Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

SugarSugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession: I got this book out of the middle-grade section at my library, but I got it mostly for myself. I didn't really think my son would like it--he doesn't like 'girl' books in general, and he's not interested in discrimination, racism, slavery or history in general. So I thought I'd put it on when he was in the car, and when he complained, I'd turn it off and listen to it by myself when he wasn't in the car with me.
Turns out, he loved it. He never complained once about it being girlie, or from a girl's point of view. It's such a good story that he probably forgot all about his boycentric favorites. And I was completely absorbed as well. I enjoyed this much more than the YA book I listened to on my own at the same time.
This is a great look at a time that isn't as widely written about as slavery--the time after, during 'reconstruction,' when slaves weren't much better off but at least had their freedom. Sugar is a young black girl, an orphan, who lives on a sugarcane plantation. The attitudes of the white people were realistic, with the son more open to the changes occurring than the parents, who had once been slave owners. The author's note at the end said that she became interested in the Chinese immigrants who came after the Civil War to replace some of the slaves who had gone north. So that's a big part of this book as well. It was fascinating to watch the characters each shed their own prejudices and become friends with the other group, each of which had little knowledge of the other. The book puts great emphasis on the powerful bonding experience of sharing our cultures' foods, as well as the universal human trait of storytelling, and how we find common ground in our stories, which reveal our culture.
The whole book was so well done. It had a lot to say, but the author never lost sight of the story, so it was always entertaining even while getting its messages across. And that's the most important thing--the story always comes first. This is a great story with a funny, realistic, and loveable trickster of a heroine. I loved it, and so did my son.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So anyway...

That's kind of how I felt at the end of this book. It was certainly interesting and engaging. The suspense was great, and it kept me going the whole book. I couldn't wait to see what came next. But the whole book was really bizarre, too, and I'm still not sure that I understood any of it. My interpretation of the events, especially the ending, is probably way off base from what a lit professor would say.

Our protagonist is a governess to two children, one of whom was expelled from boarding school for mysterious reasons. The children both seem perfect angels at first. Then our protagonist begins seeing ghosts and enlists the sympathy of the housekeeper, convincing her that the children see the ghosts (and consort and plot with them), too. But why the children would want to fool everyone into thinking they didn't see the ghosts, if they did...why they wanted to hang out with ghosts in the first place...etc, etc, I could never figure out.

And the ending...whoa. Just going to let that sit a few days and see what conclusion my brain comes to regarding that little gem.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review: The Fire-Eaters by David Almond

The Fire-EatersThe Fire-Eaters by David Almond

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a little gem of a book with a wonderful melancholy tone and a grey mood. I found myself feeling slightly depressed every time I listened. It had a very sobering, yet also calming, effect on me as a reader. The author was able to draw me in to the character's mind and his environment by creating such powerful atmosphere throughout. I did find that in a few places, scenes were glossed over instead of fully explored. For instance, the climax scene seemed more like a summary than a fully developed scene. Which was really a shame, because it could have been very intense.

Overall, I loved this book, though. Atmosphere is very important to me, and this book had it all the way. Also, I don't see many books set in the time of the Cuban missile crisis, or that focus on the paranoia and the effect that had on countries other than American.

A great read for kids and adults alike.

Age 9-10+ due to some mild self mutilation. My son grew very upset and I had to turn it off when the kid started poking himself with a pin, even though I didn't find it disturbing.

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