Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: The Language Thieves


The Language Thieves is a young adult fantasy by Marc Remus. Sixteen-year-old Daniel is none too happy about his father’s decision to move the family from Arizona to a remote Scottish island, of all places. His mother was stricken by a mysterious illness that has rendered her incapable of communication. Daniel speaks English and Irish Gaelic although he isn’t too keen on overtly displaying his Irish roots. Once on the island, he meets two new friends, Jenny and Connor, who are as suspicious as he is about a strange, elusive tribe that inhabits a part of the island: the Cerebrals, with their own unique culture, obsession with language, and their worship of the brain. The Cerebrals keep themselves apart from the rest of the population, and don’t want their kids to have anything to do with the locals. A bit difficult when Daniel finds himself falling for the cute Emily, who just happens to be a Cerebral. What is the mystery behind the Cerebrals, and do they have anything to do with Daniel’s mom’s affliction? How can they possibly be dangerous?

This is a young adult fantasy that is quite different from the norm. The plot dives back into ancient history and draws together some very intriguing theories. Young adult fans of Atlantis and ancient civilizations will devour this story. The plot is full of twists and turns and although I am not usually surprised, this book made me sit up. The action starts right away, aboard the ferry en route the island, when a young teen is attacked by strange men. The pace is steady and escalates as the youngsters team up to resolve the mystery behind the Cerebrals, their mission, and how it will affect the whole world.

Daniel is the most well developed of the trio, but Jenny is a solid sidekick gifted with IT skills and Connor is close behind as the loyal friend willing to follow first and ask questions later. The teens sound and behave mostly as one would expect teens to do and this adds realism to the plot. The romance between Daniel and Emily is sweet but underplayed so that it does not overshadow the main plot. The intrigue and mystery behind what the kids discover will certainly have young readers doing their own investigations into history, culture, and the value and place of ancient languages in society. I liked this thought-provoking angle – just how many ancient languages are still spoken today, and how many have been lost in the last century? The descriptions of the Cerebrals and their culture, dress and architecture are unique and showcase the author’s incredible imagination. A great cover and good layout and editing add to one’s reading pleasure. Themes of friendship, loyalty, teamwork and family abound. This is an intriguing fantasy by Remus and perfect for the young adult market.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Review: Queen Mary's Daughter


Do you know your history? Do you know your Scottish and English history, to be exact? In a story that starts in 2016, and jumps back in time to 1567, the reader is taken along with Mary Elizabeth Stuart as she discovers her heritage, meets her true mother, has to make decisions that could change the course of history… and finds out why her grandmother insisted she make a trip from Toronto to Kinross, a tiny little Scottish village, to understand her role in life, both here and back in the sixteenth century. Open Queen Mary’s Daughter by author Emily-Jane Hills Orford for more!

What a story! I absolutely loved it from start to finish. For fans of historical novels, historical romances, modern romances, time travel, alternative history, and a bit of mystery thrown in, the book has a lot to offer a variety of readers. Time travel has never really been explained (except by writers) and is not an exact science (as scientists would be the first to declare), but in this story that spans centuries, the author’s concepts work very well, and readers are never in the dark. The ramifications of time travel, the effects of the past on the future and vice versa are also explored. The characters are well defined, and their actions and ambitions make sense. For anyone who takes an interest in the Brexit question, and Scotland’s determination to break away from Britain, regain independence, and remain in the EU, this is a theme that has ramifications stretching back into history. I enjoyed how a modern theme had its roots in the past. Very cleverly done by the author.

I have Scottish heritage and I really appreciated the descriptions of the settings, and I’d love to visit Mrs D’s B&B as well. Mary Elizabeth is a likable heroine with a huge burden placed upon her shoulders. Historical facts are woven into the narrative very naturally, informing the reader without overwhelming them. History buffs will love the detail. Bigger themes than just love and romance, time travel, and historical references abound; what if the fate of your society, your country, rests upon you giving up your own desires and decisions to fulfil a role thrust upon you?

I enjoyed this story so much. The author has the ability to make the reader time travel with the characters. In fact, I found myself asking the same questions that Mary Elizbeth asked. “So many questions; so few answers.” Sometimes British history can be confusing, with similar names, kings, queens, marriages, alliances, treachery and more. With extensive and meticulous in-depth research and consummate skill, author Emily-Jane Hills Orford makes this all read very easily, and one is never in any doubt as to who is who in the grand picture. There is a wonderful twist at the end of the tale that should delight fans of conspiracy theories as well. A most enjoyable book!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Book Review: Lucy's First Christmas


Lucy’s First Christmas is the third book in the Lucy Tales series, written by Rolynda Tassan and illustrated by Ruby Wheeler. Lucy is a rescue cat who now lives with a lovely family, comprising Mom, Dad, youngster Ben and other animals, Sissy, Addy, and Pippin. Something’s up in the household with Mom baking cookies, Dad fixing the lights for the Christmas tree, and Ben outside building a snowman. All this unusual activity puzzles Lucy. The other animals tell Lucy that since the next day is Christmas Day, Santa will be visiting that night to drop off presents for everyone. Everyone is busy with activities, getting ready for the holiday, and Lucy wants to help. But a little kitten can’t exactly help to wrap the presents and untangle the Christmas lights, and outside in the snow Lucy manages to fall into a snowdrift. What can Lucy do to help everyone get ready for the festivities? One thing Lucy does very well is snuggle, and that’s how she found a way to help everyone by tucking them into bed on Christmas Eve.

This is an adorable story with a deeper meaning for families, their animals, and the love and warmth of the Christmas spirit. The book is dedicated to the shelter and rescue volunteers who embrace those animals waiting for their forever families. Lucy finds love and warmth in a family that cares for her. The Christmas theme, with giving and caring for others, is one that youngsters will appreciate as well. The idea of the family preparing for a holiday together, everyone doing the tasks that they do best, spending time together as a family by reading a Christmas story aloud in front of the tree, giving gifts and making sure that everyone feels as if they are a special part of the celebrations will enchant young and older readers alike. The illustrations are delightful, simple, and colourful, and convey the ideas expressed in the text. Each panel is very clear, and this is a good opportunity for young readers who are reading with a parent or caregiver to discuss the picture in depth. This lovely, charming story is the perfect read for Christmas or any time of year and is sure to bring joy to young readers for many more years to come.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Book Review: Boudin's First Christmas


Boudin's First Christmas is the first story in Boudin's Grand Adventures, and is written and creatively illustrated by Leah Morris, or “Mama Leah.” This is a simple and delightful children’s picture book story of a grandmother now left alone after a long and happy marriage to her husband of sixty years. Together they had made the bayou their home and had enjoyed life there and exploring what the swamp had to offer. But the old lady is lonely and longs for a companion to share her days. Maybe a dog? A dog could keep her company as she went on walks. So, in anticipation of her wish being granted, the old lady set out a comfy chair for Father Christmas, cookies, and a cool glass of milk. She also placed a candle in the window to light his way. As the sun rose on Christmas Day, what a wonderful, loving surprise awaited her! The old lady named her adorable new companion Boudin, which is the name of a sausage of meat and rice really enjoyed by the Cajun French. Boudin’s adventures have just begun.

First, the wonderful images make this story an enchanting work of art. The pictures are hand drawn and painted, and then stitched onto paper with a green thread. This gives a cosy, home-grown feel to the whole story, drawing young (and any age) readers into a story literally created by the author. I loved the delicate detail of the images, the vibrant colours, the way the edges of the pictures spill over the paper edge, giving a three-dimensional perspective. This is the kind of picture book that children will want to read or have read to them again and again, as they pore over each page and find new details with each retelling. The book itself has a ‘classic’ feel that just invites youngsters to turn those pages themselves.

The story has so much to offer readers: themes of love and devotion in a relationship, remembering a loved one who has passed on, the idea of companionship, caring for and loving a four-footed companion, having faith that a wish will come true, and acting on that faith. I just loved everything about this touching and beautifully illustrated tale. I have no doubt that readers, young and older, will be eager to find out more about Boudin’s next adventure. Although this is a Christmas story, it’s a delightful read for any time of the year!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book Review: Jack and the Case of the Missing Sandwich


Jack and the Case of the Missing Sandwich (A Jack and Sweetie Mystery Book 1) by Dawn Romeo has Jack, a Basset Hound, on a very special case … the case of the missing peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Everyone knows how delicious a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is, but Jack would never take anything that belonged to someone else, and especially not food. Mr. Johnson had left his sandwich outside on his deck, gone back in to fetch a drink, and had come out again to discover the sandwich gone and a dog he thought was Jack walking down the driveway. When Sally, Jack’s owner, hears Mr. Johnson’s accusation she is naturally very disturbed, as is Jack. Sally springs to Jack’s defence, but Mr. Johnson is adamant that Jack is the culprit. This is a case that must be investigated and it’s going to take all Jack’s sleuthing skills to discover the clues leading to the real thief. Will Jack solve the crime and clear his name? Is it possible there’s another dog in the neighbourhood who looks like Jack?

What a charming story and a lovely little mystery that will get young readers guessing as to what really happened and who took the sandwich. Jack uses his detecting abilities to make an interesting discovery, and it’s one that leads to a surprising conclusion. There are some very good life lessons here for youngsters such as honesty being the best policy, not jumping to conclusions, staying calm if falsely accused, and not judging someone by appearances. Other themes include forgiveness and saying sorry, and owning up if one has done something wrong. Delightful illustrations by Jolie Hamm will keep young readers interested while being read to by a parent of caregiver. You don’t have to be a Basset Hound owner to totally love Jack, and young readers can look forward to more adventures and detective mysteries since this is book one in the series.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Book Review: I Am Pilgrim


I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes starts with a murder, seemingly the perfect murder, and then someone is brought into the equation – in fact the protagonist – in quite an unassuming manner. And suddenly it’s not just about a murder in a NYC motel, done in the flurry and inferno of the Twin Towers’ bombing so the killer can cover their tracks. The protagonist, code named Pilgrim, has an interesting past (an adoptive wealthy childhood) and he just happens to have written the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation. Through this book, Pilgrim is tracked down and given a mission upon which the world depends. America faces mass murder using a weaponised form of a disease thought to be eradicated.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is like no other book I have read. It is well worth the hours spent reading long past your bedtime. I was a little daunted by the size of the book, but remembering how I used to love well written, lengthy tomes, filled with intrigue, great characters, and riveting plots (where are all those books gone now?), I opened it. And could not put it down. I spent as much time as possible absorbing this incredible story. However, where the author keeps the reader gripped is in a seemingly disparate number of events that appear to be unrelated – a public beheading in Mecca, ruins on the Turkish coast, a flashback to the Nazi death camps, military action in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, a doctor performing life saving deeds, a man gripped by a mission of spiritual vengeance, the tragic and seemingly accidental death of a wealthy young American, newly married. Did he jump off a cliff in the middle of the night, was he pushed, or did he simply fall? And what of the beautiful widow and her enigmatic female friend? Can one truly get away with murder? Just when a certain event seems to fade from your mind, perhaps forgotten as you keep turning the pages, Terry Hayes brings it back, and slips yet another thread into an increasingly complex but somehow not at all confusing tapestry.

I had given up on ‘big books,’ simply because I find most have been very timidly edited in that the author waxes on ad infinitum and definitely ad nauseum, filling pages with descriptive ‘guff,’ just padding the plot until (horrors) one starts skimming. I found Hayes’ writing to be tense, succinct, relevant, gripping. Each word plays its part. There is no extraneous detail, just solid story. It has been a long time since I did the old trick of reading more slowly as the book neared its end. I found myself doing that with this book, and thinking, “Oh no,” when inevitably it came to an end. Looking for a meaty read that is a banquet of intrigue, mystery, suspense, conspiracy, and thrilling action? Pick up I Am Pilgrim. PS: There are no interminable “for pity’s sake kill him already” fight scenes…

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Book Review: Gizmo Goes on The Polar Express


Gizmo Goes on The Polar Express, written by Heidi Phillips and illustrated by River Wilson, is the adorable story of a fluffy little white dog named Gizmo who has dreamed of riding on the Polar Express on Christmas Eve. And it’s a dream that comes true because he receives an invitation … what a wonderful looking invitation it is too! It’s a golden ticket, it smells of milk and cookies, and it instructs the recipient to “Believe!” All Gizmo has to do is close his eyes and drift off to sleep. Suddenly, with blinding lights and whole lot of noise, the Polar Express arrives! The conductor shouts, “All aboard!” This is going to be such a special treat for all those children who have been very good. What excitement, what fun as cookies and hot chocolate are being served. Then just as suddenly, everything comes to a halt as Gizmo is accused of being a thief! Will he have to give his ticket back and be put on the Naughty list? Is this a terrible misunderstanding? It must be! But there’s the photographic evidence! Can Gizmo clear his name with Santa? Will he miss out on visiting Santa’s Village, riding in the sleigh, and feeding the reindeer with everyone else?

What a lovely children’s story! This is a tale that will captivate young readers with the mix of hand drawn illustrations and photographs of the real Gizmo and his family. I loved the rhymes, I loved the story, and I was on tenterhooks as to how Gizmo could be (hopefully wrongly) accused of pinching some popcorn. There are such pertinent life lessons woven into the tale of Gizmo’s Christmas Eve, and these are lessons that will stand young readers in good stead as they grow up. People often look for only the bad in others, when we should be looking for the good. We can’t control what others do; we can only control what we do and how we react. Remaining steadfast, telling the truth, and believing in oneself is something that all youngsters will do well to learn, and Gizmo sets a great example. The flow of the story is fast and exhilarating, and young readers will be caught up in the flurry of action and excitement as the Polar Express sets off for the North Pole.


I enjoyed the way the author captured Gizmo’s emotions of excitement, ebullience, happiness as his dream comes true, and then the complete disappointment, the fight to hold back his tears, the feeling of being let down because of someone else being nasty. I think youngsters will relate to the story, and be uplifted by the joyful ending. The end of the book shows the real-life hero, Gizmo, in his festive Christmas jacket, enjoying a ride on a real Polar Express and visiting Santa’s Village! This is the third of Gizmo’s adventures and, by all accounts, Gizmo has quite a following, especially at book readings! This is a charming story for youngsters at Christmas, but just as fun any time of the year!