Tag Archives: humour

Dreadnought (Nemesis #1)

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Before I say anything else, I’m just going to oooh and aaah over this GORGEOUS cover for  awhile…

Danny Tozer is 15 years old and transgender. But no ones knows. Her family life centres around a father determined to make a man of her, and she has endured a lifetime of bullying already from the kids at school that see her as an easy target. But one day, as she crouches behind a concrete barrier outside the mall to secretly paint her toenails, the world’s greatest superhero fights an epic battle right in front of her and dies. And in keeping with tradition, his mantle of power transfers to the witness and transforms her into her true self. A gorgeous girl. But with superpowers. And she is not going back, no matter what.

Whether she likes it or not, Danny is the only one that can defeat the supervillain that killed Dreadnought. But in order to do so, she has to accept that she is worthy of the mantle, worthy of the respect.  And that might be harder to do than saving the world.

This is Danny’s origin story. As with most superhero origin stories, Danny comes of age in a world that wants to deny her existence, and even deny her the right to be herself and to have her powers. As a transgender queer girl, her coming of age is particularly difficult. Her parents deny her existence, her father hurling abuse while her mother insists that she wants her son back. Fellow superheroes are split on her right to become Dreadnought, with some supportive, and some angered by her insistence on being defined by her correct gender. Her best friend hurls insults when she refuses to date him and fractures their relationship irreparably.

I do think that Danny is the most fleshed out character in the novel, and rightly so. She is self-aware before her magical transition, and her growth is steady throughout the novel. She still calls herself trans after the world sees her as a girl, and she is proud of her identity. I like that even after becoming the world’s most powerful superhero, she still is afraid of falling behind in school. (Oh, if only my children were a 10th as responsible, and without superpowers…) I found her fear incredibly heartbreaking and realistic, her fear of her parents and the hold they have over her, her fear of accepting the mantle of Dreadnought, her fear of not being good enough.

But the supporting characters are a bit flat in places, and I am hoping that, as this is the first book in a series, they will become more rounded as the series continues.  With the exception of Calamity and Doc Impossible, the other superheroes are a bit two-dimensional. Both Calamity, who is so important to Danny (please let them get together!  Please!), and Doc Impossible develop nicely as the story progresses, and although I had suspicions that something wasn’t on the up and up with the Doc, I had NO idea of the twist at the end. This was NOT what I was expecting!

Danny’s parents are, sadly, what they appear to be.  And even though Danny has a certain amount of understanding and love for her mother and her situation, and I understand where it comes from, in the end, she does not choose her daughter and loses my sympathy.

The pace of the novel builds through the first half, setting up an explosive conclusion that is not only highlighted by the hero/villain climax, but also Danny’s confrontation with her parents. It isn’t it all rainbows and sunshine and bench-pressing rail cars, however; Danny’s freedom comes at great personal cost.

The world building in this novel isn’t front and centre, but rather steadily in the background, offering an incredible framework for the story to weave through. It is our world, but our world with superheroes who are tasked to keep us safe, our world where the government is still in charge, our world where politics still cover everything, from the ranks of the superheroes to the subtle class differences of those that have some abilities, to the normal people who just go about their daily lives.

Through the novel is a subtle humour with a message underneath. When Danny becomes her true self, that happens to be a girl with the looks and proportions of an airbrushed underwear model. Because that is what society has told her how a girl should look. But the messages are delivered with a nice wit and are not preachy.

The main character is brilliant. The world building is fabulous. The pacing is perfect. But another enemy approaches, and it will be the most terrifying one the world has ever faced.

This is a novel that anyone can read, it has humour, pain, strength, conflict, and triumph. And it is the first in a trilogy, so the love can only continue.

Dreadnought (Nemesis #1) was published January 24th, 2017 by Diversion Publishing.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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This book has been around for about a decade and probably doesn’t need my feeble attempts to review it, but I read it in one sitting and then couldn’t get it out of my mind for days afterwards. Alternating between hilarity and heartbreak, this novel covers every emotion out there. The very things that make you laugh also make you cry.

Junior is 14 years old, part white, mostly Indian, and living on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. Born with hydrocephalus, he has a large head and weird eyesight and big hands and feet. He has faced mental and physical challenges his whole life, but he knows he is smart and that there is more to his life than the mocking and beatings he takes daily at the reservation school. The other Indians on the rez call him retard and faggot and after he transfers from Wellpinit High to a high school in Reardon, an apple – red on the outside, white on the inside. He’s the only Indian at Reardon, an all-white town school 22 miles from home. Well, the high school mascot is an Indian, and the name of the school sports teams is the Redskins. You can imagine how welcome he feels.

But the one thing that Junior has is hope. He doesn’t want to spend his life in an alcoholic haze, he doesn’t want to attend funerals every other week, he doesn’t want to settle for a life that is laid out bare in front of him. And he manages, through his brains and basketball skills, to make a name for himself at his new school. Which, by the way, is Arnold there.

Through it all, the good and the bad, Junior never loses his sense of humour and irony. The story of this one year in his life is about strength in the face of adversity, resilience when he is emotionally and physically knocked down once again, and finding the joy and laughter in life, even in times of sorrow and tragedy. Junior faces poverty and prejudice and death, and survives with his sense of self intact. He understands that poverty begets poverty, which in turn leads to hopelessness and belief that the life is deserved and can never be challenged or changed. He knows there is no dignity in it; the dignity must come from within the person.

Author Sherman Alexie is Spokane. He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and attended Reardon High as the only Native student. This story is based on his life, and is written with a humour and honesty that so beautifully shows Junior’s relationships to his family and friends (both new and old) and the people on his reservation. His love and understanding for his family and his devotion to friends are just facets of the kindness and strength that hold him up. The reservation itself, with the generations that have lived on it and those to come, plays a prominent role in his development and outlook on his life and future.

The illustrations done by Ellen Forney throughout bring the story to life even more so. Junior spends his life drawing to express himself, and I love the various styles – the more realistic portraits of his family, honest depictions of how he views each member, and slightly more cartoonish ones for situations when he wants to express feelings and impressions.

This book is full of mature themes, and may be tough for readers at the younger end of the YA range. But it offers educators and parents the opportunity to open many avenues of discussion. It should be on everyone’s to-read list.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was published September 12th, 2007 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Ex-Wives of Dracula

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This book is a LOT of fun. And I even broke my taboo about sparkly vampires to read it.

18-year-old Mindy thinks she might be a lesbian. Probably. She is still questioning. It’s just that guys don’t do it for her, but she’s not entirely sure that girls do either. So she works her job delivering pizzas and lives fairly anonymously at school, doing her best to fly under the radar as she figures out her life. Until she delivers pizza one night to her next-door neighbour and former best friend, Lucia. Whereas puberty was not so fun for Mindy, it totally rocked Lucia’s world, turning her into a tall busty bronzed goddess. Naturally, she captains the cheerleading squad and dates the captain of the football team.

So of course, Mindy falls in love with her. And of course, Lucia gets bitten by a vampire. Which somehow just makes her hotter.

The first quarter or so of the book is set-up, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure where it was going or if I would like the story very much. Mindy is a bit of a loner, values comfort over fashion, and is pretty self-aware for a teenager. She sees the pitfalls in crushing on Lucia, but is honest and forthright with her feelings, leaving the ball in the more confused Lucia’s court. Mindy looks out for her and helps her, even when Lucia isn’t interested in her for anything other than her pizza delivery skills.

I rolled my eyes a bit at Lucia’s initial description as the completely stereotypical cheerleader. Every cliche you can think of. Blond. Gorgeous. Tall. Dumb. Privately hurting. Sexually promiscuous. Mean girl. Queen bee. Girls envy her, boys love her.

But then the action really starts, and I couldn’t read the rest of the story fast enough. As the girls’ relationship (both as friends and more) develops, both Mindy and Lucia morph into kind and thoughtful protectors, friends, and lovers. Lucia doesn’t become the perfect human overnight, her flaws are still glaring and eminently teen in their selfishness, but she opens up and looks beyond the surface of those around her, and thinks of others. Mindy doesn’t radically change into an extrovert party-girl either, but her confidence and willingness to try something new strengthen in proportion to the relationship.

The dialogue between the girls and Romanian exchange student Seb is fluent and witty and authentic. See is hilarious in his attempts to be cool, but author Georgette Kaplan treats him respectfully, never making fun of him, but introduces him as an equal friend and confidant. Kaplan brings the reader right into the book, and I felt like I was sitting alongside the three friends as they chat and explore and flirt and scheme and complain and fight and search for answers.

The plot is touching, fresh, funny, but also adds components of horror and violence. Which sometimes seem out of place, but Kaplan does a good job of weaving all the elements together so that the violence is not too jarring. Her take on vampires is different and entertaining, occasionally poking fun at pop cultures’ current fascination with the theme. She mixes it up; some vampires are sexy and fun, some are creatures of darkness and brutality. And the vampires are just a backdrop; the main focus of the story is always the girls’ relationship, however, even as so many new pieces are added.

And the relationship is fully explored and balanced. The first thought would be that Kaplan would follow the predictable: beautiful Lucia has the power, with dorky Mindy grateful for her attention. But it is an even and realistic partnership, with each girl bringing her strengths. Mindy’s self-confidence balances out Lucia’s flamboyant personality, who in turn encourages Mindy to step outside her comfort zone. Through her vampire powers, Lucia shares a mental connection with Mindy, but the two can block each other out or invite each other in, and it is not used as mind control. The two don’t just grow as a couple, they also learn that they can live apart, and they make their choices accordingly. It is a wonderful relationship.

The LGBT theme is beautifully handled. Lucia’s realization that she loves Mindy is treated with no less importance than Mindy’s previous acknowledgement that she is “probably” a lesbian. Lucia’s love for Mindy is as real and as glorious as Mindy’s for her.

There is some fairly graphic violence, drug use, and sexual content, so the novel may be better for the upper end of the YA age range, but the story overall is a really fun and unusual read.

Ex-Wives of Dracula was published March 16th, 2016 by Ylva Publishing.

Fang Girl

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It’s October!  One of my favourite months.  I love fall and red and orange leaves and crisp air. So in honour of Hallowe’en, I thought I’d read some horror. Or, at the very least, terrifying vampire fiction. Instead, I got Fang Girl. SO FRIKKIN’ FUNNY.

15 year old Xanthe Jane wakes up in a coffin, and immediately figures out that she is a vampire. Cool. Or, it should be cool. It should be everything fiction and movies and fan sites have said it would be. Being a vampire should be an angsty, pale, supernatural experience. At the very least, brooding and sexy. But Jane finds out it is nothing like that. Although her acne does clear up. And she accidentally turns her goldfish. It’s a badass pet, but still. Not an auspicious start to her life as the undead terror.

And SERIOUSLY. Why couldn’t she have been turned a couple of months later?  To be 15 forever? SO not cool.

Hysterical. HYSTERICAL. Helen Keeble has taken vampire mythology and contemporary fiction (looking at you, Twilight and Vampire Diaries) and turned them upside down. Forget garlic. You want to get away from a vampire, throw a handful of rice in front of them. De-alphabetize their bookshelves. Mess up their spice cupboard. Arrange their socks randomly. Vampires are seriously OCD. I had no idea. They have to tidy up before they feed.

Jane is a fabulous character. She is totally relatable, with a great voice. Smart, smart-ass, clumsy and brave. Her undead life has just begun, and she is already facing ordinary-but-not-really teen challenges. Her annoying-yet-loveable 12 year old brother Zach has decided she’s a zombie instead of a vampire, which is just another fight she doesn’t have time for. Her parents think it best for her to turn them into vampires, so she will always have someone to look after her, because they don’t think she can look after herself. Practical, when you think about it, and so typical of parents.

All the characters are great. And as present and distinct, and integral to the story, as Jane is herself. Her over-protective parents, her steampunk-obsessed brother, the dark and brooding (but not really) 200 year old Ebon, Van Helsing the hot, ripped vampire hunter, seductive Lily, evil genius Sarah, Hakon the elder – each and every character stands out and adds so much depth to a smart, humourous, quirky read.

The plot itself is a great mix of mystery and the supernatural, and the “bad guy” is not obvious. And, with the exception of a few moments where Jane pines for her brooding soulmate, there is no romance to distract from the story.

Holy crap. Anyone can read this book, and everyone should. If it doesn’t make you laugh your ass off, nothing will. You are undead to me.

Fang Girl is published by HarperTeen.

Extraordinary Means

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Extraordinary Means…  This story turns over and over in your head.  I read it a few days ago, but have had to sit on it for awhile.  It’s not a book that you want to rush to judgement on; my feelings for it have been all over the place since picking it up.

Type A-future-Wall Street-investor and super-nerd Lane is 17 years old and dealing with a new diagnosis of TDR-TB, or total drug resistant tuberculosis. He is sent to rehab at Latham House, part hospital and part boarding school, all sanatorium, and the only place where Lane discovers you can actually fail breakfast. And naptime.

On the first day, Lane recognizes a girl from camp. But instead of the brace-faced loner from his early teens, she has transformed in a beautiful, smart-aleck miscreant. She and her group of like-minded troublemakers draw Lane in like a magnet; he, who has never cared whether or not he “belongs” in his lifetime of overachieving, wants to become one of them. After a false start and the correction of a long held, if mistaken, grudge, he is absorbed into the mismatched group, and crosses more lines the first day than he has his entire existence.

Sadie, Nik, Charlie and Martina all have secrets, individually and as a group.  The black market smuggling ring, the illicit trips to Starbucks for butterbeer lattes (who knew?), juicebox vodka martinis and a general disregard for their own health and safety, just to name a few. They are, after all, teens. What could happen?

While normal teenage secrets and activities can sometimes be consequence free (beyond a hangover and a grounding), at Latham House, the fallout can be life-threatening. Lane and Sadie find each other, but TDR-TB has no sympathy for first love or teenage pranks.

Told in the alternating voices of Sadie and Lane, we see both sides of their relationship, and two views of illness. Both cope with love and loss so differently, so authentically.

Author Robyn Schneider has a degree in bioethics, and her knowledge and research are evident throughout the book. I had to do a bit of research myself after reading it, just to make sure it was, in fact, a story, and not real life. Scared the crap out of me, especially after I inhaled my tea by mistake and had a coughing fit lasting 20 minutes.

The story is set in a contemporary alternative reality.  All the terrible diseases we thought were eradicated have returned, and all are resistant to our former wonder drugs.  Polio, tuberculosis, Ebola, you name it. Back with a vengeance. And science cannot keep up.

The novel is dark, it is funny, it is heartbreaking.  It is about unlikely second chances, and what you make of them. It is the difference between being alive and living your life.

I wanted everyone to live happily ever after, with their time at Latham House an ever dwindling bad dream, until it became nostalgia.  But it can’t happen that way.

Read the author’s notes at the end; her explanation of how she came up with the story is fabulous. This novel is appropriate for all teens.

Extraordinary Means is published by Katherine Tegen Books.

don’t even think about it

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Is it possible for a book to be written in the fourth person? Is there such a thing? Maybe, if you don’t know who is telling the story.  Or maybe, if everyone is telling the story.

Class 10B at Bloomberg High School in Tribeca received their flu vaccines at lunch, October 2.  They were prepared for the usual side effects, maybe a headache or a sore arm.  Worse case scenario, an adverse reaction that required hospitalization.

But by the next morning, a group of them could hear voices in their heads.  Very specific voices.  The voices in their heads were the thoughts of the people around them. The day after, more joined the group, and within days, all 22 that had received the vaccine were experiencing the same condition.

Suddenly, telepathy.  They could hear the thoughts of their friends, parents, their crushes. The group knows that Mackenzie cheated on Cooper, that Olivia is paralyzed with fear and shyness every day she enters the school, that Pi cheated on a test, that Courtney takes Adderall for an edge, and, gross, that Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper. And they decide to keep it all a secret.

Well, as much a secret as possible when 22 teens know the same information.

How will they all handle this newfound ability?  What will it do to friendships, relationships, ambitions and just day to day living?  What would it do to you? What if you can no longer tell whose thoughts are in your head?

The book is hilarious.  And smart.  But MAN.  Can you imagine this happening at your high school? When someone talked, you knew what they were really thinking…  So much for the little white lie. “You look gorgeous!” (those jeans make your butt look huge) “I’m sure I failed that test!” (as if I would ever) “The food here is disgusting.” (I wonder if he’s going to finish his fries?) “I really like you!” (I thought about my ex while we kissing)

While it is a quick read, it is not a mindless one, and can actually mess with your head a bit. There are fundamental questions of honesty and privacy examined; what does the person next to you, friend or stranger, have a right to know? Or voice an opinion on? Is it ok to read a boy’s mind to find out if he likes you? What if it helps the relationship move along?

Sarah Mlynowski is a well-known YA author for a very good reason.  She knows how to write characters. They are fun and authentically teen, with all the insecurities and boldness that we had in our time.

Have a glass or two of wine, and blast through this novel in one sitting.  Then pass it along to your teens, and see what they think.

don’t even think about it is published by Ember.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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OK.  So.  I had couple glasses of wine while I was reading this book. Not a good idea, really;  if I’d  written about it at the time, the entire review would have consisted of “squeeee!” and “OMG!”, two expressions (among many others) which should NOT exist. (So, your lesson for today: never drink and type. Well, my lesson. Thank goodness for proofreading.).

I adored this story. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is laugh out loud hilarious without being campy.  It is authentic and touching and just a blast to read.

Simon is a 16 year old boy who is just coming to terms with the fact he is gay.  A few failed girlfriends that he was terrified of during his early dating years should have pointed him in that direction earlier, but he’s figuring it out in his own time. He is most definitely not out yet.

He lives in small town Creekwood, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. Creekwood High has a Tumblr account, Creeksecrets, where students post pictures and thoughts and random gossip for all to see and comment on anonymously.  One day, Simon stumbles across a grammatically perfect entry by someone intriguingly named Blue, about being gay and lonely in the ocean of people surrounding him, and answers “THIS.

What follows is a story of two boys getting to know each other over e-mail, and falling in love without knowing the identity of the other. They both attend the same school, and may even have classes together, but Simon and Blue exchange thoughts and feelings, confidences and fears, not identities. During their correspondence, they give each other the courage to face their own anxieties about coming out, and help themselves in the process.  It is only after they are both out, they can finally meet face to face.

But after an email falls into the wrong hands, their secret is at risk. Blackmailed by a fellow student, Simon’s sexual identity could become common knowledge, before he is ready to handle the reaction. There is intrigue and bullies and love triangles galore. Author Becky Albertalli handles it all with humour and charm, and never exchanges authenticity to get a cheap laugh.

Simon, with his teenaged angst and moony thoughts about possible candidates for the mysterious Blue, is a vivid, hilarious character and a failed cynic. He feels that the teenage years are a chance to reinvent and renew himself, but every change seems to be met with astonishment by his friends and family. “If she thinks me drinking coffee is big news, it’s going to be quite a f@#king morning.”

Albertalli has written some really wonderful characters. The supporting cast is treated with the same care as she took with Simon; Nora and Alice, Nick, Abby and Leah, family and friends with their own secrets that needed to come out. The resolution to all the teenage drama at the end was perfect. Trying to guess the identity of Blue was futile for me, maybe you will have more luck!

I think it goes without saying that Oreos are their own food group.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is published by Balzer & Bray.