December 27, 2013

Postus interruptus

What happens when life trumps blog

  • an interruption from regular posting on blog

  • few or no posts over period of at least 5 days
  • lack of accompanying tweets over the same period
  • increasing quiet
  • growing anticipation
  • irritability

  • ice storm that results in an extended power outage (minimum of 48 hours) 
  • power outage results in no heat (though we're on a geothermal system), no water (since the pump for the well and the geothermal runs on electricity), no toilets (since no water), no electricity, no wi-fi  
  • double-sided fireplace saturates air with smoke when burning for over 48 hours (although some heat produced)
  • overwhelming concern for our furry little ones who refuse to eat due to change in routine
  • major holiday requiring extraordinary commitment of time and energy
  • inability to catch up on all activities suspended during power outage (is that a cause or a symptom or perhaps both?)

Risk Factors:
  • reduced motivation for posting regularly
  • reduced creativity
  • impaired writing ability
  • flawed use of conventions
  • loss of confidence
  • impaired memory
  • bottleneck of reviews
  • disgruntled authors and publishers hopeful of reviews

  •  commit to completing one major post (e.g., of new releases for 2014 spring) before end of the month
  • schedule posts for completed books, including Totally Unrelated (Tom Ryan), The Gypsy King (Maureen Fergus), A Fool's Errand (Maureen Fergus), Falling Kingdoms (Morgan Rhodes), and Driftwood (Valerie Sherrard), for the beginning of January so that they will be evident in the January blog archive for the full month
  • reassurance that the condition is not fatal

  • excellent
  • return of regular posting of book reviews and other book-related posts can be expected

December 17, 2013


by C. K. Kelly Martin
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
248 pp.
Ages 13+
Reviewed from Smashwords Edition

It seems like only yesterday that I reviewed Yesterday, the prequel to Tomorrow, but it has been just over a year (November 26, 2012 review).  Luckily, C. K. Kelly Martin's writing does not exclude readers who missed Yesterday if they choose to go directly into Tomorrow. Without just presenting a dystopian world of our future, C. K. Kelly Martin has created a cautionary tale of the course by which our disastrous tomorrow will arise, and how by looking back at yesterday, we may be able to prevent tomorrow from being ultimately fatalistic.

In Yesterday, teens Freya and Garren discovered that they had been sent, as were many others, from 2063 United North America (UNA) to save them, in the hopes of finding a way out of the impending environmental, political and health disasters of the future.  In order to keep their knowledge of the future from being shared, or destabilizing 1980s society with knowledge of a time chute, these time refugees have had their memories wiped and covered with new ones. But Freya's memory wipe was not "successful" and she was able to recognize Garren when she sees him in 1985 Toronto.  Now they're on the run from the UNA who consider them a threat.

Tomorrow begins just over a year after Yesterday ends. Currently living together in 1986 Vancouver as Holly and Robbie, seventeen-year-old Freya waits tables at a restaurant and nineteen-year-old Garren tends bar but they live with the anxiety that they could be discovered and lose everything, most especially each other.  And when they notice that key events in 1986 don't fit with the known history, Freya and Garren recognize that the UNA is at work.  After Garren finds Freya missing from their now-ransacked apartment, he is convinced that they may do more than just wipe your memory.

Garren's reminiscences from 2063 when he found himself seeking out the hard-core fringe faction of the grounded movement (contrary to the ideas of the UNA) are key as he throws himself into finding Freya. While Garren recognizes that Freya has always been the force behind their survival and the one who could tell when someone was lying or when something was going to happen, he is the one now who must take up the gauntlet and do what he can do to make things right.  Garren doubts his capabilities and constantly worries about who to trust, but he manages.  With his singular motivation of saving Freya, Garren's determination is boundless.

Freya's ultimate fate is wrapped up tight in the disaster that is 2063 UNA and the efforts of the radical faction of the grounded movement.  Without naming names and sharing secret alliances and conflicts, I can tell the reader that Garren's journey to Freya is not a direct one, and that conspiracy plays a significant role. Sadly, it's hard to tell the conspirators from the allies.  But that's what makes Tomorrow a true thriller.

Never does C. K. Kelly Martin convince the reader that the outcome is predictable.  Never.  I could never tell the bad guys from the good guys and Garren feels the same way.  And that's what keeps the story moving forward, albeit leaving you on the edge of your seat.  Be prepared.  You may know what you want in a happy ending, but C. K. Kelly Martin makes sure that you never see how she's going to get there, or even if.  Every book of hers that I have read (My Beating Teenage Heart, Random House, 2011; Yesterday, Random House, 2012) has kept me engrossed in her unique and passionate characters and their struggles whose outcomes are never obvious.  Tomorrow is a worthy and complementary addition to C. K. Kelly Martin's literary collection, and I look forward to future volumes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Months ago, I added the book trailer for Tomorrow to CanLitforLittleCanadians Book Trailers' site.  But it's never too late to enjoy it, especially before you purchase your own copy of the book.

December 13, 2013


by David Carroll
Scholastic Canada
192 pp.
Ages 11-14
September, 2013

It's highly appropriate that Ultra is one of the nominees for the Ontario Library Association's Silver Birch Fiction Award: it's a runaway success.  Personally, I tend to avoid reading sports-based novels.  (This sadly explains my original reluctance to read Ultra.  Don't be like me.) Too often, these books are immersed in the specific culture and jargon that are only familiar to those who participate in or watch that sport regularly.  It's very possible to be overwhelmed or bored by details of how a sport is played, the politics of sports organizations, and team dynamics.  Of course, those who do participate in or watch that sport have a very different perspective than those unfamiliar with it.  Authors should never assume that readers have prior knowledge about any sport, even one as socially embedded as hockey, for example.  But, regardless of running's integral role in Ultra, David Carroll caters neither to the novice nor the aficionado, and has no problems grabbing every reader's attention.  Kudos, David Carroll.  

The story of 13-year-old Quinn Scheurmann is interwoven through three strands: his present running of a 100-mile ultra-marathon; his reminiscences which often revolve around running and his dad; and the transcript of his interview with talk-show host Sydney Watson Walters.  These three lines of thought introduce the reader to Quinn, his family, best-friend Kneecap, and Quinn's running career.

At age 8, Quinn's dad challenges him to join him for a run, and Quinn learns how easy he finds it, due to his larger heart and reduced production of lactic acid, and how much running relaxes his brain.  Now, Quinn is the youngest participant in the Shin-Kicker 100, an ultra-marathon his dad has registered him in. 

It's a harrowing race for all competitors, all of whom are older than Quinn.  In fact, one who Quinn dubs "Dirt Eater" tells Quinn that he's too young and not cut out for the race. While Quitnn knows that he'll be running for almost 24 hours with only 2 official stops and has been well-trained by his dad about the "trail demons" (thoughts that get into your head and work against you), he's fortunate that Kneecap has given him her cell phone and that his little brother, Ozzie, agrees to be his pacer and encourage him by phone as he's running.  Even knowing how to avoid bears and how to run in the dark and how to keep hydrated, Quinn must face more surprises than he expects, especially in regards to what he learns about himself.

With every step, observation and revelation that Quinn makes, the reader pounds along with him.  Sometimes the trek is straightforward and swift and companionable; other times Quinn is navigating treacherous paths, both real and hallucinatory, and wondering if he should just give up.  As an ultra-marathoner himself, David Carroll knows that of which he writes, clearly evident from his first-hand descriptions of Quinn's trains of thought and the physical and emotional strains of the run. (Visit David Carroll's site at to read his comparison of the pain of running versus writing.  You'll be surprised by his answer.) 

But don't be surprised when you get to reading Ultra and recognize it as an allegory for the approaches we can take to life.  You can go forth with some hesitancy.  You could plunge on, with hope and little trepidation.  Or you could stand by the sidelines and wonder about your choices. Or you could find a way to cheat. Whatever way we choose, we all end up at the finish line some time. Quinn's dad lets his son know about the approach he favours.
"Don't let anything stop you.  Nothing is impossible.  You'll be amazed what you're capable of." (pg. 41)
Regardless, Ultra is sure to take you along for an amazing run.

December 09, 2013

The Unmaking: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book Two

by Catherine Egan
Coteau Books
248 pp.
Ages 9+
September, 2013

Epic. That's what The Unmaking, Catherine Egan's sequel to Shade and Sorceress, the first book in her The Last Days of Tian Di series, is.  Epic. When I reviewed Shade and Sorceress (here) over a year ago, I knew that I was reading something special.  I compared it to Harry Potter.  The Unmaking is even stronger: in its writing, its plotting, its ability to snatch the reader away from reality and deliver him or her to a land of magic, curses, faeries, dragons, sorceresses, wizards, shape-shifters, and ordinary humans.  Hold on for a fantasy ride like no other.

When Shade and Sorceress ended, Eliza was still being schooled as the next Shang Sorceress by her grandfather Kyreth and the other Mancers at the Citadel.  Her mother, Rea, the former Shang Sorceress, has returned, without any memory, and lives with Eliza's father, Rok, with his people, the Sorma. And although Nia, the evil Xia Sorceress, got her hands on the Book of Barriers, she is still trapped in her Arctic prison. Or she was. Now she's out for revenge.

Not surprising that Nia seeks out the Triumvira, consisting of the Oracle of the Ancients, the King of Faeries and Swarn, the Warrior Witch, who had banished Nia to her prison. But her revenge also includes Kyreth, revealing her previously unknown relationship to the Supreme Mancer. (You'll need to read the book for that detail!)  Having been visiting first Swarn to learn of potions, forging weapons and deflecting barrier, and then the Oracle, Eliza returns to the Citadel to find the Mancers turned to stone and Nia releasing a hideous creature of her own Making (an Ancient power).  Nia's monster, created from the finger she sliced from Rea's hand, is a formidable foe, and Eliza must find a way of neutralizing it before it goes after her mother.

Sadly, Charlie, Eliza's Shade companion, is seriously injured and Nell, Eliza's human friend, enlists the help of the helicopter-flying police constable, Ander, to deliver him to the Cave of Healing.  In Tian Xia, they find the evidence of Nia's revenge: Swarn's house burning, slaughtered dragons, and the ruins of the temples of the Faithful.  They also make the acquaintance of a Faery, Jalo, who has been sent by the King of Faeries to retrieve the Oracle and Swarn to protect them from the Xia Sorceress.

But, Nia is already moving onto the Realm of the Faeries, intent on destroying Malferio, their King and her former consort. Because of the King's purges of his subjects and his dastardly deeds against others, including his current Queen, Nia is able to convince others to assist in overthrowing him.

It must be a faery illusion that Catherine Egan manages to squeeze a tale of such epic proportions into a mere 268 pages. My bare bones synopsis here doesn't even mention Eliza working with a wizard who is cursed to forget everything he knows every 29 minutes; the baby dragon that Nell is relentless about saving; Jalo's manipulative mother who worries about her son's interest in Nell; and Swarn's battle with Nia in the Hall of the Ancients.

The battle of good vs. evil may be the foundation of The Unmaking but there are so many layers of skirmishes and antagonisms as well as alliances and allegiances that enrich that theme, not the least of which is the question of who is bad or good.  As the story develops, beyond even those few layers, so too do the motives of the characters, transformed with new experiences and revelations.

There are not enough words to provide a complete review of Catherine Egan's The Unmaking.  When you enjoy it, you'll understand my failing here.  Epic is still the best descriptor.

December 08, 2013

Itty Bitty Bits

by Anita Daher
Illustrated by Wendy Bailey
Peanut Butter Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
October, 2013

Every parent will be familiar with a common refrain of children and the first words of Itty Bitty Bits: "Not fair!"

This is young Molly's response to her mother's insistence that she clean her room before she can have her friend Yen over for a sleepover.  As Molly seeks help from her sister, brother, father and even their dog, Indiana Bones, she learns that everyone has work that they must address, whether they be models, homework, gardening or looking for a lost toy.  But, it is only as she watches an ant successfully carry off a partial sandwich, bit by bit, that Molly understands that "I can do it, yes I can!" And so, she shares her new-found wisdom with each from whom she'd asked help, and consequently helps herself in the end.

Great Plains Teen Fiction editor Anita Daher knows her way around engaging text, contributing to the success of much young adult CanLit.  So, Itty Bitty Bits has all the right bits for a delightful and significant picture book.  Molly could have been a whiny child, going from one to another, asking for help and having a tantrum because no one would help her.  The opening image of this little one is the face of a child that is frustrated but also one that takes the time to look for a solution.  Even though she may seem to be having little success at assistance, the opening end papers have a continuous message of "You can do it, yes you can!" so the reader can be assured that a positive message will ensue. And with that solution comes the effervescence with which illustrator Wendy Bailey has imbued the young Molly.

The positive message of perseverance and taking little steps to accomplish a big job is an important one for children to hear and to accept as they navigate the many obligations of everyday life.  Not everything will come easily or straightforwardly and without some disappointment.  But, as long as the child understands the need to accept responsibility for their own tasks and show the determination that the job will get done, Anita Daher and Wendy Bailey have done their job and surprisingly well in Itty Bitty Bits.

December 04, 2013

Gabby, Drama Queen

by Joyce Grant
Illustrated by Jan Dolby
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
October, 2013

She may not be royalty but never question whether Gabby, the little alphabet miss from Joyce Grant and Jan Dolby's original book (reviewed here January, 2013), is anything but a drama queen!  She has the effervescence, the style, and the imagination, although it will be necessary for those pesky letters to rearrange themselves into the props she and her friend Roy will need.

When Gabby decides that they should put on a play, she brings out her special storybook, the one from which the letters that build words tumble out.  The S and T, A, G and E come together for their platform (though she did have to extract several letters from their previous words), as do other letters for their royal court-based performance.  But, when Roy wants to be a swordfish (yes, a swordfish), Gabby finds a way to adapt the production of "The Perils of Queen Gabriella" to make everyone happy.

Letters and consequently words should definitely be the staple of someone called Gabby, and Joyce Grant puts her orange-haired raconteur to work again with her characteristic spirit.  And Jan Dolby's quirky and colourful illustrations successfully convey the joy that comes from creative play and the amazement that letters go beyond their placement in the alphabet and can provide more inspiration for playful learning.  Gabby has graduated from simple letter recognition to constructing words and ideas as Gabby, Drama Queen and I look forward to her wordsmith skills maturing into bigger and brighter concepts.

December 03, 2013

Cut the Lights

by Karen Krossing
Orca Book Publishers
129 pp.
Ages 11-14
October, 2013

Briar may only be in Grade 10 at the Whitlock School of the Arts, but she already knows that she wants a career as a director.  And being selected one of the seven students to direct a play–in fact, her best friend Ratna's play "Wish Upon a Star"–at Whitlock's Fringe Festival is an auspicious beginning.  But negotiations with the other directors, most more experienced than herself, for the available actors leads to some animosity when Briar doesn't follow protocol and offers Sonata, the best actor at school, the lead role.

Even knowing that "Casting is a balance between the ideal and the real" (pg. 22), Briar seems to be struggling with her crew: Sonata, who gives far too much advice; Mica, her male lead who is too infatuated with Sonata to think straight; Clayton, her rather drab star, who breaks his arm; and George, her stage manager, who is too often distracted from doing his job.  When gossip starts that Ratna's play is cursed, Briar learns the trick to directing is empowering her cast and crew, and recognizing that her vision can be adapted to others' ideas and feelings.

While young readers will enjoy the performing arts aspect of Cut the Lights and other titles in Orca's new Limelights series, it is still the characters that will grab their attention and their hearts.  Karen Krossing's Briar may come across as pushy and bossy but it's just the director in her.  When things seem to be falling apart, she knows enough to get some advice about teamwork and reins herself in for the good of the production.  Surprisingly, it's by looking at her team as individuals beyond their roles that ultimately leads to success.  Without making Briar altruistic or unbelievable, Karen Krossing has created a character who learns to make good choices by considering others' needs, something most of us should do more often.  Those choices make the production a success and mark Briar as a true leader.  I can say the same for Cut the Lights and Karen Krossing, respectively.

December 02, 2013

R. J. Anderson: Author Interview

With the UK editions of Knife, Rebel, Arrow and Swift being released in Canada for the first time, 
with my review yesterday of youngCanLit author  
R. J. Anderson's book Quicksilver
sequel to Ultraviolet
I asked her if she'd be willing to take some time 
to answer a few questions for CanLit for LittleCanadians.  

R. J. Anderson graciously accepted 
and I'm pleased to share that interview here. 

HK: When your first book of the Faery Rebels series, Spell Hunter (more recently republished as Knife) came out in 2009, it was selected as one of nine honour books for the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award. You were in auspicious company, including authors Gordon Korman, Janet McNaughton, Arthur Slade and Tim Wynne-Jones. Looking back, what do you think distinguished your novel and grabbed readers’ attention?

RJA: I can’t speak for the committee, but I know what aspects of the story stood out in my own mind when I was writing it. For one, it took small faeries seriously and presented them as characters the reader could identify with, rather than cute accessories or malevolent pests. For another, it turned the usual idea of humans being enchanted by the magic of fairyland on its head – in this case, it’s the human world that astonishes and entices my faery heroine, and through her eyes we see the wonder of the everyday things we often take for granted. And finally, it was the only story I knew of at the time where a wheelchair-using teen was portrayed as athletic, attractive and even romantic, instead of a brainy sidekick or a sickly object of pity. Ultimately it’s the characters that make or break a story, and I’d like to think the committee was won over by Knife and Paul and the remarkable friendship they share.

HK: Why did your publishers choose different titles and covers of your Canadian and UK books? Do you think it has affected your audience or those who choose your books? Why or why not?

RJA:  Knife was my original title for the first book, and my UK publisher was happy to run with that and give my heroine an appropriately fierce look on the cover. It quickly went into multiple printings and became a bestseller.  But HarperCollins, who published the first hardcover edition here in Canada, didn’t think Knife was a good title for the North American market. They also wanted to emphasize the series aspect, and that’s how we ended up with Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. Unfortunately, readers couldn’t remember (or spell) the title, and the cover didn’t seem to grab their attention either. The second book Rebel also did very well in the UK, but struggled in North America with a photographic cover and its original title of Wayfarer.
     I do think UK readers are more willing to read about faeries, especially small faeries, than North American readers are. Over there, faeries are a respected part of folklore that dates back hundreds of years, and boys as well as girls will read about them; while here, people tend to think of Disney and Tinkerbell, and assume that faery stories are for six-year-old girls. I’m hoping the recent Canadian release of the UK paperbacks, with their more dramatic and action-oriented covers and titles, will help to overcome that misconception.

HK: Would you ever consider adding a genealogy or family tree to help clarify relationships between the characters and different books or do you believe that the surprise revelations are too significant to your story lines?

RJA: I hope that the narrative speaks for itself, as far as who’s related to whom and which relationships are really most important. If people need a family tree to figure it all out, I’d say I’ve probably not been clear enough! But also yes, I would say that some of the more surprising connections are too important to spoil.

HK: You’re definitely a versatile fantasy writer, having your Faery Rebels series and then your Ultraviolet books. Although both fantasy series focus on struggles between good and evil and those with the courage to stand up for their beliefs, these books are substantially different in atmosphere, tone, setting, etc. How did the writing process differ with respect to these two series?

RJA:  They are certainly quite different, and I was alternating between the two series as I was writing them, so I found that I had to give myself a couple of months to get my head out of one world before I could immerse myself in the other. I did a lot of folklore, historical and geographical research for the faery series, including travelling to the UK. But the most intense and demanding work I’ve ever done was on my contemporary Canadian books Ultraviolet and Quicksilver, because it was so crucial to me to get the real-world details – legal, medical, scientific and so on – as accurate as I could possibly make them. There were times I thought researching those books would kill me, but I’m very proud of the way they turned out.

HK: I have one favourite question that I like to ask authors. This is it: would you rather produce one book of extraordinary importance that becomes a classic but one to which all your writing is forever compared, or would you prefer to author many different books for different audiences and which could not be compared to each other easily?

RJA:  Ideally I’d like to write a whole series that could be considered a classic, like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. Certainly, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the most famous and much-acclaimed of those books, but the series gets talked about as a whole more often than not.

HK: If there were one thing that you would really like to share with young readers about yourself, your books or your writing, what would it be?

RJA: I’d like to encourage kids who love fantasy and science fiction not to be discouraged from reading and writing it, even though current educational (and alas, even literary) wisdom doesn’t tend to count such things as Worthy Canadian Literature. There are some fantastic stories waiting to be read – and told – about this country and the people who live in it, and I’d love to see children’s fantasy become as widely written and well respected here as it is in some other places. As Anne of Green Gables said, “It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything… There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?”

December 01, 2013


by R. J. Anderson
Carolrhoda Lab
316 pp.
Ages 14+

In Ultraviolet (reviewed here), R. J. Anderson's prequel to Quicksilver, teen Alison Jeffries had been hospitalized in a youth psych facility and receiving treatment after claiming to see a fellow student, Tori Beaugrand, disintegrate.  Though others saw her as acting out and a potential head case, Sebastian Faraday, who'd claimed to be a neuropsychologist, recognized Alison as a synesthete for whom the interconnectedness of her senses was overwhelming.  Moreover, Tori had disintegrated, when a relay (connecting to her embedded transmitter) transported her to a different world, from which both she and Faraday had come originally, and back to the experimentation of Mathis.  Ultraviolet ends with Alison and Faraday admitting that they cared for each other but Faraday staying behind to help Alison and Tori escape back to earth.

As Ultraviolet was primarily Alison's story, albeit contingent on Tori's existence, Quicksilver focuses on Tori and the need to keep her safe from those who would choose to study her "genetics".  Even with a change of name and appearance and a move far from Sudbury for Tori and her parents (who'd always known her history), trusting and staying inconspicuous are difficult.  This is especially so when Milo, a workmate of Tori's, witnesses Faraday's materializing into Tori's bedroom.  By concocting a scenario about an unethical company, Meridian, from which both Faraday and Tori are hiding, Faraday is able to enlist Milo's help in keeping Tori safe, and in helping to find the means to destroy the relay. Sadly but characteristically, there are the recurring misinterpretations of feelings, by Milo, Alison, Tori and others, as they attempt to understand new relationships. 

With layer upon layer of lies, coupled with the otherworldly truths regarding Faraday and Tori, Quicksilver becomes as complicated as Faraday and Tori's attempts to prevent Mathis from controlling them via the relay and its quicksilver, a programmable material.  Refreshingly R. J. Anderson keeps her characters from early success, choosing instead to demonstrate the need for creative thinking and perseverance.  Fans of engineering and inventions will love Tori's mechanical exploits, especially as she needs to use Milo as the male cover for her brilliance (apparently uncharacteristic of females).  And, if scientific intricacies and physics are not your strengths, then perhaps the schemes by which Tori, Faraday and Milo go to protect those for whom they care will have you considering their choices as effective or subterfuge.   Even the most brilliant of them aren't sure how to handle love and its often undecipherable messages. Regardless, Quicksilver has sophisticated plotting at its core, a prerequisite for complex speculative fiction.  Whether it be faeries or physics, R. J. Anderson has no qualms about synthesizing a tight weave of emotions, science and interpretation into a durable and unique story-telling fabric.

Look for my interview with author R. J. Anderson tomorrow, to commemorate the launch of her highly successful UK version of her Faery Rebels' series.