It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.
Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
If you haven’t heard about this book yet, well, you’ve probably not been paying attention. Everyone in the book world has been talking about Everyone Brave is Forgiven since it came out last year. After (finally) reading it, I can see why.
Like many summer blockbuster novels, the writing is beautiful. Cleave does a wonderful job of introducing sympathetic but deeply flawed characters–Mary is not a very good teacher, and she fights her family, her best friend, and even herself throughout most of the book for reasons that are often selfish (mild *spoiler alert*: Mary’s addiction to morphine made the second half of the book difficult for me to read); Tom can be wishy-washy and uncommitted; and Alistair’s time in Malta turns him into someone who’s willing to make poor, sometimes deadly choices.
The book focuses on the effects of war on individuals, particularly those on the home front. From the evacuations of school children to the minstrel shows that continue despite the bombings to time spent in subpar air raid shelters, we see every horrible detail of life in London during WWII. Alistair provides us with a look into military life, but that is by no means the focus of the story.
A lot of reviewers focus on the “witty banter” of the characters, and it’s true that the dialogue is just as sharply written as the narrative. Still, the author never lets you forget all the horrible things that happen. Children die, soldiers succumb to infection and starvation, drug addiction and racism abound. (On that note, I found this post by the author about his choice to include the n-word in his book really interesting.)
I enjoyed this book, although not as much as many other book reviewers did. Maybe it’s because my reading life has already been saturated with books about WWII–that’s why I put off reading it as long as I did–but for whatever reason, Everyone Brave is Forgiven just didn’t capture me. I’m glad that I read it, but I don’t foresee reading it again.
It’s time for another Newbery roundup! This time I’m retroactively reviewing the 1940 Newbery books that I read as a child. And I’m sorry to say there were no real winners from that year. (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)
Medal Winner: Daniel Boone
Daniel Boone was a farmer who couldn’t stay put. Something was always pulling him westward into new and mysterious lands, and when this pull got so strong that he could no longer ignore it, and his wife and children could not persuade him to stay, he just went, with his toes pointing into the West and his eyes glued to the hills.
As a child, I knew a fair amount about Daniel Boone. He lived an interesting life full of adventure, and any kid who enjoys adventure stories is likely to enjoy learning about Daniel Boone’s life. Still, I found this book just okay. It definitely shows its age, and despite the interesting material, it couldn’t keep my attention for long.
Runner of the Mountain Tops: The Life of Louis Agassiz
Runner of the Mountain Tops: The Life of Louis Agassiz is a children’s biography of the nineteenth-century paleontologist and natural scientist Louis Agassiz by Mabel Robinson. It tells his life story from his boyhood in Switzerland to his professorship at Harvard.
When I read this book as a kid, I found it pretty awful. It was dry and boring, as many children’s biographies were at the time. Unless for some reason your child has a fascination with Louis Agassiz (I don’t know any children who do), I’d skip this book.
Rating: Skip This One
By the Shores of Silver Lake
Laura and her family are head to the Dakota Territory for a chance to own their own land–and stop moving. The new town of De Smet is filling up with settlers lured west by the promise of free land, and the Ingalls family must do whatever it takes too defend their claim.
If you enjoy the Little House on the Prairie series, I don’t need to tell you about this book. I enjoyed it when I read it, but it kind of blurs together with all the other books in the series. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that these books are classics for a reason–if you or your kids haven’t read them yet, give them a shot!
This week I’m posting a YA roundup of all the YA books I’ve read over the past couple of months. There have been some great ones that I’ve read recently, even though most of them are backlist–I’m slowly but surely working through my TBR list! (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)
I’ll Give You the Sun
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
This book was huge when it first came out, but it took me a long time to be convinced by the hype. Teen drama isn’t usually my thing (Everything, Everything is a notable exception). Still, once I finally picked up the book, I could see why it was so popular. I’ll Give You the Sun shows how Jude and Noah, twins who were once inseparable, play out the many ways you can hurt the ones you love the most.
There is a lot of drama here, and I found the book slow to start. Still, I thought the ending was nice. It tied everything together and, while it didn’t fix every problem, came pretty close to it. (For me, this is a good thing. Those who don’t like neat and tidy endings might have a problem with it.)
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Young World
Welcome to New York, a city ruled by teens.
After a mysterious Sickness wipes out the rest of the population, the young survivors assemble into tightly run tribes. Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe, and Donna, the girl he’s secretly in love with, have carved out a precarious existence among the chaos.
But when a fellow tribe member discovers a clue that may hold the cure for the Sickness, five teens set out on a life-altering road trip, exchanging gunfire with enemy gangs, escaping cults and militias, braving the wilds of the subway – all in order to save humankind.
This dystopian novel was a fun addition to the long list of YA dystopian books I’ve read. A mysterious sickness kills everyone except teenagers, which keeps lifespans short and instability the norm. I loved Donna and Jefferson; the audio book that I listened to had great narrators for each of these main characters and provided two very different perspectives on the same event.
The plot–a mix between dystopian survival and coming-of-age road trip–kept me interested the whole time. The characters were fun and sympathetic, the love triangle that inevitably cropped up was short-lived and surprisingly mature, and the descriptions of the various gangs and tribes that developed throughout New York City added richness to the story. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of the twist ending, and I probably won’t read the next book in the series. I’m content to think of this as a wonderful stand-alone novel.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
I loved the heck out of this book. There’s a distinct Texas flavor to Dumplin’, making the setting almost as important as the characters. And speaking of which, the characters are all amazing. There’s the usual teen drama, romantic missteps, and falling out with friends, but (unusually for a YA novel) the characters actually make decent, logical decisions most of the time.
The story itself is fun–Will (or Dumplin’, as her mother calls her) is content with her body, until a super sweet (and conventionally attractive) boy starts flirting with her. As she struggles to stay comfortable in her own skin, Will finds herself joining the local beauty pageant and leading a group of misfits almost against her will as she attempts to deal with her changing relationships and the loss of a beloved family member.
This is definitely worth reading. Whether or not you can relate to Will’s struggles with her weight, you will almost certainly relate to her attempts to stay true to herself and allow herself to change at the same time.
Rating: Re-read Worthy
Egg & Spoon
Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family destined to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg — a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena’s age. When the two girls’ lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and — in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured — Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.
This story sounds depressing at first glance, but there’s a humor to the writing which is really wonderful. Kat and Elena do a “Prince and the Pauper”-style swap, and Elena seizes the chance to better the lives of her family and friends. Meanwhile, spoiled, skeptical Kat meets up with Baba Yaga, the Russian witch.
I absolutely loved Baba Yaga! She was the funniest character throughout the book and the catalyst for a lot of the magical adventures the girls find themselves on. This is a fun fantasy for anyone with an interest in Russian folklore.
Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author. All opinions are my own.
Caitlyn is used to being the ugly duckling in her glamorous showbiz family… until the day she learns that she was adopted as an abandoned baby. Now, her search for answers takes her to the tiny English village of Tillyhenge where a man has been murdered by witchcraft – and where a mysterious shop selling enchanted chocolates is home to the “local witch”…
Soon Caitlyn finds herself fending off a toothless old vampire, rescuing an adorable kitten and meeting handsome aristocrat Lord James Fitzroy… not to mention discovering that she herself might have magical blood in her veins! (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I’ve loved all of the books in H.Y. Hanna’s Oxford Tearoom series, so I was excited to hear that she is starting a new cozy mystery series called Bewitched by Chocolate. This new series has, as you might guess, a bit of magic and a whole lot of chocolate!
On her search to find her birth family, Caitlyn finds herself in a small English town that has more secrets than you might think. Caitlyn befriends the local chocolate maker, a grouchy old woman who is thought of by many as the local witch, and does her best to defend her when the town tries to blame her for a recent murder. But Caitlyn soon finds out that there might be more truth to the rumors of magic than she wants to believe.
As with all of H.Y. Hanna’s works, this is a fun, lighthearted cozy mystery. Caitlyn is very different from Gemma, but she’s still an enjoyable, imperfect character to follow. I loved the small town setting and the quirky characters Caitlyn meets there, and I especially enjoyed the magic chocolate store! I hope we get to spend even more time there in future books.
If you like cozy mysteries with a bit of magic, or if you’ve enjoyed H.Y. Hanna’s other series, you should give this book a try.
These books/comics don’t really have anything to do with each other than that they’re all focused on the art. I’m not usually a fan of comics, and there are very few graphic novels I’ve read so far, but the last few months have found me reading more books in those categories than normal! (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)
If you don’t know anything about the Adventure Time TV show, I’m not sure I can explain it to you. If you have seen the show, this series of comics is actually based on the show, not the other way around, so I’m sure you’ll find plenty of in jokes and such to keep you entertained. If you haven’t seen the show, well, neither have I, and I still found these comics really fun.
The characters and the plot are bizarre, but in a good way. The cotton candy-colored post-apocalyptic world is always presenting strange situations based only on Adventure Time logic. If you can put up with some weird and wacky stuff, you’ll probably enjoy these comics. If you like your stories to follow some semblance of real-world logic, maybe give these a pass.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Castle Waiting graphic novel tells the story of an isolated, abandoned castle, and the eccentric inhabitants who bring it back to life. A fable for modern times, Castle Waiting is a fairy tale that’s not about rescuing the princess, saving the kingdom, or fighting the ultimate war between Good and Evil, but about being a hero in your own home.
This graphic novel is full of funny, fairy tale-esque stories. None of them are the classic Snow White or Cinderella tales (although there is a modified version of Sleeping Beauty here), so you get the feeling of those medieval tales with fresh stories. Very fun.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Adulthood is a Myth
If you haven’t been following Sarah’s Scribbles, you’re really missing out. Sarah captures the emotions of many broke, introverted Millennials in her hilarious web comic, and this book is a collection of new and old comics. It’s pretty much guaranteed to make you laugh.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
P.S. Do you have any ideas for the next graphic novel or comic I should read? Let me know in the comments!
Note: I received a free copy of these books in exchange for an honest review. Summaries are via NetGalley.com.
The Pho Cookbook
Vietnam’s most beloved culinary export—pho—is now within the reach of any home cook.
Andrea Nguyen first tasted pho in Saigon as a child, sitting at a street stall with her parents. That experience sparked a lifelong love of the iconic noodle soup, and here she dives deep into pho’s lively past, visiting its birthplace and then teaching how to successfully make it. Options range from quick weeknight cheats to 5-hour weekend feasts with broth and condiments from scratch, as well as other pho rice noodle favorites. Over fifty versatile recipes, including snacks, salads, companion dishes, and vegetarian and gluten-free options, welcome everyone to the pho table. With a thoughtful guide on ingredients and techniques, plus evocative location photography and deep historical knowledge, The Pho Cookbook enables anyone to cook this comforting classic.
My husband is the cook in our family, so I knew he’d want to help me test out this pho cookbook. I loved the historical background and modern-day descriptions of pho, including the author’s own experiences with this Vietnamese classic, but I left the recipe testing up to my husband. Here are his thoughts:
“I loved this book! The historical and cultural information really display the wide applications of the iconic dish and really goes a long way to inform western readers (like myself) to the depth of meaning and cultural significance behind something as approachable as delicious food.
“The recipes are very well laid out and approachable. I made the basic chicken pho to resounding success. It was tasty and simple to make, and certainly left me wanting to try the more complicated recipes. If Vietnamese food and culture at all interest you, this book is worth perusing.”
Everyone has questions about drinking, but it can seem like every bartender (and bargoer) has different answers. Between the old wives’ tales, half-truths, and whiskey-soaked conjectures, it’s hard to know what to believe—until now.
Armed with cutting-edge research and a barfly’s thirst for the truth, cocktail instructor Brian D. Hoefling tackles the most burning questions and longest-held myths surrounding that most ancient of human pastimes—with the science to either back them up or knock them down. From the ins and outs of aging to the chemistry of a beer head and the science behind your hangover, Distilled Knowledge provides a complete and comical education that will put an end to any barroom dispute, once and for all.
If you are interested in learning about where alcohol comes from and how it works, this is the book for you. The author collects his research on the terminology, history, and science of alcoholic drinks and shares it in short, interesting sections.
I’ll admit, I’m not much into molecular structure, so certain sections of this book were not for me. But I am a fan of random tidbits of knowledge, and I found the chapters on how alcohol affects the body (and why it affects some people differently than others) pretty fascinating.
When Garnet finds a silver thimble in the sand by the river, she is sure it’s magical. But is it magical enough to help her pig, Timmy, win a blue ribbon on Fair Day? (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is one of those books that you could describe as charming. I love county fairs and kids having good old-fashioned fun, and that’s what Thimble Summer is all about. As with many of my childhood Newbery reads, I just wish I could remember more about it!
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
The Poppers unexpectedly come into possession of a penguin, then get a penguin from the zoo who mates with the first penguin to have 10 baby penguins. Before long, something must be done before they eat the Poppers out of house and home! (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is probably one of the best-known Newbery books ever given the award (aside from the Little House on the Prairie series and A Wrinkle in Time), and for good reason. It’s funny, cute, and a little ridiculous. Mr. Popper somehow acquires a houseful of penguins, which he and his family must then deal with. Kids have loved this book for decades, and I don’t think that will change anytime soon.
I’m not sure what to call this type of book, in which the photos are the main draw and the writing is almost secondary (coffee table books, perhaps?). I settled on photography books, which I think describes the attraction. Both of these books are worth a look.
Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream
If the creation of a structure represents the values and ideals of a time, so too does its subsequent abandonment and eventual destruction. In “Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream,” internationally acclaimed photographer Matthew Christopher continues his tour of the quiet catastrophes dotting American cities, examining the losses and failures that led these ruins to become forsaken by communities that once celebrated them. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I am weirdly obsessed with abandoned places, so this book is right up my alley. It’s filled with amazing photographs and descriptions of abandoned places, from a classic ghost town to abandoned institutions, schools, game farms, and more. The photos by themselves are fascinating, but the stories of how and why these places were abandoned adds so much to the book.
My single complaint about this book is that it significantly needs a final edit. I try not to be nitpicky about typos or small grammatical errors, so please note that I mean more than those small problems in my critique of this book. There are unfinished sentences, as well as editorial notes that I know the author and/or editor never meant to be seen. It distracts the reader a bit from the wonderful storytelling, but it’s still not enough to deter me from giving this book my highest rating. I loved it, and I can’t wait to read the author’s other similar book.
Rating: Re-read Worthy
Apples of Uncommon Character
In his classic A Geography of Oysters, Rowan Jacobsen forever changed the way America talks about its best bivalve. Now he does the same for our favorite fruit, showing us that there is indeed life beyond Red Delicious-and even Honeycrisp. While supermarkets limit their offerings to a few waxy options, apple trees with lives spanning human generations are producing characterful varieties-and now they are in the midst of a rediscovery. From heirlooms to new designer breeds, a delicious diversity of apples is out there for the eating. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
If you’ve ever refused to eat an apple because you thought it might be bland, one-note, or overly sweet, you need to explore the world of apples Jacobsen presents in Apples of Uncommon Character. This book features a collection of uncommon, often antique apples that I now want to eat immediately.
Every page has gorgeous photos of the apples, interspersed with the author’s notes on the taste, history, and usage of that type of apple and information on how Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, and Red Delicious came to rule the American grocery. It’s fascinating stuff.
Ingrid is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or at least her shoes are. And getting them back will mean getting tangled up in a murder investigation as complicated as the mysteries solved by her idol, Sherlock Holmes. With soccer practice, schoolwork, and the lead role in her town’s production of Alice in Wonderland, Ingrid is swamped. But as things in Echo Falls keep getting curiouser and curiouser, Ingrid realizes she must solve the murder on her own — before it’s too late! (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is a fun, kind of dark murder mystery for MG readers. It’s pretty obvious that this is Abrahams’ first exploration of children’s fiction; some of the things Ingrid does are kind of unrealistic for a kid her age. Still, I enjoyed following Ingrid as she gets in over her head and tries to solve a murder without implicating herself.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Pleasing the Ghost
As nine-year-old Dennis confronts the ghost of his uncle Arvie, Arvie’s eccentric antics and wonderful wordplay keep the reader laughing. But at its tender heart, the story reveals the holes left in our lives when we lose the ones we love. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I never thought I’d dislike a book by Sharon Creech! She has written some of my favorite books of all time, but Pleasing the Ghost just didn’t do it for me. I think I’m drawn more toward Creech’s MG fiction, rather than her children’s fiction. Still, I found this book cute, and small children will probably still enjoy it.
In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was so lovely! Minli’s journey to find the Old Man of the Moon was such a fun way to string together the Chinese folk stories that author Grace Lin grew up reading. Plus there is beautiful full color art. This is a quick read that should be on your (or your child’s) TBR list.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
The Tangle-Coated Horse
Ella Young was born in 1867 in the little village of Feenagh, County Antrim. “From childhood I heard tales of ghosts, banshees, haunted castles, mischievous and friendly sprites, snatches of ballads, and political arguments….It was not until I came to Dublin and met Standish O’Grady, A.E., and Kuna Meyer that I realized what a heritage waited for me in Celtic literature. I read every translation I could get, learned Irish, and betook myself to Gaelic Ireland where, by turf fires, I could hear the poems of the Fianna recited by folk who had heard the faery music and danced in faery circles…”
This is one of the old, out of print Honor books that I’ve ordered through interlibrary loan. I’m finding that most of the books that fall into that category are short story collections, which I’m not a big fan of (as you might remember). This one, a collection of tales about ancient Ireland and the magical creatures that lived there, is not too bad, but I found myself getting bored much of the time. I have a feeling your kids will probably feel the same way about it.
Tales and legends from Finland form the background to this story of a modern Finnish boy who is a student during the Finnish Revolution of World War I that freed that country from oppressive Russian rule.
Vaino was surprisingly enjoyable. Expecting another short story collection (see above), I was glad to find that the majority of this book consists of historical fiction focused on Finland in the early 20th century. There are short stories here about the fictional creatures and gods that populated ancient Finland (of course there are), but they are interspersed with the real-life events of the Finnish revolution during WWI and the adventures of Vaino, a young Finnish boy who gets caught up in these events. The intertwining of these two threads made this book work.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
In the Beginning
A thought-provoking collection of twenty-five stories that reflect the wonder and glory of the origins of the world and humankind. With commentary by the author.
You know I love Virginia Hamilton. This Newbery book of hers, In the Beginning, retells many of the world’s creation stories. The book is filled with great illustrations and explanations of these myths, including the various types of creation stories. I didn’t find this book as compelling as the last Virginia Hamilton I read, but I certainly don’t regret reading it.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Year of Billy Miller
When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad.
If you’ve read as many Newbery books as I have, you start to realize that there are major themes for the different time periods in which they’ve given the award. As mentioned above, many of the early Newbery books are collections of myths and short stories, while the 70s and 80s brought a glut of historical fiction. The most recent decade or so has been marked by unique, easy-to-read writing styles and a branching out from the topics of previous years.
The Year of Billy Miller, a Newbery honor book from 2014, fits nicely into that description. It’s a sweet story about a wonderful, ordinary second grade year. In four consecutive sections, seven-year-old Billy learns how to get along with his teacher, his mother, his sister, and his father. Your second grader will almost certainly enjoy this book.