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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: historical fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 923
26. The New Phone Book’s Here

In the immortal words of Navin R. Johnson:

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Things are going to start happening to me now!

Yes, due to life, it took a long time to arrive, but that lovable scamp Virgil Creech is back in Virgil Creech Sings for His Supper.

 Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00063]

 

 

Even the idyllic little town of Portsong isn’t immune to the coming depression. What will our favorite family of eleven do when their chief bread-winner is left without a job? Enter the youngest son, Virgil Creech, who discovers an unlikely talent that may just keep the family afloat.

Meanwhile, half the world away, town grocer Harland Gentry discovers the truth of the ancient proverb, Pride goes before a fall. On the vacation of a lifetime, Harland decides to reinvent himself as a man of means, hoping to leave the small town behind. But he is not prepared for what he discovers on his unpredictable African adventure.

Of course, Virgil Creech Sings for His Supper contains a healthy dose of the lovable Colonel Clarence Birdwhistle, as he and Henry begin to rebuild the Lee family farm. All of these stories come together for another delightful romp through Portsong, the southern town halfway between Savannah and heaven.

 

From the back of the book, here is our new friend, Harland Gentry as drawn by Aprilily.

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It is always rewarding to have someone read one of my books. But I was particularly excited to get a Five Bookworm Review on the first book in the series because it came from a kid, which is my target audience.  He is also not a family member!

You can read his take here.

 

If you haven’t had a chance to read Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption, the ebook version is going to go free for a week sometime soon as publicity for the sequel. Of course, I’ll announce it here.

I wrote the final piece of the Portsong Series last year hope to release it fairly soon. I am now working on my first piece of adult humor and would love to put it out in 2015. We shall see if life gets in the way of that one as well.


Filed under: From the Writer

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27. Monday Review: THE FALCONER by Elizabeth May

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I might, given that it has faeries, and I'm sort of burnt out at the moment on the whole faeries thing. But The Falconer by Elizabeth May does something new with the concept. I'd describe it... Read the rest of this post

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28. Straight From the Source: Michele L. Hathaway on Writing Historical Fiction

Michele L. Hathaway has an M.A. in Social Anthropology and is a freelance editor and writer. Her stories are in various stages of emergence.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

My stories vary tremendously, but at their core is a love of culture, past, present, and even mythical. The era and story idea come first, the characters emerge later to make the culture come alive. Sometimes the landscape is the starting point. This is the case for the Navajo stories I am writing. I spent quite a bit of time in the North American Southwest as a child and an adult, so it occupies a large swath of my inner landscape. I feel more alive here than anywhere else on the planet. Sometimes I am captivated by an entire era, such as the first 400 years A.D. of Mediterranean history, along with key historical figures from this period. Then again, I have a story idea that takes my characters around the modern day world, but the research involved with getting these cultures right is almost identical to historical research.

How do you conduct your research?

At the beginning of a project, especially one where I don’t have a large body of knowledge already in place, I’m like a child at a carnival. I careen from one amusement to another until I find myself breathless at the top of the Ferris wheel. From here I look down on the whole journey. When I get back to earth I filling in the blank spaces on a need-to-know basis.

If you are wondering what I’m talking about, here’s the general plan: I go to the library and load up on as many books as I can get my hands on. I scan these, usually finding I am attracted to some more than others. Resources that are most helpful I might buy so I can mark them up and keep them near for reference. I copy the bibliographies of the most helpful to see what inspired the author, where their research originated. I’ve found gems this way. From there I follow trails that branch further and further. If a source is mentioned by several authors, I look at that. I never stop researching, I always have a book or two going as I write. This keeps me in the story, inspires, guides, and corrects. One thing to be aware of is new research coming out. Since I began my Navajo stories, I’ve found a few new books that are gems. So check back with your library from time to time.

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Do you have a specific system for collecting data?

No unless you count the carnival method mentioned above, and the aftermath.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I use any and all resources that apply. I use books, the Internet, travel, experts and interviews. Books may include academic, historical fiction, and picture books. Picture books should not be underestimated. They are great for researching folk tales and imprinting visual details. When I was researching for a forest fire scene, I needed the photos to help me with concrete details.

The Internet is also helpful for visual images as well as hunting down an obscure fact, like the name of the owner of the Thunderbird Trading Post in 1945—Leon Hugh “Cozy” McSparron, by the way. I couldn’t have thought up a better name. Sometimes you need to hear coyote song or the crackle of a forest fire, or see Mexicans harvesting vanilla beans, or Navajos playing string games.

If I find a book that does more than inform, but inspires, I contact the author. This has led to great help and a friendship or two. You’ll find that people who are passionate about their topic are happy to talk about it.

Finally, if I can, I travel and observe the setting of my novel first hand, be it Navajoland or Egypt—what a great excuse to travel, eh?

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue
once you begin writing?

An author, whose name escapes me, once said, “Write sooner than you think you can.” When I feel, not quite saturated, but too impatient to wait any longer, I begin. Usually my characters are coming alive within the history, the culture, the landscape, or the myth. I write until I find a hole in my knowledge. Then I stop and research until that hole is filled. I continue on as quickly as I can. When I find new information, I add that or rewrite if I need a course correction.
What is your favorite thing about research?

I love to learn new things, and I love to put these things into the framework of a story. Writing historical fiction allows me to be a perpetual graduate student without the exams—the book is my thesis. I haven’t graduated yet, but I can see the day, shimmering in the distance.

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What’s your least favorite thing about research?

I wonder if I have done enough, if I am missing something important. I don’t have time to read every book cover to cover, so I worry that I have missed something. Or missed the “right” book.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

Studying history is time travel. I am transported to places and times I can’t go to any other way. It is one of the most thrilling rides of my life.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

I believe the most difficult thing about writing historical fiction is getting the psychology of the period right. It is easy to fall into the trap of dressing a modern American in a toga and calling him a typical Roman. Critics will jump all over that. As they should. A 1940’s Navajo girl in boarding school will not talk back to her teacher, no matter how spunky she is. A Greek-Egyptian Boy from 345 AD is probably not going to see slavery as extreme injustice. Making your story true yet accessible to modern readers is tricky. Check out Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book for a good example of grasping the psychology of medieval England. (warning—this is a devastating book, a Hugo-Nebula Award Winning, wonderful, devastating book. I love it.)

Sometimes it is helpful to read a stratified selection for research. Read writers from as many decades or centuries as you can find to help off-set bias. This is complex and yet fascinating. The reality is there is no way to see history through a pure lens. We bring ourselves, our culture, our social bias to any historical interpretation. We have to do our best here. We have to work hard, work honestly, write the truest story we can.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

Wow! It is hard to pick one and hard to think of one, because at some point the research goes internal and becomes a part of me, transforms me. I can think of one or two things that stand out though. One is the complexity and beauty of Navajo myth and legend. We hear so much about Greek and Roman myth, but have no idea how deep and interwoven Native American literature is with history, culture, creativity, beauty. I could go on and on. Part of why I write these stories is to share this body of wonderful literature.

Has your research ever affected the overall trust of your book? How so?

My research has shown me where I have gone off track, but most often where I need more depth. I find the feedback from “experts” most helpful. Research has not caused me to have to abandon the work, rather it provides course corrections and transforms it, always transforms it, so that I am following a truer path. Not a perfect path. Not a path everyone will agree with, but a truer path. And that is the best all of us can do.

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Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

When retelling myth, there are almost always different versions of the story because it is from oral tradition. At some point, the writer of fiction has to choose one version (or even blend versions, which does not change the truth of the story, but that is another topic). For example, in Navajo legend, the Hero Twins are sometimes born of one woman, or sometimes they were born of two women but are still twins. This does not present a problem for the Navajo, but the rest of the world can’t reconcile the dissonance. To avoid confusion, I have chosen to have them both born of one woman.

If a historical figure is famous enough, there will be problems. No question. One of mine is a saint. He is revered by millions. I cannot presume to write a biography; few are qualified to attempt it. Therefore, I am writing about him through the eyes of a young protagonist. This way the story is about the boy, but I can open a window on this amazing historical figure, allow for his flaws, but not presume to offer a complete biography.

Why is historical fiction important?

Historical fiction is not only important, it is fantastically important. It is obviously important for its historical content, but there is so much more. I believe, historical fiction is a safe environment to explore modern issues. For children this is critical. Because the story is set in another time, it is not so close that it generates anxiety, but it brings up situations and issues children may have to deal with now or in the future—a sick sibling, an absent father, or even the trauma of war. All of this can provide them with tools to help them cope with their situation, help them discover who they are and who they want to become.

One day I was on a bus driving along the waterfront in Alexandria, Egypt. Two women in head scarves were sitting on the sea wall talking while their toddlers played nearby. It struck me in that moment, in that one scene as the bus sped by, that I was more like them than I was different. They were two friends, with children, having a chat. I’ve been there. They are me and I am them. I’d like others to see the world that way. That we are more alike than we are different.

 

 

The post Straight From the Source: Michele L. Hathaway on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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29. Storm - a review

Napoli, Donna Jo. 2014. Storm. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Stormtold in first person, present tense prose, presents the story of the biblical flood through the eyes of 16-year-old Sebah, an unlikely stowaway aboard Noah's massive ark.

The story unfolds in chapters that correspond with the biblical timeline - 40 days of rain, 150 days for the waters to recede, 10 months until the mountains become visible, 40 days until the release of a bird, etc.
(All can be found in the 7th and 8th chapters of Genesis.)

After chronicling Sebah's three week struggle to survive the deluge with her companion Aban, the chapter titled, "Day 22," ends,

It's another creature.  Like the first, but larger.  And obviously male.  He perches in a round hole high in the side of the ship.  There is a line of such holes.  And I passed another line below as I climbed.
A whole ship of these creatures.
I think of letting go, disappearing into the sea. I let loose one hand and look down. The sea is far below. I feel the energy seep from me. It would be so easy to just give up.
...
The creature behind me nudges my dangling hand.
I reach for the male's hand, and I am half pulled, half shoved up through the hole and into the ship.

Ms. Napoli clearly put an enormous amount of thought into the logistics of preparing for a massive exodus of animals with little or no possibility of resupply for more than a year. She details the grueling work of the voyage.  While Sebah struggles to remain hidden and survive in the enclosure of the bonobos, Noah and his family have a huge responsibility to the ark's inhabitants. The animals must be secure from each other, their enclosures must be cleaned, they must be fed, they must have fresh water. Their survival is imperative. The family collects rainwater, they dry and ration supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables for the ark's herbivores, they fish to obtain fresh food for the carnivores. The family's nerves grow frayed under the stress.  They begin to argue and turn against one another.  The hidden Sebah sees much,

"Respect!" Noah claps his hands above his head, and dust flies through the dim light.  "And haven't you learned arguing gets us nowhere?"  He takes his ax back from Ham. "The bottom deck stinks.  I have to breathe shallow to stand going down there.  Everyone has to help Japheth and me clean it out.  Today! Let our wives feed and water the animals of this deck and the top —while we shovel waste.  Noah goes up the ladder with Japheth at his heels.
How you will perceive this book will depend greatly upon how you perceive the biblical story of the great flood. Arguments could be made for classification as historical fiction, alternative history, survival fiction, dystopian fiction, or fantasy. However you choose to view the book, it cannot be denied that it is a thought-provoking look at the nature of humans and animals, of loss and love, of despair and hope.

An Author's Note, Timeline from Genesis Verses, and Bibliography are included.  Visit the author's website http://www.donnajonapoli.com/ya.html#STORM to read an excerpt.

(I'm not a Russell Crowe fan, but now I think that I might want to watch the movie, Noah, just to see another perspective.)

(My copy of the book was provided by the publisher, and was an Advance Reader Copy)


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30. Sundays with Jane: Two by Cornthwaite

Charity Envieth Not. (George Knightley #1) Barbara Cornthwaite. 2009. CreateSpace. 260 pages. [Source: Library]
and
Lend Me Leave. (George Knightley #2) Barbara Cornthwaite. 2011. CreateSpace. 246 pages. [Source: Library]

I absolutely loved reading Charity Envieth Not and Lend Me Leave. These two books tell the novel Emma through the perspective of George Knightley. I almost wish they were combined into one edition, however. Still, I can't begin to recommend these enough to all Austen fans!!!

I enjoyed many aspects of both books. I really, really loved George Knightley. That in and of itself is far from shocking. Dare I say he's probably the best thing about Austen's novel?! I loved seeing the characters (and/or the community) through his eyes. I loved his involvement in the community. I loved meeting various characters--rich and poor, from all classes or statuses. I especially, especially liked Spencer! I loved getting to know his brother John better. And I liked seeing him in the role of uncle! I liked how wide the perspective is--if that makes sense! Emma, to me, comes across as very self-centered, the world through her eyes seem a bit narrow.

I also appreciate how both books treat the character of Emma. I think to fully appreciate Emma, one HAS to see her AS Knightley sees her. This book accomplishes that! I don't think I've ever seen Emma in such a positive light before. And it made me think a bit, what if Emma is blinded to her strengths JUST as she's blinded to her weaknesses. OR in other words, what if the narration is a bit too close to accurately judge her strengths/weaknesses. Of course, Knightley cannot absolutely read all her motives and intentions, so maybe he's reading more compassion, more tenderness, more generosity than is really truly there. But maybe just maybe Emma's heart is bigger than I have previously thought. And maybe just maybe her mind isn't quite as empty as I thought it. I kept asking myself what does Knightley see in Emma that I don't?

I would recommend it to those who already love Emma, and even to those that don't really like her. Knightley is a great hero! And he's definitely worth reading about!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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31. An Interview with Frances Hardinge - by C.J. Busby

I first met Frances Hardinge as part of an intrepid SAS contingent that stormed the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton in October 2013. We had a great time, although there were fewer costumes than I'd hoped, and no centaurs galloping through the plenary session...


Myself, Teresa Flavin and Katherine Roberts do the costume thing...
I recently read and reviewed Frances Hardinge's new book, Cuckoo Song, for ABBA reviews (you can find the review here).  I loved it - and I wanted to ask Frances some questions about it, and about her writing in general, of which I am great admirer. So I thought I would hijack my ABBA post this month to interview her. Luckily, she is a very accommodating person, and was happy to allow me to grill her. As we live at opposite ends of the country, this had to be by email: but let's pretend we met in a chippy in Brighton for this conversation...

Waiting for fish and chips
So, Frances, unlike in previous novels, Cuckoo Song is set in a real historical period. How did you find that compared with setting your stories in secondary worlds where you are free to make it all up? 


Writing a book set in a specific real world time period is much harder. There's always the fear of getting some detail wrong, and being caught out. One becomes obsessed with checking historical minutae, even for details that probably won't make the final cut. In a way it's a lot of fun, and you discover lots of new things during the research, but you can go quite, quite mad. In spite of my checking, I'm sure there are still lurking errors.

I did find myself making some compromises. Sometimes to preserve the pace of the book, you can't afford to detour into lengthy explanations of historical context. 

And I had to compromise when it came to the dialogue. At first I really wanted to have my characters using plenty of slang from the time. Then I started looking at the things people actually said in 1920s Britain.

I say! Rather! I should think so! Jolly decent. A good sort. Old thing. Old bean. Old man. Ragging. Blighter. What rot! What a lark! That's torn it!

Nowadays we can't read these phrases without hearing them in the voice of Bertie Wooster or Billy Bunter. They sound flippant, innocent, comical and bit twee. When one is trying to build suspense in a tale of psychological horror, that's the last thing you need. The characters might as well be exclaiming:
“Oh well, never mind, old girl. What ho! Ginger beer!”

Yes - that would have ruined the atmosphere for sure! It's a bit like the dilemma of using Shakespearian language in an Elizabethan setting - the odd words and phrases give a sense of a different time, but too many 'thee's and 'thou's and it starts to sound like a send up. Of course, in Cuckoo Song it's not only a case of real-world historical details, because you are also depicting another world - the fairie realm. I loved the idea of fairies as these strange bird-like Besiders who lurk in out-of-the-way places. How much did you draw on particular details for myths and folktales as inspiration when developing your otherworld characters?

In the case of Cuckoo Song, I drew quite heavily on the old changeling folktales. These tales make for a disturbing read, not just because of the nightmare scenario of a malignant imposter taking the place of one's child. In the stories, the human hosts usually rid themselves of the changeling through utter cruelty - leaving them on a dunghill, flinging them into deep water, hurling them into the fire, etc. (It's particularly unpleasant because there's evidence that in past centuries some children with severe disabilities really did die from such brutal treatment, because they were thought to be 'changelings'.)

The nature of the changeling varies from one folktale to another. Sometimes it's a fretful, sickly fairy child, swapped for a healthy human infant by envious fairy parents. Sometimes it's a full-grown adult fairy, infiltrating the mortal cottage so that it can be pampered and fed. Occasionally, however, the changeling nothing more than a doll, fashioned from leaves, wood or wax, and enchanted to look like an ailing child. It was the third type that started to fascinate me.

The journey of Triss and Pen into the Underbelly is inspired by a particular folktale called "The Smith and the Fairies". After his son is stolen by fairies, a smith is advised by a wise man to go to the green hill on a certain night, armed with only a dirk, a Bible and a crowing cock. The way into the hill will be open that night. He must drive the dirk into the ground to make sure the hill does not close behind him. The Bible is protection. It is the rooster, however, that will most upset the fairies...

In some ways, however, I deliberately deviated from traditional fairy lore. The fairies of folklore tend to be vulnerable to cold iron, but also to trappings of the church - Bibles, prayers, blessings, church bells. In my book, the Besiders are twilight creatures, inhabitants of the in-between and unmapped places, and their great enemy is certainty. Most iron will not hurt them, but they have a horror of scissors, which cleanly and cruelly divide, leaving nothing in between. Religious faith is dangerous to them, but so is faith and certainty of all kinds.

I found the idea of the scissors as a symbol of dividing everything neatly into one side or the other quite chilling - as you make clear, so much cruelty comes from that kind of black and white thinking. The book is very good at delving into the grey areas between, and showing how mixed-up most people's characters are. I especially liked your portrayal of the relationship between the two sisters, Triss and Pen. As one of two sisters myself, I totally recognised that combination of fierce hatred and love - the way your sister can be both your worst enemy and the one person you can always rely on. Do you have sisters, or was that an impressive feat of imagination?

I do have a sister. I was older, but by only eleven months, and it always felt as though we were basically the same age. We constructed elaborate imaginary worlds together, tried to set up a detective agency (we never got any cases), wrote plays with songs, invented codes and fought like fury. The first time one of my milk teeth came out, it was because I was biting my sister.

Ha, ha. I knew it! I was also the eldest and my sister was thirteen months younger, so a very similar gap. And yes, we fought bitterly, but also collaborated to create imaginary worlds and games, write letters in code, make maps and search for hidden treasure (we never found any). It's a great apprenticeship for writing children's books! 

One of the things I also like about your books is that you never really hurt or destroy your main characters - they may have some heart-stopping or tearful moments, but they are generally put down gently on safe ground at the end. Are you conscious of that, and is it related to the age you write for, or is it just part of who you are as a writer, that you don't have a desire to take your readers to very dark or unhappy places? (Or do you secretly nurse a desire to write a book with a massacre in it?)

Funnily enough, one of my books does have a massacre in it! It's my third book, Gullstruck Island. I won't say any more since it's an important plot event, and I wouldn't want to commit spoilers.

Ah - I haven't read that one! (Orders it from the library immediately...)

My books tend to have a bodycount, and for the course of the story I like my readers to be in real doubt about whether my main character will survive. Most of them live in quite unforgiving worlds. I suspect that in fact I probably do take my protagonists to some dark and unhappy places... but then allow them to find a way out again, through their own ingenuity, courage and strength of will. 

My books don't often have neat or straightforward 'happy endings', but hope generally triumphs. That isn't because I'm softening my books for a younger audience, but because I'm naturally quite a hopeful person. I'm a cynical optimist.

I think that's what I meant, really - not that there aren't dark times or places, but that as a reader I feel safe. I know that somehow it will work out, the main characters will find a way. I like the idea of being a cynical optimist - I think I'm probably one, too.

I'd like to finish  by asking you a bit about the nuts and bolts of how you write. Your language is wonderfully inventive - your descriptions always fresh and original. Is that something that just flows from your pen or do you refine a lot in subsequent versions?

I am not one of those authors who manages to produce the same number of words each day (though I admire the discipline of all those who do). I have spurts of productivity where I turn out a lot of text in a day. Afterwards I go back and fiddle with it neurotically, and usually the 'fiddling' takes the form of cutting. I have a terrible addiction to metaphors, so when I revise my own work it usually involves the gentle patter of snipped metaphors and similes hitting the floor.

That's interesting - so the first draft has even more of that inventive figurative language! I'd love to see a Frances Hardinge text before it's been pruned, all overgrown and tangled with trailing metaphors. What a treat! But your stories aren't just beautifully described, they have cracking plots. Do you work these out beforehand, or follow leads as they come up? In other words, are you a plotter or a pantser?

I always plot out my books before I write them. For my first book I even had a chapter by chapter outline. I haven't gone into quite that much detail in plans for my later books, but I always map out the main incidents, and know what the ending will be.

However, there's always some room for making things up on the fly. A book should be a journey of discovery for the writer as well as the reader, otherwise the writing process can become dull and leaden. My stories surprise me. Characters develop in unexpected ways. Just now and then, I change my mind about my plot structure halfway through writing the book. It's still useful to have that first plan, though, even if I decide to deviate from it. I need that trellis, even if I can't full predict how my story-vine will grow.

What do you do when you get stuck? How do you get the ideas and words flowing again?

I seldom reach a point where I can't write. Instead, I get a form of writers' block where I write the same chapter over and over again, and can't get the text to 'work'. It lies there on the screen like a stunned weasel.

If you're sitting alone in a study for too long you can get hypnotised by your own screen. Sometimes I go for a ten-mile hike, just so that I can work through some plot knots in my head. 

I find it a lot easier to write, however, if there is a deadline looming, even if it's an artifical one. I belong to a couple of writers' groups, and I find that I become a lot more productive just before the sessions...

I think that's probably enough. I could happily carry on all day, but we need to get started on those chips! Many thanks for answering my questions, and good luck with the next book!

It's been a pleasure. Pass the ketchup!




I hope everyone's enjoyed this conversation as much as I did - and if any of you haven't come across Frances's books, do go and seek them out. They are among the most inventive, delightful and original books for older children I've read.



C.J. Busby writes funny fantasy for 7-10. Her latest book, Deep Amber, is out with Templar. The sequel, Dragon Amber, will be published in September.


Twitter: @ceciliabusby


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32. The Auschwitz Escape (2014)

The Auschwitz Escape. Joel C. Rosenberg. 2014. Tyndale. 468 pages. [Source: Library]

The Auschwitz Escape is a compelling historical novel starring two wonderful heroes. Readers meet Jean Luc Leclerc a pastor who follows his heart and sets out to rescue as many Jews as he can. He "rescues" them by providing for the needs of refugees. He takes Jews into his home and hides them, he encourages every one in his town to do so. His rescue work continues for several years before he is arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz. Readers also meet a young Jewish man named Jacob Weisz. He is part of the Resistance, Belgium Resistance, I believe? He is doing his all to help as well. He too is captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. However they don't learn his true name for many months. Both men learn the upsetting fate of most Jews upon arrival. Both realize that it is not a work camp, but, instead a death camp. Both men are chosen by others in the camp to be part of an underground resistance. Both are chosen to be part of an escape program. They feel very strongly that several teams of two-men need to escape from the camp and seek not only immediate refuge, but, to be messengers. They feel that if the outside world had even a small clue what was happening, they would act, they would do something, they couldn't not do something, right? So Luc and Jacob are the third or maybe fourth team over a year to attempt to escape. Will their escape succeed? Will they survive? Will they be able to find help? What will happen when they speak the truth?

The Auschwitz Escape is fiction. But there were men who did manage to escape who did carry messages and horrific proof about the camp with them to share with the outside world.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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33. In Paradise

I’m not sure what to make of Peter Matthiessen’s novel In Paradise. I’ve never read Matthiessen before but I have wanted to read his nonfiction book Snow Leopard for quite some time. I have never been especially interested in his fiction. But as things work out in odd ways sometimes, it is his fiction I read first.

It also happens that Matthiessen died in April of this year, just a few days before In Paradise was published. What made me want to read this book if what I really wanted to read was his nonfiction? I read a glowing review that made the book sound so very special that I immediately placed my name on the library hold list for it. My turn has come and, while the writing is good and Matthiessen raises some interesting issues and questions in the book, I did not find it to be particularly special in any way.

It is 1996 and we follow Clements Olin, poet, academic, expert in Holocaust literature, to a meditative retreat at Auschwitz. Early on we learn that Olin is of no particular religion (though we learn he was baptized Episcopalian), that his family is Polish, and even came from Oswiecim, the Polish name of the town the Germans call Auschwitz. His name is actually Olinski and his grandfather is a Baron. Olin was born in Poland just before the war. His father and father’s parents were able to leave for the United States. Olin’s mother did not go to the U.S. and the family will not talk about her. All he has of her is a photo, young and pretty leaning from a window in her family’s house, smiling at the photographer.

Olin isn’t especially interested in the retreat. His grandparents are dead and his father is recently deceased. All three had sternly insisted he never go to Poland. Now they are no longer around to stop him, he has decided to go and try and find out about his mother.

There are about 100 people at the retreat. They are actually staying at the concentration camp. Each morning they are to go sit on the train platform where the Jews were unloaded at the camp, and meditate. In the evenings there are short talks, but mainly anyone who feels compelled is invited to stand and talk. This causes all kinds of conflict as you can imagine because among those gathered are Jews from around the world, a few Holocaust survivors, some Buddhists, a former monk, the priest from the local Church, several nuns from a nearby convent, and a number of unaffiliated individuals like Olin and some non-Jewish Germans.

The Germans want to be absolved of the crimes their country committed. The Catholics want to mend fences but mostly refuse to admit the church’s complicity in sending all of the Jews in Oswiecim to die at the camp. And there is Mr. Earwig, an apt name for the most caustic of people. He calls it as he sees it and refuses to feel bad about hurting anyone’s feelings. No one can understand why he is even there. Of course, when we find out his story, it is heartbreaking.

And that is what kept me from finding this book special. Of course Mr. Earwig is so mean because he is in pain and has a tragic history. Of course we learn that Olin’s mother was actually Jewish, not Episcopalian, and died in the camp. Of course Olin feels romantic stirrings for a rebellious nun who also seems to feel something for him in return. Of course they each go their separate ways at the end, sadder but wiser. And then there is the ironic title. I could probably have put up with all of it if it hadn’t been for the love story. It felt artificial, a forced thing to show that there can be something beautiful even in the ugliest of places. On the plus side, all the emotions, anger, hatred, uncertainty and sadness the weeklong stay at Auschwitz stirs up are not easily cleansed and Matthiessen refuses to let everyone leave feeling healed and content. Our Mr. Earwig finds what he came looking for and leaves just as pissed off as he was when he arrived.

The writing itself is strong and sturdy. There is nothing maudlin about the tone nor is it overly serious or depressing. In spite of the volatility of the characters, the book remains careful and respectful. A bit too careful really. Overall not a bad book. I just failed to find what the reviewer I read believed was so special about it. If you decide to read it, I hope you find it.


Filed under: Books, Historical Fiction, Reviews Tagged: Peter Matthiessen

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34. China Dolls (2014)

China Dolls. Lisa See. 2014. Random House. 376 pages. [Source: Library]

China Dolls is historical fiction. The novel follows three women through the latter days of the 1930s through the 1940s. Three very different women I might add. The friendship between these three women is not quite pure or ideal. Grace, one of the heroines, is running away from an abusive father. Her dream is to sing and dance and to go into show business. Ruby, another heroine, is also a dancer and performer. Helen is the third heroine. Before a chance meeting with Ruby and Grace, Helen had no big dreams of show business. In fact, Helen could not even dance! Yet, a chance meeting one day led all three women to audition for an Oriental nightclub. (For the record, Oriental is the term used throughout China Dolls.) Talent is only half of what is required, they learn. Appearance is super important. It is more important to be beautiful and amazing and be somewhat teachable than to be incredibly talented. Helen and Grace are hired to be essentially part of a chorus. (They're called Ponies.) But Ruby remains a part of their lives. For better or worse.

While each woman is given a back story and/or a sob story, I had a hard time liking any of the characters. Helen, Grace, and Ruby may spend time together, but, that doesn't mean they like each other and want each other to succeed. Helen, Ruby, and Grace could be quite mean and awful to each other.

The history is interesting. The story is certainly full of drama. The characters are incredibly flawed and remain consistently selfish.

I liked it fine, but, I definitely did not love it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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35. What Were Girls Like?

I am JulietThree recent YA historical fiction novels by Australian women (all published by HarperCollins/ABC Books) inhabit times when girls had to bend to the influence of men and were comparatively powerless.

The Raven’s Wing is Frances Watts’s first novel for teens. It is set in Ancient Rome where fifteen year-old Claudia is strategically offered in marriage several times. Making an alliance which can best help her family is paramount. Primarily a romance, the book addresses Claudia’s growing awareness of human rights (here through the fate of slaves) which interferes with her sense of duty and makes her a much more interesting character than the docile cipher she is expected to be.

I am Juliet by Australian Children’s Laureate, Jackie French, is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. French’s Juliet is a fleshed-out focal character. Superficially she shares some of Claudia’s privileged lifestyle features: attended by maids who wash and dress her and apply her makeup; elaborate meals; and protection behind high walls. Medicinal and other herbs and plants are a feature of their times; and Juliet and Claudia both face imminent arranged marriage, but are aware of a dark man in shadows. Their stories, also, contain a story within a story.

Jackie French has reinterpreted Shakespeare previously – in her excellent Macbeth and Son which grapples with the nature of truth. She has also addressed the role of women in history, perhaps most notably in A Rose for the ANZAC Boys

Ratcatcher's Daughter Issy, the thirteen-year-old protagonist of Pamela Rushby’s The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, doesn’t share Claudia and Juliet’s privileged backgrounds. Set in a well-drawn Brisbane of 1900, Issy’s father is a ratcatcher during the bubonic plague. Issy is offered a scholarship to become a teacher but her family refuse it due to lack of money. The issue of the poor’s inability to take up opportunities that the rich assume is reiterated throughout the novel.

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter and I am Juliet include background notes about the historical period and other points of interest.

 These three books unite in their exploration of girls who are prepared to defy tradition to control their own lives, where possible, in spite of general lack of female empowerment. I hope that this really was possible and is not just a revisionist interpretation.

It is interesting that this crop of YA historical novels has appeared now. Are these authors finding a story-niche or reflecting current concern? Although surely girls today, particularly in a country such as Australia, are more fortunate in their freedom and choice. The Raven's Wing

 

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36. Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

MadmanPineyWoods Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul CurtisThe Madman of Piney Woods
By Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0-545-63376-5
$16.99
Ages 9-12
On shelves September 30th

No author hits it out of the park every time. No matter how talented or clever a writer might be, if their heart isn’t in a project it shows. In the case of Christopher Paul Curtis, when he loves what he’s writing the sheets of paper on which he types practically set on fire. When he doesn’t? It’s like reading mold. There’s life there, but no energy. Now in the case of his Newbery Honor book Elijah of Buxton, Curtis was doing gangbuster work. His blend of history and humor is unparalleled and you need only look to Elijah to see Curtis at his best. With that in mind I approached the companion novel to Elijah titled The Madman of Piney Woods with some trepidation. A good companion book will add to the magic of the original. A poor one, detract. I needn’t have worried. While I wouldn’t quite put Madman on the same level as Elijah, what Curtis does here, with his theme of fear and what it can do to a human soul, is as profound and thought provoking as anything he’s written in the past. There is ample fodder here for young brains. The fact that it’s a hoot to read as well is just the icing on the cake.

Two boys. Two lives. It’s 1901, forty years after the events in Elijah of Buxton and Benji Alston has only one dream: To be the world’s greatest reporter. He even gets an apprenticeship on a real paper, though he finds there’s more to writing stories than he initially thought. Meanwhile Alvin Stockard, nicknamed Red, is determined to be a scientist. That is, when he’s not dodging the blows of his bitter Irish granny, Mother O’Toole. When the two boys meet they have a lot in common, in spite of the fact that Benji’s black and Red’s Irish. They’ve also had separate encounters with the legendary Madman of Piney Woods. Is the man an ex-slave or a convict or part lion? The truth is more complicated than that, and when the Madman is in trouble these two boys come to his aid and learn what it truly means to face fear.

Let’s be plainspoken about what this book really is. Curtis has mastered the art of the Tom Sawyerish novel. Sometimes it feels like books containing mischievous boys have fallen out of favor. Thank goodness for Christopher Paul Curtis then. What we have here is a good old-fashioned 1901 buddy comedy. Two boys getting into and out of scrapes. Wreaking havoc. Revenging themselves on their enemies / siblings (or at least Benji does). It’s downright Mark Twainish (if that’s a term). Much of the charm comes from the fact that Curtis knows from funny. Benji’s a wry-hearted bigheaded, egotistical, lovable imp. He can be canny and completely wrong-headed within the space of just a few sentences. Red, in contrast, is book smart with a more regulation-sized ego but as gullible as they come. Put Red and Benji together and it’s little wonder they’re friends. They compliment one another’s faults. With Elijah of Buxton I felt no need to know more about Elijah and Cooter’s adventures. With Madman I wouldn’t mind following Benji and Red’s exploits for a little bit longer.

One of the characteristics of Curtis’s writing that sets him apart from the historical fiction pack is his humor. Making the past funny is a trick. Pranks help. An egotistical character getting their comeuppance helps too. In fact, at one point Curtis perfectly defines the miracle of funny writing. Benji is pondering words and wordplay and the magic of certain letter combinations. Says he, “How is it possible that one person can use only words to make another person laugh?” How indeed. The remarkable thing isn’t that Curtis is funny, though. Rather, it’s the fact that he knows how to balance tone so well. The book will garner honest belly laughs on one page, then manage to wrench real emotion out of you the next. The best funny authors are adept at this switch. The worst leave you feeling queasy. And Curtis never, not ever, gives a reader a queasy feeling.

Normally I have a problem with books where characters act out-of-step with the times without any outside influence. For example, I once read a Civil War middle grade novel that shall remain nameless where a girl, without anyone in her life offering her any guidance, independently came up with the idea that “corsets restrict the mind”. Ugh. Anachronisms make me itch. With that in mind, I watched Red very carefully in this book. Here you have a boy effectively raised by a racist grandmother who is almost wholly without so much as a racist thought in his little ginger noggin. How do we account for this? Thankfully, Red’s father gives us an “out”, as it were. A good man who struggles with the amount of influence his mother-in-law may or may not have over her redheaded grandchild, Mr. Stockard is the just force in his son’s life that guides his good nature.

The preferred writing style of Christopher Paul Curtis that can be found in most of his novels is also found here. It initially appears deceptively simple. There will be a series of seemingly unrelated stories with familiar characters. Little interstitial moments will resonate with larger themes, but the book won’t feel like it’s going anywhere. Then, in the third act, BLAMMO! Curtis will hit you with everything he’s got. Murder, desperation, the works. He’s done it so often you can set your watch by it, but it still works, man. Now to be fair, when Curtis wrote Elijah of Buxton he sort of peaked. It’s hard to compete with the desperation that filled Elijah’s encounter with an enslaved family near the end. In Madman Curtis doesn’t even attempt to top it. In fact, he comes to his book’s climax from another angle entirely. There is some desperation (and not a little blood) but even so this is a more thoughtful third act. If Elijah asked the reader to feel, Madman asks the reader to think. Nothing wrong with that. It just doesn’t sock you in the gut quite as hard.

For me, it all comes down to the quotable sentences. And fortunately, in this book the writing is just chock full of wonderful lines. Things like, “An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and the same can be said of many an argument.” Or later, when talking about Red’s nickname, “It would be hard for even as good a debater as Spencer or the Holmely boy to disprove that a cardinal and a beet hadn’t been married and given birth to this boy. Then baptized him in a tub of red ink.” And I may have to conjure up this line in terms of discipline and kids: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, but you can sure make him stand there looking at the water for a long time.” Finally, on funerals: “Maybe it’s just me, but I always found it a little hard to celebrate when one of the folks in the room is dead.”

He also creates little moments that stay with you. Kissing a reflection only to have your lips stick to it. A girl’s teeth so rotted that her father has to turn his head when she kisses him to avoid the stench (kisses are treacherous things in Curtis novels). In this book I’ll probably long remember the boy who purposefully gets into fights to give himself a reason for the injuries wrought by his drunken father. And there’s even a moment near the end when the Madman’s identity is clarified that is a great example of Curtis playing with his audience. Before he gives anything away he makes it clear that the Madman could be one of two beloved characters from Elijah of Buxton. It’s agony waiting for him to clarify who exactly is who.

Character is king in the world of Mr. Curtis. A writer who manages to construct fully three-dimensional people out of mere words is one to watch. In this book, Curtis has the difficult task of making complete and whole a character through the eyes of two different-year-old boys. And when you consider that they’re working from the starting point of thinking that the guy’s insane, it’s going to be a tough slog to convince the reader otherwise. That said, once you get into the head of the “Madman” you get a profound sense not of his insanity but of his gentleness. His very existence reminded me of similar loners in literature like Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson or The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, but unlike the men in those books this guy had a heart and a mind and a very distinctive past. And fears. Terrible, awful fears.

It’s that fear that gives Madman its true purpose. Red’s grandmother, Mother O’Toole, shares with the Madman a horrific past. They’re very different horrors (one based in sheer mind-blowing violence and the other in death, betrayal, and disgust) but the effects are the same. Out of these moments both people are suffering a kind of PTSD. This makes them two sides of the same coin. Equally wracked by horrible memories, they chose to handle those memories in different ways. The Madman gives up society but retains his soul. Mother O’Toole, in contrast, retains her sanity but gives up her soul. Yet by the end of the book the supposed Madman has returned to society and reconnected with his friends while the Irishwoman is last seen with her hair down (a classic madwoman trope as old as Shakespeare himself) scrubbing dishes until she bleeds to rid them of any trace of the race she hates so much. They have effectively switched places.

Much of what The Madman of Piney Woods does is ask what fear does to people. The Madman speaks eloquently of all too human monsters and what they can do to a man. Meanwhile Grandmother has suffered as well but it’s made her bitter and angry. When Red asks, “Doesn’t it seem only logical that if a person has been through all of the grief she has, they’d have nothing but compassion for anyone else who’s been through the same?” His father responds that “given enough time, fear is the great killer of the human spirit.” In her case it has taken her spirit and “has so horribly scarred it, condensing and strengthening and dishing out the same hatred that it has experienced.” But for some the opposite is true, hence the Madman. Two humans who have seen the worst of humanity. Two different reactions. And as with Elijah, where Curtis tackled slavery not through a slave but through a slave’s freeborn child, we hear about these things through kids who are “close enough to hear the echoes of the screams in [the adults’] nightmarish memories.” Certainly it rubs off onto the younger characters in different ways. In one chapter Benji wonders why the original settlers of Buxton, all ex-slaves, can’t just relax. Fear has shaped them so distinctly that he figures a town of “nervous old people” has raised him. Adversity can either build or destroy character, Curtis says. This book is the story of precisely that.

Don’t be surprised if, after finishing this book, you find yourself reaching for your copy of Elijah of Buxton so as to remember some of these characters when they were young. Reaching deep, Curtis puts soul into the pages of its companion novel. In my more dreamy-eyed moments I fantasize about Curtis continuing the stories of Buxton every 40 years until he gets to the present day. It could be his equivalent of Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House chronicles. Imagine if we shot forward another 40 years to 1941 and encountered a grown Benji and Red with their own families and fears. I doubt Curtis is planning on going that route, but whether or not this is the end of Buxton’s tales or just the beginning, The Madman of Piney Woods will leave child readers questioning what true trauma can do to a soul, and what they would do if it happened to them. Heady stuff. Funny stuff. Smart stuff. Good stuff. Better get your hands on this stuff.

On shelves September 30th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

First Sentence: “The old soldiers say you never hear the bullet that kills you.”

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Notes on the Cover:  As many of us are aware, in the past historical novels starring African-American boys have often consisted of silhouettes or dull brown sepia-toned tomes.  Christopher Paul Curtis’s books tend to be the exception to the rule, and this is clearly the most lively of his covers so far.  Two boys running in period clothing through the titular “piney woods”?  That kind of thing is rare as a peacock these days.  It’s still a little brown, but maybe I can sell it on the authors name and the fact that the books look like they’re running to/from trouble.  All in all, I like it.

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37. Between Two Worlds, by Katherine Kirkpatrick | Book Review

Travel back in time to the year 1900, and place yourself in the shoes of sixteen-year-old Billy Bah, who lives in the unrelenting wintry land of northern Itta, Greenland.

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38. Discovery


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39. My Laura Ingalls Wilder Adventure

little house

 

Perhaps you didn’t know exactly how nerdy I am, but once I tell you what I am doing you will know for sure. I leave Tuesday for a Laura Ingalls Wilder adventure. I am flying to Wisconsin, where I will meet an Ingalls relative and a Wilder relative. We, along with three other Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie (television show) fans, will be spending the following eight days visiting some Laura Ingalls Wilder sites and attending a 40th Anniversary Little House on the Prairie Cast Reunion taking place in Walnut Grove, Minnesota over the weekend.

Told you. Total nerd.

This will be the only time I do something like this. My girls aren’t into my whole obsession, so I knew if I planned this it would have to be just me and my friends. I’m not bringing much technology, so I won’t be blogging or posting pictures online until we get back. I’ll be sharing my adventures when we return at my Laura Ingalls Wilder blog: http://lauralittlehouseontheprairie.blogspot.com/


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40. Merry Monarch's Wife (1991)

The Merry Monarch's Wife. (A Queens of England Novel). Jean Plaidy. 1991/2008. Crown. 352 pages. [Source: Bought]

MY LIFE WILL END WHERE IT BEGAN, FOR IN THE YEAR 1692 I left England where I had gone some thirty years before as a bride to the most romantic prince in Europe. I smile now to consider how ill-equipped I was for such a position, and when I look back I say to myself, “If I had done this…,” “If I had not done that…how much happier my life would have been.” But then, although I was not very young—I was twenty-four, which is a mature age for a princess to embark on marriage—I was quite innocent of the world and had hardly ever strayed from the walls of the convent where I had received my education, or the precincts of the royal palace. 
 
I enjoyed reading Jean Plaidy's The Merry Monarch's Wife. Catherine of Braganza was the queen of Charles II. For those familiar with the reign of Charles II, you can imagine what a life she led for better or worse. The book seeks to capture her personal perspective of her husband, of her marriage, of her adopted country. (She's coming from Portugal to England.)

Plaidy's depiction has Catherine truly in love with the King, and oh-so-aware of his shortcomings. In her reckoning, Charles II could not help himself at all, he was completely incapable of fidelity. Readers catch glimpses here and there of Charles' many, many mistresses. But not as much as you might imagine. That is, the focus is on HER and not truly on him and his activities. She is aware of his favorites at any given time, and at times she's sought out in conversation by mistresses in and out of favor.

There is definitely a lot of POLITICS in Merry Monarch's Wife. Readers learn about various plots and threats and conspiracies. Readers meet men and women who are ambitious and manipulative and power-hungry.

I was familiar, in a way, with some of the details of his reign. But not of what life was like for her before and after. Before her arrival in England and after Charles II's death. This book tells a fairly complete story.

Quotes:
We do not know what the future holds, but I believe that one day you are going to be Queen of England, and when you are, you will do your duty to God and your country.” “Oh yes,” I said fervently, “I will.” I had a mission now. Not only was I going to marry Prince Charles, but I was going to save his soul.
He always called himself an ugly fellow, and when one considered his features that could be true, but his charm was overwhelming. There could never have been a more attractive man. I know that I loved him and one is apt to be unaware of the faults of the object of one’s devotion, but I can vouch for it that I was not alone in my opinion. He used to talk of the ringing of bells, the flowers strewn in his path, the women who threw kisses at him, the shouts of loyalty. “Odds fish!” he said. It was a favorite oath of his. “They gave me such a welcome home that I thought it must have been my own fault that I had stayed away so long.”
He laughed. “You remind me of my mother. You and she will be good friends when you meet, I’ll swear. As for this Catholic ceremony…you see, my dear, you are Queen of this country and you must be married according to the religious observances of the place. But you say you will not be happy…and I cannot allow you to be unhappy. I will tell you how we will resolve this matter. There shall be a ceremony here in this bedchamber. It shall be as you wish, and the other one will take place as arranged on the same day. It means you will have to marry me twice. Could you bear that?” I felt my lips tremble. I was going to weep because I was so touched, so happy. “You are all that I hoped for…and all that I dreamed,” I said emotionally. He looked at me in mock dismay. “Do not have too good an opinion of me, I beg you. I fear you will find me a somewhat sinful fellow.” “Oh no. You are the kindest and best man in the world.” He leaned toward me and kissed my cheek. He was sober suddenly. He said: “You shame me.” Then he was merry again. His gravity seemed always to be fleeting, as though his gaiety was waiting impatiently to break in on it.
Charles is fond of you. He likes you very much…but he will never be faithful to you. It is not in him to be faithful…not to any woman. My father was like him. I saw how my mother lived. So I understand. Accept this weakness in him and he will be grateful to you, he will be kind.
We would drink tea, for I had brought this custom with me from Portugal. For a short time people had thought the beverage very strange, but they were soon aware of the pleasure of taking that soothing drink, and my ladies quickly became as ardent tea drinkers as I myself. Indeed the custom was spreading all over the country.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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41. Reread #28 To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis. 1998. Bantam. 493 pages. [Source: Bought]

I have every intention of rereading all four Oxford time travel books by Connie Willis this year. Earlier in the year, I reread the first book, Doomsday Book. To Say Nothing of the Dog, the second book, is a book I originally read and reviewed in July 2009. While the first book offers drama, drama, more drama, with just a touch of humor now and then, the second book is a romantic comedy. I happen to love both books though they are very different from one another.

Ned Henry is the hero of To Say Nothing of the Dog. He is on a mission, not a mission of his own choosing perhaps, but a big mission all the same. He is one of many time travelers working for Lady Schrapnell on her latest project: restoring Coventry Cathedral. The novel opens with a very overworked Ned Henry beginning to show severe signs of time-lag. What he needs is rest, permission to rest. That isn't likely to happen if Lady Schrapnell learns his whereabouts. For better or worse, Ned Henry is sent to the past--to Victorian times--to recuperate. He's been given another mission too. This time by someone much nicer and calmer than Lady Schrapnell. The problem? Ned Henry wasn't capable of listening and understanding. Now he's in the past without a real clue of WHY he's there and what he's supposed to accomplish.

Verity Kindle is the heroine of To Say Nothing of the Dog. She is on a mission of her own. While Ned Henry was given the assignment of finding out the whereabouts of the bishop's bird stump, Verity's assignment is to read Tocelyn's diary. The diary is available to read in the future. But the most relevant pages to the Coventry Cathedral project were damaged. So she's been sent to the oh-so-important summer of 1888 to read the newly written diary entries. She's having about as much success as Ned Henry. In other words, not much luck at all! These two work together as best they can. Verity manages to travel back and forth a few times to the future. Their mission--as they see it has changed a bit. They worry that they've damaged the future and that something horrible may happen as a result. Like Tocelyn, they know, was supposed to marry a "Mr. C". They know this for a fact from future diary entries. Yet here they are and she's engaged to someone else! Their "new mission" is to find the identity of "Mr. C." and make sure they meet when they're supposed to meet....

I loved this one. I have always loved this one. It is a delightful time travel novel. I love the humor! I do! It's so very, very funny! And I love the details and the dialogue. This one is just a joy cover to cover!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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42. Echo Company

Great news!

The Echo Company books by Ellen Emerson White are available to buy!

White wrote these books back in the early 1990s, under the name Zach Emerson.



The Echo Company books are set during the Vietnam War, told from the point of view of a young soldier, Michael Jennings. A follow up book, The Road Home, is about a young nurse Michael meets and is about both Rebecca's time in Vietnam and her homecoming. I wrote a pretty in-depth look at these four books, as well as a couple others that refer to the characters in these books, in my 2007 post, Ellen Emerson White: Vietnam.

At the moment they are only available as ebooks from Amazon.

The titles, in order:

Welcome to Vietnam (Echo Company Book 1)

Hill 568 (Echo Company Book 2)

'Tis the Season (Echo Company Book 3)

Stand Down (Echo Company Book 4)

The Road Home (Echo Company)

As I said back in 2007, "It's real. It's death and dying and blood. And Ellen Emerson White doesn't shy away from any of it. And what she has done is take you into the experience; just as Michael (and the reader) has the lull of "ok, this isn't so bad after all, I can make it" BAM. No. It's not OK. It is that bad. This is one of the few war novels I have read that respects the soldiers and their experiences; that doesn't play politics about the issue of war. And is brutally honest about the soldier's experiences."

And about The Road Home, "By exploring the Vietnam War thru the POV of a female, and of a nurse, there is the horrors of war combined with the healing of medicine; the mixed emotions of saving the lives of soldiers, only to have the soldiers go out, risk their lives again, or to kill. And the details, of triage, of deciding who lives and dies, who gets morphine and who doesn't, who dies alone or dies with lies of "it's going to be OK. Rebecca goes from naive and hopeful to scared, afraid, bitter."

Trust me: you will love this series. And since it is historical fiction, you won't have to worry about anything seeming "dated."

If you haven't read any Ellen Emerson White before? Go, read.

And if you have read Ellen Emerson White, what's your favorite book?

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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43. TURNING PAGES: SOPHIE, IN SHADOW, by Eileen Kernaghan

This book is heartily recommended to anyone re-reading A PASSAGE TO INDIA this summer (hi, Lissa!), and to anyone whose childhood summers included Kipling's KIM, which is worth a re-read this summer as well. This book is for anyone who fears that... Read the rest of this post

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44. The Bambino and Me - an audiobook review

Hyman, Zachary. 2014. The Bambino and Me. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra.  Read by Jason Alexander.
(Advance Listener Copy)

Huge baseball fan, Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame), reads this fictional memoir of 10-yr-old Yankee fan,George Henry Alexander, in The Bambino and Me. The story simply begs to be read by Jason Alexander who certainly needs no accent coaching to create this believable boy from the Bronx in the summer of 1927.

Babe Ruth has been sold to the Yankees and George is his biggest fan.  When he gets a ticket to a Yankees/Red Sox game for his birthday, he couldn't be more excited! But then comes the error - his Uncle Alvin has given him a Red Sox jersey to wear to the game! His mother insists that he wear it. Enemy colors! What could be worse?

The audio version is filled with the wonderful sounds of baseball and summer - jazz music, the chatter of kids on the street, the crack of a bat, the roar of a crowd. If this audio book were a baseball game, it would be a perfect one.

Recommended for ages 6-9, and unabashed lovers of America's Pastime.

This is "hands-down" the best audio book that I've listened to since Three Times Lucky.
"And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces."
From Field of Dreams, 1989. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. Screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson, based upon the book Shoeless Joe (1982) by W. P. Kinsella



Note:
 Although it looks wonderful, I can't offer comment on the printed version of The Bambino and Me. I picked up the CD at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, and asked if I could have the accompanying book. I was told that I could only have the CD, which I tossed in my bag where it sat unnoticed and unremembered until this week when I had a lull between audio book reviewing assignments. I'm so glad I remembered it!



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45. Holding on to Hope for our "Unmarketable" Manuscripts


I proposed out current topic, which JoAnn kicked off on Friday, after reading Marion Dane Bauer's blog post, The Creative Mind. In the post, Marion writes of her experience creating a young adult short story collection that wasn't very marketable, in part, because "the book was awkward to place anywhere in the juvenile market." Unfortunately, I've written not only one, but possibly two, such books. At least Marion's reputation and sales history allowed her book to make it into print. My manuscripts, in contrast, are sitting in the proverbial "drawer," and may never see the light of day. This is especially frustrating because of the hours and hours of work I put into them. Both are set in 18th-century Milan--one a biography and the other a historical novel--and required extensive research. The more research I did, the more fascinated I became with my characters and their story. I'd hoped others would find them just as fascinating. The novel has done well in several writing competitions, and even took first place in the YA category of one. Yet the editors and agents who've read it so far tell me it's well-written but not marketable enough. There's that dreaded word again. I'm still waiting to hear back from a couple of editors and agents, but my hope is beginning to fade.

I'm looking forward to reading how my fellow TeachingAuthors deal with the issue of marketability. Our writing isn't only a creative pursuit--writing (and teaching) is what we do to pay the bills. At the moment, I can't afford to take a chance on creating another unmarketable book project, so I'm focusing on teaching and freelance writing. As much as I love teaching, I'm sad not to be working on a book project right now. I actually started a new middle-grade novel "just for fun" a few months ago, but I've put it on hold. Whenever I think about working on it, my inner critic says, "What will you do if this one turns out to be unmarketable too?" Some days the answer is "quit writing altogether."

Sorry, readers, writing this post is depressing even me! So I searched for some encouragement online. I Googled "unmarketable manuscript" and found the phrase in Sophy Burnham's For Writers Only: Inspiring Thoughts on the Exquisite Pain and Heady Joy of the Writing Life from Its Great Practitioners (Tarcher Books), a book I happen to own but haven't read in years. I pulled For Writers Only off my bookshelf and read Burnham's own rejection story. Burnham, who is a bestselling nonfiction author, spent four or five years working on a novel. When she finally finished it and sent it to her agent, he responded, "This is unmarketable. . . . Burn it. Every writer does one or two of these. You're a talented writer. Go write something I can sell."

Ouch.

Understandably, Burnham was crushed. She almost did destroy the manuscript. But then she remembered something her mother told her when she was ten or twelve years old:

"If you ever become a writer," she said, "remember never to throw away anything you've written."
(Funny, I often tell the young writers in my writing camps to never throw away anything they write, either!)

Burnham followed her mother's advice and packed the manuscript up in a box. Years later, Burnham was working with a new agent who asked if she had any other manuscripts. She brought out the boxed-up novel. The agent read it and thought it was "wonderful." Within a month, the agent had found a publisher for Revelations, Burnham's first published novel.

Burnham went on to say:
"In fairness to that first agent, the novel probably was unmarketable when he read it . . . in that climate, at that period of time. . . . But times and tastes change. What is the moral? Perhaps that you never know when you'll succeed, that all you can do is to follow your path with enthusiasm, and don't let rejection get you down."
Even before reading Burnham's story, I'd thought about the cyclical nature of the young adult fiction market and how what doesn't sell today may eventually be the next big thing. I haven't given up hope for my novel or the biography. Like JoAnn, I'm pondering other approaches that may make these manuscripts more appealing. In the mean time, I'm not throwing anything away. J



Out and About:
I'm teaching several one-day writing workshops for adults this summer at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. If you live in the area, I invite you to read more about these classes, and the children's writing camps I teach, on my website.

Also, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of Joan Bransfield Graham's latest picture book, The Poem That Will Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices!

Happy writing!
Carmela    

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46. #590 – Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death by T. A. Anderson

FrontCoverSizeB.

Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death

by T. A. Anderson

published by T. A. Anderson       2/4/2014

978-1-49229785-7

Age 9 to 13             460 pages

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“When twelve-year-old Colt Humboldt’s dad drags the two of them from perfectly good Dallas to ancient Edinburgh for a “fresh start,” Colt knows e’s in for a long, boring summer. Fat chance. That very first night, the peculiar Alesone and her little brother Peer crawl out of Colt’s closet, begging for his help to save their family from a horrible fate. Unfortunately, the instructions for doing so are contained in a fickle book that lies to make it up as it goes. Worse, those instructions give this ragged trio one week to journey across Scotland in a impossible adventure to capture three treasures—treasures fiercely protected by a hidden, treacherous world determined to see Colt fail . . . preferably by death. But if Colt and his new friends can survive a horror novel come-to-life, a madman and his minions, a disagreeable folklore legend, and the shocking discovery of just why Alesone and Peter are so odd . . . Well, the next wo treasures won’t come so easily.

Opening

“The flight attendant standing along the curb resembled a ripe blueberry volcano about to blow its top, thought 12-year-old Colt Humboldt from the backseat of the taxi. Her head-to-toe blue uniform appeared dangerously close to its design limits, with a blue cap squeezed over short blonde curls and three very prominent chins squeezing out of her collar.”

Review

Not long after Colt’s mother died in a tragic automobile accident—which Colt survived—his dad accepts a position at the Edinburgh Zoo. Colt is not happy about moving from Dallas to Scotland. He chooses The Keepers room for his bedroom, not knowing the room’s history. This begins the history kids will learn about while reading the book. There are many pieces of knowledge inside the story, the biggest being the black plague that wiped out many in Europe.

What Colt thinks are ghosts awakens him the first night. These “ghosts” are actually two kids from the 1645. Alesone and her five-year-old brother Peter are running from the soldiers who want them back into the close in which the government has trapped all the inhabitants, thinking it will stop the black plague. The two kids are after a cure for their parents. To get the cure and passage back to their own time period, they must complete three missions, which get progressively harder and more dangerous. Colt agrees to help them. He is smitten on Alesone and bored without his friends.

Peter, Alesone & Colt

Peter, Alesone & Colt

Throughout the story, Colt must explain items that are commonplace in the twenty-first century but unheard of in the 1600’s. Many appear to be magic to the two kids. Peter has a habit of smashing things he does not understand, like alarm clocks and television sets. Five-year-old Peter experiences his first sugar high after a breakfast of Frosted Flakes™. He loves the cereal so much he sneaks a box home with him. Sugar highs are not common in the 1600’s as they are now. Peter also likes Colt’s Dallas Cowboys helmet, which took an arrow, saving the boy’s life on one journey.

Peter is an interesting character. He never utters a word, is very resilient, and handy in some of the sticky situations the three kids get into. Pretty good for s five-year-old out of his element. Peter also supplies much of the humor. I did think it odd that Alesone, a bright girl, is oblivious to the changes from her world to Colt’s. It takes her quite a while to accept that she is not in her 1645 world, as she continues to search for a pastor from 1645 and runs from/is afraid of the present day police who have no interest in Alesone or Peter.

Kids who like adventures with fantasy and humor mixed in will love Colt Humboldt. I read the 445 pages in two sittings, staying up late at night. If I were a kid, I would have taken a flashlight to bed just to keep reading the book. I love the characters. They are easy to care about and actually fun to root on as they continue searching for the three items needed to send Alesone and Peter back home. Nothing is what it seems on these journeys. Some of the secondary characters suddenly pop up, instantly twisting the story. Colt Humboldt is not difficult to understand or keep track of these twists and turns, but one does need to pay attention.

New Image

Much of the humor comes from Alesone and Peter being out of place in Colt’s world. He has no idea why they are so surprised by much of what they encounter, not knowing for a long time where the two kids have come from. All he knows is their parents will die if they do not collect the three treasures the Brown Man requires. The Brown Man of the Muirs (folklore) is but one of the folklore and creatures of Scotland legends included in the story. The true villain will be quite a surprise. Though the big villain in Alesone’s world, Mr. Vermyne, is rather easy given his name. He is a rat all right. Vermyne is one of those twists that will surprise you, yet make sense.

Mr. Anderson’s writing is excellent. Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death is the first of a series of adventures involving Colt. I am anxious to read the next volume. I love the way Anderson told Colt’s first story, though he could have made this into three books. A nearly 500-page book, with multitudes of folklore creatures, can look rather daunting to some middle graders. The pacing is great and the adventures are believable, though the last mission is a tough fight. Kids are in for a wonderful ride. A publisher would be very smart to get Anderson under contract. Colt Humboldt, with some high-powered marketing, and focused publicity should take flight right onto the bestseller list where it belongs. It is that good. Colt Humboldt is also T. A. Anderson’s debut.

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COLT HUMBOLDT AND THE CLOSE OF DEATH. Text copyright © 2014 by T. A. Anderson. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, T. A. Anderson.

Buy Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death at AmazonB&NBook DepositorySmashwordsKoboAuthor’s websiteyour local bookstore.

.READ THE FIRST FIVE CHAPTERS HERE. (Click on book.)

Learn more about Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death HERE.

Meet the author, T. A. Anderson, at his website:  http://taandersonauthor.wordpress.com/

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If you only read one adventure/fantasy this year, make it Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death. Just my opinion and there are still several months left to find something better. We won’t.

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colt humboldt 1


Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Debut Author, Favorites, Historical Fiction, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series Tagged: black plague, children's book reviews, Colt Humboldt, debut work, folklores, Mary King's Close, middle grade novel, Scotland, Scotland legends, T. A. Anderson

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47. Straight From the Source: Katherine Longshore on Writing Historical Fiction

Katherine Longshore is a former travel agent, coffeehouse barista and preschool teacher who has finally found her calling writing novels for teens.  She is the author of GILT, TARNISH and BRAZEN, a series of novels set in the court of Henry VIII, published by Viking and the “Downtonesque” MANOR OF SECRETS published by Scholastic.  After five years exploring castles and country manors in England, she now lives in California with three British citizens and one expatriate dog.  Visit her online at www.katherinelongshore.com.

What typically comes first for you: A character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

I typically begin with character. That said, characters come to me because of the historical era, so it becomes a question of the chicken or the egg. For me, however, the story doesn’t begin without the character, so that’s where I start.

My first book, GILT, came about because I thought, “Catherine Howard was a teenager when she married Henry VIII. She’d be a great character for a YA book!” But my narrator, Kitty Tylney, was born out of a news item about a rape at Richmond High School in California—one observed, but not reported, by as many as twenty other people. And I decided I wanted to write about a character who observed atrocities and wrongdoings, and for whatever reason, didn’t do anything until it was too late.

Anne Boleyn in TARNISH came to me on a long drive one Thanksgiving weekend—I’d been pondering writing about her, but didn’t find the courage until I thought about how she might have felt, as a teenager, being transplanted from her adoptive home of France (where she’d lived for seven years) to the very foreign world of the Henrician court.

The only book where I did the opposite was BRAZEN. I began with the historical figure—Mary Howard—a woman who became quietly independent in later years, avoiding court machinations whenever possible. But I didn’t know who she was—that is, who my fictional character needed to be—until I’d written the first draft. This was definitely a case of the story—and the writing of the novel—informing the character rather than the other way around.

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?

I like to tell people that I researched Henry VIII, his wives, and the Tudor era for ten years before I started GILT. This is absolutely true, but invites a misconception. I didn’t do the research with the idea of writing a novel in mind, I did the research because I was fascinated and wanted to know more. Ultimately, I wanted to understand the characters, so delving into their psychology through fiction seemed a natural transition.

Once I have made the decision to write a book, however, I usually research for about a month before I begin to write. I reread histories and find new ones to look for new insights. I take notes on index cards, even though I don’t always refer back to them. I’m a visual and tactile learner, so the act of writing something down cements it more firmly in my mind.

I continue to do research throughout every draft, finding specific details like Where was Henry VIII’s court on July 25, 1535? Or What kind of dress would a kitchen maid wear in 1911? Some of the answers can be found online (the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII is an invaluable resource!) and others have to be gleaned from more books. While finishing the third draft of BRAZEN, I read Alison Weir’s wonderful book about Anne Boleyn’s last days, The Lady in the Tower, which helped me write a key chapter using the vivid details Weir is so adept at providing.

What is your favorite thing about research?

The sense of discovery, and being able to pass that on to readers. One of the things I love about reading history and historical fiction is feeling immersed in this world that no longer exists. So discovering bright details that can make the world come alive is utterly inspiring. Which tapestry Henry VIII had hanging in the great hall of Hampton Court. What the upstairs rooms in a country manor smelled like to a downstairs maid. The name of Anne Boleyn’s lap dog, the view from Greenwich Palace…Details give us the greatest impression of the reality of history—that people actually lived and died and loved like we do.

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

Dates and numbers. I was always pretty good at math, and I don’t mind it—in fact, it keeps my mind sharp. But I don’t have an affinity for numbers. I don’t remember them, and sometimes I transpose them (782 can become 287 very easily—in fact, I can look at one number and say the other out loud. Made people very nervous when I ran a cash register!) I’ve been reading about Henry VIII for fifteen years and writing about him for five of those, and I can’t tell you his birth date or year without looking it up. But I can tell you who his mother’s father’s brother’s daughter was (Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury). To me, the real meat of history happens between the people—in the gossip and their personalities and interactions. The numbers and battles never interested me, which is why I think is disliked history as a teen—that’s how our knowledge was tested.

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

One of the reasons I love writing historical fiction is to make sense of some of the “muddy” historical characters I’ve come across. You would think Anne Boleyn would be straightforward—after all, there have been biographies, novels, plays, poems, operas, songs and movies made about her. But we still don’t know when she was born. It’s generally believed she was born in 1501, but I had to accept a later date (which some historians support) in order for her to be a teenager during the time period I chose to write about.

Mary Howard’s biography is even muddier. We know she married Henry Fitzroy (Henry VIII’s illegitimate son) at the age of fourteen. But no one knows for sure where she was for the next three years. Was she at court, serving Queen Anne Boleyn? Was she at her father’s (the Duke of Norfolk) home of Kenninghall? Or was she somewhere else entirely? Was she ever allowed even to see her husband? No one knows. There is no record. I decided to keep her at court because of a single mention of her being close to Anne Boleyn—and therefore occasionally coming into contact with Henry Fitzroy. Through this decision, I was able to explore the question, “How do you fall in love with someone you rarely get to see?” It became one of the central questions of the book. So for BRAZEN, history in some ways made the story easier to discover. The very muddiness freed me up to write a story that wasn’t hampered by all those dates I find so frustrating.

Unfortunately, history is also incredibly inflexible. I found it heartbreaking to have to write some events into my books. Deaths, arguments, poor decisions. I have used some choice words to rail at history over the past five years, but I always succumb eventually.

 

 

The post Straight From the Source: Katherine Longshore on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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48. #594 – Return to Canterbury by Melissa Ann Goodwin

return to canterbury.

Return to Canterbury

by Melissa Ann Goodwin

Melissa Ann Goodwin, publisher     12/20/2013

978-1-49234887-2

Age 8 to 12          270 pages

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“Things have settled down for thirteen-year-old Jamie Reynolds since last Christmas. That’s when he time-traveled to 1932 and wound up in the town of Canterbury, Vermont. There he met Kelly and Christopher Pennysworth, who quickly became his best friends. Back in his own time again, he misses them every day. But as the July 4th, 2008 holiday approaches, the biggest black cloud still hovering over Jamie’s life is the mystery of what happened to his dad, who has been missing or almost a year.

“Little does Jamie know that he will soon reunite with Kelly and Christopher for an adventure even bigger than their last. Together they’ll uncover a secret plot that threatens to destroy Canterbury. But will they be able to stop it before it’s too late? And will Jamie finally solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance? Return to Canterbury with us and find out!”

 Opening

“Dear Jamie, writing you another letter, even though I know you’ll never get to read it. But there’s ever so much going on in Canterbury these days and it seems strange not to be able to tell you about it. I miss you awfully, and writing to you almost makes me feel like we’ve talked. Almost.”

The Story

Jamie returns to Canterbury after seeing a picture of himself at the time capsule during the 4th of July celebrations—in 1935. He is standing with Kelly and Christopher, who he befriended in the first story entitled The Christmas Village. Jamie also sees a photograph that looks just like his dad, also from 1935. He knows he will be time-traveling again, this time to bring back his dad. What he doesn’t know just yet is that he will help foil a plan to put Canterbury underwater to form a hydroelectric power plant. To make that happen, a big shot from New York has to buy up the local farmland from farmers who will not sell. But this new “villain” has a plan that will make that problem go away.  Jamie, Kelly, and Christopher set out to foil all of the plans, safekeeping Canterbury for future generations.

Review

I have not read The Christmas Village, though now I would like to read it. The sequel to that story, Return to Canterbury, can stand on its own. The author does a good job getting the reader up to speed without the reader feeling they are reading old material. It is 2008 and Jamie has meet the 88-year-old Kelly. Just last year, twelve-year-old Jamie meet ten-year-old Kelly.  Now she is 88, which is a strange situation for Jamie. Kelly knows what will happen when Jamie returns to Canterbury but cannot tell him for fear of changing the past, thus changing the present and future. This leads to one of a few holes in the story that did bother me, but did not destroy the great fun I had reading the story. It caused a momentary, “Wait. That can’t be right,” and a halt in reading.

Jamie is now in present-day Canterbury. When he goes back to 1935 Canterbury and the prospect of Mr. Boggs—the guy from New York with plans to flood Canterbury for a hydroelectric power plant—Jamie should realize, from the current Canterbury, that the 1935 plan fails, yet the three kids put themselves in great harm to stop the plan. True, if Jamie had not helped, maybe the future would have changed, but it is odd that he doesn’t at least realize all will turn out okay based on present day Canterbury, where he had just left. I suppose this and the other two holes are the ultimate definition of suspending one’s beliefs.

Since I am on the subject, the one hole involves the first book, The Christmas Village. In that one, it is 2007 and Jamie travels to Canterbury 1932 after staring at his grandmother’s Christmas Village. In the sequel, Return to Canterbury, Jamie tells of his father after the two return from 1935. For one, his dad learned woodworking, making his mother the Christmas Village, the same one Jamie used in 2007 to transport to 1932, but not built until 2010. The Christmas Village could not have existed in 2007. The editor should have picked up on this and request a change.

The other involves Jamie and his dad’s returning from 1935 to the present 2008. They touch something that Jamie writes in 2008 while with Kelly’s granddaughter Kendall. The message could not have been anywhere in 1935, yet there it is. How? Suspending one’s beliefs and ignoring the inconsistencies that occasionally appear was necessary for me, yet the story of Jamie’s Return to Canterbury is very good. The writing is excellent. No typos or misspells to stall one’s reading. Editing is also good, except for the inconsistencies not caught. The story is a fun read. The three kids solving the crime and capturing the bad guys is much fun.

I like the 1930’s Canterbury, where everyone knows everyone and people gather to help each other as much as to celebrate. Jamie learns a few secrets, which turn out to be wonderful gems. I read this in two sittings, anxious to nab the diabolical Mr. Boggs and to find out what Jamie and his dad put in the time capsule—which would be opened a mere two years after they both return home to 2008.

Return to Canterbury felt like a gift. The story is a good old-fashioned tale about a good old-fashioned village of gentle (not genteel) people, loving and helping each other, though not legally or biologically related. Return to Canterbury gives one hope for the future—not about time travel but about the goodness of people.  It is also a story that will have some reminiscing and others longing for days as nice as in Canterbury. Return to Canterbury is an intriguing story solved by three industrious kids who each bring something different to the story.

Kids will enjoy Return to Canterbury. It is perfect middle grade fare. Jamie, Kelly, and Christopher are a solid team. Though each is great on his own, it is not enough without the other two. Teamwork, friendship, family, community, family-by-choice, time-travel, and a simpler life are all important in Return to Canterbury. I highly recommend this story. I bet The Christmas Village,which started the series, is just as worthy of your time

** I apologize. I try each week to shorten these reviews, but some books I have much I want to say, mainly to convince you the book is worth your time to read. Deciding what to leave out is beyond difficult. It has become nearly impossible.

RETURN TO CANTERBURY. Text copyright © 2013 by Melissa Ann Goodwin. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Melissa Ann Goodwin, Andover, MA.

Buy Return to Canterbury at AmazonB&NBook DepositorySmashbooks—author’s website—your local bookstore.

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Learn more about Return to Canterbury HERE.

Meet the author, Melissa Ann Goodwin, at her website:  http://authormelissaanngoodwin.blogspot.com/

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Also by Melissa Ann Goodwin

The Christmas Village

The Christmas Village

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THE CHRISTMAS VILLAGE won the 2013 BLOGGER BOOK FAIR READER’S CHOICE AWARD for children’s action/adventure.

 

 

 

return to canterbury


Filed under: 5stars, Favorites, Historical Fiction, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series Tagged: 1930's Canterbury Vermont, arson, children's book reviews, family of choice, friendship, hydroelectric power stations, Melissa Ann Goodwin, middle grade novel, time capsules, time travel

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49. #595 – Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence by Gretchen Woelfle & Alix Delinois

cover.

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

by Gretchen Woelfle & Alix Delinois, illustrator

Carolrhoda Books           2/01/2014

978-0-7613-6589-1

Age 7 to 9            32 pages

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“All men are born free and equal.” Everybody knows about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the founders weren’t the only ones who believed that everyone had a right to freedom. Mumbet, a Massachusetts slave believed it too. She longed o be free, but how? Would anyone help her in her fight for freedom? Could she win against her owner, the richest man in town? Mumbet was determined to try. Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence tells her story for the first time in a picture book biography, and her brave actions set a milestone on the road toward ending slavery in the United States.”

Opening

“Mumbet didn’t have a last name because she was a slave. She didn’t even have an official first name. Folks called her Bett or Betty. Children called her Mom Bett or Mumbet. Others weren’t so kind.”

The Story

The year is 1776 and the United States begins its fight for freedom from the rule of the British by declaring on paper their Declaration of Independence. Mumbet is a slave owned by the richest man in town—the one who is usually the most powerful in town. Colonel John Ashley lived in Massachusetts and owed many businesses. He might have been kind, but his wife was definitely a cruel woman when it came to her husband’s slaves. Mumbet worked for Mrs. Ashley, usually in her kitchen. Mumbet hated that another human owned her, as wouldn’t you or I. She knew servants and hired hands could leave a cruel employer, but Mumbet had no recourse—she’s is property.

As the founding fathers gathered to write the Declaration of Independence, which started the seven-year war against the British, Mumbet served refreshments and tried to listen. The men were against British taxes and feared losing all their rights under British rule. As Mumbet listened, she heard one man say,

“He [the King of England] would make us slaves.”

And,

“Mankind in a state of Nature are equal, free, and independent . . .

God and Nature have made us free.”

After seven years of war against England, and freedom won, the town held a meeting to introduce The Massachusetts Constitution in 1780. It declared,

“All men are born free and equal.”

Mumbet wondered if that meant her. She approached Theodore Sedgwick, a young lawyer who helped draft the Declaration of Independence, and asked him to represent her in a fight for her personal freedom under the new Massachusetts law. He accepted. Mr. Sedgwick reminded the judge and jury that no law existed in Massachusetts making slaves legal and the new constitution now made them illegal. Would the judge and jury agree with Mr. Sedgwick and grant Mumbet her freedom—and the freedom of all slaves in Massachusetts in the process?

Review

Mumbet’s story, a true story, is an unusual biography in that I don’t recall hearing about this woman in any history class, not even American History. Mumbet had strength unseen except on rare occasions. To take your master to court to demand your freedom was a crazy idea. Even white women were still considered their husband’s chattel, why would a slave be above that. How was Mumbet going to convince a jury—not of her peers—and a judge—most likely friends with the richest man in town—that she deserved her freedoms for the same reason as the men deserved theirs from Britain? The new Massachusetts Constitution was not that old and here is this slave trying to gain her freedom, yet she is property. This must have caused some laughter, smirking, and hate. I find this story truly moving. Her new name became Elizabeth Freeman, a most deserved last name.

Mumbet’s clear and succinctly written story tells of an amazing, intelligent, and courageous woman who dared stand up for her rights when no one ever considered her to have rights. She entered a paternal courtroom, a jury not of her peers, and a town overflowing with curious citizens not all of which could have been happy Mumbet wanted freedom. It was probably more hostile, considering ever man probably stood to lose his slaves if Mumbet were successful. That makes Mumbet one of the strongest woman to have ever lived in the United States.

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The illustrations are profoundly beautiful with deep rich colors. Even the end pages have an elegance to them. Alix Delinois represented that time in America accurately, with facial expressions that must have matched the frustration felt by most citizens, as the founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Ashley’s cruelty is shockingly visible, immediately making you feel empathy for Mumbet and her daughter. For people sincerely wanting freedom and respect from the British, some were capable of much harm to others.

Thankfully, someone thought to write down Mumbet’s story giving the author great accounts of Mumbet’s life and challenges before, during, and after that day in court. After the story are two pages of author notes. They tell of the help the author received from Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Theodore Sedgwick’s daughter. Catharine wrote Mumbet’s story as it happened, leaving accurate historical documents from which this story was written. These notes are fascinating.Teachers would do well to keep Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence as an adjunct history lesson. It is a story not told in most history classes. Gretchen Woelfle’s impeccable research and storytelling skills gives us a story of slavery not well known in the very country in which it happened—until now. Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence should fascinate kids and adults alike.

MUMBET’S DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Text copyright © 2014 by Gretchen Woelfle. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Alix Delinois. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis, MN.

Buy a copy of Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence at AmazonB&NiTunesBook DepositoryCarolrhoda Books—at your local bookstore.

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Learn more about Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence HERE.

Meet the author, Gretchen Woelfle, at her website:  http://www.gretchenwoelfle.com/

Meet the illustrator, Alix Delinois, at his website:   http://alixdelinois.com/home.html

Find more books a the Carolrhoda Books blog:   http://carolrhoda.blogspot.com/

Carolrhoda Books is a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.     https://www.lernerbooks.com/

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Also by Gretchen Woelfle

Write On, Mercy!: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren  

Write On, Mercy!: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren

All the World's a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts

All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts

The Wind at Work: An Activity Guide to Windmills

The Wind at Work: An Activity Guide to Windmills

 

 

 

 

 

Also by Alix Delinois

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti

Muhammad Ali: The People's Champion 

Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champion

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mumbet


Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Children's Books, Favorites, Historical Fiction, Library Donated Books, NonFiction, Picture Book, Top 10 of 2014 Tagged: 1776, Alix Delinois, American Revolutionary War, Carolrhoda Books, children's book reviews, Declaration of Independence, freedom, Gretchen Woelfle, Lerner Publishing Group, Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, slavery

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50. Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy Elizabeth Kiem

Marina may be a teen in the Soviet Union, but her mother is the country’s premier prima ballerina, so her family lives in privilege. Marina herself trains for the Bolshoi. Like her mother, she sometimes sees visions. These visions cause problems when, on the eve of Breshnev’s death, her mother sees something she shouldn’t--one of the USSR’s dark secrets about testing biological weapons* that gets her taken away.

Suddenly, it’s not safe anymore. Marina and her father must leave quickly, and end in Brighton Beach where her scientist father struggles to find a job and a way to rescue his wife. All Marina wants to do is dance, and her father is convinced this will help him make contact with the KGB so they can negotiate. Meanwhile, he gets tangled in with the Russian Mob as Marina tries to lead a normal life in a new country while fearing for her father’s safety and sanity.

I really liked this one and Marina’s father’s mental descent. You could see why he thought the things he thought, while still seeing how wrong they were. I liked how the romance was handled. Marina likes Ben, whose parents also escaped the USSR, but he has a girlfriend, Lindsay. Marina and Lindsay are also friends, and while it’s complicated, and slightly heartbreaking, it’s not overly dramatic and the way the characters handled it made me really like and respect them. Lindsay often didn’t know what she was talking about, especially when it came to the KGB and the Mob, but she was a really good friend and a great character.

I do think it needs an end note. Teens today don’t understand Soviet communism and the Cold War. (And trying to explain the terror of the Cold War to kids who’ve grown up in a world of terrorism and suicide bombers is really heart-breakingly hard.) Heck, when this came out a librarian only a few years younger than me was confused about what was so scary about that time. I also wanted to know if the testing episode that Marina’s mother knew about was real. It’s real in the book and seems more than plausible to me. A quick google doesn’t turn anything up, but was it based on other incidents?

I’m also not sure the paranormal psychic-vision thing was necessary. It was the lynch-pin as to why Marina’s mother was taken, and Marina’s visions added some moody foreshadowing, but there might have been another way for Marina’s mother to find out about the testing and made the book straight historical fiction, which would have made it stronger. 99% of the book is realistic historical fiction, and it’s tricky, because it’s a time period that many adults (read: parents and other gatekeepers) remember living through, but many readers (read: teens) don’t know much about, and the 1% that is paranormal makes the rest of the story easier to dismiss as “pure fiction.”

Overall though, I did really like it. It’s hard to go wrong with something that involves the KGB, the FBI, the Russian mob, and ballet. And, as someone who has very vivid memories of the end of the Cold War, I am loving all the YA fiction we’re seeing now about it. (Plus, not a book, and not for teens, but let’s just think for a minute how awesome The Americans is.)


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