Saturday, 25 August 2012

Book Review - The Sorcerer's Letterbox by Simon Rose

A mysterious box has been in Jack’s family for hundreds of years.  One morning, Jack discovers a letter on a roll of parchment inside the box begging him for help.  The letter is marked 1483. A stranger arrives and gives Jack a metal wheel which unlocks the box’s power to transport Jack in time to the Tower of London.

This second book from Simon Rose, author of The Alchemist’s Portrait, is well-researched and strongly set in medieval London.  Jack is a brave, quick-witted, and likeable main character.  Short chapters and lots of action make this a great choice for reluctant, middle-grade readers.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Book Review - The Graveyard Hounds by Vi Hughes


Strange things begin to happen the night Mike and Annie take their dogs to the school park.  First, Annie’s dog loses her bark, then the school playground burns down and next, the local church and graveyard burst into flames.  What is causing these strange occurrences and why does the principal seem to know more than he is saying?

The Graveyard Hounds is a quick-paced mystery story for middle grade readers.  Short chapters, charming illustrations, and lots of action kept me turning pages, even when I should have been cleaning the kitchen and making beds;)

Hughes has created brave, likeable characters and, as a former elementary school principal herself, reminds us why the word “pal” is part of principal! Buy Graveyard Hounds 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Review of The Alchemist's Portrait by Simon Rose


When Matthew visits an art museum on a field trip, he is intrigued by an old painting of a Dutch boy.  Then the boy speaks to him.  So begins The Alchemist’s Portrait, an adventure-filled romp through art and history.

Matthew discovers that Peter, the boy from the painting, has been trapped inside his portrait by his evil uncle, Nicolass van der Leyden.  Now Peter needs Matthew’s help to go back in time and recover his uncle’s secret spell book.

I enjoyed this fast-paced fantasy story and especially the clever glimpses of history throughout.  A great book to introduce middle grade students to the past.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Book Review - Changing Heaven

For book two of my Canadian Book Reading Challenge, I decided to read Changing Heaven by Jane Urquhart.  I read The Stone Carvers and The Underpainter a number of years ago and was ready to read more by this lyrical writer. 
            I came into the story blind to anything about it and I’d hate to spoil its charm by giving too much away here.  Basically, this book tells the stories of many characters related in some way or another to Emily Brontë.  The story is told through several narrators, which I personally enjoy. 
            Changing Heaven is beautiful, whimsical and poetic.  It is “a book about the wind, about the weather.”  How sweet is that?  I wish I could write like this!  It is captivatingly Canadian with its dedication to weather and descriptions of landscape.  It is lovely and enchanting. 
            As in The Stone Carvers and The Underpainter, Changing Heaven focuses on art and the artist.  Urquhart writes of painting with depth and understanding.  I can only deduce that her marriage to artist, Tony Urquhart, is cause for much inspiration!               
            I’d love to discuss this book with someone who has read it.  So much beauty and sadness to dissect.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Book Review - Aberrant by Jo-Anne Sieppert

I have finished my first Canadian book as part of the Canadian Book Challenge.  Here is my review, as seen on Goodreads:

Delilah is a high school student with a big problem.  The Painfully Perfects, a group of rich, beautiful and popular students, are slowly and steadily torturing her.  From teasing to laughing, from tripping to duct-taping her hair to a bus seat, the Perfects won’t leave Delilah alone.  Her only reprieve is after school and weekends.

Delilah’s parents are rarely home to notice her unhappiness.  One night, she rows out to a deserted island to get away from it all.  She enjoys the peace and quiet until she hears a voice.  After overcoming her initial surprise, she is pleased to find a friend in the voice, named Jack.  She returns several times to continue talking to Jack, but he never shows himself.

Back at school, the Perfects are increasing their bullying tactics and pull down her pants in front of the entire gym class.  How will Delilah ever face school again?

Aberrant keeps the reader guessing through clever twists and developments.  Just when you think you’ve solved one mystery, another one appears.  It is written for a young adult audience, but is interesting for an adult reader as well.
Aberrant uses a lot of dialogue, which helps bring the characters to life, but occasionally slows down the plot.  Delilah is an empathetic character, though her swift mood-changes are a bit dizzying at times. 

This is a creative, entertaining book that kept me turning pages.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Meet Simon Rose: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer

This year, I have been working on a fantasy novel because my son told me he wanted me to write a “boy book”.  While I’m not giving out too many details just yet, I am starting to look for publishers.  I’m also beginning to notice fantasy writers. 

I met Simon Rose through my writing group connections.  He has published 7 science fiction/ fantasy books for middle grade readers.  He is also Canadian, which is exciting and I will be reading one of his books as part of the Canadian Reading Challenge.  He kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions regarding writing.  Here is what I learned from Simon:


1.  Why did you become a writer?

I've probably always had ideas for stories and was often writing, although I was never sure if anything would come of it. Once I had children of my own, I came into contact with children's books again for the first time in many years. Picture books initially, of course, but then early chapter books and novels. Some were very impressive and influential, others far less so. When I decided to try my hand at writing novels and stories, I found myself drawn to the types of things I used to read as a child in the science fiction and fantasy genre.

2.  You have published a good number of titles.  Do you have a common theme in your books?

My books are in the science fiction and fantasy genre for middle grades, around ages eight to twelve. You can see full details of each of them, including excerpts and synopses (and you can even listen to recording of my readings) at

The Alchemist's Portrait is a time-travel story, in which Matthew journeys through the centuries using magical paintings which act as doorways into the past, in order to save the world from the clutches of an evil alchemist. The Sorcerer's Letterbox, another time-travel tale, is based on the famous mystery of the Princes in the Tower about Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, who were supposedly murdered on the orders of Richard III in 1483. 

The Clone Conspiracy is a science fiction thriller involving clandestine laboratories and secret experiments, while The Emerald Curse, based on my own reading of comic books while growing up, concerns Sam's adventures in a bizarre, and at times deadly, superhero universe. The Heretic's Tomb is set in the medieval period once again, this time during the Black Death in 1349.
The Doomsday Mask is in the science fiction and fantasy genre. It's a fast-paced adventure about ancient civilizations, World War II, mysterious artifacts, and shadowy secret societies.
The Time Camera is a science fiction adventure about advanced technology.

3.  I noticed you cross over between fiction and non-fiction as well as between middle grade and young adult books.  Is this mainly because of your own interests?

The novels have been in the science fiction and fantasy genre mostly because I'm interested in that, I guess. I usually choose non-fiction projects based on interests or if it's something that I think I'd enjoyed writing and researching about. The non-fiction titles I've completed so far have been on a wide range of topics such as science, biographies, animals, architecture, history, the military and culture  

 4.  Who inspires you to write?  

One of the best things about writing for kids is that I can write about the kinds of things that fascinated me when I was young. Stories can be very imaginative if they are for children, which makes writing them so much fun. And, of course, in science fiction or fantasy, more or less anything you can imagine is possible, as you craft stories involving ancient mysteries, the unexplained, the paranormal, science fiction, time travel, parallel universes, alternate realities, weird and wonderful characters, and a multitude of "what if" scenarios.

I read lots of science fiction, as well fantasy writers and ghost stories while growing up. I also read a tremendous number of comic books, in which the stories took me across the universe, into strange dimensions, into the land of the Norse gods or had me swinging from the New York rooftops. At high school, I studied a lot of history and have retained my interest in the subject up to the present day. I also read voraciously about ancient civilizations, mysteries, the supernatural, and the unexplained. 

5.  What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I'm not sure, but perhaps when that initial spark of an idea becomes a full story and you can't get the thing typed up fast enough. There are also times during the writing process when, after struggling with certain parts of the text for a while, it suddenly all comes together and you then read it over and realize its pretty impressive.  

 You can learn more about Simon Rose through these links: