Sunday, July 14, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Precious Bones by Mika Ashley-Hollinger -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

When the worst storm of the 1949 summer season blows through the swamp where ten-year-old Bones lives with her parents, she thinks the worst that could happen is their house will flood. Little does she know, real trouble is just around the corner. Some citified Yankee men come sniffing around trying to get Bones' daddy to sell his land. The confrontation does not go well and soon one of the men turns up dead and Nolay (Bones' daddy) is the chief suspect. Bones adores her father but she knows that sometimes he considers himself beyond the law because the laws were made by white men and Nolay is part Indian. When Bones finds startling evidence, her mind begins to make up stories it shouldn't. She must wait though, for the sheriff to conduct his "po-lease" business. When a local man turns up dead, the sheriff believes there must be a connection. The summer and fall suddenly never seemed so long to Bones. She has the utomost faith in Nolay; after all he's never lied to her before, has he? She hangs around the general store hoping to pick up some clue to the murders and also to chat with Mr. Speedy, the wounded war veteran who always has fascinating information to share. There's also visits to the cousins in the everglades, hunting in the swamp and raising her pet pig and pet raccoon to keep Bones busy while waiting for the sheriff. During the long fall, Bones learns that she never really knew her neighbors, friends and family and takes her first steps towards growing up. This book isn't exactly a coming-of-age novel since Bones is only 10 but it is a growing up novel. The events of the summer and fall of 1949 help Bones to question everything she's known, look more closely and listen more carefully. She discovers her hero has feet of clay and her safe, protected world in the swamp can't keep out sadness and pain. Bones is an appealing character. I could relate to her love of animals and her desire to rescue them. I can also relate to her overactive imagination, which I had as a child. She's a nice kid, a little spunky like Jennifer Lynn Holmes' May Amelia, but without a chip on her shoulder and without being overly precocious. She's similar to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Her best friend is a boy, Little Man, and he shares in many of her adventures which will make this book appeal to boys as well as girls. The adult characters in this story seem a bit incompetent at first but as the story progresses, they become more fleshed out and three-dimensional characters. I especially liked Mr. Speedy and Chicken Charlie. The plot deals with prejudice, racism, class differences and ecological conservation. The mystery grabbed me from the beginning and didn't let go. I read way way too late into the night and only managed half the book. I couldn't sleep for wondering how it would all turn out. I had a pretty good idea of what happened, but like the sheriff, I lacked evidence. As the mystery plot unfolds, the clues come out just when the characters are ready to discover them, for the most part. There's a bit of foreshadowing at the end of each chapter that I didn't quite like. The book is really long for this age level and I think it could have been shortened by a few chapters. If you like local color stories then you will love this book. The Florida swamp where Bones lives comes to life with beautifully written descriptions like "The sun's reflection skimmed across the water's surface, turning it into an endless black-topped mirror." Other similes are equally beautiful. The author's purpose was to capture a way of life that has pretty much disappeared and she truly succeeded. I think kids and adults 8+ will truly enjoy this story. It's sweet, poignant, sometimes funny and very interesting. There's room for a sequel, I hope!

Good Evening Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes by Mollie Panter-Downes -- Historical Fiction

These stories, originally published in the New Yorker, deal with every day life on the home front in Great Britain during World War II. The stories are bittersweet. The characters embody the British "stiff upper lip" philosophy as they endure refugee boarders; watching their loved ones head off to war and attempt to help the war effort (with a healthy dose of gossip). There's no connection between the stories at all or any sort of overall plot. The stories are to be taken individually. These stories are very slow. The action is all internal, inside the characters' heads. I found it hard to sit down and read this book because of the slowness and the sheer nothingness happening in the stories. The stories are bittersweet and often the characters are lonely and feeling regret over something or they're fed up with having guests. The characters' feelings make them rather unappealing yet I know I would feel the same in their positions. These stories really aren't my cup of tea and I wouldn't recommend them for casual, fun reading. 

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