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Book Review: The Exiles

Summary from Amazon: The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant novel about three women whose lives are bound together in nineteenth-century Australia and the hardships they weather together as they fight for redemption and freedom in a new society.

Seduced by her employer’s son, Evangeline, a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London, is discharged when her pregnancy is discovered and sent to the notorious Newgate Prison. After months in the fetid, overcrowded jail, she learns she is sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land.

During the journey on a repurposed slave ship, the Medea, Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a girl little older than her former pupils who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Canny where Evangeline is guileless, Hazel—a skilled midwife and herbalist—is soon offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors in return for a variety of favors.

Though Australia has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, the British government in the 1840s considers its fledgling colony uninhabited and unsettled, and views the natives as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time the Medea arrives, many of them have been forcibly relocated, their land seized by white colonists. One of these relocated people is Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been adopted by the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land.

In this gorgeous novel, Christina Baker Kline brilliantly recreates the beginnings of a new society in a beautiful and challenging land, telling the story of Australia from a fresh perspective, through the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. While life in Australia is punishing and often brutally unfair, it is also, for some, an opportunity: for redemption, for a new way of life, for unimagined freedom. Told in exquisite detail and incisive prose, The Exiles is a story of grace born from hardship, the unbreakable bonds of female friendships, and the unfettering of legacy.

Stories from Suffragette City

My favorite genre is historical fiction, and there has been a plethora of similar books on the shelves in the last year, so when this book was published, I was intrigued. I am not generally a fan of short stories, and I think this is because if one author is writing them all, they tend to be too alike. This collection, though, with stories written by different authors (so many of my favorites!), brought this period in time to life from so many different points of view.  The Stories from Suffragette City are vignettes about women and girls (and some men) who participated in the suffragette march down 5th Avenue in New York City on Oct. 23rd 1915, with a few of the stories having threads of connection. Even though the general subject of each story was the same, each story itself was so carefully crafted and researched, I wanted to know more, so I went to the next chapter! And a whole other viewpoint of the same event by another amazing author was right there! The backstory for this book, how Fiona and M.J. brainstormed this whole idea sitting in an airport in Minnesota, was intriguing also. I was pretty ignorant of the suffragette movement and I feel that this book leaves you wanting to learn a bit more, especially about some of the historical women that were highlighted in various stories. Thanks to them, we are where we are today. This would be a great book for book clubs, as there are so many aspects of that day to discuss, with real and fictional characters brought to life.

Book Review: Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Cyd’s here with our first fall book review of the much-anticipated new middle grade novel by Newbery honor-winning author Lauren Wolk!

“Surely there has never been a better time to read about healing, of both the body and the heart.” –The New York Times Book Review

Depression-era Maine – 1934

After Ellie’s family loses almost everything they own, including their home in town, they are forced to start over in the untamed forests of nearby Echo Mountain. Unlike her sister, Ellie finds comfort in her new home. She welcomes the freedom and discovers a natural connection and love for the mountain and the creatures that share it. But the joy she has discovered is short lived when an accident leaves her father in a coma. An accident that she has accepted the unearned blame for. 

Ellie is determined to bring her father back. Listening to her heart and following her instincts, Ellie will make her way to the top of the mountain, in search of the healing secrets that a woman known only as “the hag” is known to possess. Her journey to find a cure for her father leads her to discover that help can come from surprising places.

Newbery honoree Lauren Wolk is a master at painting vivid pictures of people and places. Her young heroine, Ellie, is a remarkable character. Ellie’s kindness and innate understanding and empathy for the people and creatures of Echo Mountain, her trust in herself, her willingness to do whatever needs to be done – make her a great role model. I think young readers will find themselves engrossed in (and uplifted by) her character. This book is filled with positive messages that transfer to our current times.  Messages about community, openness to learning, how people respond differently in hard times. One of Ellie’s strongest character traits is her acceptance of people as they are – without judgement.    

I highly recommend this book. Echo Mountain is a page turner that I had a hard time putting down and couldn’t wait to come back to!  There are a few scares along the way, but the overall tone of the book is positive and thought-provoking for a young reader.