Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons

Happy (late) New Year! Here, 2014 is being kicked off with the book Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, by the talented Ann Rinaldi.

Phillis Wheatley, as many of you probably know, was a young girl brought over from Senegal, Africa, in the 18th century. Bought by the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, Phillis works for the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, as her personal slave–until it is discovered that she can read.

After that, Mary’s brother Nathaniel begins to tutor Phillis, teaching her Latin and Greek and helping her to improve her reading.

And then she writes a poem. And things really change.

Soon, Phillis is reciting for the Wheatleys’ dinner guests, visiting various bookstores and printers throughout Boston, and is even sent to London. (All against the backdrop of the colonists’ growing discontent with British rule.) She meets a string of well-drawn characters, from Aunt Cumsee and Prince, fellow slaves, to Benjamin Franklin.

I love this book. So much. I haven’t read historical fiction in a fairly long time, and this was definitely a good one to go with. It pulls you in and won’t let you go, and I really loved Phillis’s voice as the narrator. She’s honest, telling the reader her thoughts as a new arrival in America, an ocean in between her and her past home and freedom. At one point she says, “It seems you are not permitted to murder a slave woman. Not even in America.”

Ann Rinaldi definitely paints a convincing picture of Phillis’s life, from childhood to being an adult. The story of her voyage on the slave ship is shown in all its unimaginable brutality, and her struggles with freedom and the desire for it are drawn really well. The author doesn’t gloss over Phillis’s struggles, and the way she writes is addictive.

It might make you cry. It will give you lots of feelings. It’s really amazing.

Phillis is a great character, and I loved the complexity with which Rinaldi details her struggles and conflicts: Should she want freedom? If free, how would she be able to survive? Would it be better if she just stayed with the Wheatleys?

Really, do the Wheatleys even value her as a human being?

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time, and I definitely recommend it. It has happiness, sadness, big questions, and great characters. And, of course, poetry.

Literary Quote of the Day: “I could scarce contain my own excitement. The more I wrote, the more excited I became. I felt like Columbus must have felt when he just discovered America. Only the land that I had sighted was myself. In a way, my own way, I was free.” —Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, by Ann Rinaldi

P.S. Some other great books by Ann Rinaldi are A Break With Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials and Brooklyn Rose.

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

Hi everyone! I have decided to stop being a lazy do-nothing for the day and post something. Yay for productivity!

The book of the day is Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy, written by Elizabeth Kiem. Teenage Marina, the main character, has it pretty good. Her mother is the famous and talented Svetlana Dukovskaya, the Bolshoi Ballet’s most prized dancer. Marina herself is a student at the Bolshoi. Her family’s life in Moscow is comfortable and secure. But let’s be honest here–it’s sure not going to be secure for long.

Marina’s mother is not only a very special dancer, she’s also very special in another way–she has visions of the past. And when one of those visions involves an awful government cover-up, well, things get kind of complicated. Especially when Marina’s mother shows she has no intentions of keeping quiet about it.

After Svetlana suddenly vanishes, Marina and her father find a way to escape to Brooklyn, New York. It’s safer, but it’s definitely not easy. As they both try to adjust to their new lives, while attempting to find a way of saving Svetlana, the two find themselves becoming more and more entangled in the shady business they just wanted to get away from. Preferably alive.

Some of the things I really liked about this book were the little touches. The music Marina listened to, the neighborhood she frequented in New York…those were the bits of the story I really, really enjoyed. Sometimes I cared more about those than the plot itself. The setting, the atmosphere–these special little bits really added something lovely to the story.

The plot was good, if a bit confusing at times, because I didn’t quite understand what Marina was talking about. The characters were well-written and unique, so that was an obvious plus.

The writing was really nice. Marina, who is narrating the story, has a good voice, and I especially like the way she describes things. When she is talking about her dance shoes, she describes them as feeling “hard like rock music, pliant like drum skin.”

But in hindsight, the book was definitely fast-paced. So fast-paced, really, that sometimes I just didn’t really care very much about what was going on. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but I found that I wasn’t really very invested in what was happening. It was like whoosh, oh, that bit’s over now. Which is unfortunate, because I did like the book, and I did like the characters, and I feel that more could have been done with them, that more could have been added to the book overall. If the world Marina lived in had been expanded upon, I think I would have enjoyed reading about it to a greater extent. Or maybe that’s just me being greedy.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy it. The book was good. Not a huge page-turner, admittedly. But good!

Literary Quote of the Day: “I would like to appear at the party precisely as I see myself in the unlit theater of my windowpane. Silent, graceful, but ultimately not there.” –Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy, by Elizabeth Kiem

P.S. I don’t know if I really made this clear in the review itself, but this is definitely a young adult or teen read. There’s violence, serious stuff…just so you know. Everyone have a great weekend!

Venom

Okay, me continuously apologizing for insanely late posts is probably getting old by now, so I’m just going to jump right in for once. . .

Today’s post is on the book Venom, written by debut Young Adult author Fiona Paul. Cassandra Caravello lives near Renaissance-era Venice, on San Domenico Island, with her elderly Aunt Agnese and a number of servants. And boy, is she restless.

The rest of Cass’s life seems to consist mostly of an engagement and marriage to Luca da Peraga, a young man studying in France whom she hasn’t seen in years. The future looks bland and frightening indeed, and Cass honestly isn’t really looking forward to it. At the moment, she doesn’t really feel like she HAS much of a life, period. Until, that is, she discovers the body of a strangled girl in the graveyard near her home. Then things change. Just a bit.

Suddenly, Cass is on the trail of a crazed murderer, along with Falco, a young artist who Cass feels more and more attracted to, despite the fact that he’s obviously keeping secrets of his own. And when you catch a boy sneaking around graves late at night, can you really trust him?

One thing’s for sure: This story is bursting with detail. It throws you into the world of Venice, complete with masquerade balls, politicians, gossiping nobles, and murky canal waters. It’s original, and the plot is often gripping. The characters are pretty unique, and while I was sometimes annoyed by them (including Cass), overall they were entertaining and well-written. Cass’s character may not be as original as some of the others, but for me it doesn’t really hurt the story as a whole. Even if the writing itself is occasionally less than great, most of it was definitely good and enjoyable.

All in all, Venom is a pretty good read, and I would definitely recommend it to Young Adult and mystery lovers. So, what about that sequel? 🙂 Everyone have a great day!

Literary Quote of the Day: “. . .evil flows silently among us like venom. We are at its mercy.” –The priest in Venom, by Fiona Paul

Revolution

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. . .such a good book! As in, it’s really good. It’s Revolution, written by Jennifer Donnelly, and the main character is Diandra Xenia Alpers, or just Andi. Andi has found herself a wreck for the last two years, ever since her brother Truman’s violent death–a death she blames herself for. Her parents are divorced, she’s popping antidepressant pills like chocolate chips, and, oh yeah, she’s about to be expelled from one of the most select and expensive schools in Brooklyn Heights. What a fabulous life! But things are about to get much more shaken up. Suddenly, Andi’s father appears, fully prepared to whisk her away to Paris for winter break with him so she can finish her outline for her senior thesis (or else). Obviously, this isn’t optional. But in Paris, Andi makes a discovery she didn’t expect–the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a teenage player who lived during the French Revolution. Her story is one of first poverty and ambition, but soon becomes danger-wrought and increasingly treacherous. Andi becomes more and more sucked into the diary, silently cheering Alex on, despite the fact that the events described took place 200 years ago. But one night, the past and the present merge, and the result is. . .well, slightly strange. Okay, a lot strange, and more than a little frightening. This book was, as I think I pointed out before, awesome. While it may be considered thick by some (“How do you read that?!”), and perhaps a little confusing, it’s well worth the effort. The plot is definitely done well, and the writing’s great. All in all, a solid young adult novel.      So. . .go buy it. I command thee!

Camilla

Okay, confession time: The truth is, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, and honestly. . .I don’t remember much. Really. BUT I’ve read another book of her’s recently, Camilla, and I wondered–why is it I’ve never heard of this before? Admittedly, it is definitely geared towards a more mature age group, but it’s still really good! The story focuses on Camilla Dickinson, who lives with her parents in New York City, during the 1950s. As Camilla watches, she sees her parents’ relationship deteriorate further and further, as she learns about life and growing up. But in the midst of this, she becomes acquainted with her best friend’s brother, Frank, and finds herself spending more time with him. With Frank, she learns and thinks about things she never thought of before, not to mention the people she meets. This book is interesting and definitely really well-written, and I enjoyed it. I think teenage girls, particularly those who enjoy classics, will like this book, even if it’s not really in the same vein genre-wise as A Wrinkle In Time.Trust me! (But again, it’s definitely young adult.)

P.S. Colds suck. Anyone want to send me a unicorn as a get well soon present?

P.S.S. Unfortunately, Powell’s Books, the website where I get the images and links for my posts, doesn’t offer this book. You can get it here at Barnes and Noble.

The Wild Queen

Well, I suppose it’s high time for another post, isn’t it? And, luckily, I just finished a book that is definitely post-worthy. The Wild Queen, Carolyn Meyer‘s newest installment in her Young Royals series, details the life of Mary Stuart, famed Queen of Scots. Six days into her life, Mary Stuart is declared queen after the death of her father. Only several years later she’s packed up and shipped off to live with her betrothed, the dauphin of France, Francois, and his family, only to return to Scotland later in life after his death. The book follows Mary over the years, through three marriages, civil war, giving birth to a son, and a whole lot of danger, as well as an ongoing stalemate between her and Elizabeth Tudor considering a certain treaty(believe me, it’s more interesting than that last bit made it sound). And as said danger escalates, leading to Mary being accused for conspiring for the murder of Elizabeth, it leads to her inevitable end. This book is extremely well-written, and the plot keeps you sucked in to no end. What I love about these books is that they’re not history lessons–they make the main characters, whether they’re Cleopatra or Elizabeth Tudor, come to life and seem incredibly real. The Wild Queen is no exception. So I strongly suggest you go pick it up from the nearest library, bookstore, etc. Now.

Angel on the Square

I humbly apologize for my laziness and taking-too-longness in posting again. No, seriously. Sorry! (I know some of you may be giving me dirty looks at this point, but I hope you’ll forgive me. . .eventually.) But let’s get down to business. This book, as you can see, is entitled Angel on the Square, by Gloria Whelan. I’ve previously read another one of this author’s books (Chu Ju’s House), so I figured, why not try another one? So I did. The story was every bit as good as I expected. The setting is Russia, in the 1910s, and the main character is Katya Ivanova. Katya lives the life many children in St. Petersburg can only imagine–her mother is an aristocrat, and they live in a large mansion, complete with servants, and always have enough to eat. Katya’s life only becomes more interesting and rich when her mother becomes lady-in-waiting to the Empress Alexandra, and she herself becomes the dear friend of the Empress’s daughters! However, it later becomes apparent that not all is well with the world. War hangs over Russian life like a shadow, and the people are becoming unhappy and thirsty for change. It seems that revolution isn’t very far away, and suddenly life becomes more uncertain than ever before. This book, though very sad, offers a portal into Russian history and how it affected people. Plus, it’s just a really good story, well written, too. If you like this book as much as I did, turn to the sequel, The Impossible Journey, and after that, the third and fourth books as well! This is a rewarding read for someone interested in history, and also for those who aren’t.

Flygirl

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith, tells a very unique story. Ida Mae Jones wants to fly. She wants to fly bad. But I guess that proves a little difficult when you’re a black girl living in Louisiana in the 1940s. Actually, it proves very difficult. Ida Mae doesn’t even have a pilot’s license. But she most definitely does not want to just live out her days cleaning houses, even if it is with her best friend, Jolene. So she can’t help but get ideas when her little brother shows her an article about the WASP program: Women Airforce Service Pilots. This is exactly the chance Ida Mae’s been waiting for, the chance to really fly, and to even help her brother, who is overseas fighting WWII. But there is one key obstacle–the WASP won’t accept an African American. Ida can get around that, but it means passing for white, using her light skin to her advantage. Flying is easy, but Ida Mae realizes that turning her back on her heritage and self isn’t.This book not only brings the reader into the character’s struggles, it also shows them the struggles of the WASP itself. Well-written and interesting, Flygirl is a great addition to the book world.

Part of Me

This book, Part of Me by Kimberly Willis Holt, was something new for me. It’s follows the trail of a family, starting with Rose, on to her son Merle Henry, and continues. Each part of the book is composed of one generation’s voice, tracing the years, from 1939 to 2004. Rose is a fourteen year old living in Texas, but when her father walks out one day, her family is uprooted and taken to live with her grandfather in Houma, Louisiana. This world of bayous and Cajun accents is brand new to Rose, but she may have found her place driving the town’s bookmobile. Years later, Rose has a son, Merle Henry, whose sole dream is to trap a mink…and hopefully learn how to dance in time for the Sweetheart Dance. Of course, he’d rather read Old Yeller then some dance book. Before you know it, Merle Henry has his own family, and his daughter Annabeth is struggling to deal with one of the most baffling things in the world–popularity, and how to get it. But every now and then she can settle down enough to read a fairy tale. However, Annabeth’s son Kyle would much rather listen to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin than even think of picking up a book. So you can imagine his problem when he has to get a job at the library. All these people are real, interesting characters. The author’s writing is great, and kept me sucked in. There was just one problem: I found myself wanting to know what happened after the characters’ narratives switched, especially Rose’s. I want to know more about Rose’s grandfather, how the Sweetheart Dance went for Merle Henry, how Annabeth found her knight in shining armor, and if Kyle ever earned the respect of his father. I would definitely be pleased if the author wrote individual books for these characters, but this book is still great in its own right. You should give it a try.

A Christmas Carol

Yes, I know it has been a while since my last post. But I am back on Christmas Eve, with a holiday-themed book. Who hasn’t heard of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’s famed ghost story of Christmas? Who hasn’t heard of the grumpy Ebenezer Scrooge, whose every other word is “humbug”? How many of us have actually read the story? I never had, I realized, so I thought I’d give it a try. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly man, without a family, whose sole interest is making money. He believes that Christmas is a humbug, and no more cares for it than he does for being wished a merry one. Scrooge has no sympathy for the beggars who crowd the streets of London, nor even for his own clerk, Bob Cratchit. He has had no friend since his partner, Jacob Marley, died on Christmas Eve seven years past. But Scrooge doesn’t mind, which is just as well. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge has his usual day of conducting business, eating at a tavern, and going home to his lonely house: The one Jacob Marley formerly lived in. It is a normal day, correct? But the night brings something unexpected. A ghost, wrapped in chains, appears to Scrooge as he sits by the fireside. And there are three more specters to come. After a whirlwind night of memories, visions, and revelations, Ebenezer Scrooge will never be the same. Charles Dickens’s writing can certainly be a little confusing at first, even frustrating, but once you get the hang of it, the story is enjoyable. Warning: It may be a Christmas story, but that doesn’t mean it will not give you the chills. However, it will get you in the holiday spirit, and I wish you a happy one!