The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Subtitled  A Supernatural Romance, I read this for the Random House Bingo Reading Challenge for 2014 mainly because what I read in advance said it was a book about magic.  The write up neglected to say what a fine, creative piece of writing it was!

Laura is getting ready for school and daydreams of washing her hair and stepping out of the shower “not only marvellously beautiful but also transported to Paris.” Alas, she knew the truth was that “her hair would not dry int time for school, and she would spend half the morning with chilly ears. These were facts of everyday life, and being made in New Zealand (the shampoo she was using) was another. You couldn’t really think your way into being another person with a different morning ahead of you, or shampoo yourself into a beautiful city full of artists drinking ine and eating pancakes cooked in brandy.”

As she continued to get ready for school, she heard a voice say “It’s going to happen.”Changeover

It was neither her mother Kate nor her little brother Jacko speaking.

“What’s going to happen” Laura asked before she realized that the voice had spoken inside her, not outside in the room.

Laura trie to tell her mother Kate about the warning but her mother is preoccupied with her parental responsibilities and the weight of the world, including the new battery she needs for the car. She tells Laura she cannot stay home because it is Thursday: “It’s late-night tonight, and who’d collect Jacko, take him home, give him his supper and read him a story? Not notes on Thursday and that’s final.” Her mother advises her to be careful, look both ways and stay out of sight of the teachers.

“Oh Mum, it just isn’t like that!” Laura protested. “It’s a warning about something serious. You don’t know what it’s like.”

“tell me later,” said Kate, but Laura knew she could not tell. It was a condition that could not be described. People had to have faith in her, and somehow this was asking too much of them, especially in the morning, when life ran in three different dirctions and only one of them was hers.”

In the car, Laura does try to explain to her mother by reminding her that another warning she had was when her Dad left with his girlfriend. “And then the next time it happened”  had been “when Sorry Carlisle came to school.”

This where the bit about “a supernatural romance” begins. Sorensen Carlisle had come to Laura’s school, Gardendale Secondary School, a year and a half ago. He had been given by his mother for adoption by his mother who was unmarried. The adoption worked for awhile and then didn’t work anymore and Sorensen had made his way back home by himself at the age of sixteen. Sorenson was very studious, had a stammer, won prizes at science fairs and as a prefect at school. Laura had an unusual connection with him. She was only fourteen but whenever she had exchanged words with Sorensen she received a “remarkable smile accompanying his instruction(as a prefect) – a smile directed at her alone. Laura had never mentioned this smile to Kate or the reason for it.”

Kate dismisses any warnings about Sorensen Carlisle but does tell Laura that his mother and grandmother were “Quite a different story – witches to a man – a woman that is…They’ve got the sort of craziness that gives them class!”

They discuss Sorensen (Sorry to Laura) some more but Kate cannot credit what Laura has said and finishes up with “I’ve never understood your warnings – and be fair – until now you only mentioned them after something has happened, not before. But I do know this: I’m going to have to go because I’ll be late for work, and what if I arrive to find Mr. Bradley on the doorstep, fuming because I haven’t opened the shop in time? But Lolly, be careful with yourself, and later on be careful with Jacko…just in case.”

Laura gets out of the car at school and Kate and Jacko go on to Jacko’s babysitter and Kate’s job at the bookstore.

“The warning had come. She had ignored it. There was nothing more to be said.”

But there is oh so much more to the story. This is a great read for teens: in tone and vocabulary it is adult. The writing is rich. Here are some examples:

“It’s a good disguise. He looks very innocent, very arcadian…I think that’s the right expression.”

“Laura thought he looked an improbable cross between Dracula and Mr. Pickwick.”

“On the one side of a kiss was childhood, sunshine, innocence, toys and, on the other, people embracing, darkness, passion and the admittance of a person who, no matter how loved, must always have the quality of otherness, not only to her confidence, but somehow inside her sealing skin.”

“Laura and Sorensen looked at each other now, smiling but not in friendship. They smiled out of cunning, and a shared secret flicked from eye to eye. Laura walked past him in at the school gates, bravely turning right into the mouth of the day, right into its open jaws which she must enter despite all warnings.”

Warnings, romance and adventure! All here in a fine read for a teen (this adult found it quite refreshing)!


Fallen by Lauren Kate

This is a young adult novel that starts a series of the same name. In the prologue entitled In the Beginning, the reader is given some historical background dated 1854 in Helston, England. A man is doing a charcoal sketch of a woman he states “he’d had to be careful always to keep [her] at a distance.” He speaks about how “her discovery of his feelings – would destroy her.” She enters the room unexpectedly and he tells her “If I leave, I save your life.” And so, the plot is set.

Luce Price, in contemporary time, has been sent to Sword & Cross School,  a reform Fallenschool. Luce is a senior. The school is in Savannah, Georgia, just a short distance from Luce’s home. There are security cameras everywhere on the campus called “reds.” There were only eighty students at the school. “Eight classes, ten kids a pop. You get to know everybody’s crap pret-ty quickly,” Arriane said. Arriane was acting as Luce’s tour guide when she arrived.  Luce learns quickly that Arriane spent the entire summer and expresses her surprise to Arriane. “Ha! Spoken like a true newbie. You’re probably expecting a spring break.” She tossed Luce the Swiss Army knife she had just removed  from among the stuff confiscated from new students bags. “We don’t get to leave this hellhole. Ever.”

Luce also learns that about one-third of the student body have wristband tracking devices and, as Arriane explains those students “are the ones you don’t want to mess with. Trust me.”

“Well, what’d they do?” Luce asked.

“Oh, you know,” Arriane drawled. “Aided and abetted terrorist acts. Chopped up their parents and roasted them on a spit.” She turned around to wink at Luce.

“Shut up,” Luce said.

“I’m serious. Those psychos are under much tighter restrictions than the rest of  the screwups here. We call them the shackled.”

There was a huge church on campus that had been turned into a gym: Arriane describes it as an architectural hand-me-down Hell. Arriane’s description continues: “Apparently the architects got in a huge standoff over how to retrofit the style of the old military academy buildings. The upshot is we ended up with half-penitentiary, half medieval torture zone. And no gardener,” Arriane said kicking some slim off her combat boots. “Gross. Oh, and there’s the cemetery.”

The cemetery was cloaked in mist and “bordered on three sides by a thick forest of oaks. She couldn’t see into the cemetery, which seemed almost to sink below the surface of the ground but she could smell the rot and hear the chorus of cicadas buzzing in the trees. For a second she thought she saw the dark swish of the shadows – but she blinked and they were gone.” These mysterious shadows play a major role in Luce’s experiences but the reader does not come to understand them or what they represent in this book. They appear to represent an ominous event that may be coming.

Luce is deeply troubled by her past: a boy she liked, Trevor, died mysteriously in the summer and for this reason she had been sent to Sword & Cross. She does not unfortunately remember what happened.

In the bathroom she meets someone who will become a friend: “The girl had a squat body, accentuated by an abnormal amount of layered clothing. Her wide face was surrounded by curly brown hair, and her bright purple glasses wobbled when she sniffed. She looked fairly unassuming, but then, looks could be deceiving.

“You know you’re not supposed to be in here without a pass,” the girl said. Her even tone seemed to mean business.”

“I know.” The look in the girl’s eyes confirmed Luce’s suspicion that it was absolutely impossible to catch a break at this place. She started to sigh in surrender. “I just – ”

“I’m kidding.” The girl laughed, rolling her eyes and relaxing her posture.” The girl turned out to be “Pennyweather Van Syckle-Lockwood. You can call me Penn.” Luce thought by the name that “she’d hopped straight off the pages of a Dickens novel. Then again, there was something trustworthy about a girl with a name like that who could manage to introduce herself with a straight face.” Penn is the only student trusted to act as an office aide and she turns out to be a good person to know. Fortunately, for Luce, she turns out to be the best kind of friend. The story of that friendship is probably my favourite part of this story.

Luce meets another character in the library that she really likes: Sophia Bliss. “The woman gave Luce a you-look-like-the-reading-sort smile that Luce had been getting from librarians all her life. She recognized Luce because her name was on Sophia’s roster for religion class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”It was only after she’d left the librarian that she wondered about the strange, intimate way the woman had called her by her nickname.”

In the library she also met Daniel in the Special Collections department where she thought he was drawing something. “She couldn’t figure out why against all reason, she had this wild premonition that Daniel was drawing her.” Luce’s insides felt like they were burning and the action of the story begins to heat up now.

Teens will like this story for its romanticism and the real life relationships. If future books in the series provide more thorough historical connections and some serious, thoughtful awareness on Luce’s part, it might strengthen the readers desire to read more. She is shown to be well-read but not reflective and I found this disappointing. Things happen to her but she does not appear to take ownership of her life: this is somehow less than a reader would expect of a senior sent to a reform school. I was much more prepared to identify with Penn.


Random House Reading Bingo Challenge 2014

I am planning to participate this year for the first time in the Random House Reading BINGO challenge 2014. There are two Bingo cards that readers can work at completing by reading a book which is described on one of the cards and then crossing off that square. The fun part, or one of the fun parts – just reading is the biggest fun part for me – is that you can make your goal filling out the entire card or cards (one is categorized as ADULT and the other as YOUNG ADULT) or you can go at it like an actual Bingo game and go for one line or a line at a time or whatever suits your fancy.

Here’s what I’ve done so far  on the ADULT challenge…

I’ve read Muse by Mary Novik and also posted on this blog elsewhere on this title. It will meet the criteria in the box labelled “A BOOK WITH A ONE-WORD TITLE”. At first I didn’t think I would find one for this category and there it was, right under my nose.

In January, I also read The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud and I will use it for the category “A Best-Selling Book”: I really liked this novel and my blog on it will explain why.Reading-Bingo Adult-small

My first read in January was Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado and I will use it for the box labelled “A BOOK BASED ON A TRUE STORY” (also on my blog in a separate entry).

I am almost finished Above All Things by Tanis Rideout and that will go in “A BOOK SET ON A DIFFERENT CONTINENT”: I haven’t written my blog yet but it will appear in the next 7 to 10 days.

So, I have read four bingo boxes already just by reading titles I’ve wanted to read. Easy enough eh?

Things I have lined up for the ADULT card at this point include The Blue Book by A. L. Kennedy for the “A BOOK WITH A BLUE COVER” category and I think The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman for “A BOOK WITH MORE THAN 500 PAGES” and Alice Munro for “A BOOK OF SHORT STORIES” and maybe “Miss Montreal” by Howard Shrier for  “A BOOK WITH A MYSTERY” but I reserve the right to change any or all of these, of course, when another unexpected title rears its head! Such as, for female author category or non-fiction category: Ascent of Women (Sally Armstrong), But Hope is Longer (Tamara Levine) and/or A New Leaf (Marilyn Simonds)!

And then there is the Young Adult Bingo card! I haven’t finished even one title yet but I am so excited about this challenge and it has been so much fun looking for possible reading choices! Here are some that I want to read:

My Book of Life by Angel (Martine Leavitt) will fit in at least two categories so I will have to choose where it fits best after reading; Feed by M. T. Anderson which also fits in at least two categories; Reading-Bingo-YARed Planet by Robert Heinlein for the colour in the title challenge; Seraphina by Rachel Hartman for “A BOOK WITH MUSIC”; The Changeover by Margaret Mahy for “A BOOK WITH MAGIC”; several for the graphic novel but perhaps Sweet Tooth Volume 6.  I have  started “THE FIRST BOOK IN A SERIES”, by Lauren Kate the title of which is Fallen (also the title of the series) and it shows promise in the first half. For the Dragon book and/or the last book of a trilogy I was  considering  Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series but I see it is a four book set now called the Inheritance Cycle so perhaps Book 3, Brisingr, for the “BOOK WITH A DRAGON”. For “A BOOK SET IN PARIS”, I am considering The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen in which the protagonist is eleven so it should be suitable for a strong YA reader. I haven’t narrowed down several of the other categories but doing so will yield many new titles I know and that is what is so pleasureable about these challenges.

So far I’m not making any large-scale promises to myself or anyone else about how far I will get on my cards because sometimes that takes the pleasure out of the experience but almost always a book will fit somewhere in these many and varied categories. If you don’t know about the challenge just put Random House Reading Bingo in your search box and I’m sure you will get there. Turn your reading into an even more positive experience than it already is and, even better, get a friend involved.


Sugar Falls by David Alexander Robertson & Scott B. Henderson

Sugar FallsThe story in this graphic novel begins in a high school at the point at which an assignment is given to a class to examine the question of residential schools. The novel is directed at young people but equally informative for adult readers. Daniel is the student doing the assignment and his fellow student, April, offers to help him with his project by putting him in touch with her grandmother (her Kokum) who is a survivor of the residential school system. April arranges a meeting between Daniel and her Kokum at the latter’s workplace. April’s Kokum explains that the story must be told in the Round Room which contains all the sacred medicines and allows her sit on the star blanket of the four directions where she will be safe. April’s Kokum wears traditional clothing and explains that this is always brightly coloured because of Round Room Sugar Fallsthe bland clothing that the students were made to wear in the residential schools. Kokum also explains that she is holding the eagle feather “to honour the past and move forward with courage, honesty, and truth.” She lights some sweet grass and prays: “Here in this circle of life where we are cleansed we can trust in this momentous time.” She helps Daniel get started by telling him that she thinks it will work best if he asks her a question and so he does. “Why did you have to go to the residential school?”Kokum explains that she must start at the beginning when she was about five years old and was tossed out of the house. What she didn’t know at the time about her mother was that she had been a survivor of the residential school system. The young Kokum had to shelter under an overturned canoe for a very long time. She was Under Canoe Sugar Falls

discovered by a man who took her home and accepted her into his family.Happy Family Sugar Falls

But when she was eight years old things changed again and she had to go away to a residential school. Before she went her father took her to a place called Sugar Falls and gave her the best advice he could.At Sugar Falls

He told her that “Relationships…that’s where we find our strength as a people. The beat of the drum represents the strength in our relationships, between our ancestors, our traditions with Mother Earth, and with each other. Knowing this will keep you strong. Always remember these teachings by thinking of our time here at Sugar Falls.”

Kokum went to residential school but not without considerable resistence. That resistence continued until she figured out ways to cope with it. Her story is one that everyone should read and be fully aware of in order  to understand what she and others in North America went through at the hands of those who claimed to know best.Violence at Sugar Falls

What do you know about the Residential Schools in your country? What do you think it would be like to be put in such a school where instructors spoke a language very different from yours and you were not allowed to use your own language? If this happened to you when you were only eight,  do you think you  would have been able to forget it?

This slim volume would be an excellent resource in the hands of adults who are in a position to educate young people regarding the gross indignities which have been practiced upon their fellow Canadians and thereby expand their understanding of their fellow citizens: an excellent introduction which could be expanded by further research.Honour Sugar Falls

Used independently, this book has much to teach and will encourage further investigation. As Kokum says to Daniel when he thanked her for telling him her story: “You honoured me by asking to hear it. Telling these stories is how we will create change. We need to look at the past to teach others our stories and then look forward, together, with knowledge and healing.”

“Sugar Falls is based on the true story of Betty Ross, Elder from Cross Lake First Nation” -from inside back cover.

“This book was created in remembrance and respect for those who attended residential schools and those who were affected by their legacy.” -also from inside back cover

Note: the book does not say that it is sweet grass that is burned but it seems likely that it was. If I have been mistaken, please let me know.

Varjak Paw and Outlaw Varjak Paw by SF SAID

Varjak Paw is the story of a family of Mesopotamian Blue cats led by Elder Paw and living in the Contessa’s house. Elder Paw tells the tale of Jalal, Varjak’s famous ancestor who “came out of Mesopotamia and travelled to the ends of the earth, further than any cat had been before.”Varjak Paw

Varjak had known nothing except the contessa’s house and thought he would never have such adventures as those told to him by his grandfather. Jalal knew the Way and the Seven Skills and these had enabled him to be a warrior and adventurer who could defend himself and others.

But Varjak’s life was nothing like that of Jalal. “The house was always closed, the doors locked.” He was not even allowed in the garden. His big brother Julius made fun of him, called him an “insect”.

Then a man comes with two big black cats and two other men who carried out something from upstairs. Varjak was pretty sure it was a body but only he saw what the men were carrying.

The other cats called the man Gentleman. Only Elder Paw and Varjak felt uneasy with what was happening. Elder Paw thought the family needed a plan in case things changed. All but Varjak turned against Elder Paw and Julius takes over as head of the family.  Elder Paw tells Varjak that he must get away: this means going “outside” the house. He has to find a dog that he can talk to and bring the dog back to help his family get free of the Gentleman and the strange happenings in the house.

Varjak sets out upon what becomes a rather complicated and dangerous adventure. He knows nothing about living outside of the house he was born in.

He is rescued very early by a scappy cat with a gravelly voice named Holly. He thinks:”Would any of his family rescue a stranger? The Elder Paw, perhaps; not the rest. So who was more noble: the Blue, or this spikey street cat who’d saved his life.”  Holly becomes very special to Varjak. She  has another friend and that is Tam. Then there is a dog named Cludge. Cludge is special too.  Ahhh, but you must read the rest for yourself.

The Outlaw Varjak is a sequel to Varjak Paw. The full power and/or depth of the story is best experienced when read as one continuous tale although both stories are individually strong. Cludge becomes a bigger part of this story: “Only Varjak had seen the truth: that for all his strength and size, Cludge sometimes felt as scared and lonely as any cat.” Outlaw Varjak Paw

There is an early reminder that Varjak learned in the first book about the Way and its Seven Skills “in his dreams where he’d visited the ancient land of Mesopotamia and been trained by the warrior cat, Jalal. One of the “lessons”. if you will, in this book concerns bullying which Varjak points out when Razor, a rough neck in a rival gang, mistreats both Tam and Cludge and Varjak must call on his Seven Skills to teach Razor how to be a better cat. In the long run, Varjak turns Razor into a “friend”.

Mrs. Moggs is a new character and she is Jessie’s (another new character) grandmother. Mrs. Moggs told tales to the city cats about a better world where Varjak eventually takes them. In this book, Jalal teaches Varjak how to really “see” what there is to see. This expands Varjak’s sense of awareness but he must defeat Sally Bones and this still seems impossible even to Varjak. His best friend Holly is lost trying to save Varjak and Tam runs away in the face of an impossible challenge.  Jalal tells Varjak that if he had truly seen the situation he would have been able to prevent what happened BUT “For better or worse, you (Varjak) have opened a way forward.”

It is well worth the read to find out how it turns out especially when Jalal tells Varjak : Sometimes, my son, you cannot beat your enemy.”  And this: “Face your enemy and see them truly, without fear, without hate. Only then can you know them.”

These are going to become favourites of mine I know. If you know a young reader who enjoys cat stories these would not go amiss as gifts.

S.F. Said was born in Beirut and grew up in London, England. He graduated from Cambridge University and also received a Ph.D. in 1997. Varjak Paw won the Gold Medal in the 2003 Nestle’s Smarties Book Prize and The Outlaw Varjak Paw won the 2007 Blue Peter Book of the Year Award. Varjak was performed as a play and also as an opera. There is a book titled Phoenix that has been released in the united Kingdom in 2013 but the cover indicates that it is not about Varjak.  It is for young readers and sounds like it could be fascinating: it is about souls as far as I can tell. On the strength of the two books above I am certainly looking forward to sampling it soon.