Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

First off, I’ll admit that I’m relatively new to the graphic novel craze. I understand why kids love them so much, but I just prefer plain old text- thank you very much. Not only was Ghostopolis a different medium for me, but it was also full of skeletons, zombies and strange creatures—so not my genre.  However, it was on YALSA’s 2011 Top 10 Graphic Novels list, so I figured it was worth a read.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“Imagine Garth Hale’s surprise when he’s accidentally zapped to the spirit world by Frank Gallows, a washed-out ghost wrangler. Suddenly Garth finds he has powers the ghosts don’t have, and he’s stuck in a world run by the evil ruler of Ghostopolis, who would use Garth’s new found abilities to rule the ghostly kingdom. When Garth meets Cecil, his grandfather’s ghost, the two search for a way to get Garth back home, and nearly lose hope until Frank Gallows shows up to fix his mistake.”

After reading the entire book in one sitting, I realized how great the book truly is. It is fast paced, action packed, yet still contains enough depth and story to really impress!  Indeed, throughout this story of family and beliefs, problems are resolved and relationships mended.

Visually, I loved the lettering and coloring. The panel presentation is straight forward, and easy to interpret for those not used of reading graphic novels.  The action sequences are well depicted and leaps off the page!

As much as I did love the book, I did have a few plot issues that I am still questioning:

            -Why the heck is Garth so powerful? It was not explained.

            -Why call her Claire Voyant if she isn’t clairvoyant?

-In the book, the dead in Ghostopolis look like their maturity age instead of their true death age. While I liked this concept, I don’t think it was carried through properly.

Also, the climax and quick ending didn’t quite sit right with me.  Rather than an action packed battle of man-buildings, I was hoping for a small scale character focused conclusion. I think it would have been truer to the depth and story of the book.

Overall, after reading the book, I would say that it is aimed at younger readers in grade 5-8ish.  Garth’s comments, jokes and comebacks are sometimes childish. Regardless of Garth’s comebacks, I still found the book entertaining and I think other adults would too.   I also think it would make a fantastic Tim Burton movie! I recently attended the Tim Burton exhibit in Toronto, and I can’t help but picture Burton creating this alternate world and making it come to life.


The Detention Club by David Yoo

Lately I’ve been getting lots of requests for book recommendations for reluctant readers and pre-teen boys. So, when I received a preview box of books from Library Bound Inc (thanks Helen!) I immediately picked up an ARC of ‘The Detention Club’ by David Yoo.

The story follows sixth-grader Peter Lee, and his best friend Drew as they attempt to regain their popularity they once had in elementary school. Within a couple of days at Fenwick Middle, the boys quickly realize that being great collectors of stuff (especially mica) doesn’t make them popular anymore and that the popularity game has changed.  Peter and Drew become so obsessed with fitting in that their school grades begin to slide. As a result, Peter is given detention, but learns that serving detention may actually help him to network with the right people to re-establish their presence in the social ladder. 

I really enjoyed this book for several reasons:

-Relatable. Popularity in middle/high school is a huge part of life. Most students can relate to the longing Peter and Drew have to be in considered the ‘in crowd’. Yoo is also able to incorporate other issues within the novel, including family drama and sibling rivalry with Peter’s over-achieving, eighth-grade sister, Sunny.

-Hilarious. When Peter’s plan of taking digital photos of the blackboard (instead of taking notes) backfires, he blames his dad for buying a terrible camera that takes grainy photos.  Also, the creative ideas the boys come up with to increase their popularity had me laughing out loud. 

-Surprising. There is a school thief that is determined to steal everyone’s most prized possessions.  The kids in detention think the thief is Peter (after all, he does fit all the criteria).  When the true identity of the thief is revealed, prepare to be surprised! 

-Loved the characters. I wish I had a best friend like Drew. He is funny without trying to be. He reminds readers to embrace the inner loser in all of us.

Although most kids would do anything to get out of detention, I would love to join Fenwick Middle’s detention club! Well… maybe if it’s just for one day to get a sweet drawing of a unicorn.

<<—I just wish the cover was different.

Humourous. Hair-raising. Haunting. It’s Darren Shan’s Cirque Du Freak!

Time and time again, I have been told to read the Cirque du Freak series.  For some reason, I don’t usually like reading series books. I like one strong story to be told in one book—not spread over a couple of books. However, after reading the first book in the Cirque du Freak series, I know that I will be continuing on to find out what happens to Darren Shan.  I should have known– I mean, J.K Rowling herself endorses the book right on the cover, ‘A compelling book… a plot full of twists which leaves the reader hungry for more’.  So true!

Want an interesting fact? Darren Shan is a pen name. The author’s real name is Darren O’Shaughnessy, but he uses his main character’s name as his pen name.  Sometimes the book is referred to as ‘The Saga of Darren Shan’ by Darren Shan, with the main character’s name also being Darren Shan. Confused yet?

Basically the story follows fourteen year old Darren Shan and his friend Steve as they attend a showing of the Cirque du Freak.  They witness a snake-boy, a wolf-man, and much more! However, it’s the performing spider named Madam Octa that really captivates and causes future problems for Darren.

The book reminded me of R.L Stine’s Goosebumps series that I used to read as a kid. I can’t stand reading or watching anything scary, so I’m not sure why I loved that series so much. Perhaps it’s because it kept me glued to the page and held my attention. That is why I will be recommending the Cirque du Freak novels for even the most reluctant readers. Far from boring, the entire book is fast paced—something crazy, dangerous, or creepy happening on every page! However, I do recommend that readers should be aged 10 and older, as it is not for the faint of heart.

I only found two minor snags in Shan’s writing. First, in Darren and Steve’s conversations, they often used adult expressions and sounded more like adults than fourteen year olds. Also, I was slightly annoyed by the excessive use of exclamation marks!!! For example, take a look on page 11 and there are three exclamation points in five sentences!!! Since I loved the book so much, I will overlook these slight issues.

Some patrons have told me there is also a film adaptation of the book. They have warned me it isn’t as good as the book. Isn’t this always the case? Despite this notice, I still plan on tracking down a copy so I can compare the book to the movie myself.


The Invisible Rules of the Zoe Lama

I received the book The Invisible Rules of the Zoe Lama (2007) by Tish Cohen at the OLA. She was there signing both her adult and YA books. The book completely reminded me of the book I just reviewed called, The Fourth Stall but the less-violent girl version. And YES, I know Cohen’s book came out first, but still.

The book is about confident 7th grader Zoe, who has become legendary at her school for wise rules and advice.  When a new girl starts school, Zoe decides to take her on as a client and reform her— Clueless, anyone? The new girl, as well as most of the school, follow Zoe’s unwritten (or as she calls them, ‘invisible’) rules that guide general life. I won’t give them all away—you will have to read the book!

Here are the first five…
1. The possibilities for disaster are endless with balloons ***
2. No one has ever questioned my advice before
3. Smartin Granitstein is vile
4. I’ll tell you when I’m good and ready
5. Never lift for yourself what a fifth grader is willing to lift for you

** I thought the extent of her phobia of balloons was a little ridiculous. However, after a quick Google search, sure enough, Globophobia (the phobia of balloons) does actually exist. 

            What I did like: Cohen is able to add in an aging grandparent with Alzheimer’s*. As our population ages, it is likely that more families will experience the effects of Alzheimer’s. The plot line of Zoe’s grandmother helps to introduce the disease so that readers are conscious of what exactly Alzheimer’s is and how it can affect families. In the end, the storyline of Zoe’s grandmother is resolved in a realistic way.

* If you are interested in more books that deal with Alzheimers, check out: The Last Best Days of Summer by Valerie Hobbs or Runaway Gran by Sonia Craddock.

What I didn’t like: The amount of bold print, italics, and doodles. Sure, I know they were meant to add an element of fun, but I just found them annoying (especially the photographs of chocolate chip cookies!).

Best for:  Although the characters are in middle school, the book is aimed more toward elementary-level readers. Zoe and her classmates are young for their age. 

Interesting Fact: The Invisible Rules of the Zoe Lama was highlighted under February 2011 Book Club Books on the Girl Guides of Canada website. The reviewers also agree that the book is best suited for girls ages 8-14 years old.


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