Hunger: A Tale of Courage by Donna Jo Napoli #Review

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Hunger: A Tale of Courage is set in western Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine of 1846, a time when a potato blight ruined the main source of food for Irish families. Hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation and disease during this terrible time. Twice that number is estimated to have emigrated to America and other countries in an effort to escape certain death. It is estimated that death and emigration caused the population of Ireland to drop between 20% to 25%, overall.

In this book, we see the dreadful famine through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lorraine, the daughter of a tenant farmer. The story begins in the autumn of 1846, with Lorraine, her parents, and little brother Paddy being cautiously optimistic about a good potato crop—desperately needed after the blight caused last year’s crop to rot. All seems well, but the dreaded blight strikes again, leaving them (and everyone they know and love) with very little food and even fewer options: they had no money to purchase food, and were not permitted to hunt on the land owned by their English landlord. The outlook was bleak, to say the least.

Hard times became even harder as sickness spread, taking the lives of strangers and loved ones alike. A chance meeting with the daughter of their English landlord—a girl named Susannah—presented an opportunity for food, but Lorraine knew convincing the girl to help wasn’t going to be easy, thanks to the way the privileged landowners perceived the Irish. With her family and friends slowly starving to death, Lorraine had no choice but to try.

The famine years in Ireland are a particularly poignant part of history, and I rarely pass up the opportunity to read about it, fiction or otherwise. I expected to be emotionally invested in this story, and Napoli did not disappoint. She crafted a story that is mindful of the devastation wrought by the famine, with characters readers are easily able to connect with and feel empathy for—characters who show both strength and generosity even as they struggled to survive.

This book was the definition of unputdownable for me; I read most of it in one sitting. The end of the book contains a postscript, glossary, bibliography, author’s note and a timeline (Timeline of Ireland to the End of the Famine) that were as fascinating to read as the story itself. It’s a sure bet to be of interest to history buffs, as it gives a brief accounting of important points in Irish history.

I thought this was a wonderful book, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I definitely recommend this book to readers who love historical fiction. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books via Edelweiss.

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Author: Donna Jo Napoli

Title: Hunger: A Tale of Courage

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Published: February 13th, 2018 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Rating: 4 stars

About the Book

Through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lorraine this haunting novel from the award-winning author of Hidden and Hush gives insight and understanding into a little known part of history—the Irish potato famine.

It is the autumn of 1846 in Ireland. Lorraine and her brother are waiting for the time to pick the potato crop on their family farm leased from an English landowner. But this year is different—the spuds are mushy and ruined. What will Lorraine and her family do?

Then Lorraine meets Miss Susannah, the daughter of the wealthy English landowner who owns Lorraine’s family’s farm, and the girls form an unlikely friendship that they must keep a secret from everyone. Two different cultures come together in a deserted Irish meadow. And Lorraine has one question: how can she help her family survive?

A little known part of history, the Irish potato famine altered history forever and caused a great immigration in the later part of the 1800s. Lorraine’s story is a heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive story of one girl’s strength and resolve to save herself and her family against all odds.

About the Author

Donna Jo Napoli
Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli is the acclaimed and award-winning author of many novels, both fantasies and contemporary stories. She won the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water in 1997. Her novel Zel was named an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon, and a School Library Journal Best Book, and a number of her novels have been selected as ALA Best Books. She is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband.

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The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman #Review @ahoffmanwriter @SimonSchuster

The Rules of Magic cover

The Rules of Magic is the prequel to the Hoffman’s 1995 novel, Practical Magic. In this gripping story, we follow the lives of Franny, Jet, and Vincent Owens as they discover—and later embrace—their magical heritage. They are warned that they must never, ever, fall in love due to the family curse, but that’s something that proves easier said than done…

I absolutely LOVED this book. I was fully invested in this story—and its magical premise—very quickly. Equal time is spent telling each of the siblings’ stories. Each sibling’s story could easily have been the entire focus of a standalone book in this reader’s opinion… they were all incredibly compelling to read about, and there were times I wasn’t ready to transition to a different point of view because I wanted to see what happened next with the person I was reading about.

Franny, Jet, and Vincent all had their share of heartache to go through, but if I had to pick one as the most memorable, it would definitely be Jet. The way the curse affected her was especially tragic, and as I read about the aftermath, I wasn’t sure she would ever be able to recover from it.

If you enjoy reading magical realism, I highly suggest you give this book a try. And I hope you will love it as much as I did!

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Simon & Schuster via Netgalley.

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Author: Alice Hoffman

Title: The Rules of Magic

Series: Practical Magic #0

Genre: Magical Realism

Published: October 10th, 2017 by Simon & Schuster

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

book worth reading

About the Book

Find your magic

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

About the Author

Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston and New York.

Read the rest of Alice Hoffman’s author bio here.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo #Review @SimonSchuster

The Fall of Lisa Bellow cover

Meredith Oliver and Lisa Bellow aren’t friends. In fact, Lisa’s mockery of Meredith has made her miserable. One day after school Meredith stops off for a treat at the sandwich shop before heading home, and nearly leaves when she sees Lisa is inside, but decides to go in and make her purchase as planned. This is how both Lisa and Meredith find themselves in the wrong place at the worst possible time. A disguised man with a gun comes in to rob the place and, when there’s little money to be taken, he forces Lisa to go with him, leaving Meredith behind. Physically, she’s unharmed, but mentally and emotionally, Meredith is traumatized by Lisa’s abduction and struggles with the grief and guilt she feels in the aftermath of the crime. How are you supposed to feel when you’re the lone witness to the kidnapping of someone you don’t even like?

Meredith is full of conflicted feelings. Though she is relieved to be safe with her family, she feels like she should have been taken instead of Lisa. Other times, she feels they both should have been taken. She spends her days imagining what Lisa must be going though, and slowly withdraws from her family and friends.

Meredith isn’t alone in her suffering. Her mother feels relieved (and guilty for feeling it) that her daughter wasn’t the one taken. Lisa’s mother clings to the belief that her daughter will be found, despite the lack of leads in the case. And Lisa—wherever she is—is likely the one suffering the most.

Perabo did a great job of showing the confusion felt by everyone involved, and draws the reader into that confusion, as well. The resolution wasn’t quite what I expected, but it worked. All in all, this was a good read, and I enjoyed it.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Simon & Schuster via Netgalley.

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Author: Susan Perabo

Title: The Fall of Lisa Bellow

Genre: Suspense

Published: March 14th 2017 by Simon & Schuster

Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐

About the Book

The suspenseful, breakout novel from the critically acclaimed author of the short story collections Who I Was Supposed to Be and Why They Run the Way They Do—when a middle school girl is abducted in broad daylight, a fellow student and witness to the crime copes with the tragedy in an unforgettable way.

What happens to the girl left behind?

A masked man with a gun enters a sandwich shop in broad daylight, and Meredith Oliver suddenly finds herself ordered to the filthy floor, where she cowers face to face with her nemesis, Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in her eighth grade class. The minutes tick inexorably by, and Meredith lurches between comforting the sobbing Lisa and imagining her own impending death. Then the man orders Lisa Bellow to stand and come with him, leaving Meredith the girl left behind.

After Lisa’s abduction, Meredith spends most days in her room. As the community stages vigils and searches, Claire, Meredith’s mother, is torn between relief that her daughter is alive, and helplessness over her inability to protect or even comfort her child. Her daughter is here, but not.

Like Everything I Never Told You and Room, The Fall of Lisa Bellow is edgy and original, a hair-raising exploration of the ripple effects of an unthinkable crime. It is a dark, beautifully rendered, and gripping novel about coping, about coming-of-age, and about forgiveness. It is also a beautiful illustration of how one family, broken by tragedy, finds healing.


About the Author

Susan Perabo
Susan Perabo

Susan Perabo is the author of two collections of short stories, “Why They Run the Way They Do” and “Who I Was Supposed to Be,” and a novel, “The Broken Places” (all with Simon and Schuster). Her fiction has been anthologized in “Best American Short Stories,” “Pushcart Prize Stories,” and “New Stories from the South,” and has appeared in numerous magazines, including One Story, Glimmer Train, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, and The Sun. She is Writer in Residence and Professor of English at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.

Author photo and bio via author’s Facebook page.