Flunked(Fairy Tale Reform School #1) by Jen Calonita

Geetanjali Pegu-Musings of a BibliophileFlunked by Jen Calonita

Series: Fairy Tale Reform School #1

Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky on March 3rd,2015

Genre: Fairy Tale Fantasy,Middle Grade


Review

Rating: 3/5

Have you ever wondered what happened to Cinderella’s step-mother after her happily-ever after?What about the Evil Queen who poisoned Snow White with an apple?Or the numerous other Disney fairy tale villains?Well,if you want the answers to these questions, then Flunked might just be the book for you.In this first installment of the Fairy Tale Reform School series,Jen Calonita tells us how in the fairy tale land of Enchantasia,which is ruled by Cinderella,now Princess Ella and the other fairy tale princesses,Cinderella’s step mother,Flora,has started the Fairy Tale Reform School which is ‘the education program for the wicked and the criminally mischievous’ .

As we read the school is gearing up to celebrate its Fifth Anniversary  which now boasts of successful alumni turned teachers,viz.,the Wolf now called Professor Xavier who teaches History,the Sea Witch turned FTRS etiquette expert,Madame Cleo,and the Evil Queen aka Professor Harlow who teaches psychology and runs group therapy sessions in FTRS.The school situated in the outskirts of Enchantasia near the Hollow Woods,has welcomed more than five hundred gnomes,trolls,dwarfs,elves,mer-folk,and other morally corrupt fairy-tale children as its students. To this school our little protagonist,Gilly, is thrown in when she is caught stealing one time too many by Olaf  and Snow White’s dwarf squad who form the law enforcement of Enchantasia.Gilly,short for Gillian Cobbler,daughter of the shoemaker who’d made Cinderella’s glass slipper,is not happy with the situation and finds more reason to resent the royal princesses who had robbed her family of their livelihood when Princess Ella commissioned her Fairy Godmother to magically supply shoes for the royals.She is determined to escape the walls of the reform school as soon as possible and resume stealing to provide for her younger siblings.But in FTRS she befriends a fellow student fairy,Kayla and a thieving farm boy named Jax.While she tries to remain under the radar endeavouring to be released early for good behaviour,she manages to antagonize Professor Harlow’s equally evil and bitchy sister,Jocelyn who lands her in detentions.And when she gets wind of trouble brewing in FTRS which might lead to the reign of evil once again in Enchantasia,Gilly has to choose between a life of a thief to support her family or take the opportunity to be a hero for greater good.

A quick and cute read,Flunked seems promising for its intended readership with its spunky twelve year old narrator who with her unique voice makes the reading experience enjoyable.But if you’ve been raised on a diet of Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings, this will seem like a poor imitation of Potterland.The school itself with its forbidden forest,out of bounds school areas and secret passages,magical food service not only feels like Hogwarts but a menacing,Gilly hating,Jocelyn favouring (read Draco Malfoy),black wearing,dueling teacher Professor Harlow sounds eerily similar to Professor Snape.Not to mention there is a Sybill Trelawney style dream prophecy made by Madame Cleo.I suppose it is not fair to compare it to a classic since most books take inspiration from classics,and I do appreciate Calonita’s effort in creating a fairy-tale land after the famous happily ever afters.The Happily Ever After Scrolls(Enchantasia’s news service),the flying Pegasi,Miri,the Evil Queen’s talking mirror are cleverly used in the plotline.Also,the take on the class system in Enchantasia shows that even life in fairy-tale land is not always fair.

The story has a good start but somewhere loses its steam in the middle with a weak climax.Despite having promising characters as the main villains,and teachers such as Wolfington,they are not utilised to their full potential.

Since,this is only the first book in the Fairy Tale Reform School series,I believe more details will be woven into the future installments.Flunked does not end on a cliffhanger and can thus be read as a standalone.

Geetanjali-Musings of a Bibliophile

Musings of a Bibliophile

Would you send a villain to do a hero’s job?

Full of regret, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.

Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she’s not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school-for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there’s more to this school than its sweet mission. There’s a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villain really change?(via happilyeverafterscrolls.net)

If I Fall,If I Die by Michael Christie -REVIEW

Contemporary fiction

If I Fall,If I Die by Michael Christie; First published: January 13th,2015; Publication: Cornerstone Digital,Random House UK(February 12th,2015)

Genre: Literary Fiction,Contemporary,Adult,YA Adventure

REVIEW

Rating:4/5

                         The boy stepped Outside and did not die.

After living in the Inside with his mother all his life,when eleven year old Will Cardiel cautiously ventures out to the Outside to investigate ‘the odd bang’ near their house,he meets Marcus or Other Will,and is elated to make a friend for the first time.This becomes the turning point of his life because Will,despite sharing the fear of the Outside with his chronically agoraphobic mother,Diane, by osmosis,becomes compelled to expand his horizon for the first time and see the Outside for himself.Until then Will had been happily existing in the Inside ,painting his ‘masterpieces’ in his studio in New York,eating his meals in Paris,sleeping in San Francisco,doing laundry in Toronto and watching TV in Cairo.

Now wait a second.Didn’t you just say Will has never been to the Outside?So,how had he been globetrotting around the world? Well,that’s Will for you and as we go deeper into the story we learn more about Will’s world in the Inside and his adventures in the Outside in this stunningly beautiful debut novel by Michael Christie. If I fall,If I Die is a kind of Bildungsroman which explores the meaning of freedom,friendship,the correlation between love and fear,while at the same time serving as a social commentary on the marginalisation of the indigenous people of Canada and drawing an empathetic picture of mental illness and parenting woes.

As Will ventures out from his house in Thunder Bay,Canada,we get to see the world through his eyes,who with his inherent curiosity and innocent childlike wonderment forces the reader to take notice of things which are often taken for granted.The novel is narrated from the perspectives of Will and Diane and the author does a great job of giving a distinct voice to both the protagonists. While Will starts out as the adorable kid,unaccustomed with the ways of the world, looking at everything with childlike wonder in the beginning,he develops a kind of maturity with his time spent Outside in the later part of the book.His mother Diane in her ‘Relaxation Time’s tells us about her past and how she came to be a house ridden agoraphobic person.

Marcus’ remark,“Nothing can really hurt you Will”, has a deep impact on Will which gives him the courage and determination to go Outside,and soon after he learns that though terrible things might happen there,he could no longer be satisfied with just a life Inside painting ‘masterpieces’,eating slow-cooked non-chock inducing food ,with only the delivery men,delivering their necessities,as his only connection to the Outside.So,despite learning about Marcus’ disappearance soon after their meeting and having a less than favourable experience on his first outing Outside,he becomes determined more than ever to save his friend,and enrolls himself to the local school inorder to gather information.In the process he befriends Angela and Jonah. Jonah introduces him to the whole new world of skateboarding which gives him a new lease of life with the inherent danger and freedom attached to the sport.But with all the time spent Outside skateboarding and trying to find Marcus, he grows more and more disenchanted to come home.Coupled with it when he learns that his paintings are not masterpieces as his mother had told him,learns about a dead uncle who was her twin,and most importantly that the Outside is not as dangerous as his mother had made him believe, he begins to lose fate in her and resents her for living in perpetual fear of the unknown ‘Black Lagoon’.

Diane is more than aware of her situation and is in fact ashamed of her inability to get over her Agoraphobia,but with no solution in sight for her condition,the result of years of losing her near and dear ones to tragic accidents,she has to helplessly watch her beloved son putting himself at risk with his adventures Outside.Though she is imprisoned inside her house because of her fear,she consoles herself with the belief that ‘it’s no prison if you built it yourself’.
We learn further that her unplanned pregnancy, which led to the dissolution of her relationship with Will’s father,had exacerbated her condition and forced her to leave her film making career in Toronto and instead take refuge in her hometown of Thunder Bay with her infant son. But even though ‘wordlessly she’d taught him that the Outside was built of danger’ (as Will asserts),she has profound love for her son and does her best to raise him right by reading him stories from different books (which reflects in his creative thought process) and encouraging him to be creative by archiving his paintings which she lovingly referred to as masterpieces.She is unapologetic of her ways of trying to save her son from ever coming into any harm ,even if she had had to lie to him about his heart condition so that he didn’t exert himself .’Her chief responsibility being to ensure he didn’t taste any abandonment as she had’, and one cannot help but agree with her reasoning to some extent.

 What is raising a child except lying?It begins with the first shhhh…everything is going to be… and only gets worse from there.

Though Diane’s story is sad with her pessimistic outlook on life,her narrative is matter of fact even when she talks about her depression and personal tragedies.For the large part Will’s narrative is buoyant and his choice of similes to express himself -amusing, which charmingly captivates the reader’s attention making them forget the gloomier aspects of the novel.He adorably accepts each spoken word by its literal meaning .For example,when he asks Marcus whether they were friends and Marcus replies with a ‘whatever,sure’ , he takes it to literally mean ’no matter what’ after looking it up in the dictionary.

Will looked up this word whatever in their dictionary,and found that it meant “no matter what”. At the permanence of this beautiful sentiment Will wept,tears tapping the dictionary’s oniony pages.

The thing that first draws the reader’s attention is the use of the words inside and outside as proper nouns. Because according to Will the world was divided into two kingdoms,viz., the Inside where he and his mother ‘reigned over their private kingdom with the Black Lagoon as its border’ ,and the Outside being the other part which was the big fearful unknown which he saw through his window.Being raised on a diet of different stories read to him by his mother and movies,he develops an over imaginative mind which in a way helped him to adapt to any situation,even on the Outside because he always came up with some kind of answer for everything.It’s in the same way that he came up with the name ‘Black Lagoon’ (from a horror movie) for his mother’s fear.

The relationship between mother and son as it evolved throughout the story is one of the vital elements of the story.Also,as Will spends more time on the Outside and comes into contact with new people,he begins to understand the meaning of friendship,gets the taste of his first kiss,learns that everyone has their own Black Lagoon and finally concludes that even if bad things did happen Outside,’it was not all that dangerous.It was worth leaving for,if only to see it up close and to make a friend for a short while’.

Apart from their relationship and Will’s acclimatisation Outside,the reason behind Marcus’ disappearance, its relation to Diane’s brother’s death and what goes behind the now defunct grain elevators of Pool 6 in the town of Thunder Bay,provide the element of mystery to the plot which becomes the prime focus in the second half of the book,akin to a YA plotline.

Will’s friend Jonah,an Indian(native of Canada) serves as the link to the plight of the indigenous population of Thunder Bay and the prevalent racism against them.Will,however, not being exposed to the societal norms remains ‘colour blind’.It is heart rending to see how the Jonahs of Thunder Bay feared to utter a word in public for fear of being rebuked by the society or finding themselves in the wrong side of the law.

Michael Christie has cleverly woven a plot with elements he is familiar with. Having been raised in Thunder Bay he is able to create a realistic picture of life in and around one of the former grain transportation hubs of Canada.As an ex-professional skateboarder,he accurately captures the essence of what it means to skateboard.Even though there were some minor hiccups in the narrative,such as Will’s ready acceptance into the school without any parental presence during the enrollment,and even though the author overambitiously tries to pack a whole lot of things in a single book,Christie for the large part has managed to create a believable and emotionally moving sketch of a eleven year old’s life with a chronically agoraphobic and depressed mother ,and his subsequent adjustment in the world outside his home.

Since the main theme of the novel is to learn to live life to the fullest even when there is the fear of failure and danger,Christie has appropriately named it If I Fall,If I Die .

skateboard

Review copy was generously provided by Random House UK in exchange for an honest review.Disclaimer: All opinions here are drawn from my own conclusions no part of which bears any external influence.  

Veiled Intentions by Eileen Carr – a Review

Hijab Girl

Unknown artist

   “A veil doesn’t make me a terrorist any more than it makes me a good Muslim. It’s a symbol.”

Title: Veiled Intentions

Author: Eileen Carr

Publication date: December 29th,2014

Genre: General Fiction,Mystery & Thriller, Young Adult/Adult

Synopsis: When a young Muslim high school student is accused of a crime she didn’t commit, her school counselor gets involved to clear her record in this ripped-from-the-headlines thriller from the author of Vanished in the Night.Veiled Intentions
When Lily Simon finds cops in the lobby of the high school where she’s a guidance counselor, she’s not surprised: cops and adolescents go together like sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. But when the cops take Jamila, a Muslim student, into custody for a crime she didn’t commit, Lily’s high school becomes a powder keg.
Police think Jamila is responsible for a hit and run, and since she’s not talking, they have no choice but to keep her as the main suspect. And since the victim—a young soldier recently returned from Afghanistan—is lying unconscious in the hospital, the whole town is taking sides on whether or not Jamila’s arrest is religious persecution. Determined to find the truth, Lily teams up with a reporter to uncover what really happened the night of the hit and run. But Lily didn’t expect to find such a tangled web…(via Goodreads)


REVIEW

Rating: 4.5/5

In Veiled Intentions Eileen Carr paints a poignant picture of how a small lie and lack of faith in humanity can create discord among people and wreak havoc in a peaceful town. After finishing reading it last week, I have been mulling over how best to put my thoughts forward regarding this sensitive and time-appropriate thriller. Difficult to confine it to one particular category, this genre bender is a mystery cum thriller, not a ‘whodunit’ or ‘whydunit’ kind of story, but it is about the repercussions of a hit-and run accident in the lives of the people in the small town of Darby in Northern California; this is as much a YA Continue reading

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

flipped                                                                                Title: Flipped

Author: Wendelin Van Draanen

Publication date: October 1st,2001

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Middle Grade/Romance

Synopsis: Flipped is a romance told in two voices. The first time Juli Baker saw Bryce Loski, she flipped. The first time Bryce saw Juli, he ran. That’s pretty much the pattern for these two neighbors until the eighth grade, when, just as Juli is realizing Bryce isn’t as wonderful as she thought, Bryce is starting to see that Juli is pretty amazing. How these two teens manage to see beyond the surface of things and come together makes for a comic and poignant romance.


REVIEW

Rating: 5/5

Flipped is the cutest and one of the best middle grade contemporaries I’ve read in a while.This book takes one back to the delightfully innocent and carefree years of grade school,when innocent crushes had one flipping and having tummy aches. :)But it is also a contemplative tale of two middle graders coming to terms with the changes in the world and the people around them as they enter their adolescence.

It all begins when seven year old Bryce Loski moves into the house across the street from seven year old Julianna Baker’s.When Juli eagerly goes up to introduce herself to her new best friend,she flips.Why?Well,Juli explains it best:

“The first day I met Bryce Loski, I flipped. Honestly, one look at him and I became a lunatic. It’s his eyes. Something in his eyes. They’re blue, and framed in the blackness of his lashes, they’re dazzling. Absolutely breathtaking.” Continue reading