May 28, 2014

Assured Destruction with Zombies

by Michael F. Stewart
225 pp.
Ages 13+

If you haven't read Michael F. Stewart's Assured Destruction (2013), reviewed here, and Script Kiddie (2013), its sequel (reviewed here), then don't read this review.  Get Books 1 and 2 in the Assured Destruction series first.  You won't be disappointed and you'll enjoy Book 3 all the more.

When Script Kiddie ended, tech savvy Janus had saved her classmate and friend Hannah from attempting to kill an online predator, and sustained enough injuries–including a broken ankle and bruised ribs–to slow her down a bit. But only a bit because she's still got a lot to do.  If she doesn't want to lose her semester, she must attend school every day and on time.  With mom hospitalized and undergoing electric shock therapy, Janus feels like she must take on more of the business responsibilities.  The mortgage on the business, Assured Destruction, is still in jeopardy and Janus is working on ways to make more money, including billeting ten international students (though she's got nothing ready for them, only space in their industrial park business/home).  She also has a plan to make the company more profitable by seeking out some of the clients that had worked with her dad before he disappeared several years earlier, although her mom's boyfriend, Peter, thinks she shouldn't be doing this.  

Her visits to these clients, including AAA Ltd. and A ZaZa Pizza, leave her more confused.  They don't have the number of computers that would make them customers of Assured Destruction; in fact, she's even warned away by a pony-tailed man she sees at several locations.  Janus is quick to recognize that these clients may not provide the business they need but she's sure they may be helpful in finding her father. But her investigations hit too close to home, and her determination to learn the truth ends up putting her life and the business in jeopardy.

While pursuing the mystery of her father's disappearance and his dealings with these special "customers", Janus again gets involved with the hackers online at Darkslinger to find a solution to something the media is calling the Zombie Worm, a malware program that is affecting the school server, her home computers, and businesses, traffic lights, etc.  But Janus doesn't realize that, as they say, when you play with fire, sometimes you get burned. And when she's trying to do everything-school, business, heal, friends, boyfriend, community service, investigate her father, liaise with the police-she gets burned really badly, metaphorically, though almost physically too.  

Michael F. Stewart has developed Janus into a character who can see beyond the moment and beyond the computer, although this is something that is difficult for her.  She is used to taking care of everything, not relying on anyone or anything. Her physical injuries at the end of Script Kiddie have required her to get help, whether she wants it or not. (Driving the van with hand controls is an especially funny scene.)  Too soon her mental health is in jeopardy as well. Janus needed to know, really know, that she didn't have to take on the world by herself.  Many of us don't like asking for help, assuming that it shows weakness.  Wrong.  The weakness is in not asking, especially when we know many hands make light work.  Between her friends and others watching out for her, Janus has a lot of support.  By continually going after things herself, she negates what they mean to her.  Not deliberately, but she still does. Not until she is able to accept help do things start to turn around for her and Assured Destruction. 

Assured Destruction with Zombies may have an edge-of-your-seat adventure with several mysteries to solve and a whodunit that will surprise you but it's Janus' character that took centre stage for me, finally becoming a person with whom I could empathize.  Her computer smarts are far beyond any that I will ever know, though I'm sure a few young readers will know exactly what she's doing always, but those are her skills and strengths.  Showing her weaknesses and working with them, rather than through them, has made Janus stronger and a more likeable character. And I'm reassured, after reading Assured Destruction with Zombies, that nothing can destroy her. Janus may become damaged but she's an invincible protagonist who could take on the world, cyberspace and all.

May 26, 2014

Jamie's Got a Gun

Text by Gail Sidonie Sobat
Illustrated by Spyder Yardley-Jones
Great Plains Teen Fiction
224 pp.
Ages 12+
May 2014

Jamie's Got a Gun which he found during a dumpster dive and he's in a dangerous state of mind.  Jamie's got an abundance of anger and it's growing.  Dangerous combination.

His sources of rage? There's Hugh the Pugh (for pugilist i.e., boxer, former), stepdad and abusive drunk who regularly beats up seventeen-year-old Jamie and his hard-working mom, Molly, and never stops demanding that Jamie get a job, any job, though Mom is determined to keep Jamie in school and pursuing his drawing. There's Blade Attaman and his school thugs who torment Jamie physically and verbally, humiliating him on a regular basis.  There's his father who left when Jamie was 4 and now lives in Chicago with his new family and provides essentially no support so Mom has to work two jobs and settle for Hugh the Pugh who doesn't work because he's collecting a pittance for a WCB claim.  Even Molly's brother, their Uncle Mac, doesn't help her out much, though he spoils his sons rotten.  And, in their rough neighbourhood, Jamie watches as Tina, a classmate from elementary school, now works the street as a hooker, supporting a drug habit that her pimp Tony probably got her into. These injustices are overwhelming to Jamie.

Personally, Jamie's got his own issues, from his dyslexia to his lack of friends and no girlfriend (though he is crushing on Tatiana Oleshenko).
"Sometimes I wish the rain could come and wash away my pathetic life." (pg. 24)
Jamie's one bright light is Candy, his thirteen-year-old sister and his hero.  He'll do anything to protect her, and that gun might be just the thing he needs to accomplish that.
"But a gun has a loud voice. I'd finally be seen and heard with a gun.  People would take Jamie Kidding seriously.  At last." (pg. 63)
The coarse starkness of Jamie's world is reflected in his artwork, courtesy of Spyder Yardley-Jones, of jagged edges and bold angles. There is no softness in his world.  Yet, when he draws Candy as a Sailor Moon-like superhero, Candy Moon, his playful side can be seen.  And when he shares his drawings of Tatiana's shoes, eyes or lips, he's seeing more than what's on the surface.

Gail Sidonie Sobat's young adult books suggest that she's got the pulse of young people and knows how they think and feel.  Gravity Journal (Great Plains, 2008), Chance to Dance for You (Great Plains, 2011) and Not With a Bang (Magpie Books, 2012) are perfect examples of how she can get into their heads and voices.  By collaborating with Spyder Yardley-Jones, Gail Sidonie Sobat has added that graphic element that adds a thousand words but moderates the text length while enriching the story.  Words on a page are only powerful when read; words with accompanying black-and-white graphics are understood and endure.  In Jamie's Got a Gun, it couldn't have been anything but a graphic novel, with illustrations documenting his experiences and feelings, as Jamie decides what he's going to do with that gun.  But, as you'll understand when you read Jamie's Got a Gun, it's not all black and white.

May 25, 2014

This One Summer

by Mariko Tamaki
Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Groundwood Books
320 pp.
Ages 14+
May 2014

The anticipation of summer holidays can be overwhelming, especially if you're looking forward to another great summer at a Muskoka cottage where your family has gone for years.  Beaches, water, sunshine, friends, freedom, videos, board games, and no school.  Another wonderful summer at the cottage.  Except that things never stay the same: not people, not places, not experiences.

Superficially everything seems to be the same. The Wallace family is heading to the cottage at Awago Beach where everything seems familiar.  Young teen Rose meets up with her younger friend, Windy, and her mother Evelyn there. They ride their bikes.  They go to the beach and swim. They visit Brewster's, the only convenience store at Awago, for candy, videos and junk food.  They watch videos at night, and play board games.  It's a time for sleeping in and no worries.  Even Rose's parent have their routines: Dad enjoying a beer, making jokes and doing the BBQ thing, while Mom organizes, visits with Evelyn and reads and writes. But there's an undercurrent of unease.

Though only a year and a half different in their ages, best friends Rose and Windy are no longer always in sync in their thinking.  Rose seems to have gone through puberty and is seeing beyond the silliness of their summer antics.  She's crushing on Duncan, the teen working at Brewster's, and eavesdropping on the local teens and her own parents, trying to understand all she hears and sees.  Windy, on the other hand, is always joking around (she calls Duncan "the Dud"), being loud and hyper and trying out new words that seem to get a reaction (like slut and sexy ta-tas).  She notices Rose's distraction and tries to go along with her, realizing Rose knows a lot more that her and can share about things Windy knows nothing.

Two particular dramas seem to be affecting Rose: the friction between her parents, and the relationship between Duncan and his girlfriend Jenny.  Surprisingly, they both involve babies.  Although Rose doesn't really share what she's thinking about either situation, Windy seems to interpret her reactions, often infuriating Rose.  Puberty can be a confusing time, with a perceived loss of youthful innocence and unrestraint and being expected to deal with more mature issues.  And Rose has a foot in both worlds: the one of her fun, curious younger self and the one of conflict, relationships and judgment.

Everyone must remember a summer of awkwardness, in the pre- or early- teen years.  Most of us would choose not to relive it.  But Mariko Tamaki's text suggests that it's a rite of passage for many young people, whether it be a cottage experience–something more common in parts of Canada than others–or a summer in the city.  Friendships are reconfigured to accommodate new feelings and thinking, and with new knowledge, even incomplete, come more questions and insecurities about that knowledge.  The voices that Mariko Tamaki gives Rose and Windy reflect their balancing between childhood and adolescences, just as the language of the Awago teens, heavily peppered with profanity, reflect their perceived invincibility and rebelliousness.  Enhancing Mariko Tamaki's text is the artwork of her cousin, Jillian Tamaki, whose first work together was their highly-acclaimed graphic novel, Skim (Groundwood, 2008).  Her characters reflect their natures so well. Windy is the dark-haired, freckled girl with an extra pound or two of baby fat, though thankfully not affecting her exuberance for life (yet).  On the other hand, Rose is the light-haired, slender girl who doesn't smile as easily and carries her body more stiffly, as if still getting used to it. Moreover, choosing to use the dark blue-purple of indigo for the cover of This One Summer and midnight blue for the illustrations within is an ingenious selection by Jillian Tamaki, reflecting the appearance of brightness on the surface but a darkness within. 

This One Summer is the summer coming-of-age story with which many teens will be familiar and with which many parents would hope their pre-teen girls won't have to experience, at least for a while. 

May 23, 2014

Spring: A season of book award announcements

Spring may have sprung (finally!) but I feel like I've been digging myself in deep under the mountain of book award announcements.  It seems that every regional, national and international book award is announcing winners or shortlists or upcoming announcements of winners or nominee shortlists (yes, there are announcements about announcements).  In case you've missed some of the announcements, here's a list of some which I have posted on CanLit for LittleCanadians: Awards blog just since the beginning of spring (the calendar spring, not the weather spring):

    Hard to keep up with the reviewing when I want to broadcast the awards' shortlists and winners, all with the goal of promoting youngCanLit.  The more that bloggers and readers and organizations champion extraordinary children's books by Canadian authors and illustrators, the more likely that a Canadian publisher won't go under, a writer will continue to write or more great books will be created.

    Check out these lists of nominees and winners and see how many titles reappear on multiple lists or which ones are unique to one list.  Read the comments made by the juries or readers who make selections.  And enjoy the wealth of outstanding literature, as always!

    Please help promote 
    our award-winning youngCanLit!

    May 22, 2014

    What We Hide

    by Marthe Jocelyn
    Tundra Books
    275 pp.
    Ages 14+
    May, 2014

    I can't imagine a freer time than the 1960's and early 1970's when there were calls for "Love, Not War", when peace symbols and drugs were everywhere, and when contraception helped support the idea of free love.  Strangely, the young people in What We Hide should be immersed in all that liberating freedom, standing up for their views, and not taking any directions from the establishment.  Yet these teens have their heads and hearts in two worlds: the traditional, even old-fashioned world more typical of  their parents and school administrators, and the experimenting, liberal explorations of their peers.  What they choose to hide is all rooted in their conflicting ideas of right and wrong, wants and needs, smart and ignorant, and childish and mature.

    To help her older brother evade the draft for the Vietnam War (sadly something his best friend Matt chose not to do), Jenn accompanies Tom to England where he will attend Sheffield University and she Illington Hall, a boarding school, nearby.  The new milieu allows Jenn to become the American Jenny with the (imaginary) boyfriend Matt who is fighting in Vietnam.  Except for occasionally hearing from Tom who is heavily into smoking weed and avoiding contacting Matt, Jenny's world is Illington Hall, her new friends and misdirecting them to maintain her story.  But Jenny is just one of the narrators in What We Hide who reveal in the text that which they won't share elsewhere.

    There's Robbie a local boy who knows he's gay but keeps it from everyone, especially his 18-year-old brother Simon, whose sexual exploits have already made him a father and has him engaged to marry another pregnant girl.  Robbie meets a boy from the boarding school, Luke, who never knew he was gay and, although smitten with Robbie, is still trying to discover whether he might like girls if he just found the right one. Luke and sister Kirsten come from a seemingly perfect family, or so classmate Penelope believes, until she finagles an invitation from them for the weekend.  And Penelope, whose aggressive attitude suggests that she'd have sex with anyone and it wouldn't be a big deal, has a big secret about her mother that she won't share.  Another classmate, Percy, too has a secret about his parent but one that could bring him popularity or shame.

    I haven't even mentioned Nico, who is the school's heart throb and whose intimacy with his girlfriend Sarah is well known. But now that Sarah has returned home to Toronto, who is in Nico's line of sight? Jenny? Oona, Sarah's best friend?  What about Brenda, the sister of the mother of Simon's son?  She's a local but she attends Illington Hall as a day student, always straddling the line between the unrefined life of a local and the ambitious scholarship of her boarding school.

    How Marthe Jocelyn, who could not have been old enough to have experienced this era, could accurately portray the thoughts and actions of Jenny, Robbie, Luke, Penelope and all their peers is astounding to me.  She has covered the full gamut from naive to promiscuous (though it is the time of free love, right?) and brash to reserved, but the confusion that seems to predominate the teen years is always there, regardless of background, wealth, family, friends, or intelligence.  These young people are all trying to find out who they are, wanting to be someone: a cherished son, a first love, a supportive sister, a sympathetic friend.  But wanting to be someone is not enough  to make it happen.
    "Maybe I'd been hoping for a miracle, but I thought I'd be someone else by now.  I thought at least that I'd be . . . someone." (pg. 258)
    But like all stories based on secrets or lies (misdirections, as Percy calls them), the truth will eventually be uncovered, for good or bad. Marthe Jocelyn makes it clear that the drama swirling around all these hidden truths in What We Hide is what takes the energies of these young people.  Sadly they don't know that the issues which are consuming them are real and significant as they are but creating dramas enfold these concerns just compounds them.  Some come to that realization more swiftly than others but still with heartache (Penelope recognizes that, "There is only me to blame for where I am.  There is only me." [pg. 197])

    While I feel for these young people, wishing that they could trip through their teen years with more spirit and less angst, Marthe Jocelyn makes it clear that they will deal as they can, and things will work out or not, but they have the capacity to learn more about themselves through these hardships, regardless what they hide.

    May 21, 2014

    Live to Tell

    by Lisa Harrington
    Dancing Cat Books
    170 pp.
    Ages 13+

    Just having been awarded the White Pine Fiction Award in the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading program last week, I willed myself to go back to 2012 to review Live to Tell.  I suspect that many readers, including author Lisa Harrington, were surprised by the book's selection by high school students as their favourite book but, as I always say, if a book wins an award, it deserves to win it.

    Teen Libby Thorne wakes up after twelves days of unconsciousness in a hospital, trying to piece together how she got there from the bits and pieces her parents, nurses and friends are able to share.  They can't tell her much because the police are involved now and she needs to provide her account, not one pieced together from others' information.  Two visitors are especially critical in helping bring back Libby's memories.  First, her best friend Kasey, whom Libby's mom has always thought of as a bad influence on Libby, sneaks in to visit and update her on what happened and how the outside world is reacting to the car accident and Libby's role in it.  Second is Cal McInnis whose good looks and devotion to Libby while at the hospital has everyone cooing about him being her boyfriend.  Thing is, the boyfriend she remembers is Nate, though slivers of memory do start to poke into her consciousness and she recalls a rather crude break-up and subsequent drinking.

    I know that my students dislike the use of a character's amnesia to develop a plot, but in Live to Tell Lisa Harrington does not use it as a device to keep the whole truth hidden.  The loss of memory is used to reveal Libby's thinking as she tries to make sense of what she is told, what she feels, and what is the truth.  Because her future depends on her remembering–she has been arrested for manslaughter–Libby wants to learn the truth quickly but she isn't always making sure how reliable the information is.  Fortunately, with some friendly direction and because human nature eventually leads us to show our true selves, the twisted plot and surprise revelations bring a swift resolution to Live to Tell.  

    Lisa Harrington has penned a young adult mystery with hints of romance and teen angst that obviously reached many teen readers, garnishing a major Canadian book award for young people.  Though Libby's story does jump back and forth between her memories and her present, the plot is essentially a linear one: girl awakens with amnesia and tries to fill those gaps in her memory.  I think Live to Tell could have benefited from some additional subplots to enrich the story but I tend to enjoy more complicated story-telling and those that provide me with the context for considering larger social issues than, say, drinking.  But the readers clearly appreciated the tight storyline and its convolutions, and that's good enough for me.

    Congratulations on your White Pine Fiction award,  
    Lisa Harrington,
    for Live to Tell!

    May 20, 2014

    When Emily Carr Met Woo

    by Monica Kulling
    Illustrated by Dean Griffiths
    Pajama Press
    32 pp.
    Ages 5+
    May 1, 2014

    When Emily Carr Met Woo is the second picture book biography from author Monica Kulling, illustrator Dean Griffiths and publisher Pajama Press that introduces young readers to famous artists through their relationships with animals.  Lumpito and the Painter from Spain (2012) introduced Pablo Picasso and his work via the little dachshund named Lumpito.   While the title of When Emily Carr Met Woo may give away the basics about the story, be assured that you won't get it all until you read Monica Kulling's words and take in Dean Griffiths' artwork.

    Though most Canadians now know of the majestic mystery of Emily Carr's artwork, her rise to fame was the slow one not unknown to many artists.  While she continued to feed her passion for painting, she made a living by selling ceramics, hooked rugs and renting rooms to feed herself and her menagerie of furry and feathery friends, which included a little monkey, Woo.  Woo liked to gather her found and stolen treasures, including plumes from the parrot named Jane, in an old candy tin.  And Dean Griffiths illustrates Woo with her inherent energy and impish smile, easily conveying her prankster nature.  But, the night before Emily and her friends left for the rainforest of BC, Woo selects a new treasure that puts all, including her life, in jeopardy.

    In only 32 pages, Monica Kulling is able to share the tenuous nature of Emily Carr's vocation and the artist's determination to persevere for her passion with the emotional support of her companions.  Though it's obvious that others looked upon her as "a strange bird", including her sisters, Emily Carr's depth of love for Woo is evident as a force that she could draw upon (no pun intended) and share with others.  Her despair, just as evocative in Dean Griffiths' artwork, is sadly just as deep.  Luckily, the spirit and beauty of the rainforest provides both Emily Carr and Woo with the motivation to keep going and project that love and loveliness.

    A charming story of friendship and artistry, When Emily Carr Met Woo will provide the perfect book for introducing young readers to a great of Canadian art and her devotions.

    May 19, 2014

    Unspeakable: Book Launch (Kanata)


    Caroline Pignat

    author of historical fiction
    Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008)
    Wild Geese (Red Deer Press, 2010)
    Timber Wolf (Red Deer Press, 2011)

    for the launch of her newest young adult novel

    Razorbill Canada
    288 pp.
    Ages 12+

    Saturday, May 31, 2014

    2-5 p.m.


    D'arcy McGee's
    655 Terry Fox Dr.
     Kanata, Ontario

     Featuring a reading by the author, books for sale, and  live music. 

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

    The following information about Unspeakable comes from Caroline Pignat's website at
    "Working as a stewardess aboard the Empress of Ireland allows Ellie Ryan to forget about why she has been banished from the family home, why her great aunt ultimately had to find her this job. On her second voyage, Ellie finds herself drawn to the solitary fire stoker who stands by the ship's rail late at night, often writing in a journal."

    "Based on the true story of the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland in May 1914, a disaster that lost more passengers' lives than Titanic, Unspeakable will be published in time to mark the 100th anniversary of this tragedy. "

    May 18, 2014

    The Ultimate Silver Birch book award: Hana's Suitcase

    To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Ontario Library Association's first award reading program, Silver Birch, readers were asked to vote for their favourite Silver Birch book of all time.  With 20 years of fiction and non-fiction titles from which to choose, thousands of readers made their selections.  In April, the votes were tallied and the winner of the Ultimate Silver Birch Book was announced.

    The winner of the Ultimate Silver Birch Book is

    Hana's Suitcase
    by Karen Levine
    Second Story Press
    120 pp.
    Ages 9-12

    Hana's Suitcase, which won the Silver Birch Non-Fiction Award in 2003, follows the search for the origins of an old brown suitcase, picture here.  This suitcase belonged to a young girl, Hana Brady, a Czechoslovakian Jewish girl whose parents were taken by the Gestapo during World War II, and was then separated from her older brother, George, when transported to a concentration camp.

    Helen Kubiw, Karen Levine and George Brady
    This past Thursday, as Co-Chair of the Forest of Reading, I had the privilege of presenting the Ultimate Silver Birch Book award to author Karen Levine who accepted the award with George Brady, Hana's brother.  In attendance were Mr. Brady's wife and daughter, as well as publisher Margie Wolfe, and other guests, including young readers awaiting the announcement of this year's Silver Birch Non-Fiction Award winners.  Karen Levine and George Brady graciously accepted the award, and spoke briefly about the story and impact of Hana's Suitcase.
    Karen Levine with Margie Wolfe

    The story of Hana's Suitcase has won more awards than any other children's book in Canada (note the numerous award logos on the vertical banner in the photo to the right) and, not surprisingly, was honoured with the Ultimate Silver Birch Book recognition.  With this most recent recognition, Hana's Suitcase will be read by a new generation of young readers, many who waited patiently for Karen Levine's autograph on Thursday. 

    Congratulations to 
    Hana's Suitcase
     on being named the 
    Ultimate Silver Birch Book

    May 16, 2014

    Exciting news: 2014 Forest of Reading winners announced!

    The Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading's book awards have been an important part of my school library program and my personal volunteer experiences for many years, so I am always proud to post the results of this wonderful reading program.

    It's impossible to congratulate all those who made this reading program and the Festival of Trees such a success but here are some of the amazing people who play important roles in its success:

    • the readers;
    • the selection committees who read so many books to choose the best for the shortlists;
    • the steering committees that organize and put on the fabulous Festival of Trees;
    • the OLA staff, with Meredith Tutching at the helm;
    • the authors and illustrators who provide enviable youngCanLit;
    • the publishers who publish youngCanLit and promote it; and
    • the winners and honourees in each reading program.

    Here are this year's readers' choice winners for each reading program:

    Blue Spruce


    by Dave Whamond


    Silver Birch EXPRESS

    The Secret of the Village Fool
    by Rebecca Upjohn
    Illustrated by Renné Benoit
    Second Story Press

    Reviewed here

    Silver Birch FICTION

    by Robin Stevenson
    Orca Book Publishers

    Silver Birch NON-FICTION


    One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way
    by Marsha Skrypuch
    Pajama Press 

    Reviewed here

    Le prix Peuplier


    Une mouche, un chat et une patate 
    by Céline Malépart
    Simon & Schuster BFYR/Simon & Schuster

    Le Prix Tamarac


    Une fille à l’école des gars
    by Maryse Peyskens
    Dominique et Compagnie

    Le Prix Tamarac EXPRESS


    Attention, j’arrive ! (BiBop) 
    by Raymond Parent

    Red Maple Fiction


    The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
    by Susin Nielsen
    Tundra Books

    White Pine FICTION

    Live to Tell
    by Lisa Harrington
    Dancing Cat Books

    White Pine NON-FICTION

    The Secret of the Blue Trunk
    by Lise Dion 
    Translated by Liedewij Hawke

    Thrilling news for all authors, illustrators and publishers!

    Enjoyed all the more for being selected 
    by young Canadian readers!

    Congratulations to everyone!

    The full list of winners and honour books is posted at CanLit for LittleCanadians Awards here or on the news release from OLA .

    May 12, 2014

    Groundwood Books: Spring Book Launch (Toronto)

    Groundwood Books
    invites everyone
    to attend a spring launch of its newest picture books

    Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress
    by Christine Baldacchino
    Illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant
    Groundwood Books
    32 pp.
    Ages 4-7

    The Tweedles Go Electric
    by Monica Kulling 
    Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
     Groundwood Books
    32 pp. 
    Ages 5-8 

    Norman, Speak!
    by Caroline Adderson 
    Illustrated by Qin Leng 
    Groundwood Books 
    32 pp. 
    Ages 4-7 

    Join authors Christine Baldacchino and Monica Kulling 
    and illustrator Qin Leng

    for readings, snacks and fun


    Another Story Bookshop
    351 Roncesvalles Avenue
    Toronto, ON


    Saturday, May 24, 2014

    2 - 4 p.m.
    (Readings at 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.)

    May 11, 2014

    Arrow Through the Axes: Odyssey of a Slave, Book III

    by Patrick Bowman
    Ronsdale Press
    200 pp.
    Ages 12+
    March 2014

    Knowing that you're reading the third and final book of any trilogy can be both exciting and disheartening.   On one hand, the anticipation of learning the fate of all characters and the resolution of all plot lines is exhilarating.  But, knowing that every word read takes you closer and closer to the last gasps of a book's life can be enough reason to draw out your reading as long as possible.  Either way, I don't think I handled the finale as well as I could have, considering how invested I was in the story, all the way from Book I. (See my reviews of Book I, Torn from Troy, and Book II, Cursed by the Sea God) Sadly, I read too fast and now it's over. But, perhaps for you, the journey is still on.

    Alexi, the boy from Troy, who was enslaved by Lopex (Odysseus) and forced to work upon the Pelagios as the Greeks made their way slowly back to Ithaca, has grown from a child to a young man both respected for his healing and loyalty and despised by others for his actions.  He has survived brutal attacks by both man and mythical beasts and is now determined to find his sister Melantha whom he'd believed killed.  But a black cloud is following him and the Pelagios. Literally. No matter which way the boat turns, the cloud with an evil eye follows, until lightning courtesy of the god Helios splits the ship apart and sends the crew to inevitable death.  Though badly burned, Alexi is saved by Phaith, the girl whom he'd met on Helios' island.  Even that act of kindness, however, is veiled in deceit.

    Escaping from her lonely grasp, Alexi gets on board the cargo ship Sappho which is heading to Mycenae, the city of Agamemnon who'd led the war against Troy.  Intending to search for his sister there, Alexis becomes enmeshed in several plots to place a king on the throne of the murdered Agamemnon.  Surprisingly, the only truth he hears is from a slave named Cass (formerly Crazy Cassie, the Trojan king's daughter), though he does not know it.

    First travelling with Orestes, son of Agamemnon, Alexi continues to search for Melantha, stopping to visit the Oracle at Delphi, before going on alone to Sparta, the city of King Menelaus and his wife Helen (of Helen of Troy fame), and then Pylos.  His final journey takes him to Ithaca, accompanying a talkative and gullible young man, Telemachus, who Alexi learns is the son of Odysseus, his former master.

    While the plot premise behind Arrow Through the Axes would appear on the surface to be Alexi's search for his sister, Patrick Bowman is a far better writer than one who would settle on this simple storyline.  Alexi may be focused on reuniting with his sister whom he has not set eyes upon since Torn from Troy, but his quest becomes one of enlightenment with regards to the nature of war, specifically about the consequences of the Trojan war.  He had believed that the war was essentially the Greeks attacking and winning over Troy, and that all Greeks were to be despised.  His fickle relationship with Odysseus demonstrates how Alexi both hates him for enslaving him and respects him for his leadership and wisdom.  But, along his travels, Alexi witnesses the ravages of war upon the Greek people, a people who had not chosen to go to war but may have felt duty-bound or been conscripted.
    " lost so many men in the war.  Fighting-age men.  Fathers. Now the young kids are growing up wild.  The sea is thick with raiders.  The roads are full of bandits.  Kingdoms like yours are being pulled apart, fighting over who will be the next king.  The priest at Delphi said it best.  He said he hoped the war had been worth it, because it had lost the Greeks your soul." (pg. 194)
    Homer's epic poem The Odyssey may share with the Odyssey of a Slave series in the telling of Odysseus' legendary return to Ithaca after the Trojan War, but for young readers this series will be the quintessential version of that story.  Patrick Bowman does not hold up the attackers or warriors as heroes but rather all participants as those who have lost, whether it be land, riches, family, freedom, or themselves.  The message that there are no winners in war is clear, but, told through the eyes and insight of a young enslaved Trojan boy, the learning of that lesson is all the richer, and more vivid and poignant. 

    May 08, 2014

    Now and For Never: Book Launch (Toronto)

    First there was 

    Once Every Never
    by Lesley Livingston
    Puffin Canada
    302 pp.
    Ages 12+

    Then came

     Every Never After
    by Lesley Livingston
    242 pp.
    Ages 12+


    join author Lesley Livingston

    Thursday, May 29, 2014

    7:30 p.m.
    The Dominion on Queen
    500 Queen St. East 

    for the launch of the final book in her time travel series
    starring Clare Reid and Allie McAllister

    Now and For Never
    by Lesley Livingston
      280 pp.
    Ages 12+
    There will be 
    food, drink, reading, signing, live music,
    lots of Time Monkey Shenanigans fun
    books available for purchase from Bakka Phoenix!

    Maybe I'll see you there!