Middle Grade Book Review: The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. Dhariwal

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Middle Grade Book Review: The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. DhariwalThe Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. Dhariwal
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on April 5th 2016
Genres: Adventure, Animals, Middle Grade
Pages: 384

Solve riddles with Squirrel as he travels to the walled city of bees, the fireless tea plantation of mice, and treacherous desert full of tricksters in this beautifully written and creative debut adventure.
Squirrel never expected to be anything other than a slave: the last animal slave in Bimmau. That is, until he is invited to a high profile wedding and takes a sip of the forbidden ceremonial wine, unlocking a mysterious riddle. The riddle reveals that there is a key which has the power to grant Squirrel his freedom (and a name!), but also could enslave anyone in Bimmau. Disastrous if it falls into the wrong hands! Squirrel and his friends find themselves in a race to find Brittle’s Key before the army of crows gets to him…and before the mysterious Colonel finds the key first.

Squirrel is the last slave in Bimmau under an overbearing taskmaster. He has no name and no power. Everything changes though when Squirrel receives an invitation to a fancy wedding. While at the feast Squirrel drinks from the ceremonial wine and unlocks a riddle in his mind that sets him off on a quest to find his name and hopefully secure his freedom. His new found memories riddles him with challenges he must solve and various mysteries he must unearth, of which the powerful Brittle’s Key seems to the biggest. I enjoyed the world building in this book and reading about all the places Squirrel passed through on his journey. Squirrel encounters a town full of thieves and gamblers, there was also a town where the water supply is guarded by camel guards and one where mice grow tea. Squirrel is not alone in his journey either he has the companionship of a canine named Des and some other allies. The one Squirrel is the most suspicious about is Azulfa, the crow who always everywhere along his journey.

There are a few things I did not like, such as the overly drawn out and detailed descriptions of foods being eaten (mainly because it’s a bit disturbing to see these animals who are supposedly all intelligent, talking beings eating each other…i.e. the scene where they eat lamb…would this not be murder? Or even a type of cannibalism?). Between the gruesome cat on cat murder scene in the beginning of the book, the obvious classism of the Pedipurr Dogs/Cats and the villain who seeks to re-establish slavery you can not ignore that there are some very deep and dark themes/scenes in this book. Which is why sometimes the writing though beautiful and descriptive seems a bit “juvenile” in much of this book (though I understand that it is aimed at Middle Grader readers).

I did like that the story ultimately at its core (once you get past the darker elements and the politics of the animals) is about finding the truth about who you are and friendship. Clearly not meant for every reader out there, but I would recommend this book to strong readers who enjoy chapter books, solving puzzles, riddles, mysteries and animal adventure stories (the crossword puzzle at the end of the book is a nice touch). Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book in return for my honest review.


Book Review: The Shining Girls By Lauren Beukes

Book Review: The Shining Girls By Lauren BeukesThe Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Published by Mulholland Books on June 4th 2013
Pages: 375

The Girl Who Wouldn't Die Hunts the Killer Who Shouldn't Exist
The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own.
Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.
Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.
At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He's the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.
Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . .
The Shining Girls is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

What made me read this book? Time travel. I saw it as a really “twisted” version of Doctor Who. In this case, the killer would be The Doctor and he travels in time in this house aka ‘The Tardis” looking for his next companion which he would turn into his next victim. Yes, there you have it folks…a pretty messed up Doctor Who fanfic, but that is not what the book is about.

Kirby the main character is AMAZING. She survives a very horrific murder attempt on her life. She is courageous, funny, super independent, very clever and determined. I think that if the novel did not have such a brilliant main character to center itself around, it probably would have fallen apart. 

Time Travel. I have always been fascinated with this concept. There is no explanation as to why “the House” can time travel, it just does. The time frame being from the late 1920s to the 1990s in the same city.

There was a creep-tastic villain, named Harper, a hobo from the Great Depression era. You don’t have too much information about his background, family life etc. We know that while some of the reason he kills is because “the House” is making him do it, but there is more to it than that. He is sadistic and likes meeting the girls when they are children and pursuing them until they get to a certain age. However, he feels a bit underwritten too. He is mainly just a guy with a knife, killing women because he has a deep hate for them.  He is cruel and sadistic but we don’t know why, or what makes him this way. He just is. He hunts down all these “shining” girls because in his messed up head he thinks if he kills them all for “the House,” there will be a greater purpose revealed to him in the end. We never  find out why these girls are considered “shinier” than others, what makes them Shining Girls. (I am assuming it’s just based on all the potential they have, but Chicago is a big town, and there has to be plenty of equally potential filled girls there.)

Besides Kirby, the other victims don’t get much “book time”, and their stories are rushed through or told as quickly as possible. It almost felt like their murders were not as “important” as Kirby’s  (except when describing the gruesome scenes). The end also felt rushed and sort of bundled together. The research for the time period and city was very well done.

I will definitely read more books by Lauren Beukes and I hope she continues to grow and develop as a writer, and that her stories expand with her.

**This review was originally posted on Reading In The Tardis**