READING NOVELS, January 2017

January in Canada is somewhat of a gloomy time. Few movies or plays are luring me out of the house and so I’ve been digging into a batch of novels that have been piling up my bookshelf. Only one title has a 2017 pub date, and it is my favourite book on the list below.

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Disclaimer: I’m not fond of fantasy stories. I prefer realistic fiction rather than tales that take us into other worlds.  I know I’m in a minority. And I shout ‘hoorah!’  that millions of kids enjoy books that transport them into magical realms. I’m just not one of those kids.  Books with character names such as Antain, Gherland, Glerk, Fyrian and Xan don’t particularly entice me.  Yet, The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a fascinating tale about an ancient witch, baby sacrifices, a swamp monster and nourishment from the moon that  creates drinkers to be “enmagiked”.  Barhnill is a sublime storyteller, gifted with shaping words and creating images.  No doubt that hundreds of thousands of fantasy readers will enjoy this novel more than I did. After all, it is the 2017 Newbery Medal Winner,

LILY and DUNKIN by Donna Gephart

Timothy was born in boy’s body, but is determined to maintain his identity as a girl named Lily Norbert Dorfman, a boy with bipolar disorder  acquires the name Dunkin (as in donuts).  The two grade eight students meet and become friends and learn to reveal and handle their secrets to friends and family. I am always intrigued with novels told in dual or multiple narratives and I so admired this novel that boldly presents a story of someone struggling with gender fluidity and someone who copes with being a Special Needs learner.

THE INQUISITOR’S TALE (or The Three Magical Children and Their Holdy Dog by Adam Gidwitz; Illustrated by Hatem Aly.

This story, for independent middle years readers, is centred on of a trio of young characters: a  peasant girl who has visions, a young monk with colossal strength and a Jewish boy who has the power to heal wounds. The three heroes are chased throughout Medieval France in an adventure, told in the style of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales, each chapter being narrated by a different traveller. Religion, both Christianity and Judaism, plays a large part in this story. And there’s a farting dragon. Bravo to Gidwitz for detailed historical research woven into a  remarkable journey of adventure! A 2017 Newbery Honor Book.

FULL OF BEANS by Jennifer L. Holm

Time (The Great Depression in the 1930’s) and Place (Key West, Florida) are as significant to this story as is the character of Beans Curry who spearheads a project to bring tourism to this failing Florida town. A colourful cast of characters, a series of humourous vignettes and the plight to overcome poverty make this a rewarding read by a top-notch author.

BOOK UNCLE AND ME by Uma Krishnaswami

Sometimes I (we) buy a book because of it’s title.  I am (hopefully) known as Book Uncle to several nieces and nephews. In this novel, Yasmin borrows books from Book Uncle, a retired teacher (!) who has set up on a lending library on his street. Yasmin and her friends learn about activism, collaboration and community as she and her friends must combat the mayor’s office who wants to get rid of the bookstand. For readers, ages 7 – 9.

WORD OF MOUSE by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein; Illus. Joe Sutphin

Patterson needs no plug from me. He is currently one of the most popular authors for middle school readers (e,g., The Middle School Novels, The I Funny Novels, The Treasure Hunter Novels). Here he and Chris Grabenstein tell of the adventures of a blue mouse (yes, blue) who has escaped from laboratory experimentation. Surviving alone in the world outside the lab, Isaiah strives to be reunited with his ninety-six family that has been left behind. A friendship with an Albino girl who  who feels like she’s an outsider in her new school helps to set Isaiah on a quest  filled with mischievous adventures sure to appeal to readers, ages 8 – 10 who are sliding into the world of novels. Isaiah joins the mouse brotherhood of Stuart Little, Desperaux and Anatole. It is worth quoting a few of ‘Jimmy’ Patterson’s mission statements: “We believe a kid who reads is a kid who succeeds.”; We believe it’s every adult’s responsibility to get books into kids’ hands and into kids’ lives.”: We want ever kids who finishes a Jimmy book to say: “Please give me another book.” The author certainly succeeds with Word of Mouse, a book to that can easily enjoyed by developing novel readers.   We’re sure to meet the blue mouse in further books. Yahoo!

THE WARDEN’S DAUGHTER by Jerry SpinelliProduct Details

Here is a   five star review, somewhat revised  of this novel that Irecently posted on

For realistic fiction, I’ve always claimed that Jerry Spinelli is at the top of the heap of young author novelists. His publications over the past several years have been hit and miss for me. With The Warden’s Daughter Spinelli once again proves that he is the best at giving us authentic characters whose identity strengthens through introspection and through  the building of  relationships under complex circumstances. It is great to eavesdrop on Spinelli conversations. It is great to venture into a specific time and place (a prison). It is great to have our heart wrenched in rooting for a feisty, angry character. I know I will not easily forget the cantankerous tormented character of Cammie who struggles to find love and belonging and a special person to call mother. Thank you Mr Spinelli for Cammie. Thank you for returning to the Philadelphia of Maniac Magee. Thank you for another great book to build compassion in young readers. Thanks for the best book I’ve read so far this year. (And thanks too for the short chapters.) Please let me see this book on the Newbery list next year.


Two things inspired me to reread this classic novel about an adventure-seeking mouse: 1. William Schwalbe wrote a chapter in his book called Books for Living, claiming that E.B. White’s book inspired him as a growing reader 2. Melissa Sweet’s biography of E.B. White (Some Writer!) tells us how White’s first book for children came to be.  I do love books with anthropomorphic characters and this mouse shines brightly in the hall of fame of animal heroes.

SHOUT OUT: The Crown (Netflix)

I only got my smart phone last year. And I’ve never been hooked up to NETFLIX until this month.   I’ll be rather busy catching up on TV shows for the next month or two. Or three.  THE CROWN is worth paying whatever extra fee I know have on my Roger’s Bill. Staggering writing. Staggering acting. This was a great binge watch on a cold winter’s day.


A MAN CALLED OVE by Frederik Backman

I loved this novel which has been translated from the Swedish. If you like books that are described about ‘heartwarming’; If you know a curmudgeon who lives strictly by the rules; If you like stories about devoted love: If you understand the challenges of caring for neighbours you don’t agree with;  If you understand the power of grief; If you loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, If you like cats; If you hate cats; If you are likes books told with dark humour, and short chapters you will have a reason to read – and love – A Man Called Ove.

Note: The film version of this book is nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film. I actually own the DVD and watched it promptly after finishing the novel. I look forward to reading other books by Backman and quickly went on Amazon to order My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry; And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer; Britt-Marie Was Here.