Posts tagged ‘young adult’

POIGNANT AND POWERFUL

The Thackery Journal

Written by John Holt

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This well-written book of historical fiction is divided into three parts: the first part sets the stage for the personal tragedy the looming civil war will impose on friends and family; the second part begins in 1864 when the South is on the brink of defeat and engages in plot to buy weapons from the French government, and the third part delineates the intricate plot of Northern generals to carry out the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln using John Wilkes-Booth as their instrument. Holt informs the reader that only three of his characters are genuine, Grant, Lincoln and Booth. The reader will be hard pressed to believe that statement because Holt does such a good job of making all his characters realistic and seamlessly weaves them together with both the historical and the fictional.

At the outset the reader meets Aaron Thackery, an old man who sits before the fire in the remains of his Southern home reading the journal of his deceased son who has been implicated in some sort of plot. Thackery thinks back upon his own arrest and his wife’s death. After the flashbacks, the author shifts to the town of Larkspur in Virginia introducing us to Jacob Thackery and his friend, Miles Drew. When war is declared, Miles, who does not believe in slavery nor the fact that the South can win, flees to join the Union forces. He quarrels with his best friend Jacob, who will join the Confederacy. Their paths will cross again during the war.

In the second part of the book, the scene shifts to 1864. Jacob realizes that the South will lose, but he becomes involved with the plot of the Confederacy to buy weapons from the French government. When a Mexican agent finds out about the plot, he hatches a new plan to steal the gold needed from the Mexican government, which Thackery will be responsible for delivering to the French in Canada. After the weapons destined for the Confederacy are blown up, he must decided what to do with the gold.

The third part of the book is the crux of the plot. Holt creates a character named Jarvis who will enlist Lincoln’s most trusted generals in a plot to wrest power from him and replace him with Grant. The plan goes awry, so Booth is enlisted to carry out the plan. How will Miles and Jacob be involved and how will it affect the rest of their lives and the future of the new restored Union government?

Holt does a magnificent job of transporting the characters into the minds of the reader. His research is carefully done and the descriptions of battle, angst, and raw emotion are outstanding. I had to finish the entire book in one setting, and by the end of the read was totally convinced that the story was plausible.

As a historian, I liked the fact that Holt gave citations to his research to permit further exploration of the topics. The cover is a painting from the Battle of Antietam and the period photographs add another dimension of personality to the work. There is no graphic violence or sexuality so the book is suitable for young adults. This book sheds light on the psychological, historical and moral aspects of the American Civil War much better than any historical text and is highly recommended.

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A GIFT TO ONESELF

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

I would like to wish my subscribers and their families all over the world peace, joy, health, and happiness however and wherever you celebrate during this holiday season.

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The Prayer: A Haunting Children’s Christmas Tale that Captures the True Spirit of Christmas

Written by Stephan J Myers

Illustrated by Kerry Fisher and Stephan J Myers

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These verses were first written in 2009 and recently published in Great Britain in kindle format. The author makes one request: before reading the story promise that you will never forget the meaning in these words. I don’t think that you will…

The title is a bit misleading because this book is not a prayer in the religious sense. At the beginning the scene is set for children round the world dreaming of the images and gifts that Christmas will bring; then suddenly shifts to the image of children who have no family, friends, and are struggling to survive the night. “For sometimes the children who need things the most, are lost to the night and a pale winter’s ghost.”

A starving child dressed in rags hears a voice in the darkness that urges him to follow his lantern so that he may discover a home with a hearth and a warm fire. This spirit instructs the boy to hold up his lantern and peer through the windows he passes along the way. The boy obeys and observes a young boy reading in a room with presents piled under the tree. At the next house he views this same boy who is now a father with a child on his knee; the kitchen tables piled high with food. As his lantern grows dimmer, the boy gazes through another window viewing that boy as an old man. No one in these houses is able to see his plight. The lamp is beginning to fade, and so is the life left in that little boy. When New Year dawns, those lucky children are still reveling in the holiday oblivious to his plight, while that little needy little boy has become a ghost.

This is a powerful and well written short story done in verse that will remain in memory long after you read it. The illustrations are colorful, fluid, warm and penetrating; they reinforce the words and draw on compelling images that do not allow the words to recede from memory. Myers represents the story through the eyes of the starving child though the execution does not always work. I would strongly recommend this book as a family read or a book for classroom discussion reminding all of the deeper meaning of the Christmas season.

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PRESIDENTIAL PHANTOMS

Haunted Presidents:Ghosts in the Lives of the Chief Executive

Written by Charles A. Stansfield, Jr.

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This book presents portraits of the lives of the first forty presidents in US history and the possibility of hauntings or paranormal events associated with them and their families. While the author has written other books on the paranormal, he has also taught and written books on cultural and regional geography. Here he has ventured into the world of history as well, and while I have not double checked all the historical background which is sketchy in spots, it appears to be fairly well researched.

In his introduction, Stansfield informs the reader that ghosts are bipartisan and universal. Because the presidents are in a unique position to influence history, it makes sense that they might become restless spirits unable to leave our world. According to public opinion polls ten to forty percent of Americans believe they personally have had contact with a deceased person. Obviously some presidents have had more influence than others and it is the same with ghosts or the likelihood of ghost stories being associated with them.

Stansfield believes the relative degree of interest in a presidential ghost story is related to what he calls the “Three C’s.” These are character, charisma and circumstances. Presidents like Lincoln, Washington and Theodore Roosevelt have strong character that embody virtues like courage, perseverance and integrity. First ladies such as Dolley Madison and Jackie Kennedy possessed extraordinary charisma. Circumstances in one’s life often influence the legends like the strong influence in spiritualism displayed by Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary. President Woodrow Wilson was driven to despair because he was unable to succeed in achieving his dream of world peace.

The place where ghosts appear is usually based on a location that was especially significant to that person’s life. One example is the funeral route of Lincoln’s final train ride. Another is the Key West Cottage where Harry Truman and his wife often stayed. The White House is probably our country’s most famous haunted house. One of the most unusual stories is that of the demon cat which appears in the basement and crypt of the Capitol building. At first it seems to be a kitten, but soon evolves into a huge, snarling cat. Believers claim that this cat materialized shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Ghosts of past White House Staff open and close doors and lights. Even Winston Churchill and a British Queen have reported seeing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln in his former bedroom.

Whether you are a skeptic or not, you will enjoy reading about tidbits of historical information like the fact that Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were sure they saw UFO’s and the fact that George Washington appeared on a horse with a flaming sword at the Battle of Gettysburg to encourage the Union forces on to victory. The ghost of John Adams is said to haunt the former Supreme Court chamber in the Capitol building where he defended fifty three Africans who revolted against their slave captors on the Amistad and sailed to an American port seeking freedom and return to Africa.

The book can be read in chronological order or used as a reference to a certain period of history. Its story line is appropriate for young adult and adult audiences. Classroom teachers might want to use the paranormal aspect to encourage more interest in presidential facts and historical events. Certainly an interesting way to view American history.

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TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

Ta Ta for Now! (Stories about Melissa)

Written by Bethany Lopez

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This is a fast paced well written story about a fourteen year old girl named Melissa, her family, and the beginning of her freshman year at Dearborn High School. The protagonist writes in a journal format spilling out her hopes, fears and emotions.

Even as an adult reader, I found myself laughing, crying and sympathizing with Melissa. The oldest child of four, Melissa describes her brothers and sisters: Megan, the seventh grader who has no pride in her appearance, Mikey, the nine year old pesky brother, and Monica, the still adorable five year old baby sister. Her parents take their responsibilities seriously and do their best to guide her.

In the beginning of the story, Melissa has just begun to make journal entries in the book Megan has bought for her birthday. Melissa is apprehensive about the first day of high school, especially because her mother is also a teacher at the school! Her life is a roller coaster. Melissa’s best friend Jess has turned into a goth and won’t even talk to her. Melissa is desperately trying to get Brian, a star athlete swimmer and football player, to pay attention to her. A new girl named Layla appears eager to befriend her. Melissa’s entries are filled with the ups and downs of a teenager’s life. There are boy troubles, family quarrels, parental disputes and problems at school.

Many of the lessons learned are not acquired without grief or hardship, but we are introduced to a young lady who is doing her best to find out who she is and how she can fit it without losing her own identity. Bethany Lopez does a good job of delineating the joys and fears as well as the trials and tribulations of a fourteen year old high school freshman. Story action moves along quickly and the sub plots involving supporting characters are seamlessly interwoven. The reader empathizes with Melissa while the supporting cast of characters alternate in lifting her up and pulling her down. Length of the story (about 150 pages) is perfect for a young teen reader. Takes you back to a time that many adult readers would like to forget.

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A DIFFERENT SIDE OF SYRIA

Syrian Folktales

Written by Muna Imady

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For more than a year, Syria has been in the news due to the horrific civil war that has torn it apart and inflicted misery and suffering upon its civilian population. In Syrian Folktales, the reader is introduced to a different perspective. Muna Imady grew up in Syria. She  presents the tales of her oral heritage beginning with the words “once upon a time…” ( Kan ya ma kan), that were passed down to her by her grandmother. (Tete) The author provides the reader with a glossary of Syrian terms for reference.

In the overview, Imady informs us that Syria is a country with a population of eighteen million spread out into fourteen distinct administrative units called Muhafazat. The Syrian Arab Republic lies at the crossroads of trade routes linking Africa, Asia and Europe. Turkey lies to its north, Iraq to its east, Jordan and Palestine to the south, and Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the east.

The author divides the book by these fourteen areas. Not only does she present a folktale or two for each of them, she entices us with recipes, riddles, street peddler songs, and a Hadith.

What is a Hadith? It is a saying from the Holy Prophet of Muslim. Here is one of the riddles: I come from water and I die in water. What am I?

I will retell a folktale from Dara’a, a province that contains many archaeological sites which date back to Roman times aptly titled, The Sky is Raining Meat. The tale tells of a farmer and his wife who live an ordinary but comfortable existence. There is one big problem. The wife talks too much. One day the farmer finds a jug full of gold coins. He is afraid that the landlord will discover his good fortune so he buries the jug. Then he secretly kills and cooks a sheep. Next he ascends to the roof of his dwelling and throws chunks of meat from the roof. His wife observes his strange behavior but happily runs to gather up the meat. Later, the farmer takes his wife to the place where he buried the coins and tells her of their good fortune. Sure enough, the wife begins to spread the good news. The landlord arrives to demand the gold. When the wife informs him, they found the gold the same day that the sky was raining meat, the landlord decides she must be crazy! After that day no one believed anything the wife said. The farmer and his wife lived happily ever after.

Many of the tales from Syria bear similarities in characters and themes to those of Western culture. There are tales of the raven and the fox, a wicked stepmother, the sly fox, a woodcutter, dragons, witches, and  three pigs. While reading though them, I was reminded of The Frog and the Prince, Snow White, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. Imady has done an admirable job in presenting the traditions of this region which date back to the fourth millennium B.C. Parents and teachers who want to explore what Syria is really about should take a look. Appropriate for children age ten and above.

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PRINCESS IN PERIL

The Escape of Princess Madeline

Written by Kirstin Pulioff

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This book has been classified as a young adult novella. The protagonist is Princess Madeline and the setting is the medieval kingdom of Soron. Madeline’s mother,  Queen Eleanor, is introduced in the Prologue by the wizard Elias and again alluded to in the Epilogue. The subtlety of these allusions will become evident to the reader at the conclusion of the tale.

At the beginning of the story, we meet Princess Madeline and her twin brother Braden. They will soon be celebrating their sixteenth birthdays. Madeline’s best friend in Sophia who is a commoner. Alas! She cannot really understand the life of a princess. Sophia is in love with Braden and it seems that her dreams of happiness with him are doomed. King Theodore has attempted to raise his children to be proper heirs of the kingdom, but Madeline is a determined, headstrong and passionate princess who has begun to question her father’s authority. He presents Madeline with a beautiful green gown that was once worn my the mother she never knew. The trouble begins when Madeline learns that the ball to celebrate her birthday is really an opportunity for all the royal suitors to compete for her hand. Enraged by this prospect, Madeline wears another gown in defiance and then feigns illness to escape the ball. This behavior infuriates her father and embarrasses the family.

When Madeline is awakened by Sophia the next morning, she learns that there is to be a jousting tournament to determine which of the knights will become her Knight Protector. Her father forces her to attend. She spies a young knight named Daniel who evokes “butterflies in her stomach” and other unexplained emotions in her head. Madeline disappears from her viewing point before the end of the contest. She is determined to escape what she feels is a life in prison.

When her disappearance is discovered, all the knights in the kingdom go to search for her. Daniel, especially is determined to win her back. Madeline is clever; she switches her gown with the clothes of a peasant girl that she meets in the forest. She bribes her with a bag of gold coins. But Daniel discovers that the family is hiding the royal dress and finds out that Madeline is still alive. Madeline is alive but she has been captured by bandits in the forest. This young pampered princess has never had to use survival skills, but she is clever and strong. She manages to escape not once but twice. Things are looking gloomy for her; Madeline has learned a few lessons about family, love, and responsibility along her journey. The wizard Elias and his green robed elves make an appearance. Here is where the author successfully merges the fantasy environment with the strong characters and modern day coming of age plot.  What will happen to Madeline? Does Daniel win the princess?  Will the king and his daughter mend their relationship?

This book contains in depth character studies and a story line that moves along well with a few twists and turns. Mature middle grade readers might enjoy the fantasy elements though the plot is more suitable for young adult readers. In fact, I did feel like I was reading a story more intended for an adult audience so my suggested audience would be twelve plus. Looking forward to hearing more about Princess Madeline and her life’s journey.

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GNIT-WIT GNOME

Gnit-Wit Gnipper and the Perilous Plague Rosehaven:The Hidden City

by A.J. Lantz

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A.J. Lantz is a new and talented writer. The reader quickly understands the characters and plot because they are so well depicted and rapidly developed. In this first book we meet Gnipper an eight year old gnome who has developed the unfortunate distinction of bringing trouble wherever she goes. Gnipper’s father is a science professor who is also the Lord of the Board of Gnomes.

Poor Gnipper lost her mother at the age of four. She has no friends for two reasons. First, she is considered bad luck, and secondly, she has failed to secure her pileus. The pileus is the tall pointed hat that a gnome earns by displaying intellectual prowess. At first the pileus was an honor earned by a few distinguished gnomes. As time went on the cap was no longer an honor but considered a badge of shame if not earned by age seven.  Those unfortunates who failed to achieve it were considered stunted and derisively called gnit-wits.

Gnipper is desperate to please her father and achieve status as a learned gnome. All of her previous scientific experiments have failed. Finally, she thinks that she has an ingenious idea. While serving her father, Professor Tallhat his morning tea, she casually suggests that she has a brilliant new idea which will earn her the pileus. He presses her for information, but she tells him that it will be a surprise. Suddenly, the professor collapses. Gnipper struggles to get her father’s body down to her basement laboratory. It seems that her experiment has gone terribly wrong!

Gnipper races to the doctor, Kelda Pearlhorn, who just happens to be a unicorn. Unlike most of the island’s inhabitants, she has always been kind to Gnipper. When Gnipper describes the situation, the doctor becomes alarmed and races to the lab with Gnipper on her back, knocking over anything or anyone in her path. The doctor diagnoses the illness and is at a loss to treat it, until Gnipper comes up with a brilliant solution. However, this will require a great sacrifice from the doctor. Gnipper learns an important lesson about the pileus, while Kelda models an important lesson that Gnipper needs to learn.

At the end of the story, we are given a glimpse into Lantz’s new novel. In Rise of the Retics  we meet Tyranna, an eleven year old orphan who is being raised at Lipkos Monastery near the Baltic Sea. She is the only female orphan, but she doesn’t like to restrict herself to female pursuits. While writing her letters in her room, she hears nonresident her door. Some knights appear outside her room and drag her down to the gate. On the way, she is terrified to see that the monks have been murdered. She anxiously awaits her fate as she is torn from her the only place she has ever called home.

The only criticism I have is that there are no pictures to go along with the wonderful language, pathos and humor in this story. I would love to see some of these exquisitely defined characters and scenery displayed as illustrations. Tweens and teens will love this new series of fantasy adventures. They are so well written that adults will enjoy them as well.

 

 

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