Saturday Review of Books: November 4, 2017

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” ~John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Originally published at Breakpoint.org, July 7, 2011.

Author Veronica Roth was 22 years old when her popular novel, Divergent, was published. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago; she’s tall (six feet); and, according to her bio, she’s a Christian. Beatrice, the protagonist of Roth’s debut novel is sixteen years old. Tris grows up in a sort-of-suburbia; she’s short and deceptively fragile-looking; and her family is “religious.

Obviously, Roth and her character share some affinities, but while Veronica Roth used her youth and talents to become a best-selling author, Tris is busy becoming dauntless, brave to the point of foolhardiness.

Maybe she’s an alter ego. And maybe, to psychoanalyze a bit, the recent spate of bold and spirited heroines trapped in a controlled environment in YA dystopian adventure novels is filling a need, for both girls and boys. These books are giving them strong female characters who retain a sense of passion and romance.

In particular, girls who are growing up and trying to figure out what it means to be female/feminist in a post-feminist, maybe even Christian, context, need ideas and role models. Divergent and similar dystopian novels, by placing readers in an alien but relatable environment, are good places to explore the possible choices that confront young women in our increasingly confused and confusing society.

In the future Chicago portrayed in Divergent, the world is divided into five factions. Each faction esteems one virtue above all others. The members of Abnegation, where Tris’s family lives, value selflessness above all else. Those of Candor prize truthfulness; those of Amity, peacefulness; the Erudite, intelligence; and the Dauntless, courage. At the age of sixteen, each citizen must choose which faction to join for the rest of his or her life. Most young people choose the faction where they have grown up and received their childhood training. But the choice for each person is free — and irrevocable.

This world is a society held in balance by the different callings of the members of the five factions. Each faction has its own job. The Dauntless are trained to be brave in order to protect the city as a whole. Those of Abnegation are servant leaders who can be trusted with power because they are sworn to give up the desire for power. The Erudite give advice and expertise to teach and to research new ideas. The Candor provide honest judges and lawyers. And those who are members of Amity are caretakers, farmers, artists, and counselors. As Beatrice considers her decision about which faction to join, she is faced with a secret about herself and her relationship to her community, which may endanger the entire balance of power and responsibility that has become the foundation for a perfect civilization.

Divergent is the first in a trilogy set in this world of factions, and balance, and virtues carried to their extreme. The plot follows the pattern of several other recent dystopian trilogies in which the heroine lives in a ordered, controlled community, but, as she grows up, is confronted with the cracks and imperfections in her seemingly pristine and safe way of life. The book is not quite as violent as the Hunger Games trilogy, but still fairly high on the action/adventure/mayhem scale. And the romantic subplot in this first book is fun, and certainly tame enough for ages thirteen and above.

The book is not overtly Christian. The main clue that Divergent is written from a Christian point of view is that, in addition to having to fight against the restrictions placed upon her by a controlling and totalitarian state, Tris must also explore the cracks and imperfections within her own psyche. Probably we will see more of this side of the story in the second and third books in the series, as Tris tries to understand herself and form a picture of her own moral code in relation to all of the factions and their virtues and vices. The second book in the series is Resurgent (2012).

Other comparable and recommended books that fit into the dystopian trilogy trend:

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.
The Declaration, The Resistance, and The Legacy by Gemma Malley.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver. Sequels are Pandemonium (2012) and Requiem (2013).
Matched by Ally Condie. Its sequels are Crossed and Reached.

Little Girl With Seven Names by Mabel Leigh Hunt

Before there was Tikki-tikki-tembo-no-sa-rembo-chari-bari-ruchi-pip-peri-pembo, author Mabel Leigh Hunt (b.November 1, 1892, d.September 3, 1971) told the story of a little Quaker girl named Melissa Louisa Amanda Miranda Cynthia Jane Farlow, a girl with a great long name almost as long and almost as troublesome to her as Tikki-tikki-tembo’s name was to him.

Melissa Louisa is named after her two grandmothers and her four maiden aunts, and even when the other children make fun of her very long name, she finds that she can’t get rid of any part of it, for fear of offending or hurting one of the family members that she dearly loves. What is a little girl to do?

This beginning chapter book of only sixty-four pages is just the right length for beginning readers who are working their way up into books with more text than pictures. Melissa Louisa is about six or seven years old in the stories, and she acts like a six or seven year old. The ensuing misunderstandings and adventures are tame enough but also surprising and delight-filled for young readers.

Author Mabel Leigh Hunt is not to be found in Jan Bloom’s two volumes of Who Should We Then Read?, but she is a worthy author with a gift for storytelling. Two of her books won Newbery Honors: Have You Seen Tom Thumb? in 1943 and Better Known as Johnny Appleseed in 1951. Ms. Hunt was born into a Quaker family herself, and as an adult she became a librarian and then an author, often writing about Quaker boys and girls in her books. The books, which have an old-fashioned air and a childlike sense of humor, are fresh and lively and suited to a new generation of children who like to read about “olden times and places.”

Other books for young readers about Quaker children:
The Double Birthday Surprise (or Present) by Mabel Leigh Hunt.
Cupola House by Mabel Leigh Hunt.
Tomorrow Will Be Bright by Mabel Leigh Hunt.
Lucinda, A Little Girl of 1860 by Mabel Leigh Hunt.
Beggar’s Daughter by Mabel Leigh Hunt.

The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac.

Thee, Hannah! by Marguerite de Angeli.

The picture book series of Obadiah books by Brinton Turkle:
Obadiah the Bold
Thy Friend, Obadiah
Obadiah and Rachel
Adventures of Obadiah

For middle grade and young adult readers:
Lark in the Morn by Elfrida Vipont. About a Quaker family in England.
The Lark on the Wing (The Haverard Family, #2) Carnegie Medal winner, 1950.
The Spring of the Year (The Haverard Family, #3)
Flowering Spring (The Haverard Family, #4)
The Pavilion (The Haverard Family, #5)

They Loved to Laugh by Kathryn Worth.

Downright Dency by Caroline Snedeker. Newbery Honor book.

Books about real Quaker heroes and heroines:
The Quakers by Kathleen Elgin.
The Thieves of Tyburn Square: Elizabeth Fry (Trailblazer Books #17) by Dave and Neta Jackson.
Key to the Prison by Louise A. Vernon. Historical fiction about Quaker founder George Fox.
Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry. Fictional story of Quaker artist Benjamin West.
William Penn: Quaker Hero (Landmark Book No. 98) by Hildegarde Dolson.
Penn by Elizabeth Janet Gray.
The World of William Penn by Genevieve Foster.
John Greenleaf Whittier: Fighting Quaker by Ruth Langland Holberg.
Windows for the Crown Prince by Elizabeth Gray Vining. A memoir about Ms. Vining’s experiences just after World War II in tutoring Crown Prince Akihito, the heir apparent to the Japanese throne. Ms. Vining was a convert to Quakerism.

2014: Quaker Books for Quaker Kids by Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production.

Journey’s End by Rachel Hawkins

A ghost story seems appropriate for today, All Hallows Eve, and a ghost story that takes place in Scotland is particularly fun. Journey’s End starts out mysterious and kind of confusing with the first three chapters set in three different time periods with different characters, but the confusion clears up fairly quickly and the mystery and spookiness remain throughout to the end.

Nolie Stanhope, from Georgia, is spending the summer with her dad in Journey’s End, a village on the coast of Scotland that is sustained by a mysterious fog bank, the Boundary, that hovers just off coast and swallows up any boats that try to go into the fog. Yes, the boats and people simply disappear if they get too near the wall of fog, and now boats take tourists near the Boundary to give them an adventure, but not too near. Nolie’s dad is a scientist who is studying the mysterious and perilous fog, and Nolie’s new friend, Bel, helps out in her family’s business, a souvenir shop where tourists can buy woolly Scots stuffed lambs and postcards and other knickknacks as memories of their trip to the Boundary.

Much is made in this book of the differences between Scots speech and American vocabulary, maybe a little too much. Nolie wonders why Bel is talking about carrying a flaming torch to explore a cave, and Nolie and Bel trade words to reference everything from mad/crazy to bum/bottom to holy cow! or holy hairy coo! Frequent word discussions and interpretations add humor to the story, but maybe they are a little too frequent by the end of the book. Still, we Americans do enjoy a Scottish dialect and accent, and I’m sure, vice-versa.

The ghost story itself is standard: a person was wronged long ago, and her ghost hangs about with the unfinished business of revenge in mind. The fog, the Boundary, is an interesting touch, and it was just scary enough, with just enough humor, for middle grade readers, without becoming evil or morbid. If you’re up for a good ghost story, I’d recommend this one.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

For more middle grade ghost stories, I can recommend:

The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston, and its sequels.
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.
The Court of the Stone Children by Eleanor Cameron.
The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1) by Jonathan Stroud, and sequels.
The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter.
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
The Saracen Lamp by Ruth M. Arthur.
Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett.
The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy Hoobler.

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky

“Six kids from around the world have been chosen for the first-ever mission to Mars.”

Miranda Regent is the genius thirteen year old from the United States who is one of the six astronauts in training for the international mission to Mars, a peace-keeping mission that will unite the world in a cause that transcends national interests and the recently concluded AEM war. But someone is out to sabotage the mission and the six kids who have been chosen for it. Can Miranda figure out who is behind the threatening emails and the attacks on her and her fellow astronauts before they succeed?

NASA fans and aspiring astronauts, aeronautical engineers and space scientists will geek out on this science fiction/mystery/adventure story. Since I live with a NASA engineer, I think I know what will appeal, even though my own “science gene” has never been in evidence. Miranda and her fellow teen astronauts are an engaging crew, and the tension and adventure really ramp up about halfway through the book when something big goes wrong with the whole program and the kids are left to save themselves and the space program and to preserve world peace all at the same time.

The fact that the kids in this novel are all geniuses may make them a little less relatable, but it also shows that kids are kids no matter how intelligent and talented. Miranda worries about her grades in astrophysics and calculus, but she also wonders a lot about how she can make friends with the other cadets and how they can become a team before the Mars mission blasts off. She thinks about how she looks, and even a little about the guys on the team and whether or not they are attractive and attracted. Not too much mushy stuff, lots of science, and a good solid plot make this book a must-read for sci-fi fans.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Saturday Review of Books: October 28, 2017

“A good library is a palace, a palace where the lofty spirits of all nations and generations meet.” ~Samuel NIger

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Joplin, Wishing by Diane Stanley

Diane Stanley, the same Diane Stanley who wrote all those wonderful children’s biographies of everyone from Peter the Great to Saladin to Charles Dickens, has published a new children’s fantasy book, Joplin, Wishing. I can’t say I like this book as much as I do her biographies or even her other fantasy novels that I have read, Bella at Midnight and The Cup and the Crown, but Joplin, Wishing is a decent enough story.

Joplin, named after both the singer Janis and the composer Scott, has a hard time at school after her dead and famous novelist grandfather is caricatured in the newspapers as an eccentric, wild, and crazy recluse. The bullies come out of the woodwork and make her school life unendurable. Joplin just wishes for a friend or two, one at home and one at school, and she gets her wish. The fulfilled wish, however, comes with complications; the Dutch girl from Joplin’s delftware plate who grants Joplin’s wish is really a slave to the plate and to the maker of the plate. Can Joplin find a way to set her free?

The book is very anti-journalism, as it is currently practiced. The reporters in this story are villains, making up “fake news” and hounding Joplin and her family to get a thread of something to hang the story on. It’s also an anti-bullying story, which is all the rage these days, but it doesn’t present any clear solutions to the bullying problem. The bullies in the story are forced to apologize for their behavior, but the apologies are mostly as fake as the news, and Joplin just has to endure and hope that the bullying behavior will get old and go away. Finally, the book is anti-slavery, and a little on the dark side in that regard, since Joplin’s friend from the plate was groomed by the magician and artisan who made the plate to be his personal slave and wish-granter in the same way that a child molester would groom a victim. That part of the story is downright creepy.

Most of the novel, however, deals with how to manage to get the girl from the plate back to her own time and place, how to free her. And the mechanisms and plans for doing that are interesting. It’s the first time I’ve seen a legal contract used as a plot device to solve the magical problem of the novel.

Joplin, Wishing is okay, but it could have been better with a little less darkness and cruelty, and a little more whimsicality. I like my novels, even middle grade fiction, to have some serious, thoughtful themes and ideas, but a little humor and whimsy go a long way toward making those serious ideas palatable.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Saturday Review of Books: October 21, 2017

“Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page.” ~Will Schwalbe

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

2017 Middle Grade Fiction: Short Takes

Apartment 1986 by Lisa Papademetriou. While skipping school, Cassie meets Cassius, an unschooled and independent spirit who is doing research on art at museums all over NYC. Cassie is dealing with her own family and personal issues, and she and Cassius become friends and allies as they discover that Callie’s family history is both surprising and complicated. The story deals with homosexual behavior, family dynamics and regrets, and forgiveness and restoration, all in a fairly standard, morally tolerant, and one-dimensional manner. The “bad guy” is Callie’s grandfather, a homophobic bigot, who is conveniently dead and gone. The “good guys” are all the ones who realize and understand that “people are born gay.”

Posted by John David Anderson. When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, a new communication method becomes a fad: sticky notes. But when the sticky notes begin to turn ugly, Frost and his friends are forced to decide where their loyalties lie. Will they be able to remain friends and even take a new kid into their “tribe”—or will the ugly taunts and bullying notes break up the friendships they have built? The story is told from the point of view of one of the middle school kids, Frost, and I found him to be pretentious and whiny at first, but his voice grew on me. By the end of the book, I was absorbed in the story and fond of most of the characters. Some kids may find the book to be too introspective, but for others it will hit a sweet spot of just right.

Feliz Yz by Lisa Bunker. A gay thirteen year old named Felix lives with his bisexual mother and his gender-switching grandparent (three days a week as Vern and three days a week as Verna; Wednesdays are spent alone and genderless) as Felix deals with he repercussions of a childhood accident that fused his psyche together with that of a fourth-dimensional creature called Zyx. Yeah. If Posted was introspective and angsty, this one is beyond—altogether in another dimension.

Me and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King. Obe Devlin spends his days picking trash out of the creek behind his house and mourning the loss of his family’s land to housing developers. He also spends a lot of time nursing his frequent nosebleeds. Then, one day he finds a new species of animal, and things get interesting. Can Obe save the animal he calls Marvin Gardens from the encroaching housing developments and the curiosity of neighbors? Is Marvin himself a danger to the neighborhood, or is Marvin the solution to the problem of pollution? The story is quite pessimistic and didactic, but if you’re looking for a preachy environmental title, this one will fit the bill.

Gnome-a-geddon by K.A. Holt. Buck Rogers and his best friend, Lizzie, enter the world of their favorite book series, The Triumphant Gnome Syndicate. Immediately, things start to go wrong when Buck realizes that he isn’t necessarily the hero of this adventure, and maybe the gnomes aren’t even the good guys in the story, and trolls, well, trolls are different in the real underground land of the Gnome Syndicate, too. The story alludes to several popular fantasy books, movies, and series, including Harry Potter, Star Wars, LOTR, Princess Bride, Back to the Future, superhero comics, and the Narnia books. Fun for fans.

One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn. I didn’t like any of the people in this ghost story, except for the elderly lady who befriends the narrator at the end of the book. A group of girls bully and torment Elsie, a girl of German heritage, during World War I and the influenza epidemic. Elsie is a liar and a tattletale, and Annie, the new girl in school, must choose whether to befriend Elsie or the mean girls who pick on Elsie. It’s not much of a choice. Unfortunately, there’s no one at school for Annie to be friends with, so Annie becomes one of the bullies. It just gets worse from there with a nasty, mean ghost who harries Annie into a mental asylum.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
Some of these books are also nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley

Cassie and Kate Beasley are sisters who both write children’s fiction. They live in rural Georgia, near the swamps, hence the setting of Tumble and Blue in a rural town near the Okefenokee Swamp. Tumble and Blue is dedicated by Cassie to Kate. It seems the sisters not only share a vocation, but also are close friends and writing encouragers. Cassie’s first book, Circus Mirandus, and Kate’s debut, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, were both intriguing and rewarding reads.

Tumble and Blue are also friends. Tumble Wilson is a girl who wants to be a hero. She admires and tries emulate her hero, Maximal Star, author of the best-selling book, How to Hero Every Day. Blue Montgomery is cursed with a terrible fate, just like all of the Montgomerys. Actually, some of the Montgomerys have an awesome fate, like always winning or charming animals into submission. But others are not so fortunate. Blue’s fate is that he always loses, every game, every contest, every fight, every time. His last fight earned him a broken arm, so his daddy has left Blue to stay with his Grandmother Eve for the summer at the family homestead in Murky Branch, Georgia (Population: 339).

This book is about fates and talents and persistence and optimism in the face of disaster. Tumble is determined to a hero, even though the results of her previous attempts at heroic deeds have been less than stellar. And Blue is determined not to try anymore, since he always loses anyway. Can the two friends teach each other something, like when to be optimistic and try and when to fold and walk away?

Some of the “gifts” of the Montgomery family members turn out to be curses in disguise, and vice-versa. I was reminded of Ingrid Law’s Savvy series and of Adrian Monk, of course: “It’s a blessing—-and a curse.”

Only in this story, it’s a swamp instead of a jungle.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.