Showing posts with label love. Show all posts
Showing posts with label love. Show all posts

April 23, 2019

Wings of Olympus

Written by Kallie George
HarperCollins Canada
224 pp.
Ages 8-12
March 2019

It is the journey that is most important. (pg. 107)

Young Pippa adores working with the horses at an Athenian stables but, when she is distracted from her chores after catching a glimpse of Zeus's steed Nikomedes in the sky, she is fired. A foundling, abandoned by her parents with only a coin engraved with a winged horse, Pippa trudges off, needing to find food and shelter. But when she awakens, she discovers she has been transported to Mount Olympus with other children to compete in the Winged Horse Race, an event that takes place every 100 years to choose Zeus's next steed.  Each child has been selected by a god or goddess to ride their winged horse, and Pippa, the only child without an impressive family, has been chosen by Aphrodite to ride Zephyr, a small horse "like a moonbeam." (pg. 40) The other children include Basileus who is to ride the powerful Kerauno for Ares, the shy Timon riding Skotos for Hades, the only other girl, Sophia, rider for Athena, Theodoros riding for Poseidon, and the arrogant Khrys riding for Apollo.

Under the direction of Bellerophon, the hero who'd tamed Pegasus, the child riders learn the many rules for the race, how to train, and how to deal with their gods and goddesses who are constantly squabbling and are willing to bend the rules or even cheat in order to be honoured with having their winged horse selected to replace Nikomedes. While Pippa is falling in love with Zephyr, who is easily distracted by butterflies and such, she is the only one who has not had an opportunity to meet her goddess. Upset with this slight, she and Zephyr fly off and get lost, only to meet the Fates, one of whom suggests Pippa will not win. Pippa is desperate to stay on Mount Olympus and care for Zephyr and so she comes up with a plan to help herself and some friends out. But how will Mount Olympus's immortals react when their rules are ignored, even for a good reason?

Taking a trip to ancient Greece and to visit the immortals who inhabit Mount Olympus is a treat with Kallie George's expressive text and extraordinary story.
The sky was her home now: blue ceilings, courtyards of clouds, and, if she was out late, stars so close and so numerous it was like they were woven tight as linen. (pg. 107)
These are worlds mythological and singular in their attributes but Kallie George invites us into that reality as welcome visitors to see the wonders of Mount Olympus and the imperfection of its inhabitants and the parallels between children then and now. There is the bully who threatens and cheats, the know-it-all child, the boy who misses his family, and the orphaned girl whose heart is teeming with love for horses and specifically Zephyr. They may be wearing belted chitons and sandals but they are young people most of us will recognize. And Kallie George's messages about love and trust are universal and perpetual.

Like the other middle-grade series Kallie George has written, including Heartwood Hotel and Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Wings of Olympus is fated to take off as a new series. There are animals and a unique time and setting and a diaphanous sheath of fantasy. I look forward to seeing where the next books land.

"Nikepteros," she whispered. "Victory in flight." (pg. 107)


Kallie George is launching Wings of Olympus this Thursday in Vancouver for those of you who know any middle-graders who love horses or mythology or a great story. Details here.

February 08, 2019

Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess

Written and illustrated by Janet Hill
Tundra Books
48 pp.
Ages 4-8 (but really for all ages)
January 2019

With Valentine's Day on the horizon, many will be thinking of romantic love. But I can't think of a better time (other than International Day of the Cat on August 8th) to promote Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess as Miss Mink's sixty-seven lovely felines share their wisdom about living well and loving self. It's love with a difference.

From Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill
As with Janet Hill's first book, Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess (Tundra, 2016), there is a detailed introduction to Miss Mink and her circumstances. Readers will learn of Miss Marcella Mink's living with her cats and starting her own feline-friendly cruise company but, overwhelmed with her business's success, Miss Mink becomes unhappy. Only by heeding the advice of her cats does she learn how to live "a purrfect life."

From Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill
In a series of twenty double-spreads, Miss Mink recounts the lessons gleaned from her ever-wise cats. From "Start the day off right with a proper grooming" to "Find happiness in the little things" and "Don't be afraid to voice your opinion (loudly)," Miss Mink recognizes the actions and thoughts that her cats practise daily. There are lessons in gratitude, enterprise, positivity, friendship and mindfulness. It's about being in the moment and taking in what's good around you, not worrying or negating experiences as insignificant or worthless. There's a reason that cats may have been worshipped or at the very least held in the very highest of esteem. Their poise and shrewdness, along with savvy behaviours, provide guidance to living well and in the moment. Janet Hill recognizes that they impart wisdom wrapped up in love, knowing that they will always know better than their human counterparts.
From Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill
But the life lessons go beyond the words. With a clowder of cats from which to choose, Janet Hill expands the learning from words of wisdom to exemplars for living well. Though her paintings have a romantic feel to them, embedded in the glamour of the 1920s, Janet Hill gives them more whimsy and affection, the emphasis on the tenderness and care rather than the amorous. With mental health issues on the rise, Janet Hill and Miss Mink and her felines share some wonderful coaching on self-care and appreciation to which we should all attend.

For the animal lover, especially of cats, who might appreciate an absorbing and heartfelt book about taking care of oneself to make the most of life, courtesy of life lessons from those who live lives to their fullest, Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess is the book to pick up this weekend. It's a Valentine for self that can be shared with others.
Lesson Twelve: Love others, but don't forget to love yourself too.                         From Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill 

July 10, 2018

The Muskox and the Caribou

Written by Nadia Mike
Illustrated by Tamara Campeau
Inhabit Media
36 pp.
Ages 5-7
February 2018

While The Muskox and the Caribou is obviously a story rooted in the Arctic where both species co-exist, children everywhere will appreciate the story of Baby Muskox and Baby Caribou and Mother Caribou who loved them both.

The story begins with the birth of Baby Caribou who is born to a loving Mother Caribou and learns to walk and gallop with the herd. One day, Mother Caribou spots Baby Muskox wandering helplessly alone and lost and leads him along with her own offspring back to the herd. Baby Muskox knows he is different. He has long and dark shaggy hair and his legs are short and stocky, very different from the caribou. Sadly, Baby Caribou and his friends don't seem to like Baby Muskox very much and tease him about his differences.  It is only with Mother Caribou that Baby Muskox feels love and comfort.
From The Muskox and the Caribou by Nadia Mike, illus. by Tamara Campeau
Months pass and the young animals grow. Even when the young are prodded by Mother Caribou to go out and explore independently, Baby Muskox returns to the safety and love of his adopted mother. Finally, when fully grown, Mother Caribou takes Baby Muskox on a long walk to see animals such as himself. For the first time, the muskox understands why he never fit in and, though he is sad to learn he isn't a caribou at all, he is excited to get to know others who are just like him.
But most of all, he was grateful for Mother Caribou because she had always shown him love. (pg. 26)
From The Muskox and the Caribou by Nadia Mike, illus. by Tamara Campeau
All children will feel different from others at one point or another.  It may be the way they look or what they can do or can't do or the way they feel.  Some may not feel like they belong in the family to which they were born or with whom they live.  But if The Muskox and the Caribou teaches anything it is that love can make things tolerable and allow growth. Baby Muskox may never have realized he was a muskox but he knew he wasn't like the caribou and that caused him much sadness. Only Mother Caribou made things right. Unfortunately Baby Caribou who'd always known that he belonged could have been a better sibling to Baby Muskox but he did not see the impact of his actions on the young muskox.

Nadia Mike's humble story of a baby muskox taken in by a mother caribou and loved and sheltered along with her own young provides may teachable moments about love and differences and empathy.  Children who live in the Arctic will more likely recognize the two animals and how different they are, but all children will accept that the muskox and the caribou could be any individuals who are different and can still coexist. With love, all is possible.

Northern Quebec illustrator Tamara Campeau provides a natural landscape for The Muskox and the Caribou, emphasizing the rugged terrain and tundra vegetation as the backdrop for the story.  While the animals as babies are softened and simplified, they are true and realistic, and Tamara Campeau makes The Muskox and the Caribou as much a teaching book about the Arctic as she does enhancing Nadia Mike's story with art.

Though all children will delight in a story about baby animals, The Muskox and the Caribou should be read to send a message that we all belong somewhere and, until that somewhere is found, love can help brook time and place.

November 08, 2017

Love You Forever: New Pop-Up Edition

Written by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Sheila McGraw
Paper engineering by Bruce Foster
Firefly Books
14 pp.
All ages
September 2017

Though not Robert Munsch's first book, Love You Forever is perhaps his best known, with astronomical sales over the decades and inclusion on multiple lists of top books of all time.   Published in 1986, Love You Forever is an iconic picture book about a parent's love for her child and it is now available in a pop-up version.
From Love You Forever Pop-Up Edition
The story begins with a mother holding her new baby and singing a lullaby to him:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I've living
my baby you'll be.

Then the boy becomes a toddler and gets into much mischief but still his mother sneaks into his room and rocks him back and forth while she sings the lullaby to him. This continues as the boy becomes nine, and then a teenager and finally an adult who moves away.  Still his mother sneaks into his room, rocks him and sings her lullaby.  But when she is too old to come see him, he visits her and sings the lullaby she cannot, revising it appropriately:

I'll love you forever,
I'll love you for always,
As long as I'm living
My Mommy you'll be.  
From Love You Forever Pop-Up Edition
The story ends with the son returning home, supposedly after his mother has passed, and he sings the lullaby to his own daughter, just as his mother sang to him.

Because of the alternative format with fold-out flaps and pull- and push-tabs to create three-dimensional illustrations, this Love You Forever is only 14 pages long.  Still the whole story is there, Robert Munsch's original words and Sheila McGraw's illustrations, now brought to life with the paper engineering of Bruce Foster, an American paper magician. (You can see a demonstration of the rocking chair pop-up on his website Paperpops.) There's not much I can say about the book Love You Forever that has not already been said time and time again but I can address the novelty of Bruce Foster's paperwork in adding a third dimension to the art and hence the story.  Though some of the illustrations may appear dated–check out the clothing, the computer and the hairstyles–there is a freshness that comes with the pop-ups, bringing new life to the pages of Love You Forever.  Parents may still be reading the story and singing the lullaby to their children but now children can interact with the story, pushing and lifting and pulling tabs, to help tell that story and appreciate the love between parent and child.


For anyone who will be reading Love You Forever and has never heard the melody to the lullaby the mother sings, Robert Munsch shares it on a YouTube video uploaded on January 13, 2011 by tvoparents at

October 31, 2017

Captain Monty Takes the Plunge

Written by Jennifer Mook-Sang
Illustrated by Liz Starin
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
October 2017

"Monty the Malodorous was a fearsome pirate who sailed the six or seven seas.  He was brave.  He was bold." (pg. 5)  But he couldn't swim. And he certainly didn't join his mates for their weekly soakings in the ocean for a cleansing.  "This attitude earned him much respect (and a great deal of personal space)." (pg. 7)

But then Monty spies the lovely mermaid Meg.  He gives her gifts and tells her jokes and she shares her knowledge of the sea and sky with him. Though he wishes to invite her onto the ship for dinner, she declines, declaring him smelling "like stinky boots." Monty is devastated.
From Captain Monty Takes the Plunge 
by Jennifer Mook-Sang 
illus. by Liz Starin
Yet when Meg is snatched by a mega-octopus, Monty swallows his fear and takes a leap of faith and throws himself into the sea.  In a lovely twist of fate, Monty and Meg save each other and Monty becomes a sweeter-smelling swimming pirate.
From Captain Monty Takes the Plunge
by Jennifer Mook-Sang
 illus. by Liz Starin
Captain Monty Takes the Plunge is Jennifer Mook-Sang's first picture book, though she's enjoyed much success with her first middle-grade novel Speechless (Scholastic, 2015).  The same humour she used to amuse readers in that novel is evident in Captain Monty Takes a Plunge with its stinky and heartsick pirate, motley crew of a parrot, elephant, bear, rabbit and otter, and ocarina-playing mermaid.  The message of conquering one's fears is wrapped in a buoyant tale of camaraderie, infatuation, and courage.  That same buoyancy comes through in American Liz Starin's illustrations which blend bright colours for her characters with soft subtleness in the sky and sea backgrounds.
From Captain Monty Takes the Plunge 
by Jennifer Mook-Sang 
illus. by Liz Starin
Take your own plunge with Captain Monty to see that fears can be conquered with a little assistance, a lot of courage and a sizeable commitment to helping others. Yar-har-har!

August 09, 2017

Crystal Storm: Falling Kingdoms, Book 5

Written by Morgan Rhodes
379 pp.
Ages 12+

At the conclusion of Book 4, Frozen Tides, the four Kindred, stone orbs possessing elemental magic, had been retrieved and possessed by four different entities.   Now Princess Cleiona has the earth Kindred, King Gaius possesses the air Kindred and Empress Amara has the aquamarine that is the water Kindred, while Kyan the fire god has already been released from the amber orb that is the fire Kindred. And everyone wants to possess all four so that they may unlock the power of the full Kindred.  But things are not that straightforward, as there are still power struggles for control, alliances made for breaking and allegiances in flux.

Now married to the Empress Amara, who killed off her whole family to reign the Kraeshian Empire, King Gaius has survived a fall that should have killed him but didn’t because of a potion for strength he’d been given years earlier by his mother.  He is determined apparently to right some wrongs and that includes defeating Amara, reclaiming the kingdom of Mytica and getting the Kindred, all by joining forces with his son Prince Magnus and his wife, Princess Cleiona, and seeking his sorceress daughter Lucia.  Though reluctant to join forces with him, Magnus and Cleiona have their own reasons to do so, including getting help to break a curse that would kill Cleo should she become pregnant.  With the help of  King Gaius’ mother, Selia, the King and entourage head to Paelsia.

Meanwhile, Lucia is looking to redeem herself after the role she played in aiding Kyan whose wrath led to the destruction of a Paelsian community.  She enters the Sanctuary of the immortals to learn that it is up to her to find and imprison Kyan and locate the other Kindred to return them to save the Sanctuary.  How she will do this with all of Paelsia seeing her as a dark witch who unleashed evil on their land and with her pregnancy progressing exponentially?

Yet another contingent is made up of the Paelsian rebel Jonas; Cleo’s childhood friend Nic; Felix Gaebras, the former assassin of King Gaius and recent victim of Amara; Taran Ranus, twin brother of the Paelsian killed by Magnus; and the newly-resurrected brother of Amara and love interest of Nic, Prince Ashur Cortas.

Everyone is heading to Paelsia, looking for Lucia and the Kindred.  That is, if they don’t all kill each other first.  But death seems to be an elusive state for many in Crystal Storm.  There are those who were killed or almost so who are seemingly resurrected by potion or magic.  Then there are others whose deaths were announced too hastily.  Staying alive is a lot harder when everyone is harbouring secrets and resentment and seeking retribution or justice or even power, determined not to let anything or anyone stand in their way.

Some may have thought this series was going to be a trilogy but thankfully it is not.  Falling Kingdoms continues to flourish under Morgan Rhodes' mastery of time and place and story, bringing characters to and from death and fighting for control in this fifth book in the series.  And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that every character is dynamic and ever-changing.  For me, Magnus has become a character for whom I will continue to cheer (and when you read the ending, you’ll understand why).  He has always been driven, initially by ego, having killed Cleo’s love interest in Falling Kingdoms (Book 1), but now by love and a desire to make things right.  Cleo, on the other hand, has become fickle, choosing whom to trust and whom to distrust seeming at whim.  She’s very quick to chastize some, especially Magnus, and forgive others, like Nic, but never recognize her role in the antagonisms she helps perpetuate between men like Magnus, Jonas and Nic.  I almost wished to be done with Cleo except for what she means to Magnus.  Of course, Morgan Rhodes could change everything in Book 6 (Immortal Reign, due out February 2018) and she probably will.

Thankfully the story is still being told. Long live Auranos and Limeros and Paelsia and the Kraeshian Empire and all the realms of the Falling Kingdoms.

Rebel Spring (2013)
Frozen Tides (2015)
Crystal Storm (2016)
Immortal Reign (for release 2018)

December 06, 2016

Saving Stevie: Book Launch (Toronto, ON)

Debut YA author

Eve Richardson

will be launching 

her young adult novel

Saving Stevie
by Eve Richardson
Red Deer Press
228 pp.
Ages 14-17
November 2016


Thursday, December 8, 2016

7 p.m.


Mabel's Fables
662 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, ON

Thirteen-year-old Minto's family is in crisis. Minto's older sister has had a baby and immediately abandoned the family and her son. Her father and mother are overwhelmed with the new baby and not coping. When Minton hears discussions about the possibility of turning weeks-old Stevie over to adoption services, Minto must take action and responsibility. She steals away in the night with the baby, some basic supplies and a little bit of money to hide in a shacktown. There are so many problems to deal with — Minto isn't sure she can make this work. But she has to keep trying because the alternative is not acceptable.
Description retrieved December 5, 2016 from Fitzhenry & Whiteside website at

November 23, 2016

Closing Down Heaven

by Lesley Choyce
Red Deer Press
176 pp.
Ages 12-17
November 2016

I don't think I ever really felt fully alive
until that moment
I died.

                                                   (pg. 5)
When he wakes up, sixteen-year-old Hunter Callaghan doesn’t actually remember who he is or how he got there. “There” is a soft lawn amidst sunshine and quiet.  A man who says he can be called Archie helps Hunter remember a cycling accident off the beaten path in the woods where the teen had slammed into a rock face and died. Amidst the confusion of what is real and where he is and what he’s supposed to do now,

           More like a beginning
           because what I thought was the end
           (last breath, last heartbeat, famous last thought)
           was just a phase shift
           with                                 as Archie would say
           plenty of options. 
                                                                        (pg. 28)

Hunter is approached by a confused girl he recognizes as Trinity, a former classmate, who’d had problems at home and at school, with guys and with drugs.   Instructed by Archie to be Trinity’s guide, Hunter takes her for dates: bowling, for coffee, and for lunch at their school cafeteria. Learning of her unintentional suicide, Hunter declares that “Let’s be good to each other.” (pg. 59)  But this relationship is short-lived when Archie declares that, because of overcrowding and changes in people’s beliefs, they’re closing down heaven and sending people back.  As such, Hunter awakens badly injured but alive back at the rock face, and rescued, though

          I felt I was missing something.
         Something was not quite right.
         There was something I should be remembering. 
                                                                        (pg. 76)

A nerdy kid at school, Davis Cooper, approaches Hunter, knowing he’d been on the other side by the coppery aura he gives off. But when Hunter takes Davis to meet Trinity, they see an odd blue aura around her, which Hunter suspects is because she hasn’t died yet, and that it's his job to make sure she doesn’t.

The proverb may be that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it seems that there’s a bypass to heaven that uses the same paving material.  Hunter knows his actions have consequences and that free will may trump destiny but situations are not always predictable and Closing Down Heaven is proof of that.

The beauty of a novel in verse that is written well is the compendious use of text rolled into a mellifluous form.  It packs a lot into a little.  It’s a trunk full of novel vacuum-packed into a pannier.  Very few people do it really, really well.  Lesley Choyce has demonstrated in Closing Down Heaven, as he did in Jeremy Stone (Red Deer Press, 2013), that he’s one of them.  Closing Down Heaven takes the reader on a graceful journey between heaven and earth, a road fraught with potholes but some lovely scenery.  Though not exactly a road trip story, Closing Down Heaven is still more about the journey than the destination, the life lived than the one extinguished.  Heaven help those who think otherwise.

August 30, 2016

Rhino Rumpus

by Victoria Allenby
Illustrated by Tara Anderson
Pajama Press
24 pp.
Ages 2-4
August 2016

Victoria Allenby and Tara Anderson, the author-illustrator duo who brought us Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That (Pajama Press, 2013), have returned with another picture book for our littlest ones, this time focusing on the sibling antics of three rhinos as their mother attempts to bring them to some degree of harmony.
From Rhino Rumpus 
by Victoria Allenby, illus. by Tara Anderson
From page one, the three little rhinos are forever being unruly: rude, in a mood, tussling.  And Mama rhino has to interject and bring them in line.  Dinner time is not much different, and Mama sends them to get ready for bed.   Even bathtime (whose illustration is the “magic page” i.e., the cover art) involves a lot of pushing and boisterous escapades that Mama rhino rumbles to a stop with an emphatic “Quiet!”  Teeth brushing, a story and song, and a plea to “And when you wake, please get along!” signals the ultimate family hug and the blissful stillness that is sleep.

The text is perfect for toddlers who will delight in its simplicity and sounds, while those children who are just learning to read will be pleased to test themselves on the easy-to-read rhyming lines and repetition of numbers (e.g., One little rhino…, Two little rhinos…, Three little rhinos…).  I suspect that Victoria Allenby who dedicates the book to her nieces “who ALWAYS get along” has witnessed similar naughtiness but, by experiencing it with love and affection, she has given it a boisterous comic feel to it, something that will lighten the mood for any parent (or aunt!) who has to brave it and strive for calm.  Similarly, Tara Anderson, who dedicates the book to her own little one, animates the text with her coloured pencil illustrations that convey exuberance, joy, mischief and affection with each stroke.  Never is there anger or hostility between the siblings or directed at the little rhinos, and the message of patience in parenting is conveyed with fun and warmth and caring.
From Rhino Rumpus 
by Victoria Allenby, illus. by Tara Anderson
Rhino Rumpus will undoubtedly become the go-to book for families with young ones who get into squabbles, both for parents who need to recognize that children learn through play, even boisterous play, and for children who need to see that parental love is a gift that should not be overlooked, even if it does need a rest occasionally.
From Rhino Rumpus 
by Victoria Allenby, illus. by Tara Anderson

June 07, 2016

Spare Dog Parts

by Alison Hughes
Illustrated by Ashley Spires
Orca Book Publishers
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
January 2016

Spare Dog Parts is for every dog lover who knows that the perfect mutt may be a motley amalgam of odd and sods that others may pooh-pooh but she is the best of everything.

In this fun story, a lab coat-clad young girl seems to create her perfect pooch out of a miscellany of body, legs, paws, tail and facial features.  What could be a frightening prospect of manufacturing a living creature is instead a light-hearted look at how a little girl visualizes the conception of her loving and much-loved pet.
There were no more matching sets of legs left, so my dog got a spare brown leg, a black one, a white one with black spots, and one that couldn't make up its mind if it was white or not. (pg. 11)
From Spare Dog Parts by Alison Hughes, illus. by Ashley Spires
This dog may look a bit like a Frankenstein of a mutt, but she has a sweet disposition and “knows all the important things.  Like where the sunbeam falls. And the sound of food. And when someone needs her.” (pg. 21-25)

The message behind Alison Hughes’ whimsical story is one of acceptance and appreciation and one that true pet-lovers already know.
When my dog was made, they used leftover parts,
But somehow, when they fit them together
          like a big
             dog puzzle...
                ...they made a perfect dog.
(pg. 28-31)
Teaming Alison Hughes’ story up with the artwork of Ashley Spires, creator of award-winning characters such as Binky and Larf and Small Saul, is inspired.  Ashley Spires knows about creating love from bits and pieces and about that which makes a pet so lovable.  I’m sure that this little girl is not unlike Ashley Spires herself, trying things out, analyzing the best combination and finally coming up with perfection.

Spare Dog Parts emulates its message that it’s not the parts that are important but the whole, and the whole is full and finished and flawless.

April 04, 2016

Taking a Chance on Love

by Mary Razzell
Ronsdale Press
156 pp.
Ages 14+
February 2016

Taking a Chance on Love was still to become a jazz standard, having only been released a few years earlier in 1940, but it perfectly exemplies the summer of 1944 for seventeen-year-old Meg when boys and affairs of the heart seem to abound for her and everyone.

Though Meg is still quite innocent and naïve about her feelings towards boys, her best friend, Amy Miller, is anything but.  Amy is well aware of them, easily flirting with the wealthy Robert Pryce whose extramarital activities involve several married women, including Amy’s own mother, and setting her sights on any man who could give her a good life.  Meg notices a lot and sometimes knows enough to be wary but can’t always put the big picture together, unfortunately accused by Amy of being jealous  when she attempts to share those feelings.  With her own mother deeply entrenched in the staunch ideas of what being a woman entails i.e., not continuing one’s education but marrying instead, and her father and older brother Sam away at war, Meg has to navigate these treacherous waters as best she can.

From Doug Thompson, a soldier pen pal, to seventeen-year-old Glen Pryce, wealthy half-brother of Robert Pryce, and 22-year-old Bruce Hanson, the emotionally- and physically-scarred Navy son of her employer at Hanson’s Guest House, Meg has no shortage of young men who can help her learn how to handle how she feels.  Sadly, as with coming-of-age for all of us, Meg endures many sweet and bitter moments as she tries to uncover this.
It made me curious, excited, with strong, unexpected yearnings.  But I also felt uneasy, not really ready to know any more about this new world. (pg. 94)
Taking a Chance on Love may be rich in the landscape of 1940s British Columbia, with the war, TB, medical practices, the expectations for women, and the music and clothes, but it could be any teen girl’s story as she delves into first relationships with boys and tries to find herself while opening herself up to the possibilities of finding someone to love.  With some marriages falling apart and others forged because of war, Taking a Chance on Love takes place in a tenous and strengthening time.  It’s a time that is both sweet and enlightening, temporarilty transporting readers to an era when love wasn’t dependent on social media and digital technology but more on self-discovery and resolve.

January 25, 2016

Frozen Tides: Falling Kingdoms, Book 4

by Morgan Rhodes
413 pp.
Ages 12+
December 2015

Forget everything you’ve read in Books 1 through 3 of Morgan RhodesFalling Kingdoms series (Falling Kingdoms, 2012; Rebel Spring, 2013; Gathering Darkness, 2014) because Frozen Tides demonstrates that not everything is as it appears.  From the frozen, seemingly desolate landscape of Limeros to the projected demure contenances of Lucia and Amara (hah!), Morgan Rhodes takes the reader into worlds that seem ever-changing in spirit, motive and magic.  (And if you haven’t been fortunate enough to read the first three books, stop reading this review posthaste, and read Books 1-3 promptly.  This is one series that demands to be read from the beginning and in order.  You have been advised.)

When last we visited the land of Mytica, Princess Cleo–and just about everyone else too–was attempting to locate and reawaken the four crystals of the Kindred: amber for fire magic; moonstone for air; aquamarine for water; and obsidian for earth.  But the four Kindred have been found and ended up in different hands: Amara, daughter of Emperor Cortas of the Kraeshian Empire, has the aquamarine; Jonas, Paelsian rebel, has the obsidian; Felix, former ally of Jonas but assassin for King Gaius, has the moonstone; and Lucia, the budding sorceress who was brought up as King Gaius’ daughter and Magnus’ sister, has the amber.  But the possession of the Kindred is as fluid as the plot of Frozen Tides.

Lucia, betrayed by Alexis who was manipulated by Watcher Melenia, has released the fire god, Kyan, from his prison in the amber, and the two are on a pilgrimage to learn more about Lucia’s true family and to find a portal into the Sanctuary so that Kyan might assassinate Timotheus, the remaining Watcher, for imprisoning him.

Magnus, having disobeyed his father and saved Cleo from death, demands she and her friend Nic go into exile while he returns to his birthplace of Limeros and attempts to find Lucia and ultimately to claim the throne for himself. Cleo, with whom Magnus had shown uncharacteristic intimacy in words and actions, refuses, accompanying him to Limeros with Nic in tow.  Nic, still reeling from the murder of Prince Ashur, takes every opportunity to badmouth Magnus to Cleo who continues to need to remind herself how much she should hate Magnus and consider him her enemy.

Meanwhile, Felix has convinced himself he is a reprehensible young man and returns to the employ of King Gaius, giving up the moonstone and accompanying the King to Kraeshia to stem the occupation of Mytica by the Emperor and instead enter into a partnership. There Felix becomes involved with Amara who has her own agenda.

And, if that isn’t plot enough for you, Jonas who almost died while retrieving a Kindred is now focused on assassinating King Gaius, with fellow rebel Lysandra, his secret love-interest, and witch Olivia accompanying him.

There is so much pain and calamity overriding a frisson of romance, as character after character strives to possess the Kindred and the magic within while attempting to stem the tide of emotions that struggle to engulf them.  Felix sees himself as a lost cause yet will take the trouble to save a kitten.  Cleo keeps reminding herself that Magnus is her enemy and has destroyed her family and Auranian life, but continues to be drawn to him and what he truly is, not as he believes he is i.e., the evil son of the King of Blood.  And Lucia, wielding so much pain and power, seems willing to take down everyone and everything in her wake, but is appalled by Kyan’s ravages of land and people.  The tides of emotions and actions swell and recede in all of Morgan Rhodes’ characters and their inability to see these changes make them all the more poignant.

"You are in so deep you don’t even know you’re drowning," (pg. 189) Lucia is told by Timotheus who recognizes the extent of her pain better than she does.
You are filled with so much anger and pain and grief.  Yet instead of letting those emotions run through you and make you stronger, you choose to unleash them on the rest of the world so that others might feel your pain as well. (pg. 187)
As paradoxical as frozen tides, as a phenomenon, may be, so too are Morgan Rhodes’ characters who are both fragile and powerful.  But it is this irreconciliability that propels the plot of Frozen Tides.  And though I may be able to share the details of the plot of Frozen Tides with you, I can't come close to sharing the depth of Morgan Rhodes' writing.  Morgan Rhodes doesn't just tell a story.  She immerses the reader in worlds so rich in passions–good and ugly–that you begin to wonder how valid your own emotions and allegiances can be.  How can you hope for happiness for Cleo and Magnus when Magnus is the son of the King of Blood and seems to be following in his father's evil tread? What of Jonas and Cleo?  Should I wish for that sweetness again? And is there more to Lysandra and Lucia than previously revealed?  I don’t doubt that Morgan Rhodes knows exactly where she is taking readers as she plans to unleash those frozen tides of emotions and conflicts and take us to new worlds in Book 5 of her Falling Kingdoms series, set for a 2016 release date. In the mean while, read Frozen Tides very slowly, relishing every detail and nuance of plot, setting and character that make Morgan Rhodes' writing so prodigious.

October 26, 2015

#CanLitChoices: Alternatives to The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
Dutton Books for Young Readers
336 pp.
Ages 14-17
Rl lexile 850
RL 5.5

The Fault in Our Stars, winner of the Teen Book of the Year by the Children's Choice Book Awards and the basis for a critically-acclaimed film, is a favourite novel read by teens across Canada and the U.S. The story focuses on the romance between Hazel, a cancer patient, and Augustus, a teen who lost his leg to osteosarcoma, who meet at a support group and bond over books, falling in love.

Themes upon which teachers focus lessons include the following:

But we have a plethora of youngCanLit that can fill the same novel study bill and, of course, I would like to promote them here.  Each one of these deals with the same themes but in different ways and are all the better for the variety of storylines covered.

     †                    †                    †                    †                    †  

Before We Go
by Amy Bright
Red Deer Press
222 pp.
Ages 12+
Reviewed here

After visiting her dying grandmother in the hospital, Emily meets another teen Alex and his sister who too are dealing with death.

Crush. Candy. Corpse
by Sylvia McNicoll
219 pp.
Ages 12+
Reviewed here

While volunteering at a long-term care facility, Sunny meets Cole and his grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer's.

The Death of Us
by Alice Kuipers
HarperTrophy Canada
216 pp.
Ages 13+
Reviewed here

Callie's reunion with former friend Ivy brings a summer of boys and, sadly, death.

Dying to go Viral
by Sylvia McNicoll
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
251 pp.
Ages 12+
Reviewed here

Jade's death in a skateboarding accident brings her back for one week to try to make things right for all.

My Beating Teenage Heart
by C. K. Kelly Martin
Random House
288 pp.
Ages 13+
Reviewed here

Ashlyn tries to piece together why her body-less self is watching teen Breckon who is dealing with the death of his younger sister.

The World Without Us
by Robin Stevenson
Orca Book Publishers
226 pp.
Ages 12-16
Reviewed here

Though Jeremy and Melody make a pact to jump from a bridge, Melody chooses not to do so and is left behind to deal with that choice.

In each of the above books, the protagonist must deal with a death or imminent death of someone significant–a friend, a sibling, a grandparent, herself!–and must deal with that grief with someone to whom they are emotionally drawn. There is grief, romance, guilt and fear. What else does a book alternative to The Fault in Our Stars need? Absolutely nothing!

Leave comments if you have any other suggestions for The Fault in Our Stars alternatives or to select an age-old novel that needs refreshing with #CanLitChoices.

February 07, 2015

No-Matter-What Friend

by Kari-Lynn Winters
Illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Tradewind Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-6

How Kari-Lynn Winters is able to express the magnitude of a lifetime of friendship in a mere 24 lines, some of only one or two words, is beyond me.  But she does so with her choice of understated vocabulary and its affective quality.

When a boy interrupts his playing with his peers to stop and spend time with his old dog, he enjoys the fond memories of being with his no-matter-what friend.  The turquoise ball from toddler days continues to be an important part of their play, even once the boy is able to ride a bike, climb trees and ski. And still the dog–maybe a cross between a Great Pyrenees and a Newfoundlander–with the jowly face and thoughtful eyes stays by the boy's side.  But Bud is growing old while the boy is growing up, and the boy's beckoning of Bud to come and play must be amended to respect all that the two mean to each other still.  Sweetly, the boy knows how to be a no-matter-what friend to Bud as well.

I became enamoured with Pierre Pratt's unique art with Gustave (Simard, 2014) in which the heavily-inked illustrations helped impose the sombre tone of that picture book. However, in No-Matter-What FriendPierre Pratt's ink-outlined elements are softened by lines of diffuse edges and fill of warm colours that complement the friendly nature of the boy-dog relationship. Appropriately, the association of Kari-Lynn Winters' endearing text with Pierre Pratt's art depicts fully the wealth and breadth of the two characters' companionable love.

October 09, 2014

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book Three

by Catherine Egan
Coteau Books
978-1-55050-593-1 (pbk)
978-1-55050-594-8 (pdf)
312 pp.
Ages 9+
For release October 2014

When Catherine Egan began her high fantasy series The Last Days of Tian Di with Shade &Sorceress (Coteau, 2012), everything was new to twelve-year-old Eliza Tok: who: learns she is the Shang Sorceress, as were her mother and grandmother; discovers her Magic; clashes with the Nia, the entrapped Xia Sorceress; befriends Charlie, the shape-shifting Shade; and connects with Faeries, Mancers, Witches, Cra, Dragons,and other assorted characters.

Now turning 16, Eliza continues to study Magic with the Mancer Foss in the Great Sand Sea, the home of her father's people, the Sorma. After The Unmaking (Coteau, 2013), Eliza is loathe to have any part of the Mancers at the Citadel, most especially Kyreth whose aim has been to control her and her powers. Unfortunately, Kyreth has other plans, including sending fog-like assassins, the Thanatosi, to murder Charlie and force Eliza back to the Citadel, where he would orchestrate her marriage to a Mancer and ensure an heir, a new Shang Sorceress.

To keep Charlie safe (though he has now lost his ability to shape shift), Foss and Eliza take him and Nell to the Realm of the Faeries where Jalo, a Faery smitten with Nell, gives them sanctuary. Too bad Jalo's mother, Tariro, hates humans and is determined to murder Nell to keep her son away from her.

Foss and Eliza return to the Citadel, with Eliza ready to take on the war they've chosen with her.  Even with a new Supreme Mancer, Aysu, Eliza realizes that Kyreth is still at work.  Exploring, she discovers her grandmother and Kyreth's wife, Selva, alive but under a Curse. Granddaughter and grandmother help each other and Eliza is sent to gather the Four Gifts of the Ancients, the Gehemmis, one of which Selva had been stealing when cursed.

So begins Eliza's newest quest, to retrieve the four Gehemmis and learn of the Magic contained within, and to find her future, wherever or with whomever it may rest.

If Shade and Sorceress is all about newness, and The Unmaking looking deeper into those that appear to be good or evil, then Bone, Fog, Ash & Star is about loss.  It's about making choices that may cause pain to others or heartbreak to one's self, that may confuse or antagonize those who are your allies, and may result in turning one's back on the innocence and trust of youth.  While Eliza grows into herself as a Shang Sorceress, finally recognizing the Magic she can accomplish and the hard choices she must make, she has lost some of the wonder of her youth, the wonder that allowed her to share in new worlds wholeheartedly, regardless of the possible dangers.
"You don't remember the loss, not exactly, but you cling to those you love with such ferocity, you would die for them, because the memory of the first loss is buried within you, and it defines you." (pg. 240)
Nia may be pointing out Eliza's loss but others in Bone, Fog, Ash & Star will undergo similar experiences, ranging from small sacrifices and mishaps to life-altering ruin and the ultimate loss, death.  Nell, who'd been amazed at the grandeur of the Faery Realm's Illusions, begins to lose some of her wonder of the supernatural. Charlie, who loses that which defined him as a Shade, must find a way to reconcile that loss with what is left for him to be.  There's the Blind Enchanter who gave up his sight and song for seeing the Sparkling Deluder. And Rea, Eliza's mother, who gave up and still gives something important up to be with her husband.  Loss is the substance of life. It is only luck that keeps it at bay as long as possible. Or the pen of a true spellbinder, like Catherine Egan.

Though Catherine Egan does provide a short epilogue with a joyous scene to close The Last Days of Tian Di, the reader will also feel a great loss. It's inevitable. We've followed and cheered for Eliza, afraid for her goodness and choices, and longing for the love she feels to be realized.  After travelling alongside this young Shang Sorceress and woman through three epic volumes, we can only hope that her unwritten life is as prodigious as this written one has been.  For that, we can only thank Catherine Egan for the courtesy she has extended to us in sharing it.

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Check in tomorrow when CanLit for LittleCanadians welcomes author Catherine Egan for a guest post about villains titled, "Isn't he scary?  Isn't he beautiful?"

Now you have to read the whole series, don't you think?

March 10, 2013


by R. J. Anderson
Orchard Books
357 pp.
Ages 11-15

Every once in a while I decide to review a book that was published a few years ago just to bring attention to a worthwhile read that I may have missed.  In fact, I have enjoyed the first two books of R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels series, Spell Hunter (HarperCollins Canada, 2009) and Wayfarer (HarperCollins Canada, 2010), reading them when they were published, and had looked forward to a third book in the series.
However, the third book was never published in Canada, only in the United Kingdom, and its name follows the alternate titles for the books published in Great Britain.  Arrow is the title of this third book, following Knife (Orchard Books, 2009) and Rebel (Orchard Books, 2010).

So, now that I've tried to clarify that there were only two books in the series prior to Arrow, but with different titles depending on where they were published, I insist that you read them before this third book just because you'll not want to miss out on the superb story-telling and strong characterizations of the very different faeries and how they all come together in Arrow.  And in case you're convinced that faeries are for little girls, I might remind you of a mermaid prejudice I had that was completely unfounded. These faery books are not for little girls.  There is romance and treachery and bullying.  In Spell Hunter, there is talk of stealing children, a suicide attempt and a man using laudanum as a pain-killer.  Not your typical faery book.  What is typical of each of R. J. Anderson's books is the flavourful and robust language (e.g., "Great Gardener" is the faery expletive) and the intricate plots and subplots, chock full of connections and relationships, and secrets and revelations.  And I haven't even mentioned the humour.

Just for a little background, in Knife (a.k.a. Spell Hunter), a world of faeries live in the Oak, rarely leaving, for fear of death or losing their powers, except as dictated by their queen. Knife has become the Queen's hunter and freely leaves the Oak, reacquainting herself with a human young man, Paul. Together they learn the truth of the Sunderling, an event that cost the faeries their magic.

With the last vestiges of magic, fifteen-year-old faery, Linden, leaves the Oak in Rebel (a.k.a. Wayfarer), and with a human ally, Timothy, attempts to find other faeries and help the Oakenfolk recover their magic as well as ensure the people don't die off.  Together they bring back the Stone of Naming from the Green Isles, home of the Children of Rhys, to help protect them from the Empress, a self-appointed ruler who learns the true names of faeries to bind them to her forever.

Now the Oakenfolk, all female faeries under Queen Valerian, with Rob and the rebel faeries who escaped the Empress' control, and Garan and other Children of Rhys, who'd taken the Stone of Naming and left the Green Isles without permission, are preparing for an attack by the Empress. 

Back on the Green Isles, the Elders of the Children of Rhys are convinced that they have been cursed by the removal of the Stone of Naming, but are assured that they are not threatened by the Empress.  Rhosmari, formerly betrothed to Garan, is determined to retrieve the Stone of Naming.  Leaving the Green Isles through its secret portal, Rhosmari heads to the mainland and meets Martin, a faery who is trying to evade the Empress and her "enforcers", the Blackwings.  Having heard that the Empress has already attacked the Oak and burned it to the ground, Martin offers to work with Rhosmari to find Garan.

R. J. Anderson's newest faery rebel book plays on several keys themes, including trust vs. deceit, and freedom vs. bondage. While the power and control that the Empress seeks, at all costs, is the obvious example of bondage, Martin recognizes that the Children of Rhys have their own bondage.  Moreover the subjugation to which Rhosmari and others subconsciously relinquish control goes beyond these extraordinary constraints, often including the much more typical ones of guilt, remorse, survival, and love. The extent to which the individual chooses to accept or reject these restraints or even see them as such depends on the individual.  And the submission of one's trust to another, for their affections, or their loyalty or their admiration.

But if you're not looking for understanding or clarification with regards to these themes, and would still enjoy a fantastical romp, Arrow (after Knife and Rebel) provides an inviting portal into the faery realm.  But be forewarned:  Arrow's world of faeries has little in common with those in which faeries scatter sparkly dust and flit around granting wishes.  This one is immersed in politics, love, and allegiances - all the issues sure to cause heated discussions among humans and faeries alike.

November 19, 2011

Love is a Four-Letter Word

by Vikki VanSickle
Scholastic Canada
237 pp.
Ages 9-13
Clarissa, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in Words that Start with B (Scholastic Canada, 2010), continues to support her mom through her treatments, "Run for the Cure" training, and now budding relationship with her personal trainer, Doug.  But, except for her friendship with Benji, one that is experiencing its own ups and downs, Clarissa is naive about the role of love in different relationships.  

Always aspiring to be an actress, Clarissa envisions herself in a leading role in a local young people's theatre production of The Wizard of Oz, coercing Benji to accompany her to the auditions.  Unfortunately for Clarissa, she is not chosen but Benji is selected to play the Cowardly Lion.  So while tending to her bruised pride, Clarissa has to find a way to uphold her part in their intense friendship even though Benji is finding success and new friends without her.

Then, Mattie, a friend whose crushes seem to change weekly, makes Clarissa consider her feelings for boys, specifically Michael, a classmate who may like her.  Clarissa is unsure about her interest in Michael and learns through a series of missteps how careless comments can hurt.

Finally, Annie, Clarissa's mom, is finding love for the first time since Clarissa was born.  Before it was just Clarissa and her mom and her mom's hair salon, and Clarissa thought that had always been good enough.  But, Doug seems to be around a lot now, and Clarissa can't seem to balance her fears for her mother's health with her worries that she's losing her mom and that secrets are being kept.

VanSickle's writing gives her young characters, especially Clarissa, the clear and honest voices of youth, hopeful but laden with anxiety. Clarissa makes a lot of mistakes as she attempts to understand the different loves she sees and experiences, using trial-and-error to choose what she should be feeling or doing.  So, with some suitable direction from her supporting cast of youth and adults, plus a lot of apologizing, Clarissa seems to find a path that may work for her, at least for now.  After all, even if Clarissa doesn't know it yet, love can also be fickle (sorry, that's six letters).