#IMWAYR August 31, 2015

It's Monday again and time to check in with Jen From Mentor Texts and Kellee and Rickie from Unleashing Readers to discover what other readers who participate in #IMWAYR, the children's lit version, have been reading and what they think of those titles. It's guaranteed to get you excited about a few new reads! 

There's only one week left till school starts and I return to work, and only 6 days or 5 sleeps till my son's wedding! There are lists, and then lists of lists. I've managed to get this post under control only because I've been writing bits as I finish reading or listening. I hope to read as many posts as possible this week, but may not take time to comment. I promise to try and be back in form in a couple of weeks. 


Cinder by Marissa Meyer narrated by Rebecca Soler

4 stars
I picked this book because it came in a box of donations, and a couple of my readers have devoured the series. Since this was the box that contained Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, I was worried about its appropriateness for my elementary school readers. 
Not only is it perfectly fine content wise for my older readers, it turned out to be a delightful read! It is a wonderful combination of fairytale and science fiction.

Cinder is a cyborg who works as a mechanic to support her family. While working one day, Prince Kai showed up asking her to fix an older android that had sentimental value to him. It turns out that the prince didn't tell her everything about it. 

Cinder lives with her two stepsisters and stepmother, who is her legal guardian. When the younger of the two girls, Peony, became ill with the plague, her stepmother donated Cinder for plague research. Cinder survived her time as a research subject and returned home, knowing that it was only a matter of time before her stepmother tried to get rid of her again.

Meanwhile, Prince Kei has his hands full with an evil queen from the moon who plans to achieve a peace treaty by forcing the prince into marrying her. His only hope is that rumors of the evil queen's mysterious niece being alive are true.  
This was such a good read I'm looking very much forward to the next in this series! In fact it's on my overdrive bookshelf now!

The Atlas Of Water: Mapping the World's most Critical Resource by Maggie Black

4 stars
I borrowed this from our public library to preview it before purchasing if for our library. A group of grade 5/6/7 teachers will be starting off the year with a unit on the hydrosphere and this book will be a fabulous resource for them. Each page is loaded with information on different aspects of water. It clearly articulates our relationships with it across time and space. The charts, maps and diagrams make complex material accessible. 

The section on aquifers shows where different ones are on a map, as well as informing the reader how much water is left, how fast it is being drained, and how fast it replenishes itself. This is chilling information. 

I'm certain the teachers and their students will appreciate this book. My only complaint is that the text is very small! 

5 stars
The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This book was a stunner. It is beautifully crafted with characters that captured my heart. While I have problems with parts of it, including some plot aspects and the one dimensional characterization of the children's mother, it is such a fine read otherwise that they are insignificant quibbles.

2 stars
West of the Moon by Margi Preus

I started out liking this book, but about halfway through began to lose focus. I read other books and kept trying to come back to this one, but just couldn't find enjoyment in the read anymore. After about three tries, I read the ending, hoping it would stimulate my interest to go back and try again. Alas, it just didn't work for me. Maybe some other time I'll have another go at it.

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

I've just about had it with children's books where a character has to deal with the death of a significant person in his/her life. Otherwise, this book was ok.

3 stars
When I read books where a parent has a chronic illness, I am always looking for connections to my own life. My father was injured in a logging accident when I was five. After this, he was in and out of hospitals on a regular basis. He wasn't expected to live beyond 30. He never really accepted that he would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life, although he got better at coping with this reality. I tell you this, so you will understand that when I complain about authenticity in books like this, I speak from experience.

After receiving a diagnosis of MS, Rachel and Chirp's mother sunk into a debilitating depression. After she returned home from treatment, she wasn't the same person, and shortly afterwards, committed suicide. 

Parts of this book spoke truth to me. At the end of chapter four, Chirp has an aha moment and realizes that everything has changed. She engages in magical thinking hoping to fix her mother. Rachel, Chirp's older sister, takes on the role of caretaker. 

What didn't work for me was the suddenness of the mother's descent into madness and her suicide upon her return home. On top of this, that her husband, who was a psychiatrist, wasn't aware of her emotional state just didn't seem plausible. There is a secondary issue where Chirp's friend, Joey, lives with an abusive father. I don't like that the two children accept that they will have to deal with this on their own. Ok, so the story is set in the early 1970's, when this might have been more the way it was, but I still don't like to see this as a solution in a modern book for children. 

I wanted to like this book more, but even with all the pathos, and drama, it didn't make me whimper, never mind cry.

A better book that deals with a family in the middle of coping with a chronic illness is The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. 

4.5 stars

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

I gave this book 4 stars, but after writing a review of it, I can't help but wonder why I didn't give it 5, so I'm changing it here to 4.5. I adored this magical tale that filled me full of wonder and dread at the same time. Barnhill has created characters that I couldn't help but care deeply for. The medieval world she's fabricated is haunting and rich with history and myth that act on its present day characters. If you haven't already, you should read this book . 


I'm listening to The Forbidden Stone (The Copernicus Legacy #1) by Tony Abbott and narrated by MacLeod Andrews. While travelling with my mother and brother to Oliver, BC for a friend's 90th birthday celebration, we started The Terror of the Southlands (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #2) by Caroline Carlson. I'll get to finish it, but they will have to check it out from the library on their own to find out what happens to Hilary. 


I'm back working at getting my 2015 to read list under control, so I've just started Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco and will go on to Jinx by Sage Blackwood after that. 

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Holy smokes! This book sucked me in like a whirlwind. I resented each intrusion by my everyday life until it was finished. 

It is the story of two children, Ned and Áine, who are connected by their families' use of magic. Magic is a character in the story. It is wiley and seductive, promising the user his/her heart's desire, all the while working to satisfy its own agenda. 

Sister Witch, mother to twins, Ned and Tam, is burdened with the task of keeping this magic good. She has been told it shouldn't be used for personal gain. When Ned and Tam were seven, they set off on an adventure that culminated in disaster and Tam drowned. In an effort to save Ned, Sister Witch called upon the magic to bind their souls together. Ned was left alive but damaged. Except for this one exception, she has kept the magic harnessed and used it only to heal and protect her people. 

When Áine's mother died, her father took them deep into the forest where he returned to being a bandit and took up wearing a stone amulet. The amulet was infused with magic, enough to give him a taste of what was possible if only he had more. At the same time, it twisted his heart with an evil greed for power and wealth. He managed to acquire a following of bandits prepared to go where ever he led them. Áine hoped to find a way to save her father.

Áine's father and his bandits came to Ned's town to take his family's magic and deliver it to the king of a neighbouring kingdom. At least that is what the bandit leader claimed. Ned attempted to thwart them by taking the Magic into himself, but the bandits abducted him and set off through the forest to give him to King Ott.  

Ned managed to escape the bandits and befriended a wolf cub. The two were eventually rescued by Áine. Then the three of them set out on a quest to flee the forest and elude Áine's father's men. However, stronger, more ancient forces, compelled the children towards themselves. 

This is a beautifully written fairytale. It's infused with an ambiance of otherworldliness and reality that as a reader, I couldn't quite make sense of, but wasn't prepared to let go of either. You know those stories where you can't help but ponder how authors come up with these ideas? This is one of them. 

Since I took a course with Jack Zipes a number of years ago, I'm incapable of reading anything as just a fairytale. I'm always looking for hidden messages and secrets revealed to us about ourselves and our culture. I'm still trying to figure this book out. Here is what I've come up with so far. 

This book tells us about power and its capacity to hurt and corrupt the wielder of it.
It is a book that reveals an emptiness that can never be filled or satisfied, and how this emptiness can turn into a greed that rots one's soul. 
We see how individuals can be manipulated by a charismatic leader into doing evil. We also see how good people can see beyond the evil of someone in power, and refuse to follow their instructions. 
The story shows us the pain of loss and how difficult, if not impossible, it is to return to normal after it. 
We are reminded that every action has it's consequences, no matter how well intentioned.  
It warns us to listen carefully, not just to promises made by others, but to ourselves as well. 
 "You have friends coming, and friends inside you too. But be carefull."
"Of What:" Ned asked the empty darkness.
"The Things that lie." P 154

I'll be contemplating this book for a while I think. 

I will most definitely read more by Kelly Barnhill! 

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

5 stars
This is the first Kimberly Brubaker Bradley book I've read. It will not be my last!

It is the story of two siblings, Ada the elder, and Jamie, her younger brother. They live with their abusive mother in London just prior to the onset of WW2.  Both children are harangued, starved and knocked around. Ada's abuse is harsher since she is often locked in a filthy, roach infested closet and never allowed to leave their one room apartment because of her clubfoot. 

In spite of internalizing her mother's narrative of herself as useless and ugly, Ada takes steps to change her life by spending one summer secretly learning to stand and walk. Then, when she learns from Jamie that children are being evacuated from London because of the war, the two children sneak away to join them. 

At first Susan Smith, their new guardian, is loathe to take responsibility for them, but over time, comes to love them. Through bits and pieces we see how she comes to understand the magnitude of abuse they have experienced in their short past. The children recover and react in different ways as overtime, they become emotionally and physically stronger. While Susan is busy with their care, we see that this helps her gradually recover from her grief after the loss of Becky, who she lived with and loved. 

What I loved
This is a beautifully crafted book. Both the primary and secondary characters are nuanced, complex individuals you will find yourself caring deeply about. Bradley has captured the complexity in the relationships between them. It isn't easy for the two children to learn to trust Susan. How this evolves feels like the revealing of a profound truth. 

As a reader I believed in the places Bradley took me into. I cringed at the squalid circumstances of the children's London flat. I was there as Ada first experienced grass, the ocean, and multitude of other aspects to country life and their country home. The stark contrast between the two worlds is reminiscent of the contrast between the two women in the children's lives.

What troubled me
There are sections, such as when Ada discovers a German spy, that tested my belief in the story, but the story is so compelling, I could easily let go of this. 
I came to love Jayne Entwistle's narrations of this audiobook, but it was disconcerting at first, since I primarily associate her with Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce.

This book belongs in every school library for many reasons.  It is a book about hope. It's a book about love and its power to change our world. It's an historical novel for readers who don't like history. 
I already know a number of readers who will love this book when it arrives in our library. 

#IMWAYR August 24, 2015

I'm happy to be back participating in #IMWAYR hosted by Jen From Mentor Texts and Kellee and Rickie from Unleashing Readers. Check out their links to find what readers of children's literature have been up to in the last week. 

Aside from my reading life, it's been an exciting couple of weeks for me. I've been going through stuff to decide what to keep and what to toss as we pack up our house in preparation for moving to a new place in September. Then there have been all those wedding details to finalize. Last week I took a break from it all to embark on a cruise to Alaska with my mother and siblings. It was bittersweet as the trip was a gift of making memories, since Mom is ill with cancer and has limited time with us. The scenery was spectacular. The rate at which the glaciers are receding was truly dismaying. (I'm aware of the irony of travelling to see glaciers before they are gone at the same time as contributing to their demise by coming to see them)

Here is what I've been reading these past two weeks. 


Mouseheart by Lisa Fielder (audiobook)

3.5 stars
I listened to this one because we have the book at the library and I need to know what it is about so I can refer it to readers. I was pleasantly surprised by this story of mice who flee from a pet shop where they have been raised to be fed to other animals.
After escaping, two siblings, Pinkie and Hopper, are swept up in a rush of water and end up separated in the subway tunnels of Brooklyn. Hopper is saved by a rat named Zucker, who just happens to be Prince of Atlantia, an underground kingdom where an uneasy peace is maintained between Rats and Cats.
This is a book with interesting characters, suspense, subterfuge, betrayal, and battles aplenty.
I'm looking forward to encouraging readers to check this one out!

Sabriel by Garth Nix (audiobook) (Abhorsen #1)

4 stars
Sabriel, an 18 year old girl, inhabits a world that is separated into two parallel realities. Ancelstierre, is a more modern place with technology. The Old Kingdom is a place filled with magic. A wall separates these two places, but on occasion, magic spills across the wall into Ancelstierre. When Sabriel is forced to take on her father's mantle as Abhorsen, a magical personage whose role is to put the dead to rest, she heads off into The Old Kingdom to find him and try to bring him back to the living.
On the way, she has to battle numerous evil undead creatures. Ultimately, her task is to find Kerrigor, the most powerful necromancer ever, and defeat him, or at the very least, curtail his power. Along her journey she connects up with Mogget and Touchstone. 
This book has some very fine writing. The scenes with Sabriel trekking across the brutal winter landscapes had me wanting to put on a coat and mittens in the midst of hot summer.
I wanted to like this book more than I did, but that is probably because I am not generally a fan of this kind of literature. It was still an exciting read. I can see that fans of high fantasy will appreciate this dark adventure. It has battles aplenty, and even a bit of romance.

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood & Jon Klassen (Illustrator) (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1) (audiobook)

4 stars
I enjoyed this cheeky story about a plucky governess, Penelope Lumley, who heads off into the unknown to work with a passel of children who have, until recently, been raised by wolves. This is a hilarious romp which juxtaposes Victorian society and manners with the antics of children who are nearly still wild. There is a bit of a tease at the end as we never really find out what the mysterious howling is all about. (although there are clues) In spite of this, the ending is satisfying. Katherine Kellgren's  narration was the perfect voice for this. The only thing wrong with listening to this book is missing Jon Klassen's illustrations. I'm looking forward to the next in this series.

4 stars
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall (audiobook)

I love the Penderwick family! This story is delightful as Mr Penderwick, much to the dismay of his daughters, begins to date again. I love that it is filled with humour, trouble, and romance. 

Loki's Wolves by (The Blackwell Pages #1) by K.L. Armstrong, M.A. Marr 

3 stars
This story filled my ears while walking laps on the cruise ship trying to stave off gaining more pounds than I might otherwise. It is an enjoyable read. I liked the connections to Norse mythology and the premise that we need not replicate the mistakes of our elders. I can see why my readers enjoy this tale. It's filled with strong characters who work together. There is is action and excitement. I know that some readers like this kind of ending, but I am not a fan of stories that don't really finish up the story and end on a cliffhanger. 


5 stars
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

I adored this book. I love the characters. I appreciated that although I was forced by circumstances to read this book over a longer period of time, the story wouldn't let go of me and haunted me with questions long after it was done. I'll be getting this one for our grade seven shelf. 

Paper Things by by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

4 stars
In spite of the fact that I have some reservations, I enjoyed this story of a girl and her brother who are homeless. I was not particularly impressed by Gage, who took Arianna, his eleven year old sister, from a safe environment into a life of homelessness. Seriously? What kind of brother would do this? They were lucky to have an easy way out of their predicament but I appreciate that readers get a glimpse into what it might be like for people who don't have that opportunity. 

3 stars
Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart by Jane St. Anthony (netgalley)

There is a sweetness to the idea of this book - learning how to grieve and move on from those who have lived it. I wanted to like it. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work for me. I kept trying to place this book in some time frame and couldn't, and this frustrated me. The writing feels stilted and these characters and their interactions, aren't quite authentic.

3 stars
For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai's Story by Rebecca Langston-George (netgalley)

While there are some promising aspects to this book, I didn't like the illustrations. I won't purchase a copy for our library as there are better titles out there that address Malala's story.

Graphic Novels

Nimona by Noel Stevenson

4 stars
I'm not sure where the idea to read this one came from, but whoever you are, I thank you for it. This is a powerful story that explores the complexity of what it means to be evil. It's a book that hints at all kinds of relationships between the characters. Nimona, a shapeshifter, becomes the sidekick to Ballister Blackheart, a super villain with ethics and rules. Blackheart is the archnemesis of Sir Ambrosius, a Knight of questionable character, who works for the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, a corrupt organization with a sinister plan to destroy the world.  
Nimona is a complex character who seems to be out of control as often as not. Is she a young girl who transforms into a monster, or a monster posing as a young girl? It gets very complicated when Nimona and Blackheart come up with a plan to eliminate the Institution. 

On one level this is a fabulous, at times humorous, adventure that combines magic and science fiction. On another, it's an allegory revealing a world view wherein young girls and women must be controlled or they are dangerous creatures. I'm glad Nimona escaped this fate.

My only complaint about this book is that the text is so small I had to put my reading glasses on. Even then it was a challenge for my old eyes. 

I'm reading Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban (Netgalley) and West of the Moon by Margi Preus.
I'm listening to Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer

Up Next
I'm working my way through my must read list and the rest of the box of books I brought home from school to read.