March 28, 2013

Voices from the Titanic

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic
by Allan Wolf

Poet Allan Wolf recreates the voices of Titanic passengers and crew in this dramatic novel. His cast of characters include shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, captain E.J. Smith, socialite Margaret Brown, immigrants Olaus Abelseth and Jamila Nicola-Yarred, undertaker John Snow, the Iceberg, and even a rat. Interspersed among their stories are actual reports, telegrams, and distress calls that make the impending tragedy all the more heart-rending.

Wolf uses free verse, rhyme, rhythm, and concrete forms to convey class, station, duty, hope, sorrow, and loss to devastating effect. An amazing accomplishment.

Highly recommended.

March 26, 2013

Teen faces death sentence

The Hangman in the Mirror
by Kate Cayley

Fifteen-year-old  Françoise Laurent's life is one of constant work and struggle. Both parents can barely support the family, and both have a penchant for drink. When they die from smallpox, Françoise is left alone. Desperate to escape a bleak future, she takes a job as a maid to a wealthy fur trader and his wife. Françoise hopes to better herself and perhaps become a lady. Madame Pommereau, however, is very class conscious, and tells Françoise that she will always be a servant. When Françoise is caught stealing a pair of Madame's gloves, she is thrown in jail and sentenced to death by hanging. Set in 18th century New France, her only hope is to marry the hangman and thus win a pardon. But the hangman has died. Can she persuade a fellow prisoner to become the new hangman and take her for his wife? 

Kate Cayley's first novel is compellingly told. Françoise is an intriguing character, haughty, quick-tempered, cunning, yet vulnerable. The story she spins to save herself is incredible, yet slyly convincing. As the story draws to a close, readers will be anxiously hoping for the door to open.

March 21, 2013

War story

Stones for My Father
by Trilby Kent

Set during the Boer War in Africa, Stones for My Father‚ tells the story of Corlie Roux, whose family is sent to a concentration camp. Life in camp is understandably hard, but Corlie's life is harder than most due to her mother's intense hatred for her. The reason for her mother's behaviour is revealed later in the story, but most readers will still find it incomprehensible. 

Depressing and bleak, the story is redeemed by evocative language and Corlie's resiliency, which at times can be inspiring. Corlie knows that she has no future in Africa, so she takes a chance with a Canadian soldier.

A haunting read.

March 19, 2013

Inner beauty

by R.J. Palacio

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a real school. But now that he's stronger and needs no further surgery for the next few years, his parents want him to try middle school. Auggie's pretty nervous, but he decides to give it a try. He knows it will be hard. And it is. Kids don't want to sit next to him or even touch him. They say mean things. But other kids are kind and are able to see beyond the surface. Little by little, it all get better, until the inspiring finish.

Palacio writes from the point of view of multiple characters - August, his sister Via, friend Summer, classmate Jack, Via's boyfriend, and Via's ex-friend Miranda. Their words reveal a wealth of fears, hopes and dreams, and their struggles for acceptance. Through it all, there is August - what he means to each of them and how he helps them become better people.

A beautiful novel that illuminates the nature of human beings - fragile imperfections and all.

March 14, 2013

Captivating adventure

The Abandoned
by Paul Gallico

A lonely boy named Peter would love to have a cat for company, but his nanny doesn't like them. One day, Peter sees a truck bearing down on a tabby. Dashing out to save the cat, he is struck by the oncoming truck himself.
Everything is different when Peter comes to: He has fur, whiskers, and claws; he has become a cat! However, London is a big city; dangerous not only to children, but to cats. Scared, hungry, and lost, Peter nearly gives up. But then he meets Jennie, a savvy stray. Jennie teaches Peter how to be a cat, including how to sniff out a nice napping spot, the proper way to dine on mouse, and the single most important tactic a cat can learn: “When in doubt, wash.” Together, Jennie and Peter explore the city, sail to Scotland, and face many challenges; all while trying to find a place that is truly home.

A charming story about caring and friendship, with a sweet ending; if you are not already a lover of cats, you will be after reading this book.

March 12, 2013

Magical read

The Scorpio Races
by Maggie Stiefvater

Myths about selkies (half woman/half seal) abound in literature, but this is something different: capall uisce (pronounced CAPple ISHka).  Commonly known as water horses, they're wild, viscious creatures that come ashore every November on the island of Thisby. The horses are captured, trained, and ridden in the annual Scorpio Races along the beach. Four-time champion Sean Kendrick hopes a win will mean escape from servitude and a horse of his own. The stakes for Kate "Puck" Connolly is even more desperate. She needs to save her family from eviction in the hopes that her older brother Gabe will remain on the island.

Sean's and Puck's outsider status draws them together, but neither can let the other win. But the story's not really about the race. It's more about home and belonging. Sean Kendrick is caught between two worlds - the sea and the land, while Puck loves the island, her home, and her dun mare.  

Slow, mysterious and magical, with a beautiful ending, this is a novel to be savored.

For more about the story's origin, go to

March 7, 2013

Rhyming stories by Loris Lesynski

written and illustrated by Loris Lesynski

Arabelle and her cat Izzy move into the Witches' Retirement Home. Unfortunately, Izzy blends in too well with the witches' multihued furniture, resulting in a lot of accidents. But with a little ingenuity, he finds a way to stay.

by Loris Lesynski

Clumsy Roxanne is tired of scrapes and falls so she wishes she was made of rock. At first she's delighted that she now can't get hurt, but being rock makes it hard to ride a bike, eat a sandwich, or see in color. 

For more of Lesynski's amusing, entertaining verse, go to

March 6, 2013

Giant has a cold

Boy Soup
by Loris Lesynski
illustrated by Michael Martchenko

Giant's got a sore head and only a big bowl of Boy Soup can cure him. But he doesn't count on a girl named Kate, who uses her wits to save her friends. A zany story told in rhyme, with hilarious pictures by Martchenko.

Boy Soup: When Giant Caught Cold

The same poem, with pictures by Lesynski herself!

March 5, 2013

Funny rhyming picture books

Ogre Fun
by Loris Lesynski

A bored family of ogres need to find something safe to scare. They don't want any more hiccups from trolls and itches from witches. Young Gronny thinks he's found the perfect little creatures to frighten, but they've got something very contagious - yawns!

Night School
by Loris Lesynski

Eddie loves to stay up late, so night school sounds perfect. But once the fun wears off, Eddie realizes that the school has a more ominous agenda. The vampire bus driver should have tipped him off, as should the sign above his head, which reads one way only.

Young readers will love Lesynski's clever illustrations, which ably complement her story's night-time theme.