Plenty of Books to Read

Plenty of books from Beth-Anne 

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

It was arguably the blockbuster novel of the summer and devoured by many hoping to satiate a whetted appetite for mystery, thanks to the smash-hit book turned Hollywood favourite Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.   In contrast, The Girl On The Train is easy, predictable reading but sometimes that’s just what a lazy day calls for. The mystery starts with Rachel, down-on-her luck and fragile as can be, with her days following a familiar pattern. Her daily ride on the commuter train takes her past the same junctions, the same scenery, the same homes and ultimately, the same people. Rachel becomes enthralled with a young couple she sees from her carriage and fantasizes about their lives. But then one day, the woman she calls Jess goes missing and an all-out manhunt is launched to find her. Rachel believes that she knows what’s happened to her, but how can the police trust this woman? As I was reading, I couldn’t help but imagine my favourite British duo cast as leads, Kate Winslet as Rachel and Jude Law as Tom. If you’ve read the book, what do you make of my casting ?

They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

Toronto-based author Plum Johnson wrote this tender memoir in the years following her mother’s death. Her parents met and fell in love during the Second World War. Her orphaned, British father was a decorated solider and her mother, a passionate Southern belle with an opinion about everything. After years of living in the far East in the late 1940s, they came to settle in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario. There they raised their four children in a twenty-three room home, accurately name Point O’View, that for decades served as the backdrop to numerous dances and arguments, love stories and heart aches and the occasional tantrum. Plum is now tasked with sorting through the family’s antiques and tchotchkes, but each treasure reveals more than a memory; it brings closure and understanding to a mother-daughter relationship that for years was strained and fragile.

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

Tenements of New York City, shirtwaists, turn-of-the-century immigrants, two stories -past and present – woven together . . .this book is right up my alley and I anticipated reading it for weeks; waiting for just the right time to sink into it. But I was disappointed by the syrupy dialogue and poorly developed characters. I found myself skimming over the pages just to reach the end.

Plenty of books from Nathalie

In the Woods by Tana French

The Likeness by Tana French

Faithful Place by Tana French

Broken Harbour by Tana French

The Secret Place by Tana French

 

Plenty of books from Carol

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

To purchase these books please visit Indigo, by doing so we receive a small compensation (a few cents per book) to help keep Plenty on-line. Thank you for your support!

There are Plenty more books we recommend: click May 2015 and November 2014 and November 2012. 

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What We’re Reading Kids

How is the kids’ summer reading going?  Any good books to recommend?  Here are some of the books we’ve been loving so far this summer.

From Nathalie

untitledThe Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

Oh, how I do love Kate Beaton!  Her humour is acerbic and wry and her Hark! A Vagrant is a brilliant revisionary romp through history (and definitely for adults).  I was thrilled to hear she had a children’s book out, and it does not disappoint.  The Princess and the Pony not only undermines the usual princess in distress story format, it also undermines our ideas of what strong female characters have to do or be. You can download colouring sheets and cool stuff here.

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

sidewalkFor a more quiet read, Sidewalk Flowers is a beautiful wordless picture book that follows a girl and her dad on their walk through the city.  I love that JonArno Lawson is the author of a wordless picture book!  There is so much to talk about with your child when you look through this book, and you will see that the author has done a great job of setting scenes that invite discussion and speculation.  Watch for how the use of colour changes, too, as you make your way through the book.

From Carol

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

sylvesterHow I love William Steig! And how surprised I was when browsing in the library that I had not yet read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.  Steig is so effortlessly masterful in this story, as the reader sinks deep with its suffering and flies high with its rejoicing.  His illustrations are perfect too – 1970 Caldecott winner – it’s all deceptively simple and utterly captivating for readers of all ages. Every time I see the last page, I fall in love with it anew.

Peter in Blueberry Land by Elsa Beskow

peterIn predictable summer fashion, we don’t get to the library as often as we usually do, and have found ourselves enjoying old favourites from our own shelves. Elsa Beskow’s books are gentle and dreamy, with an understated by ever present reverence for nature.  Peter in Blueberry Land gets pulled out often, but the truth is we love and read them all: The Sun EggThe Land of Long Ago, Children of the Forest, Christopher’s Harvest Time and many more.  These books are hard to find in libraries, but we’ve acquired them ourselves and through birthday presents, and I’ve never regretted it.  A hundred years after writing these gems, Beskow is as enchanting as ever.

From Beth-Anne

Who is Jackie Robinson? By Gail Herman

jackieThis popular series of biographies are a hit with my kids. My eldest is a baseball fanatic and read this book cover to cover without much coaxing. He’s a reluctant reader, and prefers non-fictionto stories and this book, plentiful with stats and pictures made for a perfect fit. He read this book aloud and the content, namely the Civil Rights Movement, sparked many discussions. What I enjoy about biographies, is the ready opportunity to source more information. To follow-up I found several videos on-line about Jackie Robinson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other key historical figures that were part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Kung Pow Chicken by Cindi Marko

kungMy middle son devours books. He reads in his bed every night long after I have insisted he turn out his light. I will admit to enjoying hearing his laughter echo through the quiet house while he ploughed through Kung Pow Chicken by Cindi Marko. Gordon Blue is not an ordinary chicken. He’s been transformed into a superhero and along with his sidekick he fights crime in the exotic city of Fowldelphia. The witty text, captivating storyline and humorous illustrations are a winning trifecta, so it comes as no surprise that this book won the Silver Birch Express Award for 2015.

 

 

alienYour Alien by Tammi Sauer, illustrations by Goro Fujita

This beautifully illustrated story about a little boy befriending a lost alien tugs at the heartstrings and reminds us that everyone, in the entire universe, needs to feel loved. Sauer engages even the earliest of readers with her little alien’s signature phrase Meep! Oog! and Fujita’s illustrations, crafted to convey earnest emotion, do just that.   In fact, my littlest boy told me that he knows the little alien is sad just by looking at his eyes . . .even if he doesn’t listen to the story. High praise from a 4 year old!

Max The Brave by Ed Vere

maxThis humorous story about a fearless kitten that is on mouse hunt . . .and that mouse hunt turns out to be quite the adventure! Ed Vere’s light-hearted story makes for great entertainment but there’s also the underlying message of self-acceptance. This is the kind of story that appeals to kids long after they (think) they’ve outgrown the picture book stage (does this ever happen?). I read this story with my 5 and 7 year-olds and judging by the laughs they enjoyed it immensely.   Here’s a trailer, guaranteed to excite your little one.

What We’re Reading: Kids’ Edition

From Beth-Anne

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Recipe for Adventure Hong Kong by Giada De Laurentiis

Continuing along with this series, my eldest chose this book for his Cereal Box Book Report. The story followed the same pattern of siblings, Alfie and Emilia, being magically transported to another country to learn about its food and culture. I am amazed by how much my son does learn about other cultures from these books, and it’s mostly from the conversations that occur after he’s closed the cover. To honour our ritual we will be dining in an authentic Chinese restaurant. After reading Naples, we indulged with pizza at Libretto, Mother’s Day was extra special by enjoying a fancy schmancy Parisian dinner here and I still owe him a New Orleans dining experience. Any Torontonians, I welcome your suggestions for both New Orleans and Chinese!

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Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate Di Camillo

My middle son thoroughly enjoyed the entire Mercy Watson series and is delighted that the adventures continue with Leroy Ninker’s charming spin-off. Di Camillo is a favourite author in these parts, and judging by the snickers that I hear coming from his room and how excitedly he retells the chapters to me, she doesn’t disappoint with this book either!

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Knuffle Bunny Trilogy by Mo Willems

My youngest has fallen for Knuffle Bunny just as his older brothers before him. Can I just say, I love these books? My youngest has a strong attachment to his “Georgy” and this trilogy from Mo Willems serves as the perfect books to engage his critical thinking. I like to ask him questions that encourage him to make connections to the text (the classic: relate and reflect) and to infer what’s going to happen next.   But put all of that learning aside, these books are just so much fun! The illustrations using a combination of photography and drawing could be great inspiration for a summer writing project for older kids. Now that I think of it . . .

From Nathalie

Like Beth-Anne, we love all of Mo Willems’s books in this house, especially the learn-to-read Elephant and Piggie books.

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I am of the opinion that Mo Willems should rule the world, but children’s author world dominion dreams aside, I am all about imaginary wish fulfillment.

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Enter The Candy Conspiracy by Carrie Snyder, who has been our guest on the blog and whose books for adults we have loved.  Carrie has invented a world made of candy, with lollipop trees and a cupcake castle.  So far, so sweet, but the Juicy Jelly Worm who resides in the castle does not like to share, and all the kids in Candyville can only stand and watch while their monarch gobbles all the goodies himself.  Candy-craving kids get clever (and alliteration gets contagious, apparently!), and candy-flavoured democracy will have its day.

For middle grade readers, Middlest and his friends are loving the Big Nate books by Lincoln Pierce.  Told in comic strip style, they feature hapless and endearing Nate, who finds himself in trouble again and again.  And the boys have read and reread these books again and again.  One added bonus of my son and his best friend reading these books is that they’ve also gone back to the classic Calvin and Hobbes, which does a mother’s heart good to see.

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Finally, for young adults, I recently read Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra.

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The protagonist of this novel is Leonora Summerville, a bright spark, a beauty, an heiress and a thorn in her older sister’s side because Leo may prove difficult to marry off.  A speech disorder causes her to stutter, but it also allows her to imitate other people’s voices with eerie precision, earning her the moniker Mad Miss Mimic.  Set in 19th century London, where opium fever is raging, the book is full of period detail.  Medical and political intrigue abound, as her brother-in-law’s medical use of opium and her suitor’s political ambitions come under threat from the bombing campaign of the mysterious Black Glove Gang, who oppose the government’s proposed ban on the importation of opium.  Add two handsome and charismatic young men who vie for Leo’s attention and affection, and you have the ingredients for a ripping good yarn.  I read it in a single sitting.  Sarah and I were in graduate school at the University of Toronto together, and she is now a professor of English literature at Ryerson University.  Mad Miss Mimic is her first novel, and what an outing it is!

From Carol

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In The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson, Prince Raphael will inherit the kingdom from his dying father provided he can find a woman equal to him in beauty, intelligence and wealth.  This proves rather tricky, since Raphael is an arrogant and conceited fellow.  The story of how Rosamund overcomes Raphael’s vanity and prejudices is at once magical, clever and lyrical.  Nathalie will be horrified, but I didn’t register the author of the book before reading it, although the writing soon prompted me to check.  Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, had my boys were riveted. We read so many books, and I love the exposures to so many adventures, but I recognized immediately the quality of writing in this book, and my children’s response to it revealed that they did too.

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Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham also made an impression on my boys. When Tashi’s mother becomes too sick to pick tea leaves in the Himalayan mountains with the other workers, Tashi tries to go in her place. Too small for the task, and frightened for her mother’s health, she finds aid from unlikely friends, who gather for her the rarest of teas in the world. The plight of the working poor, heightened by the nasty Overseer, is depicted effectively enough that it’s unsettling that only Tashi and her mother’s dependence on the work of picking tea are alleviated at the story’s end. Beautifully illustrated by Juan Wijngaard.
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One of the things I deeply envy about my husband is a large cardboard box in the basement which holds the best reads from his childhood. He wanders down there when he’s looking for a new novel for the kids, and emerged one night with Witches by Roald Dahl.  Shortly after he read it to my boys, my eldest (who just turned 9) asked me to read it again.
A young boy (the nameless narrator) and his grandmother (his parents die early on) first try to avoid and then are forced into the world of “real witches”, who are cleverly disguised as ordinary women.  After personally and irreversibly experiencing what the witches are planning to unleash on children in England, the narrator must try to stop them.
It was such a fun read, with perfect illustrations by Quentin Blake, and is poignant without sentimentality. I loved the matter-of-fact mutual adoration and interdependence of the narrator and his grandmother. The adventure and fantasy are wonderful, but the understated love between this unlikely pair resonates at least as much.

If you buy any of these books from Indigo, we will get a teeny tiny percentage of the sale.  If you buy any of these or other kids and teen books in-store between June 5-7, you will get 10 times the plum points.

What We’re Reading

From Beth-Anne

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The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The first book I read by Anita Diamant was The Red Tent. I finished it in a few days and spent the next year touting its greatness to everyone who asked for a book a recommendation, and many who did not. When I read on the book blogs that her newest release, Boston Girl, was available I downloaded it to my Kobo to read while on our beach vacation. The Boston Girl is the story of Addie Baum, daughter of Jewish immigrants. Addie’s granddaughter, a Harvard student, interviews her about her life. Addie reflects on her early days set during a tumultuous period of change and rapid development for the United States. Her girlhood stories reveal the inner struggles she experienced while desperately seeking out her American dream but remaining tethered to her traditional, Jewish family. The pages turn quickly on this uplifting tale of feminism, family and history – worth the read this summer!

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Between Gods by Alison Pick

Alison Pick grew up going to church, attending Sunday school and singing “Silent Night” at the Christmas service. She had no idea of her Jewish roots – a carefully guarded family secret. Her paternal grandparents narrowly escaped the Holocaust, and upon arriving in Canada made the decision to live as Christians. When researching for her Man-Booker nominated novel (one of my favourites) Far to Go, she felt an undeniable pull to her Jewish roots. The feeling was so intense that Pick set out to convert – not at all easy despite having a Jewish father. The author is brave. She bares all and doesn’t shy from portraying herself honestly. She’s open about her nagging depression and the conflicting feelings that she has about her faith (faiths?). She wrestles with this overwhelming desire for Judiasm while being deeply committed to her non-Jewish fiancée but understanding how unaccepted interfaith marriages are during the conversion process. This memoir took a while for me to connect with but it did. The way Alison becomes almost obsessive about her family’s history is something I can relate to. Alison agonizes over the final days of her great-grandmother in Auschwitz, and the lives that could have been. I find myself thinking about my own could-haves and while my family’s history is not anything close to this horrific; I can understand her longing to know. Her connection to her ancestors is primal. It’s been a long time since I dreamt about a book, and a few nights ago I awoke drenched with sweat and a racing heart. Her story has stuck.

From Nathalie

You guys, I totally binged on a mystery series this month!  I read and loved SIX of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway murder mysteries.  Ruth Galloway is a forensic anthropologist and she is one of the detecting protagonists I have loved most in a series.  She is independent, down to earth, imperfect, clever and strong-willed.  While reading the series I realized how much I really had been craving mysteries with strong female characters.  I did something I never do, and I began in the middle of the series.  This was a mistake because it gives away a big part of the plot that develops from book to book.  So begin at the beginning with The Crossing Places, and enjoy the ride!  The best news, the latest in the series is published this month.

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I have a soft spot for the trend in publishing in which a famous author is matched to a classic and updates and rewrites it for the present day.  Val McDermid’s rewriting of Northanger Abbey is especially brilliant.  She updates Jane Austen’s hilarious tale of a young woman too much influenced by gothic fiction, and she makes the heroine a devotee of vampire lit.  I am a sucker (!) for this kind of thing, always hoping to find in fan fiction something that approximates the joy that the original book gives me.  Northanger Abbey is my favourite of Austen’s novels, not surprisingly, because it is a book about books, and McDermid embraces the metafictional and intertextual aspect of the project wholeheartedly.  The book positively fizzes with it.  It’s hilarious, timely, and pitch-perfect.  (You can read my longer review of it here.)

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My latest foray into Austen re-writes is Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, which was enjoyable but did not knock my socks off.  Emma is, admittedly, a much harder update to pull off.  There is the problem of the governess, for one, and McCall Smith decides to preserve the role in the update.  I don’t know how things are in your neck of the woods, but governesses are not thick on the ground in these parts.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book for its homage to Austen and for its wit.

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From Carol

I’m in the middle of a mindful meditation course and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn is basically the textbook.  Kabat-Zinn is a leader in the field, and this big book covers all aspects of the benefits and processes of mindful meditation.  Told in Kabat-Zinn’s careful, gentle and repetitive way, the narrative voice parallels the practice of meditation itself.

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After reading this review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, a Japanese de-clutter consultant, I knew I had to read it (the review describes Kondo as a fairy dominatrix in a prim little pink suit).  I’m in the midst of trying to get our house in some real order, and Kondo seemed like the woman to help.  She has committed her life to de-cluttering and organizing and has some basic steadfast rules.  First, you must discard (or recycle) first, before any attempts are made at re-organizing.  Second, you must hold every item you own and ask yourself whether it “sparks joy”.  If the answer is no, or hesitation, the item should go.  (She is ruthless about this, by the way.)  She also advises that tidying and de-cluttering should be done categorically and specifies that order (you start with clothes, which are easiest, and end with mementos, which are hardest).  There are many other suggestions, and I did in fact purge and re-organize my clothing using this method.  Perhaps because I had fewer items to start with, or because I am quite loyal to the things I like over time, I did not purge a third to two-thirds of my things as her clients routinely do.  I did rid myself of three bags of clothing though, and have a clean and spacious closet and dresser (using her upright folding technique to boot).  It’s tidy, and I feel better.  She doesn’t have that much advice for parents, clearly identifying more with the tidy hearts of children who still live with parents, but there’s still good solid value in this fun, internationally best-selling little book.

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What We’re Reading Kids

Here are our recommendations for some great reads over the March Break and beyond.

From Beth-Anne

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Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book by Mo Willems

My middle son received this book as a Christmas gift, and hasn’t put it down since. Every night I hear him giggling in his room reading the latest funnies that this Pigeon is up to, and in the morning he emerges from his bunk-bed fort with a newly completed activity. If you have a Mo Willems fan on your hands, this is a sure-fire best bet. I can’t help but think if you’re about to jet off somewhere this book would make for a welcome addition to the carry-on.

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This is the Greatest Place: The Forbidden City and the World of Small Animals by Brian Tse, Illustrated by Alice Mak, Translated by Ben Wang

This beautifully illustrated book teaches children about ancient Chinese culture and customs. Through a series of adventures, the children learn about how delicate the balance is between humanity, animals and nature. If a trip to China is not anywhere in your near future, this book is the next best thing.

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I Love You Near and Far by Marjorie Blain Parker, Illustrated by Jed Henry

Sometimes, the people we love the most are not an arm’s length away. I often think of friends whose families are separated by an ocean
and I wonder if I would ever have the fortitude to parent my boys while my husband is on a months long military mission, like my good friend. That’s what makes I Love You Near and Far such a special book, it reminds us that cousins, uncles, aunts, friends, grandparents and even moms and dads can love each other regardless of where they call home.

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The Possible Police by Wylde Scott, Illustrations by Hannah K. Shuping

Along the lines of The Little Engine That Could, The Possible Police encourages children to be true to themselves and follow their dreams regardless of the naysayers. The rhyme is catchy and the text flowery but it’s the whimsical illustrations that are simply captivating.

imgres-5Recipe for Adventure: Paris! by Giada De Laurentiis

My oldest one is a bit of a reluctant reader when it comes to fiction. Give him a sports magazine or a baseball stats book and he’s set, but ask him to choose a novel to read, and that’s when the excuses start. He had some success with the Canadian Flyer series (a Canadian spin on the popular Magic Treehouse series), Jake Maddox and his sports tales are a favourite and now we can officially add celebrity chef turned children’s author Giada De Laurentiis’s Recipe for Adventure series to the “approved” list. With the first adventure to Naples behind him, he’s moved on to Paris. The stories are engaging and light-hearted without any of the silliness that I loathe to find in books marketed to emerging readers. Emilia and Alfie are in the City of Lights and have discovered pain au chocolat, crepes and escargot. My son is adventurous when it comes to food and I’ve made him a deal to follow up each book with a cooking session (recipes are included) and a date night at an aptly themed restaurant.

From Nathalie

Charlie’s Dirt Day

written by Andrew Larsen

illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli

See You Next Year

written by Andrew Larsen

illustrated by Todd Stewart

Two new picture books from Andrew Larsen should top your March Break reading list: Charlies’s Dirt Day is a perfect springtime read, and if you spend any part of this break planning the summer break, the wonderful See You Next Year will remind you of all that there is to look forward to with a summer escape.

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Charlie’s Dirt Day begins with an informal parade, a parade to a massive pile of dirt that the mayor is giving away.  (Do you have a city councillor or local official who does this?  I love our annual neighbourhood dirt days!  Everyone rolls up to fill a bucket or a barrow to nourish their young gardens with free compost from the city.)  Charlie is given his very own seed to grow, and he and his neighbour turn the tomatoes that he grows into a delicious spaghetti sauce.  This is a wonderful read-aloud, as the rhythm of the story carries you along trippety trip tripping with Charlie to the park and then back home to await the magic borne of sun and water and care.  The book ends with a two-page spread of science about dirt and compost, city gardens grown on balconies and community gardens that let city-dwellers grow their own food.  Pair this book with an outing to Canada Blooms, and your littlest gardeners will be raring to go.

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See You Next Year is all about the joy of summer holidays and their predictable routines and rituals.  It’s got a lovely lyrical quality to it, and there’s a comforting and wistful tone to the narrator’s recounting of her annual summer holidays at the beach.  Each year, she returns to the same motel by the beach, and she delights in recounting all of the sights and sounds of the summer season.  The illustrations are stunning, and Todd Stewart’s particular gift is with light: the light of a bonfire, of the bandstand, of the setting city sun.  If you are aching for the summer season, this is a great book to bring it just that wee bit closer.

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For middle grade readers, Middlest is on his second reading of the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins, who later wrote The Hunger Games.  There are five books in the series that features a boy from New York who discovers an entire civilization deep underground.  The Underlanders, in turn, discover that he is the key to many of the prophesies their founder made, and Gregor finds himself in peril and adventure at every turn.  The action is very fast-paced, and each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, which makes it very hard to put down the book and has kept my boy up way, way past bedtime on many a night.  These books are not for the faint of heart, as there is a fair amount of gore and a lot of suspense.  But if your middle grade reader is looking for a truly addictive read, we recommend these highly.

What We’re Reading: February 2015

From Beth-Anne

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Elfrieda and Yolandi, two misfit sisters from an ultra-conservative Mennonite town outside of Winnipeg are at the centre of this critically acclaimed novel by Canadian writer, Miriam Toews.   At 17 years old, Elfrieda travels to Europe to pursue her dream of becoming a concert pianist. A protective, Italian agent that opens a world of opportunity, fame and culture embraces her. She spends decades travelling the world, playing the piano with such affection and magnetism that she ensnares the hearts of men and women alike. Her author-sister Yoli, transplanted to Toronto via two husbands and two children, flies home to Winnipeg to be at her sister’s side after Elf’s latest suicide attempt. Toews explores the complexities of suicide, depression, and relationships and the gamut of emotions that entangle when Elf begs Yoli to help her die. The writing feels anything by contrived, and the widely fluctuating feelings that Yoli expresses cut deep. Toews has been honest that writing this book proved to be cathartic in helping her to heal following the suicides of her father and sister.

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I was ready for some levity following the intensity of All My Puny Sorrows and it came in the form of Professor Don Tillman. Don utilizes his keen scientific prowess to develop a survey to effectively weed-out unsuitable potential wives through a series of charming dating scenarios. Did I mention that he has Asperger’s? Eventually, Don does find his ideal wife in Rosie and together they move to New York (book 2) but all goes predictably haywire when Rosie finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. The plot is expected and the characters fairly flat but sometimes a laugh and an escape is all you’re after. If that’s the case, these books do the trick nicely.

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I enjoy reading autobiographies and often find myself gleaning inspiration from those who’ve achieved their hard-won accomplishments. After a string of politicians, I have returned to the entertainment industry with Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Sophia Loren is incredibly humble recounting her glamorous life. She begins by describing the atrocities she witnessed as a child growing-up in war-torn Italy and moves on to describe her ascent to fame and fortune as a leading lady of Italian cinema and eventually Hollywood. Throughout her recollections she is quick to acknowledge the team of talented individuals supporting her successful career and handful of loyal, passionate friends and family members who helped her to climb the ranks of the Hollywood elite. Despite opportunities to salaciously gossip about golden age celebrities, Loren chooses to be gracious and kind. Maybe her contemporary “Ms. Lollo” could take a lesson or two.

From Nathalie

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A Double Sorrow by Lavinia Greenlaw

I read this one twice.  A Double Sorrow is Greenlaw’s retelling of Chaucer’s Troilus & Criseyde.  It’s hauntingly beautiful, and the images from her poems lingered with me long after I had finished it.  Of Criseyde, she writes, “She leads a winter life.”  So stark, so rich in its brevity.  Her Troilus is less in love with Criseyde than he is with the idea of the stories that will be told of his love for her; he’s after fame.

If he ever fears he might not win her

He falls into some inward place of trees

Refusing any path that does not make of itself

The right answer.  Hope will emerge

Like a gentle green creature drawn from green shadows

To steady his gaze.

A fawn, soft in the wild,

Followed only by more of its kind.

After I had read the book, I wanted to read Chaucer’s original.  It was late on a Saturday night, and I asked my husband to stop at the bookstore on our way home from dinner out.  I climbed back into the car and laughed that I never, in all my life, would have expected to be doing a late night run for Chaucer.  He looked at me and said, “Oh, honey.  It’s really not as much of a stretch as you might think.”  Well, I still haven’t finished Chaucer’s telling, having grown very quickly irritated with all of the endless drama of courtly love.  Greenlaw’s telling, though, had me wanting so much more.

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As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust
by Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce is one of my all-time favourite characters.  She’s a sleuthing eleven year old, and she solves many of her cases with chemistry, at which she is extremely talented.  Precocious, fearless, grounded and not a little naive, she’s thoroughly endearing.  This installment of her sleuthing adventures brings her to Canada, which added a wonderful touch to these very Anglophilic country house murders.  If you have not yet met Flavia, begin at the beginning (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) and revel in the joy to come!  There are eight books in the series, and I have loved every one.

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The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science

This beautiful book is published by Chronicle, and the idea was to pair an illustrator with a scientific question, and to enrich information with illustration.  I really loved the combination of quick hits of science paired with illustrations that brought out aspects of the topic that the words did not always touch upon, and found myself making note of all kinds of trivia:

  • Humans have more in common with ants than with any other species (division of labour, roles in society, high level of social dependency).
  • The size of a squirrel’s brain increases during caching season.
  • The number of “dees” in a chickadee’s call describes the size of a predator.
  • Scientists recently discovered a spore that was about 250 million years old within a salt crystal; the bacterium was revived.  Immortality is theoretically possible.
  • Fingerprints help us grip wet things, which is why our fingers shrivel and make deeper channels when they are soaked in water.
  • Yawning is only contagious in humans capable of empathy; contagious yawning is not observed in children under five.
  • When we are deprived of sleep, proteins begin to lose their structural integrity, and they unfold, building up in the cells and becoming toxic.  You can die from sleep deprivation because you are essentially being poisoned.  During sleep, special “cleanup molecules” (their imprecise words, not mine!) help to reverse the unfolded protein response.
  • The DNA in our cells does not age.  The human species has maximized its chances to pass on traits, but only as a species, not as individuals.  Individual aging is irrelevant to the continuation of our species.

From Carol 

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I can be a bit of a sucker when it comes to self-help books, but The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyurbomirsky does boast a difference:  this book is written by a research psychologist and professor who takes a scientific approach in analyzing data on what makes people happy.  The result is a research-based understanding of what happiness is, and what practices help us achieve it.  Lyurbomirsky asserts that if happiness were a pie, 50% of it is determined by a genetic set-point (some of us are born perkier than others), 10% is influenced by circumstance (rich or poor, healthy or ill), and a whopping 40% is based on our intentional activities, ie. within our control!.  How so?  Based on her research, she identifies the various ways in which people have increased their happiness – ranging from living in the present, to practicing gratitude and positive thinking, to investing in social relationships, to committing to your goals, and much more.  She also provides readers with guidance on how to choose which of these practices to pursue themselves for the greatest happiness impact.  I recognize myself in some of these practices, and feel inspired by others, and am thoroughly enjoying this read.

Bedtime Stories: Glorious for all of 2 minutes . . .and then the fighting starts.

learning-422692__180I remember being pregnant with my first son. I was sure of a lot of things. I was sure that I would never let him sleep in my bed, bribe him to be on his best behaviour or lose my cool during a temper tantrum.

I was also steadfast in my belief that I would read to my children every night. I had visions of us curled on the bed, propped up with pillows and covered in a fluffy duvet. The boys would lull off to sleep with visions of Peter, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook as I would sneak out of the room and head downstairs, settle into my favourite chair with a cup of hot chocolate and my novel of the moment.

And since then I have eaten more than my fair share of humble pie while buying another package of Sponge Bob Band-Aids just to escape the drugstore with a few less tears.

I was pregnant with my second son when my first son turned 6 months old. I battled through first trimester exhaustion all while getting up at least once a night to feed. The bedtime ritual was simple: try to stay awake long enough to put the baby down in his crib.

My second son was a screamer. He cried all day long but really turned it on between 7 and 9 in the evening. Every night he would bawl; his face mottled and his voice hoarse. We tried everything that every book, website and expert recommended. Eventually we resorted to laying him in his crib and blasting Andrea Bocelli from a disc player. These were desperate times. As baby #2 grew hysterical, baby #1 was cranky, tired, and pulling at my leg. The bedtime ritual wasn’t so simple: bath, change, bottle and bed all with one hand, and wailing in my ear.

Eventually the crying stopped, I developed a bad case of amnesia and got pregnant for a third time, with my third son.

Baby #1 was now three years old (and still waking up in the night), Baby #2 was 2 years old (and had mercifully reserved his crying periods to other times of the day) and I would start counting down to bedtime around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, compulsively checking the time. By 7:30 the bedtime ritual began: I would push them into bed with a kiss on the cheek, only to collapse onto the couch with a sigh. I had made it through another day.

I know the benefits of reading to children. And I do. But not at bedtime. None of us do well at the end of the day. When I try to read a bedtime story everything is glorious for all of about 2 minutes and then it starts: jockeying for position closest to me, complaints over the story choice, whining over whose turn it is to choose the book, someone’s breathing on someone, someone’s touching someone, someone’s foot is fidgeting. Nerves are shot, tensions are high and the tears start.

Instead we read on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for swimming lessons to start or the doctor to call our name. I keep the novel, currently Stuart Little, in my over-sized purse (also something I was never going to do as mom) to pull out at those ordinary times transforming them into those special, unplanned moments that really make up motherhood.

What We’re Reading

From Beth-Anne

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Everything’s Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford

It’s true, right? Everything is perfect when you lie. Or post to Facebook. Kelly Oxford and I are of the same vintage, both of us grew up in suburbia, and both of us now have little kids. She’s a tad inappropriate and her humor may be offensive to some and me, well, I kinda like that. Probably because that’s the not like me at all. I laughed at Kelly’s stories from childhood, and cringed at times when she gave TMI but what’s appealing is that she’s honest. She lays it out for everyone to dissect, criticize and judge and that takes a lot of chutzpah. More than I will ever have.

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This novel originally published in 1943 has cemented a spot on my “favourite books of all-time” list. It’s got everything that tickles my fancy: it’s set in the early 1900s in the tenements of New York City, the idea of the American Dream is alive and well, a story about coming of age, the characters are flawed but loveable, the family is both dysfunctional and relatable at the same time, and the writing is descriptive but not overly so – just enough to keep that “movie” playing in your head.

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Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert

I didn’t actually read this book, I listened to it on my walks to and from the school when I drop –off and pick-up the boys. I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love and knowing that this was an entirely different “story”; I still went for it because even though some people find Elizabeth Gilbert’s introspection obnoxious and annoying, I like it. I wish that I had more of her courage (impulsivity?), her capacity to love (insecurity?) and her sense of adventure (immaturity?). Committed is about the long, and often arduous months leading up to her marriage to Felipe, a man she met while on a spiritual journey to Indonesia who is Brazilian-born but of Australian citizenship. Let’s just say that getting to the alter was much more difficult than settling on a dress and booking a DJ. And in true Elizabeth Gilbert form, she has to hyper-analyze every aspect of her impending marriage, her self and her destructive flaws.

From Nathalie

imgres-4How to Be Both

Ali Smith

So, so, sosososo good.  I heard Ali Smith read from this book in a Guardian books podcast.  I heard her read from the book, and I knew I had to have it, and I heard her reading it to me in my head and I was utterly smitten.

How to Be Both is a story in two parts: one contemporary, one set 400 years ago in Italy; one about grief and loss, and one about art; one about a girl and one about a boy.  Except that these are not the tidy divisions we may think they are, and the two parts bleed into one another in so many intricate ways that I felt fireworks going off inside my head.  Interestingly, the print run of this book was done in two versions: you might get the version that has the contemporary story first, or you might get the version that has the Renaissance story first.  It’s a book that plays with how to be both.

It is my turn to host my book club this month, and the host chooses the book.  I desperately wanted to pick this one, because it would be so fascinating to have a group discussion about what difference it makes what order you read the story.

I did not pick this for my book club, though, because I love it too much.  I don’t want to know if anyone did not love it or like it or want to make Ali Smith queen of the world.

I have gone on to read three other books by her this month.  Seriously.  Queen of the world.  (She’d probably like to have a more articulate #1 fan….)

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Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel

This is the book that I did end up choosing for my book club.  The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which most of the Earth’s population has died of a rogue flu.  In this world, a troupe of actors and musicians travel from one settlement to another, performing music and Shakespeare, because, as a line from Star Trek has it, “survival is insufficient.”  I love that.  All the characters’ lives fit together like a puzzle being assembled.  I was very happily borne along waiting to see how all of the pieces of the story would come together.  Truly a page-turner to keep you up well past your bedtime.

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The Victoria Vanishes

Christopher Fowler

I wish I could remember where I first heard about this series of police procedurals.  They are brilliant.  This one, the first one I read, is from the middle of the Peculiar Crimes Unit series, and I never begin a series in the middle, but this was the one I found, and I read it anyway and I fell head over heels.  The detecting duo are old and cantankerous, and I am loving the characters as much as the plots.  This volume, aside from being a very cleverly plotted mystery, was full of historical information about London’s pubs.  On the strength of this one, I was hooked, and I bought the rest of the series from The Sleuth of Baker Street, a wonderful bookstore devoted to mysteries.  Thank heavens for bookstores like The Sleuth that understand my madness and enable my bibliophilic habits by opening the store on a day it’s usually closed just so that I could pick up my order and did not have to wait a minute longer to feed my addiction.  If you shop there, in person or on-line, and I hope you will, please tell them that Nathalie Foy sent you and is very happily immersed in her pile of Bryant and May goodness!

Remembrance Day Books: For children, youth and you

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. – by John McCrae, 1915

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A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson

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In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae by Linda Granfield

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On Juno Beach: Canada’s D Day Heroes by Hugh Brewster

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The Kids Book of Canada at War by Elizabeth MacLeod

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Hanna’s Suitcase – Karen Levine

For older children:

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The Bite of the Mango – by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland

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Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees by Deborah Ellis

For more suggestions visit The Canadian Children’s Book Centre, a wonderful resource!

For You:

Some of my favourite war stories told by some of my favourite Canadian authors.

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Far To Go by Alison Pick

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The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

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Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

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Hanna’s Diary by Hanna Spencer

What We’re Reading: Kids

From Beth-Anne

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Be Grateful Little Bear by Kara Evelyn-McNeil, illustrations by Max Scratchmann

Kara Evelyn-McNeil, a children’s entertainer from Whitby, Ontario wrote her first book Be Grateful Little Bear in hopes that parents will start a discussion with their children about being grateful for the blessings in their own lives. Little Bear finds himself alongside the proverbial fence, looking over at what appears to be greener pastures, but his loving parents remind him of the many wonderful traits that make him a special bear. The message, be proud of who you are, resounds loud and clear and served the purpose the author intended. My three boys sat around after the oldest had read the book aloud, and (yes, at my prompting) listed the things that make themselves and their brothers special.

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Dinosaur Farm by Frann Preston-Gannon

Preston-Gannon, the first UK recipient of the Sendak Fellowship, spent one month living with and learning from Maurice Sendak, and Dinosaur Farm proves she is worthy of such an honour. This beautifully illustrated story tells how hard life is on a farm: waking up early, caring for your animals and tending to the earth but in a whimsical twist the animals that populate this farm are not chickens, cows and pigs . . .they are dinosaurs! The creative way the text is displayed makes reading with expression much easier for budding orators. My middle son spoke in a loud voice when reading BIG and a much quieter voice when reading small. But perhaps it is the textless illustrations that tell the reader the most. The last image we’re left with is of the farmer fast asleep tucked in his bed with his dinosaurs that have crept in through the open gate, asleep all around his bedroom. My boys were quick tell the “story” on that final page and to make a connection to another of their favourite bedtime stories, Goodnight ,Gorilla.

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Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas by DK Simoneau and David Radman, illustrations by Brad Cornelius

When Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas arrived at our house there were enough squeals of delight from my youngest to trick one into believing that it was Christmas morning and not a hot, humid July day. To say that my three boys are obsessed with Christmas, Santa and all things related would be a gross understatement. In fact, as I type this now, my youngest (age 3) is watching Barney’s Christmas on Netflix (reserve your judgement, I needed some time to hammer this out). DK Simoneau and David Radman have written a Christmas tale that must be added to your night before Christmas reading list. In this story, nothing is quite right on Christmas Eve. The elves are now 7 feet tall trolls, the stockings have been replaced with long underwear and most concerning, Santa’s suit is not red! It’s purple! My boys loved this book and everything about it – the whimsical fonts, the twists on the traditional and the illustrations. Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas now has a place in our Christmas tales reading box . . . after my youngest slept with it in his bed for three nights.

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Kitty Hawk and The Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading

The first book in the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective series will have you hooked! What’s not to love? Canadian adventure, a fearless heroine and endearing characters . . . the Kitty Hawk series by Iain Reading is a breath of fresh air among the vampires, werewolves and teen angst that have dominated the young adult genre for the past few years. What’s more, the author has included an additional reading list and two websites for adventure enthusiasts to explore.

From Nathalie

We continue to (try to) make time for creating art hereabouts, and I am newly inspired.  I was at the Cabbagetown Outdoor Art Festival on the weekend and fell in love with the art of Judy Anderson of Kukucaju, which captures wonderfully the subversive violence of children’s stories and imaginations.  Her Big Sister caught my eye; art that endorses eating one’s siblings is something that would go over well in our house, where it’s not all brotherly love.  Check out her website.  You can have you own kids’ drawings turned into a custom-made piece of 3-D art.

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One great book in our art adventure is the Big Book of Everything Manga.  Youngest (6) has had great success with the manga monsters and robots, and the drawings range from very simple to complex.  It’s a great art instruction book for artists of varying levels of ability.imgres-4Middlest (9) is awash in bookish goodness: two new releases in his favourite series.  Last month, it was the sixth book in Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Escape from Lucien.  Until we went to hear him speak, I had not read the Amulet books, but Kibuishi was such a great speaker that I read all of the books in the series in a single sitting.  They feature a really plucky heroine, who is brave and good and flawed.  She wears an amulet that gives her power, but whether it is for good or evil is still unclear.  In a world of kids’ books that are starkly black and white with respect to good and evil, I like how Kibuishi keeps us guessing about his plot and characters.

imgres-5Middlest is also reading book five in Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series: Pirates of the Silver Coast.  Lots of plot twists and cliff hangers here, too.

One thing I’ve noticed with his consumption of these graphic novel series is that he re-reads them over and over again.  I used to fret about his re-reading these instead of trying out new chapter books, but it’s obvious that he has a real love for these books.  He’s rushed out to get the new books in the series, bless him, and now makes a habit of asking me to check publication dates for his favourite authors.  That’s some serious book love right there.

Middlest is also reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Perhaps you’ve heard of that oneI’m reading the Harry Potter books aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and then Middlest goes off and reads ahead.  I’m really enjoying myself with these books.  Youngest keeps stopping me to ask what words mean, which is sometimes frustrating, but, then again, he keeps stopping me to ask what words mean.  He’s listening!  He’s engaged!  He’s learning!  Coincidentally, Kazu Kibuishi has done the cover art for the latest edition of the Harry Potter books.  Cue my collector’s obsession….

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Finally, Eldest (13) is reading The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch.

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Eldest: We had Library today.

Nathalie: What book did you choose?

Eldest: The Name of This Book is Secret.

Nathalie:  Ooooh!  I liked that one.  It’s very meta-textual.  Why did you pick that one?

Eldest: It fell on my head.

Nathalie: Seriously, why did you choose it?

Eldest: Seriously, it fell on my head.

Here endeth the attempt at intelligent discussion about books.  You win some, you lose some.