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Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Book Review: Breaking Stalin’s Nose

I must admit that while reading I had a hard time envisioning today’s youth actually wanting to read and able to relate to this middle grade book.  The story is set in 1950’s Moscow where a young, and very naive boy named Sasha, is set to become a young pioneer.  The quick pace keeps the reader involved in this brief story that spans only a few days.  While the story depicts aspects of what life must have been like, it is also heavily punctuated by absurd, cartoon-like events, such as a conversation with a talking, smoking, Stalin’s nose.  The author is an artist and his black and white illustrations really help bring the characters to life.  In addition, the most interesting part of the book is knowing far more than young Sasha who thinks that only if Stalin knew what was happening, then he would surely help those being wrongly accused.  I hope that young people prove me wrong and enjoy this book as much as the adults who have deemed it worthy of both a 2012 Newbery Honor book award and Horn Book’s Best Books for 2011.

Title:  Breaking Stalin’s nose

Author/Illustrator:  Eugene Yelchin

Publisher:  Henry Holt and Company

ISBN:  978-0-8050-9216-5

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Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

I stayed up late last night finishing this incredibly sad book and all I can say is, “What a disappointment!”  I was not at all pleased with how the author chose to end this book.  My mom and I have often discussed the ending to a good romantic comedy movie.  The basic plot line is often similar:  boy and girl meet, fall in love, something happens to tear them apart, boy and girl get back together and live happily ever after.  The difference between a not-so-great and great ending is that a great one will show boy and girl’s wonderfully heartfelt reunion and you are left feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.  In the not-so-great ending they allude to the reunion but you don’t get to see or feel any of the warm and fuzzy stuff.  I bet you can guess what happens in the bad endings… boy and girl don’t get back together.  So without giving anything away, this book did not have the great ending I was looking for.  After trudging through such a heart breaking story I was really waiting for the great payoff in the end and, sigh, it wasn’t there.

Currently nominated for several awards, this historical fiction novel tells the tale of a young, budding, Lithuanian artist named Lina.  The year is 1941 and the soviet secret police are deporting her family along with thousands of others.  Lina, her brother Jonas and her mother embark on a horrifying journey over thousands of miles and over the span of several years.  Lina secretly documents the injustices through her writing and art to share with the world what is happening and in hopes that her messages will somehow make their way to her father who has been sentenced to death in a prison camp.  Along the way Lina will learn about love and forgiveness and the strength needed for survival.

This novel was written by the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee and includes a note which provides more information about the plight of the people in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia during the Soviet/German war.  While I may have disliked the ending, it would be hard not to truly appreciate this book for the insight it brings to those unfamiliar with this piece of history, as well as the messages of love and forgiveness that are embodied by Lina’s mother.

Title:  Between shades of gray:  A novel

Author:  Ruta Sepetys

Publisher:  Philomel Books

ISBN:  978-0-399-25412-3

 

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Book Review: Forge (Seeds of America, #2)

At the end of Chains (Seeds of America, #1) the reader is left with a lot of unanswered questions and I was eagerly awaiting my copy of Forge, the second book in the Seeds of America Trilogy.  Book #2 picks up right where the action stopped, however, I was a little disappointed to find out that this book is not told from the perspective of Isabel.  Part of the reason I fell in love with the first book was due to the amazing character found in Isabel.  Isabel does make an appearance, however, Forge is largely about the experiences of her friend Curzon.

Curzon Smith is a young slave who finds himself, yet again, enlisted in the war.  Alongside the other soldiers he must fight for survival through a bitter winter at Valley Forge, while also trying to go undetected as a runaway slave.  Both Curzon and Isabel must continue to navigate through treacherous times, trying to decipher whom they can trust and what it takes to become truly free.

While I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first.  I am still looking forward to book #3, Ashes, due out later this year.  I kept thinking that my husband, who is an actual history buff and very interested in war-time and ammunitions would find this a really interesting read.  Anderson continues in her tradition of beginning each chapter with an excerpt from an actual letter, newspaper article or advertisement from the time period, lending an authenticity and a sense of how these fictional events could have really played out.

Title:  Forge

Author:  Laurie Halse Anderson

Publisher:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers

ISBN:  978-1-4169-6144-4

 

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Book Review: Chains

I just finished devouring this historical fiction novel set in Revolutionary America where war is waging between the patriots and loyalists, and slavery and disease are rampant.  Isabele is a young slave living in rural Rhode Island with her younger sister Ruth, when they are sold to a cruel, loyalist family in New York.  Isabele is an amazing character, full of strength, tenacity and an agile mind that finds ways, despite many setbacks, to continue to fight for her freedom.  Her love for her sister and ability to reclaim her unbreakable spirit are heart wrenching.  Laurie Halse Anderson does such an incredible job recreating this time period with her obvious extensive research.  I truly felt as if I were there, walking the streets of New York in 1776.  I am sure this is the reason I read this book so quickly.  The appendix contains some great historical questions and answers by the author that could assist readers, teachers and parents with further discussion about the book and this time period.  I will forewarn readers, without giving anything away, that this is the first in the American Seeds trilogy and the ending is most definitely a cliffhanger.  (I am anxious to get my hands on “Forge” – Book #2 and will have to await the release of “Ashes” – Book #3 due out later this year.)  I picked this book as part of my ongoing quest to read all of the titles in this year’s Oregon Battle of the Books.  While the story is told from the perspective of a 13 year old girl, I am sure that most young (and older) adults will find this story engaging and worthwhile and you certainly don’t need to be a history buff (I am definitely not) to enjoy.

Title:  Chains

Author:  Laurie Halse Anderson

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster

ISBN:  978-1-4169-0585-1

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Historical Fiction, Young Adult

 

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