Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Review: A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat


Sometimes when you are in the middle of a book and people ask you what it's about, you can give them a simple description that sums it up quite nicely. Perhaps it makes them think of similar books they have read, and they nod and smile and say they might want to read it when you are through.

Other times, you look up, clear your thoughts a moment, and say, "It's a Thai fantasy based on Les Miserables."

Blink. Blink. Crickets.

Need a more detailed description?

A boy on the run. A girl determined to find him. A compelling fantasy looks at issues of privilege, protest, and justice.

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

While it is not likely that many middle school readers are familiar with the plot twists and characters of Les Miserables, as an adult reader I enjoyed the twists. The basic themes - redemption, class disparity, power, changing perspectives, etc. - are still there, but (small spoiler) Gavroche does not end up riddled with bullets! 

Sontornvat weaves a deft tale of realistic fantasy that will please readers of all ages, whether they have never heard of Les Mes, or whether they have had the entire score memorized since college. Three-dimensional characters are seldom all good or all bad (notable but still interesting exceptions in Father Cham and the Governor). A welcome addition to middle grade fantasy fiction, which has long been filled with Caucasian characters centered in Europe or the US.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Jones Kids on the Loose, 2019 Edition - Day 4 and 5

While we were on the road, Gracie was having a blast with Grandma! She really seemed to enjoy being an 'only child' for a while. Saturday they had a special day together that included brunch at The Friendship Tea House:

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A trip to our favorite rescue to help socialize the pups:

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And an afternoon of thrift shops, where she scored a ton of Barbies and Barbie DVDs!

Back in Texas, we went out exploring again in the morning.

Of course it was Logan who was noticing and picking up the tiniest interesting rocks.

I think we got them all out of the cabin again...apologies to the staff if we missed any!

There was this very exciting family thing in the morning...but it hasn't hit Facebook yet, so I'm not going to tell you about it ;) 

Instead, here's a gigantic walking stick the cousins found:

He kept going around people's backs when I tried to get a picture!

Oh, right, much better.

After he was safely relocated to some trees, we hung out one last time as everyone started wandering home.

Our newest cousin, Aurelia (and her Daddy). Isn't she gorgeous?

Fists of fury!

Cool tunnels by the pond...

More frog catching (and releasing, despite pleas to take some home)

And then they wanted to go back to "Kids' Kingdom".

This park is also a great place to meet dogs! It includes a disc golf course, and many area pups like to join in. I got slobbered on by a very excited German Shepherd, an adorable bulldog, and a smooshy hound puppy who just wanted to be carried and have her belly rubbed.

This is pretty easy!

We had one last surprise for the kids in the evening. While we were making plans, I discovered one of my favorite people - and one of the kids' favorite authors - lived only an hour away! We made arrangements to meet for dinner. Sheridan caught her first name when I was talking to Mike, and started turning it over in her head. When we met up outside the restaurant and she gave me an advance copy of her next book, you could see her connect the dots.

"Is she the lady who writes the Chickies books???"

Why, yes. Yes, she is. We brought this new copy of our favorite (because the old copy has been read to pieces), and look how adorably she signed it! The kids were so tickled that she knew them so well (and as Sheridan mentioned several times, how to spell their names!)

If you do not have Janee Trasler's books in your library, you need to order them right now. And if you ever get the chance to spend time with her, take it! She is every bit as funny and sweet in person as she is online. We talked so much I hardly ate any of my food (or does that just mean I talked too much? Did I talk too much? Oh dear...)

About twenty minutes after we left, we both realized about the same time...we never took any pictures! We were just having too much fun! Oh well, that just means she has to come to New Mexico now.

Janee also gave each of the kids a bag for the ride home, and mean old Mom wouldn't even let them look until we were on the road the next morning. There were fun snacks greeted with cries of "Oh I love her!!!". Sheridan literally broke into song when she saw the Dove chocolate, her favorite. And then there was Flarp.

Flarp, for the uninitiated, is fart putty. When you make air bubbles and squish them, or squish it against the side of the container, it makes a farting sound. At first we just played with it in the container while on our tablets.

Then we started getting creative.

There were fart jokes. There were fart songs. And from farts, there isn't much of a leap to snot.

Such a proud Mommy moment.

I won't complain, though, because it kept them occupied pretty much the entire trip! The beautiful weekend weather was gone again, and we drove home in rain that froze to the windshield and heavy winds trying to toss us off the road.


We made it home after 9PM, the inside of the car pretty much trashed at that point, and somehow at least three children had Flarp in their hair, but we just tossed everyone into bed. I ended up taking the next day off to bathe children, unload the car, and do laundry...

Lots and lots of laundry!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Jones Kids on the Loose - 2019 Edition - Day 3

Saturday was when the fun really began! The Silver Spur Resort has a couple ponds with turtles, fish and teeny tiny frogs to check out.

We had to run to Walmart there because Christopher had outgrown the shirts I packed for him JUST LAST WEEK. Sheridan had some spending money and decided to get a baby carrier for Judith (since mean Mommy didn't let her bring the car seat).

A friend had recommended the Dairy Barn for lunch. There were two trucks with baby goats outside, so we almost didn't make it past the parking lot. These helped move them along:

Then we went to a local park for a bit. 

Oh my goodness. I will give Alamogordo locals a moment to wipe away a tear.

This looks JUST like a park we had here, which burned down a little over a year ago, and has since been replaced with generic playground equipment :(

Where's Logan now? Oh! Off by himself, as usual...

Needless to say, the kids referred to it as "Kids' Kingdom" throughout the rest of the weekend.

Back at the resort we explored the garden, and found a painted rock!

"Stache Rocks" on the back.

We left it for others to find, but I will look up their Facebook page shortly.

Cousin Jaxon, who grows six inches every time I see him.

Logan wanted to know, "Can we live here???"

Sheridan and Abigail really hit it off! We hadn't seen her since she was barely walking. She definitely got that walking/running thing down since then!

Time to get spiffed up!

And look at cool spiders.

Abi found a rock, too!

Getting closer to time...palling around with cousin Lily...

Shane, of course, understood the solemnity of the event.

And then they were married! And I am not posting any pictures until the bride does. But it was beautiful and perfect and the weather could not have cooperated more.