Newbery Verdict: Gone Away Lake

Gone Away Lake // by Elizabeth Enright

gone-awayNewbery Honor Book (1958)
Genre: MG, Contemporary (Historical)
Rating: 2.5 Stars*

(Note: *Sorry, Elizabeth Enright, I usually LOVE your books, but I just couldn’t love this one. Although, I think that I’d probably have given it a higher rating if I were a kid reading it.)

Basic Plot: Portia and Foster are a sister and brother, who along with their cousin, Julian, discover secrets of a forgotten lake-side community called Gone-Away Lake.


Gone-Away Lake and the old houses are uber-cool! As a child, I would have really liked this and as an adult I did. Bonus points! I liked Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Payton who were a little like Miss Havisham, but in a good way. I enjoyed the old stories about the people who summered at the lake. Rescuing the cats. The Philosopher’s stone. These stories in themselves are worth the read.

However, I wasn’t crazy about the main characters. I didn’t hate them, but I didn’t love them either. Then when the grown-ups come in, some of the magic disappeared. (And I’m not talking about the Gone-Away grown-ups).


Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows’ walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death.

“Now who would go and build a lot of houses on the edge of a mosquitoey old swamp like that?” inquired Julian. But the next time he spoke it was in a whisper. “Porsh! Those houses are empty! They’re all deserted, Porch! It’s a ghost town.”

(Chapter 2)


This book was published in 1958. I hate to say that I don’t think it has aged very well. I love, love, love this author’s The Saturdays (and its sequels). I wish I could say the same for this book. That said, I do think I probably would have loved reading it as a child, just because of the old, abandoned ghost town. However, the mark of a truly great children’s book is for an adult to pick it up and love it (despite not being a child anymore). Did I just read this book too late??


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Did you read this a kid? Did you love it? Am I being too harsh on this book? Let me know in the comments!

Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal, or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.


Photo Challenge #24 / Sparkle

“Peek-a-Boo Fish” / Theme: Sparkle

A little about this photo…

This is kind of a sad post for me. This is Roger, my fish. He died this week. Many will think: Who cares! It’s a goldfish. They never live very long anyway. Did you know that Roger lived for almost 10 years! I know. Who knew goldfish could live that long?

I inherited him from my sister’s kids who were moving away for a year (summer 2010-2011). Their mom (my sister) told me NOT to let Roger die or else the children would be devastated. When they came back after the year, I was happy to return Roger to them, safe and sound. A year later, the family moved away again. Guess who got the fish? Yes, Auntie Maria has taken care of Roger for over seven and a half years now.

Okay, so this little fish’s death hasn’t devastated me, but it is still a little sad. He was such a happy, sparkly fish! (Hence the theme: Sparkle)

P.S. This is the first photo I’ve posted for this challenge that wasn’t taken in 2018. (I took this back in 2016.) At first, I thought this was a throw-away shot. But it has since become my favourite photo of Roger. I love its simplicity. The diagonal lines and other shapes. I love how it looks like he’s playing peek-a-boo.

THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join us in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

What Do You Consider a Historical Novel?

I love history. I love novels. Put those two together, and you’ve got one of my favourite things: Historical Novels!

But what exactly makes a novel “historical”?

Jane Austen’s books are set in the 1800s, but that doesn’t make them “historical novels”. And yet Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is considered to be a historical novel simply because Dickens was writing about historical events that took place sixty-some years earlier.

But what about more recent history?

Last month, I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. As I was reading, I got the sense that this book wasn’t set in today’s world… a realization that was solidified with the mention that the sitting president was Bill Clinton. Aha, said my brain. It’s the 1990s!

little-fires-everywhere.jpgNow, as it turns out, Clinton’s presidency (or rather the Monica Lewinsky scandal) weaves its way into the book. Not that President Clinton is an actual character in the book—he’s not; nor is Monica—but he’s talked about, primarily by the narrator… for thematic purposes.

Okay, I reasoned… so, this book is a contemporary read. In fact, I’ve noticed that many bloggers categorize it as such. Which means it must have been written in the late 90s or early 2000s, right?

I checked the copyright date.


Wait a minute. That’s last year! In case, you didn’t already know. 😉

So, is this book considered contemporary fiction? Or is it historical fiction?

Historical fiction is usually defined as a book where the historical setting is important to the plot of the book. It’s easy to categorize a book set in Japan during World War II, or one set in London during the time of Elizabeth I.

I would argue that the historical references of the 1990s in this book are rather important to the plot. (And it isn’t just the stuff about Clinton. It’s also the timing with regards to test-tubes babies and the days when infertility was discussed in hushed whispers; the nature of Mia’s photography and art; the Jerry Springer talk show phenomenon; an era before smart phones existed.)

Your Turn…

My question is this… Does all this make the book historical fiction? The 90s really isn’t that long ago, and I get the sense that many people don’t like to think of the recent past as “historical”.

So, how would you classify it? Do you call it “historical fiction” if it’s history of the recent past? Or do you consider the 1990s (or even the 1980s or 1960s or 70s for that matter) to be too recent to be labelled “historical”? (And if so, where’s the cut off point for you?)

These are genuine questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

ARC Review: The Button War

button-warThe Button War // by Avi
Release Date: June 12, 2018
Genre: Upper MG, Historical (WWI)
My Rating: 4 Stars

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: It’s August 1914 in a small village in Poland. The Great War has begun, but Patryk and his six friends are caught up in their own Button War… to see which boy can find (read: steal) the best button from the uniforms of the various occupying soldiers. Little do they know that this war is going to have deadly consequences.


1) Thank-you, Mr. Avi, for putting “August 1914” before the first chapter. It set the scene right off the bat. I knew exactly what time period I was reading about.

2) I love learning something new. This story takes place in Poland at the outset of the First World War. The inciting incident involves an aeroplane dropping a bomb. Now, I always associate bombs with WWII, not WWI, so I found this an extremely interesting plot point. (And I did some research. Yes, bombing did happen during WWI.)

3) The bickering between the boys. I love how this is portrayed, especially early on in the book. I reminded me of Stand by Me… the Polish version! The sausage-eating Wojtex… Drugi, the one who asks all the questions… Jurek who keeps telling everybody that he’s the descendant of King Boleslaw… and the narrator, Patryk, who’s trying to keep everything balanced.

Next moment, Wojtex said, “My father told me that more Russain soldiers were coming. Maybe Cossacks.”

Jurek said, “Love to see them.”

“Why?” asked Drugi.

Jurek said, “They’re the best fighters in the world.”

Drugi asked, “Who are the Russian going to fight?”

“Germans,” said Wojtex. …

There was a moment of silence. After which Drugi asked, “What’s the war about?”

We were silent. No one knew the answer.

(Chapter 7)

4) The buttons! Maybe because I’ve always had a thing about buttons, I loved the collecting and the descriptions.

5) I love how the button contest echoes what happening with regards to the Great War. The boys are vying to be Button King, just as the nations of Europe were going to war to be king of the world. You have Jurek, the bully who will stop at nothing to be king, dragging the rest of the boys into the Button War, whether they want to or not. And then, really bad things happen.

6) The foreshadowing is just… wow. I didn’t catch all of it, but peeking back at earlier chapters after completing the book, I definitely saw various instances of foreshadowing. Like the the mention of the Cosacks… And the fierce look in Jurek’s eyes after Patryk throws away the first button.

7) The ending is very sad. Although, it’s not necessarily an “unhappy” ending. The last quarter of the book or so, there’s a lot of bloodshed (off screen). Jurek’s claim at the very end is troubling; sad because it’s also so empty. Like, doesn’t he realize what has happened.


1) The super short chapters. Argh! I don’t understand why authors choose to write super short chapters.

2) I found the names to be difficult at times. I could not always remember who was who. This might have been partly because of all the Polish names I wasn’t familiar with, but it’s also because there are seven boys. And not all the boys are as important to the story as the others are, so it was sometimes hard to keep track of who was who.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book, if “enjoyed” can be a word to describe it. The book deals with some very troubling aspects of war. Actually, come to think of it, it has some overtones of Lord of the Flies. Very interesting on the historical side of things and I would recommend this to anybody who wants to read something something a little different about World War I. Definitely this book is meant for a more mature reader.

Photo Challenge #23 / Entrance

“Doorway to Someplace Magical” / Theme: Entrance

A little about this photo…

This is the site of the ruins of the old Woollen Mill, built in 1824, near Jordan, Ontario. At one time, it was a grand five story building. This photo shows what is left of it. This doorway is probably an old window. And it is indeed an entrance to a creek below. And if you climb the rocks to follow the creek, you’ll get to a beautiful waterfall.

That’s the prosaic explanation. But, I always think it looks like a doorway to another world. Narnia perhaps?

THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join us in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

Thanks for the Recommendation #1

This blog post is a thank-you to all you book bloggers who bring various books to my attention. I particularly like that aspect of the blog community. So, here are three books that I read, thanks to you… (In turn, I recommend them to the rest of you!)

Phantom-TollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth // by Norton Juster

Recommended by Kimberly @ Narnia to Neverland
Genre: MG Fantasy
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: For some reason, I have not read this book before now.

The book is part Alice in Wonderland, part Pilgrim’s Progress. (Although, from what I understand, Juster had read neither of these books… so, that’s just a coincidence.) As somebody who loves wordplay, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It isn’t plot-heavy, by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, Milo and his gang ARE on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason (who have been banished). But it’s the journey, not so much the destination, that’s important.

Actually, that’s it. The book delights in imagination. And (minor SPOILER HERE), at the end of the book, when the tollbooth disappears, there’s the hope that maybe, just maybe, you’ll find the tollbooth in YOUR room.

A Few Favourite Quotes from the Book

Here’s a taste of some of the wonderful words in this book. (There are really too many examples to list, so this is really just a small sample…)

“To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.”

“But how did we get here?” asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all.

“You jumped, of course.”

The Phantom Tollbooth (Chapter 13)


“I am the Spelling Bee,” announced the Spelling Bee. “Don’t be alarmed — a-l-a-r-m-e-d.”

Tock ducked under the wagon, and Milo, who was not overly fond of normal-sized bees, began to back away slowly.

“I can spell anything — a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g,” he boasted, testing his wings. “Try me, try me!”

“Can you spell goodby?” suggested Milo as he continued to back away.

The Phantom Tollbooth (Chapter 4)

letter-from-new-yorkLetter from New York // by Helene Hanff

Recommended by Laila @bigreadinglife
Genre: Adult, Non-Fiction/Memoir
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: This book was brought to my attention in a comment on my blog post about how much I loved Helene Hanff’s book: 84, Charing Cross Road.

This is Hanff’s “love letter” to New York City. I used to live in New York in the early 2000s, and I’ve discovered that there’s something very real about that slogan: I Heart NY. It is so true that this city has the ability to worm its way into your heart! The book is set in the late 1970s and early 80s, but even so, I easily recognized New York City. It didn’t change that much 🙂

Now, I don’t think this book is as good at Hanff’s masterpiece, 84, Charing Cross Road. (Which, if you haven’t read, I highly recommend.) But it’s a delightful memoir that gives us a peek into one of the most famous cities in the world.

P.S. I keep thinking the book should be Letters from New York (plural), but no, it’s Letter from New York (singular). Which feels weird and somehow wrong to me. But, you know what? That’s just a minor complaint. Hanff’s writing is wonderful and engaging.

A Few Favourite Quotes from the Book

First you queue up at Lord & Taylor’s to see their Christmas windows. This year’s windows feature Come Home for Christmas. One window has a replica of a JFK airport terminal, complete with life-like passengers, luggage and waiting room. Another has a replica of the George Washington Bridge, with the lights, the traffic—and a hapless driver stuck with a flat tire. My favorite window has a replica of a New York subway station, with crowds, a snack bar and a gent coming down the steps with a Christmas tree over his shoulder.   (1978, December)

A week later, there’s a high construction wall around each lot. But each wall has a hole in it large enough for two human eyes. New Yorkers think it’s their God-given right to supervise construction, and any builder who didn’t order a hole cut in the wall would find holes cut in it for him by volunteers. (1979, March)

HereHere // by Richard McGuire

Recommended by Zezee with Books
Genre: Adult, Graphic Novel
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: This book is a journey through the life of room in a house. I initially was thrown off by the fact that it is NOT in chronological order. Instead, the years jump all over the place. But I like the effect. I really liked the windows into the various time periods, even before the house is built!

One sequence I loved was the family of kids taking the yearly family portrait on the couch. From the time the children a little (in 1959) to them all grown up (in 1983). It was fun to see the technology change with the house. And the decor!

And finally, I liked the surprise cameo by Ben Franklin!

WARNING – This book is really meant for adults, not children. 95% of it would be fine for kids, however there ARE a couple “adult” scenes; nothing super graphic. But it may be cause for some awkward questions.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

Since it’s a graphic novel, I’ll have to post one of my favourite spreads in the book:


Review: Supergifted

supergiftedBook: Supergifted
Author: Gordon Korman
Genre: MG, Contemporary/School
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Donovan and Noah are back from Ungifted. This time, they’re both attending “regular” school. Noah is thrilled at getting his first low grade. But when Donovan tries to protect Noah from a bully, he ends up putting the family dog in jeopardy. Which means, Donovan can’t be seen anywhere near the bully’s home unless he wants the dog to be declared vicious. But, Noah has ideas that set about a course of events that lead to the creation of “Superkid”.


1) The friendship and the loyalty. I love how Donovan is SO loyal to Noah. Even when Noah does things that hurt him. He knows Noah is a little clueless.

2) The theme of fame and what it can do to us. This was an interesting look at how fame can go to the head… how we blindly worship and adore fame… and how fame can also be so fleeting.

3) The stereotypes. I’m usually not crazy about stereotypes in books. But somehow Gordon Korman knows how to make them work. We have likable ruffian (Donovan); the super-geek (Noah); the super cheerful cheerleader (Megan); the jock/bully (Hashtag).

4) The chapter titles. Korman did something very similar with the first book: Ungifted. Each chapter is called “Super Something-Something”. It’s very clever and it’s always fun to try to figure out what the Something-Something could mean prior to reading the chapter…


1) Plot holes. There are a bunch of plot holes throughout the book. The biggest one happens during the event involving the big propane truck. Both Donovan and Noah are present. Noah is in this crazy costume–trying to look like a wrestling star, complete with folding chair. And somehow, the driver of the propane truck does not notice Noah. Really?

Another plot hole happens when Donovan goes to Megan’s party. Again, there’s no reason to incite his going. One minute he’s talking to his sister, Katie, about this missing bone. And the next minute, he’s on his way to the party. There’s no correlation action/reaction to these two scenes.

2) At one point, Hashtag mentions that the cheerleaders have tryouts. If Noah is such a klutz (one that manages to send a cheerleader to the hospital), why don’t the tryouts apply to him. Korman does try to get around this by making the teacher tell Megan that Noah must be on the team… but really, it doesn’t make sense. As in any sport, if one athlete is even a potential danger to the rest of the team, that guy should be out of there!

3) I didn’t believe all the hero-worship of the Super Kid. I mean, it’s the whole school, the whole town, even the governor? It’s not like he saved City Hall or something. He just saved one girl’s house. Yes, the girl’s family is thankful. But the whole state???


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Will kids like this book? Yes, I think so. It’s a fun read, and I did enjoy it. But, it’s not Korman’s best. It seems like he’s churning out the books and I wonder if he has the time to really perfect them all…


Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Challenge #22 / Trees

“Lilac Garden” / Theme: Trees

A little about this photo…

One of my favourite trees are lilac trees. Every spring, I go to photograph a lilac garden near where I live. This garden has every type of lilac you’ve never heard about. This year, we went a little later than usual, and most of the blossoms had wilted and died. But not all! There were a few late blooming lilac trees.

I went specifically near sunset to take advantage of “pretty light”. However, the clouds covered up the sun for most of the time, except for this brief moment. That’s when I went running to this tree so I could get this shot.

Got it!

THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

6 Tips for that Hard-to-Read Classic

Classics are books that tell such wonderful stories.

I read tons of classics back when I was in school. But I’ve noticed, I don’t read as many any more. Because, let’s face it, classics tend to be harder to read. The language is often more difficult. They’re wordy. And long-winded.

When I do read a classic, I realize there’s a reason so many people love it. The writing is amazing. In fact, it’s why we still read these books hundreds of years after they were published. These books are worth reading. They are worth the effort.

Which is why I’ve decided to write a post to discuss 6 tips to help you read classics.

First, a short story. It involves two books: Ivanhoe and A Tale of Two Cities. These books have been on my TBR for years. And as of this year, I have read them both… sort of.

About 20 years ago (has it been that long?) I managed to read about 3/4 of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. And, you know what? I don’t remember a thing about it. It was slow-going while I was reading it. My brain wandered as my eyes read each line. Chapter by chapter. I never really finished the book. And it’s has been sitting on my night table ever since.

So… How to finish a book like this?

The truth is, I’m going to have to start over.

I have found that I just need a plan of attack. Which is what I did most recently (and successfully) with the other book on my list: A Tale of Two Cities. (You can read my thoughts on this book here.)

I realize that I’ve used various tips throughout the years. Here is a compilation of 6 tips to try if you’re finding it hard to get through a classic:

Tip #1 – Listen to the Audiobook

I happen to love a good audiobook. Assuming it has a good reader, of course. I tend to prefer one reader as opposed to full cast recordings. It’s amazing what a really good reader (i.e. actor) is able to do with their voice. (This also works great for “re-reading” books. I’ve re-read such classics as Jane Eyre; all the books by Jane Austen; The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnAnne of Green Gables; etc. etc.)

Warning: Not all audiobooks are created equal. I have quit audiobooks because of the reader. This can be very expensive if you’re buying audiobooks. I get mine from the library. The only drawback of the library is that they don’t always have the audiobook you want.

Tip #2 – Audiobook + Physical Book

Okay, so this was a real break-through for me! This is how I read A Tale of Two Cities and it worked like wonders! I did a chapter or two at a time, sometimes more.

You’ll need a unabridged copy of the audiobook, plus an unabridged copy of the physical book. Then follow along as the audiobook plays. This really helps for concentration. You’re seeing and hearing!

Tip #3 – The Perks of Spark’s Notes

Now, no cheating here. Read the book!

But as you’re reading, check out a copy of Spark’s Notes (or similar). You can find them online. After finishing a chapter of the book, go to the corresponding section of Spark’s Notes. Read the summary and analysis.

Guess what? It’s like having a little mini professor give you insight into what you’ve just read… 

Tip #4 – Digest the Book in Small Chunks

Read the book in installments. Don’t try to rush things.

There’s no prize for speed reading! What I find, when I read a book too fast, I don’t remember or digest what I’ve read. Then, what’s the point? We read these classics to enjoy the story being told. Take advantage of that.

Tip #5 – Consider an Abridged Version

Let’s face it. There are some classic books that have a lot of verbiage that could be tightened up.

Years ago, I read an abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo. And I loved it. I got right to the meat of the story.

I also could have read an abridged version of Les Miserables. I didn’t, I could have. What I did read was the full book in all its glory. (Unabridged AND with annotations… Oh my!) But there were definitely a bunch of chapters that had nothing to do with the plot that could have been eliminated easily. Even Victor Hugo’s editor thought so… (I know this because I read the annotation for that!) Alas, M. Hugo wouldn’t listen to reason…

Tip #6 – Try a Graphic Novelization

So, I did this with The Scarlet Letter. (Another book I read years ago but had trouble remembering what the book was about.) The graphic novel version was beautiful! And it also clarified a few things quite nicely for me!

For me, personally, I don’t think I will do this too often. I have too much love for the written word. I like graphic novels well-enough, but when I read a graphic novel, I often want more WORDS! However, if you (or somebody you know) is a more visual learner, than I highly recommend this avenue.

This can also work if you use the graphic novel in tandem with reading the abridged/unabridged version of the book.

Okay, so what are some classics I still want to tackle?

  • Middlemarch // by George Elliot
  • Heart of Darkness // by Joseph Conrad
  • North and South // by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • My Antonia // by Willa Cather
  • Watership Down // by Richard Adams
  • The Man in the Iron Mask // by Alexandre Dumas
  • Agnes Grey // by Anne Bronte

And yes…

  • Ivanhoe // by Sir Walter Scott

What about you? Do you have any tips to add? Are there any classics on your TBR that you’d like to tackle? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t Judge a Book…

We’ve all heard it. Don’t judge a book by its cover. And yet we all do it anyway. We DO judge books by their covers! Whether we think we do or not.

Whenever I hear this phrase, my mind immediately goes to a particular book. Which book?

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame).

bluecastle.jpgI probably first read it when I was about 11 or 12 years old. This was the copy at our local library… (see image to your right.)

It was really and truly the UGLIEST book cover I had ever seen. It was so ugly, I did NOT want to read this book. So what if was by my favourite author!

Ugh! That cover.

But then, somehow, I did bring the book home.

And I did read it.

And… Well…

I loved it.

And you know what? Years later, my friends and I were discussing this book. (We all love this book!) And we discovered that we ALL had the same experience. (Being from the same small town, we all went to the same library.) We all hated the cover of this book! And we all didn’t want to read the book BECAUSE of the ugly, ugly cover. And finally, we all did read the book, in spite of the cover. And we all fell in love with it.

P.S. Now I look at the book cover and think to myself, it’s not quite as ugly as I remember. In fact, it’s bringing back fond memories. Nostalgic memories. I’m finding I rather like this book cover… now.

Do you consider the book cover above to be ugly? Would you pick it up to read? Let me know in the comments!

How about THESE covers? Which one catches your eye? (I really like the simplicity of the first one!)


BONUS: Have you read The Blue Castle? If so, feel free to gush about it in the comments!

P.S. The photo at the top of this blog post is my first-edition, hard back copy of The Blue Castle. Which I love! It’s falling apart, but that is partly what gives it its charm. (And there’s a bit of a story of how I got it. But perhaps that’s for a future post…)