Review: At Season’s End by Eric Hendershot (coming out in May!)

I got a preview copy of “At Season’s End” by Eric Hendershot through Net Galley. This story, releasing from Sweetwater Publishers in May, tells the story of the an itinerant family of farm workers, trying to survive during the Depression. Sal, a teen, and her brother Tim and their parents travel throughout the US, looking for work as fruit pickers. Sal and Tim befriend the children of other workers and Sal falls in love with a young boy whose life her father saves. However, tragedy strikes and Sal and Tim must use their wits to survive, while Sal worries that she’ll never see her beloved Ben again.

I really enjoyed reading this novel, which seems geared towards YA but is billed for “all ages”. The family at the heart of this story is so committed to each other. Their faith is obvious as well (this book has a strong Christian bent). What I found so interesting was how much they enjoyed their migratory existence and how they pretty much went from month to month, not always knowing where money would come from, yet happy nonetheless.

Hendershot’s resume lists several family-friendly books and movies, and I would consider this novel to be among his family-friendly works. It has an emphasis on strong morals and values, and, as noted, an emphasis on Christianity.

It will be coming out in May. Thank you to Net Galley for my copy!

Review: The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

Through Net Galley I got a copy of “The Underside of Joy” to review. This is the debut novel of Sere Prince Halverson and I enjoyed it a lot.

When Ella Beene’s husband Joe dies tragically, Ella plans to continue her life with the family store and as stepmother to Joe’s two young children. But soon their absent biological mother shows up, and she wants to be part of their lives. Ella is torn between holding on to the children she has called her own, while trying to reconcile the presence of their biological mother, who she was told had abandoned them. Ella soon learns that Joe did not share everything with her, and she struggles to find the truth and make the right choices for her and her family.

This was a fascinating book as the main moral dilemma was just that: a dilemma. Paige, the biological mother, was not evil incarnate. Ella, the protagonist, was not perfect. I found myself often asking: what would I do in this situation? While the story concluded quickly, I felt it was well-written and compelling. Additionally, there was interesting information on postpartum extreme depression (actually psychosis I believe it would qualify as) and also internment camps for Italian-Americans during WWII (I’m IA and this was new to me).

This book came out this month – I recommend it!

Thanks to Net Galley and Dutton Publishers for my copy!

Review: I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Love, love, love.

I just love the character of young chemistry wiz Flavia deLuce in this series of books by Alan Bradley. I know they are often billed as YA, but I think they are fine for adults. If you follow me, you know I just adored “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” and while I continued to love the characters and writing in the next two books, I was disappointed in the plot lines.

This time, however, I was thrilled. In this installment, it is Christmas time, and Flavia is determined to “trap” Father Christmas up on the roof to prove his existence to her two unfeeling and scornful sisters. Meanwhile, her father has rented their home estate to be used for a movie featuring a famous actress. In all the excitement of filming and house guests, along with Christmas and snowstorms, a murder occurs, and Flavia is determined to figure out who the murderer is (while they are all snowed in!).

If you’ve read the other books, or even if you haven’t, I highly recommend this one!

(and thanks to Father Christmas who brought me mine!)

Quick Children’s Review: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

I recently got this book through Net Galley to review, and let me say right off: it was not what I was expecting. I figured a Lois Lenski book from the 1940’s would be pretty happy and light, telling the story of a little girl who loves/eats/picks strawberries. Instead this book was a fascinating (at least to me) look at life a hundred years ago in Florida, centering on two very different farming families who are trying to survive. The Boyers have just moved to Florida and are trying to make a living farming, including growing strawberries. The Slaters have lived there for generations and are rough and tough. The two families clash and come together throughout the book. Birdie Boyer, the ten-year-old narrator, tells most of the story through her voice. We come to sympathize with Birdie and her family, but grow a sympathy for the Slaters as well.

I can imagine this book being used in the classroom, but, as an educator, I would strongly suggest that teachers be very familiar with it in advance. There are lots of teachable moments in this book; however, there are also some disturbing scenes, too (drunken neighbor, slaughtered animals, beaten schoolteacher, etc.). It reminded me a bit of the Little House books, where you might be reading along and then strangely fascinated by something horrifyingly true, but in my opinion  it was harsher. Some of the book is written in dialect which can be challenging for young readers, too.  I would recommend this book for those in 4th grade and up. I’d be curious about others’ thoughts on it, too.

Thanks, Net Galley, for my preview copy!

Quick Review: V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

Hey, Folks — I’ve been MIA due to some family stuff going on. But I’ve kept reading! Coming up in the next week or so will be several short reviews on what I’ve been reading.

For Christmas I got the new Sue Grafton mystery: V is for Vengeance. I was quite excited as I’ve read all the other books in this series and really like them. This one was a bit complicated in terms of plot – I tend to read these books quickly and there were many characters and several subplots to keep straight. Long story short: our heroine Kinsey witnesses a shoplifting incident, and the thief ends up dead a short time later, which pulls her into a complicated series of events involving the Mob among other things.

I enjoyed this book a lot. As I said, it has a lot to keep straight in it, but overall, I found the pacing and plot excellent. I couldn’t stop reading! I managed to purchase a signed copy for my husband for Xmas through Ms. Grafton’s website, too – so now we have two copies.