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Learning to Love Yourself and What You Do ⇉ Contemplations on Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Francesca Zappia has a talent for bringing characters and their emotions to life. I started reading this book intending to enjoy some light reading before bed . . . and stayed up flipping through the pages, intent on finding out how things develop between Eliza and Wallace after he sees her artwork.

The high school me could relate with Eliza. I didn't like school and had a hard time communicating with my peers. Reading and writing were my means of escape from reality. I never created an online fandom like Eliza, but I did hang around the Inkpop forums before Figment took over. Given this shared experience and how the Internet has become such a large part of our culture, I was interested in seeing how Francesca Zappia would bring the two worlds together.

I like how Francesca Zappia integrates pages from Eliza's popular webcomic Monstrous Sea, comment threads, and text messages into the novel. It gives us a broader picture of Eliza's life and how much more real her online community is to her than her offline life, where everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong. (At least, to the teenage mind.) Because of this broader picture, I can empathize with how Eliza puts more energy into her online life. It's so much easier to invest into something that's going well, especially after all our past efforts with the alternative seem to have failed.

Regardless of whether you consider yourself an artist, I believe we can all relate to Eliza's creativity and passion. We've all felt passion for something at one part in our life. Whether or not we continued to feed that passion is another story. (Or maybe you found another passion: I can relate to that one. I was the child who tried different things but found a hard time sticking to any one thing. Anyone else relate?) I enjoy reading YA lit because of the hope it lights up in the midst of challenges. It fuels my drive to delve into my passions and create something.

The ending of Eliza really hits home for me. There will be times when we fall into slumps. When we want to give up and let go of everything. Even after we overcome one obstacle, we may face another one later on. Eliza's continued passion for her creation in a time of trial reminds me never to persevere through the challenges. When we can get through them, the result will be so, so rewarding.

(Her story also reminds me that authors are human too. There are authors who go on long hiatuses. Eliza reminds us that authors don't belong to their fans; they need time off too for personal reasons. I appreciate the time that authors take with their craft. Some of my favorite authors tend to take their time with their works, and the quality of their writing is worth the wait!)

Of course, no story is perfect, and the reasons will differ from reader to reader. Some things that I didn't love so much were....

1. The language
It's not pervasive, but there are times when cuss words pop up

2. The romance
There are some intimate moments behind closed doors. (Thankfully, nothing that involves clothes coming off, but I did feel like I was invading their private space).

My bigger problem, however, is how Wallace handles the big reveal and what he says to her the next time they see each other. (I don't consider this a spoiler because we know the reveal is going to happen eventually). Though he seems to try to be understanding, in the end, he's thinking about himself, and his backstory was developed enough for me to empathize with the way he treats her. In the end, I still don't see how they got resolve everything other than the fact that they're teenagers. (It still would have been good to see them communicate more. Too much is done at the end out of moments of passion.)

3. Where's Monstrous Sea?
I was looking forward to seeing the story of Monstrous Sea interwoven with that of Eliza's offline life. While we do see some of the story, it's so sparse and infrequent, that I wouldn't remember what I'd last seen of Monstrous Sea by the time the next section came around. I'm also confused as to how the storyline all fits in together. I needed to see either more of Monstrous Sea (so I could make the connections ) or less of it (so I could remember what I did see).

4. Underdeveloped Family Relations
While I like how Eliza's family plays an important role in her life (as under appreciated as they are in the beginning), things wrap up a little to nicely at the end. I feel like Eliza isn't given the chance to grow as much as she could have as a daughter and sister.

Yes, her family didn't try as hard as they could have to understand her and support her, but Eliza also fails to try to understand them and assumes that they hate her. I love how her brothers take action at the end to move things forward, and I wish that more pages were dedicated to showing her respond in kind. This was a great opportunity to show character growth and shine the spotlight on the family.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Eliza's story is one with which many readers can relate no matter where they come from. We often think that other people live more glamorous lives than ours or judge us more harshly than they do. Who better to show us this than Eliza, whose online life is scrutinized by millions of fans? While I did have some problems with plot development (especially the later stages of the romance), I enjoyed following Eliza's high school troubles and the nostalgia of my own high school life (not that I enjoyed high school much when I was a high school student). Eliza's story is a remind that, no matter how tough things get, as long as we push forward with hope for the future, we will find joy in the midst of trials and come out a stronger person.

Lastly, I do need to shout out the references to anime. I love anime and cartoons in general :)

★★★☆☆


Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.



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Publication Info
  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
  • Published by Harper Collins
  • On May 30, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Language
  • Kissing, intimate couple moments (no sex scenes)
  • Fan work involving BL (boy love)
  • Contemplations of suicide
  • Panic attack

The Ominous Eye by Tracey Hecht ⇉ Furry Friends and Big Dilemmas Will Encourage Young Readers to Reconsider What They Know about Right and Wrong

Friday, June 16, 2017
The Nocturnals are back for another adventure! Who else enjoys reading books featuring animals as the protagonists?


WHAT I LIKED


Friendship Focus
The focus of the Nocturnals has always been on the strong friendship that Dawn, Tobin, and Bismark share. I like how their friendship is put to the test in this novel because it shows young readers that good friends can fight and doubt each other, but they will continue to care for each other and put in the effort to make up.

Blurs the Line Between Good and Evil
Like the first book, The Ominous Eye blurs the line between good and evil. Oftentimes, we look at someone's actions and judge their character based off a specific behavior at a specific point in the time, but we don't stop to question the motive behind their behavior. The Ominous Eye calls us to consider the other side's perspective.

Caricature of the Real World
The actions of the nocturnals in this novel reflect the actions of real-world people when bad things happen and no one knows what to do. This book provide a safe place for children to consider how they would act (or who in the novel they want to act like) should something similar take place in their lives.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


Superficial Characters
As in the first novel, the characters stay nicely packaged in their respective personas. While events cause tension within the heroes' relationships with one another, even the quarrel isn't very persuasive and lacks depth.

The Characters' Attitudes and Actions
On top of what I didn't like from the last novel, I really didn't like Dawn and Bismark's attitudes in this novel. The new major player in this novel was also pretty big "know it all." Young readers may find their attitudes and actions interesting, but as an older reader, I wanted to see more to the characters' personalities.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Overall, I appreciate how the Nocturnals books introduce young readers to new creatures and teaches them about friendship, hope, and perseverance through hardships. In exploring real-world concepts through animals lives, the book gives young readers the opportunity to consider the right thing to do when faced with a moral dilemma.

★★★☆☆


They're baaaccckkk for another mysterious action filled Nocturnal adventure!

Join Dawn, Bismark and Tobin as they set out to investigate the source of a violent jolt that fractures the earth! Along their journey, the Nocturnal Brigade meets an unfamiliar reptile—a tuatara named Polyphema—who reveals that a giant beast caused the destruction and will soon strike again. Polyphema with her special insights, is the only one who can help the Nocturnal Brigade stop this fearsome predator… but can she be trusted? With help from an owl, the jerboas, and some kiwis, the animals set a trap since surrender is not an option against this relentless beast.



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Publication Info
  • The Ominous Eye by Tracey Hecht
  • Published by Fabled Films Press
  • On September 20, 2016
  • Genres: MysteryMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 208 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Nocturnals
  1. The Mysterious Abductions
  2. The Ominous Eye
  3. The Fallen Star
Content
  • Some violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel ⇉ Full Color Illustrations, Unlikely Heroes, and a #GIVEAWAY

Friday, June 9, 2017
Five worlds at stake. Three unlikely heroes. . .

The Sand Warrior has the basics to one of my favorite plotlines in fantasy worlds. Furthermore, it's told in graphic novel format. Though I typically favor prose reads, I enjoy a good graphic novel and opened this one in anticipation of how the illustrations would bring the story to life.


WHAT I LIKED


Full Color Illustrations
The Sand Warrior is filled with full color illustrations from start the finish. I appreciate the use of full color because it brings the fantasy world to life in a way that wouldn't have been possible with black and white illustrations.

The Political Intricacies
With the fate of 5 worlds at stake, there is unrest and political intricacy as expected. Different races fight for a say in their fates, there are power struggles, and there is the daily fight for survival. In the end, the story makes the reader question who is in the right and if there is a way to resolve everything in a way that respects all the parties involved. The twist in the last battle of The Sand Warrior further expands on the political intricacies and the moral dilemmas faced by the characters.

Creative World Building
Though only a few of the characteristics of the 5 worlds are explored in The Sand Warrior, it is clear that each world possesses its unique elements. The ability of the sand dancers is the focus in this first book. Oona's troubles in the academy will be relatable to many young people; I wish that her time there was explored in more detail.

Strong Mentor Figures
The main characters are still children. Though they must take action on their own at times (being the heroes), they do not do everything on their own. At times when they don't know what to do, they turn to their mentor figures, who play instrumental roles in providing them with shelter, important information, and learning opportunities. I am always appreciative of books with strong mentor figures. No matter how old we get, we always need them!!

Contemporary Issues in a Foreign World
Bullying and name calling . . . social unrest . . . political intricacies . . . racism . . . many contemporary issues are raised in The Sand Warrior. Given that events take place in a foreign world, this presents a safe place for young readers to explore these issues.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


Does Not Build a Firm Foundation
Soon after the start, events take place one after the other without pause. I felt like a puppet being dragged from one place to another without understanding the point of the mission. Yes, this may have happened because the characters themselves don't know what's going on, but without a clear focus, the readers will become lost as well.

This first book certainly does its job of setting up the premise. However, it was a simple introduction and nothing more. As a first book, it's weak and doesn't have the power to stand alone, something I expect from a strong first book in a series.

Flat Characters
Outside of the twist introduced towards the end, The Sand Warrior fails to invest my interest in the characters' stories. The characters felt bland and cookie cutter. They fit nicely within the stereotype presented and don't act much outside of it. Though the panels will focus on their faces now and then, their expressions weren't readable and didn't tell me anything about them.

I expect that later books will teach us more about the characters and the worlds they inhabit. That said, we shouldn't have to rely so much on sequels to let us get to know the characters, especially if they were introduced early into the novel and play a pivotal role in events.

What's the Message?
Lastly, because there isn't a coherent plot and the characters don't take much of an active role in pushing it forward (instead being led by others), this first book last a decisive message to pull it together. Again, I expect to see a clearer plot as the later books bring the plot threads together, but we shouldn't have to rely on later books to bring it all together. Each book should still have a clear purpose.


FINAL THOUGHTS


All in all, The Sand Warrior is a weak first book but sets the stage for the sequels to come. I enjoyed the full color illustrations and the creative world building. There is much intrigue in this book, and I am interested in seeing where the plot twist at the end takes us.

If you're interested in reading more (or know someone who would enjoy reading this book), remember to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of The Sand Warrior!




The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there s more to themselves and more to their worlds than meets the eye. . . . The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.

A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.

Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends? When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!





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Akiko and the Planet Smoo by Mark Crilley



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If you were to travel to another planet, what will you do there?


Publication Info
  • The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel
  • Published by Random House BFYR
  • On May 2, 2017
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Format: Hardback
5 Worlds
  1. The Sand Warrior
  2. The Cobalt Prince
Content
  • Some violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.



GIVEAWAY


Thanks to the publisher, I have the following to give away to a blog reader!

PRIZES
The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel

OPEN TO...
The United States

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Author Interview with Sara Pascoe (Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For)

Saturday, May 27, 2017
Today, I'm delighted to host author Sara Pascoe on the blog with an interview. I recently read and loved her latest novel Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For.

Welcome to the blog, Sara! Tell us a little about yourself.
I come to writing fiction after a career in psychology. I had a lot of interesting and inspiring experiences from teaching chimpanzees language, to working in the US Congress. I am originally from the US and moved to Great Britain in 2004, where I now live on the south coast where we run a B&B for English Language students.

The main characters travel through space and time in your latest novel. What did you learn in writing Being a Witch?
I learned quite a bit about the history of both England and the Ottoman Empire around the time of the story, the mid-seventeenth century. What I found particularly fascinating was the stark contrast between the two places in the mid-1600s. Things were awful in England at this time. There were food shortages due to long-term weather conditions, the water was so dirty it was safer to drink ale, the average lifespan was 16 years of age, and ordinary folk, both men and women had very few rights.

But in Istanbul (called Constantinople by Europeans) life was amazing. There was hot and cold running water! Proper toilets! There were soup kitchens for the poor, schools for boys and girls, free hospitals for people and animals. It was considered a good deed to feed stray cats :). Women could own businesses, and bring cases to court. I read quite a few (translated) original court documents, and diaries of European women who ran away to Istanbul for a better life. I also read original writings by two of the real-life historic figures in the book, Matthew Hopkins, the notorious witch hunter in England, and Katip Celebi, the celebrated scientist and scholar of the Ottoman Empire. I am happy to send anyone the links and references for any of the research.

It's neat how much you can learn while writing a novel! What life experiences did you draw from in the writing of Being a Witch?
There were two main areas of personal experience that fed into the book.
  1. Foster Kids. I'd worked with foster kids over many years in my role as a psychologist. And I always was, and continue to be, very moved by what this is like. You never have a 'forever' home. You know the grownups can throw you back if you're just that much too much of a pain. And then, at 18--flick--you're out on your own.
  2. Traveling to Turkey. We visited friends in Izmir, where there is now the Katip Calebi University, and in Istanbul. That had been my first time in Turkey, and I adored it. I had been in the middle of writing the book, and decided to bring the story there, so I had a good reason to learn more about this amazing place and the history still gloriously evident.

While reading Being a Witch, I found myself wondering what other kinds of skills witches could learn. If you had a speciality as a witch, what would it be?
To always be patient and in a good mood! My life is just lovely, and I am so lucky in so many ways, but I can easily slip into getting caught up in any of life's ordinary frustrations and setbacks. So, I would give myself the superpower of Constant Greater Perspective!

I understand completely. When life happens and ruins our carefully laid plans, it can be so easy to get frustrated and let it ruin our day. Describe your witch familiar.
Ooo, I don't think I could limit myself to just one. Of course, I'd have a trusty cat familiar who would suss out people who aren't who they seem, or pretend to be. But I also adore rats, and find they are a very under-appreciated species, so I'd have a rat familiar who would ride on my shoulder, and I think they would sense oncoming danger from natural things such as food that's gone bad, storms, earthquakes and the like. And I'd have a goat familiar whose power would be to draw in wonderful friends. It would be a very well-behaved goat who could go on walks, and people would be drawn in to him or her, to say 'hi', as people do with dogs.

I agree. Rats are really intelligent and underappreciated. One of my first pets was a rat, and I loved playing with her. What's your favorite baked good? Do you have a recipe to share?
Wow, another hard choice. My favourite at the moment is a banana cake with cream cheese icing. It's a big hit at gatherings and a good one for making ahead. (You'll see the part about putting it in the freezer right after baking -- this is correct. You can just freeze it from there, then thaw it out and ice it on the day you want it.) I've attached the recipe for all to enjoy. This is my altered version; the original was from another writer, Della Galton.

That sounds delicious. I'm looking forward to trying out your recipe! If you could visit any time period, which would you visit and why?
I may have this wrong, but I think I'd like to go back to the 1920s in the US or Europe. From what I know, this was a time of hope and expansion both culturally and socially, with the Impressionists, some of the early greats of photography, and the start of real, and positive developments for ordinary working people. It was after the horrors of losing millions in World War I, but before the global hardships of the Great Depression. Jazz was coming into it's own, the dancing was great. And they had cool clothes :).

I love jazz music. What are you working on right now?
Sabrina Jones' Blog from the Future (working title) is a science fiction novel aimed at adults. Sabrina, in her late twenties, lives in a entirely self-contained high-rise 'hive' where food is grown on the roof, your TV tells you when your brain chemistry is off, and sex is no longer taken personally. But her life is turned upside down when her boss is found dead, and she accidentally uncovers a government cover-up to hide the President's brain damage. The President's behaviour is putting the whole world in danger, but will anyone believe her?

That sounds like an interesting book. I look forward to checking it out when it's released!

Blog readers, don't forget to scroll down and enter the international giveaway of Being a Witch (and a cool pen to go along with it!).

About Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For



When you’re fourteen and life has been nothing but hurt and disappointment, maybe it’s time to strike out on your own. But after leaving the boring village and foster home for the excitement of London, Raya finds out she’s a witch, with this annoying habit of time-travelling – by accident. And this sarcastic witch’s cat Oscar tags along for the ride. But why would she fling herself into the midst of the Essex Witch Trials in 1645 England? After being arrested by Matthew Hopkins, one of history’s most notorious witch hunters, her social worker and witch mentor Bryony goes back to try to save them from the gallows. But returning to present day London remains out of reach with Raya’s powers still out of control when they find themselves in 1645 Istanbul/Constantinople. There, life is more amazing than she ever dreamed. Can she stay? And at what cost?





AUTHOR BIO

Sara Pascoe came to writing fiction after a career in psychology. She's had great fun in a lot of interesting jobs including bicycle mechanics, teaching chimps language, studying brains under the microscope, and working in the US Congress. She also worked as a clinical psychologist, which she found to be rewarding and moving.

After living on in various parts of the United States, she now resides in the United Kingdom, where she runs a B&B with her husband for English Language students in a beach town. Of course, she also writes.

For more information, visit her website. You can also connect with her on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter.



GIVEAWAY


Thanks to the author, I have the following to give away to a reader of the blog. The giveaway is open internationally!

PRIZES
Being a Witch and a Being a Witch pen

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For by Sara Pascoe ⇉ Witches, Time Travel, and a #Giveaway (International)

Thursday, May 25, 2017
I picked this one up in the midst of finalizing student grades. During this time, I generally don't read much because my brain goes on break, but I always found the time and energy to read this book. Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For is a light, enjoyable read that has an underlying level of depth to it in the contemporary issues addressed.

A contributing factor to the lightheartedness of the novel is the youthful tone. At fourteen years of age, Raya is still a child and has much to learn about society. In the beginning, she comes off as bratty and unappreciative, but author Sara Pascoe makes her situation understandable. It may also be that I'm reading this from an older perspective; when I was Raya's age, I probably would have put more blame on the character for her circumstances.

I especially appreciate how Pascoe address contemporary issues through Raya's situation. Some issues addressed include foster care, the homeless, teen runaways, and social care. While I would love to discuss this in more detail, it may result in potential spoilers. Just know that I appreciate how, in the end, both the adults and the children are able to contribute to the discussion and seek mutual understanding. There are too few books out there where children are able to rely on adults or work together with them to a common purpose!

Being a Witch has the additional treat in that it takes place in the UK, both in the present day and in the historical past during the Essex Witch Trials. There's also a side trip to the Middle East. I'll let you find out the time and place when you read the book! Having grown up in the United States, I enjoyed taking a peek into the lives and culture of the people in these locations. It was made all the more enjoyable by the presence of Oscar the cat. Cats always spice up a story with their catty personalities and commentary!

Lastly, I want to once more acknowledge the constant presence of adults in Raya's life. I love that she's able to rely on them and receive support from them. Of course, as the heroine of a novel, she must step up and take action herself at times, but she is also able to be a child thanks to the adults who are there for her.

Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For is a magical story that I recommend to readers who enjoy a good fantasy, especially one with witches and (of course) a cat!




When you’re fourteen and life has been nothing but hurt and disappointment, maybe it’s time to strike out on your own. But after leaving the boring village and foster home for the excitement of London, Raya finds out she’s a witch, with this annoying habit of time-travelling – by accident. And this sarcastic witch’s cat Oscar tags along for the ride. But why would she fling herself into the midst of the Essex Witch Trials in 1645 England? After being arrested by Matthew Hopkins, one of history’s most notorious witch hunters, her social worker and witch mentor Bryony goes back to try to save them from the gallows. But returning to present day London remains out of reach with Raya’s powers still out of control when they find themselves in 1645 Istanbul/Constantinople. There, life is more amazing than she ever dreamed. Can she stay? And at what cost?





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CHAT WITH ME


If you were to travel to any time period, which would it be and why?


Publication Info
  • Being a Witch, and Other Things I Didn't Ask for by Sara Pascoe
  • Published by Trindles and Green
  • On February 6, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 380 Pages
  • Format: Paperback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Language
  • Teen runaway
  • Violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.



INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY


Thanks to the author, I have the following to give away to a reader of the blog. The giveaway is open internationally!

PRIZES
Being a Witch and a Being a Witch pen

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The History of Hilary Hambrushina by Marnie Lamb ⇉ Junior High + All the Feels + #INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY

Monday, May 22, 2017
You know those books that make you feel all sorts of feels? The books that make you want to share them with the world, but you don't know what to say?

That's how it feels putting down The History of Hilary Hambrushina.

To understand what I love about this novel, we need to start off with...

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE

An Immature Heroine
To be honest, I was tempted to throw Hilary out the window after the first quarter of the novel. Hilary starts out as a terribly naive girl who thinks she's fat and desperately wants to be a part of the popular crowd. Her comments on her family, herself, and her wants broke my heart. I wanted to tell her that this is not what life is about.

What kept me reading was the belief that Hilary would learn and mature over the course of the novel. Not only did this happen, but I wasn't ready for the feels that would come with Hilary's growth.

Flat, Stereotypical "Villains"
Like many school-life stories, Hilary features stereotypical villains in the form of the "in" crowd. For the most part, these characters act in predictable ways.

That said, I like the nod to the insecurities that lead people to behave in "villainous" ways.

As Hilary learns, there are two sides to every story. (Now, does that mean everyone will grow up, hold hands, and frolick together through green meadows? No, but at least we can try to understand why people do what they do.)

WHAT I LOVED

Supportive Adults That Care and Are Involved
Too many stories feature incompetent or otherwise absent adults. Sure, like any other teenager, Hilary spends quite a bit of time upset with her mom and believes that her mom won't understand what she's going through. However, her mom and dad and a consistent presence in her life, and they're ready to step in when she needs them.

Hilary is blessed with adults outside of the family as well. Kallie's mother provides an exemplary role model of a pretty woman who also has a job in the math and sciences. Kallie's father is an artist. (Both parents are involved in Kallie's life, and they have a loving relationship.) Kallie's grandmother gives Hilary advice, albeit through tarot card reading.

Terrific Teachers: Recognizing Everyday Heroes
As a teacher, I teared up over Miss Stephanopoulos's support and care for her students. I'm also a teacher, and I love how she involves her students in fun projects that make them think about who they are and where they came from. I love how she lets Hilary (and other students) know through her words and actions that she is there for them.

Most of all, I love that she doesn't play favorites but reaches out to those that she knows is in need. (Read to the end to find out more. I can't say more on this because of potential spoilers.)

When We Find What We're Looking For in a Likely Yet Unlikely Source
Hilary spends much of the novel trying to fit life into her expectations of it. As veterans of life know, "life happens." It doesn't always turn out as we planned, and sometimes, the best things have always been there waiting for us to find them.

Hilary Grows Up, and She Isn't Perfect
Even after all she's learned, Hilary has a lot of growing to do. Because narrator Hilary is reflecting on events from five years into the future (I'm guessing around the end of high school), she recognizes her flaws. She is able to comment on the mistakes that she made and the flaws in her thinking, which she thought justifiable at the time of the story.

I believe strongly in being a lifelong learner. I love how events do not wrap up neatly but instead challenge us to think about how we ourselves may continue growing.

In the end, Hilary's story presents a realistic portrayal of life.

That's what I love most about it. It's why we can all relate in some way to Hilary's story. It's why we rage, weep, and finally rejoice when the heroine makes it through her trials at the end of a novel. Because we've been her, and we understand what she's been thought.

Themes: Friendship, Insecurity, Bullying, Family, Love (not in the romantic sense), Forgiveness


★★★★☆


Hilary has one goal for her first year in junior high: to become popular. But her plans are turned upside down when her best friend leaves for the summer and a quirky girl named Kallie moves in next door. Kallie paints constellations on her ceiling, sleeps in a hammock, and enacts fantastical plays in front of cute boys on the beach. Yet despite Kallie’s lack of interest in being “cool,” Hilary and Kallie find themselves becoming friends. That summer friendship, however, is put to the test when school begins, reigniting Hilary's obsession with climbing the social ladder. As Hilary discovers the dark side to popularity, she must decide who she wants to be before she loses everything.



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Publication Info
  • The History of Hilary Hambrushina by Marnie Lamb
  • Published by Iguana Books
  • On May 31, 2017
  • Genres: ContemporaryMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 206 Pages
  • Format: Paperback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Bullying
  • Name calling

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.




GIVEAWAY


Thanks to the author Marnie Lamb, I have two giveaways for you.

(1) U.S. / CANADA
- Donation of C$10 to a charity of your choice (must be legit and easy to donate online)
- A signed copy of The History of Hilary Hambrushina (for yourself or a friend)

(2) INTERNATIONAL
- Donation of C$10 to a charity of your choice (must be legit and easy to donate online)
- An e-copy of The History of Hilary Hambrushina (for yourself or a friend)

MAY THE ODDS BE IN YOUR FAVOR.


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Keeping the Tree Upright ⇉ Guest Post by Marnie Lamb + International #Giveaway!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Society in the United States, Canada, and many other Western countries today is highly polarized. On one hand, difference is increasingly celebrated. Intermarriage, gay couples parenting children, and friendships between people of different faiths are becoming possible in ways not imagined even twenty or thirty years ago.

On the other, a lot of hatred, judgment, and suspicion of those who are different remains. People continue to be pigeonholed into categories based on race, religion, and gender, and are expected to behave in ways stereotypical to those categories. Movements against these stereotypes have produced their own extremes. For instance, until around the 1960s in Western culture, women were generally expected to be modest and subservient to men, remain out of the public eye, and put themselves last. Now, a self-promotional, “me first” ethos predominates in some circles, with naked selfies shared with the Internet the norm for some celebrities. But what if you’re a woman who, like many of us, wants to be thoughtful and caring towards others without being dominated by them? Or someone who is happy with her body but doesn’t necessarily want an intimate shot of it immortalized for posterity to click on, download, and share?

Navigating this terrain as an adult is difficult enough. What about as a tween or teenager? If I had a daughter or niece, I’d give her a few hard-learned tips about how to navigate today’s social biosphere.

1. Be choosy about who you listen to. There are many self-proclaimed “experts” out there, but what are their credentials? What makes them experts about vaccines or nutrition? Practise a healthy suspicion of the celebrity culture. If you feel like you shouldn’t really be spending your time following someone, that’s a good indication that this person is an addiction rather than an inspiration. What is important to you? What qualities do you admire in others? Knowing the answers to these questions, you can find and follow people who display your values. Are you passionate about the environment? If so, check out Canadian crusader Severn Cullis-Suzuki. About education for girls? Look to Malala Yousafzai.

To narrow the definition of “society,” extend this choosiness to your friendships. Sometimes, “friends” appear to have your best interests at heart, but they’re actually looking out for themselves. Beware of anyone who tries to push their way on you, even if they appear to be doing you a favour. I’ve had friendships where the other person insisted on paying my way every time we got together, despite my attempts to reciprocate. Sounds nice, right? It was until I realized that these friends had been subtly controlling me for years, always choosing where we went and how often we met and putting down any opinions of mine that differed from theirs. Paying my way was simply a beautifully clothed example of this manipulation, like new silk curtains hiding a dirty, cracked window. Anyone who tries to control you isn’t allowing you to be free to be yourself. They’re warping you into someone who serves their needs. Be alert to these patterns and prepared to take action if necessary. Society often still tells us girls to be nice, but you have to draw boundaries.

2. Have one day a week without social media. We’re bombarded with myriad pieces of information every day. The more information that gets in, the more confused we become, especially because much of the information is contradictory. Not so long ago, a slender body was the norm to which Western girls were taught to aspire, and girls with rounder bodies were belittled. Now, “thin shaming” has entered the English vocabulary. Yet fat shaming still exists. What does that mean? Are all of us, slender or round, deficient in some way?

Coming as it does via a website, this advice might seem counterintuitive, but we all need to take regular breaks from the too-easily accessible online world. Read a book. Get outdoors and walk. And turn off your phone. Unless you’re on call for work, you don’t have to always have your phone on. “But I might miss a text from a friend,” you say. So? Unless you’re meeting the friend immediately and need to know whether she’s still coming, the text can almost certainly wait. If you open it, you might decide to check your Facebook account and then see a link a friend has posted and click on that link, and before you can say Zuckerberg, you’ve been sucked back in, surfing the net and ending up who knows where reading who knows what. I have a rule that I don’t turn on my computer on Saturdays unless I have to work that day. If people want to contact me, they know that they have to phone me on my landline (yes, I still have one!).

3. Find your container. In The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron talks about the need to find “containers,” spaces of nurturing that provide an escape from the stresses of daily life. Everyone, highly sensitive or not, needs such spaces, which include places away from the online world, with its rapid stimulation. Not being glued to a screen on Saturdays frees me to bask in the comfort of some of my containers, like biking on recreation paths on a sunny summer afternoon or catching up over a scrumptious brunch with a friend I haven’t seen in ages. These containers ground me and help me simply be, without worrying about becoming.

Following this advice won’t free you from the woman vs. world conflict. But taking a moment to consider, step away, and recharge will help you steady yourself, like breathing deeply, fixing your gaze on a single unmoving point, and looking away from the other yogis as you’re trying the tree pose in yoga class. You’ll still wobble or even fall over every once in a while. But if you can block the outside distractions and focus inward as much as possible, you’ll be more likely to stay upright.


CHAT WITH ME (MARNIE LAMB)
What is your favourite container? It could be physical or mental.


About The History of Hilary Hambrushina


Hilary has one goal for her first year in junior high: to become popular. But her plans are turned upside down when her best friend leaves for the summer and a quirky girl named Kallie moves in next door. Kallie paints constellations on her ceiling, sleeps in a hammock, and enacts fantastical plays in front of cute boys on the beach. Yet despite Kallie’s lack of interest in being “cool,” Hilary and Kallie find themselves becoming friends. That summer friendship, however, is put to the test when school begins, reigniting Hilary's obsession with climbing the social ladder. As Hilary discovers the dark side to popularity, she must decide who she wants to be before she loses everything.





AUTHOR BIO

Though she once dreamt of heading to Hollywood, Marnie Lamb decided that writing, not acting, was the better outlet for her creative impulses. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor before embarking on a short but glorious career as a globe-trotting ESL teacher. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, will be published by Iguana Books on May 31, 2017. When she is not writing fiction or running her freelance editing business, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka-dots—at the One of a Kind Show.

For more information visit her website. You can also connect with her on Goodreads and Facebook.





GIVEAWAY


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The Mysterious Abductions by Tracey Hecht ⇉ A Creative Imagining of Animal Life

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
As a young reader, I loved books with animals. One reason is that I loved animals and would have loved to live a life surrounded by different species of animals. Another reason is that such books gave me the opportunity to explore different worlds. The Mysterious Abductions is reminiscent of some of my favorite childhood reads. I enjoyed my stay in this world.


WHAT I LIKED


Characters with Personality
The Mysterious Abductions is filled with characters with personality. Each character has a distinct personality that makes them memorable. Consequently, though many different characters are introduced, it's fairly easy to remember who is who based on their personality. (The downside is that we only get to know the characters on a superficial level.)

Creative Imagining of Animal Lives
Tracey Hecht provides a creative imagining of animal lives in The Mysterious Abductions. I enjoyed following the adventures of nocturnal animals and their interactions with each other in this novel.

Blurs the Lines Between Good and Evil
When the lines between good and evil are blurred, the author opens the way to look into different perspectives and examine the reasons for characters' actions. This provides children an opportunity to learning how to be empathetic and consider why someone might act or talk in a way that seems inappropriate to us.

Plot Twist
As the Brigade investigated the abductions, I found myself wondering why the animals were being abducted. The end result was something that I was not expecting at all. I would love to share more about this experience, but that would be a major spoiler. Read the book to find out!

Chapter Images (in Color!)
At the beginning of each chapter, there is a colored image of one or more of the characters. Since there were some animals that were unfamiliar to me, these images were helpful to my understanding of the novel. These pictures, and the story itself, can be used to jumpstart a look into the lives and nature of the animals' real-life counterparts.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


Superficial Characters
While the characters all have distinct personalities, they stay stuck within their personalities; there isn't much depth to their characters. I understand that this is a book for younger readers and that, with three main characters, it can be difficult to balance out their roles.

Given that Tobin seems to be given a more focus, I still feel like more could have been done to develop his character and, subsequently, the other characters through him so that they could be given more depth.

Bismark's Over-the-Top Personality
Bismark was by far my least favorite character given his over-the-top personality and egoistic tendencies. I hesitate to say that all of this is because he's just Bismark and wish that he shows more development in future books.

I'm sure young readers will enjoy his antics, but as he is, I wouldn't use him as a role model for children. If I were reading this with a child, I would use his character as a jumping point for conversations on topics such as friendship, how we should treat others, and how we might act differently in relationships.

Where is the mystery?
The Brigade goes around asking questions and following the trail of abductions. However, we don't see as much brainstorming over possibilities or even a red herring. I've read children's books with more mystery to the mystery. Given the interesting nature of the disappearances (screams but little to no clues at the scene of the crime), I would have enjoyed seeing more detective work going on.

Thick Pages
This is a more personal comfort point: The book pages are much thicker than normal pages (and uneven at the ends). This caused discomfort as I would constantly question whether I had not turned two pages instead of one. I would have preferred thinner pages and possibly a larger book size so that it has more of a young readers' feel to it.


FINAL THOUGHTS


While The Mysterious Abductions does have its moments of humor, it also provides a learning opportunity for children through its themes of friendship and unity. The animals may be from different species and walks of life, but they are able to unite through a shared cause and desire to live in harmony.

One of the reasons I love children's books is that they tend to blur the lines of good and evil in a way that gives hope to the world (as compared to strictly adult books, which tend to portray the world in a hopeless light). While someone may seem like a bad guy right now, it doesn't mean that they were always bad or are beyond saving. The Mysterious Abductions does just that.

Overall, this is an enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

★★★☆☆


The Nocturnals features three unlikely friends: Dawn, a serious fox, Tobin, a sweet pangolin and Bismark, the loud mouthed, pint sized sugar glider. The stories all play out in their nighttime world with teamwork, friendship and humor in every adventure.

In The Mysterious Abductions, the animals form a brigade of the night after a random encounter with a blood-thirsty snake, and just in time because something is threatening their night realm. Animals are disappearing without a trace. Together with the help of a wombat, a band of coyotes and many others, Dawn, Tobin and Bismark journey to the depths of the earth in a wacky, high stakes game that will determine all of their survival.



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CHAT WITH ME


If you went to battle against a dark and mysterious force, who would you include in your dream brigade? (May include real-life or fictional characters.)



Publication Info
  • The Mysterious Abductions by Tracey Hecht
  • Published by Fabled Films Press
  • On April 19, 2016
  • Genres: MysteryMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 232 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Nocturnals
  1. The Mysterious Abductions
  2. The Ominous Eye
  3. The Fallen Star
Content
  • Some violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

When Mommy's Home with Me by Alison Moulton ⇉ A Sweet Tribute to Motherhood

Thursday, April 20, 2017
Everyone who's heard me talk about my mom knows how much I love and respect her. Mothers do so much for their children. As I age, I'll only keep learning more of these things. When Mommy's Home with Me is a book that both young readers and older readers can appreciate.


WHAT I LIKED


Diverse Mothers
Because the story doesn't focus on one family, it was able to portray mothers in different roles. There are mothers of various occupations spending time with their children. From the wording, it seems that some have decided to quit their jobs to stay at home with their children; others are still working.

Diverse Families
The families look different as well. There are diverse ethnic groups as well as families with children of different numbers, genders, and ethnicities. One thing in common is that the focus is on the mother, so the fathers are not portrayed.

Learning Opportunity for Children
Children will learn that mothers come in different shapes, colors, and occupations. They will learn about different types of occupations and what they may learn from someone in that occupation. There are also some words they may not know and will have the chance to learn.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


Quick Pacing
Because the book features different mothers, each mother is allotted two pages. We zip through the different features, so the book moves quickly.

Lack of a Storyline
Also because the book doesn't focus on a single family: there is no coherent storyline. I could open the book to any page and read the two open pages on their own. That said, a young reader would enjoy learning about different types of occupations.

One Job / One "Role"
Such books do run the risk of stereotyping. Each mother is shown teaching or playing with their children in relation to their occupation. For example, scientist runs science experiments, the artist draws with her child, and the teacher teaches her child. The book doesn't teach children that a person's hobbies may differ greatly from his or her occupation.

That said, this is a book for younger readers, so it is helpful to teach in small chunks. The focus of this book is on mothers and their different occupations (and how children may learn from them). I would supplement this book with one that delves more deeply into the life of a single family; it would allow young readers to learn more about the complexities of life.


FINAL THOUGHTS


When Mommy's Home with Me is a sweet tribute to motherhood and the different kinds of mothers out there. This book provides a good learning opportunity for younger readers and will allow them to grow an appreciation for the different things that mothers do. I will be sharing my copy of the book with parents that I know.

★★★★☆


With rollicking rhymes and fanciful images, this adorable picture book celebrates the special relationship between mothers and their children. Filled with stories of all kinds of mommies--like pilots and artists and scientists--this book shows how modern mothers still treasure that precious time spent together at home. A perfect book for moms and kids to enjoy this Mother's Day or any time of the year!



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CHAT WITH ME


What did you enjoy doing with your mother growing up?



Publication Info
  • When Mommy's Home with Me by Alison Moulton
  • Published by Sweetwater Books
  • On March 1, 2017
  • Genres: Children's Book
  • Pages: 32 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • N/A

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Xander and the Dream Thief by Margaret Dilloway ⇉ Everything I Loved in the First Novel

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
As I mentioned in my review of book 1, I was drawn to the Momotaro series because it features an Asian hero and mythology and because I love children's books. Xander's adventures remind me that people go through growing pains and become stronger individuals for them.

Note: If you haven't read the first book, there will be spoilers from that one!!


WHAT I LIKED


Everything I Liked from the First Book
Asian MC, Japanese mythology & culture, good family dynamics (minus the entrance of the mother figure), beautiful artwork . . . Momotaro #2 remains true to the elements that I enjoyed from book one. For more details, click here to read my review of Momotaro #1.

Character Growth
Xander is still a pubescent teen dealing with tween issues, and now he's one with special powers. He's quite the handful. That said, this provides much room for character growth, and Xander does just that. Young readers can relate to Xander's problems and learn how to work through issues.

Follows Events of the First Novel
I love how Xander of the Dream Thief follows through with events of the first novel. For example, the primary conflict in the novel is spurred by the after-effects of Xander's last adventure. Also affected are his relationships with friends, classmates, and family. (I'd talk more about these details, but that would go into spoilers!)


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


Adults are Absent or in Need of Saving (Once More!)
In my review of the last book, I explained how it's unrealistic that children would be the ones saving the day without help from any adults. This still holds true. However, I do appreciate how Xander is able to work through his issues and mature as a character. Sometimes, we do need to learn the hard way outside of parental guidance. And I appreciate his parents' love and understanding through it all.

Quick, Not Well Developed Resolution
Some of the issues are wrapped up too quickly. In particular, there is one big issue that was introduced at the end of the last book and which proves a problem at the beginning of this book. I was expecting to see more development on this issue; however, it was resolved at the end without us seeing Xander work through it. I wish that more attention had been paid to this issue.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Overall, Xander and the Dream Thief is an enjoyable followup to the first novel. As long-time readers know, I always appreciate a novel with good family relationships and Asian characters. I especially love how this novel isn't another episodic adventure in Xander's life but incorporates elements from Momotaro #1. I'm looking forward to seeing where Margaret Dilloway takes us next!

★★★★☆


Xander Miyamoto should be feeling great. It's the beginning of summer vacation, his mother has returned from a long absence, and he has learned that he is a warrior with special powers. Xander never would have guessed that the old Japanese folktale about Momotaro, the hero who sprang from a peach pit, was real, much less part of his own heritage.

But instead of reveling in his recent victory against the oni, monsters bent on creating chaos, Xander is feeling resentful. What took his mother so long to come back? Why does his father insist on ruining the summer with study and training? And why is Xander plagued by nightmares every night? Maybe this whole Momotaro thing is overrated.

Xander's grandmother gives him a special baku charm to use to chase his nightmares away. He just has to be careful not to rely on it too much. If he does, the baku will not only take his dreams, but those of everyone in the house, forever. Without dreams, there is no hope, no motivation, no imagination, no Momotaro. And then it would be far too easy for Ozuno, king of the oni, to wreak havoc. . . .

On his second quest, Xander explores new surreal landscapes, encounters more strange and dangerous creatures, and faces even higher stakes as he learns whether or not he has what it takes to be Momotaro.



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CHAT WITH ME


Would you rather have both dreams and nightmares or no dreams at all? Why?



Publication Info
  • Momotaro by Margaret Dilloway
  • Published by Disney-Hyperion
  • On April 18, 2017
  • Genres: FantasyMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 336 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Momotaro
  1. Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters
  2. Xander and the Dream Thief
Content
  • Bullying
  • Monsters that are potentially frightening for young readers
  • Violence (not graphic)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.