MrsK's Seasoned Reader Picks

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

The Mapmaker's Children
ISBN: 9780385348904
Publisher's Synopsis:
Sarah Brown, the vibrant, talented daughter of abolitionist John Brown, is dynamically changed when she stumbles onto her father’s work on the Underground Railroad shortly after being told the shocking news that she won’t ever bear children. Realizing that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the movement’s leading mapmakers, hiding maps within her paintings while bigotry and hatred steer the country toward a bloody civil war.

Interwoven with Sarah’s adventure is the present-day story of Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, who moves to an old house in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. Sarah and Eden’s connection bridges the past and present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

MrsK's Review:
When choosing a book to review (or is it when the book chooses you), the one aspect of a story line that always gets me hopeful is when there is a historical event that is dear to my heart. Any connection with the Underground Railroad promises a poignant discovery. This novel is a matchmaker between two women and their discoveries of life. Sarah is John Brown's daughter. In a moment when a slave can not read the map to freedom, Sarah draws the map with pictorial notations instead of words. Her maps will lead many to freedom, but will they lead Sarah into the same danger that her father has just been arrested for? 
"Sarah had been on her deathbed and had risen a new person...
She was not about to let that moment draw near again without having fully lived first...
without having found her new purpose." 

Pictographs, useful to the cause of bringing freedom to the passengers, yet keeping any outsiders from discovering the designated route of the road to freedom. In October of 1859 the raiders of Harpers Ferry did not survive to see the liberating freedom for slaves. Yet, their spilled blood did cry for action against brutal oppression. John Brown and his sons were men making history. His wife Mary and their daughters, Sarah, Annie, and Ellen, would continue living life with a steadfastness of mercy and grace.
"I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial.
Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected."
John Brown 12/1/1859

"Slavery was an abomination...." the thousands that made their way to John Brown's execution would prove truth to that statement. Yet, it would banish the girls into New Charlestown within the care of George and Priscilla Hill. Although Sarah's time with the Hill's will keep her spirit "marching on," it will be amidst chaos that causes grief for many. Only loving support and courage of the Hill's and their son Freddie will make Sarah's journey moving forward. Just as many runaways found courage and kindness within the station houses, Sarah will find her inner calling during the time spent with the Hill's, an undeniable bond which will endure a life time of "rebirths." 
"Ye know not what shall be on the morrow.
One life is but a vapour that appeareth for a time,
and the gone."

 Sarah knew that her father's mission didn't end with his death, in stead it would be the promise of a better life for many. Although there many "terrible deeds," she found strength in knowing that "people were capable of more love and benevolence than they realized." Sarah trusted that an "individual heart" could reign over the "collective public voice." Giving "rise as unstoppable as a river after a storm."

With the departure from the Hill's home, the Brown's return to North Elba will begin unfolding new avenues for Sarah. With a series of letters between Freddie and Sarah, you will discover the many challenges, heartaches, strengths, and joys in which a life molded by faith endures and overcomes.    
 
Then there is Eden's discovery of doll's head in the root cellar of her newly purchased "old house" in New Charlestown, WV. Although Eden is a woman with much character strength, her latest miscarriage has created such agony she no longer feels hope or love. Her journey will be blessed with a neighboring girl (Cleo), an unexpected gift (Cricket), the return of her brother (Denny), and the patient love of her husband (Jack). So many facets within Eden's life will become illuminated once she begins unraveling the mystery of the doll's head, an old button, and an antique key. Could her house become a registered landmark on Apple Hill? Can she learn to love beyond her losses? Will she discover a secret trait to the doll's head in which history could once again tell the story about the Underground Railroad? Did the "doll massacre" have something to do with the her doll's head? What decisions must Eden make in order to realize her passion behind the words:
"Come home to New Charlestown."

Two journeys, two women, both in which you will never forget their stories,
MrsK 


 With historical accuracy, 
connections with great literary pieces (Dickens; Alcott; and Thoreau),
and the promise of one life touching another,
this is a novel worth reading. 
Meet the Author:
  Sarah McCoy  is author of the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestseller The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee. Her first novel is The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Sarah’s work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso.

The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas.
Her novella “The Branch of Hazel,” featured in the anthology Grand Central (Penguin), releases July 1, 2014. Her third novel The Mapmaker’s Children releases from Crown May 5, 2015.
"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Penguin Random House

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
ISBN: 9780385753562
Publisher's Synopsis:
This is the story of unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard who doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room.  He is a prisoner of Her Majesty, the Snow Queen.  And he has been waiting for Ophelia's help.

As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.

 "In which Ophelia rescues a magical boy,
battles the Snow Queen,
and saves the world."
MrsK's Review:
Can you imagine...being at a museum and discovering a locked room... with a boy locked in it? Ophelia isn't necessarily brave. Although she is very curious. Now imagine being asked to save the world from the Snow Queen. Then consider that the Wintertide Clock is running out of time and soon everyone will gather for the chiming (which only happens every 300 years).
"On Christmas Eve, Battle: The Greatest Exhibition of Swords in the History of the World will begin
and
will coincide with the opening of the Wintertide Clock's chime doors.
We shall hear those chimes and understand this clock's true purpose."

Ophelia's quest will be difficult, after all a museum is a vast vault of unique items with many, many areas to discover:
"You must find the key to this door.
We need to find my sword....
and the One Other,
who will know how to wield."

With a map of the museum, a key hidden in her pocket, and just a few moments of time... Ophelia will find herself running through the hall of girls, in a room with ghosts, being chased by wolves, and ultimately dealing with Miss Kaminski (the museum curator). With a sister who is enthralled with Miss Kaminski's attention and every thing dazzling, a father who is engrossed in learning and preparing the collection of swords, and the voice of her mother encouraging her, Ophelia will begin unraveling the boy's (unnamed because it has been such a long time since he has heard it) mystery... identity... the sword... and the One Other. Only time will tell if Ophelia can be ready before the clock chimes.

This story is quite the adventure. The story line weaves in and out of the museum and the boy's retelling of how he came to be imprisoned in the museum. Ophelia has so many threads to unravel that at times you, the reader, will be trying to guide her as she fumbles through the quest. Ophelia is a delightful character. The boy is unsure about details, a bit clueless, but very patient and encouraging. The museum's curator is diabolical and extremely annoyed with Ophelia. Her father is present but way too consumed with his job. Her sister, well she will learn that beauty can be deceiving. Each room of discovery is detailed with authentic artifacts, extraordinary touches of clarity (perfected word choice) and page-turning action.

Such a splendid quest... you must hurry to open the covers of this quest... time is running out!
MrsK  
  
Marvelously fantastical... imagination gone wild!
Excellent for classroom and library shelves.
Meet the Author: 
Karen Foxlee  Karen Foxlee trained and worked as a nurse for most of her adult life and also graduated from university with a degree in creative writing. She is the author of The Midnight Dress and The Anatomy of Wings, which Markus Zusak called “so special that you want to carry it around for months after you’ve finished, just to stay near it.” Karen Foxlee lives in Gympie, Australia, with her daughter.
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Monday, June 8, 2015

Whenever You Come Around by Robin Lee Hatcher

Whenever You Come Around
ISBN: 9781401687694
Publisher's Synopsis:
Will writing a romance help this author find a real-life hero?
Charity Anderson turned her back on Kings Meadow years ago, with good reason, and has avoided visits to her hometown whenever possible. But with her house in Boise damaged by floodwaters and a book deadline bearing down, staying in her parents’ empty home seems her only option. However, being back in Kings Meadow dredges up a painful secret, and old fears threaten to overwhelm her.
Charity’s former high school classmate Buck Malone never left town, instead sacrificing his dreams to take care of his family. Now he enjoys an uncomplicated life as a wilderness guide and confirmed bachelor. The last thing on his mind is settling down.
When Charity’s dog causes an accident that leaves Buck with a broken ankle and wrist at the start of prime tourist season, Charity has little choice but to render aid while he recuperates. Soon Buck becomes the inspiration for Charity’s hero, both on the page and off. Can he also help her face and overcome her fears so they might find their own happily ever after?

MrsK's Review:
 "Kings Meadow welcomes you.
Tucked away in the mountains north of Boise, Idaho, Kings Meadow is rich in history...
mining... raising cattle... and champion quarter horses.
In Kings Meadow, horses can still be found tied up outside the local watering holes,
and formal attire for weddings may include boots and cowboy hats.
Come and visit us. We'll make you feel at home."

Every so often a situation in life brings us home, even if we have tried to stay far... far away. In those rare seasons of life, many of us learn that what once was can lose its strong-hold and be replaced with peace. Charity finds herself back in her childhood home. A devastating storm has flooded her house and she needs a temporary place to write, to wait, and to "unleash" the fears from her past. 

"These terrible feelings, these black thoughts and feared memories,
 were why she avoided coming home a much as possible.
They were why she'd cut herself off from lifelong friends,
why she'd erected barriers between herself and the people she loved."
With her parents on "the trip of a lifetime," Charity's story begins as she arrives back home. Anxiety about "coming home" will lead her into a return to memories that she has tried so hard to forget. What she finds is a "good-neighbor" deed and a long lost romance.

"Hey, Charity. Is that really you? Haven't seen you in years. How are you?"
Buck Malone is currently a wilderness guide. He loves spending the summer and fall riding through the "back country, sleeping under the stars." Having bought the house next door to Charity's parents, neither of them expected that a run in with her dog would "open the doors" to renewing a friendship and a glimmer of hope.

"When she'd written her novels, she hadn't thought about trying to sell them to a publisher,
as crazy as that sounded.
She'd been wrapped up in the joy of storytelling, and that had been enough."
Self assured and on her way as an author, Charity had no plans on getting involved in the town or with any of those she grew up knowing. Given all of the changes with her publisher, she would be spending all of the time pursuing the craft of writing a "Romance" novel... something she knew little about and had no interest in discovering.

"Don't think you've scared me off yet, Miss Anderson.
I'll figure out what makes you tick. You'll see."
Buck knew it was dangerous to love. "He couldn't help loving his family members. He couldn't help caring about his close friends. But he could protect himself from the kind of pain his mom had gone through after his dad died." Or could he? Will Charity's facade be enough of a quest that could endear him to the point of no return?
"What made you bolt, Charity?
You need to let somebody in, Charity.
Might as well be me."

The ease and quick witted responses between Charity and Buck is comfortable, like a nice pair leather gloves. Their relationship is "tooled" to perfection with every day encounters that are reminiscent of past summers. So well crafted you will drift off into snapshots from your own memory book. With a first person perspective you are drawn into Charity's and Buck's relationship, uniquely woven and flawlessly transitioned.

This is perfect summer romance, enjoy your visit to King's Meadow,
MrsK 
 
Enjoyable, uplifting, and an excellent retreat!
Meet the Author:
MORE ABOUT ROBIN LEE HATCHER}   Robin Lee Hatcher is the bestselling author of 70 books. Her numerous awards include the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance, and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. Robin and her husband currently reside in Idaho. For more information, visit www.robinleehatcher.com.

"I received this book for free for this review."
 I review for BookLook Bloggers
Thomas Nelson

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

 The Hired Girl
The Hired Girl
ISBN:9780763678180
 Publisher's Synopsis:
Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Inspired by her own grandmother’s journal, Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.

MrsK's Review:
Joan is such a delightful heroine. She is spunky, intelligent, resourceful, and very loyal. She is a hard worker, someone whose dreams will guide her decisions and provide the inner strength that will be needed to escape a life shrouded in oppressive misery.

Joan's story begins on the day that Miss Chandler (her teacher) gave her a journal. One in which she was guided to "write in it with truth and refinement." It was the day that would remain planted in Joan's spirit and provide her with the strength to change her life. Her father had decided that she could no longer continue going to school and in 1911, you did what your parents told you to do especially if you are a daughter and your mother is no longer living. Life on a farm with only a dad and brothers meant that Joan was needed at home. Her life was fixed, her days were filled with chores and her free time... well reading was a joy until that fatal decision when her father burns the books that her teacher gave her.

Joan boldly leaves the farm. She is heading to Philadelphia with a hope-filled desire to be a servant in a household that will pay her. Her train ride and the young gentleman who befriends her is an eye-opening journey. Once she arrives in Philadelphia, Joan discovers that there is no place to stay and with darkness approaching she is not sure what her options are. With prayer... all things can be made bearable. A young man discovers her on the park bench and refuses to let her sleep in the park. 

Once Joan is introduced to the Rosenbach family, she begins her journey into adulthood... being accepted into a Jewish family... and discovering the facets of her calling and inner strength. As in all of our lives, being young means that there will be many opportunities to learn your way along a given path. For Joan, her first lesson will be with Malka the treasured cook, nanny, and house keeper. Malka is aging and ailing, this is Joan's perfect opportunity to learn while being a blessing to Malka. That is if Malka will accept her help and the fact that she is a Catholic.

Given that Jane Eyre is one of Joan's favorite characters, the Rosenbach's sons are very intriguing to someone so young. Will Joan lose her heart to one of them or will she seek the forbidden education that was so cruelly taken from her? Befriended by Mirele, the Rosenbach's daughter, Joan soon discovers city life and shopping. Imagine buying your first outfit, shoes, gloves, and hat... now imagine the joy of purchasing your first leather book (of course this was my favorite part).

When Joan begins experiencing life with the Rosenbach family, she begins enjoying a life she could only read about. And yet, deep within her spirit is the desire to experience schooling, and being free from a life of hard work. A life of her own. Will she find it through marriage? Will she need to leave this family that has brought her in off the streets? What is the path that she must take?

Written as a diary, Joan invites us into her thoughts... her choices... her hopes and dreams for a future that is just beginning to unfold. Every character is so well defined. The setting depicts Victorian homes, cultures, cities just moving into the "care free" life style as the age of inventions is sweeping the east coast.

This novel is not just for young adults, it is an excellent historical piece and will bring great discussions to any book club. 
Enjoy meeting Joan and her discoveries as young girl maturing into a young lady,
MrsK  

Enjoyable reading with a delightful heroine!
Meet the Author:
Laura Amy Schlitz 
I have made my living as a librarian (I took off a couple of years off, to tour with a children's theatre - it was a gloriously free, and disorganized life, but eventually, I had no money at all). I love the theatre, and wrote my first stage play for a friend, who needed a last-minute script for Beauty and the Beast. It turned out better than anyone expected, and I became a playwright - my plays have been produced in professional theatres all over the country. I love to make things; bread, marionettes, quilts, watercolors, origami animals. My hands get restless if I can't make things. For the past thirteen years, I've worked as a school librarian, and I am so grateful that I work with children - they make me laugh, and their energy reminds me to enjoy life.

As a writer, I do a lot of complaining. People often ask why I write, when I hate it so much. I answer, that I write because I am under a curse. I keep meaning to give up writing, but I haven't got around to it yet. I dread sitting down to write, and I have to resort to tricks to get myself to the paper. "One half hour, or one page," I promise myself, "then you can get up and do something you like." I go to the bathroom, take the telephone off the hook, fill my fountain pen, get myself a glass of water, and sit down. Once I sit, my rear end has to stay in place until I've written. I often say that I write with my rear end - it's the ballast that holds me steady while I fight for words.

"I received this book for free for this review."
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Candlewick Press

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