Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review: First Flight Around the World

First Flight Around the World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the Race by Tim Grove. Abrams Books For Young Readers. 2015. Library copy. YALSA Nonfiction Finalist.

First Flight Around the World The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the RaceIt's About: In 1924, the race was on -- to see what country would be the first to fly around the world. The United States's entry into the race was a team of eight men and four planes. The subtitle of the book reflects that this is not a book asking who won -- it was the Americans -- but rather, how.

The Good:  First Flight Around the World takes place so early in the era of flight; the Wright Brothers flight was just over twenty years before. While technology had increased in those years, the US was no longer the leader in flight. Public support and funding was needed; what better way to get both than the be the first to fly around the globe?

Planes, pilots, and mechanics were prepared and selected. The route was planned; which direction to fly, based on weather, temperature, location; where and how would the planes land? Were those countries friends? How far could a plane fly? Where should refueling spots be? How much weight could be carried?

Planes were open cockpit; there was no radar. Radios had such limited range that they weren't included in the list of supplies. Stops ranged from small villages to large cities, and sometimes diplomatic relations were as important as repairing planes.

Because one of the items taken along was a camera, there are plenty of original photographs. Maps and photos and documents help bring the flight to life.

Newspapers were full of the news of the flights and the flyers; they were famous in their time. As the book ended with their triumph return to the United States and the final legs of their journey, I couldn't help but think about how unknown they are in the present time. How quickly things can change; none of these names were familiar. (And yes, I did wonder what happened to the pilots after, and wish there had been more about what happened to them after 1924.)

Two of the YALSA Nonfiction finalists done, three more to go!






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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review: This Strange Wilderness

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain. University of Nebraska Press. 2015. Library Copy. YALSA Nonfiction Finalist.

It's About: John James Audubon (1785 - 1851) wrote and illustrated The Birds of America, which contained almost 500 different birds, all shown life size and in full color.

This is the story of who Audubon was and his work.

The Good: While I was generally aware of Audubon, mostly it was because of his appearances in other YA books I've read, notably Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (my review) where some of those illustrations figure significantly into the plot; and The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Philip Hoose, about one bird in particular that was painted by Audubon.

Who knew that Audubon was born in Haiti and raised in France! I had no idea. I am not an animal person, so truth be told the birds itself didn't interest me, but the biography of Audubon fascinated me. He came to America as a teenager, sent by a father hoping to save his son from fighting in Napoleon's army. He fell in love with the new country, and there fully developed his passion for nature and birds and illustration.

The process of how Audubon drew his birds was also interesting; a combination of art and science. And yes, he killed the birds, so that he could then pose them to be lifelike. Which seems so weird to a modern reader, but this was before photographs. This was before any other way to truly study and draw the birds in a way to portray them fully. Audubon didn't just blunder along, shooting; he also studied the birds, learning about them, and wrote about his scientific findings. His writings also included his own journeys and adventures along the way. And, as a hunter, he was also an environmentalist because while he hunted for food, or for art, he also realized the danger of extinction.

If you'd asked me before I read this book about Audubon, I'd have guessed rich. And as the book begins it seems like there was truth to that, from his upbringing to the land in Pennsylvania that his father bought him. But he wasn't; and Audubon pursued his studies (which often meant travel) even when he didn't have much money. He drew portraits and taught drawing and did other things to support his dream of studying and drawing birds.

Audubon did this even though he had a wife and children. And at this point, the biography I want is of Lucy Audubon, who at times followed her husband to log cabins in Kentucky and to England; and at other times, stayed behind, earning the money to support her children while her husband followed his own dreams. Who was forced into independence while married, yet also strongly supported her husband.

And then of course there is the business end, of how Audubon's illustrations were transformed into a book. Again, in a time without computers; when each page had to be hand colored; when Audubon insisted that they remain life-size. "Subscriptions" were sold for the intended publications, and Audubon had to turn into a salesman to convince people to buy something that hadn't been published yet.

I love how this is all told in less than a hundred pages. I'm on a Regency Romance reading kick, and just checked out some thick, dense non-fiction of that period and wow, I wish at least one of them was a tidy hundred pages. (Also, it doesn't escape my notice that This Strange Wilderness occupies the same slice of time as the romances I've been reading.)

One more point, and perhaps the most important: there are many, many of Audubon's illustrations, all in full color. When reading about art, it really helps to be able to see it. And, also, now I'm intrigued to see the actual originals.





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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Review: Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. Balzer + Bray an imprint of HarperCollins 2015. Review copy from publisher. YALSA Morris Award Finalist.



The Plot: Simon, sixteen, is being blackmailed by Martin. See, Simon didn't totally log out of his email account on a school computer so when Martin sat down he saw them. And read them. And made copies.

So, Martin is threatening to tell everyone that Simon is gay. Simon hasn't even told his closest friends. The only person who knows is the person on the other end of Martin's email conversations, someone named Blue. Who Simon knows better than anyone else -- the only thing Simon doesn't know about Blue is what his real name is.

The Good: This is one of those books where I started off not liking Simon that much. No, really. About page thirty I put this down and eye-rolled because I found him just too self absorbed and immature and annoying.

And then I picked it up again, because I'd committed myself to YALSA's Morris challenge to read all the finalists before Midwinter, and something clicked. And instead of having no patience with Simon I instead began laughing with him, and seeing his insecurities, and loving his loyalty, and shaking my head in sympathy at his self-absorption.

Simon is about Simon, of course -- he's the one telling the story, and it's his emails with Blue that are shared. It's not just being blackmailed by Martin - oh, by the way, Martin's purpose of the blackmail? Martin likes Abby, and Simon is friends with Abby, so Martin wants Simon to help things along with Abby. Except that Simon doesn't like being blackmailed by Martin, and Abby is a good friend, and he thinks Abby likes Nick. Nick has been Simon's friend since forever, along with Leah, and Leah and Abby do not get along.

And then there is Blue, and all Simon knows is that Blue goes to his school, but other than that no details to know who Blue is. Blue, like Simon, is gay; and Blue, like Simon, hasn't told anyone. Not yet. As Simon says early on, "maybe it would be different if we lived in New York, but I don't know how to be gay in Georgia. We're right outside Atlanta, so I know it could be worse. But Shady Creek isn't exactly a progressive paradise."

Later, Simon thinks about coming out and how it's this big thing and how he doesn't want to say anything, at least not yet, not because he is afraid or worried about how his family and friends will react, but because it's a thing. "Don't you think everyone should come out? Why is straight the default? Everyone should declare one way or another, and it should be this big awkward thing whether you're straight, gay, bi, or whatever."

Of course, Simon is trying to figure out who Blue really is. And thinking about the cute boys at his school. And dealing with his friends' drama (Nick and Leah and Abby). And then there are his parents, which at first I worried about because of the gay jokes his Dad makes, but what is wonderful about Simon is it shows that all his dad is doing is making dumb Dad jokes and while it bothers Simon it small-b bothers him, not big-B bothers him. His family is supportive and close, and at times too close and overbearing, but at all times loving. It's a great book family.

I'm glad I didn't let my initial irritation with Simon turn this into a do-not-finish; I'm glad that I gave the whole book, and the whole Simon, a chance. Because both Simon and Simon are terrific, and thanks to the Morris committee for selecting this title and the YALSA Hub challenge for making me read it.

Oh, and my favorite scene is the one where Simon gets drunk. That's all I'm saying, but it's so cute and delightful and funny.






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

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: X A Novel

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon. Candlewick Press. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

XThe Plot: The boyhood and teen years of Malcolm Little, who would become Malcolm X. Malcolm's family was both close and fractured: his father died when he was young. His mother, left with a large family and little support, was committed. Malcolm went into foster homes and then later moved in with a family member in Boston.

In Boston, as a teen, he saw more appeal in the nightlife of the city than in the respectable choices his half-sister has made. One bad choice leads to another, but to Malcolm, they're never the bad choices. They are his choices.

And as the reader who knows a bit about Malcolm, who knows that it's in prison for theft that an adult Malcolm converts to Islam, it's about seeing how Malcolm becomes that man.

The Good: I'm that reader who knows "a bit" about Malcolm X, which meant that I vaguely knew the bare bones of his story, particularly his life as a child and a teen.

X: A Novel did so many wonderful things, starting with showing why crime appealed to the young Malcolm. (Book talking tip: instead of selling this as a work of historical fiction, talk up the the aspect of why crime can be appealing.)

Actually as I give that tip, I have to add, that is too simplistic -- it's not as if there was a simple, easy choice. It's that Malcolm had been told that as a young black man his choices were limited when it came to education and career, and on the street, hustling or stealing, his choices were not limited. It's that Malcolm had had a close family and then it split apart (in part because the social services at the time were not committed to really helping a family, and in part because Malcolm's mother had a struggle to find work). It's that, well, you could see the immediate results of that life, the fun, the clothes, the parties, that you didn't see in a classroom. It's all tied together.

Or, better, let me share Malcolm's words: "When I first set foot in Harlem, I was a step ahead of everything. I could blend in with the jive cats, swirl the Lindy ladies. let my feet groove, think of nothing but the now. I could close my eyes and in closing them not be seen. Slip into the seams of the streets and let them swallow me. It was a glorious fit, so seemingly warm."

It takes a while for Malcolm to realize that it is not warm, it is seemingly warm. A long time. The book ends with Malcolm embracing Islam and starting to realize where best to direct his energy, his time, his talent.

X: A Novel comes with a great deal of back matter, including an author's note by Shabazz, one of Malcolm X's daughters; information about the characters in the book; a time line of events; and a historical context to the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.



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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: Slightly Sinful

Slightly Sinful (Bedwyn Saga, # 5) by Mary BaloghBedwyn (6 Book Series). Dell. 2004. Library copy.

Slightly SinfulThe Plot: Lord Alleyne Bedwyn was left for dead after the Battle of Waterloo, injured. His head injury has taken his memories.

Rachel York trusted the wrong people, and now she's broke -- but not alone. She's with the only four people in the world she truly trusts, so she is temporarily staying with them.

When Rachel finds Alleyne on the battlefield, he's been stripped of everything of value, even his clothes. She has no clue who he is, but she knows he lives so can be saved. She takes him back to where she is staying -- a brothel.

Broke, injured, no resources -- but themselves and each other.

The Good: I've been binge reading Mary Balogh books, so fast I barely have time to write down the name of the book I've read. No time for reviews!

Balogh has done some wonderful writing around the Peninsular Wars and the Battle of Waterloo, and the impact of those battles on the men and women who fought, and who stayed home. (Or what I sometimes think to myself as "the true story of what happened next to Wickham and Denny.") I particularly liked Web of Love for it's depiction of the lives of the women who "follow the drum" and the roles they have in the aftermath of battles.

Slightly Sinful sounds like it should be serious -- battles! war! destitution! But it wasn't. Yes, all that is there, but it's also so funny and a pure joy to read. While Alleyne is recovering physically, he falls for Rachel but he doesn't even know if he's married. Also, he thinks that because she lives in a house of prostitution she must be one herself. She loves and respects the women who have befriended her, so she doesn't want to insult them by denying that sisterhood. (And there are other books by Balogh where current or past prostitutes, courtesans, and paid mistresses are the main characters and supporting character.)

Here, Gerry, Bridget, Flossy and Phyl are working and saving to retire. Their current lives are presented matter of factly, and there present situation is treated with respect. Rachel has an inheritance she cannot collect for another three years, when she is 25; or when she marries.

Do you see where this is going?

The caper of deciding to fake Rachel's marriage to Alleyne was terrific. It was funny, yet at the same time it wasn't mean or silly. It was a madcap adventure and while this is the fifth / seventh book in the Bedwyn saga it definitely stands alone, maybe more so than the other books, because Alleyne's lack of memories of his family mean they have minimal presence.

The only disappointment I have is that there's only one book left in this series! And that I have to wait for my library copy to become available!

The good news is that Balogh is only new to me; she's been writing for ages so I have a long list of backtitles to keep working my way through. And one more thing: a big thank you to my local public library for having an ebook collection and including a large number of romance books in that collection. It's made my binge reading so easy!

And yes -- a Favorite Book Read in 2015.







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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review: Once Upon a Marquess

Once Upon a Marquess (Worth Saga) (Volume 1) by Courtney Milan. 2015. Reviewed from NetGalley.

once upon a marquess coverThe Plot: 1866. Judith Worth was born into wealth and privilege. Her childhood was like something out of a romance novel: family estate, wealthy family, large happy family. She even fell in love with her brother's best friend, Christian Trent, now the Marquess of Ashford.

That was before. Before Christian helped destroy and ruin her father. Before her family was scattered across the globe.

And now Judith is barely hanging on, taking care of her younger sister and brother, making (and sometimes burning) her own tea and scones rather than being waited on.

Judith has managed on her own so far. But her world being what she is, and the time being what it is, she needs help with a business matter and as a poor female she can't do it on her own. She turns to Christian, expecting, at best, that he'll hire someone to help.

Christian has been haunted by Judith and her family. He knows he did the right thing, all those years ago, but he still feels like he owes Judith. Her request is his chance at redemption.

The Good: Readers of this blog (and followers on Twitter!) know I've gone on a historical romance reading binge, concentrating mainly on the Regency era. But when you find an author you like, you follow them through time (which, actually, is how I made the jump from contemporary to Regency) and so now I find myself in 1866.

As I read Regency I fall into a fantasy, a fantasy of wealth and privilege and happy endings, a fantasy where servants don't have names or plots, and money just exists. And I'm fine with that, truly I am. But I like when and how authors go beyond that. Most of the authors I've been reading, in one way or another, go beyond that fantasy.

In Once Upon a Marquess, Judith Worth is actually working (won't say how or what, but what she does is new and refreshing and inventive, but it is "work" so despised by the wealthy). She clings to how she was raised, though, and wants to give her younger sisters and brother the life they would have had before her father lost everything following charges of treason. So she lives in a terrible part of town, with no help but for a part time housekeeper, and saves her money to help give her younger sisters a dowry to help find respectable husbands and her brother an Eton education.

And I LOVED this. This look at those who aren't privileged, who don't have helpful and kindly relatives and unexpected inheritances.

And then it turned out to be even more than that. Judith's father was accused of treason; her older brother was, also. Christian gave testimony that condemned her father and transported her brother. What her family did or didn't do; and why or why not; ends up being an examination of the wealth and lifestyles of the wealthy and powerful in England. I love how Milan is addressing historical facts within the context of romance, and making me think, and at the same time is giving me what I crave in a good romance: spice, humor, romance, warmth.

Judith's youngest sister, Theresa, is viewed as odd (today she'd probably be seen as somewhere on the autism spectrum) and an uncle promised he'd care for Judith and her middle sister and youngest brother if they agreed to put Theresa away somewhere. Judith refused; her middle sister stayed with the uncle.

Christian is also "odd" and "different"; again, today, there would be a diagnosis (OCD, perhaps). But then, no, so how he is treated and what he does to address his compulsion is of that time. And ties into his friendship with Judith's family and guides his actions now.

There is a middle sister, Camilla, who stayed with the uncle who promised a continued life of ease in exchange for no contact with that embarrassment, Theresa. This is a series about the Worths and their friends, so the next full book (After the Wedding) is about Camilla, and her journey as the poorer, powerless, female relative. Before then is a novella (Her Every Wish) about one of Judith's friends, Daisy, a friend from her life "now" so someone who is poor and struggling but still dreaming.

I can't wait for these other books -- so far the good thing about reading a new to me genre is doing so with completed series. So this is one of my first "ugh I have to wait" books.

I have only one small complaint: Christian has a terrible sense of humor. It's so bad that both his mother and cousin fear it will stop a good match from happening; but Judith finds him funny. Alas, I have to agree with his mother and cousin.



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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Review: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte Press, 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

book_cover.jpgThe Plot: Maddy, 18, is a girl who hasn't left home in years. She has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, which is a fancy way of saying she is allergic to everything. Her house has to be kept a sterile, few people are allowed in, and all she knows of the world is what she read or what she watches.

One of the things she watches is the house next door and the new family, including a boy, Olly, her age. A friendship develops, and maybe something more, as Maddy has to decide what her future will be and whether she will always be afraid of the world.

The Good: Maddy's father and brother died while she was still an infant, before her illness was diagnosed. For years, it's only been her mother, a doctor, and a nurse who also her friend and confidant.

Olly. Olly is a fresh breath and their relationship is slow and sweet (though Olly would probably hate that!). It begins with handwritten signs and progresses to texts and emails until Maddy begs her nurse to please, please, please let Olly visit her. He'll follow all the rules, they both promise.

One thing leads to another, and Maddy is tempted to do the unthinkable. To kiss Olly. To leave her home. To venture into a world that may kill her.

This is a terrific story of a girl get wrapped up and safe; it's a story of a mother and daughter who are close and loving, whose past tragedies have made them dependent on each other and close. It's a story of a girl who has to take a chance with life and love. It's about whether what is safe is the best; about when it's OK to take a chance. And it's also a book with a diverse main character (half African American, half Japanese American) in a type of book that is usually all white main characters with, at best, diverse side kicks/best friends.

SPOILERS.

It's also about how tragedy can shape a person, both mother and daughter. And how far a mother will go to protect someone she loves, to protect her child. All I'll say is that, Maddy's life is not what she thinks. That secret, that spoiler, meant that some people really did not like the book (see the Disability in Kidlit review). That spoiler didn't change how I viewed the book, it simply shifted it for me -- that the book was not about one thing, but was actually about another.

And that other thing, it's disturbing. It shifts how Maddy sees and interacts with the world. And it also makes one think about what causes hurt and what causes harm.









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

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Review: The Great Greene Heist

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014. Review from library copy.

Great Greene Heist, TheThe Plot: Jackson Green has a reputation for cons and schemes, like his brother and grandfather before him. His father has taken the family talent to work on the side of good. But after getting caught in the principal's office, kissing a girl -- well.

That's all behind him. Eighth grade will be different.

Until he finds out that the Gaby de la Cruz, the girl he likes, is running for school president. And that the election may be rigged -- against her. And that the person running against her may be doing it to get rid of most of the school clubs.

What's a guy to do?

Oh, and the girl he was caught kssing? Wasn't Gaby.

The Good: I love a good con! Movies like Ocean's 11 and TV shows like Leverage , and book series like Heist Society.

The Great Greene Heist is set in middle school, and at it's heart the interests of Jackson and his friends (and enemies) are those of other eighth graders: school elections, clubs, friends, family. It's familiar, in the best possible way.

One thing that makes a good con story, for me, at least, is that the people pulling off the con are on the side of good. Or, at least, against the bad. Here, Jackson wants Gaby to win the election and it's pretty clear from page one that a, Gaby is the better person, and b, forces are against her to manipulate her opponent winning.

Also, while Jackson has a well-earned reputation, it's also -- well, things done for the greater good. Things done because they are fun. And it's not about cheating - even though the accusation is made. I say that not as a spoiler, but because to me, it matters whether or not Jackson's cons are things like cheating on tests or engaging in illegal acts. Often, it's just about doing things because they are fun, or because it's a clever puzzle, or because Jackson is the type who thinks a few steps ahead of those around him.

Other things that are good: while this is Jackson's story, it's also about an ensemble. He gathers a group of friends around him to pull of his latest caper, and they're a diverse bunch of kids. It's a reflection of the real-life classrooms of the kids who will be reading, and loving, this book.

And yes, it's a Favorite Book Read in 2015.


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

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Review: The Kiss of Deception

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles) by Mary E. Pearson. Henry Holt & Co. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

The Kiss of DeceptionThe Plot: Princess Lia runs away from an arranged political marriage.

She finds a small village to live in, finds a job and a place to live, and embraces her non-royal life.

Two men are following her: one, the jilted prince. The other, an assassin.

The Good: I'm sorry to say that I read this over a year ago, should have blogged it then, but didn't. But I loved it so much I didn't want to just say "oh, too late now."

Lia does something selfish, by running away and abandoning her obligations to family and country. But so what? Seriously. Lia isn't asking for much -- she has no say in her future, her spouse, no choice at all. All her choices have been taken away from her. So she runs. So she needs time to figure out who she is and what she wants. She needs time.

Meanwhile, there are the two following her: one, a prince who is upset about her leaving and who recognizes that the marriage is of political necessity. The other, an assassin loyal to his own and whose job is to make sure that political marriage doesn't happen. Here's the thing: while the reader knows one is a prince, one is an assassin, the reader doesn't know which of the young men we're reading about is which.

Is Lia falling for a prince or her killer? Is the prince or the assassin falling for her? I kept on going back and forth with my guess.

What else does this have? Twists! Adventures! Turns! Questions! Cliffhangers! Romance! Secrets! Betrayals! Death!

And yes..this means it's a Favorite Book of 2015.






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

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. Penguin. 2015. Reviewed from audiobook borrowed from library. Narrated by Ariana Delawari.


The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée AhdiehThe Plot: A retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. Shahrzad is a young woman whose best friend, Shiva, was the latest bride, and victim, of Khalid, Caliph of Khorasan.

Khalid marries a young woman -- and the next day she is killed. And he moves on to marry another. And another dies.

Shahrzad's best friend was one of those brides. Her murder devastated the family. Shahrzad is determined to find out what happened to her friend, and why. So she does the unthinkable: she volunteers as bride.

And begins a desperate plan to survive, telling a story each night, to be continued only if she is allowed to live.

The Good: OK, so you know the general basics of A Thousand and One Nights, both the story of the storyteller and also the stories she tell.

I loved The Wrath and the Dawn, and was also very frustrated with it.

I've been reading a lot of regency romances and many of them are about marriages of convenience. And on one delightful, romantic level, that is what The Wrath and the Dawn is about, a young couple who don't know each other who find themselves falling in love with each other. This part of the story gave me all the feelings. Shahrzad has a childhood sweetheart, Tariq. Khalid has had many, many, wives -- and it turns out that he has also had a pretty terrible childhood with an emotionally abusive father. (More on that later). Yet despite her heart belonging to another, and his emotional walls, they find themselves falling in love with each other.

Before I go further, one of the things I really liked about this romance is that at the start Shahrzad is in love with someone else, a boy she's loved since was a young girl. And he loves her. This is a complex look at emotions, at growing up, at changing, at loving more than one person. It isn't a "love triangle," it's about how love isn't simple.

The Wrath and the Dawn is set in the far past, but it's not exactly clear when. It also is a fantasy, but it's not obvious, not at first. As the book goes on, it seems like some people have some magic; that magic exists; that curses may be real; but even by the end of the book, it's not strong magic, if that makes sense. It's magical potential, still being explored.

It wasn't until I was almost done with The Wrath and the Dawn that I realized it's not a standalone book. There's a sequel coming, next May.

And now to my frustrations -- and it has to do with all those dead wives. So we now entering spoiler town. Stop, now, if you are sensitive about spoilers and prefer to discover a book by yourself.

Those dead wives, all young girls, bothered me a lot. They are the reason Shahrzad has thrown herself into danger, without much of any plan. We see how Shiva's death devastated family and friends; we here of riots because of the endless deaths. But here is the thing: deaths. No, murders. Deliberate killings. The "reason" given is a curse placed about Khalid.

BUT. BUT. As I read, I felt very little sympathy for the dead from Khalid and those around him; I felt as if the soldiers surrounding Khalid who knew about the curse felt that the payment of murdered girls was somehow acceptable. Basically, "kill the girls are something terrible will happen" and the response was "oh, OK, but our biggest worry is how will Khalid bear the burden of those dead girls?"

No, the biggest worry should be those girls, individually and collectively.

About half way through my rage about those girls was such that I wished to know more about them as individuals and thought, oh, if only Khalid and the others saw them as people, as real, then, well. That would change things. And then I found out that Khalid did see them, know them, that way, and yet the killings went on and I didn't feel any better, my disgust wasn't lessened, to know that Khalid mourned them individually and felt really, really, really, really bad about it.

Then, after that, I fantasized about the revenge I wished upon those who supported the killings, who helped the deaths take place. Except then I found out that the curse itself was the revenge for a death, and I saw how revenge killing isn't an answer.

And I liked this about The Wrath and the Dawn, that what I wanted to happen was shown to not be an answer.

But.

What is the answer? These girls are dead, and by the end of this book while I saw forgiveness in Shahrzad, while I saw that revenge and feeling really bad weren't answers, I wasn't given any answers. I loved this book so much it's a Favorite Book Read in 2015, and I'll eagerly read the sequel. But I'll be doing so wanting to know not just what happens next for the characters and the plot, but wondering whether it's possible in world created here for these young women to have any type of justice. I fear this world is so patriarchal that the reality of that world is that of no justice. I fear that class matters so much that the importance of the male ruler over non-royal women means that there can be no justice for them.

I wonder if forgiveness means there can be no justice.





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

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Review: Read Between the Lines

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles. Candlewick Press. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

Read Between the LinesThe Plot: Ten chapters takes us to one day in the life of a high school, told through voices of past and present students and one teacher.

In each, a raised middle finger is part of the story. It gives power to the person giving someone the finger; it hurts the person who it's aimed at.

And in each, we see how a person looks at others and judges them; or how they look at themselves.

OK for those who want more of a plot: a group of boys think it's smart and clever to fake car accidents to get people to give them cash instead of calling the police -- until it backfires.

The Good; I love this type of book! I love that each chapter is told by someone different, and it's their own story, and that the thread connecting them is sometimes obvious and strong, and other times takes a bit to figure out.

And I love that there are ten chapters; one for each finger.

I love that a bullied boy becomes empowered by his broken finger that means he is constantly giving the finger; but before we embrace the idea that hey, it's not so bad, a girl is disturbed and upset when an angry man gives her the finger. The finger means rage, anger, hatred, rebellion. It's like a word: context matters.

I love that sometimes someone is viewed as a bully and then it turns out they have their own inner demons or frustrations that others don't see. If there were a moral to this story, it's that everyone is fighting their own internal battles, and be a bit less quick to judge.

Also, if your teenage son has a lot of spending money and his old car keeps getting dinged and battered, you may want to ask a few questions.

A Favorite Book for 2015.

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Review: The Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

Boy-in-the-black-suit-9781442459502_hr
The Plot: Everything has been different since Matt's mom died. It's his senior year of high school, but her loss makes him feel like a stranger. His father isn't coping.

Matt's done well in school, so he has half-days. He was supposed to do a work-study program, but, well, with his mom dying he wasn't in school so he lost his place. Still, he needs a job to fill up his time and to earn money to help his dad out.

At first when his neighbor Mr. Ray offers a job in his funeral home, Matt thinks "no way." He finds a strange sort of comfort in seeing the sorrow of others. Then he meets Lovey, who has lost her mother and now her grandmother, and it makes him rethink how he's been living, and how he's been grieving.

The Good: What is so frustrating about The Boy in the Black Suit is it sounds like a dead parent book. And, I guess, it is. Matt's mom has just died, and he that loss, her loss, is shattering, and part of this book is how he lives through that. But it's so much more than that, including funny and romantic.

Matt is an only child, and his parents were very much still in love, and his father takes his wife's loss badly. He starts drinking and ends up in the hospital, leaving Matt alone. Matt isn't really alone: there is his best friend, Chris, who proves to be a good friend by not treating Matt any different. And there is Mr. Ray, who Matt thought of as the old guy neighbor and who now becomes a mentor. And then there is Lovey....

I don't want to say Matt is happy when he sees others cry and break at a loved one's funeral. Instead, it makes him feel less alone in his own loss. It's cathartic. And Mr. Ray understands; he's had his own losses. Matt's dad and Mr. Ray show Matt ways of grieving, and then Lovey shows him another -- a way that mourns while celebrating. Matt falls for Lovey, but also sees another way forward.

Also good: The Boy in the Black Suit is set in Brooklyn, and there's a mix of people, from Matt's family and their brownstone to Chris's family in an apartment building. Matt describes his family as "I went from a not-so-fancy version of the Cosbys to a one-man family." Chris is being raised by a single mother; Lovey, by her grandmother. It's a variety of people and backgrounds, all in one same neighborhood.

Chris's mother is dead before the book begins, but her spirit and love is on every page. One thing his mom had done (even before she knew she had cancer) was to create a notebook of recipes, which she called "The Secret of Getting Girls, for Matty." It's partly a family joke, that girls like guys who cook. And it's partly her love for her son. And it's partly her saying Matty, yes, you need to know how to cook, for you. This notebook is lurking around, and part of the sweetness of this book is how Matt moves from living off fast food and take out, even though he knows how to cook and his this book, to being able to open the notebook without his heart breaking.



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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Razorbill. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.


An Ember in the Ashes
The Plot: It's been 500 years since the Martials defeated the Scholars. At various times Rebellion has been threatened, but the Martials always destroy it.

Laia, 17, is a Scholar. The once studious and education people are now banned from anything hinting at learning. Laia lives with her older brother, Darin, and her grandparents, until the night their home is raided by the Martials and their terrible agents, the silver-faced Masks. Her grandparents are killed, Darin is arrested, and Laia flees into the night.

She stumbles upon rebels who agree to help her free her brother, for a price. Go into the heart of the Martial training ground and spy on their Commandment. To do so, she'll have to pretend to be a slave. But for Darin, she'll do it.

Elias, twenty, is a Martial who has been trained to be a Mask since the age of six. Except he has a secret, kept hidden and deep. He hates the death and torture and violence of what he his, of what he is trained to do. He doesn't want his face to be forever silver. He dreams of escape, even though it will dishonor his Grandfather, but anyone caught running away is brutally executed. As each day goes by, he finds himself increasingly bound to the Martials and to his friends and wondering if the only escape is death.

The Good: Read this book. Now. The only down side of reading this book ASAP is that the sequel is out next summer, and you're going to have to wait that long to find out what happens next.

Read this book. It is a wonderfully complex setting, influenced by the Roman Empire and other ancient cultures. Sometimes a cultural setting such as the one in An Ember in the Ashes either downplays or ignores the consequences and reality of its setting. This book does not do that; it is a brutal, violent world and both Laia and Elias have been shaped and formed by that brutality. (For those who wonder about the violence on the page, I'll put it this way. A book can describe a death in a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter -- this book goes for the sentence or two. Does it lessen the horror of that death? No, it doesn't drag it on for pages and pages.)

Laia masquerades as a slave, but, no, that's wrong. While Laia is spying, she is actually a slave and all that implies. She is owned by the Commandment, who can do anything she wants to the slaves she owns. Laia is beaten and whipped; her name is taken from her. Other slaves have been scarred, branded, mutilated. The possibility of sexual assault and rape is real. So she has to survive both the change in status from free to slave but also figuring out how to be a spy for the rebellion.

Elias has been trained since the age of six to become a Mask, like his mother and grandfather before him. (His mother is the Commandment.) He has seen children whipped to death; he has been beaten; he has killed. He has followed orders. He has become one of the top soldiers. And he hates it. One of the things I love about An Ember in the Ashes is that while it's easy to hate the Martial class and all that Elias is and represents, the reader can't help but like Elias and root for him. To like his friends and understand his loyalties.

If you're wondering, because there is a girl and a boy and it's a young adult book, whether there is a romance -- well, yes and no. Again, complexity! While Elias may look at Laia and see a pretty girl, Laia looks at Elias and sees a dangerous soldier. Elias also is the type who sees Laia as a pretty girl who is a slave so is someone who for that reason shouldn't be touched (not a sentiment towards slaves shared by others.) There's a young man who is a rebel who Laia begins to have feelings for, and Elias has feelings towards another soldier, a young woman, and he's trying to deny them. So this is more a rectangle than anything else, and very realistically done given the different positions of power people have.

The Martial Empire is HORRIBLE. I wouldn't want to live there. But, again with reasons I like this -- when Laia learns more about the history of the Scholars, she realizes that her history and society is more complex than good/bad, vanquished/conquered. Elias looks around him and doesn't like how the Empire treats people, and he may be alone in this. It's hard to tell, because to confess such things would to betrayal, punishment, torture, death. His friends, though, are also likable, though part of this may be that we only see them in a context where they aren't arresting and killing and torturing, though we know that is what they have been trained to do. And truth be told while the ways of his training are harsh and I'm running out of words that mean "brutal," it's also realistic in terms of what is needed to create the perfect killing machine -- and that appears to be the sole aim of Elias's training and schooling.

The ending -- the ending!!! Don't worry, it's a great ending for a first book in the series in that it both works well as an ending for this book but there is also a great lead in to what will happen in the next book. I don't feel cheated or frustrated; I just feel MORE MORE MORE.

And the plot is so great that I don't want to say a word about it.

One more thing. The women in this story! Of course, there is Laia, who will do anything to save her brother but has been fairly sheltered up to this point. Poor, sometimes hungry, but always loved and protected by her family. Her strength is in her ability to survive, to love, to do what it takes.

Then there is Helene. Female soldiers are only accepted once in a generation, and so she is not just the sole female in her class, she's the sole female in her school. She has to be twice as good, ignore twice as much, as those around her. The friendship between Elias and Hel is one of equality and respect.

And Elias's mother, the Commandant. She was the female soldier of her generation. And as the head of the school that trains and forms soldiers, she is the one that every student fears. She is the one every slave fears. And with good reason: punishments, torture, and death all take place at her whim.

There is the Lioness, a legendary head of the Rebellion, brilliant but ruthless and willing to sacrifice anything for her cause.

And there are Laia's fellow slaves, Kitchen Girl and Cook, who have survived years in the Commandant's house, watching other slaves come and go. (And by "go" I mean die, whether at their own hand or the result of the Commandant's brutality.) There is more to each of them . . . .

One more thing. With this book there is always one more thing. I recognized the ancient Rome references in names and family structure; Tahir's guest post at the Perpetual Page-Turner goes into that research, as well as the research needed for everything from weaponry to the names of the other nations and groups in the book.

ARGH. I want to revisit this world, even though I was so worried about Laia that at times I could read no more than a few chapters at a time. My heart just couldn't take it.

OF COURSE this is a Favorite Book of 2015.










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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Kissing Ted Callahan

Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding. Poppy. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)The Plot: Riley and Reid walk in on our their band mates Lucy and Nathan -- to their surprise, Lucy and Nathan are together. Together-together.

Riley is stunned, especially because Lucy is her best friend and Lucy never said a word. Riley and Reid both resolve to pursue love (and kissing and maybe even sex), and to share each detail, and to help each other out.

The top of Riley's list is her crush, Ted Callahan; Reid's is Jane.

How successful is their plan? Well, there will be kissing. Of Ted Callahan, and other guys.

The Good: This is primarily Riley's story, but because Riley and Reid share notes and progress reports and suggestions in a Passenger Manifest journal, and part of that is written by Reid, it's both their stories.

Kissing Ted Callahan is about Riley shaking herself into action. Oh, she's hardly passive. Her goal is rock star, so her time has been taken up with the band. And her best friend is Lucy, and she's friends with Reid and Nathan, but she's been satisfied, kind of, with that.

Riley isn't satisfied anymore. And confiding in Reid, instead of her usual Lucy, helps push her to do things like offer Ted Callahan a ride home. Or kiss Garrick. Or call the number of the cute boy she met at the CD store. Riley goes from zero love interests to three. Kissing Ted Callahan is about Riley (and Reid) navigating teen age dating, figuring out the difference between like and love and lust and love, wondering just what is right to tell someone if there isn't any real commitment yet.

Reid's story in some ways mirrors Riley's The first girl he pursues turns out to already have a boyfriend, and Riley doesn't really make the connection to her own situation. The next girl is -- well, it's a bit funny, because Reid makes a list of potential girls. Ones who talk to him, ones he likes, who has potential? Unlike Riley, he's not acting on a crush. It's more that he wants someone, and there is something very sweet and likable in how he keeps himself open to any possibility rather than requiring a crush first. It's also very honorable that he pursues a girl he likes being with, ignoring that his friends don't really like her.

At one point, rather late in the story, their Passenger Manifest goes missing and Riley and Reid have to deal with the consequences. For Riley, that ends up being the consequences of not having conversations and not talking. Kissing and sex may create a connection but it doesn't replace talking. Yes, there is a sex scene,  butwhile Riley may be kissing three boys there is only one that she really likes. No, I won't say who.

What's nice about the emphasis on communication is that it is clear from the beginning that Riley's failure at spoken honesty, and desire to not confront, isn't something that just happens with boys. Remember Lucy? Part of what drives the whole book is Riley's continuing inability to talk with her best friend, Lucy. Part of Riley's growth is realizing she has to have the tough conversations, whether it's about the status of a friendship or of a relationship.

I also like how this explores attraction and relationships (both friendship and more), and that Riley (and Tom and Garrick and Milo) is not just about who she is dating or kissing but is about creating real friendships and how those friendships are made. Lucy, Riley, and Reid have known each other since kindergarten and those types of friendships sometimes means someone has a hard time making new friends -- they don't have the skills. Riley is developing those skills, though admittedly mainly because she is seeking a boy. And mainly because she assumes that Lucy's changed relationship with Nathan means that Lucy's friendship with Riley is different.

Finally! It's also about a band, and I loved how being part of the band is used for the story, from being what ties Riley and her friends together, to her passions and interests, and also the time it takes outside of school. Their dedication is clear.

One final thing: this may be a spoiler, so stop reading if any type of spoiler bothers you. This is not the type of book where Riley looks at her good friend Reid and sees him in a different light while he has an unrequited crush. This is about two people who are friends, whose friendship grows stronger but whose friendship remains a friendship.




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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove)

A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove) by Tessa Dare. Avon. 2011. And sequels. Library copies.



The Plot: 1813, England. Victor Bramwell is a lieutenant colonel in the army, and he's been wounded, and all he cares about is getting back into the army. So he'll do anything to prove that he is fit to return.

The Plot: 1813, England. Victor Bramwell is a lieutenant colonel in the army, and he's been wounded, and all he cares about is getting back into the army. So he'll do anything to prove that he is fit to return to service.

Susanna Finch lives in Spindle Cove, along with her father. Spindle Cove has earned itself the nickname Spinster Cove, because it's so well known as a bit of a dumping ground for ladies who don't fit into society. It's full of spinsters, ha ha ha.

And Susanna wants to keep Spindle Cove that way. She doesn't want people to know the truth about Spindle Cove: it's not a last resort. It's the best resort; a place where women who don't fit into society, or have been excluded, find a home and acceptance.

Bram's mission to start a local militia is going to be tough -- even more difficult because, well, Spindle Cove is full of women. Not military service ready men. Will Susanna be able to get rid of Bram and his soldiers in time to save Spindle Cove?

The Good: Spindle Cove! The shy and the introverted, but also the outspoken. The brainy. They are welcome and embraced and accepted at Spindle Cove -- at least, for now. A Night to Surrender is the first in a series, each about a different woman of Spindle Cove. Each there for a different reason. And, because of these reasons, it means the heroines of the series are each pretty unique, and independent. And it means that the heroes are those who value the unique. Spindle Cove is about women learning to be themselves, to be confident, and finding men who prize that. It's a feminist series, set in a time that isn't very feminist. The combinations are also interesting, because what matters are who the people are not what they are. Examples: a beautiful young woman and the local blacksmith. A Duke and a serving girl from a pub.

Spindle Cove is also very funny. I confess, I didn't see it as much in A Night to Surrender, but the second, A Week to Be Wicked, had me laughing out loud. And after that, I saw a lot to laugh about.

Also: hot and spicy!

While Spindle Cove is about a safe place, it doesn't hide that the world itself can be harsh. There is a reason, after all, why a refuge like Spinster Cove is needed. The backstory in A Lady by Midnight shows what happens to a young woman without resources or family, who has no options, but who still has to live and to provide for her child.

I have really enjoyed this series; so far there are four books and two novellas, with another novella this December and a new book next year. One nice thing about my recent romance reading is finding series like these, in which there are plenty of books in the series so I can power read one right after another.




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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: Infandous

Infandous by Elana K. Arnold. Carolrhoda LAB. 2015. Review from ARC.


The Plot: It's the summer before senior year, and Sephora Golding is 17. She lives in a one bedroom apartment with her mother, still model beautiful, and young -- only 35.

Seph is figuring out her way to adulthood. She's going to summer school because she failed geometry. She's considering her well off aunt's offer to move across the country for her final year of school. She's working on her art, and has a few pieces around Venice Beach. She's resisting her mother's suggestion that she get a part time job. And she's trying not to think about Felix, the older man she met earlier this year --

Felix. Who she is trying not to think about. Older, handsome, and it was her choice to spend the night with him....

The Good: A terrific book, with so much packed into it.

Sephora is telling us her story, but is also telling us fairy tales and myths, stories of lost girls and terrible things. She is telling us her own story, warning us that in real life fairy tales don't have happy-ever-after endings. She is telling us her own story  . . . . eventually.

Seph's story is of a girl born to a beautiful, single, teen mother who has made her own way in the world. Her own way is this rundown one bedroom apartment, going to night school. But here is one of the great things about Infandous: yes, it's the story of a girl with a beautiful mother. And a family that is living paycheck to paycheck. And it's also the story of a parent and child who love each other very much. There is no jealousy or hatred. And Seph doesn't complain, isn't bitter about where they live or how they make do.

But Seph is trying to figure out herself, her sexuality, her desire, and the person she has to measure herself against is a beautiful mother who still turns heads. And while she loves her aunt and her cousins, she sees what they have and thinks about how, when her mother was pregnant and unwed and disowned by her parents, her aunt picked her parents and didn't fight for her sister or her sister's child.

And meeting Felix -- meeting Felix was a chance for Seph to try out a different persona. So she said her name was Annie and that she was nineteen and a college student, adding years to her age. And she went to bed with him, willing and eager. "No one held a knife to my rib cage," she assures us. "I put myself in that room." And at the time, she thinks how different it is with Felix than with the other boys she'd been with, that there was warmth, that "I was a flower and I opened, I softened, and I ripened and warmed. I felt, I thought, like a woman rather than a girl, and as he found his way inside me, I wondered -- fleetingly -- if this was what sex was like for my mother." But now, with distance and knowledge, she is cold. And wonders about fault.

Seph is figuring out her life, and her friendships, and her own needs and feelings. Things happen, in life, like in fairy tales -- and you can decide what to do with that, with what happens to you. A person can be damaged, but a person can remain whole. And this perhaps is what I liked best about Infandous: that love cannot save one. And that bad things happen, or people do bad things, but one can still have that love that while it doesn't save, it keeps one whole.









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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Flashback January 2012

I enjoyed doing Flashbacks to what I reviewed in the past, but I got out of the habit, unfortunately.

So, now I'm playing a bit of catch-up. So, I'm concentrating on recaps of what I reviewed two or more years ago.

Here is January 2012!



January 2012


Finding Somewhere by Joseph Monninger. My review. "two teenage girls go on a road trip, and there is no text or subtext that this is something dangerous that girls shouldn’t do; that the girls need to do x, y, or z to ward off dangers, as if it’s the responsibility of the girls not to be victims. When I got to the end of Finding Somewhere and realized this — that Hattie and Delores are not victims, are never victims, are not victimized to make a point or to show their power, I was overjoyed. It may be silly to be happy about what a book is not, but there it is — this is about two girls who are strong and funny and beautiful. And they are that way from start to finish."

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell. My review: "After reading Strings Attached, you’re going to want to some of the great films from the late 40s and early 50s. Blundell recreates that New York world, so well you think you can open a door and step into it. It’s in the little details, of the clothes, the food, the hair. Kit manages to be of her time, but also “modern” enough to be identifiable to the modern reader. She has a dream, she’s chasing that dream, but she also loves a boy. As for the dream chasing, it’s not like she’s doing something unthinkable at the time; many young women went to New York with similar dreams of fame and success."

Across the Universe by Beth Revis. My review: "the ship Godspeed is a world of its own, both as a physical place and as an entirely new culture. While Amy, her parents, and others are sleeping through centuries of travel, others take care of the ship and prepare for the colonization. Amy awakens into this world, a world radically different from the world she (or the reader) knows. She is alone, awake fifty years before she should. It turns out, she cannot be refrozen: instead of waking up with her parents, she will wait, alone, and when they wake she will be older than her parents. Both her mother and father are needed for when the the ship arrives at the planet, so neither can be unfrozen now. Ironically, Amy did not have to go with her parents; she could have stayed back on Earth with family. Instead, she gave up her life as she knew it to stay with her family. Now, Amy doesn’t have them. She is alone; and only Elder offers friendship and understanding."

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. My review: "At the beginning of Lupita’s freshman year at high school, her mother is diagnosed with cancer. Mami has always been the one who held their large family together. Lupita, as the oldest, has always been responsible. Now even more falls on her shoulders. Like the mesquite, Lupita will survive and grow stronger."

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn. My review: "Cooking! Flinn, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu, sees a woman in the foodstore stocking up on preprocessed and frozen meals and convinces her to try a few easy, simple substitutes. This leads her to wondering people don’t cook more and why they rely on prepackaged food; Flinn then puts together a group of people who don’t cook, for various reasons, and conducts a series of lessons starting with the right way to use a knife. Will they be transformed into fearless home cooks? Will the reader be?"

StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce. My review: "Digger/Celyn is fascinating; a girl who has taken care of herself by being a pickpocket and thief. A girl who hides many things: who she was before she became a thief. Who she is now. Digger has only two loyalties: to Tegen, her partner, who died in that ill fated robbery; and to herself. She is smart, she is talented, she takes care of herself. Meeting up with Meri and her family changes that. Meri, four years younger than Digger, is so trusting, so nice, so sweet. Meri’s family, too, accepts Digger. No; they accept Celyn, and her story of running away from a convent. That should have been a clue, that Meri’s family was willing to take in a runaway from the religious faction controlling the country. I have always had a soft spot for stories about thieves, especially those who turn out to have a heart of gold. Bonus points when the thief happens to be a girl."

The Name of the Star (The Shades of London) by Maureen Johnson. My review: "Rory Deveaux is spending her senior year at Wexford, a boarding school in London. Meeting new people, figuring out a new school system, being in London instead of a small town in Louisiana, should be amazing.  And it is — except for the murders. Murders that are mimicking the infamous 1888 Jack the Ripper murders. Rory and her fellow students try to get on with life and school; all that changes when Rory sees someone suspicious by the school, someone the police think may be their Prime Suspect. Someone only Rory saw. Is Rory at risk?"

Froi of the Exiles: The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta. My review: "The Lumatere Chronicles (Finnikin is the first book, Froi the second): a rich, fully detailed fantasy series where war and elite power games have left scars on both the land and the people. For fans of Megan Turner Whalen. Also, given the ages of the main characters (late teens), these fall into “crossover” territory: bookstores and libraries would serve their readers by putting this in both the YA and adult sections."




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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: Audacity

Audacity by Melanie Crowder. Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

AudacityThe Plot: 1903, Russia. Clara Lemlich is a young teenager, yearning for education, for the words and knowledge on the page, for what they can bring. She dreams of more. Perhaps she could go on to school or university, but those are dreams beyond the possible for a young Jewish girl.

Over the next six years, her life changes in ways she couldn't imagine. A violent pogrom pushes her family to take the long journey to America, and when she hears that education in free she dares to hope for herself. Those hopes are too big: she is from a religious family where the men are scholars and the women work, and so Clara finds herself working in the New York garment trade, in a sweatshop.

Clara's own experiences as a girl told what to do and what to think, combined with the abuses and injustices she sees at the sweatshop, combine to forge a woman who demands change for herself and others.

The Good: This novel in verse is stunning and spectacular, based on the life of the real Clara Lemlich.

I like historical fiction that shares a story I didn't know; and while I was vaguely familiar with the story of the unions in early twentieth century New York, this gave a new and fresh perspective. The story of a young woman who worked in the sweatshops and knew that she and her co-workers deserved better. She knew that being women, being teenagers and young women, being immigrants, speaking English poorly or not at all, were not reasons to treat those women poorly -- to force them to work seven days a week, ten hours a day, with no breaks for the toilet, in unsafe conditions, with clocks manipulated to over-work them, to subject them to sexual harassment and unwanted touching.

And that shows the second thing I like about historical fiction: yes, it shows us a specific time and place in the past but it also tells us something about the present. It's a reminder that the protections in place for employees are not something that happened because employers were generous and kind; it did not happen because individual employees successfully argued for and negotiated terms and benefits for themselves. It happened because of unions; and it happened because people stood together, even at great personal sacrifice.

The back matter in Audacity reminds people that the abuses lived by Clara and others are still being lived by workers. It may also help readers to look at today's news and reports on labor and the workplace and benefits and working conditions, and wonder, what do I want my workplace to be like? What can be done to make that happen?

One last thing: I really liked how Audacity worked as an story in verse. Telling a story in the past requires details and world-building, and I was particularly impressed that Audacity showed me life in a shtetl, in a New York City tenement, in a workhouse, all with just enough words.

Oh, two more things. First, after reading Audacity (which is the story leading up to the 1909 Uprising of the 20,00 strike), read Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin (my review), which is the story of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

Second, this is a Favorite Book of 2015. And I really hope I see it on a lot of best lists.




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