Monday, August 22, 2016

Girl in the Blue Coat - Monica Hesse

Title: Girl in the Blue Coat
Author: Monica Hesse
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 301 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: August 21, 2016
Finished: August 22, 2016

From the inside cover:

Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days finding and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, nights hiding he true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning he boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the German army invaded. Her illegal work keeps her family afloat, and Hanneke also likes to think of it as a small scot of rebellion against the Nazis.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke foe help. Expectingo hear that Mrs. Janssen wants her to find meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman's frantic plea to find a person: a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such a dangerous task but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations - where the only way out is through.

This just seemed like an interesting story, so I picked it up. Hanneke is an 18-year-old Dutch girl in the midst of the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands in 1943. She works in delivering black market goods around her neighbourhood, which allows her family to survive. In her mind constantly is Bas, her boyfriend killed in the Battle of the Netherlands a few years before. When one of her customers asks her to find Mirjam Roodvelt, the fifteen-year-old daughter of a family friend who she had been hiding in her home but had recently vanished, Hanneke is reluctant to get involved. When Ollie, Bas' brother, involves her in his activities with the Dutch Resistance movement, Hanneke begins to realize the extent of the treatment of Jewish citizens since the Nazi invasion and decides to commit to finding Mirjam. What follows is a tumultuous adventure through the streets of Amsterdam in which Hanneke examines guilt and action versus inaction that led to events regarding Mirjam, Bas, and others.

The novel was well-written and engaging to the point where I read most of it in one sitting. Hanneke was a relatable character, and her feelings quite reminiscent of an average teenage girl despite the situation that she's in. The actual mystery of Mirjam's disappearance is quite good and ends in a way I didn't expect it to.

An engaging story that is sure to be a enjoyable read for those that like historical fiction, particularly stories related to World War II.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the cover is made to look like a strip of film (from Mina's love of photography) with relevant images throughout it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dream Jumper - Greg Grunberg & Lucas Turnbloom

Title: Dream Jumper Book One: Nightmare Escape
Author: Greg Grunberg & Lucas Turnbloom
Publisher: Graphix (Scholastic), 2016 (Paperback)
Length: 204 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel
Started: August 20, 2016
Finished: August 20, 2016

From the back cover:

Ben has a gift. He can jump into other people's dreams. So when his classmates start falling victim to an evil dream monster, he knows he has to do something. But can he get to them in time? With help from a mysterious companion, Ben just might be able to defeat the monster and save his friends...if he can harness the power within.

I'm always on the lookout for new graphic novels for kids, and this one caught my eye. This is an interesting story about young Ben's ability to be a presence in the dreams of others, and though it seems like a cool ability to have, he's constantly exhausted from waking up from nightmares. His mother schedules him into a sleep clinic to get to the bottom of her son's sleep issues, and while there they discover a room full of patients trapped in sleep that cannot be woken. Ben falls into that same realm of endless sleep and is informed of his rather unique abilities from a rabbit named Lewis. But at the same time, the Nightmare Lord wants the Somni Stone that Lewis has given to Ben. Can Ben wake up his friends and escape the clutches of Erebus and the Nightmare Lord?

The art style in this book isn't quite my cup of tea, but the story is engaging and I think will be a hit amongst boys and other reluctant readers. If you teach the middle grades, you should add this to your classroom library.

A good addition to middle grade classroom libraries, especially for the boys.

Thoughts on the cover:
Nice dynamic image as a cover with a nice colour palette.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 327 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult/Adult; Fantasy
Started: August 5, 2016
Finished: August 6, 2016

From the inside cover:

Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts...

It was always difficult being Harry Potter, and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and a father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: Sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play by Jack Thorne. It is the eighth Harry Potter story and the first to be officially presented on stage. This special rehearsal edition of the script brings the continued journey of Harry Potter and his friends and family to readers everywhere immediately following the play's world premiere in London's West End on July 30, 2016.

The stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender, and Harry Potter Theatrical Productions.

Harry Potter had a considerable effect on my childhood. I was a teenager when the first book was published, but I still read them voraciously throughout my teenage years and saw the movies with my friend years later when they came out. Now, at least in some of the schools I've taught in, the first Harry Potter book is used as a novel study in grade 9 classes, and almost all kids are at least familiar with the movies if not both the books and films. The novels are considered a staple in household libraries, and families flock to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida. So needless to say, it was a no-brainer to pick up the newest instalment.

This new story and script takes place where the Deathly Hallows left off, with an adult Harry, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron seeing their children off to Hogwarts years later. The script mainly focuses on Albus Severus Potter, Harry and Ginny's second son (after oldest son James and younger daughter Lily) and his struggles at Hogwarts and how he copes with being the son of the infamous Harry Potter. He is sorted and begins a surprising friendship with Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco. Albus overhears a conversation between Amos Diggory and his father, after which he takes it upon himself to change the course of history and takes Scorpius along for the ride.

I won't say much for fear of spoilers, but I was quite satisfied with the story itself. It is a script, so you only have the dialogue and scant direction notes to follow, so of course you will have a different impression of if when you see it performed on stage or even listening to an audio-only version (same principle behind why we teach Shakespeare plays with the audio books or a BBC movie production). Based on the story itself, I quite enjoyed it; it shows all the original characters as near middle-aged adults rather than teenagers, as mothers and fathers with different priorities and readers get to see how those manifest in their personalities we've come to know. I liked the things the play did focus on, like how did Harry's children deal with being in the spotlight all the time, how does Harry cope with having a child with a different personality from his, what are the consequences for the adult characters regarding the choices of their teenage years? Those are the areas I wanted to see addressed in a story taking place many years after the original novels, and I was pleased with what was presented. Other readers might not be awe-struck, and it probably won't blow you away plot-wise, it's more of a play about relationships between characters rather than relying heavily on plot. I do admit that the play does read like fan fiction at times, and though that is fine by me, some readers might be completely turned off by it. Some of the lines of dialogue actually made me tear up a bit, but granted since becoming a mom I can cry at the drop of a hat at anything sappy regarding kids. I really enjoyed Albus and particularly Scorpius as characters, and would love to see this story actually performed on stage one day.

Obviously if you're a Harry Potter fan, you've either already got your hands on this or are in the process of obtaining and reading it. If you haven't and enjoyed the original novels, you should read this, just go into it remembering that it is a script, so though it is a quick read you only have lines of dialogue here which doesn't provide as much insight as a full fledged novel written in prose.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very pretty, I love the gold and black/brown colour scheme. I'm trying to figure out who the child in the middle of the nest is supposed to be (I'm assuming Albus?)