Thursday, January 9, 2014

Guest blogger - And she's back

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and (I know I've said it before) a kindred spirit when it comes to books.  It's always a pleasure to swap notes and insights about what we're reading. Somehow, with Janet around, I'm never short on things to read and my to-be-read-pile never gets small. Also, she works part-time at a local school.  I'm hoping Janet will keep us apprised of what's making the rounds (reading-wise) with the kids there in an upcoming post.

Christmas is….books. And more books

I always look upon Christmas as a time to pause, reflect and read. (And eat chocolate. But that is fodder for another type of blog.) Everyone in my house receives at least one book under the tree – and usually more. Santa can’t restrain him/herself in a bookstore, apparently.  And, of course, I always bring home an armful of books from the Doucette Library, secure in the knowledge that I will get lots of reading done - you know, between entertaining, sleeping and Christmas “stuff”.

The Christmas “stuff” did get in the way of all of the reading I wanted to get done – but I did get some books read. Tammy suggested I do a mini-review of some of them. So here goes:


Words with wings by Nikki Grimes.  Gabriella is a day-dreamer. She daydreams almost all the time – and when her parents separate and she and her mom move to a new part of town, it seems to be the only place where she can go to find some peace. Her day dreaming frustrates both her mother and her teacher - but her teacher finds a solution that helps Gabriella, not only in her school work, but in her dreaming as well. Written in verse, this is a quick and easy read. Grade 4 -6

Rose under fire by Elizabeth Wein – Wein is an incredibly powerful storyteller. Her book Code Name Verity has to be one of the best books that I have read in a long time so I was worried that her second book would be disappointing. Not to worry – she came through in spades, at least for me. This is another book about women in the Second World War – this time written about an American ATA pilot captured by the Germans and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. She meets a group of women – all determined to survive – and the bonds of friendship, the instincts we all have for survival and the hope that lay in all of them form the basis of the story.  It is another intense story – but one I couldn't put down (unlike Verity, where I had to walk away periodically to catch my breath). Recommended for high school and up.

The second life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Rourke Dowell. I am always looking for good middle school novels and I was hoping that this would be a one. Abigail is one of those girls on the fringe of the circle of the “cool” kids – but when she decides to walk away from the mean girls, she opens up possibilities for friendship that are far more interesting and supportive. She meets Anders and his dad, who is a veteran of the war in Iraq and somewhat fragile as a result, and through her friendship with them, she discovers some of who she is, rather than who others think she should be.  I found some of the elements in the story to not quite fit – there is a fox that winds its way through the story – and that introduces an element of the mystic to the story that does not quite fit (for me). Abigail also has a very unsupportive father and a mother who seems  completely oblivious to her daughter’s predicaments with the other girls – although that may ring true for some girls of that age (the possibility of your parents being unsupportive and/or oblivious) they seem a little too black and white, even for fiction.  Overall, an OK read – but I would not likely go out of my way to recommend it. Grades 5 – 7.

The ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman – Definitely NOT a book for any one in grade school or junior high, it is classic Neil Gaiman (if there is such a thing). He captures nostalgia for childhood, along with some of the cynicism of adulthood. It is about a middle-aged man, who returns to his childhood home for a funeral, and in doing so, remembers the time when he met Lettie – a nearby neighbour who had a significant impact on him during a particularly stressful time in his childhood. Even writing that down, it sounds kind of mundane – and it isn't, I promise.  The story has an element of mystery and some common sense – and unlike many other books, the feeling I got when I read it seems to be staying with me.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  OK – a slight confession. This one I read before Christmas. But I liked it so much, I gave it to my daughter for Christmas – so it kind of counts.  Everyone is raving about Eleanor & Park, Rowell’s other book – and I read that one as well (but way back in September, so I can hardly count it as a Christmas read). Fangirl is about the internet phenomenon (can it still be a phenomenon this late in the game?) of fan fiction – stories written by a fan of particular book or TV characters. My daughter was big into this for awhile – and still may be for all I know, which is why I thought she would enjoy this book. The story is about Cath and Wren, twin sisters who were both into fan fiction at one time, both as readers and writers of one particular story.  Now at college, Wren is into other experiences and Cath is left on her own. With a sullen room-mate, an English professor who thinks fan-fiction is terrible, and a father who is struggling with life, Cath is not sure that she can do college and live her own life.  I really liked this book – Rowell is well-versed in the experience of being a teenager and the insecurities and feelings of being not in control. Her writing is measured and I really like her characters and how she develops them.  A definite high school read.

That’s all of the Doucette books that I read – of course, Tammy came into work yesterday and raved about several that she read over the holidays. And then a new order of books arrived. So I have added more to the pile. While I am glad that Christmas only comes once a year, I wish that the time between Christmas and New Years appeared more often than annually. I might get that pile down to a reasonable size.


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