Anita's Haven

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FORTUNE KOOKIE by Jean Gill – my review

Well this was a surprise! Quite an unexpected turn of events in book 2. I read Left Out and loved it, so I eagerly awaited to read book 2 in the series. Mind you, even if you skipped book 1, you will have no problem reading this one.

The well-loved characters of Jamie and Ryan are back, along with a bunch of others – their families, friends and teachers. They have continued their development, and I relished the tiny nuances in character changes the author displayed. I was happy to see Kelly return, and little Sam’s addition to the cast is wonderful. Sorry to say little about him here, but I hate spoilers in reviews. Let’s just say he will put Ryan’s empathy to the test and earn your sympathies.

This time the story starts off with Jamie involving Ryan in yet another one of her projects. This time it involves saving her mother from her addiction to fortune-tellers, psychics and horoscopes, which mum spends tons of money on and hides from the rest of the family. 

Touching on very important issues of modern life, alienation, delusion, family secrets, fame searching, etc. the author could have just followed that storyline and her exquisite writing would have made it a great story. But she takes a risk and leads the story in quite a different direction, one twisting reality and magic, fact and fantasy, playing tricks with the characters and readers alike, which is a huge difference from book 1 in which the story revolves around their reality. I have to admit I hadn’t expected that, but I actually could not put the book down once Jamie discovered the power of her subconscious, and Ryan’s inquisitive nature led him into psychological experimenting with their friends. To put it briefly – keeping the story on the borderline between reality and fantasy is far from disappointing when Jean Gill wields the writing wand. 

Jamie’s confidence, instincts, intuition and strength will be tested in ways she could never have imagined, and yet – perhaps it is just the mind playing tricks on her, and us. When you set out to battle something and then find out that perhaps you yourself are part of it, it makes you question all your values, which is what happens to teenagers on a daily basis, even without the extra, paranormal challenges. As Ryan and Jamie search for a good career choice, it seems life finds it for them, just like the rest of us.

What I most admire is how the author weaves it all into a rich tapestry, leaving some to the interpretation (perhaps even to book 3?), and manages to logically connect issues such as young romance, hereditary faults and virtues, history, parental concerns, staleness in marriage, town traditions, tested friendships, science and magic, life, death and afterlife… and all this in a YA novel. Jean Gill makes you question, wonder, guess, feel, cheer for the characters. I want to know what Jamie plans to do next. I am interested in whether Ryan will manage to balance his intellectual side with his feelings. I wonder if Kelly and Gareth will remain together on their way to fame. And what of their parents, and Sam, and granny?
And on top of everything, was it all real;)? Shhhhh, no spoilers. Looking forward to book 3 and recommending this book to all teenagers, young adult readers, parents and educators, especially those with a flare for a bit of the paranormal in the normal.

This review was written for Readers Review Room and deserves a gold bookworm from this reader.

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LEFT OUT by Jean Gill – my review

Have you heard about the Looking for Normal books? They might be just the thing for your teenage and YA children and students, and hey,why not – even for you! Especially if you are dealing with such kids/adults:).


Another one of Jean Gill’s brilliant stories! The best thing a book can do is pull you in and make you think and feel, and this one does just that. No matter whether you are an adult or a teenager, this is definitely a story you should let into your library. Every educator and parent should read it, and so should teenagers (although we might try telling them they shouldn’t, just to increase the chances of it actually being enticing to them). 

The story touches on numerous important issues about growing up, without preaching, judging, laying blame or displaying any prejudice. Introducing the theme of prejudice through the seemingly simple problems of a left-hander in the right-handed world lures us into seeing our world as it is – filled with prejudice all around. We realize how many times all of us show it, unaware, yet effectively hurting each other. The witty and humorous parts of the story and the wonderful characters will feed your soul, and basically inspire you to be a better person, not a mere conformist. A special treasure are the various kinds of parents in the story – they made me angry and smile at the same time, as I recognized myself in their attempts at doing what’s best for their kids and loved them for it. Jamie and Ryan will, no doubt, resonate with teenagers – there is so much to relate to with those bright kids growing into great people.

The author shows admirable understanding of the teenage mind, led primarily by their emotional world, as they try to tug themselves out into reasonable adulthood. She displays the depth of their conviction, which sometimes may be misguided, but is deeply felt nonetheless, and we should therefore respect it in all its seriousness. For instance, when the main character Jamie observes her mother and never wants to be like her – we’ve all been there, right? Or when Ryan (mis)judges his mother’s intentions – that scene made me rethink my own relationship with my son. Reading about Kelly’s misplaced trust and about Ryan’s new school, opened my eyes to the fact that it is no wonder how many teenagers enjoy gaming and fantasy so much – it is easier to bear than their own reality. But life has its twists and turns, and when we try to do better, we can, as Jean Gill proves. The story is permeated with author’s expressive style gems, such as comparing Jamie’s family to a bus terminal, informative texts about left-handers (with charming comments by the main characters) and the realistic family conversations.

As a parent and a teacher, I felt this book in my gut. It hits so close to home on more levels than I can count. I felt for all those kids, all those teachers and parents trying, failing and succeeding at doing the best they can. It is amazing to see how similar parenthood is all around the world, how many things can go wrong, how many times misunderstandings stem from brief, implied (mis)communication instead of good old-fashioned listening. This may well be the best writing by Jean Gill I’ve read yet, and I am so happy to know there are so many books I still haven’t read by this author. 

Left Out on Amazon 

PS: You can never have enough of a good thing. Not only was I fortunate enough to read Left Out (and enjoy its remakewith this great new cover), but there is also a sequel – Fortune Kookie  coming out. It is the second part of the Looking for Normal trilogy. Quality reading for me and my YA learners!

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Why authors ♡ their characters – by Erica Gore

Erica’s books have been a source of joy in my house and lessons, and Taya is one of the most positive preteen heroines girls could have. Read all about why her creator, Erica Gore, loves her.

Why I Love Taya

Taya Bayliss (Taya Bayliss Mysteries) is the bold, daring little girl that I wanted to be. 

When I was growing up, I was a red-haired, freckle-faced child with a tendency to throw up when I was nervous. I was outwardly shy but inwardly adventurous. 

I wanted to know and to do everything. 

My favourite thing in the world was reading. Books fired my imagination and created new worlds for me to explore. I was the star of the books I read. 

Now Taya is the star of the books I write.

She has the adventures that I dreamed of having. She is a child who wonders about things and likes to figure out puzzles.  She can be a scaredy-cat, but she can also be amazingly brave, far braver than I could ever be. She has a social conscience that leads her to step in to help senior citizens, stand up to bullies, and to protect the environment. And she never throws up when she’s nervous. I like that about her

I also like that she is not perfect. Eleven-year-olds are rarely perfect. Taya tells the occasional fib, has sulky moments, and disobeys her parents. She doesn’t like closed in places or boys who pick their noses. (Yuk!)

Her best friend, Chris, would tell you that Taya has Chronic Nosy Parker Syndrome. 

I like that about her too, but I would call it a thirst for knowledge. 

Taya asks questions of the world. She is driven by the need to know things. She likes to know what makes things tick and what would happen if they didn’t. In my case those questions usually resulted in my being told to be quiet, mind my own business, or leave the classroom. For Taya, however, curiosity leads to interesting and exciting times. 

I love that Taya doesn’t live in a fantasy world, that she has no super powers, that she has no weapons. I love that she is clever and observant. I love that she snorts when she giggles. I love that she has a happy dance. 

I love that Taya Bayliss is an average kid – just like the kids I taught, like the kids who live in my street, like that little freckle-faced, red-haired girl from so many years ago.

And what I really love is that now a whole lot of young readers love her too.

Links:

www.ejgore.net

www.tayabaylissbooks.com

www.facebook.com/EJGoreAuthorpage

https://twitter.com/Eejaygee

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+EricaGore

Thank you so much, Erica. Go on creating wonderful books for kids.

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TAYA BAYLISS TREE HUGGER by Erica Gore – my review no.36

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Fun, courage and heart

Having already enjoyed Taya’s adventures as The Snake Charmer, I was thrilled to receive an ARC of her new adventure. Taya is a (pre)teenage detective who lives above a bookstore, builds a cool tree house with her best friend Chris, and searches for a hundred-year-old document to preserve a nature park from a  modern developer. How many 12-year-olds do you know who take on the system to protect their beliefs and help an old man?

Taya and Chris never think twice about doing the right thing in the story, regardless of the possible danger. Their friendship is an investigative partnership, and, just like all detective duos, their characters and skills perfectly complement each other. There is also their extraordinary assistant – a big, loyal dog. This time Taya and Chris are trying to save a precious piece of natural riverside beauty, which gives the author a chance to point out  the importance of preserving greenery and environment. History and cultural heritage play an important part in the plot, but I will avoid spoilers here, and you will have to read the story to see if and how the modern can go hand in hand with the traditional.

The author tells the story in a simple, straightforward way, so that pre-teens or teens will have no problem reading on their own, and teachers and parents need not worry about content sensitivity. The author never sounds condescending to young readers, nor does she try to use sensationalism or high-tech gadgets to keep their attention. The traditional feel of storytelling does not take away from the story for a second — there is more than enough intrigue, danger, and even ghosts to stir interest and keep readers on their toes.

Who among us never wanted to explore an ancient house filled with peril, ghostly history and secret passages? And share the adventure with your best friend! This is just the perfect book for a curious young mind with a kind heart, teaching all the positive values our children should learn as they grow, so they can remind us, just in case we forget!

Taya on Amazon

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