Friday, January 25, 2013

“At Somerton: Cinders and Sapphires” by Leila Rasheed

Age: Young Adult, Ages 14 and up
Genre: Fiction(historical)

This review is based on a digital sneak peak copy provided by Disney Book Group which did not include the full novel. The review is of the first thirteen chapters.

At Somerton: Cinders and Sapphires is the story of the many characters who inhabit the Somerton estate in England at the beginning of the 20th century. The story mainly follows Lady Ada Averley, daughter of the Earl of Westlake, and her ladies’ maid, Rose. Rose has grown up at Somerton with her mother, Mrs. Cliffe, who works as head housekeeper. At the age of sixteen, Rose has just been promoted to lady’s maid after serving as a lowly housemaid for many years. Rose is very nervous about moving into a new position with so much more responsibility, not to mention visibility in the house. Some of the other staff think Rose is not ready for such a position, and Rose is inclined to agree. What Rose doesn’t know is that her promotion is in thanks to her mother suggesting it to Lord Westlake, who mysteriously feels he owes something to the young housemaid.

Lady Ada is sixteen and about to “come out” for her first season, a term that here means she will be introduced to society and attend balls and parties in order to meet suitable bachelors. But she is not interested in anyone but a young Indian man whom she knows she is forbidden to love. Lady Ada also wants to attend Oxford, a notion which her father finds foolish since he believes women don’t need to be formally educated since they only need to serve their husbands and run their homes.

In this upstairs/downstairs story, author Leila Rasheed juggles so many characters that they get a little hard to follow. I found myself having to flip back and forth through pages to remind myself how everyone is related. A family tree or character map at the beginning would have helped so the reader has a reference point. Despite this confusion, however, the problems presented in the story kept me reading to see what would develop. I don’t know that the setting will appeal to the average young adult reader, but the themes of longing for love and acceptance are universal. As a fan of the TV series Downton Abbey, I felt I had a good grounding in the class system and positions of the members of the household in this novel since the setting is very similar, which helped me understand what was going on. In fact, I often pictured and heard the characters from Downton in the roles of Cinders. I enjoyed what I have read so far and look forward to reading the completed novel.

Bibliographical Information:
Rasheed, Leila. At Somerton: Cinders and Sapphires. Disney Book Group, 2013.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Sway" by Amber McRee Turner

Age: Middle Grade, Ages 8-12
Genre: Fiction

When I stop in at Starbucks, I sometimes grab one of the cards they give away with a code for a free song on iTunes. On my last trip to Starbucks, I saw the cards and was surprised to find that they were not giving out a song this time around, but an e-book. The cover showed a young girl looking up at a very tall tree and the title “Sway.” Since it was free, I thought I’d give “Sway” a try, and I read my first book entirely on an iPhone.  I thought it would get super annoying to have only small amounts of text at a time on the screen, but after a few pages, I didn’t even notice and got wrapped up in the story instead. All 894 tiny pages skipped by as I followed ten-year-old Cass and her emotional and physical journey discovering magic and the truth about her family.

Cass thinks her mom, Toodi Bleu Nordenhauer, is the biggest hero there is, and she wants to be just like her. Toodi helps rescue people who are in danger following natural disasters, which unfortunately means she is away from home a lot. Cass just knows her mom is going to take her along on her next rescue mission and train Cass to save people, too, but when her mom comes home she has a different surprise instead: she is moving to Florida to be part of a different family. Cass doesn’t understand, and she and her father are left shattered. But soon her dad comes up with a new plan for them involving a beat-up old motor home nicknamed “The Roast,” a suitcase, and a bunch of old slivers of soap that just might contain the magic they need to get their lives back together.

Author Amber McRee Turner has created a very likable character in Cass, a girl with a lot of spunk, heart, and creativity. Turner isn’t afraid to share the deep, hurting emotions of a ten-year-old whose world is falling apart, and many readers who have been through their parents’ separation or divorce will relate to Cass’ struggles. But the author doesn’t make the story all sour grapes and tears; instead she infuses so much humor, love, and magic into the situation that I couldn’t help but smile as I read about the mystical “Sway.” I also loved the language the author uses for Cass and her cousin, Syd (it’ll make you laugh, believe me). Sway is a heartfelt story that rings true to the voice of a young girl discovering some of the secrets of life, both good and bad.  

Bibliographical Information:
Turner, Amber. Sway. New York: Disney Hyperion Books, 2012.