Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Review of Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Echo

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

read by Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, Macleod Andrews, and Rebecca Soler
music performed by Corky Siegel

Scholastic Audiobooks, 2016. 10 hours, 22 minutes, on 9 compact discs.
Starred Review
2016 Newbery Honor Book
2016 Odyssey Honor Audiobook

This is an amazing audiobook production.

The story is about an enchanted harmonica. The prologue tells of a boy lost in the woods in Germany who learns about the sisters whose spirit enchants the harmonica, and who entrust it into his care.

Then the main part of the book gives us three stories – first a boy in Germany with a musical gift but with a birthmark on his face that makes him seen as less than perfect and in danger in Hitler’s Germany. The second story is about two brothers in Pennsylvania at an orphanage after their grandmother became too frail to care for them. Mike is a talented piano player, and it seems they have a chance of a home, but something is wrong. Perhaps he can join the harmonica band that’s auditioning for new members. Then Ivy, in California, has to move to a new home, where children of Mexican heritage aren’t allowed to go to school with the other children. But she can join the orchestra.

The three stories are told completely separately, with a different narrator for each part. What they have in common is that all involve a harmonica with an especially beautiful tone that has a red M painted on it. The three stories come together in an episode at the end, and then we get an epilogue to tell a little more about the story of the boy and the three sisters who sent the harmonica out into the world.

The book is good, and won Newbery Honor. Each story has some punch to it, and each child has reason to need the encouragement that comes through the harmonica.

The audio production is exceptional! There is harmonica music throughout, as well as piano music when that’s part of the story. It adds so much to hear the songs being played.

Some producers might not have dared to add harmonica music when the text is raving about the harmonica’s glorious tone. But for the most part, the music played went perfectly with what was described. For several of the songs, they added a singer, which I wasn’t completely happy with – but that was a way to let the listener know the words, which was a nice addition for the child listener. Even though I know the words to songs such as “Brahm’s Lullaby” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” an unobtrusive way to include them for kids was to have a voice along with the harmonica playing.

This is definitely a book that has much value added in audio form! A delightful listening experience.

scholastic.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 Silver in the Blood, by Jessica Day George

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Silver in the Blood

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2015. 358 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Set in 1897, this is a historical fantasy romance about two cousins who are being sent from New York to Bucharest, Romania, to meet and learn the truth about their mother’s family.

Now, the copy on the back of the book gives away what they will find. LouLou also encounters a young man on the ship who asks her, “Are you the wing?” LouLou tells about it in her letter to her cousin Dacia:

“Are you the wing?” He said it again, and looked me up and down yet again! “You are not the claw, and there is never a smoke anymore.”

Complete gibberish, Dacia! What was I to do? I simply goggled at him for a moment. When I gathered myself, I started to turn away again, when he said, “You are the wing; I see it now.”

By the time the girls do find out what the Wing, the Claw, and the Smoke are, we are not at all surprised. I can’t help but wonder if it would have given the book more momentum if it had started when they arrived in Bucharest, rather than during their separate journeys there. There’s some build-up to the revelation of the family’s magic that falls a bit flat by the time we discover what it is.

We do end up with an interesting situation. Two young ladies ready for New York society suddenly discover magical powers and that their powerful family is part of a prophecy – and a political plot. They must decide which side they are on.

The timing of the story fits with the publication of the book Dracula and the girls meet Prince Mihai, a descendant of the famous count. Their family has always served the Dracul family. Prince Mihai intends that they continue to do so.

This book is a historical novel for teens who like regency fiction with dances and gowns and society – combined with a twist of magic and political intrigue. The exotic setting of the Romania of 1897 adds to the fun.

JessicaDayGeorge.com

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Source: This review is based on an advance reader copy I got at an ALA conference.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 Ashes, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Ashes

The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book Three

by Laurie Halse Anderson

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 298 pages.
Starred Review

This book concludes The Seeds of America Trilogy. I never did read the first book, Chains, about Isabel, an African girl stolen into slavery during Colonial times. (I need to remedy that!) I did read Forge, the second book, about Curzon, a slave turned soldier, and what he went through at Valley Forge.

In Ashes, Isabel and Curzon have joined forces and are going through the countryside looking for Isabel’s little sister Ruth. When they find her, their welcome is nothing like Isabel hoped for. But they wind up at the army camp in Williamsburg as the American and French soldiers prepare to lay siege to the British army at Yorktown.

Isabel’s the narrator of this volume. She’s got lots to worry about — finding her sister, staying alive, staying healthy, getting money and food to travel on, and staying free. Also, how does Curzon really feel about her? He seems to care more about fighting for so-called “freedom” than about her.

This book gives a fascinating look at a time I thought I knew a lot more about than I did. Giving the vantage point of African-Americans inside the camps brings it to life so much more vividly than a textbook.

I enjoyed the Revolutionary War-era diary excerpts and letter excerpts at the start of each chapter. There are also in-depth notes at the back. I knew from reading Octavian Nothing that the British promised freedom to African-Americans who fought for them. I learned in this book that 17 of George Washington’s slaves escaped during the Revolutionary War and fled to the British. Many of those were returned to him after the war, but a few did make it to New York and managed to get safety and freedom in Nova Scotia. Twenty-three of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves fled to join the British, though six were found and recaptured after the war.

All of these tidbits (told as answers to questions that naturally arise out of the story) are accompanied by suggestions for further reading.

MadWomanInTheForest.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 Swing It, Sunny, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Swing It, Sunny

by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
with color by Lark Pien

Graphix (Scholastic), 2017. 220 pages.

This graphic novel is a pleasant sequel to Sunny Side Up. Sunny’s now starting middle school, which is tough, but most of the tension in the book comes from the difficulty of adjusting to her older brother being sent away to boarding school. When he comes home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the whole house is full of tension.

The story’s set in 1976, which was when I was in eighth grade myself. So I especially enjoyed the seventies’ touches such as Pet Rocks, seventies’ décor, and TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man. The authors keep a light touch, mixing fun diversions – like a new next-door neighbor teaching Sunny how to swing a flag – with worries about her brother.

You’ll enjoy it a little bit more if you read the first book, since you’ll appreciate Sunny’s interaction with Gramps and her fondness for the alligator Big Al. But even without that, you’ll still have fun with this book.

It all adds up to a truly delightful and hopeful graphic novel.

scholastic.com/graphix

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 Piper, by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Piper

by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg
illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Razorbill (Penguin Random House), 2017. 144 pages.
Starred Review

This gorgeous graphic novel turns the story of the Pied Piper of Hameln into a tragic romance.

It’s also a story of prejudice and greed – but with love rising above that. And we find out that the real story isn’t the one we’ve heard.

This version of the story features a deaf teen girl named Maggie who lives in Hameln with an old woman, something of an outcast. She can read lips and talks with the piper, a handsome teen himself. She learns his story, as no one else does.

Maggie enjoys writing stories with her caretaker, an old woman named Agathe. She writes the stories of the villagers the way they should be told.

Did the villagers deserve what they got from the Piper? What if the revenge the Piper took was different than the story we’ve heard?

This book is a quick read but a haunting and poignant tale. The ending especially will surprise you.

PenguinTeen.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 A Different Pond, by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

A Different Pond

by Bao Phi
illustrated by Thi Bui

Capstone Young Readers, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book tells the story of a small boy and his father going fishing early in the morning on a Saturday.

It’s lovely father-son time and focuses on how the boy feels grown up because he’s helping his father. Along the way, we learn that the father used to fish with his brother at a pond in Vietnam. They both fought in the war, but one day his brother didn’t come home.

We also learn that the father has a second job and the mother works, but they still need to fish to be sure of having food for dinner. Because everything is expensive in America.

I like the way the book focuses on warmth and love and this shared activity instead of the hardships in the background. It reveals those hardships in a gentle way.

And the paintings are wonderful. On many spreads, there’s a creative use of inset panels. The story happens almost entirely before the sun comes up, but the artist gives texture to the night sky and the darkness.

A story about fishing with a father that has much more behind it, and presented in a beautiful format.

mycapstone.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 War I Finally Won, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

The War I Finally Won

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 385 pages.
Starred Review

The War I Finally Won is the sequel to the wonderful award-winning book The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It was my #1 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Children’s Fiction for books I read in 2016. Yes, you should read the first book first.

The book begins with Ada having surgery to fix her clubfoot so she can walk without crutches. But the war is going on, and a lot of people she knows are dying, including her Mam – which means that Susan can become Ada and Jamie’s legal guardian.

Susan’s house was destroyed in the first book – but Lady Thorton gives them a home in a “cottage” on her estate – a bigger place than Susan’s house had been. However, things get smaller when Lady Thorton moves in with them after her stately home is requisitioned by the government. And then Susan is asked to tutor a 16-year-old German Jewish girl named Ruth.

Lady Thorton doesn’t want to have anything to do with a German girl, because her son is in harm’s way fighting the Germans, but she has to give in. Ada only gradually comes to understand that Ruth hates Hitler just as much as they do.

Ada still has the same voice as in the first book. There are still a lot of words she doesn’t understand because she has no experience with them. And she still is prone to emotional outbursts, still has trouble feeling safe.

This book explores many aspects of what it means to be a family. It was marvelous watching Ada’s fragile heart open wider, even while dealing with the hardships and tragedies of wartime.

kimberlybrubakerbradley.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea

by Lauren Wolk
read by Jorjeana Marie

Listening Library (Penguin Random House), 2017. 7.5 hours on 6 compact discs.

Beyond the Bright Sea tells the story of a 12-year-old girl living on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Here’s how the book begins:

My name is Crow.

When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea.

I washed up on a tiny island, like a seed riding the tide.

It was Osh who found me and took me in. Who taught me how to put down roots, and thrive on both sun and rain, and understand what it is to bloom….

And then, one night when I was twelve, I saw a fire burning on Penikese, the island where no one ever went, and I decided on my own that it was time to find out where I’d come from and why I’d been sent away.

But I didn’t understand what I was risking until I nearly lost it.

This book is set in the 1920s. The island called Penikese is where about ten years earlier there’d been a leper colony, with the residents kept isolated from any other human beings. Is Crow’s story connected with theirs?

Miss Maggie lives on Cuddyhunk, the next island over. She has helped Osh care for Crow since she first washed up on Osh’s island. Miss Maggie wrote letters to Penikese and several other places, asking about a missing newborn baby, but never got any reply. All the same, the islanders treat her as if she will sprout a dreadful disease at any time.

At first, Crow wants to prove she’s not from Penikese. But the more she finds out, the more that changes.

There’s a surprising amount of adventure in what starts out sounding like a quiet story. Crow’s quest to find her origins ends up involving shipwrecks and pirate treasure, but all with plenty of love from Osh and Miss Maggie.

I wasn’t crazy about the narrator – she read the story almost too calmly and quietly, though to be fair, Crow is a calm and quiet child. There are also some coincidences in the story itself. I was somewhat disturbed by the presence of a purely evil character – I think a little more so because there had also been a purely evil character in Lauren Wolk’s previous book, Wolf Hollow, which was also very good in spite of that. I guess I was willing to overlook it the first time, but the second time that particular objection gets a little stronger.

That said, this audiobook made absorbing listening, and I would love to meet Crow, Osh, Miss Maggie, and their cat named Mouse. Lauren Wolk’s good people feel like real people you’d love to meet, and she makes the world of these 1920s islands come alive.

penguin.com/middle-grade
listeninglibrary.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 While Beauty Slept, by Elizabeth Blackwell

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

While Beauty Slept

by Elizabeth Blackwell

Berkley Books, 2014. 456 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve meant to read this book for a very long time, especially once I had a signed copy. But I have a horrible problem with not getting around to reading books I own because they don’t have a due date. Anyway, I finally got this book read on a flight home from Portland – and I’m so glad I did.

I’ve always loved fairy tale retellings. This is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But usually such retellings are Fantasy. This one takes out the overt magic. There is a possibility of a curse; there is a possibility that the baby’s great-aunt does dark magic. But the story is told as historical fiction, set in medieval times, as something that could have actually happened. (Except that the kingdoms mentioned are still not actual kingdoms from our world, so technically, I’ll have to classify it as Fantasy. But the flavor is Historical.)

Our narrator is an old servant of Queen Lenore, the mother of Rose who became the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tale. She saw all the events of the tale from start to finish. She’s looking back on her life and telling the story to her great-grandchild.

In the prologue, she’s hears children telling the fairy tale based on the experiences she lived.

Ha! It would be a fine trick indeed to fell a royal daughter with a needle, then see her revived by a single kiss. If such magic exists, I have yet to witness it. The horror of what really happened has been lost, and no wonder. The truth is hardly a story for children.

I was afraid with that line that the book would be too dark for my taste – but the story is beautiful. Yes, there are dark and tragic parts, but it’s woven through with love and with actual human passions and mistakes and foibles.

In the fifty years since those terrible days in the tower, I have never spoken of what happened there. But with my body failing and death in my sights, I have been plagued by memories, rushing in unbidden, provoking waves of longing for what once was. Perhaps that is why I remain on this earth, the only person who knew Rose when she was young and untouched by tragedy. The only one who watched it all unfold, from the curse to the final kiss.

During the course of the tale our narrator, Elise, grows from a child in poverty into a mature adult, living in the castle. She gains perspective and makes hard choices and becomes a guide for young Rose through difficult times. I think that’s why this isn’t a young adult novel. This isn’t a coming-of-age story, but a story of a life lived beside large events, events that affected a kingdom. It’s about love and about choices and about making your way in the world.

And I especially liked the ending.

This is a beautiful book, which I know I’m going to want to read again sometime in the future.

elizabethblackwellbooks.com
penguin.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, which I got at an ALA conference and had signed by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 Maud, by Melanie J. Fishbane

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Maud

by Melanie J. Fishbane

Penguin Random House, 2017. 400 pages.
Starred Review

Maud is a novel based on the teen years of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon.

I actually didn’t expect to like this book too much. I’ve read all of her journals, and they are wonderful – and I was skeptical that they could be written as a novel even close as good as the journals themselves. I have read a biography of L. M. Montgomery, written by Harry Bruce, and it was dissatisfying after reading the journals.

But though I still think the journals are better and L. M. Montgomery’s writing itself is unsurpassable, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Now, I knew what was going to happen, and the characters felt like old familiar friends. It’s been awhile since I’ve read that first journal, so I didn’t necessarily remember every detail, either. It was like someone telling me a favorite story I’d almost forgotten.

And I did really enjoy this book. It’s easier reading than the journals, told in a coherent story, with some themes throughout – Maud looking for a place where she belongs and determining to make her mark as a writer – and being willing to sacrifice the normal ambitions of her friends – finding a husband – in order to follow that dream of being a writer.

It has been awhile since I read the journals, but I do believe that Melanie Fishbane stuck very close to the actual details of Maud’s life. So readers can enjoy this book with the knowledge that it’s true and really happened.

And the novel did help me understand why Maud turned down her suitors, including boys she actually loved. Getting married young, in those days, really would have cut off her chance to go to college and to become a writer. I understood better the choices she made when they were presented in novelized form.

Bottom line, this book presents a lovely and inspiring story of L. M. Montgomery’s teen years and the rise of her ambitions to make her name as a writer – ambitions that she went on to fulfill. If you don’t know her story, I highly recommend this book. And it turns out, even if you do know her story, you will thoroughly enjoy this retelling.

@MelanieFishbane
penguinrandomhouse.ca

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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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