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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.

 

A Journey Through Hobohemia

4 Aug

One of my favorite French poems is “Ma Bohème” by Arthur Rimbaud. I had to do a presentation on it in a university french poetry class and it has always stayed close to my heart. As you can probably tell from the title, this poem is a fantasy of bohemian life, and very much romanticizes the freedom of roaming with no cares in the world.

Ceceil Castellucci’s middle grade graphic novel, Soupy Leaves Home,  tells the story of a young girl who flees her home during the Great Depression and becomes a hobo and learns about the freedom and burdens of her “bohème”.

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Publisher’s Summary: Set in 1932, this is the story of two misfits with no place to call home, who build a relationship during a train hopping journey from the cold heartbreak of their eastern homes toward the sunny promise of California.

Pearl “Soupy” Plankette ran away from her abusive father, but has nowhere to go until she stumbles upon a disguise that gives her the key to a new identity. Reborn as a boy named Soupy, she hitches her star to Remy “Ramshackle” Smith, a hobo who takes her under his wing. Ramshackle’s kindness and protection go a long way to help Soupy heal from her difficult past. But Ramshackle has his own demons to wrestle with, and he’ll need Soupy just as much as she needs him.

In case you;d like to read “Ma Bohème”, you can click here for the original French, and/or the English translation.

The families we make

17 Jul

I’ve been thinking about starting  Mock Newbery Club at my school next year. Rather than being a year-long club, it would begin in October and the students in the club would initially read off a list I suggest, but they would be free to add titles too.

One of the titles that will appear on that list is Beyond the Bright Sea  by Lauren Wolk, who wrote last year’s Newbery Honor book,  Wolf Hollow

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Publisher’s Summary

Each new bit of information Crow learns about her origins only raises more questions. But Crow is determined as she peels away the layers of mystery to get to the heart of the matter: love makes a family.

Calling all Hamilfans!

30 Jun

With the phenomenal  success of the musical Hamilton,  it was inevitable that we would see books about the eponymous hero.

I can make no comment on any of the nonfiction books, but I can tell you that I really enjoyed Melissa de la Cruz’s Alex and Eliza: A Love Story, which fictionalizes the story of how Alexander Hamilton met ad wooed Elizabeth Schuyler.

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From the  author’s website:  1777. Albany, New York.

As battle cries of the American Revolution echo in the distance, servants flutter about preparing for one of New York society’s biggest events: the Schuylers’ grand ball. Descended from two of the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelica, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival that of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball.

Still, she can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man. Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company. And when Alex and Eliza meet that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.

Hardcore Hamilton fans and fastidious historians might not appreciate this fictionalized account, but it is a great book that lets the reader escape the woes of the present for a while and see what it took to meet and marry your soulmate during the Revolutionary War.

More riveting than Rosie

8 Jun

I stayed up a little later than I should have last night. I just had to finish Silver Stars by Michael Grant, the second in his Front Lines  series.

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Goodreads Summary: The summer of 1943, World War II. The Germans have been bloodied, but Germany is very far from beaten. The North African campaign was only the beginning of the long journey for Frangie, Rainy, Rio, and the millions of other Allies.

Now the American army is moving on to their next target: the Italian island of Sicily. Frangie, Rainy, and Rio now know firsthand what each of them is willing to do to save herself—and the consequences. With their heavy memories of combat, they will find this operation to be even tougher.

Frangie, Rainy, and Rio also know what is at stake. The women are not heroes for fighting alongside their brothers—they are soldiers. But the millions of brave females fighting for their country have become a symbol in the fight for equality. In this war, endless blood has been spilled and millions of lives have been lost, but there could be so much more to gain.

The women won’t conquer Italy alone. But they will brave terrible conditions in an endless siege; they will fight to find themselves on the front lines of World War II; and they will come face-to-face with the brutality of war until they win or die.

I wrote about the first book, Front Linesback in May. I was riveted to the stories of these women, fighting in WW2.  Michael Grant manages to maintain the momentum of the story and my interest in the story of these three women. Sometimes the second book in a series can seem repetitive, or drag, but this one doesn’t. And, Grant’s characters are so well written, you can;t help but fall in love with them, warts and all.

Unfortunately, I have to wait until January 30, 2018 for book three, Purple Hearts, to find out how the war ends for Frangie, Rio and Rainy. Fortunately, Grant has written two digital novellas that accompany the series. Alas, my library doesn’t seem to have them…yet.

This week’s book talks 5/22-25

26 May

We began our Ancient China unit so, I pushed books with some connection to that topic.

I started the week with Grace Lin and ended with Faith Erin Hicks.

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Goodreads Summary: In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.

 

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Author’s Website: The moon is missing from the remote Village of Clear Sky, but only a young boy named Rendi seems to notice! Rendi has run away from home and is now working as a chore boy at the village inn. He can’t help but notice the village’s peculiar inhabitants and their problems-where has the innkeeper’s son gone? Why are Master Chao and Widow Yan always arguing? What is the crying sound Rendi keeps hearing? And how can crazy, old Mr. Shan not know if his pet is a toad or a rabbit?

But one day, a mysterious lady arrives at the Inn with the gift of storytelling, and slowly transforms the villagers and Rendi himself. As she tells more stories and the days pass in the Village of Clear Sky, Rendi begins to realize that perhaps it is his own story that holds the answers to all those questions.

Newbery Honor author Grace Lin brings readers another enthralling fantasy featuring her marvelous full-color illustrations. Starry River of the Sky is filled with Chinese folklore, fascinating characters, and exciting new adventures.

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Goodreads Summary: Pinmei’s gentle, loving grandmother always has the most exciting tales for her granddaughter and the other villagers. However, the peace is shattered one night when soldiers of the Emperor arrive and kidnap the storyteller.

Everyone knows that the Emperor wants something called the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Determined to have her grandmother returned, Pinmei embarks on a journey to find the Luminous Stone alongside her friend Yishan, a mysterious boy who seems to have his own secrets to hide.

Together, the two must face obstacles usually found only in legends to find the Luminous Stone and save Pinmei’s grandmother–before it’s too late.

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Goodreads Summary: An unlikely friendship forms between Nameless City native Rat, and Kai, whose country has recently conquered her city.  The two of them must find common ground between their cultures and foil a sinister conspiracy.  Hicks has created a beautiful and intricate world inspired by Central Asia and the Silk Road in which the besieged inhabitants of an ancient city are desperate to learn the secrets of the perished civilization which carved the city out of living rock.

 

 

 

 

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Goodreads Summary:Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.

To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he’s stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. . . . But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

Disappointed

23 Apr

With Jerry Spinelli’s name on the cover, I knew I would read The Warden’s Daughter. 

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Publisher’s Summary: Cammie O’Reilly lives at the Hancock County Prison–not as a prisoner, she’s the warden’s daughter. She spends the mornings hanging out with shoplifters and reformed arsonists in the women’s excercise yard, which gives Cammie a certain cache with her school friends.

But even though Cammie’s free to leave the prison, she’s still stuck. And sad, and really mad. Her mother died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. You wouldn’t think you could miss something you never had, but on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, the thing Cammie most wants is a mom. A prison might not be the best place to search for a mother, but Cammie is determined and she’s willing to work with what she’s got.

It took me a while to get into the story. Cammie is a hard character to like, but I was willing to give her a chance. She grew on me bit I never really got to the point that I loved this book. Part of it was Cammie, part of it was that I wasn’t willing to suspend my disbelief and accept that Cammie would have free run of the prison. I did that just fine with All Rise For The Honorable Perry T. Cook but found it hard to do so here. Maybe it was pacing. The Warden’s Daughter felt a bit draggy.

Jerry Spinelli books usually delight me, but this one just left me disappointed.Lots of other people liked this more than I did and the book has received several starred reviews. Give it a try, and see what you think.

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