Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dark Water by Chynna Laird

Published by Imajin Books

Chynna Laird has filled this many-faceted book with a story that mirrors so much of life and cuts very deeply into subjects relevant today. Suspenseful and compelling yet heart-warming. A young mother disappears shortly after her husband is killed on a peace-keeping mission in Afghanistan and the book centers around her family, her friends, and even the community where the family summers every year. Many of the lake campers start talking about an old Indian legend about the Watcher of the Lake. Clues are found, but they confuse the issue even more. Some are locked away in the mind of her youngest daughter, Sage, who  has not spoken a word since her mother disappeared.

This is but a small issue in a larger one because Sage suffers from a specific type of SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder). Her mother is/was a clinical psychologist, well versed in taking care of her younger child all while teaching her older daughter Freesia what works, what doesn't, and how to calm Sage in one of her terrors. Freesia is 16 years old as the story begins one year after her mother's disappearance and the girls are living with their grandparents. Fortunately for them, they are in a good family situation with their grandparents. Full of fun and mischief, yet caring and comforting, they too are able to work with Sage. When a lone girl who seems familiar begins to show up watching Freesia more than she is comfortable with, they finally have it out and become friendly in a way. Mizu wants to help look for clues.

The reader may feel they have a grip on who committed the crime, now upgraded from a disappearance. But there are so many possibilities. The peace-keepers on the mission with Freesia's father all have issues. All have been treated by her mother for PTSD. While it was called a mysterious disappearance, all kinds of rumours surfaced. Now it is surmised to be foul play, anyone might be suspect. Nothing is really as it seems.

This is not just a murder mystery, there are too many odd sequences and discoveries. Who is Mizu, how does she find clues others miss? I found a lot in this book to keep me glued to the pages. I love learning something new, and also have an interest in SPD. With so much going on the storyline could easily have been lost, but it is all held together with personalities, relationships, the feel of the lake and forest, sailing and swimming, living normal lives during a time when there is precious little normalcy. Aside from the background of the mission in Afghanistan, this story takes place in Canada, I loved the book through all its passion, trauma, laughter and love. That is what life is about after all, don't you think?

Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie by Laurie A. Jacobs

Illustrated by Anne Jewett
Published by Flashlight Press

Grandma Tillie is everychild's imagination with her many personae. Sophie and Chloe, her granddaughters, love their baby-sitter when they know it will be Grandma Tillie. Laurie A. Jacobs seems to know exactly the kind of Grandma children will love to play with, because when Grandma Tillie comes, she is not alone. She is anyone and everyone and a barrel of fun. Anne Jewett has done a fine job of creating the perfect image of Grandma Tillie with her illustrations in this hard-cover picture book.

She might be Tillie Vanilly, Chef Silly Tillie, or maybe Explorer Chilly Tillie. Whatever or whoever Grandma Tillie is, she is an entertainer and story-teller, a Grandma that any young child would love to have. An endearing childrens' picture book, lovingly created in words and illustrations, bound to be a hit.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pobble's Way by Simon Van Booy

Illustrated by Wendy Edelson
Published by Flashlight Press

Pobble's Way is a delightful picture book that tells an enticing story. Pobble loves to take magical walks through the woods around their cottage, especially between supper and bedtime with her Daddy. With rich imagination and beautiful illustrations, we follow them on their path. Everything is magical as they go along.

It is winter and there is so much to see. Mushrooms become frogs' umbrellas, But when Daddy picks her up onto his shoulders, something soft and pink falls from her pocket, and now the animals find something magical, wondering what this can be. With snow on the ground and the trees bare, each animal tried to decide where this came from.

This is a colourful adventure picture book for youngsters, written beautifully and the pictures will hold their attention as they follow the story along. I happily recommend this book for young children. This is Simon Van Booy's first children's picture book. Read it to them and enjoy it along with them. I'm sure it will become a favourite.

Dead Mans Hand by Luke Murphy

Published by Imajin Books  

Luke Murphy's debut fiction kept me off-balance most of the way through the book. I was surprised with the beginning and equally surprised by the ending. This high-powered, fast-paced murder mystery is placed in the city that doesn't sleep, Las Vegas. Plenty of suspense and few clues which tend to lead nowhere. Which suspect can be trusted, is there a rogue politician or cop in the mix that might be suspected of complicity? This is the theme that will keep the police hog-tied as corruption rears its oversized head. It quickly becomes a series of murders that will keep the reader(s) on their toes. Cut to the bare bones, the mystery of the crime seems to be easy to solve, but is it?

From the title it is obvious that the story revolves around gambling and casinos. Too many casinos, it would appear. One lone cop in charge of this case, Detective Dale Dayton, believes in the innocence of the most probable suspect, Calvin Watters. At the same time, his sergeant continues to draw a few lines he can't cross. Dayton does not appear to have a winning hand, not even a full deck. About this time the reader will question who is actually on the right track, because the murderer hasn't stopped at one death and time is running out.

There are several twists and turns in the story. Just when you think you've got it right, you're thrown another curve. The characters are so well-drawn that the reader will easily be double-guessing who did what, when and where. How many have been set up to take the fall? Who is pulling the strings that tie the hands of the homicide division? Are these really "perfect" murders? An exceptional first novel, gritty storyline to sink your teeth in, wonderful characters to root for or against. Excellent first book in what hints at the possibility of future adventures with these unlikely characters. I certainly hope so, this could be a fascinating series! Kudos to Luke Murphy, great job!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kaytek the Wizard by Janusz Korczak (1878-1942)

Originally published in Polish as "Kajtus Czarodziej" in 1933
Illustrated by Avi Katz
English translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Published by Penlight Publications

At first glance only, I was not too taken with this book. I did not like the attitude or the smoking of this young boy. However, on realizing first that this was another era and second, that it was taking place in a different culture of which I knew little, I sat back and refocused. I'm glad I did.

Kaytek's real name is Antek, but a chance encounter changed his name, so as far as the schoolboys and Antek himself decided, he went by Kaytek. He is a boy who is very clever, too easily distracted, full of energy and questions, disruptive, and in general what we might say today as hyperactive or even ADHD.

Keeping in mind that he is growing up in pre-WWII Poland where poverty is prevalent and imagination is an escape, it is no wonder that Kaytek's only desire in life is to become a wizard. Through being a wizard, he comes to learn many of life's lessons as a result of his many failures due to lack of thinking things through.

The book has its charms, and is a good look at how children interact in a way we now call "bullying." Entertaining as it is, Kaytek often creates pandemonium with his wizardry. He must learn through his special abilities how to be rational, how to think of others, how to avoid capture, and so much more. On the flip side, we see how adults, particularly in this time period, treat children, use them as providers, physically abuse them, and allow them no rights.

Overall, once into the book I could soon see that it is basically a fable, a morality tale. We all grew up with similar books and stories, this one just happens to be more in depth and with more to say. I'm not sure what age this would appeal to now, 80 years later. Possibly 12 and over. It is an interesting read about a time and country not too many people in North America knew much about in the 1930s. There is a very good Translator's Afterword which  I found very compelling, explaining why and how the author, Janusz Korczak, a champion for childrens' rights, wrote a book of this nature.