YA Review: Ann Rinaldi’s “My Vicksburg”

I recently came across the short novel “My Vicksburg” at the library. I hadn’t read it, so of course I had to take it out. This novel tells the story of 14-year-old Claire Louise Corbett, as her family lives out the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, during the Civil War. Claire Louise’s father is a doctor gone to fight with the South under Robert E. Lee. Her older brother, Landon, has joined the Union forces as a doctor. Meanwhile, she, her mother, and her little brother are forced to live in a cave with their family servants while the town is under attack. When Landon returns to them with a wounded Southern soldier that he is caring for and must turn over the authorities, Claire Louise must decide where her loyalties lie, and what she can do to help her family, Robert, and herself.

I really enjoyed this short novel. I had no idea that some of the people of Vicksburg actually lived in local caves during that time of the Civil War. I found this quite fascinating. Claire Louise’s character is boldly drawn and the reader feels connected with her. Her struggles with family loyalty and pride in her home state are clearly drawn. What I found resonates most in this novel is its portrayal of relationships: between Claire Louise and her parents, and between Claire Louise and her brothers, especially Landon.

You can find this book at your local library — I did!

REVIEW: Countdown by Deborah Wiles

I came across a review of the YA/children’s book Countdown by Deborah Wiles, calling it a documentary novel, and thought it sounded compelling, so I found it at my local library. Countdown follows a period in the fall of 1962 for 5th grader Frannie Chapman. The Cuban Missile Crisis is heating up, the US is dealing with fear of nuclear disaster (“duck and cover” is the slogan of the day), and Frannie’s home life is complicated by her mentally fragile uncle and secretive older sister who has started college and is becoming distant. Add in Frannie’s “perfect” little brother, her disciplinarian mother, her father who is often away for the military, and a best friend who becomes a back-stabber, and Frannie’s life is less than ordinary, and very real.

In spots throughout the book, Wiles has inserted lyrics, slogans, pictures, articles, etc. truly from 1962 to give you a sense of Frannie’s time and place. She paints a picture of Frannie’s neighborhood and home that is so realistic, I was not surprised to read in the afterward that she had based them on her own real life. I loved Frannie’s character, and I loved the memories it evoked in me of life in an earlier decade (for me, the 70’s – personally I wasn’t born in 1962). Frannie’s Saturday mornings are spent doing chores. Her family attends church on Sundays and she goes to Sunday school. The kids in her class walk home together to their neighborhood two blocks away. There is an abandoned quarry nearby where they play, even though they aren’t supposed to. The highlight for the class is an upcoming Halloween costume party that one of the girls is having. Frannie’s secret vice is playing her sister’s 45’s on her record player when she is not home. I ask you — does anyone still live like this anymore??

Countdown is the first in a trilogy. I hope they will all feature Frannie Chapman! I think I would find the documentary novel to be of great use in the classroom. It’s a nice way to make history come alive for young readers. My challenge with this book is where to place it — I’ve seen it as YA and as children’s. Frannie is eleven, so I’d think 4th grade readers, but the content can be used much older, in my opinion. I am curious what other readers thought.

All in all, a fine read that I enjoyed. I got mine from the “new” shelf at the library!!

Quick Review: The Last Illusion by Rhys Bowen

I know I devote a large amount of time to cozy mysteries, as I love them so much, so I will make this one – by one of my favorite authors – quick!

I was surprised to see a new Molly Murphy mystery on the shelf at the library last week. It had come out in March. I couldn’t wait to read it, though, as it pairs Molly with master magician Harry Houdini as she is hired by his wife for the huge assignment of protecting him from suspected killers. The book starts off with a magic act gone wrong, and soon Houdini himself disappears (for real!). Molly is drawn in to the theater world of illusionists as she seeks to figure out where Harry has gone, what he might be hiding, and who’s telling the truth and who is merely hiding behind illusions. Along the way she struggles with fiance Daniel’s discomfort and disapproval of her work and the planning of their future together.

All in all, it was a fun read!

REVIEW: Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

A while ago, I received a copy of “Remarkable Creatures” from my friend Jennifer over at Literate Housewife -www.literatehousewife.com. I had been meaning to get to reading it, but it had languished a bit on my overstuffed bookshelves. Last week I finally got it, and I am so glad I did!

When I first heard of this story, it was explained as “two women in the 1800’s who are friends and find fossils together on a beach in England”. My first thought was “that’s it?? Sounds like a total snooze!”. However, while essentially this book is about two women (Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot) in the 1800’s who are friends and find fossils together on a beach in England, it is so much more. It is a story about friendship, about rivalry, about class, about social mores, about women’s rights. It traces two women, who, by the way are TRUE HISTORICAL CHARACTERS (somehow I had missed this fact and that always makes a huge difference to me) and how they became friends and colleagues in finding some of the most incredible fossils (and those supporting what were at that time controversial scientific theories) of the 1800’s. Along the way, they become rivals for a man’s attention and desire, struggle with the differences in their classes, and fight for women’s placement among scientist (a male dominated and controlled field at that time).

I have read all of Tracy Chevalier’s books and do love her writing which is why I was drawn to give this book a try — and I am so glad I did!

I give this book 4 1/2 Stars!

REVIEW: The Lost Constitution by William Martin

On a recent trip to the library, I noticed “The Lost Constitution” on the shelf. Those who read me know that I love the Martin books — history mysteries as I call them — and this one continues the adventures of Peter Fallon, rare book dealer, and his spunky yet refined girlfriend, Evangeline Carrington (how’s that for a name that drips money?), as they chase down an early annotated draft of the Constitution. Typical of Martin’s books, this one juxtaposes a current day chapter with Fallon with a historical one, tracking the document through the years. Eventually the characters and plot lines converge into an all-out race to the finish (with much violence and bloodshed, I should say).

Parallel with the storyline is the integrated subplot of a congresswoman calling for gun control and trying to repeal the 2nd Amendment (right to bear arms). Both political factions are seeking the document to show what the founding fathers really intended (well – they only want it if it will support their views). I did find this aspect of the book a bit far-fetched. While I’m sure there would be a hunt for it, and a lot of money spent, the amount of murder and violence involved seemed a bit ridiculous. All for an old rough draft of the Constitution? That would sway the voting public? I don’t know – seemed too much for me to swallow.

However, that said, I do enjoy the historical fiction in these books and the modern-day tie-in. The end of this leaves us with a teaser of Fallon and Evangeline’s upcoming trip to France to find a book that will explain….well, I’ll guess we’ll find out!

I’d give this enjoyable read 4 Stars! I got mine at the library!