Blog Tour: The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel

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Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on the tour for The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel! I generally try to choose blog tours that are outside of my usual genres but still sound interesting. I don’t read enough historical fiction on my own, and I enjoy novels set in the 1920s, so this seemed like a promising choice. And it was: it ended up being one of those pleasant surprises that was even better than I expected. Before I tell you why, check out the summary. (Also, don’t forget to scroll down and check out the other tour stops!)

Motherless and destitute, Frieda Hope grows up during Prohibition determined to make a better life for herself and her sister, Bea. The girls are taken in by a kindly fisherman named Silver, and Frieda begins to feel at home whenever she is on the water. When Silver sells his fishing boat to WWI veteran Sam Hicks, thinking Sam would be a fine husband for Frieda, she’s outraged. But Frieda manages to talk Sam into teaching her to repair boat engines instead, so she has a trade of her own and won’t have to marry.

Frieda quickly discovers that a mechanic’s wages won’t support Bea and Silver, so she joins a team of rumrunners, speeding into dangerous waters to transport illegal liquor. Frieda becomes swept up in the lucrative, risky work—and swept off her feet by a handsome Ivy Leaguer who’s in it just for fun.

As danger mounts and her own feelings threaten to drown her, can Frieda find her way back to solid ground—and to a love that will sustain her?

MyReview

For starters, I really enjoyed hearing the thoughts inside Frieda’s head. They were remarkably human and honest. She was so self-aware and yet so unable to escape from the snares in which she found herself, both romantic and legal. She frustrated me at times, but I know I’ve been guilty of similar behavior, and it was one of the things that drew me to her the most. I especially admired the way that she picked herself up, time and again, and carried on.

The setting, both time and location, is alternately glamorous and seedy, and it is wonderful. I enjoyed getting to visit a poor seaside town and see how a lucrative opportunity for illegal work could change its residents. I also enjoyed catching a glimpse into smoky, music-filled New York speakeasies.

The scenes on the rumrunning boat made me much more nervous than I anticipated. My heart was in my throat on multiple occasions as I wondered whether Frieda would manage to make it out of yet another threatening situation. It’s a testament to the author’s skill that she managed to make this book of historical fiction set in a sleepy seaside town feel tempestuous, nostalgic, hopeless, furious, and suspenseful.

I would have liked to see a bit more of Bea and Frieda as they grew into their adult lives together. Most of Frieda’s scenes were with men, and I enjoyed watching her attempt to have a female friendship with her sister; I would’ve liked to see them adjust into a more mature relationship with one another.

Mostly, what I enjoyed about this book was the characters. They were all so different, none of them perfect, and I appreciated my time observing each of them. A minor favorite was Rudy, a wonderful undercurrent of strength, but I also loved the relationship between Frieda and Silver, the quiet understanding that they held as father and daughter.

All in all: Works on lots of levels. I expected to enjoy this, but I was surprised by just how much I did.

OtherInfo

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Ann Howard Creel was born in Austin, Texas, and worked as a registered nurse before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of numerous children’s and young adult books as well as fiction for adults. Her children’s books have won several awards, and her novel The Magic of Ordinary Days was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for CBS. Creel currently lives and writes in Chicago. For more information about Ann’s work, visit her website, annhowardcreel.com.

OtherTourStops

Monday, August 22nd: Musings of  a Bookish Kitty
Tuesday, August 23rd: You Can Read Me Anything
Wednesday, August 24th: Staircase Wit
Thursday, August 25th: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Friday, August 26th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Monday, August 29th: BookNAround
Tuesday, August 30th: Black ‘n Gold Girls Book Reviews
Wednesday, August 31st: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Thursday, September 1st: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Friday, September 2nd: The Warlock’s Gray Book
Monday, September 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, September 6th: Just Commonly
Wednesday, September 7th: Reading is My Superpower
Thursday, September 8th: Write Read Life
Monday, September 12th: Bibliotica
Tuesday, September 13th: Melissa Lee’s Many Reads
Thursday, September 15th: View from the Birdhouse
Friday, September 16th: FictionZeal
Monday, September 19th: Reading the Past

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Blog Tour: June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

June

June by Miranda Beverly-Whitemore. Crown. 400 pp.

Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on TLC’s tour for June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore! Before we get to my review, check out the synopsis:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet comes a novel of suspense and passion about a terrible mistake made sixty years ago that threatens to change a modern family forever. 

Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal. As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

MyReview

I requested this book because it sounded interesting. I don’t like to write negative reviews for tours, so I only agree to read books that catch my eye and that I expect to enjoy. While I expected to like this one, I was surprised by how much I liked it.

Let’s talk about the time periods. Half the book takes place in 1955, half in 2015. I enjoyed that Cassie (2015) didn’t have an Internet connection or a smartphone because it made the mystery last a little longer. I find it so refreshing when a book has the bare minimum in terms of technology; although I make frequent use of Google, I enjoy it more when characters have to search for clues the old-fashioned way. And the 1955 chapters? I adored them. Hollywood moving into a small town was an excellent tension-builder!

As far as the characters, they’re pretty flawed, but in the best possible way. Sometimes readers complain about not “liking” a character, but that’s never been an issue for me. The problem is when an author can’t make me care at all about what happens to said characters. And I needed to know what was going to happen to the people in June!

The pacing was also excellent. Each chapter revealed a bit more information while also posing new questions. I kept promising myself I’d only read one more chapter…then I’d check my phone and it’d be 1:30 AM! (I have two kids and really can’t afford to be up that late on a regular basis, but when a book is this intriguing I don’t have much of a choice.)

Finally, the writing. Some writers can tell enthralling stories, but their writing just isn’t my style. Others have a beautiful way with words, but their stories never seem to go anywhere. June was a pleasant surprise: I couldn’t seem to put the book down, and I enjoyed Beverly-Whittemore’s language immensely.

All in all: I’m so glad I had the chance to read this book. I enjoyed it so much that I added Bittersweet, another novel by the same author, to my ever-expanding TBR.

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MIRANDA BEVERLY-WHITTEMORE is the author of three other novels: New York Times bestseller Bittersweet; Set Me Free, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, given annually for the best book of fiction by an American woman; and The Effects of Light. A recipient of the Crazyhorse Prize in Fiction, she lives and writes in Brooklyn.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

OtherTourStops

Tuesday, May 24th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, May 25th: A Literary Vacation
Thursday, May 26th: View from the Birdhouse
Monday, May 30th: Buried Under Books
Tuesday, May 31st: FictionZeal
Tuesday, May 31st: Books a la Mode  – author guest post
Wednesday, June 1st: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Thursday, June 2nd: Luxury Reading
Monday, June 6th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, June 6th: Must Read Faster
Tuesday, June 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, June 8th: Fictionophile
Thursday, June 9th: Just Commonly
Friday, June 10th: A Bookaholic Swede
Monday, June 13th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, June 14th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, June 15th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Thursday, June 16th: Write Read Life
Friday, June 17th: Bibliotica

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Book Review: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

TheLooseEndsList

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 352 pp. 

Seventeen-year-old Maddie O’Neill Levine lives a charmed life, and is primed to spend the perfect pre-college summer with her best friends and young-at-heart socialite grandmother (also Maddie’s closest confidante), tying up high school loose ends. Maddie’s plans change the instant Gram announces that she is terminally ill and has booked the family on a secret “death with dignity” cruise ship so that she can leave the world in her own unconventional way – and give the O’Neill clan an unforgettable summer of dreams-come-true in the process.

Soon, Maddie is on the trip of a lifetime with her over-the-top family. As they travel the globe, Maddie bonds with other passengers and falls for Enzo, who is processing his own grief. But despite the laughter, headiness of first love, and excitement of glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram. She struggles to find the strength to say good-bye in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, loss, and the power of forgiveness.

Let’s start by talking about the NOVL newsletter, shall we? Not only are the folks at NOVL as ecstatic about books as I am — mayyybe even more so — they give away advance copies of books on a regular basis. There’s an entry form in the newsletter, and if you’re selected, you don’t get an email to notify you: a book shows up, out of the blue, at your door. This is the best. surprise. ever. I’m not one for unexpected company of the human variety, but if a book shows up at my door it will be welcomed with open arms.

It’s always a nice surprise to receive a free book, but it’s oh-so-much better when said book is good. And The Loose Ends List is better than good. It’s beautiful and fierce and heartbreaking.

The way that Maddie and her family joke, fight, and have the time of their lives together made me miss my cousins and how much time we spent together when we were kids. People move and life gets in the way, and all of a sudden the people you love so much become a thought bobbing in your brain: I wonder how she’s doing. I should really call her. And we (at least, I) never make the time. I admired Maddie’s grandmother for her desire to have the whole family together one last time, and I was envious of them all for having that opportunity.

Maddie’s relationship with her grandmother is touching: respectful yet irreverent, and so full of love. My mom is my best friend, and I can’t (don’t want to) imagine saying goodbye to her. I can’t imagine dragging a goodbye out for an entire summer, not knowing when it was gong to happen. I thought Maddie’s grief was portrayed well and realistically; she tries to distract herself from it for as long as possible, then it all comes slamming down.

Because all of the other patients on the ship are also terminal cases, I knew I was going to have to say goodbye to them all, but I still wasn’t ready when it started to happen. I was a mess for the last fifty pages or so of this book, and though I was sad, I was also moved to make every moment count with the people I love. The ship’s motto, “And still we dance,” captures this book in a neat four-word package that brings so many snapshots and “snow globe moments” to mind. The characters in this book aren’t perfect, but they are alive — practically leaping off the page — and they will worm their way into your heart.

All in all: A gorgeous book. Worth reading…then re-reading when you start to take life (and people) for granted.

Blog Tour: The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan

The Decent Proposal cover

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan. Harper. 320 pp.

Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Kemper Donovan’s The Decent Proposal! Before I tell you what I thought, here’s a brief summary:

A humorous, heartfelt love story built on a tantalizing premise: would you agree to spend two hours a week with a stranger—just talking—to collect half a million dollars at the end of a year?

Struggling Hollywood producer Richard is twenty-nine, hungover, and broke. Ridiculously handsome with an easy charm, he spends his days procrastinating at the Coffee Bean and nights hanging out with his best friend, Michaela, aka “Mike.”

At thirty-three, Elizabeth is on track to make partner at her law firm. Known as “La Máquina”—the Machine—to her colleagues, she’s grown used to a quiet, orderly life with no romantic entanglements of any kind. (Her closest friend is an old man who discusses Virginia Woolf with her at the beach. Enough said.)

Richard and Elizabeth have never met before, but their paths collide when they receive a proposal from a mysterious, anonymous benefactor: they’ll split a million dollars if they agree to spend at least two hours together every week for a year. Both are shocked and suspicious, and agree the idea is absurd, but after Richard anxiously considers the state of his bank account and Elizabeth carefully conducts a cost-benefit analysis of the situation, they agree to give it a try.

As these two perfect strangers wade awkwardly into the waters of modern courtship, discovering a shared affection for In-N-Out burgers, classic books, cult-hit movies, and various Los Angeles locales, they realize that uncovering the secret identity of their benefactor will not only make clear what connects them but change them both forever.

This delightful tale is full of twists, revelations, and above all love in its multitude of forms.

MyReview

I flew through this book. It was so entertaining, and so well-paced, that I just couldn’t seem to put it down. It’s one of those books that you know would make a great movie. It reads like a film, with enough information to let you picture each of the characters and know what’s going on, good dialogue, and no unnecessary/filler scenes. I can’t imagine what they’d need to change to make a movie, which is great because I hate when filmmakers take too many liberties with a story I enjoyed.

The Decent Proposal reminds me of this New York Times article about a list of questions inclusive and intimate enough to supposedly cause two strangers fall in love. (My husband and I have been together for almost ten years, and I still learned a couple of things about him as we went through the list.) I love the idea of two strangers creating a safe space in which they really get to hear and see one another, and this novel allows the reader to catch a beautiful glimpse of this process in action. The “structure” of discussing movies and books allows the reader to see Elizabeth and Richard’s similarities as well as their differences, and it’s also great fun to sneak a peek into someone else’s book club.

The characters in this book aren’t perfect, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them struggle and develop. Orpheus’s story broke my heart (I think about him on certain highways, and my heart breaks all over again). I wasn’t a big fan of Mike (I think she and Richard are terrible influences on each other, which is probably the point), but she was wonderfully humanized during her time at Beverly’s house. And the surrounding cast is just enough to fill in the gaps without overwhelming the reader with secondary characters.

Also? There’s so much food mentioned in this book that my mouth was constantly watering. (In case you don’t know me very well, this is a selling point.) I wish someone would foot the bill for me to buy books and movies and order takeout! What a benefactor! Also, I love that Elizabeth eats. And Richard likes her — and finds her attractive — anyway. That’s not seen in too many stories. (Well, sometimes the girl eats and eats but has some crazy superhuman-mutant-metabolism and is still a size zero. That’s not what I’m talking about.)

All in all: An entertaining and enjoyable read. A smart book with a rom-com feel in the best possible way.

 

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Kemper Donovan AP

Kemper Donovan has lived in Los Angeles for the past twelve years. A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, he worked at the literary management company Circle of Confusion for a decade, representing screenwriters and comic books. He is also a member of the New York Bar Association.

Follow Kemper on Twitter.

OtherTourStops

Wednesday, April 6th: Curling Up by the Fire
Thursday, April 7th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, April 11th: Book Hooked Blog
Tuesday, April 12th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, April 13th: she treads softly
Thursday, April 14th: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, April 18th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Tuesday, April 19th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, April 20th: Literary Feline
Thursday, April 21st: Bibliotica
Monday, April 25th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, April 26th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Wednesday, April 27th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Thursday, April 28th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, April 29th: fangirl confessions

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Series Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Viking. 402 pp. 

I remember when The Magicians Land came out and what a big deal it was. I kept seeing it everywhere, described as the conclusion to a bestselling trilogy. And here’s where I lose some nerd cred: I couldn’t remember ever even hearing about the series! A friend of mine recommended them when the first book was released, and I must’ve forgotten to write it down or something. (I only realized that he recommended it because of those “On This Day” things on Facebook a few months ago.) So I’m not the best friend. Or the best reader. And yet somehow I managed to find my way back to this series.

I scored a paperback copy of the third book at BEA and set it aside for future reading. Then, a couple of months later, I found a copy of the first book at Now and Then, my third-favorite used bookstore (second only to The Strand, which I feel doesn’t really count because it’s sort of its own category at this point, and Arcadian Books, which has an excellent selection and a kind proprietor and poses the added benefit of being located in the French Quarter). I figured that owning the first and third installments meant it was high time that I gave this series a shot. A hundred pages into The Magicians, I discovered two things: syfy was going to release a series based on the books, and my local library didn’t own a copy of the sequel. I promptly placed a request via interlibrary loan and decided to stay away from the TV series until I’d finished the books. (I’ve since watched the trailer and the pilot, and I’m almost inclined to stay away from the show entirely. It looks like they’re trying to have a hit — making it cutesy and trendy — instead of sticking to the books. However, Hank Green is obsessed with it, so I’ll give it another shot. We tend to like similar stuff.)

Sadly, the interlibrary loan took three weeks to come through, so I did something unthinkable: I stopped reading The Magicians halfway through because I didn’t want to wait if there was a cliffhanger ending. Then I flew through the first two and a half books, slowing down halfway through the third because I didn’t want it to be over.

This series is magic. Pure magic. And I’m not just saying that because it’s quite literally about magicians. I enjoyed the idea of magical ability as a hot commodity, practiced and protected by a select few. (Side note: I want to go to Brakebills! Magical grad school? Yes, please!) Any book about magic is about power struggles, but these books’ portrayal of that war is one of the best I’ve seen. The blend of high fantasy and modernity, the almost-winking references to other popular fantasy works, the way that old characters come back just when you thought you’d never hear from them again…I can’t say enough positive things. I guess the best thing I can say is that I bought a copy of the first book for a friend as a Christmas gift; that’s pretty much the highest endorsement I can give, right?

The world-building is intense. I mean, there are so many different worlds — and they all feel different without overwhelming the reader. None of the characters is terribly likable — except maybe Josh (and Eliot?) — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’ve got a lot going on over the course of the books, and they all grow and develop into entirely new people. It’s not a trilogy that spans six months, either; it takes place over about a dozen years, so there are many happenings and many chances for the characters to “become.”

Before I finish this raving, all-over-the-place review, I want to share my favorite passage with you. It’s from the final ten pages of the final book, but it won’t spoil anything for you. It’s just…well, this is what my life as a reader has been like. These words hit me hard.

“This is a feeling that you had, Quentin,” she said. “Once, a very long time ago. A rare one. This is how you felt when you were eight years old, and you opened one of the Fillory books for the first time, and you felt awe and joy and hope and longing all at once. You felt them very strongly, Quentin. You dreamed of Fillory then, with a power and an innocence that not many people ever experience. That’s where all this began for you. You wanted the world to be better than it was.

“Years later you went to Fillory, and the Fillory you found was a much more difficult, complicated place than you expected. The Fillory you dreamed of as a little boy wasn’t real, but in some ways it was better and purer than the real one. That hopeful little boy you once were was a tremendous dreamer. He was clever, too, but if you ever had a special gift, it was that.”

Quentin nodded — he couldn’t quite talk yet. He felt full of love for that little boy he’d once been, innocent and naive, as yet unscuffed and unmarred by everything that was to come. He was such a ridiculous, vulnerable little person, with so many strenuous disappointments and wonders ahead of him. Quentin hadn’t thought of him in years.

He wasn’t that boy anymore, that boy was lost long ago. He’d become a man instead, one of those crude, weather-beaten, shopworn things, and he’d almost forgotten he’d ever been anything else — he’d had to forget, to survive growing up. But now he wished he could reassure that child and take care of him. He wished he could tell him that none of it was going to turn out anything like the way he hoped, but that everything was going to be all right anyway. It was hard to explain, but he would see.

I don’t know. Maybe that doesn’t make you cry, but I’ve read it three times and it’s made my eyes tear every time. The hope of magic existing in the world can do wonders for a lonely kid who feels like he (or she) doesn’t fit quite right. And that, in itself, is its own kind of magic.

All in all: Highly recommended. One of the best series I’ve ever read; it finishes just as strong as it starts. Buy it. Now.

Blog Tour: Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte

Private Citizens cover

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte. William Morrow. 384 pp.

Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte! Before my review, here’s the plot summary:

Capturing the anxious, self-aware mood of young college grads in the aughts, Private Citizens embraces the contradictions of our new century—call it a loving satire, a gleefully rude comedy of manners, Middlemarch for millennials. The novel’s four whip-smart narrators—idealistic Cory, Internet-lurking Will, awkward Henrik, and vicious Linda—are torn between fixing the world and cannibalizing it. In boisterous prose that ricochets between humor and pain, Private Citizens follows the four estranged friends as they stagger through the Bay Area’s maze of tech startups, protestors, gentrifiers, karaoke bars, house parties, and cultish self-help seminars, washing up in each other’s lives once again.

A wise and searching depiction of a generation grappling with privilege and finding grace in failure, Private Citizens is as expansively intelligent as it is full of heart.

MyReview

There’s not much I can say that the above description doesn’t, but I’ll do my best to find something. Let me start, though, by saying that the book is indeed cleverly satirical and that the four main characters are certainly “whip-smart.” The various groups encountered — from “I’m-too-cool-to-be-here” house party attendees to protestors whose focus is spread too thin — are portrayed in ways that made me nod in agreement (“Yes! That’s exactly what that sort of person is like!”) and laugh out loud. My personal favorite was Handshake, a commercial, self-help seminar whose leader argues via vague (or just plain off-the-wall) affirmations like the following:

What’s our most lethal modern sickness? Cancer? You can beat it, like my wife did. Heart disease? Diet, exercise, and baby aspirin. No, the answer is cynicism.

Please tell me that you, too, are rolling your eyes.

I know that character likability isn’t the be-all and end-all value of a book, but I still want to mention that I pretty much hated every one of these characters. No one’s perfect, and maybe I just got to know these four a little too well, you know? But, in spite of the fact that I would actively avoid being in a conversation with any of them (except maybe Henrik), I still found myself concerned about them from time to time (my heart broke for Will, and Linda’s journal entries made her much more accessible).

My main complaint with this book is the sheer amount of jargon/insider language it contains on topics as varied as technological toys, philosophy, and Internet porn. If you’re a very specific sort of person, you’ll pick up on every reference and acronym, but otherwise these scenes potentially distance the reader. Maybe that’s the point, that even insiders are on the outside sometimes, but I found it more frustrating than anything.

Overall? It took me a while to get into this one. It was difficult to look past how much I disliked the characters. Once I did, I found it interesting, but the average reader may not stick around long enough to get into the rhythm of the book. If you do, you’ll read a smart, cleanly-written satire of the modern age.

That’s all for today. Be sure to check out the other tour stops (listed below)!

OtherInfo

Tony Tulathimutte AP

Tony Tulathimutte has written for VICEAGNIThe Threepenny ReviewSalonThe New Yorker online, and other publications. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Stanford University, he has received an O. Henry Award and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. He lives in New York.

Find out more about Tony at his website, and connect with him on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

OtherTourStops

Wednesday, February 10th: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts
Monday, February 15th: I’m Shelf-ish
Tuesday, February 16th: Raven Haired Girl
Thursday, February 18th: Dwell in Possibility
Monday, February 22nd: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, February 23rd: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, February 25th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, February 25th: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, February 26th: Worth Getting in Bed For

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Blog Tour: Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre

LastInALongLineOfRebels

Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre. Nancy Paulsen Books. 288 pp.

Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Last in a Long Line of Rebels!

I love middle grade: kids are on the cusp of adolescence, and there are so many stories that can be told about this time in their lives. Also, it makes me a little nostalgic, because this is the age when my memories of reading independently get stronger. I mean, I learned to read (really read) in preschool (fun fact: in my kindergarten admission interview, the administrator swore I couldn’t really read and had just memorized my favorite books; my mom grabbed a magazine from the office to prove her wrong). But I don’t remember my preschool or early elementary years as much as I remember things from third grade on. And I remember having my nose in a book all the time. The Boxcar Children, Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia…I don’t just remember the titles; I actually remember reading them. And reading a book I would have loved at that age warms my heart and makes me eager to pass it along to my sons one day. They’re one and three, and I want them to age as slowly as possible, but sharing books with them will make it bearable, I hope. (Today my son said, “Mommy, when I get bigger, I’m going to read Harry Potter, just like you” and I teared up a little.)

What I’m getting to (longwindedly, I admit) is that this is one of those books. Here’s the synopsis:

Debut novelist Lisa Lewis Tyre vibrantly brings a small town and its outspoken characters to life, as she explores race and other community issues from both the Civil War and the present day.

Lou might be only twelve, but she’s never been one to take things sitting down. So when her Civil War-era house is about to be condemned, she’s determined to save it—either by getting it deemed a historic landmark or by finding the stash of gold rumored to be hidden nearby during the war. As Lou digs into the past, her eyes are opened when she finds that her ancestors ran the gamut of slave owners, renegades, thieves and abolitionists. Meanwhile, some incidents in her town show her that many Civil War era prejudices still survive and that the past can keep repeating itself if we let it. Digging into her past shows Lou that it’s never too late to fight injustice, and she starts to see the real value of understanding and exploring her roots.

MyReview

There are so many things to love about this book that I’m not sure where to start. The format is smart: each chapter opens with an excerpt from the diary of one of Lou’s Civil-War-era ancestors. The material is vague enough to avoid giving away the plot too soon, but these entries do provide small clues and insight into the events that Lou is researching.

The cast is great as well: Lou is a member of a stable family on the cusp of change (her mother is due any day with a new baby), her grandmother is as vivacious (and flirtatious) as they come, and she has some truly excellent friends. I like that Lou’s friends are varied in their interests and personalities; although Lou isn’t a girly girl, her cousin Patty is, and this doesn’t affect their friendship in any way. Benzer (an Italian from the northeast) and Franklin (a wealthy, brainy type) round out their group, and the four of them embrace their differences instead of arguing about them. In fact, their various upbringings and skills lend themselves marvelously to their research endeavors as each kid brings his or her strengths to the table.

In other aspects of the book, diversity isn’t quite so celebrated: a local African-American athlete is overlooked for a prestigious scholarship even though he’s clearly the most qualified recipient, and Lou’s beloved grandmother often speaks condescendingly of “Yankees,” hurting Benzer’s feelings along the way. I appreciated that Lou’s world wasn’t all sunshine and perfection; her story shows that things work well when acceptance reigns, but it also shows that life isn’t always fair and that prejudice is (sadly) still a part of our world.

The themes of racial and geographical prejudice are joined by a smattering of Civil War history, mystery, and religion. There’s so much in here that I’d be thrilled for my kids to read about, and it’s paced so well that it doesn’t feel scattered or like too much material is included.

Also, the book takes place in 1999, so there’s limited technology. Franklin uses the Internet for research, but most of the kids’ snooping for facts takes place at the library, in the stacks. They spend their time outside, running around, not texting one another. Even though I value the benefits of technology, I don’t want my kids to read about characters primarily watching movies or messaging; I want them to read books about people doing things.

All in all: A smart, entertaining book with lots of heart. It shows the world as it is while remaining hopeful for further progress, and I look forward to the day I can pass it down to my son (he’s turning four soon, so I’ll add it to the ever-growing stack of middle grade books I can’t wait for him to read).

OtherInfo

LisaLewisTyre
About Lisa Lewis Tyre, the author: I grew up in a small town in Tennessee surrounded by my crazy family and neighbors. I learned early on that not every child had a pet skunk, a dad that ran a bar in the front yard, or a neighbor that was so large his house had to be torn down to get him out. What else could I do but write?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I think this is because I come from a long line of storytellers. I loved listening to my dad tell me about the escapades of his youth, like how he “accidentally” pushed his brother out of a two-story window, and “accidentally” shot his aunt’s chicken with a bow and arrow. Apparently he was accident-prone.
One of the stories they told me involved the name of our piece of the country. I lived in a tiny spot that the locals called Zollicoffer. When I asked why it had such a strange name, they said it was named after General Felix Zollicoffer who had camped nearby during the Civil War. One day I happened to ask my mom where exactly the camp had been. That’s when she pointed down the road and said, “Probably over there. That’s where some kids in the 50’s found GOLD.” And just like that, LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS was born.

OtherTourStops

Tuesday, February 2nd: Randomly Reading
Wednesday, February 3rd: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Thursday, February 4th: Life is Story
Monday, February 8th: Just Commonly
Wednesday, February 10th: Shooting Stars Mag
Thursday, February 11th: Musings by Maureen
Wednesday, February 17th: WV Stitcher
Thursday, February 18th: Tina Says…
Friday, February 19th: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, February 22nd: The Things You Can Read
Wednesday, February 24th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 25th: Just One More Chapter
Monday, February 29th: Laura’s Reviews
Wednesday, March 2nd: Absurd Book Nerd
Thursday, March 3rd: FictionZeal
Monday, March 7th: View from the Birdhouse

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