A Wish In the Dark

by Christina Soontornvat

Wow!  What a wonderfully layered book.  I was breathless as read the last word and shut the cover, eager to read it again to catch what I’d missed the first time.  A real gift!

Once upon a time Chattana was full of magical wonders, but when catastrophe struck, that changed.  In the present magic exists, but is mostly invisible.  It is there, but tightly controlled.  

The only light and power allowed in the city comes from  glowing orbs.  The citizens use these to light their homes, cook their meals and power their machines.  The orbs come in a spectrum of colors.  The dimmest and most affordable orbs are Violet and Blue.  The brightest and most dear are Jade and Gold.  The color of the light has become a symbol of wealth and status so the wealthy are bright and illuminated, while the poor are dim and shadowed. The city Chattana literally has a dark side and a light side – where you reside seems to define your position and worth.

The law of Chattana requires a child born in prison to remain there until his or her 13th year.  Pong, born and orphaned in Namwon prison, is nine.  He dreams of what his life will be like when he is finally able to enter the city.  Inspired by a poster in his classroom, Pong aspires to serve the Governor, Chattana’s savior, ruler and sole source of power.

When the Governor comes to inspect the prison, Pong he hopes he’ll make a favorable impression.   A misunderstanding by the Warden’s daughter,  Nok, makes that impossible.  In fact the Governor proclaims, “Light shines only on the worthy”  and adds that there is no worth to be found in anyone “born in darkness.”   These words crush Pong, and so when the opportunity for escape occurs, he takes it.

Out of the prison, Pong has to flee.  The tattoo on his wrist forever connects him prison, and if caught, he’ll be sent back, for life.  That would be unbearable and so Pong heads south to the sea.  When he is feeling most desperate, he stumbles upon a temple in a small town.  There he meets a wise and generous monk, Father Cham.  Father Cham teaches him about boundless compassion, staying true to yourself and looking for ways to lift others. At the temple, with Father Cham Pong learns and grows – his life is changed forever.

Four years after the prison visit, Nok is faced with a dilemma.  Her parents have asked her to leave the city to attend a well respected school run by monks in the country-side.  They feel it will be best for the family – Nok disagrees.  She has always tried to make her parents proud.  She is the best student and the best spire-fighter.  She believes if she can perform one more impressive feat, she will prove her worth to her family and to the elite.  She just has to realize what that feat will be.

When visiting the school, she discovers it.  Nok recognizes a young monk in the village as the boy who escaped from Namwon on the day of the visit that caused her father to lose his position.  She believes that if she can bring this fugitive to justice, no one will again question her worth.  Thus begins Nok’s relentless pursuit of Pong driving them both into the impoverished darker side of Chattana.  Their the rumblings of discontent and protests of the oppressed are stirring.  As they become louder and more intense, both Pong and Nok recognize the importance of empathy and compassion in the face of the blinding power of self-righteousness.  Will that understanding come soon enough to change the course of the future?  Will they survive?  Will Chattana?

A Wish in the Dark is masterful and magical. A must read book!

Happy Reading! 📚  

The Genius Under the Table ~ About Eugene Yelchin

When Breaking Stalin’s Nose was released in 2012 Matt and I both read it.  I was uncertain how I felt about the story.  I wasn’t sure how I would help readers understand what was happening.  I wondered how I would build context.  I wasn’t sure I could.  Matt said he thought it was important for kids to read so they’d know how different growing up could be depending on when and where you lived.

Fast forward ten years to 2021 when Eugene Yelchin’s memoir for children was released, The Genius Under the Table.  As I read about Yevgeny’s life in the USSR, I couldn’t help but reflect again on how important understanding different growing up stories can be.  Eugene Yelchin has created a video sharing his ideas and questions about what it means to be an artist, an author and a teller of stories.  I think his words and images are important to hear and see.  The link is found here:  About Eugene Yelchin. Please take the time to view it.

In between the reading of these two books, I also read, and was moved by Arcady’s Goal.  It is a fictional story that shares the character’s dream of using a special talent as a way to open up the world of possibility and reduce the strain caused by anxiety and want.

Just as Matt said so many years ago, these books are important.  In writing this post I learned about several other Yelchin books I have yet to read.  I am looking forward to reading and learning through them. I’m also wondering how looking to the past can help us understand our current world.

Happy Reading!📚


A Game of Fox & Squirrels

Have you ever tried playing a game, but the people you are playing with keep changing the rules.  It’s not really fair.  And it’s not really fun, but whenever you try to stand up for yourself you get ridiculed, teased and pestered.  You can ask for help, or you can just let it go.  Maybe the next time will be different.  It’s hard to choose what to do.

Samantha Littlefield’s home life is a bit like that.  After the incident that broke her sister’s arm, the girls find themselves in a car with Aunt Vicky on their way to her home in rural Oregon.  It’s really different from Los Angeles.  The house is way off the road.  They have fresh air, quiet, chickens and Aunt Vicky has a wife, Hannah.  Everything is different.  At first all Sam can think about is how, and when she will get back home.

It’s clear that Aunt Vicki and Hannah are trying.  They’ve been thinking about what the girls will need to feel happy, safe and at home.  There’s even a birthday present waiting on Samatha’s bed when she arrives.

“Is this for me?” Sam picked it up, pulled the long pink ribbon through her fingers.

“Happy birthday,” Aunt Vicky said.  “It was yesterday, wasn’t it?  I thought you might like a present.  We can bake a cake later too.  With frosting.  I’m not sure we have enough sugar, but we definitely have the eggs.”  She chuckled, but Sam didn’t know why.

Oh, the chickens.  Eggs and chickens.  Eggs and cakes.  Chicken and cakes.  Was this the sort of thing people in Oregon found funny? …

Sam ripped off the paper and gasped.  It wasn’t a book, as she’d been expecting.  A Game of Fox & Squirrels was written in faded type across a battered box.  The ampersand was swirly and inviting, and Sam couldn’t help but run her fingertip along its wild, swooping curves.

Something moved outside the window.  A flash of red, fast as a heartbeat.  But when Sam looked, she saw only the same old green grass and trees and blue sky.

“Its’s a card game,” Aunt Vicky said.  “Works better with a few people.  We can play later, if you want.”

Later, when Sam looks closely at the cards, she loves the characters.  The squirrels are resourceful and strong.  The trickster fox is enchanting.  The next day Sam finds the characters have come- Squirrels: Birch, Cedar and Maple and Fox:  Ashander – into her room.  They talk to her and offer her a chance for adventure.  The fox suggests a quest.  He says if Sam is able to find and retrieve the Golden Acorn he, Ashander, will grant her everything she wishes for.

It seems like an easy choice  and so the quest begins.  Almost immediately the rules change and Sam finds herself lying, stealing and putting those she cares for and depends on, in danger.  How will she win the game?  Is winning a game important?  What is important when you need help?  Should anyone go on an important quest alone?  What matters most?

In the Author’s Note of A Game of Fox & Squirrels, Jenn Reese says this is a book she had to write.  It is a book she wished she’d had as a child when she was living with a “fox” – someone who kept changing the rules so she could never please them no matter how carefully she tried to follow the rules.  Parents and teachers, make sure you read book… it may be just the story someone needs to hear.

Happy Reading! 📚


I waited a while to read Pony by R. J. Palacio.  I’m not sure why.  If you haven’t read it yet, don’t wait.   It’s different and special ~ a hero’s journey and Wild West tale rolled into one.

Silas is different.  He has a special relationship with his dad – a boot maker for a living, an engraver and photographer too.  Both Silas and his dad read widely and deeply.  They know many things that others do not.  Silas realizes he may not know things that most most everyone knows.  He just hasn’t needed to know them yet.  He will as the need arises.  Silas love to read and discover right along with Pa.  He helps with the chores around the house.  Hunting is a challenge.  He does not like the woods.  They speak to him in a way that makes him very afraid.  He passed out the first time he tried to go in with his father.  He’s not gone back since.

Silas is special.  He can see ghosts.  One, Mittenwool, has been with him since birth.  They are best friends.   It’s Mittenwool who woke him up on the night the gang came and took Pa.    That was how Silas heard all that was said and saw the three men and the horses.  It’s Mittenwool who agreed to go with him to see if they can find Pa and bring him home. That is how Silas found the courage to overcome his panic and push on.

At the edge of the wood, one of the gang’s horses, the pony finds them.  Silas takes this as a sign.  He must go into the fearsome wood, find his father, and bring him home.  And so their journey begins – Silas, Mittenwool and Pony.

It’s not an easy journey.  Terrible things have happened in those woods – and while you and I might feel the ominous energy, Silas can see the horrific ghostly proof.  There are others traveling through the wood – and while you and I might be skeptical and suspicious, Silas hasn’t had much experience with others in the world and trusts them.

I would have turned back many times, but Silas continues.  He is pushed forward by his love of family, the kindness of friends and his courage to do the right thing.  It is an amazing story that will stay with me long after the cover has been closed.

The book is illustrated with old daguerrotypes, tintypes and other photographs Pa may have taken.  And is further enriched by quotes and passages from books, likely to have been in Pa and Silas’ library

What a story!

Happy Reading! 📚

Cold-Blooded Myrtle

Myrtle Hardcastle— twelve-year-old amateur detective—is back in her third book.  This time she is solving a string of murders in her hometown of Swinburne.

On the morning of the annual Christmas reveal, with the whole town gathered outside the window, the proprietor of Leighton’s Mercantile is found dead.  Perhaps the poor man has had a stroke, but Myrtle suspects more.  The tableau has some alarming references, and seems connected to the long ago disappearance of a student named Olive Blackwell. 

But who would want to kill the local dry-goods merchant? Perhaps someone who remembers the mysterious scandal that destroyed his career as a professor and archaeologist. Myrtle, along with her tutor, Miss Judson begin their investigation.  The more Myrtle looks, the more she discovers about her mother (who passed away from cancer when Myrtle was younger), a secret society, and a past wrongdoing.

Her investigation lead Myrtle through Swinburne.  She talks to Leah, the new carillonist, who shows her around the the tower and explains how the bells are played.   Leah will be holding the first concert of the bells since Olive’s mysterious disappearance. She invites Myrtle to come. Myrtle attends the opening of Leighton Museum and talks to the curator about the artifacts and scenes donated by Professor Leighton before his death.  She also talks to newspaper reporters who seems quite interested in the twists and turns of this particular mystery.  Myrtle observes and notices.  She wonders and questions.

When the killer strikes again, the figures in the Leighton tableau are rearranged foretelling the crime. Myrtle finds herself racing to uncover the long-buried facts of a cold case and the motivations of a modern murderer.

You’ll have a great time solving the case with Myrtle.  Sherlock Holmes has nothing on her.

Happy Reading!📚

PS – If you want to learn more about pneumatic subway systems, check this book out.

Another Great Book in the Greenglass series

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Phineas Amalgam is Kate Milford’s fifth book featuring the magical town of Nagspeak situated on the Skidwrack River. Each book is skillfully mysterious ~ real and unreal, magical and ordinary, everyday and unique all at once.  Curious readers can’t help but be intrigued.  

Lexio, an online dictionary, defines a raconteur as a person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way.  Phineas Amalgam is such a collector of tales.   When he and his fellow guests find themselves waylaid at the Blue Vein Tavern by unrelenting rain, he suggests they pass the evenings sharing stories.  Each story is original and personal.  Over the course of days and tellings, it becomes apparent that the stories and their tellers are connected.  Are the guests at the Blue Vein Tavern there by chance, or is there something this particular group of people must do to put their stories together and face the truth?   Fate seems to rest in their collective hands.

I think you’ll enjoy this collection of tales.  If you’re already a reader of the Greenglass Series, I think you’ll be completely satisfied.  If you’re new to the series, please make time to enjoy the rest.   This series is one to be savored and reread – I missed so many details and clues the first time through.  It was fun to find them later.




Happy Reading!📚

PS – I kept a paper in my book while I was reading so I could keep track of new words.  There were a lot for me.  I don’t think I’ll use them, but it was fun to see how they perfectly fit into this story.