Archive for category: Girls

Review–The Engelsfors Trilogy: “The Circle” and “Fire”

Fire, book II in the Engelsfors Trilogy

Fire, book II in the Engelsfors Trilogy

At the end of this review there’s a contest for a free copy of Fire (so keep reading).

If you’re looking for a good read for your tween or teen daughter, you may want to consider The Engelsfors Trilogy. Book I is The Circle and Book II, just published, is Fire.

They caught my eye for several reasons:

• The books were written (originally in Swedish) by established writers: screenwriter Sara B. Elfgren and journalist Mats Strandberg.

• The rights have already been sold in 29 countries. That sounds pretty good. Doesn’t happen to every book that comes along, that’s for sure.

• Benny Andersson of ABBA has purchased the film rights. Again—bodes well.

When you’re trying to “get kids reading” you’re looking for what your kids will like–something that’s going to catch their interest and draw them in. (As opposed to, say, great literature that will change their lives. We’ll worry about that once they’re hooked on reading.) So if a book appears to be very popular, it may be a sign that your kid will like it, too.

The premise of the Engelsfors series is immediately compelling and unique. Yes, it’s a fantasy featuring witches and magical powers. But here’s the difference. The book’s protagonists are not one but five high school girls with disparate lives and points of view.

The whole point of the book is for these girls to get out of their own heads and start to see other kids for who they really are, and begin the process of empathy. The book sets up a need for the girls to eventually work together, which cements the empathy.

The cast
You’ve got Minoo, the smart over-achiever, with cracks in her self-esteem. Vanessa, the (increasingly thoughtful) partier who wants to be loved. Linnea, the orphaned loner making it through life on her own terms. Anna-Karin, unpopular and bullied, but with potential. And Ida, the “popular” mean girl with pushy parents who must eventually confront her past behaviour.

Of course, those are labels. The key to the Engelsfors Trilogy is the journey that leads behind each of those labels. Finding the grey areas within each of the girls’ personalities, and watching as they transform through self-discovery.

In that way, the book is well-sculpted. There is enough action to keep you going, and enough introspection so you care about the characters.

The actual plot is almost secondary, but here it is: There has been a death at the local high school. Ruled a suicide, but we the reader know it was some kind of mystical murder. The girls are in fact “Chosen Ones” – powerful witches whose lot it will be to save the town from a terrible evil. But to do so, each girl must discover what her special power is, and how she can use it in conjunction with the others’.

Readers will see themselves in the main characters, which is one reason why this is very much a girls’ read. Research shows that female readers tend to want to delve into interpersonal relationships and this novel has that in spades.

Deep into the second novel, I found the pace a little slow going and got a bit bogged down, but it picked up again. Overall, this is a series of books designed to keep you reading—and thinking—about the protagonists and likely about your own character.

If the mark of a good book is a memorable character these are very good books, indeed. I’m looking forward to Book III.

Extensions to the books
In the meantime, eight stories from the books have been made into comics–another great way to get kids reading, especially if the comics get them hooked and then they continue on to read the longer, book version. Visit the website for the comics.

The films are apparently also in production. Check out #cirkelnfilmen #engelsforsfilm #engelsforsmovie on Instagram, Twitter and tumblr for pictures and more from the pre-production.

“The Circle” and “Fire” are the first two books in the Engelsfors Trilogy, by Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg. Published by The Overlook Press. “Fire” recently went on sale; it’s 704 pages and is aimed at ages 14+ (although it could easily be enjoyed by younger readers). Visit the website.

The contest
Aren’t you glad you kept reading? This contest is as easy as 1-2-3!
Email me at joycegrant at sympatico dot ca, Subject: Englesfors and I will enter your name in a draw for a free copy of Fire, the second book in the Engelsfors Trilogy.
2) Tweet the link to this review (include @JGCanada) and I’ll put your name in the draw a second time.
Post a link to this review on your Facebook page for a third chance to win (email me the link to your Facebook page).
Contest ends Friday, Feb. 28, 2014; unfortunately, it’s limited to residents of Canada and the U.S. Good luck!

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For tween girls: Small, Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy

small-medium-at-largeIf you’re looking for a lovely, humorous read for your tween girl, look no further than Small Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy.

The title refers to the fact that after our heroine, Lilah Bloom, is struck by lightning (at her mother’s wedding) she begins to hear ghosts–starting with her grandmother, Bubby Dora.

The ghosts Bloom communicates with are always interesting, funny and helpful. And come to think about it, isn’t that exactly what a tween girl needs? Helpful, fun mentors she can turn to for advice during those tricky in-between years.

And what girl wouldn’t give anything to be able to spend a few more days with her grandmother?

The story clicks right along, in Small Medium at Large, with just enough character development to satisfy most young female readers and just enough action to make it a fast and easy read.

The ghosts help Bloom solve some problems, like finally getting her dorky dad to go on a date. And she helps them, as well.

The main character, Lilah Bloom, is a girl who’s smart but just imperfect enough for the reader to be able to relate to her. Small Medium at Large is a good read, for girls at an age when it can be difficult to find reading material that’s not babyish but not inappropriate, either. This book fits the bill.

There is an excellent review of the book on the blog YA Love.



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Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings by Hélène Boudreau

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings by Helene BoudreauNo they don’t. They don’t wear toe rings and you wanna know why? ‘Cause when they change from human to mermaid that toe ring flies right off–ping!–to who-knows-where.

Finding her toe ring is but one of the many challenges Jade Baxter faces in the first book in this series. Others are: finding a bathing suit that hides her muffin-top, crushing on a boy named Luke and – being a mermaid sometimes.

I’m not normally drawn to supernatural literature, where the main characters are vampires or angels or werewolves. However, I was intrigued by Hélène Boudreau’s mermaid series for a couple of reasons. For one thing, Jade isn’t a reed-thin, blonde, perky-perfect teenager. She’s — normal — like Boudreau’s readers (well, except for the tail). So readers will find a character who is flawed but endearing and strong. And that’s good.

For another thing, kids do like supernatural main characters so when you find a decent book with a believable main character in one, it’s a significant find. Also, it’s got a rollicking good plot that involves saving Jade’s mother from evil mer-people who are holding her in the sea against her will.

Toe Ring is the first of three books in Boudreau’s mermaid series.

The second one is Real Mermaids Don’t Hold Their Breath, in which Jade and her friends take on an eco-challenge.

And the third one, Real Mermaids Don’t Need High Heels (again, so true) comes out in Spring 2013. That one has Jade saving her fellow “mers” as the evil Mermish Council tries to lure them away from land forever.

I understand from her Facebook posts and her website that Boudreau is working on a fourth one, Real Mermaids Don’t Sell Sea Shells.

Although it’s apparently not great to judge a book by its cover, I’ve got to add that Boudreau’s books have lovely covers. Embossed and watery, in a nice way.

Another thing I like about them is that each one contains a very teenager-friendly, decadent (wait for it)… recipe. Each recipe is for something Jade and her friends make in the story. For instance, peanut-butter s’mores (which include the genius addition of a Reese’s peanut-butter cup), or Jade’s Five-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake.




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Draw a stickman.comYour kid will love this.

You draw a stick figure, and the website brings it to life.

There is a literacy component, because the site takes the stickman through a plotline. You’re given instructions like, “draw a key in my hand” before he can open a locked box.

Kids have to read and understand the instructions, and then figure out how to fulfill them.

(So like life.)

There’s plenty of action to keep kids interested in the story. I won’t spoil it for you, but think dragon, fire, flood… cartoony, though, not scary.

And throughout it all is a very quirky sense of silliness. For instance, at some point the site itself catches on fire and detritus drops on the dragon’s head. Stuff that kids love.

After you’ve finished the scenario – a couple of times, likely – take a look at the gallery. People have done some pretty incredible “stickmen,” like Steve Jobs, Gandolf, anime and other really inventive characters.



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L. M. Montgomery’s newest book is dark and lovely

The Blythes Are Quoted, by L. M. MontgomeryHere’s a mother-daughter book you may want to check out.

Wait, I’m assuming you’ve both read (and loved) the Anne of Green Gables series.
You have? Good. Let’s continue.

So, I’m browsing the shelves of Chapters in a small town in Ontario recently, and my fingers are drawn to a soft green cover with gold embossed writing on the spine. It says, The Blythes Are Quoted, by L. M. Montgomery.

I’m intrigued. I take it down from the shelf. It’s beautiful, a hefty volume of about 500 lovingly bound pages with a painted scene of PEI on the cover.

I call a Chapters-woman over. “What’s this?” I ask her.

She tells me essentially what the book’s foreword says, which is, “The Blythes Are Quoted is the last work of fiction the world-famous author of Anne of Green Gables prepared for publication before her untimely death on April 24, 1942. It has never been published in its entirety… Until now, the full text of The Blythes Are Quoted has remained something of a secret.”

Apparently someone delivered the manuscript to Montgomery’s publisher on the day of her death, but it was never published. Long-story short, any publisher who tried to put it into print either annotated the material or left half of it out.

There’s a reason for that. The book is a collection of short stories, none of them directly about Anne of Green Gables (but she’s usually mentioned at least in passing). After each story is a poem or two that “Anne” has written, and some dialogue between Anne and her family members about the poem.

Here’s the other reason: some of the stories are kind of dark. There’s one about a girl who is taken by her aunt into a forest upon each full moon to meet ghosts. There’s another one about a man who is taken on a joy ride by a knife-wielding lunatic. Actually, did I say “kind of” dark? These stories are dark. But oh so much fun!

Some publishers left out the poems, and some left out the “dark.” Viking Canada in 2009 and now Penguin this year have published all of it, and it’s good stuff.

If you’re an Anne of Green Gables fan (you people in Japan*, I’m talking to you), you and your daughter would do well to pick up this strange and delightful nugget of Anne-inspired wonderfulness.

It’s not exactly a spunky redheaded orphan getting into mischief. More like her dead, insane, murderous older sister on a drunken rampage—if she were still cute and likeable.

Anyway, the price of the volume is worth it just for the lovely cover art.

*I’m not trying to be funny… the Japanese love Anne like the French love Jerry Lewis. They’re obsessed with her. They’ve got good taste.

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Halo by Alexandra Adornetto

I’m not so sure it’s a great book… but I can’t seem to put it down.

Halo hits all the right buttons for today’s modern tween girl: the main characters are supernatural (angels); there’s a romance; cute and enigmatic boy characters; a spunky yet conflicted girl protagonist.

Halo tells the story of three angels who have been sent to earth to set things right. Apparently evil is overtaking us, and enough is enough for the Guy upstairs. One of the angels is 17-year-old Beth, who is more susceptible to her new human form than her two older and wiser siblings. She succumbs to the temptations of human emotion and falls in love with a human boy. This sets up a conflict, since she finds herself too busy dating to pay attention to the more charitable pursuits she has been put on earth to fulfill. The whole thing comes to a climax when a sexy male devil character sets his sights on her.

Kinda like Twilight
Whereas Twilight, the hugely popular teen-girl-fantasy novel against which all others must now be measured, had vampires, Halo has angels. Twilight is set in a quiet, nondescript town in the U.S.; so is Halo. Both have strong female lead characters. Both books feature gentle (yet strong) male love interests. In both books, the female lead characters must battle supernatural forces. And in both books the main character is quickly swept off her feet by a boy with whom she falls irrevocably in love, a love she puts beyond all else – including common sense and her responsibilities.

If your teen or tween girl liked Twilight, I’m going to bet that she’ll enjoy Halo.

It’s a gentle love story, an easy read, with just enough action to keep the pages turning. And it’s clean. Angel-clean.

However, I would have liked the book to have been edited a bit more carefully. Not only are there occasional grammatical errors, but some of the dialogue is stilted, especially when the kids are tryin’ to talk hip-like. That’s the writer’s fault but also the editor’s, who should have pointed it out and asked for rewrites.

I once had an editor who talked about an author who “worries every word.” Halo feels like it was written a bit hastily, without the words having been sufficiently “worried” by this young author (Alexandra Adornetto is 19.)

But it doesn’t really matter, because the kids are reading the book in droves and loving it, with or without clunky dialogue.

Adornetto is already working on the second book in what will be a trilogy: Hades, due out next year. The third book will be entitled Heaven.

She is also working on a website for young aspiring authors which will offer writing tips. Now, that is something to really look forward to, and something that will undoubtedly help to get kids writing. Good for her.

Related Links
Here’s the video trailer for Halo.
And here’s a nice video interview (1:30) with author Alexandra Adornetto.

Previous articles posted on Getting Kids Reading
The Twilight Series.
New Twilight Book.
Newest Twilight Book – Free.

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Newest Twilight book – free

the short second life of bree tanner – by Stephenie Meyer

It’s hot off the press and today until July 5 it’s available free online here.

The book is a novella, only 178 pages, and its protagonist is one of the minor characters from Meyer’s earlier novel, Eclipse.

Bree Tanner is a “newborn vampire,” whose life is dangerous and ultimately tragic. The book is told through her voice, giving Twilight fans a chance to look at Eclipse in a completely different light.

As a parent, you should know that your girl will definitely want this book. That Chapters/Indigo is selling it for $9.99 when you purchase another teen book. And that it’s available online for free until July 5, 2010.

Even if you’re not planning on reading this book, check out the free online version – the technology is pretty interesting. You can increase the size of the print, view it as a one-page or two-page spread, and choose individual pages to read or just go through it all page by page.

If you’ve got a reluctant reader, this may be just the ticket. It’s a short book, full of action, easy to read and it’s online. Until July 5.

I bought the book yesterday and it only took me – I tend to be a very slow reader – an hour or so to get halfway through it. It’s interesting and it clips right along. And I like that Stephenie Meyer lets her readers into her thought process (in the Introduction) in terms of the way she thinks about her characters. She may get kids writing as well.

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Alice in Wonderland – the trailer

Click on this image for a larger version. (It’s worth the click.)
Disney has put its trailer for Alice back on YouTube.

(They musta read my blog post telling them to put it back…)

The trailer is quite something. Very exciting and Burton-esque, dark and whimsical, with that heart-pumping music that gets you going.

I predict that the movie is going to spark a run on the book, so get yours now while the gettin’s good.

The movie is due out March 2010.

I told my son that Johnny Depp is doing the movie, and he’s already excited about us reading the book together. It didn’t hurt that I also mentioned that Helena Bonham Carter – the kids know her as Bellatrix Lastrange from the Harry Potter movies – is playing the Red Queen.

Thanks, Burton and Depp, for getting my kid (and countless others, I’m sure) reading!
Here’s a link to the trailer.
And here’s a link to more stills from the movie.
Oh, and OK, just for fun here’s a link to the trailer for New Moon, the next Twilight film they’re making.
Thanks to for these pictures.
Oh, and I’m filing this under “five-minute ideas” as well, because I think a wonderful way to “get your kid reading” would be to share the trailer with her and show her the stills. Talk about the book, and the characters, and soon she’ll be champing at the bit to read it. And then it won’t be a five-minute activity, it’ll be an every-night-reading activity. “O frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!” (And if you don’t know what that means, you need to read the book again yourself.)
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Literacy activities that appeal to kids

Go with what your child enjoys.

I strongly believe that the best way to get kids reading is to give ’em what they like. But maybe you think that their interests – their real interests, what they would spend most of their time doing if they were allowed free reign – are not compatible with reading.

Video games
-Show him the Nintendo DS’s PICTOCHAT message function.
Teach him to type. Let him use Word to type stories and poems.
-The best book ever: Guiness Book of World Records, Gamer’s Edition.
Magazines for gamers.
-There are lots of websites with educational games. Here’s a good one.

-Subscribe to Sports Illustrated for Kids.
Active word games for active kids.

-Subscribe to an appropriate celebrity- or TV-oriented magazine.
-Teach your child how to write (a letter, preferably, rather than an e-mail) to her favourite star. She might even get a letter back.
-Show your older kid how to do “research” on her favourite star using Google.
-Check out the biographies at your library. Maybe there’s one on her favourite star.
-Set limits on “screen-time.” Something like no more than two hours a day, computer/video/TV time. Not as a punishment, but as a new kind of lifestyle. TV-time eats up reading time “like a tiger eats a deer” (my son supplied this helpful analogy). Research backs me up on this (and so does your gut instinct).

The Get-Kids-Reading challenge
What is your child’s interest? E-mail me. I’m certain I can come up with something that will appeal to him or her. C’mon! Throw your best at me. I can take it!

E-mail me or put your child’s activity in a Comment on this site. I’ll come up with some stuff that will appeal to your child, and write a post about it. No names will be used.

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The Twilight series

What you need to know about Twilight.

So you’ve heard about the Twilight series and you’re wondering if you should get the books for your daughter. There are four books in the series: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.

Here’s what you need to know about Twilight:

1) What is it about?
Bella (a 17-year-old girl) falls passionately in love with Edward (a vampire who looks 17 but is in fact over 100 years old). Together, they face dangers including other vampires who want to kill Bella, and werewolves (the vampires’ natural enemy.) To complicate things, Bella’s best friend, Jacob, is a werewolf.

2) Will my daughter read them?
Yes. If you’re trying to get your teenaged daughter to enjoy reading, these’ll do it. They contain everything girls love. Well-developed characters and an “emotional plot” – girls like books that allow them to follow the thinking of the characters and understand their motivations. This has it in spades.

3) What’s good about them?
They’re a quick and easy read – like a better-than-average romance novel. They’ll keep your daughter interested, from one chapter to the next and one book to the next. The characters will stay with you.

4) What else is good?
My teenaged friend, Megan, appreciates Bella and Edward’s strong family values. They unselfishly try to protect each other and their families throughout the books. Also, Edward is a “good” vampire, part of a coven that has sworn off killing humans, opting for big game instead. (They call themselves “vegetarians.”)

5) What should I watch out for?
I’d recommend that you read the books and discuss them with your daughter. Emotions run very high in the Twilight series. Bella and Edward fall “irrevocably” in love after laying eyes on each other just a couple of times. In very short order, Bella is ready to die for Edward, and vice-versa. It’s all very dramatic, romantic and highly glamourized. Remember, this is essentially an older man in the body of a 17-year-old, and he admits that vampires are “the most efficient predators.” If Edward was, say, 40, how would we feel about the plot? That’s the stuff you need to discuss with your daughter – just to kind of underline the difference between fiction and real life.

The other thing that’s kind of iffy is that Bella, although she is presented as quite mature, tends to hide things from her parents and make big life-and-death decisions without doing a whole lot of research first.

6) The movie and the merchandise.
There is one movie (available on DVD) and another on the way. The author’s website is There are also about a zillion “fansites” about Twilight. Twilight is huge – think “Harry Potter” huge.

7) Cool facts you can tell your daughter.
*The interesting spelling of Stephenie Meyer’s first name comes from her father, Stephen.
*She has brothers named Seth and Jacob (both names of prominent werewolves in the books).
*She is working on a fifth book, Midnight Sun, which is Twilight written from Edward’s perspective. However, it was leaked on the Internet and that bummed her out. Here’s a link to the author’s statement about the leak. She is still planning to publish the book, likely this year. Update: Nope, she’s not doing the Edward book now. Blame the leak. Instead, she’ll publish a book from Bree Tanner’s perspective (from Eclipse). Read about it here.

Something that bums me out – the books contain some spelling mistakes. (Who’s instead of whose, the odd missing word, and disturbingly, “Bella and I” when it should have been “Bella and me”). But I guess it’s inevitable since the books are, like, 600 pages long. But next time – Stephenie, I can recommend a great proofreader (, hint, hint.

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