Audiobook: Beyond the Bright Sea

by Lauren Wolk
Read by: Jorjeana Marie
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Content:  There are some instances of violence that could be intense for younger readers. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Crow has lived her entire life on a small island in the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. She lives with the man — Osh — who found her, washed ashore in a small boat,  as a new baby.  Her history hasn’t bothered her, but something about being 12 has got her wondering where she came from. Her questions lead to a chain of events that involves pirates, lepers on Penikese island, and finding her family.

I’ll be honest: I tried this one in print. It didn’t take. I just wasn’t compelled enough by the writing or the characters to keep going. So when I saw that it was audio, at first I was hesitant. But, I gave it a try, and maybe it was right place/right time, or maybe it was the fantastic narrator, but this time it stuck.

I loved hearing about Crow and Osh’s spartan life, getting the feel of life on the northern islands. I loved going with Crow as she discovered the history of her family, and felt for Osh as he struggled with his own feelings (maybe that was just the adult in me reacting).  I loved learning the history (of sorts) of the leper colony on Penikese, and to just get a sense of the place and time. Wolk is a good historical fiction writer, though I’m not sure her work is best suited for kids. (Well, maybe those precocious ones.) Even so, it’s a lovely book, and one I thoroughly enjoyed listening to.

 

Audiobook: The Inquisitor’s Tale

inquisitorstaleby Adam Gidwitz
Read by the author and Vikas Adam, Mark Bramhall, Jonathan Cowley, Kimberly Farr, Ann Marie Lee, Bruce Mann, John H. Mayer, and Arthur Morey
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils.
Content: There’s a lot of poop and fart jokes, plus a bit of a running ass/donkey joke. It’s also a bit, well, long, and some violent moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but it’d probably be good up through the 8th grade or so.

I’ll be honest here: I tried reading this one and I didn’t make it through the third chapter. It just didn’t grab me.

The story is this: in the 13th century there are three children who can perform miracles. And someone is asking about them, collecting their story. Told in stages by several people over the course of a night, it follows the children — Jeanne, a peasant girl who has vision; William, a super strong oblate; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with healing powers — how they met, their run from the church and then the king, with a showdown outside of Mont-Saint-Michel.

It’s a very religious story (which shouldn’t have surprised me, considering when it was set), but it also deals with race relations and bigotry and just oppression in general. I think audio was the way to go for me on this one. I loved that the different tale tellers had different narrators reading the tale, each giving it their own spin. It made the tale come alive for me. (Maybe this is one that’s better read aloud?)

So, I’m glad I gave it a second chance. It was worth it.

Audiobook: Victoria

victoriaby Daisy Goodwin
Read by : Anna Wilson-Jones
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some illusions to sex and scandal, but mostly it’s a pretty straight-up historical fiction. Good for those who are interested in England and/or queens and/or history. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I have always had a bit of a weakness for historical fiction when it comes to royalty. I ate up the Phillipa Gregrory books about the Tudors back in the day, and I’m sure there’s more than I’m forgetting. I’ve had my eye on this one since it came out back in November, mostly because the cover is so pretty (and we all know I’m a sucker for pretty covers). I didn’t quite know what to expect about the book, though.

For the most part, I enjoyed it. Taking place over the first year or so of Victoria’s reign, it deals with her conflicts with her mother and her mother’s “companion” Conroy, with learning how to govern (and her dependence on, and infatuation with which was heavily played up, Lord Melbourne), and with finding her feet. It ends just as she meets and marries Albert, so there’s very little of the Victoria she came to be.

But the thing that kept me listening was the narrator. She was FANTASTIC. All the perfect inflections for every character, and she kept me wanting to know more about the characters and the story. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this one in print; Goodwin is an excellent writer, and she knew how to balance the personal aspects of Victoria’s story with the political ones to keep it intriguing. But, listening to it gave it the push it needed for me to really enjoy the book.

 

Like a River Glorious

likearivergloriousby Rae Carson
First sentence: “Sunrise comes late to California.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Walk on Earth a Stranger
Content: There are some difficult scenes of emotional and physical abuse. The book is in the YA section (grades 6-8), but I’d let people know about the abuse before handing it to them.

Lee Westfall and her friends have made it to California, and Lee, with her “witchy” gold sense, have found them a pretty prime spot for gold hunting. Things are going well, until Lee’s awful (doesn’t even begin to describe it) uncle sends his henchmen to fetch her. They kill a couple of her friends, set fire to the camp, and basically kidnap Lee and a couple of others, including her beau, Jefferson. They end up at Lee’s uncle’s camp, which being run horribly, to say the least. He’s kidnapped Native peoples to do the work, and beats them while keeping them in squalor and nearly starving them. He’s “hired” Chinese workers, but doesn’t treat (or pay) them well at all. Lee is horrified, and doesn’t want to help this awful man, but he beats up Jefferson and her other friends in order to gain her cooperation. It’s awful, but it works. The question is: how can she survive in this situation while looking for a way to get out.

I’ll be honest: this one was slow starting. I picked it up and put it down several times, but after about 50 or so pages, it picked up considerably. So much so, that I didn’t want to put it back down. Carson doesn’t airbrush the treatment of the native peoples, and she is quietly feminist as well. Hiram (Lee’s uncle) is horrible, awful, and downright scary (I was thinking he was going to rape her at one point…) and while the ending is a bit too pat, it does wrap things up nicely.

A solid historical fantasy.

Unbound

unboundby Ann E. Berg
First sentence: “When Mama tells me
I’m goin
to the Big House,
she makes me promise
to always be good,
to listen to the Missus
n never talk back,
to lower my eyes
n say, Yes, ma’am
no, ma’am,
n to not speak
less spoken to first.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some tough subjects dealt with here, but there’s nothing graphic. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I’ll say this up front: I’m uncomfortable with this book. Not because of the subject matter (though I do have to admit that I’m tired of Civil War slave narratives. Not because they’re not important, but because it seems to be the only African American story publishers want to tell.) but because it’s a white woman telling the story. I’m not going to say she shouldn’t be telling this story, but rather because I think this story would have been better served being told by a person of color.

That’s not to say it was a bad story; it was okay, as far as slave narratives go. Berg was trying to tell the story of a community of runaway slaves in North Carolina who settled in the Great Dismal Swamp (where native peoples had settled for thousands of years), living there in order to be free from slavery. But that’s not really the story she ended up telling. It was more of the disgruntled slave who couldn’t keep their place and so they had to leave narrative. Which is fine, but not exactly the narrative of the people in the Great Dismal Swamp.

It’s not that it’s a bad book. It does tell a story at a level that children can understand. It does have non-white characters. It does talk about the less desirable things in American history.

I just wish it were, well, More.

Nine, Ten

ninetenby Nora Raleigh Baskin
First sentence: “Everyone will mention the same thing, and if they don’t, when you ask them, they will remember.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It handles the tragedy of 9/11 on a level that is appropriate for the 3rd-5th grade crowd. It’d also make an excellent read-aloud. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Everyone (well, everyone of a certain age and older) knows the story of what happened on 9/11. But fifteen years on, there isn’t as many of the kids who know about that day. And so, Baskin helps introduce the tragedy through the stories of four eleven-year-old kids for the forty-eight hours before the planes hit. There’s Sergio, an African American kid from Brooklyn who is trying to make a better life for  himself but whose deadbeat dad is getting in the way. There’s Aimee, who has recently relocated from Chicago to L. A. and whose mother has a meeting in New York City that week. And there’s Will from Pennsylvania, whose father died in a freak accident and who is trying to get over that. And there’s Nadira, a Muslim girl from Ohio, who is trying to figure out the whole middle school thing. 9/11 changes each of their lives — though I’ll spoil it: no one has anyone they love die — in ways they could not have expected.

The thing I liked best was not so much the stories, or wondering how it would all play out (and wondering if Baskin would kill anyone). It was that Baskin caught the emotion of the day so very well. I was in Mississippi, having recently moved from DC, and I remember being caught up in the worry and horror and concern during it all. I wasn’t in the middle of it; I couldn’t imagine being in the middle of it. But, I, like many Americans, was affected by it. And Baskin caught that feeling perfectly.

I’m hoping this, along with Towers Falling, will spark a discussion about unity and how, no matter what we look like or believe, we can work to get past anger and mistrust and hate and be better citizens together. I hope, at the very least, that this one gets read and discussed.

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

confessionsby Laurie Viera Rigler
First sentence: “Why is it so dark in here?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: I know there was mild swearing, with a couple of f-bombs, some talk of sex, and one (failed) sex scene. It would be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Courtney has had a life-long relationship with Jane Austen. She finds herself turning to Austen’s books after a breakup, or when she’s stressed, or just when she needs comfort. There’s wisdom in Austen’s words, and Courtney finds herself pining for simpler times.

That is, until she wakes up in Edwardian England, as Jane Mansfield, a 30-year-old spinster (oh the horror!). It takes a while for her to believe her situation, and even longer still for her to accept that this has really and truly happened (and isn’t a dream) and then to accept that she may never get back “home” to L. A. and to just throw herself into this strange and foreign world.

It’s a silly premise, and a lot of the intrigue of the book comes from the juxtaposition of the 21st century woman trapped in a 19th century world. But, Rigler spends too much time with chasing men (ah, it’s a romance after all), and while she gives us glimpses of Austen’s world, it’s not nearly enough for me. It was a silly fluff of a book, but in the end, left me mildly dissatisfied.

That said, Lost in Austen (the British miniseries that bears similarities to this) is a lot of fun.