Search of the Moon King’s Daughter

Warning: This is a PG book review.

Emmaline, the strong and almost believable protagonist, carries an incredibly heavy load in Linda Holeman’s Search of the Moon King’s Daughter. The first half of this good-but-not-great book is all introduction and scene setting. We learn about the ever-darkening circumstances of Emmaline’s young life.

Her mother, Cat, is a slut with addictive tendencies while her father, Jasper, is blinded by his love for her mother and can see none of his wife’s faults. Furthermore, he has no work ethic and too soft a heart. Because he is nothing but fun, games and poetry-spouting, her father is the light of Emmaline’s life until he dies not long after Cat has birth to a boy, Tommy. Cat, Emmaline and Tommy are left with nothing when Tom comes down with what sounds like meningitis. This brain-fever combined with a solid smacking across the room by mother leaves baby Tommy a deaf mute. When Cat’s whoring doesn’t bringing enough money or respectability to maintain the shop that Jasper didn’t work very at keeping, they are evicted. What to do? Well, Daddy’s rich sister lives in the local city and has in the past offered to help. Let’s all go to the city! Cat gets work in a mill, but is soon mangled in a machine. To soothe her pain, she is given opium and soon becomes addicted. Em works for her aunt as a seamstress. Auntie Bitch soon recognizes Emmaline’s fine qualities and offers to adopt her, but wants nothing to do with Cat or little Tom. Since there is no way in hell Emmaline is leaving her beloved brother behind (and she is duty-bound to her selfish, slutty, druggie of a mother), Em turns down the adoption offer. Of course, her aunt doesn’t take Em’s refusal well and begins to treat her more and more poorly. Coming home hungry and tired, one day, Em finds that Cat has sold little Tommy to a chimney sweep for drugs. Emmaline, naturally, runs away to London to find her brother. When arriving there, she goes into service and (finally!) begins the search alluded to in the title of the book.

This book was an interesting and informative portrayal of the life in the lower and middle classes in the mid 1800s in industrialized Britain. But it really dragged on. Seriously the above summary of the first half of the book is longer than many of my reviews. Emmaline is rather pertinacious, a little too patient and forgiving to be completely believable and has a bit of a hero-complex, but I liked her. I found the ending unlikely but better to end anyway rather than drag it on any further. I really can neither recommend nor discourage anyone from reading this book.

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I grabbed Katherine Holubitsky’s Tweaked at the library. I wanted a quick light read and thought that the slim tome from Orca books would fit the bill. I was wrong.  This White Pine 2010 contender is an amazing story about addiction and the destruction it wreaks to the families of those who are addicted.

Engagingly written from 17-year-old Gordie’s perspective, the voice is true and honest: at times angry, sad, or hopeful. At the beginning of Tweaked, Gordie’s brother, Chase, has been addict to methamphetamines for two years. During that time, Chase has made so many mistakes. But nothing prepares his family for the phone call they are about to receive: Chase has been picked up and charged with aggravated assault after smashing a bottle over a man’s head. By the end of the book, Gordie’s parents have lost everything and their family has lived through dealing with the law, trying and failing to help a loved one, theft, and fraud. His mother in denial and his father turning to drink, they are arguing all the time and the family falls apart. Gordie’s losses his job and is even failing out of school. I unhesitatingly recommend this book to everyone but especially to teens and teachers

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Cruelest Month

The Cruelest Month is a Three Pines Mystery written by Louise Penny. They are all apparently set in the Canadian province of Quebec centering around a small Anglo-town called Three Pines and feature Chief of Homicide Detective Gamache.The characters were interesting and I would grab another Three Pines Mystery if I stumbled across one, but would not search one out.

It was a good mystery story, but it was not great. There were no ridiculous turn of events at the end; thereby, potentially could be figured out by the reader. I hate those twists. Isn’t the point of a mystery to try and figure it out yourself, but so many end the book with completely implausible twists that make the rest of the book a red herring. This book wasn’t one of those but Gamache did know more than reader did. I didn’t like info obviously being left out. Although, there was a nice back story included at the end.

On a technical note, there are snippets of untranslated French all the way through this book. I speak fluent French so it was not a hindrance for me. Actually, I didn’t even notice until I was watching or listening to something else(I don’t remember what) during the same time period that contained untranslated Spanish. and I was really annoyed by it. So if you don’t speak French and if having some of the text be incomprehensible would annoy you, I would give this one a by.

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Z for Zachariah

Ann Burden has lived in a secluded valley her whole life. Farming, setting up a hidden camp in a cave behind her house, looking after the cows and chickens, cooking, getting groceries, cooking, playing the piano and, best of all, reading. She is a thoughtful, realistic and hopeful sixteen-year-old girl. And she is, perhaps, the last person on Earth.

In this book, written in the first person diary style by Robert C. O’Brien, everyone was wiped out by nuclear holocaust. Ann’s family left their secluded and toxin-free valley to see if there were others left alive, but they never came back. Ann is alone. Until one day a man shows up. John Loomis is a scientist with a suit that allows him to travel through radioactive areas unharmed. Unfortunately, he is not entirely sane.

I found this book to be overly descriptive, almost to the point of boring. It’s plot and premise, while interesting, was not scientific and the action was not compelling enough as the pacing was too slow. It could be a good bonus project for a physic class or as part of a nuclear science home-school unit. I would link it with After the Bomb. It is appropriate for those with 7th-9th grade reading levels.

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Only Son

Only Son by Kevin O’Brien is really about three people, Amy, Carl and Sam/Eddie, and their lives from 1977 to 1989. Eddie was born to Amy and her husband, Paul, during the late spring in 1977. Paul, a brutish and selfish bully, cares more about watching football and drinking beer then he does about his new son. Amy was already unsure about their marriage. She had quit school to marry the handsome party guy. But in only a few years, she had gotten fat, worn out, resentful and realized that her job at Safeway might be the best she ever does. Carl wants a baby so badly. After growing up in an abusive household, he vows to be the best father ever to the baby growing inside his wife’s womb. His wife, Eve, is not interested in having her baby. She sees the baby as an end to her career as a tennis player and instructor. After Eve aborts the baby without consulting Carl, he leaves her and begins stalking Amy and Paul. Eventually, an opportunity arises and Carl kidnaps Eddie. Renaming him Sam and moving from Portland to Seattle, Carl begins his life as a single father. We follow the perspectives of Amy, Carl and, eventually, Sam until, when he is twelve, Sam searches out his mother.

Mr. O’Brien treats this sensitive  subject with kindness and respect. We understand and sympathize with Carl who loves his “son” more than anything on Earth, with Amy who never gives up looking for her son even when she is left alone to do so, and with Sam who does not understand how his loving, up-right and kind father could ever have stolen anything from someone. The spouses, Eve and Paul, are treated as archetypes or stock characters. Given little “screen time” and less complexity, we almost believe that they are the villains in this story. I, certainly, did not see Carl as a criminal even while he was in the process of fleeing from the scene of the horrible crime he just committed. The action of the story is all internal, but still enough tension kept the pages flying as I whipped through this book. I recommend it.

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A Mass of Mini-Reviews 6

Lisa and Lottie

My 2-year-old picked out this book in her random attempt to bring home every book in the public library. I would never have considered grabbing it if it hadn’t been in her “Bring Home!” pile. But it turned out that this book is the original Parent Trap. Yes, you read correctly: The Parent Trap by Disney starring Haley Mills and re-made starring Lindsey Lohan is based on this book. Now understand that it is very outdated; the mother is a woman “forced to make her own living” and can barely make enough to keep them in beef stew served over noodles and shares a bedroom with her daughter. Daddy, a musician/composer/conductor, can comfortably afford 2 apartments, a housekeeper and to eat out almost daily. But it is a very cute, although very conservative, little book. It would be interesting to do a “study” with children comparing the domestic messages of Lisa and Lottie with the two film versions of the Parent Trap. It actually rather reminded me of Freaky Friday. Not only because Disney also made 2 film versions of it (one starring Lohan) but also in the in-desperate-need-for-modernization aspect.


When Connie Brummel Crook’s Flight opens the American revolutionary war has been going on for some time with Hans Waltermyer avoiding picking sides. Until, one day, his neighbour is tarred, feathered and hung by American Revolutionaries and Hans decides to join the British as a Loyalist. This historical fiction is centred around George Waltermyer, Hans’ eldest son. We follow George and his family for many years and through many adventures. Some of these “adventures” were down-right dull and the book felt too drawn out. Furthermore, Flight‘s back cover gave the impression that we are following one very exciting and detailed adventure. We split our time between George and his father, Hans, and are able to see what life was like for both the solider and for the family that he is separated from.

Hollywood has so ingrained into us that the British and the Loyalist were bad, that a book celebrated their cause was refreshing. But the book was merely ok.

The Slave Dancer

In Paula Fox’s Newbury Award Winner The Slave Dancer, Jessie Bollier is a thirteen-year-old boy living with his mother and sister in abject poverty during the 1830s or 40s in New Orleans. After playing the fife on the street for a few coins, Jessie is kidnapped, um… sorry “press ganged,” by two members of a slaver’s crew and becomes a slave dancer cum cabin boy.

This book contains exquisitely detailed descriptions of New Orleans, the ship, the madness of the crew members, the appalling conditions of the slaves’ quarters and their treatment, and the shipwreck. We watch Jessie, who was indifferent, travel through an emotional arc of sympathy, fear, disgust, hatred and finally, love. Because of the difficult themes and detailed descriptions, this book is not for the sensitive reader and, even though it is marketed for 9 to 12 year-olds, I would not recommend for anyone under 13.

The Slave Dancer begs a discussion of the changing views toward those of African descent. I think it would be interesting to read as part of a book club/reading series including, among others, Little Black Sambo; Underground To Canada; Uncle Tom’s Cabin; To Kill a Mockingbird; Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry; The Cay; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; and Sounder.

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After the Bomb

In Gloria D. Miklowitz’s After the Bomb, an accidental nuclear blast occurs over downtown Los Angeles. This book centres around Phillip, his family and their struggle. Although it very much had a 70s feel, it was a quick read and very much a page turner. In true children’s literature style, the youngest and weakest is left standing best and forced into a leadership role and position of strength. As a coming of age story, After the Bombdelivers. I noticed while I was researching this post that there is a sequel to After the Bomb entitled After the Bomb: Week One. I think that I will pick it up.

One of the things that struck me was that, today, no one seems to talk about the cold war or nuclear proliferation; whereas, Phillip’s family obviously were well-informed about these issues and talked about them in a family setting with some regularity. This particular family even had a bunker on their property. That it was poorly stocked, mostly used as a hangout for the family’s two teenage sons, and had been built by the previous owners is almost irrelevant. I do not know a single person who owns a bunker. Even the nearby Canadian Federal government bunker, nicknamed the Diefenbunker, has been declassified and turned into a really cool museum. I live a 15-minute drive from the oldest functioning nuclear reactor in the world and do not have a single idea of what to do in case of a meltdown. Honestly, it probably wouldn’t matter even if I did because I don’t think me family would survive long enough for it to make a difference. Why are these issues ignored today? They are still relevant, aren’t they? Weapons of Mass Destruction are not solely in the hands of big governments anymore. We have groups today, such as small marginalized governments, emerging and under-developed countries , and terrorist groups, that have access to nuclear weapons as never before. Our reality is almost straight out of 1970s sci-fi. And yet, we don’t talk about it? Why?

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A Mass of Mini-Reviews 5


Flora Barnes (aka Flossie) lives with her mom, her mom’s husband and their son. She loves her mom, but she also loves her Dad. Her Dad, Charlie, loves her more than anyone or anything in the world. When Flossie’s step-father, Steve, suddenly gets promoted and transferred to Australia for six months, Floss has to choose between staying with Charlie in Britain or going with her mother’s new family half-way across the world. Once Flossie chooses her Dad, we discover that things are not going too well for Charlie and that not everyone thinks that she made the right choice.

I love Jacqueline Wilson‘s works. She writes about real children in real situations, but not in a boring, pedantic or “instructive” manner. Although, we examine divorce, friendship, appearances vs. reality and bullying in this book, it never feels like an after-school special.

Words By Heart

The back cover of Ouida Sebestyen’s Words By Heart implies that Lena’s father is murdered as the book’s starting point, but instead it was actually the climax of the book’s action. I felt like Words by Heart should have been about 4 times longer. The denouement was too quick and easy. The entire novel should have been a building up to Lena’s father’s murder so that we could go on a journey with Lena. We should have followed Lena for years and years after the murder; watching her psychological journey toward accepting her father’s teaching. This book was not a journey, as it should have been. Instead it was an introduction and the conclusion of a much longer but, unfortunately, non-existent novel. I was disappointed.

Becoming Verbal with Childhood Apraxia: New Insights on Piaget for Today’s Therapy

Pam Marshalla has written a well-explained, easy-to-read book about childhood apraxia. It was not jargon-filled and very accessible. A short book, it did not feel as though I was wading through reams of useless information only to be overloaded with activities that were a waste of my time. Instead, Becoming Verbal was full of good examples and play activities and helped me clear up some of my practises with my daughter.

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A Mass of Mini Reviews 4

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

This examination of the history of Seabiscuit, a race horse that defied all odds, by Laura Hillenbrand was interesting and entertaining; reading more like fiction than history normally does. Even though I know absolutely nothing about horse racing, Ms. Hillenbrand combined fantastically exciting descriptions of races with more than a little human (and horsey) drama and heartache to create a compelling page-turner. I really enjoyed it and liked gaining the insight into the world of racing. It is not the same as the film as the movie was simplified for the screen and time. So if you liked the movie, I suggest that you pick up the book for a more complete experience.

Reality Check

This YA novel, by Peter Abrahams, was not great mystery, but good enough that I would be willing to read another story in which Cody was the protagonist. Cody, big-time high-school football jock, has a pretty good life going into junior year when suddenly it all turns to crap. His girlfriend gets send to boarding school on the other side of the country, he seriously injures himself and is unable to play football, becomes depressed, and drops out of school. And then to top it all off, his now ex-girlfriend disappears from her preppy and very expensive boarding school. For some reason, Cody takes it on himself to find her and drives across the country to participate in an investigation and man-hunt. The story, surprisingly, was not particularly exciting and Cody seems too stupid to behave so defiantly. Actually, many of the characters were two-dimensional and lacked development. Worst of all, there was the standard mystery unexpected twist at the end and I was disappointed by denouement because everything was wrapped up too quickly with not enough tying up of loose ends. Maybe, if I was a football guy, it might be better, but I’m not.

Half Brother

In Kenneth Oppel‘s newest teen fiction, Half Brother, thirteen-year-old Ben Tomlin’s life changed dramatically during the summer of 1973: his father changed universities, his family moved half-way across the country from Toronto to Vancouver, from living in the city to living in a rambling country home, and his parents have adopted an eight-day-old baby. An eight-day-old baby chimpanzee.

The family was supposed to raise Zan as a human and full family participant as part of a language experiment in which Zan would learn and use American Sign Language in the hopes that he would begin to show true language usage.

This book is told from Ben’s point of view and explores animal welfare, what it means to be a person and a member of a family, work/family balance, teen love, and social success as a motivator. His voice is bang-on: clear and accessible.

This book was really very good except that there was a slow section at about the 3/4 mark. And except for this slow part that required slogging through, it was a very absorbing read with a satisfying conclusion. I would recommend for those fourteen and over, especially anyone interested in animals, research or language. Sensitive readers are cautioned as there are some parts in which animals are not treated humanely.

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A Mass of Mini-Reviews 3

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

J.K. Rowling‘s compilation of the tales featured in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) are not for children. Beedle the Bard’s stories are violent and quite scary.
The book’s premise is that an original copy of the tales were recently translated by Hermione Granger and commented on by Albus Dumbledore. In this they are rather like original fairy tales by Grimm. In university, I read a collection of first printings of Fairy Tales. Those tales were violent, scary and rather disturbing. Rowling, using the voice of Dumbledore, makes a number of interesting commentaries on the standard practise of dumbing down and whitewashing these types of stories.

Overall while The Tales of Beedle the Bard are interesting and informative about the world of Harry Potter, they are certainly not a must-read by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, it might be fun to read in tandem with Deathly Hallows

Alexandria of Africa

I first began reading Alexandria of Africa by Eric Walters while substitute teaching at an elementary school last spring. I couldn’t put it down, but I couldn’t steal it to finish it either. So when I saw it in my local library this morning, I gleefully grabbed it. It is so striking, compelling and interesting a book that I was able to find where I had left off 6 months ago in less than a minute. A fast but intense read, I finished it in only a few hours (except for the above-mentioned 6-month hiatus) even though I was also teaching an eighth-grade class, cooking/eating lunch, and caring for my toddler concurrently.

Told in the first person, Alexandria Hyatt undergoes an amazing transformation from selfish, over-indulged California princess to caring, giving, friend to the Maasai. Having been caught shop-lifting, Alexandria is given a choice between volunteering in Africa with an organization called Child Save or juvenile detention. Her parents choose Africa. While there, she meets Ruth, a Maasia girl, and experiences a little bit of what life is like on 78-cents a day.

I would happily recommend this to girls thirteen and over, but would hesitate to recommend it boys under sixteen. There is considerable dialogue, description and self-reflection but only two action scenes.

The Labours Of Hercules: 12 Hercule Poirot Mysteries

In this audio book by Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot has decided he going to retire when he hears about the twelve labours of Hercules for the first time. He decides that he will take on 12 more cases, each pertaining to Hercules’ labours. This is a very interesting premise but it is rather contrived. Firstly, are we to honestly believe that a brilliant man like Poirot will have never even heard of the 12 labours of Hercules?! Really! Secondly, M. Poirot coincidentally encounters 12 cases that reflect Herc’s labours, in the correct order. Even with the stretching of some of the connections between Poirot’s adventures and classical literature, it seems incredibly unlikely that this could happen. On top of it, the mysteries weren’t even that great. One or two were good, a couple ridiculous and almost laughable, but most were only decent.

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