Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Review of Tony, by Ed Galing, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Tony

by Ed Galing
illustrated by Erin E. Stead

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I’m biased in favor of this book. At the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, I heard Erin Stead talk about how they found the manuscript and I saw some images from the art.

Erin and her husband first saw the text as a poem in a newspaper put out by homeless folks. When they tried to find the author, they learned he had just died in his 90s. Their publisher worked hard to get permissions, and the result is this beautiful and quiet picture book.

I certainly would not have seen this poem as a potential picture book text. But seeing it in that form, I have to acknowledge that these words are the perfect vehicle for Erin’s art.

The story (almost the incident) is of a cart horse named Tony who pulled a milk truck. Early in the morning, Tony and his driver would bring milk, butter, and eggs to the author’s house. He was awake, even though it was 3 a.m., and would greet Tony.

The driver told the author that Tony always looked for him. And here are the words for the last five spreads of the book:

wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,
I would reply
sturdily,
giving Tony another pat,

he is such a wonderful
horse, and so handsome.

I am sure he heard
that, Tom would
smile widely,
as he got back into
the truck

and as they pulled away

I knew that Tony
did a little dance.

See how simple? But oh, the beautiful art! The simple curve of one of Tony’s legs, showing the little dance.

The color is a simple green background, with radiant highlights of yellow for the rising sun or light coming out of a building.

And Tony – well, I fully believe that he is such a wonderful horse.

This isn’t a snappy or silly story. This isn’t a fable or a myth. It’s more of a vignette, but a slice of life that reveals love and friendship.

It’s the sort of book that compels an appreciative pause when you’re done.

This is another one where my descriptions don’t do the artwork justice. Check it out yourself!

www.mackids.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 Shadow Bright and Burning, by Jessica Cluess, read by Fiona Hardingham

Monday, October 15th, 2018

A Shadow Bright and Burning

by Jessica Cluess

read by Fiona Hardingham

Listening Library, 2016. 12 hours, 49 minutes on 10 compact discs.

This is alternate history Victorian England, read with impeccable English accents, reflecting class differences in the accents (even though I wouldn’t know the difference if I hadn’t heard it.)

Henrietta Howel has always hidden her ability to set things on fire and burst into flame without burning. So when a sorcerer comes to the school where she grew up and now teaches, she works hard to keep from flaming out. It turns out the sorcerer is looking for a girl with power over flame not to execute her as a witch, but to fulfill a prophecy about a woman from sorcerer stock who will save the country.

When the Ancients attack that night — seven great horrific spirits from another dimension who have been attacking England for years — Henrietta’s powers are revealed. But she is brought back to London to train as a sorcerer. She discovers a different world than the one where she grew up.

Henrietta’s one requirement is that she must bring Rook with her — a boy who is “Unclean,” marked by scars from an attack by one of the Ancients, Korazoth. Rook and Henrietta have always looked after each other. The sorcerer is willing to take him on as a stable boy — anything to get Henrietta to train with the sorcerers.

She’s up against a lot in London. She’s out of her depth with society. And she’s training in a house full of boys. She must master her powers in order to be commended by Queen Victoria and become an official sorcerer. And then she meets someone who says he knew her father. And she has grave doubts as to whether she really is the prophesied one. But if she isn’t, she’ll lose everything.

There are layers within layers in this book, but it never gets too complex to follow. I am delighted that there is more to come — the back of the book says it’s Book One of The Kingdom on Fire. The author develops a complicated world here with sorcerers, magicians, and witches — and powerful beings besieging England who destroy humankind and take people as their familiars. And in the middle of all that, you’ve got Victorian England trying to keep women in their place and a girl trying to figure out what that place is for her.

This book is imaginative, suspenseful, and gripping. The narrator’s voice and delightful British accent ensured that my commute was enchanting as long as I was listening to this book.

jessicacluess.com
booksontape.com
randomhouseteens.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 Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, by Deborah Hopkinson

Sunday, October 14th, 2018

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

By Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This charming picture book tells a slightly fictionalized account of what happened when Beatrix Potter borrowed a neighbor’s prized guinea pig in order to paint it. The main fictionalization is that the author changed Beatrix Potter’s age to be a child when this incident happened, rather than the 26-year-old she actually was.

But the story is based on truth – Beatrix Potter kept many different animals as pets – and sad fates befell many of them. And when Beatrix borrowed a guinea pig named Queen Elizabeth from her neighbor, it did feast on blotting paper and string, writing paper and paste – and died.

Deborah Hopkinson shows Beatrix giving her neighbor a painting of the guinea pig as compensation. She says she hopes she kept it because in 2011, a painting Beatrix Potter made of a guinea pig – probably painted the same year as the unfortunate borrowing – sold for more than $85,000.

The book is styled as a letter to the reader, which is appropriate since Beatrix Potter’s first stories appeared in letters. The words and watercolors are charming.

“I would love to draw Queen Elizabeth,” declared Beatrix. “She is truly magnificent.”

Her friend beamed. “Her family is indeed impeccable. Queen Elizabeth comes from a long line of distinguished guinea pigs. She is the daughter of Titwillow the Second, and a descendant of the Sultan of Zanzibar and the Light of Asia.”

You might well think the young ladies were discussing royalty, not rodents. In the end, Miss Paget was so flattered by Miss Potter’s appreciation of the merits of Queen Elizabeth that she eagerly fetched the squealing creature.

“Thank you,” said Beatrix. “I will return her – unharmed – in the morning.”

Alas, it was an empty promise.

I’m not quite sure how Deborah Hopkinson has made a story about animals dying so utterly delightful, but she has managed it!

deborahhopkinson.com
randomhousekids.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 Gallery, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Friday, October 12th, 2018

The Gallery

by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016. 321 pages.

Here’s a historical novel set in 1928 during election time. Martha O’Doyle is going to work as a maid in the home of a newspaper tycoon where her Ma is the housekeeper. Ma once worked for the tycoon’s wife, who was known then as “Wild Rose.” But now she’s gone mad and is kept locked up in the attic, with bland food sent to her by dumbwaiter, kept from any excitement.

But is Wild Rose really mad? She’s got a collection of paintings up in her attic room, and periodically she sends certain paintings down to the main gallery of the house. Martha thinks Rose may be trying to send a message.

This book holds a mystery, with clues found in paintings referring to mythology. (Martha researches the stories in the library, of course.) But as well as that, it pictures life in a wealthy home just before the stock market crash, a period I hadn’t read much historical fiction about.

The plot seemed slightly wild and far-fetched – but the author developed the story from old newspaper headlines, so that was probably appropriate. And it does give you a feeling for the time. And the fun of solving a mystery. An Author’s Note at the back tells more about the many historical details and the paintings she worked into the story.

lauramarxfitzgerald.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 Under the Sabbath Lamp, by Michael Herman

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

Under the Sabbath Lamp

by Michael Herman
illustrated by Alida Massari

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2017. 32 pages.

Here’s a lovely story about inheritance and traditions. A group of neighbors has a tradition of hosting each other for Shabbat dinner. The first time Izzy and Olivia Bloom host, the children notice there are no Shabbat candles. Then Izzy shows them the Sabbath lamp that burns oil and has been in his family for one hundred fifty years.

There’s a story-within-a-story as Izzy tells about how his great-great-grandfather Isaac moved to America for a better life. But they couldn’t afford for his whole family to come.

As Isaac packed his belongings, Rachel handed him the drip pan from the Sabbath lamp.

“Take this with you,” she told him. “Just as this part is separated from the rest of the lamp, we will be separated from you. When we come to join you, we will bring the other parts, and the lamp will be whole again. Just like our family.”

One by one, the children and his wife joined Isaac in America, and when they were all together, they lit the Sabbath lamp.

When Izzy and Olivia got married, his father entrusted the lamp to them.

I like the way the book brings the tradition into the present with Izzy and Olivia enjoying the Sabbath lamp together with their friends.

karben.com

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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.

Review of The Steep and Thorny Way, by Cat Winters

Monday, September 10th, 2018

The Steep and Thorny Way

by Cat Winters

Amulet Books, 2016. 335 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 2016

The Steep and Thorny Way is a reimagining of Hamlet in 1920s Oregon.

Hanalee Denny has white mother and an African American father, so she’s not very welcome in their town, where it’s illegal even for her parents to be married. But her father died two years ago, hit by a teenage drunk driver, and her mother has remarried to the doctor who comforted her after her husband’s death.

Now Joe, the teen who hit her father, is out of jail for good behavior, but he’s hiding out, because some people are after him. But Hanalee talks to him. He tells her that her father only had a broken leg after being hit by the car, and the doctor who’s now her stepfather must have killed him. What’s more, Hanalee learns that her father’s ghost has been seen on the highway at the crossroads where he was hit. Perhaps she can talk to his spirit and find out what really happened.

Okay, so far I thought we were going to get a straight retelling of Hamlet, so I thought I knew what was going to happen. But there are many twists and turns in this story. Things get sinister when we learn that the Ku Klux Klan is active in their town. They’re recruiting young people, and even Hanalee’s childhood friend is turning against her. And they have reasons for wanting Joe out of the picture as well.

So you’ve got a mystery – how did her father actually die? You’ve also got peril unfolding as Hanalee tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. And there are plenty of historical details about Oregon in that time period.

Reading about someone who’s made to feel “other” is a good antidote to bigotry. I hope this book isn’t as timely as it seems.

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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 Snow White, by Matt Phelan

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Snow White

by Matt Phelan

Candlewick Press, 2016. 216 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another amazing graphic novel by Matt Phelan. I’ve loved his art ever since I saw it in The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron.

This is a retelling of “Snow White,” set during the 1920s and 30s in New York City. Who knew you could fit Snow White into such a setting?

And it’s beautifully done. Samantha’s mother gets drops of blood on the snow not from pricking her finger on a needle, but from her cough with drops of blood. Ten years later, her father meets the “Queen” of the Ziegfeld Follies. Instead of running into the woods, Samantha runs into Hooverville, where she’s helped by seven boys who won’t tell her their real names.

The stepmother seems to have some sort of magic. And she’s very good with poison.

The story is told with very few words – in fact, at times I would have liked more to tell me exactly what was going on. It’s possible I was being lazy and not paying enough attention.

But whether or not I caught every detail – this story is striking and wonderful. Now here’s a twist on the fairy tale that I’ve never seen before.

candlewick.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 Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

The Crown’s Game

by Evelyn Skye

Balzer + Bray, 2016. 397 pages.
Starred Review

This book is about a magic duel in Imperial Russia.

Russia has always had magic, but over time it is hidden, and the people don’t believe in it. But the tsar needs an Imperial Enchanter, who draws on the magic of Russia. However, there can only be one, or they will dilute the magic. The magic needs to be concentrated.

The tsar explains the Crown’s Game to the two participants, Vika and Nikolai:

The Game is a display of skill and a demonstration of strategy and mettle. The goal is to show me your worthiness to become my Imperial Enchanter — my adviser for all things from war to peace and everything in between.

The Game will take place in Saint Petersburg, and you will take turns executing enchantments. There is no restriction on the form of magic you choose, only that you do not alarm or harm the people of the city….

Each enchanter will have five turns, at the most. As the judge, I may declare a winner at any point in the Game, or I may wait until all ten plays have been made. Remember, your moves will reveal not only your power but also your character and your suitability to serve the empire. Impress me.

So the two enchanters start the Crown’s Game. Besides impressing the tsar, they can end the game by killing the other enchanter. At the end of ten moves, if both are still alive, the tsar will declare a winner. The other will be incinerated by the brand placed on each enchanter at the start of the game.

So Nikolai and Vika begin the work they’ve trained for all their lives. Neither one expected to find a kindred soul in their opponent. It shouldn’t be a surprise, since never before has either one met someone who can work with magic like they can. But there is only room for one Imperial Enchanter.

The book gives the flavor of Imperial Russia. Nikolai has grown up in fashionable Saint Petersburg, a friend of the son of the tsar, mentored by harsh and power-hungry Galina. Vika grew up out in the country, learning how to manipulate nature from her kind mentor Sergei. For the first time, both are going to show their magic to the world.

evelynskye.com
epicreads.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 Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Wolf by Wolf

by Ryan Graudin

Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 379 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history novel about a world where Germany won World War II. On top of that, our heroine is a Jewish girl who was experimented on by Nazi scientists — who gave her the ability to shapeshift her face.

With the ability, she was able to escape the concentration camp. Now, in 1956, she is the key to a plot to assassinate Hitler.

Now, my fundamental problem with the novel is I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that any sequence of injections could make a person able to change their bone structure. Yael can adjust her height and add freckles to her arms — but she can’t get rid of her prison camp tattoo. Even if I could accept that, she can also change her already-grown hair to be a different color or be thicker. I don’t quite see how that can work.

However, the story is so gripping and so dramatic, I was able to forgive it for its unlikely premise. I’ll grant you, it was sobering to read about Hitler’s Europe as the 2016 election happened.

The plot is a complicated one. Because Hitler has survived too many assassination attempts, he now never appears in public, except twice a year — at the start and end of the great motorcycle race, the Axis Tour, where motorcyclists rode from Germania (Berlin) to Tokyo, the capital of the Japanese empire. Last year, a girl, Adele Wolfe, had disguised herself as her brother and won the race. Hitler had danced with her.

Now Yael is going to take Adele’s identity, win the race, and assassinate Hitler in front of the world when he dances with her at the victory celebration. This will be a signal for her allies in the Resistance to move and topple the Third Reich.

But the race is long and grueling. Adele’s brother has entered the race to try to stop her. — He wants to save her life. Then there are the two other previous race victors who also want to be the first to win the Axis Tour a second time. Life and death are on the line. On top of that, Yael must navigate relationships blind.

And she must get to the Victory Ball. She must win.

But to do that, she needs to survive.

It took me awhile to warm up to this story. As I said, I had a hard time with the premise. I thought the writing seemed a little overdramatic. But as I read, I have to admit that a girl in that situation would feel the weight of everything depending on her. The situation is inherently dramatic.

Little by little, we learn her history. Yael has gotten a tattoo of five wolves to cover her prison tattoo. Each wolf represents one person she has lost. She is doing this for them.

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them — made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.

WolfbyWolfBook.com
ryangraudin.com
lb-teens.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 Last Execution, by Jesper Wung-Sung

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

The Last Execution

by Jesper Wung-Sung

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 132 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Author Jesper Wung-Sung lives in Svendborg, Denmark. On February 22, 1853, fifteen-year-old Niels Nielsen was beheaded on charges of arson and murder of the sheriff’s son. This book fictionalizes that execution, getting us into the heads of Niels himself and various people who come to the execution.

The book takes us through the final twelve hours of Niels’ life, with a different perspective each hour, though usually going back to the boy, Niels Nielsen.

He and his father had wandered the countryside for years, looking for work. But his father became less and less able to work. Meanwhile, people like the mayor, the baker, and the carpenter think about how horrible he must be to do that terrible thing and how their town will now be a better place.

The book isn’t pleasant reading. In many ways, it just feels sad and empty. But it is an exercise in perspective. And will perhaps make you look at society’s outcasts with a little more compassion.

simonandschuster.com/teen

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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.

What did you think of this book?