Thursday, February 28, 2013

Vacation reading list, plus why humanity isn't all bad

If I had a Twitter account, here are a few things I'd tweet:

The Kindness Project is a blog I found out about because fellow Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday-er Barbara Watson is a contributor. On days when the news convinces me that humanity is going to destroy itself and good riddance, it's little projects like this that remind me there is every bit as much good in us as evil. Be sure to watch this wonderful video.

And more David Malki love: I sent a few links to some favourite Wondermark comics last week, and here's another one, but did you scroll down and read his blog entries? He's got this amazing concept--the Machine of Death--that has so far created two short story collections and is now being turned into a board game that sounds like the best board game ever: kind of a cross between Balderdash and Clue and Munchkin. This post has a video describing the game, a link to its Kickstarter page, and best of all, links to three stories from the second Machine of Death story collection, This Is How You Die! Such a creative, fun, funny, interesting idea. I love good ideas! And speaking of good ideas, in this post Malki describes his idea for the "dumbest viral video trend possible": Suddenly Streamers. I love this guy's sense of humor. Another reason to have hope for humanity.

Vacation reading: we're going to Mexico for Spring Break. It's only for a week, but I plan to get a lot of reading done. I've been saving a few sequels: Scarlet, sequel to Cinder (I'll probably reread Cinder first, if it will fit in my suitcase. But I have them both in hardcover (they were so beautiful, I had to), so that's kind of heavy.) Froi of the Exiles, sequel to Finnikin of the Rock. The Runaway King, sequel to The False Prince.
I would also like to take along some Octavia Butler, maybe The Parable of the Sower. And there's a (relatively) new Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior, that sounds good. I could catch up on my Flavia de Luce mysteries, because there's a fifth one and I think I've only read the first two.

Have you read any of these? Are they worth their weight in my luggage? Or their cost to buy for my iPod? (since I have one that's so old it can't download the new software required to borrow ebooks from the library) Any other books you think I must bring to Mexico with me?

Monday, February 25, 2013

MMGM: Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead

If you've read When You Reach Me (and if you haven't, what are you waiting for? Don't let its Newberry Medal turn you off!), you know that Rebecca Stead doesn't write ordinary books. I would compare her brain to Meg Rosoff's, or Ellen Raskin's: twisty, tricky, off-the-wall. You need to read Stead's books twice.

Liar & Spy is firmly set in a contemporary urban world: school and apartment building. Kid with mostly absent but loving parents. Quirky apartment inhabitants. Stressful school situation. New friend who's kind of weird, but in a good way. It's familiar middle-grade territory, but Stead does very different things with it.

I loved the character of Georges (named after the painter Seurat. The 's' is silent, as he tires of explaining to people.). He's not particularly smart or funny or compassionate or anything--he's a pretty ordinary kid. But he's not, of course. I love his new friends, Safer and Candy and their unusual family. I love the way Stead uses a taste test in science class to build all kinds of plot and theme threads.

There's nothing fantastical about the plot twist in Liar & Spy, but it's every bit as head spinning and heart breaking as the one in When You Reach Me. I cried. I laughed. It was great.

Yes, there's a bullying sub-plot, and I loved the way she handled it. (I cried again. Happy tears.)

Liar & Spy is fun and readable on a first read and has lots of layers to reward a reread. Apple strudel, I think, with a crispy, flaky crust and tangy sweet apple filling.

Don't forget to go to Shannon Messenger's blog to find out what all the other Middle Grade Monday bloggers are excited about this week.

Monday, February 18, 2013

MMGM: Stolen Child, by Marsha Skrypuch

In an inspired trip to the library I came up with not one but two books that got me all excited about blogging again. And they're both Middle Grade, so I can do a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! And one of them's Canadian, so I can add one more to my Canadian book challenge! I am on a roll here!

Many thanks to Andrea Mack, a regular MMGMer who blogged last week about Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Skrypuch. I went to the library with Skrypuch on a little piece of paper and came back with Stolen Child, the book she wrote before Making Bombs for Hitler. (The two books are connected but can be read independently.)

Stolen Child is about Nadia, a young girl who immigrates to Canada after WWII with two people she has to remember to call mother and father. They are poor, but they are building a safe life for Nadia in a small Ontario town. Nadia has terrible nightmares, however, and strange memories she can't make sense of. She doesn't know how she ended up in a Displaced Persons camp in the care of Marusia and Ivan, and some of the things she remembers make her afraid she might actually be one of the hated Nazis. Gradually she pieces together what happened to her, at the same time as she is learning English, making friends, and struggling to make a new life in Canada.

I won't explain what Hitler's Lebensborn program is, because it's the mystery at the heart of Stolen Child and you might want to discover it as Nadia does, piece by piece. (I confess, I cheated and read the historical note at the back of the book when I was only halfway through.) It's hard to believe anything could shock me about Hitler, but I found this one of his atrocities particularly unfathomable.

Stolen Child isn't a history lesson, however. It's a compelling story about a lost girl in the strange land of Canada. Skrypuch gets all the details right, from Nadia's incomprehension of Wonder Bread to her fears about what to tell a new friend about her life, to her delight at discovering that books in the library are free to take home. I was right there with her from the moment she landed in Halifax. The taste of ice cream, the sound of a lullaby, the scent of Hitler's hair creme: Skrypuch knows how to draw us in and keep us riveted to Nadia's story. Her emotional journey was entirely believable. I cried. Now I have to go get Making Bombs for Hitler so I can find out what happened to Nadia's sister.

Stolen Child is creamed salmon on toast, which you might think doesn't sound very good, but it's comfort food from my childhood--my mom made it lots because it was cheap and easy, and I have fond memories of it. (I'm sure it was better than the Velveeta on Wonder Bread that Nadia's neighbor makes her!)

I'm not a big lover of historical fiction, but books like this make me think I could stand to read more of it. It also makes me think of the story of my husband's German family, who had yet another kind of experience during WWII. I've often thought I could--should--write about it, but the thought of all the research involved quite daunts me. Marsha Skrypuch is an inspiration!

I'm going to save the second Middle Grade book for next week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, so stay tuned for Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead. In the meantime, go to Shannon Messenger's amazing blog to find out what all the other MMGMers recommended this week.

And check out John Mutford's Book Mine Set for more great Canadian books, both for adults and children.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A poor but hilarious excuse for a blog post

I've been uninspired in my reading lately; haven't been jumping up and down eager to tell you to read this great book I just read. Also feeling guilty for not having reviewed a Canadian book in January, nor a Marvelous Middle-Grade book in way too long. And we all know what a good motivator guilt is!

So instead of a book review, I offer David Malki's Wondermark. He even has a new blog-friendly format for his cartoons:

A few more favourites:

Now you all can spend the rest of the day being just as productive as I am!  Cheers!