In 1960s Toronto, two girls retreat to their attics to escape the loneliness and isolation of their lives. Polly lives in a house bursting at the seams with people, while Rose is often left alone by her busy parents. Polly is a down-to-earth dreamer with a wild imagination and an obsession with ghosts; Rose is a quiet, ethereal waif with a sharp tongue. Despite their differences, both girls spend their days feeling invisible and seek solace in books and the cozy confines of their respective attics. But soon they discover they aren’t alone–they’re actually neighbors, sharing a wall. They develop an unlikely friendship, and Polly is ecstatic to learn that Rose can actually see and talk to ghosts. Maybe she will finally see one too! But is there more to Rose than it seems? Why does no one ever talk to her? And why does she look so… ghostly? When the girls find a tombstone with Rose’s name on it in the cemetery and encounter an angry spirit in her house who seems intent on hurting Polly, they have to unravel the mystery of Rose and her strange family… before it’s too late. (from Goodreads.com)
Astri and Greta live with their aunt and uncle on a farm in Norway. Their mother has died and their father has gone to America to find a better life. The aunt sells Astri to a goatman, Mr. Svaalberd, who doesn’t treat her very well. On the goatman’s farm she finds Spinning Girl who doesn’t talk but spins beautiful wool. Astri is determined to run away and find a better life for her and Greta. When she does finally get away, she is pursued by the goatman throughout her journey. Astri, Greta and Spinning Girl make their way to the coast and a ship to America. Turns out the money Astri stole from goatman will not get them all on the ship. Spinning Girl is left behind as Greta and Astri sail for America. Throughout the story Astri recounts tales and legends, mainly East of the Sun West of the Moon, to help her get through her horrible days. This is a time in history when the old ways have not given way to the new Christian beliefs completely. There is talk of trolls and huldrefolk and magic spells and rituals. It is an interesting mix of fantasy and reality in this historical tale. I found a lot of the historical information really interesting, especially how people had to supply themselves for voyages to America. I am not sure how many fans this book will find among the intended age group though. It is a little confusing with the mix of fantasy and reality and is plenty violent. I really wanted to like it more than I did.
I received this book from Netgalley.
Octobia May lives with her Aunt Shuma who runs a boarding house. Octobia is obsessed with Mr. Davenport, one of the boarders. She believes he is a vampire for much of the book. Octobia and her best friend Jonah start following Mr. Davenport and belief he killed a girl. No one believes them until Mr. Davenport and banker Mr. Harrison try to railroad Shuma when she goes for a loan. There is a lot of mystery and intrigue in this book as Octobia and Jonah try to figure out what is going on with Mr. Davenport. Octobia is a strange child who seems obsessed with death; she died for a little while and talks to the statues in the graveyard. There is a lot of important topics discussed in the book that aren’t often talked about in middle grade fiction. Some of the boarders are holocaust survivors, no one will loan Aunt Shuma money because she is black and single, schools are segregated, there is talk of passing as white for light skinned Blacks, mixed race children and what it means to be free. You would think all of that would make this a more enjoyable story. It doesn’t! I think Octobia’s vampire obsession at the beginning of the book just made the whole thing seem more unrealistic and put me off the rest of the story. It was a bit on the long side and seemed less cohesive than I would have liked.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Mortal Heart is the conclusion to one of my favorite trilogies. I am not sure you can go wrong with a series about medieval assassin nuns. This is Annith’s story. We have seen Annith get left behind each time one of her sisters has gone out on a mission. Now she wants to know why. Annith is the most skilled of all the initiates of Mortain. When a young, unskilled sister is sent out in her stead Annith rebels and confronts the Abbess. She learns she is meant to be the order’s seer and locked in the convent for the rest of her life. Annith wants none of that and sets out on her own to find answers. Along the way she rides with the Hellequin (Death’s riders) and the followers of St. Arduinna. She joins her sisters Sybella and Ismae in the service of the Duchess of Brittany. She discovers the truth of her origins, why she was held back at the convent and true love on her journey.
Annith is a fantastic character. She is strong and righteous and a true believer in the old gods. It is her faith that plays the biggest part in this book as she comes face to face with the old gods and learns what her role is. I love how this series ties actual historical events into the story. Duchess Anne really was besieged by the French and on the brink of losing her country. I thought the fantasy elements really worked with this story. I loved the Hellequin, which seemed like a wonderful mix of a biker gang and an old west posse. I wasn’t sure how the whole romance thing was going to turn out but I loved how it did. My only complaint about the book was the loose ends. I wanted everything tied up by the last page and it wasn’t. We never found out what really happened to Matelaine for instance. Those are just small quibbles though as this was a wonderful end to the series. I do hope the author returns to this world in future books as she really made this time period come alive and I want to know more.
Henry is traveling with his mother and sister on the Lake Erie Shoreliner. He meets chatty heiress Ellie who decides they are going to be great friends. They also meet conductor Clarence and his telepathic cat Sam. When Ellie disappears soon after Henry, Clarence and Sam are determined to find her. Someone has kidnapped Ellie and demanded her mother’s priceless necklace, the Blue Streak, as ransom. There are a lot of characters on the train with secrets and hidden agendas. Our intrepid investigates must sort through all the hidden motivations and identities of the passengers to figure out who is behind Ellie’s kidnapping.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book and was a bit skeptical of the telepathic cat, but it all worked here. As an adult reader I was able to pick out the bad guys pretty quickly, but I am not sure younger readers will figure it out quite as fast. There are a lot of twists and turns to this mystery that made it even more fun to read. I especially liked the confined environment of the train as the setting; it gave the mystery a feeling of immediacy as the train got closer and closer to its destination. Train travel in the 1930s was nothing like it is today and the setting highlighted just how much it has changed. The mystery of Ellie’s kidnapping is interspersed with Lantern Sam’s autobiography as he tells of his many adventures and nine lives. This part of the story seemed to justify having a telepathic cat in the plot and added a lot of humor to the story. Sam is a smart aleck calico with a love of adventure and sardines and perhaps the star of this story.
The Girls of Gettysburg is the story of three girls who experience the Battle of Gettysburg in different ways. Annie is a Southern girl who has disguised herself as a boy and joined the Confederate Army. She has run away from her mother and set out to live up to the hopes of her brothers who have died in the war. Grace is a free black living in Gettysburg. She has the chance to flee North but stays and helps two runaway slaves. Tillie is a rich white girl living in Gettysburg. Her world changes the most as her life of privilege is swept away with the tide of battle. Each of the girls goes through a lot and I really appreciated the different perspectives of the battle. I thought Annie’s tragic story would have been the one to move me the most, but it was actually Tillie’s growth from a snobby girl to a battlefield nurse and helper that really touched me. This book reminded me a lot of Will at the Battle of Gettysburg 1863 with its detailed descriptions of what life was like before, during and after the battle.
Mr. Bro. Wiley is the last former slave in the Low Meadows of North Carolina when he dies in 1940. He has been living with the Jones family and when he dies they are devastated as is the rest of the community. The area starts planning for his sitting up (a week of gatherings before the burying). Twelve-year-old Bean is pretty excited about the sitting up even though he is sad at the passing of Mr. Bro. Wiley. This will be his first sitting up and proof that he is becoming a man. His friend Pole will also be able to attend and they get to help with the preparations. As everyone gathers for the sitting up a storm is approaching. Since the Low Meadows is right on the river this is cause for concern. Mrs. Jones is also heavily pregnant which of course complicates things even more.
This is a story about a community coming together over a man that was loved by all, even the degenerates of the area. It is a story of a forgotten time when people came together and knew each other intimately. The entire Low Meadows population is almost more like a family than a community. It is also a coming of age story as Bean and Pole take their place in the community as adults and become familiar with what that entails. I enjoyed the story, but had a few issues with it. I wish Mr. Bro. Wiley’s name would have been explained. I assumed it was Brother, but have no idea if that is right or not and it is not his real name. The other nicknames are explained in the book but not this one. I also had very skeptical reactions to all the carrying on in the book. Maybe that is how people in the Low Meadows really reacted to a death in the family but it seemed so extreme to me. I think the dialect the book was written in could also throw off younger readers. I didn’t have any trouble with it but the book is geared towards elementary age readers and they might have some trouble. They might also think the book is a little slow as there isn’t a lot of action until the very end.
Before being taken from her home by the town’s resident war hero, Judith had a promising life. She had decent, respectable home life and the love of her life showed signs of reciprocating those feelings. Now, she is the town pariah. She was able to eventually return to her community after being held captive for a couple of years. No one knows what exactly happened to her and she can’t tell them either – her tongue was cut out by her captor. Another girl was taken as well, but she came back dead. The townsfolk assume all kinds of things about Judith – that she was raped or otherwise defiled and that her lack of speech equated to a lack of intelligence. Complicating matters is the fact that the man who kept her in his rustic and remote cabin is the father of the boy Judith loves, long presumed dead after his disappearance. Judith’s own father died during the long search for his missing daughter and her mother’s heart has hardened after both ordeals. Judith is considered bad luck; few will even make eye contact, let alone speak to her. When word comes that the Homelanders are mounting an attack, however, Judith takes matters into her own hands. The town is saved, but not without exposing some deadly secrets.
Julie Berry has written a genuinely unique variation on the traditional historical novel. The time and place are both unspecified, though the signs all point to Puritan New England. The narrative is decidedly different, being broken up into brief vignettes, all addressing the boy she loves. As her story continues and her world broadens, so too does the narrative. The reader will not know exactly what happened to her up in that cabin and is thus left to draw their own conclusions, much like the townspeople who presume the worst. Bit by bit, however, past and present are revealed and intertwined to expose some of the hard truths surrounding this small community. I personally found this novel to be dark but refreshing for its quirky structure and setting. My teen readers (we read this for our high school book group) were of dramatically varying opinions. Some despised the structure and narration while others enjoyed reading something that challenged them a bit. Either way, we definitely had an interesting discussion.
It is 1952, the height of the polio epidemic, Franny is 11-years-old and suffering from polio. She is confined to a wheelchair and all her friends have abandoned her. She is bored and lonely and frustrated until she starts receiving notes from Fleabrain. Fleabrain is the only surviving flea on Alf the dog. He is super intellectual and a voracious reader. Fleabrain becomes Franny’s only source of entertainment during her recovery. Fleabrain also has magical powers and is able to shrink Franny or take her around the world during the night.
This was probably one of the worst books I have read in a long time. I pretty much disliked the story from the beginning. I kept waiting for the Fleabrain storyline to be part of a dream or Franny’s imagination or something. The fact that it was treated as real just made the story so very unbelievable. I think a book about a young girl suffering from polio and everything she had to deal with would have been really interesting on its own and something we haven’t really seen in middle grade fiction. However, the entire flea storyline just ruined the entire book.
When struggling riverboat captain Abner Marsh receives an offer of partnership from a wealthy aristocrat, he suspects something’s amiss. But when he meets the hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York, he is certain. For York doesn’t care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh’s dilapidated fleet. Nor does he care that he won’t earn back his investment in a decade. York has his own reasons for wanting to traverse the powerful Mississippi. And they are to be none of Marsh’s concern—no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious his actions may prove.
Marsh meant to turn down York’s offer. It was too full of secrets that spelled danger. But the promise of both gold and a grand new boat that could make history crushed his resolve—coupled with the terrible force of York’s mesmerizing gaze. Not until the maiden voyage of his new sidewheeler Fevre Dream would Marsh realize he had joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare…and mankind’s most impossible dream.
Here is the spellbinding tale of a vampire’s quest to unite his race with humanity, of a garrulous riverman’s dream of immortality, and of the undying legends of the steamboat era and a majestic, ancient river.
Sarah Hawkins survived capture by the Sioux, but after her escape she faced public scorn. Now, she’ll do anything to start over, and the dusty town of Defiance promises the anonymity and security she needs. Before she melts into the shadows, though, it’s her mission to put a great injustice to rights, and that means jeopardizing her safety once more.
But this time, she’s not alone. Without meaning to, Sarah has fallen under the protection of Logan Taggert, a rough-and-tumble trader unused to caring for others—and yet unable to ignore the tempting, tenacious woman’s plight. Though she refuses to trust him, Logan won’t leave her side, keeping her one step ahead of danger…even as she takes hold of the very thing he never thought he’d risk: his heart.
Virginia financier Julian McCaid has put his troubled past behind him. His plans for the future don’t include Audrey Sheridan, the extraordinary frontier woman he met just once. But it’s because of her that he’s come to the Dakota Territory to investigate problems at his ranch. And it’s all the more surprising when he discovers she isn’t the innocent he believed. Now nothing but her complete surrender will purge her from his soul.
If it weren’t for the children she cares for in her makeshift orphanage, Audrey would have left Defiance long ago. Now the sheriff is blackmailing her to distract the man who might derail his corrupt schemesa man who can offer Audrey not just protection, but a passion bold enough to make them claim their place in this harsh and beautiful land.
When Rachel Douglas left her aunt’s house in Virginia for the wilds of the Dakota Territory, she knew the journey would be long and arduous. But she didn’t realize that she had been summoned west to be used as a pawn in a ranch war with her father’s neighbor—or that her fierce, sudden attraction to Sager, her father’s hired gun, would put her heart and her life in jeopardy.
Seducing Rachel and feeding a bitter feud between the two ranches was Sager’s plan of vengeance against those who slaughtered his Shoshone family. Instead, Rachel’s guileless mix of courage and vulnerability touches the conscience he thought he’d buried long ago, and draws them both into a passion without rules, without limits—one that will change their destinies forever.
The young women at St. Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies might not really like the headmistress Mrs. Plackett, but it is better than their homes. When Mrs. Plackett and her brother are poisoned one night at dinner the girls decide to conceal their deaths so they won’t be sent home. Everything would have worked perfectly except people just keep showing up at the house. Smooth Kitty takes charge and makes sure everyone keeps the story straight. Stout Alice starts impersonating Mrs. Plackett to keep the neighbors and Mrs. Plackett’s suitor at bay. Pocked Louisa is investigating the deaths and believes they were poisoned with cyanide, but who killed them?
I had mixed feelings about this book. I really like the mystery aspect of it. I like the seven independent girls trying to live on their own and figure out what is going on. I laughed several times at the comedy of errors and the constant troupe of visitors to the house. The thing that annoyed me the most however was the girls themselves. Each of them have an adjective attached to their name and that is used repeatedly throughout the book. It got to be pretty annoying and I felt it was used instead of character development. The girls were hard to distinguish between except for their adjective. I also thought it was hard to place their ages. They seemed much older than I am guessing they were. A couple of times it was mentioned someone was 12 (can’t remember which one), but they all were terribly interested in suitors and seemed so much more mature. Maybe it was the Victorian setting, but it just seemed a bit odd. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book and stay up way too late reading it to find out who the murderer was and why they were killed.
Sarah Dunbar is one of 10 black students that are integrating into the white high school in Virginia in 1959. She is a brilliant senior, but gets placed in the remedial classes because they don’t want the black students holding their white students back. Linda Hairston is a white senior at the school who is oppposed to integration. In their French class, they are forced with another white student to work together for a class project. How can they meet without letting Linda’s father know that she is working with a black girl? How can Sarah make Linda understand that the black people deserve an equal shake at education and other civil rights?
This was a coming of age story that was disturbing to read at times because it mirrored the turmoil that was going on during the civil rights movement. Told alternately from the perspective of each girl, it puts you in their shoes to see how their background and family helped to shape their beliefs. Pretty good book, but it had some alternate themes that weren’t what I expected.
The Cherry Street Children’s Home is a pretty nice place to live for both kids and mice. The kids have a safe place to stay, nice meals, schooling and a few chores. The mice have an abundant supply of crumbs to fill their larders, entertainment through the stories they hear told to the children and a wonderful supply of art. The Cherry Street mice are obsessed with art and the accumulation of it. They have specially trained thieves who go out into the orphanage to collect art. Mary Mouse has become one the the thieves after her husband is killed. Unfortunately, one of Mary’s missions goes awry and she is seen by the humans. Caro, a young orphan saves her life, but the exterminators are to be called. The rest of the mice are forced to move, but they leave Mary in exile as punishment. Caro is a perfect example of a model orphan. She is helpful and kind and willing to believe everything the director Mrs. George says.
This book has a lot of references to Stuart Little by E.B. White which really makes me want to read it again. The mice of Cherry Street see Stuart as a hero and someone to emulate. I don’t usually enjoy animal stories, but I like how the mice and the orphans come together in this one. There is a lot going on here: baby snatchings, work house threats, blackmail, despotic rulers, murder. I appreciate that it is all written on a level kids can understand and appreciate. I also really appreciate that Caro didn’t suddenly discover the ability to talk to Mary. It made the story more realistic with the communication barrier.
Tomi is a second generation Japanese-American living in California with her family on their strawberry farm. Her parents are proud of their adopted country and have taught Tomi and her brothers to be patriotic supporters of America. Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and suddenly their neighbors and friends are looking at them like they are traitors and spies. Tomi’s dad is taken away by the FBI and the family is sent to a relocation camp soon after. Her mom has to step up and become the head of the family since dad is not with them; she is not the meek Japanese wife she was in California. Tomi and her brothers try to make the best of the horrible situation at the camp; they make friends, go to school and settle into life in the camp. They even become friends with some of the local kids. Then the dad is released from the prison camp and sent back to live with the family. Dad is no longer the proud, patriotic man he was; he is now bitter and angry at America for how he was treated. His attitude makes Tomi question what it means to be an American and how she feels about her country.
I like historical fiction books that deal with eras not frequently covered. WWII is a very popular era, but not a lot of books tackle the story of America’s treatment of the Japanese during the war. They were held in these camps without trials or even suspicion of any wrong doing for the duration of the war. They had to leave their homes, jobs, businesses and most of what they owned behind. I enjoyed this glimpse into what it was like to live in one of the relocation camps, but I especially appreciated Tomi’s story once her dad came home. He had every reason to be bitter and his attitude forced Tomi to look inside herself and figure out how she really felt. She couldn’t just conform to what her dad wanted her to think and believe; she had to find out for herself. That is a wonderful lesson and Sandra Dallas handled it really well.
Child abuse, mental illness, bullying, communism and McCarthy, it is all covered in this book. The Paper Cowboy is the story of Tommy who lives with his parents and sisters in Downers Grove, Illinois. Tommy is a well liked kid who never seems to get in trouble except at home. His home life is a mess. Tommy’s mom is extremely abusive and suffers from mental illness. Of course in the 1950s they didn’t talk about these things and really didn’t know a lot about mental illness. Tommy’s mom has lightning flash mood changes and the smallest little thing can set her off to where she beats Tommy with a belt. She has a lot on her plate: her mom died, she just had a baby and Tommy’s older sister was just burned in a horrible accident. The family has to deal with mounting medical bills which they can not pay. Tommy doesn’t talk to anyone about what is going on at home. He just tries to stay out of his mom’s way and take care of his two younger sisters because dad is no help at all.
In the world outside his house, Tommy is kind of popular but really a bully. He particularly picks on Sam McKenzie who’s dad runs the local grocery store. Sam is a bigger kid with a burn scar on his face. Tommy and his friends are terrible to him even though Tommy kind of likes Sam. One day Tommy steals from Mr. McKenzie and gets caught. In retaliation he plants a communist newspaper in the store with devastating consequences. Soon all the neighbors believe Mr. McKenzie is a communist and stop shopping at his store. Tommy wants to help out so he tries to find the real communist. He has taken over his sister’s paper route while she is in the hospital and suspects one of his neighbors. Unfortunately, as he gets to know the people around him he gets more and more confused on what to do with the information he has collected. The real owner of the communist paper surprises him and turns his world upside down. Things also come to a head at home with his mom.
I actually really liked this book. I thought it was a story that doesn’t often get told. I liked the fact that it was set in the 1950s when a lot of things like child abuse and mental illness were a family’s dirty little secrets. Today there would be counselors and social workers and police involved. Tommy was a likable character even though he was horrible at times. I found his growth throughout the story really believable. He starts out very selfish and ignorant and grows up into someone who helps others and forms relationships with those around him. I am also really grateful that Levine didn’t take the easy way out and make the mom’s mental illness and abuse just miraculously disappear. I think it is fairly realistic the way it was handled and I appreciate that. I haven’t read very many middle grade books set in the era of McCarthyism and the communist scares. I’m not sure how concerned your average person was about communists next store, but it does add a certain element to the story.
The Greenwood family spends every summer at their lake house in New Hampshire. Ivy and Holly are cousins and good friends. The summer of 1965 when they are 13 doesn’t seem like other summers. For one thing, Ivy’s parents are fighting all the time and she is afraid they are going to get divorced. Her dad is also constantly fighting with her older brother Randy. Holly’s parents are teaching in California for the summer and weren’t able to join the family. Ivy and Holly are also not getting along as well as they have in the past. They seem to be growing apart and gravitating towards different things. Holly and Ivy start uncovering clues in the mystery of Uncle Jesse and a young Japanese student named Kiyoshi Mori. No one in the family wants to talk about how Jesse died during the war or even about him at all. The girls uncover clues through letters and diaries they find in the lake house.
I enjoyed this story, but found the act of reading the book a bit challenging. Maybe I am just so used to reading middle grade novels with 12 point text (generally), but the fact that this book is printed in 9 point font surprised me. I actually felt like I was reading something that might have been printed in the 1960s. I think that feature is going to turn some kids off who are used to bigger text even when the book is bigger. The story itself was interesting and I really wanted to find out the mystery of Uncle Jesse (I kept getting Full House flashes every time I read that!) and Kiyo. I liked how the girls discovered more and more about Jesse as the story progressed. There is such a big cast of auxiliary characters that I did have trouble keeping them straight. It didn’t help that all the Greenwood siblings had J names (John, Jim, Jake, Jesse and Jenny). I really appreciated the family tree in the front of the book to keep everyone straight. Reading this book actually made me want to find out more about the Japanese Internment Camps and the plight of the Japanese-Americans during WWII.
Arianne and her family live on a horse farm in the 1960s. Arianne’s rock star father abandoned them after her little brother Robbie was born. Robbie is a thalidomide baby with physical disabilities. One night the family goes out to the field to watch the Pleiades and Arianne witnesses a white light jumping in among the horses. Then their old pony Agora becomes pregnant and gives birth to a centaur. The little pony boy, who they name Kai after Chiron, becomes the focus of the family, the stable manager Martha and the vet Dr. Herks. They all pull together to keep Kai safe and away from prying eyes even if it means they lose some of their riders and boarders. Kai is a typical centaur with a horse body and a boy torso and head. He becomes one of the family as he grows at an astonishing rate. Of course no secret this big can stay a secret forever. It is up to the family to figure out how to keep control of the story and to keep Kai safe.
This was an interesting mix of historical fiction and fantasy. I thought it was really smart to set the story in the past because there is no way they would have been been able to keep the secret in the world of today’s technology. I thought it was a great story about a family and the unconditional love they felt for each other. I don’t think I have ever read a children’s book with a thalidomide baby character so this was also a nice piece of history that kids are probably not familiar with. However, I will admit that I was a bit bored by the story. There was nothing wrong with it, but it just seemed very slow story with a lot of repetition.