Bethany's Readers' Advisory

The place to go for readers' advisory on books for children, teens, and adults

The Longest Night by Andria Williams March 23, 2016

Longest NightBased on true events that took place in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 1959-1961 as the military was experimenting with nuclear power, The Longest Night is a tale of family, trust, secrets, and the drama those things create. The story begins as Paul and Nat Collier and their two young daughters move to Idaho Falls. Paul has just completed training with the U.S. Army to be an operator at a small nuclear reactor 50 miles outside town. Nat, a free-willed California native, is adjusting to life raising two young girls in a small suburb taken over by military families. Both are figuring out how to navigate their new home, from uncomfortable dinner parties at the commanding officer’s house to the rumor mill generated by Army wives. When tension at Paul’s workplace leads to an unexpected deployment, Nat’s loneliness threatens to rip their relationship apart. Will their family survive when physical and emotional disasters strike?

This was a quiet drama set in an interesting period in recent history. It’s both comforting and frustrating to know that the joys and struggles of middle class Americans are essentially the same in 1959 as in 2016. The author’s note informs readers that Paul’s job and the disaster that occurs there are based in fact. I did a bit of research (read: Wikipedia) to find out more about Idaho Falls and its history and found myself wanting to reread parts of the book. Overall, I think the author did a nice job capturing that era and the life of a young Army wife stifled by social norms in a small town. I would recommend this book to adults who like historical fiction and family drama stories.

4 out of 5 stars

 

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley March 11, 2016

War That Saved My LifeThe story begins as Ada is punished for looking out the window of the dingy one-bedroom London apartment she shares with her mother and younger brother Jamie. Ada is nine years old and has never been allowed to leave the apartment. Her mother tells Ada that people would be disgusted by her twisted foot. She accepts her lot in life. At least she has Jamie to keep her company. But when Jamie starts school and spends more and more time away, playing outside with his new friends, Ada realizes the little she has in life is slipping away.

Ada begins to prepare. For what, she doesn’t know. She teaches herself to walk on her crippled foot. It is painful, but she is used to pain. When Jamie comes home from school one day, he says a war is coming and they are sending the children away from the city into the safety of the country. Ada realizes this is her chance to escape her cruel mother, the nights spent locked in the cupboard as punishment for the slightest infraction, the life spent trapped. She and Jamie run away and find themselves thrust into the home of Susan Smith, a strange but kind woman. Ada finally has a life of freedom, but can she really trust that things are as good as they seem? Or do all good things come to an end?

This was an outstanding historical fiction novel about vulnerability, trust, and redemption. Ms. Bradley’s books pack an emotional punch and present history in an interesting and relatable way. I would recommend this to older children and teens. I also think this would be a great read aloud for a classroom.

5 out of 5 stars

 

The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Steep and Thorny WayThe story begins as Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and a black man, sets out with a small handgun hidden under her skirt to kill her father’s murderer. It’s almost too easy- Joe Adder is naked, bathing in the small pond behind the shed where he’s been hiding out since getting out of prison. But before she can pull the trigger, Joe tells her he’s innocent… and the true killer is closer to her than she might think. Hanalee needs answers and finds surprising friends and foes along the way. The Steep and Thorny Way is an atmospheric tale of racism, fear, intolerance, and friendship set in rural Oregon in the early 1920s.

This is my third Cat Winters book, and it’s been my favorite so far. Her books have all featured a strong female character who defies social norms and are historical fiction with a spooky supernatural twist. This book tackles some big issues (bigotry, the KKK, eugenics, homosexuality) in an interesting and engaging way. I appreciate historical background and author’s note at the end; they added context and acted as a springboard for further research on the subject. I also appreciated that story was romance-free. Yay, no stupid love triangles! I could see this as a good book club choice- lots of good discussion points. I would recommend this to teens and adults.

5 out of 5 stars

 

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume January 23, 2016

In the Unlikely EventThe story begins in 1987 as the main character, Miri, travels back to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. In the early 1950’s, 15-year-old Miri and her friends and family experience a series of tragic and unexplained events that set the course for the rest of her life. That year, Miri gets her first glimpse of love, loss, hope, and broken promises. The stories of many Elizabeth residents unfold alongside Miri’s and allow the reader to experience the fear and uncertainty of this tumultuous time in New Jersey’s history.

It had been quite a while since I’d read a Judy Blume book. After the trauma that resulted from reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret as a young teen, I was wary. However, the story sounded interesting so I took the leap. The concept was good, but the execution was lacking. There were way too many characters introduced, too many stories to keep straight. My opinion of the story improved when I read the author’s note and found that the plane crashes, which I originally thought bordered on absurd, actually happened in real life. I suppose I would recommend this book to people who grew up in the 50’s and would appreciate the cultural references. (For example, why would someone put off having a pregnancy test to avoid killing a rabbit? I had to look it up. Weird.)

3 out of 5 stars

 

The Impersonator by Mary Miley April 25, 2014

Filed under: adult fiction,adult historical fiction,adult mystery — Bethany @ 10:44 pm
Tags: , , ,

ImpersonatorLeah is in the one place she calls home, the vaudeville stage, when she notices a man staring at her from the audience. He catches up with her after the show, calling her Jessie. She politely corrects him, then goes about her business. He returns later with a proposition. His niece, Jessie Carr, disappeared in 1917 at age 14. This year would have been her 21st birthday, the year she was supposed to inherit the family fortune. Since there is little hope the real Jessie will ever return, her uncle wants Leah, whose resemblance to Jessie is uncanny, to pretend to be Jessie. She would impersonate Jessie long enough to convince the family and their lawyers, then receive the fortune and split it with him.

Leah doesn’t like the plan one bit and refuses to play along. But when she loses her job, she has few options and agrees to become Jessie. With Uncle Oliver’s coaching and her own acting abilities, Leah makes a convincing Jessie. However, as Leah conducts her own secret investigation of the real Jessie’s whereabouts, she realizes there might be more danger to their plan than her true identity being discovered.

This was a nice, light mystery. The details about vaudeville were a unique addition to the setting. I would recommend this book to teens or adults who like historical fiction or mysteries. It’s very clean, too, so I would feel comfortable giving it to anyone interested in the subject.

4 out of 5 stars

 

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters April 20, 2014

Shadow of BlackbirdsThe year is 1918. The county is at war both overseas and at home. The boys are fighting in the trenches in Europe and the citizens on the homefront are battling the deadly Spanish influenza. After her father is taken away to jail forĀ  traitorous talk, sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black heads to San Francisco to stay with her aunt. What she finds is an atmosphere of fear, with faces covered in gauze masks and home remedies mean everyone reeks of onions and garlic. Mary Shelley seeks out news of her sweetheart, away at war, to find his brother running a bustling spirit photography business. She doesn’t believe in ghosts, until after an accident, she finds one in her bedroom. Will her skepticism about capturing the spirits of loved ones on film be overpowered by her desire to know the truth about her beloved Stephen?

While this story took place in a time period I enjoy and it piqued my interest about the devastation of influenza in the United States, I didn’t love this book. It was nominated for 2014 Teens’ Top Ten award, so it appears I’m in the minority. I could see this well-researched, historically accurate story paired nicely with some nonfiction titles about the era for teens.

3 out of 5 stars

 

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell August 16, 2013

Instructions for a HeatwaveThere’s a heatwave going on in London in July 1976. Gretta’s husband gets up bright and early to go for the paper like he does every morning. When he doesn’t come back, she gets worried. Eventually the children, now adults with lives of their own, are called in to help. The brother is on the brink of divorce, the two sisters haven’t spoken to each other for years. In the midst of a family crisis, secrets are revealed that may hold clues to their father’s whereabouts and bring the family back together or tear them apart.

This was a quick read and a solid realistic fiction about families and their secrets. I would recommend this to adults who like family dramas.

4 out of 5 stars

 

 
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