The Slave Dancer, by Paula Fox, was published in 1973 by Simon & Schuster.
I always admire authors who portray characters and events in ways that aren’t as extreme as modern culture seems to want. Maybe “progressive” would be a better word to use than “extreme.” What I mean by this is that I feel that a lot of modern authors create characters and then, in order to express the author’s own ideas (or mainstream ideas, or socially acceptable ideas, etc.), they have the character do things that maybe aren’t as historically accurate or as realistic as the setting warrants. However, in The Slave Dancer, Fox has a character with feelings and thoughts that fit the time period and still expresses all the themes and messages that Fox wants.
Jessie, the main character, gets pressganged onto a slave ship and is forced to become a cabin boy, and later the “slave dancer.” Jessie, who has lived all his life in New Orleans, has been raised by a mother who disapproves of slavery (at least, that’s what I inferred), but his only real experience with slavery is the slave market in the city. His feelings range from desperation to horror to hopelessness throughout the terrible journey. What I liked about Jessie as a character is that he acts realistically, especially for that time period. He isn’t instantly, vehemently against slavery—in fact, it isn’t until he both encounters the slaves and sees their treatment that he begins to be disgusted. And, when he reaches that moment, he reacts exactly as a human being would—first he feels pity for them, then he feels hatred (towards them) because of the terrible situation they are in and the one that he is in (which he blames them for, in exactly the sort of irrational way one would), then he feels numb to it all. This is really a story of survival—Jessie’s survival, the slaves’ survival, Ras’s survival.
I also really enjoyed the scene when Jessis encounters the runaway slave Daniel. Daniel is polite and kind, but there’s so much conveyed in his actions and words that show you that, despite his trials and experience, Jessie still has no idea what being a slave is like. He was a “slave,” of a sort, on the ship, but not in the same way that Ras and Daniel were slaves. And Fox shows how that haunts Jessie throughout the rest of his life.
There is a lot of depth and meaning to The Slave Dancer, perhaps more than a child could get on their own. It is not a light book or a happy book. It is heavy and dark and expresses a lot of complicated and heavy topics. This is definitely a book to be read and discussed alongside of the child reading it.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Warnings: Racial slurs (the n-word), slavery
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2Of8lyC
On Tide Mill Lane, by Melissa Wiley, was published in 2001 by HarperTrophy. It is the sequel to Little House by Boston Bay.
On Tide Mill Lane is a dreadfully boring installment of the Charlotte Years. Though it details the end of the War of 1812, there is little to keep it interesting, family and friend drama aside. The Charlotte Years have always seemed the weakest to me, but this book highlights that weakness. There’s virtually no plot—each chapter is only tangentially related to others, if at all—and Charlotte has no growth at all. She’s also not a very convincing five-year-old. In fact, it’s Charlotte’s mother, Martha, who has most of the focus, as if Wiley is still trying to hold on to those Martha Years.
The dialogue and descriptions are also really cheesy. A child likely won’t find them that way, but as an adult, I could barely keep from rolling my eyes. In addition, everything is spelled out very nice and neatly, so that nothing can possibly escape the reader’s attention and understanding. I love children’s books, but this one is too non-subtle for me.
I can barely remember what happens in the next Charlotte book, but I remember the last one being quite interesting, and it at least has Charlotte stop being perpetually five. I will, however, be glad to be done with these last two books so that I can move on to the Caroline Years, one of my favorites.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2F9VsSf
Jackaby, by William Ritter, was published in 2014 by Algonquin.
Jackaby was all over Goodreads the year it was published, and I noticed it at the time, but didn’t really put much stock into it (most books that are popular on Goodreads don’t reflect my tastes). But even back then, the cover and title font intrigued me, so when I saw it on the library shelf, I thought, “Why not?”
The blurb for this book says it’s a “Doctor Who meets Sherlock Holmes” story, but to be honest, it reminded me a lot more of Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series. Jackaby is a more eccentric Lockwood, while Abigail is a less adventurous, more normal Lucy. The tone of the book and the characters are great: quirky, fun, interesting. I’m not a big fan of fairy elements, but the inclusion in this book was smooth and I didn’t mind it so much.
I loved the characters and the atmosphere, but the mystery itself was simply all right. It was fairly simple, with most of the attention focused on building up the world rather than the mystery itself. The red herrings Ritter threw in were so obviously red herrings that there was no shock or tension in the unraveling of the plot. And, though the book is decently long, it feels quite short, mainly because the majority of it does deal with establishing characters and not so much on action. And for a first book, that’s okay—it’s important to do that. I was just hoping for something with a bit more punch and intrigue that would really make me want to go out and get the next book.
I think I liked Jackaby just enough for me to get the next book in the series, but if the mysteries remain as tepid and obvious as in this first book, I might have to call it quits. Or maybe the delightful characters will keep me reading—we’ll see!
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2UAm1q9
The Naming, by Alison Croggon, was published in 2002 by Candlewick.
After devouring Sharon Shinn and Kate Constable, I immediately went on the hunt for more 2000s fantasy and found Alison Croggon’s Book of Pellinor quartet. I’ve actually read this series before, something I realized once I started, but it was long enough ago that I only remember bits and pieces. And I don’t quite remember if I actually finished reading the series, though I think I did. Anyway, the whole book seemed hauntingly familiar, though I barely remembered anything of the plot. To be honest, the thing that I most remembered was the “let’s pretend this book was an actual historical document that’s been translated” gimmick.
Anyway, on the back cover, Tamora Pierce describes The Naming as Tolkienesque, and that is definitely apparent in the book. Of course, it’s not nearly as vast or extensive as Tolkien made the Lord of the Rings. Though much having to do with the politics and culture of the world is ignored, Croggon has developed the Bard part of the world well, with its own language and customs, and the whole legend of the world is also done well, if a bit trope-y. There’s the standard Light and Dark concept, with the standard Evil Villain. The magic is unexplained and described only as “the Gift,” with very little to show how it works or what it does. However, the world was much better developed than many similar fantasies I’ve read, and I could tell Croggon put a lot of thought into it.
The one thing that held me back from complete enjoyment of the book was the writing style, which was too old-fashioned. That’s probably not even the right word to use, but that’s the only thing I can think of to describe it. I was not a huge fan of the way characters spoke, and I especially didn’t like how differently Maerad spoke than other characters. It’s like every character is formal and speaks in a bit of antiquated syntax, and then Maerad speaks normally. Perhaps that’s to contrast her with the other Bards, but I didn’t enjoy it.
Also, I had trouble reconciling the fact that traveling seems to take no time at all, or at least seems to take no time at all, but then Maerad is consistently mentioning her period. So, Croggon is apparently trying to say, “It’s been three months since she left Gilman’s Cot!” when the way time has been tracked before then makes it seem as if it’s only been one month, if not two. There needs to be a better way for the readers to follow the time then for a character to think, “Oh, time for that monthly thing!”
The Naming has some promising worldbuilding, though there’s not much explanation for many of the concepts, and there’s very little sense of the world beyond Bards, Hulls, and some semblance of a Bardic ruling system. The fact that I’ve read this book is both a blessing and a curse, since I can’t wait to get to the parts I do remember liking, but am dreading the parts I remember not liking (which, to be honest, isn’t anything in specific—I just remember being let down by the ending. If I even finished the books, which I think I did).
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2VUXnkA
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan was published in 1985 by HarperCollins.
I tend to have an issue with short Newbery Medal books. Perhaps it’s because they seem so much more aimed for children. Perhaps it’s because there’s no way to fit much plot or character development in something that short. Or maybe it’s because I’ve just had bad luck with my liking of short Newbery Medal books, like The Whipping Boy or The Matchlock Gun. Or it could be that short books mean short book reviews. Whatever it is, I’m not too much of a fan.
But I love Sarah, Plain and Tall.
It’s cute, it’s heartwarming, it’s feel-good and matter-of-fact and simplistic and beautiful. It’s a story of finding out where your home is, and whom it is with, and how to handle homesickness and missing things. It’s a story of two children who want to love and be loved, and how they get that in the person of Sarah, who is plain and tall and knows how to fix roofs and isn’t afraid of wearing overalls.
And yes, this is a short review, but it is a short book. And it’s delightful.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2SQeBO1
The Sherwood Ring, by Elizabeth Marie Pope, was published in 1958 by Houghton.
The Sherwood Ring is a delightful story full of political intrigue, ghosts, stories of the past, mysteries in the present, and an intriguing, shadowy gentleman known as Peaceable Sherwood. I wasn’t expecting the intermixing of past and present as each chapter is dedicated to a particular story that Peggy hears from one of the family’s ghosts.
Of course, since there needs to be a plot beyond “ghosts telling stories,” Peggy’s present troubles and dramas are, of course, linked to the stories as she discovers more about her family’s history and her Uncle Enos’s strange behavior. Nothing in this book is particularly surprising or complex, but the real charm lies in the story, not the plot, if that makes sense. Peaceable Sherwood is such a fun villain that Peggy being used mostly as a vehicle to find out more about him is something I don’t actually have a problem with (and she gets her own story at the end as she figures out why she’s being told all these things to begin with).
My favorite chapter was “The Bean Pot” because Barbara Grahame is amazing and the battle of wits she plays with Peaceable is fantastic. It’s interesting that all it takes is a good story and interesting characters for me to actually like books set up like this; normally I’m not a fan of disjointed storytelling or characters as plot devices. However, The Sherwood Ring was a fun, enjoyable read, though it wasn’t quite what I expected initially!
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural, Historical Fiction
You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2EUJcpX
About the Book
Series: The London League
Genre: Adult, Regency, Romance
Publisher: Phase Publishing
Publication date: February 1, 2019
With Cap in hand…
Malcolm Colerain, Earl of Montgomery, needs a wife. He has four children, a peerage, and a demanding secret occupation as a member of the London League; all of which give him a fulfilling life, so a proper marriage of convenience is all he seeks. But when he meets Elizabeth Owens, things begin to change. Distance becomes difficult, convenience becomes rather inconvenient, and his exciting life as a spy turns on its head.
…Love comes to call…
Beth Owens seizes the chance to marry the handsome and striking Earl of Montgomery, marriage of convenience or not. Her heart is his for the taking, and she is determined that he eventually will. But the more she learns about her husband, the more he puzzles her. He has secrets, she is well aware, but just how many and how deeply do they run? And when she finds a few secrets of her own, will they ever have a chance at love?
The Books in the Series
About the Author
Rebecca Connolly writes romances, both period and contemporary, because she absolutely loves a good love story. She has been creating stories since childhood, and there are home videos to prove it! She started writing them down in elementary school and has never looked back. She currently lives in the Midwest, spends every spare moment away from her day job absorbed in her writing, and is a hot cocoa addict.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the author. All opinions are my own.
My rating: 3/5
A Tip of the Cap is the third book in the London League series by Rebecca Connolly. Having never read the first two (and not having the time to do so), I was worried that I wouldn’t understand what was going on. Luckily, though clearly characters, relationships, and references would be more clearly understood with the first two books having been read, I was able to understand and follow the mostly stand-alone plot of this book.
The “theme” of the series is the London League, a spy organization tasked with protecting the Crown and the Crown’s secrets. Each book is about one member, referenced in the title, and this book is about Cap, otherwise known as Malcolm, Lord Montgomery. Now, I will say that I felt the London League aspect of the book was the weakest part. Perhaps that’s because I hadn’t read the first two and so had no clue who Gent and Rogue and Rook were, but I found all the spy stuff hard to follow. For example, Rook and Rogue get into a fight for some reason at a ball, but it’s never clearly explained why—to throw someone off the scent? But why would a fight change that?—and I found it hard to believe that Malcolm and Gent would then have a conversation, in the ballroom, where they toss around Rook and Rogue’s code names casually, as if no one was around to hear them. I also had no clear idea about the nameless, faceless “enemy” they were facing, though there are mentions of France. Also, if they are spies and no one knows their true identities, why do they all work at the same office building (why have an office building at all??)?
However, besides my confusion with those points, I did enjoy the action and tension that the spy plot gave, as it lended itself well as a break from the more heavily romantic areas of the book. Because the book is, of course, a historical romance, featuring an arranged marriage of a sort and all the romantic angst and atmosphere that one might expect. I thought it was really well done, for the most part, if a bit predictable in some places and too fast-paced in others, and Beth was fairly adorable (though I found her speech at the ball when she broke up Rook and Rogue’s “fight” to be way too over-the-top and cheesy). Both her’s and Malcolm’s motivations and thoughts felt realistic, and their interactions and the development of their relationship were believable, as well as sweet and heartwarming in the right places. But I think my favorite romance of the book was the one between Lily Granger and her husband, even though most of that develops “off-page” and is resolved rather quickly.
A Tip of the Cap was much better than I thought it would be. Though I found a lot of the London League stuff confusing, and its explanation clunky, the main story was interesting, the romance was sweet, and the spy arc helped break up all that sugary stuff and injected some tension and drama that went beyond the normal romantic variety.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Kindle and Me
Pause for Tales
Blooming with Books
Locks, Hooks and Books
Reading Is My SuperPower
Mindy Houng, Reviewer
Singing Librarian Books
Around the beginning of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!
As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile.
Books read in February: 13
Very bad reading month for me in terms of goals, and far less exciting and more tedious reads than January. I hope to finish the Newbery Medals by the summer, and Dear America by the end of the year.
Newbery Medal Winners: 1 (81/96 total)
Dear America: 0
Other Reading Stats:
*These stats are separate from goals (so, for example, even though Newbery Medal winners count as children’s books, I do not include them in my children’s stats) and from each category (rereads will not count in their respective genres)
Adult fantasy: 0
Adult fiction: 2
Middle Grade: 1
Young Adult: 0
Publisher Copies (or Christian fiction): 2