Friday, September 21, 2018

Missing Mike by Shari Green

Eleven-year-old Cara Donovan's world is turned upside down when her family is forced to flee from raging wildfires and her beloved rust-coloured mutt, Mike goes missing in the chaos.

Cara's town of Pine Grove in British Columbia has been on evacuation alert for days. Cara's mother has her and older sister Sloane pack keepsakes into plastic bins just in case they need to leave quickly.Cara packs her overnight bag with a change of clothes and a few special treasures.

Then one day a police officer shows up at their door. They must evacuate immediately. Cara was in the backyard with her dog, Mike but when she goes to retrieve him, he is no where to be found.Cara is forced into the family, leaving her beloved dog behind. The drive out of Pine Grove is harrowing and slow, with sparks flying across the road, smoke billowing and deer rushing to safety.

Cara is devastated at the loss of her dog Mike. She got him two years earlier at the animal shelter in  Braeburn. While her parents were interested in the cute fluffy goldendoodle puppies, Cara was drawn to Mike, a
with one eye
and a tattered ear?"

The man at the animal shelter raved about Mike's sweet nature and so they took him home.  Once in the city they arrive at the evacuation center. Because Cara's family rescued a cat on their way out of Pine Grove they are taken to the gym where found animals are taken. Immediately Cara questions a woman if she's seen a rust-coloured dog with one eye, despite the fact that it's unlikely Mike is at the shelter. After registering, Cara's family is slated to stay with a host family, Jasmeet Bains and her husband Bill. The Bains have two children, two boys who are away at camp and a foster child, thirteen-year-old Jewel.

Jewel is very sympathetic to Cara's feelings of loss over Mike. Cara believes that she has abandoned Mike, but Jewel tells her
"No," she says,
"he got lost.
It makes a big difference what words you use
to tell something."

Jewel helps Cara to cope by making posters to put up for Mike. She finds a website for pets lost due to the wildfire and posts Mike's picture online. At the evacuation center, Cara and Jewel put up a poster of Mike.

As the wildfire advances and consumes parts of Pine Grove, Cara becomes increasingly distraught about Mike. She imagines terrible scenarios and eventually makes some poor choices that endanger herself and Jewel. As Cara struggles to keep faith and be hopeful, she wonders, will she ever see her beloved Mike again?


Missing Mike is a timely novel that explores the meaning of family, the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of community in times of disaster.Green uses wonderfully descriptive free verse captures the danger Cara and her family experience as they travel to safety with the flames raging around them.

"It's dark as night
--black smoke so thick
I can barely see the car ahead of us.
Wind hurls glowing embers
across the road
orange sparks fly
like hailstones made of fire.
Sweat beads on my forehead."

The wildfire forms the backdrop for the story of an eleven-year-old girl who has inadvertently left behind the one thing most precious to her, her beloved dog Mike. Mike isn't a cute little puppy but a dog who has had a rough past as evidenced by his torn ear and missing eye. Despite his fear of coyotes which leads Cara's family to believe that he was once attacked by them, Mike has stood his ground against one to protect Cara. He is special to Cara.

While Cara and her family stay with a host family, the Bains, Cara begins to considers what defines home. When Cara first leaves Pine Grove, she is pre-occupied with the loss of her dog Mike. She doesn't worry too much about her home, after all it will still be there after the fire she thinks. While working on a crossword puzzle, Jewel asks Cara for a 5 letter word for "home" and reveals that she "lived in a car once and it was home." Jewel explains to a shocked Cara that although she's lived in many houses after the car, the car was home because she was with her mom. However, now Jewel feels it isn't necessary for her to have her mother with her for a place to be called home. Instead being safe and wanted make the Bains' house "home". Cara wonders if it possible to have a home without family.

Later on at the shelter, Cara meets her music teacher Miss Francesca Passerini who
"lives in a house surrounded
by overgrown gardens
chock full of flowering plants
and an unusual number
of bird feeders."
In other words, Miss Francesca has a beautiful home which contains her music and her beloved piano which she might lose to the wildfire. But she tells Cara that it doesn't matter because she still has her music inside her. Cara realizes that  "music is Miss Francesca's word for home."

Cara and her older sister Sloane meet a young single father, Wesley who has a little daughter named Angeline.When Cara questions him about if he loses his home, Wesley tells her
"But you know what?" he says softly. "This girl
has my heart.
As long as I've got her
I'm home."
For Wesley being with his daughter is all that matters and that is "home". Remembering this, Cara wonders if having family is what really matters and is what defines home.

When they learn that their house has been destroyed by the wildfires Cara wonders,where they will go and where they will belong if they have no home, no place that's theirs. If a house with it's rooms "where a family lived, shared celebrations and sadness, big moments and boring days" is nothing but a pile of bricks is home? Cara wonders if
"...there's something that remains
through it all
like if Wesley has Angeline
Miss Francesca still hears music
in her heart
Heather is with her relatives
and Jewel is safe
and wanted."

Thinking back on her and Jewel's struggle with the crossword puzzle to find that elusive word for home, Cara realizes that home means something different for every one.
"Turns out
home isn't always with family
but often it is.
It isn't always a place
but sometimes it is.
It isn't always within your grasp
but when you find it
you know to
hold on."

For Cara home is love, friendship and loyalty - something she has with her family and Mike (who she finds waiting at their burned out home). Cara realizes she hasn't lost her "home" at all, instead she's discovered what home really is for her. It is the not only her family but the bond she has with her beloved dog, Mike.

In light of the many wildfires in the past few years, especially in British Columbia, Alberta and northern Ontario, Green's book is very timely. Missing Mike will help young readers understand just how devastating disasters like wildfires can be for those who experience them. Cara and her family lose everything except what they were able to pack before evacuating and at one point Cara wishes she had packed certain special momentos. Maintaining an attitude of hope throughout their ordeal was a struggle for Cara and her family. The novel also portrays how the efforts of the local community at large helped make this challenging time more bearable for Cara and her family.

Overall, Missing Mike is a well written, touching short novel in free verse by Canadian author Sheri Green. Younger readers who love dogs and animal stories in general will enjoy Missing Mike.

Book Details:

Missing Mike by Shari Green
Toronto: Pajama Press     2018
245 pp.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Da Vinci's Tiger by L.M. Elliott

It is January, 1475. Sixteen-year-old Ginevra de' Benci Niccolini is seated in the front row with her friend Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci at a joust being held in the Piazza di Santa Croce."The Medici had organized this joust to celebrate Florence's new diplomatic alliance with Venice and Milan." Simonetta, "the publicly celebrated Platonic love" of Guiliano Medici, the younger brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent, has been honoured as the joust's "Queen of Beauty". Prior to the joust there had been a parade through Florence to Santa Croce, led by Guiliano, nine trumpeteers and two men-at-arms carrying pennants of the Medici coat of arms. Guiliano himself carried an enormous banner with Simonetta depicted as Pallas, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. Considering all of this makes Ginevra jealous of Simonetta's appeal, but her friend informs her that the new Venetian ambassador, Bernardo Bembo has shown an interest in her.

After having unseated one opponent already, Guiliano's next opponent in the joust is Signor Morelli. When it appears the two combatants are tied, Signor Morelli graciously concedes the round, and offers his exquisitely painted banner of a reclining nymph to the Queen of Beauty. Ginevra believes the banner to be better than the one Botticelli painted for Guiliano. Simonetta tells Ginevra that Maestro Verrocchio painted the banner with the help of one of his apprentices named Leonardo from Vinci.

The rounds continue until well into the evening. Guiliano's opponent is Renato de Pazzi who enters the lists on a large black horse belonging to Guiliano's godfather who refused the horse to his godson. Simonetta explains the political power play that exists in Florence, how the Pazzi who are nobles continually attempt to undermine the powerful influence of the Medici. The challenge is made "a la guerre", meaning "Unhorsing a rider would be the aim and the only honorable way to win." The joust between Pazzi and Medici is violent but Guiliano unseats Renato and is declared the champion of the joust.

As she is leaving, Ginevra is introduced to the Venetian ambassador, Bernardo Bembo by Lorenzo de Medici. Lorenzo tells Ginevra that Bembo is interested in meeting citizens of Florence who love poetry. Lorenzo invites Ginevra to a dinner at his honour and to share one of her poems at the function. Ginevra's Uncle Bartolomoeo accepts the invitation on her and her husband Luigi Niccolini's behalf.

The next morning Ginevra greets Luigi and briefly discusses the joust with her husband. He is a member of the cloth merchant guild, the Arte di Calimala and Ginevra's scarlet soft wool cape with its gold border and her dress "embroidered with intricate flower blossoms of red and emerald threads" Although Ginevra and Luigi have consummated their marriage she sleeps alone. Ginevra's marriage to Luigi Niccolini had been arranged on the previous January, against her will. Ginevra's father died in 1468, after which her Uncle Bartolomoeo had sent her away to Le Murate's convent school. She left the convent permanently her uncle was now head of the family and in exchange for a position on one of Venice's eight priori, Ginevra was sold in marriage to the Niccolini family.

Ginevra does receive an invitation to the Medici dinner which is held in early March. When she and Luigi attend the function , the meet Verrocchio and his former apprentice Leonardo da Vinci. The latter believes Ginevra would make a "excellent subject". At the Medici dinner, Ginevra is enthralled by the naked bronze statue of David, the courtyard centerpiece done by Donatello. A discussion with Bernardo Bembo makes Ginevra blush. Bernardo's advances become more prominent and more transparent leading Ginevra to inner conflict.

As Ginevra is drawn further into the world of Florence's cultural elite, she finds herself drawn into a Platonic relationship with Bernardo Bembo. It is a relationship that pulls her into the Medici circle and into Florence's rich artisan culture, leading to a portrait that immortalizes her for posterity.


Elliott has crafted an impressive fictional account of the life of sixteen-year-old Ginevra de' Benci's life and the painting of her portrait by Renaissance master, Leonardo da Vinci. Set in the High Renaissance, the mid-15th century in Florence, Italy, Elliott weaves a masterful story that incorporates many details of life during this era including cultural and religious practices, political intrigue in the Italian city states, and detailed descriptions of a working art studio. Elliott undertook significant research so that she could give her readers an encompassing view of life in the city-state of Florence in 1475.

All of the characters in the novel were real people who lived at the time Ginevra's portrait was painted except for Sancha, her maid. The basic details of Ginevra's life are incorporated into the story: She was born into a family of Florentine notaries who were connected to the wealthy and powerful Medici family and educated at Le Murate, a convent run by Abbess Scolastica Rondinelli and patronized by Ginevra's family. Ginevra was known in Florence as a poet. In 1474, she was married to  Luigi de Bernardo Niccolini, a widower and wool merchant, who was much older than Ginevra  The marriage was likely arranged by Ginevra's Uncle Bartolomeo who may have known Niccolini.

Many aspects of life in the High Renaissance are portrayed in Da Vinci's Tiger.  In the fifteenth century, Italy was comprised of a series of city states. The main republics were Florence, Milan, Genoa, Pisa and Venice. Unfortunately these city states were often at war with each other and at various times with the Pope. Eventually a peace was negotiated between Venice, Florence, Milan, Naples and the Papal States (areas controlled by the pope).

Painting of 15th century Florence
This period of peace and its recovery from the devastation wrought by the Black Death allowed Florence to flourish as a center of business and trade. It soon became the cradle of the Renaissance, a movement that saw the rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman art and a focus on understanding the natural world through direct observation. Florence  gradually came under the influence and control of the Medici family whose bank, became increasingly important. They were the leading family in Florence, their influence beginning with Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici who was involved in negotiating peace with Milan. His grandson, Lorenzo (the Magnificent) de' Medici received a humanist education and became a significant patron of the arts. Great families like the Medicis began to build beautiful estates, forgoing the austere homes of the Middle Ages. They began to build churches, convents, hospitals and held special feasts and entertainment. In Da Vinci's Tiger, the importance of the Medici family is explained by Ginevra, who states that they exerted their influence in subtle ways, through the patronage of the arts and festivals, "granting favors and loans", brokering "advantageous marriages and business partnerships." Lorenzo Medici was seen as especially as a patron of literature, inviting "artists, writers, and scholars to his country villas at Fiesole and Careggi to listen to music and poetry read aloud. They discussed the nature of man's supreme good, his summum bonum, as explored within classical texts. He also sponsored a Platonic Academy within the city, led by the great philosopher Marsilio Ficino..."

In Da Vinci's Tiger, Elliott portrays the sumptuous pageantry and the ongoing political intrigue and rivalries that marked life in 15th century Florence. For example, in June 1475, Ginevra like most other Florentines attends the Festival of John the Baptist. Elliott describes it for her readers through the eyes of Ginevra. "Florence had nearly a hundred public holidays during the year, but St. John's Feast was its grandest -- a two-day extravaganza celebrating both our material successes and our earnest piety." The festival begins with a "government-ordered mostra -- a lavish display of the city's riches as homage to the blessings out patron saint bestowed upon us...Festooning their shops with colorful banners, merchants put out their best merchandise --gold cloth, silver plates, painted panels, tapestry, jewelry, carved wood, embroidered leather...Florence's clergy donned elaborately embroidered vestments and processed through the streets with Florence's holy relics -- a thorn of the Holy Crown, a nail of the cross, a finger bone of John the Baptist. Following them came the city's secular dignitaries dressed as angels and biblical figures, with musicians of all sorts playing and singing."  On the morning of the second day of the festival "The city's guildsmen circled the Duomo cathedral to approach the ancient, octagonal Baptistery and its gates of paradise -- huge bronze doors decorated with scenes of St. John's life. Carrying painted candles, they slowly marched under blue canopies painted with stars and lilies that were stretched across the streets to replicate the night sky."  The palio, the horse race that caps the festival is a vibrant, heart-pounding event that Ginevra finds thrilling. "Now I could see the leading horses, legs flying, dirt churned up and sprayed, jockeys hunched and clinging to handfuls of mane. They had little hope now of steering their mounts, frenzied by the competition, frantic at the mass of humanity and their guttural shouts of encouragement.""

But there are also troubling aspects to life in Florence. For example the tamburi, "locked wooden boxes placed near major churches by the Ufficiali di Notte, the Officers of the Night. In those boxes, Florentines could denounce their neighbors for vice by leaving secret accusations of crimes against decency that brought arrest and trial in front of a tribunal of old men." Early in the novel, Ginevra and her maid Sancha witness Leonardo da Vinci attempting to break into a tamburi. It is a foreshadowing of an accusation made against him later on in the novel.

A significant portion of the novel revolves around Ginevra's relationship with a young Leonardo da Vinci. Elliott provides readers with much detail involving Leonardo, his physical appearance, his thoughts, his relationship with master Andrea del Verrocchio as well as his artistic endeavours in this early period. In her detailed Afterword, Elliott writes that "Much of Leonardo's dialogue comes from his own writings..." The reader learns much about Leonardo through the character himself as his friendship with Ginevra develops and he tells her about himself.

Leonardo da Vinci was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero, a notary in the village of Vinci and Caterina, a peasant girl who worked for the family. Leonardo lived with his mother when he was very young but eventually went to live with his father and grandfather. He spent much of his time with his tutor and uncle, Francesco who instilled in him  a curiosity about the natural world. At age fifteen, he was apprenticed to Andrea del Verrocchio of Florence. Leonardo was a polymath, having substantial gifts in many areas of science, art, architecture, music and engineering.  His paintings, sculptures, and many scientific discoveries continue to amaze today.

Ginevra de Benci by Leonardo da Vinci
The novel highlights the significant contributions Leonardo was beginning to make in the art world. While Verrocchio and Leonardo were adept at using egg tempera to paint, Elliott, through the character of Ginevra states, "But Leonardo was one of the first in Florence to attempt using the oils preferred by the northern painters in Flanders. Oil paints did provide subtler, more varied, and translucent tones but were difficult to mix evenly and to spread with the brush."

His portrait of Ginevra marked an innovative change in how portraits were painted, in that her portrait was painted in the three quarter pose.Elliott suggests in her novel that this was the (unlikely and feminist) idea of Ginevra who saw this as "the chance to make men listen -- and see -- what women had in their hearts and minds."  Ginevra wanted a "larger metaphor" for herself. In the novel she states, "My eyes would gaze unblinking to allow people to look into them and wonder about me. I, a mountain tiger, like the one that showed no fear when hunted, whose fierce dignity prompted imaginings about her soul and her courage -- a creature with her own past and own story."  However, it was Leonardo's decision to paint her in this way, to show her as a real person.

Da Vinci's Tiger deals with some mature themes including the attempted seduction of Ginevra by her Platonic love, Ambassador Bernardo Bembo. The concept of platonic love is explored throughout this novel. During the Renaissance, the renewed interest in Greek and Roman thought led to the practice of choosing a platonic love. This questionable practice, is explained by Ginevra as such, "According to Ficino's Neoplatonic philosophy, if a man could keep his ardor for a woman to a Platonic friendship -- in a look-but-do-not-touch idolization -- and only contemplate her physical loveliness as being naifestation of her virituous spirit and absolute beauty, then his soul was purified. His love would, in essence, replicate the selfless love of Christ for us and bring the man closer to God." As Scolastica warned, Ginevra discovers this is often not what happens. Instead such relationships were often used to hide sinful behaviours and sometimes  led to the birth of illegitimate children.

Elliott also incorporates Leonardo's arrest for sodomy after someone denounces him and three other men. The accusations are serious because as Sancha indicates,the punishment can be severe especially for homosexual men. At dinner, Luigi tells Ginevra that he obtained Leonardo's freedom as a favour to the Medici family. But he also intimates indirectly to Ginevra that he too is a homosexual, thus explaining his lack of romantic interest in her. Whether Luigi Niccolini's homosexuality is fact or fiction is not addressed in Elliott's Afterword.

There are plenty of interesting historical aspects to investigate in this novel and Elliott has done a good job portraying the era and giving readers a sense of the genius of Leonardo da Vinci and the background behind the painting of one of his more famous works. Ellitott's characterization of Ginevra de Benci Niccolini is inspiring and realistic, that of a young woman of conviction, strength, intelligence and compassion, who wrote poetry and inspired one of the most famous artists of all time. One only needs to gaze at her portrait to see that Leonardo da Vinci succeeded in portraying  her as a real person, whose "motions of the mind" can be entertained simply by the pose portrayed.

Book Details:

Da Vinci's Tiger by L.M. Elliott
New York: Katherine Tegen Books      2015
287 pp.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

In The Island at the End of Everything, twelve-year-old Amihan lives on Culion with her mother Nanay who has leprosy and was one of the first to arrive on the island. Amihan was born not long after. One day Sister Clara comes to their home to tell them that there will be a meeting in the church. Amihan, Nanay, their neighbours Capuno who also has leprosy and his brother Bondoc who has come to the island to live with him, also attend. After prayers and a sermon by Father Fernan, a stranger, Mr. Zamora is introduced. He is from Manila and he tells them that there are new changes. Despite the fact that the nuns and Father Fernan have preached abstinence so that married couples do not have children, Mr. Zamora notes that they are "breeding" as he crudely describes it. Mr. Zamora tells the people of Culion that to help these children, the island will be segregated with lepers restricted to areas labeled "Leproso", while those who are clean will live in areas marked "Sano".

When Zamora refuses to answer Nanay's question about the fate of families, she removes the cloth covering her disfigured face and confronts him. Nanay wants to know what will happen to her daughter who is clean despite living with "her demonstrably dirty mother, for all her life." Zamora states that they are "introducing the segregation to save the innocents." who will be sent to the neighbouring island of Coron. Sister Margaritte and the others are stunned at this. Zamora tells her they will be sent to an orphanage. When Sister Margaritte reminds him that the children have parents, Zamora tells her they would be living in what will become the largest leper colony in the world if they stay. He reveals that both Father Fernan and Dr. Tomas have agreed to this plan.

Everyone on Culion must undergo a medical inspection; those children under the age of eighteen who do not have leprosy will "enter the care of the Director of Health...and will be transported to the CORON ORPHANAGE." As expected Nanay is found to have leprosy but Ami is designated as "clean" meaning she will have to leave her mother and go to Coron. Nanay is devastated.

Bondoc along with his brother Capuno who has leprosy, Nanay and Ami go with Sister Margaritte to present a petition to Mr. Zamora requesting that the children of those parents with leprosy be allowed to stay in the areas marked "Sano" on Culion. However Mr. Zamora cruelly rejects the petition telling them, "We want to end this disease. And do you know how we kill a disease? We stop"

In their remaining time together, Ami and Nanay do many things together; plant a vegetable garden, and spend several days visiting their favourite beach, catching shrimp and crabs. One day they see a boat arrive filled with over one hundred "Touched" - that is people with leprosy. When Ami goes to help the boat moor, Nanay becomes frantic believing she is trying to get leprosy so she can stay on Culion.

Then Ami learns that the next day she along with the other "clean" children will be leaving Culion for the island of Curon with Mr. Zamora.She tells Nanay that she will return and that she will write her. Nanay tells Ami a story which turns out to be about herself and Ami's father. Nanay loved a boy who loved her too. They wanted to be married but were too young and he was too sick. They lived together in a house with a blue roof and red gumamella flowers climbing the walls. However, Nanay's family found her and took her back home. However, she soon contracted leprosy and she was sent to Culion. There she discovered that she was pregnant and when the baby was born she named it Amihan after the winds that bring the monsoon rains.

The next morning Ami and Nanay are told by Sister Margeritte that instead of leaving from the nearby port, Ami and the other children will ride in a cart with Mr. Zamora to the "Sano" port. Along with her is Kidlat, a little five-year-old boy and several girls from school. Mr. Zamora who studies butterflies, brings along five brown boxes with air holes in the tops, and a glass case filled with chrysalises which he angrily protects.

The long ride to the Sano port is punctuated by a catastrophe in which Mr. Zamora loses a box of his butterflies when the horse is startled. After the crossing to Coron, Ami and the others arrive at the orphanage to settle in. Will Ami ever see her beloved Nanay again? However when Mr. Zamora becomes increasingly hostile and paranoid, resulting in a serious accident and the threat to send Ami and her new friend Mari away, Ami knows she must find a way back to see her desperately ill Nanay.


The Island at the End of Everything is a fictional account of a young girl's experience living in the leper colony on Culion Island in the Philippines in 1906. Culion Island is part of the Calamian archipelago in the province of Palawan. The island came under American jurisdiction in 1898 when the Spanish sold the Philippines to the Americans. The island was seen as an ideal location for a leper colony, the purpose of which was to eradicate the disease rather than simply help those with leprosy. Leprosy afflicted almost four thousand people on the Philippine Islands in the early twentieth century. With over a thousand new cases each year, it was a serious public health concern. Culion Island was formally established as a leprosarium in 1902 as segregation of leprosy patients became public health policy in the Philippines under American occupation. In 1906, the first patients from Cebu Island arrived via Coast Guard boats and soon patients from other islands were brought to Culion. Many Filipinos were resistant to the segregation as it meant separating family members in a culture that was strongly family oriented. Culion was staffed by the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres as well as a Jesuit priest and Dr. Charles de Mey who was the colony's physician.

The author bases her story on the historical fact but incorporates fictional characters to create a story. The story is divided into three segments, a prologue written in second person present tense which introduces the reader to the unique setting of this novel - a beautiful green island that became the world's largest leper colony, the main body of the story written in first person present tense and the epilogue in which the reader meets Ami thirty years later, written in third person past tense suggesting that she has been telling Sol her story all along.

While all the characters in this short novel are fictional, Millwood Hargrave has stated that Nanay is based off of her own mother. The Island at the End of Everything has richly developed characters; Ami in a caring compassionate young girl who devotedly cares for her sick mother. Despite her mother's disfigured face with it's missing nose, Ami sees her humanity. She is so determined to be with her mother when she becomes desperately ill that she undertakes a remarkable journey that almost costs her her own life. Ami demonstrates how strong the bond can be between mother and daughter. Then there are Sisters Margaritte and Teresa who are courageous and kind, attempting to protect the children from an uncaring bureaucrat who has a distorted view of illness.

In contrast to these characters is Mr. Zamora. It is the character of Mr. Zamora, the government's representative in charge of the orphanage on Curon who drives the plot. Zamora is a lepidopterists, someone who studies butterflies. His room is filled with numerous mounted butterflies "lined up like school children, or an army, in neat rows." Zamora refuses the parents (of Untouched children) petition to allow their children to remain on Culion. He believes what the government is doing is a kindness to the Untouched children, "giving them a clean life." He compares it to what he does with the butterflies, "Take these butterflies, he says gesturing at the walls. 'They have never known disease, or danger. I even give them a clean death -- is that not a kindness? They are beautiful. Clean. Untouched by the world." Never once does Zamora consider how the government's actions nor his treatment of the lepers and their families on Culion might affect them. Instead Zamora views the children who do not have leprosy like his butterflies, to be preserved at all cost.

Yet despite his cruel treatment of Ami and her friends Kidlat and Mari, she forgives him, recognizing that his fear was a part of his sickness. Ami is able, years later to see the good in Zamora - she admits his first book on butterflies is exceptional. But she tells Sol, "By all accounts he lived in a prison of his own making by the end. His sickness got worse and worse -- it was punishment enough, I think." Ami believes "He did not have a life even a quarter as good as mine has already been."

The Island at the End of Everything is a poignant exploration of the themes of forgiveness, the meaning of family and friendship, purity and how society views those with serious illnesses such as leprosy. Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a London-born, poet, playwright and novelist whose poetic prose allows younger readers to explore worlds very different from their own.

Book Details:

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
New York: Alfred A. Knopf       2018
243 pp.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Long Armed Ludy and the First Women's Olympics by Jean L. S. Patrick

Lucille Ellerby Godbold or Ludy as she was called, was one of America's first Olympic champions. Ludy was born in Marion County on May 31, 1900. She was part of a large family that included seven children. Her family moved to Estill in Hampton County, South Carolina.

While attending Winthrop College, Ludy set records in the shot put, the discus throw and the triple jump. The college sent her onto Mamaroneck, New York where the qualifying meet for the U.S. track and field team was being held. This team which included Ludy, went on to compete in the First International Track Meet for Women - also known as the Women's Olympic Games in 1922 in Paris, France. Unhappy with the number of women's events in the Olympic Games, the Federation Sportive Feminine Internationale under the direction of Alice Milliat decided to organize their own Women's Olympics, called the 1922 Women's World Games. Athletes from five nations participated including Ludy Godbold.

At the Women's Games, Ludy won gold in the shot put with a throw of twenty meters and twenty-two centimeters. She also won gold in the triple jump, called the hop-step-jump. Ludy won silver in the basketball throw and was third in the javelin. She placed fourth in both the 300 meter dash and the 1000 meter run. Ludy was an international star!

Ludy graduated from Winthrop College with a degree in physical education in 1922 and was appointed athletic director of a private women's college, Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina. She went on to teach physical education at Columbia for fifty-eight years. Ludy was the first woman inducted into the South Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1961. In 1971, Columbia College named its new physical education center after her. She passed away in 1981.

Ludy Godbold
Jean L.S. Patrick presents Ludy's amazing accomplishments in an enjoyable and descriptive manner. The text captures the sensations and emotions of the most significant events in Ludy's life. Patrick describes Ludy as "six feet tall and skinnier than a pine tree." When Ludy's coach encourages her to try the shot put, Bartlett writes,
"Ludy scooped up the heavy iron ball and placed it between her fingers. She bent her knees, pushed her long arm upward, and released! The ball soared across the sky.
Her heart boomed. Her long arm tingled. She loved the explosion of power."

At the Women's Olympics, after an amazing throw by France's world-record holder, Violette Gourand-Morris, Barlett describes Ludy's nerves as "Ludy's long arms wobbled like French custard. How could she beat that throw?" 

The wonderfully expressive text is accompanied by Adam Gustavson's colourful
illustrations. Gustavson effectively portrays Ludy's unusual physical appearance - she was tall and lanky. The book's full page illustrations were done in oil paint while gouache on waterpaper was used for the spot illustrations.

Patrick has obviously done considerable research using primary sources and it shows in the information this picture book presents to readers. She has included a section at the back on More About Ludy, The Women's Olympics and also has an Author's Note and a Selected Bibliography. Patrick writes that "...Ludy didn't become fully alive to me until I traveled to South Carolina to research her story. With awe, I read Ludy's diary, paged through her scrapbook, and saw her small, precious medals. Every item brimmed with emotion and determination." Patrick has more than succeeded in bringing that "emotion and determination" to the pages of Long-Armed Ludy for young and older readers alike.

Book Details:

Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women's Olympics by Jean L.S. Patrick
Watertown, MA:  Charlesbridge         2017

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Shane by Jack Schaefer

The classic western novel, Shane penned by Jack Schaefer in 1949 tells the story of a mysterious stranger who rides into in a small Wyoming valley one day in the summer of 1889 and forever alters life there. In the process he teaches a young what it means to be a man.

Young Bob Starrett sees the man riding towards their ranch from several miles away. His clothes are unusual, with dark trousers, a finespun shirt and a black hat, "with a creased crown and a wide curling brim swept down in front to shield the face." But what impressed Bob even more was the man himself. "He was clean-shaven and h is face was lean and hard and burned from high forehead to firm, tapering chin. His eyes seemed hooded in the shadow of the hat's brim. He came closer, and I could see that this was because the brows were drawn in a frown of fixed and habitual alertness. Beneath them the eyes were endlessly searching from side to side and forward, checking off every item in view, missing nothing..."

The stranger stops at the Starretts, requesting water. Bob's father, Joe Starrett welcomes him, offering him water and an invitation to stay for dinner and rest over night. He accepts and reveals his name to be Shane. After bringing his horse into the barn, the three head into the house where Joe introduces Shane to his wife Marian. Supper is hearty with Joe, Shane and Bob trying to eat as much of Marian's delicious cooking. Bob's mother and father are unsuccessful in their attempts to learn more about Shane. Bob notes, "His past was fenced as tightly as our pasture. All they could learn was that he was riding through, taking each day as it came, with nothing particular in mind except maybe seeing a part of the country he had not seen before."

Afterwards, sitting on the porch with Shane, Joe tells him that "The open range can't last forever" as it is a poor business, using up too much space for too little return. Instead, putting up fences to grow crops to help support the farm while having a small, well fed herd that is larger and better beef than what ranchers like Fletcher who's on the opposite side of the river, raise. Joe reveals that Fletcher can no longer use the range on this side of the river because of the settlers coming in and laying claim to parcels of land. After Bob is sent to bed he overhears his parents talking about Shane and his father telling his mother that Shane is dangerous but not to them.

The next morning a sudden storm has Shane delayed again from leaving and Joe convinces him to stay so he can show him around the farm and also rest his horse. As Joe shows him around, with Bob tagging along, Shane notices the big old stump with the huge roots that came out in every direction. While discussing the stump, Jake Ledyard arrives on his sorrel pulling a buckboard wagon. He has Joe's new seven-pronged cultivator which he offers to him for the price of a hundred and ten. But Shane tells Joe that he's seen the same in a store in Cheyenne for sixty. Eventually Joe and Jack settle on the price of eighty. Shane decides to work on the stump and the two men eventually chop through the roots and upend the huge stump. For Bob watching his father and Shane, it the most exciting thing he's ever seen.

The next day Joe Starrett asks Shane to stay on and help him get the farm in shape for the winter. Shane correctly understands that Fletcher is "crowding Joe" and wants his land. He agrees to stay on. Although it's obvious he's no farmer, Shane keeps up with Joe Starrett, never shirking even the hardest work.

Things remain quiet for most of the summer as Fletcher has travelled to Fort Bennett in Dakota and then onto Washington where he's trying to "get a contract to supply beef to the Indian agent at Standing Rock, The Big Sioux reservation over beyond the Black Hills." But when summer draws to a close, Fletcher returns to the valley, he is determined to run Joe Starrett and the other farmers off their land. With the nearest marshal a hundred miles away and no sheriff in their small town, the farmers are vulnerable. They know the ownership of their land is guaranteed by the government and are intent on staying. It soon becomes apparent Fletcher will use any means to scare off the farmers, but what he doesn't count on is a real man like Shane who is brave enough to stand up to him.


Shane is one of the most popular Western novels of the twentieth century. The Western genre is probably one of the least favourite genres of fiction. Western novels are generally set in the American West, during the latter half of the 1800's. Western novels commonly have plots that are centered around a lone cowboy or gunfight who roams from town to town, mysterious, brooding and dangerous. There are many common storylines: in Shane the plot centers around homesteaders pitted against a cattle rancher's attempts to drive them off their land. Because the usual path of justice via a sheriff, courts and a judge are not possible, "frontier justice" is administered by way of gunfights. The most famous and popular authors of western novels include Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour.

Shane is told from the point of view of Bob Starrett whose parents are homesteaders. Through the eyes of a young boy, the reader learns about the qualities that define a real man; loyalty, honesty, self-control, watchfulness, and kindness. Both Joe Starrett and Shane exhibit the qualities of real men and are admired by Bob.

At the very beginning of the novel,when Marian questions her husband taking on Shane as hired help because he is so obviously not a farmer, Joe points out to her that although Shane might not have the knowledge of farming, his other qualities are more valuable. "What a man knows isn't important. It's what he is that counts...Anything he does will be done right...He knows I'm in a spot and he's not the man to leave me there. Nobody'll push him around or scare him away. He's my kind of man."

Joe's assessment of Shane is proven to be correct early on when he insists on taking the pitchfork into town to get it welded. Joe is reluctant to let Shane go alone, because he suspects that Fletcher's men will go after him just as they did to Morley, the man who previously worked for Joe. However, Shane is not put off by this, he goes to town to face whatever might happened. While there he doesn't allow one of Fletcher's men to goad him into a fight. Instead he shows restraint and self-control, recognizing that Chris has courage to do what Fletcher has asked of him, that is to confront Shane. Later on in the novel, Shane is confronted by a group of Fletcher's men at the saloon. Bob who has stationed himself outside because he's not allowed in the saloon, sees the group coming and rushes in to warn Shane. But Shane refuses to run away, instead standing his ground and fighting them even though the odds are very much against him.

True to the western formula, Shane metes out "frontier justice" several times, the first when Chris continues to make derogatory remarks all over town about Joe Starrett and the other farmers. Yet it isn't something Shane relishes. Instead he feels sadness over having to fight Chris and tells Red Marlin to take care of him as Chris "... has the makings of a good man."  Shane is proved correct at the end of the novel when Chris shows up at the Starrett farm, asking Joe Starrett to take him on as hired help.

Shane delivers true "frontier justice" at the climax of the novel in a confrontation between himself and Wilson, the gunslinger Fletcher has hired to provoke the farmers. Wilson tricks Ernie Wright into a gunfight, killing him. Shane now knows Fletcher's game and knows he must act. The person Fletcher and Wilson really want is Joe Starrett because he's the only farmer who has been courageous enough to stand up to Fletcher. Shane knows that Joe will fight Wilson if he has to and he will die. There is only one way to see justice done and there is only one person who can accomplish it.

Bob is puzzled by the fact that Shane doesn't carry his gun around with him. In the lawless West, carrying a gun defines a man. Bob asks his father if it's because Shane doesn't know how to use it properly. Here Schaefer employs both irony and foreshadowing; Shane is actually a deadly shot and his not wearing his gun suggests that he will use it in the future. Shane's decision not to wear his gun is based on the fact that he considers it a tool, as he tells young Bob: "A gun is just a tool. No better and no worse than any other tool, a shovel -- or an axe or a saddle or stove or anything. Think of it always that way. A gun is as good -- and as bad -- as the man who carries it. Remember that." It isn't something that makes him a man, which he points out to Wilson, Fletcher's gunslinger later on."You talk like a man because of that flashy hardware you're wearing. Strip it away and you'd shrivel down to boy size." In the end, after Shane confronts Wilson and then leaves town, Bob remembers Shane exactly as he wanted him to. "I would see the man and the weapon wedded in the one indivisible deadliness. I would see the man and the tool, a good man and a good tool, doing what had to be done."

Shane is an slow paced novel that sets the stage for the inevitable confrontation between Shane and Fletcher. Although some of the language is dated, especially with a few derogatory references to Native Americans, Shane is still an important novel for the themes and symbols of manhood that it tackles.

Book Details:

Shane by Jack Schaefer
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company    1949
214 pp.

Friday, August 24, 2018

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Seventeen-year-old Dimple Shah lives to code.And she fully intends to go to Insomnia Con 2017 on the San Francisco State University campus during the summer.  Participants must design a ground-breaking app. Dimple hopes to meet Jenny Lindt, a famous web developer.The only catch is the program costs a thousand dollars.  Dimple has already convinced her parents to allow her to attend Stanford, likely because they hope she "will meet the I.I.H. (Ideal Indian Husband) of her, no, their -- dreams at the prestigious school."

During a visit by Ritu auntie and her daughter-in-law, Seema, Dimple brings up her idea to attend Insomnia Con. To her utter shock, her parents agree to send her to the summer program.

Meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Rishi Patel isn't too impressed with the photograph of Dimple Shah. For one thing, she doesn't look too happy. His parents have known Dimple's parents, Leena and Vijay Shah for decades. Their families are from the same part of Mumbai. Rishi has agreed to attend the web development program in San Francisco to meet Dimple.  Rishi believes that since she's attending, she must be agreeable to meeting him as their families are interested in arranging a marriage between the two. Rishi will be attending M.I.T. in the fall but he's certain that despite the distance, they can work things out.

Dimple arrives in San Francisco early , too early to meet her roommate Celia so she heads to the coffee shop to get an iced coffee. It's there that she is approached by Rishi who greets her with "Hello, future wire...I cant' wait to get started on the rest of our lives!"  Completely unnerved, Dimple flings her coffee at him and runs away. They end up meeting later on in the main lobby of their dorm and Dimple is puzzled that this boy knows her name. When Rishi explains that their parents know one another and that they have shared pictures, Dimple can't believe it. But fate seems to intervene when she and Rishi are partnered for the Insomnia Con. Forced to work together, Dimple finds herself falling for the honourable, sweet Rishi. But can they really forge a lasting relationship when they are so different and when they will be attending schools on opposite coasts?


When Dimple Met Rishi starts out as a cute romance involving two young Indian teens, eighteen-year-old Rishi Patel and seventeen-year-old Dimple Shah whose parents are hoping to eventually set up an arranged marriage. Rishi signs up for Insomnia Con knowing he's attending to meet Dimple, but she has no knowledge of the arrangements their parents have made. Dimple is there to code and advance her career. Their paths cross and a strained relationship quickly develops into a love affair as they are partnered at the coding course both are attending. Up to this point, the novel is funny and sweet as Rishi tries to whoo the "spirited" Dimple first into friendship and then into dating.

However, the story falls into the typical modern teen drama/romance trope and loses its way. The story devolves into sexual escapades and a talent show involving bhangra dancing. Dimple and Rishi eventually have sex (it is Dimple who badgers Rishi into relenting despite his concern for tradition and wanting to wait), and Dimple's roommate, Celia hooks up with not only her coding team partner and but also with Rishi's younger brother, a rebellious sixteen-year-old who shows up unexpectedly at SFSU. Their antics seemed befitting for a slightly older crowd and feel out of place in this novel. Although the inclusion of a tidbit of Indian culture - the popular Krrish superhero movies is interesting, it feels out of place in this novel. All of this causes the story to temporarily veer away from some of the issues hinted at, that both Dimple and Rishi are dealing with in the first half of the novel.

Those issues revolve around the responsibilities and expectations young Indian teens face from parents and their culture. Menon uses the character of Rishi to highlight these pressures. Rishi is a gifted artist who over the last three years has created and developed his own character, Aditya the Sun God/superhero. However, Rishi keeps his talent hidden and considers it something that will always be a hobby in his life. When Rishi attends the Little Comic Con at SFSU and meets his hero Leo Tilden a famous graphic novelist, he decides against showing him his sketches. To Rishi, doing so feels like betraying his parents who believe he is at SFSU for the coding course and to meet Dimple. Rishi tells Dimple, "...I know what's important to me -- I want a life. I want to get married and have a family. I can't support a family working as a waiter and hoping to break out as a comic book artist." When Dimple encourages him to "Do what you love, what you're passionate about. So what if it's not the most practical thing? You're eighteen, you don't have to be practical for a long, long time..." But Rishi tells her he has made promises to his parents and that he has duties and obligations.

It isn't until Dimple tells him she can't be with someone who doesn't have the courage to follow through on the own dreams, that Rishi decides to reconsider. But Rishi who respects his parents, talks things out with his father, telling him, "Pappa, I doesn't feel right for me. It feels right for you. I'm an artist in my soul. Not an engineer. Not a corporate machine."  In the end, his Pappa relents and Rishi is able to get accepted and enroll at SFSU. Rishi's conflict with his parents over a choice of career is a common one in certain cultures which place precedence on certain professions such as medicine, law and engineering over other "lesser" occupations such as visual art or teaching.

Dimple too struggles with expectations but as a young woman,  her issue is much different. She believes her mother wants her life to revolve around marriage and family, something Dimple is not sure she will ever want. At seventeen, not surprisingly, Dimple doesn't want a boyfriend and she doesn't want to marry. Yet she finds herself  doing exactly what she never intended to do, have a serious boyfriend who is "trustworthy and practical and stable." Instead Dimple wants "adventure and spontaneity and travel" and she feels she needs "to make a few bad decisions and have a few boys break her heart." Her aspirations sound decidedly trite. Is this the message that Sandhya Menon wants to send young women? People make bad decisions all the time, but it isn't usually something one plans on or looks forward to doing.

However, Dimple experiences a serious crisis when she loses the main prize at Insomnia Con to a team consisting of Evan Grant, Hari Mehta and Isabelle Ryland. Winning was central to Dimple's idea of advancing her career and she behaves badly, sulking and is not a gracious loser. She blames her relationship with Rishi for the loss; "There was no doubt about it -- if they hadn't been going out, she would've spent almost all of her free time working on her prototype. Tweaking it. Making it better. And maybe one of those tweaks would've sent her over the edge..." And so she quite unkindly dumps Rishi. Yet only later back at home, in the presence of her Mamma, does Dimple admit that she loves Rishi. But her fear is that she will lose herself. "But there's no way to make it work without one of us sacrificing something big. And you know how it is. It's usually the woman who ends up sacrificing. And I can't do that. I won't."  Dimple's mother points out that in rejecting Rishi, she is already sacrificing something - love.

One last point and it is about a question that Dimple asks herself not long after she and Rishi have met. Dimple questions Rishi's reference to the Indian gods and he responds that this is his way of trying to educate people about his Hindu faith. Dimple asks herself "Why was Christianity always the default?"  The answer to this question of course is that the United States was founded by Christians and so the vast majority of people in the country are Christians which is why it is the default belief. Even in the post-modern era, our laws, our codes of behaviour and our civic life are based on the default belief of Christianity. In India, the vast majority of people there are Hindus and thus the country is considered a Hindu nation. Young readers may wonder at this, and in this novel unfortunately, Menon offers no answer.

Menon ends her novel happily with all the current conflicts resolved. When Dimple Met Rishi is a suitable exploration of the pressures teens from certain ethnic backgrounds can experience but loses its way in the middle of the story. There are better written YA contemporary romance novels to be read.

Book Details:

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
New York: Simon Pulse         2017
378 pp.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes tells the story of one boy's journey to escape war in his beloved Syria. This deeply moving novel makes the Syrian refugee crisis painfully real to young readers. The story is narrated by "Destiny"

Tareq is Nour and Fayed eldest child. Eventually his family came to include his brother Salim who was two years younger, his younger sisters Farrah and Susan and the twins Ameer and Sameer. Tareq's paternal grandmother also lived with them. The family was not well off but their small apartment was filled with love. On a hot summer night in 2015, Tareq's family was shattered forever when his neighbourhood was bombed. While trapped beneath the slab of concrete that had been his family's kitchen wall, Tareq dreams of his family, his five month-old twin brothers, his sisters watching television, his mother making food and his tetya (grandmother) drinking  tea. He remembers his brother Salim who has great affection for their sisters and his love of soccer.

But Tareq's nightmare is all too real as he is pulled from the ruins by men in white helmets. The bodies of his mother, tetya and his younger sister Farrah are pulled from the crushed apartment building and Tareq is sent to the hospital. While he is being treated, Tareq shows the doctor pictures on his phone of his siblings and learns that Susan will be fine. But Ameer and Sameer are dead, Salim missing. Tareq weeps as his father holds him.

Tareq's father, Fayed drives to Raqqa to meet his older brother who has promised to help him leave the country by giving him money. Raqqa is now controlled by Daesh, al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham-or or ISIS. These religious fundamentalists have set up their own brutal laws. All Fayed knows is that he has to get his two surviving children out of the country. As they travel to Raqqa, Tareq notices the effect the drought has had on the land, "the once-lush greenery that held beautiful loquat and citrus trees had disintegrated into dusty brown cracked earth." Each checkpoint is a harrowing nightmare;  at one they encounter a young government army soldier who extorts money from Fayed, they meet the shabiha who are the pro-Assad civilian militia who are equally terrifying, and at others Daesh soldiers angrily yell at Fayed, questioning his small beard, Susan lack of a proper head covering, telling Fayed that he is kafer.

Once in Raqqa, Fayed and Tareq see the full horror of life under Daesh. There are heads mounted on spikes on the main roundabout. Tareq is shocked to see that Raqqa has also changed. The streets with many bombed-out buildings are empty, patrolled by men with long beards carrying Kalashnikov rifles. A shopping trip with his cousin Musa quickly turns into a terrifying experience as the two boys are  forced to Naim Square where they witness the shooting and beheading of a young man. On the drive home, Musa realizes they have been followed. Within minutes of their arrival, men come to the house but Tareq's Uncle Waleed and his father manage to talk the men out of taking the two boys, who they want to recruit for Daesh.

As a result of this, Uncle Waleed tells Fayed and Tareq they must leave the city immediately and continue on to Turkey. Only a few weeks after they leave, Daesh close off the city. Tareq, along with his father and sister, his cousin Musa and Shams and Asil who are a neighbour's daughters, travel through the Aleppo countryside, arriving finally at the Turkish border. Having missed the bus crossing the border, the group walks the last exhausting mile into Turkey.

In Turkey, Musa and Tareq travel to Istanbul in an effort to make money for the trip to Europe while Fayed and Susan live in Gaziantep. However, making money proves to be more difficult than Tareq realizes. In Istanbul, Syrians are not well treated,and Tareq is almost cheated out of his payment for working at a new restaurant. Musa tries to encourage Tareq to stay, to work harder to make Turkey his home, but Tareq is determined to leave for Europe. He's had enough of Turkey, and is concerned for the well being of his little sister Susan.

To that end Tarek meets his father and sister in the coastal city of Izmir where they hope to find someone to help them cross over the Aegean Sea to Greece. In Izmir they find not only Syrians but people from Afghanistan who are also feeling war and the Taliban. Tareq's journey will continue in a leaky boat with fake life jackets, leaving behind his beloved father. It is a journey that will almost cost him and his sister their lives, but will teach Tarek the importance of finding the helpers, those people who care and who give of themselves.


A Land of Permanent Goodbyes tackles the Syrian refugee crisis in a haunting and memorable way that captures the reality and puts a human face to this tragedy. The refugee experience is told by "Destiny" which describes itself " the end of a sequence of events that you and your kind actively shape." and as "just the end result of your choices". This unbiased witness tells the story of a Syrian boy whose life is forever altered when his home is bombed by the Syrian military. Abawi used Destiny as the narrator because she felt this was the best way to tell the refugee story as Destiny sees events from all points of view, the refugees, the helpers, and a group of people Abawi calls "the hunters" those people who rape, murder or act with cruelty. Destiny has also seen the past.

Abawi also chose to use Destiny to tell the story because she felt this was the best way to help her readers fully understand the refugee experience:

"In life, for some people it is very difficult to put oneself in another’s shoes and see the world from their perspective. It’s also challenging to share your struggles with others who you feel would not understand it, or even judge you for them. Each and every one of us also has thoughts and secrets that we are afraid to express. In terms of this novel I think that Destiny could be that voice for each character so they don’t have the opportunity to hide behind the protective wall all humans construct."

Abawi sets the stage by having Tareq dream, as he lays half buried in the rubble of his home, about his family as they were before the bombing. He remembers the most intimate details of his mother, "hair in a bun and a mole on the side of the neck", "breathing in her scent of perfumed flowers and spiced cooking." He remembers his tetya, his sisters Susan Farrah who was the little tomboy, his twin brothers Ameer and Sameer, playing soccer with his brother Salim, before he regains consciousness in the horror of a completely destroyed home filled with the dead. This happy, loving life will be only a memory for Tareq and his father as they flee their homeland of Syria.

Abawi uses her characters to inform readers, providing background information about the Syrian conflict. For example through the character of Musa, readers learn about the radical Islamic terrorist group called Daesh. When Tareq is in Raqqa his cousin Musa explains Daesh to his cousin, telling him, "...this city has been taken over by the world. They come from France, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, America, Kuwait, Britain, Libya-everywhere. I swear I hear them speaking more French and English than Arabic, wallahi!" He tells Tareq that Daesh originated in Iraq and that they fear them the most. In a conversation with his cousin, Musa tells him, "These people don't know the first thing about Islam...I guarantee most of them have never even read a Quran in their lives. They are criminals in their home countries. ..Do you know that they even found out some of the guys who came here from England had purchased a Quran for Dummies book instead of the actual Quran?"  He also references the Salafism, stating, "The Salafi cancer has spread.", claiming "...But the Saudis have had the oil money to spread this deadly disease...Think about it. The world buys Saudi oil-they're so rich, they have golden toilet seats. They also have the money to print their own interpretation of the Holy Quran in every language you can think of and ship it out. They claim to have the purest form of Islam, when in reality they created it more than a thousand years after the Prophet Muhammad's death!...And then on the other side, you have President Assad, the Alawite, and his backing from Iran and the Shias."

Throughout Tafeq's journey readers learn about the many problems Syrian refugees usually encounter as they make their way through Turkey, across the Aegean Sea, through Greece, Macedonia and on towards eastern Europe to Germany. For example, Syrian refugees working to earn money for the crossing are frequently cheated out of wages in Turkey. Refugees are charged exorbitant fees for being smuggled across the Mediterranean, and are placed in leaking boats with fake life jackets. Women and girl refugees are particularly at risk, repeatedly raped by smugglers, while others are stolen and trafficked for the sex trade. Even crossing the Aegean, the Turkish coast guard attacks refugee boats with the intention of sinking them rather than helping. These are just a few of the problems Abawi highlights in her novel.

Abawi doesn't shy away from the horrors of the Syrian conflict nor the brutality of ISIS. Tareq and Musa witness the brutal execution and beheading of a young man, his parents in attendance. "A battery of bullets ripped through the young man, whose body convulsed. His mother collapsed, his father too shocked to try to lift her back up. The firing eventually came to a halt. But the horror didn't end....He grabbed the limp head by its mane, lifting it from the puddle of blood it had rested in, and ran a sharp blade back and forth across the neck, slashing the flesh. The boy's father finally fell next to his wife, thumping to the ground."

Abawi also portrays those who do care, the numerous helpers who come from many countries - characters such as Alexi an American from Connecticut who came to Greece to visit family. However Alexi's life is changed forever when she sees the refugees and is moved by their suffering to volunteer. There are others too from every country around the world: Michael who is from Singapore, Sivan and Mariam two medics from Israel, Hashem a British born Syrian, Famke from the Netherlands, Hilda from Germany and Tina from China.

Destiny focuses on Alexi who, in an attempt to bridge the gap between cultures, organizes a small dinner with the workers and Tareq and a few other refugees in the transit camp. Their sharing of food and stories brings hope and relief. "They talked about the beauty of their cities and the destruction of their lives and loved ones. Both volunteers and refugees shed tears, salty droplets of relief as they set free the stories that were trapped in their hearts and minds." Alexia encourages Tareq by telling him what she learned as a child from Mr. Rogers. "I'll never forget the advice he said he got from his mother. 'Always look for the helpers.' ...she explained. "Look, you've had a pretty horrible journey so far. And it's not even close to being over. But when you think that the world is against you, please just take a moment and look for them-the helpers.' She shrugged. 'I don't know, it may make things better.' "

There is also an interesting discussion between Tareq and the London-born Syrian, Hashem. Tareq expresses the view that "there are a lot of people who hate us." but Hashem states this is fear and not hate. Tareq doesn't accept this. "My point is, we are the ones afraid. We are the ones who have suffered. How can complete strangers be afraid of those of us who have seen what real suffering is? They can't be afraid of the weak. We should call it what it is: hate." Abawi presents a rather simplistic view to her readers of how the refugees are viewed in Europe when in fact the issue is much more complex. Tareq is partially correct in that some of the European reluctance to take in refugees might be based on "hate", but the issue is more complex than the character Tareq is shown to  understand. For European countries , many of whom are struggling economically (Greece for example has received billions in bailout money), other factors come into play. For example, the sheer volume of refugees, how to integrate refugees who have a culture that is very different from secular, post-Christian Europe and the lack of response by other Arab/Muslim countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabi and Lebanon are important considerations.

Abawi ends her novel on a somewhat hopeful tone; Tareq receives some happy news and he and Susan do make it safely to Germany. There is also a hint of a future perhaps with Jamila, a young Afghani woman who lives with her sister Najiba and their aunt in Frankfurt.

 A Land of Permanent Goodbyes, is both revealing and deeply moving, and exquisitely crafted novel,offering young readers the opportunity to experience the refugees plight and  the challenge to be helpers, not hunters in this human tragedy.

Book Details:

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi
New York: Philomel Books      2018
272 pp.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Pioneer Girl: The Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

Pioneer Girl is a picture book biography of one of America's most famous pioneers, Laura Ingalls Wilder and author of the beloved "Little House on the Prairie" children's novels. Laura Ingalls was born on February 7, 1867 to Charles and Caroline Ingalls in the Big Woods region of Wisconsin. She was the second of five children in the Ingalls family which included older sister Mary Amelia, and younger siblings Caroline Celestia, Charles Frederick, and Grace Pearl.

Laura Ingalls' story in that of a life on the move. When she was two-years-old, Laura's family moved to Kansas, where they settled on the Osage Diminished Reserve. However, they had been incorrectly advised that this land was available for resettlement. It was land that belong to the Osage Indians and so they decided to return to Wisconsin in 1871, to their old homestead in the Big Woods. They stayed there for the next three years. In 1874, when Laura was seven-years-old they moved to the wide open prairies of Minnesota, living first on rented land near Lake City. They then moved to Walnut Grove.

Laura's family lived through a locust plague that destroyed crops from the Dakota's to Texas. The Rocky Mountain locust which was responsible for this destruction, went extinct in 1902. Laura's family moved frequently during these years, to South Troy, Minnesota where Laura's brother Charles was born in 1875 ( He passed away at the age of nine months in 1876.), to Burr Oaks, Iowa, where Grace Ingalls was born in 1877 and returning to Walnut Grove in 1878.

Laura's father began working for the railroad, requiring him to move to the Dakota Territory in the spring of 1879. Finally Charles settled his family down, homesteading in DeSmet, Dakota. Laura Ingalls Wilder's novel, The Long Winter describes the severe winter of 1880-81, which Laura's family along with others in the state endured. The first blizzard hit in October of 1880 and the winter saw numerous storms that harvesting crops difficult in the fall, and train service unreliable by January of 1881. On February 2, 1881, a nine-day snowstorm raged filling the streets "with solid drifts to the tops of the buildings".

The Ingalls sisters: Carrie, Mary and Laura in the early 1880's.
With her family now settled in DeSmet, Laura was able to attend school regularly. She made friends with Almanzo Wilder whom she called "Manly" and who was ten years her senior. Laura began teaching school to help her parents, just shy of her sixteenth birthday. Laura would continue to teach while still attending school herself until she married Almanzo in 1885. Their first child, Rose was born on December 5, 1886. A second child, a son was born in 1889 but died twelve days after birth.

Laura and Almanzo's life was challenging and interesting; they suffered illness, crop failures and the loss of  their home. They left DeSmet in 1890, living briefly in Florida but returned in 1892. They then moved to Mansfield, Missouri in 1894 where they purchased land outside the town. They named their farm Rocky Ridge and built it into a successful mixed farm that included dairy, poultry and fruit. They would live at Rocky Ridge for the rest of their lives.

In Pioneer Girl, William Anderson offers young readers many interesting details of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life from her childhood in Wisconsin, through to her later years when she was famous for her Little House on the Prairie novels which were written for children. Accompanying the simple text are the lovely full page colour illustrations by Dan Andreasen. Anderson has written extensively about the Ingalls and Wilder families including a biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook.

Pioneer Girl is a must read for young readers who would like to know the real story and chronology behind the Little House on the Prairie books. Although Ingalls Wilder claimed her books were autobiographical, they were not and in fact contained many fictional characters and events. Nevertheless, Laura's novels provide a unique insight to the pioneer experience in America in a way that is both interesting and informative.

Book Details:

Pioneer Girl: The Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson
New York: HarperCollins Publishers     1998

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by prolific and award winning author/poet Jason Reynolds tackles the troubling issue of gun violence. In this novel-in-verse, the events are narrated by fifteen-year-old William Holloman whose nineteen-year-old brother Shawn was shot and killed the day before. Will compares the loss of his beloved brother, who taught him how do a "Penny Drop", to having a molar pulled. For him it feels strange and hard to say "Shawn's dead.".

Will and his friend Tony were outside talking about their hope of growing taller, when they heard the shots and hit the pavement. When they looked up, Shawn had been shot.

Beside him was his girlfriend Leticia, screaming as he lay dying. The police arrived and asked if anyone saw anything but no one said anything because the rules are no crying, no snitching and get revenge.

Now a day later, back in their 8th floor apartment, Will is in the bedroom he shared with Shawn, covering his head with his pillow to block out the sobs of his mother. On the other side of the room, Shawn's side, sits his dresser with the middle drawer jammed shut. But Will knows what's in there: "A tool for Rule No. 3" Will believes it was Carlson Riggs who shot his brother because Riggs recently joined the Dark Suns gang and because he had to show he belonged with them. And because of the crime shows Will has watched with his mom. He always knew who the killer was. It is his special gift.

Will manages to force open the drawer enough to get the gun and decides he will avenge his brother's death. His plan is to wait for Riggs in the morning at the front of his building and shoot him with his brother's gun. Will slips quietly out of his apartment, careful not to disturb his mother, and enters the elevator. It is seven floors down to the lobby. Seven floors to think about what he's about to do. Seven floors for fate to intervene.


**this review contains spoilers**

Long Way Down is a haunting novel that explores the impact of gun violence on the lives of  young people today and the cycle of trauma, anger and loss that this violence breeds.  The day after the murder of his older brother Shawn, fifteen-year-old Will takes his brother's gun with the intent to kill the person who murdered him. Will, like his father, his uncle, and his brother has been taught to follow, unquestioningly "The Rules" which consist of
1.No crying
2.No snitching
3. Always get revenge
After Shawn's murder, Will has followed the first two "rules"; he hasn't cried nor snitched and he is about to follow through on the third, by killing his brother's murderer.

He takes the elevator from his family's 8th floor apartment to the lobby but in those 60 seconds, the elevator stops at each floor and a new person enters the elevator, a time stamp marking their appearance. Will meets six people from his past who have lost their lives because ofthis rule; Buck who was Shawn's friend, Will's childhood friend Dani, Will's Uncle Mark who is his father's brother, his father Mikey Holloman, Frick (Frances) who is the man who murdered Buck, and finally his brother Shawn. Each of these people are ghosts, who Will can see, touch and talk with, but who have no reflection in the elevator doors. Each of these people challenge Will in a different way to reconsider what he's about to do.

Buck's presence shocks Will because he knows Buck is dead. Buck knows exactly what he's planning and tells Will he is no killer. "It's a long way down." he tells Will. When Dani enters, Will doesn't recognize her at first and is shocked she can see Buck.  Dani was killed when she was eight-years-old and is wearing the flower dress she died in but looking eight years older. Her death led Shawn to teach Will "The Rules" and she questions him to consider what will happen if he misses, implying that this is how she died, hit by a stray bullet intended for someone else.

His Uncle Mark who was a drug pusher, walks Will through the scenario of  Will actually killing Riggs:
"I mean, let's play it out,
how this whole thing it gon'
go down. Play it out
like a movie."

Will struggles to finish the end of the "movie" of him shooting Riggs. When he finally says the word "shoot" it is painful:
"it was like the words
came out and at the same
time went it.

Went down
into me and
chewed on everything
inside as if
I had somehow
my own teeth
and they were
sharper than
I'd ever known."
Will believes after he kills Riggs it will end but Uncle Mark tells him "It's never the end, Never."

Will's father Mikey Holloman whom he doesn't really remember "was killed for killing the man who killed our uncle" as Shawn has told him. When Will's father questions him as to what he thinks he should do, Will responds, "Follow The Rules." However his father explains to Will how devastated he was when his brother Mark was killed.
"I was shattered. Shifted.
Never the same again.
Like shards of my own heart
shivving me on the inside,"
Mikey explains that when he followed "The Rules"; he killed the wrong man. To emphasize what it is like to kill someone, Mikey puts the guns to Will's head, terrifying him to the point that he pees his pants.

On the third floor, Frick whose real name is Frank, steps onto the elevator. He was a member of the Dark Sun gang who murdered Buck as part of his initiation into the gang. It was Frick whom Shawn murdered. Frick shows Will the reality of what he's about to do by showing him his wound, made by Shawn when he shot him.
                                                                           "See this?
he asked,
exposing a hole
in his chest,
but not bleeding.
                                                                           Your brother's
                                                                           fingerprints are in
                                                                           there somewhere."

Will tells Frick that he intends on killing Riggs, but Frick doesn't know any Dark Sun member by that name.

The final person Will sees is his brother Shawn, who enters the elevator wearing blood stained clothing. Although Shawn greets his uncle and father, Shawn doesn't speak to Will, doesn't return his hug and doesn't smile at him. As Will fights the urge to cry, Shawn cries, breaking the first rule.
"his face was wet
with tears he wasn't
supposed to cry
when he was alive,"
By crying Shawn is showing Will, it is okay to break the rules, that they should not be followed.  Will in turn begins to cry, thus breaking the first rule and opening up the possibility of breaking the other rules too, especially the last one - seeking revenge by murdering his brother's killer.

When he arrives in the Lobby, watching the dead leave, Shawn poses a question to his brother. It is the only thing he says to Will. Will must choose to either follow "The Rules" like his uncle, father and brother and likely end up dead or in jail for murder, or ignore the rules, mourn their deaths and live, breaking the cycle of violence. Each person he met in the elevator has left him with questions; What happens if he misses and kills someone else?, Does he know for certain Riggs killed his brother?, What if he kills the wrong person? His father showed him what it feels like to have a gun pressed to your head, knowing you will die. Together these people have forced Will to confront the reality of what he's considering doing; both the consequences to himself and to others.

Reynolds has stated that the inspiration for this thought-provoking novel was the murder of his close friend when he was nineteen-years-old. The gruesome murder led his other friends to consider murdering the person responsible. Reynolds noticed how the murder affected normally peaceful people who, because of their pain and trauma, wanted to kill someone. It was his friend's mother who made them reconsider what they were thinking of doing. He also wanted to write about the codes that exist in neighbourhoods were violence and poverty have been a cycle that has existed for several generations. That code is the no crying, no snitching and always seek vengeance when a murder happens and it leads to the cycle of violence.

Reynolds felt that verse was the vehicle of choice for this story because its attenuated form allows the writer to pass on the sense of urgency, claustrophobia, anger and pain that the main character, Will is experiencing. According to Reynolds,poetry has a way of being immediate and being urgent". The author's use of verse is masterful, employing imagery and metaphors, anagrams, shape poems and background shading throughout the novel. For example, the smoke in the elevator represents the confusion Will feels regarding the visits by the various ghosts and his intended course of action. It grows especially thick after Buck and Dani arrive but clears when his father who died when Will was three, enters. The elevator is frequently described by Will as a steel coffin, alluding to the fact that it holds all the dead people Will knows, those who lived by "The Rules".

Long Way Down is a powerful, realistic novel exploring the issue of gun violence and the pain and trauma this violence has on individuals in communities at risk. While it can be read quickly, Long Way Down challenges readers to really think about these issues in our communities. Readers should take the time to explore the imagery and use of metaphors in the novel. This brilliantly crafted novel is suitable for ages 13+ and recommended for teen book clubs.

Book Details:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
New York: Atheneum      2017
306 pp.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk

Blood and Sand is the first installment of Wyk's alternative historical fiction series. Set in Ancient Rome, in approximately 79 A.D., Blood and Sand presents an alternative story about the slave Spartacus and the rebellion associated with him. Except in this retelling, Spartacus is an eighteen-year-old Thracian slave called Attia.

Attia arrives in Rome along with twenty other women captives, shackled at their wrists and ankles, tethered together by a thick rope. When she was seven-years-old, Attia's father, Sparro, "swordlord of the legendary Maedi and war-king of Thrace" made her his heir after the death of her mother and unborn brother in childbirth. Attia is the last one to be auctioned and after a bidding war she is bought by Timeus. But Attia has no intention of remaining a slave. Instead, she fights to escape, breaking Timeus's bodyguard Ennius's leg, injuring the guard trying to untie her, breaking Timeus's nose with a kick, and leading vigiles on a chase through Rome. She is eventually captured and finds herself in the house of Josias Neleus Timeus, who tells her that she will be given to his champion and that if she tries to escape again she will be crucified.

Timeus's champion is Xanthus Maximus Colossus, Champion of Rome. He is Rome's favourite, an irony since Xanthus hates all Romans as he was taken at the age of ten as a slave from his Britannia when Rome conquered it. Now in the newly completed Coliseum, Xanthus plans to deliberately lose his match against Taurus the Butcher of Capua, and die. His fellow gladiators, Albinus, Gallus, Lebuin, Iduma and Castor, his fellow gladiators who he considers his blood brothers, suspect he is going to throw the fight and die. The horror of so much killing over the past ten years as a gladiator has simply become too much. But when a terrified Christian is sent into the arena, Xanthus knows he can't let the Christian die, so he decides to kill Taurus.

Afterwards at Timeus's house, Xanthus learns that his next match will be against Decimus who killed his master and was purchased by Tycho Flavius. Xanthus is determined to kill Decimus as he is the one who destroyed Xanthus' family.

Two weeks pass and Attia's wounds are still healing. She is taken to the Champion of Rome's room, a small space with simple furnishings. The minute Attia is untied by Xanthus, she attacks him, telling him she will kill him if he touches her. But Xanthus does the unexpected, he doesn't resist and falls to his knees, allowing her to kill him if she wants. This confuses Attia.

Attia decides she will learn as much as she can about Timeus's estate, doing the chores that Sabina assigns her. Attia discovers Timeus's study and her snooping about leads her to discover that Crassus Flavius was the Roman general who conquered Thrace and murdered her father. Xanthus reveals to Attia that Crassus was also responsible for his capture and the burning of his village.When Attia tells him what happened to her people, Xanthus realizes she is the daughter of Sparro, war-king of Thrace and a Maedi princess.

Timeus's sister, Valeria Bassus and her children, eighteen-year-old Lucius and six-year-old Aurora arrive at his villa. Attia is assigned to be Aurora's nursemaid. She finds Aurora to be a sweet girl, and is told the girl cannot go outside because she is ill. Valeria has Attia accompany them to the Coliseum where she witnesses Xanthus battle a very young boy, no more than fourteen years old.

Both Attia and Xanthus accompany Timeus, Valeria and her family as well as the gladiators and many slaves on a trip out of Rome to Pompeii where they will spend the rainy season. For Attia and Xanthus, the trip will further their blossoming relationship and events beyond their control will give rise to the beginnings of a legend.


Blood and Sand is an alternative historical fiction novel which means that some events have been altered for the story. For example in her Author's Note at the back of the novel, Wyk writes that in real history, Emperor Vespasian was the legatus responsible for invading Britain in A.D. 43, not the fictional Crassus Flavius in her novel. And in 79 A.D., at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii, Rome was already an empire; Titus Flavius was emperor of Rome and not Princeps as portrayed in Blood and Sand.

The main alteration however surrounds the character of Spartacus whose name appears halfway through the novel. History records Spartacus as a male Thracian gladiator, possibly from the Maedi tribe. It is believed that he was initially a Roman soldier who then escaped, was captured and enslaved to train and fight as a gladiator in a ludus in Capua near Naples. Spartacus escaped the ludus with several other gladiators in 73 B.C and fled to Mount Vesuvius. Spartacus was brilliant tactician who managed to defeat several attacks by the Roman army. Eventually a wealthy Roman politician and general, Marcus Lucinius Crassus volunteered to end the rebellion and was placed in charge of a large force. He defeated Spartacus and the slaves in 71 B.C. and although it is believed Spartacus died in the battle, his body was never found. While most of the 70,000 followers of Spartacus died in battle, almost six thousand were hunted down and crucified by the Romans, their bodies lining the Appian Way from Rome to Capua. Historians believe Spartacus was not attempting to reform conditions for slaves in Rome or even abolish slavery. Instead it is most likely that his original goal, to flee Rome and to help those enslaved return to the homes, was changed by those who wanted to plunder Italy.

In Blood and Sand, Wyk's character, Attia, an enslaved Thracian female warrior becomes Spartacus after she helps her friend and eventual lover, Xanthus survive a night of battling fighters from Ardea. To aid her gladiator friend, Attia dresses in black, covering her face and gives herself the name Sparro after her dead father, king of Thrace. However, her name is inadvertently changed to Spartacus by Timeus's nephew Lucius. Spartacus's amazing deeds in this arena, lead Timeus to hire a mercenary to find her. That mercenary turns out to be her father's captain, Crius.

The author has also altered considerably the events surrounding the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of  Pompeii. On the morning August 24, 79 A.D. Pompeii was rocked by an earthquake. The eruption began around 1pm in the afternoon with violent earthquakes and pumice and ash falling on the town. An hour later, the sun was completely blocked out by the heavy ash and pumice, making it completely dark in Pompeii. By 4pm in the afternoon, almost six inches of pumice had fallen on the town, blocking the rivers, and clogging the port making escape via boat impossible. By 5pm, so much pumice and ash had fallen that the roofs of buildings began collapsing and people were trapped in some rooms. During this time many of the residents were able to flee, however many also stayed behind, probably believing the eruption would soon end. Pumice and ash continue to fall throughout the night. Around 1 a.m. on August 25, the giant ash cloud above Mount Vesuvius collapsed sending a scalding mud flow racing down its slopes, towards the town of Herculaneum which was completely destroyed. Close to 6:30 a.m., a third pyroclastic flow consisting of hot ash and gases raced towards Pompeii but was held back by the town wall. However, a series of several more flows overcame the walls, toxic hot gases that poured through the town, killing everything in its path. Anyone still in Pompeii were killed, the final flows of gases and ash almost completely burying the town except for the highest walls.

In Blood and Sand, Wyk describes the eruption of Pompeii very differently. "The blackened crest of the mountain spewed flame into the sky. The ground shook violently as a river of molten rock spilled out from Vesuvius and began to snake its way through the streets like a fiery serpent. It consumed the houses and people in its path, slowly but steadily." Attia, Xanthus and their friends are described as fleeing the flowing molten lava flow, through the crumbling ruins of Pompeii as it is also rocked by earthquakes. However, molten lava flows were not part of the Mount Vesuvius eruption - it was pyroclastic in nature. It was the poisonous hot gases that killed people where they lay. They were then covered with large quantities of hot ash and pumice preserving their body contours and allowing for the famed casts to be made almost two thousand years later. Wyk also describes red-hot rocks falling, so large they killed people. While some of the pumice and rocks were large, most were not. It was the quantity of pumice and ash that was the problem - a rate of about 6 inches per hour that quickly filled the streets and courtyards, and covered roofs making them collapse.

Nevertheless, Blood and Sand is an entertaining read. Wyk includes exciting action scenes beginning with the opening chapter, a blossoming romance between the two main characters of the novel, details about life in Rome and uses the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the novel's climax. The story is told in the alternating narratives of Attia and Xanthus.

Attia, her heart hardened by the destruction of her people and the loss of her beloved father, King Sparro, begins the novel wary of everyone in Rome, determined to seek revenge. However, the kindness of Xanthus and the advice of Sabina who reveals herself to be Thracian, help Attia begin to adapt to her life as a slave who has been given to Xanthus. Despite her harshness, Attia is kind to Aurora (who has the ridiculous nickname of "Rory" in the novel - something decidely un-Roman), the daughter of Timeus and Valeria. She also tries to comfort Lucretia, Timeus's concubine who is physically abused by the wealthy Roman. Although she falls in love with Xanthus, Attia never deviates from her plan to kill Timeus who enslaved her and Crassus who murdered her father and fellow Thracians, even when the opportunity to escape during the destruction of Pompeii presents itself.

In contrast to Attia who is portrayed as the consummate warrior, Xanthus whose real name is Gareth, hates killing so much, he considers deliberately throwing a match to end his own life. He kills only when he has no other choice. Xanthus is honorable and compassionate. He treats Attia with care and compassion, and has nothing but sympathy when Timeus's nephew Lucius is forced to kill a young boy, an act that hardens the naive young man.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction and books about Rome should enjoy Blood and Sand, provided they aren't interested in historical accuracy in this alternative history. Readers will also find the dialogue in this novel to be somewhat modern and not representative of the era.

Blood and Sand is Wyk's first novel. She admits to being influenced by modern blockbuster "sword and sandal movies" such as "Gladiator", "300" and the 2010 British television series "Spartacus", whose first episode is titled "Blood and Sand". It should be noted that readers who enjoyed Blood and Sand can read the first chapter of the sequel, Fire and Ash which is due out in 2019.

Book Details:

Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk
New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book     2017
310 pp.