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Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead rose up from the battlefield at Gettysburg and began to stalk the fields and forests of our reeling nation.  Two days before the War Between the States became the War Against the Dead.  The South was lost, overrun by shamblers, horses all but vanished, and the survivors in the East live in fortified towns and cities, protected by walls and citizen soldiers trained to put down the dead.  Citizens like Jane, forcibly sent to combat training schools as children with the passing of the Negro and Native Reeducation Act.

Over a decade after Rising Day, the cities in the East have been declared mostly free and safe of the undead, but there is still a need to keep the living safe, especially when travelling.  A student at one of the best ladies’ combat training schools, Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Maryland, Jane is training to be an Attendant, a companion who will guard her future employer’s life – and virtue, depending on what the situation may call for.  She misses her mama, her Aunt Aggie, and her Kentucky home on Rose Hill plantation something fierce, but, as one of the best in her class, she hopes to have the choice to return and protect her home when she graduates.  Even if she does find herself in more trouble than she ought due to her inability to keep quiet and follow the rules of decorum, Jane’s combat skills are unmatched by any of her classmates.

When whole Baltimore families start disappearing, without a hint as to where they’ve vanished, Jane knows something dirty is happening – there’s no way folks are headed out West without making a peep about it, and a shambler attack could never be mistaken for anything else.  When Jane and her Miss Preston’s archrival, fussy, fashionable, and lovely Katherine Deveraux (do not call her Kate), attend a lecture on a possible cure for the undead plague at a Baltimore university, Jane finds herself an unexpected hero when she is forced to put down a recently turned man, which results in an unwelcome invitation to serve at a dinner hosted by the mayor’s wife.  It does, however, seem like the perfect opportunity to do a little snooping around for answers, which, as usual, lands Jane – and Katherine – in a whole heap of trouble she definitely wasn’t looking for.

Fierce, strong, determined, and awfully handy with a blade, Jane is a girl you’ll totally want on your zombie defense team.  With incredible world-building that weaves in the real history of medical research, the end of slavery and the Reconstruction, westward expansion and Native American boarding schools, and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation has created a very real picture of just what the world might have looked like if the dead had risen up from the battlefield in Gettysburg.  I’m not usually a big zombie fan, but I’m all about historical fiction with a smart twist (plus the buzz on this book was so, so good!), so I’ve had this book on my teetering to-be-read pile for well over a year.  Although part of me wonders why I waited so long to read this reimagined history of a shattered nation, a big part of me is sooooo relieved that now I have way less time to wait for the sequel, Deathless Divide, coming to a library near you in February of 2020!

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Karen always reads all the best books – here’s one that I may have to add to my list this summer too.  And, bonus – if you’re doing the Read Across America year-long reading challenge, you can check Kentucky off your list!

I love to read historical fiction, and historical fiction that involves a horse (well, actually it’s a mule) and library books, plus it’s set in Kentucky (for those doing the state contest), really made my list.  With the hot and humid weather outside, it was easy to stay in and read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek in just a couple days.  “Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, [this book] is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere-even back home.”  The author’s notes at the end of the book were just as interesting to read, as she discusses both the blue-skinned people suffering from methemoglobinemia, a rare congenital disease, and the Pack Horse librarians, known as “book women”.  She states that “in the years of service, more than one thousand women served in the Pack Horse Library Project, and it was reported that nearly 600,000 residents in thirty eastern Kentucky counties considered “pauper counties” were served by them.”  It thrills me that I can find a book that shares an important part of history that I knew nothing about, and about subjects that I love, horsewomen and books!

The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Things haven’t really been the same for Lucy Everhart and her dad since her mom died five years ago.  A renowned biologist, Lucy’s mom was on a boat tracking great white sharks off the north Atlantic coast when she died.  Lucy’s dad is a police detective in their small coastal Massachusetts town and a rescue diver who works all up and down the coast, which means he isn’t home too much, but her neighbors are always there – old Mr. Patterson on one side, hanging out on his porch listening to his police scanner, and the Kellys on the other, including Fred Kelly, Lucy’s best friend, and his two sisters.  Mrs. Kelly took care of Lucy after her mom died, when things were really bad, and Lucy feels almost like part of the Kelly family.

It’s summer, and Lucy and Fred are hard at work on their summer project, a field guide to Cape Ann wildlife (Fred writes the descriptions, while Lucy illustrates), when local fisherman Sookie catches a great white in one of his nets and hauls it to shore.  The two head to the dock to get a good look at the shark, and that night, while trying to get the illustrations right, Lucy catches some old footage on the news of her mom talking about great whites moving into the north Atlantic.  Footage she’s never seen before – which sets her down a path of discovery about her mom’s work with sharks, Fred by her side.  As the two dive deep into shark research, Lucy starts to feel like she’s getting to know her mom the biologist, not just her mom the mom.

But when another tragedy rips a new hole in Lucy’s heart, this time with serrated edges, she has to fight hard to hold on.  Her mom’s research feels like a life line, and finding answers her mom didn’t get a chance to investigate feels like a way for Lucy to keep swimming, even in the dark waters of grief.  With the field guide and her pencils in hand, her mom’s unanswered questions forming the path ahead, and help from more than a few unexpected places, Lucy slowly begins to find her way forward.

Shark Week is still a month away, but you can get a jump start with this fabulous debut novel by Minnesota author Kate Allen!  The Line Tender is an exploration of family, friendship, love, loss, and chock full of the science of sharks.  A great summer read (although maaaybe not for a trip to an ocean…), there are tons of shark and other marine biology facts in this novel that were super fascinating, and Lucy’s shark illustrations fill the space between each chapter.  With a mystery or two, quirky neighbors, good friends, a road trip, and lots of sharks, this is definitely one to add to your summer stack!