The Last Runaway

  4W, 4H audio

Chevalier, Tracy, (c. 2013). The Last Runaway.  Penguin Audio. 8 discs (10 hours) , $32.99   Read by Kate Reading.

ISBN:  9781611761412

Reviews

The Guardian, Oprah.com

Annotation:

Immigrating to America in 1850, Honor moves into pre-Civil War Ohio where she must establish roots while not losing her sense of self.

Summary:  

Honor Bright travels with her sister from England to help her get settled with her new husband in Ohio.  It’s 1850 in America and Honor, a young, quiet Quaker woman, finds herself stranded in this foreign land when her sister dies on the journey.  Befriended by a milliner, Honor’s sewing skills help Belle with her business until Honor must leave to settle with a Quaker family in the neighboring town of Faithwell.  But Belle’s brother, Donovan, has taken an interest in Hope which does not bode well for Belle’s other business, that of helping free slaves through the underground railroad.  Donovan is a slave hunter and a good one at that.  His unwanted attention raises questions in Faithwell and puts Honor in a precarious position with her new family.

But Honor is true to her faith.  She understands the danger involved yet she becomes part of the underground railroad, helping slaves on their journey to freedom.  As she tries to fit in with her American family and avoid Donovan and his baffling appeal, Honor strives to do what is best until she is pushed too far and she can no longer distinguish between right and wrong.

Evaluation:

Beautifully written, Chevalier creates a story that captures an element of american history from the perspective of a reluctant immigrant who sees America and its challenges with fresh eyes.  The struggles of the “slave issue” in the free state of Ohio are just as intense as elsewhere with Honor’s character having to battle with the moral ambiguity of helping to free innocent people and protecting her own family.  A great work of historical fiction. brought to life with the reading  by Kate Reading whose different voices, inflections and accents created a vivid picture of life in America as seen through the eyes of Chevalier’s characters.

Genre/Subgenre:

Historical Fiction

Readalikes:

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning.  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Book Discussion Questions:

Quilting is significant to the main character.  How does it enhance the story?

Which character(s) would you have liked to see more developed?

How is Honor “flawed”?  Are there aspects about her character that you find difficult to comprehend?

Reasons for selection:

This book was chosen for one of our class’s book discussion selections.  I listened to it thinking that I might not be able to get into it by reading the print version due to the pace of the story (an assumption).  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and found myself intrigued by the story and wondering how Chevalier was going to effectively bring all the pieces together.

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Quesadillas

  3W, 3H

Villalobos, Juan Pablo, (c. 2012). Quesadillas.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 168 pages, $14.99 (pbk)

ISBN  978-0-374-53395-3

Reviews:

New York Times, The Guardian

Annotation:

Orestes, one of seven children in 1980’s Mexico, tells of his adventures as he escapes the boredom and upheaval of a fraudulent society.

Summary:  

In the Jalisco region of Mexico in the 1980’s, thirteen year old Orestes, or Oreo, grew up in a large family surrounded by political fraud, political upheaval, out of control inflation and rich Polish neighbors.  His father, a high school teacher, was a “professional insulter” who shouted at the television whenever any politicians were attempting to make a point and his mother dutifully fed the seven children, constantly grilling quesadillas for the family meals.  Oreo is an opportunist that knows that life is not dished out with equal fairness.  He was “well aware of the roller coaster that was the national economy due to the fluctuating thickness of the quesadillas (his) mother served at home.” (p. 9)

Oreo steals from his rich neighbor to embark on a journey where with the help of a “red-buttoned clicker”, he is able to support himself and relish the independence of not being the second oldest or part of a large family.  But he decides to go back where he must own up to his wrong-doings and suffer the consequences for stealing by working for the neighbor.  Oreo’s adventures are punctuated with sadness, sarcasm and a bit of awe for the audacity of existence that was seen as normal life in Mexico.

Evaluation:

This story takes off with a bang and never stops.  Thoroughly enjoyable if you like satire with a punch.  Villalobos does not hold back when it comes to recalling life in Mexico where the distinction between the poor, poorer and very poor were not that different from the middle class.  Oreo is a typical thirteen year old who enjoys poetry (thanks to his father the teacher), is not a push over (thanks to his oldest brother) and sees his surroundings as nothing more than a never-ending bad joke and landscape of survival where you can not ignore the opportunities.  If you enjoy Christopher Moore you will definitely enjoy Villalobos.

Genre/Subgenre:

Satire

Readalikes:

Modelo Antiguo by Luis Enduardo Reyes.  Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Book Discussion Questions:

Villalobos uses quesadillas both literally and figuratively.  How does he work both into Oreo’s story?

Which is your favorite sub-character and why?

Why do you think Villalobos chose cow semination as the Pole’s profession that Oreo has to learn?

Reasons for selection:

I found this selection on the Shelf Awareness newsletter and thought I’d give it a try.  I enjoy humor, especially satire, and have not read many stories based in Mexico.  Villalobos is a great find and I look forward to reading his other works.

Favorite line:

“After paying the bill, my father showed me the total on the receipt;  it had seven figures.  He told me I was going to pay him back this amount, that I would have to find myself a job….Since he didn’t mention indexing the balance for inflation, it was a steal.  All I had to do was wait a couple of weeks for the currency to be devalued 8,000 per cent and I’d pay him back.” (p.99)

The Sisters Brothers

  4W, 4H

deWitt, Patrick,  (c.2011). The Sisters Brothers. Ecco/Harper Collins. 328 pages. $34.99.

ISBN #:  978-00620412865

Reviews:     The BookScore; compiled reviews and scores

Annotation:  

It’s the 1850’s in California. The notorious Sisters’ brothers are on a job to kill Hermann Warm.  But does he really deserve to die?

Summary:  

Eli and Charlie Sisters work for the Commodore, a powerful man in the Oregon territory who has given them the job of killing Hermann Kermit Warm.  But Hermann isn’t so easy to kill and the brothers find themselves traveling to California in the midst of the Gold Rush.  Eli, not as enamored with killing and whiskey as his brother, questions his profession and the reasons they are doing it.  Full of quirky characters, violent exchanges and heartwarming realizations, this western transports the reader onto the trails of the old west and the choices made in a world without many laws.

Evaluation:

This book is wonderfully written in a spare and gritty style from the point of view of the younger brother, Eli Sister who is questioning his purpose in life as he follows his brother Charlie to complete a job.  At times immensely humorous, the narrative captures the thoughts and observations of a young man caught up in a violent world.  This is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure that might leave you a little saddle sore from not being able to put it down.  And hats off to the designer, Suet Yee Chong, who’s unique style adds to overall appeal of this western.

Genre/Subgenre:

Western

Readalikes:

The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent.  True Grit by Charles Portis

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Out of all the offbeat characters that the brothers meet on their travels do you have a favorite, is one more memorable than another?

2. The novel is full of gems of wisdom as “little victories” from Eli’s mother and from Eli.  What is your favorite observation or bit of wisdom in the novel?

3.  Several odd characters have an impact on the story, including the weeping man, the witch, and the poisonous little girl. What is their function in the story?

Reasons for selection:

The novel was chosen as one of our Book Discussion selections.  I’m so glad it was.  A truly great read and I’m looking forward to the discussion.

Favorite line:

“I (Eli) thought of this twitching prospector and the chicken-holding prospector and the dead, headless prospector and said, ‘It would seem to me that the solitude of working in the wilds is not healthy for a man.'” (p. 230)

The Good Lord Bird

GLB  4W, 4H  —  Audio Book

McBride, James. (p.2014, c.2013). The Good Lord Bird. Penguin Audio. 12 audio discs (14 hr., 36 min.). $59.99.  Read by Michael Boatman.

ISBN #: 9781624067105

Reviews:    New York Times Book Review    NPR article

Annotation:  

This fictional memoir tells the adventures of a slave boy, mistaken for a girl, who runs with Abolitionist John Brown, from Kansas to Harper’s Ferry.

Summary:  

Henry Shackleford narrates the tale of his days in 1857 Kansas Territory when he was kidnapped by the notorious Abolitionist John Brown, mistaken for a girl and unintentionally became John Brown’s good luck charm nicknamed Little Onion.  Realizing that he had better chances of survival maintaining his identity as a girl, Little Onion’s adventures with John Brown’s army spans 2 years, taking him from Kansas to Missouri to Canada and ultimately to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859.  And although the horror of slavery is apparent, McBride relates it through the eyes of an older Henry Shackleford who was caught up in the adventure while growing up midst all the chaos and uncertainty that plagued the country at that time.

Evaluation:

Michael Boatman skillfully brings to life the characters that James McBride created to tell the story of John Brown’s notorious army and bloody drive to eradicate freedom for the slaves.  Humor and a wide-eyed,  naive outlook, as only a 12 year old slave boy could have, bring this story to life and captures the brutality, turmoil and confusion in these pre-Civil War days.  Reminiscent of Mark Twain, McBride’s writing allows Boatman to use the diction and vocabulary of the 1850’s to effectively represent each character.  John Brown’s affinity for prayer and quoting the bible are well represented in this presentation leaving the listener with a clear picture of the Abolitionist and the mission on which he believed God had sent him.  Little Onion’s forays into saloon life, gathering up an army, avoiding romantic interludes and learning about life as a girl through a boy’s eyes keeps the reader engaged and eager for more.  A definite addition to any collection.

Genre/Subgenre:

Historical Fiction/Western

Readalikes:

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks, Flash for Freedom by George MacDonald Fraser

Awards/Lists:

National Book Award for Fiction – 2013

New York Times Bestseller List

A Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Oprah Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year

Book Discussion Questions:

What is your favorite “Onionism” when he/she describes John Brown?

How did you react to the language/colloquialism of the book?  Was it difficult to follow, believable, kept you entertained?

How does the Prologue set the tone for the book?

Why do you think James McBride chose this title for the story?

Reasons for selection:

This was part of Nancy Pearl’s 2013 “Books That Make Great Gifts” ALA presentation.  She described it as being a western, a genre I hadn’t picked up in a while.  I was intrigued with the idea of learning more about John Brown and I’m so glad that I chose it.