Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Historical middle-grade fiction: Snakes and Stones

Snakes and Stones, by Lisa Fowler, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-1031-3

Recommended for readers 9-12

The year is 1921, and Chestnut Hill, a 12 year old girl, travels with her father and 7 year-old triplet siblings (also named after nuts) across the American south, putting on medicine shows so her daddy can sell his elixir. Daddy’s a snake oil merchant, and Chestnut is sick and tired of living in a cramped wagon, wearing clothes to rags, and going to bed with a rumbling stomach. She’s mad at Daddy from stealing her and her siblings away from their Mama, who must be out of her mind with grief right now. Even when the Hill family meets up with Abraham, a friend of her father’s, who tells her that there’s a lot Chestnut doesn’t know about her Daddy, she refuses to believe it and decides to take matters into her own hands, setting off a chain of events that will change her and her family.

I was happy to see a middle grade historical fiction piece take place in the early ’20s – it’s an interesting time that hasn’t seen a lot of middle grade storytelling just yet. Lisa Fowler has several strong characters here, most notably, Chestnut, who narrates the story. Her father is a seeming ne’er do well, a con man with a heart of gold, who just doesn’t know how to take care of his family; Abraham, an African-American character, allows for a look at the everyday racism and segregation in the South. Readers may get tired of Chestnut’s firm belief that her father’s the bad guy, especially when there’s clearly more to the story that Abraham knows but won’t discuss. While Abraham is a potentially strong character to highlight the racial issues in the Southern U.S., readers may be put off by the way his speech is written, which can be construed as negative stereotyping rather than striving for historical accuracy.

Overall, it’s a story that means well but gets caught up in melodrama and possibly troubling characterization.






Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Beautiful Creatures – I finally join the bandwagon.

Beautiful Creatures Book CoverBeautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, Little Brown (2009). $17.99, ISBN: 978-0316231657

Recommended for ages 14+

I’ll admit it – I’m not a Twilight fan. It’s not my book. And Beautiful Creatures felt, to me, like a Twilight type of book, so I didn’t pick it up. I was recently approved to read the latest, upcoming book in the Beautiful Creatures, though, (Dangerous Creatures – the review’s coming!) so I figured I should at least read the first book, so I could have some idea of what’s going on.

I was wrong, folks. Beautiful Creatures was great. This was my book, just waiting for me to pick it up.

The story involves Lena Duchannes and Ethan Wate, two teenagers in Gatlin, South Carolina. Ethan is a high school basketball player who can’t wait to get out of Gatlin. He’s in with the in crowd, but really doesn’t care anymore. He just want out of the everyday sameness of life in a small, Southern town. Lena is the new girl in school, and she just doesn’t fit in with the Southern beauty queen/mean girls who run the school. When Ethan realizes that Lena looks exactly like the mystery girl he’s been dreaming about, he’s got to find out who she is.

The story weaves a YA romance in with a complex, fascinating tale of witchcraft and Southern history that kept me turning pages, demanding to know what was going to happen next. I love the idea of factions within the “Caster” – they’re not witches and wizards, and this isn’t Harry Potter – community. There are different types of magic, and everyone is born to something different. When Casters reach the age of 16, they are “claimed” by either the light side of magic or the dark side – and wrapped up in this claiming is a mystery that runs through the book as an engrossing subplot.

There’s something here for everyone. There’s paranormal romance, history, mystery, and drama. We meet characters that will take on greater roles in subsequent books. All in all, Beautiful Creatures sold me – and I’m glad I picked it up. I’ve heard the movie is subpar compared to the book, so I’ll keep that in mind and just enjoy the books.