Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

I’m running an encore review today as I have a family event all day today. I have several new reviews I want to post and a Mega Blitz post coming up for R & R Book Tours, but for today I hope you enjoy reading about this one.

Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Author: Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia, known as Callie Vee to her 6 brothers, is not one of those quiet, homemaking type of girls. She likes being outdoors, studying nature. The hot summer of 1899 marked a big change in her life. That was the year that she made friends with her Granddaddy and became a naturalist.

But Calpurnia’s mother is not giving up her only daughter without a fight. She’s forced into piano lessons, needlework lessons, cooking lessons, and knitting lessons. Knitting isn’t so bad, at least when it’s a wet and rainy day, but they all make her feel completely inadequate. Is she doomed to be nothing but a wife and mother? And what’s the rush? She’s only 11!

This story was set in the dawning of a new era, with the coming of the first telephone – and first FEMALE telephone operator, the first automobile, and yet the ties to the past, with Granddaddy and his stories of service in the Civil War. Then the excitement of New Year’s Eve, and a new century!

When I started reading this one, it made me think back to my own summers in Texas, with the heat reaching over 100 for days in a row, when we would turn our bathtub into a little swimming pool, and the heat would turn everything into a dead brown landscape, make my nosebleed, and then bake the blood right onto the sidewalk. At least we could occasionally escape to my Grandma’s air conditioned living room. But Calpurnia has no escape except her private swimming hole.

I loved this book. I was a little disappointed by the end, which is why I took off half a star. I hope this is the first in a series; otherwise, Calpurnia is just sort of hanging at the end of the story. While I am very happy being a wife and mother, I understand her feeling of being trapped into a narrow role she has no way to fight. It’s a choice between her mother’s way, or some unknown way, and Calpurnia really has no idea what else is out there for her. I have to hope that the coming years will reveal some new possibilities to her and give her the strength to choose her own life. 4.5 stars

Review: A Lady in the Smoke

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Review: A Lady in the Smoke

Author: Karen Odden

Format: audiobook

Setting: 1874 England

Themes: love, family, medicine, addiction, revenge, politics, law

Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother are returning home after a miserable London Season only to be involved in a train wreck. Elizabeth has a minor concussion and her mother’s ankle is sprained, but she can’t manage anything without Elizabeth’s help. Only handsome Dr. Wilcox is able to provide the care her mother needs. Elizabeth is drawn to the young man, but such a match would never be permitted by Society. Elizabeth knows this, but her heart refuses to listen. She’s drawn into Dr. Wilcox’s life, his crusade for safer railway conditions, and the bitter struggle against his powerful enemies.

I found this one while browsing the titles my library had available for online audiobooks, and I have to say I was hooked. I love a good historical mystery and this one was very promising. Victorian setting, star-crossed lovers, class struggles, and a new author, it was lots of fun. Definitely recommended.

 

Review: The Treasure at Poldarrow Point

Title: The Treasure at Poldarrow Point (Angela Marchmont, #3)

Author: Clara Benson

After solving two cases in close succession, Angela Marchmont is struck with a nasty case of pneumonia. Her doctor has ordered a rest cure at the sea side, so she’s headed to Cornwall. She’s barely unpacked when her impulsive goddaughter has shown up and discovered a local story of buried treasure.

Naturally, young Barbara has decided that would be the perfect project for their summer holiday. Angela is reluctant at first, but she gets caught up in the lives of the local residents. There’s a sweet old lady and her nephew, a quarrelsome married couple, an odd scientist, and an attractive Scotland Yard detective all involved in the events nearby.

The lighthearted treasure hunt takes a deadly turn when someone takes a shot at Angela and Barbara goes missing.

This one was my favorite in the series so far. The others were rather predictable, but not in a terrible way. This one I was actually caught off guard more than once. I thought I had it figured it out, but there were several surprises in there. I have already downloaded the next one in this series. If you like the British mysteries, this series is so much fun.

Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard

16058610Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Author: Susan Crandall

Setting: Mississippi & Tennessee 1963

Themes: family, race, justice, religion, secrets

Starla Claudelle is not looking forward to a summer spend with her strict grandmother, but with her mother up in Nashville trying to be star and her dad working on an oil rig, she’s got no choice. Starla can’t take it anymore and decides to run away and she meets Eula and everything changes.

We read this for book club, and once again, I was the only person who didn’t love the book. Starla is 9 years old, but the author makes her sound like she’s at least 14 years old. Only occasionally does she sound like the child she is. She’s too independent and too smart for her age, but at the same time, she gets into situations that could just be so dangerous – and then they are dangerous!

Then there’s Eula, who takes risks that I just can’t believe a woman in her position would take. I can’t say more without giving away everything in the book, but I just didn’t find it believable. I liked Eula and I liked Starla, but it wasn’t enough for me to really accept the events in the book and that they would happen this way.

The book is really interesting in contrast to Revolution by Deborah Wiles, which I reviewed here. The Wiles book was so much better, maybe because it was told from more than one POV and because the characters were older. This one just touched the surface of the civil rights issues and only seemed less plausible because of it. 3/5 stars, but I will admit that for younger kids I’d rate it higher.

Review: The Tuesday Club Murders

Title: The Tuesday Club Murders or The 13 Problems (Miss Marple #2)

Author: Agatha Christie

Setting: England 1930s or so

Format: physical book

Plot: Author Raymond West is staying with his aunt in the country. One evening at a dinner with friends, he proposes that they each relate a mystery, then see who can come up with the best solution to the story. To his surprise, sweet little Aunt Jane wins every time.

Reaction: I love Miss Marple. I always pictured her as a sweet, white-haired lady with “a mind like a steel trap,” as a police acquaintance says. Now that I’ve seen the mysteries with Joan Hickson in the role, I can’t imagine anyone else. She’s deceptively mild, but oh, what a wicked tongue she has when she wants to. Miss Marple was always very much a gentlewoman, but not always a gentle woman.

While I prefer the longer books like The Body in the Library, the nice thing about the short stories is that you can pick them up when you just have a few minutes to read and then put it down again without worrying about remembering where you were in the story next time. I’ve been working on rereading this one for a couple of months, and I never felt any rush to finish, just a bit of happiness every time I picked it up.

My favorite story is the one told by glamorous actress Jane Hillyer of a burglary. If you haven’t read Miss Marple before, I think I’d recommend starting with the first one, Murder at the Vicarage.

Book blurb

This is going to be shorter than a regular review, but I wanted to mention a book I read recently by Adre Norton called Wraiths of Time. Written in the 1970s it features a Black female archeologist as the main character. She is an expert on ancient Africa who gets sucked back in time. I love seeing a POC as a protagonist, and a female at that. Plus it was written by a woman.

Unfortunately, the story is a mess. Aliens are involved, there’s no exposition, and the other characters are flat. But if you want to read it as proof that women can and should to sci fi, go for it.

Book Review: Ashes

Title: Ashes (Book 3, Seeds of America) 

Author: Laurie Halse Andersen

Setting: Virginia 1780-1781, including the Battle of Yorktown

Escaped slaves Isabel and Curzon have been looking for Isabel’s sister for years, and they finally have an idea where she is. Unfortunately, Ruth isn’t as excited to see them, and they’re stuck in the path of a battle. They could ask the Americans for help, but Isabel is still bitter about the way the so-called Patriots have been treating escaped slaves. Curzon doesn’t like it either, but he doesn’t trust the English even less than the Americans.

And that is the central point of this book – for a war of independence, people of color were never treated with equality or fairness. Huge numbers of Blacks fought in the war, and many of them were former and current slaves. But you never hear the story of these soldiers.

Washington, Jefferson, and other American heroes were all slave owners. Both chased down slaves who had escaped during the war and brought them back. At least Washington freed his slaves in his will and has never been accused of fathering any children with them, so I’d say he sort of tried to the right thing. But Jefferson is different story.

Back to the story – Isabel has no interest in getting involved in the war, so she is trying to find a safe place to wait it out. She hopes to go back to Rhode Island and buy her own farm there, one where she can live with her sister in peace. But her sister won’t even speak to her and the only way to get to Rhode Island is to survive the fighting right now. Curzon’s loyalty to the American cause drives a wedge between the friends and Isabel has no one to rely on but herself.

This is a great series. With the popularity of Hamilton, books set in the 18th century are really hot right now. I won’t say that I liked it as well as Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, but it is really good. Recommended for any teen.

Fantasy Rereads

I have been very stressed lately. My youngest child, W, is getting married this month. He’s the first one to get married and I am knee deep in wedding preparations here. In a moment of madness, I volunteered to make the wedding dress and plan the wedding shower. Yeah. So we got the wedding dress pattern, the fabric, the trim, then basically redesigned the whole thing, got it cut out. Then I realized that the shower was THIS WEEK so I had to rush and get all that stuff done. Then I found a stain right on the central front panel of the dress. It was sewing machine oil. I tried to remove it but only succeeded in snagging the fabric. The stain is still there. Fortunately, I was able to cut another panel, finish all the shower decorations, and tonight we had the wedding shower.

It was a big success, with only one minor flaw – my camera batteries were dead. Other people had cameras, so I’ll get to see the pictures, just not right away. And everything looked great, tasted great, plus we all had fun.

Tomorrow I am taking a break from sewing – hooray! – and I will instead relax with a book and maybe eat a salad for a change. I can’t wait.

In the meantime, when I had a few minutes to read, I reread a couple of fantasy titles I enjoyed before – NPCs by Drew Hayes and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. It’s an interesting match up. NPCs is all about taking the fantasy tropes and turning them on end, with a heavy emphasis on the RPG sort of gaming fantasy, and The Hero and the Crown is old school fantasy, with a heroine who has to go on a solo quest to save the kingdom. They are both available for free if you have Kindle Unlimited, so definitely check them both out. NPCs is Drew Hayes best book, IMO, since I didn’t really like Super Powered. It started out as a strong idea, but the series didn’t hold up and I got bored. This one I loved, even as a reread. And Robin McKinley’s book is I treasured 20 years ago and it’s still a wonderful treat. I forgot a lot of the details, but this is why I loved her books as a girl – great story, strong characters, and well developed settings.

Anyway, I think the posts will be hit or miss until this wedding is over. Long way to go on the dress still, but my back is killing me from hours at the sewing machine, so tomorrow I will rest and read.

Book Review: Song of the Lark

Song of the Lark

by Willa Cather

Setting: Moonstone, Colorado late 19th – early 20th century

Source: book club book

Themes: the artist’s process, music, family, women’s roles

Story: Thea Kronberg is the odd one out in her close knit Swedish American family. Fortunately, she has enough support to get her the early musical training she needs to achieve her dreams. It takes a lot of work, but with helpful teachers she is able to achieve her dreams.

Pros: Cather has a gift for making her characters come to life. Thea especially well described – I felt like I would know her. I loved the way she described all the Kronbergs and their relationships. They just come to life.

Cons: This book, like most of Cather’s books, are character driven. That means the plots meander along their merry way, taking lots of side tracks to get to the point. Maybe it was partly because I started this when I wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t exactly feel compelled to finish.

This is definitely not my favorite of Cather’s books, but I liked it well enough. For me, the best part was before Thea left town for Denver, when she was still figuring out what she wanted and how to get it.

I would cautiously recommend it. It’s an old-fashioned sort of feel, but I wish more people would read Cather. She is an important American female writer who broke new ground. I wouldn’t start here, but with O Pioneers! or My Antonia. 3.2 stars for this one.

 

Book Review: Companions of the Night

Reading Decathlon, book 9

Companions of the Night

by Vivan Vande Velde

Setting: modern New York college town

Plot: Kerry agrees to return to the laundromat before bed to pick up her brother’s teddy bear. But when she gets there, she finds the owner and some friends have captured and beaten a guy. They claim this Ethan is a vampire and refuse to let him or Kerry go. Kerry helps the guy escape only to find that he is in fact a vampire. Now someone has kidnapped her family and they’re going after her next. Kerry and Ethan team up, but can Kerry trust him with her family’s safety?

Pros: Um, it was short?

Cons: It was confusing?

Honestly, this one didn’t stand out much for me. I read it while waiting for the doctor today and it was good to pass the time. I did like the ending. Kerry was able to be smart and made some good decisions. I really appreciated that she wasn’t some starstruck vampire groupie. But I can’t say that I really liked it. 2.5 stars