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One week down, one week to go

29 Dec

One week of vacation is over. I have one week to go. The first was full of Christmas and ice that saw me stuck at home for a few days.

I am doing a massive reread and note-taking of the Sibert award nominees that we will discuss in Denver in February, when we will make our final decision. You can watch that live HERE, on February 12, 2018 – 8:00 AM MT.

Although I have been busy with Sibert reading, I have become obsessed with the Great British Baking Show and  managed a few other books. I was iced in for a few days, after all.

I finished Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

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Publisher’s Summary: August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

I had a good laugh at It’s Shoe Time by Bryan Collier.

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Publisher’s Summary: 

Today is the day.
It’s time choose.
Which shoes will be right?
Which shoes will be left?!
It’s Shoe Time!

This hilarious beginning-reader by multi award-winning artist Bryan Collier turns the closet on its heel and redefines what it means to be a pair.

 

 

 

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James.

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Publisher’s Summary: The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut

makes boys fly.

And, for young adults, I highly recommend A Short History of the Girl Next Door  by Jared Reck.

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Publisher’s Summary: Matt Wainwright is constantly sabotaged by the overdramatic movie director in his head. He can’t tell his best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her, he implodes on the JV basketball team, and the only place he feels normal is in Mr. Ellis’s English class, discussing the greatest fart scenes in literature and writing poems about pissed-off candy-cane lumberjacks.

If this were a movie, everything would work out perfectly. Tabby would discover that Matt’s madly in love with her, be overcome with emotion, and would fall into his arms. Maybe in the rain.

But that’s not how it works. Matt watches Tabby get swept away by senior basketball star and all-around great guy Liam Branson. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough, but screwing up and losing her as a friend is even worse.

After a tragic accident, Matt finds himself left on the sidelines, on the verge of spiraling out of control and losing everything that matters to him. From debut author Jared Reck comes a fiercely funny and heart-wrenching novel about love, longing, and what happens when life as you know it changes in an instant.

What have you been reading that you’d recommend?

 

 

 

 

 

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The magic of moonlight

17 Dec

I love this time of year – so dark, but lights everywhere and glittering trees in many windows. It all seemed so magical as a kid. As an adult, it warms my heart and makes me nostalgic.

Here is a lovely book that evoked the same feeling.

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Publisher’s Summary:  In this atmospheric story, a group of kids play hockey on a frozen lake by moonlight. At once nostalgic and timely, this is a gorgeous book that will speak to readers young and old.

I see London, I see France

14 Dec

In the third installment of his Blackthorn Key series, The Assassin’s Curse, author Kevin Sands moves the actions from England to the court of Louis XIV, in Paris.

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Publisher’s Summary: Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this third novel of the award-winning Blackthorn Key series.

Wherever Christopher Rowe goes, adventure—and murder—follows. Even a chance to meet King Charles ends in a brush with an assassin.

All that’s recovered from the killer is a coded message with an ominous sign-off: more attempts are coming. So when Christopher’s code-breaking discovers the attack’s true target, he and his friends are ordered to Paris to investigate a centuries-old curse on the French throne. And when they learn an ancient treasure is promised to any assassin who succeeds, they realize the entire royal family is at stake—as well as their own lives.

In the third heart-pounding installment of the award-winning Blackthorn Key series, Christopher, Tom, and Sally face new codes, puzzles, and traps as they race to find the hidden treasure before someone else is murdered.

Of the three, this is my least favorite, but I still enjoyed it. I think one of the problems was that I listened to the audio version, and the recitation of some of the code-breaking was tedious. I would rather have looked at it than listened to it. That said, there was all the action and mystery of the first two books. I like that we learned a little more about Sally, the Hermione to Christopher and Thomas’ Harry & Ron. The change of venue was interesting, too. The book was, once again, left open enough for a fourth book, If there is one, I hope they return to England, where I think they fit best.

Timely & powerful

9 Oct

Thanks to everyone who helped me complete the second grant for books for my Mock Newbery Club. This second grant will help me get titles that were published recently. One of those is Alan Gratz’s Refugee.

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It intertwines the stories of three refugees children.

From the author’s website:

Josef is a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world…

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America…

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe…

All three young people will go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers–from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But for each of them, there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, surprising connections will tie their stories together in the end.

This one will give middle grade readers insight into the refugee crisis they see in the news today, and how that connects to refugee crises of the past. We talk a lot about how reading creates empathy. This novel will soften the hearts of anyone interested in reading about global issues.

Chapters alternate between the three stories, and Gratz is a master of knowing just where to stop to keep you reading.

The Fall of Constantinople

31 Aug

It is inservice week and teachers are complaining. We want to work in our classrooms and get ready for Tuesday, not sit on backless cafeteria tables for three hours. I hit my low point today and made four trips to the bathroom because my brain and back had reached  their limits.

A teacher at my table was working on a unit about the Byzantine Empire, and I couldn’t help but get off topic to tell him about the portrayal of the Fall of Constantinople in Kiersten White’s Now I Rise,  the second book of The Conqueror’s Saga, about a female Impaler, who we know best as Dracula.

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Second books in trilogies can be tricky things. They are often disappointments because they are repetitive or feel like a place holder for the forward momentum that will come in the final book. Fortunately, Now I Rise does not suffer from second book syndrome. Readers who enjoyed  And I Darken,  will be captivated by the two narratives: Lada’s political aspirations in Wallachia, and Radu’s experiences in Constantinople before, during and after its fall.

Author’s Summary: Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

As a history buff, I loved the glossary, the  list of major and minor characters, and the author’s note. It helped me see what we know from history and where White got creative.

The final book in the trilogy is scheduled to come out in June 2018. I am sad that I will have to wait, but I am glad to have something to look forward to read in Summer 2018.

 

Not everyone’s cup of tea

23 Aug

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You are either going to love or hate The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. I loved it.

When I first started listening to the audiobook, I did not really like Monty in the first chapter. He seemed an arrogant and entitled dissolute young man. But there is a reason the title has vice before virtue. As the story unfolds, we see Monty’s transformation as he learns to look beyond himself and see the needs and experiences of others. And I grew to love him. I also loved the humor. The summary below uses the word “romp” and that is the perfect word for the grand tour and Monty, Percy, and Felicity reel from place to place and misadventure to misadventure.

Although she was a secondary character, I loved Felicity. She is getting her own book next year. According to Goodreads, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy is “narrated by Felicity and featuring travel, pirates, and a science girl gang”.

Christian Coulson’s narration is fabulous. The novel is written in the first person and Coulson captures Percy’s arrogance perfectly in addition to his confusion and transformation.

There is sexual activity and language, so this is a book for mature readers.

Publisher’s Summary:  A young bisexual British lord embarks on an unforgettable Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend/secret crush. An 18th-century romantic adventure for the modern age written by This Monstrous Thing author Mackenzi LeeSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets the 1700s.

Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

So Monty vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, dazzling, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is an irresistible romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.

Big Mothers

21 Aug

No, not the eclipse. I will write about that tomorrow.

Today is a tale of two books, each with a character named Big Mother, each written by a Canadian woman.

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The Big Mother of Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a singer in pre-revolutionary China is truly named Big Mother Knife. Not a main character, she is the mother and grandmother of two of the main characters, Sparrow and Ai Ming, Sparrow’s daughter.

Publisher’s Summary: Madeleine Thien’s new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations–those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humour, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise.
At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow’s ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer. Here, too, is Kai’s daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story.
With maturity and sophistication, humour and beauty, a huge heart and impressive understanding, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.

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The Big Mother of Claire Cameron’s The Last Neanderthal is the matriarch of a failing Neanderthal clan, and the mother of the main character, Girl.

Publisher’s Summary: Forty thousand years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate.

But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself.

In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women’s lives.

Haunting, suspenseful, and profoundly moving, THE LAST NEANDERTHAL asks us to reconsider all we think we know about what it means to be human.

These were probably the two best adult books I read this summer.

 

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