Dueling Reviews: The Comic Book War by Jacqueline Guest

August 21, 2014 | Cameron | Comments (8) Facebook Twitter More...


Teachers review:

    The Comic Book War is a youth fiction book written by Jacqueline Guest. This book deals with some very interesting topics, it just deals with too many of them for its own good. The story takes place in Calgary Alberta in 1943, and focuses on Robert Tourond, a grade ten student who is dealing with the fact that his three older brothers, George, James, and Patrick, are fighting in World War II. After finding a meteorite one night, Robert believes that three of the comic books he reads each directly relate to one of his brothers fighting overseas. Whatever might befall one of the heroes in the comic somehow parodies what is happening in the life of one of his brothers (whichever comic book hero that brother is associated with).

      Robert has an overwhelming urge to purchase these comics. He does this to feel closer to his brothers. It's as if by purchasing the comics and reading them, he is somehow helping support his brothers. If he is not able to do this, he will somehow let his brothers down, and danger will soon find them. Robert goes through many trials to earn money to purchase these comics, and through this we are introduced to the cast of characters in the book, and the many things that happen to them.

       I enjoyed the book, but it did not always succeed. Like I said above, this book deals with a lot of issues, it deals with: growing up, the belief in the unknown, family, feminism, war, and the violence of war, suicide, death, and first nations heritage, poverty, alcoholism, and maybe even a few more. As you can see that is a lot of ideas to pack in to a book that is 187 pages long. I feel that this book would have been more successful if it took out a few of those issues which would mean it would have more time to focus on the ones that remained.

         The characters were relatable, and there were some touching moments in the book. I also found parts of the book to be very cinematic, and I could see the book coming alive in my head. Near the end of the book there were times when Robert felt like he was being drawn into the comics and I could see this happening in my own mind. As well, earlier in the book Robert has to deal with his mother and there are pieces written as if they were blurbs coming right from a comic book. When I read these sections I could hear a voice in my head reading them in a 1940's news reel voice. I found it interesting how some of the relationships developed in the book between Robert and his parents, and Robert and one of his friends.

        Overall I really enjoyed parts of the book, but I found that the ending came a bit too fast, with lots of issues being wrapped up a bit too quickly for their own good. In the end, I found that the way the book ended it left this reader a bit unsatisfied.


A teenager with three brothers fighting overseas in World War II concocts an elaborate coping mechanism that works to keep his anxieties down and his spirits up—until it doesn’t.

A small meteorite takes on talismanic properties for Robert when he suddenly begins to spot mysterious parallels between the exploits of his three favorite comic-book heroes and incidents reported in the letters he receives from his big brothers, who are off in Europe with the Canadian armed forces. Determined efforts to raise enough money to buy each new issue of each comic put him head to head with hard-bitten classmate Charlene. Their bitter rivalry slowly transforms into friendship and then something closer as they come to understand what is in many of the messages they are delivering to the people in town. Then one such telegram comes to Robert’s parents, and his certainties of the links between fiction and fact are shattered. Guest gives her tale a distinctly Canadian flavor with references to locally produced comics (the better known ones from the U.S. were not imported during the war) and by casting Robert and his family as Métis, a persecuted minority. But her young characters’ emotional challenges are not confined to a particular country or war.

Built around a timely (ever timely, unfortunately) theme, this wartime tale featuring young characters with complementary strengths and vulnerabilities shines in a sharply rendered setting. (historical notes) (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Author Interview- Lucy Christopher

August 21, 2014 | Monica | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

LucyChristopher_hi r#297ADEThis week, I had the opportunity to interview the author of the book that kicked off my summer book list, The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher. I heard about this book at a publisher’s presentation, and instantly, I was intrigued. Having been a huge fan of her book Stolen, I knew I was in for a treat, and this book definitely did not disappoint.  

If you haven’t read it yet, definitely check it out!

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

Let's see. I was born in Cardiff, in South Wales, but moved to Australia (for the first time!) when I was only ten months old. I then spent some time living in Papua New Guinea, South Wales, Australia (again), South Africa, before finally returning to Bath in England to persue my dream of becoming a writer. Therefore, I don't really see myself as having a nationality, not completely anyway. I identify with being both Australian and British, my family live in six different countries around the world, and my boyfriend is Canadian. I also have an amazing dog called Larch and ride a grumpy chestnut mare called Topaz. My favourite thing to do is read books in the sunshine. 

2. What book(s) are you currently reading?

I am reading The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan (an amazing Australian author), and I'm absolutely loving it.   

3. What, in your opinion, is the hardest thing about writing?

Finding the enormous time it takes to write anything decent and, also, having the courage and persistence to see it through to the end.  

4. The Killing Woods has a fantastic book trailer. What do you think of “trailers” for books? Did you have any input in the creation of the trailer?

I love trailers for books!  Yes, Killing Woods does have a wonderful trailer.  It was made by film students at the university where I teach at in Bath, but no, I did not have any input in its creation. There are also some amazing trailers that have been made for Stolen out there on Youtube.  One reader even made one completely from scratch - hiring her friends as actors, hiring another friend to write music for it, getting someone to do makeup.  I am so very touched when stuff like that happens.  

5.  What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Be brave and just do it.  I think it really just comes down to that.  

6. If you could suggest one book for a teen to read this summer, what would it be? 

Can I say mine? ;-)   Or to pick up one of Margo Lanagan's books and be astonished with what authors can achieve within YA fiction right now.

A big thank you to Ms. Christopher for answering our questions! A special thank you to Ms. Kritikos at Scholastic and our very own HD for setting this up!

Movies for Mass Social Change

August 19, 2014 | Christine | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow cover image16-year-old Trent McCauley eats, sleeps, and breathes movies. He wants nothing more than to spend all of his time making movies on his computer by sampling and reassembling footage of long-dead actors he has found online. Unfortunately, in near-future Britain, this is completely illegal and has placed him directly under the scrutiny of local law enforcement units. When Trent is caught breaching “copyright through several acts of illegal downloading” for a third time, his family’s access to the Internet is officially cut off for an entire year, without exception. Without this, his father’s career, his mother’s health, and his younger sister’s education are all nearly destroyed. Ashamed and shattered, Trent decides to run away to London, where he must learn how to stay alive on the streets while still retaining his own self-respect. It is here that he meets the charismatic Jem, the Jammie Dodgers, and the mysterious 26, in a world of artists and activists who are trying to fight a new government bill that will criminalize digital copying on an even more harmless level than what Trent had previously done, making millions of people felons with a single stroke. Things are looking bad, but Trent and his friends are going to try to change people’s minds for the better with the power of a movie.

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow was a very interesting novel. I enjoyed reading all of the movie terminology in Trent’s inner dialogues, and I liked the different film concepts that he and his friends put into play during the story. I felt that the grittiness of life on the streets in London was very realistically portrayed, and I liked seeing Trent’s character mature over the book’s timeline. If you are interested in the world of underground film-making and a story about the kinds of social repercussions that movies can bring about in a near-future setting, then I suggest you take a look through this book.

What do you think of Pirate Cinema? Let me know. :)

And now for something completely different - a post from "Unspeakable"

August 16, 2014 | Cameron | Comments (3) Facebook Twitter More...

We are so lucky to have a post from Caroline Pignat the author of the novel "Unspeakable" discussing her creative and writing process, enjoy!

Discovering Story

Caroline Pignat

People often ask me where I come up with my ideas, but writing historical fiction feels more like a an archaeological dig than an invention. The stories are there -- in our past -- just waiting to be discovered. You don’t have to look long or hard to find an amazing fact. A little sifting always unearths a skeleton of a story. Something that makes you stop and say -- wow! Something you want to tell others -- hey guys, did you know this?

 As a little kid, I loved the dinosaur museum. It amazed me how they could pull together the bones of a T-rex so that I could see its size and shape and imagine what it must have really been like back then.

 History Museums do that too. They may miss a few pieces or details, just like any archaeological find might, but what they’ve pulled together, what they’ve preserved, and recreated for us are the bare bones of an amazing story so that we can imagine what it must have been like. Whether it’s a war or a famine or a sailing or a sinking, someone lived through that event -- or died because of it. Someone sat in that chair or wore that cap. Someone wrote in that diary. Someone walked in those boots. Where were they going? Did they ever get there?

 The Museum of Canadian History, right across the Ottawa River from Parliament, has a fantastic exhibit on the Empress of Ireland. They created it to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking on May 29, 1914. You can’t walk through that exhibit without being affected by the thousand stories it holds. Of people that perished. Of those who survived. Passengers. Crew. Men, women, and children. Each one had a story.

 The artifact that moved me most was the porthole. Its glass was cracked. It seemed so small. Had someone escaped through it? Had someone tried... and failed?

 As I researched Unspeakable, I learned more and more about the fate ofThe Empress of Ireland -- how it collided with another ship in the foggy St. Lawrence; how the water gushed in the hole and open portholes causing it to sink in fourteen minutes taking 1,012 souls along with it. I read survivor accounts of people escaping through the portholes as the ship lay on its side moments before it was completely submerged.

 Imagine that. Trapped in a sinking ship. Climbing up to a small round window overhead, hoping you’ll reach it before it sinks forever. That one fact drew me in to the story and I imagined how that night must have been. I put myself there with my family. What would I have done? How would I have felt? What if I got through -- but my husband couldn’t fit? That’s where fact becomes fiction. But, more than that, I think that’s where empathy lives.

We are so lucky to have so many fantastic museums in Canada. Think about the ones you’ve visited, the amazing exhibits you’ve seen. Which ones affected you? Which ones moved you? What intriguing item or fascinating fact stayed with you long after you left?

 Learn. Imagine... and then write. But, above all, remember. Always remember those stories.

And then pass them on.

Visit the Canadian Museum of History’s website for more information on The Empress of Ir eland -- Canada’s Titanic.

Visit Caroline’s website for more photos and information on her novels and research




With special thanks to Caroline for taking the time to write this essay.

Dueling reviews: Cinnamon Toast and the end of the World by Janet E. Cameron

August 14, 2014 | Cameron | Comments (8) Facebook Twitter More...


Angel food for thought:

This stunning debut by Janet E. Cameron is a beautiful coming of age story told from the perspective of a young man who is coming out in the 1987 in very rural Nova Scotia. Stephen has fallen in love with his best friend and it is the end of the world. Not the literal world, but that part of the world that Stephen had come to know so well and a world that he wanted to keep forever.

Stephen is trying to navigate his last few months of being a high school student, leaving his friends, his over dependent mother, and going off to higher education and becoming himself. Yet in the traditional way of the world nothing happens the way he envisions it. Stephen is trying to learn to spread his wings and fly, but he wants nothing more than to hide in bed and escape from the world. Will Mark ever understand how he feels about him? Will his Mom ever let go of him and let him go out into the world? Will Stephen be able to accept himself?  

This is a well written and well conceived coming of age story. Stephen is an exceptionally dimensional character and all the supporting cast are also well rounded and real. The only issue that I would have with this book is that the story is so good is was a little hard to read at times.

Youth Review:


Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World basically sums up the life of Stephen Shulevitz in eight simple words. Born to a Russian-Ukranian mother and a hippie Jewish father, Stephen once entered the world as Stepan Vladimir Shulevitz in the year of 1969, in a little town named Riverside in Nova Scotia, Canada. He's a hard worker, always getting the best marks in class and getting tormented for it, and he shies away from confrontation - luckily his best friend Mark takes care of that for him. As Stephen matures through his elementary school years into adolescence and the story humorously unfolds, the title begins to make sense: Stephen's mother makes cinnamon toast because it is a less ethnic choice for breakfast food (she doesn't want to feel "foreign", instead she wants to fit in), and Stephen is a little more dramatic than your average teen so many situations in his life seems like the end of the world for him.

          Cinnamon Toast is written by Janet E. Cameron, who was born in Nova Scotia herself. Although the setting may reflect the author's roots, the main character is very unique. Janet thanks in her acknowledgments her "patient husband" Aodhan, but Stephen Shulevitz is gay. What's truly amazing about the book is that while reading it, up til the very last sentence, I could not tell if the author was speaking from personal experience or not. Obviously not, but it was written so well that I would have believed it. Stephen faces so many challenges, verbal and physical harassment alike, ones that bruise, ones that fade, and one that breaks his arm, for being gay, and for being different. The situations ring with truth and pain. Especially in a small-town mindset that Riverside has, the people are a lot less friendly towards people of various sexual orientations.; you were either straight, or you were shunned. I hurt for Stephen, but I also cheer him on, as he learns to grow out of what people say and avoid aggravation by choosing what he decides to hear. This novel follows Stephen as he unwillingly falls in love with his best friend Mark McAllister, the big kid nobody messed with. Mark is strongly (and openly) against homosexuals, and especially desperate to disbelieve that his best friend could be one - and in love with him - and this puts an incredible strain on their friendship.

          Janet E. Cameron does not make this your typical teen romance. She makes it something more, something funnier in tone and grimmer in content. She includes the bloody fights, the uncensored vulgarity, the inexperienced sex, the destructive abandonment, and the desolation of a young gay ethnic man living in the 80s. You should definitely read Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, if you know what's good for you.

Author Interview: Eliot Schrefer

August 14, 2014 | Monica | Comments (6) Facebook Twitter More...

UntitledToday I have a very exciting blog post for you all. I recently had the opportunity to interview the wonderfully talented Mr. Eliot Schrefer, author of The Deadly Sister.

The Deadly Sister is a tale of two sisters, one murder, and the lengths one will go to, to protect their loved ones.

This page turning thriller will have you guessing till the very end.  

I took this opportunity to ask Mr. Schrefer about the wonderful world of writing, how he got into it, and what advice he has for all you young writers out there.

Tell us a little about EliotAuthorPhoto_cre#297AEE
yourself and
your background.

First of all: great to meet you! I’ve written a number of books for young adults from my home in New York City. The first two, The School for Dangerous Girls and The Deadly Sister, are suspense novels about young women in deep trouble. More recently I’ve been writing adventure stories about great apes. Endangered and Threatened. I suppose I like writing suspenseful stories about people who manage to get themselves into deep trouble.

Do you have a favourite YA author? Why is he/she your favourite?

My favorite YA author would have to be Rebecca Stead. Her works are quiet—no apocalypses there!—but very powerful at the same time. She tells stories about kids who feel like they’re really alive, that you could go out and meet them after you finish the book. But her novels also include elements of the supernatural, too. Really great reads.

What do you love most about being a writer/author?

I won’t lie—one great thing about being a writer is that I can only write for about four hours a day before I’m tapped out, which means I have an unusually large amount of the day free to play video games. But the real main reason I love it so much is that I get a chance to express things that I’d find it hard to express in everyday conversation. Telling stories allows me to feel like I’m accessing all parts of my personality.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I have a side job—I do standardized test tutoring to help kids get into college. My first year after college I was living in Harlem and paying off my college debt but working with upper class kids on Fifth Avenue New York. The contrast was so great that I felt like I had to put it down on paper. That was my first novel, for adults. (Glamorous Disasters)

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

You need to be really kind to yourself when you’re writing a first draft. No published writer I know can get it right on the first try. Just let yourself write, and move forward, and remember that you have all the time in the world to go back later and improve what you’ve written.

If you could suggest one book for a teen to read this summer, what would it be?

Have you read The Winners Curse, by Marie Rutkoski? Deeply romantic, full of swordplay and adventure, and very elegantly written. Check it out!


A big thank you to Mr. Schrefer for taking the time to do this interview, Ms. Kritikos at Scholastic and our very own HD for setting this up and giving us this amazing opportunity.

Don't forget to check out The Deady Sister on my booklist here (


An Interview with Jennifer Gold

August 14, 2014 | Christine | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

Soldier Doll by Jennifer Gold coverJennifer Gold, author of Soldier Doll, took some time this summer to answer a few questions with me about her book, her writing process, and the works that have inspired her. Here is what she shared:

1. What inspired you to write Soldier Doll?
I was at the Jewish Museum in Prague with my husband about a year or so before our first child was born. There was an exhibit of children’s art from the Terezin concentration camp, and one of the characters in Soldier Doll, Eva, popped into my mind. It took two years from that point before I had fully fleshed out the idea in my mind and started to write. 
2. How did you come up with the title?
Actually, I initially called it The Soldier Doll, but my publisher suggested dropping the "The," which was probably a wise decision. Mark Zuckerberg dropped "The" from Facebook and it’s definitely worked for him!
3. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Getting the different voices to line up in terms of audience. My novel is set in both the present and different periods of the past involving war, so a big issue was that some parts felt more middle grade, other parts felt YA, and others were entirely adult. It took a lot of work to ensure the characters and their voices were suitable for a YA audience.
4. When did you start writing?
I've always been a writer in one way or another. I won a short story contest sponsored by Lipton's soup when I was nine, but for a long time after finishing grade school I didn't  write any fiction. In the back of my mind, though, I always dreamed of writing a novel. When I was on maternity leave with my son, I decided I would finally give it a go.
5. Who is your favourite author and how do they inspire you?
This is a tough one! There are so many amazing authors out there who I admire, but I'd have to say Meg Rosoff. When I read How I Live Now I  was just blown away by not just the voice and the story but the fantastic writing style. Since then I've made an extra effort to work on not just writing a great story but crafting beautiful sentences as well.
6. Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I haven't in the traditional sense that I sit and stare panicked at a blank screen, but I do experience what I call "writer's fatigue." This usually happens about halfway through a manuscript when I start to get a bit sick of my characters and worry the plot is going nowhere. What usually helps is to take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes.
7. What is your favourite subject to write about?
It's a tie between contemporary YA and historical fiction. I really enjoy the research that goes in to writing something that takes place in another time, and the world-building involved is fun and satisfying as a writer. For contemporary, I love writing snarky dialogue and creating scenes that involve humor. 
8. What books have had the most impact on your life?
There are so many books I love, but these are probably the ones that I still go back to re-read once a year or so:
The Chrysalids (John Wyndham)
How I Live Now (Meg Rosoff)
The Time-Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)
9. What books are you reading right now?
Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks)
Maggot Moon (Sally Gardner)
10. Final question: if you had to choose, cake or pie? What kind?
There's only one proper answer to this question, and that's cake. Chocolate cake, dense and moist, with a fluffy vanilla buttercream or chocolate fudge icing.

Can this book change our life? -- CATCH-22 reviewed

August 12, 2014 | Ken Sparling | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

Book cover catch-22 by joseph hellerCatch-22 by Joseph Heller

Reviewed by Isis

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22..."

To be completely clear, there is seldom a time at which a war novel would appeal to me. Ever. They all seem to perpetuate the stereotypes of heroes and villains - he who fights is the one who saves the day, he who dies always dies with honor, so on and so forth for several hundred pages of BORING.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, is the exception. The book follows Yossarian, an American soldier stationed in Pianosa during the Second World War. And unlike the war heroes portrayed in a majority of similar novels, Yossarian is determined, above all else... well, not to die. And to be sent home, all he needs to do is to be denounced as insane, which one can do simply by asking. However, there is one issue -- Catch-22. The catch states that if one were insane, one could ask to be grounded; however, in asking, one proves one's sanity, and thus, has to carry out more missions. The catch is paradoxical, and, essentially, impossible to satisfy. So, instead, Yossarian must stay at the army base and complete the ever-increasing number of military missions, analyzing each step of his journey with a critical eye that, it seems, no one else can -- while every other person sees a fight for their country, Yossarian simply sees people trying to kill him. As the book progresses, and the number of men remaining in the compound, not having been shot, caught pneumonia, crashed an airplane into a mountain, or been "disappeared" by the government, dwindles, Yossarian begins to question not only human nature, but what we accept from bureaucracy, what we accept as insanity, and the true state of the world we live in.

It is said that hindsight is 20/20. This novel is written in such a beautiful manner that truly displays all that is learned through war, which, really, is nothing; what comes about from fighting, other than death, destruction, and a complete loss of morality?

This book  is so incredibly insightful (a twinge pessimistic), and can completely alter your perspective about the things we often believe to be definitive: good and evil; sane and crazy; life and death.

Is it an easy, straightforward read? No. The plot is all over the place, which makes the order of events impossible to interpret. Does the book make sense? Sometimes. But will you laugh aloud? Cry a couple tears? Be challenged to comprehend the deeper messages presented? Possibly get so frustrated at times you throw the book to the ground, but be so intrigued that you need to pick it right back up? (Admittedly, I am guilty of such) 

Can this book change your life?

Absolutely, 100% yes.

How to Make Your Own Popular Culture

August 12, 2014 | Christine | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

Big Book of Pop Culture by Hal Niedzviecki cover imageWritten by Hal Niedzviecki, founder of Broken Pencil magazine, The Big Book of Pop Culture: a How-to Guide for Young Artists is a great book for anyone interested in current pop culture trends and wants to try making their own mark.

The first part of the book, “Everything You Need to Know Before You Make Your Own Pop Culture,” talks about how popular culture works and why you should make your own. It covers all sorts of creative ideas and thoughts, including everything from do-it-yourself (publishing your own book or making a music video) and culture jamming (disrupting media culture, like highway billboards, to promote a completely different message), to things like plunder (taking familiar riffs and pop culture images to create something entirely new) and underground (an artistic subculture that exists outside of mainstream popular culture). There are also come great reading lists provided in this section, along with interesting interviews with TV critics, authors, and zines about current pop culture trends.

The second half of the book, “From Acting to Zines: The A – Z’s of Making Your Own Pop Culture,” offers advice about the hands-on side of popular culture.  Starting with the do’s and don’ts of writing
and publishing you own zines, this part continues with everything you need to know about subjects like: how to create your own original movies; how to create your own pirate radio station online; and even how to set up your own indie TV station. There are lots of great pointers included in this section, like how to ensure you’re not breaking copyright laws, how to keep things interesting for viewers and readers alike, and how to make yourself heard using equipment combinations that won’t break the bank.

I think that The Big Book of Pop Culture would be a great reference for anyone who wants to create their own piece of independent art, music, or writing. I really enjoyed leafing through this book, and found the information to be relevant and useful for anyone who wants to share their own independent artistic expressions. Everything is very clearly written, and the inclusion of interviews and book lists in each chapter provide some great resources that can be found either online or even through your local public library branch.

So, what do you think of The Big Book of Pop Culture? Let me know.

Aaaahh, this was FANTASTIC!! HYPERBOLE AND A HALF reviewed

August 11, 2014 | Ken Sparling | Comments (7) Facebook Twitter More...

Book cover hyperbole and a half by allie broshHyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Reviewed by Fatma, age 16

Here is a list of adjectives describing this book: 
1) Hilarious: I don't know how anyone can read this book and not laugh at least once. I found it to be so entertaining and such a breath of fresh air. (Refer to 2) Sarcastic )
2) Sarcastic: Which made it all the more hilarious for me. 
3) Serious: This book is not all fun and games and laughter. It's also serious at times, delving into some of Brosh's personal turmoil (which I personally related to). For me, that balance between serious and funny took the book from being a compilation of random amusing stories to something much more meaningful and complex. 
4) Authentic/Genuine: Brosh's writing style is the perfect combination of self-deprecating and sincere (as strange as that sounds). Naturally, this book should read as genuine and grounded because it's non-fiction right? However, to me, I appreciated the fact that it was a lot more because I find that, especially in memoirs, it's hard to make your readers relate to your story rather than just feel pity or sympathy. And, in addition to leaving me with a sense of enjoyment, Hyperbole and a Half definitely left me with something to reflect on.

My favorite stories were by far Dinosaur (a goose story), The God of Cake and The Party. If you've read this book, don't hesitate to share your favorites in the comment section down below. If you haven't, then I would definitely recommend you go pick this up from your nearest library branch and give it a go! 

PS: Allie Brosh actually started posting her stories on her blog, before she published this book. So, if you want, you can go check out her stories there too and see what her writing and drawing styles are like. :)