is about a fisheries expert who is recruited by a consultant to help realize a sheikh's vision of bringing the sport of fly fishing to the Yemen desert, initiating an upstream journey of faith to make the impossible possible.
The film received generally favourable reviews from critics.
Although characters are changed from book to film, and the book itself is written though a series of emails, diaries, and correspondence, the message remains the same: suspend your disbelief and go for the dream. It’s not just about creating a salmon fishing oasis in a desert: political machinations, love, marriage, relationships, trust, faith and loyalty are all put to the test in a gentle, but unrelenting way. It’s also about the absurdities in life. A scheme that seems doomed from the start actually works because of the passion of the people involved. Things go wrong, disasters strike, but an underlying determination keeps the wheels turning.

The author is a British businessman and dedicated angler who has found a quite marvellous way of combining his passion with his opinions on life and politics.

It’s a gentle reminder of what life can be like, how dreams can be achieved, and the impossible made possible. I shall now get the book and enjoy the story all over again!