July 30, 2014

Imagine you're a horse

Ghost Horse of the Mounties
by sean o huigin

In 1874, a violent storm panicked a herd of RCMP horses. All but one of the horses were found. This story written in verse has the reader imagine that he or she is that missing horse.

Dramatic words and pictures capture the sights and sounds of wind, rain, and stampeding hooves.

July 23, 2014

Girl pirates!

by Celia Rees

Nancy Kington is the daughter of a merchantman living in Bristol, England. Not yet sixteen years old, she becomes owner of her father's sugar cane plantation in Jamaica. Nancy doesn't want to go to Jamaica because she is engaged to William, a boy destined to be a Navy man. Forced to run the plantation anyway, Nancy must contend with the horrors of slavery and an impending marriage to a ruthless Brazilian named Bartholome. Wanting to escape Bartholome's clutches and take more control over her life, Nancy, along with Minerva Sharpe, one of the plantation's slave girls, join a band of pirates.

Inspired by true accounts of female pirates disguised as men, Rees has fashioned a somewhat interesting adventure tale with intrigue and drama worthy of a daytime soap opera. There's fighting and plundering, storms and shipwrecks, mutiny and revelry, even a duel. Meanwhile, Nancy lives in fear of being captured by Bartholome and never seeing William again.

Pirates of the Caribbean fans may find the action rather tame since Rees' pirates vacillate between legal and illegal enterprises, often becoming quite respectable. Still, the honor code among them is inviolate and punishments are meted out accordingly.

Readers may get a little impatient with Nancy, who never really gets over her fears. A much stronger pirate is Minerva, who bravely and determinedly goes about her duties while providing Nancy with much needed moral support. Their friendship is the highlight of the book.

July 16, 2014

Respect your lobster

Chung Lee Loves Lobsters
by Hugh MacDonald
art by Johnny Wales

Once a month, Chung Lee buys a live lobster from Bizzer and Wally's mother. The boys are curious about Chung Lee, so they follow him to see what he does. They are astounded when, instead of cooking and eating the lobster, he releases it into the ocean. The reason, he tells the boys, is to atone for the lobsters he killed while he was a cook.

While this story could have been told with fewer words, the sentiment is palpable.

For anyone who likes lobsters.

July 9, 2014

Yo-yoing might change your life

The Yo-Yo Prophet
by Karen Krossing

Calvin Layne is the shortest boy in his class, which makes him a target of Rozelle's gang. He's also struggling with a grandmother who is often mentally confused. The only time he feels in control is when he's yo-yoing. When he tries his hand at street performing, Rozelle insists on being his manager and taking a cut of his earnings. She comes up with the idea of calling him the yo-yo prophet and getting him to predict future events. The resulting attention soon goes to Calvin's head, making him cocky and over-confident. His predictable fall forces him to reevaluate his priorities.

Rozelle is an interesting character: a bully with a heart of gold. It's not clear why she would want to hang out with a wimp like Calvin, who's too scared to utter more than a squeak. As the yo-yo prophet, he's a rude, unlikeable, bad tempered jerk whose unsympathetic behaviour will turn off many readers. He treats his grandmother harshly and turns on Rozelle, not taking into account everything that she's done for him until she points it out. She may be overly aggressive, but she did get Calvin to stand up for himself and act with confidence. Calvin eventually turns things around for the better. The ending, when it comes, is a good one.

A flawed, yet ultimately satisfying novel.

July 2, 2014

Canadian train adventure

The Boundless
by Kenneth Oppel

The Boundless is a seven-mile-long passenger train carrying nearly sixty-five hundred people from coach to first-class. The train is filled with wonders: saloons, lounges, a cinema, a terrace, even a swimming pool. More entertainment is provided by Zirkus Dante, a circus of acrobats, animals, and a sasquatch. Into this magical world steps Will Everett, the son of the train's chief engineer. He's looking for an adventure, and soon enough, he finds one. After witnessing a murder, some dangerous villains are hot on his trail. His only help comes from Mr. Dorian, the circus ringmaster, and Maren, a wire walker and escape artist. With many close calls and an exciting battle atop the moving train, this is life-changing journey that Will won't soon forget. 

Fans of Oppel's many books, especially his Airborn series, will thoroughly enjoy The Boundless, as will readers who are just discovering him.