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.

Frozen In Time

   3W, 3H  (audio)

Zuckoff, Mitchell, (c. 2013). Frozen In Time.  Harper Collins Publisher. 8 discs (9 hours), $34.19.  Read by Mitchell Zuckoff.

ISBN  978-0-0622-8344-3

Reviews:

Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor

Annotation:

A true-life adventure about a WW II cargo plane that crashed into the Greenland ice cap and the rescue attempts that stranded the crewmen for 148 days.

Summary:  

In November of 1942, a cargo plane crashed into the Greenland ice cap trapping the survivors in Arctic Winter conditions surrounded by innumerable fissures overlaid with precarious ice bridges.  Many were killed on impact, one fell through an ice bridge never to be seen again and yet another watched as his feet turned black from frostbite. Zuckoff’s gripping tale, written from historical documents and interviews with those who were part of the efforts, captures the heroic efforts and frustrations surrounding this event that gripped the nation for a short period of time but then was forgotten.

Zuckhoff, a successful journalist with a previous published success, joins the 2012 expedition undertaken to recover the cargo plane and the remains of the crew that still lay under ice 70 years later.  His personal adventure is intertwined with the events of the original crash which generated two rescue attempts; the first attempt crashed with all nine crew members surviving and the second attempt simply vanished.

Evaluation:

Zuckhoff writes with a clean style, clearly describing both the harsh landscape and the important technical details involved in both the early rescue attempts and then the current day recovery mission.  The introduction explains how he found this story by searching through World War II era newspapers to find reports of incidents that captured the headlines but then faded away.  He successfully brings his words to life (he is also the reader for the audiobook) and it is apparent the passion he feels for those that survived and those that tragically died.  With so many heroic tales generated from the war, it is always a wonder that the drama behind such a situation has only recently been dug up and shared with the world.

Genre/Subgenre:

Non-Fiction/Historical

Awards:

School Library Journal’s Adult Books 4 Teens – 2013

Readalikes:

Vanished by Wil S. Hylton.  Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado.

Book Discussion Questions:

How did the intertwining of past and present work to make the story more (or less) appealing?

What do you think of the story?  Were there parts that slowed down the momentum?

Did Zuckoff effectively remove himself from the narrative even though he was a part of it?

Reasons for selection:

I need to expand my very limited knowledge of readable non-fiction and I thought this would be a good place to start.  Although it is highly rated and I do enjoy tales about World War II, I just could not get into the story.  That’s not to say that it won’t be a great read for those history and airplane buffs.  Personally, I need more character building and less technical description.

The Reader

  4W, 3H

Schlink, Bernhard. (p.1995). The Reader. New York; Vintage Books. 218 pages. $13.95 pbk.

ISBN #: 978-0-307-45489-8

Reviews:

New York Times, Bestsellers

Annotation:  

Young Michael Berg has a passionate affair with Hanna, an older woman, only realizing her true past when she is charged with a heinous crime.

Summary:  

Fifteen year old Michael Berg meets Hanna, a woman twice his age, when he gets sick outside her tenement building on his way home from school.  When he returns months later to thank her for her kindness, a love affair begins.  For reasons known only to Hanna, she disappears.  Michael does not cross paths with her again until ten years later when she is in court on charges of war crimes committed as an SS Officer.

Part I of the story is a sexual feast as experienced by a 15 year old young man who has captured the interest of an older woman.  The guilt and confusion that inevitably build from the relationship affects Michael throughout the novel.  Part II, ten years later, takes the story through the trial where Michael is faced with the truth of Hannah.  Part III allows for the adult Michael to dissect his experiences and attempt to find meaning and justification not just for his actions but also for the actions of those Germans who are still dealing with the horrors of the previous generation.

Evaluation:

Narrated in the first person, The Reader is a complex, beautifully written story that explores German society post World War II through the eyes of a young man.  Michael’s character is simultaneously questioning and accepting of the events surrounding him ultimately shaped by his affair with Hanna, a woman he really never knew.  Although some may find the subject and situations objectionable (i.e. the affair of a fifteen year old boy with a 35 year old woman), the characters portrayed are dealing with issues pertinent to the era that many may not have even considered.   The writing is compelling and almost lyrical.  It enhances the narrator’s inner turmoil as the story unfolds.

Genre/Subgenre:

Adult Fiction

Readalikes:

 Beatrice and Virgil by Yan Martel

Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

 Awards/Lists:

New York Times Notable Books-Fiction and Poetry – 1997

Oprah’s Book Club – 1999

Book Discussion Questions

Do you think The Reader is a love story? How would you describe Michael and Hanna’s relationship?

“So what would you have done?” (p. 111)  How would you respond to this question posed by Hanna to the judge?

Do you think their is a connection between literacy and morality? Do you think Schlink is suggesting such a connection?

Reasons for selection:

The Reader is a well-known novel later made into a movie starring Kate Winslet.  When I told a librarian about my RA project and need for a variety of literature, she recommended this book to me.  I’m glad she did.  It was not something I would have normally picked up but I was drawn into the story from the start.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows

I am half-sick of shadows: a Flavia de Luce novel    4W, 4H

Bradley, Alan. (2011).  I am Half-Sick of Shadows.  New York: Delacorte Press. 320 pages.  $17.99.

ISBN  978-0385344012.

Reviews: 

National Post Review;  The Globe and Mail

Annotation:  

Flavia de Luce, a precocious 11 year old, puts her sleuthing skills to the test when a famous actress is murdered at the family estate.

Summary:  

It’s a few days before Christmas in Bishop Lacey, a fictional village in post World War II England.  As outlined in previous novels, the de Luce’s have financial troubles so to help bring in more money, Flavia’s widowed father, Colonel de Luce, has rented out the family estate, Buckshaw, to a film crew.  The famous actress Phyllis Wyvern will be starring in the film and while all the household is starstruck, it is Flavia that earns her trust.  In the middle of a snow storm that strands the majority of the villagers at the estate, Flavia discovers that Phyllis Wyvern has been murdered.   And although the local police do not always appreciate her help, there is a grudging admiration for her sly and effective ways of always putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Evaluation:

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels always deliver.  The appeal of these books lies in the unique 11 year old perspective that is delivered through the precocious and adventurous eyes of Flavia.  She is the youngest of three girls whose widowed father has detached himself from the world through stamp collection and the older sisters are a constant source of irritation.  Yet Flavia’s keen determination for the truth drives this independent child into situations normally avoided by children her age and most adults for that matter.  And while she is helping to put together the clues of the murder, she is bound and determined to prove her sisters wrong by developing a plan to “capture” Father Christmas on the roof of Buckshaw before he has a chance to get down the chimney.  In true Flavia style, both mysteries are solved simultaneously with impressive energy.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

A fatal grace by Louise Penny

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

Book Discussion Questions:

How did Flavia put her chemistry passion to use in this novel?  What has been your favorite use of chemical observations in this series?

Bradley dives deeper into the de Luce family relationships with each novel.  How are Flavia’s observations of her family changing?

At the beginning of the novel, we are in the midst of Flavia’s dream.  How does the dream define Flavia?

Reasons for selection:

This is the 4th novel in the Flavia de Luce series and I have opened every one with great anticipation.  Flavia was introduced to me by a long-time Adult Services librarian who sensed my appreciation for mystery, wit and the cozy feel of the English countryside.  Perhaps this is Harriet the Spy with an even greater IQ and a lot of access.  After all, not every child has their own fully operational chemistry lab!

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.