A Valerie Favourite: Anton and Cecil Cats at Sea by Lisa and Valerie Martin

Anton and CecilIt will probably come as no surprise at all to those who know me that I was drawn to Lisa and Valerie Martin’s novel Anton and Cecil Cats at Sea as soon as it arrived. As I read it, I was reminded of the film The Adventures of Milo and Otis, about two animal friends who are unexpectedly separated, and who must journey to find their way back to each other, encountering an interesting cast of animal characters along the way. In Anton and Cecil, our adventurers are two brothers: Cecil, a plump and fluffy black cat who is daring and wants to be a sailor, and Anton, a sleek grey cat who loves being at home and enjoys listening to the men singing in the seaside pubs. This book had me smiling and “awwww”-ing, and more than once, I forced those around me to look at the absolutely adorable illustrations (created by the wonderful Kelly Murphy) that pepper the book .

In this cute middle grade novel, we meet a fraternal duo living in a lovely coastal town. Cecil is fascinated by the lives the sailors lead, and he takes any and every opportunity to go out on day trips with the fishing schooners. Anton, on the other hand, is more reserved, and he is frightened by the ships, in no small part because of the horror stories of “impressment,” which is when sailors force the local cats to be mousers on their ships. Cats who have been impressed are never seen from again, so Anton worries that his brother will one day be taken away from him forever. ny antonImpressment does divide the two brothers, but it is Anton who the sailors capture and force into service as a mouser, and despite Cecil’s best attempts to join his brother, they are separated! Cecil boards the very next big ship he sees in order to go after his brother and try to bring him back.

Through alternating chapters, Cecil and Anton travel the sea, meeting other animals (not always nice) and trying to survive the perils of the ocean. It may seem odd to say that I liked the character growth given that the two main characters are cats, but I genuinely did! Their personalities were distinct and very well-formed, which made it easier to spot the changes as they grew through their adventures. Cecil encounters danger that helps temper his brash nature, and Anton becomes more confident as he not only survives being impressed, but flourishes!

This is a fun book to read, and I can imagine it being a great choice for shared family reading, because I couldn’t help but share it with those around me.

Happy reading!

-Valerie

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Focus on Film: Studio Ghibli Favourites

When rumours started that Studio Ghibli (the makers of some of my favourite anime films) was closing, I was pretty upset. I have been a fan of their work for a very long time, in no small part thanks to the imagination of studio’s founder, Hayao Miyazaki. A Miyazaki movie can tell a sweet and quiet story or a huge, lush fairytale, sometimes both at the same time.  Ghibli’s films are arrestingly creative, beautiful, and have stolen the hearts of children and adults alike. Although I was reassured to find that Ghibli may not be closing its doors just yet, I am more relieved that we have many of these movies at the library for everyone to enjoy. Here’s a selection of great Studio Ghibli films, from both our children’s and adult movie collections:

PonyoPonyo

A mystical goldfish princess befriends a boy and becomes human to be with him, but her transformation unsettles the natural balance and she must decide whether to stay with her friend or return to the water.

AriettyThe secret world of Arrietty

In a secret world hidden beneath the floorboards, little people called Borrowers live quietly among us. But when tenacious and tiny Arrietty is discovered by Shawn, a human boy, their secret and forbidden friendship blossoms into an extraordinary adventure.

TotoroMy Neighbor Totoro

Children discover a new world in a tree trunk inhabited by magical creatures called Totoros, which can’t be seen by adults.

 

Cat ReturnsThe Cat Returns

In an imaginative and lighthearted tale, a young schoolgirl saves the life of a noble cat and is rewarded with a shocking proposal of marriage – to the Cat King’s son – and a fateful journey to the extraordinary Kingdom of Cats.

From Up on Poppy HillFrom Up on Poppy Hill

In the year 1963 in Yokohama, an innocent romance blossoms between two high school students, Umi and Shun. As Japan recovers from World War II and prepares to host the 1964 Olympics, the mood contains both optimism and conflict as the younger generation struggles to escape the shackles of the past. While trying to save a dilapidated Meiji-era club house from demolition, the relationship flourishes. But a buried secret from their past emerges to cast a shadow on the future and pull them apart.

Howl's Moving CastleHowl’s Moving Castle

A marvelous, hugely-imaginative Japanese animated feature about a teenage hatmaker who runs afoul of a wicked witch and gets turned into a 90-year-old woman. She becomes housekeeper for a handsome, youthful magician named Howl, tending to the gigantic walking castle where he lives. Whenever she feels romantic stirrings for him, she becomes a teenager again.

Enjoy!

-Bronwen

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Book Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Heart BeatI’ve already gushed about Elizabeth Scott here and here, so I wasn’t sure I was going to write about Heart Beat, her most recent novel. In the end, I liked it so much that I had to share my review. As usual, Scott tackles a tough issue from the perspective of a teen stuck in the middle of it; with her blend of heartfelt angst, moral dilemmas, friendship complications and romantic interest, she manages to create, in quite a short page count, the experience of one girl in a difficult and heartbreaking situation.

Emma and her mother were alone for a long time since Emma’s father passed away when she was young. That all changed when her mother married Dan. Suddenly, they are a happy family of three with a new baby on the way. Sadly, a blood clot changes everything for Emma, when her mother collapses and is declared brain-dead. Before Emma can process what has happened, she learns that Dan has decided to keep his wife alive on life support in order to bring the baby to term. Emma feels betrayed and cannot process her grief. In this vulnerable state, Emma finds herself drawn to Caleb Harrison, whose rebellions have earned him quite a reputation at their school; something in him makes her feel like she has met a kindred spirit.

I wasn’t sure I would like Heart Beat when I picked it up. I thought it might be an “issue” novel, that would focus too much on a ripped-from-the-headlines topic and less on the characters. I was pleasantly surprised by how compelling she made both the issue and the characters. I felt Emma’s frustration and the almost overwhelming sense of unfairness  that she carries around with her every day. Now that her mother is gone, she doesn’t know how to go forward, especially because she feels so completely unmoored – the home she trusted doesn’t feel safe anymore, and she feels that the man she thought of as a father has completely betrayed her.

Caleb seems an unlikely place to turn to for comfort as he has earned a reputation of being somewhat dangerous. But Emma notices Caleb at the hospital as she waits to visit her mother, and she sees an empathy in him, which reminds her that he lost his younger sister a few years ago. Caleb can understand what Emma is feeling and helps her work through her emotions, and Emma in turn helps Caleb move past some of his problems.

The book is full of heavy stuff, but it’s an easy read, in large part because the characters are compelling. If you like real-life stories, then this one is a definitely worth a try.

Happy reading!

-Valerie

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Favourite: This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

This One SummerWhen I pick up a well-loved graphic novel (especially one that is recommended by other authors/artists I really enjoy), I am always reminded of why I love the format so much. A picture really is worth a thousand words in This One Summer, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. I flew though this book, completely lost in the the story of Rose, Windy, and their families.

Rose and her mom and dad are going to their summer home on Awago Beach, which they have visited every year since she can remember. This year, though, things don’t feel quite as fun and easy for nearly-teenaged Rose. Her mother is sullen and detached; her father is trying to have a good time but seems to be struggling to put on a happy face. Rose’s Aunt Jodie, who says she will “never have kids because she is too much of a kid herself,” comes to visit with her husband, whose carefree attitude seems to aggravate Rose’s mom even more.

Meanwhile Rose and Windy, best summer friends since childhood, are also finding their differences: the two girls are starting to form strong opinions, and sometimes they find that they don’t agree on things. This is especially apparent when they begin to get obsessed by the plight of the local 18-year-olds who hang out around the town’s general store (and who seem to have a lot of drama in their lives). Windy and Rose curiously listen in on their conversations, finding any excuse to go to the store where two of the boys work.

I loved the scenes between Windy and Rose. At each other’s houses or at the beach, the girls alternate between exuberant play and serious discussion as they wonder about the local teens. On the beach, Windy performs hilarious monologues about hitting puberty, and talks with Rose about being adopted by her free-spirited mom. Windy, by the way, is hilarious:

One of my favourite pages: Windy dancing in the kitchen.

Realizing that their parents are human and that life can be difficult is bittersweet for Rose and Windy. This One Summer tackles some pretty heavy themes and occasionally uses some salty language, but it does so in a sensitive and realistic way. The pictures are beautiful, adding a lovely expressiveness to the setting and characters. Windy is a great lighthearted counter to Rose’s sometimes dark moods, and their honest insights are both funny and painfully true-to-life. This beautiful little novel captures perfectly the feeling of summer, of vacation, and of growing up. This is definitely a new favourite.

Enjoy,

-Bronwen

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Focus on Nonfiction: Bugged by Sarah Albee

BuggedWe recently added Bugged: How Insects Changed History to our collection, and it is a fun addition that is “swarming with facts”, according to the cover. After making my way through the book, I definitely see what they mean. This is the kind of book you can get lost in, and it’s overflowing with neat little tidbits that make it ideal for browsing or reading cover-to-cover.

Bugged begins with an introduction to insects, walking readers through the basics facts – like how most insects don’t actually bite, but “it’s easier to say ‘bite’ than the more technically accurate ‘stab with the proboscis and suck,’  don’t you think?” (that quote is an example of how the whole book reads! It’s a fantastic blend of chatty and informative). Readers can learn about early epidemics and “twentieth-century pox” (what a great chapter title!) while discovering “Insect Asides”, which offer additional insect-based information, like why you will find so many mosquitoes in swampy areas. The book covers insect-related history from ancient times right up until present day, and holds your interest throughout!

Here are a few more fun facts that I discovered when reading Bugged:

1) Justin Schmidt, a researcher, rated how painful bug bites were after allowing himself to be stung by 78 species of insects. He wrote that a bullhorn ant’s sting feels like “someone has fired a staple into your cheek.” I am glad I never have to feel that!

2) Early explorers to Florida had to dig holes for themselves so they could sleep covered in sand to avoid the clouds of mosquitoes that populated the area. I’m certainly glad Florida isn’t like that anymore.

3) Farm animals can suffer from something called “fly worry”, which is being stressed by the presence of too many flies. It can cause them to “produce less milk, lose weight, or lay fewer eggs,” which just goes to show you that little bugs can cause big problems.

There are many more cool facts in this book, and it’s a great way to introduce history to children. Instead of a dry text, this is a vibrant book that can inspire readers to want to learn more!

If your young reader likes these types of books, try out How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous and How They Choked: Failures, Flops and Flaws of the Awfully Famoustwo other fun nonfiction books that expertly blend humour and learning!

Happy reading!

-Valerie

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Awesome Picture Book: Captain Cat by Inga Moore

captainAs a self-professed cat lover, I’m always on the lookout for great cat-themed stories. When Captain Cat arrived, I was pleased to see that not only was this book full of felines, it was also a delightful story with beautiful pictures. This longer picture book is great for kids who love seafaring stories, cats or adorable and kindhearted sea captains!

On the very first page, we are introduced to Captain Cat, whose ship, the Carlotta, has more cats on it than crew. You see, Captain Cat can’t resist trading his goods for cats. His favourite thing in the world is sitting comfortably with cats, sipping tea and reading. This happens to be one of my favourite things to do, too, so I felt like I had found a kindred spirit in that rosy-cheeked captain!

All the other sea captains make fun of Captain Cat for his bad business sense and his desire to explore new and uncharted places. So when Captain Cat sails off in a direction that leads into the unknown, they shake their heads at him. Captain Cat sails away, and after many days, he comes upon an island that isn’t on any of his maps.

Captain Cat by Inga Moore

The queen of the island welcomes the visitor and is utterly charmed when she meets all of his cats; she has never seen a cat before because there are no cats on her island! Everyone on the Captain’s ship is invited for lunch, including his feline friends, and that is where Captain Cat learns something about the island – it is overrun with rats!

I won’t spoil the rest of the story, but it unfolds wonderfully, with the Queen, the Captain and the cats all enjoying a delightful happy ending, with a few unexpected twists along the way. This picture book reads like an instant classic, in large part because of the rich illustrations on each page. The details are quite stunning – if you want to be convinced, take a look at any of the cats! They have different noses, expressions and patterns… it’s quite impressive! This picture book was a welcome change of pace from some of the sillier stories that I have loved and blogged about, so I had to share it. It is a longer story, but it is definitely worth the time!

Happy reading!

-Valerie

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YA-Inspiration: Read-Alikes for Michael Grant’s Gone Series

GoneHaving so many choices, I often don’t continue with a series after the first book. After reading the engrossing Goneby Michael Grant, I had to read Hunger right away! This is a bit of an older book, so it may not be a new title to many of you who have (or are) voracious middle-grade or young adult readers with a love for dystopia. Kids have been enthusiastically asking for this series for a few years now, so with a plane trip coming up, I made sure to download it on my e-reader. Fast-paced, fascinating, and sometimes scary, the series has been billed as a “page-turning thriller that invokes the classic The Lord of the Flies along with the horror of Stephen King” (HarperCollins). Being a fan of both, I couldn’t put it down. Here’s the premise:

“In a small town on the coast of California, everyone over the age of fourteen suddenly disappears, setting up a battle between the remaining town residents and the students from a local private school, as well as those who have ‘The Power’ and are able to perform supernatural feats and those who do not.” 

If you have already read the series but are looking for a fast-paced summery thriller like Gone, here are a few more you might enjoy:

AshfallAshfall (ebook) by Mike Mullin

After the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano destroys his city and its surroundings, fifteen-year-old Alex must journey from Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Illinois to find his parents and sister, trying to survive in a transformed landscape and a new society in which all the old rules of living have vanished.

5th WaveThe 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

“Cassie Sullivan, the survivor of an alien invasion, must rescue her young brother from the enemy with help from a boy who may be one of them”– Provided by publisher.

 

Monument 14Monument 14 (trilogy) by Emmy Laybourne

Trapped inside a chain superstore by an apocalyptic sequence of natural and human disasters, six high school kids from various popular and unpopular social groups struggle for survival while protecting a group of younger children.

 

Life as we knew itLife as we knew it (ebook) by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Through journal entries sixteen-year-old Miranda describes her family’s struggle to survive after a meteor hits the moon, causing worldwide tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.

The LivingThe Living by Matt de La Pena
August’s OTBC pick: read the brand new discussion of this book here

After an earthquake destroys California and a tsunami wrecks the luxury cruise ship where he is a summer employee, high schooler Shy confronts another deadly surprise.

Other well-known trilogies that have been compared to Gone:
The Maze Runner  by James Dashner
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Infernal Devices 

Enjoy!

-Bronwen

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YA-Inspiration: Summer Romances

In the summer, maybe because of the heat, maybe because of vacation, a lot of readers are looking for fun romances to while away the days and hours. I was in that mood a few weeks ago, so I ransacked our collection and filled up, so if you are looking for just that kind of book, here are a few to check out:

My life next door

My Life Next Door
by: Huntley Fitzpatrick
“When Samantha, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy, perfectionist Republican state senator, falls in love with the boy next door, whose family is large, boisterous, and just making ends meet, she discovers a different way to live, but when her mother is involved in a hit-and-run accident Sam must make some difficult choices.”
I was surprised by this book – mostly by how much fun I had reading it. I liked Sam’s struggle to find her voice, which she knows goes against her mother’s. Some of my favourite parts had to do with Sam and her best friend, who seem to be moving in different directions. There were elements of class-conflict that I wasn’t expecting and that I really appreciated. While the ending felt a bit rushed, I liked the whole reading experience.


what I thoughtWhat I Thought Was True

by: Huntley Fitzpatrick

“17-year-old Gwen Castle is a working-class girl determined to escape her small island town, but when rich-kid Cass Somers, with whom she has a complicated romantic history, shows up, she’s forced to reassess her feelings about her loving, complex family, her lifelong best friends, her wealthy employer, the place she lives, and the boy she can’t admit she loves.”
I really liked this one! I found Gwen compelling and relateable, and I kept hoping things would work out for her. While Cass wasn’t exactly my favourite leading gentleman, I thought Gwen’s insecurities and her difficulty trusting her rich crush were absolutely understandable. I also liked the secondary stories, although I think the friend tension was better in My Life Next Door. I picked up this book mostly because I was hoping the reading experience would remind me of Sarah Dessen (who has not come out with a new book this summer), and I wasn’t disappointed.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Beforeto all the boys
by: Jenny Han

“Lara Jean writes love letters to all the boys she has loved and then hides them in a hatbox until one day those letters are accidentally sent.”
This was a fun romantic comedy! Lara Jean tries to disguise her true crush (who received one of the letters) by pretending to be involved with a guy she has no interest in.  He, in turn, is trying to make his ex jealous. Of course, she discovers that he isn’t exactly who she thought he was when they start spending more time together. The elements of romance are great, but so are the family relationships. Lara Jean’s mother passed away when she was very young, and her older sister has always taken on the most responsibility. Now that she is away at university, it’s Lara’s turn, and she struggles to fill her sister’s shoes. This was a book I devoured, and it was lots of fun.

The Geography of You and Megeography of you and me
by: Jennifer E. Smith

“Sparks fly when sixteen-year-old Lucy Patterson and seventeen-year-old Owen Buckley meet on an elevator rendered useless by a New York City blackout. Soon after, the two teenagers leave the city, but as they travel farther away from each other geographically, they stay connected emotionally, in this story set over the course of one year.”
I have read all of Jennifer E. Smith’s books, but I was never quite smitten with them. This was the first of her three books that really captured my interest the whole way through. I loved reading about Owen and Lucy and their respective adventures. This was a very fast read, and I was rooting for them the whole way through. I found both characters three-dimensional, so it was easier to care about their problems. Not only was the romance well-developed, but the secondary relationships were also good. I liked seeing Lucy struggle to bond with her somewhat distant parents, and I liked reading about Owen as he and his father try to find a new place to settle down.

Those are just a few  of our newer summer romance titles, so give them a try next time you’re at the library.

Happy reading!

-Valerie

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Hidden Gem: The Ability by M.M. Vaughan

abilityIn a recent new arrivals post, we featured Mindscape as an intriguing new addition to the collection. I also mentioned that the first book, The Ability, has been compared to some very popular middle-grade series. Being a big fan of fantasy and adventure, especially the kind where the hero or heroine discovers that they are much  more than ordinary, I couldn’t resist the read.

Chris gets in trouble at school more often than he should. He has to take care of his mother at home, who is severely depressed and often very unpleasant toward him. His father has passed away. He doesn’t seem to have too many friends, either. He is just about to get expelled from school when a very unusual woman arrives to test students for a special opportunity to attend Myers Holt, a prestigious boarding school. Ms. Sonata sees a spark in Chris, and we discover–along with our hero–that he is much less average than he seems. Miss Sonata’s test is bizarre: Chris is asked to envision a real place and explain exactly what is going on at that very moment. He is even asked to read Miss Sonata’s mind. After passing with flying colours, Chris is invited to attend Myers Holt, a government-run school for extraordinary 12-year-olds, like himself, to help hone special skills (also known as”The Ability”) in order to save the lives of very important people.

Practicing The Ability requires the small group to learn how to read minds, how to control the thoughts and actions of others, and how to install mental blocks in order to keep people from entering their own minds to do them harm. Unfortunately, they are not the only students of The Ability, and someone is using their powers to hurt people. The really neat thing about The Ability is that everyone has had it: between the ages of 12 and 13, however, is the only opportunity to develop The Ability before it is lost.

I loved the atmosphere at the school, which was full of imaginative details. The children are trained completely underground, but the school is always sunny, with beautiful views of fields and forests. The teachers are delightfully varied: I liked the grumpy and slightly scary telepathy professor. The Ability itself is fascinating: students learn to enter people’s minds, where all of their thoughts, feelings, and memories are organized like a small town, the aptly named “mindscape.”

All in all, I enjoyed the book. I’d rather not have gone into it expecting Harry Potter (although it’s a great read-alike suggestion, it’s not particularly fair to compare a well-established book to a blossoming new series, especially one so different), but I wasn’t disappointed with what I read! The best part of The Ability was the pure adventure of it: as Chris and his classmates learn to control their potentially dangerous telekinetic powers, we see other sinister characters sharpening theirs as well. Can the children of Myers Holt defeat the evil minds behind a deadly plot? What happened at Myers Holt that forced them to close their doors 30 years earlier? The mystery, adventure, and pure wish-fulfillment of this book is enough to make me want to read the next one! This is great summer reading, perfect for ages 8-14.

Enjoy,

Bronwen

 

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Audiobook Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

RithmatistDuring the summer months, I go through audiobooks faster than at any other time of year, and I’m not the only one! Most people are more likely to pick up an audiobook and give it a try in the summer, probably because family road trips are such an ideal time to discover this new way of enjoying books. A few weeks ago, I finished an audiobook that I wasn’t expecting to like, but that ended up being exactly what I was looking for – a captivating listen that had me discovering a cool new world, which means that I had to share it with our faithful readers.

The name Brandon Sanderson became familiar to me when he took over writing the end of Robert Jordan’s mega-series The Wheel of Time. Sanderson is a fairly prolific writer, but I had never read one of his original novels, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up the audiobook for The Rithmatist. First off, if you have read The Rithmatist, it may seem like an odd decision to listen to a book that relies a lot on drawings and diagrams in the novel (so much so that there is an illustrator), but it really worked!

In The Rithmatist, Sanderson introduces us to a world where Wild Chalklings, two-dimensional creatures who eat human flesh, are held at bay by Rithmatists, magicians who can transform chalk drawings into defenses and attacks. Joel, the main character, is fascinated by Rithmatists; he spends all his free time studying Rithmatic tactics and strategies, to the detriment of his own school work. Joel’s fascination with that world leads him into loads of trouble, however, when he finds himself in the middle of a very serious investigation about the disappearances of Rithmatic students. Who could be harming these promising students, and how can the villain be stopped?

Joel’s investigation leads him to work with Professor Fitch, an established professor of Rithmatics whose kindly demeanor makes him a valuable friend to Joel.  Joel also ends up befriending Melody, the only Rithmatics student who will give Joel the time of day. Unlike Joel, Melody doesn’t like Rithmatics and wishes she hadn’t been chosen. She is inept at drawing circles, the simplest of the Rithmatic forms, and has to be tutored by Professor Fitch for the summer session, which is how she meets Joel. Together, this unorthodox trio will try to figure out what is going on and how to stop it.

The Rithmatist was a completely unexpected and very original book. It was fun to listen to, with exciting passages, great adventures, and a really tense mystery that I didn’t manage to figure out before the big reveal. This is a great book for adventure lovers and fantasy enthusiasts. I listened to the audiobook, and the reader, Michael Kramer, was fantastic! He seemed to change effortlessly between the different characters, embodying the somewhat absent-minded Professor Fitch one moment, and the brash Nalizar a second later. When researching Michael Kramer, I discovered that he has read for loads of books, including the aforementioned Wheel of Time series. In fact, he has won the Audiophile “Earphones” award for outstanding narration!

This adventure-packed read, chalk-full of tension and danger, is a great summer selection, so think about giving this hidden gem a try next time you visit.

Happy listening!

-Valerie

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