Book Review and Giveaway: Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

March 9, 2010

I’m so excited to be giving away a copy of Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb. I reviewed it here a year ago when it came out in hardbound format, and I really believe it’s a delightful book for mother-daughter book clubs to read. Today, to celebrate one year in print and the release of Autumn Winifred Oliver in paperback, the author is celebrating by giving away one signed copy of her book in paperback to a reader here at Mother Daughter Book Club. Just leave a comment after the review, and you’ll be entered into the drawing. The giveaway ends at midnight, Pacific Standard Time this Friday, March 12, 2010 and it is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. (Please note: the giveaway is closed.) Here’s the review:

Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

Autumn Winifred Oliver has a lot going on for an 11-year-old living in the tiny, mountain settlement of Cades Cove, Tennessee. She’s waiting to move with her mom and big sister Katie to Knoxville, where her dad already lives and works. She’ll miss the beautiful mountains she lives in, but in the 1930s the “big city” offers the allure of indoor plumbing, movie theaters and automobiles, all nearly non-existent in her neck of the woods. Everybody says she does things different, and she keeps reminding herself of that as she gets herself in and out of several pickles.

First, she hears the church bells toll her reputed death—they always toll the number of years for the recently departed, and she’s the only one around who is 11 when she hears them ring. Then she finds out her grandpa almost died, and her mom has decided Knoxville can wait while she moves into his cabin in the woods to help care for him.

There’s also more activity than usual in Cades Cove, a settlement that’s totally cut off from the outside world each winter when the only road in gets covered in snow. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is being created right on the edge of town, and everyone is abuzz about raking in money from tourists. But Autumn Winifred Oliver suspects that everything is not as it seems with the park, and she won’t rest until she finds out the real story.

Autumn is a delightful character with a down to earth voice, and through her eyes we see the beauty of the mountains, streams, and countryside around her home. She is placed within the real story of Cades Cove, Tennessee, and the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll be charmed by the  folk tales, old-time remedies and superstitions woven seamlessly by author Kristin O’Donnell Tubb throughout the story. This is Tubb’s debut novel, and I hope to see more books from her in the years to come. Moms and daughters alike will fall in love with Autumn and her way of looking at the world. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged nine and up.


Book Review: Beautiful Dead, Book 1—Jonas by Eden Maguire

March 8, 2010

Darina can hardly believe her eyes when she stumbles upon a gathering in an old barn near an abandoned home way out of town. Drawn to the area because of tales around town of strange sightings there, she is shocked to see Phoenix, her recently dead boyfriend, and three other teens from town who have died in the last year, looking very much alive. An older man is with them, and Darina runs when she thinks he’s about to discover her. But the possibility that Phoenix may still alive draws her back to learn the truth—they are all dead and brought back to earth by Hunter, who protects them. They all have unfinished business to set right before they can rest.

Beautiful Dead, Book 1—Jonas is the first in a new series by Eden Maguire. It imagines a realm where the dead can return, commune with the living, and solve a mystery surrounding their deaths. Anyone living who discovers them has his memory of the event wiped away. Except for Darina. Her strong connection with Phoenix, and her promise to help the group find the answers they’re looking for makes her a vital accomplice. She is under a strict vow of silence about what she knows.

Beautiful Dead is full of complex, conflicting relationships. Darina feels ostracized at home because she doesn’t get along with her stepfather. Caught in the middle, Darina’s mother mostly frets about the right thing to do. Darina is befriended by Phoenix’s brother, who has promised to look after her. But many in town question his motives. Darina’s old friends aren’t sure if they can trust her, and some lash out as she pulls away from them to keep her secret.

As the story evolves, we find that Darina must help each of the Beautiful Dead find out the mystery surrounding his or her death. The first is Jonas, who has been dead the longest. While Darina looks deeper into what happened the day he crashed his motorcycle, she must also deal with the grief, anguish and confusion of those closest to Jonas. And the outrage of one who has something to hide.

Beautiful Dead is imaginative and intriguing. Issues to talk about in a book group include personal feelings of spirituality and what happens after death, the bond between dating teens, jealousy, and mother-daughter relationships. While I found the descriptions of the rules that existed for the beautiful dead the least compelling part of the book, I was able to read past those and enjoy the mystery and the story enough to look forward to reading the second in the series.

Read an excerpt from the first chapter and learn more about the author at the Beautiful Dead page at Teen Fire.


Book Review: Lips Touch, Three Times by Laini Taylor and Jim Di Bartolo

February 26, 2010

The kisses in Lips Touch, Three Times are not the absent-minded pecks on the cheek, expressions of friendship kinds of kisses. The kisses in these stories are sometimes shy, but also passionate, desperate, and full of longing and expectation. They celebrate life, and they herald death. They are not for the weak of spirit.

Lips Touch, Three Times is written and illustrated by the husband and wife team, Laini Taylor and Jim Di Bartolo. Each of the three stories creates a rich fantasy world that pulls you in so completely you may have difficulty re-entering reality when you put it down.

The stories build in length and complexity. The first, “Goblin Fruit,” is a short piece about Kizzy, a girl who so longs to be kissed, she becomes prey for the goblins. Can the spirit of her grandmother and stories of girls lost before her save Kizzy from the goblin’s kiss?

“Spicy Little Curses Such as These” takes the reader to India, where Estella, an Englishwoman, enters the realm of the dead every day to bargain with a demon for the souls of dead children. The deals she strikes promises an exchange of one soul of a corrupted adult for each child’s soul returned to the land of the living. When an earthquake claims the lives of many children, Estella is able to strike a deal that brings them all back. The price she must pay is to put a curse on a newborn baby girl named Anamique, a curse that will keep her silent or condemn those around her to death. When Anamique grows up, the love of a soldier tests her ability to maintain her silence and protect the life of her love as well as that of her family.

“Hatchling” is the most elaborate and inventive tale of all, creating a world of immortals, the Druj, who long for something they can almost remember having in their now forgotten past. To while away their time they keep girls as pets, casting them off when they grow to be women. Esme and her mother Mab have escaped from Mab’s cage and lived in hiding for fourteen years when Esme’s brown eye turns blue and their entire world turns upside down. With the help of Mihai, a Druj outcast, they hope to rid themselves of the Druj queen forever.

In each story, Di Bartolo’s color illustrations beautifully enhance Taylor’s evocative words to help the tales come alive. Even non-fantasy lovers should find the stories compelling. Topics to discuss include the nature of longing, maintaining self-respect while falling in love, and having the courage to create the life you want to live. Lips Touch is a 2009 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school and all readers over 14.


Book Review: — Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When by Annette Laing

January 26, 2010

When Hannah and Alex move to Snipesville, Georgia from San Francisco with their father they are incredibly bored and somewhat resentful. Their mother has died in a car accident, and when they leave California they also leave their grandparents behind. But their dad says he’s being transferred, so off they go to an area of the country totally alien to them.

To occupy their time, their dad enrolls them in summer camps at the local community college, which is where they meet Brandon. None of the kids really wants to be in the camp they signed up for, so they sneak away and hide out in the library. But something odd happens when they leave to go home. The community college buildings disappear, their clothes change, and they suddenly find themselves outside of London during World War II. Mistaken for children being sent by their parents to the countryside to escape London’s bombings, they find an ally in a woman they recognize as a professor at the community college they just left.

So begins the adventures in Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When, Book 1 of The Snipesville Chronicles by Annette Laing. Hannah and Alex are billeted with a local couple who don’t seem happy to have them. Brandon, who is black, ends up being singled out and runs away, then taken to London by Mr. Smedley, who is with the Ministry of Health. When London is bombed, Brandon ends up going even further back in time to 1915 and the days of World War I.

These time traveling kids are lucky: their clothes and accents change and they have money in their pockets. So while their sensibilities are modern, they don’t stick out right away. The professor occasionally shows up to check on them, and she gives them clues about tasks they need to complete before they can go home. Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When is like The Magic Tree House for older readers in some ways. A clue to a former time shows up in their current lives, and suddenly they are transported back to that time to solve a mystery.

I really liked Alex and Brandon’s characters. They were smart and inquisitive, and while they occasionally slipped up and said things that didn’t fit with their times, they were always aware of their mistakes. Hannah was hard for me to like as a character. She didn’t exhibit much curiosity about the time or place she was in, and she didn’t care if the things she said were out of time and place. But I suspect that kids reading this books wouldn’t have the same concerns about Hannah that I did. I think girls and boys aged 9 to 12 are more likely to see this is an adventure and happily read about what all three kids experienced when they went back in time.

Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When gives a great sense of the people of wartime England. The kids realize that while they know Hitler eventually loses, the people around them don’t know that. The bombings and shortages and insecurity everyone feels are very real. Mother-daughter book clubs that read this book can talk about the historical time period as well as the fantasy of time travel.


New Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

January 19, 2010

The summer of Calpurnia Virginia Tate’s 11th birthday was a hot one. Everyone in her large family suffered from the heat in their Fentress, Texas home, but as Calpurnia was the only girl in a family of seven children, she also found freedom during afternoon naptime. That’s when she stole away from her room and down to the river, where she floated dreamily in the cool water.

During her outings away from the noise of having six brothers, Calpurnia discovers the natural world and starts making observations about it in her notebook. She also screws up her courage to talk to her grandfather, a shadowy figure who spends most of his time by himself caught up in reading or scientific experiments. But when her grandfather discovers that Calpurnia’s interest is genuine, he begins to include her in his experiments and observations. When they believe they discover a new species of vetch, they send it in to the Smithsonian for judgment.

Calpurnia’s activities with her grandfather brings up a conflict with Calpurnia’s mother, who believes that in the year 1899 girls must prepare to be women who run households, and nothing more. That means cooking, sewing, knitting and tatting, all occupations Calpurnia abhors. As she struggles to follow her heart’s desire, Calpurnia must discover if there are options for women in her time who have interests other than the domestic.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is historical fiction that reveals turn-of-the-last-century times in rural Texas. It was a time not very far removed from the Civil War, and Calpurnia’s grandfather as well as many others in town fought in the war. The Tate family farms cotton, and they are wealthy by the standards of most people in town. They have a housekeeper and a cook as well as regular farm hands, and while the children have daily chores, they don’t have the responsibility of making the farm productive.

This was also a time when Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species was making an impact. It had been published for about 50 years, but his conclusions were still hotly debated, and as Calpurnia found out, some libraries refused to carry copies of the book. Each chapter begins with a quote from Darwin that’s applicable to the action to come. As the book progresses, Calpurnia grows in her ability to understand the people and the world around her through observations made with a microscope and her regular vision.

This book is sure to delight mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 and up. Discussions can center on the differences between life for girls and women in 1899 versus life now, living up to the expectations of your parents versus following your heart, and scientific experiences. Girls may even find inspiration for a school science project, and groups can even tie in craft or sewing projects. I highly recommend it.


Book Review: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

January 4, 2010

In the mid-1990s Neil White defrauded creditors out of their money and was sentenced to spend time in a federal minimum-security prison. He recounts his time spent in that prison in his memoir, In The Sanctuary of Outcasts, which gives the reader a glimpse into two societies shut off from the mainstream: prisoners and leprosy patients. The story fascinates from the start, when White tells of his wife dropping him off at the prison gatehouse. He is early, and he has to wait to be checked in. Everything about his check-in procedure is designed to let him know the rules from outside no longer apply, and he is not in charge of his daily activities. White is strip searched, assigned a room, and given a job. He has no door on his room, no privacy, and he learns not to offer to shake hands with the guards. He also soon finds out that the prisoners are housed alongside Hansen’s Disease patients, more commonly known at lepers, and he must work serving them in the cafeteria.

Through White’s account we learn the history of the leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, a facility that started in the late 1800s as a place to isolate those with the disease. While Hansen’s Disease can now be treated in a physician’s office and patients are no longer isolated, those living at Carville predated treatment, and many remained at the facility even after it was no longer necessary for them to stay. Most had been there for half a century or more, and they had no other place to go.

At first White reacts as much of society has always reacted to these patients: he doesn’t want to breathe the air they breathe, touch them, or eat food they have been around. He is afraid he will catch leprosy, turning his short prison sentence into one with consequences for the rest of his life. Gradually, he learns he has nothing to fear. He begins to seek their company whenever possible, and the lessons he learns from them help him find redemption for his own crimes and misdeeds.

Through White’s eyes we also see the other prisoners serving time with him, a hodge podge of criminals who include doctors, lawyers and accountants as well as drug dealers and robbers. This bizarre co-existing of prisoners and patients came about as the federal government tried to decide what to do with the facility at Carville.

Only White can answer whether he truly found redemption and learned to change his self-destructing habits for good. But his story of others who have learned to find grace and lead happy, productive lives despite being cut off from families and ostracized from the rest of society is inspiring as well as informative.

I had the chance to glimpse the inside of Carville myself when I was in college in 1980 and interviewed a patient who was editor of the newspaper the colony produced. I’ll never forget the feeling I had of a place that had been both sanctuary and prison for the patients. White captures the place well, and in writing about it, sheds a bit more light on this little known piece of American history that should not be forgotten. I highly recommend it.


Book Review: Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose by Diana Leszczynski

December 18, 2009

Both of Fern’s parents, Olivier and Lily, are world-famous botanists. In fact, Lily’s uncanny ability to help nearly extinct species keeps her constantly on the go to exotic locations. But Fern isn’t happy always playing second fiddle to plants. For many years she has wanted nothing to do with nature and the outdoors.

That’s especially true once her parents move to the fictional town of Nedlaw (a play on Walden?), Oregon, where Fern feels out of place among the more glamorous students with cosmopolitan working mothers at her school. She’s downright embarrassed by her mother’s clothes, and the fact that her hair always seems to be a bit wild. So when Lily leaves on another trip to help another plant, Fern doesn’t even say goodbye—something she regrets when Lily disappears and is presumed dead.

Soon, though, Fern discovers that she shares a gift her mother passed down to her. Plants can talk to her, and she can talk back. She finds out that her mother is alive, being held captive in a cave somewhere far away by an evil man who wants to manipulate her gift. How will Fern find her, especially when her father has her committed to an institution after he sees her conversing with a willow tree? And how can she make anyone understand her certainty that her mother is still alive, when she can’t tell anyone about her ability to communicate with plants without losing her gift?

Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose by Diana Leszczynski recounts Fern’s adventures as she seeks to save her mother and nurture her blossoming gift. Her travels find her in the clutches of a deranged psychiatrist who hates children, and on a boat at sea with a group of orphans. During her search she is both hastened and hindered from reaching her destination by members of the plant world. Along for the ride is a single petal from the silver rose Fern’s mother was helping when she was kidnapped.

There’s a strong message of respecting nature and all it has to offer, and the book won the 2009 Green Earth Book Award Honor. To be certain, there are many “green” messages, but Fern Verdant doesn’t feel at all preachy as it shows Fern learning how to use her talent for good.

You’ll be happy to accompany Lily on her quest to find her mother, be reunited with her father, help the orphans and save the silver rose. While girls aged 9 to 12 will enjoy Fern’s adventures, their mothers can also appreciate how Leszczynski pokes fun at many aspects of the adult world, including psychiatrists, psychiatric facilities, lifeguards, spy agencies and scientists who may be too smart for their own good. Moms may also be able to prompt discussion of why teen girls often get embarrassed to be seen with their moms, and how moms and daughters can learn to appreciate the things that are important to each of them.