Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Catch-Up 2011 Part 1

A lot of the books I read in 2011 have gone unreviewed. I had grand plans to give each one the proper treatment, but that’s never going to happen. So here’s some brief thoughts on five

Bunheads by Sophie Flack: This is a little reminiscent of the movie Center Stage, but I enjoyed it. Ms. Flack is honest about the life of a dancer: the time devoted to the craft, the toll it takes on the body, the love/hate relationships among competitors, and the passion that keeps dancers going. Having interned at The Juilliard School for a year, I enjoyed recognizing Lincoln Center. A fun book for anyone interested in dance and/or the life of a NYC performer.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: LOVE! I have to admit that Lola falls a little short of the glory of Anna and the French Kiss, but it is still fabulous! Lola crosses paths with Anna and St. Clair so you do get an update on those two. Lola is a fun, unique girl. She has two gay dads, and I love that this is not a “thing.” Ms. Perkins writes angst and tummy-flip-flop scenes like no one else.

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin: I picked this up specifically because of the blurb on the cover promoting it to Downton Abbey fans. The time period is similar, but not much else. It reminded me more of Brideshead Revisted then Downton, just because of all the angst and need for appearances while still misbehaving. (This is not destined to be a classic like Brideshead.) The characters aren’t very likable, which is another reason I didn’t see a Downton similarity. The main character, Cora, ends up being pretty sympathetic, if not likable, which was surprising because I expected to find her shallow. The best character is Bertha, Cora’s maid, who moves to England with Cora to continue in her employment. She is African-American and gives a unique perspective on the difference between discrimination in the United States and England. Despite the unlikable characters, I could not put it down; the plot kept me enthralled. The details about daily life in the time period are especially enjoyable.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: Very fun suspense novel! Rory is an American attending a boarding school in London, and some of the book is devoted to character development and Rory’s adjustment to boarding school.  The mystery builds when Jack the Ripper copycat murders are happening in the city, and Rory could be the only person who has seen the murderer. The details about the real Jack the Ripper mystery make this especially interesting. This is the first in a series – can’t wait to read more!

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: Set in NYC in the late 1930s, it centers on Katey, a young lady in a secretarial pool. She hits the jazz clubs with Eve, her boarding house roommate at night, counting out their nickels and dimes to buy drinks and still have a late night snack on the way home. The two young ladies befriend Tinker, a wealthy young man, one night; the three friends are soon partying with lots of society-types. I really enjoyed this. The time period is an interesting one: the Depression has been around for a while, and the reader knows WWII is coming. NYC is so well-depicted it is a main character. I liked experiencing Katey’s life; she’s ambitious and works hard, but also enjoys a good time. When a wrench is thrown in the works, the escapades of the three friends are not meant to last. I always enjoy a novel that gives insight in to the lives of the early 20th century wealthy: the loyalties, betrayals, scheming, and lush details.

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Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Read in July 2011. Published by Scholastic Press. ARC provided by publisher at ALA Annual 2011.

Wonderstruck begins with two different stories. One, told in the text, is about a Ben, a young man in 1977, whose mother recently passed away, causing him to move in with his aunt and uncle and share a room with his cousin. His mother never told him anything about his father, and when Ben comes across some of his mother’s belongings, he wonders if he can find his dad.

The other story, set 50 years earlier than Ben’s, is told through Mr. Selznick’s illustrations. It follows Rose, a young deaf girl who dreams of New York City from her room across the Hudson river. She also keeps a scrapbook devoted to her favorite silent film actress. When she learns that the actress will be appearing on Broadway, Rose decides she must run away to the city and try to see the actress.

There is a reason these two stories are being told in tandem, but why?

Wonderstruck is delightful! The characters are very well-developed and so likable. Ben is a unique boy who likes to collect special treasures that remind him of moments in his life. He is deaf in one ear, and manages to embrace the benefits of it, such as sleeping on his good ear to block out unwanted noise. He is lonely since the loss of his mom and a bit lost in his aunt’s house. He needs to find someone who can deeply love him now that his mother is gone. Rose is a brave girl and refuses to be held back by her lack of hearing. Her unstable family breaks my heart and I admire how she can rise about it.

I love how the story unfolds and how the connection between Ben and Rose is slowly revealed.

Mr. Selznick’s illustrations are gorgeous. He manages to convey so many emotions in his pencil drawings. Much of the story is character driven and the illustrations allow the author to show, not tell, much of what the characters feel. The book opens with a drawing of two wolves and I fell in love with it. In particular, the second shot of the wolves where the viewer starts to be drawn closer to one is really lovely; I wish I could frame it. Some of settings include museums and those are so well done. Mr. Selznick manages to bring you into each space and allows you to explore the details without ever feeling like you might be lost in a scene from Where’s Waldo?

The research involved in creating this book is evident and much appreciated. I enjoyed getting a bit of a history lesson while bringing details to the story. Mr. Selznick also mentions in his notes at the end that the similarity to From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is intentional and that the book is filled with references. I missed most of them and look forward to hearing from those who can point them out.

All in all, Wonderstruck is a delightful book! I’m excited to share my copy with some younger readers I know, and will gladly order it for my high school library. I think it will be easiest for an older elementary student to follow the two different plots, but I think all ages can enjoy the illustrations and the mastery of storytelling displayed in Wonderstruck.

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Readers Advisory Request

I am craving a new book to read, but I have a very specific craving.

Something similar to:

  • FitzOsbornes in Exile (and A Brief History of Montmaray but I liked Exile more)
  • The American Heiress 
  • Downton Abbey
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Brideshead Revisited (although I didn’t LOVE it, but it has the setting I might like)

I’m thinking a book that deals with:

  • upper class (but can also have other lower class characters)
  • late 1800s to beginning of WWII (but nothing set in the frontlines of a war), but I lean towards 1900 – 1920s
  • European in setting but would also be open to the northeast US
  • realistic
  • somewhat literary – I don’t want a bodice-ripper or trash, but I also do not require a literary masterpiece
  • can be YA but am thinking it will be easier to fill my needs with adult fiction

Any ideas? I’m coming up dry so far.

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Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell. Published by Scholastic Press. Read in February, 2011. ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.

A Fast Five review:

1. I loved the setting: 1950 New York City.

2. I really enjoyed the ties to the mob and that the author didn’t just go with one real, famous mobster.

3. I find it interesting that several books came out this spring that featured characters hoping to “make it” in the NYC entertainment industry in the early 1900s (Vixen by Jillian Larkin, Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen).

4. I enjoyed this, but I didn’t love it. At times, it seemed to want to cram too much in, and at times I didn’t care about any of the characters.

5. I was left wanting to know more about the Corrigan Three!

Not a must read, but it is a good historical fiction. The author obviously spent time on research, plot, and characters.

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Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly; read in November, 2010.  ARC provided by publisher at ALA Annual.

Many people have said more intelligent things than I can say about this book, so this is a fast one.

1. I loved Revolution. Loved it.

2. The cover was “eh” to me, but it was the first line of the book that sold me on reading it.  “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, deejay.”  How can you not want to read a book that starts like that?

3. It is an amazing mix of modern YA fiction and obviously-researched historical fiction.

4. I was so wrapped up in Andi’s heartbreak, I had a really hard time ever putting the book down.

5. The ending is perfect: hopeful without being too “tied-up-in-a-pretty-package.”

Still not sure if you should read it?  Check out GreenBean Teen Queen and Tea Cozy’s thoughts on it.  Definitely a favorite of 2010.

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Waiting on Wednesday – Bright Young Things

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event started by Breaking the Spine.

I’m really excited to finally read Anna Godberson’s Bright Young Things.  I loved her previous series, The Luxe, and was fortunate to obtain a bound excerpt of Bright Young Things at ALA.  I am hooked already!  It centers around three young women in the 1920s, a decade I have always had a fascination with.  The book came out last week, but I am waiting to read the copy I ordered for my school library.

Isn’t that cover gorgeous?  There is a You Tube video about the making of the cover if you want to check it out.

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Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland; read in July, 2010.  Copy provided through Netgalley by Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt.

Louisa Cosgrove is an independent-minded young woman living in Victorian-era England in Jane Eagland‘s Wildthorn.  The novel opens on Louisa traveling in a carriage towards what she believes will be a sort-of job.  When she arrives, she realizes that she has been delivered to an insane asylum!  The staff insist on calling her by another name and point out the identity confusion as proof that she is in the right place.  Why is Louisa here?  Is she really who she says she is?  Can she rely on any family members to help her, or is she stuck inside this oppressive place?

I shudder to think of the number of women who must have suffered similar fates; locked away because they did not have the desire to follow society’s rules at the time, punished for being smart and wanting to read.  (I would not have survived!)  I’ve always had a mild fascination with old insane asylums and sanitariums/sanatoriums, the reasons people entered the facilities, and how they were treated.  Ms. Eagland allows the reader to get a realistic glimpse into these details, especially as Louisa moves throughout the asylum and sees different levels of care.

The book kept me on my toes, trying to figure out how exactly Louisa ended up in the asylum.  I liked Louisa a lot, and found her believable and sympathetic.  Her family, on the other hand, all had their faults, and I felt sorry for her being stuck with them.  None of them are likable.  One female relative (I’ll avoid saying who because it could slightly spoil the plot twists) could be an exception, but in the end of the book, I disagreed with the choices she made.  I do think said choices are what women in that time period would have done, so I think it’s just something I need to accept in my head.  I liked Eliza and could appreciate her character development.  She reminded me of Martha in The Secret Garden, which is a comparison I have since seen mentioned elsewhere.

I will definitely be adding this to my high school library once it is released.  The cover is very eye-catching and will sell itself to a number of readers.  I look forward to reading her other book, Whisper My Name.

I am an Amazon Associate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

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On a side note, this is the first full book I have read on a Kindle.  I don’t think I read it any slower or faster than a paper book, but I have to admit that at times, I was distracted.  The “page size” is too small.  The text size is fine, but I want the screen to be bigger, to fit more text on it.  I also took a while to get used to the button set-up.  I wanted the “next page” button to the left of the screen to be a “previous page” and I kept hitting that to go back.  It’s an older release, so it appears the buttons have changed.

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