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Forge (Seeds of America, #2)Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Although I found Chains underwhelming, perhaps due to all the hype, I found myself much more engrossed with Forge, the companion/sequel. The point of view shifts from Isabel to Curzon and follows, naturally, his time spent with the Continental Army at Valley Forge. The story manages to give a sense of the bigger picture of what’s happening to the army – Curzon is recaptured by his master for a time, serving officers of the army and allowing both he and the reader to glean information. But Anderson also keeps the story personal in its details, with Curzon’s interactions with other soldiers, his sense of conscience at shooting and killing, the struggle to find and keep shoes during the winter, the pitiful meals, and so on. We also get another perspective on Isabel, and of course things are set up for a third book. Recommended to fans of grittier historical fiction (it might be a nice companion to Woods Runner, although the character development is stronger in Forge) or readers interested in the Revolutionary War.

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We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Considering I don’t give a fig about sports, this book had me hooked. You can flip through it and just look at the illustrations – but take a good look. Notice the way you’re mostly looking up at the players from ground-level – like you’re a kid at one of the games, and the sun is shining and the sky is beyond blue, and these guys start looking like giants. There are some fantastic action shots, with a great sense of movement and muscle, and then there are all these portrait illustrations that are almost more impressive. The format of the book does justice to these pictures – it’s big and square, and most of the illustrations are full page, no white space, maximizing the size and color.

The narrative is almost equally impressive, although not so breath-taking. The style is colloquial, told in the second person, and full of anecdotes. Let me repeat – I don’t care about baseball, but these stories were entertaining. And since it focuses in one this one piece of history – Negro League baseball – as a sort of microcosm for American history and racism, it would be a fantastic book for younger readers who are learning about segregation. Probably for upper elementary on up – even through high school, and definitely for anyone interested in baseball history, no matter what age.

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In the Battle of the Books, We Are the Ship beat out The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks in round one, but lost to The Hunger Games in round two.  I’m finding the rationale behind each decision more interesting than which book actually wins each match, because this is an excellent group of books, and with this style of judging, it really does seem to come down to taste, whether the judges admit it or not.

In that first round, both Frankie and Ship were thought-provoking in such different ways.  I don’t think the scope really matters – one girl’s struggle to find her place or an entire race of baseball players trying to do what they love.  What’s compelling is that glimpse we’re given of the struggle, and to my mind, those two books were pretty fairly matched, but I’m not going to argue with the decision.  Or with The Hunger Game‘s win – that was a book that sucked me in and let me forget it was a book in a way that the other two didn’t quite (maybe because I was too busy thinking about Lockhart and Nelson’s use of point of view – fascinating, but distracting).  The Hunger Games is much more of a plot book.

Now, when Octavian Nothing comes up against Chains in round three – now THERE I have a real opinion.  If Octavian doesn’t come out on top – well, I’ll have to go weep over my copy and reread it.  Octavian himself wouldn’t be shocked to lose – and Isabelle is a much more spunky character to my mind – but give me melancholy Prince O any day.  When I read Chains, I couldn’t help but compare it to Octavian, and it  suffered in the comparison.  Chains is an interesting piece of historical fiction that deserves a sharp reprimand for not warning us it’s Volume 1.  Octavian doesn’t mess around with you like that.  And Tim Wynne-Jones is right – Bono gets all the best lines.  Sweet mercy in a firkin, Bono – help us out here.

So I’ve been hearing good things about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains for a while now (and man does it have a fab cover!) but I’ve got this problem – every time I see the book or think about it, I get that song stuck in my head  – “Chains, my baby’s got me locked up in chains…”  Except that’s the only line I can remember.  And it is SO inappropriate for the book.  Anyway, after finishing up The Knife of Never Letting Go last night, it’s next on my list, and I’m resigned to never getting the song out of my head.

I’ve also been getting it stuck in my head whenever I think about chains on my car – which seems like a problem that will not go away since it started snowing again today.  Snow is so much nicer when you don’t have to go to work.  But ice is never nice.  Oh, I crack myself up.  This is weather that demands you curl up with your book and your cup of coffee and only leave the house to frolic in the snow, before coming back in for more book and more coffee.

I kinda went all gushy over The Knife of Never Letting Go, but I think it deserves it.  Here’s what I wrote on Goodreads:

Book One (Chaos Walking) The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One by Patrick Ness

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Teensy-tiny mild spoiler at the end – nothing specific.

Here’s a book where form and content are wonderfully matched. Todd’s first person narrative is gripping and suspenseful, and the use of an imagined dialect is perfect for the world he’s coming from. Noise is visually depicted on the page with changes in font and size that never feel gimmicky – the effect of turning the page and seeing the Noise Todd hears as he walks through Prentisstown is much like the shock of turning the page and seeing Octavian Nothing’s scratched out words. Plus, the sometimes choppy sentences give a real sense of immediacy, and this gets turned up a notch for the more tense scenes – and there are plenty of them!

The characters are fantastic and vivid, including all the people Todd and Viola meet along the way, and as someone who’s not an animal person, I have to give special mention to Todd’s dog, Manchee. He was probably my favorite character, and despite his limited abilities with language, he had an incredibly strong “voice.” As Todd tells us in the opening sentence, “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.” But oh boy does he come alive on the page.

This is a huge page-turner, and despite its length moved along at a nice brisk pace, with plenty of action. There is a fair amount of violence, but it’s a source of anguish for the characters, rather than feeling gratuitous. There’s plenty of moral complexity in the story, and it’s incredibly thoughtful for how action-packed it is. For me, it’s that combo of emotional complexity and fast pace that really make it stand out. Plus, the dystopian elements aren’t too heavy handed, and the dash of sci-fi adds interest without detracting from the story.

Oh, did I mention it’s a cliff-hanger? Plenty is left for the next volume, in terms of Plot, but there are smaller loose ends – like knowing more about the Spackle – that seem just as compelling. But really, by the last few pages, I was so invested in characters surviving that I didn’t care about anything else.

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October 2021

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