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Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 236 pgs.
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Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman is fraught with gangs, poverty, and class struggle. In Todos Santos, these families barely scrape by to make a living, but even as they fail to see eye-to-eye sometimes, each strives for the dream of a comfortable life — whether that means a husband who stays home with his wife rather than his mistress or a young man seeking his fortune in North America.

Clearman’s strongest stories are the series about Concepción and the baby brokers that provides not only the perspective of a woman who sells a child, but the perspective of the broker who buys children, the parents who search for their lost child, and the parents from North America who are desperate to have a family. This series is so emotionally charged and convoluted, but it’s easy to see that there is always more than one side to a story, even if the selling of babies is abhorrent.

“‘The race is long and hard, like life,’ his grandfather had told him. ‘There is no winner. The purpose is to bear up, to survive.'” (pg. 109 from “The Race”)

Clearman breathes life into Todos Santos and its people, demonstrating that like the United States, class is an obstacle many wish to overcome to reach prosperity. While their circumstances may be reduced compared to those in the United States, their dreams are similar in terms of material wealth and familial wealth. Like many races in the United States, the the Mayan descendants are discriminated against, with the children whipped at school until they speak proper Spanish, etc.

Drawing on folklore and mythology, Clearman pays homage to a culture that is hidden in the jungles and cities of Central America. But she also follows some of these residents as they chase their dreams in America. The different walks of life represented her was interesting and engaging, though in some cases, it is hard to emotionally connect with the characters, like they are not as fleshed out as those in the first half of the stories. Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman provides a new look at a culture often overlooked or hidden in literature.

RATING: Tercet

Photo credit Douglas Chadwick

About the Author:

Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.

A Million Little Things by Susan Mallery

Source: Tandem Literary
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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A Million Little Things by Susan Mallery came unexpectedly in the mail, but my mom decided to pick it up when she was here on vacation.  She read this one in just a couple of days, and I could hear her giggling on the couch in the evenings.

About the Book:

Zoe Saldivar is more than just single—she’s ALONE. She recently broke up with her longtime boyfriend, she works from home and her best friend Jen is so obsessed with her baby that she has practically abandoned their friendship. The day Zoe accidentally traps herself in her attic with her hungry-looking cat, she realizes that it’s up to her to stop living in isolation.

Her seemingly empty life takes a sudden turn for the complicated—her first new friend is Jen’s widowed mom, Pam. The only guy to give her butterflies in a very long time is Jen’s brother. And meanwhile, Pam is being very deliberately seduced by Zoe’s own smooth-as-tequila father. Pam’s flustered, Jen’s annoyed and Zoe is beginning to think “alone” doesn’t sound so bad, after all.

Mom’s Review:

Kirk, a cop, is Jen’s husband, and they have an 18-month-old baby who refuses to talk to his own mother once he starts talking.  Stephen, Jen’s brother, likes to play the field, and Pam decides to fix him up with Zoe, who has had an off-again on-again relationship with Chad, a married man.  Add to the mix errors at a clinic where shots are given to women who want to avoid pregnancy.  You can imagine what kind of mess occurs.

Very dramatic, very serious, and a bit suspenseful as you didn’t know what was going to happen.  4 stars.

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery has entertained millions of readers with her witty and emotional stories about women. Publishers Weekly calls Susan’s prose “luscious and provocative,” and Booklist says “Novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor and superb storytelling.” Susan lives in Seattle with her husband and her tiny but intrepid toy poodle. Visit her at www.SusanMallery.com

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Caroline by Sue Barr

Source: the author
Ebook, 204 pgs.
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Caroline by Sue Barr, view her guest post, explores Caroline Bingley from a different perspective, following Mr. Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth Bennet.  What if all we thought we knew about Jane Austen’s foil to Elizabeth wasn’t completely true? What if there was more to her than we thought?

Caroline has been in love with Mr. Darcy, or at least his society position and estate, for a very long time, and when she discovers he is lost to her forever, she is devastated.  She falls to an emotional low, and while turning to music and listening to her sister’s advice, she strives to make improvements — albeit slowly.  But her relationship with her siblings is not as close as it could be, especially when she makes her feelings known to Charles.

“Caroline eyed the half-chewed sticky mass on the floor and with great determination kept a steady gaze on Louisa’s face.  Not for the first time she wished her sister would not speak with her mouth full.  In front of the wrong person, she could be mistaken for an uncouth gentlewoman, on par with Mrs. Bennet.”

In walks, Lord Nathan Kerr, Mr. Darcy’s new vicar, and he is almost immediately besotted, but like Mr. Knightley, he takes Caroline to task for her past transgressions, even some she didn’t make.  Barr creatively intertwines scripture and is never heavy handed, and she shows the gradual evolution of Caroline from social-climber to a woman who is looking for companionship, respect, and love.  She has a harsh temper, which she must learn to curb, and eventually listening to the advice of her grandmother from long ago, she’s able to seek solace and learn to quiet her frustrations and anxieties enough to see the potential before her without lamenting what can never be.

The only drawback was the convenient ending, which took away some of the redemptive qualities of the novel.  But, overall, Caroline by Sue Barr is a wonderful story about a woman in need of new direction and finds it by looking at the opportunities before her that she might have spurned not too long ago.  This fiery redhead learns a lot about herself and society perceptions along the way, leaving her little choice but to reform herself and become more open to love.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Sue Barr resides in beautiful Southwestern Ontario with her retired Air Force hubby, two sons and their families. She’s also an indentured servant to three cats and has been known to rescue a kitten or two, or three … in an attempt to keep her ‘cat-lady- in-training’ status current. Although, she has deviated from appointed path and rescued a few dogs as well.

Sue is a member of Romance Writers of America and their affiliate chapter, Love, Hope and Faith as well as American Christian Fiction Writers. For more information about her other books, visit her website, her blog, and on Pinterest, Facebook, GoodReads, and Twitter.

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Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hours
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Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella, the 8th book in this series, is narrated admirably by Clare Corbett, and believe it or not, Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) has matured a little. You really have to read Book 7 to get into this book because it picks up right where the previous book left off. (spoilers below)

Becky, her husband, Suze, and her mom are off to find Becky’s father and Suz’s husband, who have vanished. They track them down to Las Vegas, and the adventures they have are hilarious and ridiculous as they leave Los Angeles in search of them. Becky’s mother is at her wit’s end and believes her husband has another woman in his life, while Suze is determined to save her “brainwashed” husband from a gold-digging new-age coach. And it seems that Becky is the only practical and level-headed one in this bunch, at least until Becky feels her friendship with Suze is threatened by her long-time nemesis Alicia, who also happens to be along for this roadtrip.

Becky’s stint at the new age retreat in California has really gotten her thinking about her spending habits, and she’s so blocked by her guilt over the roadtrip and the disappearance of her father, that she can’t even let her friend Suze buy her a pair of cowboy boots or even spend $2.50 on a pencil. Kinsella has finally matured Becky enough to ensure readers will stick with her through this roadtrip adventure into her father’s past, and the antics and machinations of these characters will have readers agog and laughing. Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella, narrated by Clare Corbett, is pure fun, and is just what the doctor ordered in the current political climate.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

About the Author:

Madeleine Wickham is a bestselling British author under her pseudonym, Sophie Kinsella. Educated at New College, Oxford, she worked as a financial journalist before turning to fiction. She is best known for writing a popular series of chick-lit novels. The Shopaholic novels series focuses on the misadventures of Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist who cannot manage her own finances. The books follows her life from when her credit card debt first become overwhelming (“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic”) to the latest book on being married and having a child (“Shopaholic & Baby”). Throughout the entire series, her obsession with shopping and the complications that imparts on her life are central themes.

Breaking and Holding by Judy Fogarty & Giveaway

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 358 pgs.
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Breaking and Holding by Judy Fogarty is set during what some call the golden age of tennis during the late 1970s when John McEnroe was an up-and-coming star and Jimmy Connors was at the top of his game. Patricia Curren is a beautiful woman who looks as though she’s stepped off of a magazine cover and in a way, she did after her husband discovered her and used her in a rebranding campaign when she was younger. A man bent on building his business and maintaining the perfect facade through intimidation, Jack Curren will stop at nothing to get what he wants while expecting loyalty and acquiescence from those closest to him. It’s clear that his relationship with his wife is far from blissful, and something is about to break.

“This isn’t my story. It’s Patricia and Terry’s. But in the summer of 1978, their lives were wound around mine like strands of twine around a spool. Twine. Rope. Barbed wire by August.” (pg. 1)

The Curren’s take a trip to Kiawah, S.C., to their beach house, and when her husband returns to New York for work, she stays behind. She’s looking to change to become stronger, to break out of her melancholy and aloofness, and to be more like Jack’s assistant Lynn.  Here Patricia transforms into Tricia with the help of Terry, a summer camp teacher who wants to be a professional tennis player on the circuit.  Both are broken and both find that they can repair themselves through the uncomplicated love they have for one another, but the secrets they hold threaten to break apart everything.

Fogarty has created a set of deeply flawed, broken characters who must make peace with their own pasts in order to move forward.  The tennis matches mirror the volleying between Tricia and Jack, Tricia and Lynn, Jack and Lynn, and the volleys between Tricia and Terry, Terry and Baze (his friend), and Terry and Nona (a woman interested in sponsoring his pro career). Told from Lynn’s point of view, readers are pulled into the mystery of these relationships, and the tangled webs they’ve all created until they nearly strangle one another.  Each has to decide when the tipping point is and when to take a chance and go to the net for match point.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Judy Fogarty lives, writes, reads, and runs on the historic Isle of Hope, in her native Savannah, Georgia. She holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Illinois and has served as Director of Marketing for private golf and tennis communities in the Savannah/Hilton Head area, including The Landings on Skidaway Island, Berkeley Hall, and Callawassie Island. She is a devoted (even rowdy) tennis fan as anyone who has ever had the pleasure (or displeasure) of watching a match with her will attest. Breaking and Holding is her debut novel. She is happily at work on her second, and as always, enjoys the invaluable support of her husband, Mike, and children, Colin and Sara Jane. Visit her Website, Facebook, or Twitter.

To Enter for 1 copy (US/Canada addresses only; age 18+): Leave a comment about who your favorite tennis player is and an email. Enter by March 22, 2017, at 11:59 PM EST.

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My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, narrated by Fiona Hardingham, is a feel-good, fun-filled, novel in which a young junior assistant is able to get revenge on that incredibly flighty, inconsiderate, and mean boss who fires her. But there is so much more to Katie Brenner’s story. She’s leading a double-life — her Instagram account is full of happy pictures, events, and wonders from her life in London but her real life is less than stellar. She looks around her at her colleagues and wishes she could have their ultra-cool, happening lives, but the one she truly admires is her boss, Demeter. Her visions of the perfect life are shattered when her boss fires her out of the blue.

When she is forced to return to Somerset to regroup, she falls into a project she never expected to take off — a glamping business at her father’s farm. Katie is that wide-eyed young professional with dreams of hitting it big in the city, or at least meeting new friends and having fun. Like many young professionals, reality hits them head on and they must learn to rebalance their expectations and revise their career plans. Kinsella shines at comedy, and this novel is no exception. From spying on business meetings with a drone to walking around on a rooftop in stilts, Brenner is ready to grab whatever life throws at her in the branding business — especially a cute hunk like Alex.

Fiona Hardingham is the perfect narrator for this novel; her comic timing is spot on. When you need a break from your own reality, don’t hesitate to pick up My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella. It’s sure to have you laughing and secretly cheering on Brenner as she gets revenge on her former boss.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Madeleine Wickham is a bestselling British author under her pseudonym, Sophie Kinsella. Educated at New College, Oxford, she worked as a financial journalist before turning to fiction. She is best known for writing a popular series of chick-lit novels. The Shopaholic novels series focuses on the misadventures of Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist who cannot manage her own finances. The books follows her life from when her credit card debt first become overwhelming (“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic”) to the latest book on being married and having a child (“Shopaholic & Baby”). Throughout the entire series, her obsession with shopping and the complications that imparts on her life are central themes.

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

Source: Berkley
Paperback, 384 pgs.
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A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner pivots on the life of the Queen Mary, a luxury liner that crossed the ocean to entertain the wealthy and was later converted to carry troops across the Atlantic and war brides back to America after WWII.  Katrine Sawyer, Phoebe Rogers, and Simone Robinson are war brides hoping to return to the arms of their American husbands, and they share a stateroom together and exchange camaraderie until one woman’s secrets come to the surface threatening to upend all of her plans for a new future in America.  In the present, Brette Caslake is a reluctant medium who visits the old ship to help an old friend from her past, as she deals with her own decisions about whether she wants to start a family.

Meissner’s historical fiction elements are vibrant and and emotional.  Simone struggles to flee her home in Paris after the Gestapo raids her father’s shoe repair shop, while Phoebe is just eager to return to the arms of her husband and introduce him to his son.  However, Katrine has fled Germany and a secret past that she will have a hard time escaping.  The stories set during WWII are the strongest, and while Phoebe is a war bride on the ship and seems to take a central role as Katrine’s friend, her backstory is a little lost to the reader.  Meanwhile, the present day story is developed slowly throughout the novel until the end where it seemed a bit rushed.

There are a few magical elements that have to be taken at face value, but overall the novel is enjoyable.  It also raises questions about how one can come to forgive someone who comes from a land where you bore so many losses and traumas?  A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner is about the future happiness just out of reach and what it takes to get there, especially when everything is stacked against you.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Susan Meissner was born in San Diego, California, the second of three. She spent her childhood in just two houses.  Her first writings are a laughable collection of oddly worded poems and predictable stories she wrote when she was eight.

She attended Point Loma College in San Diego, and married her husband, Bob, who is now an associate pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, in 1980. When she is not working on a new novel, she is directing the small groups ministries at The Church at Rancho Bernardo. She also enjoy teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with my family, music, reading great books, and traveling.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan is about the strength you can find amid hopelessness and tragedy, as women who are left behind in the English village of Chilbury find that the one thing they look forward to — the choir — is being shut down as the last eligible men are sent to the front during WWII. Told through a series of journal entries and letters, Ryan crafts a winding story of intrigue and homefront concerns during WWII. Mrs. Tilling is a nurse and widow who is very meek beneath the overbearing Mrs. Brampton-Boyd, but there is a stronger person beneath who acts as the core of the village in their time of need. Meanwhile, Kitty (age 13) and Venetia (age 18) are sisters of the Brigadier Winthrop, an overbearing and violent man, at Chilbury Manor, and like any set of sisters rarely get along and even fall for the same man — or at least seem to. Other characters are equally unique, if secondary, and they propel the narrative through the brambles.

“First funeral of the war, and our little village choir simply couldn’t sing in tune. ‘Holy, holy, holy’ limped out as if we were a crump of warbling sparrows.” (pg. 3 ARC)

The village ladies are sad that the choir has been shutdown because of a tradition of having both men and women in the choir. It is not until a new lady enters the village and suggests that the choir be composed of just the remaining ladies. Prim is a bit of a free spirit, who has equally suffered loss, and yet she remains focused on living life to the fullest. Her gentle guidance inspires all the women in the village to sing and too seek happiness where and when they can find it. Ryan carefully crafts a set of small village characters, and each has their weaknesses and strengths, with most not all bad even when they engage in the black market or other nefarious schemes. War is a time of opportunity within chaos.

“The hymn was sung at my father’s funeral, as it was for so many of those men who died in the Great War. And then we sang it again at my mother’s funeral, and then at Harold’s. As I was singing it out alone in the church, it took on a new horror. I realized that I have been trapped by those deaths, that I had let them take over.” (pg. 105 ARC)

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan demonstrates the strength we fail to see in ourselves until we can no longer bare any further loss or chaos. It takes a jolt to often wake us up from our complacency, and while WWII was an unexpected jolt for this village, they rally together well and find that there is more that they have to give and set about doing what’s right, fair, and just for their community at large.

RATING: Quatrain

Jennifer Ryan Photo © Nina Subin

About the Author:

Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor. Connect with her at her website and on Facebook.

Check out this video of the author talking about writing with any distractions:

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Abridged Audio)

Source: Free from BBC
Audio, 10 episodes
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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, abridged by Sara Davies and read by Clarke Peters, re-imagines the Underground Railroad as a literal railroad with trains, conductors, and stationmasters. Clarke Peters does a good job of narrating this abridged version of Whitehead’s book, which in the BBC version focuses on Cora, an escaped slave from Georgia who is later wanted for murder.

At first, Cora is reluctant to run north, and much of it might be because of her mother, who left and never returned.  She may be hoping that her mother would come back for her, but soon she had little choice but to run.  The railroad at first seems like the solution, as does the first stop in the South Carolina, but soon the reality of that state’s laws and experiments sets in.  Each state has its own culture and its own way of doing things, say the railroad workers, and that is true but not in the hopeful way that readers would want.

Whitehead has created a new way to view the Underground Railroad and slavery, as well as discrimination and racism.  As a child, I remember hearing about the railroad in our town and I wondered how the slaves got onto the trains without being caught — that was until I learned it was not a literal railroad.  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, abridged by Sara Davies and read by Clarke Peters, is a unique look at a part of this nation’s history that continues to throw its shadow over our freedoms and progress.  (I’ll likely be reading my hardcover later in the year as well.)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Colson Whitehead is the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. He also has written a book of essays about his home town, The Colossus of New York, and a non-fiction account of the 2011 World Series of Poker called The Noble Hustle. A recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, I live in New York City.

The Underground Railroad, his latest book, is an Oprah’s Book Club pick and National Book Award winner. Visit his website.

A Vintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner

Source: Vanity & Pride Press
E-story, 26 pgs.
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A Vintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner is a reimagined story of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in which a portal sucks Lizzy into the 1940s when WWII is underway. Modern-day Lizzy, who is a dance instructor, bemoans the social media life that many of us lead and longs for a romance with a gentleman, but she has lost hope. Until her sister Jane convinces her to visit an antique shop in the older part of town, Lizzy has given up on love. Once in the antique shop she is drawn to a special broach.

Gardiner’s story is unique and marries a her two favorite things — Austen and 1940s America. Her take on Lizzy and Darcy in the past is charming and will win over readers quickly because Lizzy has a chance to remedy a situation that could separate these 1940s versions apart forever. That first impression Darcy makes by calling her not tolerable enough to tempt him in the original is similar here, but modern-day Lizzy is more forgiving — setting these two lovers on a path of romance and lasting affection before WWII takes him overseas.

Returning to the modern world, Lizzy has a semi-renewed sense of love and hope, and this propels her to think more openly about opportunities that could come her way in 2017. A Vintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner is too short, but it still has that satisfying happy ending all Austen readers enjoy. Gardiner’s grasp of the 1940s never disappoints, transporting her characters and readers into a believable world, even if they have to suspend disbelief about time portals and wormholes.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy and Jane Austen. A member of the esteemed National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America and her local chapter Tampa Area Romance Authors (TARA,) she enjoys writing across the modern spectrum of “Pride and Prejudice” inspired novels.

Voted Austenesque Reviews’ Favorite Modern Adaptation for 2014, the comedic, Chick-Lit “Lucky 13” was released in October 2014. The romantic adventure “Denial of Conscience,” named Favorite “Pride and Prejudice” Modern for 2015 by Margie Must Reads and More Agreeably Engaged has set the sub-genre on fire since June of this year. In December 2015, another romantic comedy titled “Villa Fortuna” was voted Just Jane 1813’s Favorite Modern JAFF for 2015.

Her greatest love, however, is writing 20th Century Historical Fiction, WWII Romance. Her debut novel in that genre, “A Moment Forever” was released on May 30, 2016.

Married 23 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world – their orange tabby, Ollie. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff, out in stores today, is a deeply moving tale of a home found in the fanfare and hard work of a traveling circus, a dying profession under the Reich.  The Nazi regime has clamped down on everything, taken children from mothers, and shipped infants off in rail cars to die with little more than knitted booties on their feet.  The circus is a refuge for those the Reich seeks to harm, but it also becomes a family based on unbreakable trust, forgiveness, and love.

“I scan the train, trying to pinpoint the buzzing sound.  It comes from the last boxcar, adjacent to the caboose–not from the engine.  No, the noise comes from something inside the train.  Something alive.”  (pg. 17 ARC)

In this dual narrative, readers are drawn into the innocence of Noa and her struggle to reach safety despite her impulsive decisions, while at the same time being drawn to Astrid’s struggle to hide in plain sight of the Reich and not become too attached to those who could be taken at a moment’s notice.  Jenoff has created a magical world in which her characters and readers feel as though anything is possible, that the horrors of the Reich cannot pierce the enchanting lives of these hard-working performers.

Jenoff is one of the best writers of WWII fiction, and her characters are real and dynamic — they struggle with the horrors of the Reich but also with their own decisions and in some case indecision.  She knows this time period well, her books are always well researched, and readers know that they will be in for an intense and emotional ride on the rails with this traveling circus.  The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.  I could not put it down, even when I knew I had to.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Pam Jenoff Author Photo credit: Mindy Schwartz-Sorasky

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.  Connect with her on her Website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Ashes (The Seeds of America Trilogy) by Laurie Halse Anderson

Source: Public library
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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***This is the final book in a trilogy. I recommend reading the first two books before this one.***

Ashes (The Seeds of America Trilogy) by Laurie Halse Anderson is a stunning conclusion that bring Isabel and Curzon full circle in their own struggle for freedom as the country nears the battle at Yorktown and the end of the American Revolution.  Isabel and Curzon have been searching for her younger sister Ruth for months after fleeing Valley Forge and Bellingham, who had held Isabel in chains once again.  They are slowly making their way south to find her sister with their forged papers of freedom.  Tensions between them have grown, and Isabel fears being abandoned by him, even as she knows that he wants to rejoin the Patriots’ cause against the British.

“There was no way of figgering what he saw when he looked at me, for he’d gown skilled at hiding the truth from his eyes.  Time and hard travel had much changed us both.” (pg. 4)

“‘Don’t forget how to be gentle,’ she warned.  ‘Don’t let the hardness of the world steal the softness of your heart.  The greatest strength of all is daring to love. …'” (pg. 39)

In the chaos of war, these young people are eager to hide themselves in the confusion and use it to their advantage, but danger continues to cross their paths.  But even when they find Ruth, there are further battles to be had as southern men continue to hold onto their slaves and purchase new ones to run their plantations and use those slaves — women, children, and men — very ill.  They are forced to hold onto their stories for strength and to turn to one another in quiet to rejuvenate their resolve.  Isabel and Curzon have been together on their own for a long time, and when Ruth and Aberdeen join their band and head northward, both need to adjust and learn to be flexible.

“‘Why bother? You won’t know what you’re planting?’

‘Not until they sprout, I won’t,’ I admitted.  ‘But I’ve got to start with something.  Once they grow and bloom, I’ll know what to call them, and eventually the garden will be orderly.’

‘A fool-headed way to farm,’ he grumbled.

‘Tis a fool-headed way to grow a country, too, but that’s what we’re doing.’

‘Now you’ve gone barmy, Isabel,’ he said sourly.

I walked over to the blanket, gathered the small handful of the good seeds, and sat back down next to him.

‘Seems to me this is the seed time for America.'” (pg. 271)

Anderson’s trilogy provides an intimate look at life as a slave, life as slaves on the run, and people simply searching for their own lives in the midst of a country in turmoil.  Ashes (The Seeds of America Trilogy) by Laurie Halse Anderson is a solid conclusion filled with reconciliation and hope.  With the promise of freedom brought to the fore by the Revolution against the British, it allows all who are oppressed to dream of something more.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous ALA and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists.

Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and on her tumblr.