Another book review blog?!?

Yes because people ask "Have you read anything good lately?" And I have. From a class ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Song Yet Sung - Historical Fiction

Author: James McBride  
Publication Date: 2008    
Number of Pages: 368
Geographical Setting/Time Period: 19th Century Chesapeake Bay Region (1861-1865)

Main Character(s):
Liz Spocott (Strong and beautiful runaway who sees the future);
Patty Cannon (Heartless, wicked mass slave trader);
Denwood Long (A troubled sympathetic slave hunter);
Woolman (A kind feral black man);
Amber (generous and helpful slave who knows “the code”);
Kathleen Sullivan (Kind widow who treats her slaves like family)

Plot Summary:
Liz is an injured runaway slave who can see the future in her dreams; she helps 14 other runaways escape from Patty Cannon’s attic. Patty and her posse are in constant pursuit of the runaways. “The code” protects those who know it in finding assistance in their attempts to make it to the freedom line. When two young boys, one black one white, vanish the town scrambles to find them and everyone begins to realize who can be trusted, regardless of skin color.

This is a slow paced novel where the characters quest for freedom is intricately described. McBride uses authentic dialect between the characters to tell the story of the runaway slaves. The search for truth and freedom add to the sense of anticipation throughout the book with an overlying bleak tone. The dual perspective that McBride offers of the Underground Railroad and “the code” with references to Harriet Tubman and the future of Martin Luther King will appeal to readers.

Brief quote: “Them dreams you got, he said, the children that’s fat and running round, Killing each other. The colored men who dress up as boys, they ain’t no different from the folks around here. Some is up to the job of being decent, and some ain’t.”(160).

Prizes or Awards: None.

Similar Works:
The Color of Water: a Blackman’s tribute to his white mother by James McBride (similar details regarding African American Men; mother and son relationships; and ethnic identity)–Reader’s Advisory Online
Someone Knows my Name by Lawrence Hill (Similar themes regarding slaves and African American women)–NovelistPlus


Monday, December 19, 2011

The Paris Wife - Historical Fiction

Author: Paula McLain   Publication Date: 2011   Number of Pages: 318

Geographical Setting/Time Period: 1920-25, the jazz age in Paris

Main Characters:
Hadley Hemingway - the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. She is deeply in love with Ernest, supportive of his vision to be a great writer. but dependent on him to give her life purpose.
Ernest Hemingway - a charming, moody, selfish young man. He is driven by demons to write. His community of friends allow a patron supported lifestyle that seems unrealistic by today's standards.

Plot Summary: Friends of friends, two young people meet in Chicago and fall in love. They marry and move to Paris, pursuing the young man's dream to become a writer. The young woman, a musician of some talent, allows her skill to remain only a peripheral part her life, choosing to support her husband in his efforts. Their circle of friends supports a lifestyle that seems unrealistic by today's standards. The young man is a philanderer and eventually is forced to choose fidelity or divorce

Appeal: Character driven, the tone of the book is romantic. Based on historical fact, there is an inevitability to the narrative. There is a small sense of world-building as the culture of the Paris group in the 1920s is hinted at.

Brief quote: "I closed my eyes and let meyself fall, barreling down over the hard bumps. I'd had so much to drink I couldn't feel a thing -- nothing but a thrilling sense of wildness and freedom. It was a kind of euphoria, really, and fear was a key part of it." (p. 21)

Prizes or Awards: Starred reviews in Kirkus and Library Journal

Similar Works: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan,

Reviewer’s Name: Nancy Rimassa

Adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Reader’ Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd. Chicago: ALA, 1997.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Linnet Bird - Historical Fiction

Author:  Linda Holeman  Publication Date:  2004  
Number of pages: 376 
Geographical Setting/Time Period: 1823-1840; Liverpool, England; Calcutta, India; Kashmir;
Main Characters:
  • Linnet Gow (aka Linnet Smallpiece, then Linnet Ingram): damaged girl with a strong sense of self. 
  • Shaker (Geffrey) Smallpiece: good hearted librarian and amateur herbalist with palsied hands who helps Linny escape the streets. F
  • aith Vespry (then Snow): Linny’s spirited friend who convinces her to come to India.
  • Somers Ingram: Linny’s sadistic husband who shares a secret from the past with her.
  • Daoud: Pushtun chief, Linny’s first love.
  • David: Linny and Daoud’s child
Plot Summary: 
At age 11, Linnet is sold into prostitution. She works until the age of seventeen, when Shaker befriends her and gives her a new identity as his cousin. Later she accompanies her friend Faith to India. She discovers Somers’ predilections, and he in turn figures out that she is not what she seems either.  He threatens to expose her past until she agrees to a marriage of convenience with him. Later, Linny and Faith go on a trip to a far off town, with disastrous results. Linny ends up in Daoud’s comfortable, friendly village in Kashmir. She and Daoud fall in love but he must leave, so she goes back to Calcutta, where she finds she is pregnant with his child. She cleverly convinces Somers that the baby is his, and dulls her senses with opium after the baby is born. Somers puts all the pieces together and figures out who Linny really is, and that they have a terrible connection from the past. He threatens to have her institutionalized to keep all these secrets. The situation looks hopeless, but Linny is a very tough woman. 

Appeal: This rather lurid, fast paced novel has rich detail of the Victorian Liverpool underworld, the British Raj era of India, and the landscape and social customs of same. The characters are intriguing, human and flawed. The people we care the most about change somewhat for the better over the course of the story. The novel combines historical detail and an engaging if somewhat predictable plot with a small amount of intense romance.
Brief Quote: “Everywhere, brilliant colors swarmed; I had to close my eyes for a moment to distinguish what I was seeing. Women’s saris in bright pink, orange and red, carts heaped with unfamiliar fruit and vegetables. Dark faces under white turbans. As we drew nearer the pier, I breathed in scents I couldn’t identify but which I was sure, from my reading, must be jasmine, sandalwood, cloves and ginger. But there was something else. Underneath it all there was a foetid, cloying odor, of urine, dirt and decay, A deep smell of rot that I recognized from the seeping cellars in Liverpool’s meanest courts” (p149).   

Similar Works: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber is also a vividly detailed historical fiction about Victorian society and underworld with a very sympathetic main character. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters takes place in the same era among the same kind of people, but is more of a gothic/mystery. The Observations by Jane Harris is also a mysterious Victorian novel. 

Reviewer: Alexis Whitney

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fire in Beulah - Historical Fiction

Author: Rilla Askew Pub. Date: 2001
Pages: 376
Geographical Setting/Time Period: Tulsa, OK / 1920-21

Main Characters:
• Althea Dedmeyer- secretive, disagreeable, and insecure wife of a wildcatter;
• Graceful Whiteside- Althea’s proud and enigmatic African-American housemaid;
• Japheth Whiteside- Althea’s violent, cunning, roustabout brother.
• Franklin Dedmeyer- a jovial and driven wildcatter.

Plot Summary:
Althea Dedmeyer (nee Whiteside) married into Tulsa’s high society when she found Franklin, a driven wildcatter with a kind heart. Secure in her station but emotionally dissatisfied and struggling with inner turmoil, she often releases her frustrations on her African-American housemaid, strong, deliberate Graceful. When Japheth Whiteside, Althea’s dangerous roustabout brother, arrives in Tulsa, his machinations threaten to collapse Althea’s carefully constructed reality, destroy Franklin’s oil partnership and hopes of tapping the next big gusher, and propel Tulsa society closer to racial violence. As racial tension explodes into the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Japheth stokes the hatred and Althea struggles to come to terms with African-Americans as real people with families and lives as she tries to help Graceful through the riot and back to her family.

• Pace- leisurely, significantly picks up near the end;
• Characters- unique and intimately portrayed; lifelike and relatable;
• Storyline- character-driven, layered and complex;
• Frame- engrossing, transporting, vivid, central to the story;
• Tone- ominous

Brief quote: “Althea snatched up the hat from the ally floor and reached her in an instant; she said again, “That was not your brother? Hear me?” Because she was unwilling that it be so. Because if they were going o drag niggers behind cars it should be nameless niggers, bad niggers, dangerous ones who raped white women and carried knives in their boots, not little boys who stared solemnly from photographs, and Althea said it again, hissed the words, “That wasn’t him!”” (p.320)

Prizes or Awards: American Book Award 2002; Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award 2003

Similar Works:
Harpsong or The Mercy Seat, also by Rilla Askew (style, historical fiction, setting);
The burning: massacre, destruction, and the Tulsa race riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan (nonfiction on same topic);
Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan (OK, race relations, oil industry, 1920s)
*All similar works and comparisons found through NoveList.

Reviewer’s Name: Cyndi Selinger

Adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Readers= Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd. Chicago: ALA, 1997.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Code Talker - Historical Fiction

Author: Joeseph Bruchac  Publication Date: 2005
Number of Pages: 231
Setting: United States and Occupied Pacific Islands/ World War Two 1943-1945

Main Character:
Ned Begay- intelligent and eager Navajo student; loyal, capable, and strong Marine

Plot Summary: A grandfather addressing his grandchildren speaks of his life as a Navajo Marine. He begins with his time in mission school where he was taught the Navajo language was wrong and useless. Later he becomes a member of the elite group of code talkers for the Marine Corps in World War Two. His native tongue helped the US create an unbreakable code used for the most important messages in the war.  He discusses his personal experiences in the war.

Appeal: Story line follows the life of the main character; Character fitting for the time period; Conversational style (first person) generates a quick pace but still historically and statistically detailed; Minimal graphic violence; Appeal to adults who read YA novels, interested in Native American literature, and/or enjoy personal accounts of war (fictional).

Brief quote: “Speaking. Speaking through that day and the next and the next. Even when our voices grew hoarse, we did not stop. Our Navajo nets kept everything connected like a spider’s strands spanning distant branches. The winds of batter lever broke our web. As the battle for Iwo Jima raged all around up, our voices held it together” (187).

Prizes or Awards: ALA Notable Children's Books Older Readers Category: 2006; YALSA Best Books for Young Adults: 2006; Starred Reviews in Booklist and Kirkus;

Similar Works: Heroes Don't Run: A Novel of the Pacific War by Harry Mazer: first person; personal war account; historical fiction; teen historical fiction; WW2 in the Pacific (found on NL, selected by reviewer)    

Windtalkers: A novelization by Max Allen Collins: same subject matter; fast paced (found on NL, selected by reviewer) *movie tie-in, also available on DVD

The Pacific HBO miniseries (Nonfiction companion book of same title by Hugh Ambrose): World War Two in the Pacific (selected by reviewer)

Reviewer’s Name: Julia Robinson

Adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd.  Chicago: ALA, 1997.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Master Butchers Singing Club - Historical Fiction

Author: Louise Erdrich Publication Date: 2003
Number of Pages: 389
Geographical Setting/Time Period: Argus, North Dakota, 1918 - 1954
Main Character(s):   
  • Delphine Watzka, a strong, quirky, capable young woman  
  • Fidelis Waldvogel, a German immigrant, and the character that gives structure to the story.  
  • Cyparian Lazarre, a gay acrobat and companion to Delphine. 
  • Eva Kalb, wife to Fidelis
Plot Summary:
German immigrants between the two world wars create a life and business in a small town on the American plains. Locals and their stories are woven into the family’s tale when Fidelis starts a singing club for men. The family and the town endure through illness, accident, murder and finally the Great Depression.
Appeal:                    Pacing – The story is told at a relaxed pace. It is richly-layered and unfolds slowly as the characters think about the way their lives have turned.
                                  Characterization – The characters are painted using details from the daily routines of their lives. Folks drift into the story and become a part of it without fanfare.
                                  Storyline – is character-driven, told in third person with several viewpoints offered to the reader
                                  Frame – The story begins on two separate continents, chapters alternating briefly between two sets of characters. Soon the separate parts are joined by the actions of the characters and the story moves more quickly.
                                  Tone – is somewhat melancholy and introspective although there are moments of violence and suspense.
Brief quote:                “Step-and-a-Half hummed in her sleep and sank deeper into her own tune, a junker’s pile of tattered courting verse and hunter’s wisdom and the utterances of itinerants or words that sprang from a bit of grass or a scrap of cloud or a prophetic pig’s knuckle, in a world where butchers sing like angels.”
Prizes or Awards:       Finalist for National Book Award, America’s preeminent literary prize.
Similar Works:              My Antonia by Willa Cather (character-driven, relaxed pace, introspective story about immigrants), Novelist.
Reviewer’s Name:        Nancy Rimassa