Book Review: The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and. Dean Hale

Author:  Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Title:  The Princess in Black 
Publication Info:  Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2014.

An entertaining chapter book for young readers in which the seemingly perfect Princess Magnolia leads a double life as the Princess in Black, protecting goats by fighting monsters while trying to avoid being found out by nosy aristocracy.  A lot of good humor and adventure in this book.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Good Morning, Gorillas by Mary Pope Osbourne

Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleGood Morning, Gorillas
Publication Info: New York : Random House, 2006.

Another delightful Magic Tree House journey where Annie and Jack spend a few days living among a family of mountain gorillas in Congo and learn the “magic” of communication.  Osbourne knows a lot about gorilla behavior and incorporates it into the story in informative and entertaining ways.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Fever of 1721 by Stephen Coss

Author: Stephen Coss
Title: The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics
Narrator: Bob Souer
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster (2016

I received a free advanced readers copy of this audiobook through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

1721 is a pivotal year in Boston history.  Coss details how a popular party of elected representatives challenge the rule of the Royal Governor establishing the ideology and some of the organizations that would be used by the Revolutionary generation 50 years later.  At the same time, The New England Courant is launched as the first colonial newspaper completely independent of the government’s imprimatur and challenges the political and religious leaders of the time.  Tying them together is an epidemic of smallpox and the effort of some learned people in the town to try to fight it using a new idea, inoculation.

There are five pivotal figures in this book:

  • Elisha Cooke, Jr., the popular party politician whose election as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representative leads to a showdown with Royal Governor Samuel Shute, who dissolves the House and calls for new elections.
  • James Franklin, publisher of The New England Courant, who publishes opinions that scandalize the established elites and religious leaders of the colony, while also aiming for a more entertaining and literary journalism than offered by the two existing newspapers.  While generally on the side of reason against tradition and superstition, Franklin’s Courant comes out strongly against inoculation.
  • Benjamin Franklin, James’ much younger brother and apprentice who educates himself with materials at the print shop and makes his first impression by anonymously submitting the Courant‘s most popular opinion pieces under the pseudonym of Silence Dogood.  Franklin, of course, is a direct connection to the Revolutionary period of the 1760s & 1770s.
  • Cotton Mather, the conservative Puritan preacher and theologian, seeking redemption for his part in the Salem Witch hysteria.  Surprisingly he is also a man of science who initiates the call to attempt inoculation against small pox which he learns of from his African slave Onesimus and the writings of physicians in Europe.
  • Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, a middling physician who answers the call to attempt inoculation and continues to do so despite strong opposition in the town and threats to his life.  Boylston ends up successfully inoculating nearly 250 people for smallpox despite being a provincial doctor with no formal training and doing so before anyone in Britain had attempted to do so.

While I was familiar with a lot of the aspects of this history, I found it fascinating how Coss tied them together and showed how they influenced one another and lasting impact on Boston and Colonial America.  It’s a fascinating and engaging historical work.

Recommended booksThe Pox and the Covenant: Mather, Franklin, and the Epidemic That Changed America’s Destiny by Tony Williams,  Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore, and The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Rating: ****

Book Review: Ben and Me by Robert Lawson

Author:  Robert Lawson
TitleBen and Me
Publication Info: Boston, Mass. : Little, Brown, c1939.

I remember this story from when I was a kid, although I think I only saw the movie which I recall being less acerbic.  The basic gist is the same, Ben Franklin’s career as inventor, scientist, politician, and ambassador is aided by his friendship with a wise mouse named Amos.  Turns out that seemingly every leader of the Revolution and in the French court has a mouse giving advice.  There is a lot of absurdity and fun wordplay that gives this book its humor while still offering an accessible view into the life of Franklin for young readers.  I read it aloud to my son and he really enjoyed it.
Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve by Mary Pope Osbourne

Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleHaunted Castle on Hallows Eve 
Publication Info: Random House Books for Young Readers (2010)

There’s such a great variety of stories in the Magic Tree House series.  Having just read the historical fiction of a story set at the Paris World’s Fair of 1889, we read this book set in the totally magic world of Camelot.  Annie, Jack, & Teddy must go to a clean up a haunted castle.  Oh, and they turn into ravens.  And there’s a pretty cool divide of talents among the three children.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Night of the New Magicians by Mary Pope Osbourne

Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleNight of the New Magicians
Publication Info: New York : Random House, 2006.

This is a really entertaining installment of the Magic Tree House series where Annie and Jack visit the Paris World’s Fair of 1889 to learn of for forms of “magic.”  The magic is actual the inventions and discoveries of Gustave Eiffel, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell who all meet in a memorable scene atop the Tour Eiffel.  Annie and Jack also end up flying on a bicycle.  Cool stuff!

Rating: ***

The Book Blogger Test

Here’s a book blogging meme via Ashley at Inside My Mind.  I took the advice to tag myself.

What are your top three book pet hates?

  • Books where the narrators are completely oblivious to their privilege and how they unwittingly disparage others. This happens in fiction (The Nanny Diaries) and non-fiction (Under the Tuscan Sun).
  • Writers who use big words and overly complicated sentence structure.  In other words, academic speak.
  • Anyone who trashes the writers of popular history and science because they actually use engaging writing in place of academic speak (David McCullough, I’ve got your back!).

Describe your perfect reading spot

  • I do most of my reading on the T these days.  As long as it’s not overly crowded and I can get a seat, I’m happy to cozy up on a subway train or bus and miss my stop if the reading is too engaging. :)

Tell us three book confessions

  • I’m completely unable to read Charles Dickens.  Something short circuits in my brain and I’m unable to comprehend anything my eyes scan over.  This makes me feel bad because I have a lot of friends who love Dickens.
  • There are a great number of class children’s books that I never read or even heard of until I was an adult.  These include Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, The Phantom Tollbooth, Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Snowy Day,  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Bridge to Terabithia, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Winnie the Pooh, A Wrinkle in Time, The Westing Game, and anything by Beverly Cleary.
  • I had no interest in science fiction or fantasy until I was in my 30s.  I’m saving Romance for my 50s.

When was the last time you cried during a book?

I felt a lot of emotion reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  If I didn’t cry, I was close to it.

How many books are on your bedside table?

No books.  No bedside table.

What is your favorite snack to eat while you’re reading?

Whatever I can hold while holding a book or e-reader and will not get the book sticky.

Name three books you would recommend to everyone

  • The Eyre Affair by Jaspe Fforde
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston

Show us a picture of your favorite bookshelf on your bookcase

I endeavor to get all my books from the public library and I neglected to take a photograph of my favorite shelf last time I was there.

Write how much books mean to you in just three words

Need more words.

What is your biggest reading secret?

I don’t think I read enough.