I hope all of you are having a great spring so far. I have, despite my pleas for warmer weather. I’ve also been going through books like they were slices of pizza recently. As of late, I’m still working on Once Upon a Winter: A Folk and Fairy Tale Anthology and American Shaolin – Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China by Matthew Polly. In addition, I’ve started reading two new titles that I’d love to show you all.
Let’s begin with one of the most noted books within the last 2 years!
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley revolves around a teenager going uncover to help with a criminal investigation. Daunis Fontaine is a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal. She feels like she could never quite fit in both in her hometown and on the near Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother. Then comes Jamie. Jamie is a charming new recruit for her brother Levi’s hockey team. As she falls for him, Daunis realizes that some things don’t add up and that he’s hiding something. Everything comes to light when she witnesses a murder, which thrusts her into the heart of a criminal investigation. Reluctantly, she agrees to go uncover. At the same time, she conducts her own investigation, utilizing her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine to track down criminals. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home. Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.
Before I go into my initial thoughts about Firekeeper’s Daughter, I want to say that I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a very long time. Its accolades go without saying, and I knew a lot of people who read and loved it. So why read it now? Well reader, I recently attended Spring Institute – a conference for youth librarians in the state of Michigan, and Angeline Boulley was a keynote speaker there. She was funny and wonderful to talk to. I even got a photo with her! In other words, she was the catalyst for me to FINALLY read Firekeeper’s Daughter!
Now, what do I think of it so far? I really like it. I’ve only gotten through the first part (and there’s four of them in the novel), but I love how the book takes it time to establish its setting and most importantly its characters. Boulley’s descriptions of the various locations in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and on Sugar Island were clear and precise that I could imagine them right away. They also make me want to go to those places some day.
In addition, I really got the sense of who Daunis is and her relationships within the first 50 pages. She’s a science nerd who’s going through some recent trauma with her uncle’s sudden death. It doesn’t help that she feels that she doesn’t truly belong with either her white or native relatives.
Moreover, other characters feel very real too. I really like Lily – Daunis’s best friend. She is sex-crazy who puts Daunis in her place, especially when the latter gets too science-y. She also has an on-again, off-again relationship with a guy named Travis who went to school with them. I won’t reveal the conclusion to that saga for those who haven’t read the novel yet. Then, there’s Jamie. At first, he is a cool, funny, and charming guy that I can totally see why Daunis develops feelings for. He has his secrets, and he hides them as much as she does. We’ll see how this relationship unfolds.
While some people might complain about the slow beginning, once the murder happens, it moves at a brisk pace, at least it does so far. I’m looking forward to seeing how Daunis assists with the investigation(s) and develops her true self.
Now, let’s move on to second and final title of this chapter.
Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly is the third book in the Lilac Girls series. It revolves around Caroline Ferriday’s ancestor Georgeanna Woolsey – a Union nurse who joins the war effort during the Civil War – and how she crosses path with Jemma – a young enslaved girl who is sold off and conscripted into the army – and Ann-May Wilson – a southern plantation mistress whose husband enlists.
Georgeanna “Georgey” Woosley is not one for lavish parties or being demure. So when war ignites, she follows her passion for nursing during a time when doctors considered women a bother on the battlefield. To prove them wrong, She and her sister Eliza travel from New York to Washington D.C. to Gettysburg and witness the horrors of slavery as they become increasingly more involved with the war effort.
In the South, Jemma is enslaved on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, where she lives with her mother and father. Her sister Patience is enslaved on the plantation next door, and both live in fear of LeBaron – an abusive overseer who tracks their every move. When Jemma gets sold by her cruel plantation mistress Anne-May at the same time the Union Army comes, she sees a path for freedom even if it means leaving behind the family she loves.
Anne-May is left behind to run the Peeler Plantation when her husband joins the Union Army, and her brother enlists in the Confederate one. In charge of the household, she uses the opportunity to follow her own ambitions and is drawn into a secret Southern network of spies. As a result, she exposes herself to the fate she deserves.
So far, I’ve noticed that Sunflower Sisters follows a similar structure to Lilac Girls. Both have multiple perspectives; have an activist, a victim, and a villain as their main characters; and most obviously, have flowers in their titles. I understand that having more than two points of view is unique in the literary world, especially when it comes to historical fiction. I guess Martha Hall Kelly thought that if it worked the first time, it can work a second, uh I mean third, time (I’ve not read Lost Roses yet, but I plan to do that in the future). At the same time, I hope that it doesn’t come off as formulaic. We’ll see as I continue to read it.
I’ve been listening to the audiobook, which is narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, Shayna Small, Jenna Lamia, and Cassandra Campbell. Campbell needs no introduction as she narrated plenty of books like Where the Crawdads Sing and most logically Lilac Girls. She plays Mary – Georgeanna’s other sister – in the prologue. I don’t know if Mary comes back into the story, but if she doesn’t, it would be a waste of Campbell’s talent. Maarleveld has recorded several audiobooks like The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott and lots of titles by Kate Quinn. She takes on the role of Georgey, and I like it so far. She gives off an Amy March vibe specifically from the 2019 version of Little Women with a little less selfishness. I haven’t gotten into Small’s nor Lamia’s performances yet, but I look forward to hearing them and more of Maarleveld and Campbell (hopefully).
We have now come to the end of the thirtieth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”
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