Review: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“‘They don’t hate you, Saul.’
‘Well, what, then?’
‘They think it’s their game.’
‘Is it?’
I could hear the crack of our tires in the frost on the road. ‘It’s God’s game,’ he said.
‘Where’s God now, then?’ I asked.”

Incredible story.

I was worried that the combination of residential school experience with a young man’s love of hockey was going to be too much – too Canadian. I was wrong. This worked, so very well. Wagamese reminds us all that no matter how different we may be (or appear to be) as individuals or as cultures, underneath we are still the same, driven by the same needs and desires.

This ought to be on required/suggested reading lists in high schools across Canada.

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

The Night Has Teeth by Kat Kruger

NightHasTeeth_LowRes_1024x1024Connor Lewis, 17 years old and socially awkward, if off to Paris to study for a year on scholarship. He quickly makes two new friends, flirty and oddly attractive Madison and her boyfriend Josh. The couple seem constantly on the verge of breaking up, and sparks are flying between Connor and Madison. But what seems like it could be the set up for a typical YA romance becomes something altogether different.

We meet Connor’s host family: Amara, an attractive tattoo artist in her early twenties, and her broody boyfriend Arden. To say this is not your standard exchange student scenario would be a huge understatement. We flash back to his childhood, and discover he bit a boy, badly, on his first day of school, and has been an outcast ever since. Now in Paris, Connor discovers an underworld of werewolves: the born (who transform into majestic wolves)  and the bitten (the half-man, half-beast monsters we are more familiar with).

Throw in some beautiful people, the City of Light (and the dark tunnels beneath it), a creepy cemetery or two, and a novel scientific theory on the evolution of the werewolf, and you’ve got yourself a damn fine story.

“The night has teeth. The night has claws, and I have found them.” — Eyewitness account of the Wolf of Magdeburg, 1819

So if it isn’t your standard YA fantasy romance, what is it? It’s a part paranormal, part sci-fi, and all parts awesome werewolf story. I know, you are skeptical. So was I. Twilight kinda killed werewolves for anyone not a Twihard. (Dear God I just used one of their made up words.) But honestly, Kruger has told a fascinating story, which is of course just the set up for a larger story – this book is part 1 of the Madgeburg Trilogy (part 2 is due out this summer).

I thoroughly enjoyed The Night has Teeth, and recommend it highly. I will disclose a personal bias: Ms. Kruger is a friend of mine.  I read it months ago, and hesitated to post a review as it was hard to find the right voice to review a friend’s work. I wanted to convey how much I enjoyed it without gushing and coming across as fake. I hope I have accomplished that… and I hope you check it out the book and enjoy it too.

Paperback: 306 pages
Publisher: Fierce Ink Press (Sep 23 2012)
ISBN-10: 0988106701
ISBN-13: 978-0988106703

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

Twin brothers Victor and Konrad Frankenstein are inseparable, and together with friends Elizabeth and Henry embark on numerous adventures – real and imaginary. Their happy youth ends quickly one day as Konrad falls extremely ill, and in desperation, Victor turns to alchemy, and the forbidden library discovered in their ancient family home, to find a cure for his brother.

Having watched the play and read another retelling of the Frankenstein story last October, I could not resist revisiting the characters again.  I’m also a sucker for stories involving alchemy or magic, so why not? It was the perfect read for a short airplane ride.

Oppel’s novel is set earlier in Victor’s life, and introduces a twin brother to the narrative. The imminent death of his twin provides the perfect explanation for young Victor’s descent into the world of alchemy and other (future) questionable scientific endeavors. We also see his passion (perhaps misguided) as well as hints of the arrogance and selfishness that lead to his ruin. Great precursor’s to Mary Shelley’s character, without hitting you over the head with obvious links.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of adventure in the story, its translation into young adult material,  and the budding romance/unrequited love story between Victor and Elizabeth, I wasn’t completely sold on Oppel’s take on the story and characters. Having lived through these experiences with alchemy, and the at times drastic results of their experimenting, I am not convinced that this young Frankenstein would go on to create the monster now so well associated with his name.

Of course, Oppel is not done. I did not know it when I was reading, but This Dark Endeavor is part one of a planned trilogy. There is still much left to read before the doctor’s demise.

Note: I don’t like to label books as “for boys” or “for girls” as I have always read books recommended for both. And yet, if you allow me to remove the quotation marks: this would be a great book for young boys. Yes there is some romance, but it is not a focus, and not overdone. It is filled with adventure and written from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy. Of course, I believe most girls will enjoy it as well.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (May 22, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1442403160
ISBN-13: 978-1442403161

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

ImageTris is back. To be precise, she is right where we left her at the end of Divergent. On a train, with her brother and her boyfriend, escaping the carnage of the attack on the Abegnation and the death of her parents.

To quickly flash back to Divergent, the story takes place in a burned out, near-future, dystopian Chicago, where society is divided into five factions: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Each faction serves a specific purpose in keeping the society going. One of my problems with Divergent was that while on its own the story was interesting, I found the societal structure hard to buy into. Why and how would anyone decide to live that way? Well, in Insurgent, we begin to find the answers to that, and in the process learn much more about the societal outcasts: the factionless.

Insurgent keeps up the relentless action pace of its predecessor. I was frequently breathless just trying to keep up with Tris and Four and all the new characters we meet. (Note: there are a lot of new characters; keeping up was sometimes difficult.) The relationship between Tris and Four heats up considerably. From time to time I wondered if Roth had forgotten she was writing a YA novel. I loved this of course, as I think given the realities of life, the lack of sex in YA novels is foolish.

Speaking of foolish… um, Tris? Sometimes I wanted to throttle her. She is our divergent heroine, with a better perspective on what is happening around her than anyone. But sometimes (often) she is still a naive and rash sixteen year old girl who makes stupid choices and needs to be rescued a few too many times. One more rescue and I’m not sure she could even be considered the heroine anymore. Seriously, Tris. Shape up.

Things I loved about Insurgent include: the already mentioned fast pace; the lack of brooding & introspective bullsh*t that frequently takes over such novels; and the fact that the romance sizzled without any introduction of a love triangle (so overdone). Oh – and the almost unbelievable revelations in the last chapters that leave me incredibly anxious for book three. I am such a sucker for trilogies. Me and the rest of the YA reading world.

Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen (May 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0062024043
ISBN-13: 978-0062024046

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Awaking to pain, heart-break and intense hunger, Lena must learn to face a frightening new world. She has left her family, friends and all she ever knew behind to start a new life –  but her intended partner in this new life was shot down during their escape. As she is nursed back to health and then adopted and trained by Invalids for the resistance, Lena’s character develops from the weak and confused girl we met in Delirium to a strong(er) and determined young woman.

Remember Lena? She lives in a world where love – amor deliria nervosa – is a disease. By law, everyone must be cured at the age of 18 in order to maintain law and order.

In Delirium, Lena meets and is infected by falls in love with Alex, only weeks before she must receive the cure. Convinced of the folly of her society, Lena runs away.  Only the sad ending to the last book is that Alex did not escape with her – he is shot by the border guards, and she is alone.

In Pandemonium, we follow Lena’s continuing story as she fights first for her own survival in the wilds, then as a member of the anti- government, pro-love resistance, and finally to save herself and her unlikely partner when kidnapped during a political rally.

It should be noted – this is a YA dystopia. There are definite parallels to the classics Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale but we’re really looking at a teenage love story, with a dystopian dressing up. This would make me extremely critical if it wasn’t well done, but it is.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Book 1 was good but not great. Sequels tend to be worse, and if I hadn’t had a few dollars left on a Kobo gift card, I probably would not have bothered. I am very glad I did. Oliver has drawn me further into the saga with a few not completely unexpected but still risky plot twists. I am greatly looking forward to Book 3.

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (February 28, 2012)
ISBN-10: 006197806X
ISBN-13: 978-0061978067

Ashes, Ashes by Joe Treggiari

The end of the word has come and gone with a series of epidemics, floods, droughts (and the resulting violence and chaos) leaving 16 year old Lucy as one of the few survivors. She is alone, foraging for food with the help of her father’s old pocket knife and a survival guide she swiped from a high-end Manhattan sporting goods store.

The combination of a tsunami and an attack by wild dogs leads Lucy to leave her solitary camp in Central Park seek help and company with a group of survivors, including handsome and friendly Aiden. We are introduced to a very different Manhattan, a new social structure, and the real truth about the epidemics that wiped out most of human civilization. We also quickly dicvoer there is something special about Lucy.

Ashes, Ashes starts out strong. Lucy on her own is a fascinating character. I enjoyed reading through her thought processes and problem solving. She is smart, capable, and independent, all nice to see in a young female heroine. After joining Aiden and his group of survivors, she suddenly seems so passive and unsure of herself, it is disappointing. Realistic perhaps after so much time alone, but disappointing nonetheless.

A good read, great for summer days on the beach.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

The debut novel from Canadian author Moira Young turns the young adult dystopian fiction genre on its head with the story of Saba, stubborn, sometimes mean and often naïve, off to rescue her twin brother from the hands of the “King.”

Saba lives in a dry and dusty post-apocalyptic, barren world, destroyed by the previous “Wreckers” civilization. Her family is clinging to life on the shores of the dried up Silverlake, salvaging former Wrecker landfills for materials to repair their home. In the aftermath of a terrible sandstorm, their home is raided by cloaked men, her father killed and her twin brother kidnapped.

Determined to rescue him, Saba must cross the ‘Sandsea’ to Hopetown, and face the dangers waiting there. Though she is determined to leave her younger sister behind, Emmi will not be left. Saba and Emmi survive the desert, a kidnapping, cage fighting and raging fires on their way to a bloody showdown with the deranged and self acclaimed King, just in time to save their brother from execution and sacrifice.

Saba is strong and proud – often to a fault. She can be thoughtless and cruel, especially where Emmi is concerned. All her life, the only person she has ever really loved was Lugh. With him gone, Saba is forced to reach out to others for help, and discovers much about herself in the process. There is even a love story thrown in, but it never takes centre stage. It just isn’t that kind of book.

Other books have tried and come close, but this one truly succeeds in being a novel where the girls are strong enough to rescue the boys, but not too proud to accept help. Most of the time.

Hardcover: 464 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada (Jun 7 2011)

ISBN-10: 0385671830

ISBN-13: 978-0385671835