Posts Tagged ‘wish i’d read that challenge’

I can’t believe 2011 has ended already.  The end of the year sneaked up on me, so I’m glad that I had some time off from work last week to just sit around and read, or more of my reading challenges would be left unfinished.  Despite going through a little mid-year reading slump, I still managed to read 103 books last year, and I completed 7 of the 8 reading challenges in which I participated.  Here’s a break-down of my challenge progress:

hosted by War Through the Generations

I signed up for the Swim level to read 11+ books for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011, which I co-hosted with Serena on War Through the Generations.  I finished this challenge by the skin of my teeth, completing my 11th book yesterday afternoon.  I knew little beyond the basics of the Civil War before this challenge, so I stuck mainly with middle grade and young adult novels so as not overwhelm myself with new information.  In doing so, I discovered Ann Rinaldi’s wonderful novels, and I hope to read the rest of her books at some point.

1. Juliet’s Moon by Ann Rinaldi
2. Amelia’s War by Ann Rinaldi
3. Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles
4. My Vicksburg by Ann Rinaldi
5. Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi
6. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg
7. Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War by Peggy Caravantes
8. Sarah’s Ground by Ann Rinaldi
9. Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi
10. The Ever-After Bird by Ann Rinaldi
11. Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi (review forthcoming)

The Girl also completed this challenge. She signed up for 1-3 books, and finished 3. Way to go!

1. Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen
2. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg
3. Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War by Peggy Caravantes

hosted by Historical Tapestry

For the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, I signed up for the Severe Bookaholism level of 20 books, but went above and beyond by reading 45 books, which is not surprising given that it’s my favorite genre.  While most of these were war-related books, particularly WWII, I did branch out a bit more in terms of topics. I strayed far from the list I created when I signed up for the challenge.

1. The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon (post-WWI)
2. Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart (Philadelphia’s Centennial Fair, 1876)
3. The Report by Jessica Francis Kane (WWII)
4. Small Wars by Sadie Jones (1956 war in Cyprus)
5. Strange Meeting by Susan Hill (WWI)
6. The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (WWII)
7. How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston (WWI)
8. The Linen Queen by Patricia Falvey (WWII)
9. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (WWII)
10. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (WWI)
11. The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney (WWII)
12. Lebensborn by Jo Ann Bender (WWII)
13. Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcolm (WWII and later)
14. Far to Go by Alison Pick (WWII)
15. The Winter of the World by Carol Ann Lee (WWI)
16. Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (Saint-Domingue, 1770)
17. The Katyn Order by Douglas W. Jacobson (WWII)
18. The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo
19. When We Danced on Water by Evan Fallenberg (WWII)
20. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman (WWII)
21. War & Watermelon by Rich Wallace (Vietnam War)
22. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
23. Juliet’s Moon by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
24. The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock (WWII)
25. Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Gray (Marie Antoinette as a child through the death of Louis XV)
26. The Things We Cherished by Pam Jenoff (WWII)
27. Amelia’s War by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
28. Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles (American Civil War)
29. The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman (post-WWII)
30. Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz (post-WWII)
31. My Vicksburg by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
32. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (WWII)
33. Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer (WWII)
34. The Lost Wife by Alison Richman (WWII)
35. Wings by Karl Friedrich (WWII)
36. Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
37. Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray (ancient Egypt)
38. Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray (ancient Egypt)
39. Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer (WWII)
40. The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones (WWII)
41. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg (American Civil War)
42. Sarah’s Ground by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
43. Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
44. The Ever-After War by Ann Rinaldi (Underground Railroad, 1851)
45. Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War) (review forthcoming)

hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

For the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge, I signed up to read the minimum of 1 book, but I ended up reading 2. I joined this challenge again for 2012 and hope to boost that number.

1. Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser
2. The Poets Laureate Anthology edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt

hosted by My Love Affair With Books

For the Wish I’d Read That Challenge, I signed up for Obsessed level of 20 books, and ended up reading 22. Again, I didn’t follow the list I created when I signed up for the challenge.

1. Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart
2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
3. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
5. The History of England by Jane Austen
6. Amelia’s War by Ann Rinaldi
7. The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman
8. My Vicksburg by Ann Rinaldi
9. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
10. Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi
11. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston
12. Frederic and Elfrida by Jane Austen
13. It by Stephen King
14. Edgar and Emma by Jane Austen
15. Henry and Eliza by Jane Austen
16. The Beautiful Cassandra by Jane Austen
17. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg
18. Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War by Peggy Caravantes
19. Sarah’s Ground by Ann Rinaldi
20. Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi
21. The Ever-After Bird by Ann Rinaldi
22. Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi (review forthcoming)

hosted by The Life (and lies) of an inanimate flying object

hosted by A Faithful Journey

For the Jane Austen Challenge, I signed up as a Fanatic to read at least 6 works by Jane Austen and at least 6 Austenesque novels.  For the Jane Austen Reading Challenge, I signed up with a personal goal of 5-10 books.  For both challenges, I read a total of 27 books, including 6 works by Jane Austen.

1. The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen
2. Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen V. Wasylowski
3. Mr. Darcy’s Secret by Jane Odiwe
4. The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan
5. Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion by Regina Jeffers
6. Only Mr. Darcy Will Do by Kara Louise
7. What Would Mr. Darcy Do? by Abigail Reynolds
8. Wickham’s Diary by Amanda Grange
9. My Jane Austen Summer by Cindy Jones
10. A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
11. The Truth About Mr. Darcy by Susan Adriani
12. Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman by Maria Hamilton
13. Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard by Belinda Roberts
14. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
15. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith
16. The History of England by Jane Austen
17. A Weekend With Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly
18. A Wife for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen
19. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lyn Rigaud
20. Mr. Darcy’s Undoing by Abigail Reynolds
21. Mr. Darcy’s Bite by Mary Lydon Simonsen
22. Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins
23. Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
24. Frederic and Elfrida by Jane Austen
25. Edgar and Emma by Jane Austen
26. Henry and Eliza by Jane Austen
27. The Beautiful Cassandra by Jane Austen

hosted by Austenprose

For the Sense & Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge, I signed up for just 1 book.  I’d hoped to read more, but at least I completed it.

1. Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins

hosted by Austenprose

I signed up to read 1 book for the Being A Jane Austen Mystery Challenge, which focused on Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery series.  Alas, this is the only challenge I didn’t complete.

In addition to a couple of read-alongs that I hosted with Serena for Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles and It by Stephen King, I took part in a few other events.

I read several books for the Literature and War Readalong 2011 hosted by Beauty is a Sleeping Cat:

1. Strange Meeting by Susan Hill (WWI)
2. How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston (WWI)
3. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (WWI)
4. The Winter of the World by Carol Ann Lee (WWI)
5. The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo (WWII)

hosted by The Introverted Reader

I took part in Holocaust Remembrance Week at the beginning of May.  I read two books, What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everday Life in Nazi Germany by Eric Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband and Far to Go by Alison Pick, and I also wrote a post about the most powerful Holocaust books I’d read up to that point.

hosted by Reading, fuelled by tea

Finally, I took part in Advent With Austen, in which I read a work from Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, Frederic and Elfrida.

Hope you all met your reading goals in 2011, and I wish you all the best in 2012! Happy new year!

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Aunt Susan Elizabeth used to say there was something in all of us that delighted in bullying those lower in the social order of things.  And that was what made slavery so easy for the white folks to practice.

My father said fear is what made it easy to practice.  That down in the Deep South there were places where the blacks outnumbered the whites.  And the whites had to keep them under control.

Both reasons frightened me.  Because whatever my reason was, I was good at it.

(from The Ever-After Bird, page 61)

Yesterday I said Come Juneteenth was my favorite of Ann Rinaldi’s middle grade and young adult historical novels; then I read The Ever-After Bird, which is just as good, if not better.  I read The Ever-After Bird in just a couple of hours, and it blew me away.  Rinaldi based this book on Dr. Alexander Ross, a Canadian physician and renowned ornithologist who sketched birds on the Southern plantations and also was involved in the Underground Railroad.  Because little is known about Ross, much of The Ever-After Bird is fiction, but her version of the doctor is both charming and captivating.

The Ever-After Bird is set in 1851, more than 10 years before the start of the American Civil War, but Rinaldi does a wonderful job showing the horrors of slavery, the persistence of the Abolitionists, and how they both paved the way for war.  CeCe is a 13-year-old girl living in Pennsylvania on the Maryland border wondering why her father felt the need to help raggedy slaves on their way to freedom when he couldn’t treat his own daughter with kindness.  After he is killed by angry plantation owners looking for their runaway slaves, CeCe is left in the care of her Uncle Alex, a doctor and an ornithologist with a kind smile but pain in his eyes.

He proposes to take CeCe with him and his assistant, a former slave turned college student named Earline, on a trip to visit various plantations in Georgia on a search for the scarlet ibis, called the Ever-After Bird by slaves who believed that if they saw it, they would be free ever-after.  CeCe and Earline are unable to see beyond their past hurts to understand one another, and therefore, they are constantly mean to each other.

While on the plantations, Uncle Alex plans to talk to the slaves, give them directions to safe houses on the Underground Railroad, and provide them with a little money.  However, he needs to keep up appearances so that they don’t get caught, and Earline must play the role of slave, not assistant.  CeCe finds that it is easy to treat Earline badly, but then she witnesses some things on the plantations that cause her to rethink everything she’s believed in and realize that her previous stance that people should just be allowed to live how they want to live without interference may not be the best way after all.

The Ever-After Bird is the first Rinaldi novel that I’ve read so far that doesn’t gloss over the issue of slavery.  Many of the characters I’ve encountered so far in her novels are Southern, daughters of slave owners who insist that their families treat their slaves kindly and that their slaves are content in their place in society.  I understand that’s the character’s point of view based on her situation in life, but it felt to me that the reality was barely visible.  However, I excused it because slavery wasn’t the main theme in those novels.

Here, Rinaldi doesn’t sugar-coat slavery.  Female slaves are attacked by their masters and their masters’ sons, but because the book is intended for younger readers, there are no graphic scenes, just mentions of such treatment.  Slaves are used in scientific experiments, they live in crowded conditions where illness is rampant, and they are whipped.  These scenes are necessary for CeCe’s evolution from a young girl broken by guilt and abuse and blind to the mistreatment of others to a young woman who learns about love, kindness, and friendship from Uncle Alex and Earline.  Rinaldi makes it easy for readers to feel CeCe’s pain and understand why she acted the way she did.  I loved Uncle Alex; he understood CeCe because he’d been raised by her father, his older brother.  He knew what CeCe needed, to be loved and feel loved, and he took on the role of “daddy-uncle” with a tenderness that melted my heart.

The Ever-After Bird had me on the edge of my seat.  The tension built as the trio went from one plantation to another, and the cruelty they witnessed intensified.  Rinaldi brilliantly balances the harsh images with more tender ones.  It is a powerful and emotional novel, but it is also sweet and heartwarming.  Definitely not one to be missed.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Ever-After Bird from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Was it right?  We didn’t discuss it.  Did they suspect?  They had no outside information, not even in the slave grapevine, because Pa forbade the visiting back and forth to other plantations, even by men or women who had wives or husbands there.  And they had Sam the overseer’s cooperation.

We became a country unto ourselves.  Did it matter? we asked ourselves.  Who would be hurt with a couple more months in bondage?

I am sure God has that question written down in a dark book in gold print somewhere.

(from Come Juneteenth, page 89)

I’ve read several of Ann Rinaldi’s middle grade and young adult historical novels this year, and so far, Come Juneteenth is my favorite.  In the Author’s Note, Rinaldi says these characters haunted her and that she’s most fond of them, and her love for them shines through in this book — the only one of her novels that has made me tear up.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in 1863, but in Texas, the slaves were not told they were free until more than two years later, on June 19, 1865, which is known to this day as Juneteenth.  Come Juneteenth is Rinaldi’s attempt to determine exactly why and how the Texas plantation owners kept the slaves’ freedom a secret until the Union Army rolled in.  Was it because Texas wasn’t part of the States?  Was it because the plantation owners were afraid their slaves would walk away and leave them scrambling to find workers to take over their tasks?  Were they afraid of an uprising?

Rinaldi personalizes this historical event by focusing on the Holcomb family, mainly Luli, her older brother, Gabe, and her “almost” sister, Rose, or Sis Goose.  Sis Goose was born to a slave and a white steamship captain and given to Luli’s Aunt Sophie, a witch of a woman who’s always trying to turn Sis Goose into a servant and threatening to sell her.  As an infant, Sis Goose took to Luli’s mother, so the Holcomb family raised her as their own and never treated her as a slave.  Three years older than Luli, they grew up together as sisters, getting into trouble together, laughing, and trading secrets.  However, as teenagers, their relationship changes when Luli realizes that Gabe and Sis Goose are in love.

Honor means a lot to Gabe, and when he joins the Confederate Army and is sent to fight the Native Americans, he is haunted by the images of the women and children that died at his hands.  He means to marry Sis Goose, but she says she must be free first.  However, when a former slave arrives at the ranch and tells the Holcombs that the slaves have been freed, he is given payment for his silence and sent on his way.  Luli’s brothers insist that she must not let the news slip, not even to Sis Goose.  Gabe is torn throughout the book between his love for Sis Goose and his decision to keep her freedom a secret, his love for Luli and his need to discipline her, his duty to his country and his belief that the country should be united, and his belief that his family treated their slaves well and the realization that slavery in any form is wrong.

With her father near death and the Union Army taking over the plantation house, Luli’s life is in chaos.  When Sis Goose finds out that her family has hidden the fact that she has long been free, the consequences bring the Holcombs to their knees.  How can a family torn apart by war and lies ever be reassembled?

Come Juneteenth is a fast-paced novel that grabbed my attention right from the start.  Why are Luli and Gabe making their way across the prairie in search of a young woman they both love?  Why did they have to conceal Sis Goose’s freedom, when she loved them and wasn’t likely to leave?  The answers to these questions pulled at my heart, and Rinaldi doesn’t pave the way for a happy ending this time…but that’s what makes this book so good.  The characters are so flawed, yet so easy to love:  Gabe with his sense of honor, his tenderness and affection for Luli, his loyalty and love for Sis Goose; Luli, the sassy, trouble-making girl who can shoot a gun and ride a horse and has nothing but good intentions; and Sis Goose, whose brokenness hit me hard in the gut.  I can see why Rinaldi had a hard time leaving these characters behind.

Rinaldi never fails to inform me about historical events that I didn’t learn in school.  I knew nothing about Texas during the Civil War and had never heard about Juneteenth until reading this book.  That’s why I insist that Rinaldi’s novels are perfect for adults and younger readers alike.  Come Juneteenth has a little something for everyone:  war, romance, action, family secrets, complicated sibling relationships, tragedy, and redemption.  Highly recommended, but keep the tissues handy.

Disclosure: I borrowed Come Juneteenth from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Here is a man [Matthew Brady] who has seized the moment, and I admire him very much.  He was at Fort Sumter to take pictures three days after the evacuation of the Union garrison.  This will be a war of photographs, he says.  His aim is to place these photographs in front of the people so they do not become complacent about the killing.  He says he aims to photograph dead bodies.  Well, I suppose he has a point.  If people actually see what is being done, they won’t be so eager to have parades and military celebrations in honor of the war.

(from Sarah’s Ground, page 123)

Mount Vernon, the Virginia plantation and family home of George Washington, was the only neutral ground during the American Civil War.  I had the pleasure of touring the home and the grounds more than a decade ago, so it was interesting to read about the home when it was being restored and war was being waged all around it.  Sarah’s Ground is based on the true story of Sarah Tracy, a young woman from New York who took a job at the estate as a caretaker of sorts.  Ann Rinaldi used historical information in Sarah’s letters to Miss Cunningham of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in writing the book, but Rinaldi imagined much of Sarah’s story because her journals and other papers from her years at Mount Vernon were destroyed after the war when her home near Fairfax burned.

Sarah has just completed her schooling at the Troy Female Seminary when she gets the job as Mount Vernon’s caretaker in 1861.  She will be working alongside Miss Cunningham, mostly writing letters, raising money, and bringing back some of the home’s original furnishings.  One of the area’s most eligible bachelors, Upton Herbert, is also in residence, and he is overseeing the restoration of the home, Washington’s tomb, and the grounds.  He longs to join the war effort, but he promised Miss Cunningham that he wouldn’t, that his job at Mount Vernon was just as important.

Sarah is the youngest child in her family.  Her parents are older, and she was mainly raised by her siblings.  She views accepting the job as a rebellion of sorts; she’s sick of being sent away to stay with friends of the family in hopes of finding a husband.  However, she worries that Miss Cunningham will find out about her little lie — that she’s only 18, not 22, like she said when applying for the job.

Sarah soon shows her spunk.  She responds to criticisms of the restoration project, kicks Washington’s relative out of the home, and questions whether the servants — descendents of Washington’s slaves — are free and insists that they be paid — all during her first day on the job.  On trips to Washington, D.C., to procure supplies, Sarah presses General McClellan and even President Lincoln for the necessary passes for her and the servants.  She makes soldiers wear shawls to cover their uniforms when visiting Washington’s tomb, entertains Napoleon, and refuses to give Mrs. Lincoln a tour for fear that she would be viewed as taking sides in the war.  When Miss Cunningham must return to South Carolina to care for her ill mother, Sarah is left alone with Upton — which is okay because he’s a true Southern gentleman — until her flirty and obnoxious friend, Mary, arrives and creates waves.

Sarah’s Ground is an interesting novel (intended for younger readers but enjoyable to all) about Sarah Tracy’s efforts to create an island of neutrality in the midst of a very divisive war.  I liked Sarah and Upton, and I enjoyed watching their relationship grow in a very caring, innocent way.  Even though much of the story is fiction, I think Rinaldi did a good job making Sarah strong, likable, and true to the women of the era.  Although there isn’t much plot, Sarah’s Ground is a nice, quiet novel that introduces readers to a little known event in our nation’s history, the preservation of Mount Vernon and how it survived the Civil War.

Disclosure: I borrowed Sarah’s Ground from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The American Civil War is not the only war in which women played an active role, but that doesn’t make the stories of these brave women any less interesting.  These women are to be admired for their courage and their willingness to put their lives on the line for their beliefs, regardless of which side they took in the fighting.  In Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War, Peggy Caravantes tells the stories of three Confederate spies and three Union spies, six ordinary women whose lives were forever changed by war.  These women were young and old, married and unmarried, mothers, actresses, nurses, from both prominent and unknown families.

Elizabeth Van Lew lived in the most stately mansion in Richmond and was the daughter of a slave owner, but her views changed after attending school in Philadelphia.  She hid Union soldiers in her attic and carried letters to and from Union prisoners in food trays.  When her father died, she freed her family’s slaves, purchased their children, and freed them as well.  Many of these former slaves acted as her agents.

Sarah Emma Edmonds ran away from her abusive father and eventually became a Federal field nurse.  Her body was muscled from working the family farm, and she was manly in appearance, which made it possible for her to become “Frank Thompson” and gather information from the rebels that she passed on to the Union.  She put her life on the line many times, even disguising herself as a slave and having to perform back-breaking work until she could escape.

Belle Boyd was a determined, fearless young woman who spied for the Confederacy.  When she was 17 years old, the Yankees began looting houses in her town, and they made their way to the Boyd home because it was known that she hung rebel flags in her room.  When her mother was roughed up by a Yankee sergeant for resisting the raising of the Union flag over their home, Belle shot and killed the sergeant.  She was arrested and imprisoned several times, and she supported herself and her children after the war by transforming her memoirs into a stage act.

Caravantes brings these women to life in Petticoat Spies.  The book is comprised of six chapters, giving each woman their own chapter and making it easier for readers to follow their stories.  She provides a lot of information about each woman, from their childhood before the war to how they fared after their spying careers ended.  Caravantes enables readers to really get to know these women as people and as spies.  Not every woman had a happy ending, of course.  Some did not live to see the end of the war, some were recognized and honored for their service, and some found themselves penniless.

The Girl (age 11) and I both enjoyed Petticoat Spies.  Caravantes provides historical details in an interesting fashion, and The Girl listened attentively while I read the book aloud.  These women sacrificed a lot to smuggle information; one was abandoned by the man she loved, one was sentenced to death and fell into a depression after narrowly escaping the gallows, and many were separated from their families.  But these women were brave through it all, not letting fear and the prospect of capture deter them.  The Girl and I talked about whether we would have done what they did in their circumstances, and we’re not so sure.  Petticoat Spies is a short exploration of how some women endured the war and fought on their own terms, and it gets you thinking about the many other women who were just as brave but whose stories have been lost over the years.

Disclosure: We borrowed Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War from our local library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Monday, March 7, 1864

The war has been going on far longer than anyone thought, so long that I fear we have become accustomed to it.  We have grown accustomed to having no men around, accustomed to things we had taken for granted — coffee, ink, flour for baking — all becoming precious, and accustomed to all the gaiety having vanished from our lives.  We seem to have lost all hope, as if this is the way it will be forever.

(from When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, page 40)

Part of the Dear America historical fiction diary series for young readers, When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson is set in Gordonsville, Virginia, in 1864 toward the end of the American Civil War.  Barry Denenberg gets into the head of a fictional 14-year-old girl who keeps a diary over the course of one year — a year filled with war, loss, and hardship, probably the toughest year Emma Simpson (and girls like her) ever faced.

The diary starts off with the loss of Emma’s brother, Cole, in the war.  Her brother’s death hits her and her mother hard, especially as it occurred just before Christmas.  With her father off fighting as a colonel in the Confederate Army, nothing is the same for the Simpson family, and Emma can’t help but remember how just one year before, she and her extended family had a festive Christmas.  Cole’s death is the beginning of the end of life as Emma knew it.  In the coming months, she will meet a young man who captures her heart then rushes off to fight, she will lose more family members to illness, and the war will arrive on her doorstep as the Yankees take over her home and force her and her family to a few rooms on the third floor.

Meanwhile, the slaves on other farms are rebelling, sometimes violently, sometimes just running off.  Readers will have to understand where Emma is coming from when she describes how her family’s slaves are loyal and content and not likely to run off.  It is not likely that her family’s slaves are content, and it is not likely that they appreciated her father’s “firm guiding hand,” but Emma is the daughter of a slave owner and has grown up thinking slavery is normal and that blacks are simply inferior to whites.  The letters from her father insist that the Abolitionists must be beaten, but Emma’s letters from her boyfriend, Tally, and the things she has seen with her own eyes show her how war isn’t always black and white.

I find it impossible to imagine them lying cold upon some battlefield with no one to care for them.  I cannot bring myself to believe — as others seem to — that somehow it would be worth it.  Is anything worth dying for?  Is this awful waste — this painful sacrifice — justified in God’s eyes?  (page 129)

One could call The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson a homefront novel of sorts.  While the men are off fighting, Emma and her cousin, Rachel, are pondering hair styles, clothes, and marriage.  But those conversations come to an end when Emma confronts death, hunger, cold, and Yankee soldiers.  The war actually comes to her doorstep, though what she experiences is nowhere near as horrible as what the men experienced on the battlefield.  It really drives home the point that war is a hardship for everyone, though at different degrees.

The Girl (age 11) read this book first, then told me I had to read it, too.  She says she thought it was interesting for the most part, but some parts dragged, and she didn’t think it was necessary for Emma to call her family Brother Cole, Cousin Rachel, and Baby Elizabeth over and over.  She thought that was annoying.  I see her points, but the book was so short that these things didn’t bother me as much.

The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson is a good book for parents and children to read together about the Civil War.  It definitely raises some talking points about war and slavery, how war dramatically changes every day life, how it forced children to grow up early, and how it pushed people to their limits.  The novel is not a cheerful one, and at times, Emma seems to lose all hope and wonders if things will be this bad forever.  But that feeling of desolation, helplessness, and pain is what makes it authentic.

Disclosure: We borrowed When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson from our local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Disquiet and desire.  All the difference between world and want — the difference between being an adult who counted the cost and a child who just got on it and went, for instance.  All the world between.  Yet not that much difference at all.  Bedfellows, really.  The way you felt when the roller coaster car approached the top of the first steep grade, where the ride really begins.

Disquiet and desire.  What you want and what you’re scared to try for.  Where you’ve been and where you want to go.  Something in a rock-and-roll song about wanting the girl, the car, the place to stand and be.  Oh please God can you dig it.

(from It, page 1085)

I still don’t know how Serena talked me into reading It, given the fact that clowns really, really creep me out, but I’m glad she did.  After being disappointed by The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom, I’d been looking for a book that would truly scare me, and while I can’t say I was terrified at any point while reading It, there were a few times when I didn’t want to turn the lights off until my husband came to bed.

Stephen King showcases his talent as a storyteller in It, which focuses on an evil entity living under the fictional town of Derry, Maine, that emerges every 27 years to feed on children (and the occasional adult) and the seven kids who join forces to beat it.  Led by Bill Denbrough, whose little brother, George, is brutally murdered by It in the form of Pennywise the clown, the self-proclaimed “Losers” — Ben Hanscom, Richie Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrak, Beverly Marsh, Stan Uris, and Mike Hanlon — spend much of the summer of 1958 contemplating ways to rid Derry of It, an evil with many faces based on the fears of its prey and the ability to control the people and world around it.

The novel shifts back and forth in time, mainly between 1958, when the gang thought they killed It, and 1985, when Mike — now Derry’s librarian — realizes It has begun another killing spree and reminds his old friends about the blood oath they made 27 years before — that if it started up again, they’d come back and get rid of It once and for all.  However, only Mike remembers what happened that day under the city in 1958, and as the others slowly remember, they wonder whether they can recapture the faith and power they had as children, because only that will rid Derry of the evil that has plagued it since prehistoric times.

King includes many details about Derry and its people, and at times he seems to ramble a lot.  At first, I thought a large chunk of the book’s 1,090 pages probably could have been cut out, but after turning the final page, I changed my mind.  He jerks readers back and forth in time and tells seemingly unnecessary and unrelated stories, and then a light goes on and you see how these details fit into the larger scheme of things.

Derry is a messed up town, a town with a violent past, a town with a lot of stories to tell, and only when these stories are told does the reader understand how long It has been on the prowl and how much of a hold It has on its inhabitants.  Can you imagine anyone sitting at a bar and ignoring a gruesome ax murder occurring behind them?  Can you imagine all the men of the town positioning themselves in various locations of downtown to massacre a notorious gang in broad daylight?  You can once you learn that a clownish man or a man dressed in a clown suit was in the midst of the chaos.  It’s both chilling and fascinating, and it’s a novel where you just have to go with the flow and know that you’ll “get” it by the end.

There are several things that surprised me about It, beyond the fact that I could read about Pennywise and not have nightmares.  For some reason, I expected King’s writing to be more on the “fluffy” side (for lack of a better word), so I was surprised at his amazing use of language and description.  I was also surprised by how well he juggled so many main characters.  One could argue that Bill is the main character, as he is viewed as the leader, but the rest of the gang and even the bully Henry Bowers, who terrorizes them as children and as adults, get plenty of time in the spotlight.  King’s characters are so well developed, each with their own unique personalities.  They feel like real people, and you know them almost as well as you know yourself.  Moreover, I was surprised by how invested I was in these characters, so much so that I cried at the end of the Last Interlude.  I didn’t just tear up; I actually sobbed for a minute or two.

Readers shouldn’t be scared by the fact that It is a chunkster.  I read it over a period of five months, and each time I picked up the book, it felt like I hadn’t put it aside for a few weeks, it was still so fresh in my mind.  Readers also shouldn’t dismiss It as simply a horror novel.  Yes, there are some gory scenes, and yes, King plays with your mind a bit, but there’s a lot more going on here.  It is a coming-of-age story, a novel about friendship and love, and he touches upon the idea of childhood innocence, memory, and fear and how our perceptions of the world change as we get older.  The plot picks up the pace so that by the last section, I couldn’t read it fast enough.  It is a novel that is creepy, yet thought-provoking at the same time.  And believe it or not, despite the page length, I think it’s one I would read again in the future.

Disclosure: I received my copy of It as a gift. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Mother hunches by the kerosene lamp mending the boys’ socks.  She’s taken on extra nursing jobs to make ends meet.  I am so glad you escaped, she says to me.

(from The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, page 57)

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is a graphic novel of sorts, featuring vintage photos, ads, postcards, and memorabilia from the 1920s collected and put together by author Caroline Preston.  Preston uses these items to tell the story of a fictional character, an aspiring writer named Frances “Frankie” Pratt, who is given a scrapbook from her mother as a high school graduation present and types a page a day on her deceased father’s old typewriter.  Frankie’s scrapbook introduces readers to her family and friends in Cornish, New Hampshire, beginning in 1920 and follows her to Vassar College, Greenwich Village, and Paris over the next eight years.

I read this book in a matter of hours, but I know I will revisit it again to admire the photos, clippings, and trinkets preserved in its pages.  Frankie’s story is an adventure of an ambitious, vivacious young woman with all the world in front of her, and Preston does a great job shaping her story to fit the mementos in the scrapbook.  It’s not a profound story, but the scrapbook makes it impressive and unique.

I was amazed at how much I was able to learn about the characters from the few words Frankie writes and sticks to the pages.  Frankie’s mother struggles to support the family, but she finds a way to send her daughter to a prestigious school, opening up a world of opportunities to Frankie.  Preston takes readers on Frankie’s journey through failed romances, an overseas voyage made exciting by a “spinster adventuress” and exiled Russian princes, and the literary scene in Paris, and she even shows Frankie’s evolution from a carefree school girl to a young woman with responsibilities — all in little scrapbook snippets.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is a fantastic “novel in pictures” that you must see in person to fully appreciate.  The pages are bright and colorful, and even though I wish there had been some variations in texture, I absolutely loved it.  Frankie Pratt is a strong heroine with modern sensibilities, one of those characters I’d love to have as a real-life friend.  Couple her charming coming-of-age story with a beautiful and fascinating scrapbook, and you have a delightful read that will keep your eyes glued to the pages.

Watch the book trailer and read about how Preston created a “scrapbook novel.”

Disclosure: I won The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt in a blog giveaway. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Miss Clara says all that is necessary for evil to exist is for good men to do nothing.

I would add, women.  I would add, me.

(from Numbering All the Bones, page vi)

Numbering All the Bones is set in 1864-65 on a plantation near Andersonville, Georgia, and is told from the point of view of a 13-year-old house slave, Eulinda.  Eulinda’s family was torn apart by the first wife of her master, Mr. Hamilton, who also happens to be her biological father.  Her mother died from cholera, her little brother was sold after being accused of stealing a ring, and her 16-year-old brother ran away from the plantation with the ring and joined the Union Army.  Eulinda lives in the big house and is educated, and because of this, she is not completely trusted by the other slaves.

Numbering All the Bones is a middle-grade novel that touches upon slavery during the Civil War, showing how difficult life was for slaves without making it too hard for younger readers to handle.  Eulinda was mistreated by Mr. Hamilton’s first wife, who spit in her food, among other things, but as a house slave, she also is treated better than some of the others; for instance, she is educated and not forced to perform hard labor.  She even has a pet dog.  But when Mr. Hamilton begins to withdraw from life after learning that his son has gone missing in the war, his second wife — a Yankee who plays both sides in order to turn a profit — seeks to gain more control over the plantation.

Ann Rinaldi’s real purpose in Numbering All the Bones is to tell the story of the notorious Andersonville Prison camp, where 13,000 Yankee soldiers died from starvation, disease, and exposure in a little more than a year.  Eulinda witnesses the horrors of Andersonville first hand when she learns her older brother, Neddy, is being held there.  She sees the overcrowding, the lack of food, how the prisoners are left to fend for themselves when it comes to shelter, and how goods are smuggled in and sold to the prisoners who are desperate to survive.  The Confederates even open the camp to the curious eyes of men and women who climb to the parapets and act like they’re on a field trip to a zoo.

When the war ends, Eulinda makes her way to the Andersonville prison and joins an effort led by a former Confederate officer, William Griffin, who essentially plans to “number all the bones,” or dig up the dead and give them a proper burial as a way of making amends for the senselessness and horror of war.  During this lengthy project, Eulinda meets Clara Barton, who is assisting the efforts and reaching out to the former slaves who come to Andersonville seeking help.

Rinaldi packs a lot of history into Numbering All the Bones, and even though it is intended for younger readers, I found it interesting because I know very little about Andersonville.  This short book only scratches the surface of the horrific things that happened at the prison, but it provides a good introduction and should prompt readers to research more of the facts.  Like the other novels I’ve read by Rinaldi, she creates a strong main character in Eulinda, but unlike those other novels, I don’t feel like I got to know her very well.  Although the book is written in the first person, Eulinda seems to simply chronicle the events that are going on around her.  However, Rinaldi does a good job of showing the confusion that the slaves faced when the war was over, as many didn’t know where to go or what to do with themselves after being granted their freedom.

Numbering All the Bones is a great book for parents to discuss with their children.  Rinaldi makes parallels between Andersonville and the concentration camps of World War II, touching upon whether or not people living on the outskirts of the prison were truly ignorant of what was going on there.  She doesn’t focus on the action on the battlefield, but what happened to one house slave on one plantation and how she and those around her picked up the pieces afterward.  Rinaldi not only covers an important part of our nation’s history, but she also shows how the war changed people, both soldiers and slaves, and while some fell into depression or helplessness after experiencing such horror, others tried to put things right.

Check out my reviews of other books by Ann Rinaldi:

Juliet’s Moon
Amelia’s War
My Vicksburg

Disclosure: I borrowed Numbering All the Bones from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon Associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Uri said, “Stay away from Jackboots.”

“They smile,” I said.

“They hate you.”

I laughed.  “They don’t hate me.  They say, ‘Very good, little Gypsy.’  They salute me.  I want to be a Jackboot.”

He smacked me in the face.  My babka went flying.  “You’re not a Jackboot.  You’ll never be a Jackboot.  You are what you are.”

(from Milkweed, page 22)

Milkweed is the tale of a young boy alone on the streets of Warsaw at the beginning of World War II who uses his small size and quick feet to survive.  He is taken in by Uri, the leader of a group of Jewish orphans who are homeless and steal food (and sometimes other things) to survive.  The little boy doesn’t know his name or how old he is, and he doesn’t remember his family.  He wears a yellow stone around his neck, which he believes came from his father, and he insists he is a Gypsy, not a Jew. Jerry Spinelli opens the book rather abruptly with the young boy stealing a loaf of bread and then meeting Uri for the first time.  Uri invents the young boy’s past and gives him a name, Misha Pilsudski, and Misha is so entranced by the story that he believes it is true.

While scavenging for food, Misha meets 6-year-old Janina, whom he grows to love as a sister.  When Janina’s family is forced to move to the Warsaw Ghetto, Misha brings her family food, and when he and the other homeless boys are rounded up by the “Jackboots,” or Nazis, and brought to the ghetto after it is sealed off from the rest of the city, Misha comes face-to-face with death and hunger.  Yet his small size and quick feet enable him to fit through a two-brick opening in the wall, and he joins many other children in smuggling food into the ghetto.

Misha becomes part of Janina’s family, and although Janina’s mother never embraces him, her father and eventually her uncle do.  He wears the armband that the Jews are required to wear, he celebrates Hanukkah with them in their small room, he moves from a bed of rubble with the other boys to the family’s cramped room, and stands at attention with them during line ups.  When the Nazis begin liquidating the ghetto in 1942, the book takes on an even more ominous tone.

Milkweed is a heartbreaking story told from the point of view of a young, naïve boy.  Spinelli does a wonderful job showing the horrors of the war through Misha’s eyes, and even though I was able to decipher his childish observations and knew what he was seeing and what would happen to the residents of the Warsaw Ghetto, I felt like I was experiencing it with Misha.  Oh, how I wanted to see what Misha saw:  the doctor who runs the orphanage marching the children happily to the ghetto and the awesomeness of hundreds of marching soldiers and huge tanks moving into the city.  I wanted everything to be okay, but I knew better…and Misha should have, too.

The biggest problem I had with Milkweed was Misha’s naivety.  While we never know for sure how old Misha is, Janina guesses that based on his size in comparison to hers, he is about 8.  I know that 8-year-olds are innocent and may not understand things such as war, but Misha saw things with his own eyes, things that were obviously horrible, yet he continued to not understand.  He sees the Nazis forcing a Jewish man to scrub the sidewalk with his beard.  He sees another Jew stripped naked and blasted with cold water in the winter, and yet another Jew strapped onto a horse backward and on his stomach.  After seeing these things, Misha says he is glad he is not a Jew, but he does not heed the warnings about blending in with people on the street, he believes the Jackboots are smiling at him in a friendly way, and he thinks the crowds plodding toward the ghetto are marching in a parade.  Beyond the things that he witnesses, one would assume that he would mature with the passage of time, but it is difficult to gauge how much time has passed due to the choppy narrative.  But Milkweed opens in 1939 with the start of the war, the ghetto was created in 1940, and the Jews were shipped out of the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp in 1942, so time passes, yet Misha never seems to grow wiser.

I also had issues with the end of the book, beginning with the liquidation of the ghetto.  The events that transpire involving Misha seem farfetched, and Spinelli just rushes through these scenes and the years after the war.  These are the scenes where Spinelli could have shown character evolution, but they seem like an afterthought, with decades passing in a matter of sentences.

However, it pains me to write these paragraphs about the book because even though these thoughts must be expressed, I really liked Milkweed.  Spinelli brings a lot of important themes to the forefront, namely whether it is possible for children to retain their innocence when death and brutality surround them and invade every aspect of their lives and the importance of identity with regard to survival.  Misha had no identity during a time when what you were was a matter of life and death.  Milkweed is an powerful book that despite its flaws, made me cry and will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Disclosure: I borrowed Milkweed from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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