Category Archives: Book Reviews

Comments on The English Patient by Ondaatje

I read The English Patient for two reasons. The main one, I admit, is that one of my students selected this 1992 Governor General’s Award and Booker Prize winner as the novel she’d do for a reading/discussion assignment I’d given for our Canadian Literature class in the library diploma program at Credenda Virtual College.

The second reason was that I knew it was about a Hungarian during World War II, although I knew little else about the novel. That intrigued me as I’m Hungarian and researching an historical novel set in Hungary, so have done a lot of reading about many different aspects of the country’s history. Continue reading Comments on The English Patient by Ondaatje

Book Reviews for L is for Land of Living Skies

L is for Land of Living Skies: A Saskatchewan Alphabet by Linda Aksomitis

Authors often say writing a book is like having a child–if that’s true, then waiting for book reviews after the book is published is like waiting for a report card! How well did your progeny do? Pass or fail? A+ or getting by with Cs and Ds?  Teacher’s pet or the one in the corner that nobody seems to notice.

Well, the first review from the professional publications for L is for Land of Living Skies is now in and it’s a 4-star rating! I never even hoped–out loud anyway–for such an awesome write-up as Saskatoon journalist, Linda Wood, gave it for CM (Canadian Materials). You can read it at: http://umanitoba.ca/cm/vol17/no41/lisforlandoflivingskies.html

I also discovered a great independent book review online at:

http://readingpit.blogspot.com/2011/03/l-is-for-land-of-living-skies.html

I was also thrilled to learn that L is for Land of Living Skies has been shortlisted for the High Plains Book Awards: http://ci.billings.mt.us/index.aspx?NID=1180


My wonderful publisher, Sleeping Bear, has prepared an excellent teacher’s guide that’s free for download at: https://sleepingbearpress.com/teaching_guides

FlashForward

Linda Aksomitis
Linda Aksomitis kayaking in Fort Wayne.

I’ve just started reading FlashForward by Robert Sawyer — the novel the short-lived t.v. series by the same name was based on. And of course, even when I try not to compare the two different methods of telling a story, I do.

Usually, I find a novel does a better job of building character, especially when it’s written in the omniscient point-of-view, as this one is, but this time I find the characters less cardboard and more flesh-and-blood on the screen. Admittedly, I’ve had 22 episodes to get up close and personal with characters I can see and hear, compared to a few hundred pages of the novel, but there’s more to it than that.

This wired post lays out the reasons the show shouldn’t have been discontinued and I have to agree as most of them are to do with the characters:

http://www.wired.com/underwire/2010/05/farewell-flashforward/

One thing the novel does do better than the show, however, is put the scientific material to the forefront. Is everything I’m going to do in life already determined, because at some point further down the time line it has already happened, or do I have free will? While most of the characters stand on one side of the equation or the other, I can’t really see why both can’t be true. Surely, I can have free will right now, and the future me down the time line is shaped by these choices.

But of course, then the discussion becomes one of what happens if as a result of the flash forward, and knowing what my future will be, given the choices I’ve made/will make before those two minutes some time off in the future, that I change something. Obviously throwing myself off a roof, as one character did in the t.v. show, in order to save the woman he was going to kill in a car accident, means that the “cause” has been removed so there shouldn’t be an “effect.” Or, as some maintain, the future isn’t that easy to change and something will still happen to the woman who was supposed to die.

Determinism or free will, which will it be? I for one am still reading and thinking, wishing that FlashForward, the show, would have been given another season for its characters to explore further. I can, at least, still finish Sawyer’s novel and see how it all ends up for the book characters.

Just Call me Joe — Historical fiction for Young Readers

Linda Aksomitis
Linda Aksomitis

Whenever I’m between book writing projects or thinking my way through a new idea, I read. Actually, I read all the time, so that’s no surprise. Writers are always readers–the two activities are really part of the same process. Can you imagine a cook who doesn’t enjoy trying different types of foods? A painter who doesn’t visit galleries and study the works of others? An architect who designed buildings without ever studying how the different parts all fit together in other buildings? That’s a writer without reading.

Anyway, I just finished reading Just Call Me Joe, by Frieda Wishinsky. It’s an Orca Young Reader, which means the intended readership is readers ages 7 to 10, who are in grades 2 to 5. The font is larger than average, and it only has 100 pages, so it’s a nice fast story for a good reader.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=snowmaga-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=1551432498&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&lc1=8B7E66&bc1=000000&bg1=EEDFCC&f=ifr

I was drawn to this novel for a few reasons. As a writer, I like to examine many different publisher lines, so that I’ll have some ideas about where to submit my books once they’re written. Just Call Me Joe is about immigration–the same general subject area as my novel, Adeline’s Dream. So, of course I was interested to see how another author handled the same topic.

Adeline’s Dream
is a long novel for middle grades (45,000 words), while Just Call Me Joe is part of a series of much shorter books (13,000 to 18,000 words) for younger readers. I’m always curious to see the differences in plotting and characterization between two such different lengths.

Just Call Me Joe begins with the ominous chapter title: “Sometimes They Send You Back.” Wishinsky does a good job of filling in the details of who Joseph is, and why the ship he’s on has just passed the Statue of Liberty in the first two tense chapters. It’s easy to identify with him as he remembers the Russian soldiers he and his sister have escaped from–and shares his dream to become an American.

By chapter four the pacing in Just Call Me Joe makes a change. Instead of memories and fully fleshed scenes, the story moves to dialogue that serves as a useful tool for propelling Joseph’s life ahead in the new country where he’s been plunked in first grade, far below boys his own age, so he can learn to speak English.

It isn’t easy living at Aunt Sophie’s in New York in 1909. Joseph must share a room with a renter, Mr. Plucknik, who tosses stinky socks and shirts onto Joe’s cot, and snores all night. Cabbage soup is the food of the day. His sister, Anna, hates her job at the factory, where she works many long hard hours for very little pay.

Street kids, Sam, Lou, and Al, soon befriend Joseph and introduce him to a life that he knows is wrong. They don’t work, they steal, and yet, Joe is drawn into their world by the friendship they offer. This conflict, which starts slowly in the fourth chapter and reaches a resolution in the second last chapter, provides plot elements for Joe’s character growth throughout the novel.

This was one of the areas I was most interested in as a writer–with a short word count, what types of character growth and change does an author incorporate into a satisfying historical story? Here, the growth was integral to the plot, with a swirling vortex that drew Joe down, keeping the reader wondering if he would really end up doing what Sam urged him to do.

Like all satisfying stories, the climax of Just Call Me Joe comes at a point where everything seems lost, until the main character takes a stand against the elements that are pulling him down. Sam and Al take off to earn some “real” money with crime, and Joe gets a promotion to a higher grade at school, showing the reader that his hard work has paid off. There’s hope that Joe will get a part-time job and that work will improve for Anna, as she has also taken a stand against the oppressive employer at a union meeting.

The novel, while about immigration, has elements that all children will identify with through Joe’s internal struggle to keep doing what he knows is right, when he’s offered what seem to be such easy alternatives. While the ending may be brighter than that experienced by many immigrants, it feels realistic with the plot elements we’re given.

All in all, Just Call Me Joe is an interesting novel for young readers experiencing historical fiction for the first time.

Linda Aksomitis
Author & Photojournalist
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