The Last Windwitch

Author: Jennifer Adam

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: April 13/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

This is one of those stories that continues to stay with me after it’s over. I miss it, and wish I could visit Brida and her world again. It’s also one of those stories that I hate to try and review it, because I know my words won’t do it justice.

Brida is an apprentice to a hedgewitch named Magdi, who adopted her an infant. Although she has magic, it doesn’t quite work the way Magdi’s does; she follows her instincts instead. As the weather around Oak Hollow becomes more tumultuous, Brida discover the legendary stormhorses that control it are real, and being pursued for their magic. She desperately wants to protect them, but her magic has drawn the attention of Queen Moira, and she goes into hiding to avoid a summons to the castle. She meets new friends along the way, and discovers a secret about her family that puts her in even greater danger, but she learns she might have the power to defeat the dark magic consuming the land.

What I loved most about this story was how beautifully it was written. The description of the stormhorses, the beauty and decay of the land, the secrets woven into the history of Brida’s family, and the haunting creatures that rose from the ground were so well developed. I felt like I was part of Brida’s journey, travelled the miles along with her, and was invested in her mission to free the stormhorses. I loved watching her begin to understand her magic, and trust her instincts as she ran into situations where she called upon it to help her. I also appreciated that she had to combine her talents with others to make the magic stronger, rather than being the sole heroine of the story, and her tenderness and kind-heartedness endeared her to me even more.

This book was the perfect escape from reality, and though I often have trouble picking up a long book, it’s one I miss now that it’s over. I felt completely immersed in it, without the niggling details that often pull me out a story when they don’t sit right with me. I would definitely recommend this story to fantasy lovers who enjoy a quest rich in detail and adventure, filled with magic, where good strives to triumph over evil.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

Seven Voyages: How China’s Treasure Fleet Conquered the Sea

Authors: Laurence Bergreen and Sara Fray

Publisher: Roaring Book Press

Release Date: Jan. 19/21

Length: 176 pages

Reviewer: Laurie

Thank you to the debut author Sara Fray, the publisher and Edelweiss + for an eARC copy.

I have never described myself as a nonfiction reader, but lately, I am discovering that I enjoy reading about various explorations. I did not know anything about China’s explorations, but I was about to learn a lot and be fascinated.

Seven Voyages: How China’s Treasure Fleet Conquered the Sea provides readers with some background information about the Yongle Emperor, Admiral Zheng He in charge of the fleet , the construction of the boats and the seven voyages taken with these ships. 

The first few chapters introduce Zheng He and the Yongle Emperor and the relationship between the two men. Zheng He, born Ma He was the son of a Muslim family. When Yunnan city was captured, Ma He, now a prisoner, was castrated and became a eunuch (a common practice of the time). Ma He served in Zhu Di, the Prince of Yan’s, household and later became the Yongle Emperor. Ma He became a trusted advisor and soldier to the Prince, and when he usurped his nephew, (the Emperor at that time), Zhu Di, Prince of Yan, became the Yongle Emperor. The new Emperor promoted Ma He to be the Grand Eunuch (the highest possible rank) and gave him his new name, Zheng He. 

Learning where the two men came from and how their paths crossed allowed me to see the connections and how they both respected one another despite the class differences. The Yongle Emperor provided Zheng He with some extraordinary opportunities to represent the Emperor and China. In return, Zheng He wanted to represent the Emperor in the best light and not let him down. Throughout the book, it talked about how Zheng He tried to use diplomatic measures rather than force when dealing with other countries or dignitaries.

Knowing nothing about this fleet and little about this time in history, I became enthralled with the building of the Treasure ships themselves. The sheer size of these boats and what they had aboard was simply mind-blowing. The Treasure ships were 450 feet in length, ships that housed horses carry supplies, and transport troops ranged from 165 -339 feet. The illustration that compared the Treasure ship and Columbus ship demonstrated how Columbus’s ships simply dwarfed in size. For years, Emperor Yongle would build over 1 600 of these types of vessels. Each of the seven voyages varied in the number of ships and the size of the personnel. The first voyage had 317 ships and 28 000 crew members. Compare that to Christopher Columbus with three ships and 90 crew or Ferdinand Magellan who had 5 ships and a crew of 257.

The number and size of the ships for the voyages were astonishing, but onboard, those ships are what displayed innovative thinking. The vessels would have not one but two hulls and house water tanks that would hold enough fresh water for the entire crew for thirty days. It had floating gardens to grow food and tanks to keep caught sea life fresh. They used pulleys, adjustable rudders and early forms of the compass, all evidence of Chinese ingenuity.

The Yongle Emperor wanted to dominate not only the seas but establish ports and routes for trading power. Each of the Seven Voyages had a specific purpose and goal and laid a foundation for the subsequent voyages. The voyages also served to transport royalty and dignitaries bearing gifts to and from China. During this time, it was evident that the Chinese dominated when it came to the sea.

I appreciated the maps and illustrations showing the cross-sections of the boats. Despite having those text features, I still had oceanic maps open on my phone to learn more about the routes. I admire the scaffolding of the voyages and the patience and strategy it took to build safe ports and routes. I think readers interested in exploration will find these voyages fascinating. Many (like myself) unfamiliar with this time of exploration will learn a great deal. 

Beneficial for readers interested in learning about Chinese exploration of the seas in the early 1400s, there is a great deal to discuss. The implications of ceasing the explorations and how history may have looked very different if the Chinese had continued to use the fleet. This book would be best suited for upper middle-grade readers due to some content explained in a fair amount of detail (concubines and subsequent violence). 

Other Books By Laurence Bergreen: Columbus: The Four Voyages, Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu and Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe

What is an Options Pile?

Like many of you, I often find my library holds come in all at once. Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed with books that have due dates, in addition to the books on my shelf at home that want to read. Here’s what my pile looks like today after my latest library run. It’s not out of control, but it could easily stress me out if I actually planned to read them all.

Did you hear that? If I actually planned to read them all. I have no intention of reading all of these books, and I’m totally OK with that. Why? Because a lot happened in the weeks since I put holds on many of these books. I spent a lot of time examining how I feel about what I read, and what I want that part of my life to look like in 2021. I watched two classes from Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy about examining our reading lives and setting intentions for the new year, and I feel I have a much better sense of who I want to be as a reader. Some of these books just don’t fit what I want to be reading right now, and I’ll return them without any guilt. They didn’t cost me anything, and I helped my library’s circulation statistics for the month.

Some books I’ll keep on my pile, but I still might not read them. A trick I learned is to stop thinking of this as my “to-be-read” or TBR pile, and to think of it as my “options” pile. I find this helps take the pressure off the need to read them all, and instead presents me with a pile of interesting books from which I can choose. I like to have a variety of genres and lengths to appeal to my different reading moods. If a book sits there for a while, I’ll eventually return it to the library, but I know that I can request it again at any time (I’ve been known to have the same book on my options pile many different times, waiting for the right mood to read it). It feels less stressful to have an options pile, and easier to return the books without regret that I didn’t get a chance to read them all.

I’d love to hear if you use this idea, and how it works for you.

#IMWAYR (It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?) – Jan 11/21

This was one of the best weeks I’ve had in several months. I fell head over heels in love with a writing project, and I read five really enjoyable books.

  • Unleashed by Amy McCulloch (Jan 5/21). I just finished the first book, Jinxed, last week, and I was thrilled to find out that the sequel was available on Edelweiss+. In this story, we find that Lacey is in the hospital and has no memory of how she ended up there. As she starts to recover and pieces of her memory return, she discovers that without her level 3 baku, Jinx, she’s been expelled from school. She decides to upgrade her beetle…until strange things start to happen with it, and also with her mom. As Lacey, her best friend, and her former teammates work together to understand what’s going on, they uncover a massive plot for corporate takeover that affects countless unsuspecting citizens. It’s a race against the clock to find the missing CEO and stop the unthinkable from happening. (4 stars)
  • Don’t Check Out This Book by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise (March 10/20). A big thanks to Laurie for recommending this book; it’s a 2020 release that I missed. I loved this story, and the unique way in which it’s written. It’s told in emails, letters, memos, and newspaper articles. It’s also extremely funny. A new librarian, Rita B. Danjerous, is hired at Appleton Elementary School. The inept principal, Noah Memree, doesn’t even remember hiring her. She brings her own books with her, including the green dot collection that students can borrow without checking them out and deal with topics that kids might be embarrassed to ask about. When the one and only school board member, Ivana Beprawpa, finds out that students are staying up late reading, she starts a campaign to deal with this unconventional librarian and her dress code-breaking daughter. But Ivana has other problems to deal with, like an outstanding loan that needs to be repaid, and soon her desperation leads her to take extreme measures (like buying thousands of dollars of pickles to resell to students) and force change that backfires on her. This is a short, quick, light, funny read that I think young readers would love. (4.5 stars)
  • Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander (October 5/20). If you have a kid who enjoys The Crossover series, I highly recommend you pass this book their way. Told partly in prose by Cassius’s friend, Lucky, and partly in verse from Cassius himself, we see how this charismatic young boy with a drive to be the best started on his journey toward a successful boxing career. I found the story inspiring, as many kids dream of becoming a household name from a professional career in sports. This demonstrates the hard work that went into training, but also shows the bullying, school struggles, and choices he made to put boxing over the other types of things kids his age were doing. I think sports lovers will enjoy this story, but the historical perspective of a Black male athlete is also important. (4 stars)
  • Meow or Never by Jazz Taylor (Jan 5/21). I really enjoyed this story about Avery, a girl with social anxiety who signs up to be part of the school play to be around her crush and to calm her dad’s fears about her panic attacks, and is horrified to discover she is cast as the lead role. Avery has to first deal with her difficulty speaking to others, and then must figure out how to sing and act in front of an audience, with only 6 weeks until the play. Fortunately, she makes some friends along the way that support her, including a cat who lives in the closet of the school’s theatre. But will it be enough to help her get up on stage and perform the night of the play? Although this has a very cute cover, but there’s a lot of depth to this book which deals with race, sexuality, and mental health. (4 stars)
  • Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood (Jan 12/21). Wow. This upper middle grade memoir looks at Gary Paulsen’s difficult childhood. It gives us a glimpse of the many challenges he experienced, and where his connection to nature came from. It also touches on the librarian that fostered his love of reading and writing, and gave him a way to express the word pictures in his head. The book reads like one of his fiction stories rather than a fact-filled biography, but may be triggering for some readers who come from neglectful homes. I’m extremely glad I read it, and would definitely recommend it, although it’s not right for every reader. (4 stars)

Happy Reading!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? has changed from becoming a meme for adults to the sharing of childrens’ lit. This idea to include #kidlit came from Unleashing Reader blogger Kellee Moye and Jen Vincent, from the Teach Mentor Texts, blog. They thought there should be a children’s lit focus too and hence a version for #kidlit began! So every Monday join in on the fun, by sharing what you just finished reading, currently are reading, or are anticipating reading.  Use the hashtag #IMWAYR on your social media sites to share, follow what others are reading and to show support for #kidlit bloggers by reading and commenting.  

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar

Author: Payal Doshi

Publisher: Mango and Marigold Press

Release Date: May 2021

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to the author and Edelweiss+ for an eARC of this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which is the first book in The Chronicles of Astranthia series by debut author Payal Doshi. Although this book doesn’t come out until May 2021, I’m excited to help spread this word about it and make sure that readers are aware of it.

Rea and her twin brother, Rohan, live in Darjeeling, India with their mother and grandmother. Rea resents the favoritism that Amma and Bajai show toward Rohan, and that Rohan isn’t including her in the secret birthday party he’s planning on THEIR special day. She crashes the midnight cricket party, but discovers the next morning that her brother didn’t make it home and has gone missing. Rea desperately wants to find Rohan, so she enlists the help of her friend, Leela, go with her to visit the fortune teller she knows Amma recently visited in the hope of finding out more about his disappearance. She and Leela are given clues that lead them through a portal into the magical world of Astranthia, where they enlist the help of a barrow boy named Xeranther. Their quest to free Rohan involves battling deadly monsters, finding a missing flower petal, and wielding magic that Rea didn’t even know she possessed to stop the queen from using Rohan in her nefarious plans. But Rea also learns Amma and Bajai have been keeping a very big secret from her and Rohan, and suddenly her entire family, and the future of Astranthia, is in jeopardy.

I love stories that are set in countries different from my own, and seeing characters from different cultures be the heroes of stories. There is a lot of Indian culture that runs throughout this book, while incorporating fantasy elements such as magic, deadly creatures, and the necessity of developing special powers for good to triumph over evil. At the same time, it’s a story about family, friendship, betrayal, and taking risks to protect the people that you love. This story is so immersive because of the world that the author created, and how her descriptions were rich, imaginative, and detailed. I will be anxiously awaiting the next book in the series so I can revisit Astranthia and these wonderful characters.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy the Kiranmala series by Sayantani DasGupta, Aru Shah series by Roshani Chokshi (or any of the Rick Riordan Presents books, although this story is not based on Indian mythology) or anyone who loves reading an adventurous fantasy rooted in culture.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

#Must Read in 2021

Last week I posted about how I would track my reading. After finalizing how I would track books I read, I began to think about what reading goals I wanted for 2021. There are so many exceptional middle-grade books published that it is hard to keep up. I remember seeing a tweet about how one individual rarely read books from the past and only read books published during that current year or beyond. This idea saddened me. I would never have met Jupiter and know his story of love and loss in Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter, or Jade and her coming of age story in Renée Watson’s Piecing Me Together if I followed that line of thinking. Every year I think about the books I did not get to but never had a specific plan to tackle my backlist option pile. That changes with this post.

I am a fan of @knott_michele and her blog Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook, and on New Year’s Eve, she sent out a tweet regarding her latest post #MustReadsin2020Recap post. Brilliant right? If you didn’t take a moment to read it, please do. I now have a plan to tackle some of those books I have not read. Like Michelle, I have painstakingly narrowed the list to 12 books – possibly one a month but allowing myself the freedom to pick them up when I have time. 

I also was mindful that I wanted to read more Canadian authors and debut authors, so two-thirds of the titles fall into these categories, with the final third being my choice. Below are my twelve #MustReadin2021, but there is more good news.  Leigh Anne Eck and Cheriee Weichel have revived the #MustRead community originally started by Carrie Gelson and Leigh Ann Eck. You can find details at their respective blogs A Day in the Life and Library Matters and share your #MustReadin2021 lists and join the community. 

Thank you, Michele, for the idea and a plan to enjoy more books in 2021 and to  Leigh Anne Eck and Cheriee Weichel for introducing me to this community. My list will be joining there today.

How do you make sure you do not miss reading any previous year titles you were unable to read? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Laurie

Bit About Books Winter Reading Challenge

Well, I am very excited to officially begin our inaugural Reading Challenge although, I know that I have been busy thinking, searching and playing around with different permutations. Thanks to Kathie, we have another opportunity to connect and add to our TBR/Options pile.

We look forward to seeing your posts on social media using the hashtag #bitaboutbooks. As Kathie stated in her posts, we’d love it if you tag us Kathie is (@the_neverending_stack on Instagram and @kmcmac74 on Twitter)and myself (hnatiukl_turningthepage on Instagram and @lhnatiuk on Twitter), so we can follow you and see what you’re reading. I have included my list below, which may change depending upon the availability of books. I’ve linked to Goodreads on the off chance you are not familiar with my current choices.

Book of My Choice (5 pts)

Book with 100-200 Pages (10 pts)

One Word Title Book (10 pts)

Author Debut Book (10 pts)

Animal Main Character Book (15 pts)

Book with Direction in the Title (15 pts)

Book Published in 2021 (15 pts)

Book Set in a Different Country from Where I Live (15 pts)

Award Winning Book (20 pts)

Book With Person’s First or Last Name in Title (20 pts)

  • Elastoe by Darcie Little Badger, illustrated by Rovina Cai

Two Books By the Same Author (30 pts)

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I look forward to seeing what you have on your lists and adding to my ever growing reading lists.

Laurie

Bit About Books Winter 2021 Reading Challenge – Welcome!

Welcome to the kickoff for the Bit about Books Winter 2021 Reading Challenge! If you want a full rundown of the challenge, please click on the link above for last week’s post.

Today we’d love to hear what books you’re contemplating for the prompts. Please feel free to share your lists here or on social media using the #bitaboutbooks hashtag and tagging Laurie and I in your posts. We’ll have some posts coming on Fridays in the upcoming weeks with suggestions for the different prompts in case you need some recommendations.

We also made one 11th hour change since I am math-challenged. The prompts add up to 170 points, not 200 points as previously mentioned. We’re offering 30 bonus points to each person who finishes all the other prompts so you can end with 200 points. Also, the first person to reach 200 points can pick two prompts for our spring challenge.

I (Kathie) am going to read eARCs that I have requested from Edelweiss+ (subject to change).

5 points: Read any book of your choice – LONG LOST BY JACQUELINE WEST

10 points: Read a book with 100-200 pages – OVER THE TOP BY ALISON HUGHES (192 PAGES)

10 points: Read a book with one word in the title – THRIVE BY KENNETH OPPEL

10 points: Read an author’s debut book – UNSETTLED BY REEM FARUQI

15 points: Read a book with an animal main character – THE HEDGEHOG OF OZ BY CORY LEONARDO

15 points: Read a book that has a direction in the title (eg. up/down/here/there/top/bottom/over/under, etc.) – TAKING UP SPACE BY ALYSON GERBER

15 points: Read a book published in 2021 – THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT BY CHRIS BARON

20 points: Read a book set in a country that is not where you currently live – THE GIRL WHO STOLE AN ELEPHANT BY NIZRANA FAROOK

20 points: Read a book that’s won an award – SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES BY CHRISTIAN MCKAY HEIDICKER (2020 NEWBERY HONOR BOOK)

20 points: Read a book with a person’s first or last name in the title – SAINT IVY BY LAURIE MORRISON

30 points: Read two books by the same author – STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME and THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD by Supriya Kelkar

Happy Reading, and we’ll do a check in again on February 1st to share our progress and see how many points we’ve earned so far.

In Search of the Elusive Reading Tracker

I know it is out there! It just seems to be out of my reach! At the end of the year, people look back and reflect on their year and make resolutions for the New Year, and I am no different. I tend to be an early adopter of ideas, which isn’t always a good thing. I am still looking for that perfect system that makes tracking my reading simple yet, efficient. Once again, I am tweaking ideas from others to try to create something that works for me.

To start, I needed to spend waaaaay a lot of time overthinking. What did others do? Where was that link for that tracking sheet from that website? What worked from previous years? What do I want to track? How can I make things easier, because clearly, it didn’t work this year?

So I made a list of what I want for 2021.

  • an easy to complete checklist for what I read
  • a checklist regarding posting to our blog
  • needs to be something quick
  • want something mobile
  • something that compiles my stats
  • place to put my TBR/Option pile books
  • ONE place for everything

When I went to figure out how much I read, there were so many places I had to check because I didn’t consistently write down what I read. I needed something simple – a checklist, rather than typing information I wanted for later reflection. So I concentrated on that list of items I wanted to track and separate. I then created a Google form thinking about those items and what others had done. The results are in the form below and can easily be tweaked when and if I need them.

So the Google Form took care of a lot of the things I wanted.

  • checklist
  • something quick
  • something that can be mobile
  • something to compile my stats

Google Forms will take my data to a spreadsheet to share my results. I can compile my stats, and I even sent the form to a specific sheet already created to fill my blog post planning needs. Bing Bang Boom – everything was on one sheet. I can easily add a tab for my TBR/Options pile, but most likely will continue to use Goodreads. I will need to clean up my shelves a bit, but it is workable for now.

Now I am down to three places, and that is manageable. Google forms to fill in my reading, providing my stats. Google spreadsheet to compile my stats and post-planning for the year, and finally Goodreads to organize my TBR/Options pile. The spreadsheet will be where I spent the bulk of my time.

Currently, I am figuring out how to have the responses converted to pie charts and other visuals on another page. The images will allow me to see the specifics of what I have read each month and keep my goals of reading Canadian, reading a balance of forms and promoting own voices in check.

I do not allow the computer to do everything. I need pens and paper when I am brainstorming and journaling. And yep, I have made some changes there too, but perhaps that’s another post. I am sure there will be changes as the year progresses, but I’m ready to give this whirl. I’d love to hear how you track and keep your reading organized.and keep your reading organized.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Laurie

Adding the missing paragraph that gave credit to those who generously shared their ideas so I could create my sheet and Google Form.

The ideas that allowed me to keep things on one sheet and using a Google Form came from @kmcmac74, who has used one in the past. I also used @bookriot’s spreadsheet last year and took ideas from this year’s updated version. Finally, On Monday night’s #MGBookChat @kalventure shared the 2021 Ultimate Book Blogger / Reader Spreadsheet Template. Once again, Twitter and my PLN to push my learning and allow me to track more efficiently next year.

Maybe You Missed… Young Adult

Today is the last day of a series of posts on books revolving around the theme Maybe You Missed rather than a “best” or a “favourite” list. Readers need different things at different times. I do not feel that there are any best or favourites – there are just too many phenomenal books to read, talk about and share with others. So, here are 12 young adult books that perhaps you read, or maybe you missed.

As always, I welcome your thoughts or books that Maybe I Missed in the comments.

Laurie