Tag Archives: Scholastic Canada

Review: Plain Kate by Erin Bow

22 Sep

Publisher: Scholastic Canada
Release year: 2010
Genre: MG/YA fantasy, fairytale
One sentence summary: A cat, a curse and a wonderful fairytale.
Rating:5 out of 5
Review copy from publisher

Plain Kate lives in a world of magic and curses, where cats can talk and shadows can bring back the dead. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans seem to reveal hidden truths about their owners. But she and her village have fallen on hard times: Kate’s father dies, crops fail, and a strange sickness is spreading across the countryside. The village is looking for someone to blame, and for her skill with a knife, Kate is accused of witchcraft. Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: If Kate gives him her shadow, he’ll grant her heart’s wish, and he’ll also find a way for her to escape the angry townspeople. Kate reluctantly agrees, not realizing that she’s given a powerful tool to a man driven mad with grief. Aided by new friends and armed with the carving knife that has never failed to show her the truth, Kate must stop Linay in his terrible plan of revenge and become the heroine she knows is within her.

From Scholastic Canada website.

I don’t do straight fantasy. EVER. I’ve tried to read various high fantasy books shoved at me lovingly by the hubs, but I haven’t managed to get past the first chapter or so. Different lands, different places, I just can’t get into them. My dislike of fantasy started young: I was never a huge fan of fairytales. I remember reading them but not really being impressed. And I was so not a Disney kid. So you would think that I wouldn’t like Erin Bow’s Plain Kate, a fantasy novel steeped in fairytale.

But – let the gushing commence – Plain Kate was a wonderful, amazing, heartwarming tale. And it will definitely end up on my best of for the year.  I whipped through it and at one point near the end when the hubs came in to talk to me, I waved the book in his face and glared. He backed out of the room. Smart man.

It’s hard for me to actually put into words why I loved this book so much, but I’m gonna try my hardest to be at least a bit coherent.

For me, this book is about a feeling. It might sound dorky, but I almost felt like this book was a friend, giving me a big hug. It’s not always a happy book, and there are hard, sad events throughout. But it didn’t depress me. Sure there were times I felt sad (I dare you to read Plain Kate and not cry) but mostly I felt for Kate and what she was going through. I also connected with her simply wanting a place where she fits in, something I think we all crave.

Ok, Taggle. I loved him so, so much. I think he’s one of my favorite characters of forever. He was such an amazingly well written character. It’s hard to explain, but she captured the personality of a cat perfectly. Oh, did I forget to mention Taggle is a cat? He is. He’s the most self-absorbed, awesome cat EVER.

The whole book was beautifully written, and so vivid that I could almost smell the wood shavings as Plain Kate carved. Erin’s writing pulled me into Plain Kate’s world from the get-go and it was definitely a world I didn’t want to leave.

There were a lot of happy sighs as I read Plain Kate. I just kept thinking, “Thank God I’m getting a chance to read this book.” And when I finished I immediately told everyone I know to go buy it and read it.

This is probably going to sound cheesy and cause a few eye-rolls, but for me this book was a gift. Not only was it an amazing story I know I’ll come back to again and again, but it’s also made me curious about fantasy and fairytales. Very cool.

As for who I think will enjoy Plain Kate, that’s easy. Everyone.

Don’t believe me? Enter to win a copy and see for yourself.

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Q & A with Erin Bow and a Plain Kate giveaway!

20 Sep

Okay, so how much did I love Erin Bow’s Plain Kate? OMG, so , so much. In fact, if you come back tomorrrow you can see me blather on about it in my review, which promises to be gushy and most likely over the top.

But today I get to share with you a little Q & A with Erin. And I also have one copy of Plain Kate for a lucky Canadian book lover.

Lavender Lines: On your blog you describe Plain Kate as “Written under the spell of Russian fairy tales”. What are some of your favorite fairy tales?

Erin: From the Russian, I think my favourite might be “The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship.”  I like fool tales, in general, and Plain Kate owes something to them:  Taggle, with his naiveté about human convention and his scathing ability to tell the truth, is a classic fool.   For sheer lushness and scope, I like “Ruslin and Ludmilla.”  And there’s no better baddie in all fairy-tale land that Baba Yaga.

Outside of the Russian, I like the North African “The Country Where There Were No Graves” for spoke factor, and for the title alone.  North African tales in general are great.  I want sort of want to throw an Alzabo, which Borges claims is a hyena-inspired creature that speaks your name in the voice of the dead, into my work in progress, because they are So Creepy and Cool.

From the Grimm tales, I like “Dr. Urssenbeck Spins the Bed,” about the adopted godson of death, who grows up to be a physician.  I’m going to do something with that one, someday.  I love the Japanese tale “A Fox Wife.”  The Haida tale  “Raven Steals the Sun.”  I really could go on.  I’m no scholar — I really don’t have a clue what, say, morphology is — but I love these old stories.

L.L.: Music is a very intrical part of the magic in Plain Kate. When you were writing and revising your book, was there any music that was “magical” for you and the process?

Erin: Oh yes!  Bukkene Bruse’s album The Stone Chair was the magic key to Plain Kate.  It never failed to transport me to the fog and the forest, the magic and the sadness.  I must have listened to that album hundreds of times.  Of course, this means the book’s “playlist”  is dominated by a fiddle-driven folk band wailing sadly in Norwegian, which … well, line up for that album release, teen readers!

I also played Bethany and Rufus’s “No More Songs” a lot as I wrote the book.  This is a little odd because it’s not the hero’s song, it’s the villain’s, it’s Linay’s.  But it was useful to have a touchstone song for him, to help me get into his mindset.

“Once I loved a girl.  She was a flower in the flame.
I loved her as the world sings sadly.
Now a ghost without a name stands ragged in the rain
And it seems that there are no songs.”

I think it’s important for a writer to keep compassion even for villains, and this song helped me keep in sympathy with Linay as he did some (ahem) unsympathetic things.  I can almost imagine him playing the strings part as I listen to it now.

L.L.: The last few chapters of Plain Kate are quite emotional. Did you have a hard time writing those scenes? Were you worried that they may be a bit too emotional for younger readers?

Erin: I put off writing the climax for weeks, fussing and ducking and generally working my way toward a nervous breakdown.  I knew it was going to be hard on the characters, and that at least one of them that I loved very much (and I loved them all, even Linay) was probably going to die.  I just didn’t want to do it.  I think — this sounds so over the top — I was even grieving.  But finally, I found myself in a donut shop at the back end of a bus route, with an hour to kill before an appointment.  I had nothing with me but my notebook.  So I wrote, shaking and muttering and generally making the donut shop people think about calling the Men with the Nets.  After that I felt better.  But if I had had a book with me that day, Plain Kate might still be unfinished.

I didn’t really think about readers in the first draft of the climax, but I was very mindful of them when thinking about how to end the book.  I worked hard to get exactly the right tone in the denouement, so that the book, while it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, would leave them with a feeling of completeness, healing, hope.

Who was it that said:  “it’s okay to take young readers to dark places — just don’t abandon them there”?  I thought about that, and tried to stick to it.

L.L: I’m always curious to know what books authors are excited about. Are there any fall releases that you can’t wait to get your hands on?

Erin: I need to get my hands on Elizabeth Bunce’s Starcrossed.  I liked Curse as Dark as Gold a lot, and this one — a sneak-thief heroine!  hidden magic! a snowbound castle!– sounds right up my alley.   I want to read The Replacement, too; one of the rare instances where I might be sold by cover art alone.  But, secrets that everyone knows and no one talks about?  I’m there for that.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Erin! And can I just say how jealous I am of peeps who are going to Word on the Street in Kitchener on the 26th? Erin will be there so head on out and meet her for me, kk?

And now, on to the contest. As usual, I’m going to make it easy-peasy and a bit fun. No need to follow me (but feel free if you want). You don’t have to tweet me up, blog me up or Facebook me up (once again, unless you want to). What you do have to do is tell me in the comments below what your favorite Fairytale is and why. On Sept. 30th I’ll randomly pick a winner. This is for Canadian folks only and please leave me an email address, k? And enter! This was one of my favorite reads so far this year.

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

14 Jul

Scholastic Canada, 2009

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

From Goodreads website.

It’s not very often that a sequel can live up to its hype. And rarely does a sequel outshine the first book. But Catching Fire manages to pull of both.  I loved The Hunger Games but I LOOOOOOOVED Catching Fire.

The action is non-stop and once again Collins holds nothing back. There’s violence. There’s killing. There’s mayhem. There’s everything that made The Hunger Games so addictive and much, much more. We get to know Katniss and Peeta better. And yes, there’s an element of romance. But for me, that was secondary to the main plot and the main theme of survival.

If you thought the Capital was evil in The Hunger Games, they pretty much quadruple their nastiness in Catching Fire. The way that they try to squelch the rebellion is so God awful it literally left me shaking and gasping for breath. You really get a true sense of how little the government cares for the people.

The last couple of chapters of Catching Fire were so face-paced and amazing that I had to slow myself down and reread a few section. And the ending! I don’t want to give anything away, but the ending made me curse that August and the release of the third and final book, Mockingjay was so far away.

Even if you were kinda meh about The Hunger Games, give Catching Fire a read. I actually liked it better.

Browse inside Catching Fire.

Thanks to by friend Sheryl for lending me Catching Fire after forcing me to read The Hunger Games. 😛

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

7 Jul

Scholastic Canada, 2009

Twenty-four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives.

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

From Scholastic Canada website.

It took me a bit to get into this one, but my gods, once I did I was addicted.   I mean, I couldn’t put it down. And once I finished it I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I pretty much immediately started the sequel, Catching Fire, because I wanted, no I NEEDED to know what happened next to Katniss.

The Hunger Games is one heck of a roller coaster. I mean, the whole book centers around 24 teens trying to kill each other, so how could it not be? I loved the fact that parts of the story gave me a bit of an adrenalin rush. The writing was tight, the characters realistic and Collins has no issues dealing out death and violence hand over fist.

But The Hunger Games isn’t only about destruction, no. There is a pretty unconventional love story at the center of the book. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I’m not a big fan of romance in books. But like a lot of the great YA dystopia that is coming out, the romance isn’t’ overdone here and adds to the tension of the story.

I’ve read Catching Fire and will be reviewing it next week. Mockingjay, the third and final in the trilogy comes out later this summer and is perhaps one of the most anticipated YA summer releases. OMG it’s gonna be goooood!

Take a boo inside The Hunger Games.

Review: Stolen Child by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

30 Jun

Scholastic Canada, 2010

Nadia arrives in Canada after the end of World War II, from the Displaced Persons’ camp where she has spent the last five years. But troubling memories and dreams begin to haunt her. Who is she really? She sees images of another family, Nazi uniforms, Hitler . . . but can she believe what her dreams are telling her?

From Scholastic Canada website

At this point in my life I’m not ashamed to admit that I know pretty much nothing about history. I sucked at the subject in school and the way it was taught didn’t entice me to learn about it on my own. I know the basics like everyone else, but as for actual details? Yeah, you so don’t want me on your trivia team.

So I love that there are all these books out there that may be fiction but are based on historical facts. I’ve read a few adult historical fiction novels but recently discovered a pure love for middle school and young adult historical fiction. I think it’s because these books don’t tend to assume that the reader already knows a crap load about the period or subject matter.

Stolen Child is an engaging story about one child’s journey to not only fit in in Canada after fleeing the Nazis, but to also try to piece together her past and where she came from.  I loved reading about Nadia learning to speak English and her wonder at the local library. Her simple joy over the most basic things really brought home how lucky were are, and have always been, in Canada.

Aspects of WWII and the Nazis are revealed through Nadia’s returning memories of her younger years.  I loved that rather than simply telling us about Nazi specifics, the author chose to reveal the details in this way. I can’t really say too much because I don’t want to give anything away, but I definitely learned something new about that time period from Stolen Child.

There are also a few pages of “Author’s Notes” at the end of the book that explain a bit more about what Stolen Child is about. I think that these included pages would be a big help to not only solidify what was in the book, but to help any younger readers who may be a bit unsure about what was fiction vs what was historical fact.

I really enjoyed this book and I love that these middle school and young adult historical fiction books are kind of a sneaky teaching tool. I think that if I had had them available to me when I was in school, I wouldn’t have been such a reluctant history student.

Thanks to Scholastic Canada for helping this late learner.

Review: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

21 Jun

Scholastic, 2009

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf — her wolf — is a haunting presence she can’t seem to live without.

Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human…until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears and the temperature drops, Sam must fight to stay human — or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

From Scholastic Canada website.

Yes, I know I am coming late to the party with this one, but my God am I ever glad came! Shiver is one of those books I kept hearing about but didn’t want to read because of the major love story (since I’m not a huge romance fan). But finally I gave into the buzz, which has started once again since the second book, Linger is due out July 20th.

This is definitely a love story. And it’s a well written, engrossing, sweet love story. And, well, I loved it.

I loved everything about Shiver, right down to the color of the text. Shiver‘s cover has different shades of dusky blue-grays and it’s this blue-gray that is used for the color of the font. I never really thought of the color of font in a book before, because it’s almost always black. But the blue-gray of the words added to the mood and tone of the book, enhancing the reading experience.

Stiefvater’s way with words, particularly describing action and movement, was stellar. In one scene where Sam is upset, she describes him so vividly with his hands laced behind his head, pacing, that I felt like I was right there with him.

And while this was a love story, it wasn’t over done. It’s books like Shiver that are helping me to realize that I actually can read a book about love and romance and enjoy it, as long as it’s done the right way. From the get-go I was rooting for Sam and Grace and I was completely absorbed in their story.

For me, the true testament to a good book is how I feel once I am finished. Am I satisfied? Do I want to learn more about these characters? Do I want to share the book with everyone I know? It was a yes on all three counts. I finished Shiver, put the book down, sighed and impatiently started waiting for the release of Linger.

Thanks muchly to Scholastic Canada for sending a review copy my way.

Review: My Story: The Hunger by Carol Drinkwater

11 Jun

Scholastic Canada, 2010

It’s 1845 and blight has destroyed the precious potato crop, leaving Ireland starving. Phyllis works hard to support her struggling family, but when her mother’s health deteriorates she sets off in search of her rebel brother and is soon swept up in the fight for a free and fair Ireland.

From Scholastic Canada website.

 

I seriously wish books like My Story: The Hunger were around when I was younger and struggling to learn about history. Yes, this is a novel, therefore fiction; but the story is based in historical truth. In fact, I learned things about the Potato Famine that I never knew before reading this book.

I loved the fact that this book was written in diary form. It made the story and what was going on in Ireland at that time very personal and made me more vested and interested in the story line. And this book isn’t just about the Potato Famine, either. There is plenty of family drama and romance to keep even the most reluctant reader interested.

For the age group the My Story series is geared towards (9 and up) I think these books are an excellent jumping off point to get kids interested in history. And of course, for adults like me who hated history, it’s a chance to learn a few facts about the past.

The inner kid in me thanks Scholastic Canada for the review copy.