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Category Archives: Historical fiction

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Today, I’m reviewing Flame in the Mist over at Tynga’s Reviews! Check it out!
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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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The Pearl Thief

In this prequel to Code Name Verity, a teenage Lady Julia Beaufort-Stuart has just returned from boarding school headed to her family’s former ancestral home Strathfearn House that is being sold to become another boarding school to pay her grandfather’s debts, since the estate hadn’t been able to pay for itself in years. Upon her arrival two days earlier than planned, Julie decides to attempt to surprise her family and friends, but doesn’t run into any of them. Figuring she’ll run into them soon, she takes a walk along the river, knowing this opportunity will be forever gone soon, and is somehow attacked. When she comes to two days later, she’s in the hospital and believed to be a traveller, treated like she’s no better than an unwanted animal. She can’t remember the events around being attacked, and meanwhile, there are other unusual circumstances. A man has gone missing and is believed to be dead and other suspicious events have happened. Julie, together with new allies of the Scottish travellers Euan McEwen and his sister Ellen, tries to discover what happened and also clear the travellers of any suspected wrongdoing before someone is gravely injured.

This was so very different compared to CNV. It is basically more of a historical mystery taking place well before the war. Julie is also much younger at fifteen, and is determinedly trying to be older than she is. She sometimes acts as if she has the authority when her family is unavailable and she pretends to be older to attract older men too. Julie can’t wait to grow up, and though she tries, she still carries the naiveté and sense of entitlement that has yet to be challenged until now. Julie forms a number of new relationships throughout the novel that teach her rather different lessons, things that ultimately are helping her form her identity. When her hair is shaved off, she has a chance to explore what being a boy is like because everyone believes she is a boy rather than a young noble lady. This identity swap, however unintended, shapes her into exploring things she never was able to before, whether through her sexuality or her class standing. This is possibly one of the key changes for becoming Verity.

One of themes of the book is the prejudice against travellers. See this Wikipedia entry on Scottish travellers and who they were and here for more educational info. We might associate them more as gypsies, but for the most part, they were still regarded as undesirables even in this day and age. Today we could easily compare this with some attitudes towards the homeless, immigrants, or refugees (though actually a news station mentioned gypsies in the US fairly recently). However, during this novel, because the travellers are nearby, they are automatically thought to be suspects, subjected to any number of indignities, and even withheld from other privileges that are perfectly legitimate, like Julie showing them her family’s collection at the library. Julie’s family seems to be one of the very few who accept and defend the travellers, but they cannot stop the violence and prejudices that happen when someone powerful isn’t around (beatings, accusations, rape).

Other interesting things about this book are the history of Scottish pearls, Julie’s relationship with her grandfather and his family’s downfall during the wars (which happened quite a bit during this age), and bits and pieces of real Scotland (though Mary Queen of Scots pearls are actually invented in this story despite her having loved pearls and having possibly the most famous pearls in the world now passed down and even worn by Queen Elizabeth II).

While this isn’t an earth-shattering novel like CNV, it does show a lesser noticed side of history, namely the Scottish traveller abuse and prejudice. I found it to be much more subtle and to carry more gentle character development than her other works. I’m not quite sure what teen I would give this to, except maybe an older teen more interested in literary classics, historical fiction, mystery and identity crisis because it is fascinating from these standpoints or to make a full character comparison between Julie and Verity. Other fans blown away by CNV might find this underwhelming instead, though I enjoyed the read.

 

 

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The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

I’m over at Tynga’s Reviews today posting about The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, the first in her Lady Helen series. Click the picture or here to read!

 

 
 

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Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin

25372971Tell Me Something Real

William C. Morris Award finalist for 2017

In San Diego, California, three sisters deal with the realities of their mother’s leukemia and their double life in Tijuana, Mexico where their mother attends treatment. Instead of parents who take care of them, it is the girls who take care of their family. While visiting the clinic for her mother, Vanessa, the middle sister, meets a young man, Caleb, on remission from leukemia and they form a close bond. Caleb and his mother even come live with their family when Vanessa’s mom becomes terminal, and Vanessa feels like she has love despite the stress of her mom and their life. Vanessa also begins to really discover the strength of her dreams of playing the piano and planning for her future. However, when Caleb and his mom leave suddenly, Vanessa decides to find out what secrets they’ve uncovered, and in doing so, she and her sisters must face the worst possible betrayal and their lives change forever.

I don’t typically read books about chronic illness, since it’s something that gives me anxiety. However, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars definitely changed that for me, so now I am simply more careful about what I read. Still, I was really intrigued about this book as it really shows a different perspective of illness. Vanessa and her family are not typical. Her mother has been ill for a long time, and Vanessa and her sisters are basically running the house so their father can continue working and making the only income they have (even if his boss is horrible and not understanding of the family situation). Vanessa is still normal though and wants to live her own life. When she meets Caleb, she gets to be a little bit more normal for awhile, and their romance is sweet and real. The real test for Vanessa is when the plot twist occurs and disrupts everything. It is Vanessa who has to deal with all the fallout and who is the hardest hit by everything. It becomes more about what choices she will make because of it, and how that will then affect the rest of her family. She also discovers the value of truth and trust in a way that closely echoes real life. Vanessa becomes a tough heroine and I had a lot of sympathy for her.

This book might speak to any teen who has been deeply betrayed and is learning to trust again. The story is more for high school teens, better for juniors and seniors as it relates to a similar time in their lives when they are choosing their futures and displaying their true selves.

 

 
 

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The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

19370304The Smell of Other People’s Houses

William C. Morris Award Finalist for 2017

Four narratives of teens living in Alaska soon after it became a state intertwine into a coming-of-age story that is unflinchingly detailed and messy with emotion but ultimately heartwarming.

When Ruth was a young child, she lived with her mother and father who loved their life hunting and enjoying each other. After her father died in an airplane crash trying to keep Alaska from being a state, young Ruth and her infant sister Lily are taken to live with their firm, serious grandmother while their mother quietly goes mad from grief. Life with Gran means having church casseroles a lot and never feeling too good about yourself. The only thing keeping Ruth sane is her best friend Selma and her boyfriend Ray, but when Ray gets a new girlfriend and Ruth has a secret to keep, she begins to see things differently.

Dora feels she will never escape the shadow of her father’s abusive drunkenness and her mother’s alcoholism and inability to be responsible or loving. She lives with her best friend Dumpling and her family in order to stay safe. However, when she wins a portion of the Ice Classic and the newspaper really wants to know details, Dora must confront her worst fears, especially when an accident happens and her future is in jeopardy.

Alyce longs to try out for ballet to win a scholarship for college, but with her parents divorced, each summer she goes to help her dad during salmon season and that conflicts with her audition. Since her parents have been divorced, Alyce doesn’t want to make things worse, but she finds it hard to talk to them, especially when her dream is so different from theirs.

Hank and his younger brothers have stolen away on a ferry boat to find a better life away from the unhappiness of their mother and stepfather, but when Sam, the middle brother, falls overboard and goes missing, Hank does everything to try and find him. In their search, the three brothers might find something better than they expected.

I was unprepared to be emotional over the ending of this book! The descriptions sometimes sear in your mind (the description of the backstrap and bloody hands in her mother’s hair?), but yet it kind of brings you to the 1970’s Alaska. You never knew thoughts on Alaska could be so complex. It really brought about an understanding of the different types of characters that made up Alaska when it was new, and the heritage would still be important today what with the fishing trades, the hunting (newsworthy recently), and indigenous peoples. Since the descriptions could be unappealing at times and many of the characters so unhappy, I wasn’t sure what I was reading, but I am glad I finished it. It still propelled you along (as long as you didn’t get confused about who is narrating which section), and the ending blew me away. Lots of tears, happy tears?

If you want to read an interview with Bonnie-Sue, read this over at the Hub.

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Historical fiction, Young Adult/Teen

 

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