Fiction, short story

From the Midway

Let me state right up front I like books like this, and Leaf Seligman hits all the right parts with me.  From the Midway: Unfolding Stories of Redemption and Belonging is not quite short stories in that they are connected with characters travelling in and out each vignette (reminding me of Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson).  It’s not quite a novel either.  That may be a challenge for readers who prefer one style over the other.  I’m not one of those readers.  Let me be clear of one thing.  The writing in this book is just plain good.  Seligman has her finger on the pulse of speech, particularly that of the American South which has different dialects, vocabulary, and speech patterns.

The thematic setting of a midway is compelling.  There’s a difference between a circus and a midway and once the reader understands that, there should be no confusion of the subject matter and who the individuals that occupy that world are.  I love this world.  It’s full of vibrant, interesting characters.  And while their “oddities” may be the crowd draw, Seligman does a good job making these attractions the people who they are – with feelings, fears, and aspirations that are universal, even if their physical oddity is not.  We all can relate to these situations and thoughts that the characters share with us.

The challenge with creating worlds like is that it can be one note – with  everything seeming the same.  That may not be for some readers, though I didn’t mind it.  The book was a wonderful read that leaves an indelible impression.

I received an early copy of the book in exchange for a review.

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bilingual, children's, Fiction, middle grade fiction, poetry, Young Adult Fiction

Complex Family Separation Topics for Teens

It’s become a bit of a cliche for children’s or YA authors to kill off parents or have their characters search for unknown parents. It’s an easy trope to use to center a story’s actions on a child’s choices. But for those young people who are forced to be separated from their families, this voice may not resonate. And in our current times, frankly, won’t resonate with the world-aware teen. Two such books that discuss this topic for middle graders and teens are Scarlet Ibis, by Gill Lewis and Forest World, by Margarita Engle.

Scarlet Ibis

At 12 years old, Scarlet cares for her autistic brother and severely depressed mother. This tenuous situation leads to her and her brother to foster care, a situation that separates them all and initiates Scarlet’s attempt to reunite them. The writing is done from Scarlet’s perspective, guiding the reader through an empathetic journey that makes her actions and “acting out” understandable and logical. This unique and much needed perspective is refreshing and a true gift from the author for anyone, especially those with foster children in their lives.

Forest World

Free verse poetry is an intriguing and appropriate way to unfold this novel of a family separated and reunited across the Florida-Cuba divide. Told through alternating poems in the voices siblings, Luza and Edver, we see the same family’s story from two perspectives. In addition to the separated family we see them living their lives and experiencing all the teenage experiences in this context. It’s truly a unique and yet universal book.

children's, Fiction, middle grade fiction

Middle grade fiction for nature & history lovers

The Adventures of Bubba Jones: Time Traveling Through Acadia National Park written by Jeff Alt and illustrated by Hannah Tuohy is the third in a series of middle grade fiction set in US national parks. In this volume Acadia really is the main character. Bubba Jones and family head through different elements learning something new about the area in each chapter. There are character illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. There are also guides to using the book in a curriculum.

This book is perfect for a nature loving 8-12 year old or for young visitors to Acadia National Park.

children's, Fiction, halloween, holiday

Halloween Story Time Books

If you’re looking for some great Halloween story time books to pick up from the Library before the big day, here are some favorites in my house.

Little Goblins Ten, written by Pamela Jane and illustrated by Jane Manning, has been a nightly read for my toddler all of October. The rhyme and rhythm are infectious and the illustrations are fun. This is perfect for ages 2-5.

This Is the House That Monsters Built, written by Steve Metzger and illustrated by Jared Lee, is a progressively building story similar to the tale of This Is the House That Jack Built with both vivid illustrations and word choices. It is a great read for ages 3-6.

Monster Academy, written Jane Yolen & Helen E.Y. Stemple and illustrated by John McKinley, is a loosely rhyming book that is geared toward early elementary and has delightful illustrations. Best for ages 4-7.

Fiction, middle grade fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Middle grade fiction with strong female characters and cyber security education

The Web Paige Chronicles (available on Amazon and direct from the publisher) by Emilio Iasiello is a delightful and refreshing mix of an endearing female hero, a family with realistically supportive relationships, and the harsh difficulties of being a teen and preteen today. The chapters are set up to make it easily accessible to the 4th and 5th grade crowd, but the material is deep and engaging enough for older middle schoolers.

The main character Web Paige solves a series of problems for strangers and friends alike, all related to cyber bullying, cyber stalking, or just plain poor cyber security. This is a great way to introduce how to be safe online with children. And the characters easily have the staying power to make this the first in a series of Web Paige Chronicles books.

I’d highly recommend this for late elementary through early high schoolers both for personal reading or in the classroom. The layout lends itself easily to create an engaging lesson in handling online predators and related issues.

I received my copy in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on Amazon, Goodreads, Librarything, and Instagram. The hard copy has been donated to a little free library.

Fiction, speculative fiction

Creative & Jarring: The Biggerers

Amy Lilwall‘s novel, The Biggerers, is built on an extremely creative premise (the keeping of “clonables” should you need a body part). The story does tackle some of the best and worst of humanity, which can make for interesting story telling.

However, the writing is too sparse – an attribute I’m seeing as fashionable these days, but which I do not enjoy. In my opinion, this story is a bit difficult to become entranced by, unless you are one who truly loves speculative fiction. I’m giving it it 4 stars because I think it could be enjoyable if that is a style of fiction you enjoy, even if I didn’t.

I received my copy in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on Amazon, Goodreads, Librarything, and Instagram. The hard copy has been donated to a little free library.

Fiction, Non-Fiction

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper by Heather Corbally Bryant from Ardent Writer Press is a genuine genre-twisting novel. While technically, “creative non-fiction,” there’s a bit of history, screenwriting, crime fiction, spy novel, journalism, and literary fiction. Bryant’s eloquent, efficient, and effective hand feels like the necessary tool to tell the story of her grandmother, Irene Corbally Kuhn.

Bryant writes the character of her grandmother as a high-witted woman of the 1920-40s Shanghai Bund. The dialogue between Irene, her husband, and the close knit group of Western journalists in a transitioning Shanghai sound straight out of early 20th century film. It’s not until the end (don’t worry, no spoilers) where we see long passages of actual letters sent by the characters within the story that we see she stayed ever so true to their distinctly fluent style.

Students of modern Chinese history will appreciate the historical accuracy of this very personal tale of love, international intrigue, and loss in an esoteric time and place in China. The story is determinedly and appropriately written from the vantage points of an elite group of western journalists in a part of China that catered to creating a western dream in an Asian country. Due to this specific perspective of the characters, a reader will not find an awareness outside of the western life of the international concession present in the text. This element can be a bit jarring and possibly could have been avoided with a few fictional digressions into the lives of the Chinese that in the existing text briefly enter view.

But the tale is a beautiful ode to her grandmother told based on the correspondences she received and other historical records. Wrestling with a fast paced job, a husband that is loved and loving but visibly complicated, and starting a family, Irene approaches them all with journalistic eye.

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper is a moving read for fans of historical fiction focused on the Anglo-American and European experience in Asia or those with an interest stories of strong women working within the times they were handed.