Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass: A Picture Book Review

“So many speeches to give.

“So many articles to write.

“So many minds to change.”

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina AlkoSusan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass are both vocal advocates for equal rights in their time. In Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass (2016) by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, Robbins imagines what it must have been like when Anthony and Douglass met at her home to discuss their ideas.

Although Two Friends is a fictionalized account, it is based on a very real friendship. Douglass and Anthony became friends in the mid-1800s in Rochester, New York. Throughout her life Anthony advocated for women’s rights–including the right to vote. Douglass spent his life fighting for African American rights. The pair also supported each others’ causes and often made appearances together.

Robbins uses the frame of one of Douglass and Anthony’s visits to present a larger picture of their efforts to gain equal rights and fight for their respective causes in Two Friends. The story also highlights key points in both of their lives that led to their dedication to speak out for freedom and equality.

The text throughout Two Friends is presented in short sentences or very small paragraphs making this a great choice to read-aloud. The words are also spread out across the page so readers are never faced with daunting chunks of text. At the end of the book, Robbins talks slightly more in depth about Anthony and and Douglass in a page-long author’s not. A bibliography is also included along with actual photographs of both Douglass and Anthony.

The illustrations by husband-and-wife team Qualls and Alko are gorgeous and add a nice dimension to the story with some additional text elements added into some of the collages. The artwork stays true to Anthony and Douglass’ likenesses while also maintaining the style that Qualls and Alko developed in their first illustrative collaboration, The Case for Loving. Pops of bright color serve as a nice contrast against some of the darker winter backdrops in some of the spreads.

It is worth noting that some of the historical context for life as a woman and life a freed slave are simplified. For instance the text notes that Susan’s mother can’t go to college or own a house but it stops short of saying that women were considered property at this point in history. Two Friends also states that slaves had to do everything the master said but stops short of explaining that slaves were property and bought and sold by owners. Are either of these things something that should feature in a picture book? It’s hard to say. But the absence–even in the author’s note at the end of the book–seems glaring.

As with many picture books, Two Friends adopts a certain symmetry between Douglass and Anthony’s lives. Because of their similar causes, these similarities make sense within the context of the narrative.

Two Friends is a solid picture book introduction to Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass as historical figures and can serve as an excellent entry point to non-fiction/biography titles on both. Stunning artwork makes Two Friends even better. A great addition to any collection.

Shadowshaper: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Shadowshaper by Daniel José OlderSierra Santiago’s plans for the summer are quickly derailed when old-timers from around the neighborhood start to disappear. As soon as a strange zombie guy shows up at the first party of the summer, Sierra knows something is up even if her mother and grandfather refuse to admit that anything is remotely wrong.

When one graffiti mural starts crying and others begin to fade, it’s clear that something sinister is at play. Everyone in the neighborhood agrees it’s vitally important for Sierra to finish the mural she started, but no one will say why.

It’s only when she starts hanging out with Robbie that she learns about Shadowshapers and their ability to connect to magic through art. They used to be very powerful. But that was before the Shadowshapers had a falling out years ago. And before they started dying. With only scant clues, limited experience with her newly-discovered Shadowshaping powers, and not nearly enough time, Sierra and her friends will have to think fast to save their neighborhood–and maybe the world–in Shadowshaper (2015) by Daniel José Older.

Shadowshaper is Older’s first novel written for the YA market and a standalone.

Older uses concrete details and real locations to bring Sierra’s Brooklyn to life in Shadowshaper. The story effortlessly evokes New York wandering and handles issues surrounding gentrification and the changing landscape of the city extremely well. Sierra’s voice, and those of her friends, are authentically teen which only adds to the ambiance of this novel. Additionally, a diverse cast including Sierra’s friends, neighborhood regulars, and Sierra’s family create a great story in a sub-genre that is often frustratingly (not to mention unrealistically) white.

While Shadowshaper excels with characters and setting, it unfortunately falls flat as a fantasy. The mythology surrounding Shadowshaping is slight at best with rules and mechanics that are poorly explained when they are explained at all. There is a lot of potential here that might have been better served with a longer novel or even a sequel.

Breakneck action and numerous chase sequences also diminish the story and leave little room for characterization. While Sierra is very well-realized her friends often come across as stock characters with limited personality or purpose within the narrative. While it is incredibly empowering to have a book where the only white person is the villain, it was disappointing to see that villain become little quite one-dimensional by the end of the novel.

Shadowshaper is a fast read. Unfortunately, many parts of the novel feel rushed. The hardcover has some obvious continuity errors with blocking (characters standing on one page and then standing again three pages later without ever having sat down for instance) and many opportunities to complicate the narrative and characters are ignored.

Shadowshaper is a great choice for readers looking for authentic characters and a fun read. Recommended as an introduction to urban fantasy for readers willing to suspend their disbelief with only limited justification. Ideal for reluctant readers and anyone who likes the novels fast-paced and full of action.

Possible Pairings: Tithe by Holly Black, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine, Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand, Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Symphony for the City of the Dead: A Non-Fiction Review

“We can trust no one. In a regime where words are watched, lies are rewarded, and silence is survival, there is no truth.”

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. AndersonIn September 1941, Hitler’s forces moved against the Soviet Union in a bid to take the country’s capital in Moscow and the historic city of Leningrad (now and previously St. Petersburg).

So began one of the longest sieges in Western history. More than a million people died over the course of the years-long siege. Amazingly, despite crippling his own military from the top down and breeding a culture of such fear that officials preferred to make ill-advised decisions rather than risk contradicting him, Stalin and the Soviet citizenry held out. Faced with starvation, blitzkrieg attacks, and the continued severity and dangers of life in Soviet Russia, the residents of Leningrad held on.

In the midst of this bleak landscape, music became an unlikely ray of hope. Varying wildly between a darling of the communist party and one of its biggest perceived heretics, Dmitri Shostakovich was a composer known around the world. With threats everywhere from both the Nazi’s and his own government, Shostakovich would write a symphony to rouse the Soviet public during their time of need.

The symphony would speak when the people feared to, it would mark all that was lost during the Communist Revolution and the Siege of Leningrad. It would give voice to sorrow and loss as well as hope and redemption. Shostakovich’s symphony would offer common ground between the unlikely allies of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. This is the story of that symphony, the country that inspired it, the compose who wrote it, and the war that shaped all of them in Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad (2015) by M.T. Anderson.

Anderson offers a thoroughly researched look at a slice of WWII history that might not be familiar to many Americans. Symphony for the City of the Dead begins with the bizarre transport of Shostakovich’s symphony (via microfilm) from the Soviet Union to the United States. After that prologue the book is framed around Shostakovich’s own life from his early childhood to his death. The book touches upon the communist revolution and explores the composer’s complicated relationships with his country and the Communist Party.

Symphony for the City of the Dead includes an extensive bibliography and footnotes in the backmatter detailing Anderson’s sources throughout the novel. Strangely, for such an iconic figure, little is known as fact about Shostakovich’s life. Anderson is careful to couch his own thoughts in research and supporting documentation while also noting when the narrative veers into supposition. The book also offers a thorough and detailed accounts of the movements that led to the Siege of Leningrad ranging from Stalin’s wild incompetence and paranoia to Hitler’s Wermacht strategy.

Because of the content and the level of research involved, Symphony for the City of the Dead is a dense book. The material gains a more narrative quality after the first hundred pages but it takes a while to really dig into the material.

Anderson offers a strange mix of the bloody nightmare that was Communist Russia during the Siege of Leningrad and the optimistic hope of post-war Russia. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a fascinating example of the power of story–especially the power of art and music–as well as thoughtful look at how the truth can be shaped in the telling. A must-read for WWII history buffs and music buffs in particular. Highly recommended.

Week in Review: February 7, 2016

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

This week I had a lot of stuff happening at work which is slowly but surely getting under control. I also met the girl I’m mentoring at my alma mater. She seems nice and we’re making plans. I actually just made a lot of plans in general this weekend. Time will tell if I stick to them.

I had a three day weekend. On Friday I did laundry and then I went to the dentist which was long overdue. I needed fillings and have to go back on Tuesday for the last one. I also need to go to an oral surgeon because apparently my bottom wisdom teeth are completely sideways and it’s starting to cause problems. I’m pretty upset about it and I swear they are starting to hurt although I’m willing to admit that’s probably all in my head.

On Saturday I ventured to Queens for Estelle’s birthday festivities which wasn’t as much of a nightmare as I thought travel to Queens would be on the weekend. Then I went to the Met to see the American and European Embroidered Samplers, 1600-1900 exhibit (smaller than I thought but still pretty neat) and The Luxury of Time which looked at antique European clocks and watches which was pretty neat. If you follow me on Twitter, I’m planning to tweet the pictures I took of the exhibit when I have some time.

Sunday (today) I’m making meatballs and tomato sauce and maybe some egg salad for lunch. I also am taking a hard look at my books and admitting there are some I’m just not going to read. It’s been liberating and was another long overdue thing.

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my February Reading Tracker.

How was your week?

Blood Red Road: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Lugh got born first. On Midwinter Day when the sun hangs low in the sky. Then me. Two hours later.

“That pretty much says it all.

“Lugh goes first, always first, an I follow on behind.

“An that’s fine.

“That’s right.

“That’s how it’s meant to be.”

Blood Red Road by Moira YoungAll Saba ever needs is to know that her twin brother Lugh is by her side. With him near, Saba can handle the annoyances of her younger sister Emmi; the loss of her mother, who died birthing Emmi; and even the madness that is slowing pulling their father under.

When Lugh is abducted by four horsemen, he tells Saba to keep Emmi safe. But they both know she won’t. Not when Saba promises to follow him–to find him–no matter what.

She’ll follow Lugh into the lawless, wild world beyond her family homestead. In hunting for Lugh she will begin to understand some hard  truths about herself and her sister. She’ll find a gang of warriors and a daredevil who makes her heart flutter. In searching for her twin brother, Saba might even find a way to change her world forever in Blood Red Road (2011) by Moira Young.

Blood Red Road is Young’s debut novel and the start of her Dust Lands trilogy which continues with Rebel Heart and Raging Star.

Blood Red Road is an interesting novel set at the end of the world. Saba’s first person narration clearly brings her stark world to life with hints like ruined skyscrapers and useless books that suggest the world that might have come before.

Books are obsolete in this novel and, perhaps as a direct result, the spoken word and Saba’s narration have a very distinct cadence to them. The entire novel is written in Saba’s dialect as if she were telling the story directly to the reader. Words often have phonetic spelling and Saba’s speech sounds like nothing so much as a character in a twang-filled western. The prose is sparse and often reads like a verse novel with dialogue interspersed throughout without quotation marks or other punctuation to pull them out of the text. While this formatting is jarring at first, it eventually becomes a seamless part of the story and makes Blood Red Road a very fast read.

Saba is an interesting heroine in that she is resilient and inspiring while also being ruthless and often deeply flawed. For a lot of the novel, Saba wants nothing to do with her sister Emmi (to the point of putting the younger girl in very real danger) as she keeps a singular focus on her efforts to rescue Lugh. Young handles Saba’s growth as she learns more about the world (and herself, and her family) throughout the novel expertly to create a character transformation that is authentic and inspiring.

While some aspects of the world building remain murky–particularly in relation to the overarching villain that Saba will be dealing with for the rest of the novel–Blood Red Road is a solid dystopian and a very unique addition to the genre. Recommended for readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic tales with a survivalist slant.

Possible Pairings: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy, Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

These Vicious Masks: A Review

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly ZekasEngland, 1882. Evelyn would rather do anything than spend another night at another interminable party with the same vapid women and the same eligible bachelors that her mother considers ideal candidates for marriage. Evelyn has no desire to be married off so quickly and disappear behind the veiled curtain of domesticity.

Little surprise, then, that Evelyn immediately secures passage to London when her younger sister Rose disappears under mysterious circumstances.

Accompanied on her search by the dashing Mr. Kent and the brooding Sebastian Braddock (who claims Evelyn and her sister have healing powers), Evelyn is thrown in a world of secrets populated by extraordinary people. Evelyn isn’t sure what to believe or who to trust. The only thing Evelyn knows for certain is that she has to find Rose before it’s too late in These Vicious Masks (2016) by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas.

These Vicious Masks is the first novel from Shanker and Zekas. It is also the start of a series.

These Vicious Masks starts with a fun premise. Victorian England. Romance. Superpowers. Action. This book literally has it all complete with a heroine with decidedly modern sensibilities (something that was, personally, less satisfying to read than a character operating within the social mores and expectations of her era).

Evelyn’s narration is filled with snark and humor as she bemoans her status an a young (bored) debutante before her sister’s disappearance. The story is filled with evocative descriptions but thinner on historical detail with the time period serving more as set dressing for the novel than an integral part of the plot.

Readers will follow Evelyn’s search for Rose with as much interest as they will her romantic prospects with the appropriately contrasting suitors of Mr. Kent and Mr. Braddock in a love triangle that is filled with intrigue and tension.

These Vicious Masks is a fast-paced and super fun read. Ideal for fans of light historical fiction and superhero adventure. An open-ended conclusion and shocks in the denouement promise an exciting next installment.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

What I talk about when I talk about curating my personal library.

When I was younger I didn’t buy books. I read books at a great enough speed and in enough quality that the library was the only way to go. When I started working in a library I went through a brief and horrifying phase where I would rescue discarded library copies because I might read them someday. Then I started working at Books of Wonder with an employee discount and things really got out of hand. This doesn’t even factor review copies and gifted books from over the years. Not to mention author signings of which there are many because I live in New York.

I always read closely on my first read–taking time to write down quotes I want to remember and, now that I’m a reviewer, making sure to note key information and pages with important points to reference in my review–so I rarely re-read books except for a handful of exceptions.

People talk about dealing with their books in a lot of ways. Culling. Sorting. Organizing. Hoarding. Admiring. Brag shelves. TBR piles. Bookcases. Stashes. I’ve always thought of it as weeding since I have a library background.

Then last year I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō and I started thinking about getting rid of books in a different light. (I haven’t reviewed the book on here but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I really like the idea that you can take and leave what you want from her approach and also that you can find your own perfect balance.) One of the main tenets of the KonMari method is that you focus on what you want to keep instead of what you no longer want. You also keep things that bring you joy.

Now instead of thinking about it as weeding I have started to think about curating a personal library. What titles do I want to have on my shelves? What books do I want to own? What books would I re-buy if I lost them? And so on.

Again, as someone who doesn’t re-read, it’s not always enough to say I enjoy a book or that I want to come back to it. Sometimes even having a signed copy that I bought isn’t enough.

Then there are the difficult books with the prickly topics. Do I want to own a book that reminds me of when my aunt died? What about the novel with a strikingly resilient and strong heroine and a plot also mirrored some of the worst years of my life? Or the book that was painfully beautiful and romantic but also made me physically ill with its description of a character’s fingers being broken?

I think about books in a few ways when they’re on my shelves. There are books I want to keep close (the books I might flip through or reference, books from authors I admire or favorite stories I can’t stop thinking about, books that have a personal connection to me), there are books that make me smile (favorite stories, classic titles, things you would pry from my cold, dead hands), and then there are the mementos (books I got signed by authors I can almost call friends, titles from BEA, a book I’ve had since I was a child).

So the books I asked about before? I probably won’t be keeping those.

I’d prefer to keep room on my shelves for my three copies of The Hobbit and the copy of Ella, Enchanted that my mother got me years and years ago during her freelance stint at HarperCollins which I got signed years after. Instead of keeping books that cause me stress and make me sad I’m keeping my set of Chris Van Allsburg picture books, my multiple editions of Emma and Little Women and my full set of R. L. LaFevers ARCs.

It’s a process and what I keep or don’t keep changes constantly. But that’s how I’m thinking about the books I own now. Not so much as what I do or do not want, but the personal library I choose to curate to represent who and what I am at this moment.

That’s me. What about you? How do you curate your personal library? Tell me in the comments.