Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie

Title: The Haunting of Sunshine Girl
Author: Paige McKenzie, Nick Hagen, and Alyssa Sheinmel
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Target Age Group: YA
My Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Description (from Amazon)

Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Sunshine Griffith and her mother, Kat, move from sunny Austin, Texas, to the rain-drenched town of Ridgemont, Washington. Though Sunshine is adopted, she and her mother have always been close, sharing a special bond filled with laughter and inside jokes. But from the moment they arrive, Sunshine feels her world darken with an eeriness she cannot place. And even if Kat doesn't recognize it, Sunshine knows that something about their new house is just... creepy.

On their first night in Ridgemont, Sunshine is awakened by the sound of footsteps coming from above, followed by a child's ghostly laughter. In the days that follow, things just get more frightening. But Kat seems oblivious to the terror, insisting that Sunshine's imagination is getting the best of her. Determined to prove her mother wrong, Sunshine begins taking photographs, desperate to catch evidence of the supernatural presence. At her new school, Sunshine meets Nolan Porter, a cute - if slightly bookish - classmate. Nolan also has a passion for photography - and, more importantly, for ghosts. He offers to help Sunshine figure out exactly what's going on.

What they uncover is a story that's much bigger and runs deeper than they could have imagined. She can hardly believe it, but as the spirits haunting her house become stranger - and it becomes clear that Kat is in danger - Sunshine learns that everything she thought she knew about her past has been wrong.

My Review

This is a newly acquired book from Book Expo America 2015 book. Many thanks to BEA and to the authors for the opportunity to review it before its release.

First, before I get into the book review, I just wanted to say it was awesome meeting Paige McKenzie at BEA 2015 this year, not only because she's co-written an amazing story - with Alyssa Sheinmel and Nick Hagen - but she was probably the most enthusiastic new writer I've ever seen at BEA. I wish her loads more success in her career.

This book is yet another great, creepy story I've acquired at BEA this year. For that reason alone, I love this book.

At first glance, this book may seem like another run-of-the-mill ghost story. And on the surface, it is. Girl moves into a house, house is haunted, girl can see ghosts. Probably been done loads of times. Yet, it hasn't. This book seems to take these old tropes and create something new with it. A new mythology involving ghosts and their goings-on after they've left the land of the living. Paige McKenzie and company have created a bunch of rules for this particular ghost world, and they're pretty cool. They've also created a new mythology for the main character, Sunshine, and her ghostly powers that involve communicating with, and assisting, the dead.

One of the biggest stand-out features of this book is the use of water. Sunshine moves from sunny Austin, Texas, to the gloomy climate of Ridgemont, Washington, where it always seems to be raining. As events get stranger and more menacing for Sunshine in her new home, the water level in her life starts to figuratively, and literally, rise. Great symbolism, since water can be symbolic of death, or of formless things (i.e. ghosts). 

Water may also symbolize change, which is another recurring theme of the story. Sunshine's life is in the midst of change. Everything she knows about her life is turned on its head by the end of the story. She's suddenly unsure about her relationship with her mother, her surroundings, her history, and even who to trust around her, whether living or dead.

To me (and maybe I'm reading too much into this), this story also seems to be a great analogy of a child and a parent and how they can lose their way during a child's teenaged years. Kat, Sunshine's mother, begins to act strangely after they've moved into their new house, and yes, there's a supernatural element behind all of it, but it also illustrates how teenagers and their parents often seem to get disconnected. For that reason, this book is also a great coming-of-age type of story, in its own weird, spooky way. 

I could go on, but I'll let you readers see for yourselves how great this book is. Pick this one up, especially all you lovers of supernatural YA. You won't regret it!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Review: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Title: The Nest
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Target Age Group: YA
My Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Description (from Amazon)

Steve just wants to save his baby brother—but what will he lose in the bargain? This is a haunting gothic tale for fans of Coraline, from acclaimed author Kenneth Oppel (Silverwing, The Boundless) with illustrations from Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen.

For some kids summer is a sun-soaked season of fun. But for Steve, it’s just another season of worries. Worries about his sick newborn baby brother who is fighting to survive, worries about his parents who are struggling to cope, even worries about the wasp’s nest looming ominously from the eaves. So when a mysterious wasp queen invades his dreams, offering to “fix” the baby, Steve thinks his prayers have been answered.

All he has to do is say “Yes.” But “yes” is a powerful word. It is also a dangerous one. And once it is uttered, can it be taken back?

Celebrated author Kenneth Oppel creates an eerie masterpiece in this compelling story that explores disability and diversity, fears and dreams, and what ultimately makes a family. Includes illustrations from celebrated artist Jon Klassen.

My Review

This is a newly acquired book from Book Expo America 2015 book. Many thanks to BEA and to Kenneth Oppel for the opportunity to review it before its release.

I have a weakness for really creepy books that crawl right into your mind and haunt it. This, dear readers, is just that type of book.

Steve's new baby brother is very sick, and all he wants is for him to get better. Not only because it's his brother, but for other selfish reasons. Steve is portrayed as a very real boy with real emotions concerning a very real problem. His parents are spending all their time with the baby and not enough on him. 

Then some very cool, unreal elements come into the story. "Angels" appear and say they can make the baby all better, and Steve agrees to let them help. Who wouldn't jump at that opportunity? The angels appeal to Steve, not only because they will help his baby brother, but also because they can help him as well. Steve's parents will be able to spend more time with him instead of worrying about the baby. And, oh by the way, they can make Steve better too, because he's a very anxious boy with OCD. He's "broken", like the baby, but the angels say they can fix him too.

At the same time all this is going on, there's a giant wasp nest growing outside Steve's house, and as it gets closer to the time the angels promise the baby will be all "fixed", the nest grows and grows. And the truth of what these angels have in mind grows more and more apparent, and frightening. 

Not only is this a really cool and creepy story, but there are a lot of very complex, philosophical questions addressed in this book concerning both physical and mental illnesses and how they should be handled. The book works on different levels for this reason. I guarantee both those philosophical questions and the creepiness will take up residence in your head by the end of the story.

I highly recommend reading this book.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review: Call Me Amy by Marcia Strykowski

Title: Call Me Amy
Author: Marcia Strykowski
Publication Date: May 1, 2013
Target Age Group: Middle Grade
My Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5

Book Description (from Amazon)

For Amy Henderson, 1973 has been a lonely year of so many awkward moments she's actually lost count. Things turn around quickly when she assists in the rescue of an injured seal pup. To help save Pup, she forms an unlikely alliance with a questionable boy in a worn-out army jacket, as well as a peculiar older woman the kids in town refer to as "Old Coot."

Amy soon finds that people aren't always what they seem, as she nurtures Pup back to health with the help of her two new companions, Craig and Miss Cogshell. Unexpected detours occur as an ill-intentioned harbormaster hunts down Pup and a group of nosy popular girls set their affections on Craig.

As if these weren't obstacles enough, an even graver challenge presents itself soon thereafter, threatening the future of the entire town--and Amy's life as well.

My Review

This is a Book Expo America 2013 book. Many thanks!

This book tricked me. First, I wasn't sure if I'd even be interested in it based on its description. Anyone who knows me knows it's not my typical reading fare. Also, when I first started reading it, I found very common themes about the main character's sister who was the popular one and the one who the parents doted on while the main character was all but invisible. Also, there was lots of what I considered over the top description and dropped references to let the reader know what time period the story took place in. Craig didn't seem very developed, and neither did Miss Cogshell, although she was very vividly drawn.

And then something changed.

As the three characters came together in the midst of taking care of an injured seal pup, suddenly they all became alive in my mind. The interactions between the three of them caused each of them to open up to the others, and suddenly I began really caring about these characters. I learned each had a history of their own, that each had their own problems, and that each could help the others cope with theirs. By the end of the book, I was totally invested in all of them, especially during tragic events that I of course can't reveal (spoilers you know). 

For those people looking for an action-filled adventure, there's very little of that to be found in this book. For those that like a slow build, however, and a warm-hearted story, then this may be the right book for you. It turns out it was the right one for me as well.

I would definitely recommend this one.