Last Bus to Wisdom

Hi Guys,

Phew did not think I was going to make this one. Just finished the last twenty pages this morning, so you get a new review straight from book to blog!

51n-k-bofol-_sx332_bo1204203200_Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig is the last book Doig wrote before he passed away last year. Doig is the author of one of my favorite books of all time The Whistling Season and a master of his craft. Last Bus to Wisdom wouldn’t be in my top three of Doig’s books but I think it was a fitting end to his career.

Last Bus to Wisdom takes place in the mid-west in the year of 1951. The story follows 11, going on 13, year old Donal who is being shipped off via Greyhound to an aunt he’s never met and an uncle who is “something else,” as Grams tells it, while she has surgery for some “female troubles.”

Traveling from Montana to Manitowoc, Donal meets characters of all sorts and to take his mind off his troubles and get into Believe It or Not, he collects pearls of wisdom and their signatures in his autograph book along the way. After finding trouble here and there he finally arrives at Aunt Kate’s and his troubles only get worse.

Kate is a bossy woman with no interest in child rearing what-so-ever. Donny’s only saving grace is the eccentric Uncle Herman, who he immediately bonds with. After less then two weeks Kate, Herman and Donny have a big blow up and Kate ships Donny back to Montana knowing the state will put him in an orphanage since Grams won’t be able to care for him.

On the bus with no hope Donny is surprised and ecstatic to find Herman the German, who has ditched Kate and plans on roaming the West with Donny for the rest of the summer. What could happen to an 11 year old boy with a penchant for trouble and a one-eyed German “uncle” who may be wanted by the FBI?

Doig’s books with child narrators are some of my favorites. I just love seeing the west of the 50’s from that wide-eyed, taking it all in, perspective. And I loved the idea of seeing the county via the bus and it’s myriad of stops. You get these little snip-its of country as Donny rides the bus that are just wonderful nuggets of descriptive writing. Doig really is a master of setting.

I won’t say this book didn’t have it’s flaws. Parts were slow–especially the ones with Aunt Kate–and I was worried there for a moment that she would be in it the whole story! Thank goodness “The Kate” didn’t last long. But the character building! Every single character you meet in this story was fantastically done. So believable and yet captivating. The hobos, I mean haystakers, were my favorites if I had to pick.

Donny and Herman were such a great pairing and I was so pleased with the ending, especially that last line. Herman reminded me of Morrie in The Whistling Season in that if Doig had lived, I could see him creating another book around him, his character was so memorable.

Although long, this was a great read and a palette cleanser for me after reading so much YA fantasy lately. Worth a read for… anyone. Just a lovely little book.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library & Baker’s Magic

Hi Guys,

Wasn’t sure I’d get in a Tuesday post for you guys but I recently finished two children’s books and thought I’d squeeze one in. Now hopefully I’ll finish Last Bus to Wisdom in time to have a Thursday review for you!
61l1dy8c2bwl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Anywho… Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein is the first book of the Mr. Lemoncello series. I say series, but I’m not sure how many books this one will be. I know a second one recently came out, but not sure if there are any others planned.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a book that toes the fantasy line–it feels like fantasy but isn’t. This is the story of a library’s grand opening that is larger then life… literally. The library’s reopening is funded by the eccentric Luigi Lemoncello. Mr. Lemoncello is a famous game maker and for his birthday the Head Librarian created a scavenger hunt for twelve lucky twelve year olds to participate in.
In steps Kyle Keeley and his crew, who think they are only spending a night in the library but are surprised to find they they are locked in and have 24 hours to find their way out and win BIG prizes. Confounded by word games, picture puzzles, literary logic and more, Kyle and his friends must piece together the clues and win the game.
Battling against books, bullies, some seriously threatening holograms and the clock, can Kyle Keeley keep his cool, his friends and his morals and still come out on top?
Those who know me, know I love a good game. Not digital games, although there are some with merit, but any live competition against real life people. Just not Mad Gab…the bane of my existence. This book spoke to that competitive, in-it-to-win girl inside of me. A scavenger hunt with riddles and puzzles, that revolves around books AND takes place in a library–be still my heart!
The kids! Oh man, my initial response on turning the last page of this book was: Damn these are some smart twelve year olds. Well read with street smarts and courage to-boot. I mean unrealistically so. We have a diverse set of kids, each with their own personalities, family life and problems. Great. And maybeeee combining everyone together they could have solved this puzzle but phew! I know I couldn’t.
This would be a good book for a 5th – 8th grader, although I think it will have a limited audience. The story has a fast pace and a sense of excitement but I don’t know how well received it would be for a reluctant reader or someone not interested in reading or games. Too biased myself to judge. P.S. Don’t listen to the audio book–had to give up and get the book as soon as the scavenger hunt started. Too much to see in the book, if that makes sense.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and I desperately wanted to partake in my own library scavenger hunt. Maybe a future library program? hmmm
41llhj91h5l-_sx353_bo1204203200_Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler is a 3rd – 5th grade read. The story follows a young orphan named Bee. Bee was found in a boat at 6 months old and for the past eleven years has lead a hard life. At twelve she wanders into a mysterious town surrounded by tulips and run by an orphan princess and the head mage.
A lonely, kind baker takes Bee in and teaches her all he knows. Finally finding a measure of happiness, Bee find’s she excels at baking and her happiness seems to infect the customers she serves. Soon Bee learns that when she cooks she transfers her emotions into her baked goods and when people eat them they feel what she feels. Sad moods, deceitful, feelings of content and love all infect those who eat Bee’s pastries.
When Bee is invited to bring sweets to the palace, she makes an unlikely friend and a dangerous enemy. Can Bee help the princess regain her thrown and overthrow a mage who has become sick with power?
Magic, pirates, bravery in the face of danger, family reunions, hints of romance, humor, delicious delicacies I have to go out and make asap–what more can you ask for? This book had a little for everyone. Bee even has very believable internal conversations with herself that you can imagine someone her age relating to.
My only real critique of the book would have to be the difference in pace between the first half of the story and the second half. Not that this was bad because most of the action happened in the second half but you almost weren’t prepare for it.
This story, more than anything else is about people sticking together. At every obstacle we get characters who face their problems and overcome them by working as a team. This is such an important lesson for this books audience. Working together, playing on each others strength and helping to shore up weaknesses. All great lessons to see reinforced in a  book for kids.
Baker’s Magic was like taking a deep breath, holding in and letting it go. Questions are answered and the reader is left satisfied.
That’s all for today!
-M-
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My little helper!

Ink and Bone

Hi Guys,

It’s time for another Thursday book review! Picked yet another book about books. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s just something about a book about books. I can’t resist. It’s a book love affair.

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Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine is the first book in The Great Library series. This is a fantasy novel that takes what if, to the extreme. What if the Library of Alexandria never burnt down and instead became a powerhouse player in all aspects of society? We’d get a world where knowledge is hoarded and parceled out at the discretion of a few.

The Great Library is the most powerful entity in the world. It has footholds in every major city and with the help of Alchemy, controls the flow of knowledge. The Library makes it their mission to collect all original manuscripts. Being caught with an original books is illegal.

In steps street smart and bookish Jess, whose family runs a black market book smuggling ring. Since he was ten, Jess has been running books–selling them to collectors and even ink eaters. At sixteen Jess has no love for the family business, whereas his twin brother, Brendan, is a natural cutthroat. Jess believes in the library and what it does. Little does he know the extent of the Library’s dark deeds.

Instead of running the family business, Jess is sent to the library’s training program to become a spy. In Alexandria, Jess meets a diverse group of initiates and friendships bloom, despite competing almost Hunger Game style to fill one of six slots. As the field of competitors narrows, Jess’ faith in the Library is shaken. What can Jess do when he can’t go home and is afraid to move forward?

This books got a lot going on. Teens competing with each other through some very intense obstacles; family drama; war and political upheaval; a big brother society with rebels who burn books; in-fighting within the library; magic in the form of alchemy; and books, oh so many books. Oh, don’t forget romance and betrayal! You’d think with so many parts, the book would be a bit overwhelming but it wasn’t. Each of these plot details meshed and meshed well. I only hope this continues in subsequent books.

I thought the relationship building was… good. I liked the dynamic between the whole group of students, even if I expected more drama from 20+ men and women–from diverse backgrounds–living together and competing. I loved the tortured Scholar Wolfe and the Captain. And I can’t wait to see what happens between Jess and his deliciously evil twin.

I sort of, but not really, had a problem with the many modern concepts that are only possible through “alchemy…” Caine makes a point to say that alchemy is distinctly different from magic and yet it feels like magic. Imagine a world where Alchemists, who can pretty much do anything, takes the place of electronic technology. We get a world that feels familiar but is very different. I think I just want to see more of the Alchemists and how they do what they do. Something that marks the different between–POOF–magic and alchemy. Maybe in the next book.

Regardless of the flaws, this book is worth a read for the world building alone. What a neat concept and so well done. Here’s hoping that the sequel can handle all the built up intrigue and a plot line with increasing complexity.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Stars Never Rise

Hi Guys,

Finished a couple of of books last week, so I figured I’d post an extra book review. I know, exciting!

The Stars Never Rise by Rachel Vincent is a young adult, science fiction & fantasy novel. 515exaum1gl-_sx328_bo1204203200_The story takes place in a futuristic America that has been plagued by possession, demons and degenerated humans. Out of the ashes steps the Unified Church, a strict governing body that takes “thou shalt not” to a whole new level. In return for unquestioning obedience, the Church sends out it’s exorcists to fight evil and keep the demons at bay.

Living in the shadow of the church is Nina Kane, a teen whose only goal is to survive one more year with her mother, so she can turn 18 and legally care for her 15 year old sister, Melanie. Nina knows how to appear devout while doing what it takes to survive. She steals, lies and even trades “favors” for life’s necessities.

Nina’s life becomes even more complicated as Melanie becomes pregnant out of wedlock and their mother… well lets just say she loses it. Amidst these struggles a group of rouge exorcists appears and Nina finds herself entwine with the group, especially Finn–a truly unique soul.

Can Nina fight the good fight and keep her sister safe? Can she embrace her true self and accept those around her?

The Stars Never Rise was intended as a filler book for me. I wasn’t super excited to read it but I had a few books on hold and needed something to pass the time. And BOY did I pass the time. I could not put down this book and finished it in two sittings. I can’t even put my finger on what was so entertaining about the book. It was just an enjoyable read.

We get a strong female character with a will that isn’t influenced by male love interests. I think this is so important. Nina has an uncompromising will and an almost narrow-minded focus when it comes to her sister. No budding romance is going to get in the way of that.

And I really can only say good things about the secondary characters. I loved the little group of misfits. Seriously, there are some authors who just get the angst-y tough guy banter right and Vincent is one of them.

Now why would I only give this book 3.5 stars…

*SPOILER ALERT-really read no further if you don’t want to know because I am going to make major hypothesis here*

I’m only going to give his one 3.5 stars because you KNOW, you just KNOW what is going to happen in the end of the series. Okay, for those of you who haven’t read the book… basically Melanie is pregnant and in this society there are not enough souls for babies to just be born. They have to have a soul ready for them or else they will die within hours of their birth. To get a baby a soul you either have to have a ton of $$$, connections, or an elderly relative willing to give up their life the moment the baby is born. Melanie has no family but Nina and they’re on the run, so of course they don’t have any money or connections. What are they to do? Oh, wait! Finn is a soul without a body… Finn loves Nina, Nina love Melanie and even though Nina probably loves Finn you know Finn is going to give up his soul for the baby. UG! I almost don’t want to read on because it’s SO obvious! Please Vincent, surprise me! <<end rant.

*end of spoiler*

Overall, this was just a fun read. Good characters, an interesting–adventure ridden plot and a spin on the usual demon vs. church narrative. Want a surprisingly good read, give The Stars Never Rise a go.

That’s all for today!

-M-

 

STEAM: Art Squares

Hi Guys,

This past week it was my turn to plan our bi-weekly STEAM drop in activity. For those of you who are not familiar, STEAM stands for: Science. Technology. Engineering. Art. Math. We plan our drop in programs around these all encompassing themes, so the options are literally limitless. We might plan crafts the kids can take home with them or fun activities that build critical thinking skills.

For my week, I wanted to do an activity. I had a few in mind and one that I was really keen on developing:

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Thanks Pre-K Kids for the idea!

My idea was to work with ramps, specifically have the kids do a “slow ball roll.” I wanted to give each of the kids a ping pong ball and supply them with a pile of stuff, to experiment with and see what they could come up with to slow down a ping pong ball as it rolls down a ramp. The goal would be to keep the ball rolling but at a slower pace. We would talk about gravity, motion and friction.

After some more thought I decided that, given the number of kids we tend to attract, the project was just too complicated for a large group. Because we get so many kids and there are so few of us working with the group, we have to set up activities where the kids can work on their own, while we go around the group instructing. So this was a no go for now but at least I’ll have it in my pocket for a rainy day.

A colleague of mine actually came across the activity we ended up doing. Something like this:

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Thanks, In the Children’s Room!

We decided to focus on the Engineering and Art in STEAM and work with Art Squares. Art squares are 3 by 3 inch card board squares with grooves or slits cut into them at random. 20160728_134837These are super easy to make!

In terms of construction, Amazon boxes work great. You want to keep in mind the thickness of the cardboard because this will effect how/what you can build. Heavy boxes may not work and will kill your hand with all that cutting!

I took apart the boxes and measured out all the squares and then set my capable SSL volunteers to the task of cutting. We made sure each of our 700 (yes, 700! phew!) sqaures had four slits at random. The slits could be two to a side, three, none; the more random the better.

Once all the square prep was done, the rest of the program was really easy to plan and organize. I figured I had enough squares for at least 50 children to have 12 squares each and planned my building options accordingly.

I had a list of four “things” for the kids to build. We worked through the list one at a time as a group. I gave the kids about 10-15 minutes per building to create their masterpieces. 20160728_134854The first didn’t have to be pretty, but it had to be tall and all of the structures had to stand up on their own. The last three could look like anything the kids could imagine–I had some dinosaurs and Pokemon–BUT they had to tell me what their structure was and a little about it. My favorite explanation was a poodle/dinosaur hybrid that lived in the rain forest and was fluffy. 20160722_155558

Once we were all done with our 4 structures, the kids were allowed
to work in groups to build whatever they could think up. M&M factory, castles, human bodies, an extremely accurate looking alligator. I made a tree and yes, I used more than 12 squares.

This activity was surprisingly a lot easier for the kids then for my few grown ups who gave it a go. I was also pleasantly surprised by the positive response to the program. I thought I’d have a few grumbles from some of the older kids who tend to show up but they took it in stride and everyone did really great!

Overall, this was a really successful program. I did it twice in the same day for two different groups; the majority of the cardboard squares held up and I was able to save them for another day.

That’s all for today!

-M-