The Canning Season by Polly Horvath (YA)

The Canning Season

The Canning Season     

Polly Horvath (Young Adult Fiction)

Thirteen-year old Ratchet Clark (her father wanted to name her Stinko) lives with her mother, Henriette, who dreams of belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club (“Thank God for the Hunt Club” is the mantra in their household).  Henriette works two jobs, sustains the family on Cheerios, and constantly reminds her daughter to cover up That Thing on her shoulder (it is unsightly).  Life moves along at a predictable pace until the day that Henriette sends Ratchet to live with her two great aunts in Maine.  Tilly and Penpen Menuto (DON’T call them the Blueberry Ladies!) are twins, but as different as chalk and cheese.  Tilly is tiny and thin and Penpen is round and jolly, but both are as devoted to canning as they are to one another.  Between blueberries, bears, a one-way phone, an unexpected orphan, and countless stories of a headless mother, Ratchet’s summer will prove to be anything but predictable.

The Canning Season is a delightful, entertaining, and hilarious romp.  Fans of Philip Gulley or Ann B. Ross will find equal enjoyment in the Menuto sisters and their tales of loggers, love, and the lure of the woods.  Some of the language in this book is a bit salty, but is appropriate to the targeted age (13 and older) and shouldn’t shock anyone who watches PG-13 films or hangs out at the local mall.

Throughout the book, we see Henriette placing an unhealthy importance on belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club, which remains an elusive aspiration.  We find out that the club really isn’t as exclusive as first thought and, in reality, is open to anyone wanting to join.  Drawing a nice parallel with Tilly and Penpen’s home, we see that the ominous house on the hill surrounded by bear-infested woods isn’t really what it appears to be either.  It is actually warm, welcoming, and inclusive; all who enter are taken care of and treated with respect, kindness, and love (except Myrtle Trout…Heaven help her).  The Canning Season reminds us that things are not often what they seem and that love is often found in the least likely of places.  Thank God for the Hunt Club, indeed.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com

 

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint

Brady Udall

“If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head.  As formative events go, nothing else comes close.”

Seven-year old Edgar Mint is what you might call a “miracle boy”.  The son of a drunk, heartsick mother and absentee, wannabe cowboy father, he survives a near-fatal accident only to live a life in reverse.  His early years are filled with heartache, hard choices, and terrible consequences while later on he enjoys the sheltered, unfettered, and uncluttered life of a child.  Throughout his entire life, Edgar is always being saved and, quite frankly, he’s getting pretty sick of it.  But once he finds religion, Edgar finally realizes what his God-given purpose is: to find and forgive the man who nearly killed him.

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining and immersive books that I’ve read in quite a long time.  Udall doesn’t waste a single word on frivolous details or superfluous backstories.  Instead, he gives us a rich story that neither lags, stalls, or grows tedious.  Every chapter is thoughtful, engaging, and provocative, and Udall takes great care in introducing us to Edgar and slowly allowing us to care about this peculiar and resilient little outcast.  Throughout his journey, Edgar meets his share of heroes and villains, teasers and tormentors, bullies and a best friend.  He survives physical, verbal, and emotional abuse and faithfully captures every thought and memory through an old Hermes Jubilee typewriter: “I typed because typing, for me, was as good as having a conversation.  I typed because I had to.  I typed because I was afraid I might disappear.”

I can’t remember the last time when a book so deeply transported me into a fictional world or when I felt so drawn to a character.  Edgar’s story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  All too young, he accepts misfortune as his constant companion yet attempts to turn every bad situation into a learning experience.  Edgar’s comical take on either the harshest of circumstances or the cruelest of individuals is both pitiful and inspiring.  Thankfully, hope runs eternal for our miracle boy and when he finds someone who truly loves and cares for him, Edgar realizes that being saved might not be such a bad thing after all.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

 

 

 

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (J)

A Little Princess

A Little Princess  

Frances Hodgson Burnett (Juvenile Fiction)

Sara Crewe is seven and always dreaming and thinking odd things.  But ever since arriving in London from India with her father, Captain Ralph Crewe, all she thinks about is “the place”—Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies.  Her father’s affluence instantly propels Sara to star status within the school, but misfortune soon causes her to be penniless and at the mercy of jealous students, spiteful cooks, and a vindictive and cold-hearted headmistress.  Once an heiress and now a pauper, Sara relies on the friendship of a young servant, two foolish schoolgirls, and a rather amicable rat to help her cope with her new station in life.

Burnett delivers a charming and tender Cinderella-like story where our heroine is suddenly ripped from a life of comfort, joy, and love and thrown into a merciless world of coldness, hunger, and cruelty.  Unlike Cinderella, Sara is merely a child and the pain and suffering inflicted upon her is especially difficult to bear.  It also earns her tormentor, Miss Minchin, a dubious place amongst literature’s most despised and detested villains.

With A Little Princess, Burnett gives us a story about humility, grace, courage, hope, generosity, and kindness.  She also gives us a girl who is a beloved daughter, a show pupil, an adopted mother, a storyteller, a benefactor, a scullery maid, and a friend.  But most of all, Sara Crewe is, and always will be in the hearts of readers, a little princess.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.tvtropes.org

 

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (YA)

Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Big Sky  

Kirby Larson (Young Adult Fiction)

Hattie Inez Brooks refers to herself as Hattie Here-and-There.  Orphaned before she had lost her baby teeth, she spends her years being shuffled here and there amongst various relatives’ homes.  At 16, everything changes when she is left 320 acres and a house in Montana by her deceased mother’s brother, Uncle Chester.  With the only thing to look forward to in Arlington, Iowa is a job at a boardinghouse, Hattie writes back, “I’ll come.”  But to make her uncle’s claim her own, she has to cultivate 40 acres and lay 480 rods of fence…and she has less than a year to do it. With a strong faith and help from neighbors, can Hattie make her deepest wish a reality—to find a place to belong.

Hattie Big Sky is based on the life of Larson’s great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks Wright, who herself had homesteaded as a young woman in eastern Montana.  Because most of the story takes place in 1918, we see more references to automobiles than covered wagons.  The United States was also embroiled in World War I and many German-born immigrants were subjected to a litany of anti-German persecution.  Larson weaves all of these facts, along with the countless struggles faced by homesteaders, into a beautifully-told story of hardship, bravery, and old-fashioned grit.

Hattie is pleasantly surprised to find that a paper in Iowa is willing to pay her a monthly fee for her homesteading stories.  In one such submission, she writes, “…the lesson this life has planted in my heart pertain more to caring than to crops, more to Golden Rule than gold, more to the proper choice than to popular choice.”  Hattie’s lesson is one we should all strive to implant upon our own heart.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.scholastic.com

 

The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel

The Solace of Leaving Early

Havel Kimmel (Adult Fiction)

Langston Braverman is a graduate school dropout who’s returned to her hometown of Haddington, Indiana to live with her parents.  In her childhood attic bedroom, she imagines a very different life for herself—one filled with academia, garden tea parties, and tenure.  Amos Townsend is a third-generation preacher whose inspiration to follow God came from a TV show he once watched while at college.  Although Amos wants to give his life to help others, it is his own salvation he seeks.  When two little girls are left orphaned by unimaginable circumstances, Langston and Amos must put aside their animosity toward each other to help these children find peace, normality, and love.

Kimmel is at her best when writing dialogue.  By incorporating subtle gestures, mid-sentence thought changes, and off-topic asides, she captures each character’s unique essence and true personality.  The conversations appear so spontaneous and genuine, the reader almost feels guilty of eavesdropping.

One downside is the author made Langston a very unsympathetic woman who is extremely hard to connect with and, often times, even tolerate.  She comes across as elitist, self-absorbed, immature, and whiny.  But her character is offset nicely by Amos’ uncertain, demure, and steadfast demeanor.  Once you get past Langston’s overbearing personality, as well as her mother’s (AnnaLee Braverman) relentless role as enabler and apologist, you will find yourself totally immersed in a story full of heart, hope, and second chances.

Rating: 4/5