Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Mix together a mail order bride, a murder, and a goat. Set them down into 1863 Colorado. Throw in historical facts and stories. The result is The Lucky Hat Mine, a fun western romance by J.V.L. Bell.

Gunfire rents the air, tearing Millie from a restless slumber on a packed wagon. This time the gunshots were aimed at a rattle snake. The next time, they came from bandits. Gunshots and adventure follow Millie everywhere she goes. It follows her from New Orleans, across the Great Plains, and even to Colorado. If this trip wasn’t perilous enough, upon her arrival at Idaho Springs, she finds herself without a finance but with plenty of suitors. One of them has already murdered her finance and soon is leaving threatening notes for Millie. Surviving her new life, let alone making herself a home, will take courage and smartness.

Millie has both. She could have hopped on the first wagon leaving town. Instead she stays to bury her finance. She could have stayed at a hotel. Instead she hikes the trail to her cabin in the woods. She could have accepted any number of proposals. Instead she rejects all suitors, knowing that they only want the cabin and the mine that have been bequeathed to her. Upon settling in her new home, Millie wastes no time in making friends with nearby neighbors and in learning how to shoot a gun. When suitors persist in wooing her, she appeases them with home-cooked meals but also accepts their offers of help. And upon discovering that her finance had been murdered by a towns person, she sets a trap for them with the help of her finance’s brother.

In many ways, The Lucky Hat Mine is a typical frontier story. Millie’s finance was murdered for his gold. He left behind a treasure map. Millie has no lack of suitors who court her. One of them falls hard for her; and she eventually falls for him too. There are bar fights, attacks by wild animals, and cave-ins and landslides. In other ways, J.V.L. Bell elevates The Lucky Hat Mine beyond that of its genre. Bell is a Colorado native who was raised climbing Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains, exploring old ghost towns, and reading stories about life in the early frontier days. She infuses her personal knowledge of Colorado and her extensive research into The Lucky Hat Mine. In addition, Bell adds humor through a quirky character, that of a goat named Buttercup.

Mix together a feisty heroine, a mystery, and baby goats. Set them down into 1863 Colorado. Throw in frontier legend and lore. The result is The Lucky Hat Mine, a madcap and heart-filled adventure.

Make way Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew! There’s a new detective team in town. In Ra The Mighty Cat Detective, Ra and his scarab beetle friend Khepri work to save a young servant girl who has been framed for theft of an amulet in a delightful new mystery for young people by A.B. Greenfield.

The duo of Ra and Khepri immediately won my affection. Ra is spoiled and lazy, liking nothing better than to sleep and eat 24-7, while Khepri is his hardworking sidekick. When Miu pleas for their help, Ra agrees only because he’s blackmailed by Khepri who threatens to fill Ra’s treats with dung if he does nothing. However, Ra soon finds himself enjoying the thrill of hunting down clues and prowling after suspects. He also shows that buried underneath his selfish demeanor lays a caring heart. The longer he works the mystery, the more convinced he becomes that Tedimut is innocent and doesn’t deserve a death sentence. As for Khepri, he proves himself as more than a sidekick, when he puts his life on the line to save Ra from an aggressive leopard and other dangerous encounters. He also shines as a character in his own right, using his mental prowress to figure out the real thief.

The setting for Ra The Mighty Cat Detective fascinated me. Greenfield seamlessly integrated details of ancient Egyptian court life, royal food, religious artifacts, and beloved animals into a comical and engaging adventure. What’s even more impressive is how much rooted in real history the mystery is. In the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery, one can find a statue of a cat and a scarab beetle, and this statue inspired Greenfield’s story. There really existed a Director of the Royal Loinclothes and other important people with long titles. Egyptians loved to serve all kinds of meat delicacies except for fish. Amulets were worn for luck and protection. Finally, Egyptians revered animals–particularly cats and beetles. Cats were often worshipped. As for beetles, they were favored due to Egyptians due to the ability of beetles to roll dung into large balls and to have baby beetles emerge from those balls.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention other elements that I enjoyed. The plot is full of twists and turns. Every time Ra (and I) thought he’d figured out the suspect, a new piece of information proved him wrong. There is a huge cast of characters, especially of animals. Every reader will have their favorite, but mine is Miu, a cat whom everyone should have in their life due to her self-sacrificing and preserving personality. The style is easy-to-read and should appeal to both reluctant readers. At the same time, there’s enough attention to detail that avid readers will also find their attention held.

Although I’ve been trying to reduce the number of Advanced Reader Copies I accept, Ra The Mighty Cat Detective is one I couldn’t resist due to the original and fun concept. And now that I’ve been introduced to this new and endearing detective team, I’ll be watching for sequels.

One-Two by Igor Eliseev is an atypical reading experience. Set in Russia in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the USSR has just ended and Russia is still in its infancy, One-Two takes you into the mind of conjoined twins Faith and Hope. The style is at first disconcerting, being told from an alternating first and second person, but in the end feels like the perfect choice. A psychological drama, the novel reflects on how difficult but also how important it is to remain human.

Faith and Hope do not have an easy life. Their own mother, aghast at the sight of them, signed their death certificate. The twins were handed over to one institute and then another as experimental subjects. When the scientists wearied of the twins, they were transferred to boarding school where they experienced some measure of happiness. The windows had no grids, the air smelled of moss and pine, and the twins felt like normal children for the first time. They even developed friendships. Unfortunately, due to a suicide by one of the boarders, their stay was short-lived. The next stop was an orphanage, where once again the twins were viewed as objects of curiosity and sunk into misery. Their one relief was a library and the news that successful operations were being performed to separate conjoined twins. But again, these comforts were short-lived. One-Two is a hard story at times to read, as there seems be no redemption in sight.

But I want redemption for Faith and Hope, who from start to finish I am rooting for. I like who the twins are. They value friendships from their peers, the knowledge to be found in libraries, and the kindness of strangers. They’re also self-aware and know when they are being cowardly or mean, but also how to be strong in the face of relentless suffering and pain. I empathize with the twins who wish for a different appearance, just as many of us are dissatisfied with our looks. Faith grows up knowing the story of the Ugly Duckling by heart, because she wants to undergo a similar transformation. She treasures artwork of a friend who depicts them as beautiful. Whether accurate or not, I find enlightening the insights into life as a conjoined twin. One teacher tells the class that anyone cheating will be seated at separate desks, and Faith laments how impossible that would be. Then there are the constant questions from bystanders of how the two function day-by-day with bodies that are conjoined. Perhaps the most bittersweet is how the twins at times encourage other and at other times wish desperately to be their own person. Finally, I feel abhorrence at their treatment. When the twins take a bus ride, passengers make comments such as they’ll never get used to them and they’ll one day turn into haggish toads. At the orphanage, when staff see them, the twins are told to cover themselves. And these are among the least cruel reactions.

The style is initially what I least cared for. The first person is used when Faith describes her traumatic childhood, and the second person is used when she talks to her conjoined twin. There are times when I wanted to simply stay inside Faith’s head and times when I wanted to know what her sister thought not what Faith said to or about her. At the same time, the technique serves to increase tension, and thereby creates a frightening foreboding. While narrating her story Faith occasionally presents philosophical truths that seemed too mature for her to know at the age being depicted. At the same time, her emotions swing from optimism to despair, and feel agonizingly real. By the novel’s end, I felt as if the author could not have chosen any other way to tell his story.

One-Two by Igor Eliseev is one of those books that need to be reread due to its complexity. The twins manage to struggle past thoughts of revenge, suicide, and other dark emotions to hold on to the belief that their life has been amazing and full of miracle, and therein they teach us how to be human. Upon the initial reading one will grasp the essentials of the plot and the characters, but an additional reading will be needed to fully comprehend all the truths being imparted.

Graphic novels have grown in popularity over the past decade. In some libraries, the hottest children’s books are often graphic novels. Here are three graphic novel recommendations for different ages groups.

The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard features a young boy who finds himself whisked back to the 16th century England while exploring an abandoned theater. He emerges on the stage of the Globe Theatre in the middle of a performance, much to the chagrin of William Shakespeare himself. A chase erupts, wherein the young boy frees and then befriends both a caged bear and an imprisoned baron. Kids and their parents will want to study the detailed illustrations to get the most out of this wordless paneled graphic novel.

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, the first title in the Lunch Lady series, introduces an uncover hero who assumes the guise of a lunch lady. A group of school friends who call themselves the Breakfast Bunch take a stand against bullies, agonize over what clubs to join, laugh at each other’s food choices, and debate who should win Teacher of the Year award. One day they follow the Lunch Lady home to see what she does when not serving meals. This leads to them teaming up with the Lunch Lady, her sidekick, and their crime-fighting gadgets against a suspicious substitute teacher. Mayhem abounds in this fast-paced madcap adventure, which has been a hit with both boys and girls.

For older readers comes the autobiographical novel called Smile. It tells of Raina who just wants to be a normal sixth-grader, but one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, damaging her two front teeth. This seemingly simple incident leads to years of agonizing over braces, headgear, surgery, and even a retainer with fake teeth. As if all this wasn’t already enough, Raina must maneuver her way through the confusion of changing friendships, dating, and self-identity. Although Smile takes place in the 1980’s, it still feels fresh. Anyone who has experienced the pain of dental work and adolescent angst will relate. Just as important, the novel will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to find their creative voice.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

From the ravaged tiny Polynesian island of Vaitea arises a hero and heroine for our times. Based on his ten years of Easter Island research, Edward Stanton has written an inspiring adventure about a brother and sister, their island, and how they saved it. In Wide as the Wind, Miru and Renga face tough choices and much hardship when they set sail to a distant island to find the seeds and shoots of trees that could reforest their homeland. Their return to Vaitea reaps romance and additional challenges in this teen historical novel.

Adventure is at the forefront of this tightly-written novel. Prior to embarking on their journey, Miru and Renga learn the sailor’s craft. Their grandfather teaches them to weave sails of pounded bark, cut full-sized paddles, make nets of mulberry cloth, and fashion birdbone hooks. He also teaches them to coast the island in a longboat, navigate by the sun, moon, and stars, recognize winds, currents, and constellations, and to fish. After recruiting a third crewman, the brother and sister duo set sail. On their journey, they brave the elements. The wind gusts. The sea roars. Supplies are washed overboard. The sun burns, parching their throats. They encounter sharks and their third crewman is attacked. Miru, Renga, and their third crewsman sail fifty-two days before finding land, and this is just the beginning of their adventure.

At the heart of Wide as the Wind also lies a theme. Years of tribal wars have devastated Vaitea. Tribes people who survived are now facing starvation. To save them, Miru must personally sacrifice romantic love, suffer injury and loss, and even risk his life. Even when they return from their journey to a distant island with the seeds and shoots of trees necessary to reforest their homeland, the tribal wars threaten to continue. Although some historical accounts suggest that extinction of natural resources of the real-life Easter Island inhabitants started long before internal conflicts, the latter certainly didn’t help. In basing his story on a real place, Stanton has crafted a parable that shows how mankind’s violence can lead to environmental destruction and even the end of a world.

Wide as the Wind has many other positives. The characters are realistic. Miru and Renga are likeable teens to which every reader can relate. Miru disagrees with his father’s choices, enjoys swimming with dolphins, and sneaks away to spend time with his girlfriend. The descriptions are vivid; the diction is strong. Here’s just one phrase for example: “He sat down with them on paving stones that glittered with brine and fish scales….” There are even moments of humor. One of the funniest is when birds poop on Miru’s head, just after he’s received the call to save his people. My one complaint is that I felt at times the action moved too fast and kept me at an emotional distance from the characters.

Author Edward Stanton has written eleven books. His fiction, poems, and essays have appeared in publications across the world. He is a professor of literature, and has won grants for his travel, research, and writing. Wide as the Wind is a worthy addition to his literary accomplishments. It has won the 2017 silver Moonbeam Award for Young Adult Fiction and the 2018 silver Feathered Quill Award for Teen Fiction.


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