Mini-Review: Diamonds and Deceit (At Somerton #2)

diamonds and deceit

Title:  Diamonds and Deceit (At Somerton #2)
Author:  Leila Rasheed
Genres: historical fiction, romance
Pages: 420
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Review Copy: the library
Availability: January 7th 2014

Summary: One house, two worlds…book two in our sumptuous and enticing YA series about the servants and gentry at Somerton Court.

London is a whirl of balls and teas, alliances and rivalries. Rose has never felt more out of place. With the Season in full swing, she can’t help but still feel a servant dressed up in diamonds and silk. Then Rose meets Alexander Ross, a young Scottish duke… Ada should be happy. She is engaged to a handsome man who shares her political passions and has promised to support her education. So why does she feel hollow inside? Meanwhile, at Somerton, Sebastian is out of his mind with worry for his former valet Oliver, who refuses to plead innocent to the murder charges against him–for a death caused by Sebastian himself…

The colorful cast of the At Somerton series returns in this enthralling sequel about class and fortune, trust and betrayal, love and revenge. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Diamonds and Deceit is centered on the revolving cast of characters both upstairs (the aristocracy) and downstairs (the servants) in Somerton court — the Averleys, Templetons and so on. At first glance, it’s a typical regency romance style story with English gentry swanning about in the middle of the London season, indulging in social intrigue. (Think Polonius behind the arras trying to get the hot gossip on Hamlet — except without any of the stabbing and ghostly fathers.)

But then, as you read further, you find out that Diamonds and Deceit is not a story that exists in a vacuum. Diamonds and Deceit is told from the point-of-view of both the upper class ladies and the lower class servants. POC make an appearance in the form of Ada’s true love Ravi, and the nursemaid Priya. And Sebastian is in cheesy true love with his valet — well, a lot of people are, to be fair. Even a feminist fighting for suffrage plays a role. And it’s not quite the same time period as a regency romance — people have cars and Queen Alexandra’s on the throne.

It’s a long read, but well worth it if you’re a Downton-Abbey-regency-romance kind of person

Recommendation: Get it soon.

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Review: Caminar

caminar

Title: Caminar
Author: Skila Brown
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Historical
Format: Poetry
Pages: 208 pages
Availability: On Shelves Now
Review Copy: Hard Copy from Publisher

Summary: Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck:Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

Review: It’s probably not news to you, but April was poetry month. Being a teacher, that means I have been reading a large amount of poetry lately. I also posted a list of novels in verse last month which got me wondering why they appeal to me so much. I’ve heard many readers ask why books are in that format and make comments about how they sometimes don’t even seem like poetry or that they think readers may not understand novels in verse. I am not sure why they work or don’t work for other people, but I have an idea of why they work for me. When I read a novel in verse like Caminar, all of the white space focuses my attention even more closely on the words – especially when they are as powerful as those written by Skila Brown. In addition, the variety of cadences and frequent pauses allow for a lot more thinking on my part. There are many, many breaks in the writing that make time for this reader’s responses. In Caminar the pauses felt natural even though I am certain they are very deliberate.

The topic of the Guatemalan civil war is grim, and Skila Brown has given the conflict a face. Carlos is a young boy who plays soccer and carries marbles in his pockets, though he is yearning to be a man. He is still willing to obey his mother, but is beginning to question that. He wonders if following her orders is keeping him from becoming a man. In the midst of his questioning, the soldiers and rebels step into his life and his world is shattered. At this point, I will just go ahead and admit that I did not make it through the book without tears. The dedication hints at what is to come, “In memory of the more than 200,000 people who were killed or disappeared in Guatemala between 1960 and 1996. May they always be remembered.”

Brown weaves the story through many individual poems. She plays with the arrangement of words on the page and most are visually very distinct from each other. Some of the poems are concrete showing the shape of what they describe. A few bounce back and forth between two columns and could even benefit from being read aloud by two people. One is read down the page and then is inverted to be read again providing a different perspective. I really enjoyed experiencing the variety of forms and even though the shapes changed greatly, the voice remained consistent and clear.

Carlos is young, but is being forced to grow up quickly. Caminar is a coming of age novel which shifts it into the young adult category a little though it is often labeled as a middle grade book. I think it is on the borderline. Brown tackles the topic of war in a way that is accessible and appropriate for younger children, yet is complex enough to work with older readers too.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the concept of the nahuales or animal spirit protectors. I loved the poems that dealt with that. Early on, Carlos scoffs a bit at the idea, but his beliefs shift over time. It led me to remember the book How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle as it also features the idea of animals as protectors. I think that the two books have many similarities. In both, a group of people are being targeted and a young boy must face fears in an attempt to help loved ones. They would likely be good books to read together.

Recommendation: Buy it now particularly if poetry appeals to you. If you typically avoid novels in verse, I would still say grab this one. I was unfamiliar with this history and truly appreciated the story. Above all though, poetry is about word choice and placement and Skila Brown chose well.

Extra: 

Interview with Skila Brown

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Book Review: Grim

grimTitle: Grim
Author: Julie Kagawa, Malinda Lo, Ellen Hopkins, Amanda Hocking & More
Genres: Fantasy/SF
Pages: 474
Publisher: HarlequinTeen
Review Copy: Purchased by Amazon
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Inspired by classic fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today.

Review: Short story anthologies are becoming popular again, specifically YA, as many readers of series are now getting used to authors publishing short stories or novellas between books. These short stories allow readers to spend more time in the world the authors create, thus a market has been born in the YA world for short stories. HarlequinTeen realized this and gathered a group of authors together to write around a common theme – the stories by the Brother’s Grimm.

Unlike the Disney versions of Grims Fairy tales, the short stories in this anthology are anything but fluffy. Some very dark themes are explored such as incest, death, dark magic, and deals with the devil. There is even a story about skin eaters, which…was quite gross. Anyway, it’s somewhat hard to review an anthology because there are some stories that I liked more than others, but overall the fun of reading these stories was how each of the author’s turned their Grims fairytale on it’s head. Sarah Rees Brennan’s “Beauty and the Chad” was a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” where the “Beast” was clearly a spoiled California surfer dude and “Beauty” was from a different time period. Their misunderstandings, and especially Chad’s characterization, had me giggling. Julie Kagawa’s “The Brother’s Piggett” was the Three Pigs, but with a twisted ending that shocked me. Let’s just say, I really felt for the wolf. “Untethered” by Sonia Gensler” was a beautiful story about death and moving on. My favorite, however, was Saundra Mitchell’s “Thinner Than Water” that just knocked me in my gut but had me cheering for the main character at the end. Many of the stories in Grim delve into the darker parts of the human psyche and explore the murky aspects of humanity much like the original Grimm stories did. I love that in all of these stories, made for a YA audience that is usually coddled, do not hold back on the darker themes that teens experience. While these are re-tellings of fairy tales, they did not seem “Disneyish” in the least.

My only wish for this collection, and other anthology collections such as the dystopian anthology titled After, is that it had more diversity in it. First, there were only 2 authors of color represented, which is disappointing, and with the opportunity to rework Jacob’s & Wilhelm’s immortal words, very few authors decided to build diversity into their worlds. To know that there was potential here for authors to stretch themselves, make one of the princess or even the princes a character of color, or set the world in a non-European historical period, is disheartening. All of these authors are excellent storytellers, do not get me wrong I enjoyed all the stories, it’s just I wish in 2014, a book that is all about the re-imagining of classic fairy tales, was reflective of the diverse lives of its readers.

Recommendation: I’m not too sure. If you like short stories and fairy tales, Grim is one to pick up. If you don’t then borrow it.

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Review: How I Discovered Poetry

how

Title: How I Discovered Poetry
Author: Marilyn Nelson
Publisher: Dial
Pages: 103
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves Now

Summary: A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America’s most celebrated poets.

Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement.

A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: Reading How I Discovered Poetry is like looking through a photo album with a loved one while they share memories. Here a laugh, there a tear, sometimes even an admission of mischievousness. Marilyn Nelson has crafted fifty sonnets that begin with the simplicity of a pre-schooler and progress to the complexity of the early teen years. Each sonnet is a snapshot of family life, but many also give glimpses of the cultural changes that were occurring in the wider world.

What I loved was the voice that truly seemed to mature. I could just see a young child asking,

“Why did Lot have to take his wife and flea
from the bad city like the angel said?”

She is truly puzzled about that flea as she sits there in church. She has many such misunderstandings as she grows up. Over time, they become less about vocabulary issues and more about the deeper questioning she is doing concerning the world and her place in it. As she learns, grows and experiences life, the sonnets show her increasing sense of self. She begins to find her voice – the voice of a poet.

There are so many ways that readers can connect to this book. Nelson throws the door open so we can see into the life of a military family on the move. There are sibling and family interactions that I know I could sympathize with as an older sister. She includes civil rights issues and instances of prejudice. With so many brief moments of time highlighted, there are many opportunities for readers to see echoes of their own life.

As a military family, they move all over the country. In most of the places they are stationed, they are the first or only Negro family. This makes for a lot of what she calls “First Negro” moments. Some of the experiences are positive – like her mother being the first Negro teacher of the all white class on base. Some are negative like the racial name calling that happens. In the midst of her personal stories, she also embeds stories from the Civil Rights movement including people like Emmett Till and Rosa Parks.

Humor is present here along with the serious matters. I enjoyed the poem “Fieldwork” where Daddy says, “Let’s pretend we’re researching an unknown civilian Caucasian tribe,” when they move to New Hampshire. The poet goes on to explain the eating habits and vocabulary of the locals.

If you know any of Marilyn Nelson’s previous work, you won’t be surprised to find out that there is also beauty among the poems. There is beauty that she describes, but there is also simple beauty in her words. If you want a taste, be sure to read the poems from the book that are linked below. The NPR interview is excellent. It’s about seven minutes long and features a reading of the title poem at the end.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you are a poetry lover. Even if you don’t typically read poetry, this is a great book for history buffs or those who enjoy memoirs. Besides, reading How I Discovered Poetry would be a perfect way to celebrate Poetry Month.

Extras:
NPR Interview
Sample poem posted on GottaBook blog “Telling Time
Excerpt (five poems including the title poem)

 

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New Releases

We found three diverse books that are being released this week. The fun thing is that one is historical, one is contemporary, and one is a dystopian. Here they are in chronological order.

silver Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions for only a few silver coins a day.

From the young “silver people” whose back-breaking labor built the Canal to the denizens of the endangered rainforest itself, this is the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, as only Newbery Honor-winning author Margarita Engle could tell it. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

drama Drama Queens in the House by Julie Williams

Roaring Brook Press

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Jessie Jasper Lewis doesn’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t surrounded by method actors, bright spotlights, and feather boas. Her parents started the Jumble Players Theater together, and theater is the glue that holds her crazy family together. But when she discovers that her father’s cheating on her mother with a man, Jessie feels like her world is toppling over. And on top of everything else, she has to deal with a delusional aunt who is predicting the end of the world. Jessie certainly doesn’t feel ready to be center stage in the production that is her family. But where does she belong in all of this chaos? — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

wanderers Wanderers (Wasteland, #2) by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan

HarperTeen

Summary: The former citizens of Prin are running out of time. The Source has been destroyed, so food is scarcer than ever. Tensions are rising…and then an earthquake hits.

So Esther and Caleb hit the road, leading a ragtag caravan. Their destination? A mythical city where they hope to find food and shelter – not to mention a way to make it past age nineteen.

On the way, alliances and romances blossom and fracture. Esther must rally to take charge with the help of a blind guide, Aras. He seems unbelievably cruel, but not everything is as it seems in the Wasteland.…

In this sequel to Wasteland, the stakes are even higher for Esther, Caleb, and the rest of their clan. They’re pinning all their hopes on the road…but what if it’s the most dangerous place of all? – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Review: Romeo & Juliet

romeoTitle: Romeo & Juliet
Adapted by: Gareth Hinds based on the play by William Shakespeare
Genres: Romance, Historical, Tragedy
Format: Graphic Novel
Pages: 134
Publisher: Candlewick
Review Copy: Local library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Gareth Hinds’s stylish graphic adaptation of the Bard’s romantic tragedy offers modern touches —
including a diverse cast that underscores the story’s universality.

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together?In a masterful adaptation faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, Gareth Hinds transports readers to the sun-washed streets and market squares of Shakespeare’s Verona, vividly bringing the classic play to life on the printed page. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: When I saw the cover, I wondered what angle Gareth Hinds had as he crafted this adaptation. Was this going to be a West Side Story type? Hinds definitely meddled with the culture of the Montagues and Capulets, but otherwise, he left things alone for the most part. Other than omitting lines, Hinds stayed close to the original text and he kept the setting in historical Verona. He explains at the beginning in a note to the reader, “I chose to cast my retelling of Romeo & Juliet with multiracial characters in order to reflect how universal this story is. It is not a statement about racism or racial conflict.” There is no alteration to the storyline as a result of this cosmetic change. If you could not see the illustrations and only heard the text, you would have no idea that Juliet’s family is Indian. It made me wonder if this graphic novel could  ever be made into an audio book because the pictures add so much to this adaptation. The illustrations allowed for a bit more personality to be shown with the characters and of course inserted cultural identifiers. It also allowed me to keep the names straight from the very beginning since the cast of characters included pictures.

I have read Romeo and Juliet at least five times as a play for classes or for fun. What I loved immediately was the novelty of reading this story as something other than a script. With the illustrations, stage directions are unnecessary and names aren’t required along with every bit of the dialogue. The text flows more easily this way. He also kept the clothing of the families color coded. The Montagues are wearing shades of blue and the Capulets are in various shades of orange. This made the relationships easier to follow especially during the action scenes. The graphic novel format is one step closer to seeing the play acted out. This adaptation will be very accessible for the reluctant Shakespeare reader whether they are a young adult or a not so young adult.

As Hinds pointed out, he wanted to show that this is a story that transcends cultures. Star-crossed lovers can be found anywhere and anytime. Mixing up the culture a bit certainly does help demonstrate that everyman quality. I wasn’t sure how to take that though. It seems to be an example of the “casual diversity” that Betsy Bird spoke of recently. It’s not an issue in the story, it just exists. But it makes me wonder. Are cultures that easy to swap out and should they be? In this instance, as an illustrator he is adding diversity to a text that he didn’t want to alter. It also reinforces his theory that this tragedy could happen to anyone regardless of religious background, skin color, culture or age.

For Romeo’s family, skin tone and hair styles were basically the only racial or cultural markers. They appeared to be of African descent. What I appreciated was that Hinds did not have everyone in the family look pretty much the same. There is a wide variety of body types, faces, and hairstyles. He provided diversity within the culture. With Juliet’s family, Hinds included a few more clues beyond skin tone and facial features, but this was mainly in the area of clothing. The most obvious being that Capulet wears a Sikh turban and Lady Capulet has a head scarf, but there were others. The only truly jarring note was the mishmash of modern and older dress. The younger characters like Juliet were sometimes in more contemporary clothing like her short skirt. It would jerk me out of the story more than any of the other things that were going on in the illustrations. That the time periods of the costumes were not matching was a bit disconcerting. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the story though.

Overall, the illustrations were rich and truly brought out the emotions of the story. I know that I would have loved to have this as an option when I was first reading Shakespeare as a teen. It will likely draw new readers to Shakespeare.

My Recommendation: If you are a graphic novel or Shakespeare fan, I would get this one soon. Otherwise, I would still recommend that you check it out sometime. It is a gorgeous way to experience Romeo & Juliet. You may preview it here.

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