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DollbabyFrom Goodreads: A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets
 
When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.
 
For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.
 
For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.
 
By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.

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I don’t really know where to start with this one. It’s a very well written novel, but I struggled to see where it was going, what it was focusing on. With a title like Dollbaby, I expected the novel to infact be about the character Dollbaby, but it’s not. Instead, the novel centers around Ibby, a young white girl thrust into a life in New Orleans with her eccentric grandmother, Fannie. As Ibby attempts to navigate life and her feelings of abandonment, she comes to rely on the help, both Queenie and Dollbaby, to understand her grandmother’s past and to begin to live for her future, but the novel didn’t seem, at least to me, to have a precise direction.

It’s the 1960s, and the civil rights movement is in full swing, but the novel isn’t really about that, and it’s not really about Fannie, or Ibby’s coming of age, even. Truthfully, I had a hard time pinpointing the purpose of the novel as I read. It moves slowly along, like I’d expect life in the South to move, and while vivid and, as I said, very well written, I just couldn’t get over the fact that the novel is called Dollbaby, and Dollbaby is indeed a secondary character who doesn’t drive the plot. She is occasionally thrown in as attending a demonstration or consoling Ibby, but that’s about it. In truth, I found that not much drives the plot line of this story—I guess it’s more of a coming of age story of sorts in which readers learn about Ibby as she grows up in New Orleans, putting together the pieces of her family and edging into the sad and dark secrets kept by those around her. But, I wouldn’t even say the novel is about those secrets, either. I just felt like this was a historical fiction story with snippets of happenings here and there thrown in. I never grew attached to any of the characters, and while parts were interesting in their own right, I have to say the novel on the whole just isn’t my style.
While the end brought everything together in terms of the title, characters, and even a few events, something I’d been looking for the entire time I read, it was too late in the storyline to really hit home with me. Had the novel moved faster and tied together events in a way that made sense to me, I think I would have enjoyed it more. As is, it’s just too slow a pace for my tastes. I think someone who really enjoys historical fiction might like this novel, perhaps. Two and a half stars, for me, though.

2.5 stars

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.  This title releases today.

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AlienatedFrom Goodreads: Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them.

Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.

Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.

But when Cara’s classmates get swept up by anti-L’eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn’t safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara’s locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class.

Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she’s fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet

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I picked up this novel late at night, around 1am, because I couldn’t sleep and I planned to read until I was tired enough to go to bed. What ended up happening is a sleepless night for me as I tore through this novel, unable to put it down. The story of Cara and Aelyx was extremely intriguing, and I just adored it. It was awesome to see this alien planet and its people attempt to make an alliance with the Earth, and to see just how both the residents on L’eihr and Earth responded–especially because their thought process was similar: no.

From the get go readers know that neither the people of Earth nor Aelyx and his team want this alliance–the Earth is scared for its safety and the L’eihr’s are highly advanced beyond humans–so neither humans nor Aelyx and his team understand the purpose of an alliance. That being said, animosity and tension fills the story as Aelyx and his team come to earth in a good will gesture–staying for an exchange program that will end with Cara going to L’eihr with Aelyx for her own exchange program… should the alliance actually work.

The novel really takes a look at what would happen should aliens ever make contact—if they exist. And, it shows that even though we believe ourselves to be extremely advanced, should fear strike our hearts, we very well could have another civil rights movement on our hands. Aelyx is not welcome, and as tensions rise, so does the risk. It reminded me a lot of the Little Rock Nine as I read, with Aelyx going to school amid the picketers and violence, with the shunnings and threats against any who supported him.  In truth, it shows just how bigoted a fearful nation can become when met with change.

Now, to be fair, Aelyx and his team are not innocent bystanders in this. With the truth hidden inside the government, a truth Aelyx doesn’t even know, he and his team are indeed trying to sabotage the alliance, but it’s not made clear how until the middle of the book, when other truths are made know.  And when they are?  Well, everything is put into perspective fairly quickly and we learn that nothing is as it seems… and, should the alliance fail, it means dire circumstances for not only earth, but also L’eihr as well.

Shrouded in mystery, this novel kept my attention from start to finish, and finish I did, right in time for my work alarm to begin blaring. It’s mysterious with a slow budding romance, and I really liked that all my questions were answered, especially when it came to the romance between Aelyx and Cara.  As Aelyx points out many times, love is not really a part of his culture, but the way Landers weaves together the story and the hidden answers is perfect.

I adored this novel and can’t wait for the next installment, though I have some reservations about the newest character we meet at the very end, Jaxen–who I foresee becoming a problem for both Cara and Aelyx.  Five amazing stars.

5 stars

 Disney-Hyperion has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on February 4, 2014.

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Port Chicago 50From Goodreads: An astonishing civil rights story from Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin.

On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution. This is a fascinating story of the prejudice that faced black men and women in America’s armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights.

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I wouldn’t classify this book as a novel, but more of a MG/YA history book told in narrative form. It presents the history of Port Chicago and the fight for civil rights during WWII, a time when whites and blacks were still segregated, regardless of the war efforts. Told in sections, it begins with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and shows how the Navy unjustly treated its black servicemen: they were not allowed to fight, but rather could only work in the mess hall as servants to their white comrades. The opening chapter details the bravery of one such man, Dorie Miller, during the Pearl Harbor bombing, going on to show the immense racism that pervaded all walks of life, including the Navy, during this time in US history.  Miller, awarded for his service in a time of need, is unceremoniously sent back to the kitchens to serve even though he has proved himself just as capable as any other man, regardless of color.
This scene sets the stage for what is to come: extreme injustice, racism, and betrayal for all black servicemen and women, and especially the 50 young black men accused of mutiny in Port Chicago.  These young men refused to continue loading ammo and bombs on ships–a task only delegated to black servicemen—after an explosion that decimated their friends in other platoons and showed just how dangerous a task was delegated to black servicemen while all white servicemen set sail at sea. The book details the injustice of this segregation and also shows how their own country, a country that’s constitution states that all men are free and are created equal, treated them like cattle–refusing to train them to handle explosives, expecting them to work long shifts, and ultimately making a game of their dangerous task in loading bombs.

After the huge explosion and the death of many young black servicemen, some very brave souls refuse to continue, even on pain of death, and so begins a trial that is spoken little of today. In fact, until I picked up this book, I’d never heard of this event in history–it’s like the US has swept it under the rug, trying to blot out the true ugliness of racism, intolerance, and segregation that has plagued the nation for most of its colonized life.

I am not one who generally picks up history books, but this was an eye-opening story told in a narrative voice that makes reading history interesting. Complete with pictures, it details the lives of those who fought back against segregation, fighting for freedom in an unjust world, and who ultimately caused the entire armed forces to change their policies in terms segregation.  This event is indeed one of the sparks that promoted change and revolution, even though it took approximately 20 more years for the successful civil rights movement to fully come into being.

Overall, this is an educational read that is interesting and well written; I highly suggest picking it up, especially if you’re interested in the armed forces and the truth behind US history.  Three stars.

3 starsRoaring Book Press, an imprint of Macmillian Children’s Publishers, graciously gave me an ARC of this book during NCTE 2013.

This title releases on January 21, 2014.

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