A YA Haiku Review: The Potion Diaries…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for a rare and mystical haiku review. Bruce unexpectedly received a copy of  YA new release The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward, from Simon & Schuster Australia and immediately passed it on to me as he suspected it might be altogether too girly for his tastes. He was probably right to do so, given that this is definitely a book aimed at a teenaged female audience. While I am not the greatest fan of romance in books either, there was plenty of fun and adventure in The Potion Diaries and it turned out to be a perfect antidote to the quagmire of illness that is plaguing the fleshlings in the household. In fact, I was quite happy to be able to wedge a heavy tome  against the shelfdom door, block out the sounds of hacking, coughing and nose-blowing, and curl up for a bit of good old-fashioned, magical girl power.  This book has a delightful charm about it such that I couldn’t help but feel fondly toward it, and so I allowed myself to move past its literary shortcomings and just be entertained by the spectacle.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?

And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.

No big deal, then.

potion diaries

Royal mercy dash

Complete with murd’rous aunt, reads

Like wacky races

Despite the fact that The Potion Diaries has plot holes the size of the Nullarbor, a stereotyped, teen-angsty romance and underdeveloped characters swanning all over the place, I actually really enjoyed it. If the preceding sentence sounds a little harsh, I mean those criticisms in the fondest possible way.

Is this book going to win any awards for originality or writing? No.

Have we seen this all before in a myriad other fantasy type books for younger teens? Yes.

Does that mean this book has no value?

Absolutely not!

Because sometimes you just need something light and fluffy, where you know nothing too shocking or unpredictable is going to happen, that you can just pick up and put down and delve into when you need a bit of indulgent escapism.  For that reason, The Potion Diaries is practically the quintessential holiday/beach/summer read; the book you turn to when you want to switch off from anything stressful or troubling and just tumble into adventure with a thoroughly likeable main character.

Samantha Kemi is a sort of everygirl character: overtly skilled in what seems to be a dying profession, ordinary in a world of Talenteds and for all intents and purposes, thwarted from following her dream of researching new potions by money and position. As the story progresses, we find out more about Sam’s family history and the strong traditions of alchemy that are keeping her from striking out on her own. I suspect that young teen girls will really relate to Sam and revel in the excitement of danger and adventure as they race along with her in the Wilde Hunt.

While the world-building is relatively sparse in this tome, Alward has done a good job of creating a setting in which magic and technology sit side by side, without the need for long and distracting explanations.  Similarly, the lack of any deep development in the majority of the characters provides a quick entry to the story and allows the reader to just dive right on in as the action ramps up. As I said before, the story is riddled with plot holes and events that seem to occur a bit too conveniently to be plausible, but unless you’re approaching this as a serious and deeply thought out fantasy offering, the tone is light enough and the pace quick enough for these issues to be overlooked in favour of just enjoying the fun.

Overall, this is not the kind of book that we shelf-dwellers normally go for (and admittedly, the romance narrative was so clichéd and annoyingly contrived that I wanted to just skip those pages entirely) but I honestly enjoyed the story and would happily pick up the sequel the next time I’m in desperate need of a story that won’t make me work too hard and will reward with unadulterated frivolous adventure.

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

 

 

 

A Picture Book Oddity: The Princess and the Fog…

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If I was looking for a picture book featuring some odd elements, say, for an Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge, then today’s book would surely top them all. Or at least most of them.  I am submitting today’s book, The Princess and the Fog by Lloyd Jones, which I received from the publisher via Netgalley, under the categories of Odd Title, Odd Subject Matter and Odd Character.  That made your eyebrows raise in slight awe, didn’t it?  And so it should.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Once upon a time there was a Princess. She had everything a little girl could ever want, and she was happy. That is, until the fog came…

“The Princess and the Fog” is picture book to help sufferers of depression aged 5-7 cope with their difficult feelings. It uses vibrant illustrations, a sense of humour and metaphor to create a relatable, enjoyable story that describes the symptoms of childhood depression while also providing hope that things can get better with a little help and support.

The story is also a great starting point for explaining depression to all children, especially those who may have a parent or close family member with depression. With an essential guide for parents and carers by clinical paediatric psychologists, Dr Melinda Edwards MBE and Linda Bayliss, this book will be of immeasurable value to anyone supporting a child with depression, including social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, arts therapists, pastoral care workers and school staff, as well as parents and carers.  

princess and the fog

So let’s go through the checklist:

A title that’s a play on words? Well that’s odd.

A book about depression aimed at 5-7 year olds? Don’t see too many of them around!

A main character who’s a princess? That’s not odd at all.  But a princess with clinical depression?!

AWOOGA!AWOOGA!

That’s the Oddity Alarm ringing at all 5 bells.

As soon as I read the blurb of this book, I simply had to request it, despite the fact that I Really. Don’t. Like. Princesses.

Not the real life ones. I’ve got nothing against Kate Middleton. I certainly don’t have a bad word to say about Mary of Denmark (she’s from Tasmania, don’t you know?).

But I really dislike princesses in literature*. That goes for any age, any style, any kind of princess. I think they’re overused, undercharacterised and I simply don’t understand why they’re promoted as some kind of idol for young girls.

But I put that aside because here was a picture book about depression written for small children.

Essentially in this tale, the princess has a normal, princessy life of happiness, until one day she doesn’t. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t be as happy as she was before. Nothing has particularly changed. But she doesn’t feel like doing the things she used to enjoy. She doesn’t feel like playing with her friends like she used to. Generally, she just doesn’t feel much of anything good.

The author has done a wonderful job here using metaphor and the evocative illustrations to present to children the feelings associated with depression. I’m sure any child who has experienced depression themselves (or seen it in someone close to them) will definitely resonate with the creeping sadness that is represented by the Fog and the ways in which it absolutely changes the Princess.

As the friends and family of the princess gather round and support the princess against the Fog in whatever ways they can, the princess slowly begins to come back to herself. By the end of the book, there is hope that the princess can once again experience the happiness she had at the start of the story, with the understanding that with help, the Fog can be kept mostly at bay.

I’m not entirely convinced that the end of the book is as strong as the beginning in the way it draws young readers into the world of the depressed person, but this is such a difficult topic for adults, let alone for young children. I applaud the author for addressing such a tricky topic and I think that this book will be a great conversation starter for little ones about depression and, importantly, the things that friends and family can do to support someone who isn’t behaving like themselves.

This is definitely worth a look if you work with early years-aged children in any kind of caregiving or educational capacity.

Progress Toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 10/16

Until next time,

Bruce

*The only exception to my dislike of princesses in literature (or on television) is the northern-accented, pillow-case wearing lass from the UK children’s show Little Princess. Partly because it’s narrated by Julian Clary and partly because her accent is brilliant, her parents are frumpy and she doesn’t wear pink.