“Ashes” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Seeds of America #3. Published October 4, 2016. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (Appendix includes Questions and Answers as well as lists of books and websites for more reading.)

ashes“Ashes” continues the stories of escaped slaves Curzon and Isabel. First introduced in “Chains,” more of their lives and the cruelty of slavery was documented in “Forge.”

After escaping from their masters once again, the two have spent years making their way through the wilderness seeking news about Isabel’s sister Ruth who’d been sold away from her by a cruel mistress when she was just a little girl. Their plans of a reunited and peaceful life are interrupted by war and the cruelties of fate. The Patriot’s fight for independence causes Isabel to question how those seeking freedom for themselves could deny it to thousands of their slaves, while Curzon is sure the war will mean freedom for all.

As time passes, Isabel’s former closeness with Curzon dissipates as they remain at odds over the war and its meaning to them as slaves. As they learn to survive in the midst of chaos, they are left wondering and hoping about a future in a world turned upside down.

Anderson has done her research well, bringing readers fully into Isabel and Curzon’s time and place. The plight of escaped slaves, found on both British and Patriot’s sides, black soldiers fighting for General Washington, and other historical events are incorporated into the storyline of “Ashes.” If Laurie should choose to continue Isabel, Curzon and Ruth’s story in another set of books about their life after the war, I would be a very happy reader of them. Laurie can you hear me?

Highly recommended for ages 11 to 15.




“‘Til Morning Light” Ann Moore

Rated 5 stars ***** 2005. Gracelin O’Malley #3. New American Library (Penguin). 394 pp. (Includes “Conversation Guide” and “Questions for Discussion.”)

'TilMorningLightAfter spending time in Kansas and Oregon, always seeking Sean among Mormon travelers, Grace decides to go to San Francisco and marry Captain Reinders. She still loves Morgan, despite knowing he is dead and can never return to her, but knows her children need a father and a home.

After a rough journey she arrives to find the Captain and Liam are at sea, and has no choice but to hire herself out as cook to Doctor Wakefield and his invalid sister. The Doctor is very kind to her, Jack and Mary Kate but she misses Morgan and Sean. Grace is sure she will find Sean and is determined to make a life for herself and her children in the busy city of San Francisco. What she doesn’t know is that Sean is battling his own demons, and may not want to be found. In true Gracelin style, she sets about changing not only her own life but also those of everyone she encounters, as diabolical plots and secrets are revealed which will forever change her life and those she loves.

This third book in the Gracelin O’Malley series leaves no stones unturned in tying up every loose end for its beloved characters and in teaching readers about life in 1851 San Francisco after the fire. At that time San Francisco was filled with immigrants and gold miners, and much is learned about the various cultures in place at the time especially that of the Chinese. In addition, slavery and its repercussions are more fully explored as Grace lived in a time heading towards Civil War.

As a fan of history, and well-written historical fiction, I especially enjoyed this series. My only regret is that the most evil character in “‘Til Morning Light,” similar to Mr. Potter in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” did not get her final due.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Leaving Ireland” Ann Moore

Rated 5 stars ***** 2002. Gracelin O’Malley #2. New American Library (Penguin Putnam). 378 pp. (Includes “Conversation Guide” and “Questions for Discussion.”)

LeavingIrelandGrace, Liam and Mary Kate have left Ireland and arrived in Liverpool, securing passage on the Eliza J, bound for New York City. Despite having paid in advance for a first class cabin, they have been relegated to steerage and it doesn’t take long to experience the horrors of sea travel, which was the lot of those trying to leave Ireland.

Despite a long journey rife with sickness, death, and treachery, Grace and the children arrive in Manhattan with the newly gained friendship of Captain Reinders, who befriended them on his ship. Housed with her brother Sean and his friends, they no longer need to struggle for their next bite of food or for a roof over their heads. Unfortunately, this was not the case in the nearby slums where thousands of newly arrived immigrants found themselves in conditions worse than what they had left behind in Ireland. Grace watches her brother’s loyalties fall away from Ireland and into the hands of a strange, new religion, befriends a slave family, and worries for the lives of her father and son as she tries to ind her place in this strange, new world.

The world of poor immigrants, compared and contrasted with those of free and bound slaves afraid for their lives due to the Fugitive Slave Act, abolitionists, and the cruelty and greed of the times is brought to life in Moore’s carefully researched novel. Readers will continue to be drawn to Grace’s strong presence, while being enlightened as to the struggles of slaves and immigrants in a new America not yet ready for change. I look forward to reading the final book in the trilogy “‘Til Morning Light.” 

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist” Margarita Engle

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Harcourt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 182 pp. (Includes Historical Background, Historical Note, The Writing of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, and References). Winner of the 2014 Pura Belpre Author Honor award.

TheLightningDreamerGertrudis, known as Tula, lived during a time in Cuba’s history when it was ruled by Spain, slaves abounded, women didn’t have any rights and those having thoughts of independence were severely punished. From an early age, Tula believed in emancipation for slaves and women, feeling the magic of books and words flowing from within while being denied their solace because she was a woman.

Undeterred by her mother’s anger and ridicule Tula found ways to release the words and injustice felt in her soul by writing poems she was forced to burn and telling tales to orphans which contained hidden meanings. At the age of 15, she refused an arranged marriage, thus finding a freedom of choice denied to other females.

Through her trademark style of writing in verse, Engle tells Tula’s story through her own voice and those who knew her. In the “Historical Note” section, readers learn more of Tula’s struggles in her personal life and how she influenced her world through her thoughts on women and slavery.

By bringing Tula’s story to light, Engle has enabled readers learn of this brave and outspoken woman at the forefront of equal rights who would otherwise have been relegated to historical footnotes.

Recommended for ages 12-16.

“Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America” Amy Belding Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. ARC. To be published July 1, 2014. New American Library (Penguin Group). Includes “Author’s Note,” “A Conversation with Amy Belding Brown,” and “Questions for Discussion.”

FlightOfTheSparrowIn this extraordinary book, readers learn about Mary Rowlandson who was captured by a group of Indians after they raided her Massachusetts town in 1676. As a Puritan, she had been conditioned to fear, hate, despise and be otherwise prejudiced towards all things Indian. However Mary, now a slave of a female sachem, is expected to learn the ways of her Indian captives. She has no desire to live as a “savage” but, in time, comes to appreciate the Indian way of life.

Though forced to perform labor she found distasteful, her life as a slave was very different from the way she and her fellow Puritans treated their own African and Indian slaves. With freedom to roam, time to enjoy the wilderness she’d previously found scary, and the friendship of several Indians, Mary felt guilty for enjoying herself and is devastated to be ransomed back to Puritan life. Feeling half Indian, Mary finds life as a strait-laced Puritan to be more than she could bear.

Brown’s well-researched narrative shows the cruelty of the English Puritans towards their own and towards Africans and Indians who they considered “different.” She contrasts their behavior with the generosity and friendliness of the Indians who captured Mary. Metacomet (called King Philip by the English), the war that devastated his tribe, as well as important people from the time period all play important roles in Mary’s story.

A few years after her captivity, Mary wrote a narrative of her ordeal titled “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God” Though scholars hail it as an important work by a female which also solidified the way Puritans felt towards Indians, Brown believes Mary’s story was negatively rewritten by Increase Mather, an important Puritan preacher of the day, who inserted scripture and words to show the Puritan prejudicial point of view. Interestingly, the chapter on Rowlandson in “Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives” notes it cannot be proven he changed her narrative.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Twelve Years a Slave” Solomon Northup

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. ebook. HarperPerennial Classics.

TwelveYearsASlaveIn 1841 Solomon Northup was a free black man living in New York State with his wife and three children. After accompanying two white men to Washington for a job, he was drugged and sold south as a slave. When he told his master he had been kidnapped and was a free man, he was beaten so severely he learned to never breathe a word of his free status to anyone. Renamed Platt, and assigned a place amongst his master’s slaves on a cotton plantation in Louisiana, he was forced to endure this life for twelve years.

During his slave years, Solomon experienced all the beatings and horrors known to the black men, women and children who had the misfortune to be owned by another human. Readers may have witnessed some of these crimes against humanity through reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and from Alex Haley’s family history in “Roots.” However “Twelve Years a Slave” takes crimes committed by slave owners against their slaves a step further than these other novels because Solomon’s own hand penned these words from his own memories in 1853 when he was finally rescued. Reading of the pain he endured as a slave for twelve years serves to humanize those long lost to history and remind readers to never allow this dark period of America’s history to be repeated.

“Twelve Years a Slave” won awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2014 Oscars. Solomon’s story is an engrossing historical and educational read which should be on the shelves of every high school, public and college library.

Recommended for 18 years and older.


“Worldshaker” Richard Harland

Worldshaker, book #1. 2009. Simon & Schuster. 388 pp.

WorldshakerCol Porpentine is the heir apparent for Worldshaker, a massive steamship ruled over by his grandfather and figureheads Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Built 150 years ago in 1845, Worldshaker is a massive ship, powered by steam engines run by the lowest of the low – the Filthies. Col is part of the rich Upper Deck passengers who allow their Menial servants to do everything for them, and who believe Filthies are meant to be used and discarded like trash.

When Riff, a young Filthy close to his age escapes from the hold, Col befriends her and it doesn’t take long  in her company to realize everything he’s ever learned about the Filthies is wrong. Riff is determined to lead a Revolution to release her fellow Filthies from their life of servitude, and urges Col to work with her. Torn between tradition and his future with Worldshaker, Riff causes him to think about life, fairness and loyalty in ways he’d never had to before he met her.

Steampunk fans twelve to sixteen will enjoy this addition to the genre, and will look forward to its sequel “Liberator.”