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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: historical fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 850
26. 12 Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed

12 Kinds of IceLike it or not, it is cold outside. We can’t change the weather, but what we can do is change our outlook on the weather we are given. Twelve Kinds of Ice is a lovely little book that just might help you warm up to the cold weather.

The book provides a peek inside the author’s memories of her childhood winters in Maine by describing ice at different points of the season. The first ice is so thin and fragile that it breaks upon the first touch. As the days and nights continue to grow colder, however, the ice freezes more deeply eventually creating “perfect ice,” flawless and smooth and just right for skating. Skating parties, ice shows and hockey games are all enjoyed on different kinds of ice throughout the winter until, eventually, the warmer air brings with it “the last ice” or “punk ice” leaving only “dream ice” until the next winter.

Obed does a wonderful job pulling the reader into her childhood world in twenty very short vignettes. Even without the charming line drawings, it would be easy to imagine each kind of ice, but the illustrations add a charming extra layer to Obed’s words. This book would make for such a sweet addition to any family’s winter traditions. It would be a great book to share together by the fire with some gingerbread and hot cocoa, perhaps after an afternoon of skating or sledding. Or grab the audio and listen while you decorate or bake for the holidays.

Posted by: Staci

0 Comments on 12 Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed as of 12/2/2013 10:37:00 AM
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27. Fever

You probably don’t know who Mary Mallon is but I bet you have at least heard of Typhoid Mary. Mary Beth Keane’s novel Fever aims to tell Mary Mallon’s story.

Mallon was an Irish immigrant. She came to the United States as a girl. She lived with her aunt and took work in service. She began doing laundry but, already having some skill at cooking, soon learned enough to become a very good and in demand cook for rich families. At seventeen she met Alfred Briehof, a German immigrant and they moved in together, living happily (more or less since Alfred was an alcoholic) for years unmarried. In March 1907 she was taken into custody by the Department of Health and held in a New York Hospital while doctors did tests. Mallon became identified as the first healthy carrier of typhoid and people who ate her cooking were in danger of coming down with it.

Not everyone became ill who ate Mallon’s cooking but there was enough of a trail that the DOH found her. She never had typhoid but she carried the bacilli in her body. The doctors had no idea how this was possible. They decided she was too much of a threat to allow her freedom so they moved her to North Brother Island, a quarantine hospital for tuberculosis and other diseases off the coast of Manhattan. She was not allowed visitors and she was forced to submit to frequent humiliating tests.

Mallon was not a retiring and compliant woman. She was angry and combative. Doctors thought she should willingly do whatever they wanted her to and not complain but Mallon had other ideas. When she finally found a lawyer who would help her and got a court hearing, her uncooperativeness would come back to haunt her. She was denied release.

Eventually she did attain her freedom when other healthy carriers were found. None of these people were forced into quarantine. One of them, a dairy farmer, was allowed to continue working on his farm he just couldn’t come into contact with the milk. At this news, Mallon’s lawyer once again pursued her release and this time obtained it under the condition that Mallon never cook for anyone again and check in with the DOH every three months when she was also required to provide bodily fluid samples for the doctors.

She was given a job at a Chinese laundry, a huge step down in status and wages from what she had obtained from her skill as a cook. Working in a laundry day after day is back breaking and exhausting work and Mary was desperate for something else but there was no other work for her besides the cooking she was not allowed to do.

She kept her promise not to cook for as long as she could but eventually broke it, taking work at a bakery. She got caught, escaped, went into hiding. Eventually she got work again as a cook in a maternity hospital by using a fake name. The pay was good, she loved the work and things seemed to be going pretty well. Until typhoid broke out at the hospital. This time she was not able to escape. She was taken back to North Brother Island where she lived out the rest of her life as a “guest” of New York City.

Mallon’s is a fascinating story and I will never joke about Typhoid Mary again. Unfortunately the book could have been so much better. There were good parts though. It is a question whether Mallon knew in the beginning that she made people ill. And then later, whether she understood about her condition. Mallon often questions whether what the doctors told her is true especially since most people who ate her food didn’t get sick.

Then there is the uppity female thread. It does seem likely that she was treated the way she was because she was a woman. It was also clear the city did not understand what it meant for Mallon to not be able to work as a cook anymore. She had to earn her living, she and Alfred spilt for some time and even when they were together Alfred couldn’t keep regular work because of his alcoholism. Working at a laundry she had barely enough to get by and she knew the work would eventually wear her down physically to the point she would no longer be able to work at all. She did not have a man to take care of her and it seems like the city assumed that she should in placing her in such a difficult position.

But in spite of all these interesting things, the book was far too long at only 304 pages. Less than halfway through the book it felt like the best part of the story was over and there was a very long and very saggy and dull middle in which I kept wondering why I was still reading. Part of the trouble is that the middle of the book turns into a love story. Or it tries to. Mallon and Alfred together and not together. They still love each other but can Alfred quite drinking? And it just went on and on. Finally, when Mallon gets caught at the maternity hospital it gets interesting again but by that point it is too late to recover and the book comes to a limping conclusion.

Fever is not a terrible book, but it is flawed. There are good bits and not so good bits and it balances out to be an ok read. I bet it would make a good vacation book when you want an interesting story but something that isn’t mentally taxing, a book you don’t have to pay close attention to. Take that as you will. I read this for my historical fiction MOOC and the author will be making an appearance in class. I suspect she might have some interesting things to say.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Historical fiction, Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon, Typhoid Mary

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28. Year of Wonders

I have never read Geraldine Brooks before but have wanted to, have heard good things about her books, especially People of the Book. I always figured that would be the one I read first, but it hasn’t turned out that way. Brooks’s book Year of Wonders is one of the contemporary historical fiction books on the reading list for my historical fiction MOOC. She will even be attending one of the classes to talk about the book.

I was expecting a lot from this book which might explain why I finished it a bit disappointed. Not that it wasn’t good, I did enjoy it, but I was not wowed by it. Before I explain that further, let me give you a bit of plot summary.

The book is based on the real village of Eyam in Derbyshire, England. In August of 1665 a tailor living in the village received a bundle of cloth from London and was dead of plague a week later. The village made the momentous decision to quarantine themselves so as not to spread the disease to other villages and towns. The infection spread through the village, never leaving its precincts, and by the time it ended 14 months later only 83 of the 350 villagers had survived.

Year of Wonders begins a few weeks before the plague comes to town. The narrator is Anna Frith, the widow of a lead miner and housekeeper to the minister and his wife. Anna married when she was about fifteen to get away from her abusive father. She had two sons with her husband before he was killed in a mining accident. She is still quite young, twenty perhaps.

When a new tailor came to town and needed a place to stay she took him in as a lodger. Just as they were starting to romance each other, he gets the cloth from London with the fleas that have the plague and then the rest of the book is death after death after death.

The village has quarantined itself so no one leaves and no one enters. It becomes a microcosm of what happens during times of extreme crisis. While the minister is preaching fortitude and faith in God, the villagers are stringing up the midwife and herbalist as a witch. Meanwhile the entrepreneurial among them are charging extortion rates for burying the dead, even going so far as to dump one poor soul into his grave before he is dead. While others succumb to superstition and still others go completely insane.

Our narrator is generally in the thick of things. She finds herself elected the new midwife since she has experience birthing lambs from the small flock of sheep she keeps. She also helps an orphan girl extract enough lead from her dead father’s mine so no one can take it away from her. And because the minister’s wife Elinor takes a liking to her, she is also taught how to read. She is an altogether too good to be true sort of woman. This was one of the causes of my disappointment with the book, Anna was not entirely believable, especially with what happens at the end. It boggled my mind.

But that was not the only thing I had a hard time with. Brooks’s style also made me grind my teeth from time to time. She wrote the book in modern English but so we would know it was really supposed to be 1665 – 66, she’d throw out some odd phrasing now and then that was meant to sound old. And then there were certain word choices. She’d use words like “chouse,” “whisket,” and “boose.” I ignored it at first but they started catching me up and bothering me. Okay, I thought, if you are going to toss out old words I am going to check the OED and make sure you chose ones that would really have been in use. While she did pretty well, I did catch her out a few times like with “jussive,” a word not known to be in use until 1846. To my mind you either go all in with the phrasing and the word choice and you get it right, or you don’t do it at all.

But it wasn’t a bad book in spite of all the things that annoyed me. The story moved along at a good clip but would slow down for some introspective moments too and these things were nicely balanced. It was also interesting watching the different ways faith in God changed. For some it grew stronger and stronger, for others God ceased to exist, and for many more there was much confusion and doubt. What really got my attention and made me think how horrible it must have been was this passage:

I had words with the carter over it, but he told me we were lucky to get as good as we got, and I suppose it’s true enough. There are so few people to do the picking. So few people to do anything. And those of us who are left walk around as if we’re half asleep. We are all so tired.

What do you do when suddenly the people you relied on for daily goods and skilled services are gone? Mines went unworked, fields unplowed, crops unplanted. No blacksmith. No one to buy winter hay from to feed your sheep and horse. A bustling village decimated and not a day goes by when someone doesn’t die or become ill. And suddenly a mild cough or fever becomes a thing of terror. Should it turn out to not be the plague, what a relief!

That passage is what saved the book for me. The plague was an end-of-the-world scenario that really happened. Between 1347 – 1351 the plague reduced the population of Europe alone by about one-third. And there were regular and continuous outbreaks. The plague is still with us and people still die of it, though, thanks to modern medicine, not in the numbers they once did.

I am looking forward to what Brooks has to say about the book in my class. If she says anything particularly interesting, I’ll let you know.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Geraldine Brooks, Historical fiction

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29. Better to Wish (audiobook) by Ann M. Martin

Better to WishAs we kick off the holiday season, it feels like a good time for stories about families. Ann M. Martin’s new Family Tree series fits that bill nicely. Ultimately, this will be a four book series spanning four generations of one family. Book one, Better to Wish, opens the series with the story of Abigail (Abby) Nichols in Depression Era Maine. Each subsequent book will follow the lives of the oldest daughter of the main character from the previous book.

When we are first introduced to young Abby she is only eight years old and her family is struggling to make ends meet. Better to Wish follows the Nichols family as Abby’s family and her father’s business grow over the course of 14 years. Abby’s father (Pop) is not an easy man to live with. He is hot-tempered, overbearing, and intolerant. In contrast, however, Abby’s mother is extremely sensitive and caring, but she also struggles with bouts of depression. Over the years Abby experiences the highs and lows of growing up including the simple wonder of going to the carnival as a child, building and losing friendships, the arrival of new siblings, courtship, and the struggle for independence.

While the story alone is quite engaging, listening to the audio is a truly wonderful experience. Narrator Annalie Gernert does a fabulous job delineating characters. Not only does she clearly differentiate the voices of each character, but she also manages to create slight variations in the intonations of the younger characters to indicate that they are growing up. Gernert’s well-paced narration is rich with emotion and brings the story to life.

Better to Wish is both heartwarming and heartbreaking and would make for a wonderful book discussion for a parent and child book club for children in grades four and up, or just for families to share together. If you are taking a road trip this holiday season, consider bringing the audio of this book along to keep your family company on your way to Grandma’s house.

Posted by: Staci

0 Comments on Better to Wish (audiobook) by Ann M. Martin as of 11/7/2013 10:08:00 AM
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30. Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco | Review

This should be a sad tale but instead is up-lifting. Much of that is due to the protagonist’s wry voice: Twelve-year-old Bee (short for Beatrice) is an orphan and works for a traveling carnival, living in the back of a truck with nineteen-year-old Pauline.

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31. Ask a Book Buyer: Epic Historical Fiction, Post–Latin American Boom, and More

At Powell's, our book buyers select all the new books in our vast inventory. If we need a book recommendation, we turn to our team of resident experts. Need a gift idea for a fan of vampire novels? Looking for a guide that will best demonstrate how to knit argyle socks? Need a book for [...]

0 Comments on Ask a Book Buyer: Epic Historical Fiction, Post–Latin American Boom, and More as of 9/20/2013 4:56:00 PM
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32. review#406 – Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington By Lynda Durrant

. Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington By Lynda Durrant Joe Rossi, illustrator Vanita Books 5 Stars . Press Release:   Based on a true event. The real life adventures of nine-year-old Ariel Bradley, reveals the anxieties of the Americans who needed desperately to win the battle in the first months of the Revolutionary War. It …

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33. Guest Book Review: Young Knights of the Round Table: The King’s Ransom by Cheryl Carpinello


Paperback: 120 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (April 17, 2013)
ISBN-10: 148252709X
ISBN-13: 978-1482527094
Genre: Juvenile fiction, adventure, Arthurian legend

Five stars
When the King’s Ransom, a wondrous jeweled medallion, is stolen from Pembroke Castle in Wales, it is up to three young heroes to band together to solve this mystery and save a life. Prince Gavin (12), the youngest son of King Wallace and Queen Katherine, and his two friends, Philip (13), an orphan, and Bryan (15), a blacksmith’s apprentice, are an unlikely trio, uneven in terms of social status but firm and loyal companions. Their friend, the Wild Man, is accused of murdering the king’s advisor and stealing the marvelous medallion, a symbol of absolute power and justice, but only in the right hands. Kings have enemies, and it soon becomes apparent that someone was after the medallion for the prestige it would bestow. Gavin, Bryan, and Philip race against time to find the medallion, reveal the true killer, and save the Wild Man’s life. They have only a few days before the arrival of King Arthur. If the medallion is not found, the Wild Man will be executed in front of Arthur. Can they overcome their fears and fulfill this momentous quest? Is it possible the Wild Man has tricked them all and simply used their friendship to get closer to the medallion?
What a delightful story. I am familiar with Cheryl Carpinello’s writing from reading and reviewing her first Arthurian book, Guinevere: On the Eve of a Legend. Then I was entranced by the author’s spell-binding descriptions of life in Arthurian times and her meticulous attention to detail. Cheryl’s skills have remained as bright as ever with the unfolding of this fast-paced tale, threaded with mystery, adventure, a bit of magic, danger, darkness, and lovely twists in the end. I so enjoyed the factual information about weapons, clothing, daily life, and places, cleverly interspersed in the text and dialogue to inform without overwhelming young readers. The author has a gift for delving into the depths of each young hero’s psyche. The way each one of the trio faces their fears, learns to believe in themselves, and finds their true meaning and path in life is moving. This is a superb coming-of-age story, set in a time of chivalry and pageantry, and harking back to an age when a hero was truly a hero.


Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.

3 Comments on Guest Book Review: Young Knights of the Round Table: The King’s Ransom by Cheryl Carpinello, last added: 9/17/2013
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34. Shermie Rayne, Second Place Winner in Spring 2013 Flash Fiction Contest

I am excited to introduce you to Shermie Rayne, who won second place in the Spring 2013 Flash Fiction contest with her haunting, vivid, and amazing story, "Revolution." This is one of my favorite flash fiction pieces I've ever read--first because I love the genre, historical fiction, and don't read it much in flash fiction. But most of all, Shermie was able to take a terrifying event and show us less than 750 words how it affected the rest of the main character's life, as well as share the character's emotions and fears. If you haven't read "Revolution" yet, please take the time to do so now right here.

Shermie, a native of Kentucky, currently resides in Virginia with her husband and four children. Other than a futile attempt at penning a True Confessions inspired story at the age of eleven, she is a recent newcomer to the wondrous world of writing. A graduate of Bellarmine University, and a former registered nurse, when Rayne was confronted with the angst of middle age, she decided to try her hand at writing, instead of returning to hospital scrubs.

Although she still reads more than she writes, Rayne has completed a couple short stories and has several novels in various stages of development brewing, including her current project, Faye, a young-adult fantasy novel. If you’d like to follow Rayne along on her writing journey, please visit her blog: http://shermierayne.wordpress.com/.

WOW: Welcome, Shermie! What gave you the inspiration for "Revolution"?

Shermie: I believe the story seed for "Revolution" was planted when I became aware of certain events that occurred to some of the colonial women and girls during the Revolutionary War. Just prior to writing "Revolution," I had recently heard/read of a famous British Army quote from that time period: “The fair nymphs of this isle are in wonderful tribulation…” ~Francis, Lord Rawdon.

It bothered me, or more precisely the history behind the quote’s meaning…well, it angered me. Not because atrocities of that nature didn’t happen, or don’t still happen, but because it had occurred so ostentatiously, with such blatant disregard, here in America. I envisioned being a mother with a young daughter to protect, and from that place of desperation, "Revolution" was born.

WOW: I had never heard that quote before, and really, there are no words when you hear something like that. You responded to it like many writers would--pouring out your heart in a beautiful story. Do you write historical fiction often? Why or why not?

Shermie: While I do enjoy reading historical fiction, I’ve never written it. Because I have a tendency to be thorough and sometimes get “hung up” on the details, I have/had this conception that to write in this genre would be extremely time consuming and tedious because of the absoluteness it requires in authenticity. With that said, I’m a firm believer in the “never say never” motto. In fact, I couldn’t help myself and have a loose outline sketched and plan to continue with "Revolution" and see it through to novel length (someday).

My ultimate hope for my writing is not to be boxed into a genre or category—I want to allow the stories to define themselves and their own placement. The short story I worked on prior to "Revolution" was straight up horror. My current novel-in-progress is fantasy based, while the other stories in waiting range from dystopian to family drama.

WOW: I would love to read a novel version of "Revolution." So, was it hard to pack all that emotion & history into one less-than-750-word story? Why or why not?

Shermie: In all honesty: no, it was not hard. I believe when a writer feels emotion(s) with a piece, the reader will, too. I had an incredibly moving vision with this story and knew it was meant to be shared. I was affected by the unfairness of the circumstance and wanted to give the mother power--and her own form of revolution (which was to hide and protect her daughter). All stories need the element of hope, even in dire circumstances-- and its character(s) need the ability, or the possibility, to remain resolute.

So, I quickly scribbled what I had seen onto legal paper, and from there, added the historical details and what I call “senses layering”, followed by editing (and cutting my word count). I purposely wrote this piece in first person, present tense to accentuate that forward feel of urgency and distraught dismay.

WOW: Thank you so much for sharing your writing process with us. I bet that will help some of our writers out there! According to your bio, you switched from a career in nursing to a career in writing. What made you switch?

Shermie: I was actually in a hiatus from the nursing profession. I had spent the last decade producing and growing a nice, little crop of children. But alas, the time flew by until I had a horrific consternation of realization: my kids were not so little anymore, and they wouldn’t always be so needy. I racked my brain thinking of different avenues to pursue for myself. With my three youngest children, at that time, heading off to jr. kindergarten, third and fifth grades, respectively, I knew I still needed a super flexible schedule, and I just couldn’t see how returning to nursing could work in our busy family life. So, I considered making and selling crafts(I’m not really crafty), working at Lowe's, decluttering other people’s homes, and/or maybe picking out their next paint colors--and then painting their newly decluttered spaces. My list of crazy ideas was boundless! My then eight-year-old daughter had spent that summer continuously writing stories, really excellent and creative stuff—I was so impressed and enamored with her abilities. I became her reader and editor, cooing and gushing over her while also guiding her with pointers and corrections. And, then the big idea hit me: you could write, too! So, I did.

WOW: That is awesome--I love your list of things you could do AND how your daughter inspired you to write. Your bio also mentions you have novels in various stages. So, what's your writing process like?

Shermie: My writing process is ever evolving, But basically boils down to: imagining, writing, and editing. I have been blessed in that the material that I actually want to write comes to me quite easily (so far-- knock on wood). So naturally, this is the best part of the writing process for me, and the aspect that I love the most—there’s nothing like being sucked into a little scene that plays out in your head. So my process begins there and continues in this thinking/imagining mode until I have a loose, but solid, outline.

Inspiration often hits me at very inconvenient times (e.g., the shower or driving), so that by the time that I’m ready to start writing, I have a file folder full of a gazillion hand-written scraps of paper, napkins, Post-its, and sketchy outlines to integrate into the story. I don’t start typing until I have a decent understanding of key characters, and I’ve seen the story’s ending, beginning, and several important scenes (usually in that order). From there, it’s all about imputing the story into the computer. I’m always amazed that there are a lot of details and extra material that spontaneously adds itself to the story along the way. My least favorite aspect of writing would have to be editing (and typing)!

One new tool that I started using with my current novel-in-progress is to keep a novel journal. I read of Sue Grafton using this technique with her novels, so I gave it a try. And it has made all the difference to me. I can flip back to the earliest entries that were written well before I even considered typing, and I can really get a feel for my characters and the story’s needs and wants.

WOW: That sounds a lot like a "novel bible." It is so important to keep notes! It sounds like you are also an avid reader. Can you tell us one or two titles you've read recently that you've really enjoyed?

Shermie: I’d say I’m rather an odd reader, I suppose. Between audiobooks, my Kindle, and actual “real” books, I have to have at least five to seven different books going at once, perhaps this reminds me of my college days, but I enjoy the variety and a wide array of genres.

I was very reluctant to embrace audiobooks at first, believing that I was a visual leaner and I’d not enjoy it; I was completely wrong (thanks, Amy). Audiobooks account for roughly half of my total “reading” time, which allows me to increase the number of books that I’m exposed to. But the greatest benefit: I believe it helps me greatly in my own writing. While visually reading books, one can absorb structure and story flow (which is awesome, too); however, when listening to the cadence of the human voice through storytelling, you can gain the feel for the rhythm and rhyme of words—which definitely can help writers. I love this quote by Virginia Woolf, “Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words.”

I just completed my summer-reading log through my local library system. (You know, trying to set a good example for my kiddos.) From that list of twenty-four books, if I had to choose just two books, I’d say, The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. The former not only because it’s written in epistolary-letter form (which I love), but because the voice of the story rings true; the latter book is actually a wonderfully encouraging and poignant book on writing, which I highly recommend to any writer.

WOW: I love Bird by Bird, too! Thanks for a wonderful interview, Shermie. We wish you the best of luck!

Interview by Margo L. Dill. To find out about Margo and her books, visit www.margodill.com.

2 Comments on Shermie Rayne, Second Place Winner in Spring 2013 Flash Fiction Contest, last added: 9/11/2013
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35. Al Capone Does My Homework, by Gennifer Choldenko (ages 9 - 13)

Gennifer Choldenko's series of historical fiction novels set on Alcatraz Island have a large and loyal following in our school. It could be that we can see Alcatraz from nearby streets. But I'm sure what really draws kids to this series is Choldenko's blend of friendship stories and family struggles, with plenty of humor and heartfelt moments.

This month, Choldenko concludes her trilogy with Al Capone Does My Homework. I'm terrifically pleased that my students will love this series finale as much as the others.

Al Capone Does My Homework
by Gennifer Choldenko
Dial / Pengiun, 2013
available at
your local library
ages 9 - 13
*best new book*
In the beginning of these stories, Moose Flanagan and his family move to Alcatraz when his father goes to work as a guard at the notorious prison in the 1930s. Now in January 1936, we find Moose Flanagan trying to figure out who set fire to his apartment. His father has just been appointed associate warden on Alcatraz. Could the fire have been set by an inmate who’s trying to get revenge? Another guard who’s jealous that Moose’s father was promoted? Or did Natalie, Moose’s sister who has autism, really set the fire as so many on the island are claiming?

Moose is a character who sinks into my heart. He's earnest but a real kid, one who struggles with his feelings. He's funny, but also thoughtful. He defends his sister Natalie to everyone, but harbors doubts inside. Best of all, my students really connect to him and enjoy reading about his adventures.

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Gennifer Choldenko for this month's Parents Press. You can see the full interview here, but I'm going to share a few snippets:
Scheuer: Bay Area kids have loved the Alcatraz setting in your Al Capone books. How did you first think about setting a book on The Rock?

Choldenko: It actually started in 1998. At that point, I had published one picture book, and I was looking for an idea that might be different enough that it might get an editor’s attention. I saw an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about kids who grew up on Alcatraz because their parents were guards or worked on the island in some capacity. As soon as I saw that, I knew I would write a book about a character like that, because it seemed like so much fun. Right away I signed up to work on the island as a volunteer, so I could get the experience as firsthand as I could make it.

Scheuer: As kids read about Moose’s relationship with his sister Natalie, who had autism, what do you hope they will think about?

Choldenko: I always start out writing a good and true story. I hope kids will respond to that. I don’t try to send a message so directly. Moose comes in part from my brother, because my brother was better at dealing with our sister who had autism than anyone else. To this day, I really admire my brother because he has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve met, and some of that comes through.
Definitely click through to read the whole interview over at Parents Press. You'll also find a wonderful assortment of resources at the Al Capone Does My Shirts site.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Young Readers Group. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

1 Comments on Al Capone Does My Homework, by Gennifer Choldenko (ages 9 - 13), last added: 9/9/2013
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36. New and Upcoming Indie MG and YA Titles


Jake’s plan for a carefree holiday at a musical performing arts camp in the Windy City hits a sour note when he stumbles upon a long-hidden message from his mother, art historian Karen McGreevy. She had traveled to Chicago thirteen years earlier on a dream assignment, never to return home. With his violin and his mother’s mysterious letter in hand, Jake, his best friend Julie, and new pals Ben and Natalie are heading west, where they will follow the clues and uncover the truth about a missing masterpiece, the meaning of friendship, and the enduring bond between a mother and her son.

Coming in November from MB Publishing!


A thrilling graphic novel adventure that unlocks the mysteries of ancient Egypt!

The Egyptian capital of Cairo is a buzzing hive of treasure hunters, thrill-seekers, and adventurers, but to 12-year-old Ronald “Rocket” Robinson, it’s just another sticker on his well worn suitcase. But when Rocket finds a strange note written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, he stumbles into an adventure more incredible than anything he’s ever dreamt of.

Rocket and his friends soon run afoul of master criminal Otto Von Stürm, who’s planning the theft of the greatest treasure in history—an ancient pharaoh’s fortune, secretly hidden for centuries. To stop him, they’ll have to de-code an ancient riddle, solve a cryptic puzzle, face off hungry crocodiles, and navigate a centuries-old labyrinth full of traps. All while staying one step ahead of Otto’s bloodthirsty goons.

The streets of Cairo come alive in Sean O’Neill’s lively, vibrant, full-color illustrated pages. Young fans of ancient Egypt will immediately be drawn in by the references to hieroglyphics, mummies, pyramids, and pharaoh’s tombs, all lavishly illustrated in O’Neill’s fun, accessible style.

Coming in October from BoilerRoom Studios.


The Survivors: Body & Blood is the third installment of The Survivors Series!

How many answers you seek are just a part of you, waiting to be found?

The game has changed.

Fresh from her first brush with mortality, a fragile Sadie Matthau is playing human with Cole Hardwick while the Survivors endure unimaginable tragedy. Wrought with the first deaths of their own kind, a tyrant who will torture them, and an opponent more terrifying than anyone could have foreseen, the Survivors are facing their end.

Told from three points of view, The Survivors: Body & Blood is a bloodcurdling, mind-bending, heart-stopping ride. As Sadie and the Winters uncover more enemies, more history, and more answers, they find themselves brought closer together and ripped further apart. And all the while, a haunting Alexander Raven lurks at the edge of Sadie s lifeline, at the darkening fringes of her mind.

As the Survivors descend into chaos, Sadie realizes a painful truth: the deepest of secrets leave the darkest of marks.

Caught between a terrifying fantasy and her own grim reality, Body & Blood is the story of Sadie s dance with her demons, future, past, and present.

Released July 2013 from Chafie Press, LLC.



Filled with terrific suspense and budding romance, Daughter of Camelot is a fast paced adventure set against the turmoil at the end of the Arthurian era.

Raised in the shadow of a fort dedicated to training Knights of the Round Table, Deirdre thirsts for adventure.

Instead, at 14, she is sent to court to learn the etiquette and talents of a young woman.

Court life, however, is more fraught with danger than she expected, and Deirdre finds herself entangled in a deadly conspiracy that stretches deep into the very heart of Camelot.

All Deirdre thought she knew and believed in—loyalty, love, bravery—is challenged when she embarks on a quest to defy Fate and save the King.

Coming in September 2013 from Mabon Publishing.



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37. Rookwood (1834)

Rookwood. William Harrison Ainsworth. 1834. 464 pages. [Source: Bought]

Rookwood is a mess of a novel. But sometimes it is easy to love a mess, to love a book despite its flaws. If Rookwood is a mess, it is because it is a blending of genres and story lines.

There is the incredibly creepy, ever-mysterious Rookwood family. The mystery involving lies, secret marriages, hidden wills, and a LOT of murder. The heart of this plot is focused on inheritance. Who is the rightful heir of the Rookwood estate? Is it Luke Bradley the supposed "illegitimate" son of Sir Piers Rookwood and Susan Bradley? There seems to be proof the two were married and he is in fact legitimate after all. Is it Eleanor Mowbray? There seems to be a hint in that direction. Is it Ranulph Rookwood? He's certainly confident that he's the rightful claimant. And he's ready to defend it against contrary claims. The plot is creepy and bizarre because the family history is so strange and blood-filled. The book also lacks a clear HERO.

When it is creepy, it is incredibly creepy. The chapters that focus on the underground wedding are so very weird and creepy. Before Luke found out the truth about his past, about who he is, he was in love with a gypsy girl, Sybil Lovel. And Sybil's mother, Barbara, is truly something. As soon as Luke does find out the truth, he becomes fascinated with the idea of marrying his cousin Eleanor Mowbray and 'stealing' her away from his half-brother, Ranulph. (Eleanor and Ranulph were in love already.) The "romance" of this one is truly creepy and a bit bloody.

Balancing out the gothic romance, readers meet Dick Turpin, famous highwayman. Over half the novel stars Turpin. Readers see him eating, drinking, joking, singing, laughing, fighting, riding, holding up coaches, etc. Readers see him among friends and enemies. Turpin knows Luke Bradley. He knows of the messy inheritance. He has in his possession the marriage certificate. He wants Bradley to be triumphant perhaps, but he'll bargain with either side. He and Bradley work together at times, and against each other at times. Bradley isn't above playing legitimate hero and rescuing the damsel in distress if he feels like it. Turpin overlooks the frustrations Bradley sends his way. These sections of the novel are incredibly light. All action. All adventure. A lot of drinking and singing and general merry-making. And an incredible amount of boasting!

"Thoughts should not always find utterance, else we might often endanger our own safety, and that of others."
It is as necessary for a man to be a gentleman before he can turn highwayman, as it is for a doctor to have his diploma, or an attorney his certificate. 
You may both of you be gratified, gentlemen," said Palmer. "Talking of Dick Turpin, they say, is like speaking of the devil, he's at your elbow ere the word's well out of your mouth. He may be within hearing at this moment, for anything we know to the contrary."
By-the-by," added he, surveying Jack more narrowly, "it occurs to me that Turpin must be rather like you, Mr. Palmer?"
"Like me," said Jack, regarding Coates askance; "like me—how am I to understand you, sir, eh?" "No offence; none whatever, sir. Ah! stay, you won't object to my comparing the description. That can do no harm. Nobody would take you for a highwayman—nobody whatever—ha! ha! Singular resemblance—he—he. These things do happen sometimes: not very often, though. But here is Turpin's description in the Gazette, June 28th, A.D. 1737:—'It having been represented to the King that Richard Turpin did, on Wednesday, the 4th of May last, rob on his Majesty's highway Vavasour Mowbray, Esq., Major of the 2d troop of Horse Grenadiers'—that Major Mowbray, by-the-by, is a nephew of the late Sir Piers, and cousin of the present baronet—'and commit other notorious felonies and robberies near London, his Majesty is pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to any of his accomplices, and a reward of two hundred pounds to any person or persons who shall discover him, so as he may be apprehended and convicted.'" "Odsbodikins!" exclaimed Titus, "a noble reward! I should like to lay hands upon Turpin," added he, slapping Palmer's shoulder: "I wish he were in your place at this moment, Jack." "Thank you!" replied Palmer, shifting his chair. "'Turpin,'" continued Coates, "'was born at Thacksted, in Essex; is about thirty'—you, sir, I believe, are about thirty?" added he, addressing Palmer. "Thereabouts," said Jack, bluffly. "But what has my age to do with that of Turpin?" "Nothing—nothing at all," answered Coates; "suffer me, however, to proceed:—'Is by trade a butcher,'—you, sir, I believe, never had any dealings in that line?" "I have some notion how to dispose of a troublesome calf," returned Jack. "But Turpin, though described as a butcher, is, I understand, a lineal descendant of a great French archbishop of the same name." "Who wrote the chronicles of that royal robber Charlemagne; I know him," replied Coates—"a terrible liar!—The modern Turpin 'is about five feet nine inches high'—exactly your height, sir—exactly!" "I am five feet ten," answered Jack, standing bolt upright. "You have an inch, then, in your favor," returned the unperturbed attorney, deliberately proceeding with his examination—"'he has a brown complexion, marked with the smallpox.'" "My complexion is florid—my face without a seam," quoth Jack. "Those whiskers would conceal anything," replied Coates, with a grin. "Nobody wears whiskers nowadays, except a highwayman." "Sir!" said Jack, sternly. "You are personal." "I don't mean to be so," replied Coates; "but you must allow the description tallies with your own in a remarkable manner. Hear me out, however—'his cheek bones are broad—his face is thinner towards the bottom—his visage short—pretty upright—and broad about the shoulders.' Now I appeal to Mr. Tyrconnel if all this does not sound like a portrait of yourself." "Don't appeal to me," said Titus, hastily, "upon such a delicate point. I can't say that I approve of a gentleman being likened to a highwayman. But if ever there was a highwayman I'd wish to resemble, it's either Redmond O'Hanlon or Richard Turpin; and may the devil burn me if I know which of the two is the greater rascal!" "Well, Mr. Palmer," said Coates, "I repeat, I mean no offence. Likenesses are unaccountable. I am said to be like my Lord North; whether I am or not, the Lord knows. But if ever I meet with Turpin I shall bear you in mind—he—he! Ah! if ever I should have the good luck to stumble upon him, I've a plan for his capture which couldn't fail. Only let me get a glimpse of him, that's all. You shall see how I'll dispose of him." "Well, sir, we shall see," observed Palmer. "And for your own sake, I wish you may never be nearer to him than you are at this moment. With his friends, they say Dick Turpin can be as gentle as a lamb; with his foes, especially with a limb of the law like yourself, he's been found but an ugly customer.
Tell me, girl, in what way? Speak, that I may avenge you, if your wrong requires revenge. Are you blood of mine, and think I will not do this for you, girl? None of the blood of Barbara Lovel were ever unrevenged. When Richard Cooper stabbed my first-born, Francis, he fled to Flanders to escape my wrath. But he did not escape it. I pursued him thither. I hunted him out; drove him back to his own country, and brought him to the gallows. It took a power of gold. What matter? Revenge is dearer than gold. And as it was with Richard Cooper, so it shall be with Luke Bradley. I will catch him, though he run. I will trip him, though he leap. I will reach him, though he flee afar. I will drag him hither by the hair of his head," added she, with a livid smile, and clutching at the air with her hands, as if in the act of pulling some one towards her. "He shall wed you within the hour, if you will have it, or if your honor need that it should be so. My power is not departed from me. My people are yet at my command. I am still their queen, and woe to him that offendeth me!" "Mother! mother!" cried Sybil, affrighted at the storm she had unwittingly aroused, "he has not injured me. 'Tis I alone who am to blame, not Luke." "You speak in mysteries," said Barbara. "Sir Piers Rookwood is dead." "Dead!" echoed Barbara, letting fall her hazel rod. "Sir Piers dead!" "And Luke Bradley——" "Ha!" "Is his successor." "Who told you that?" asked Barbara, with increased astonishment.
Dick saw the effect that he produced. He was at home in a moment. Your true highwayman has ever a passion for effect. This does not desert him at the gallows; it rises superior to death itself, and has been known to influence the manner of his dangling from the gibbet!
"Proceed now with the ceremony," continued Barbara. "By darkness, or by light, the match shall be completed." The ring was then placed upon the finger of the bride; and as Luke touched it, he shuddered. It was cold as that of the corpse which he had clasped but now. The prayer was said, the blessing given, the marriage was complete. Suddenly there issued from the darkness deep dirge-like tones, and a voice solemnly chanted a strain, which all knew to be the death-song of their race, hymned by wailing women over an expiring sister. The music seemed to float in the air. THE SOUL-BELL Fast the sand of life is falling, Fast her latest sigh exhaling, Fast, fast, is she dying. With death's chills her limbs are shivering, With death's gasp the lips are quivering, Fast her soul away is flying. O'er the mountain-top it fleeteth, And the skyey wonders greeteth, Singing loud as stars it meeteth On its way. Hark! the sullen Soul-bell tolling, Hollowly in echoes rolling, Seems to say— "She will ope her eyes—oh, never! Quenched their dark light—gone for ever! She is dead."
The next time you wed, Sir Luke, let me advise you not to choose a wife in the dark. A man should have all his senses about him on these occasions. Make love when the liquor's in; marry when it's out, and, above all, with your eyes open. This beats cock-fighting—ha, ha, ha!—you must excuse me; but, upon my soul, I can't help it."
"Every man to his taste," returned Turpin; "I love to confront danger. Run away! pshaw! always meet your foe."
A man should always die game. We none of us know how soon our turn may come; but come when it will, I shall never flinch from it. As the highwayman's life is the fullest of zest, So the highwayman's death is the briefest and best; He dies not as other men die, by degrees, But at once! without flinching—and quite at his ease! 

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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38. April Lady (1957)

April Lady. Georgette Heyer. 1957/2005. Harlequin. 270 pages. [Source: Library]

In some ways, April Lady is a very simple novel. A husband and wife are madly in love with each other; but each thinks the other only married out of convenience. They are horrible at communicating with one another. Nell may love her husband dearly, but clearly she does not understand him. Perhaps the couple's biggest problem is that of inequality. Instead of being husband and wife, they sometimes act like parent and child. (There is quite a bit of scolding at times. I can see why, she does act incredibly foolish. But still. His scolding isn't going to solve anything!)

April Lady may be predictable from cover to cover, but that does not stop this romance from being a satisfying one. What I enjoyed most about April Lady was the characterization. It wasn't that I loved the heroine, Nell, or her husband, Cardross; it was that Nell and Cardross were surrounded by interesting characters.

So. Nell has a brother, Dysart, who is a reckless gambler. (He's a LOT of fun, however.) Giles (Cardross) has a half-sister, Letty. She's silly, foolish, stubborn, and spoiled. Letty is in love with Jeremy Allandale. She is insisting (to anyone who will listen) that they HAVE to get married right NOW. It's not good enough that her brother will consent to the match in two or three years when she is nineteen or so. Now, now, now. Cardross also has a good friend, a cousin named Felix Hethersett.

I loved Felix, Dysart, Letty, and Jeremy more than Cardross and Nell. If this romance did not have such a great cast of "minor" characters, it would be awful.

22 / 33 books read. 67% done!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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39. Interview with Renee Duke, Author of The Disappearing Rose

???????????????????????????????Renee Duke was born on November 19th, 1952, the youngest child and only daughter of a Scotsman and his English bride.  She learned to read at an early age, and her best subjects in school were History, English, and Religious Studies. She later became a preschool teacher, but has also worked with older children in a variety of settings, including Belize, Central America.  She travelled extensively before embarking on parenthood, and later returned to this pursuit with young in tow.  Other than doing occasional interactive history units with 6-13-year-olds, she is now retired and able to concentrate on writing her Time Rose series. She has been writing for children and adults for many years and her work has appeared in magazines in Canada, the USA, and the UK.    

She does not, as yet, blog, but can be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/renee.duke.75https://www.facebook.com/renee.duke.75 and has a website: www.reneeduke.ca

Where did you grow up?

In Canada and England – specifically, Keewatin, Ontario, Kelowna, B.C., and Wantage, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire).  

When did you begin writing? 

I began writing when I was seven and a composition lesson at school helped me realize that books (which I loved) were actually stories thought up by someone.

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

I can sneak a few more moments now that I’ve pretty much retired.  Before that it was mostly at night or during school holidays. 

What is this book about?

It is about three children who use an ancient medallion to travel back to the fifteenth century England and find themselves caught up in the power struggles surrounding the boy king, Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York, who disappeared from the Tower of London sometime between June 1483 and September 1485. 

What inspired you to write it? 

I’ve been interested in the mysterious disappearance of those two royal brothers ever since I read about them in a, what my Grantie Etta character would call, ‘Tudor propagandist’ text book in school.  disappearingrose333x500

Who is your favorite character from the book?

That’s like asking which of your children is your favourite.  Don’t you know you’re supposed to love them all the same?  But if I have to pick, then I’d probably have to say Jack, who, like me, hates sports and getting up early.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book? 


Do you have a video trailer to promote your book?  If yes, where can readers find it? 

Not yet, but since I always make him his favourite cake when he comes home to visit, my actor/filmmaker son just might do one for me and put it up on my website in the not too distant future.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

Learn your craft and be willing to go on learning it.   

What is up next for you? 

Finishing the edits for Book Two (due out in January), and getting past chapter two of the next one.  I haven’t really settled into it yet, and know I must do so fairly soon. 


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40. Sprig Muslin (1956)

Sprig Muslin. Georgette Heyer. 1956/2011. Sourcebooks. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

Sprig Muslin is a lovely romance novel by Georgette Heyer. It is very reader-friendly; the pacing is even and it's a delight from the start. (In some of Heyer's novels the satisfaction comes in the last third of the novel; that isn't the case in Sprig Muslin). What makes Sprig Muslin satisfying isn't the romance, it is the comedy.

Sir Gareth Ludlow is on his way to propose to a very respectable woman, Lady Hester. He is quite fond of her, has respected and admired her for years. But he is not madly in love with her. On his trip, he accidentally meets Amanda "Smith." This young woman is obvious trouble from the start. She is obviously a woman intent on running away. He doesn't know her real name; he doesn't know where she's from--city or country; he doesn't know anything about her character except that she's a big liar, has an extraordinary imagination, and is incredibly foolish. This is a woman in need of rescuing. She needs someone with commonsense and no agenda to get her back where she belongs. He doesn't exactly want the job. But someone has to do it. He can't just leave her to her own designs or something awful could happen.

Amanda is the life of this novel. She is foolish, imaginative, stubborn, and vivacious. She is always plotting, always on the move, always calculating the situation and writing a new story. She keeps the novel going at a tremendous pace. Sir Gareth can hardly keep up with her, and the others they meet along the way are just as bad.

The novel is a big misadventure; there are plenty of interesting characters as well. This novel works BECAUSE Sir Gareth and Amanda are not love interests. I loved every minute of this one. Not because it was romantic and giddy-making, but because it was just so funny.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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41. History, Repeated: Two Views on The Wars of the Roses

We all know that history is written by the victors, but the matter doesn't end there.  History is also written by the powerful, the educated, the privileged.  By people who toe--and sometimes the ones who shape--the party line.  People of the wrong gender, race, class, or nationality not only don't get to write history, they often don't even get to appear in it.  It's one of the tasks of

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42. Bluffton: My Summers with Buster, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan, 240 pp, RL: 4

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - BLUFFTON -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> Bluffton: My Summers with Buster is the newest graphic novel from Matt Phelan. This is Phelan's third graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn and Around the World, being

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43. Guest Post: Katherine Holmes

Today's guest comes to us from the wilds of Alaska and back again. Katherine Holmes makes a stop on her blog tour with some background info on her novel The Swan Bonnet.

We tend to absorb the history of our environment As it was for many, Alaska was romantic to me as a frontier, romantic while living in the city. Of a sudden someone would leave Minneapolis for Alaska. My brother went there to do legal work after he had worked with Indian Legal Aid in Duluth While he was on the south coast, I thought of moving. I read up on the state and became caught up in its history. The near extinction of swans in the United States had me thinking about settings and soon I was planning a story.

Learning about Alaska was like learning grammar through a foreign language. I've never read a history book about Minnesota though I have Midwestern ancestry going back to the mid-1800s. Mining hopes in Alaska were very similar to those on Minnesota's Iron Range in the early 20th century. The influx of people in Northern Minnesota had similarities to Alaska’s new population. Sometimes they were the same people. Like Alaska, the fur trade began Minnesota history. I'd heard much about the 1920s on the Iron Range from my mother. Boomtowns and sudden wealth mapped the region.

After being fascinated with two books of Alaskan history, I researched swans. I read how warehouses with thousands of swan pelts were discovered, more than 10,000 at a time. Eventually hunting laws were enforced and a successful environmental chronicle was documented. I began my Alaska story as a shorter fiction about an Irish immigrant couple who bought shore property where swans migrated. But soon the story led to a coastal town and characters emerged.

When I thought of the swans being killed in masses, I knew that few women were part of such a money-making venture. How much did women help such an environmental campaign in a lone setting when a particular species were illegal to hunt? It is known how women responded to Prohibition then.

I posted the book at Authonomy.com in 2009 while I began to re-work the historical detail. I was afraid the swan hat would seem far-fetched. But it wasn't historically. The West established its own dress. I actually hadn't seen Chaplin's The Gold Rush and later, when I watched the VHS, the women's fur hats were part of the entertainment.

Not until I was rewriting the book did I realize the inspiration for the swan hat. Of course, it was meant to be the white hat of the western. But I remembered from my grade school years the pheasant pelts one of my brothers brought home after hunting. He hung the pheasant pelts on the wall of his room and then in the basement. These pelts fit neatly on the head so that, with my friends, I wore a pheasant hat - until my mother found out and scared us about lice. There is some kind of method to storytelling after all.

About the author: After stints in publishing and as a reporter, Katherine L. Holmes obtained an M. A. in Writing from the University of Minnesota. Her poems and short stories have been published in many journals. In 2012, her short story collection, Curiosity Killed the Sphinx and Other Stories, was published by Hollywood Books International. She has also published a children’s fantasy, The House in Windward Leaves.

Visit the Katherine on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katherine.l.holmes

As usual, you can find me at www.FB.com/MarkMillerAuthor

The Swan Bonnet is available in eBook and paperback.
Get it on Kindle here:

Thanks for reading!

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44. The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Balzer +Bray, 2013

Juliet once knew the life of luxury, but that is far behind her now.  Her reality is working as a cleaning woman, rubbing her knuckles bare scrubbing the bloody floors of the surgical hospital to keep her off of the streets.  Even if Juliet isn’t working on the streets, she still must fend off those who have enjoyed seeing her and her family’s fall in society and feel she should be treated as such.  

Her father is dead, but he caused enough damage to ruin Juliet and her mother’s future without him.  But one item, a drawing of a vivisection taken from her father’s journal, leads Juliet to seek out the person who owns this.  And that one item will also lead her down a dark and dangerous path.  This ripped page from her father's personal journals is all the confirmation Juliet needs to motivate her desire to seek the truth, and leads her to Montgomery, an old friend and former servant.

What he tells Juliet is beyond belief.  Her father is alive, living on an island as a recluse and using Montgomery to go for supplies when needed, regardless of how odd or dangerous those may be.  Juliet demands she goes back with him, even though his friend Balthazar makes her uneasy. 

The journey is more than anyone bargained for, and when Juliet finally reaches the island and understands exactly what her father, Dr. Moreau is doing, the true horror begins.  Juliet’s life is also in danger due to an aberration Dr. Moreau has created that is beginning to kill the natives and will think nothing of killing the humans….madness has taken control.

Shepherd has taken the classic tale of The Island of Dr. Moreau and created an alternate re-telling, which includes many of the same characters but in a slighty variegated form.  This story is as chilling as the original  and readers of historical fiction and horror fiction will find themselves mesmerized.  Juliet is a strong female character trapped not only physically on an island but emotionally as well as she battles between her desires and fears.  Although Shepherd doesn’t write in detail about Moreau’s creations, the reader can most certainly “see” them through the small details she does provide.  I'm firmly grounded in the camp of readers that thoroughly enjoyed this book.  As a bonus, the cover is as enthralling as the story told within it.   Recommended. 

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45. Best Books 2013 Part I

I didn’t post on Saturday because the weather was gorgeous and the Ren Faire was packed. In my 7-year-old nephew’s words, it was his best day ever–in his entire life. I wish that I could say E got his flair for the dramatic from me. But it was a really fun day, and E was hilarious as usual.

He’s also a big reader. He read every sign at the faire, and when we turned on to Castle Rd he said “Oh this must be where the castle is–no, wait that’s cas-T-le, never mind.” When we told him he was right and the T is silent he said, “Oh! Like Django!” Yep. Just like that.

When I was a kid we would spend lots of time at the library each summer, and we would read books off a list our teachers sent home. But E’s 1st grade teacher is pretty great–she set the class a challenge to read 100 books over the summer, and he fully intends to (when he’s not in the pool or hacking apart worms). It got me thinking about how I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, even though I still love it.

Here are my top 4 favorites so far this year (in no particular order):

  • The River of No Return – Bee Ridgway: chosen purely because the time period interested me, echoes of Downton Abbey but earlier, more Austen, with time travel and bad guys and intrigue and love. It was brilliant and exciting–impossible to put down.
  • Invincible Summer – Hannah Moskowitz: Contemporary YA from a boy’s perspective, which is a rare find, and the writing itself is so achingly beautiful I couldn’t look away. I read the whole thing in one day.
  • Quintana of Charyn – Melina Marchetta: hands down my favorite author these days, Melina Marchetta gives life to the most wonderful characters that I adore for their flaws and yearnings as much as their strengths. She’s a master of depicting social groups that you get drawn into and become a part of, and I am only sad that this trilogy has drawn to a close.
  • Letters from Skye: a novel – Jessica Brockmole: I picked this up for 2 reasons. It is about an author living on the Isle of Skye, which we visited on our honeymoon and I have since fantasized about having a writer’s retreat there. And it is partially set during WWI, which is a time of particular interest to me at the moment. The narrative unfolds through a series of letters across 2 World Wars, making the story feel both grand and intimately nostalgic at the same time.

Of course I have a massive to-read list to keep me busy for the rest of the year. Who are some of your favorite authors, and what are some of the best books you’ve read this year? I always love suggestions!

Tagged: Bee Ridgway, Books, Hannah Moskowitz, historical fiction, Invincible Summer, Jessica Brockmole, Letters from Skye, Melina Marchetta, Quintana of Charyn, Reading, Renaissance Faire, River of No Return, time-travel, YA

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46. A #48hbc update: two books completed

I think my book reviewing muscles are out of shape, so back to the bullet points.

cover of This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. SmithThis Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

  • The book in brief: an email accidentally sent to the wrong address sparks a relationship between two strangers. Ellie lives with her single mother and doesn’t know the guy she’s emailing is movie star Graham Larkin. So what will happen when the movie Graham’s filming goes on location in Ellie’s small hometown in Maine?
  • Great choice for a book challenge like this one. I don’t know how memorable it’ll be in 48 (well, 46) hours, after I’ve hopefully read a bunch more books. But it was a very fast read. Fun, charming, and sweet, without being heavy or making me feel like I need to take a break.
  • Liked it better than Smith’s last book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, which I thought was pretty meh. Maybe because the time span of this one covers more than one day? Or the third person narration being less distant? Or, even though Graham is a movie star, it seemed more grounded (no pun intended).
  • Possible readalikes: Shooting Stars by Allison Rushby, Teen Idol by Meg Cabot

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowancover of Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan

  • The book in brief: Meg was raised in an acting troupe. Although women are not allowed to perform on stage, Meg has learned how to disguise herself, to act, to pick pockets. Which catches the attention of Queen Elizabeth I and Sir William Cecil, who press Meg into the Queen’s service as a spy.
  • A typo (smell instead of small on p. 26) and some anachronisms, or what I think might be anachronisms (e.g., Meg calling herself an actress, when, at least according to this, the word didn’t come into use until 1580-90 and the book is set in 1559, though of course it could have been used in speech prior to it appearing in print…) took me out of the story several times.
  • Which, yes, is totally nitpicky, but otherwise, the book is enjoyable. I mean, the last Elizabethan-set YA novel I tried was The Other Countess by Eve Edwards, and I don’t think I got more than a fourth of the way through it before giving up. Maid of Secrets, on the other hand, features spy girls. (Which, obviously, is a point in its favor.) Plus a complex plot, a sympathetic and engaging narrator, and female friendship.
  • Possible readalikes: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (although Maid of Secrets doesn’t have as much swoon, or depth), the Lady Grace mysteries by Patricia Finney (although the series is for a younger audience)

Reading time: 4 hours 58 minutes
Blogging time: 50 minutes
Pages read: 812. Yeah, besides being written by an author named Jennifer, both books are 400+ pages and, though they don’t feel bloated, could still be tighter.

Filed under: Fiction

3 Comments on A #48hbc update: two books completed, last added: 6/9/2013
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47. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Okay for NowPeople who know me might be surprised to learn that I like to have my mind changed, especially when it comes to books. I have to admit though, that when it came to Okay for Now, changing my mind was a pretty tall order.

Generally, if a book does not strike a chord with me right away—within the first 100 pages—I’ll put it down for a while or look for it in a recorded format. I had done just that, put Okay for Now away for a year, maybe longer, when I agreed to help a friend do some Rebecca Caudill Young readers Book Award booktalks at a local school in the fall. Okay for Now was on my half of the list to talk about. I was not enthused at the prospects of picking it up again. However, another friend suggested that I give it one more try, maybe on audio this time. I’m glad I agreed.

I learned a lot from the main character, Doug Swietek, especially not to make judgments without facts to back them up. Doug, a “skinny, thug–in-training,” has a lot of problems making assumptions is one of his smaller ones. When thinking about Doug’s world, the phrase “controlled chaos” comes to mind—with the “controlled” part being very tenuous.

The Swieteks are a dysfunctional family. Doug, teetering on the edge of “hoodlumdom,” is seething with rage about being moved from his familiar friends and neighborhood on Long Island to a small, upstate New York town where his father has a new job. They live on the brink of financial ruin in a rented house the Doug refers to as “the dump.” His father is a loud-mouthed bully, his mother tries—unsuccessfully–to keep everyone happy, his older brothers, one of whom chose to fight in Vietnam rather than go to jail, are following in their father’s footsteps and making Doug’s life a misery. He’s a bright boy who has trouble with authority which leads to trouble in school.

Little does Doug realize that a girl named Lil, an Arctic Tern and a librarian, among others, are about to turn his world upside down. Art and beauty just might save Doug’s life.

Okay for Now is not an easy book to read—but, it is worthwhile. One lesson I learned along the way is that you don’t necessarily need to admire someone to learn from them. Like everyone else in his life, I just needed to give Doug a chance to prove himself. It took a bit of patience. Each of us can be stubborn. But, in the end, both Doug and I are more than Okay for Now.

Posted by: Eileen

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48. Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan, 194 Pp RL 5

This review first ran on 3/23/09. While fantasy is my favorite genre to read, historical fiction is a very close second. Gloria Whelan is the master of compelling historical fiction with strong girls as protagonists. A poignant story, Listening for Lions reminds me a bit of my childhood favorite, A Little Princess. As I've said before, I often judge a book by it's cover and Listening for Lions

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49. Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales : Donner Dinner Party, written and illustrated by Nathan Hale, 126 pp, RL : 3

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - DONNER DINNER PARTY -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> I'll be honest, for as much as a don't like history and I do LOVE Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, the first two books in what I hope is a very long running

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50. The Great Brain, by John D Fitzgerald, illustrations by Mercer Mayer, 175 pp, RL 4

First reviewed on 8/26/11, this series of books left a huge impression on me as a child. Especially since, for some odd reason, I didn't read the Little House on the Prairie books until I had a child of my own. I'm sure I was drawn to this series since I was raised on Mercer Mayer's picture books, and his art is perfectly paired with Fitzgerald's autobiographical tales of his childhood. Read at

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