Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

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Book Review: Walt Longmire Mysteries #1-3 by Craig Johnson

Title:   The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1)

Death Without Company (Walt Longmire #2)

Kindness Goes Unpunished (Walt Longmire #3)

Author: Craig Johnson

Format: Electronic (Kindle)

Published: 2005-2007

 

When May Sweeps was over, my valiant partner and I combed through Netflix for bingewatching material and found Season 1 of A&E’s Longmire ready and waiting.   It wasn’t until the tenth and final episode that I caught the “Based on the novel…” credit flashing over the beginning action.    I immediately ran to the library website and downloaded the first three books, eager to immerse myself in the Wyoming sheriff’s adventures.    I had enjoyed the show immensely and couldn’t wait to “read more about it” (as they used to say at the end of Afterschool Specials.)

 

I have  good news and I have bad news.   Let’s start with the good, shall we?

These books are very, very good.  That in and of itself is nice to know, seeing as there are thus far nine in the series.   The first book–The Cold Dish–has a few pacing issues as Johnson tries to set up his world and characters but once you learn your way around you really don’t want to leave fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming.

There’s more good news to come, but I think this is a good time to pop in with the bad news.

If you go to these books because you really like the A&E show and want that Walt  and Henry  and Vic and Branch and Ruby…oops.  Sorry.  About the only thing these novels have in common with the TV show are the names of some characters and the general idea of a Wyoming sheriff, his Indian* best friend and his sexy deputy.    The books are completely different in tone, in plot, in story.     While the Walt Longmire of A&E’s cop show is a taciturn father figure with broodingly quiet competence his novel predecessor is garrulous, witty, wordy and philosophical.    The books are written in the first person, and Walt tells his story with liberal amounts of wry wit.   Classical literary allusions pepper the pages; every book has at least one Shakespeare quote.    I’d definitely say the show and the novels are equally enjoyable, but honestly it’s sort of like comparing roast beef and Chicago-style pizza.

The other bad news is that if you come to these looking for traditional series mystery you may disappointed as well.   Each book thus far has a central crime but it’s never much of a puzzle.  Since the books are more about the camaraderie of Walt and his coterie of eccentrics the entertainment value comes from following their interactions.   As far as mysteries go these are quite possibly the complete opposite of the page-turning thrillers by Dan Brown, Jonathan Kellerman, Jeffrey Deaver and Patricia Cornwell.   You still turn the pages, but just to hang out with everybody.  There aren’t that many compelling “gosh, I wonder what that mysterious residue was?” types of questions.   As long as you know that going into it, you’ll be fine.

In fact, as I write this review and ponder the whole thing I realise that the books these remind me most of are the Father Tim/Mitford novels by Jan Karon.   Now, before you think “ugh, I’m not doing that” I don’t mean they’re similar in tone.  It’s just that these books, like those, are highly serialised and highly atmospheric in their setting.   Just as Karon’s books are the story of Mitford and the goofy characters who live there, these are the more butch version, the story of Absaroka County.

Each book does deal with a crime that is solved by the end of the novel, but the overarching stories of Walt, Henry, et. al. carry through from one novel to the next.   It’s very good to know that going into it; it’s also a good idea to have more than one novel on hand because you’ll want to dive right into the subsequent story to see what  happens next.

As far as ratings go, I’d say the books get four bookworms as general fiction.   But if I were rating them as genre police procedurals I’d actually have to give them 2.5-3 bookworms.   In other words–I love them, but the Mystery aspect is NOT their central strength.

4 bookworms

*The books are very clear that the term “Indian” is preferable to Native American from the Indian point-of-view as the Cheyenne do not consider themselves Americans. Not knowing any Cheyenne personally I’ll take Johnson’s word for it.

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Contest Update
Congratulations go to Bridgett Williams-Searle, who won the giveaway for Anna And The Dragon by Jill Domschot. I apologise profusely for the delay in announcing it. Things went pear-shaped here for a bit. But we’re back on track! Yay!

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