Monday, March 20, 2017

What I Read in November 2016 Part IV. . .

What I Read in November 2016 Part IV. . .

Ashes (Seeds of America, #3)Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson--Young Adult Historical Fiction

This thrilling conclusion to the Seeds of America series has Isabel and Curzon on the run together again. They're still searching for Isabel's sister Ruth. They've battled illness, banditti, Redcoats , gators and snakes and now they're closer than ever. However, the British control Charleston and a sympathetic woman urged Isabel to look at Riverbend first. What Isabel finds there is beyond anything she could have imagined. She struggles to accept the situation and with Curzon's glib tongue and a new friend named Aberdeen, the friends are off on another journey- north to Rhode Island to freedom. The British and Continental troops are on the march, soon to meet in Virginia. The travelers have a choice- keep going north without money or food or follow the army where there will be other self-liberated people and jobs. Isabel and Curzon are still sharply divided over their opinions over which side to support. When the battle is over, freedom will come, but will it come for Isabel, Curzon and their people?

This is an outstanding piece of historical fiction and a wonderful conclusion to the trilogy. At first it seems as if one situation will be resolved very quickly, but I underestimated the power of Laurie Halse Anderson's storytelling. Isabel goes on another type of journey- a journey of discovery and growth. Her character growth is outstanding. I even teared up at one point. I stayed up until almost 2 am to see where this story was headed. It was left a bit open-ended, leaving me to wonder what's next for Isabel and anyone else who survives. If I have a critique, it's that there is way too much about camp life. I've never been interested in military history so I skimmed a lot of the military details and the domestic details. I found the messages a little too heavy handed for my personal taste as an adult, but I think younger readers will like it. The messages are very timely right now.

I liked how the summary of the first book was included in the plot as Isabel relates it to another character. I also really liked learning about her family traditions.

The romance finally progresses. As readers of Forge know, Curzon is in love with Isabel. Her feelings become pretty clear in this novel even though she doesn't acknowledge them. I wondered whether Isabel and Curzon would get together and if they would survive that long.

There are a couple of new characters here. Aberdeen is a slightly less angsty male Isabel. He's a bit hot-headed but knows how to reign it in when he needs to. He believes in freedom and believes in promises one army offers, much like Curzon. Curzon is more idealistic than Aberdeen though. There's also a lovely elderly enslaved couple- Mr. Walter and Miz Serafina. They're funny, sweet, kind and loving. I would be honored to have them as surrogate grandparents. The new female character is a great one. She's a bit sassy, stubborn and also very sweet. I love her relationship with animals, especially the donkey.

I can't recommend this trilogy enough, especially this conclusion. The issue of sexual abuse of slaves isn't glossed over but it's not spelled out graphically either. If the reader is aware enough, they will pick up on it but the characters just say the overseer means harm to one character. There is some battle violence too. I would label this book as more young-adult or for more mature children ages 12+. Adults can read and love this too.

Winter CottageWinter Cottage by Carol Ryrie Brink--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

The family is down and out in the winter of 1932. While on the way to horrible Aunt Amy's in Minneapolis, the car breaks down and the Sparkes family are forced to stop in the snowy woods on Wisconsin. They find an empty summer cottage and move in to spend the winter. Pops is sure his ship will come in soon and he'll be able to leave rent at the end of the winter. Thirteen-year-old Minty isn't so sure. She's the practical one of the family while her father, a poet, and sister "Eggs" are dreamers. When Minty finds a picture of the girl who lives in the house in the summer, Marcia Vincent, it becomes all the more important to her to pay Marcia back.

This is a sweet little story. It shows some of the realities of the Depression in a gentle kid-friendly manner. It could seem a little dark to adults since Pops is a dreamer and unable to support his family, but it's not meant to be. I could really relate to Minty. I'm the rational sibling in my family. I couldn't put the book down for worrying how Pops would come up with the money and whether the Vincents found them. I skipped ahead to the end but found it a little confusing without having read the middle! Part of the ending was a bit of a surprise but the rest wasn't really. It's a typical children's book of this period. The story makes camping in the winter woods without technology or newspapers sound like fun. If I hadn't already been craving pancakes, I would be now after reading this book. I want Pops' secret recipe for gollwhollickers! I love diner pancakes the size of a dinner plate. I've never seen a whale before but it sounds really good.

The story features a visit to an Indian reservation. There's some typical stereotypical content of the period "squaw", "brave" and "heathen" (this from the nuns at the mission). A "heathen" Indian dance scene is portrayed from the point-of-view of a child who is having a great time. It didn't come across as terribly bad and it did acknowledge that the Indians were there and had their own culture. The scene is as much fun as the scenes in the cabin.

Fans of classic children's literature will enjoy this one and reading it with a young child.

The Witch FamilyThe Witch Family by Eleanor Estes--Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

Amy and Clarissa are almost-7-year-old best friends living in Washington, DC. They love to draw and listen to stories about a horrid old witch. Amy decides the witch has been bad enough and needs to be "banquished" to a glass hill where nothing grows. If the witch is good, she can come down for Halloween - one night only. Old witch is kept in line by Malachai, the spelling bee and letters from Amy. Then Amy feels old witch might be lonely and sends a little witch girl and a little witch cat. The little witch, Hannah, is fascinated by Amy and Clarissa and worried by her Gammer's mean thoughts. A lonely Hannah is soon joined by witchie baby and a teenie witchy cat. The witch family complete, it's up to old witch to teach the children what witches are supposed to act like, but nothing seems to go her way. When Amy finds herself in the witch world, she discovers what havoc she has created!

This is a cute story geared towards 6-9 year olds. Adults have to suspend disbelief quite a bit in order to really enjoy the story. It's very silly but fun. I really liked the plot and had a hard time putting it down. I wanted to know if the old witch would keep her promise and what would happen to Hannah. I liked the world of the glass hill and the strange witch world. The witch school was especially delightful. It was all very well drawn out and the rules defined by Amy/the author.

I wasn't crazy about Amy. She's bossy and a bit bloodthirsty. Actually she reminded me of my niece who is the same age! Clarissa doesn't have much personality. She's more simple and uncomplicated than Amy. It's really Amy calling the shots. I liked the witch family despite old witch's tendency towards evil. It gave her some color and depth rather than reforming her right away. Hannah is sweet. I liked her better than Amy and Clarissa.

I will recommend someone read this book to my nieces, if they sit still long enough to listen. They're just around Amy and Clarissa's age and a bit older so I think they are young enough to fully accept the magic and enjoy the book.

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