The Ghosts of Heaven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It was all the same thing; the same sign, and now she knew what it meant.”

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus SedgwickIn a time before modern history, a girl tries to use a charred stick and ochre to make magic with disastrous results. Staring at the spiral shapes found everywhere in nature, she begins to grasp the enormity–the power–that can be found in written marks.

Centuries later, Anna hopes to care for her brother after her mother’s death only to have the entire town turn against her. As she fights rumors and increasingly vocal accusations that she is a witch, Anna too begins to see hidden meaning in the spiral found in their traditional spiral dance that begins to appear everywhere.

In the twentieth century an American poet watches the ocean from within the walls of an inhospitable asylum. He can see the shapes there too. Spirals. Helixes. Shapes that have become emblematic of the horrors he can scarcely fathom.

Keir Bowman knows, in the distant future, that he will become an astronaut on a desperate mission to colonize a new planet. He knows he will keep looking forward. What Bowman can’t guess is that in hurtling himself through space, he will also move toward his destiny and an understanding of these spirals that march through history in The Ghosts of Heaven (2015) by Marcus Sedgwick.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a standalone novel in the same style as Sedgwick’s Printz Award winner Midwinterblood.

After an introduction from the author, The Ghosts of Heaven includes four short stories titled “Whispers in the Dark,” “The Witch in the Water,” “The Easiest Room in Hell,” and “The Song of Destiny.” As the introduction explains, these stories can be read in any order. (I read them in the order given in the book which is also the order listed above.)

The Ghosts of Heaven is an incredibly smart and ambitious novel. The stories here span a variety of genres and forms as they work together to convey a larger meaning.

“Whispers in the Dark” is told in sparse verse as a girl begins to make sense of written words and forms.

“The Witch in the Water” returns to more traditional prose as the story watches the hysteria and fear that fed the fires of witch accusations and  trials in the seventeenth century. This segment also demonstrates how much of the novel deals with unequal power dynamics–in this case as Anna tries to work around much unwanted attention.

“The Easiest Room in Hell” brings readers to an asylum on Long Island where supposedly revolutionary treatments highlight the arcane and unfeeling nature of much mental health care in the early twentieth century. This story also underscores the fine line that can exist between creativity and madness.

Finally in “The Song of Destiny” Sedgwick brings the golden ratio (and the Fibonacci sequence) to the forefront in this solitary and meditative story as all of the vignettes come together in a conclusion with surprising revelations about the spirals and their ultimate meaning.

Sedgwick weaves subtle references between each quarter to make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as readers–along with the characters–move toward a larger understanding over the course of the entire novel.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a startling, clever and life-affirming novel that pushes the written word to its limit as Sedgwick expertly demonstrates the many ways in which a story can be told.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Folly by Marthe Jocelyn, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, In the Shadow of Blackbirds of Cat Winters

You can also read my interview with Marcus Sedgwick about the book.

*A copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*

After the Kiss: A (poetic) Review

After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoyCamille isn’t impressed with her new town. It’s nothing like her old town (or the one before that, or the one before that). It’s tedious making new friends during senior year only to move on like she always does, like they all will with college around the corner. Still, she’ll put on a show and pretend it all matters while she marks time until her escape like she always does.

Until she meets Alec at a party. He isn’t the boy she left behind. But he’s here. He’s smart. He’s a poet. That’s pretty close to perfect.

Camille doesn’t want to get involved or care, not really. But when Alec kisses her out of nowhere at a party isn’t that what he’s asking for? Isn’t that the right thing to do?

Becca is in love and it’s wonderful. She sees Alec after school, on the weekends, during her free time. Being with him, being a girlfriend to his boyfriend, doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things. But Alec is enough. He’s smart. He’s a poet. He’s perfect. In fact, they’re perfect for each other.

At least, Becca thought so until Alec kisses some girl at a party.

After the kiss Becca is heartbroken, Camille is confused. In another life they might have been friends. That won’t happen now, but maybe after everything they can find themselves instead in After the Kiss (2010) by Terra Elan McVoy.

Love triangles are nothing new in young adult literature, or any literature really. But McVoy looks at this familiar situation in a new way and from all sides in this clever verse novel. Even though the book is ostensibly about a kiss and romance, it’s more than that too. Both Becca and Camille are forced to take a hard look at who they are before and after the kiss in alternating narrations in their own unique poetic styles.

Both of the characters, especially Becca for me, are authentic narrators who grow and change throughout the story. They are achingly human with moments where they are far from perfect. Still by the end of the story readers will find themselves cheering for both heroines and wondering, like the girls themselves, how things could have been different without that kiss.

After the Kiss is McVoy’s second novel. It is also a smart, smart book written in verse that is filled with emotion, humor, and even nods to other famous poets. If you are an English major or just a poetry lover After the Kiss is a must read.

Possible Pairings: Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg, Reuinted by Hilary Weisman Graham, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, The Boy Book by E. Lockhart, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my exclusive interview with After the Kiss author Terra Elan McVoy!

Exclusive Bonus Content: How great is this cover? Looking at it never fails to make me happy. Brilliant design by Cara E. Petrus.

In other news: Remember today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. The poem in my pocket is this whole book. Don’t forget to carry a poem of your own in your pocket today to share!

Once I Ate a Pie: A (poetic) Picture Book Review

I am not thin, but I am beautiful





looking, I steal tubs of butter off the table.

I take them to the basement to eat in private.

Once I ate a PIE.

Once I Ate a Pie (2006) is a collection of poems written by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest with illustrations by Katy Schneider.

In this delightful collection thirteen dogs tell all about everything from being small, barking, to “borrowing” bread from the table. The poems fill the page in large, easy to read print that bends and dips in interesting directions to draw reads in.

Schneider’s illustrations, especially Mr. Beefy (who once ate a pie) shown on the cover, bring these many and varied dogs to life.

Once I Ate a Pie is a great poetry collection for readers young and old. The poems are endearing and funny but also subtle for older readers. The writing is clear and easy to follow with straightforward wording. Every time I pick up this collection, I find something else to love.

Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Once I Ate a Pie

Song of the Sparrow: A (poetic) Review

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann SandellElaine of Ascolat could have been a lady with lovely dresses and finery. A lady who spent her days weaving like her mother in a tower room of their home on Shallot.

But that home and her mother are gone.

Instead Elaine lives with her father and brothers who fight in the Briton army under the young Arthur. The only girl in the camp, Elaine runs as wild and free as her brothers. She wishes the handsome knight Lancelot would see her as more than a child. She listens to Tristan’s sweet songs. She mends the soldiers’ clothes before each battle. She tends their wounds with herbs and poultices after.

Although she has a home in this strange world of men and fighting, although she has hundreds of brothers, Elaine longs for a real place among the men as much as she wishes for female companionship.

When another girl, Gwynivere, arrives at the camp Elaine is thrilled–until Gwynivere proves herself a cold and cruel companion.

Spurned by Gwynivere, faced with an uncertain future as war looms, Elaine decides to make her own place in Arthur’s camp and prove her worth to the soldiers–especially Lancelot. What starts as a simple plan soon turns into something more complicated and much more dangerous as Elaine has to struggle to protect everything–and everyone–she holds dear in Song of the Sparrow (2007) by Lisa Ann Sandell.

Song of the Sparrow is a revisionist retelling of the legend of King Arthur. It is also a novel written in free verse.

The Lady of Shalott, Elaine of Ascolat, has appeared in numerous retellings of Arthurian legend. Sandell has done something different here not only in giving Elaine a voice of her own but also in giving her agency in her own right. Song of the Sparrow is the story of before Arthur built Camelot–a prequel of sorts to the legends readers will know from movies and stories. Elaine is a winsome narrator with a captivating story that is as exciting and moving as it is poetic.

Beautifully written and elegantly told Song of the Sparrow is a delightfully re-imagined look at the time and world of King Arthur through a feminist lens. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Poetrees: A (non-fiction) (picture book) Review

Are you a fan of poetree? A lover of all things green and leafy? Ever want to know more about a Baobab or an oak? Or tree roots and seeds? Look no further than Poetrees (2010) written and illustrated by Douglas Florian.

Poetrees is filled with quick, witty poems to entertain, inform, and amuse. Combined with original illustrations done with what looks like water colors and maybe some pastels. The book is clever and a lot of fun right down to its unique vertical orientation to give the trees shown their maximum height.

Poetrees is a delightful book for aspiring poets, botanists, and anyone looking for a little fun. The back of the book even has a glossatree with information about all of the trees featured in the book.

Want a preview of the illustrations and poems? Check out Amazon’s product page for Poetrees to see some excerpts.

Exclusive Bonus Content: I couldn’t figure out how to file this so it’s cross posted in with non-fiction and picture books. Madness!

(I acquired a copy of this book from Simon and Schuster’s Fall 2010 preview which I was lucky enough to attend.)
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Poetrees

A Bear and His Boy: A picture book review

A Bear and His Boy coverBy now I think we’ve established that I am quite fond of Sean Bryan and Tom Murphy’s unique brand of picture books. And, yes, they are all similar. But I’m still going to review A Bear and His Boy (2007) because I’m thorough that way.

Unlike the first two books in this series, this one is unsurprisingly about a bear who wakes up with a child attached to his head instead of the other way around. Unfortunately for Zach (the Boy), the Bear (Mack) has no time for such frivolity as he immediately tells Zach:

“I’ve got no time to slack. I’m looking at my schedule, and it is jam-packed.”

Being stuck to Mack’s back, Zach has little choice but accompanying Mack on his myriad errands as he buys slacks, and accepts a plaque, among other things. The more he sees Mack running around, the more Zach knows he has to speak up. Finally, at the end of the book, Zach reminds the bear that there is more to life than errands and schedules. Sometimes you just need to take a moment to relax. No matter how busy you are. No matter who is attached to whom.

Like the previous installments in this series, the entire novel is written in rhyme which creates a lot of fun combinations throughout the story (flapjacks and slacks are my two favorites). Once again this story is just different enough to keep the premise fresh and unique.

The story again ends with a reference to a new character, this time Mack’s friend: A giraffe named Ned with a girl on his head which, I can only hope, means this dynamic duo will have a new installment out soon.
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: A Bear and His Boy

A Boy and His Bunny: A Picture Book Review

I have finally read the prequel and sequel to A Girl and Her Gator by Sean Bryan and Tom A Boy and His Bunny coverMurphy. Having read the entire trilogy (perhaps with more to come), I feel like my life is complete. These are some of my most favorite picture books of all time.

The genius started in 2005 with A Boy and His Bunny when a boy woke up with a bunny on his head. Boy and Bunny decided to roll with it. Stranger things had probably happened somewhere so why get upset over something so minor?

Boy’s mother (I call him this because unlike the other series characters, the original Boy has no name although he does take the time to name Bunny Fred) was less adaptible.

You know, I hate to tell you, but it’s got to be said. You have a great big bunny on your head!

This launches a lecture from both Boy and Fred on how rabbits peacefully coexisting on one’s head in no way limits one’s mobility or ability. You could read a book, lead an army, indeed even ride a bobsled with a bunny on your head. Thus enlightened, the mother recants and admits that Fred does look kind of cool on her son’s head.

Her opinion was immediately thrown into question, however, when Boy’s sister walked in with a small alligator on her head. (You will of course recognize my beloved Claire and Pierre from A Girl and Her Gator.)

I like these books because they are simple yet complex. The story is written and rhyme and could arguably be seen as a commentary on tolerance and the fact that different does not mean diminished. At the same time, the illustrations are presented on clean (usually white backgrounds) which makes them pop.

In terms of reading aloud, the book is large enough that the minimalist illustrations can be seen clearly. While entertaining, the text is not so dense as to bore children (or tire the reader). Really, aside from Boy not having a name–a fact that kind of made me crazy when I realized it–A Boy and His Bunny is just as entertaining as its sequel A Girl and Her Gator although the latter remains superior simply because of Claire and its general pinkness. After reading the sequel the fun continues in A Bear and His Boy.
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: A Boy and His Bunny