The Elephant Man is a classic I’m thankful my Dad passed on to me

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The Elephant Manย byย Christine Sparks
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Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: March 31, 2016
Review Source: Purchased copy

The Elephant Man is a well-written and touching story based on the life of John Merrick. With some brief research it appears as though Sparks was well researched and included many major events of Merrick’s life surrounding the time he was in the care of Frederick Treves and the London Hospital. Some details (like his knowledge of his mother) may have been fictionalized, but ultimately I enjoyed the book enough to research more and I consider it to be successful for that reason.

This story takes into consideration the society and social treatment Merrick was subjected to as an “incurable” suffering from a condition that was unknown to doctors at the time–and even to this day research is inconclusive as to what syndrome he had. The reader is introduced to many characters who treat Merrick like an animal, but there are those who show compassion. Albeit, those who treat Merrick with even a glimmer of decency are few and far between, so on many occasions events were incredibly heart-wrenching. Sparks’ fictionalization, however, likes to emphasize the compassion exuded to Merrick, and so the scum are there to highlight the importance of the few caring individuals.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. The read is not too dense or over-loaded with symbols and tropes making it a quick read, but the content is not always necessarily nice or enjoyable to imagine and so the book is one I did take my time to digest. My dad gave me this book to read in my teens, and although I may not have appreciated it as much at 16 I wish I hadn’t taken eight years to get around to it!

The Hill by Karen Bass Review: Go Get Your Copy NOW

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The Hill by Karen Bass
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Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pajama Press
Publication Date: March 31, 2016
Review Source: Pajama Press Review Copy

Wow! I wanted to read The Hill because of all the hype, but it managed to still exceed my expectations.

Karen Bass has delivered a well-researched and masterfully-crafted story of a rich city boy named Jared who survives a plane crash in the middle of nowhere. He wakes up to find a Cree boy named Kyle who is trying to help make sure he and the pilot are alive after the crash. In a fit of panic and desperation, Jared thinks leaving the crash site to climb a nearby hill to find cell phone reception is the best course of action. Jared fails to heed Kyle’s warnings about the hill, and since Kyle doesn’t want to feel responsible for Jared’s death, he follows him up against his better instinct. Not only does the hill not provide Jared with any reception, it leads them to a monster and a world neither of them are prepared to deal with alone. Only by working as a team and trusting each other do Jared and Kyle stand a chance at saving themselves, and even protecting their loved ones.

I have too many great things to say about this book. I loved the characters; I loved the humour and laughed out loud numerous times, in public places; I enjoyed the plot; I was gripped by the suspense; I was intrigued by Bass’ use of language and several of her metaphors and analogies; and I felt satisfied by the ending: it wasn’t rushed, and it tied together any loose ends. Most importantly, it makes me so happy to see more Canadian literature being published about Indigenity. I haven’t read a ton of Indigenous lit. but I feel as thought Bass was very respectful of her treatment of the trickster figure, Wesakechak, and of Wรฎhtiko. Not once did The Hill jarr me from my understanding of the Native oral tradition, creation stories, or trickster stories. I am completely open to discussion on this point, however, as I have no Native heritage myself and therefore have lots to learn.

There is quite literally only one piece of criticism I have for this story, and that is that I noticed a particular phrase used twice. However, many people might not even notice that if they weren’t reading this book as fast as I was, because there were several chapters between each use.

I think The Hill would make a great book for elementary- and secondary-school students learning about Canada’s history or Indigenous cultures. One of the things I loved most was the narrative voice and Bass’ use of language. I didn’t feel as though the plot, the jokes, or any references to Cree tradition or language were being spoon-fed to the reader. There was plenty of nuance and subtlety that made this–although quick and relatively easy read–a thoughtful and important read. This very well be a YA novel, but even those who don’t tend to read it would enjoy The Hill.

Two thumbs up. Five stars. Highly Recommended… all that jazz!

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Adrift at Sea is an important contribution to Vietnamese-Canadian history

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Adrift at Sea by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines
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Genre:ย Picture Books
Pages: 40
Publisher: Pajama Press
Publication Date: September 22, 2016
Review Source: Pajama Press Review Copy

Adrift at Sea is Tuan Ho’s story of how he fled Vietnam with his mother and sister when he was only 6 years old. They’re boat, with 60 people crammed aboard, sprung a leak and was adrift in the Indian Ocean for days before an American Aircraft Carrier crossed their path and saved Tuan and his family.

This picture book is one of a kind. First of all, it is absolutely stunning. Brian Deines’ illustrations are simply mesmerizing, and I know I will catch myself flipping through this book just to admire his work. Marsha Skrypuch teamed up with Tuan Ho to tell his story of escape and survival over 35 years after Tuan has comfortably started a life in Canada. There are many stories like Tuan’s–perhaps not nearly so many with such a happy ending as Tuan’s family was fortunate enough to have–but unfortunately a dismal number of them have been shared in a book made for children. The historical notes at the end of the book that provide photos of Tuan and his family, photos of Vietnam, maps, and notes on the Vietnam War offer extra context for parents to help answer young children’s questions about why Tuan had to leave his home. Adrift at Sea will be an excellent companion to help spark a discussion about the various difficulties refugees face and experience in the wake of the current refugee crisis.