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.

Advertisements

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

Really Good Books to Get Your Teenager

Okay, this has been languishing in my Drafts since the beginning of December, and now it’s finally posted! Yay! Let us all cheer and eat virtual cookies.

As I’m sure a lot of you have noticed, the holiday season is taking the country by storm. Which means, of course, it’s time to head to the mall. Because of this, I thought I’d do a post about certain books that I think really deserve to be on your shopping list. And so, I present to you: Really Good Books to Get Your Teenager! Ta-DA!

First up is The Diviners, the newest book by Libba Bray, set in the glamorous 1920s. Evie (or Miss Evangeline O’Neill, if you prefer) is thrilled to be sent to New York City to live with her uncle for awhile, even though it is technically a punishment for some hot water she got into at home. From here on out, it’s nothing but parties and chatting up nice fellas for Evie and her best friend, Mabel. But the carefree frivolity doesn’t last very long. It soon becomes apparent that a serial killer is on the loose. And with Evie’s unusual, supernatural powers, she may be able to catch him. Here’s the rub: How’s she supposed to do that? This book is pretty thick, but it’s totally worth your time. Now, give me the sequel!

Second: The Fault in Our Stars! Ahhh, John Green made me so sad with this book, but it was really good! The main character of this novel is Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old with thyroid cancer, and who has had her future determined ever since her diagnosis. She spends most of her time either watching the newest episode of America’s Next Top Model or rereading her most favorite book in the entire world, An Imperial Affliction. Oh, and she sometimes attends this support group for other kids with cancer. And this is where she meet Augustus Waters, a one-legged 17-year-old who becomes Hazel’s friend and more. This won TIME’s #1 fiction book of the year for a reason, people.

Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly. And yeah, I’ve already reviewed this, but I don’t care, because it deserves to be on your shopping list! It follows the adventures of Andi Alpers, (who’s still recovering from her brother Truman’s death) as she goes to Paris with her father (against her will!) to work on her senior thesis. But things get more exciting when she discovers the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, an aspiring player from the time of the French Revolution. Andi is soon so caught up her find that it’s almost an obsession, and she’s desperate for it to have a happy ending. But things start to get rather strange one night in the catacombs. . . I’d just like to say that this book does not disappoint. It’s very thick, though, and kind of complicated, so I’m just warning you. Actually, I’m not. I take that back. Get it anyway!

Divergent. This also already has a review, but we’ll ignore that. This is not your run-of-the-mill dystopian novel. It’s a dystopian novel that is awesome. It tells the story of Beatrice Prior, who must make a choice: Her society, which is located in what was once known as Chicago, Illinois, is divided into five factions, each focusing on a certain character trait or value. They are Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Now that Beatrice is 16 years old, she must decide which of these factions will become her home, after taking the aptitude test that determines which faction she is most suited to. However, there’s just one little problem: Beatrice is Divergent, meaning she had more than one result. Which is just plain dangerous. This book has had a lot of popularity going for it, and it is well-deserving. Veronica Roth is awesome. Now if she would just finish the last book already. . .

Agh, what next? Um. . .oh! How about Poetry Speaks Who I Am? (Okay, let’s just accept that almost every book on this list probably already has a review, or will have one at some point.) This is actually a really good Christmas gift. It’s properly fancy (comes with a CD) and is filled with awesome poetry for teens (I should know), from a myriad of writers. Some of my personal favorites are How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson, Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros, Used Book Shop by X. J. Kennedy, The Writer by Richard Wilbur. . .you do realize I could go on forever, right? So, seriously, get this. For pretty much any teenage poetry-lover (and older ones, too!) it’s a must.

There are tons of other books I demand you get, but this post would be never be finished if I wrote about them all. So let me just say that I love anything by Gary D. Schmidt, The Future of Us, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, anything by Carolyn Meyer or Ann Rinaldi is great, and. . .okay, okay, I’ll stop.

So, anyway, I hope you consider putting some of these incredibly awesome books under your Christmas tree this year, or giving them as a Hanukkah present, etc. Or just giving them to someone randomly, hopefully in the near future, or for a birthday, or New Year’s, or even Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, because any day is a good enough occasion to give someone a book. (Well, that sounded kind of corny, but let’s face it: It’s true.) Happy holidays everybody!

P.S. There is only one more week of school before break. Did you hear that? One more week!

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!

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.