Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Review of Echo Mountain, by Lauren Wolk

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

Echo Mountain

by Lauren Wolk

Dutton Children’s Books, 2019. 356 pages.
Review written January 9, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Set in Maine in 1934, about a family who left to live on Echo Mountain after their money ran out in the Great Depression, here’s how the book begins:

The first person I saved was a dog.

My mother thought he was dead, but he was too young to die, just born, still wet and glossy, beautiful really, but not breathing.

Ellie ended up plunging the puppy into a barrel of water, and he revived and she gave him back to his mother. But that puppy had a special place in her heart.

So after that success, Ellie starts getting ideas about how she could wake up her father, who has been in a coma for months, after a tree fell on him. They had a doctor come, but the doctor offered no help. Ellie thinks that quiet and lullabies are the wrong approach. Maybe a shock, like the cold water on the puppy, will do the trick.

She doesn’t consult with her mother or big sister in this planning, and when she starts carrying out her plans, they aren’t too happy. At the same time, when she ventures up the mountain, she meets someone else who needs help – but who also knows a thing or two about medicine.

A fun part of this book was the different remedies Ellie and others try. It turns out I didn’t know much about medical knowledge in 1934. I had no idea that honey helps a wound to heal – or how you would get honey if you needed it, on a mountain without any money.

It was also a lovingly drawn picture of a poor community, using barter and ingenuity to get along, but the toll it took on a woman to run a home while her husband was unconscious. And then her daughter tries crazy ideas to help! (One of Ellie’s ideas was to put a non-poisonous snake in her father’s bed. She figured when he heard her sister scream, he’d want to help her so much, he’d wake up.)

This book did remind me of Lauren Wolk’s other books. They all have quirky, thoughtful characters that you come to love.

penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Passover Guest, by Susan Kusel, illustrated by Sean Rubin

Sunday, February 21st, 2021

The Passover Guest

by Susan Kusel
illustrated by Sean Rubin

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2021. 36 pages.
Review written January 27, 2021, from my own copy, signed to me by the author
Starred Review

I’ll be honest right up front: The author of this book is a friend of mine. I met her at KidLitCon in 2008 (I think) when she had been accepted to attend the William Morris Seminar to learn about book evaluation, but my application had not been accepted. But I joined her monthly book club talking about children’s books. In 2012 was my turn to attend the seminar. Then I got on the ballot for the Newbery Committee the same year Susan was on the ballot for the Caldecott committee. Susan got elected to the committee, but I missed it by 15 votes. Well, a few years later, my turn did come along and I served on the 2019 Newbery committee. So I’m getting to where I delight in Susan’s successes, as she shows how these things are possible! Oh, and that reminds me – Susan took obvious, joyful delight in each of those successes in a way that spreads the joy to those who see it. Her joyous posts on Facebook about signing copies of the new book ordered through a local independent bookstore prompted me to order a copy of my own.

And the book – with all that build-up, I wasn’t surprised to find it wonderful. It’s a retelling of The Magician, by I. L. Peretz, about a mysterious and magical person showing up at Passover time. Susan sets this story in 1933 in the middle of the Great Depression in Washington, D.C., which is so beautiful in the Springtime. (And she researched that peak cherry blossoms that year hit the first night of Passover.) The illustrator did a wonderful job showing the beauty and grandeur of the monuments among the cherry trees – and then the poverty and plainness of a poor Jewish family with the father out of work.

A miracle happens, and we see the whole thing through the eyes of a little girl named Muriel who sees more than most. Ultimately, the whole community comes together and shares in the traditional celebration.

A lovely story of magic and blessing.

HolidayHouse.com

Order a signed copy from One More Page Books

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Seven Golden Rings, by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

Seven Golden Rings

A Tale of Music and Math

by Rajani LaRocca
illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan

Lee & Low Books, 2020. 40 pages.
Review written February 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Mathical Book Prize Winner, ages 8-10

I recently did a class about books for all ages that include fun math ideas, and discovered this book a day too late to include it, but this is a fun story that tells about the binary number system in a clever way.

In ancient India, Bhagat is going to the capital to audition for the royal troupe, but all he has for the journey is one rupee and a chain of seven golden rings, the last of his mother’s wedding necklace.

He finds a place to stay in the capital city, and they will charge him one gold ring for a night’s stay. Bhagat doesn’t know how many days it will take him to be called to audition for the king. He doesn’t want to pay all seven rings if he gets called sooner.

Then he finds a goldsmith who will break a ring for him to separate it from the chain – but he will charge one rupee to break one link, and Bhagat only has one rupee.

The clever solution is that he has the goldsmith break the third link in the chain. Then that ring is separate, and he’s left with two chains, one with two links and the other with four. He is able to get the exact amount owed each day from one to seven days.

There’s an unexpected end to the story, and then an Author’s note explaining the binary number system and how it relates to the story.

I love this simple and visual approach to teaching binary! The story that goes with it will make it all the more memorable, and I love that the author set up a situation where this idea really did solve a problem.

rajanilarocca.com
archanasreenivasan.com
leeandlow.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

The Lost Girls of Paris

by Pam Jenoff

performed by Candace Thaxton, Elizabeth Knowelden, and Henrietta Meire

Harlequin Audio, 2019. 12 hours on 9 CDs.
Review written February 16, 2021, from a library audiobook

I checked out the audiobook of The Lost Girls of Paris because I’ve discovered a new favorite female narrator in Elizabeth Knowelden, when I listened to her read The Guinevere Deception, after already being enchanted by her voice in Damsel. I was looking for an adult book to read after finishing my reading for the Cybils Awards at the end of 2020, and The Lost Girls of Paris was a lovely choice.

The main storyline of this book is set in New York just after World War II has finished. A young lady named Grace who lives and works in New York City discovers an abandoned suitcase in Grand Central Station and finds photographs inside of twelve young women. Then she discovers that the owner of the suitcase, Eleanor Trig, died that morning in a car accident. Grace wants to know who the girls are and what happened to them.

There are three narrators of this book. Grace gets one viewpoint, and the next narrator, the one read by Elizabeth Knowelden, tells Eleanor’s perspective, back during the war. She worked for Special Operations in London – and gets tasked with recruiting and deploying young women to go to occupied France to be radio operators.

The third perspective is that of Marie, who is one of Eleanor’s recruits. We see her train and then go to Paris.

It’s a good story, and gripping, and I like the way it’s told, going between the three perspectives and telling us things at different times. I’ll tell the reader right up front, though: Too many people I cared about died in this book.

Okay, it’s a book about war. It’s a lot more realistic to have people die. But I like a dose of triumph with death, and these deaths didn’t have that so much. If you want to read an amazing story about young women who worked in France for Special Operations during World War II, I’d rather refer you to the incredible Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein.

That said, it was still a well-told story, with action, danger, and mystery. And I still love listening to anything Elizabeth Knowelden reads.

downpour.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Light in Hidden Places, by Sharon Cameron

Monday, February 15th, 2021

The Light in Hidden Places

by Sharon Cameron

Scholastic Press, 2020. 391 pages.
Review written October 24, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#10 General Teen Fiction

The Light in Hidden Places is a Holocaust novel, so don’t pick it up if you want something cheery. The book tells a true story, though, which gives you hope that the main character is going to come through. In fact, if I hadn’t known it was based on a true story, there was no way I would have believed the characters survived many of the things that happened in this book. If the author had invented them, I would have said it was way over the top with the danger.

The story is of Fusia, a Catholic teenage Polish girl who gets a job in the shop of a Jewish family in 1939 while living in town with her sisters. When the Russians come and her home is bombed, she ends up living with the Jewish family. But the Germans are next, and after awhile, they send the Jewish family to the ghetto. It seems like a safe place for them, and Fusia finds ways to get them food. No one really believes the rumors when some of them get sent on trains to work camps.

As the war goes on, Fusia tries to visit her family on the farm, and finds them gone (sent to a different labor camp in Salzburg), but her young sister Helena alone there and starving. She takes Helena back to the town. And then she gets asked to hide one of the brothers from her Jewish family, for just one night. One night stretches out. She ends up hiding more people. I won’t even say how many Jews she ends up hiding because it seems impossible.

As the war goes on, the chance that Fusia and Helena will be able to keep these people hidden – while also healthy and not starving – gets worse and worse. For some of the time, there are even Nazis living under the same roof. The tension is high, and once I got more than halfway through, I couldn’t stop reading. I kept thinking they couldn’t possibly get through the next crisis.

And the story is all true. Photographs and the Author’s Note at the back give us details. But the author makes it all feel immediate and gripping. This isn’t dry and dusty history at all.

sharoncameronbooks.com
IreadYA.com
scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Burn, by Patrick Ness

Friday, February 12th, 2021

Burn

by Patrick Ness

HarperTeen, 2020. 371 pages.
Review written December 28, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#10 Teen Speculative Fiction

Burn is set in 1957, just before the Soviets launched a satellite, in an alternate reality where dragons exist. As the book begins, Sarah’s father is hiring a dragon to do some work on their farm in Washington State, because that’s cheaper than hiring human labor.

Sarah is mixed-race, and her mother died two years ago. She has a hard time with the deputy sheriff, and so does her Japanese-American boyfriend. Unexpectedly, the dragon they’ve hired helps them out.

Chapters alternate to follow a mysterious teenage boy traveling across Canada toward Washington. Gradually, we learn that he’s a trained assassin, and he is a Believer who prays to the Mitera Thea, the Goddess of the dragons. The Mitera Thea is guiding him to fulfill a prophecy and kill a girl in Washington.

Meanwhile, the dragon on Sarah’s farm tells her about a prophecy that she will stop the destruction of the world. And that an assassin is coming to kill her.

In the middle of the book, these things collide in unexpected ways – and many characters wind up in a “nearby” parallel universe, one without dragons, one that very well might be our own. Things play out in interesting ways.

Now, I don’t actually believe in parallel universes. And I think that if they were possible, a universe where dragons exist would be entirely and completely different from – and be inhabited by completely different people than – a universe where dragons did exist. Technologies would be different, and pretty much all of human history would have played out differently. In addition, I have a problem with parallel universes in books, because if every possibility exists in a universe somewhere, why are you telling a story about this one? It seems like choices don’t matter as much.

However, with all that said, if you accept the premise that “nearby” parallel universes are possible, the author plays with interaction between them in a fun way. I enjoyed the explicitly ambiguous prophecy that no one knows how it will be fulfilled until it is – and the dragon acknowledging that’s the nature of prophecies.

This is a fun book about dragons and prophecy and trying to keep the world from being destroyed – and find love at the same time.

patrickness.com
epicreads.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dangerous Alliance, by Jennieke Cohen

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021

Dangerous Alliance

An Austentacious Romance

by Jennieke Cohen

HarperTeen, 2019. 429 pages.
Review written September 25, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 General Teen Fiction

Here’s another fun variant on Jane Austen! This one is a romance for teens set in England during the time that Jane Austen had published the first four of her books, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Emma.

Our heroine, Lady Vicky Aston, has read and loved Jane Austen’s novels and relates her own life to the events in those books. But there’s a dark side in Vicky’s life that we don’t really see in Jane Austen. Vicky’s sister Althea has fled from her husband, Lord Dain, because he is horribly abusive. The same day that she comes back to the family home, Vicky is attacked in the countryside and fortunately rescued by Lord Halworth, a young man she grew up with but who lived for years on the continent and didn’t answer her letters.

Vicky’s father is determined to get Vicky a divorce, but it’s going to be difficult. At the same time, they need to get Parliament to make Vicky his heir instead of Althea, because if Althea is the heir, the estate would be under Lord Dain’s control. However, Vicky can’t be the heir unless she gets married. So her parents give Vicky a mission: to find a husband during her season in London.

Meanwhile, there are some more attacks. There are misunderstandings. There are accidents that don’t seem like accidents. There are odious suitors and a couple of very nice suitors. But who can Vicky trust? And who is behind those attacks?

It’s all in good fun – while at the same time showing us glimpses of the dark side of the Georgian era and how little agency women actually had.

Another delightful excursion for Jane Austen fans.

jenniekecohen.com
epicreads.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Catherine’s War, by Julia Billet and Claire Fauvel

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Catherine’s War

by Julia Billet and Claire Fauvel
translation by Ivanka Hahnenberger

HarperAlley, 2020. Originally published in 2017 in France. 168 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 5, 2020, from a library book
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Children’s Fiction

Catherine’s War is a graphic novel about a Jewish girl living in France during World War II. Rachel lives at a progressive school where she gets a wonderful education and discovers a passion for photography.

But rules change in France, and Jews are ordered to wear a yellow star. The teachers in the school tell the Jewish children that they’re getting new names. Rachel becomes Catherine Colin. And then the school is no longer a safe place for them, so Catherine and her Jewish classmates are sent out to families in France who will hide them.

But that is one of many escapes Catherine must make, going from place to place, trying to keep from being detected by the Nazis. But through her entire journey, she brings the camera given to her by the man who taught her photography.

Notes at the back talk about Occupied and Free France and about the Resistance. The entire book is based on the experience of the author’s mother during the war, and some actual teachers at her mother’s school are named in the book, with photos at the back.

This graphic novel is lovely to look at, too, and gives a memorable and moving reading experience.

harperalley.com

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Review of A Christmas Resolution, by Anne Perry

Saturday, January 16th, 2021

A Christmas Resolution

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, 2020. 175 pages.
Review written January 5, 2021, from a library book

I like reading Anne Perry’s annual Christmas mysteries at Christmastime. Since I’m usually on a Cybils panel at Christmas, though, lately I end up reading them for the New Year.

I keep thinking that I should read her regular mystery series, since then I would probably enjoy these more. As she often does, this one looks at a couple on the periphery of her regular main characters. A lady named Celia is married to a police captain. They met during a criminal case, and it sounds like that is quite a story.

This book involved a case of blackmail and figuring out what happened in the past, which wasn’t as compelling to me as a good old murder mystery. There wasn’t really a puzzle to solve so much as to read about the characters’ way of tracking down the solution.

I did like the framing with a question of forgiveness: Who deserves forgiveness? Does the person have to be contrite? And how generous should one be in giving forgiveness? The main character is thinking about these things throughout the book, prompted by a Christmas sermon.

So even though I wasn’t too captivated by the mystery in this case, I still say that there’s nothing like a nice cozy little mystery for Christmas.

anneperry.co.uk
randomhousebooks.com

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Review of They Went Left, by Monica Hesse

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

They Went Left

by Monica Hesse
read by Caitlin Davies

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 9 hours.
Review written July 13, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

They Went Left is a novel of the Holocaust – but takes place after World War II has ended. Zofia Lederman spent months in a hospital, and something’s still wrong with her mind. She still gets pulled into dark memories – and she’s not even sure the memories are real.

Zofia wants nothing more than to find her little brother, Abek. She’s obsessed with the promise she made to him to find him after the war. All the rest of her family is dead – they went left to the gas chambers when sorted at the camp.

First Zofia has a helpful Russian soldier take her to their home in Poland. But it’s empty and has been looted, and Abek isn’t there. It becomes clear she isn’t being welcomed back by her former neighbors, either.

Then Zofiya hears of a place for displaced persons in Germany. Others from the camp where she last saw Abek have gone there. She makes the journey there to find her brother. Once there, she’s surrounded by other people trying to figure out how to go on with their lives. It turns out not every displaced person was even in the camps. And all the while, she’s starting to wonder which of her memories she even dares to believe.

This powerful story will linger in your memory. It captures the exquisite pain of figuring out how to start your life over after seeing your whole family die and experiencing horrors.

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Source: This review is based on an eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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