Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: Millicent Marie Is Not My Name

Not content with saddling their daughter with a mouthful of a name like Millicent Marie (after a grumpy family member), Millicent Marie’s parents insist on calling her by that very same huge mouthful. Known to her school friends as Millie, Millicent Marie is grateful that she did not end up with a cool, arty, celebrity kid name like Organza. However, Millie decides that if she’d had a choice, her name would have been Amanda. Amanda has such a nice ring to it. After all, Amandas are beautiful, wildly popular, and talented. When Millie begins a diary in which she signs her name as Amanda, little does she realize what a ten-year-old annoying little brother (Douglas aka Doogle) can do to wreak even more havoc in her life. Doogle finds Millie’s diary on her computer and publishes it as a blog for the entire world to see. Amanda’s soul is suddenly laid bare and, amazingly, people love her. She becomes Springside Elementary’s most sought after sixth-grade mystery gossip and advice columnist. Can Millie keep up the pretence? And for how long before her cover is blown?
This is a lovely read for tweens (and their parents!). Millie has the usual slightly disparaging attitude towards her prehistoric-age, totally embarrassing parents who (in the nature of all parents) seem to be incapable of treating her as the almost-adult she considers herself. Millie was given the choice of a computer or a cell phone when she turned twelve. Everyone knows that any self-respecting tween needs both.
Author Karen Pokras Toz captures Millie’s life angst—from disillusionment with sixth grade, to decisions about doing soccer or drama, to denying she has a crush on the utterly handsome Jordan Cowell—with humor and inside knowledge. I also enjoyed Millie’s coming of age and gradual maturing. As Amanda, Millie learns huge life lessons about friendship, respect, and the fact that other people have feelings and problems. As Millie, Millie learns about her identity, who she really is, and decides if she is happy being herself. Highly recommended. Available on Amazon.
Age group: Preteen and Tween
Five stars
by Fiona Ingram

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Review: Leave of Absence

Can fiction depict the raw truth of mental illness and instability? In Leave of Absence, author Tanya J. Peterson creates a searing story that offers insight and understanding into a world that most of us will never comprehend or experience. When Oliver Graham’s wife and child are tragically killed, he walks away from his life and off the edge of a building. Saved against his will by a brave and quick-thinking police office, Oliver enters Airhaven Behavioural Health Center. However, he doesn’t want to be there: he wants to be dead. He finds a shred of a connection with inmate Penelope who is struggling with schizophrenia. But Penelope has someone who wants her to live. Her fiancé, William, loves her and still wants to marry her. Penelope struggles to cling to the last remnants of sanity as the voices in her head, led by the dominating personality of Eleanor Roosevelt, threaten to take over. Oliver is consumed by guilt that he was not there to save his family; Penelope is consumed by guilt that she is wrecking the life of the man she loves. This odd couple (Oliver and Penelope) lean on each other, comfort each other, and try to give each other a reason to live.
This book is no easy read as it delves into the convoluted workings of the disturbed mind. Oliver’s mental breakdown comes from terrible grief and anguish, while Penelope’s is physiological and she requires medication to control her mind. Leaving the safe haven of the center is not easy and there is no happy ending with Penelope and Oliver riding off into the sunset with their respective loved ones. Instead, they struggle to cling to even the barest semblance of reality. The terror of panic attacks, the horrifying descent into perceived madness as the voices control the body is graphically described, suggesting the author’s personal experience in working with these conditions and intense research.

One cannot read this book and remain distanced; one must plunge right in and share the agony. Oliver’s pain and Penelope’s instability draw the reader into their world, and one finds oneself inhabiting the character’s skin. The reactions of Oliver’s family and William’s friends perfectly capture the kind of collateral damage that happens when someone near and dear is ‘less than normal.’

Author Tanya J. Peterson has both the experience and education to fully investigate the anguish of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. Ms. Peterson also has a deft and sensitive touch as she humanizes her characters, making us want to understand them, making us want them to be saved by something or someone, and at last, we see they must save themselves. A story of grief, friendship, downfall, and redemption, the threads of hope shine ever bright as Oliver and Penelope put their own pain and fear aside to help each other. The book is not about plot, in fact, it’s about life and two people who have to rebuild their broken realities. This is an excellent book for both sufferers of mental disorders, and their circle of family members and friends to read to gain insight and awareness into both temporary and more lasting mental disorders. Highly recommended. 5 Stars
About the Author: Tanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor. She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities. Her previous titles include Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship. To learn more, visit the author's site. Ms Peterson will visit my blog next week in an author Q&A.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Book Review: A Boy and his Dragon

Bradley Wallace Murphy just turned thirteen, and life sucks. He doesn’t fit in at school, he’s no good at sports, a bully torments him, he’s a disappointment to his parents, and his only “friends” are fictional characters on a TV show called “Dark Shadows.” He’s growing up but wants to stay a boy, like Peter Pan. Then he finds the egg and everything changes. From this egg hatches Whilly, a supposedly mythological dragon that bonds with him physically, emotionally and spiritually. The sudden responsibility of hiding a rapidly growing dragon in a small California city in 1970 forces Bradley Wallace to grow up whether he wants to or not. Feeding a hungry dragon involves lots of raw meat, and the horrible reality of death sickens Bradley, turning him vegetarian, and upsetting his mother. Through their adventures together, boy and dragon learn the true nature of their symbiosis, and Bradley Wallace comes to understand that he is not just a misfit kid who happened to find a misfit creature from some other time. He is something far more dangerous, a ‘super-hero’ with powers he didn’t know he had. He could be killed if the truth comes out. When the attacks begin, Bradley Wallace realizes he is up against overwhelming evil forces. Can he and Whilly survive?
What an amazing, magical adventure. Everyone who has ever imagined having a dragon, flying with it, and befriending this wonderful mythological creature will jump right into this book. Author Michael J. Bowler has such a gift for recreating the experiences and muddled logic of a 13-year-old self-confessed misfit. He also brings the Seventies to life in wonderful detail, a time of Drive-ins, Eskimo Pie, Star Trek, and long summer holidays. I loved this story and the delicately flowering relationship between Whilly and Bradley Wallace is peppered with humour, misunderstanding, forgiveness, and a lot of acceptance (after Bradley discovers what happened to the neighbourhood cats…). The author cements the bonds that must survive the terrible tests facing the boy and the dragon. The story sucks the reader right into Bradley’s life, along with his slightly dysfunctional family, his bossy older sister, and the school bullies. Kids will love this adventure and adults will relish remembering being 13 again. The book is long but all the elements merge into a satisfying whole to perfectly capture the boy-dragon symbiosis. This book is intended as the first in a trilogy and I am sure young fans will eagerly await more from Bradley Wallace and Whilly. Available from Amazon. Highly Recommended. 4 stars
(The book mentions definite adolescent physiological changes so I advise parents to stick to the age recommendation of YA 13+)
First reviewed for Readers Favorite
by Fiona Ingram

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Review: Seven Spectral Into the Red World

Emerald Drizzleweather Bogwater has an unfortunate name, unfortunate red hair, and an unfortunate tendency to rebel. When she escapes her small, dull, slow village (where everyone and everything is in shades of green) to see the world, she discovers something she wasn't bargaining for...a whole new one. Now she must solve the mystery of the Egyptian-styled Red World (and its problems), before its dangers ensnare her forever. Escaping was relatively easy. Emer’s father (Alder Bogwater) tries to make her stay by bringing her back forcibly. She has even been married off to the kind of boy any sane girl would avoid—an oaf who drinks far too much lime ale. But Emer is on a mission to find her mother, Lore, with nothing but memories and an old turquoise compass, one of the pair that works in unison.

However, if that means charting a dangerous course, so be it. With her green otter Samhain (aka Sam) as companion, she scales the wall separating Green from Red world and is catapulted into an adventure beyond anything she imagined. Deities, magic, death, blood and gore, intertwined worlds, weird characters and scary monsters, and a female Pharaoh determined to lock the Rainbow Gate, a mysterious set of ‘Keys’ that must be found, traitors, rebellions, and a boy that leads an army. Talking of boys, Shigeru is way more exciting and attractive than anyone Emer has ever met before. He comes from the Violet world, an element that hints at the other worlds in this planned series. Will Emer find her mother and is she ready for revelations that will shatter her beliefs?
Author Valerie Wicks has a way with words and a gift for world-building. She weaves a fantasy realm that intrigues with descriptions that unfold with the adventure. Emer is a feisty young woman who thinks on her feet as danger threatens and situations turn distinctly nasty. My criticism would be that although Emer is sixteen, sometimes she speaks and thinks like a younger person. The plot twists and turns in an interesting way, but in various sections I felt as if the plot and its myriad characters ran away from the author. Sometimes too many other elements (albeit fascinating) distract the reader from the main story theme and Emer’s character development. However, a great start to a series where the rainbow’s shades create new and different worlds. Available from Amazon. The publisher lists the reading level as Preteen and up. There is nothing of an adult nature in the book to concern parents of younger readers.

Rating: 4 stars
First reviewed for Readers Favorite
by Fiona Ingram

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book Review: Under the Universe

In the first book of the Skymasters series, (Galaxy Girl), preteen Allie Henderson discovers an intergalactic visitor named Eilla, who looks just like her. She is Allie's galactic cousin from a parallel universe. In the second book, Under the Universe, things get even more interesting. It has been a year since Eilla returned to her parallel universe and Allie is eager for an adventure of her own. She gets just such an opportunity when the MIT science team tells her they are ready to transport her to Eilla's planet. Allie must then chose between the safety of the known and the potential adventure another universe. Allie and Eilla visit Stonehenge and discover a subterranean world in which nothing appears as it does on the surface. There, they meet a pair of hermit crabs who clue them into some of the secrets of the universe.

There is much to charm the young reader in this book, including enchanting illustrations. Although this is the second book in a series, the story can stand alone. This is an adventure of inner and outer exploration as the author highlights the thirst for knowledge in this age group, and the cousins absorb facts like sponges. There is just enough space ‘stuff’ and quantum physics for kids to make it fun and adventurous rather than boring. But the adventure is
not just about time travel. In both worlds, the girls have a disabled sibling, and author Dr. Karen Hutchins Pirnot handles this with tact and sensitivity. I enjoyed the empathy between the cousins. Allie goes on a learning curve as she discovers the differences between her world and her cousin’s with snippets of geography, history, science, economics and social change, and astronomy filtering through. The author has popped some famous modern and historical names into the mix, with amusing characters that give their own opinion of life. There’s a nice blend of facts, fantasy, and legend (Atlantis and Mu). The story ends with clearly more investigation planned and a hint of danger. My only criticism is there is perhaps too much information for this age group to absorb. 4 stars

First reviewed for Readers Favorite

(Please note that I downloaded this to the Amazon Kindle on my computer and had problems with the formatting. This may have been corrected by now)

by Fiona Ingram

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review: Capitol Hell

Capitol Hell tells the story of Allison Amundson, a small town girl who lands the highly sought after job of scheduler to the newly-elected and rising star of the US Senate, Senator Anders McDermott III. If you thought politics is all fundraisers and colored balloons, think again. Don’t think Hollywood; think hell. Allison has grandiose dreams at the outset. But her meteoric rise from South Dakota to Pennsylvania Avenue doesn’t quite work out the way she envisaged it. Life on the Hill is far more banal than she expected. From rescuing moldy laundry, to picking out lingerie for the boss’s
pampered wife; from late nights to excruciatingly early morning starts; from petty office politics to full-blown office warfare; from sticking campaign labels onto water bottles to the inevitable humiliation of a missing “l” in the word “public,” Allison and her love-struck friend Janet fumble through an exhausting campaign trail, and discover the ultimate truth about their boss—perception isn’t always reality.

Based on the true-life experiences of authors Jayne Jones and Alicia Long, the book gives readers a glimpse into what life is really like inside of the beltway. Capitol Hell is a witty novel about the crazy co-workers, high maintenance politicians, and the over-the-top entourages that only a political insider gets to see. Written with a humorous and irreverent style, sometimes a little saucy, the political behind-the-scenes antics will have you laughing (and wondering!). Allison and her sidekick Janet are well-rounded characters, as are the various co-workers that join the fray. The true-life experiences of the authors add that unmistakable ring of truth to sometimes downright strange occurrences. It is less a story with a dedicated plot line and more a series of anecdotes linked together. However, still very enjoyable. 4 stars

First reviewed for Readers Favorite