Sophie is sure that her life is meant to come to nothing, because where she lives the eldest child is always ill-fated. So when times get tough for heSophie is sure that her life is meant to come to nothing, because where she lives the eldest child is always ill-fated. So when times get tough for her family she is content to stay home and work in the family hat shop while her two younger sisters go off to bright futures working in a bakery and learning magic. But when the Witch of the Waste comes into her shop one day and casts a spell on Sophie, making her appear old, she decides to set off into the wider world where she knows no one.
When her old bones become tired at the end of her first day of wandering, she finds herself at the edge of the wizard Howl's castle. The castle is enchanted; it moves and blows puffs of smoke constantly. Although Sophie is afraid of Howl because she heard he eats young girls' souls, in the guise of an old woman she thinks she will be safe. With thoughts of finding a warm fireside and a comfy chair, Sophie goes into the castle.
She finds Howl's assistant Michael, and his fire demon, Calcifer, but Howl is not in. As Sophie makes herself useful and becomes a part of the castle life, she begins to learn more and more about Howl, Calcifer and Michael. Gradually, as she gets to know them, they become like a second family to her. But can she keep Howl from being taken by the Witch of the Waste? And can she break a magical spell that binds Calcifer to Howl, so the spell on her can be broken as well?
Howl's Moving Castle brings up issues of creating family for yourself and seeing people for who they truly are, despite the masks they put up to keep others at a distance. It's about finding love and acceptance, and not being afraid to look for the magic in small moments. The castle itself is fascinating, with its door leading to different villages depending on which colored-button is facing down, its ability to move its location and its permanent window looking onto a sunny port town. Our mother-daughter book club members thought the ending felt a bit rushed, but otherwise we all enjoyed reading it and talking about Sophie, Howl and all the characters. I recommend it for book clubs with daughters aged 13 and up. ...more
When Irene’s mother is offered a job in a remote Normandy village it seems like the answer to their prayers. Life has been difficult after her father’When Irene’s mother is offered a job in a remote Normandy village it seems like the answer to their prayers. Life has been difficult after her father’s brief illness and death at an early age. Irene and her family are even more enraptured by the employer, a former toy maker with a mansion full of his mechanical creations.
Everyone settles happily into their new surroundings, none more so than Irene, who finds a special bond with a local boy named Ismael. But when a dark shadow is unwittingly release from its prison, it threatens to destroy everything they hold dear.
The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is fast-paced and mysterious. Like Zafon’s other titles for young adults, The Prince of Mist and The Midnight Palace, the action takes place over a relatively short period of time, but events are the result of long ago decisions made by tortured souls. In this case, Lazarus Jann, the toymaker, has secrets that gradually unfold.
The setting in Paris and Normandy just before World War II adds to the tension as well, because what’s to come for all the characters, particularly the teens, is lurking in the background of the story. Zafon also knows how to take a seemingly innocent location, the coast of Normandy, and show the dark and forbidding elements prowling just beyond the sea spray and idyllic paths through the woods.
Be prepared to enter Zafon’s mystical world when you pick up The Watcher in the Shadows, as you may want to find yourself wanting to read it straight through. But don’t read this one at night unless you’re prepared to sleep with the lights on. It’s deliciously dark. I recommend it for readers aged 14 and up.
The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review....more
Richard is not the kind of guy to make waves. He lives a normal life in London with a fiancée who tells him what to do and a good-enough job where heRichard is not the kind of guy to make waves. He lives a normal life in London with a fiancée who tells him what to do and a good-enough job where he performs well even if he doesn’t distinguish himself. That all changes the day he sees what appears to be a homeless girl on the sidewalk who is hurt. When he stops to help her, his life cecomes entwined with the underworld of London, a place full of hardship, danger, deprivation and totally unlike anything he has ever experienced before. He also discovers that if he wants his old life back, he’ll have to be daring in ways he never thought he could be.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman takes the reader on an adventure in a richly imagined world with demented assassins that live for centuries, a family that can open doors where there are none, a separate underground system existing alongside London’s Tube, along with the darkness and dirt you would expect to find in a world below.
Richard has never considered himself a hero or any kind of risk taker. He has always plodded along doing the thing expected of him. But thrown out of his normal life, and with his life threatened, he learns to call upon personal resources he never imagined he had. His relationships with the characters he meets in the underworld are more intense than any he has had above ground. It all makes him wonder if regaining his old life is really what he wants.
Neverwhere is a great book for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 16 and up. Discussion can center around the world Gaiman creates as well as Richard’s struggle between his desire for his old life and his thrill at stepping out of the bounds he has created for himself. That theme should resonate well with girls on the cusp of finishing high school and moving on to what comes next. ...more
When fifteen-year-old Jazz Gardner discovers she’s going to spend the summer in India with her family she is not happy about it at all. She has a thriWhen fifteen-year-old Jazz Gardner discovers she’s going to spend the summer in India with her family she is not happy about it at all. She has a thriving business in San Francisco with her best friend Steve, and she can’t imagine leaving either one for three months. She’s certain one of the other girls from school will make a move while she’s gone and claim Steve’s heart before she even tells him how much he means to her.
When she arrives in the town where her mother was born and adopted from the orphanage, she’s determined not to get involved in helping out in any way. All she wants to do is pass the time while she counts the days until she goes home. But her encounters with the people, and a little bit of monsoon madness, just may convince her she’s got something to contribute after all.
Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins is a great book for mother-daughter book clubs. Jazz is an independent girl whose parents are very much involved in her life. She constantly compares herself to her mother, and often feels she’s lacking. This book can generate great discussions on finding and believing in your own strengths, working to help others, trusting people and having the courage to say what you’re feeling. Perkins has an excellent mother-daughter book club discussion guide at her website, http://www.mitaliperkins.com/mother_d.... Here’s just one of the questions that may provoke great discussion:
“What's the most risky thing you've tried when it comes to helping someone else? Did it work?” I highly recommend Monsoon Summer for book clubs with girls aged 10 and up. ...more
Carlos Eire was born during the 1950s into a fairly well off family in Havana on the island of Cuba. The son of a judge, Carlos and his brother learneCarlos Eire was born during the 1950s into a fairly well off family in Havana on the island of Cuba. The son of a judge, Carlos and his brother learned to expect special privileges that came from being the children of a well-respected and powerful man. But everything in his life began to change when Fidel Castro waged revolution and toppled the Batista government. In the early 60s, at the age of 11, he and his older brother were sent to the U.S. to keep them safe. They never returned to Cuba.
Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy is Eire’s memoir of those magical days he spent as a boy in Havana. He and his friends roamed the neighborhood freely, playing games, lighting off firecrackers, tormenting lizards, and generally living a carefree life.
Eire’s recollections paint a vivid picture of times in Havana both before and after the revolution. He tells of grand parties and palaces, and resisters he knew of who were imprisoned and tortured. He talks about a cast of larger-than-life characters he remembers, like his father who claimed to be a reincarnation of King Louis XVI of France and his cousin Fernando who worked against the revolution.
We learn about how pervasive American culture was in Cuba in those days—Coca-Cola and American movies were favorites. The tale is both enlightening and fascinating about the times, and it is also heartbreaking to read about the way of life that was lost forever for so many.
Like Eire, around 14,000 children were sent the U.S. during those days. Their parents hoped to bring them home after a short amount of time, or join them later. Most never returned, and many parents were never able to leave Cuba. This story is about that exodus as well. I recommend it for ages 14 and up as well as adults. ...more
Elizabeth is excited that fourth grade is almost over and she’ll soon be able to hang out for lazy days on her farm with her best friend Rachel. She kElizabeth is excited that fourth grade is almost over and she’ll soon be able to hang out for lazy days on her farm with her best friend Rachel. She knows there will also be lots of work to do, but she loves her family’s land and the way her parents care for it. She’s always felt a close connection to the things that grow there.
But Elizabeth’s idyllic summer is not to be, as she discovers Rachel is moving away and a large corporation that runs giant pig farms is buying up nearby land to turn into a factory farm. Her parents refuse to sell, but will they be able to stand living next to the new operation, which will change their own quality of life in many ways?
Even though Elizabeth’s parents fight against the plan, it seems as though they are doomed to lose. But then Elizabeth meets an otter who can talk, and otter who calls herself Gaia. Gaia says she is the living Earth, and she says Elizabeth herself can do something to help save the land she dearly loves.
Gaia Girls, Enter the Earth by Lee Welles, illustrated by Ann Hameister, is the first in a series that focuses on children using special powers to help save what they love. It shows that saving our environment can be very personal, not just a term that’s thrown about. It’s personal when we can equate a small piece of land that we love, and the reasons we love it, as something worth saving. Gaia Girls, Enter the Earth should be good for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12 who have in interest in learning more about the environment. ...more
Firestarters: 100 Job Profiles to Inspire Young Women by Kelly Beatty and Dale Salvaggio Bradshaw is a great book to share with readers in a mother-daFirestarters: 100 Job Profiles to Inspire Young Women by Kelly Beatty and Dale Salvaggio Bradshaw is a great book to share with readers in a mother-daughter book club. My daughter who is in 11th grade read it at the same time I did, and we found lots to talk about regarding potential careers to match her interests.
The women profiled in Firestarters have dynamic jobs, and many have changed direction sometime during the course of their careers. They give candid assessments about what a day on the job is like, and they also talk about challenges they face. If your book club takes it on as a selection, each girl could choose three or four of the jobs profiled and talk about what interests her about the work.
The book would also be a great entree for moms to talk about their career pathways. I’ve found that as we all try to get through a busy family schedule every day, parents often don’t share details about the beginning of their careers or the process they went through in deciding what to do after high school graduation. Firestarters is very accessible too. Each profile is organized the same, making it easy to pick up and read one or two profiles at a time. ...more
When Beth Nonte Russell was asked to accompany a friend to pick up the baby girl she was adopting from China, she expected it to be an adventure. An aWhen Beth Nonte Russell was asked to accompany a friend to pick up the baby girl she was adopting from China, she expected it to be an adventure. An avid traveler, Russell had never been to China, and she welcomed this chance to help a friend while discovering a new country.
But when the friend is presented with a frail baby who seems developmentally far behind her age, she balks at going through with the adoption. Russell finds herself responding in a way that will change her life forever: she agrees to take the girl herself once back in the U.S. Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China is the memoir Russell has written about her experience.
Russell masterfully tells the story of her journey, which included other soon-to-be adoptive parents who had all planned for a long time to bring a new baby into their lives. Russell weaves tales of the group's sightseeing excursions to famous landmarks along with heartbreaking images of the babies’ orphanage when the group visits. She shares her conflicting thoughts of China, whose society is vibrant and modern, but also ancient and repressed.
An undercurrent of the story is Russell’s vivid dreams, some of which started before her trip began and lead her to believe she may have a stronger connection to China than she ever would have imagined.
While Russell’s decision to take the baby is clearly heroic, she doesn’t make herself out to be an unblemished hero, which makes her seem more human. She freely shares that her relationship with her stepchildren was reserved, and that she didn’t open herself up to love and the possibility of being hurt in the past. As she struggles emotionally to accept what she knows she must do, she shares with the reader her personal spiritual beliefs and her journey to get to those beliefs.
Forever Lily is a fascinating story that engrosses to the end, and it will have readers asking themselves, “What would I do if something extraordinary was asked of me?” While it’s most appropriate for moms, who will more easily relate to Russell’s story, older girls will find something of interest here too. Russell also makes book club discussion easy with a list of discussion questions and an interview featured in the back of the book along with a list of activities the group can consider. ...more
Thirteen-year-old Cynnie can take care of herself, which is a good thing since her mom is usually drunk and often passed out on the couch. Cynnie canThirteen-year-old Cynnie can take care of herself, which is a good thing since her mom is usually drunk and often passed out on the couch. Cynnie can take care of her three-year-old brother, Bill, too. Bill has Down Syndrome, and Cynnie knows he loves her because her name is the only word he can say. But when Cynnie's mom, Rita, asks her parents to come and take Bill, life starts to spiral out of control for Cynnie. Even though she has vowed that she would never be like her mother, without Bill keeping her grounded she starts to drink as well. Her choices lead to trouble in school and in the courts. Can she find a way to work herself out of her troubles and into a future with greater possibilities?
The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde is a touching story that takes the reader inside the life of addiction from the unusual perspective of a teen girl. It shows how addiction affects everyone in a family, but it also shows what it takes to work your way out of the downward spiral, one step at a time. Cynnie is vulnerable, courageous, tenacious, and resourceful. From the outside, she looks and acts like many teens, while she hides her reality from friends and teachers. The choices she makes, and their consequences, should provide great discussion for a mother-daughter book club with girls in middle school and older. ...more
The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick is delightful. The structure of the fictional book club was very different from either of theThe Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick is delightful. The structure of the fictional book club was very different from either of the clubs I’m in with my daughters, and I liked reading about how the girls and their moms worked to help their group gel. The book is told from the perspective of the four different girls who are in the club, Megan, Jess, Cassidy and Emma. The girls don’t all have good opinions of each other when their moms “force” them to create the group, and it’s very interesting to watch the girls and the moms deal with conflicts as the club continues. I found myself thinking, “I don’t know if I could ever handle conflict as directly at these girls and their moms do.” And I liked the fact that the club chose one book to read for their first year, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. By reading a few chapters at a time, the book club members were able to go more in-depth into the book as they went along.
The stories relating events in Little Women to similarities in the lives of people in the group tied in really well, illustrating how timeless Little Women is. And I loved the setting - Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott lived and wrote. It made me want to pack my bags and drive through little towns all over New England.
The Mother-Daughter Book Club would be great to read with your own book club, because you can discuss similarities and differences between the fictional club and yours, as well as possibly find things you’d like to incorporate into your own group. ...more
Imagine a prison that encompasses a whole world of fantastical people and creatures inside its walls: cities, metal forests, deep caves, and sanctuariImagine a prison that encompasses a whole world of fantastical people and creatures inside its walls: cities, metal forests, deep caves, and sanctuaries in the sky. That is Incarceron. Built to be the perfect prison after a time of unrest in the greater world around it, Incarceron was also meant to be a utopian place where the first prisoners could rehabilitate, and those who were born there afterward could live in peace. Once it was created the doors were sealed completely; no one was able to either arrive or escape.
Yet, Finn the Starseer believes he was not born inside. He has visions, possibly vague memories of birthday cakes and lakes and starry skies. He’s also heard the legend of Sapphique, a wise man from long ago whom the stories say found a way out. Now Finn has found a crystal key with the emblem of a crowned eagle on it, an eagle that matches the tattoo on his wrist. He’s sure the key can lead him out of Incarceron and help him find the truth about his past. A group of friends embarks along with him on the quest, desperate to also find a way out of the prison that has become more of a Hell than a Utopia.
Claudia is the Warden of Incarceron’s daughter. Engaged to the crown prince, she has been raised to be part of the court since the time she was born. But she wants no part of the intrigue and plots common at court. As her wedding approaches, she becomes desperate to find a way out of her prescribed life. When she discovers her father’s crystal key, she finds herself able to communicate with Finn. Together they try to solve the mystery of Finn’s identity and get him out of prison, which may also help Claudia change her fate.
Incarceron is Catherine Fisher’s highly imaginative fantasy novel about life in a future time where the technology exists to create a prison of Incarceron’s magnitude. Richly imagined details bring the grimy, bleak reality of prison to life.
A quote at the beginning helps to define reality for many of the characters: “Only the man who has known freedom can define his prison.” Everyone is seeking freedom of some kind, but they don’t always know what getting it will mean, and how freedom will change their lives. I was totally drawn into the dark dangers of the prison world. I could feel the eye of Incarceron as it searched its depths, always watching those who lived within. Claudia also faces dangers, but hers are more camouflaged, and less easy to identify.
I found myself wanting to race through the book to find out what happens at the end, and yet longing to linger over the details and savor this other world so vividly realized. Incarceron provides that kind of delicious balance that will have you impatiently waiting for the sequel, Sapphique, set to be released at the end of 2010. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up. ...more
Everyone knows that Naima draws the most beautiful alpana patterns in her Bangladeshi village. But she wonders what good can come from her talent if sEveryone knows that Naima draws the most beautiful alpana patterns in her Bangladeshi village. But she wonders what good can come from her talent if she can’t help her father drive a rickshaw because she’s a girl. Money is tight for the family, and Naima worries that her mother’s heirloom bracelets will need to be pawned to pay for rickshaw repairs. She’s determined to help, even if she has to take a risk to do it.
Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins is the touching story of a girl who longs to put her talents to use. Naima’s father is careful to let her and her sister know that he is happy to have daughters, but Naima realizes her society values girls only for cooking, cleaning and carrying water. Education for girls is limited, especially since parents are expected to pay for it. When Naima discovers a woman who has broken the mold to support herself, she can finally see a path to help her own family out of its poverty.
Rickshaw Girl is very accessible for younger readers, and it gives them a glimpse of constraints that can be placed on girls in some societies even today. The charcoal illustrations by Jamie Hogan beautifully capture Naima and her village life. A glossary in the back is a good introduction to terms used in Bangladesh, and the author’s note is about micro financing and how it is helping women and girls around the world raise themselves out of the cycle of poverty. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 7 to 10. ...more
Children’s author Ralph Fletcher seemed to live an ideal life for a child. The oldest of a large clan in the small town of Marshfield, Massachusetts,Children’s author Ralph Fletcher seemed to live an ideal life for a child. The oldest of a large clan in the small town of Marshfield, Massachusetts, Fletcher had nearby woods to roam in, numerous bothers and neighbors to recruit for games, and parents who loved him. Fletcher recounts stories from his young days in Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid.
Like Fletcher’s other books, this memoir is written for young readers aged 9 to 12. But moms and dads (and younger kids too) will be equally charmed and drawn in by accounts of mud puppies, raising chickens, new babies arriving almost every year, and bouts of chicken pox and mumps. As I read I found myself wanting to visit Fletcher’s home on Acorn St. myself and explore all the areas he talked about. Reading Marshfield Dreams with your child could bring up stories to share from your own childhood. Kids of today are likely to marvel at the relative freedom children had growing up in the ‘60s and the amount of time many of them spent outdoors.
The chapters are short and accessible. It’s also fun to look at the family photos that appear at the start of each chapter. Fletcher’s family moved away from Marshfield to Chicago when he was 13. This tribute to his boyhood home shows how much his life on Acorn St. continues to live on in his memory. ...more