Current Book Review

A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron

A Cup of Tea

A Cup of Tea

Amy Ephron (Adult Fiction)

A Cup of Tea is based on the short story (of the same title) by Katherine Mansfield.  It is set in New York City during World War I and primarily centers around three characters: wealthy and privileged Rosemary Fell, her fiancée and self-made shipping mogul Philip Alsop, and homeless, penniless, and “astonishingly pretty” Eleanor Smith.  When Rosemary happens to see Eleanor huddled beneath a street light one rainy evening, she offers to take the destitute woman home for a cup of tea.  This seemingly innocuous and kind gesture sets events in motion that will have unintended and unimaginable effects on all three of their lives.

This book has good bones, but unfortunately there is little to no flesh and blood to go along with it.  The story lacks depth and feeling and so little attention is paid to the main characters’ development, that by the end of the book, I neither cared nor sympathized with any of them.  By skimping on details and providing no thoughtful backstory for Rosemary, Philip, or Eleanor, Ephron falls far short of delivering her readers the love story that this book professes to be.  Although this story had so much potential and possibility, this particular cup of tea did nothing more than leave me unsatisfied and wanting something else.

Rating: 3/5

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Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA)

Fever 1793

Fever 1793

Laurie Halse Anderson (Young Adult Fiction)

It started with the sudden death of a young and healthy girl.  Within a week, 64 more would die from yellow fever and the capital city of Philadelphia would be filled with the endless ringing of bells—one toll for every year the victim had lived.

In the summer of 1793, 14-year old Matilda Cook helps run her family’s coffeehouse, where folks idly gossip or talk politics.  Lately, the conversations have turned to the fever:  Is it a sign from God?  A punishment for sinners?  Did the refugees bring it with them?  As death draws closer, she and her grandfather are forced to flee the city for the safety of the country.  But Matlida soon discovers that death is not easily escaped.

Anderson gives us a compelling, gripping, and suspenseful account of one of the worst epidemics in the history of the United States.  Wiping out 10% of Philadelphia’s population in under three months, the effects of the fever were devastating.  Many fled the city to escape the carnage, but it was those who stayed and tended to the sick, as well as the dead, that were the true heroes.

You don’t have to be a fan of history to thoroughly enjoy this book.  From the first page, the plot never slows and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  It reminds us how even the direst of circumstances can often bring out the best in people and that both disease and heroism are not bound by either social status or race.

Rating: 5/5

Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith

Joy in the Morning

Joy in the Morning

Betty Smith (Adult Fiction)

            “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

                                    —Psalm 30:5

 Carl Brown and Annie McGairy are young and deeply in love.  Just past her 18th birthday, Annie travels from her home in New York to the Midwest to join her beloved in marriage.  Much to their mutual surprise, Carl and Annie’s first year proves to be unexpectedly difficult.  Carl is attending the university studying law and holding down several jobs while Annie tries to adapt to her new surroundings without the security and familiarity of friends and family.  Together, through lean times and unforeseen events, they must rely on their faith and love to pull them through.

What I admire most about Smith is that she gives us a strong, witty, and self-assured female character without diminishing her male counterpart.  All too often we see one character being lowered for the sake of elevating the other.  Despite their differences in education and social standing, Carl and Annie view each other as equals and share a mutual respect and passionate devotion for one another.  This alone is refreshing to see in a novel.

Set in 1927, Smith presents us with a small university town populated with principled (albeit flawed) people who all share a strong work ethic, solid moral compass, and innate desire to be decent, kind, and fair to their fellow man.  Her stories are charming and heartwarming without being overly sentimental or trite. A truly uplifting book that focuses on the goodness of humanity rather than its faults and follies.

Rating: 4/5

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson (J)

It’s Tween and Teen Tuesday where we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book.

Ben and Me

Ben and Me

Robert Lawson (Juvenile Fiction)

Do you recall seeing portraits of Benjamin Franklin where he wore an old fur hat?  Little did you know that inside that hat lived one very intelligent, outspoken, and opinionated mouse by the name of Amos.  Amos was Franklin’s closest friend, adviser, and the one largely responsible for Franklin’s greatest innovations and achievements…regardless of what historians may have recorded.

Lawson writes with wit and charm and provides readers with whimsical drawings that give life to both Ben and Amos.  From lightning rods to “Liberty Forever!”, young readers will get a glimpse into the greatness and brilliance of one of history’s most accomplished individuals.  Of course, we need to temporarily overlook the flamboyant embellishments of one overly enthusiastic rodent, but when you do, you get a delightful story that is just the right length to hold a young reader’s attention while capturing the imagination.  Throw in a revolution…or two…and you have a tale that is sure to delight and amuse.

Rating: 4/5

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Susan Crandall (Adult Fiction)

Whistling past the graveyard.  That’s what Daddy called it when you did something to keep your mind off your most worstest fear…”

Starla Claudelle is nine and growing up in 1963 Mississippi.  At the age of three, she is abandoned by her mother, who is busy chasing dreams of country music stardom in Nashville.  Her father works months on end on an oil rig in the Gulf, which leaves the responsibility of her care and upbringing to her strict and overbearing paternal grandmother, Mamie.  On the fourth of July, Starla decides to run away from home—convinced that if she locates her mother, she will have a real family once again.  Along the way, she gets a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white infant.  Together, they embark on an extraordinary road trip that will change both of their lives forever.

Not since Francie Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith) have I delighted in a literary heroine so thoroughly. Starla is sassy, plucky, loyal, reckless, and fearless.  Because of her youth and naiveté, she often makes decisions based on her heart rather than her head, ultimately leading her into some precarious situations.  However, Starla’s spunk and spirit are endearing and allow the reader to readily forgive her of these seemingly foolish transgressions.  The story has a nice and steady pace, the main characters have heart, and Starla’s narration is full of honesty, humor, and charm.  A truly enjoyable read that will undoubtedly find a spot on our Best Of list at the end of the year.

Rating: 5/5

 

Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander (J)

Time Cat

Time Cat

Lloyd Alexander (Juvenile Fiction)

Did you ever wonder where cats go when you can’t find them?  No matter how hard you look for them, they’ve simply disappeared only to reappear just as quickly.  According to Lloyd Alexander, they travel back in time.

Meet Jason and his cat, Gareth.  Like all cats, Gareth doesn’t have nine lives, but he can travel to nine different places in history.  Alexander gives us a fun and fanciful story through time as we follow Jason and Gareth to places such as ancient Egypt, Rome, Japan, and Peru and meet many notable historical figures along the way.  The book may be fantasy, but Alexander spent over a year in research to ensure historical accuracy.  Each adventure is a standalone story that is short enough to hold a younger reader’s attention, while long enough to offer a nice glimpse into the history of that time.

Time Cat wonderfully reflects the bond that humans have with their animals and how—throughout the ages—people have relied on their pets for protection, comfort, and companionship.  This book reinforces the value of friendship and loyalty, while it introduces young readers to the exciting world of history.

Rating: 4/5

 

Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Icy Sparks

Gwyn Hyman Rubio (Adult Fiction)

Icy Sparks is a 10-year old girl growing up in rural Kentucky.  Poplar Holler is a small town where everyone has secrets.  Icy’s secret is that she has two sides: the one side everyone sees, and the other side she keeps tucked away and hidden—the side that uncontrollably pops, jerks, and croaks.  Icy’s disorder leaves her afraid, confused, and isolated.  Orphaned at an early age, she relies on the support of her maternal grandparents, as well as another “misfit” in a neighboring town, Miss Emily Tanner—the obese proprietor of a feed supply store.  More than anything, Icy wants to be accepted, but can the frog girl from Icy Creek ever find true friendship and approval?

Rubio paints a cruel and unrelenting picture of small town life in the 1950s as a tight-knit community grapples with an affliction far beyond comprehension and social acceptability.  Icy’s inability to regulate or understand what her young body is doing is heartbreaking, and the reader experiences firsthand her fear and frustration while she searches for normalcy in a world that avoids the strange and unorthodox.

The author gives us a protagonist that has an indomitable spirit and resilience and offers us important lessons in love, faith, and determination.  The only snag appeared near the end of the book when the storyline made an unexpected shift toward religion.  It seemed out of place and a little awkward, although I understand the bigger lesson the author was trying to convey.  Still, Icy Sparks was an enjoyable read and teaches us all that our faults are oftentimes our greatest strengths.

Rating: 4/5