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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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Clara Barton Angel of the BattlefieldFrom Goodreads: While exploring The Treasure Chest, Felix and Maisie are transported to a Massachusetts farm in 1836. Disappointed that they have not landed in their beloved New York City, they wonder why they were brought to Massachusetts to meet a young girl named Clara Barton. Perhaps Clara has a message for the twins? Or maybe they have one for her?

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While I don’t usually seek out and read MG books, I’m really glad that the publisher gave me this novel to read at my leisure. Originally, I wasn’t sure if I would read it for review or not, but since it’s such a quick read, I decided to give it a shot, and I’m happy I did. Though definitely a novel for young readers, the story itself is interesting—with a little bit of drama, lots of snooping around, and time travel, I was hooked almost from the beginning, genuinely interested in the lives of twins Felix and Maisie, especially because they’ve had it so rough as of late. Due to their parents’ divorce, Felix and Maisie find themselves uprooted from their home and moving into the servants quarters of a 70 room mansion—a mansion their great grandfather built, but that his daughter turned over to the preservation society in order to help with its upkeep. Of course, everything is new for the twins, and the loss of their stable home has them rather upset, so it’s easy to connect with them from the start. Hood does a great job fleshing out the twins, and in no time they are exploring their new home, sneaking around the mansion when they know they aren’t supposed to, and a sense of mystery and magic permeates the story as it begins to take flight.

I can see how much a 3rd-5th grader would really love this story, but I also think students as old as 9th and 10th grade would enjoy it as well. Hood really has a way with words, and this novel delivers in all the right places. While these wasn’t much in terms of Clara Barton’s story—more so frivolous information in the beginning—Hood ties it all together for Maisie and Felix, and I can see this historical fiction series becoming a favorite within the classroom. Four stars.

4 stars

I was given this novel for free by the published during NCTE 2013.

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River in the SeaFrom Goodreads: At fifteen, Leen De Graaf likes everything she shouldn’t: smoking cigarettes, wearing red lipstick, driving illegally, and working in the fields. It seems the only thing she shares with her fellow Dutchmen is a fear of the German soldiers stationed nearby and a frantic wish for the war to end.

When a soldier’s dog runs in front of Leen’s truck, her split-second reaction sets off a storm of events that pitches her family against the German forces when they are most desperate – and fierce. Leen tries to hold her family together, but despite her efforts, bit by bit everything falls apart, and just when Leen experiences a horrific loss, she must make a decision that could forever brand her a traitor, yet finally allows her to live as her heart desires.

Inspired by events experienced by the author’s mother, River in the Sea is a powerfully moving account of one girl reaching adulthood when everything she believes about family, friendship, and loyalty is questioned by war.

Readers who want to immerse themselves in a story with both a plot and characters that keep the pages turning will love River in the Sea.  For fans of The Book Thief, Those Who Save Us, and Sarah’s Key.
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This is an absolutely stunning, captivating read that held me in its grip from the very beginning. I started it late at night, yet stayed up well into the wee hours of the morning to finish this gem–and it absolutely blew me away.

We hear much about the Holocaust and WWII, but I feel that we don’t hear as much about the other countries and people groups who were affected by Hitler’s regime outside of Germany and Poland, and this novel, River in the Sea, focuses on the German occupation of one small town and its people in the Netherlands in late 1944.

Leen De Graaf is just a young teen, but she knows the taste of fear and death; she knows to keep her head down and not draw attention to herself, but in one sweep of panic, upsets all the rules and barely escapes with her innocence intact.  And with this simple misstep comes a series of events that create a domino effect, leaving none untouched.

As the underground resistance works to thwart the German army and save the innocent, intense fear, a lack of food, disunity among families, and immense feelings of sorrow and guilt splash across the pages and evolve in such a way that it makes for a truly superb, poignant, and beautiful read. Make sure you have a box of tissues nearby as the novel definitely tugs at the heartstrings.  Five amazing stars.

5 stars

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review and I highly recommend it (especially at just 99 cents on Kindle!!)

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Fro18043874m Goodreads: Based on the life of Alessandro di Cagliostro, the Child of Egypt follows a young boy called Acharat on a life long journey of self discovery as he takes on the guises of Joseph Balsamo and Cagliostro and sparks a bloody revolution that will tear down the Bourbon monarchy in France before setting his sights on the heart of the Christian world, the Pope in Rome.

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This novel had a great premise and I really enjoyed the beginning portion that chronicles Acharat’s mother’s woes prior to his conception.  It was highly intriguing and I loved this in-depth look into his mother’s life as a concubine, her whirlwind affair with a Frenchman, her betrayal, and ultimately her death, all of which leads up to Acharat’s birth.  Stolen out of his world-be assassin’s grasp, Archarat survives, and the novel then jumps ahead to his teen years where he learns the truth about the man who saved him, the man to whom his life is indebted.  Learning about the magic his benefactor wields, and learning it himself, the novel then jumps again to his time in France and Rome, ultimately, showing his extreme changes and what the power he wields has done to him.

Overall, this was a great concept, but it ended up being much too long for me.  Like I said, I really enjoyed the beginning, and I liked the middle, but once Acharat/Joseph marries and begins plotting the downfall of the monarchy, condemning innocents and using his wife for ill, well, I lost all respect for the man and the novel began to drag.  The novel takes place over a span of many decades, and to the author’s credit, reading the text feels like it takes place over a span of decades—there is no sugarcoating or quickness about it at all, but I think I needed a much faster pace to keep my attention.  I don’t necessarily enjoy histories all that much unless there is something intriguing happening all the time, and there was just a little too much downtime for me once Archarat/Joseph comes of age to release his evil.

He becomes almost demonic, in a sense, which made reading the novel difficult for me as I lost my respect for him.  Yes, he had a hard life and yes, he was given the gift of magic through mysticism, but I believe he used it in the wrong way.  Watching all the sacrifices that were made for him in order for Archarat/Joseph to live, only to note that he turned out to be evil in the end, left me feeling a bit sour towards him, and, in truth, I felt no sympathy when his actions caught up to him.  He is truly evil, and if I don’t like my characters, I tend to have a hard time finishing a novel, and that was the case with this one, length aside.  I think lovers of histories, historical fiction, and attention to detail will really enjoy this novel, though—after all, it is very well written and, characterization aside, the plot is intriguing.  I, however, found myself liking it less and less as it progressed based on the actions of the main character, which, in truth, is no fault of the authors, but rather a personal preference.  Two and a half stars.

2 stars

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.



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