Mini Review: The Game of Love & Death

Love & DeathTitle: The Game of Love & Death
Author: Martha Brockenbrough
Genres:  Historical, Fantasy
Pages: 352
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Review Copy: My local library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Antony and Cleopatra. Helen of Troy and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. And now… Henry and Flora.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured—a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget. – image & summary from Goodreads

Review: This lovely book fell into my hands at just the right time. I was wanting something with a sweet, romantic storyline, and also a bit of fantasy. I do enjoy historical fiction, but to find this beautiful novel with everything I was craving for was heaven. And I feel in love with Flora, Henry, Death and Love. In fact, it’s been a few days since I finished the book and all four characters are still with me. I hadn’t intended to write a review about this novel, but halfway through I thought, “I must tell everyone about this novel!”

Set in Seattle in 1937, just as the United States is beginning to recover from the Great Depression, the novel follows Flora and Henry as they begin, unwittingly, to play Love & Death’s game. The game that Love & Death have created, so to speak, is more of a bet of trying to put two people from different worlds together. If the lovers chose to be together, Love wins; if not, Death takes them. Unfortunately, Death is on a serious winning streak and Love is hoping that Henry will be the player to finally give him the win. And here’s the thing that Brockenbrough does so well. Readers of romance expect the “happy ever after”, but the way Brockenbrough crafts the obstacles Henry and Flora face, I wasn’t really sure the “HEA” was going to happen. I wanted to be comfortable in my assurance of the HEA, and that all would work out well for Henry and Flora, but Death is a mean, err a very strategic, player and I was kept guessing the entire way. I like an unpredictable novel and “Game of Love and Death” is definitely not predictable. Brockenbrough really puts Henry and Flora through the wringer, that tests their resolve to even attempt to form a relationship. While their attraction to each other is definitely swoon worthy, their budding friendship brings a much richer, much warmer feeling to the story.

It is the development of the 4 characters that is really the strength of the novel. Love is a charming old soul, while Death is a woman who finds no more pleasure in her job, but does it anyways. Henry is the boy who is willing to sacrifice his own personal freedom in order to please his adoptive parents, and Flora is a young woman who intends to defy the odds. Combined, the relationships the characters create among each other (yes Love & Death interact with Henry & Flora in unique ways) allows each of the characters to learn and grow from each other. While Love & Death are the ones who set the game in motion, both are changed by their players as their players are changed by the game. All four are truly relatable, and you root for all four to win, which in a game where two could potentially die, is a testament to the strength of Brockenbrough’s writing.

Speaking of Brockenbrough’s writing, it is just gorgeous. It is clear that she did her homework with researching the novel and what 1937 Seattle would feel like. Having been to Seattle a number of times, I could picture many of the places in my head, but imagine them as they were 80 years ago. She used slang of the time and even included real world events (such as the growing tension in Europe) to fully ground the novel. She also didn’t hesitate to include the racial tension that existed in Seattle back then, even though Seattle was a multi-cultural city during the Depression. Brockenbrough’s world felt real, felt right, and I loved it.

Recommendation: I got the book from the library, but I loved it so much that I intend on buying it and you should too.

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Review: Surviving Santiago

santiagoTitle: Surviving Santiago
Author: Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Pages: 320
Genre: Historical
Review copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: June 2, 2015

Summary: Returning to her homeland of Santiago, Chile, is the last thing that Tina Aguilar wants to do during the summer of her sixteenth birthday. It has taken eight years for her to feel comfort and security in America with her mother and her new husband. And it has been eight years since she has last seen her father.

Despite insisting on the visit, Tina’s father spends all his time focused on politics and alcohol rather than connecting with Tina, making his betrayal from the past continue into the present. Tina attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger, but the hairpin turns he takes her on may push her over the edge of truth and discovery.

The tense, final months of the Pinochet regime in 1989 provide the backdrop for author Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s suspenseful tale of the survival and redemption of the Aguilar family, first introduced in the critically acclaimed Gringolandia. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: Tina is conflicted about living with her father. She remembers her papá from childhood. That papá loved his family and spent time with them. He drove his children to school and played with them at the beach. The father she has come to stay with in Santiago is a very different man. Tina knows that his imprisonment and torture caused these deep changes in him, but still, she yearns for that papá from years ago. She resents having to leave her friends and home to come stay with this cold man who doesn’t even know her age and is either working or drunk most of the day. This visit is a chance to heal their relationship, but though he asked her to come, her father doesn’t seem to be making much of an effort.

I enjoyed the first book, Gringolandia, because it gave me a look into the history of Chile. Historical fiction in young adult literature is frequently set during wars or political upheaval, but it’s not often that we see the history of South American countries. It’s not necessary to read Gringolandia to understand and appreciate this sequel/companion, but it would provide a little more background so it’s probably advisable. Both books include history and political intrigue. Gringolandia shows readers what it is like to be an exile, while Surviving Santiago is about Tina coming back to her home country. This might be part of the reason that I found this book lighter. There are certainly plenty of difficulties and danger is lurking, but Tina is on a mission of restoring connections to both family and country. She starts out counting the days until she can get back to the U.S., but she has hope that things will change.

Because Tina’s father is working most of the time, Tina has to fill her days with something or someone. An attractive young man does catch her eye. She doesn’t always make the safest choices in this relationship, but that’s part of why this book works. She’s moving forward in spite of missteps here and there. I found myself cheering for Tina. She speaks her mind on many issues and she’s learning about herself and what she is willing to fight for.

Recommendation: Historical fiction fans should definitely get it soon. Gringolandia was great, but I liked Surviving Santiago even more. Tina is a girl who loves deeply and will not give up on people easily. Readers will enjoy getting to know her while learning a bit about the past.

Extras: Lyn wrote a fantastic guest post for us back in 2013 and there’s a Goodreads giveaway of a hardcover copy going on right now (it ends on Monday, June 1st).

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Book Review: Stella by Starlight

stellaTitle: Stella by Starlight
Author: Sharon Draper
Genres: Historical
Pages: 320
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: When the Ku Klux Klan’s unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella’s segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind.

Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community – her world – is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end. (Image & summary via Goodreads)

Review: As a huge fan of Sharon Draper’s young adult novels, I was excited to read her newest Stella by Starlight. I didn’t realize at the time it was a middle grade novel, until I started reading it, but because the story draws you in and Stella is such a wonderful character, I enjoyed the novel immensely. In fact, my 12 year old self emerged and was giddy at a book that spoke to her – especially a story about a young girl finding her voice through writing.

The novel takes place in the South in 1932, so you know it’s not going to be an easy read. Stella is a 12 year old girl who is loved by both of her parents, has a good relationship with her little brother, wonderful friends, and lives in a tight knit African American community. What could go wrong? Well, the Klan shows up one night and sets the entire community on edge. The issue is that there is a presidential election coming and, of course, the Klan does not want the African American members of their community to vote, so they use the usual scare tactics, which thankfully, do not work. I loved the way Draper showed how small African-American communities came together during crisis, helping each other out when they often didn’t have very much to give. She also balanced this out by showing that not all of the members of the White community agreed with the Klan’s tactics, and were willing to make a stand. While the heart of the novel is very much on Stella and her perspective on life, the scenes that focused on social justice, way back in 1932, clearly showing the seeds for the Civil Rights movement and our current #Black Lives Matter movement, were moving.

Stella is the star of the novel and her voice is truly one of a young girl on the edge of womanhood who is actively thinking about the world around here. One aspect of Stella’s character that I really related to was her emerging status as a writer. At the beginning of the book, she struggled with writing (even though she liked to) because she often couldn’t find the words to say. She would sneak out of the house in the middle of the night and write underneath the stars. I so related to her as I would write underneath the covers with a flashlight. Her writing eventually becomes stronger as she practices and then when she receives a typewriter as a gift, she starts her own newspaper, readership of one (that was also me at age 10!). The little girl K. Imani instantly fell in love with Stella as I remembered some of the struggles I had finding my voice, but with the encouragement of teachers, like Stella, I grew into the writer I am today. I also appreciated that Draper doesn’t make Stella a super duper writer right away and actually has her experience rejection in the form of not being picked for a writing contest. The disappointment Stella felt allowed for a true growth moment where she recognized her writing was not as strong as it could be and that the only way for her to get better was to practice. A message writers of all ages need to be reminded of.

One of my favorite childhood books of all time is Mildred Taylor’s “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” and I feel that Draper’s novel is written in the spirit of that novel. All these years later I still love that novel, and Stella by Starlight brought those same emotions forth. Stella’s story is a fitting compliment to Taylor’s classic novel, but yet is perfect for our current children who need to understand how the Americans fought for equality in the past, just as they fight for it now.

Recommendation: Get It Now!

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New Releases

We are really looking forward to these two releases this week:

under a painted skyUnder a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee reviewed here last month
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

 

Mo'ne DavisMo’ne Davis: Remember My Name: My Story from First Pitch to Game Changer by Mo Davis
HarperCollins

Be inspired to reach for your dreams!

In August 2014, Mo’ne Davis became the first female pitcher to win a game in the Little League World Series and the first Little Leaguer to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and a month later she earned a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. She was thirteen years old.

This inspiring memoir from a girl who learned to play baseball with the boys and rose to national stardom before beginning eighth grade will encourage young readers to reach for their dreams no matter the odds. Mo’ne’s story is one of determination, hard work, and an incredible fastball. Mo’ne is a multisport athlete who also plays basketball and soccer and is an honor-roll student at her school in Philadelphia.

With an eight-page full-color photo insert and an exclusive keepsake poster, this memoir celebrates our fascination with baseball in a story of triumph to be shared with generations of young readers to come. — Cover images and summaries via Goodreads

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Mini Review: Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas

PoliTitle: Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas
Author: Jay Neugeboren
Genres:  Historical
Pages: 123
Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: In 1839, José Policarpo Rodriguez came north with his father from Zaragosa, Mexico, to the Republic of Texas. Poli was ten years old when he arrived in Texas, and he and his father settled in the Hill Country near San Antonio. Poli grew up with Comanches, surveyed territory for the Republic of Texas and the United States Army, fought against warring Indians, and mapped settlements for nineteenth-century German settlers in Texas. He was the first non-Indian to discover the Big Bend Country and Cascades Caverns, and during the Mexican-American War and the Civil War, he was Captain of the San Antonio Home Guard. Caught between the three main elements that made up early Texas—Mexicans, Indians, and Anglos—he struggled to decide where his true loyalties lay, and his decisions showed a kind of courage that was rare in those days. . .and is still rare today.

Review: In celebration of it’s 25 anniversary, Texas Tech University Press has decided to re-release Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas, and I happen to agree that this was a good move for the publisher. This historical novel is a quick and entertaining read that touches on a brief period of history that shows the tensions between the Comanche Nation, Mexicans, and the early Texans. The story follows young Jose Policarpo Rodriguez, and is based on the real Poli’s memoirs. The novel begins when Poli is 10 years old and just arriving in Texas from Zaragosa. Poli and his father have left Mexico for a better life after the death of his mother and other family members. Poli’s father then sends him to spend a week with the Comanche nation and there Poli forms a friendship with the Chief’s son, Eagle Blood. It is through his relationship with Eagle Blood that Poli is able to see and understand all three sides of the land use issue that is the cause of the tension between the Native Americans, Mexicans, and the Texans. Because of his relationship, Poli is also able to work as a surveyor and as a translator during negotiations that ultimately fail. The fact that Poli is so trusted by adults shows how during this period of time, adolescents were treated as adults and give adult responsibilities. Poli had to mature fast because of the harshness of life on the plain.

Not knowing much about Texas history, except what is briefly given in school textbooks, I found the focus on the lives of those effected in San Antonio fascinating as it took a larger conflict and allowed the reader to see how it effect the daily lives of the people who lived during that time period. I found it very easy to relate to Poli as through his travels he missed his father, and his friendship with Eagle Blood felt true and real. I feel that Neugeboren did his research in getting the historical details correct, especially when sharing the lifestyles and beliefs of the Comanche people. Neugeboren was able to handle the tension between the Comanche, the Mexicans, and the Texans in such a manner that the reader fully understood and empathized with the different factions (okay, maybe not so much with the early Texans as a whole, but the individuals whose lives were thrown in to chaos because of the fighting, yes).  While the novel is written for middle grade, Neugeboren writes in such a way that Poli would be enjoyable for readers of all ages. I feel this would be an excellent supplemental novel in a social studies class, as well as a good read of the youngster who enjoys historical fiction.

Recommendation: Get It Soon

To celebrate the release of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas, we have two copies to give away! Raffle ends March 17th. Enter Now!

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Review: Black Dove, White Raven

dove
Title: Black Dove, White Raven
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Genre:
Historical
Pages: 368
Review Copy: ARC provided by publisher
Availability: March 31, 2015

Summary: A story of survival, subterfuge, espionage and identity.

Rhoda and Delia are American stunt pilots who perform daring aerobatics to appreciative audiences. But while the sight of two girls wingwalking – one white, one black – is a welcome novelty in some parts of the USA, it’s an anathema in others. Rhoda and Delia dream of living in a world where neither gender nor ethnicity determines their life. When Delia is killed in a tragic accident, Rhoda is determined to make that dream come true. She moves to Ethiopia with her daughter, Em, and Delia’s son, Teo.

Em and Teo have adapted to scratching a living in a strange land, and feel at home here; but their parents’ legacy of flight and the ability to pilot a plane places them in an elite circle of people watched carefully by the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, who dreams of creating an air force for his fledgling nation. As Italy prepares for its invasion of Ethiopia, Em and Teo find themselves inextricably entangled in the crisis — and they are called on to help.

Review: After reading Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire this book was automatically placed on my “Must Read” list. Elizabeth Wein has a way with historical fiction. This new addition to her Young Pilots Series centers around Ethiopia and its relations with Italy prior to World War II. I knew that Africa was part of the war, but that wasn’t a focus in my American history classes, so much of the politics and intrigue were new to me. Wein weaves in the history so readers aren’t totally lost, but she also managed to inspire me to research a bit during and after reading. I wanted to know more about this country that had avoided European colonization. I had to wonder if my history classes ever got into this conflict or if I just didn’t pay attention.

Beyond the setting, the characters were intriguing. In the beginning though, I found it difficult to keep up with everyone. The text is made up of letters, school essays, flight logs, and short stories. It’s meant to be a collection of information that will help persuade the Emperor of Ethiopia to help Em and Teo. The most difficult part for me was my need to have a chronology of some sort. I always wanted to know the ages of the writers so my mind could sort it all out, but things aren’t always in date order and it took a long time before an age was mentioned. Once I had that, I found myself always doing the math. Not all readers will have a need for that, but the first section of the book may be a bit confusing for some with multiple perspectives and seemingly random dates.

Em and Teo have been raised as brother and sister and are also best friends. Through childhood, they created stories of themselves as heroes. Teo is the Black Dove who can become invisible while Em is the White Raven and uses amazing disguises. They always have loving adults in their lives, but they are anchors for each other and are rarely apart.

While the political forces in the book are central to the story, there are other issues that come up too such as gender roles, religion, freedom, and courage. The main characters also explore what it is like to be the outsider in a community. In the U.S., their family didn’t always fit in because they were of different races. In Ethiopia, they have to learn the language and culture to try to fit in though Teo can visually blend in without any trouble.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoy historical fiction. Black Dove, White Raven is interesting from start to finish – even the author’s note kept my attention. In the note, she quotes an Ethiopian proverb, “To lie about a far country is easy.” She explains that she did her best to avoiding changing or distorting history. Wein then provides a catalog of things that were true in the story and those that were fictional. Through it all, she brought Ethiopia to life and filled it with unique and memorable characters.

Extra: I can’t end this review without noting the difference between the U.S. cover and the one for the U.K. We got a title and a landscape. The U.K. has a focus on characters.

blackwhite

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