Kira Kira

KiraKira

The novel Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata is a novel that is very prevalent in current times. It concerns Japanese-Americans in the 1950s. Katie and her older sister Lynn begin the novel in Iowa and then move to Georgia. Their parents are first-generation Americans who have been educated in Japan. The girls are raised as American but are still deeply involved in Japanese culture.

This book does a great job of portraying the fine line between assimilation and abandonment of culture. The girls go to a “white school” and have white friends, however, when they come home they are surrounded by Japanese culture. At the beginning of the novel, World War II has just ended. For most Americans, people of Japanese descent are still viewed as suspicious and possibly even treacherous.

The other major aspect of this novel is Lynn’s diagnosis of childhood cancer. There have been many books written about cancer patients and survivors. In my opinion, there are very few books that actually portray cancer patients realistically. The “suffers” do not get angry or upset. They do not cause anguish or worry. They simply bear their diagnosis in silence. This book accurately portrays the good and bad days of an illness without the pretense that either Lynn or the rest of her family are saints.

I think the author does a great job of portraying two fairly tough subjects, prejudice, and cancer. She presents them through the eyes of an extremely young girl, Katie. You can tell that Katie knows something is wrong but she is not quite old enough to understand it. That goes for both issues that run through this book. For a family to be simultaneously dealing with racism and a terminal diagnosis, is a lot, to say the least. Both issues are portrayed in a kind, compassionate and realistic way.

Although Katie can seem a little flat, the author portrays her in a way that she becomes both an insider and outsider. Katie is clearly not the focal point of the story. However, she gives the audience a bird’s eye view of what is happening. Essentially, Katie is a normal child whose family is going through some very extraordinary circumstances.

This novel’s poignant presentation of the difficult subject matter. The power in the author’s words makes you root for this family. She presents their situation, not so they can be pitied but so that we the readers can commiserate. I strongly believe this novel should become required reading in both elementary and middle grade. It does an excellent job of taking two very scary subjects and making them a lot more approachable.

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An Enchantment of Ravens

An Enchantment of Ravens

Margaret Rogerson’s book An Enchantment of Ravens is exactly that, enchanting. When you read young adult and fantasy books as much as I do, it’s nice to find a book that presents you with something completely different than anything you’ve read before. Yes, there are some young adult tropes and a little bit of cheesy romance. What makes this book different, is that it’s a whole new world.
The land of Whimsy is touched and infected by ferry. For as long as Isabel can remember, fairies have been a part of life in Whimsy. In fact, there Isabel’s livelihood. Isabel is a painter, a portrait painter to be exact. She is the best portrait painter in all of Whimsy she is frequented by ferry nobles and commoners alike. With each portrait she paints, comes another spell. Sometimes the spells are for protection, sometimes they help with food or shelter. They could be anything that Isabel thinks could benefit her aunt and two sisters.
For many mortals, being as close to ferry as possible is the ultimate goal. For Isabel however, she knows how fickle the fairies can be.  Isabel knows the rules. Never get too close. Never let them see you sweat. She is functioning pretty well until the arrival of the autumn prince. That’s when everything changes. Rook is a ferry unlike any she’s ever met. He has sadness in his eyes and he’s afraid that it will be his downfall because Isabel can see it too
The thing I love most about this book is its incorporation of Irish folklore. Notes of WB Yeats are immediately detectable. However, what Rogerson does that Yeats doesn’t, is to expand on the world of Irish fairies.   What Rogerson does best is to show you how human the fairies of whimsy can be. She reveals that no matter how flawless, all people have pains.  Overall An Enchantment of Ravens is a page, Turner. It’s a unique book that does something that other books and its category don’t do. If you like sweeping romance, a bit of adventure and a little cheesiness then An Enchantment of Ravens is for you

A Study in Charlotte

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A Study in Charlotte is Brittany Cavallaro masterful retelling of the Sherlock Holmes stories. In this incarnation, Holmes and Watson are teenagers attending an elite private high school in Connecticut. Holmes happens to be a female. From a young age, Jaime Watson has consumed his many times’ great grandfather’s work. The cases of Holmes and Watson have been a part of Jaime’s life for as long as he can remember. So when he gets the opportunity to attend the same school as Charlotte Holmes he is ecstatic.

As for Holmes, she has been taught to be a sleuth from a young age. Her first case of diamonds smuggling was solved at the age of ten. However, she has all of the ancestor’s flaws as well. She has been expelled from schools in London and all over Europe because of her penchant for drug use. Her demeanor towards most other people makes her almost entirely unapproachable. In fact, the meeting between Charlotte Holmes and Jaime Watson is anything but successful. Jaime comes off as an overeager school boy who is in love with an idea.

Then something happens that changes the game. Holmes and Watson are framed for murder. Their nemesis uses classic Holmes cases such as The Speckled Band and The Case of the Blue Carbuncle. Jaime and Charlotte are framed for the murder of a boy that assaulted Charlotte and the evidence is pretty damning. Unfortunately, the “adults” in their lives are not listening. Therefore it is up to them to solve the case. Watson’s childhood dreams come true in a way that he definitely did not expect.

The thing that I love about this series of books is that the author keeps the core characteristics of our main characters. The archetype of Holmes and Watson is alive and well. The author places the main characters in a modern setting and gives them young adult problems definitely livens things up for a new audience. Even if you have not read the original stories, this book will draw you in. It is a page turner driven by great characters that you want to see succeed. In the end, Jaime and Charlotte are ordinary teens in extraordinary circumstances. The readers are drawn into their lives and want to see what happens next. The difference between Cavallaro and Conan Doyle is that the story does not end when the case is solved.

 

 

 

The Benefits of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

      I recently recognized a major flaw in my literary life. I’d never read any Sherlock Holmes. Sure, I knew the stories. Your basic crime-fighting detective, who’s mind is as sharp as a tack. He can solve a mystery in 10 seconds flat. I knew that he played the violin and all of the other trappings. I’d seen the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce series and even listen to the old radio shows. There have also been some recent TV reboots including Elementary and Sherlock. In one way or another everyone has been exposed to the world’s greatest detective. How after all that, could I have not read the books? Complete and utter sacrilege. I decided to change that. Where better to start then from the beginning. A Study in Scarlet is not the greatest book I’ve ever read. You can tell that it’s the first in the series because Doyle has only sketched out his character. He’s got the outline but ,Sherlock needs some color.

Despite my disappointment with a Study in Scarlet I went on to the Sign of Four. It is a vast improvement. Its plot line is better developed and the characters are more vivid. Doctor Watson’s voice becomes a lot clearer. He is no longer just an observer. He is actively participating in the solving of the mysteries. Watson as a narrator is a perfect combination of wonder and skepticism. His particular voice makes Holmes’s a little easier to swallow. After all, Dr. John H. Watson knows something that the rest of the world doesn’t. The unflappable Sherlock Holmes is a human being with flaws and shortcomings.

I breezed right on through the next four volumes and finished the Valley of Fear last night. When thinking back to do this book review I have to admit that the volumes of short stories have been the best in this series so far. The stories give you just enough to leave you wanting more. Especially, the final problem. I really did think Holmes went off that cliff with professor Moriarty. I wept a little weep with Dr. Watson. Of course, our favorite detective strikes again. After all, how could London survive without him?

While taking this deep dive into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I have also read a few retellings in which Sherlock is of the feminine persuasion. They add vivid color to an already rich cannon. Both a Study in Charlotte and a Study in Scarlet women deserve their own reviews so I will not go into them here. However, it is more proof that Mr. Holmes is alive and well in whatever guise or medium he may choose. I will definitely be going back for more. After all, “it’s elementary my dear readers”.

The Loose Ends List

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I recently read the Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone. I have to say it has an interesting way of dealing with a pretty tough subject. The main character Maddie is your average seventeen-year-old. She is slightly self-absorbed, a little shallow, and a little too comfortable. Maddie’s world gets turned upside down when she receives the news that her grandmother has been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Crazy gram has booked a cruise on the Wish Well.

The Wish Well is a ship specifically dedicated to terminally ill patients. The patients have made the decision to end their lives at the end of the cruise. As you can imagine Maddie and the rest of her family are devastated that their beloved grandmother, mother, and sister have decided to end her life. However, Astrid North O’Neil wants to go out with a bang. She wants to check off every box on her bucket list. Her ultimate goal is that her family checks some boxes off as well.

Along with Maddie’s family, there are several other guests on the wish well. Paige is a 32-year-old woman with a brain tumor. She has a baby daughter, Grace who helps raise the spirits of everyone on board with her cuteness. At first, Maddie is a little intimidated by all the sickness around her. After a while, she stops viewing the people as patients and starts viewing them as people. As a reader I found myself falling in love with all the Wish Wellians right along with Maddie. Top of Maddie’s list though is Enzo. Enzo’s mother is the founder of the organization that supports the Wish Well. He tends not to get involved with the patients. That is until Maddie steps on the seam. Ultimately the book follows Maddie and her relationship with not only the people on the Wish Well but herself. Her boundaries are tested in a big way and ours are tested as well.

I have to admit, reading this book was tough. It was extremely well written and thought-provoking, which meant it pulled at my heartstrings. I felt for Maddie and the people she loved. It was hard to observe the battle within. On one hand, she wants her grandmother and eventually Paige to be around as much as possible. On the other hand, she does not want them to be in pain and suffering. In the end,  Maddie becomes the best version of herself from the experience.

The Sword of Summer: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard book 1

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Rick Riordan is most well known for his Percy Jackson Series. It is based on the mythology of the Ancient Greek. However, he has also written a few more series based on other world mythologies. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard is based on the mythology of the ancient Norse people. The first book in the Series is called Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer. I have already reviewed book two in the Asgard Series, The Hammer of Thor so I thought I would do book one justice. The story opens with the typical Riordan character. Magnus is sarcastic, quick-witted and very funny. He has a way of being very world-weary but still has some faith in humanity.

When we first meet Magnus he is a homeless teen living on the streets of Boston. Magnus describes his world as being governed by certain rules. There are things you can do and things you can not do on the streets of Boston. He woke up on this chilly morning to be confronted by his friend Blitz, another homeless person. Someone is looking for him. If you spend your life on the streets, someone looking for you isn’t always a good thing.

To top it off, the people who are looking for him know his real name and have his picture. This is no good. Magnus evades his searchers. His cousin Annabeth and Uncle Fredrick might have the best of intentions but Magnus can trust no one. To make a bit of a long story short Magnus soon meets up with another uncle, Randolph, he tells Magnus that he needs help searching for a specific Norse artifact, the sword of summer. In the process, Magnus ends up getting killed. Consequently, he is taken to the Hotel Valhalla

The Hotel Valhalla is where Odin’s chosen live out their immortality until the end of days. Unsurprisingly Magnus is shocked to find that everything he thought he knew about the world and what is and isn’t real, is much more complicated than he could ever imagine. He’s soon introduced to TJ, Mallory, Halfborn and the rest of the gang on floor 19. Just as Magnus is getting settled, he is sent off on a quest to save the nine worlds.

This story is quite a wild ride. It has its share of poignancy, amusement, and most of all Riordan’s signature humor. I for one was in stitches the entire time. Again no spoilers here so you will have to read the book for yourself. One of my favorite parts of these series is that it is set in Boston. You can tell that the author has visited the city because he has its flavor to a t. It is fun hearing an author describe things that I am so familiar with. I live about an hour outside the city. So to hearing about the Ted Williams statue and the CITGO sign was quite fun. He even gets the flavor of Southie right.

On a more serious note, those that have read Riordan before will not be surprised that he has once again handled some not so easy issues with tacked and good humor. From the moment we meet Magnus there is no denying that he is a homeless teen. Having the guts to talk about something like teenage homelessness in a young adult novel is very brave.

Riordan also tackles people with disabilities by introducing the character of Hearthstone the elf. Hearthstones and Blitz are Magnus’ sidekicks. Hearthstone is deaf so Blitz and Magnus are fluent in ASL. Despite the fact that Hearthstone cannot speak, Riordan gives him his own voice. Without this unique perspective, I don’t think this book would be as successful as it is. The Magnus Chase Series so far is defiantly worthy of a five-star review. I was already a fan of the author but since the introduction of Magnus and his friends, he has become one of my must read authors.

­­­­­­­­­­­Cedar Cove Series

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I will be the first to admit that most of what I read is Young Adult literature. However, I have recently made the leap into Contemporary Woman’s Fictions; Debbie Macomber is a great place to start. I stumbled on the Cedar Cover Series quite by accident. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I accidentally read a book in the middle of the series first. And then I realized that it was a sprawling twelve book series that really grabbed you by the heartstrings.

The Series opens with sixteen Lighthouse Rd. Judge Olivia Lockheart presides in Cedar Cove family court. She sees everything from divorce cases to custody battles and everything in between. The Judge’s style, however, cannot be described as orthodox. The first case we witness is that of Ian and Cecelia Randle. The Randles are a young military couple who have recently suffered the loss of a child. Heartbreak ensues and they file for divorce.  Much to their chagrin, Judge Lockheart does not grant it. She suggests that the couple stay married and try to solve their problems. The ruling causes quite a stir especially when, Jack Griffin newly installed editor of the Cedar Cove Chronicle, decides to write a piece about Olivia. Hilarity ensues. As I said in my last review I do not do spoilers, so that is as far as ill go in the plot summary.

What I will say, is that Debbie Macomber has a charming ability to present her readers with profoundly real characters that struggle with actual problems. They all live a comedy of errors just like the rest of us. The series goes on to tell the story of several more characters in Cedar Cove. The author presents us with a new set of characters for each novel, but she still has a way of making sure we keep up with all of our favorites including Judge Lockheart.

Cedar Cove is a series in which the reader becomes entirely comfortable in the world they are reading about. When we hear the stories of Olivia and the gang its as if we are sitting at their kitchen tables. I for one am fully enthralled with Debbie Macomber and will go on to read her other series. If they are half as enchanting as Cedar Cove then I will consider it time well spent.