Cybils Nominees – Historical Fiction

Cybils 2016From October to December of last year, I read just over 50 middle-grade fiction books in my role as a round one judge for the Cybils. To share some of the Cybils nominees I’ve read, I’ve decided to create a few lists grouping books by similar characteristics. All of the books meet the Cybils nominating criteria, which means they were published in English in Canada or the US between 16 October 2015 to 15 October 2016. Today’s list features 7 historical fiction books (that weren’t featured on any of my other lists).

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

Full of Beans by Jennifer HolmGrown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.

  • First book I read for Cybils judging
  • Exemplifies how great historical fiction can be
  • Unique setting (Key West in the 1930s)
  • Beans solves his troubles on his own
  • Made it to the shortlist

Review @ Randomly Reading | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock

Ruby Lee and MeEverything’s changing for Sarah Beth Willis. After Robin’s tragic accident, everyone seems different somehow. Days on the farm aren’t the same, and the simple fun of riding a bike or playing outside can be scary. And there’s talk in town about the new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek. Word is spreading quickly–Mrs. Smyre is like no other teacher anyone has ever seen around these parts. She’s the first African American teacher. It’s 1969, and while black folks and white folks are cordial, having a black teacher at an all-white school is a strange new happening. For Sarah Beth, there are so many unanswered questions. What is all this talk about Freedom Riders and school integration? Why can’t she and Ruby become best friends? And who says school isn’t for anybody who wants to learn–or teach? In a world filled with uncertainty, one very special teacher shows her young students and the adults in their lives that change invites unexpected possibilities.

  • I don’t really remember much about this one, except that it was less about race relations than you might expect from the description…

Review by Aimee Rodgers | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf HollowGrowing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

  • Nastiest character I’ve met in a middle grade book = Betty
  • On GoodReads, I wrote: “Wow, this is a dark book. It would have made me squirm if I had read it when I was 12. I’m not sure I enjoyed it now, at 24. I do like a dark story, but this had too many cruel moments and a bleak ending.”

Review by Briana @ Pages Unbound | Review @ The Children’s War | Add to GoodReads

Finding Fortune by Delia Ray

Finding FortuneRunning away from home isn’t as easy as Ren thinks it will be. At least she isn’t running very far-just a few miles to the ghost town of Fortune… or Mis-Fortune as everyone else calls it. Mis-Fortune on the Mississippi. Supposedly, there’s an abandoned school on the outskirts with cheap rooms for rent. Ren knows her plan sounds crazy. But with only a few more weeks until Dad comes home from his tour of duty in Afghanistan, she also knows she has to do something drastic so Mom will come to her senses and stop seeing that creep Rick Littleton, the creep she promised she would stop seeing but didn’t, for good.

From the moment she enters the school’s shadowy halls, Ren finds herself drawn into its secrets. Every night old Mrs. Baxter, the landlady, wanders the building on a mysterious quest. What could she be up to? And can Mrs. Baxter’s outlandish plan to transform the gym into a pearl-button museum ever succeed? With a quirky new friend named Hugh at her side, Ren sets out to solve the mystery that could save Fortune from fading away. But what about her family’s future? Can that be saved too?

  • I included this on the list without thinking – is it actually historical fiction? Though it’s set in the present day, history plays a strong role and it feels like a historical tale, with the primary setting being the old school building and the plot focused on uncovering the past.
  • Though I found the plot less than exciting, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the novel because it reminded me of a converted schoolhouse I stayed at in the mountains of Japan.

Review @ Puss Reboots | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

AimAs World War II threatens the United States in 1941, fourteen-year-old Junior Bledsoe fights his own battles at home. Junior struggles with school and with anger—at his father, his insufferable granddaddy, his neighbors, and himself—as he desperately tries to understand himself and find his own aim in life. But he finds relief in escaping to the quiet of the nearby woods and tinkering with cars, something he learned from his Pop, and a fatherly neighbor provides much-needed guidance. This heartfelt and inspiring prequel to the author’s Blue and Comfort also includes an author’s note and bibliography.

  • Didn’t capture my interest. Perhaps more interesting if you’ve read the other two novels?

Review @ The Children’s War | Add to GoodReads

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Geimenhart

Some Kind of CourageJoseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he’s ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he’s lost his pony–fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her. Joseph can sure enough get her back, though. The odds are stacked against him, but he isn’t about to give up. He will face down deadly animals, dangerous men, and the fury of nature itself on his quest to be reunited with the only family he has left. Because Joseph Johnson may have lost just about everything; but he hasn’t lost hope. And he hasn’t lost the fire in his belly that says he’s getting his Sarah back–no matter what.

  • 10 year old me would have liked this book, despite the setting. I liked the quietness about it.
  • Caution regarding the portrayal of Indigenous people: Joseph’s mother taught him not to be derogatory towards Chinese people but she didn’t teach him the same about ‘Indians’. Deb Reese does not recommend this book.

Review by Barbara | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Bashkin

Nine, TenAsk anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center. But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Nadira has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Amy is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business. These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined.

  • Yup, it’s a little strange to think stories about 9/11 can be considered historical fiction for this age group.
  • This one didn’t strike me in the same way as Towers Falling. This one felt more hokey, somehow.
  • I like the timeline – days leading up to 9/11 instead of the exact day of or many days later.

Review @ Puss Reboots | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

The following MG historical fiction novels I reviewed previously:

This concludes the final installment in my series reviewing Cybils middle grade fiction nominees. I found participating in the Cybils as a round one judge to be a unique and enjoyable experience. Though it can be a lot of work, that ‘work’ is reading and thinking about books, so it’s still a good time 🙂 If you’re interested in serving as a judge for Cybils 2017 (applications open in September), check out the website here.
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Tolkien Reading Day 2017

March 25 is Tolkien Reading Day. Organized by the Tolkien Society, the day was chosen to coincide with the defeat of Sauron. The day was established “to encourage fans to celebrate and promote the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien by reading favourite passages”. My posts covers my plans for today + 8 playlists to listen to while reading your favourite Tolkien tales.

Too much time has passed since  I read much by or about Tolkien. I recently completed Tolkien in Translation and that has renewed by hunger for Middle-earth. I read that book for a guest post I’m doing as part of Pages Unbound‘s two week long celebration of Tolkien Reading Day. They’ve been featuring a post a day about Tolkien (including many guest posts) since March 19, so be sure to check it out. My review of Tolkien in Translation will be posted there on 31 March.

I actually have some fun plans beyond reading Tolkien all day (see below for my book choices). Way back in October at Comic-con, I bought tickets to an event titled “All Who Wander” that will feature dramatic readings from the Middle-Earth canon and acapella renditions of songs from The Lord of the Rings. Sounds like a fun evening!

Today’s Reading

Tolkien Reading Day 2017 TBR

  • A Secret Vice by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins – I started this book way back in the summer. I only finished the introduction. Time to delve into the lecture proper.
  • The Botany of Middle-Earth by Dinah Hazell – A lovely hardcover that’s been sitting too long on my shelf.
  • The Hobbit facsimile first edition – I received this edition as a Christmas gift in 2016. This edition replicates both the original text (which Tolkien made some significant modifications to after publishing The Lord of the Rings) and the design of The Hobbit as first published in 1937.

Recommended Listening

One of my favourite websites for discovering thematic background music is 8tracks. 8tracks allows users to create and tag their own mixes. The website has an extensive tagging system so you can pinpoint just the kind of music you want to listen to. I would like to recommend 8 of my favourite Tolkien-themed playlists. Playlist themes include places, races, characters, and particular chapters. Below I’ve listed the title of the playlist and the description given by the playlist creator. Links to listen to the playlists on 8tracks. I’ve embedded my most listened playlist 🙂

Rohan from mindlessdesigns on 8tracks Radio.

  1. In Places Deep – Songs for Erebor (“An instrumental mix for the high, proud halls under the Lonely Mountain, for the clang of hammer-falls and the roar of the forge, gold-veined caverns and lost places deep in the earth.”)
  2. Alix’s Hobbit-Style Birthday Playlist (“Guess what! It’s my birthday today, and in true hobbit fashion I’m giving you all a gift! Here’s a playlist of some of my personal favorite Tolkien-inspired music.”)
  3. Rohan (“A mix for the men of Rohan.”)
  4. Songs of Forgotten Kings (“songs for the Dunedain, the songs of forgotten kings”)
  5. A Elbereth Gilthoniel (“a mostly instrumental mix for varda elentári, queen of the valar and renowned star-kindler”)
  6. The River Run (“Joined by a mysterious Ranger the party races to Rivendell. ‘It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all tales of Middle- earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts.’ – Strider.”)
  7. Songs for Middle-Earth IV (“The fourth addition to a never ending collection of fanmixes dedicated to the beauty of Middle-earth. {featuring the soundtracks of BCC Merlin, War in the North & Kingdom of Heaven}”)
  8. Tolkien Readalong‘s playlists – Featuring playlists that follow readalongs of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Additional playlists cover characters and appendices.

(All the Elvish playlists I saved seem to no longer be in existence :/ Guess I’ll have to find some new ones!) Do you have any plans for Tolkien Reading Day?

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Review: Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin

Minds of WinterAuthor: Ed O’Loughlin
Title: Minds of Winter
Format/Source: ebook/Netgalley
Published: 7 March 2017
Publisher: Quercus
Length: 496 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Why I Read: Browsing NetGalley, cover + topic caught my attention
Rating: ★★★½
GoodReads | Indigo | Wordery

 

I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Fay Morgan and Nelson Nilsson have each arrived in Inuvik, Canada, about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Both are in search of answers about a family member: Nelson for his estranged older brother, and Fay for her vanished grandfather. Driving Fay into town from the airport on a freezing January night, Nelson reveals a folder left behind by his brother. An image catches Fay’s eye: a clock she has seen before. Soon Fay and Nelson realize that their relatives have an extraordinary and historic connection — a secret share in one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of polar expedition. This is the riddle of the “Arnold 294” chronometer, which reappeared in Britain more than a hundred years after it was lost in the Arctic with the ships and men of Sir John Franklin’s Northwest Passage expedition. The secret history of this elusive timepiece, Fay and Nelson will discover, ties them and their families to a journey that echoes across two centuries.

At 500 pages long, Minds of Winter dwarfs the kind of books I usually prefer to read. Had I known that, I might not have requested it. Still, I wanted to give it a go because of the focus on Arctic exploration. I hadn’t read any fiction about the Franklin expedition. Knowledge of the disastrous undertaking stuck in my mind from a video I watched a few times throughout grade school and from the recent discoveries of Franklin’s ships. Minds of Winter is far more the story of lost explorers than it is of Fay and Nelson. Their story serves as a framing device. Nelson and Fay piece together documents gathered by Nelson’s missing brother, connecting mysteries and the lives of various historical figures.

Characters who actually existed include Francis Crozier, Roald Amundsen, Jack London, and “the Mad Trapper of Rat River”, whose true identity remains unknown today. The years in which each chapter takes place range from 1841 to 1957 (plus 2009 for Nelson and Fay’s storyline). Many of the characters I had a passing familiarity with. One character I didn’t know turned out to be a strong thread throughout. The beginning of the book had me constantly looking things up on Wikipedia to discern fact from fiction (more so I was just confirming things that I suspected were ‘real’). Apparently there are some notable deviations from known fact, but none that I could recognize. That doesn’t really matter anyway. This is historical fiction; let’s have some fun. Either way, the story is based in quite a lot of fact. O’Loughlin did his research, as his acknowledgements confirm.

Fun fact: Of all the fact-based storytelling in this novel, I assumed that the chronometer had to be a contrivance, as it just fit so neatly into the plot. I was shocked (and pretty amused) to learn that the chronometer is real and that the 2009 Guardian article about it that appears in the book is also real. You can read that article here.  Kudos to O’Loughlin for tying so many elements of history together.

The story finally comes together in the epilogue. That’s pushing it for me (I would have liked things to start making sense earlier). The stories didn’t come together in the way I anticipated. However, the epilogue pleased me so much that I forgave the later half of the book, which I thought dragged on a bit. When I rated the book on Goodreads, I was sure I would calm down after a couple hours and go back to whining about how long the book was. That’s why I gave it three stars instead of a euphoric four. Yet that good feeling remains a week later, and so thankfully I can give three and half stars on my own blog. Some readers won’t like the ending, if not because it doesn’t hand out easy answers, then perhaps because it’s too blunt in its message.

The Bottom Line:

Minds of Winter may not satisfy those who want to uncover secrets about Franklin’s voyage, but it will likely satisfy those who love tales of Arctic exploration or hefty historical novels.

Further Reading:

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Two Fiction Reads to Borrow from the Library

Neverhome by Laird Hunt

NeverhomeShe calls herself Ash, but that’s not her real name. She is a farmer’s faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. NEVERHOME tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause. Laird Hunt’s dazzling new novel throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind. It is also a mystery story: why did Ash leave and her husband stay? Why can she not return? What will she have to go through to make it back home?

 

  • I added this book to my TBR after reading Shannon @ River City Reading’s review back in August 2014. She quoted the first line – “I was strong “I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic”. That opener was enough to capture my interest.
  • I enjoyed the prose. Ash’s manner actually felt kind of soothing, as opposed to a distracting dialect. Early example:
    • “There was an old lady outside Ketering fetched me up a drink of water from her well, took a long look at me as she handed it tome, and told me I needed to watch my step. No one else outside that lady saw what I was. I slept just exactly like a pine plank on that walk. I sent Bartholomew my first letter from Dayton. I sent him about the same one from Cincinnati. I wrote that I missed him fierce. I wrote that I was fierce happy too” (3).
  • The basic nature of the story line (woman disguised as man so she can fight for the Union in the Civil War, in place of her husband) kept me intrigued. The story lost steam for me when Ash became separated from her troop. I kept reading because I liked the mood, but that was a situational feeling – I might have dropped the book if I had read it at a different time. The conclusion was sadder than I anticipated.
    • By the end, I realized that I had been following an unreliable narrator. I dislike such narrators. Instead of understanding their reliability as a story telling technique, I just feel like I trusted someone and they abused that trust, haha. Ash reminded me a bit of the protagonist from Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon ReaderWhen her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

 

  • I read this cute novella one afternoon during my family’s winter holiday.
  • The Uncommon Reader had been on my TBR for a very long time, though I don’t remember how I discovered it. I wanted to read it because it sounded like a sweet story celebrating reading. That’s exactly what I got.
  • The story eventually shifts to focus on writing. I understand the relationship between reading and writing, but I thought the story was going to focus solely on reading. The Queen ‘evolves’ from reading to writing, leading to a humorous and abrupt (though fitting) conclusion.
  • A few clues scattered throughout, mostly in reference to relatives, indicate that this Queen is our Queen Elizabeth II.

I borrowed both of these titles from the library. Though I enjoyed them both fine enough, I wouldn’t call them must buys. But if you spot them at your library – know they are solid reads for a quiet afternoon. Have you read any ‘library recommendation’ books recently? 
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Review: The Girl Who Beat ISIS by Farida Khalaf

The Girl Who Beat ISISAuthor: Farida Khalaf with Andrea C. Hoffman (trans. from German by Jamie Bulloch)
Title: The Girl Who Beat ISIS (The Girl Who Escaped ISIS in the US)
Format/Source: Paperback/Library
Published: July 2016
Publisher: Square Peg
Length: 204 pages
Genre: Memoir
Why I Read: Spotted in ‘new and noted’ at the library
Rating: ★★★★
GoodReads | Indigo Book Depository

I read The Girl Who Beat ISIS in one sitting. Farida Khalaf (not her real name, nor is she the girl depicted on the cover) has an unfathomable story to share. For me, her story is unfathomable because I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be enslaved as she was, torn from family, knowing her fathers and brothers had been murdered and the rest of her family likely lost to her. Khalaf, 18 at the time of her enslavement, manages to eventually escape her captors, rescuing with her five younger girls. She beats ISIS by defying their grasp, but not before suffering what so many other Yazidi women have suffered. While reading Khalaf’s story, I desperately hoped that girl who fought who so stubbornly and held to her values would escape the sexual assault that she is rightly terrified of. Though her tale ends on a positive note, she endures atrocious torment at the hands of her captors. Khalaf has a difficult story to share. A note from Khalaf’s co-author at the end of the book details how they came to document her story, and how painful it was for Khalaf. I applaud Khalaf for finding the strength to share her story.

I became familiar with the plight of the Yazidis primarily through Khalaf’s story. I had heard the word and I knew they were a minority group, but I didn’t know much about the horrors they experienced. A very brief introduction for those like me: The Yazidis are an ethnically Kurdish religious group living primarily in Iraq, where they are a minority. ISIS has been committing genocide against the Yazidis since 2014. (See below for links to more information.) Shortly after finishing the book, I learnt about the Canadian government’s commitment to resettle 1,200 Yazidi refugees this year. Recently, I have read reporting from the CBC that describes the journeys and hopes of some of those refugees, including a nine-member family that arrived in my city. Khalaf’s book illuminates the plight of her people. I can read her story and think about the Yazidis who have come so far to escape the horror Khalaf experienced, and hopefully find a better life as my neighbour. It’s difficult and painful to realize that the genocidal atrocities which ISIS inflicts on the Yazidis are occurring right now. In sharing her story, Khalaf gives us a valuable window into her world.

The Bottom Line:

The Girl Who Beat ISIS offers a gut-wrenching look into the experiences of a young Yazidi woman enslaved by ISIS. Khalaf’s first person narration gives the reader a personal, human connection to the Yazidi genocide.

Further Reading:

  • UN human rights panel concludes ISIL is committing genoicde agains the Yazidis (2016 new release from the UN)
  • ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape (2015 article by The New York Times)
  • Canada to bring in 1,200 primarily Yazidi refugees by year end (2017 article by The Star)
  • Read the first chapter
  • Review @ The Guardian

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Read Diverse 2017
This review counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 challenge!