Hoo-boy. It’s been awhile since I posted here, but never fear, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. Been reading a lot actually….
A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds – I love storytelling. I am not a storyteller in the sense that I get up in front of groups of people and tell memorized, rehearsed stories, but I have been known to spin a yarn or two among friends. And I truly appreciate the skill it takes to tell a story as rich as this one. Finch Nobles is a caretaker of the dead, literally and figuratively. She tends the grounds of the cemetery in her town, but she also tends the souls of those people buried there. Finch is feared by the locals, mostly due to her disfigurement from a burn suffered when she was a child, but also because of her “I don’t give a damn” attitude. However, both obstacles are overcome by her relationships with the spiritual inhabitants of the cemetery and the live people who visit them. Reynolds weaves a gentle but riveting tale of love, hate and redemption that stretches the veil between the living and the dead. This is one I’ll remember for a long time…
Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher – I’m a sucker for well-known stories re-told from a different perspective, Wicked by Gregory Maguire being one of my favorites along with books by Donna Jo Napoli, so Fletcher’s novel caught my attention right away. As a former Catholic school girl, I know the New Testament story of the Three Magi pretty well, but Fletcher tells the story from the perspective of a Persian princess reduced to living in caves and stealing food after her family is slaughtered by her father’s enemies. Mitra discovers quite by accident that her little brother, Babek, can dream other people’s dreams, a skill that brings him to the attention of the Magus Melchior. Mitra and Babek journey to Bethlehem with Melchior and two other Magi to witness the birth of Christ, enduring all sorts of hardships and learning a thing or two about family in the process. I really liked Mitra — as my grandmother used to day, she has pluck! –and I found Babek’s gift fascinating and a little scary. The characters are well-drawn, especially the three Magi and the bodyguard who keeps Mitra and Babek safe. A lovely story all around…
Desperate Journey by Jim Murphy – I picked this one up because the Erie Canal is a featured character in the story, and because the girl on the cover looks a little like my great-niece Mariesa, and I was not disappointed. I give a lot of talks on the Erie Canal as part of my job, and many of those talks are to kids, so imagine my delight at finding a book that tells the story of 12-year old Maggie Haggerty and her family of canawlers. Maggie lives a much different life than other girls her age, spending all her time walking the Erie and guiding the mules that pull her father’s boat. She’s used to the hard life on the canal, but longs for a home on land, a place where she’ll fit in and be able to leave the “dirty canal girl” insults behind. When her father is jailed for fighting and with her mother feeling poorly, Maggie takes over the responsibility of delivering the load of stoves and plows on their boat to Buffalo. There are tons of local references in this book that will resonate with young readers — I especially liked Maggie’s memory of a beautiful white horse she saw galloping in a field when they were stopped just outside of Spencerport. Beautiful writing, gripping story.
2 thoughts on “Recent Readables”
Desperate Journey has been nominated for a CYBIL award, too, in the middle-grade fiction category.
I reviewed Desperate Journey for SLJ (review here, scroll down). I liked the book, but I was surprised that it didn’t get more into exactly how the boats worked, even in the endnotes. I mean, being a canal girl, *I* know how those things operated, but what about kids who live elsewhere? I was sorry there wasn’t a diagram or two. Even so, I agree — good book.
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