Sunday, October 27, 2013

A City Tossed and Broken

13627712Blundell, Judy. A City Tossed and Broken (Dear America)
March 2013, Scholastic
Nominated for the Cybils by Kate18

Minnie is devastated by the desertion of her father, but things get worse: unable to keep the family tavern in Philadelphia open, her mother arranges for Minnie to travel with the Sumps to San Francisco to be the maid of their daughter. Given the financial straights of the family (the father has a gambling problem, which is how he lost the tavern), there seems to be nothing for it, and Minnie heads out to San Francisco. Things happen quickly once she gets there-- Mrs. Sump isn't happy about the house or location, Mr. Sump is involved in shady business dealings, and the daughter steals Minnie's satchel and clothing and is prepared to run away from home. Just before she does, however, an earthquake hits San Francisco, and the ensuing tragedy changes Minnie's life. Mr. Crandall, the Sumps lawyer, mistakes Minnie for the daughter and offers to care for her, and Minnie finds out that Mr. Sump had a hand in her father losing the tavern. Can she survive in a treacherous, post earthquake and fire city, and clear her father's name?
Strengths: This started out like many of the Dear America series, with a bit too much whining for my taste, but picked up VERY quickly. There is a nice mystery involved, a strong female character triumphing against adversity, plus a little romance. Vivid descriptions of the earthquake and fire.
Weaknesses: Slow start, and  I wasn't entirely sure if the characters were based on real people or not. The epilogue threw me off. Still, a good entry in the series.

16249571Miller, Bobbi. Big River's Daughter.
15 April 2013, Holiday House
Nominated for the Cybils by  Cynthia Cotten

River is happy with her father, who has a boat on the Mississippi in the early 1800s. When a tremendous earthquake kills her father and destroys their boat, she ends up in the care of Annie Christmas and her sons, but is quickly turned over to the care of Jean Lafitte and his family, since River's father had run afoul of Hogg Tyler and Mother Colby. River is not happy with Sarah and Catiche; she has to be clean, wear dresses, and behave herself. She really wants to find out what was going on with her father, who had gotten involved with the doings of several river pirates. Eventually, River runs off to find Annie, and takes a circus tiger with her. Once she finds Annie, she realizes that her father's spy glass has a map to a treasure encoded on it, and enlists the help of her father's former associates to get to the treasure before other, less savory characters do.
Strengths: Clearly well researched, this offers a vivid portrayal of life on the river during this adventuresome time. Real life characters, like Lafitte and Mike Fink, are described, and notes at the end of the book are helpful in telling the real characters from the fictional ones.
Weaknesses: Holiday House has the worst formatting of any publisher I can think of-- the text is small and hard to read and the covers are always not appealing. Given the rather unusual setting of this book, it would be hard enough to get students to read this even if it had an appealing cover. I also thought that River's personality would be more at home in the new millenium than in the early 1800s, but that's what makes books like The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle appealing.
Weaknesses: 

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