Thursday, March 26, 2020

Brainstorm 208: Treehouse Time

Have a whole lot of pent up creative energy but also want to get out of your house while maintaining social distancing? Maybe it is time to build a treehouse. Or at least go hang out in one virtually. Now, there are two levels of treehouse. The first is the casual backyard hang out place only meant to be shelter for a few minutes or hours at a time. Then there’s the serious, I’m-living-in-this-thing treehouses. I’ve mixed in a few middle grade, young adult, and adult books that feature settlements or cultures who live full time up in the branches of some trees. Click on the title for my full review of each book including any content warnings.

The Ark Plan (Edge of Extinction, #1) by Laura Martin
Scientists figured out how to bring back dinosaurs using DNA from fossils. For a while, things were really cool with new dinosaur pets and zoo attractions. But now the dinosaurs rule most of the Earth, and the few people who the microbes the dinos brought with them have retreated underground into one of the 4 Compounds set up by the Noah. The Noah is the ruler of the world now. Life is pretty good for most of the humans in the compounds, except for Sky. Sky's father disappeared above ground five years ago and was labeled a spy. Since then, Sky has been a ward of the compound but not treated very well. On her birthday, she discovers that her father did leave a note for her those five years ago. It was hidden in the compass he gave her. The note says that if he didn't come back within 4 years, she needs to get a data plug to a spot in Lake Michigan. Sky has been told all her life that going topside is suicide. But her dad's note says the survival of the planet depends on her taking this message North.
Why is this book included? Sky comes across a settlement topside that lives in the trees.

Target Readers:

  • Dystopia Fans, Dinosaur Lovers, High Action Fans, Survival Fans, Middle Grade Fiction Readers

The Deceiver’s Heart (The Traitor’s Game, #2) by Jennifer A. Nielsen
There’s a big bad guy named Endrick who is taking over more and more of the land. He’s also pretty much impossible to kill, capture, or even touch. In the first book the heroes were looking for a legendary blade rumored to be the only thing Endrick isn’t immune to. In this book, things aren't looking so good for anyone. Kestra's attempt to kill Lord Endrick failed miserably and now she's an Ironheart. A new guy is in charge of the Halderians, a guy who is more about fighting than strategy. Endrick has a spy among the Coracks, and their plans keep getting foiled. Simon is just trying to save Kestra, but that is looking harder and harder. Everyone has their own ideas of what should be done with her or to her. Simon just wants back the girl he loves. But with Endrick's messing with her mind and heart, is the Kestra he loved even in there anymore?
Why is this book included? There’s a pretty cool fortification in the treetops in one area and the good guys and bad guys have a battle there.

Target Readers:

  • Fans of Characters with Unique Abilities, Underdog Revolution Fans, Complex Political Setup Fans, Complicated Love Story Fans, Fantasy Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers

Edge of Oblivion (The Chronicles of Sarco, #1) by Joshua A. Johnston
A new threat has entered the universe. A strange planet-sized thing is invading Confederacy space, refuses communication, and leaves no one living on ships or planets that come under its strange white beam. It leaves one message. Malum has come. Grasping at straws since no weapons have been able to even reach the surface of Malum, the Confederacy is sending Captain Jared Carter and his small crew on a hunt for ancient scraps of a sacred Sarco text. Several races have no respect for this ancient religious group, and indeed, the group is all but extinct. But the one scrap the Navy has in their collection has ink written in the same rare compound that composes the surface of Malum. On the chance that the two might be connected, Carter and his crew are sent to find the rest of the ancient document, if it even exists.
Why is this book included? Carter has to go to a planet to retrieve one of his crew from a home visit before they can head out on their assignment, and the culture of that crewmate lives in treetop settlements.

Target Readers:

  • Classic-Feeling Scifi Fans, Space Adventure Fans, Underdogs vs the Impossible Fans, Light Christian Symbolism Fans, Adult Fiction Readers

Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins, ill. by Emily Hughes
A celebration of treehouses, the various ways to build them, and the glorious things you can do in them.

Target Readers:

  • Would-be Treehouse Builders, Worldwide Perspective Fans, Lyrical Text Fans, Treehouse Lovers, Picture Book Readers

The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe (Matched, #4) by Ally Condie
Poe Blythe was changed the night Call died. They were supposed to just be on the dredge a few days and then run off together. But raiders got to the ship for the gold they were dredging up from the river before Call and Poe could run. And raiders shot Call. Now Poe lives for one thing, to keep raiders off the dredge and kill as many as possible in the process. She's come up with designs that have made her very popular with the Admiral, the leader of the Outpost. He has a new important mission for the dredge and he's making her go on the ship. And Poe makes sure if she has to go at least she'll be the captain. No one knows the ship better. No one wants to see the raiders fail more. But all is not as it seems on this trip, nor is all as it seems in the world as Poe knows it. Poe doesn't know if she and her crew will survive this trip, but one thing is for sure, none of them will ever be the same.
I have this listed as Matched #4 because it happens in the same world as the Matched trilogy and a character from that series does appear in this story.
Why is this book included? Poe comes across a settlement that lives in treetops at one point in the story.

Target Readers:

  • Western Fans, River Pirate Story Fans, Dystopia Fans, Matched Series Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
The classic story of a family who is shipwrecked on a desert island and must survive on their own. One of the many shelters they build is a treehouse.

Target Readers:

  • Survival Story Fans, Classic Fans, Adult Fiction Readers (though there are many, many adaptations for younger readers and even the unabridged classic is still approachable for upper middle grade on up)

That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares
A little boy starts building a treehouse, but seems to be having issues. A curious new neighbor comes to his aid and the two find a new friendship and more color in their lives through the experience.

Target Readers:

  • Friendship Story Fans, Mostly Wordless Story Fans, Treehouse Lovers, Art Lovers, Picture Book Readers

The 13-Story Treehouse (13-Story Treehouse, #1) by Andy Griffiths, ill. by Terry Denton
Andy and Terry are an author and illustrator who live in a giant treehouse and are late getting their latest manuscript to their publisher. They have just 24 hours to get something whipped up, but things like catnaries, sea monkeys that turn out to be sea monsters, and giant apes keep interrupting them. And they can't decide what their book should be about. Can they make their deadline?

Target Readers:

  • Graphic Novel Fans, Readers with Great Imaginations, Humor Fans, Reluctant Readers, Middle Grade Fiction Readers

Up in the Leaves: the True Story of the Central Park Treehouses by Shira Boss, ill. by Jamey Christoph
A boy longing for freedom and space in the midst of New York City, found solace in the branches of the trees of Central Park and built a number of treehouses. When the park workers took down one of his treehouses, he just built another. Until one day the park workers had another proposition for Bob.

Target Readers:

  • Picture Book Biography Fans, Unique Occupation Story Fans, Treehouse Lovers, Nonfiction Fans, New York City Setting Fans, Picture Book Readers

Friday, March 20, 2020

Brainstorm 207: Which Audible Free Stories Should You Listen to First?

Audible has just announced that they are offering several of their books for free. Click here for where to find them. Here are some I recommend. (And a note of warning, some of the books offered on there are in the middle of a series, so you might want to research that before you start listening and find yourself completely lost.) I’m not going to highlight the classics which you can find on a whole host of platforms for free since they are out of copyright. If I have read the book recently (in the past decade) you can click on the title to see my full review.

Elementary (these are middle grade):

Gail Carson Levine’s Princess Tales
There are several of these available. (If you want to listen to all of them just listen to the one with the cover here, The Fairy’s Return, it’s a combo of all of them.) They are fun short story rewrites of fairy tales.

Target Readers:

  • Fairytale Fans, Fantasy Fans, Short Story Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Blastaway by Melissa Landers
This is a scifi adventure featuring a boy who accidentally ran away from home, an orphan girl trying to survive, and a group of people set on blowing up a sun.

Target Readers:

  • Scifi Fans, Adventure Fans, Refugee Story Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Shelter Dogs by Peg Kehret
Our physical copy of this book has been well loved. It features true stories of shelter dogs.

Target Readers:

  • Dog Lovers, Nonfiction Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Tween (this section is a mix of middle grade and clean young adult):

Wizard for Hire (Wizard for Hire, #1) by Obert Skye
A boy who has grown up alone in the woods has to venture into town for the first time and hires a wizard to help him find his missing parents. But is the wizard really a wizard or not?

Target Readers:

  • Mystery Fans, Survival Story Fans, Light Thriller Fans, Middle Grade Readers, Young Adult Readers

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
A Mongolian rewrite of lesser known fairytale with plenty of Hale’s own twists and turns. The story is told from the point of view of the maid who was sealed up in the tower with the princess.

Target Readers:

  • Fairytale Retelling Fans, Fantasy Fans, Asian Setting Fans, Clean Romance Fans, Young Adult Readers

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Brainstorm 206: Obscure History I Learned from Fiction Books Part 2

It’s time for the YA and Adult fiction books that have taught me bits of history I didn’t know about before, and certainly didn’t remember from history classes. You’ll probably notice that two authors have multiple books in this list, Ruta Sepetys and Margarita Engle. Actually, I could have put more for both of these authors but trimmed the list down to include only 2 each. I totally recommend checking out more of their books if you enjoy learning obscure history. Ruta Sepetys and Margarita Engle both do amazing jobs in bringing to life history bits in English that the English-speaking world seems to have forgotten. (Or in the case of Ruta Sepetys’ books, history that was hushed up.) Many of the books below were eye-opening reads talking about racial issues, social issues, or horrible wrongs the world would rather ignore than address. Click on the book titles to see my full reviews and content notes (language, mature content, level of violence, etc.).

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
At first Black Dove and White Raven were a pair of women flyers who did stunt flying at air shows. Delia was Black Dove and Rhoda was White Raven. When Delia dies in an accident, Rhoda takes in Teo as her own. Eventually, Rhoda decides to fulfill Delia’s dream of going to Ethiopia (where Delia’s husband was from) with the kids. She gets a job flying around Dr. Ezra for clinics and takes photographs to sell to magazines. Though Africa is their third home continent in their short lives, Teo and Em seem most at home there. They learn the local language from Dr. Ezra’s wife, Sinidu, get lessons with another expat family, and help around the village as they can. And in their free time make up stories about their fictional characters, Black Dove and White Raven who have all sorts of adventures. But their idyllic life starts to become threatened by rumblings between the Ethiopians and neighboring colonists, the Italians. Only because of this, Momma starts teaching both teens to fly, a skill they’ve dreamed of since their earliest memories. As war becomes more and more eminent, the family will have to figure out what to do, stuck as they are in a tricky position with ties to both sides (Rhoda’s husband is an Italian).
Obscure History Bits (for me): Pre-WWII Ethiopia and its relationship with Italy

Target Readers:

  • Flying Fans, TCKs, African (or Specifically Ethiopian) Setting Fans, Young Adult Readers

Castle on the Rise (The Lost Castle, #2) by Kristy Cambron
In present time, Laine and her daughter Cassie have come to Europe for Ellie’s wedding, but then agree to stay on longer when Ellie asks Laine to come to Ireland with them while Quinn and his brother Cormac deal with the sudden inheritance of an old castle. Both women are dealing with unexpected challenges in their lives and the brothers are working around old wounds while trying to figure out why Molly Byrne left Castle Chryn and the Ashford estate to them.
In the spring of 1916 Lady Isolde Byrne, daughter of Lord and Lady Chryn, finds herself, her friends, and her family distracted not only by the war in Europe, the plight of her friend Honor, and by rumblings in Dublin as people start making waves to declare Ireland a free land. With ties to both the English and the Irish, Issy must choose where her heart lies, whether she should stay at the family estate or venture to Dublin, and how involved she and her camera should be in the events unfolding on Easter of 1916.
In the winter of 1797-1798 Maeve Ashford finds the welfare of the Ashford estate and the attached village falling to her shoulders during a turbulent time as Catholics and Protestants, English and Irish are at bitter ends. The Ashfords are English, but Maeve’s heart feels a bit Irish too. When a stranger turns up one Christmas eve under mysterious circumstances and looking like an enemy, but needing help, Maeve finds her life changed forever by an act of kindness and mercy.
Obscure History Bits (for me): The Dublin Easter 1916 events

Target Readers:

  • Historical Fiction Fans, Contemporary Fiction Fans, Clean Romance Fans, Christian Fiction Fans, Time Slip Fans, Irish History Fans, Ireland Setting Fans, Adult Readers (though totally approachable for Young Adults too)

The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
Jade Moon is a Fire Horse, a spunky girl with entirely too many opinions and too much spirit in the view of her traditional Chinese community. As the New Year is about to start a man appears in the village looking for her father. That man's name is Sterling Promise, and he comes with an opportunity for her father and her to go to America with him as a paper family (a fake family made to resemble one that has actual immigrant papers). Jade grabs at the chance for a new life and the freedoms she desires in America, but the trio arrives only to find themselves stuck on Angel Island for an indefinite amount of time while the authorities put them through rounds of questionings. And then they tell her that Sterling Promise can go to America, but she must return home to China, the land of no future, with her father. Jade Moon can't abide with that vision of her future, so she comes up with a bold and daring plan. She steals Sterling Promise's clothing and papers and hops the ferry in his place. Of course, at the final destination they are checking papers a little more closely so Jade must make some quick moves to get her feet on American soil. In the mad chase that follows, Jade runs into a man named Harry who takes her, as the man named Fire Horse, to his father, a leader of one of the Chinese tongs in San Francisco. Mr. Hon likes Fire Horse's spirit, and decides to give him training in fighting, the business, and English. Fire Horse goes through his trainings, but begins to see that Mr. Hon's world is just as much of a trap as China was for Jade Moon. Jade is desperate to find a way out of the tong's grasp, but it will be challenging. When she finally is given an escape route, she finds herself given an opportunity to do something unselfish for the first time in a long time and must choose between comfort or helping others.
Obscure Bits of History (for me): This was the very first book I read about paper families and what Asian immigrants to the US faced at Angel Island (an immigration detention center off San Francisco in the early 1900s till 1940).

Target Readers:

  • Asian American History Fans, Spunky Character Fans, San Francisco History Fans, Immigrant Story Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
Ida Mae Jones is itching to do something more to help the war effort. Her older brother has enlisted as a medic and was assigned to a colored regiment in the Pacific. He wants her to stay at home and keep watch of Mamma and Grandy and their brother Abel, but Ida Mae still feels like it isn't enough. So when Abel points out an ad in the newspaper that the army is looking for female pilots, Ida Mae is more than interested. She learned to fly from her Daddy. The only problem is that she is colored, and the army isn't likely to take a Negro pilot. But then again, maybe she can pass as white. Her skin is very light, thanks to her Daddy's side of the family having some white blood. Ida Mae decides to test it out and apply...and the ruse works during the interview. So she keeps the ruse going and shows up at Texas to train to be a WASP. No one picks up on her secret. Ida Mae discovers that not all white girls are snobs, and even finds some really good friends among the other trainees. It isn't easy, but Ida Mae is determined to get to fly and by doing so help her country. The story continues to follow her through training and into her actual duties as a WASP.
Obscure Bits of History (for me): WASP training and work in WWII America, and racial issues through the eyes of someone passing as white

Target Readers:

  • Less Violent WWII Story Fans, Flying Fans, Fans of Books That Explore Racial Issues, Historical Fiction Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
Ana is thrilled to have her job at the Hilton in Madrid. She hopes it is the key to eventually getting her family out of poverty and herself maybe out of Madrid. She isn't going to take this hope lightly. Hope doesn't come easily for children of Republicans in Franco's Spain.
Puri is Ana's cousin. She's been raised as a model Spaniard, following all of Franco's principles. She loves her job at the orphanage and prays for wonderful families for the children she loves on. Her beliefs in Franco's ideals, the methods of the Catholic nuns who run the orphanage, and her own place in life are shaken when she accidentally uncovers some secrets.
Daniel has just graduated from high school in Texas and is visiting Madrid with his oil baron father and Spanish-American mother, as his father brokers a deal with Franco. Daniel is destined to be attending Texas A&M in the fall to get a degree that will set him up to take over the oil business. But what he really wants to do is go to journalism school. He longs to be a photojournalist, and he's hoping to capture images on this trip that will help him win a scholarship to pursue his dream. In Madrid he meets an established journalist who encourages him to find pictures that tell the real story of Franco's Spain. The only person he has met on this trip who might help him understand the truth is Ana, who services his family's rooms at the Hilton. But all his attempts at getting Ana to answer his questions have failed so far. Will he ever understand what is really going on and why the Guardia almost arrested him for taking a picture of them (or was it the nun with a dead baby)?
Ana, Puri, Daniel, and others' stories collide to tell a story of what it was like to live under Franco's regime in Spain after WWII.
Obscure Bits of History (for me): Franco’s Spain

Target Readers:

  • Historical Fiction Fans, Spain Setting Fans, Photography Buffs, Complicated Love Story Fans, Mystery Fans, Navigating a Foreign Culture Story Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers

Grenade by Alan Gratz
Ray is a young US Marine who just joined up and his first action is to be the battle for Okinawa. Why he's there and his rocky relationship with his father who fought in the Great War are slowly revealed as readers share chapters with Ray as he is in his first battle, must wrestle with what he experiences and how he feels about his fellow soldiers, the Japanese, and the Okinawans.
Hideki is Okinawan. His island was claimed by the Japanese but the Okinawans still have their own ways, language, and beliefs (even if the Japanese have forbid them from using many of these). His family all believes that his cowardly ancestor's spirit rests on him, but that doesn't stop the Japanese army from conscripting him and all the other boys at his school. They are all given two grenades right before the US soldiers invade and told one is for the Americans, while the other is for them to end their lives with. There is nothing Hideki would rather do but hide until the battle is over, but when a mission drops in his lap he must try and see it fulfilled even if it means going into the heart of the fighting.
The Japanese have told themselves and the Okinawans that the Americans are monsters. But Hideki has seen the Japanese use the Okinawans as unwilling kamikazes. The Americans have been told that the Okinawans are to be given refuge and only the Japanese are monsters, but fear turns everyone into monsters. And Ray finds the callous hearts of his fellow soldiers sickening. But when afraid, is he any better? Can two young men have eyes to see who the real monsters are or aren't?
Obscure Bits of History (for me): Okinawans’ history & culture, and their relationship to Japanese

Target Readers:

  • WWII Story Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, War Story Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers

Hurricane Dancers: the First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle
Quebrado is a gold mine for the pirate captain. With his half Caribbean native, half Spanish blood he can speak the tribal languages of the islands in addition to Spanish and act as translator for the pirate. Qeubrado can't wait to escape the abusive captain's clutches. Alonso de Ojeda also can't wait to escape the pirate's clutches. He was a brutal conquistador and Spanish governor until Captain Bernardino de Talavera kidnapped him. Meanwhile on a nearby island, the villagers have gathered in a cave to sing and dance to appease the spirits. Among them is Naridó, a fisherman who loves the chief's daughter Caucubú. But Caucubú's father is determined to have his daughter marry the son of another tribe's chief instead of a lowly fisherman. Soon, the hurricane winds will bring all of these people together.
Obscure Bits of History (for me): All of it.

Target Readers:

  • Pirate Story Fans, Caribbean Setting Fans, Disaster Story Fans, Novel in Verse Fans, Quick Read Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers on up

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle
Tula is growing up in 1800s Cuba. Her mother and grandfather are planning to marry her off to a wealthy gentleman as soon as she is of age, 13 or 14. Tula would rather wait until she is older and marry for love. She views the selling off of girls as brides just as bad as the slavery all around her. She feels like a caged bird longing to spread her wings. She loves to read, but her mother says reading will make her an undesirable bride. So Tula sneaks books out, or goes to read in the library the nuns have. She spins tales for the orphans and the cook at home. Tales about fantastic things, with messages about bravery and justice. When she defies her mother about an arranged marriage, she is sequestered on Grandfather's plantation. There, she meets a storyteller and others who long to break the chains that bind them in various forms of slavery.
Obscure Bits of History (for me): 1800s Cuba

Target Readers:

  • Novel in Verse Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Book Lovers, Quick Read Fans, Social Justice Story Fans, Biographical Fiction Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
It's early 1945 in East Prussia. The Nazis occupy most of the land, but they are slowly crumbling and the Russians are pushing in from the East. And there's a host of people who have been displaced from their homes by the war moving towards the shore of the Baltic Sea in hopes they can escape before the Russians arrive. One of the biggest ships waiting at Gotenhafen for refugees and evacuating German forces is the former cruise ship, Wilhelm Gustloff. Readers experience this harrowing time through the voices of four young adults: Florian, the German, who may or may not be on a special mission from one of Hitler's top men. Joanna, a Lithuanian nurse who seeks to help those around her and assuage the guilt of something she did in her efforts to survive. Emilia, a Polish teenager who has lost everything to the war. And Alfred, a German soldier assigned to prepare the Wilhelm Gustloff for its rescue journey. Florian, Emilia, Joanna, a giant woman named Eva, a blind young woman named Ingrid, an old cobbler the group calls the Shoe Poet, and a young boy who wandered out of the woods form a rag-tag group as chance encounters bring them together on the road to Gotenhafen. Through them, readers experience all the joys and horrors of the life of refugees trying to make it to safety. Meanwhile, Alfred is using his amazing brain to figure out ways to evade work and write imaginary letters to his sweetheart. All of them meet at Gotenhafen, where most of them board the Wilhelm Gustloff and watch their salvation turn into what seems to be doom.
Obscure Bits of History (for me): The Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy (which nobody really knew about until the Iron Curtain came down).

Target Readers:

  • Refugee Story Fans, WWII Story Fans, Historical Fiction, Fans of Excellent Writing of Multiple Voices, Bittersweet Story Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers

Waterfall (River of Time, #1) by Lisa T. Bergren
While on an archeological dig with their mom, Gabi and her sister Lia trigger some sort of time travel device and are swept back in time to medieval Italy in the middle of a city-state war. Gabi happens to land right on disputed land during a battle, and for some reason Lia isn’t with her. She is rescued by one Lord’s son, Marcello, and taken to his family's castle. Gabi's main mission becomes finding Lia.  While she is trying to figure out how to find Lia and get back to the 21st century, there are a couple other plot lines going on. Marcello's older brother is in horrible health and fighting for his life. Marcello is betrothed to Lady Rossi, and their marriage will strengthen the city state of Siena. Gabi's arrival threatens this betrothal, even though she does her best not to. Also, there are ongoing battles with the neighboring Paratores, ultimately linked to city state tensions between Siena and Firenze.
Obscure Bits of History (for me): This entire series taught me a lot about 1300s Italy life, customs, and politics

Target Readers:

  • Action Packed Story Fans, Love Story Fans, Italy Setting Fans, Time Travel Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Christian Fiction Fans, Young Adult Fiction Readers

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Brainstorm 205: Obscure History I Learned from Fiction Books Part 1

I’ve read a couple fiction books lately that have taught me rather obscure bits of history as they spun their magnificent tales. And it reminded me that I’ve learned quite a bit of history I never picked up in classes from the books I’ve read. I’m going to highlight books that talked about/brought to life history I’d never read about anywhere else or introduced it to me for the first time. And these books are where I remember clearly coming across this history for the first time. I came up with such a long list I’ve decided to split it into 2 parts. Part 1 will be middle grade or books that could be shelved in either middle grade or young adult, and Part 2 will be young adult and adult books next week. Click on the titles here for my full reviews of each one including any content to be aware of for various readers.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
Crow has a very loving home on a tiny island near Cuttyhunk island with Osh. Their life is simple, but between the ocean, Osh's care, and Miss Maggie's lessons, there's nothing more Crow needs. But that doesn't stop her from wondering where she came from or who put her in the boat she washed up in. The islanders believe she came from the leper colony that used to be on Penikese Island, and therefore give her a wide berth. In her desire to be treated the same and answer deep questions about where she came from, Crow draws herself and Osh and Miss Maggie into grander adventures than any of them had ever desired.
Obscure History Bits (for me): Injustices lepers faced in late 1800s/early 1900s in New England, and the real leper colony on Penikese Island, Massachussetts

Target Readers:

  • Island Life Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Mystery/Thriller Fans, Lovable Character Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
Vidya is the younger of two siblings in a more modern Brahmin Indian family during the beginnings of WWII. Her father is a doctor, active in the nonviolent Indian freedom movement, who believes that the caste system isn't necessarily right and that his daughter should have the freedom to go to college before marrying (uncommon at the time). Vidya and her father are returning to their home one day when they have to stop because of a protest. Vidya gets swept up in the hype and leaves the car against her father's wishes. He tries to stop her, ends up helping a woman being beaten by the British police, and is himself beaten until he suffers severe brain damage. At this point Vidya's life dramatically changes. She, her mother, brother, and her father must then go to live with the rest of her father's family in a more traditional Brahmin household. Vidya's life is made miserable by her aunt and uncle, and she realizes she will probably never get to go to college now. The one bright spot in her life is the library, which she at first visits on the sly --since it lies up on the mens' floor where women are forbidden-- and then, thanks to the all-powerful word of thatha (her Grandfather) she is granted access to daily. Climbing the stairs to the library ends up changing her life for the better in several ways.
Obscure History Bits (for me): WWII era in India

Target Readers:

  • Indian History Fans, WWII Era Fans, Fans of Stories about Women’s Rights Issues, Historical Fiction Fans, Middle Grade Fiction Readers & Young Adult Fiction Readers

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
Nisha starts a diary writing letters to her mother, who died when Nisha and her twin brother Amil were born. As a girl who struggles to get words to come out as speech, she feels the need to talk to someone about the events rocking her world. The India she knows and loves is about to be divided, and her family who is mostly Hindu since her Muslim mother died will be on the wrong side of the division. She is heartbroken that this means they will have to leave their cook, Kazi, since he is Muslim. Kazi is one of the few people she can talk to. She helps him in the kitchen all the time. Life is challenging enough. But as she, Amil, Papa, and Dadi make their way toward the border as refugees, Nisha realizes there are worse challenges out there and a very broken world. Can a girl survive in such a world?
Obscure History Bits (for me): India’s Independence and division from Pakistan

Target Readers:

  • Indian/Pakistani History Fans, Historical Fiction, Fans of Stories about People with Disabilities (Nisha has selective mutism and her brother is dyslexic), Refugee Story Fans, Award Winner Fans, Middle Grade Fiction Readers

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle
Through free verse poems from various points of view, Engle tells the tale of Cuba’s struggle for freedom from 1850-1899 by following the life of Rosa la Bayamesa and those around her. At the start, Rosa is a girl learning to be a healer. She is a slave who learns how to treat the illnesses and injuries of her fellow slaves. But she goes on to become a woman of legend, a healer who primarily aids those fighting for freedom. But above all a healer of any injured, regardless of their alignment.
Obscure History Bits (for me): All of it. I knew nothing of Rosa or Cuba’s struggle for freedom in the 1800s before reading this.

Target Readers:

  • Novels in Verse Fans, Quick Read Fans, Award Winner Fans, Cuban History Fans, Cuba Setting Fans, Biographical Fiction Fans, Compassionate Character Fans, Middle Grade Fiction Readers

Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai
Natsu and her little sister Asa didn't have a lot on their farm in Manchuria, but they had their father and enough food to get by. But as WWII comes to a close, the Emperor calls up all the able bodied men in their town and their father must leave. Their neighbor, Auntie, moves in to care for them as her son also left for the war. Very soon, though, Auntie gets news that the Russians are on their way and they must run from their town and try to make the last ship to Japan before they are stuck.
Obscure History Bits (for me): All of it. I knew absolutely nothing about the history of Manchuria during WWII. I had no idea that the area was settled by 5 different people groups and somewhat independent and then claimed by the Japanese. I had no idea that the Japanese had to flee the area as WWII ended to be safe from the Russians. And the whole refugee camp of displaced Japanese Manchurians and Japanese Manchurian refugee children being adopted by Chinese or Russian families was new information for me.

Target Readers:

  • Survival Story Fans, WWII Story Fans, Refugee Story Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Novels in Verse Fans, Middle Grade Fiction Readers

Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen
It is late 1800s in what used to be Lithuania but is now part of Russia. Audra thought her father was just a normal traveling magician, and her mother a normal house wife until the day the Cossack's come to arrest them. Audra barely escapes. The last thing her mother did was hand her her father's traveling bag and tell her to run to Milda in a nearby village. Audra has been a quiet and rather reclusive girl up to this point. She had suspicions that her parents had secrets to tell her, but had no idea what they were involved in. With the help of Lukas, a boy she accidentally meets at a stream, she finds Milda and discovers that her parents were book smugglers helping keep the Lithuanian language and culture alive. Audra can't understand why her parents would risk their lives for books. She agrees to finish a delivery her father was supposed to do, and her life will never be the same again.
Obscure History Bits (for me): Lithuanian book smugglers and their role in preserving the Lithuanian culture and fire for independence

Target Readers:

  • Thriller Fans, Lithuanian History Fans, Russian History Fans, Lithuania Setting Fans, Secret Operative Story Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Middle Grade Fiction Fans