Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What I Read This Week Part I

What I've Read This Week Part I. . .

Forgiven by Janet S. Fox -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

In this companion to Faithful, 17 year old Kula Baker's Pa, the outlaw Ned Baker, sends her out into the world alone when he discovers a dangerous stranger has been searching their camp for a secret hidden box. Kula first goes to Bozeman, Montana where she works for Mrs. Gale, the kind photographer. Kula is angry at her Pa for not coming with her and starting fresh. She dreams of a fine man to come and marry her and keep her in luxury for the rest of her life. Then Kula's Pa is arrested for a murder Kula is sure he didn't commit. He urges her to go to San Francisco and find the box. Mrs. Gale sends Kula to her sister-in-law Miss Everts in San Francisco. San Francisco in 1906 is a dangerous place and Kula finds herself lost and alone in The Barbary Coast, the most dangerous section in the city. She's rescued by a kind Chinese boy, David Wong. Though it is considered improper for a Chinese man to be seen with a non-Chinese woman, David asks to call on Kula, hoping they will become friends. Knowing what it feels like to be an outsider, Kula agrees. Miss Everts is a bit brusque but she's kind enough. She introduces Kula to high society as an artist's model. Kula realizes that perhaps she can make her own way in the world. However, Miss. Everts has secrets and Kula thinks the woman is died to the dangerous man who framed her father. Kula is also haunted by the faces of the girls she saw in the Barbary Coast. Girls who are exported from China to be slaves for the pleasure of men. Kula finds herself torn between wanting to help and wanting to be accepted into the society to which she dreams of belonging. She's drawn to David but the attractive wealthy young man Will Henderson who is paying her lots of attention. Kula discovers secrets all around her and she wants to put the clues together. She doesn't trust anyone least of all herself. When disaster strikes San Francisco, Kula realizes she will have to trust in order to save those she loves. Once she learns to trust, she can begin to forgive. This is an excellent novel. It's far better than Faithful. Kula is a more interesting character than Maggie. She's more complex but in many ways she's exactly the same. The plot is gripping and I just couldn't put it down. The story is gritty and realistic for the most part and I would not recommend this book for most people under 16. Though the book is a companion to Faithful and takes place a year and a half later, the author is careful not to reveal spoilers from the plot of Faithful. I really liked this book and I think readers of the Luxe novels who can't stand the melodrama will prefer Fox's novels.

Assassin by Anna Meyers -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Bella Gretchel first meets John Wilkes Booth when she is just a child in Richmond. She's struck by his charm and gentlemanly nature. She dreams of joining the theatre like her idol but tragedy intervenes and she is sent to live with her grandmother in Washington City. Bella's grandmother is an assistant seamstress at the White House for President Buchanan's niece. There Bella meets Steven Browning, an intelligent, talkative boy who quickly becomes her best friend. Soon there's a new family in the White House and Bella is busier than ever helping her grandmother sew. She likes the boisterous Lincoln boys and the kind President but still dreams of a life in the theatre. Her opportunity finally comes when she finds a job in the costume department at Ford's Theater. With the help of the charming Wilkes Booth, she learns to recite poetry as so to be ready when the time comes for her to take the stage. John Wilkes Booth, or Wilkes as he prefers to be called, is the son and brother of a famous family of tragedians. His life has been a perfect tragedy, especially now that his beloved South is being invaded by upstart northerners. He blames Lincoln for the country's troubles and is determined to do something that will make him a hero in the South. First, he needs to charm Bella into helping him, no matter the cost. For Bella, this is her chance to catch and keep the attention of her crush. She little dreams that her acquiescence will place her beloved Mr. Lincoln and even herself in danger. This is a real sleeper of a novel. Not much happens in the first three quarters of the book. Bella and Wilkes tell the reader their life stories and rehash the events that led to the Civil War and the events of the war. Then finally the plot picks up when Bella meets Wilkes. Bella is very naive and she believes that Wilkes will love her if she goes along with his plan. She's a bit too innocent and gullible to be likable. Maybe younger readers can identify more with her. Wilkes is portrayed as a madman, blinded by his love for the South and desire for honor and glory. He's supposed to be charming but I found him sleezy and insincere. The last quarter of the novel is page-turning as Bella finds herself in danger. The ending is unrealistic though true to historical events. There were also some historical inaccuracies, though minor, that bothered me. This novel can be compared to one of Ann Rinaldi's more recent works. If you like those, you will like this one. I wouldn't recommend it to adults though, but maybe younger teens.

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