Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jane, The Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

I've been taking a class this summer, so I haven't had much time for reading anything other than class readings.  However, I did recently read the graphic novel Jane, The Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault.  I was shelving books in the juvenile fiction section, and I came across this book; it looked intriguing so I checked it out.  Originally written in French and published in French speaking Canada, it's been translated into English by Christelle Morelli.

Jane, The Fox & Me is both a charming and heartbreaking story about a friendless girl who is being bullied by a group of girls who used to be her friends.  What precipitated the bullying isn't elaborated upon... and really, I want to know why these girls turned on their friend, Helene.  The former friends bully Helene about her weight and call her fat, which Helene is not.  What is even more upsetting is that Helene has so internalized their barbed comments that she believes she is fat.  Helene is a reader, and she finds solace in the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, particularly identifying with Jane.  Then Helene's class goes on an overnight trip to a wilderness camp, which Helene dreads like the dickens, and after a particularly humiliating encounter with the bullies, Helene is befriended by another girl.

This is lovely story, and it has lovely illustrations.  It's a slim novel and since it's also a graphic novel, it reads very quickly.  Don't forget to really study the illustrations--the visual imagery of every graphic novel is just as important as the words on the page.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust is written by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and colored by Greg Salsedo.  It was also translated by Alexis Siegel.  It's a very slim, middle level graphic novel.  This is the second Holocaust themed graphic novel that I've read.  In college I read Art Spiegelman's Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began; I also read Spiegelman's later graphic novel that depicted his experiences in New York City on September 11, 2001, and I highly recommend them all.

I don't know if Hidden is based upon the writer's family history or if it is a fictionalized Holocaust story.  Other than a synopsis of the story on the book jacket, there isn't really information on the writer and illustrator.  According to the publisher's website, Hidden is a Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book, an America Library Association Notable Children's Book, and an Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Honor Book.

The comic panels tell the harrowing story of Dounia Cohen's childhood living as a Jew in France in 1942.  The story opens immediately after the establishment of Vichy France when Germany's Nazis begin their systematic persecution of France's Jews.  The story is framed as a story within a story in that many years later, Dounia shares the story of her childhood with her granddaughter, Elsa, late one night.  After France falls to Germany, Dounia is persecuted by her teachers at her girls' school and scorned by her best friend.  Late one night when the police come to arrest her parents, Dounia's parents manage to hide her in the bottom of a dresser for safekeeping.  Early the next morning Dounia's neighbor lady, who turns out to be part of a network of people helping Jews hide in France, comes to get her, and Dounia's time in hiding begins.

Hidden tells the story of a scary situation that no child should have to endure.  And while it is very serious subject matter, the story is framed for younger readers because Elsa, the granddaughter to whom Dounia tells her story, is very young.  This would be a good book to introduce younger readers to the history of the Holocaust or to use as supplemental reading material in a unit about Holocaust.  You can print a brief reader's guide for the book here.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How To Be A Victorian by Ruth Goodman

I had previously read a book that explained aspects of life in Austen's and Dickens' England and enjoyed it because--English period drama.  When I saw a review for this book someplace, I thought it was right in my wheelhouse--because English period drama.  The book about life in Austen's England covered English customs and life in the late 1700's to early 1800's.  The Victorian period covers about mid-nineteenth century to early twentieth century.  How To Be A Victorian: A Dawn To Dusk Guide To Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman is about exactly what the title says.

Goodman gives an account of a day in the life of the average Victorian.  She covers those living in the early Victorian period and addresses the changes to Victorian life that occurred later in the period.  She also addresses the differences in Victorian life that would exist between the classes as well.  And Goodman also distinguishes between the daily life of men, who worked outside the home, and the work of women, some of whom worked outside the home depending on economic circumstances, and others who worked in the home and ran the day to day life of the family.

The author literally begins the day at dawn and takes us through Victorian life over the course of a day.  It's a meticulously detailed and researched book.  Goodman has gone so far as to experience quite a bit of Victorian practices, such as hygiene and dress and other things as well, so she can often give a first hand insight into what it might have been like for the actual person living in Victorian times.  Indeed you will learn more than you ever wanted to know or thought possible to know about Victorian life.

I was really looking forward to reading this book.  However, after the first chapter or so it went downhill because it got bogged down in the daily minutiae of life during that period (as I imagine a book about contemporary life today would as well).  The lesson I came way with was that life was hard in Victorian times--especially if you were someone who was just barely scraping by in life.  I have a confession to make--I may have skipped and skimmed more than half of the book.  Normally if I'm this bored with a book, I just ditch it.  But I refused to jettison this book because WHAT IF I MISS SOMETHING.  If you're a hardcore historian with an interest in English life during the Victorian period, I recommend this book to you.  If you're a hardcore English period drama fan as I am, you may also want to try this book because some parts (or all of it) may interest you.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The 13th Gift: A True Story Of A Christmas Miracle by Joanne Huist Smith

I know, I know--I'm either late or early reading this book for Christmas.  However, I'll watch a Christmas movie even if it isn't Christmas time.  I love Hallmark Christmas movies; I've watched Lifetime's Christmas movies (not as good Hallmark's though); I've watched ionTV's Christmas movies.  I guess you could say that Christmas movies is another genre I enjoy almost as much as British period dramas.  Or maybe I like them both equally.  Anyway I don't normally read Christmas themed books.  I have read Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand, a Christmas themed book by an author I love.  My grandmother found The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith in a magazine somewhere back in December.  She read it about the same time as Napkin Notes and enjoyed it more than that one as did I.  I've checked this book out of the library a few times, and because of other readings that got in the way, I only recently got around to reading it.

In the aftermath of her husband's sudden, devastating death, Joanne and their three children are treading water emotionally and barely holding it together in the weeks before Christmas.  Still reeling from her grief, Joanne dreads this first Christmas without her husband and contemplates skipping the holiday altogether.  Then about twelve days before Christmas, mysterious gifts start arriving on the family's doorstep from an anonymous giver(s) who call themselves the Smith family's "true friends."  Patterned after the popular Christmas carol, "The 12 Days of Christmas," a gift and card appear on the family's doorstep each day leading up to Christmas.

At first Joanne resents the intrusion and resists being pulled into the holiday spirit, but the ensuing anticipation, mystery, and excitement that comes with the appearance of each gift unexpectedly rekindles the Christmas spirit in both Joanne and her children.  The mystery of the gifts draws her family together enabling them to find some bittersweet joy in the first Christmas without their father and husband and allows for some healing from their devastating loss.  For the first time, the family thinks they may be okay in the wake of their loss.

Some thoughts I had while I was reading this book:

If this story ends and we don't find out the who and why behind the gifts, I will be severely disappointed.  Also these events take place in 1999, how does Joanne remember the details of the dialog and the events from so many years ago?

I enjoyed this book.  The suspense of the mystery of the gifts kept me reading as did the emotional journey that the Smith family takes throughout the story.  This is a quick and easy read, and it's rather heartwarming story.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James

The Other Side of Midnight is the fourth novel by Simone St. James.  Her previous novels, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, Silence For The Dead, and An Inquiry Into Love And Death were all reviewed here on the blog.  You can click the links to read those reviews.  Simone St. James is an excellent writer, and I've enjoyed all of her books.  They are English period supernatural thriller/historical fiction.  Each has been a page turning, suspenseful, atmospheric, creepy, supernatural read.  Her next novel is due in April 2016.

1925.  London.  The death and terror of the war has sparked an obsession with the occult and so-called psychics who claim the ability to contact the dead.  Frauds prey on the survivors left behind who are desperate to speak with their lost loved ones one last time.  In all of England, the sole proven true psychic is Gloria Sutter, a flashy, manipulative, competitive woman, who contacts the dead for a price--she's out for herself and only herself.

One night Ellie Winter is called on by a mysterious man named George Sutter, who enlists Ellie's reluctant help in solving the murder of his estranged sister, the famous psychic, Gloria.  Ellie too is a true psychic who chose anonymity over proving her powers in the wake of a brutal betrayal by her former friend, Gloria.  The two women had not seen each other in years.  Ellie knows the business--it's how she makes a living after all--and she knows the players.  She can go where the authorities cannot and glean information from people who won't share what they know with the police.

The mystery also brings James Hawley, the psychical investigator and the man who ruined her mother's career, back into Ellie's life.  He is also looking into Gloria's murder, and so Ellie forms a reluctant and uneasy alliance with a man she doesn't like and doesn't trust.  But the investigation draws Ellie and James closer, and despite both their better judgement sparks fly.

As Ellie reaches out to her former circle of psychics and hangers on, interviewing former acquaintances and amassing information, she realizes she cannot trust anyone, not Davies, Gloria's right hand woman and business assistant; not George, Gloria's own brother who remains a shadowy figure on the periphery of the investigation; not James, who wonders why both Ellie and her mother failed their psychic tests; and not Gloria, who wasn't above omitting certain details from her clients' readings, manipulating a power play against her best friend whom she also saw as competition in the business, and breaking her own rules and endangering herself because she was desperate for money.

The deeper Ellie is drawn into this world that she has avoided these past three years, the more she is caught up in it and in the murder case.  But as she uses her powers in ways she'd vowed never to use them again, the more they grow both stronger and unpredictable and the more she learns about the nature of her gifts.  Then Ellie realizes that Gloria's last days don't make sense.  Why did she travel to a strange house in the countryside for a seance?  Who orchestrated the seance party and why?  And how are they connected to her murder?

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie