Monday, January 25, 2021

MMGM: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness


Like Green Ember, this was a book forced into my hand by my younger son. So, it's very appropriate that I'm featuring it today, because today is his 16th birthday.

I started and stopped it several times, for some reason, not being able to finish. But, I am so glad I gave it another go. The ending and the many reveals in the second half of the book are well worth the effort.

This is epic fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It reminds me of Gail Carson Levine’s world building combined with the humor of A Whole Nother Story  and Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.

And there are footnotes! But these are not the boring ones of your school days.

From the back cover:

Andrew Peterson spins a riveting tale-for-all-ages, following Janner, Tink, and Leeili Igiby and their trusty dog, Nugget, in escape from the vicious Fangs of Dang who seek the lost jewels of Anniera. Quirky characters and their world of wonders—from the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness to the deadly Glipwood Forest and beyond—set the stage for the epic adventure that includes….

-Original Songs and Silly Poems

-An Ex-Pirate Grandfather

-Toothy Cows and Real Sea Dragons

-Tours of Anklejelly Manor and Peet the Sock Man’s Tree House

--Suspenseful Legend and Fascinating Lore

-Genuine Recipes for Maggotloaf

-Authentic Hand-drawn maps

What I liked:

1.   Relatable kid characters. It’s hard to choose which of the Igiby children is my favorite: Janner struggles to protect his younger siblings and worries that he’s not a good enough leader. Tink is impetuous and runs headfirst into danger. Leeli doesn’t let a crutch stop her from standing up to the Fangs (lizard like creature).

2.    Quirky adult characters: Oh, how I enjoyed Peet the Sock Man (and discovering why he wears socks on his hands!) and Podo, the ex-pirate grandpa. Podo reminded me of my grandpa, who had that same combination of love of fun and the courage to stand up for what was right.

3.    A just right pace. This book doesn’t have the cliffhanger endings at the end of each chapter—although things pick up speed in the second half. But part of the fun is enjoying the creative world Peterson has created, the immense fun of his characters and word play. The story never felt rushed, but always engrossing.

4.    World building with a side of humor! From the footnotes to the replicas of Podo’s requests to dig the earth, to the Maggotloaf chapter (skip if you’re squeamish), to the running joke about Podo’s feud with the thwaps (gopher-like creatures), this book is so entertaining. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten lost in a world so well-built.

5.    Reveals and twists that made sense and enriched the story. As in all good stories, there are characters who turn out to be trustworthy that seemed sketchy at first and vice versa. What I really liked about this story is all these reveals made sense. And even something as simple as Leeli's crutch had backstory and meaning. I also liked how Peterson turned so many fantasy tropes on their head.

6.    Sacrifice: It’s hard to sum up why I liked the characters and the book so much, but it comes down to sacrifice. We not only see adults making great sacrifices to protect these kids, but kids taking the first steps to be leaders who lay down their lives for others. When characters puts others before themselves, you can’t help but be moved.

Minor Quibbles: None

It’s funny, I don’t consider myself much of a fantasy fan, yet when I find a good fantasy, those are my favorite types of books. This book reminded me of why I love fantasy.

What books have you loved lately?


Animated 15 minute feature of the Wingfeather Saga. From Youtube.

To read more middle grade reviews or join in on the MMGM fun, check out Greg Pattridge's blog Always in the Middle. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

A Few Titles for Grown Ups #IMWAYR

Happy Martin Luther King Day! Usually I just feature middle grade reads on my blog. But over Christmas break, I had time to catch up on some longer reads. One of these was  light and entertaining, but the other two are books I will be thinking about for a long time.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

This book is hard to put into words. I picked this up as a classic I’m reading as I work my way through the  Well Educated Mind reading list.

Much of the account takes place before 1850 when the Fugitive Slave Law was passed. This book pulled me immediately me from the beginning with Harriet’s descriptions of her early childhood, which was relatively happy to her sexual harassment by her “owner” and her flight and concealment (for seven years!) in her grandma’s shed. She lived Patrick Henry’s statement, “Give me liberty or give me death.”  Wanting something better for her children was the driving force in the many dangers and sacrifices she made. I liked how she highlighted people who helped her (both black and white) and how she considered someone buying her freedom an abomination. God had created her free.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Bannon

This was a fun read I enjoyed over Christmas break. Stephanie Bannon captured Jane’s voice so well that I felt like I was reading an Austen novel. I loved seeing how many of Jane’s relatives (her brother and sister-in-law especially) were like Austen’s characters. The mystery was intriguing, and I liked Jane’s sidekick sleuth, the mysterious Raphael West. Lots of other interesting parts: the story is framed by the doll clothes Jane and her sister give to their niece and the mystery itself ties in the Treaty of Ghent and the war of 1812. I always find it interesting to hear about American wars from a British point of view. This is a great winter read, especially as snow plays a prominent part and most of the action happens just after Christmas.


Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

This title comes from a North Korean song that children learn in school, which sums up how the regime wants its people to think about their country. This book reads like fiction, but it’s actually based on interviews with several defectors. I was amazed by the way women found ways to provide for their families during the famine, despite capitalism being banned and electricity sporadic. One woman was born the same year as I. How different our lives have been despite us both being teachers and entering college the same year. I didn’t know a lot about North Korea before, although I’ve studied a lot about the Russian brand of communism. This book, especially the poignant love story, will stay with you for a long time. Highly recommended.

What books have you been reading lately?

Monday, January 11, 2021

MMGM: Because of the Rabbit

Another rabbit book! I seem to be on a rabbit kick lately, but there were a number of other reasons this book stood out to me. It’s by Cynthia Lord, who wrote the highly acclaimed (and deservedly so) Rules, one of the best books about autism from a sibling’s perspective. Because of the Rabbit is also about a formerly homeschooled girl entering school for the first time. And it has a rabbit rescue!

If you like emotional, character-driven stories with animals, you will love this book!

Synopsis from Amazon:

On the last night of summer, Emma tags along with her game warden father on a routine call. They're supposed to rescue a wild rabbit from a picket fence, but instead they find a little bunny. Emma convinces her father to bring him home for the night.

The next day, Emma starts public school for the very first time after years of being homeschooled. More than anything, Emma wants to make a best friend in school.

But things don't go as planned. On the first day of school, she's paired with a boy named Jack for a project. He can't stay on topic, he speaks out of turn, and he's obsessed with animals. Jack doesn't fit in, and Emma's worried he'll make her stand out.

Emma and Jack bond over her rescue rabbit. But will their new friendship keep Emma from finding the new best friend she's meant to have?

Newbery Honor-winning author Cynthia Lord has written a beautiful and sensitive book about being different and staying true to yourself.

What I liked:

1.    The Maine setting: Maine is a state I haven’t been to yet, but I am hankering to go after reading this book. I liked the details of how her family kayaks on a nearby lake, how remote everything is, and Emma’s thoughts on “living in the sticks.” It’s very clear that this place is near and dear to the writer’s heart.

2.    Beautiful kid images and metaphors: There’s no purple prose here, but I love how Lord uses metaphors that only a kid would come up with. When Emma described the mountains like origami done by a beginner, I had to smile. Kids are natural poets.

3.    The rabbit! Although Lapi the rabbit didn’t play a huge role in the plot, I liked the specific details about his care. I didn’t know that rabbits claim people and objects like cats and dogs do. I also like how Lord used rabbit facts at the beginning of the chapter to foreshadow events and reveal Emma’s emotional state.

4.    French Canadian folklore. I loved how the Rabbit is named Lapin after the French word for rabbit and how Emma calls her grandparents by their French names. The inclusion of Pépère’s stories was delightful. My mom is a retired French teacher, and my sons call her Mémé, so I could relate.

5.    Family dynamics: I wanted to move in with this family! It was nice to see siblings who actually like to spend time together, and a sister who misses her brother when he’s gone. Emma’s mom and dad are also really relatable, and I especially liked how Dad often brings Emma with him when he rescues animals.

Minor Quibbles: None

The new kid at school plot reminded me a lot of Roll With It, which I reviewed last fall. But I think kids can’t get enough of books like this: learning that having a friend is not so much about finding a particular person, but being a friend to others.

What books have you loved lately?


To read more middle grade reviews or join in on the MMGM fun, check out Greg Pattridge's blog Always in the Middle. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

IWSG: Why I Stop Reading


This post was originally published on January 15, 2014 and updated on January 6, 2020.

I have a confession to make: I sometimes don't finish books.

There's been two in the last week that I've wanted to throw against the wall. Both, by the way, were for adults. So, maybe I just need to keep reading kidlit.

There were books that started out well. I loved the characters, the voice, and was drawn into the story from the first chapter.

Why did I stop?

Here's a few reasons I can't bring myself to finish:

1. The character does something completely out of character. I don't buy it, and I can't get past it.

2. There is a shocking revelation that doesn't fit the stories or characters.

3. The character doesn't have agency. Everything seems to happen to him/her, but he/she never makes things happen. I really hate to see this in kidlit especially, as kids need good role models for how to be kind and set boundaries.

4. A middle that drags after an enticing beginning. The book I didn't finish recently started out with a really interesting mystery and then plunged into backstory. Don't do that!

5. Purple prose. I'm not a fan of too much description. And thus, I was never able to get through The Hobbit.

What makes you stop reading?


What is 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 - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

January 6 question - Being a writer, when you're reading someone else's work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people's books?

The awesome co-hosts for the January 6 posting of the IWSG are Ronel Janse van Vuuren , J Lenni Dorner, Gwen Gardner Sandra Cox, and Louise - Fundy Blue!