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BOOK REVIEW: Un Lun Dun by China Miéville


Zanna and her friend Deeba have been noticing a lot of strange events lately. There was the fox that intently watched them on the playground and then bowed to Zanna. Certainly the oddest was the umbrella that dragged itself from a rubbish heap to hang from Zanna’s bedroom windowsill. The girls give chase to the umbrella and find themselves in a strange place called Un Lun Dun, a funhouse version of their own city. This new place is filled with animated milk cartons, unbrellas, talking books and flying double-decker buses, as well as with an odd collection of people.

Shortly after their arrival in Un Lun Dun they meet Obaday Fing, a tailor whose head is a massive pin-cushion, and Brokkenbroll, king of broken unbrellas. Zanna is disturbed to find out she’s the Shwazzy – the Chosen One – prophesied to save Un Lun Dun from a great evil, the Smog.

All goes terribly wrong when Zanna is injured soon after their arrival. She’s returned safely home but Un Lun Dun seems doomed. Deeba may be the only hope for this fantastical city, but will Un Lun Dun accept the help or the unchosen one, or lie down and accept its fate?

Award-winning author China Miéville’s fifth novel, Un Lun Dun, is his first written for the young adult market and is filled with his illustrations of the mysterious creatures met by Zanna and Deeba. While this book is being marketed to middle and high school students, there is much here to recommend this book to adult readers. Fans of the films of Jan Švankmajer, specifically his 1988 film Alice, will find familiar elements in the world of Un Lun Dun.

Miéville, as well-known for his politics as for his writing, is a member of the Socialist Workers Party. His writing has indications of his political leanings; however, he has stated that: “…when I write my novels, I’m not writing them to make political points.…but because I come at this with a political perspective, the world that I’m creating is embedded with many of the concerns that I have…”

Un Lun Dun is sure to win Miéville many new fans and delight current ones.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0345495160
ISBN13: 9780345495167

448 Pages
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication Date: February 17, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S Wilce


Flora Segunda (or Flora the Second) has become the caretaker of her family’s home, Crackpot Hall, and her father ever since her mother banished the magickal butler. Whether Poppy or Crackpot Hall is more of chore is open to debate but at least Poppy is somewhat predictable. Crackpot Hall has eleven thousand rooms and they are prone to move around at random. Flora knows better than to step of the proven paths through her house but one morning she is really late for school so she chances a ride in the elevator and ends up lost in her on house.

Is it really fate that she stumbles upon the long-banished butler or is this the break she needs to have a normal life? With her best friend Udo, Flora is in a race to finish her Catorcena speech, look after Poppy, and find a way to break it to her mother that she isn’t going to follow the family tradition of entering the barracks. Could it really hurt to ask Valefor the butler for some help?

Following in the tradition of Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After: Being the Private Correspondence Between Two Prominent Families Regarding a Scandal Touching the Highest Level), Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog is a coming of age story wrapped within a traditional adventure story. Feeling both old-fashioned and post-modern, Ysabeau S. Wilce has combined elements of Eastern life (names which sound decidedly Eastern – such as Califa and Huitzil – and butlers who owe much to genies), as well as Asian traditions of warcraft and meditation. Interlacing these are elements of the western traditions of courtly love and elements of common to fantasy novels. Much here will provoke vague feelings of familiarity and in the early pages this becomes very distracting, as the reader keeps trying to find connections. The novel quickly grabs all the reader’s attention and the earlier distractions dissipate.

Wilce has a strong voice and distinctive style, which she exhibits with much aplomb in Flora Segunda. The titular heroine is delightful and readers will identify with her challenges and desire to carve her own path in life. Udo, the glass-gazing sidekick, provides the necessary balance to Flora Segunda and provides the right amount of frisson to add spice to the tale, but not distract from the main adventure.

Deliberate or not, Wilce has left herself room to develop Flora Segunda into a young adult series and this reviewer hopes that a follow-up novel will soon be available. Many interesting details of life within Califa have been introduced but not explored, such as the politics behind the current wars, why the Rangers were disbanded and what caused some of the great houses (families) to decline. Revelations made in the final pages also create many new avenues to explore within this captivating world.

Read an excerpt here.

ISBN10: 0152054332
ISBN13: 9780152054335

448 Pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Publication Date: January 2007


BOOK REVIEW: Incantation by Alice Hoffman


“I am someone
I never would have imagined.
A secret.
A dream…
body and soul…”

Growing up in the small village of Encaleflora, Spain, Estrella deMadrigal is aware of the Spanish Inquisition but believes it has little to do with her. She and her family attend one of the Catholic Churches in town and her brother is studying to be a priest. However, Estrella is forced to face the brutal reality of the Inquisition as Jews from the ghetto are murdered and she discovers her own family’s secrets – they are Marranos, a community of Jews who public profess to Roman Catholicism while secretly practicing their Judaism and Kabbalah at home.

Shortly after this momentous discovery, her family’s secrets are made public and Estrella confronts a world she’s never imagined, where neighbours turn on each other, where friendship ends in flame, and where betrayal has tragic and bitter consequences. To create a future for her family, Estrella must reach deep within herself and find sources of strength to craft a new reality.

Incantation, Alice Hoffman’s newest novel for young adults, introduces readers to a turbulent period in European history through the eyes of Estrella. Sixteen year-old Estrella enjoys spending time with her best friend Catalina, believing that their destiny is to marry and live next door to each other. “We thought we knew exactly what our lives were made of: still water, not a moving river.”

Fate; however, has different plans for Estrella and Catalina. In 1478, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella established the Spanish Inquisition in a bid to maintain Catholicism in their kingdoms and in 1500 the Inquisition arrived in Encaleflora and snared Estrella and her family in its trap.

In Incantation, Hoffman has crafted a compelling coming of age story. At a time when the biggest decision facing her should be choosing a young man to marry, Estrella must confront a life built upon lies. Yet even within this dark period, Estrella manages to find dignity and hope.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0316010197
ISBN13: 9780316010191

176 Pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: October 4, 2006
Author Website:

Further Reading:
The Cross by Day, the Mezuzzah by Night – Deborah Siegel
Mystery of the Missing Candlestick – June Weltman


BOOK REVIEW: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett


Thirteen-year-old Tiffany Aching is a trainee witch, but not just any witch. Tiffany comes from the Chalk and gained from her talents from her Gran. When she was 9, Tiffany went up against the Fairy Queen before she had any training. When she was 11, she had to battle an evil that steals bodies. And then there’s the little matter of the Nac Mac Feegles – the little blue pictsies who consider it their duty to keep watch over Tiffany and consider her to be their “big wee hag.”

Granny Weatherwax sent Tiffany out as apprentice to Miss Treason, one of the scariest witches around, and her training is going well until the night she joins the Dark Dance (the transition from summer to winter) and draws the attention of the Wintersmith.

Now it’s snowing miniature representations of Tiffany and the Wintersmith is in love for the first time. Can Tiffany fix things or will it be winter forever?

Some of Terry Pratchett’s best books are the ones where he takes on fairy tales, perhaps because all of them feature Granny Weatherwax. These books have an imposed structure (the original tale which provides the outline) and theme within which Pratchett works his magic. Granny provides the necessary acerbity to counter the arch sweetness of fairy tales, although Pratchett’s versions are much darker than the originals.

Wintersmith is closer to the earthy fairy tales of old, touching on Tiffany’s burgeoning sexuality. Since Tiffany is no ordinary witch, it makes sense that her first sensual adventure would be with the embodiment of winter.

In Wintersmith, readers meet some of the other young witches-in-training – perhaps setting the stage for future books in the “Witches” series (Lords and Ladies, Witches Abroad)? Wintersmith is the 3rd Tiffany Aching adventure, following Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky.

ISBN10: 0060890312
ISBN13: 9780060890315

Trade Paperback
272 Pages
Publisher: HarperTempest
Publication Date: September 26, 2006


BOOK REVIEW: The Unwritten Girl by James Bow


Rosemary Watson tries to slip through life unnoticed, although the other students at her junior high tend to make her the butt of all their jokes. She tries to be normal, to keep life as quiet and nondescript as possible so people won’t think she’s like her older brother Theo, who suffered from a nervous breakdown years earlier. She manages to have a fairly normal life, that is, until the day in the school library when she sees a girl fold herself up until she disappears. Which just happens to be the day she meets Peter McAllister.

The Unwritten Girl is the story of Rosemary’s quest to rescue her brother Theo who has been trapped in The Land of Fiction by a book he is unable to stop reading. Assisted by her new friend Peter and the mischievous Puck, most recently read in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rosemary must overcome her fear and desire to be invisible if she has any hope of success.

First and foremost, The Unwritten Girl is a story about books. James Bow says in his blog that “The Land of Fiction is a compilation of a number of stories I read when I was younger (or had read to me) that had a lasting effect on me.” He goes on to state that he loves children’s literature for “the clarity of the storytelling, the innocence, the wonder and the sense of transformation.”

Bow has taken the standard quest formula and turned it on its head or as he describes it: “The Unwritten Girl is a sorta fairytale. We take very unfairytale characters through a fairytale setting, taking the mickey out of a number of cliches, while at the same time celebrating the genre.” His love of this literature is evident in the style and content of his writing as he riffs a bit on the standard characters of fairy tale fare: the damsel in distress complete with attitude; the Fearmonger – specific to no book but present in all; and the Mystery Man whose Magical Mystery Train holds many familiar tales, including a nod to Murder on the Orient Express.

For adult readers, Bow takes us on a delightful, nostalgic trip with The Unwritten Girl; however, what is more important is how young adults will respond to this book. Despite its fantasy/fairy tale setting, The Unwritten Girl addresses some fairly serious issues; mental illness, being an outsider, the death of parents and bullying. In many ways, this is a fairly dark book and Bow deftly handles these significant topics without resorting to clichés or becoming preachy.

Given that Bow has short excerpts of what appear to be “future” adventures of Rosemary and Peter on his blog, I am hopefully that we’ll soon see more books featuring these engaging characters. I read this through in one sitting and my autographed copy is going into my permanent collection.

ISBN10: 1550026046
ISBN13: 9781550026947
Publisher: Boardwalk Young Adult Fiction, A Member of the Dundurn Group
Publication Date: April 1, 2006
Binding: Paperback
Book Website:

Related Books of Interest (…or, if you loved The Unwritten Girl, you’ll probably like these):
* The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
* Green Angel by Alice Hoffman
* Varjak Paw by SF Said
* Airborn by Kenneth Oppel


BOOK REVIEW: Me, Dead Dad and Alcatraz by Chris Lynch


Elvin Bishop is a creature of routines. He and his Mom have been on their own for many years, and Elvin likes his family of two, plus dog. Then one day his dead Uncle Alex appears sitting on the couch in his living room, determined to turn Elvin’s life upside down. Alex wants redemption by “fixing” Elvin’s life, to make up for him running off with the money left Elvin and his Mom by his Dad.

Elvin doesn’t want fixing–in fact, he doesn’t want anything to change. What follows is a struggle of wills between Elvin and Alex, causing Elvin to question everything and everyone around him. Me, Dead Dad and Alcatraz is truly a novel about redemption and finding yourself.

Like all great stories of finding oneself, much of what Elvin goes through is “cringe-worthy”–most readers will be able to relate to Elvin’s experiences and empathize with him. Chris Lynch has created a voice for Elvin that rings with honesty, and it adds up to a great coming of age story, filled with humor and humanity. Readers may wish to read Lynch’s earlier works featuring Elvin, Slot Machine and Extreme Elvin, before moving on to Me, Dead Dad and Alcatraz.

See the review at Armchair Interviews – Me, Dead Dad and Alcatraz.

BOOK REVIEW: Confessions of a Teen Nanny by Victoria Ashton


In an effort to get all my past reviews posted here to create “archives”, over the next few weeks I’ll be adding some reviews published in 2005. They’re all great books so check them out!

Anyone who loved Bergdorf Blondes or Mean Girls is going to love Confessions of a Teen Nanny.

Liz and Adrienne have been best friends since they were little. When friends of her boss need a new nanny, Liz convinces Adrienne to sign on for a two-week stint with precocious eight-year-old Emma Warner. Adrienne and Liz quickly get sucked into the lifestyle of the rich and famous lived by Emma’s older sister Cameron–and very quickly their lives spin out of control. How they find their footing in this glamorous world is a delightfully, fast-paced romp.

Told in short, snappy chapters, Ashton has evoked a world where one keeps expecting Paris Hilton to step out of the elevator. Heavy on style and ferociously paced, occasionally the reader is left wishing for a bit more character development.

Sure to appeal to all young fashionistas– and a few Moms and older sisters may try to sneak off with it, too!

Originally posted on Armchair Interviews.

Young Adult Book Reviews – Master List


In an effort to reduce the long list of reviews in my sidebar, I decided to create an entry of each of the category of books I review. That way I can update this entry and link to just this entry in the sidebar.

This is a list of the young adult books I’ve reviewed to date.

* Confessions of a Teen Nanny – Victoria Ashton

* The Unwritten Girl – James Bow

* Johnny Kellock Died Today – Hadley Dyer

* Incantation – Alice Hoffman

* Me, Dead Dad & Alcatraz – Chris Lynch

* Un Lun Dun – China Miéville

* Wintersmith – Terry Pratchett

* Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog – Ysabeau S. Wilce

Children’s Books
* The Butterfly Workshop – Gioconda Belli

* In Arctic Waters – Laura Crawford

* Night’s Nice – Barbara and Ed Emberley

* Miss Bea’s Seaside – Louise Harding

* Imagine Harry – Kate Klise

* Balloons Balloons Balloons – Dee Lillegard

* Peek-a-Boo, I Love You – Sandra Magsamen

* Hondo & Fabian – Peter McCarty

* Sergio Makes a Splash! – Edel Rodriguez

* Dragon Dancing – Carole Lexa Schaefer

* What Time is it, Mr. Crocodile? – Judy Sierra

* Wangari’s Trees of Peace – Jeanette Winter

BOOK REVIEW: Johnny Kellock Died Today by Hadley Dyer


Rosalie Norman is facing the summer of 1959 as if she was being sentenced to boredom. Her best friend is away and she is stuck socializing with the boy next door, a strange young man called “the Gravedigger” by the local children due to his job at the local cemetary. Her carelessness with her drawing pencils causes Rosalie’s mother to fall and fracture her ankle and as a result, the Gravedigger is recruited to help the family out with chores. This forced connection is not one that Rosalie wants, fearing the backlash from fellow students when returning to school in the fall. Johnny Kellock Died Today is centred around Rosalie’s hunt for the titular character, her favourite cousin Johnny, whose disappearance her family is hiding.

Hadley Dyer’s first novel pulls from memory the long, hot summers of childhood. Rosalie is the youngest child in a family of grownups, the afterthought baby whose place is never quite certain. Her mother is a true matriarch, ruling the family with the authority of a field general – while her father, the nurturer and comforter, is called only by his surname.

In this family of shifting tensions and dynamics, Rosalie appears to be at sea. Dyer has written a character that lives so much in her mind, and the comics she draws, that she does not appear at all connected to her family. This is exemplified by the fact that she has no knowledge of her father’s first name, in fact wondering to herself at that poignant moment “How is it even halfway possible I didn’t think about this before?”

As the Gravedigger becomes David, Rosalie learns more about herself and her family’s secrets than she ever thought possible. Her household make-up changes yet again and Rosalie is able to finally become one of the adults rather than the afterthought child.

This is a delightful story told in Rosalie’s distinctive voice, wonderfully evoked by Dyer. This reader’s only complaint is that the sub-plot of Martha, Rosalie’s sister, is not more satisfactorily concluded. The reader is left hanging, wondering what has driven her solitary wanderings and tension.

This engaging novel is sure to become the perfect read for a hot summer day, read on the porch with a glass of lemonade.

See the review as it is appears at Front Street Reviews – Johnny Kellock Died Today. Don’t forget to check out Hadley Dyer’s blog.

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