The House With Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson is a juvenile fiction book for 4-6th grade.

Twelve-year-old Marinka lives in a house with chicken legs and is destined to become a Yaga–someone who guides the dead into the afterlife. She has been in training since birth, guiding the dead alongside her grandmother every night. But the dead make terrible friends.

All Marinka wants is a normal life, with a friend who isn’t dead and who won’t disappear an hour after they meet. So when Marinka has a chance to make a real friend, she jumps at it without thinking about the consequences.

Will Marinka ever find a way to live the life she’s always dreamed of? Or will her actions but the whole world at risk?

I totally have a thing for the Yaga myth–really Russian folklore in general. I’ve read several teen and adult books about takes on Baba Yaga but never a children’s book, which is why I was so excited to pick this one up and it didn’t disappoint.

This book has a lot of heart. You can use it to discuss grief and death, the circle of life, but also responsibilities, being selfish vs. being yourself and even the idea of fate. It isn’t a difficult read, even with the theme of death floating around. There is some light humor and a satisfying conclusion.

I loved the personality of the house itself. For a house, she is very expressive. Marinka on the other hand, was a smidgen annoying in that she doesn’t think things through. But that also, isn’t entirely her fault since the truth had been hidden from her for so long. She did grow by the end, but she also got a pretty good deal if I do say so myself.

This would make a good read for 4-6th graders who like a little bit of magic. This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

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Warlight

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje is an adult historical fiction novel.

It is 1945 and London and the rest of Europe are still reeling from the war. In it’s aftermath, two children and all but abandoned by their parents and left in the care of a strange man, whom the suspect to be a criminal. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, thought their parents were going overseas for work, but when they find their mother’s steamer trunk hidden away, they come to understand that much of what they know is a lie.

As Nathaniel and Rachel come to know their enigmatic caretaker and his crew of shadowy compatriots, they become less concerned with their circumstances and embrace the intrigue and the cards they have been dealt.

Thirteen years later, Nathaniel tries to reconcile that mysterious time in his life. He longs to know the truth about his secretive mother and why she abandoned them all those years ago. He wants to know what happened to the crew of misfits who molded him into the man he is today. But more than anything he wants to shine a light on the shadows that still haunt his memory.

Hmmm this one is a hard to review. Mostly because I lost interest about halfway through. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, when Nathaniel was a boy and getting into trouble. I loved his time with the Data and Agnes and his interactions with the other adults constantly coming in and out of his life. But once we jump to his adult life, it wasn’t as interesting to me. It should have been because, like Nathaniel, I wanted to know what was really happened and yet it wasn’t. And because of this, I sort of stopped paying close attention to the story, which could be why the second half got a little confusing for me.

I realize that, as an adult, Nathaniel was searching for facts about his mother’s life. But from what I read, it sounded like he wasn’t getting very far and yet there are these long excerpts from her life. Is Nathaniel making these up to create his own narrative based on what he finds? Did these snip-its of the past really happen and they are only for the readers benefit? I’m leaning toward the former based on his internalizations toward the end, but who knows. And that bugs me.

Yes, there may be more to this story. Could it be a commentary on the secretive nature of this second world war? Maybe. Is it a coming of age story? Somewhat. What is the actual point of the story? I’m not sure. And that is why this story only gets a grudging three stars from me. While parts of it were good, I just didn’t get it. It’s a shame because I loved the narrator of the audio book too.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is an adult fiction book that follows two characters as they are forced to migrate from their homeland.

In a country on the cusp of civil war a man and a woman meet. Independent Nadia and reserved Saeed form a bond amidst the coming chaos that is both intimate and escalates quickly. Soon the two must band together to survive the unrest roiling through their city.

As conditions in their home worsen, Saeed and Nadia hear whispers of doors, doorways that can take you far away… for a price. With no good choices available to then, Nadia and Saeed take one of these doors, leaving their old lives, their old selves, behind. What the future holds, no one knows.

One of the things I loved about this book was the narrative. We have this almost, observational narrator, who is telling the story as if watching it unfold. I think this is great because you get this feeling of being on the outside looking in and not being a migrant myself, this is what I feel like I should be feeling. Definitely helps to reinforce the narrative.

The story itself is more metaphorical than magical. You have these dark doorways that transport you somewhere else, be it good or bad, but these doors aren’t magical, they are metaphors for the migrant experience. Nadia describes being changed as one pushes through the door, being both exhausted and elated, regretful and relieved. Nadia and Saeed enter these doorways looking for a better life but never sure of if what they find will be better or worse than where they are coming from.

I thought the transition Saeed and Nadia went through in this story both heartbreaking but also a bit beautiful. They were able to stay together through the hardships and yet they were able to realize how they have changed and what it meant for them as a couple. There was no bitterness, no hatred or betrayal.

This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Power

The Power by Naomi Alderman is an adult dystopian novel.

Imagine a world where you wake up one day and the balance of power has shifted. A world where the power lies in the hands (or collar bones) of women.

When the change happened it started slow. At first only teenage girls could feel the power and produce electrical sparks. But soon women everywhere could wield the electricity lying beneath their skin. And from there, things happened quickly.

And when something like this happens in a world where women are oppressed and considered the weaker sex, how might this change the way we live?

Ooo. This one has a lot of triggers, so a warning for our sensitive readers: rape, violence, language and some fairly graphic images. But if you are reading The Power for a book club, like I am, then there is a lot to talk about. I can see a lot of opinions and back and forth happening as we discuss the book.

Overall, I am not sure quite how I feel about this book. It was interesting to read a book where women get power and the world isn’t better for it. I think, at least part of this book, aims to be a commentary on how power corrupts, period.

I did like the narrative of this book. I enjoyed the rotating points of view and how they did intertwine but not completely. I did, at first struggle with the fact that we were reading a fictional history of what may or may not have happened five-thousand years earlier. It didn’t work as an opener for me BUT it was an excellent closing. I really enjoyed the back and forth between the male writer and the female reviewer–especially that closing line! I had sort of a “ha!” reaction.

As for the characters and the plot, it was rough to read and unfortunately very believable. The way the author had the conflicts start to devolve and break down, was just so plausible. I sort of cringe hoping we don’t get to that point, in society, where we’re just like, “eh, screw it.” Scary to think about honestly.

I am very interested to see what my fellow book club members think because I can foresee some serious reactions. This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Lost Letter

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor is an adult historical fiction novel, with an alternating narrative, set in the late 1980’s and the start of WWII.

In Los Angeles 1989, Katie Nelson is going through a rough patch. She is in the midst of a divorce she didn’t see coming and helping her father, who was recently put in a home because of his increasingly losing battle with Alzheimer. Not knowing what else to do with her father’s massive stamp collection, she takes it to a deal who finds an unopened love letter, with an interesting stamp.

Decades earlier in Austria, 1938, Kristoff is a young apprentice to Frederic, a master stamp engraver, who quickly comes to love the engraver and his Jewish family. When Frederic disappears on Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the German. But secretly, alongside Elena, Frederic’s daughter, and the Austrian resistance, Kristoff will enter a dangerous world, he may not be ready for.

Together these two stories will intertwine to reveal the past and enlighten the future.

This was a recommendation from a friend when I was in an audio book lull. And it was a pretty good one to pass the time with. I wasn’t overly wow’ed, but I was never bored and it definitely passed the time.

I actually like Katie’s journey more than Kristoff’s. I really enjoyed her hunt for the past and having it set in a time where those databases and resources were only just being created, made the hunt more interesting for me.

Don’t you just love reading books about hobbies. I swear, every time I read something about someone who collects something or trains for a marathon, or whatever, I totally envision myself going out there and doing the same thing. And after this one, a small part of me was like, “go ahead, become a philatelist.” Then you finish the book and are like no, no. It’s fun to get inside the character’s heads.

This one gets a solid 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is a standalone adult fantasy novel.

A world divided by politics and beliefs. An old foe threatens to rise again. And chaos on the horizon. Three women from opposite sides of this battle must overcome their difference and unite, or all is lost.

Annnnd that is the only synopsis I can write without going into the many, many details included in this tome. This is a large book. A very large book. So large that I checked out the paper copy and “noped” real hard. So I was very happy to find out that there was an audio book version because I have really enjoyed Shannon’s The Bone Season series. And ultimately, I did enjoy this beast of a book.

I tend to enjoy books with a lot going on; I like a lot of description and background in my books. I like to take a deep dive into the world and see all the world building the author has put into the story. Shannon definitely does this in Priory. She builds up the politics, the backstories, the little details that others might leave out. But even for me, there was a lot to take in, in one single book.

I remember getting a little more than halfway done and thinking to myself, “this would be a perfect stopping point.” I respect Shannon for staying true to her story and keeping this as one book, BUT I do think the story would have done really well as a duology. Although, I am glad I don’t have to wait a year to finish!

For me, Ead has the most interesting storyline for me. I liked how she was fighting against her duty, her heart and what she actually believed to be right or wrong. Ead, like all the women in this book, be they side characters or main character, are strong, capable women. This is probably going to be a major appeal for a lot of people. Also there are dragons. So yea, dragons.

I enjoyed this book but I wasn’t wowed by it. Some things felt familiar to me. This one gets a solid 3 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

STEM Book Club: The Nebula Secret

For this months STEM book club, I decided to go with an action adventure book all about explorers.

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit is the first book in a new juvenile adventure series.

Cruz is one of 24 kids across the globe that has been chosen to attend the elite Explorers Academy. Taught by leading researchers, wildlife experts, survivalists and conservationists, Cruz and his fellow explorers are training to become the next generation of great explorers.

But for Cruz this is more than just a dream, this is his legacy. When his mom died when Cruz was just a boy, he knew he would follow in her footsteps at the academy. But no sooner then he receives his acceptance letter, do weird and dangerous “coincidences” seem to dog him.

Can Cruz handle the pressures of Explorer Academy and can he find out who is out to get him and why?

Discussion Questions / Further Reading 

  1.  What is this book about? What are the main themes?  
  2.  What do you think about Explorer Academy? Would you like to see an institution like this? How would a place like this help in today’s environmental struggles? 
  3.  Explorer Academy is extremely competitive, but Renshaw tells Cruz, “My brother says … everybody helps everybody else. The teachers encourage that.” [Page 40] How do you feel about this—knowing that with your help, another student might succeed over you? In this kind of environment, would you hesitate to help a classmate? Why? Why not? 
  4. We saw a lot of different “tech” in this book—some of it real and some of it embellished. What was your favorite technology in this book and why?  
  5. The young explorers are required to wear their OS bracelets at all times. What if the band was available to the general public? What would the benefits be to the health and well-being of the people wearing it? What if people were required to wear it? In what ways could this seemingly beneficial device be abused by an agency responsible for viewing and using its data? 
  6. Why is it so important for Explorer Academy students to study “the characteristics of humanity—why different cultures eat, speak, dress, think, believe, live, and act the way they do.” [Page 111] How will knowing this enhance their experience as explorers? 
  7. The CAVE is a major part of the explorers training. What did you think about this method of training? How far away do you think current technology is toward this goal?  
  8. What is “Cryptography?” Give a few examples of how cryptography was used in this book. 
  9. MAV was Cruz’s robotic honey bee. If you could design your own MAV what would it look like and why? 
  10. This is the first book in a seven book series. Do you have any predictions about where this series could be heading?  

 DIY Cipher Wheel

kids-cipher-wheel

Supplies: Cardboard; Scissors; 1 brass tack; markers; template; glue.

A cipher wheel is an enciphering and deciphering tool developed in 1470. It consists of one stationary wheel and one “moveable” wheel. A cipher wheel can code and decode messages as long as one has the cipher key. There are many variations of cipher wheels but today we are going to do a basic substitution cipher.

How To:

  • Using your template, cut out the two circles.
  • Trace your circles on cardboard and cut them out as well.
  • Glue or tape the template to the cardboard.
  • Place the smaller circle atop of the larger one. Carefully using a scissor or pen, poke a hole in the middle of each circle.
  • Take your brass tack and secure the two cardboard circles together. The circles should still be able to move.
  • Your cipher wheel is ready for use.
  • To use your wheel, decide which letter on the smaller circle will be your cipher key. Let’s use “R” as an example. Turn your wheel so that the letters A, on the big wheel, and the letter R, on the smaller wheel line up.
  • You can now write your messages in code and give the cipher to those you want to read it.

Observations:

  • You could also create a cipher wheel with symbols on the smaller wheel.
  • How else could you use a cipher wheel?
  • Can you think of other ways to decode and encode messages?

Sources:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/books/pdfs/explorer-academy-1-ed-guide.pdf
https://www.savvyhomemade.com/making-a-cipher-wheel/

How’d it go:

This one went pretty well. It was a “cleaner” and easier STEM activity then some of my others, so I wasn’t scrambling to help 20 kids at once. We finished a little early, but overall it was a successful program.

That’s all for now!

-M-