Tag Archives: historical

The Devil’s Paintbox: racism, poverty, war, and alcoholism

devilspaintbox The Devil’s Paintbox, by Victoria McKernan, is a historical fiction novel that takes place just after the American Civil War.  The story follows Aiden Lynch, a 16-year-old boy, and his journey with his sister to from Kansas to Seattle on an Oregon Trail wagon train.

During the course of his journey, he meets a tribe of Native Americans who are threatened by smallpox, or the Devil’s paintbox.  This book paints a clear picture of life out west, especially the absurd juxtaposition of the defeat of slavery with the callous disregard for the Native people. McKernan does not glorify the time period at all, but the book always avoids becoming overly dark or depressing, even when things are at their bleakest. Continue reading

Spooky Books for Brave Readers

Like scary stuff? Or maybe you think you want to try it out? Here’s a few books to get you started!

hangmansdaughterThe Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch is the first I will recommend.  It’s scary, but not too scary.  Originally written in German, this book takes place in a small Bavarian town in the mid-1600s.  A boy, near death, is pulled from a river by local hangman Jakob Kuisl and is found to have the symbol of Venus on his back. The panicked people of the town are convinced that the murderer must be practicing witchcraft and that the town’s midwife is obviously to blame.  Kuisl is forced to arrest the midwife, whom he his sure is innocent, and only has a short amount of time before he will have to be the one to execute her unless proof of a different killer is found.  As Kuisl, his daughter, and the local physician’s son race against the clock to solve a murder mystery, they find that the true killers may be bewitched by a different type of dark magic: greed.

mistress of the art of death coverNext is Mistress of the Art of Death by Diana Norman (pen name Ariana Franklin).  This story is very similar to The Hangman’s Daughter but is much more suspenseful and violent (mature readers only, please!).  Adelia Aguilar, an Italian educated doctor who specializes in autopsies, is hired by the King of England to join a Jewish knight and a Muslim assistant to prove that a series of child murders in Medieval-era Cambridge are not the acts of the Jewish residents of the town.  Adelia faces challenge after challenge as a female doctor who must keep her tasks and theories under wraps.  As Adelia and her companions investigate the killings, they find that the King has a deeper connection to the deaths than just a threatened economy and that the murderer is highly aware of the investigation against him.

american elsewhere coverFinally, American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett.  This is completely and totally different from the other two books I have recommended as it is a thriller, but also definitely science fiction, and set in modern times.  In the small town of Wink, New Mexico, something strange is happening.  Having always been the perfect, suburban town just a little too far off the map, Wink does not draw much attention.  But now that Texas native Mona Bright has inherited her mother’s home (who committed suicide when Mona was a child) she finds that not everything is as it seems in Wink.  Using her detective skills, Mona starts to uncover the town’s secrets and realizes that something big is happening.  Soon.  And she is in the middle of it. Very well written and wonderfully suspenseful, American Elsewhere is a good read for any sci-fi fan who wants something just a little spookier.

Bonus title: If you’d like to take it a step further, another great sci-fi/thriller novel is The Taking by Dean Koontz.the taking cover

Brooke, 17, Magnolia


Usagi Yojimbo: Wandering Bunny Samurai Bodyguard

Title: Usagi Yojimbo

Author: Stan Sakai

Summary: Bunny wandering samurai bodyguard is generally epic, feudal Japan with animal-people.

Gut reaction: Feudal Japan, samurai, animals, episodic

Why: Basically, it’s your typical samurai story – a mysterious and powerful wandering samurai does stuff with morals, has money problems, and beats up bad guys, except Usagi has animals. Usagi Yojimbo means bunny bodyguard, and the titular character is literally a rabbit with armor and a sword. Other than that, it’s an OK if slightly unrealistic period piece.

Who would like this book: Sengoku fans, animal fans, samurai fans. I’ll read until I get bored with it, which probably won’t happen.

–Lexie, 15, West Seattle


Books to Read in your Life Time

Books to Read in Your Life Time: Interesting and thought-provoking reads

Below I have listed four book titles, explained the basic plot, and shared their significance to me. However, the order of this list doesn’t reflect their individual importance!

1. Mother to Mother by Sindiwe Magona
Mother to MotherMother to Mother is a historical novel that’s centered on the Apartheid in South Africa during the later years of the event from 1984 to 1994. The Apartheid is astonishingly not common knowledge among people. The Apartheid is a word that comes from Afrikaans (a language of South Africa) which means “the state of being apart”. The nearly decade long duration took a major toll on the people of this once un-oppressed country. The event began when Africans lost rights that they’d became accustom to in their own country due to a British/European invasion. The book depicts the horrors of what that tine period was like in a first-person look at a murder brought on by anger and fear—only through this book can you sympathize with both the oppressed and rejoice with those who attempt to end this state of tyranny so vividly. I believe that the reason this book connected with me was due to the fact that it spoke to a historical event in an honest and ominously relatable way.

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby is a book that takes place in the 1920’s—the Roaring Twenties. The time of the Twenties was primarily spent in great wealth and luxurious partying due to its location in history—after a major war. Through the friendship between Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway we’re able to see both the beauty and hardships of living the “American dream” of wealth, women and popularity. Gatsby is a millionaire with a mystery which Nick is curious to unfold. The secret is reveled that Gatsby remains in love with a re-married woman, all of his wealth and actions are in hope of getting her back. As Nick begins to become closer to Gatsby he realized the loneliness Gatsby feels for he is a man of wealth but no one to see that his best interests are within sight. Consequently, Gatsby can come off as cold or unwelcoming yet as the plot unravels, he grows as a character. I believe that this book was one that stood out to me because of the historical flairs as well as the never-ending hope of Gatsby until the very end—however, Fitzgerald likewise shows the ugliness of society at points, too. Continue reading

Cracking the Hub: Trinity, Prom & Prejudice, Spiderman

I finished The Hub Challenge  just before the deadline.  The sixteenth book I read for the Challenge was Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm.
Unsurprisingly, Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb is on the list of 2013 Great Graphic Novels for Teens. This is a history of the first atomic bomb in graphic novel format. The author does an amazing job of explaining some of the science behind the bomb. What I found most interesting though was how through the graphic novel you could see how the scientists just wanted to see if something COULD be done, but after the bomb was used, started to ponder whether it SHOULD have been done.
Verdict – the excellent graphics and writing explain in a simple way the science behind the atomic bomb.  This is one book that shouldn’t be missed. Continue reading

Book Shorts: Code Name Verity

Code Name VerityTitle:  Code Name Verity

Author:  Elizabeth Wein

Summary:  In 1943, a British fighter plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France and the survivor tells a tale of friendship, war, espionage, and great courage as she relates what she must to survive while keeping secret all that she can.

I started reading it because…I had read some nonfiction about World War II and wanted to read fiction about that era.  Plus I love spy stories!

I kept reading because… It is a thrilling story of the friendship, courage and bravery of two women – a pilot and a spy – in the midst of the brutality of Nazi-occupied France.

Main character(s): If they were in a yearbook, they would be voted Most Likely To:  Win the Medal of Bravery.

Six Word Recap: Friendship amid war, espionage, and Nazis.

This book reminded me of Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin because it has many of the same elements: World War II, spies, and a thrilling story. It also reminds me of Silverfin: a James Bond Adventure by Charlie Higson because of the spy element.

Websites of interest:  Code Name Verity book trailer

Book Shorts: Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls

Title:  Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls

Author:  Mary Downing Hahn

Summary:  Narrated from several different perspectives, tells the story of the 1956 murder of two teenaged girls in suburban Baltimore, Maryland.

I started reading it because… I read an interview with the author, Hahn, who said she based this story on a real life event that happened to her growing up.  Two teenage girls murdered in her small town caused no end of speculation and fear.

I kept reading because…  the suspense surrounding the murders and the escalation of events that seemed to overtake the townspeople in accusing the ex-boyfriend in order to neatly solve the crime, were masterfully written.

Main character(s): If they were in a yearbook, they would be voted Most Likely To: be 1950’s Normal.

Six Word Recap: Two girls murdered; boyfriend wrongly accused.

This book reminded me of a People Magazine or Dateline TV murder story because of the sordid details and the drama of the suspected but not charged boyfriend. The narrator, Nora, who knows all the players in this mystery, must work through her grief and her memories that could point to the boyfriend’s innocence.

Websites of interest: Mary Downing Hahn

Diane, Beacon Hill Librarian