Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Historical Nonfiction for Young Readers

Here's another great collection of nonfiction history books written for young readers. This time around, we have several books featuring presidents and politics. I'm a big fan of Teri Kanefield's Making of America Series, and I'm thrilled to be featuring the first three books in the series today and plan to read each and every addition to the series as they come out. We also have several books that explore the contributions of women in history. And to round out the post, we finish up with a book about WWI (just in time for the centennial of the war's conclusion) and one about Buffalo Bill. Although aimed at a middle-grade or young adult audience, many of these books are fascinating at any age.

Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America by Teri Kanefield: 
Alexander Hamilton is having one heck of a cultural moment. Teri Kanefield begins her Making of America series with a biography of the star of the hit musical. This book will give young fans a fuller picture of Hamilton's life. I especially appreciated the chapters on the work Hamilton did between the revolution's end and the creation of Washington's first cabinet. During this time, Hamilton served in the Continental Congress and on a delegation that met in Annapolis where Hamilton drafted a resolution calling for a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. Teri Kanefield's history books are very readable, and I flew through this one in a couple of days. Out March 7, 2017 from Abrams Books for Young Readers. Review copy from NetGalley. 

Andrew Jackson: The Making of America by Teri Kanefield:
There are, of course, many books about the controversial presidency of Andrew Jackson, some even for young readers. Jackson was a very interesting person, and this book hits all of the highlights and low points of Jackson's life, from his childhood during the Revolutionary War, to his elopement with Rachel Donelson, his military ambitions, and divisive politics. I didn't have a lot of good feelings about Andrew Jackson going into this book, and I don't feel much better about him after finishing, but I do feel like I have a more complete picture of his life, legacy, and the lasting impact of his politics. Out March 13, 2018 from Abrams Books for Young Readers. Review copy from NetGalley.

Abraham Lincoln: The Making of America by Teri Kanefield:
Abraham Lincoln routinely scores the number one spot on lists of greatest United States Presidents. Most people know the highlights of Lincoln's career--securing the presidency, leading the country during the Civil War, signing the Emancipation Proclamation, and delivering the Gettysburg Address. What I really loved about Teri Kanefield's biography for young readers, is that it clued me in to how Lincoln began his path to the presidency, where he gained his abolitionist convictions, and the role Mary Todd played in his life. I've loved every one of the Making of America Series, and I'm hoping for many, many more additions to the series. Out September 4, 2018 from Abrams Books for Young Readers. Review copy from NetGalley.

Assassins' America by Jessica Gunderson and Joe Tougas:
This book explores the stories behind the four presidential assassinations. Moving from Abraham Lincoln to Andrew Garfield and onto William McKinley and finally John F. Kennedy, Assassins' America shows how the lives of these presidents and their killers came together. It also explores the possibilities of what might have happened had the president not died. I really enjoyed this brief, but thorough, introduction to these national tragedies. I learned a lot about both the presidents and the assassins. We all know about the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln, but I also was impressed with the potential of Andrew Garfield who didn't live long enough to do much in office. Out March 1, 2018 from Capstone. Review copy from NetGalley. 

Eleanor Roosevelt: Fighter for Justice by Ilene Cooper
It was an absolute pleasure to read about Eleanor Roosevelt. She is an impressive and much-admired historical figure. I did not know much about Eleanor's childhood and youth, and I am now thoroughly convinced that Eleanor is one of the main reasons that her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had four successful presidential terms. Ilene Cooper's biography of Eleanor specifically emphasizes her work in social justice, civil rights, and racial equality. I really like how Cooper conveys Eleanor's growth in terms of these issues. She was not a perfect person; she held racial prejudices that were wrong and needed to be overcome. I was so impressed by Eleanor's Roosevelt's willingness to listen and learn from other people. This is a trait that I deeply admire. Out August 7th, 2018 from Abrams Books for Young Readers. Review copy from NetGalley.

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg 
I grew up on Anne Shirley. I read all of the Anne books as a girl and watched the 1985 miniseries countless times, so I jumped at the chance to read and review this new biography on the creator of Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery. One thing that I found so fascinating is how much Maud Montgomery pulled from her own life and personality in the creation of Anne. The similarities go far beyond the setting of Prince Edward Island. Maud was raised by her grandparents; she was a lonely child with a vivid imagination; she was a bright student; her college years were very similar to Anne's; she worked as a teacher; she turned down many proposals. And I could go on. Maud's life is a mixture of high highs and low lows. Maud dealt with some significant mental health issues in a time when treatment was very limited. She had an unhappy marriage and a child who brought on a lot of heartache. She was also wildly successful in an era when being a woman with a career was an uphill battle in every sense. Out June 12, 2018 from Candlewick Press. Review copy from NetGalley.

Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress by Susan Gilman Rubin:
Rubin chronicles the life of the extremely influential fashion designer Coco Chanel. I didn't know much about Chanel's biography, besides her dicey World War II period, and it was very interesting to learn about her childhood spent in a Catholic orphanage and her years developing and growing her young business. Rubin also discusses Chanel's influential designs, from the little black dress, to the menswear inspired pieces, to Chanel No. 5. I read this slim volume in one sitting, and enjoyed every minute. The book itself is also quite lovely in its design, which is only fitting. Out March 13, 2018 from Abrams Books for Young Readers. Review copy from NetGalley.

Innocent Heroes: Animals in War and the Battle of Vimy Ridge by Sigmund W. Brouwer:
Thousands of animals played a crucial role in World War I. Brouwer's book explores the contributions of these creatures. Each chapter begins with a fiction story about an animal who crosses paths with the Storming Normans, a fictional Canadian Platoon. After the story, a nonfiction section provides facts about World War I and the animals who were involved in the war. The format of this book was a really engaging way to learn history. The stories are all interconnected and feature the same characters, one of whom is First Nation, which gives readers a look into the prejudices and injustices faced by native peoples during this period of history. The nonfiction sections explain how the facts inspired the story. Readers meet a variety  of animals, a cat, two dogs, a mule, a pigeon, a horse, all of whom play a crucial role in the Storming Normans' platoon. Out February 14, 2017 from Tundra Books. Review copy from NetGalley.

Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming:
In 2015 I read and loved Andrea Warren's The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill and Candace Fleming's The Family Romanov. With that background, reading Fleming's new book on Buffalo Bill was a given. Fleming's book covers all of Buffalo Bill's life. It was interesting to learn about how the Wild West Show got started and about its tours to Europe. Although, his final years were rather sad. I was pleased to find that this book corroborates Buffalo Bill's respectful attitude toward the Native Americans who performed in his shows (and their respect for him). Fleming begins each chapter with a description of one of the performances from the Wild West Show, and I liked that I walked away from the book with a little bit of knowledge about the performances themselves and what it would be like to be an audience member. Fleming takes a real demystifying approach in this book. She was pretty skeptical about a lot of the things that Buffalo Bill said he did. Out September 20, 2016 from Roaring Brook Press.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Missing People

What happens when someone goes missing? These thrillers are intense, sad, engaging, and significant.

Missing Boy:
A few months ago Natalie's boyfriend died in a car accident, and life has been hard ever since. Hoping to lift her spirits, Natalie's parents take her and her three best friends on a cruise for her birthday. Things seem to be looking up when Natalie meets an interesting boy and opens up to him, but when he doesn't show up for their next meeting, Natalie get really concerned. Could he have jumped? Is that why the captain is calling for a mandatory head count? The Opposite of Here has a great premise: a missing person in a contained location. Tara Altebrando's new book is a fast-paced thriller with a setting that makes for a perfect summer read. The Opposite of Here is out June 5, 2018. Review copy from NetGalley. 

Missing Best Friend:
When Claudia returns from summer at her grandmother's house, her best friend, Monday Charles, has vanished, and no one seems to notice but Claudia. Tiffany D. Jackson's new book is loosely based on the disappearances of young black girls in Washington, D.C. that made headlines in 2017. Jackson's story delves into issues of race, gentrification, learning disabilities, and mental illness. Jackson's writing paints a vivid picture of the Washington, D.C. area, and Claudia's story is compelling and tragic. However, I found the structure of the book to be a bit confusing at first, but it eventually all came together, so if you feel similarly hang in there. Monday's Not Coming is out May 22, 2018. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Missing Sister:
It had been a while since I had read an adult thriller when I picked this one up. Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker is the story of sisters Cass and Emma who disappeared when they were 15 and 17. Now, several years later, Cass returns, without her sister. Her story is one of an isolated island and the couple who trapped them there. Forensics specialist, Abby Winter knows something is off and is certain that Cass is leading them somewhere else. This was a compulsive read for me, as thrillers ought to be. I could not put it down. Of course, it is filled with family secrets and unlikable characters, as is often the case in thrillers as well. Emma in the Night was out August 8, 2017. Review copy from NetGalley.


Missing Girl:
Courtney Summers's new book, Sadie, is told in two alternate timelines. In one timeline Sadie is searching for her younger sister's killer. In the other timeline a Serial-type podcast host, West McCray, is searching for the missing Sadie. McCray's sections are told in the podcast format, which makes for a really interesting read. (I hear the audiobook takes the podcast format seriously with a full cast and everything.) Sadie is suspenseful and serious and sad. It is about some really rough (but important) themes: revenge, small-town poverty, drug addiction, child molestation, abandonment. Ms. Summers always excels at the gritty and painful. Sadie is out September 4, 2018. Review copy from NetGalley.

Missing Girlfriend:
Flynn's girlfriend January is missing. As Flynn digs into her disappearance he learns that January had so many secrets. Flynn is hiding a secret of his own, and, with the investigation intensifying, it's one he probably won't be able to keep even though he's not ready to share this secret with the world. Last Seen Leaving was Caleb Roehrig's debut novel. This is a great pick for fans of YA thrillers. The mystery had me hooked, and I really enjoyed seeing the threads unravel. I did guess the culprit early on, which is always a bit of a bummer. I'd rather be shocked, but the author had plenty of other tricks up his sleeve that I did not see coming. Last Seen Leaving was out in 2016. Review copy from NetGalley.  

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2018 (The Halfway Mark)

Every summer we like to give you a little sneak peak into our favorite reads of the year. Sticking to five each is not easy, but I can personally vouch for all of Paige's picks because, for the first time ever, I've also read every single one of her picks.

JoLee's Top Five

A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt:
This year I finally started the Tillerman Cycle after many years of friends telling me to read it. This third book in the series is so heartbreaking and beautiful and healing all at once. I really love how I have a connection to the setting in this series. This book takes place in Baltimore, Charleston, and on the Eastern Shore. I will be the first to admit that that personal connection is making this series even more wonderful to me.

Educated by Tara Westover:
I had to put this one on the list for the shear number of conversations I've had about it. While reading it I kept texting my friends who had already finished it. Another friend finished it and promptly texted me saying, "We have to talk about this book!" If you read it, find some friends to read along. This is a book that demands conversation.

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller:
This alternate World War I era novel full of magic and feminism is both incredibly entertaining and thought-provoking. I'm thrilled that there's going to be a sequel. (featured here)

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaimon:
I am not nearly as well-versed in Norse Mythology as I am in Greek Mythology, but lately I've had a lot of reasons to learn more. Neil Gaiman's storytelling is both entertaining and informative. I definitely feel like I can hold my own a little more in the Norse Myth world.

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein:
I loved this addition to the Young Pilots Series. The 1930s Ethiopian setting is so vibrant and the writing so rich. I loved learning about this moment in history through the eyes of these beautiful characters. (featured here)

Paige's Top Five

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger:
I rocketed through this entire series earlier this year. It's great on audio, has a great steampunk/ paranormal world, and well, you can read all the reasons I love it here.

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff:
An exceptional finale for an exceptional series. It's fabulous when a series closes as strongly as this one did. Read about all the reasons we love the series here.

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman:
I absolutely adore Rachel Hartman's Seraphina books, and I was so excited to read another book set in the same world. Tess is a bit more psychological and a bit more philosophical, but it's very bit as good. (series featured here and here)

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway:
Robin Benway really knows how to bring on the feels. This book about three adopted siblings meeting for the first time is so touching. (featured here)

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows:
The authors of My Lady Jane are at it again. This time the Lady Janies take on Jane Eyre, and their version is quite a bit funnier than the original.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Set in Scotland

This post is inspired by Caroline Leech's new book, In Another Time, which came out this week. The book is set in Scotland during World War II, and, as you know, I love a good setting and I love a good WWII book. All of these books set in Scotland truly make the setting come alive. Take a trip through the history of Scotland with these great reads.

The 1930s:
After her grandfather's death, Julia Beaufort-Stuart returns home to his estate, which is to be sold and transformed into a boys' school. The Pearl Thief is partly about Julie saying goodbye to her grandfather and her childhood. It's also a mystery involving a missing employee and a forgotten cache of Scottish River Pearls. Elizabeth Wein paints a very vivid picture of Julie's Scotland. I love that this book brought to my attention a lot of things that I knew nothing about, such as Scottish River Pearls and Scottish Travelers (disparagingly called Tinkers). The relationship between Julie and the Travelers explores prejudices, social casts, and economic classes. 

The 12th Century:
After her mother's memorial service, Hope finds out she's been invited to visit her mom's sister in Scotland. Once there, a family secret is revealed and Hope learns she must travel through time to save her mother. Others will try to thwart her and her companions at every turn. Janet B. Taylor's Into the Dim reminded me of Ruby Red; both books are about time traveling families with abundant resources that allow them to fit in in any era. I really liked Hope and the mysteries surrounding her. I liked the Medieval setting. I haven't read many books that feature that particular time period, and I enjoyed the history and Hope's reaction to the time period. I am eager to continue the story with Sparks of Light.

World War II:
Maisie McCall is determined to join the war effort. Her age and lack of qualifications limit her options, but she finds she's well-suited to the Women's Timber Corps and life as a lumberjill. Stationed in the wilds of Scotland, Maisie's company works alongside the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit, and Maisie grows especially close to one member of NOFU, John Lindsay. I adored Caroline Leech's debut novel, Wait for Me, and was so thrilled to be back in her capable hands in WWII Scotland. I didn't know anything about lumberjills before I read this book. I loved how WWI poetry played a major role in the story, and I appreciated how PTSD was handled. In Another Time is out August 28, 2018. Review copy from Edelweiss.

The (Fantastical) Present-Day:
Daisy Winters may be your average American girl, but when her older sister announces her engagement to Prince Alexander of Scotland she's thrust into the tabloids. To keep the situation under wraps, the Palace arranges for Daisy to spend the summer in Scotland where they can keep an eye on her. Like it or not, Daisy is now roped into the royal life. Royals is so much fun. It's pure fluff, but the best fluff around. This is a book for romantic comedy lovers; it would a be lot of fun to see this book on screen--all those gorgeous people, the parties, the setting. Daisy is truly delightful and witty. Her quips made me laugh, and I was totally on board for the romance. Even the royals won me over by the end. Out May 1st, 2018.

The 19th Century:
The Falconer is a steampunk tale of a damaged but resourceful girl. Fierce and reckless, Aileana hunts and kills the deadly faeries that killed her mother. The book takes place in 19th-century Scotland, and I liked reading about the Aileana's delicate (or not so delicate) balancing act between her place in society and her duties as a Falconer. Derrick is a real treat, and I thought things started to get really interesting when Gavin was introduced. Then there's Kiaran Mackay, a fae with a lot of secrets who's training Aileana. Mackay's secretive past, and seemingly contradictory nature, was one of the most gripping parts of the story. The final book in Elizabeth May's trilogy was published in 2017.

The Pearl Thief, In Another Time, Royals, and The Falconer reviewed by JoLee.
Into the Dim reviewed by Paige.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Alternate Histories

I love a good alternate history. I think it's really fun to see how an author chooses to mix fact and fiction. Throw some zombies into history? Sure. People in the past had magic or could live on Mars? Why not.

1882 Brooklyn:
Avery Kohl is going insane. She is starting to see visions and she fears the men in crow masks will come and take her away just like her mother who now languishes in the asylum known as the Tombs. But do the visions make Avery crazy or something else entirely? I loved everything about the setting Deborah Schaumberg's debut novel. I loved that it was steeped in true American history with children working in factories and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. I also loved the fantastical elements and the sense of mystery. There were moments when I was confused, but the story pulled me in, and I didn't mind those moments. The Tombs was out February 20, 2018. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Victorian England:
Felicity Cole lives in an alternate Victorian England where a small subset of the population has super powers. Those with powers, called the Tainted, are feared and persecuted. When the secret of her family's Tainted blood is revealed, Felicity is arrested, but a mysterious stranger breaks her out of prison and whisks her away to a school where Tainted young people train to become spies for Queen Victoria. Game of Secrets is a mix between Gail Carriger's Finishing School series and X-Men combined with cool Matrix-style fight scenes. Kim Foster's novel is pretty fun, and she had some twists up her sleeve that I did not expect. Game of Secrets is out May 15, 2018. Review copy from Edelweiss.  

World War I America:
The Philosopher's Flight is one of  my favorite reads of the year so far. In this alternate World War I era novel, magic has been part of society for generations. Women are naturally more gifted in empirical philosophy, flipping the gender dynamics in intriguing ways. Robert Weekes's mother is an empirical philosopher, and, though it's slightly unorthodox, she's taught her son. A daring rescue gives Robert the confidence to apply to college to study empirical philosophy, despite the fact that they seldom accept boys. Tom Miller's debut novel is such an entertaining work of feminist fiction. I'm thrilled that he's writing a sequel. Out February 13, 2018. Review copy from NetGalley. 

Post-Civil War:
Jane McKeene lives in a world where a zombie plague ended the Civil War. Slavery is outlawed but a new strict caste system places blacks and indigenous peoples on the front lines as zombie hunters while white folks get to pretend that everything is fine. Justina Ireland's new book is so good. It's both incredibly thought provoking and entertaining, which is, I think, exactly what you want from an alternate history scenario. I loved Jane. She is spunky and feisty, and I found her to be a fantastic narrator. Also, I loved this book just that much more because it is set in Baltimore (where I currently live) and Kansas (where I used to live). Dread Nation is out April 3, 2018. Review copy from Edelweiss. 

Regency Era:
Arabella Ashby is a tomboy with a talent for mechanics. Her happy life on Mars comes to an end when her mother takes her back to earth for a proper  education. A family misfortune has Arabella scrambling for a way to get back to Mars. Her solution is to stowaway aboard the trading ship Diana. Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine is a fun steampunk space adventure. The setting is a clever alternate version of the Regency era where the Napoleonic wars have spread to the skies. I really enjoyed the clever mechanics, the automata, and the Martians. Arabella is a plucky heroine who is smart and capable and not willing to sit idly by as duty dictates. The third book, Arabella the Traitor of Mars, is out July 31, 2018.

The Tombs reviewed by Paige.
Game of Secrets, The Philosopher's Flight, Dread Nation, and Arabella of Mars reviewed by JoLee.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Series Salute: Trouble by Stephanie Tromly

Princeton and Digby are one of my favorite detective duos. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, a White Collar fan, or a Veronica Mars fan this is a series worth checking out. Trust me. (Series featured here and here.)


About the Books

Zoe Webster is new to town and pretty sure she doesn't want to be there. In fact, she's already got one foot out the door thanks to her father's plans to get her into a prestigious school in New York City. When Philip Digby shows up at her front door because he needs a place to set up surveillance on the house across the street, she can't stand him, especially when he starts calling her Princeton. Yet somehow he reels her in and soon she's helping him uncover the whereabouts of a missing local girl. One mystery leads to another and another and another. Digby and Princeton are on the case.

Digby is the perfect teenage Sherlock Holmes. He's whip-smart, acerbic, and a bit of a misfit. Zoe plays the Watson half of the equation. She keeps Digby grounded, can almost out-snark him, and, as much as he might not admit it, there's no way he could survive without her.

 Why I Love Them

1. The Snark:
I knew I was going to like this series from the very beginning. How could I resist this opening line: "Of course I didn't like Digby when I first met him. No one does."?   

2. Princeton and Digby:
Zoe and Digby's interactions are the best. I am a sucker for smart, snappy dialog, and Ms. Tromly really delivers. Every scene with Zoe and Digby in it is such a treat. I'd read about them doing laundry together. They are that entertaining.

3. The Humor:
I don't often laugh out loud when reading. But these books? They get me every time. 

4. The Usual Shenanigans:
Digby shows up, convinces Zoe to go sleuthing with him, they get in some scrape, narrowly escape, and then repeat the process all over again.

5. The Crew
I love the side characters in Zoe and Digby's little gang of misfits. These books wouldn't be the same without the crew and Olympio's. Felix Fong is particularly entertaining. 

6. Sloane
Sloane's interactions with Zoe are almost as great as Zoe's interactions with Digby. They are hilarious together. Sloane's backhanded compliments get me every time. 

7.  The Schemes:
Digby has a nose for trouble, and his own moral code. He's motivations are usually above board, but he is not at all opposed to breaking the law to get to the truth or help out a friend. This means a lot of scheming. 

8. The Sexual Tension:
Zoe and Digby. They belong together, but there is this whole "will they? won't they?" aspect of this series that keeps the reader hanging. 

9. The Mysteries: 
The mysteries in these books build on one another. Digby's overarching goal is to find his missing sister, but those pieces come together slowly with a bunch of other fun and dangerous mysteries layered on top.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Series Salute: The Illuninae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

For the past couple of years the sequels to Illuminae have been at the very top of my most-anticipated lists. There's something so satisfying about reading a highly-anticipated book that surpasses your every expectation, and that's exactly what these books did. It's hard to say goodbye to this series.

About the Books

The year is 2575 and Kady and Ezra live on a planet where an illegal mining operation is underway. A rival corporation invades the planet and amidst the massacre thousands escape on the three spaceships that responded to the distress signals. The harrowing escape to the evacuation ship is just the beginning of the problems. The Illumine Files are a dossier put together to take down BeiTech. 

Why We Love Them

1. The Format
The style of these novels is very compelling. The story is told through a collection of interviews, secret documents, instant messages, emails, surveillance footage, and diagrams. That might not sound engaging, but, trust us, it is. 

2. The Audiobook
The audiobook versions of these novels are masterful. Listening to them is a complete experience.  Told with a full cast, music, and special effects, the audiobooks are so much fun. 

3. The Paper book
Very rarely do I feel the need to read the text version and the audio version of the same book. This series is an exception. The text copies are very appealing visually. Listening to the book makes me want to read the paper version and reading it makes me want to listen. 

4. The Ensemble Cast
A good ensemble cast is a rarity in a novel, but this series does the ensemble thing so well. By the end of the series we have eights characters sharing the spotlight, and I loved every single one of the them.

You guys. I am a little obsessed with AIDAN, the sentient AI that is a key component of so many of the Illuminae Group's plans. AIDAN's narration is the most lyrical of the group, and I just love all the contradictions that are bundled up into that AI.

6. Excellent Pacing
Am I the only who gets bogged down in battle scenes? There's plenty of fighting in this series, but I definitely did not have that problem. The pacing is excellent with plenty of action but also quieter moments and periods of reflection.

7. The World Building
The world that Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff created is complex and well-constructed. I really like how they grapple with compelling moral issues in this sci-fi action thriller.

8. Genre-bending Element
I don't want to give too much away with this one. Let's just say that there are plenty of surprises in these books, and you might not want to read them with the lights off.

9. Series Growth
The growth from book to book in this series is impressive. Each novel adds two or three new main characters. The plot was intricate from the beginning, and yet each book only became more sophisticated.

Post by JoLee and Paige.

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