Category Archives: excitingadventure_books

The Giant Slayer by Iain Lawrence

giant slayer cover The last place Laurie Valentine’s father would ever want her visiting was the polio ward. It’s 1955, and he’s part of the team trying to find a vaccine for the epidemic, and because of his fear for her safety, Laurie leads a very sheltered life. Her only real friend is her neighbour Dickie. When she sees the ambulance outside Dickie’s house, she is sure the worst has happened—and it has. Dickie has polio, and her outgoing, rambunctious friend has been confined to an iron lung. Laurie’s father forbids her to go anywhere near the polio ward, but Laurie can’t abandon her best friend. She sneaks away while her father’s at work and goes to visit him. She can’t give him a healthy body back, but what she can do for him is tell stories. Before she knows it, Laurie is making regular visits to Dickie and the other iron lung patients. Because Laurie’s life is only half the book. The story she tells, of Jimmy, a boy wished into being small forever by his selfish father, a swamp witch, a giant and a destiny foretold, will have a profound effect on all the children who hear it. And when Laurie is prevented from finishing the story, her listeners take up the threads themselves, determined to find the best ending they can.

This is a fantastic book to lose yourself in on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Iain Lawrence, you rock my socks! On one level, you’ve got a tale of peril, adventure and fantasy, on the other, you’ve got a complex, nuanced coming of age story. It would also make a great read-aloud, at home or in a classroom. It’s on the shortlist for this year’s Rocky Mountain Book Awards, and the question came up, will it appeal to kids who’ve never heard of polio before? I think it will. It also has adult appeal too–one committee member talked about the memories of his school being closed through most of his grade one year because of polio. Laurie and Jimmy are both strong, appealing protagonists and I think the combination of historical fiction and fantasy will broaden the audience for the book.

Further reading: try Peg Kehret’s autobiography, Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio, In the Clear by Laurel Anne Carter for a sports story take (quintessentially Canadian–it’s a hockey story!), or a new one from Kathryn Lasky,, Chasing Orion.

There’s an interview with Iain Lawrence at Through a Glass Darkly, and you can also visit his own website and blog.

Reviews in the Globe and Mail, from Book Ends (the Booklist blog), and many, many book blogs: Eva’s Book Addiction, kidsread.com, Buxtolicious Blog O’Books, Kiss the Book, YA Books Central, Lindsey’s Library, Classroom Book of the Week, Book Trends…

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Jolted by Arthur Slade

Jolted coverNewton Starker is cursed. Lightning has killed every member of his mother’s side of the family, except for Newton, and his great-grandmother Edith. (Newton’s theory is that she’s too mean to die.)

Newton and his dad live in a lightning proof house. He has a set of rules to keep him safe (Rule one: Check the weather constantly. Two: Check the sky before exiting a building. Three: When thunder roars, run indoors. Four: Beware of cumulo-nimbus clouds. Five: Do not take a bath during a lightning storm….) But the rules didn’t save Newton’s mom. So he’s enrolled at the Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, hoping that a school that emphasizes wilderness survival, banned neckties from the school uniform because they interfered with outdoor activities (some students were using them to snare ground squirrels) and encourages always carrying a sharp knife will teach him how to avoid the family curse.

But Newton breaks rule number six (Do not under any circumstances become angry. Count to ten. Breathe in. Breath out.), and before he knows it, he’s challenged one of his fellow students, Violet Quon, to a boxing match. And then there’s the matter of a slight mix-up surrounding Culinary Arts and exactly how Newton ended up with a pet pig named Francine, and an approaching outdoor expedition to the Cyprus Hills.

But no matter how busy he gets, Newton had better not forget Rule thirteen: Check the Weather. Check it again.

Jolted is a decidely tongue in cheek sort of story, as you may have figured from the lightning curse, pet pigs, and wilderness survival academies. It’s a quick-moving book with short chapters and plenty of great moments of goofy humour. But underneath it all is a suprisingly bittersweet story about Newton coming to terms with the death of his mom. The ending leaves me expecting a sequel, but Arthur Slade’s latest, the Hunchback Assignments, is definitely a series. (And awesomely steampunk!) Will we see more of Newton? I don’t know…

If you head over to Arthur Slade’s website, you can listen to the author himself reading a clip from the book.

Danger in Dead Man’s Mine by Dave Glaze

Yay! Canadian kids’ historical fiction that doesn’t involved a) wilderness survival, b) immigrating and finding a home, c) time travel, and especially d) a boring cover. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with any of the aforementioned–except boring covers–but I have had my fill of them lately.

Danger in Dead Man's Mine cover This is a story about Mackenzie Davis, who is twelve, and visiting his aunt and uncle in Lethbridge, in 1912. His mom has come to stay and help out until her aunt has her baby. His uncle a coal miner and has been sick, and is waiting to be cleared by the mining company doctor to go back into the mines. The whole family’s hoping that it’s not black lung from years of breathing in coal dust, which would keep him out of the mines for good. (Annnd I’m not going to link to any pictures associated with black lung; you can google it yourself, or just trust me that it’s pretty gross.)

Even Mackenzie picks up on the family tensions right below the surface. Then, soon after he arrives, his older cousin disappears, and has most likely run away from home. His middle cousin Ruth resents having to do all the house work, and there’s something strange going on with his youngest cousin Francis, too. Francis keeps disappearing and comes home exhausted and dirty, but with everything else happening, Mackenzie is the only one who notices, and Francis isn’t telling him anything. The only one who can tell him more is the old fisherman who says he’s going back to the sea–which is quite the claim, from the middle of the prairies.

Although this is book three of a series, you can pick it up without having read the first two. There’s a lot of historical details about things like coal mining and the High Level Bridge (which turned one hundred last year!), but because Mackenzie’s new to the area, it makes sense in context that people would be telling him about all these things. It helps too that it’s the interesting sort of historical details like how afterdamp can kill a miner rather than what feels like a history lecture.

A nice touch of historical context comes from the 1912 newspaper excerpts from the Lethbridge Herald in between chapters, inserted straight from microfilms of the original newspaper to preserve the font and layout. I think kids will find it neat to see something that comes from almost a hundred years ago–I know I would have and still do! There’s a good sense of time and place, but first and foremost, this is really an adventure story–there are mysteries and cave-ins and rescue missions–that zips along at a quick enough pace to keep the book focused on the story rather than the background history. Give this one to grade four or five kids who want an adventure story, and might not read something historical otherwise.

Head over to CM Magazine and Prairie Fire for more reviews, and you can find the rest of the series on the author’s website.

Yesterday’s Magic by Pamela F. Service

Book six of the 48-hour Book Challenge binge! I’m going to use up all my blogging capabilities today, and by tomorrow, will be down to three word reviews. “Liked this book.” “This one bad.” “Book of awesome!” “V. boring book.”

yesterdays-magic Okay, I was quite thrilled that this sequel came out! I read Winter of Magic’s Return and Tomorrow’s Magic years ago when they first came out and I was an impressionable barely-teenager. Happily, the first two books are back in print, in a single volume as Tomrrow’s Magic.

The series is uncategorizable as either fantasy or SF, because it’s about Merlin and King Arthur coming back to a post-apocalyptical world. Yes, really!

The first book begins with three misfit students at a post-Devestation boarding school, in a nuclear winter made dangerous by roving mutants. There’s bookish, excitable Heather, solid, short-sighted Welly (short for Wellington), and the loner Earl Bedwas. If you’ve read the first two books, you know that Heather has wild magic and can talk to animals, Welly is on his way to becoming a famous warrior (much to his embarrassment, because he sees his bravery as pure, dumb luck and the growing stories as rampant exaggeration), and Earl is really Merlin. Yes, that Merlin, pulled out of his magical sleep as a toddler on the low end of the spell that preserved him in an endless loop of aging and rebirth.

All should be well. Merlin has his memories back, is on the way to reconciling his ancient magic with the undercurrents of this new world, and is engaged to Heather. King Arthur has returned, and is engaged to Queen Margaret of Scotland. And lo, there was much rejoicing. But Morgan LeFay is also back. And after the events of the previous two books, she definitely has it in for Merlin and his friends. She swoops in with her own nefarious plan, kidnaps Heather, and Merlin and Welly are off (with a dragon!) on a chase around the world.

If you’re sensing any damsel in distress vibes, don’t worry. Heather is a resourceful sort of girl, and does every bit as much work as Merlin and Welly to get herself out of harm’s way. This is a fun romp, and Blanche the persnickety young dragon is a entertaining addition to the cast. There were a couple of coincidences that were a bit too convenient, and there weren’t really any big revelations in this book. The first two were much broader in scope and there was a lot more at stake. Still, it was an enjoyable return to a beloved book-world, and I’m especially glad that this means that the first two books are back in print with a shiny new cover.

Frost by Nicole Luiken

Book five of the 48-hour Book Challenge binge. This one’s an autographed copy, mwaha. (Nicole is in my wife’s writing group in Edmonton, and a pretty awesome lady.)

Frost_cover Life in Iqualuit! Hockey! Ancient evil! Awesome!

Johnny Van Der Zee understand his girlfriend Kathy’s dedication. She wants to be a fighter pilot. He wants to be in the NHL. This isn’t as far off as it sounds–Johnny’s the star of his league in Iqualuit, and Kathy’s dad is in the Air Force, so she knows what it will take. Johnny’s lived up north for years, and is not just popular, but athletic and capable. So no-one can understand how he managed to flip his uncle’s snowmobile while Kathy was riding with him. It was a close call, but the only casualty was the snowmobile. Now Johnny’s uncle has pulled him out of hockey for the season as punishment and everyone expects him to be devastated.

But Johnny doesn’t seem to care. He knows that everything he loves is taken away from him by the mysterious, ancient evil that claimed him years ago. Johnny calls it Frost. Whatever it is, it’s a creature of killing cold and silent, barren places. Now Johnny’s trying to drive away everyone and everything he loves before Frost can take it from him, whether it’s his family, girlfriend, or even hockey. As Johnny becomes more manic and uncaring, his friends and family start to worry, and his ex-girlfriend Cheryl, no stranger to tragedy herself after The Year of Three Funerals, starts to put the pieces together. Meanwhile, Johnny is coming to the conclusion that Frost has some very definite plans for him, and the rest of the world. Nuclear-winter type plans.

This reminded me of Graham McNamee’s Bonechiller–but not in a derivative way, more as if two different writers both hit on the same plot elements, and put together two unrelated stories. This particular story is awesome for a variety of reasons. The plot starts off with a slight sense of unease and gradually ratchets up the tension and reveals what has come before and how it’s made the characters who they are. The characters themselves are all clearly-defined individuals–and excellent strong female characters! Like Cheryl, who survived the loss of her entire immediate family and found herself again through her grandfather’s Inuit traditions. Or Kathy, who knows exactly what she wants to do and is willing to put in every bit of hard work she can to get it. There’s a very strong sense of place, and yay for a realistic, respectful yet not sugar-coated look (to the best of my knowledge) at modern Inuit people. Also, it’s quite the creepy, well-put-together story.

One thing’s for sure, you’ll never listen to another Christmas carol about Jack Frost in quite the same way again…

Death in the Air by Shane Peacock

Book three of the 48-hour Book Challenge binge. You will notice a distinct lack of proof-reading in my blogging today… I am not forgoing sleep or food.But can I just say? Love is when your spouse says, while making a necessary trip to pick up coffee and other essentials, “I’ll drive so you can read.”

death in the air When we left the young Sherlock Holmes at the end of the first book in this series, he had solved the Whitechapel murders (though Inspector LeStrange had claimed all the credit) at a devastating personal cost. The son of a Jewish merchant and an upper class woman cast out by her family, he’s inherited a keen intelligence and love of leaning from both his parents, and as the reader knows, is destined for greatness. At the age of thirteen, he’s not there yet, and is desperately craving acknowledgement and adoration.

His next big case lands at his feet, quite literally. When a trapeze artist plummets to his death at Sherlock’s feet and gasps out “Silence… me…” Sherlock immediately suspects foul play. He’s also in a perfect position, attending the death-defying performance at the Crystal Gardens, to observe the suspiscious marks on the ill-fated trapeze before the evidence is trampled by the circus-going crowds. But the police are ill-inclined to listen to him, and he’s proudly determined to catch the killer and demand a reward. Since the tragic events of the first book, he’s taken on a job and lodgings with an eccentric apothecary, and set his sights on the lofty goal of college.

The trapeze artist survived the fall and is lingering unconscious on the brink of death. His young apprentice seems remarkably unaffected by his master’s accident. There’s a lover’s triangle at work inside the circus, and everyone involved seems to have a mysterious past. Meanwhile, a series of robberies are sweeping London, a large sum of money has vanished from the safe at the Crystal Palace, and the apothecary is on the verge of being evicted.

Now the reward money is crucial. It’s going to take all of Sherlock’s wits and wiles, some skill at interrogation and deception, and information grudgingly extracted from Malefactor, the young gang leader of the Trafalager Street Irregulars, to put together the pieces.

Peacock’s got a lofty style that suits young Sherlock perfectly, and there’s a wealth of tangible detail here about the underbelly of Victorian London, from show business to deadly back alleys and warehouses. The plot’s suitably convoluted, darkly twisted, and full of betrayal. You can already see the pieces fitting together that will make him into the adult Sherlock Holmes we all know. If anything, this one’s even better than the first book. I, for one, am looking forward to book three.

My Week in Books

I’m approaching something resembling regular updates again. Let’s see how long this lasts… I’ve read some really good fantasy in the past few weeks, a couple of interlibrary loans related to gay teens and YA lit, and the ususal miscellany of other stuff.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch Adult fantasy. In a city that bears some resemblance to Renaissance Europe, an orphaned street thief is sold off to a blind priest, and trained up to become one of the priest’s Gentleman Bastards. And Locke, our street thief, is VERY good at what he does. I loved this one. Book two comes out this summer!

The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner YA fantasy. I seriosuly do not want to describe either of these, for fear that it will spoil the end of the first book, The Thief. In The Queen of Attolia, a thief’s punishment starts a war. And in The King of Attolia, the people of Attolia have a hard time accepting a king who is like no monarch they’ve ever known.

The Woman in the Wall by Patrice Kindl YA/Kids fantasy..ish. (You try to pick a genre for this one… magic realism is as close as it gets, I suspect.)

Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley Kids fantasy. The first book of the Sisters Grimm series.  Sisters Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have abandoned by their parents and are suddenly taken in by a grandmother they thought was long-dead. Turns out that fairy tales are real, and they have a family legacy to live up to, protecting the fiary tale creatures from our world and vice versa. A cute little series with fractured fairy tale and mystery elements.

The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004 by Michael Cart and Christine A. Jenkins  Professional library lit. An annotated bibliography of GLBT YA books, and a rather extensive history of the development of the field. The only down side is that there’s been such a boom in YA lit in general, including GLBT books, that I’m sure there have been as many books come out since 2004 than in the first thirty years combined.

Dead Boys Can’t Dance: Sexual Orientation, Masculinity, and Suicide
by Michel Dorais
A study out of Montreal, published in 2004. The suicide rate for gay teenagers in Canada is six to sixteen times higher than their heterosexual counterparts–and not just gay teens, but also kids who are stigmatized as being gay, regardless of their actual sexual orientation.