Monday, June 29, 2015

MMGM: Tiger Boy and Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book V: The Unmapped Sea

I have two reviews for you today and on first glance, these books couldn't be more different. One is a satirical mystery set in Victorian England and the other is a realistic portrayal of an Indian boy's search for a tiger cub. But I devoured both in days.

TIGER BOY is one of those books I picked up purely because of the author. I’ve really enjoyed some of Mitali Perkin’s other work, especially BAMBOO PEOPLE. I know I’m guaranteed a thought-provoking read,  a place I know little about, interesting characters, and usually a close-knit family.

TIGER BOY has all these qualities , but even better, it’s a short read with a protagonist that’s sure to appeal to kids, especially those who love animals. And for the record, my 10-year-old son is dying to read it next.

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

When a tiger cub goes missing from the reserve, Neel is determined to find her before the greedy Gupta gets his hands on her to kill her and sell her body parts on the black market. Neel's parents, however, are counting on him to study hard and win a prestigious scholarship to study in Kolkata. Neel doesn't want to leave his family or his island home and he struggles with his familial duty and his desire to maintain the beauty and wildness of his island home in West Bengal's Sunderbans.

What I loved about Tiger Boy:

1.  A multi-layered protagonist. I loved that Neel had multiple goals: saving the tiger cub, figuring out what he wanted to do with his life, and passing an exam for a scholarship to a special school.

2. A strong female character, despite the limitations of her culture. I really enjoyed reading about Rupa, Neel's sister. I was touched by her love for Neel, and amazed at her bravery and strength, despite the limitations of being a female in India. I appreciated that Perkins did not whitewash the difficulties of being a female in India, and that Rupa finds way to be courageous despite them.

3.  A close-knit family. I’ve noticed that this seems to be a hallmark of Perkin’s work (or at least what I’ve read so far), and I really enjoyed seeing a brother and sister work together, which was a refreshing change from the usual MG sibling rivalry. Not to mention how Neel inspires his father to be a better man.

4.  Use of language. The metaphors were spot on and fit the setting and the culture. I also enjoyed reading the Headmaster’s misuse of English idioms: A moving pebble doesn’t get covered with dirt,  etc. Maybe because I struggle with idioms myself (and I don’t have his excuse!)

5.  A story set in a culture and setting that most North Americans know little about. Perkins includes an interesting author’s note at the end to explain more about the tigers and the complex problems in this area of India, which is close to Calcutta. I am always happy to see more books with settings like this—where only a curtain separates the rooms of a house and a cell phone is too expensive for a family. We all need a reminder that the majority of the world does not live as we do. I love books set in India, and this one had such amazing attention to detail (admirable considering it’s only 130 pages). I feel like I’ve just come back from a trip.

If you enjoy books set in another countries, especially India, you will enjoy this. This reminded me a lot of BAMBOO PEOPLE, although a bit gentler read. It would also appeal to fans of A LONG WALK TO WATER (Linda Sue Park).

My second highlight is the newest Incorrigible Children novel. If you've followed this blog for awhile, you know how much I love this series. I’m not going to do a full review of this one, since I featured another title in this series last spring. But rest assured, all the language fun and mystery continues with this one, but what I enjoyed the most was the introduction of the Babushkinov family from Russia. Hilarious! Many of the ongoing mysteries get answered, but many more questions are presented. I’m eager to read book 6 as book 5 has the most daring cliffhanger yet. If you’ve just started the series, keep reading. Book 5 is one of the best yet!

I'm enjoying having more time to read now that's summer. There's nothing like a cool glass of iced tea and a good book.

What books have you been enjoying this summer?

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Monday, June 22, 2015

MMGM: Half a Chance

Sorry to miss last week. I have been behind on my reading with the end of the school year, but I’ve been catching up this week!  I hope to be posting regularly throughout the summer, except for the occasional break, which I’ll try to note ahead of time.

This was a book I picked up a few months ago, but at the time, I couldn’t quite get into it. I think I was reading it in the wrong season, for this is a summer book through and through. Not only is it set entirely in the summer on a lake in New Hampshire (!), but also, despite its heavy theme of dealing with a grandparent with dementia, it never loses its light, buoyant quality. 

Here is the synopsis (from Amazon):

When Lucy's family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera's lens, as her father has taught her -- he's a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet his high standards? When she discovers that he's judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special -- or only good enough. As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn't want to see: his grandmother's memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own.

What I loved:

1. A protagonist with an interesting hobby. I don’t know a lot about photography, but I learned a lot just from reading this book. There are some interesting corollaries with writing, like finding the story in the subject you're capturing.

2.  Kayaking! I am a bit of a water freak, and kayaking is my favorite mode of travel while on calm seas. I have done more canoeing than kayaking in recent years, but Lord’s descriptions of dip and pull brought back my kayaking adventures.

3. Selflessness. The kids’ goal wasn’t about fame or treasure (or saving the world). The purpose of winning the contest was to help someone else—and that was lovely to see.

4. Nate’s relationship with his grandmother. I really enjoyed reading about a boy who cared so much about his grandmother. Her dementia was handled realistically and poignantly.

5. Lucy’s relationship with her dad. Lord did an excellent job of showing Lucy’s mixed feelings about her father—her ache that he’s gone so much and their attempts to remain close despite the distance.

6.  An emotional book that’s not too heavy. As much as I love a good character-driven novel, some MGs are too heavy-handed for me. I wonder often how many kids are drawn to those types of books, because most kids I know (including my own) avoid anything remotely sad. This book could have been very sad, if Lord hadn't have given Nate and Lucy so many good and interesting things to focus on this book. I loved how the book left me a sense of the joy and beauty of life.

I think this would appeal to fans of Cynthia Lord’s other work, especially fans of Touch Blue, which it reminded me of. I think it would also appeal to those who enjoy Linda Urban’s work (Crooked Kind of Perfect, The Center of Everything) or fans of THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer Holm.If you enjoy a character-driven read with a strong sense of place, check out Half a Chance.

Have you read any good books set in summer?

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Monday, June 8, 2015

MMGM: Stuart’s Cape

I discovered this gem of a book at my library recently. If you have a child in your life as I do who is a dreamer-type or you are a former dreamer yourself, you will love this. If you’ve ever imagined you were a superhero (or special powers of any kind), this book is for you.

This lower middle grade has a ton of whimsy and such a deft handling of magical realism, it will leave you wondering, how did Sara Pennypacker pack (excuse the pun) all that richness in with so few words?

Here is the synopsis (from Amazon):

A quirky, inventive chapter book featuring an unusual hero--an 8-year-old worrier. Stuart's got problems. It's raining. He's bored. And worst of all, he's new in town, so he's got a lot to worry about. What does a kid like Stuart need in order to have an adventure? A cape, of course!

(This short summary doesn’t do the book justice, of course!)

Here’s what I loved:

1. Stuart is a worrier with an imagination. Now I’ve seen books featuring a kid worrier, and I’ve seen lots of books about imaginative kids. But the two together! That’s what makes Stuart unique. His dreams and imaginings are his escape in a way—something very relatable to kids.

2. Magical realism. At times, especially in the beginning, I wasn’t sure if what was happening was real or just in Stuart’s imagination. But the story is told as if it all is, so part of the fun is figuring this out.

3. Creative ideas and solutions. From flying from eating angel food cake to growing toast in his garden—it’s hard to keep up with Stuart’s inventiveness. Just enjoy the ride.

4. An unexpected ally. While Stuart’s parents are your typical, practical parents (albeit with some great lines), Aunt Bubbles is a surprise, just like her name. Read it just to learn the creative ways she gets Stuart out of his scrapes.

5. Friends can be grown-ups too. Throughout the book, Stuart is scared about making new friends at school, although he meets lots of kind grown-ups. It’s a nice change to see grown-ups portrayed as possible allies and mentors in a kid’s book.

I think this would appeal to kids who like Alvin Ho, Lisa Yee’s BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY), and FLORA AND ULYSSES (Kate DiCamillo). If you love whimsy, magical realism, and originality, you’ll really enjoy this book!

Have you read any good magical realism lately?

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

ISWG: On Roller Coasters and Writing

Yesterday my family and I went to an amusement park. In my teens, I absolutely loved roller coasters. The faster, the scarier, the better. (This period of my life also coincided with the one and only time I watched scary movies.) But now that I have tweens of my own, I’ve grown into a bit of a chicken. So, when my son wanted to go on a log ride, I hemmed and hawed about going with him.

I didn’t care about getting wet, but the long drop terrified me. But too late. My husband had already got me tickets—and if I didn’t go—my son would have to go alone. I had to do it. Fear or no fear.

When we got in the car, my son said he was a little bit excited and a little bit nervous. Me too! When we got to the top, he said, “This is cool.” After we took the gigantic plunge, I yelled, “We did it.”

What does this have to do with writing?

I can’t tell you the high I felt after coming off the ride. It wasn’t just the adrenaline rush. It was conquering my fear, doing something I was scared of.

I forget sometimes when I’m nursing my fears, whether they are about writing or about life, just what wonderful things you miss when you give into your fears.

Let's face it, writing is a roller coaster ride.

As we head into summer, there’s a lot of things I’m afraid of writing-wise.

1.  I’m afraid of actually finishing my revisions and having a manuscript ready to go again. I’m equally afraid of reentering the querying game sometime this year.

2.  I’m afraid I’ll never finish an R/R I'm working on. I’ve been frozen both by walking through a tough year emotionally and getting some feedback I’m still processing. I know most of my fear (and procrastination) is about worrying that I won’t get it right.

3.  I have a new idea for a book that won’t let me go. It’s very personal and close to my heart and scares me to death. It’s outside of my comfort zone in every way.

As I was coming off my ride high yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of all the writing advice about not avoiding those topics or stories that frighten you.

As John Truby says in Anatomy of a Story:  Write something that will change your life.

So, I know the answer to those fears. Just like a ride, you have to get in, hold on, and tell yourself you’ll make it through. And whatever happens, if you have finished what you set out to do, you scream: “I did it!”

photo credit: IMG_9314 via photopin (license)

The Insecure Writer's Support Group

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

The awesome co-hosts for the the June 3 posting of the IWSG are M. Pax, Tracy Jo, Patricia Lynne, Rachna Chhabria, Feather Stone, and Randi Lee!

Monday, June 1, 2015

MMGM: The Ordinary Princess

I’ve been reading a lot of old-fashioned books lately. I think it’s my latest craze. So, even though, THE ORDINARY PRINCESS, is not a new book, I had to feature it. I love a good fairy-tale, and this one has a tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Imagine ENCHANTED (the movie) as a book, but with a dash more wit.

What I loved, too, was that the author, M.M. Kaye, was inspired to write this after realizing that the heroines of most fairy tales did not look like her and were too perfect. With that background alone, I’m in.

Here is the synopsis (from Amazon):

Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries . . . or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she's so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there . . . much to everyone's surprise . . . she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is!

What I loved:

1.      An interesting “bad” fairy. Crustacea is interesting enough with her seashell hat and seaweed robe. But it gets even better when, miffed by being stuck in traffic on the way to Amy’s christening,  she curses the baby princess with being ordinary. Of course, the curse is really a gift.

2.      A celebration of ordinary. From Amy crying like a real baby to her experiences with true friendship and work (both things princes and princesses usually miss out on)—being ordinary has a lot of benefits. I think most kids (and adults) will relate to this.

3.      Humor. The best fairy tales, like Gail Carson Levine’s work, have a splash of humor. The Ordinary Princess has it in spades. I loved that it made fun of the genre and didn’t take itself too seriously—all points in my book.

4.      Art by the author. Make sure you get the original copy of the book, so you can enjoy the extraordinary illustrations of this author/illustrator. (The cover here is from the original edition.)

5.      A light read with substance. Although I read this very short book in a few hours, it is not complete fluff. I loved what it said about beauty and the hidden benefits of being the kind of person most people overlook.

My favorite quote: “...for though she was ordinary, she possessed health, wit, courage, charm, and cheerfulness. But because she was not beautiful, no one ever seemed to notice these other qualities, which is so often the way of the world.”

This would appeal to fans of Gail Carson Levine, Laura Amy Schlitz, and Anna Staniszewski. I read it recently while I was at the beach—it’s a perfect light read for summer!

Have you read any enchanting fantasies lately?

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.