Book Description:Disgusted when he is denied access to the pyramids of Dahshoor and assigned to a “rubble heap,” Emerson finds his curiosity piqued when an antiquities dealer is murdered and a mummy case disappears.
Review: First off…what is this book description? No mention of Amelia at all? I got it off Goodreads and I have to imagine that it was re-written for a later re-print of the series, but whomever is responsible for it should be ashamed for so badly misrepresenting this book and the series as a whole!
So, with no build up whatsoever, I loved this book even more than the last one! Many of my favorite elements were still present, and the added characters were stronger than in the last, as well as the mystery and action being upped.
Amelia and Emerson are off on another dig, though much to their disappointment, they will be at a much less illustrious location than their fellow egyptologists who have managed to snag the much-desired pyramids of Dahshoor site. But perhaps this is for the best, since Amelia and Emerson must not only balance their dig, as well as the inevitable mysteries and deaths that Emerson claims that Amelia attracts to herself, but also their precocious son, Ramses, who is accompanying them for the first time on this trip.
Amelia remains, as ever, the darling of my reader heart and one of my favorite narrators to date. Her wit, practicality, and scathing observations of those around her are as strong as ever. And the relationship (battle?) between her and her husband is as fun as ever. So, full marks in those as carry over elements.
I have to admit that I was a bit concerned when I picked up this novel and realized that Ramses had grown to an age where he was going to be featured more strongly in the series. In the last book, he made a brief appearance in the beginning but was absent for much of the rest of the story. I was a bit worried that the humor that lies in his character (his sharp tongue, unbreakable “reasoning” for his misbehavior, etc) wouldn’t hold up under increased page time. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed Ramses as a character! Peters struck the perfect balance between featuring him as a new element, both in the series as well as his effect on the dynamic between Amelia and Emerson, and retaining familiar aspects of the story. He doesn’t overwhelm other characters, but instead draws out some my favorite aspects from before.
I also really enjoyed the side characters in this book. Unlike the last book which heavily featured original characters (to varying levels of success), many of the characters in this book are famous archeologists of the time. It was fun reading about familiar names, especially through the lens of Amelia’s and Emerson’s views of them. I’m sure there is a lot of creative leave that was taken, but it’s fun to imagine the real life individuals with some of the bizarre traits and habits that Peters ascribes for them here.
All in all, this was a great third book in a series. While I still very much enjoyed the second book, it was exciting to pick up this one and see that it had corrected many of my few quibbles from the last and was heading in a strong direction: no longer am I concerned about Ramses’ portion of the plot! Bring on the child antics! If you enjoy historical mysteries, and especially comedic writing, I recommend this entire series. It’s not strictly necessary that you read the first two, but why not when they’re this good?
Rating 9: An excellent continuation and proof that I should be less snobby about kid characters!
Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, August 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.
Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.
The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.
And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.
As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.
Review: This summer my husband and I went on a few airplane trips, and on one of them we were overhearing (okay, eavesdropping on) a conversation between two people in front of us. While we only got the context of their trip from this one conversation, it sure sounded like we were sitting behind a couple of members going to a big cult meeting. We kept hoping that they wouldn’t turn around and see us and try to sell us whatever kind of nutritional supplement pyramid scheme they had gotten themselves into, and the moment that they mentioned that at the big welcome concert they had a strict dress code of all white, we looked at each other like
I’m sure it was all harmless, but I did have a few fleeting moments of thinking about Heaven’s Gate and things like that. I also thought of a book I’d requested from the library, “The Smaller Evil” by one of my favorite YA authors Stephanie Kuehn. Kuehn has written some pretty intense thrillers for teenagers, thrillers that have enough appeal that I think would be pretty tempting to adult audiences if they were willing to just give YA literature a try already. I love her debut novel “Charm and Strange”, and I have had her on my radar ever since I picked it for Book Club during our inaugural session. Kuehn writes with intensity, passion, and a searing amount of pathos, as her characters are all very messed up and very alone in the world. I’m a true sucker for that. I had pretty high hopes for “The Smaller Evil”, what with the fact that it sounded like it was going to tackle the topic of cults. Because with psychopathy, child abuse, sexual assault, and mental illness, why not add something like this to her repertoire, especially since she writes on these matters with sensitivity and eloquence.
The cult storyline itself was a bit more Lifespring than Jonestown, which was not as interesting to me as I had hoped it would be. Which probably makes me kind of monstrous but eh, I’ll own it. I had hoped that there would be some really creepy scenes with group think and herd mentality, and while Beau and his followers were by no means totally on the up and up, bordering into unhealthy, I never felt like there was much of a threat from them. This made it so I wasn’t as worried about Arman, which in turn made me not as invested in him as I probably should have been. I also had a feeling about what the big reveal or twist was going to be, and then really felt it when a reference was made to a 1960s film called “Bunny Lake is Missing”, in which a mother of a missing little girl has her sanity questioned. I did appreciate the fact that it was unclear as to whether or not the main conflict, specifically Beau’s disappearance and possible death, was an actuality, or all in Arman’s head. And I think that had I not seen “Bunny Lake Is Missing” I wouldn’t have been able to figure out just what was gong on, but since I’m a cinephile with a taste for the obscure there mystery was kind of sucked out of the story for me. But then, I don’t think that it would have been so clear to me had I never seen that movie, so that is hardly Kuehn’s fault. I just wish that the conflict with the cult had been a bit more pressing, as as it was, even without knowing the connection, I just never quite bought them as totally threatening as a whole. Misguided and saps, sure. But not dangerous, and that took some of the suspense out.
However, this made it so my focus and interest could be solely on Arman and trying to figure out what makes him tick. Like I mentioned, Kuehn does a really good job of writing mentally ill characters in a realistic and gentle way. Arman suffers from very severe anxiety from the get go, and the reader is slowly shown what has happened to him in his life that has brought him to such a precarious state. He is always on the verge of an anxiety attack, and his first instinct is to run from the issues. When we meet him he’s on his way to Evolve, the compound in the beautiful backdrop of Big Sur, California, he’s stolen a lot of money from his drug dealing stepfather. Arman is searching for a father figure, as his biologial father is a criminal and his stepdad is just as dangerous. I wholly believed that Arman would find himself mixed up with the charismatic and potentially manipulative Beau, and I never questioned the choices that he made throughout this book. His mental illness also felt very real, and his anxiety never treaded into campy territory. It also always felt real enough that one could plausibly wonder if he was just a victim of his own delusions, without portraying him as a complete ranting and raving lunatic. The only aspect of Arman that I did question was his relationships to a fellow teenage member of Evolve named Kira, and his simultaneous dalliances with the beautiful and sexually aggressive camp cook. Neither of these characters were really fleshed out enough for me to really understand their motivations when it came to Arman, and it felt a bit too bad to me that the two potential love interests were kind of relegated to the sexual awakening (the cook) and the idealized but out of reach romance (Kira). The other female character at the forefront was Mari, one of the lower ranked officials at Evolve who puts the screws to Arman when Beau disappears. This book is definitely more about Arman and his journey, and while I really liked finding out what his journey was, it was kind of a shame that the ladies didn’t have as much time to shine or grow as they could have.
Though I think that “The Smaller Evil” isn’t as strong as “Charm and Strange” or “Delicate Monsters”, even a weaker story from Kuehn is still far and away some of the best writing for Young Adults out there. I am continually impressed by the stories that she tells, and I am once again going to have to wait for her next novel to come out. I really hope I don’t have to wait too long.
Rating 8: I was expecting more cult, but “The Smaller Evil” had me questioning everything that I was reading and on the edge of my seat.
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description:As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.
One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.
But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.
Review: This book was somehow exactly what I expected and completely unexpected at the same time. I still can’t quite decide how I feel about it, but I’ll give it a go!
The story starts off with a quick introduction to Kestrel, our protagonist who, as the daughter of a most-esteemed general and an astute strategist herself, is struggling against pressure to make big life decisions: join the army or get married. Beneath this all lies Kestrel’s true passion for music, specifically the piano, which is not an acceptable life path for individuals in a society where the arts are to be paid for, not to be done oneself. Cue life changing event: Kestrel finds herself drawn to a young slave, purchases him, and FEELINGS HAPPEN.
So, my summary probably gives some clues to the strengths and weaknesses of the story. The set up is pretty obvious and frankly I was a bit weary reading through the inevitable relationship build-up between Kestrel and Arin.
I was much more intrigued by the world itself. What makes the situation presented here so interesting is the recentness of things. Arin’s country was invaded and his people enslaved within his own lifetime, only 15 years ago. Often stories like these involve countries with a much more lengthy history. Kestrel’s questions regarding Arin’s previous life offer a fascinating view into what living in a conquered country would be like, for both the winners and the losers, when history has barely been written. The strengths of the book definitely lay in this area, especially with a twist that happened about 2/3 of the way through the story which really tossed the plot in a completely unexpected, and frankly, relieving direction.
The first two thirds, as I mentioned, were pretty typical and I was at times ready to put the book aside. As a character, Kestrel was…fine. She didn’t pop off the page for me, but she also didn’t fall into any traps that are often the downfall of YA heroines. Arin, for his part, had a lot less page time, but what there was from him was interesting. I did have trouble buying in to their relationship. The author did a respectable job throwing in good moments and discussions that could justify burgeoning feelings between these two. But, especially for Arin, it’s hard to imagine that years worth of resentment, fear, and anger could be overcome.
The twist truly does save it. I don’t want to give it away, as it was a game changer for me with the series, throwing some much needed reality onto a at times a bit cheesy romance plot. I was worried that much of the history of their various cultures and the current society they both inhabited would be too easily swept aside. Boy was I wrong. I was thrilled that the author “went there” on a lot of these issues and really forced her characters into tough situations.
While ultimately the book still came off as a bit too “light” for me, I admire the direction the author is taking this series and the ending really did pull it back from the brink. I’ll put it down on my list to follow-up with the series, but I’m also not in a super rush due to some of these criticisms.
Rating 6: Weak start, bland characters, but ultimately a decent recovery with an unexpected switch in direction towards the end.
Book Description:Josephine Hurst has her family under control. With two beautiful daughters, a brilliantly intelligent son, a tech-guru of a husband and a historical landmark home, her life is picture perfect. She has everything she wants; all she has to do is keep it that way. But living in this matriarch’s determinedly cheerful, yet subtly controlling domain hasn’t been easy for her family, and when her oldest daughter, Rose, runs off with a mysterious boyfriend, Josephine tightens her grip, gradually turning her flawless home into a darker sort of prison.
Resentful of her sister’s newfound freedom, Violet turns to eastern philosophy, hallucinogenic drugs, and extreme fasting, eventually landing herself in the psych ward. Meanwhile, her brother Will shrinks further into a world of self-doubt. Recently diagnosed with Aspergers and epilepsy, he’s separated from the other kids around town and is homeschooled to ensure his safety. Their father, Douglas, finds resolve in the bottom of the bottle—an addict craving his own chance to escape. Josephine struggles to maintain the family’s impeccable façade, but when a violent incident leads to a visit from child protective services, the truth about the Hursts might finally be revealed.
Review: It is times like these that I thank the heavens that my mother is a wonderful, funny, awesome person who raised me well with a lot of encouragement and love. Sure, my teenage years, like most teenage years, were trying for both of us, but she and I have a very good relationship now, and I know that I am lucky for that. Because there are some people who have mothers like Josephine Hurst, and that scares the bejesus out of me. Josephine Hurst is one of the most twisted villains I have encountered in fiction this year, and like the other villains that have shook me to the core it’s because of her plausibility. She is the classic narcissist parent, who coddles and smothers and brainwashes one child (the neurotic and eager to please son Will), and torments the other (the tortured and lost Violet). I had gone into this thinking that it was going to be something kind of soapy and cartoony like either Kathleen Turner in “Serial Mom” or Marcia Cross on “Desperate Housewives”, but then when it was a really upsetting and scary book about the dangers of narcissistic parenting I was a bit taken aback. Though I suppose I should have expected something along those lines from the woman whose memoir, “Smashed: The Story of a Drunken Girlhood”, was about her tumultuous teenage years on booze. Still, how I hoped for a campy Bree Van de Kamp-Hodge revisit.
I will say this much, this book was super upsetting and very terrifying to me because of how relentlessly evil Josephine was, and not in a fun way. Watching her manipulate her children and husband and wage psychological warfare against them was just hard to read. It’s told from two perspectives, that of Will, the doted on and pampered child, and that of Violet, the black sheep who Josephine psychologically abuses. The overarching mystery in this book is a pretty clever one, in that you don’t realize that it’s a mystery until about half way through, and that is of the oldest child, Rose. Rose ran away from the family shortly before the events started, and Zailckas does a very good job of slowly revealing why things may not be as they seem in not just this situation, but in many other situations in this book. We get the perspective of Violet, who resents her sister for leaving, and Will, who has been convinced that his oldest sister is basically evil, and I wanted to smack and shake both of them and protect them from this horrible woman who is raising them. I’ve seen and heard about narcissistic parents in the lives of my friends and acquaintances and family, and Josephine is written very, very convincingly. Even though I wanted to shake both Will and Violet for different reasons, I not once said to myself ‘well that just wouldn’t happen’, because Josephine was incredibly real. I definitely enjoyed the Violet sections more, but that may have been because the Will sections were a bit too disturbing to me. Will is the child who is loved and praised and coddled, but you also see just how far gone he is, and how screwed he is going to be because of his connection to his horrible and abusive mother. That said, I also think that the Violet parts showed a more well thought out character, as Violet, though she rebels against her mother with her fascination with Eastern religion and philosophy, is also completely controlled and dominated by her. Violet had the strongest voice of the three children, and I really felt for her and invested in her.
However, I kind of guessed a couple of the big twists pretty early on in the story, and I don’t know if it was because I read too much thriller fiction or because Zailckas didn’t parse out the clues in a very tricky way. I had a harder time with some of the red herrings that were thrown in, as they were only there to distract but then had no explanation or payoff. I also wish that we had a little more dichotomy between Josephine and Beryl, the mother of Violet’s friend Imogene and the positive female influence in her life. We got to see Beryl a little bit, but I wanted more juxtaposition between them. I also felt that Beryl was almost too two dimensional in her portrayal, both a compassionate maternal angel and a literal martyr, as she is suffering from terminal cancer. I think that had we seen more of her and had she had more depth it would have felt more sincere. And without giving away any spoilers, I wished for more closure than we got. I know that life doesn’t always have closure, and I know that rarely do awful people really get what they deserve. But sometimes I am desperate for it, and when it doesn’t happen the way I want it to I have a harder time accepting it.
“Mother, Mother” is a solid thriller mystery and most of the characters are well thought out. But I warn you, it is very upsetting, and it tends to have a bit more emotional baggage than it can carry. Koren Zailckas captures narcissistic personality disorder very well, and should you dare read this, be ready to feel all the ick.
Rating 7: While some of the parts are hard to read and some of the plot twists and diversions are unnecessary, “Mother, Mother” paints a haunting portrait of a horribly abusive mother and her suffering children.
We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Across the Decades,” we each drew a decade and had to select a book that was either published or set in that decade.
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!
Book: “Revolution” by Deborah Wiles
Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, May 2014
Where Did We Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:It’s 1964, and Sunny’s town is being invaded. Or at least that’s what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi, are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They’re calling it Freedom Summer. Meanwhile, Sunny can’t help but feel like her house is being invaded, too. She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe. And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool — where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs. As she did in her groundbreaking documentary novel COUNTDOWN, award-winning author Deborah Wiles uses stories and images to tell the riveting story of a certain time and place — and of kids who, in a world where everyone is choosing sides, must figure out how to stand up for themselves and fight for what’s right.
So “Revolution” is part of a series called the “Sixties Trilogy”. A chunk of our bookclub read the first in the series, “Countdown”, in our Children’s Literature class in grad school, and I was wondering if “Revolution” was going to need “Countdown” to serve as a context and foundation. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that a reader could easily skip over “Countdown” and read “Revolution” first if they so chose. While I did enjoy “Countdown” (which is about a girl living on an army base during the Cuban Missile Crisis), I actually enjoyed “Revolution” a bit more. “Revolution” takes on one of the most important and tumultuous times from the 1960s, Freedom Summer in Mississippi. Like “Countdown” this book is both a novel and a documentation of the time period through photos, quotes, and documents. There are many photos of African Americans in Mississippi and the SNCC volunteers, along with biopic sections and influential quotes and song lyrics from civil rights leaders and activists. Being able to juxtapose the actual people in the movement along with the characters in the story and their progressions was incredibly powerful, and I think that this book would be very good to use in tandem with history classes when studying this time period and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The characters are fictional, but portray two different experiences of teenagers at this time. The first, and most prominent, perspective is that of Sunny. She’s about to turn thirteen, adjusting to a new stepmom and two new step siblings, and is becoming more aware of her surroundings, specifically the tensions in her community. She yearns for adventure and to learn, and is drawn to the Freedom Righters and activists that are ‘invading’ her hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi. I felt that Sunny was a well written and believable tween girl, who thinks that she knows everything and that she knows what the world is like. She is close to her step brother Gillette, but resents her stepmother Annabelle, still holding out hope that her mother will eventually come back for her, even though she left her and her father Jamie when she was just a baby. This book is from Sunny’s perspective, so we explored the opinions of those around her through her eyes. We see her Meemaw who just can’t understand why the ‘negroes’ are being so ‘uppity’ when they were so ‘happy’ up until now. We see her great Uncle Vivian, who is a jolly older man who loves his grand niece, but harbors serious racist views. And we see Annabelle, who is seen as meek and weak by Sunny (or at least unapproachable), but is in actuality an activist with deep convictions and devotion to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Civil Rights Movement. Our other perspective is that of Raymond, a fourteen year old African American boy who is inspired by the galvanization of his community and the Freedom Righters who have come to his part of town. He goes from covert acts of defiance (like sneaking into the segregated swimming pool after hours) to blatant acts of rebellion, standing up for his rights in light of the Civil Rights Act, and facing violence from angry whites in the community.
I liked both of these perspectives, but I think that it’s a damn shame that the dominant perspective was that of the white girl. While Raymond did gets sections of his POV, this book was very much about Sunny and her discovering the evils of racism in 1964 Mississippi. It’s a story that’s been told before, over and over again, and I had gone in hoping that this was going to be more about the African American perspective. I was glad to see that the documentary sections of this book did have a lot of that POV, but even then there were three well drawn out bio sections of various important figures in the Civil Rights Movement, and two of them were of white people. Like, really?
Overall, though, I did really like “Revolution”. I think that it’s a valuable resource and I feel that it was well written. I am also really really REALLY intrigued by what the final book in the trilogy will be about. I’m thinking it’s gonna be ‘Nam. Which is going to hurt like a bitch.
As one of the aforementioned classmates in the Children’s Literature class that read the first book in this series, “Countdown,” I had a good understanding of what I was getting into with this book. While I liked “Countdown” well enough, what sold me on the book was the slick way the author incorporated real news articles, ads, and images from the time, creating a fictional story and a documentary style narrative side-by-side. While I wasn’t blown away by the story in that book, I was truly impressed by this take on historical novels, especially for middle grade readers.
I think here, in “Revolution,” she really comes into her own with this style. Even more so than “Countdown,” I feel like the historical documents and articles really added to the story. I was fascinated by what she chose to include, how the placement of certain items aligned with the facts of the fictional narrative, and just by the stylistic choices that were made in how, and what, was presented.
I also was more invested in the fictional story as well. I thought Sunny was a brilliant character and witnessing the events of Freedom Summer through her eyes was a very interesting choice. I especially appreciated seeing the many adults’ reactions to events as seen through Sunny’s perspective, both her stepmother who she initially dismisses but learns to appreciate, as well as her Uncle Vivian who’s love of her is unquestionable but has opinions and views that are less than praise-worthy.
I also very much enjoyed Raymond’s sections and the voice and perspective that he offered. While Sunny did get the majority of the narrative, Raymond’s portions were equally important when fleshing out the full story.
While I agree with Kate that it would have been preferable to have more from Raymond’s character, I’m going to play a bit of a devil’s advocate role here. I don’t remember if this came up with regards to this particular series and “Countdown,” but in the same Children’s Literature class, we discussed writers of different racial/cultural backgrounds writing across racial/cultural lines. There can not, and I believe, should not, be any right or wrong answer to this question, nor a hard and fast rule with regards to this. But I would surmise that the reason Sunny’s perspective was given more weight might have to do with, perhaps, a sense of imposition that could have arisen from Deborah Wiles, a white woman, writing this story primarily from the perspective of a young African American boy. I have no idea whether or not this was the case. Just goes to show how challenging it can be to be an author and write about tough subjects like these! All the more power to her, though, for tackling the subject, and discussions like this are always important.
Overall, I, too, found myself enjoying this book even more than I did the first in the series. The documentary style elements were even stronger I felt, and I was more connected to the characters in the fictional story.
Serena’s Rating 8: A really great combination of fiction and documentary. I would strongly recommend this to any middle grader with an interest in history (or to a classroom teacher who’s looking to pair some fiction with a lesson plan on this time period).
Kate’s Rating 8: Though I feel like there weren’t enough voices or perspectives from the African American POV, I did like the story and found the historical content incredibly fascinating and valuable.
1.) There are a lot of images/documents/quotes included in this story. Did any stand out to you? Why?
2.) Did you connect with the characters of Sunny and Raymond? With one more than the other?
3.) This book would pair well with a class that is learning about this era in time. Are there any particular issues/scenes/thoughts that are expressed that would perhaps be more challenging and need discussion when reading with children? How would you approach these discussions? Are there things that weren’t addressed?
4) What did you think of Sunny’s relationship with her stepmother Annabelle? Did Annabelle’s characterization surprise you in any way? What about her relationship with her father Jamie?
5) Did you learn anything new about Freedom Summer in this book that you hadn’t known before? Do you think that “Revolution” did a good job of bringing up new issues that some of us may not be as familiar with?
Book: “The Curse of the Pharaohs” by Elizabeth Peters
Publishing Info: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1991
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description:Victorian Amelia Peabody continues to journal her Egypt adventures, toddler Ramses left in England. Husband Radcliffe Emerson’s old friend Lady Baskerville fears a curse killed her husband Sir Henry, and soon engages the attentions of American Cyrus. The will funds continued excavation. But a lady dressed in white floats, flutters, spreads fear, and more death.
Review: Now that I’ve discovered these books, I can’t stop myself! On to the next Amelia Peabody adventure, where we learn that nothing, not home, not baby, not grumpy husbands, is too much for Amelia!
This book picks up a few years after the first. Amelia and Emerson are home in England with their toddler son, Ramses (cuz, of course, that’s his name!). Right off the bat, I loved what Peters does with this new family dynamic. It is clear that Amelia loves her son dearly, but her practical, acerbic wit holds for no man or baby! I love the no-nonsense approach to parenthood that she brings to her interactions with Ramses, especially when paired with Emerson’s own approach. It’s kind of a traditional gender-swap, with Emerson cooing over the infant, while Amelia lovingly scoffs at his failures to recognize Ramses’ toddler faults. It’s all very adorable.
But, of course, disturbance must intrude on this domestic affair, and it comes with the death of Sir Henry while on a dig in Egypt. Amelia and Emerson are appealed to take over the dig and to stamp out the rumors of curses that now threatened to overrun the exhibition. Honestly, a lot of the elements in the mystery itself were similar to those found in the first book in this series: the setting, the growing body count, and the ever-present superstitious fears of the locals. Amelia and Emerson’s reactions to these elements are also similar, though in this book, they do develop a very fun competitive approach to the whole ordeal, which is as amusing as it sounds.
The cast of characters is also very expansive, which serves both as a benefit and a detriment to the story at various times. We have cartoon-ish characters (like an elderly lady who dresses up as ancient Egyptians and is convinced that Emerson is her reincarnated pharaoh lover), as well as side character with no less than three love interests! Some of these characters were fun, while others…I just couldn’t keep track of! The love interests, specifically, seemed to merge in my head and I often found myself flipping back pages trying to remember which gentleman was which. There was one, however, who is American and his overblown “American-isms” were pretty humorous, I must say. I did find myself missing Evelyn and Walter, but if this novel serves as a reference going forward, I think I must come to accept the fact that other than Amelia, Emerson, and now, likely Ramses, the supporting cast is likely to be a rotating door. Ah well.
Ultimately, I breezed through this book as quickly as the first! I was curious to see how Peters had Amelia approach the vast difference in her life, now being a wife and a mother (so many stories can struggle with these types of transitions), but overall, I was impressed and look forward to many, many more adventures with Amelia Peabody!
Rating 8: Strong follow up novel. Rated a bit less due to repeated elements in the mystery and weaker supporting characters, but still a very fun read.
Book Description:Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous year 1977 in New York.
After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.
Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.
And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?
Award-winning author Meg Medina transports readers to a time when New York seemed about to explode, with temperatures and tempers running high, to discover how one young woman faces her fears as everything self-destructs around her.
Review: So, okay, I may be kind of cheating with this one, as I know that I am usually here to review horror, thrillers, and graphic novels. “Burn Baby Burn” is KIND OF a thriller, but at it’s heart it’s a historical fiction that focuses on family strife and societal tensions. Whatever, I don’t care, because this book did set me on edge and that’s what thrillers do. So it counts. Plus, Meg Medina is a fabulous YA author, whose wonderful “Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass” won the Pura Belpré Award in 2014, and I have been keeping my eye on her. While that book had it’s moments of suspense, “Burn Baby Burn” is constantly walking on a line of intensity that is about to explode. And given the year and the setting (1977 in Queens, New York), it’s no wonder.
The scariest part of this story, where most of the suspense comes from, is not the Son of Sam cloud that is constantly hanging over these characters (more on that in a bit). Instead, it is the fact that Nora is sharing an apartment with her brother Hector, who is turning more and more into a violent psychopath as every day goes by. When he isn’t lashing out at his mother or kicking the neighborhood mutt in the ribs (poor Tripod!!! Once you kick an animal you are DEAD TO ME), Hector is stealing pills to sell with the neighborhood drug dealer, and threatening his sister’s life. I was kind of worried that Hector was going to just be a crazed, violent antagonist without purpose, but Medina makes it pretty clear from the get go that Hector has had serious issues ever since he was a child, and that a racist and disenfranchised community he has to live in hasn’t made things better. She doesn’t not excuse his behavior, but she does make the reader see more layers to him, which makes Nora’s home life all the more tragic.
Nora is a protagonist who is both super easy to root for, but also realistic enough that she makes big, teenage mistakes that make you want to shake her. She thinks that since she’s almost eighteen that she can handle everything that is thrown her way, but it’s very clear that this is not the case. Of course, her parents haven’t made things any easier for her. Her father can’t be bothered with his first family, and her mother flips between making excuses for Hector’s sociopathy, ignoring outright, and blaming Nora. While Nora finds solace an safety with her best friend Kathleen and her family, there is always a socioeconomic and racial divide between them, unspoken as it may be, and Medina does a good job of addressing that without casting any kind of judgment towards either girl. Nora is also in a league of her own in her goals. She isn’t interested in college or academia, but does have a passion in woodworking, and is more interested in going to a trade school to master that craft. In a world where so many of the YA girl protagonists we see are writers, artists, or poets at heart, it was delightfully surprising to see one who is interested in a nontraditional vocation (one that is disappearing from our schools). And I say that as one of those artsy writer girls. Nora was a breath of fresh air on all levels.
Time and place is phenomenal in this book. 1977 Queens was filled with lots of tension, from racial tensions in the community to Son of Sam stalking couples in cars. Having this backdrop for Nora’s coming of age story was incredibly original and also very appropriate. The specter of violence and bloodshed that haunted the entire city is a fabulous juxtaposition to the specter of violence that is haunting Nora’s own home. She is more afraid of a serial killer that she is her abusive brother, or tells herself she is. And with the nods to pop culture of the time really tied this story together. Nora is into disco, she and her boyfriend Pedro go see “Star Wars: A New Hope” in the theater, and Hector wants to go to CBGBs to see The Ramones. Medina really captured 1977 without hitting us over the head with it. Though this is probably due in part to the fact that some of the themes from then (systematic racism, frustrated youth, misogyny) are just as relevant today as they were back in 1977. And as everything started to come to a boil, even though I knew what was coming, when it happened it was still incredibly nerve wracking.
“Burn Baby Burn” is probably one of the best YA novels I’ve read this year, and Meg Medina once again has written a story about a situation many of us may not think about in our day to day lives. I was tied up in knots as I read it, and think that it deserves some serious recognition and a wider audience. The nostalgia and ferocity come off of it in waves, and Nora Lopez has a great tale to tell. Seek it out!
Rating 9: Both an intense story about familial strife, and a coming of age tale during a tumultuous and frightening time. Nora Lopez is the YA protagonist we need to see more of.