Thursday, March 28, 2019

Review: The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mystery, told to us by Mason Buttle. The mystery is about Mason's friend, Benny, who died just over a year ago.

Mason tells the story. He can tell a story but he's not that good at actually reading or writing. What becomes clear to the reader is that Mason has a lot going on, and has lost a lot the last few years. His mother died, his best friend died; his uncle sold a lot of the family apple orchard, so they have less property and aren't working the property they have; the house is falling down around Mason, his grandmother, his uncle, and the young woman his uncle has invited into their home.

Mason is goodhearted -- almost too kind, because he doesn't quite comprehend that the boys at school who bully him are pretty terrible and are being horrible to him. It was painful to read Mason not realize this -- and painful when Mason finally realized just how terrible they are.

That, though, was balanced by the good: Mason's joy at finding a new friend. A supportive teacher at school. And his family coming together, getting out of their joint depression, in a realistic and hopeful way.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Review: The Parker Inheritance

The Parker Inheritance The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


So much to say!

The kid-me would have loved this. And the adult-me also loves it. Bonus: I listened to it, and Cherise Boothe did an outstanding job with the different voices.

Plot in a nutshell: Candace and her mother are staying at her grandmother's house in Lambert, South Carolina, while her father gets their family home in Atlanta ready for sale. Her parents have split up; her grandmother died; and now Candace has to spend the summer away from her friends. Oh, and Candace's grandmother was the one-time city manager of Lambert -- a job she left in disgrace when a letter promising buried treasure led her to dig up a city park.

Candace discovers that letter in a box of her grandmother's and realizes her grandmother wasn't totally wrong. There is a treasure to be found. And Candace, along with her new friend and neighbor, Brandon, are just the two to figure it out. Candace loves games; Brandon loves books like The Westing Game; and combined, the two are unstoppable.

About that letter: it references a dark chapter in Lambert's history, when an African American family was violently driven from the town: high school coach Enoch Washington, his wife, and their daughter, Siobhan. The letter writer wants the town to remember the family, remember what happened, name those responsible. The prize? Millions -- some to go to the town, to help it, and some to the people who figure it. Candace hopes that if she solves this, not only will she get the money to save her house, but she'll also redeem her grandmother's legacy.

Why I loved this: a treasure! To hunt for! I adored books where a kid's family inherited a house and discovered a mystery and a treasure. The sad realization that, all things considered, I had no mysterious rich relatives who were going to die and leave me a mansion with secrets.

There is no mansion with secrets; instead, there is a whole town. The secrets are the hiding in plain sight ones: racism, and the different ways it impacts different generations. Secrets because people are afraid to tell them, but also because they can be too painful to tell.

The book jumps around in time: as Candace and Brandon learn more about the Washingtons in the present, the book jumps back to tell more about them, sometimes sharing details that Candace and Brandon are unaware of. It's a great way for the mystery to be revealed.

Fun fact: Candace mispronounces Siobhan's name at first. I know, Candace. I have a relative with this name, and man, the way it was mispronounced from just reading it in a letter.

One final point: I've never read The Westing Game. I know! I hope to correct this soon.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Review: The Book of Boy

The Book of Boy The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Link to Amazon.
. My rating: 5 of 5 stars

France. 1350. A manor. A young boy, simply named Boy, with no family; those who protected him, those who looked after them, are gone. A stranger comes, a pilgrim visiting holy places and holy relics. He needs help and takes the young boy with him on a journey to find Rib, Tooth, Thumb, Toe, Dust, Skull, Tomb, that will bring them all the way to the once great city of Rome.

Historical fiction set in medieval times? Yes, please.

Fiction that treats the world view of the people of the time as true? Yes, please.

Secundus, the pilgrim, has lost his wife and son and is convinced that if he finds the relics of Saint Peter -- the parts of the saint's body that are scattered across Europe and venerated by Christians -- and brings them all together at the saint's tomb, reuniting the body, that then his wish, his desire, his prayer to once again see his wife Flavia and son Lucius will be granted.

Boy at first goes along because the Cook at the manor tells him to (and because she has a prayer of her own) and also because he has his own desire: to be rid of the hump on his back, the reason he is mocked and bullied, the reason he isn't like the others. All he wants is to be a real boy, like the others around him.

Boy tells the story, and he has been raised at a manor by a small village with little knowledge of the outside world. He has been raised by a priest so has a strong view of what is right and wrong. His adventure takes him away, and introduces him to the concept of grey as he realizes that Secundus will lie, cheat, and steal to get the items on his list.

Boy's story also reveals to himself the truth of his origins, the truth of who he is --a truth that many readers will pick up before Boy, because of what Boy tells them.

This story has fantastical elements. Boy can can also hear the thoughts of animals, and they hear his. Saints, and their relics, are real: Boy touches them and they are warm. Secundus touches them and he burns -- one of the reasons he needs Boy's help.

I loved the adventure, the details of the world of 1350 (the wolves of Rome!), that Saint Peter is real, and the reveal of who Boy is. I also liked how while there was danger and violence, there was also kindness and hope. A good mix of the world as it is and the world as one would hope it would be.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Review: Treasured Grace

Treasured Grace Treasured Grace by Tracie Peterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this because I wondered just what a Christian romance with a background of the Whitman Massacre would be like.

Grace, mid 20s, lost her husband on the Oregon Trail; she and her younger sisters are staying at the Whitman Mission while they try to connect with an uncle and figure their next move.

There were some good and interesting parts; and one could argue that the the attitudes towards Native Americans were historically accurate, pulled from diaries and such of the time. But I didn't want to read about how they were smelly and rude and they should accept Manifest Destiny and Christianity etc etc.

Also a romance against a measles epidemic, as well as the massacre and the aftermath. That's rough.

Spoiler warning:  The massacre included the rape of several of the teen girls. I didn't know about that aspect until I read this book, and again, that being in what is a romance was unsettling. It wasn't graphic, so there's that. And then, even worse: the main character's younger sister gets pregnant, so there's a whole thing about now this is God's gift because she can give the baby to an infertile missionary couple.

This may work for others. And I confess to being curious about book two, that will explore the middle sister's story.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Review: Sadie

Sadie Sadie by Courtney Summers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to this on audio and wow! No wonder it is the 2019 Odyssey Award Winner.

Sadie's younger sister was murdered; and now Sadie is missing. Sadie tells her story; as does the podcaster who, several months later, is trying to find her. I love stories like this! We know Sadies' point of view, and why and what she does; but we also see how others see her. How Sadie sees herself, how she sees others; how others see themselves.

Is the next door neighbor a warm and loving surrogate grandmother? Or is she manipulative who refuses to see the damage she inflicts on others? The answer is: both.

Is Sadie's mother a selfish and destructive drunk? Or is she a teenage mother with little resources or support who is an addict who does her best, even though her best isn't that good?

Some things are clear and without doubt. A boyfriend of Sadie's mother sexually abused Sadie as a child; and now Sadie is hell bent on finding, and killing, that man. That is why Sadie ran away. We know because she told us; the podcaster has no idea as he goes after leads.

I'll admit: one reason I don't like the neighbor, and had some sympathy for Sadie's mother, is that the neighbor saw that boyfriend as Mr. Wonderful, and the mother breaking up with him as yet another example of the mother being a terrible woman. When, in fact, it was one of the few good things the woman did.

Part of the tension of the story is that we follow Sadie's increasingly dangerous journey in looking for the exboyfriend and the podcasters several months later, with Sadie's fate unknown.

One reason this worked so well in audio is that the producers not only made this a multicast production with various voice actors; they saw it was about a podcasting and made those sections of the book an actual podcast.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Review: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read Shirley Jackson (the short stories about her children and We Have Always Lived In the Castle are particular favorites) but I had never read this.

I watched the 1999 movie; and I just watched the Netflix series. (And the Netflix series is amazing, wonderful, not enough good words.) The Netflix series is not a "faithful" adaptation in terms of plot, but it is in terms of emotion and setting and creating a creepy/scary setting. It inspired me to finally read the book -- and because of my long commute, I elected for the audio version.

The Haunting of Hill House has supernatural happenings, but they are more about how folks react to what happens than they are about gore. It's scary, yes, to have a weird knocking on the door, but what pushes it over is how the folks are reacting to it.

The setup: Dr Montague writes about hauntings, he's heard that Hill House is haunted, so he arranges to spend the summer there and invites those who he believes will be "sensitive" to the haunting/spirits/supernatural. Two accept, Eleanor and Theodora. The owner of the house -- who doesn't live there -- insists a family member is also there, so Luke rounds out the group. Later on, Dr Montague's wife and her friend, Arthur, join them. The housekeeper and groundskeeper take care of the house but don't live there.

Hill House is haunted: the beginning and ending of the book tell us that. And it's Eleanor who tells us the story, Eleanor we become most acquainted with, and Eleanor, we learn from the start, has an active imagination about what is around her and about her own story. She sees a house and imagines she lives there; she answers a question with the life she thinks she wants (or the life she thinks will impress.) Eleanor reacts to Hill House, and the questions are, is the house reaching out to Eleanor? Was it waiting for her, to take her make her a part of it? Or -- is it just a house, with an odd layout, and is Eleanor unreliable? Is she telling us a story? And of course both are possible. Eleanor can be fragile, even before she gets to Hill House, and Hill House can be haunted.

What I didn't expect from the book was humor. For example: Mrs. Montague believes she is the most sensitive to hauntings, yet she doesn't see or sense the actual hauntings. (Or is this more evidence that incidents so far are things that Eleanor either did or exaggerated?)

Mrs. Montague's appearance also shifts how the reader sees her husband. Without her around, he can be the expert, the one who tells people what to do. She supports his investigations, yes, but she doesn't fawn over him. In addition to being funny, it also shifts how the reader sees him. This is another thing Jackson does brilliantly: how people are presented, the little things that are shown and done to shift what you think about them.

There are some dated things in here, which is one of the reason's I'm glad the Netflix series did what it did. It's a small thing, but the book is from 1959 and much is made of Eleanor feeling rebellious by buying two pairs of slacks. (For the record, I'm also annoyed by the "father doesn't let mother wear slacks" moment from another book and another favorite author.) On the one hand, it's good to be reminded what women were up against in 1959 when slacks was so edgy and not the done thing.

I also didn't like how some of the humor was from Mrs. Montague being the "bossy" wife. Even today, it's a bit of a sitcom trope, the great husband whose wife is shrill and henpecks and dismissive, which is both "ha ha at the bossy lady" and "ugh, women." In thinking about this, I've decided that it isn't Jackson's statement about women or wives: it's Eleanor's viewpoint, her interpretation of those dynamics.

Anyway! Recommended.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Review: Small Spaces

Small Spaces Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love horror. Horror for children is tricky -- I've read my fair share that are "meh."

This is the opposite of meh. It is both wonderfully creepy and scary, and also perfect for the intended audience. It doesn't speak down to them; it doesn't go too far; it goes far.

So, Ollie has had a horrible year and is now pretty anti-social, retreating to books. Because of the Horrible Thing, most of the adults around her do their best to give her space. One thing she does is retreat into books, and one of her most recent books, acquired in a bit of a weird way (some lady was going to throw it away and Ollie rescued/stole it), has an odd story from long ago, about a woman, two brothers, and a strange deal with "the smiling man" to return someone from the dead.

The sixth grade goes on a field trip to a local farm. (As a funny aside, it's a working farm that is more tourist attraction than an actual farm -- it makes money from tours, from folks from the city who want to milk a real! live! cow!) Ollie sees coincidences between the farm and the book: descriptions and names. And the owner of the farm? The lady who was trying to get rid of the book.

Ollie is relieved when they all get back on the bus to go home. She's especially glad to get away from the scarecrows -- all the creepy scarecrows.

But then the bus breaks down. And the bus driver gives Ollie a weird warning. And no one's cell phones work. And her broken watch starts working -- except now it's a countdown, with a warning: RUN.

Only Ollie and two others follow that warning. When they get off the bus, they realize that everything looks - wrong. It's wronger than the can imagine.

OK, I don't want to go more without spoilers, but I'll just say: Creepy scarecrows!! Kids who take initiative. But -- in terms of what makes this middle grade, even aside from the ages of the main characters -- it's about family and creating family and returning to family. Ollie's father is amazing (he bakes! he cooks! he's understanding yet not indulgent!). Her mother was pretty special, also (but, spoilers.) It's also about making friends - not romance, but friends.

I also love all the details that create the setting, especially when talking about things the "country kids" like Ollie know (the right clothes to wear in New England in the fall).

Intended audience: with the main characters in 6th grade, I'd recommend this for 3rd to 8th grade. (Yes, not all 8th graders "read up" and want to read YA that is all sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll.) As an adult reader, who has read many a scary book and watched many a scary movie, I suspected the truth about a character or two, but that doesn't take away from the story.

View all my reviews