Rave Reviews Log: Historical Fiction

October 26, 2009

A Season of Gifts

By Richard Peck
Era: 1950's Midwest
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

This is the third book featuring Mrs. Dowdel, the formidable grandmother from A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Twelve year old Bob is the new preacher's kid along with his sisters Phyllis and Ruth Ann and they just moved in next door to Mrs. Dowdel who was well known not to neighbor, was usually cranky, and refused to modernize her house. But when Phyllis gets drawn into the wrong crowd, Bob gets messed with by bullies, and Ruth Ann needs some occupation, it is Mrs. Dowdel who surprising comes through every time in her own unique way. Whether it is helping knock down the revivalists who come to town, hunting ghosts in her gourd patch, or finding a Christmas tree, Mrs. Dowdel is sure to make a lasting impression. It is hard not to laugh out loud at the stories and fans of the previous books will want to add this to their collection while new readers will want to go back and check out the other novels. Great, heartwarming fun.

October 19, 2009

Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me

By Nan Marino
Era: 1969 New York State
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

It is summer and Tamara is hot, but not with the heat. No, she is hot under the collar at Douglas "Muscle Man" McGinty, the new kid on her street who does nothing but tell outrageous fibs like having Neil Armstrong for an uncle or singing on Broadway. Tamara can't wait until Muscle Man gets his comeuppance for his lies and stories, but no one seems as interested in it. Of course, there is a lot more going on on Ramble Street than just Muscle Man's tall tales. Tammy is missing Kebsie, her best friend, who lived in the same house Muscle Man is now--at Mrs. Kutchner's, who takes in foster kids--and Kebsie left without a goodbye over a month ago. Add to the mix her less than happy family, especially with her brother Tim absent. When Muscle Man boasts that he is the best kickball player on the street, Tammy knows he has finally gone too far and an epic game is begun--all of Ramble Street versus Muscle Man. But not even a gigantic score against him can wipe the smile off of Muscle Man's face. And just when Tammy thinks she can't take it any more, tragedy strikes the heart of the street and makes her rethink everything. Experienced readers may see what is going on long before Tammy ever does, and may wonder whose side they would take on Ramble Street--Tammy's or Muscle Man's? An interesting story set during the time of the Vietnam War and the first moonwalk that should hold reader's attention.

October 15, 2009

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

By Gennifer Choldenko
Era: 1935 Alcatraz Island
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

In this excellent sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts, we pick up from where we left off. Al Capone has apparently done Moose's family a favor and got his sister Natalie (who shows signs of autism which was not a diagnoses in the 1930's) into a special school for kids like herself. Now Moose gets a message in his laundry--it is time for some payback. He is supposed to give Capone's wife Mae, who is due to visit--yellow roses. Moose is in a sweat. How can he possibly explain giving a woman he's never met flowers? Nevermind Capone's wife. When his friend Annie discovers Moose owes Capone, she insists on spilling the beans to the adults, but Moose can't risk Natalie getting tossed out of school. Add to this struggle the beautiful but bratty Piper, the warden's daughter, who gets everyone around her in trouble. Then there is Jimmy, who isn't so sure Moose is the best friend he'd like him to be. To top off all of this strife, Eliot Ness and J. Edgar Hoover are due to visit Alcatraz and the grown ups are in a tizzy to throw a big party. But when Natalie comes home from school for a visit and Moose finds a bar spreader in her bag, his worries intensify. Is Natalie somehow part of a plot with the convicts on Alcatraz? All of these problems will merge together in a sudden bang, and in the excitement, can Moose do the right thing? Readers will love this story, which moves along quickly and contains a lot of questions of right and wrong and plenty of action and excitement. The second book will make more sense if you have read the first one, but it isn't necessary to drop right into the story. Big thumbs up!

October 05, 2009

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

By Rodman Philbrick
Era: Civil War, northern states
Rating: 4 stars

Homer and Harold Figg are orphans living in Maine with their cruel uncle. Things are so bad that Uncle Squint sells an underage Harold into the ranks of enlisted soldiers for the Civil War. If there is one thing that Homer can't bear, it is to be left alone. Besides which, Harold is sure to get himself killed if he gets to the war! So Homer escapes Squint and lights out after Harold. As Homer travels south, he gets involved in just about every possible scrape, from being held captive by slave catchers, to getting swindled by swindlers, to joining a medicine show, to riding in a hot air balloon, to being thrown into prison for abetting a Confederate spy. However, his one purpose--to find Harold--never wavers. But when Homer finally catches up to Harold, on the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg, he will find things are worse than he ever imagined. This is probably the closest to "fun" one will ever get in reading about the times surrounding the Civil War, and readers will learn plenty about the time period mixed in with the earnest but tall tale-telling story of Homer. A good read.