Review of Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper’s Daughter

by Angeline Boulley
read by Isabella Star LaBlanc

Macmillan Audio, 2021. 14 hours.
Review written September 21, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Firekeeper’s Daughter is an amazingly good mystery/thriller for teens by an indigenous author. From the cover image, I mistakenly expected a fantasy, but got a lovely contemporary novel focusing on Daunis Fontaine, the daughter of a Native American Firekeeper and a non-Native woman. Only her mother is still alive, but Daunis has embraced Native American spirituality and the traditions of her people.

Since I listened to the audio version, I don’t trust myself with spelling the Native American terms freely used through this book in a natural way, but the narrator helped make their use seamless. As the book begins, Daunis has graduated from high school, but has not left for college because she doesn’t want to leave her grandmother, who recently had a stroke, and who is being cared for by Daunis’s mother. Daunis is also troubled by the recent death of her uncle, a chemistry teacher, which neither she nor her mother believes was really from an overdose of meth.

Daunis had been a star on the hockey team, but an injury has sidelined her, though she still supports the team with her brother the captain this year. An attractive new kid has come to town, but he turns out to have some secrets.

And before long, there are more deaths and more people using meth, and Daunis gets pulled into the investigation and mystery of who is behind the meth ring and how does that relate to her uncle’s death. It all seems tied up in the reservation and the hockey team, and Daunis has insider information on both.

This book is wonderful on many levels. Yes, it becomes suspenseful and yes, our main characters are in danger. But it also works as a richly emotional story before any suspense is present, about romance and family and belonging and caring for others and learning to trust. There are also underlying issues as to Native American people and their treatment by law enforcement, and citizenship issues on the border with Canada.

Something I loved about this book was the same thing I loved about Darcie Little Badger’s Native American fantasy, Elatsoe — Daunis is part of a community and gets help from the community. She respects and values her elders and gets important help from them, and it’s lovely how it works out.

angelineboulley.com

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Review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V. E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

by V. E. Schwab
narrated by Julia Whelan

Macmillan Audio, 2020. 17 hours, 10 minutes.
Review written October 5, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

This is the amazing epic tale of a girl who sold her soul to the god of Darkness.

She was at her wits’ end. She lived in a small village in France in 1714. At 23 years old, her family had decided she must marry an older man from the village. Her life stretched out before her bleak and hard. She wanted to live! And she wanted to be free.

But when she prayed desperately to the gods on the day of her wedding, she hadn’t realized that the sun went down and it was the Dark who answered. He was happy to give her the wish – but when she got tired of living, her soul would be forfeit.

However, in granting her wish to be completely free, the Dark cursed her to never be remembered. She could interact with people, but as soon as they turned their back or a door closed between them and Addie, they would completely forget her. And there was more – she couldn’t speak her name or tell her story. If she tried to write words or make any kind of mark, it was instantly erased. In fact, the only person who remembered her and knew her name was the god of Darkness himself.

First, her family and the friends in her village forgot her, as if she had never existed. But Addie quickly learned that it was difficult even to order food or rent a room. Eventually, she learned that she could steal, because that is anonymous. But if someone saw her stealing and was able to stop her, she would still suffer.

She could suffer – but she did not age or get illness or lasting wounds. She had immortality – and the Dark underestimated her stubbornness, as well as her excitement in discovering new things. She wasn’t willing to forfeit her soul. She even learned, over the years, that ideas are more lasting than memory. While she never could have an accurate painting or photograph made of her, she could and did inspire art and music.

But one day in New York City, almost 300 years from the day she was cursed, she brings a book back to a bookstore that she stole from it the day before – and the bookstore clerk remembers her! And it continues! She finds she can even tell him her name.

And so, after almost three hundred years, Addie LaRue’s life changes. But the reason why this boy can remember her brings with it a new set of problems.

This story tells about Addie’s long life and adventures interspersed with scenes from the present (2014), weaving a rich tapestry of an amazing life, which may not have been entirely invisible.

And of course it raises many questions. Would it be worth living a long life if you couldn’t leave any mark on the world? Is it possible to love people who forget you? What are the things that make life worth living? And of course the big one: What would you be willing to give up your soul to get?

The audiobook was wonderful, giving Addie a slight French accent and distinguishing the characters well, but it’s very long. I enjoyed a trip through Skyline Drive in early Autumn to finish it off, and it made the drive all the more incredible.

macmillanaudio.com

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Review of Every Little Kindness, by Marta Bartolj

Every Little Kindness

by Marta Bartolj

Chronicle Books, 2021. First published in Slovenia in 2018. 68 pages.
Review written October 2, 2021, from a book sent to me by the publisher
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely wordless picture book brought to us from Slovenia – and the pictures transcend culture.

As the book opens, a girl wakes up, but drooping. She puts on her red glasses and looks sadly at a pile of posters with a picture of a dog in a red collar.

She goes out to put up the posters, but on her way she sees a man playing a guitar with a cup out for donations, and she gives him her red apple.

A man carrying a red bag sees her kind act. On the next page, he does something kind for someone else. He is watched by someone else with something red, and then that person does something kind.

And so it goes. This book is full of a sequence of kind acts. People see a kindness, then do a kindness. And these are all highlighted with something red in an otherwise subdued-color scene.

The final act of kindness isn’t a surprise when someone finds the girl’s dog and gives her a call.

So we come full circle and end up with a scene including lots of happy people.

Because this is a wordless book, there are lots of things to notice, and I’m sure I didn’t catch everything. “Reading” this book with a child will give them lots to talk about. And besides that, this lovely book will leave you smiling.

chroniclekids.com

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Review of Here in the Real World, by Sara Pennypacker

Here in the Real World

by Sara Pennypacker

Balzer + Bray, 2020. 308 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 19, 2020, from a library book

I love Sara Pennypacker’s books. Her kid characters have agency. They don’t always ask permission, but they make their own choices – some choices better than others – and live with the results.

In this book, eleven-year-old Ware is planning to spend his summer at his grandmother’s house, when she has a fall and goes to the hospital with rehab to follow. But his parents are working extra that summer, so they need Ware to be in a safe place. They sign him up for all summer at the Rec Center, despite his objections.

Ware has spent lots of time at the Rec Center. He knows the drill. And he is not happy about being there again. When the leader has them march around the Rec Center, faster and faster each time, Ware realizes he won’t be noticed if he climbs the tree overlooking the parking lot. He can watch them go around several times and join them at the end.

But instead, once up in the tree, Ware notices that the church next door to the Rec Center has been demolished. In his new rebellious state, he gets down on the church side of the fence to look more closely.

But in the lot with the demolished church, there’s a girl named Jolene. She says the wrecked parking area is now her garden. She’s planting things in cans full of dirt. Ware says the lot can be her garden if the church can be his castle.

And that’s how Ware’s summer gets off to a much more interesting start than what his parents planned for him.

But how long can Ware and Jolene stay on the lot with the ruined church, planting things and turning the ruins into a castle? What will happen when Ware’s parents find out he’s not going to the Rec Center? Surely they’ll find out? And can Ware change himself into a Normal Kid – the kind of kid his parents want?

The title comes because when Ware says something isn’t fair, Jolene accuses him of living in Magic Fairness Land. But “here in the real world,” bad things happen. Can Ware, perhaps, even in the real world, find ways to fight injustice and unfairness?

sarapennypacker.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Fred Gets Dressed, by Peter Brown

Fred Gets Dressed

by Peter Brown

Little, Brown and Company, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written September 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Fred Gets Dressed is a book that’s playful about an everyday activity: getting dressed.

As the book opens, Fred is running around his house naked while his parents read books and let him romp. We do see his bottom, but he’s happily positioned not to reveal anything else. His expression and demeanor are sheer joy as he celebrates being “naked and wild and free.”

But then he runs into Mom and Dad’s bedroom and looks in the mirror on the inside of their open closet door. We see his big smile. Then he starts looking at the clothes in their closet.

Fred looks at Dad’s side of the closet.

He thinks about the way Dad dresses.

It might be fun to dress like Dad.
So Fred carefully picks out a shirt and a tie and a pair of shoes.

But he has trouble putting them on.

Then Fred thinks about the way Mom dresses. He finds an outfit from Mom’s side of the closet that he can put on. Then he decides to go to her dresser and try the jewelry and makeup.

Just as he’s smeared some lipstick on his face, Mom and Dad walk in. There’s a spread where they see him, and then a spread when everyone smiles at each other.

After that, the whole family joins in! Mom shows Fred how to put on some makeup, but Dad and even the dog get involved, too.

I love the way the parents aren’t shocked by Fred’s play – either when he’s romping naked or when he’s dressed up like Mom. And better yet, they join the fun.

I’m not going to say this is a book for gender nonconforming kids, though they will enjoy it. Don’t all kids love to play dress-up? I love the way this book doesn’t teach that this has to be limited by gender, and that even grown-ups can play, too.

And after reading the author’s blog post about the book, I like it even better. When he was a child who loved to play with paint, he was interested in what his mother used to paint her face. One day his mother found him with lipstick on his face, and his mother responded as Fred’s mom does, teaching him how to put it on. The author says he felt unconditional love when his mother responded by encouraging his curiosity rather than scolding.

Good silly fun with a playful message. And a wonderful example of affirming parenting.

peterbrownstudio.com
lbyr.com

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Review of Love for Imperfect Things, by Haemin Sunim

Love for Imperfect Things

How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection

by Haemin Sunim
translated by Deborah Smith and Haemin Sunim

Penguin Books, 2018. Originally published in Korean in 2016. 259 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 27, 2020, from a library book

This is a lovely and peace-inducing book written by a Zen Buddhist teacher. It worked well to read a chapter or half a chapter each day, as I had time, and I was uplifted when I did.

The book is illustrated with peaceful pictures. It’s a book about loving yourself and others, and about healing and going through the world with compassion – very general, nice things. The format is each chapter has a section or two of narrative and then several pages of shorter bits of wisdom.

The book didn’t give me any new, earth-shaking insights, but reading its wisdom helped me calm my thoughts and meditate on truth.

I’ll grab a few examples of the sort of sayings you’ll find here:

When someone does something to distress you
for no apparent reason,
or behaves completely unreasonably,
for your own sake, repeat to yourself:
“Big world, some weirdos!”

If you want to kindle firewood,
there needs to be space between the logs.
If you pack the wood too densely,
the fire will not take; the flames need room to breathe.
In the same way, if our lives have no breathing room,
we won’t be able to enjoy all the things we have,
no matter how great or precious they are.

If you point out someone’s faults,
don’t expect their behavior to change.
Often all that happens
is that they get hurt.
Instead, praise their strengths,
which will grow to overshadow their weaknesses.

There are many aspects of life that we cannot control.
When it comes to our children, spouse, relatives, and friends,
we can love them, pray for them, show them interest,
but we cannot control them,
even when we have good intentions,
since their happiness ultimately depends on themselves.
Let them take responsibility for their choices.
When we get through an illness, we develop immunity.
If we protect others from illness,
they may not develop proper immunity against life.

I found those quotations on pages I opened to at random – the quality of the observations is consistently good. You can see that they aren’t necessarily things you don’t already know – but they are things it’s good to be reminded about.

haeminsunim.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of Friends Forever, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Friends Forever

by Shannon Hale
artwork by LeUyen Pham
color by Hilary Sycamore and LeUyen Pham

First Second, 2021. 300 pages.
Review written September 21, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Friends Forever is the third in Shannon Hale’s graphic novel trilogy of memoirs about middle school. This one covers eighth grade.

The things Shannon faces in eighth grade aren’t surprising: issues with friends, family, boys, her own looks, popularity, how people see her, and what is she good at. But since these are things most eighth graders have to deal with – it’s great to have a story out there in an accessible graphic novel form of a kid facing those things.

I’m not sure I’d want to revisit the angst of eighth grade to write a book about it. Shannon Hale has done this in an encouraging and uplifting way, and kids today will benefit.

And don’t think this is only a problem novel. It’s also an entertaining true story about the ups and downs of middle school – but she doesn’t neglect the upside. This is a fun and quick read about one particular eighth grade kid who indeed grew up to be a famous author.

shannonhale.com
leuyenpham.com
firstsecondbooks.com

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Review of Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land

by Anthony Doerr

Scribner, September 28, 2021. 623 pages.
Review written September 14, 2021, based on an advance reader copy.
Starred Review

If you enjoyed Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, I think that Cloud Cuckoo Land is even better.

The title comes from Aristophanes’ play, The Birds, talking about a utopian city for birds located in the clouds. This book is threaded through with a story, supposedly written by Antonius Diogenes and only recently recovered in a damaged copy, about a shepherd named Aethon who wishes to become a bird so he can travel to this mythical city. Along the way, he has unpleasant adventures, including being transformed into an ass, before he can reach his goal.

Small fragments of Diogenes’ story are threaded through the book, along with stories from five other times. One of those times is February 20, 2020 at the Lakeport Public Library. (I wonder if originally the date was during the pandemic when libraries were closed. This was sidestepped by making it just before that date.) Another time is inside and outside Constantinople in the 1400s. Another time is the future, on the ship Argos traveling to an exoplanet from earth. And then we get backgrounds of two characters who we’ve seen in the library. One of their stories begins in 1941, and another begins in 2002.

All these characters and times end up having a relationship with the story of Aethon, as well as parallels with his story. The weaving together of the stories is beautiful.

I’m now more accustomed to reading children’s books, so starting such a long book was daunting. But once I got off to a good start, the result was rewarding. I’d like to read it again, because even glancing at the Prologue, I see some details I’d missed the first time around.

It’s hard to even describe this book. Is it historical? Is it contemporary? Is it science fiction? What we do have is an epic tale about the power of story and the importance of dreamers. Read this book! You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s how the main part of the book opens:

He escorts five fifth graders from the elementary school to the public library through curtains of falling snow. He is an octogenarian in a canvas coat; his boots are fastened with Velcro; cartoon penguins skate across his necktie. All day, joy has steadily inflated inside his chest, and now, this afternoon, at 4:30 p.m. on a Thursday in February, watching the children run ahead down the sidewalk – Alex Hess wearing his papier-mâché donkey head, Rachel Wilson carrying a plastic torch, Natalie Hernandez lugging a portable speaker – the feeling threatens to capsize him.

And the first fragment of Aethon’s story, Antonius Diogenes relating the discovery to his niece, goes like this:

. . . how long had those tablets moldered inside that chest, waiting for eyes to read them? While I’m sure you will doubt the truth of the outlandish events they relate, dear niece, in my transcription, I do not leave out a word. Maybe in the old days men did walk the earth as beasts, and a city of birds floated in the heavens between the realms of men and gods. Or maybe, like all lunatics, the shepherd made his own truth, and so for him, true it was. But let us turn to his story now, and decide his sanity for ourselves.

The caption on the story of Aethon is a fitting introduction to the book:

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you.

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Review of Subpar Parks, by Amber Share

Subpar Parks

America’s Most Extraordinary National Parks and Their Least Impressed Visitors

by Amber Share

Plume (Penguin Random House), 2021. 206 pages.
Review written September 7, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

I have several friends who have recently vacationed in National Parks, and I want all of them to read this book. I love it! It’s a travel book, it’s a book of beautiful artwork – and it’s hilarious as well.

Amber Share traveled to National Parks from every region of America and made an iconic painting of a scene from each one. Then she superimposed on each painting the words from a one-star review of that park she found on the internet, in the style of an old-fashioned travel poster. The result is wonderfully comical in the juxtaposition.

Here are some examples, though it’s not nearly as good without the artwork:

At Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska: “Mountains not nearly tall enough.”

At Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho: “Not really what I thought.”

At Hawai’I Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii: “Didn’t even get to touch lava.”

At Lassen Volcanic National Park in California: “No idea what people like about this.”

At Yosemite National Park in California: “Trees block view and there are too many gray rocks.”

At Arches National Park in Utah: “Looks nothing like the license plate.”

At Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah: “Too orange; too spiky.”

At Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado: “It’s just a big mountain of sand.”

At Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis: “No real point.”

At Assateague National Seashore in Maryland and Virginia: “Horse poop on the beach.”

I should stop! The gorgeous paintings (always in poster style) of these parks make the comments all the funnier.

Besides the silly commentary from disgruntled visitors, this book is packed with information about the various national parks and gives ideas of what to see and do when you visit, including insider tips from park rangers. I for one have revived a childhood desire to do a big road trip and visit national parks across America. If I ever do it, I will bring along a copy of this book.

subparparks.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Review of Da Vinci’s Cat, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Da Vinci’s Cat

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
decorations by Paul O. Zelinsky

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), May 2021. 278 pages.
Review written March 6, 2021, from an advance reader copy sent by the author
Starred Review

I’ll admit it – time-slip novels aren’t really my thing. My logical mind gets caught up in the contradictions inherent in changing the past, so that I can’t properly enjoy them. However, because this one was written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, who won Newbery Honor the year I was on the committee with The Book of Boy, I was able to squelch my logical objections and enjoy this book. I suspect most kids will enjoy it, too.

In this book, we meet Federico II Gonzaga, eleven years old in 1511, in Rome as a hostage of Pope Julius II for his family’s good behavior. But he was treated well in Rome, became friends with his Holiness, and got to pose for the painter Raphael, as well as maybe see some of what Michelangelo was doing while painting the Sistine Chapel.

Then one day, there’s a strange large box, a sort of closet, in a deserted hallway, made by Leonardo da Vinci. A kitten comes out of it.

Federico has fun with the kitten, but it dashes back into the box – and disappears. The next night, it comes out of the box again – but now it is a fully grown cat.

Federico’s adventures really begin after the cat disappears again – and comes back with a stranger, wearing strange clothes. This man is terribly interested in Raphael’s and Michelangelo’s sketches, as well as seeing the paintings in the Vatican Palace “when they are new,” whatever that means. The man promises Federico a wonderful sweet called “chocolate” in exchange for more sketches.

But after a couple of adventures with this man, Part II of the book begins in the present day with a girl named Bee, who is house-sitting with her moms at a place in Brooklyn. When Bee finds a cat outside killing birds, she takes the cat to the house next door. The old lady there stares at her in wonder – and shows Bee a drawing of herself – drawn by Raphael. So later, when Bee sees a large box in that house in a hidden study, the reader is not surprised when she follows the cat into the box that looks like a wardrobe and finds herself in Federico’s time. And she’s got a quest – some things to set right.

Like I said, if you don’t let your mind get hung up on how this would actually work, but just accept that of course Leonardo da Vinci could have invented a time machine, the story is a whole lot of fun. I love the details of life in Rome in 1511 and what Federico thinks is normal, and how Bee can slip into that and pass for a page. Did you know that Michelangelo smelled terrible because he didn’t bathe? And that he and Raphael had a rivalry going? And that they hadn’t tasted chocolate in Rome in 1511?

A fun story of a cat moving through time and bringing two kids together across centuries.

catherinemurdock.com
greenwillowbooks.com

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