Showing posts with label YA Historical Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label YA Historical Fiction. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Year We Were Famous

The Year We Were Famous. Carole Estby Dagg. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely liked Carole Estby Dagg's The Year We Were Famous. This is historical fiction based on a true story, a true family story. It is fiction; liberties have been taken. Liberties that work in favor of a not-so-bleak ending.

Clara Estby is the heroine of The Year We Were Famous. She is the oldest daughter; she is seventeen. The family farm is in big, big trouble. Her mother, Helga, who suffers--and suffers understandably--from depression, works with her daughter to brainstorm a way to "save" the farm. Her daughter's careless comment about wanting to travel the world and be a journalist sparks an idea that can't be swept aside. Helga is determined to find sponsors, wealthy sponsors who want to test what women are capable of. She wants to make a deal. She and her daughter will walk across country, over three thousand miles, starting with no more than $5, if they reach New York City by the deadline, they will receive $10,000--more than enough to keep the farm. This is where the details are a bit fuzzy in reality because the journals and such were purposefully destroyed by the family. No one is sure *who* the sponsor was, if there even was a sponsor, the intentions of the sponsor, etc.

For over seven months May through December, these two women are on their own and on an adventure of sorts. It is dangerous and exhausting and overwhelming and a once in a lifetime opportunity. They meet new people almost every single day. They are sharing their stories with various newspapers across the country. They are speaking at suffragette events across the country. They are challenging themselves day and night...

I liked this one. It is set in 1896. I appreciated the fact that the author was inspired by her family history.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Between Two Worlds (2014)

Between Two Worlds. Katherine Kirkpatrick. 2014. Random House. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Between Two Worlds was an interesting and thoughtful novel. The novel is set in Greenland at the turn of the twentieth century. It is told from the native perspective, a young woman named Eqariusaq, nicknamed Billy Bah by Robert E. Peary's wife and daughter. The novel explores the tension between the heroine's "two worlds." On the one hand, as a child, she went with Peary and lived with his family for about a year in the United States. Several years later, her parents also traveled with Peary. But they never returned, along with the other natives Peary had selected. Those natives did not have the personal connection, the friendship. These men and women were to be studied by a museum. Between Two Worlds tells young readers of their fate and treatment--or mistreatment as the case may be. Readers learn alongside the main character. On the other hand, her home is her HOME. Spending time with white people (qallunaat) did not change who she was, did not change her way of life, her culture, her beliefs. She did not trade in her spirituality, for example, for that of the white men. Since her time with Peary's family, she has grown up and gotten married. She's still super young for marriage by today's standards, but today's standards just don't apply to ANY part of this novel.

One of the novel's greatest strengths, perhaps, is that it presents the facts with little or no judgment at all. How husbands and wives treated one another, how women fit into the community and village life, it's something that modern readers will question perhaps. Especially in terms of how husbands traded their wives amongst themselves in addition to trading them to the white men. Part of a woman's value was the value she could bring her husband. A wife's body could be sold or traded. Eqariusaq's husband, Angulluk, loved to trade his wife alot, especially to the white men. He loved how he could use his wife to obtain guns and bullets and planks of wood. I should also point out that men and women could decide to separate or "divorce." Marriage did not mean forever. Women could decide to discard one man in favor of another, in favor of a better. Billy Bah takes comfort in that fact as she seriously considers leaving her husband; she has little respect for him since he's lazy and greedy.

Between Two Worlds is a contemplative novel. Our heroine is very much torn in what she wants and what she needs. She is questioning her past, her present, and her future. Her memories of the past are bitter and sweet. There are memories she cherishes, for better or worse, but she's more analytical than she was as a child. There were things that happened to her in America that through her innocence she did not see as damaging or painful, but, upon growing up and growing wise, she realizes things aren't that simple. For example, she has happy memories of Peary's wife and daughter. Seriously happy memories. Yet, as an adult, as she meets them again after years apart, she realizes the complexity of the situation. Mrs. Peary is willing to risk the lives of the natives without a thought, without a thank you. She commands and expects obedience. She simply does not see the natives as being equally human, equally of worth.

I thought it was a compelling read. It presents a whole other world to readers.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

By My Side (2014)

By My Side. Sue Reid. 2014. Scholastic. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely enjoyed reading Sue Reid's novel By My Side. This novel is told entirely through diary entries; it is set in the Netherlands during World War II during Nazi Occupation. The heroine of By My Side, Katrien, falls in love with a Jewish boy, Jan. Katrien, unlike some of her friends, is not boy crazy. She wasn't looking for a boyfriend; she wasn't planning on falling in love. But there was something different about Jan, setting him apart from other boys she knew. He was slightly older, true, but that wasn't really it. One thing she does learn early on, however, is the fact that he's Jewish. That is why he stopped attending school. That is why he's sometimes a bit hesitant to do the things she wants. At the very, very beginning, she does seem a bit oblivious and insensitive. Her intentions were always good, mind you, but she didn't stop to think about how his being Jewish could effect WHAT they do together: going to the park, going to the movies, etc. She'd never had reason really to stop and think about how many restrictions are placed on the Jews and the seriousness of the situation. Of course, after seeing him a few weeks, she's grown up quite a bit. That doesn't mean Katrien is mature and wise, mind you. She decides to keep Jan a complete secret from her parents; he wants her to be honest, he wants to come to her house as her boyfriend. She is reluctant.

I definitely enjoyed this romance. It was a quick read. By the end, it had gotten quite intense as well.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Winter Pony (2011)

The Winter Pony. Ian Lawrence. 2011. Random House. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

By the time I was halfway through The Winter Pony, I knew I had made a mistake, a big mistake. It isn't just that all the animals die, the ponies, the dogs, and lots of other Antarctic animals that were killed for food or fur, or both. It isn't just the fact that almost all the human characters die too.

I think it's the fact, and this is purely subjective on my part, that it was all so pointless. What could possibly be heroic or noble about starving to death and/or freezing to death? For what did these men risk their lives? For the glory of man? For pride? The men had a choice. They, for whatever reason, were excited and motivated and aware of the risks and hardships. The animals, well, they had no choice at any point. The animals were essentially doomed from the moment they were selected to be a part of Robert Falcon Scott's quest, his mission, to be the first to the South Pole.

Why am I focusing on the animals instead of the men? For the simple fact that this book does. The Winter Pony is told through a pony's perspective. The pony hero is James Pigg. The novel opens with James Pigg free and running wild, happy and innocent. It ends with him being shot and fed to the remaining dogs and men. (The men, the dogs, the ponies, all shared the same fate, it was just a matter of when.)

The author seems to like and respect Robert Scott, and has sought to tell the story honestly for better or worse. He does point out that big mistakes were made by Scott on his journey, that the story could have had a different ending, if Scott had made different choices, better choices. One of the mistakes is that Scott failed to push the ponies hard enough at the beginning. He had planned to create a supply cache, "One Ton Depot" at a certain degree, he stopped short of his goal for the sake of the ponies. On his return journey, he never came close to reaching the much-needed supplies that would have saved his life and the lives of his men. If he had stuck to the original plan, then he would have reached his supplies. There were other mistakes made as well.

There was nothing in Ian Lawrence's novel that made me like or respect Scott.

The Winter Pony stays relatively close to the facts. James Pigg's part in the story is stretched and expanded to tell more of what it was like to be one of twenty (or is nineteen?) ponies on the expedition.

The narrative switches between the pony's perspective AND an omniscient narrator that shares plenty of information.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Love Me (2014)

Love Me. (Starstruck #2). Rachel Shukert. 2014. Random House. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Love Me is the sequel to Rachel Shukert's Starstruck. I enjoyed Starstruck. I am not sure if I enjoyed Love Me as much. On the one hand, I could not put it down. I kept cheating. I would go to the end of the book, read a bit, and then go back to where I was. I don't ever really do that. So it did keep my interest, which, I suppose, is a good thing, right?! My favorite character is NOT a main character.

On the other hand, I found myself yelling at the characters from start to finish. I also found myself frustrated at times with the dialogue and the writing. Little things like name-dropping all the big, big stars and how they all were desperately mad to interact with these fictional characters. There were things that were just impossible to take seriously.

Love Me is definitely "darker" and messier than Starstruck. Every single character falls or fails in this one. Amanda, it turns out, had not reached her low point in Starstruck, far from it. And Gabby, well, I'm not sure Gabby makes even one good choice in this second novel. It's not that she doesn't try, it's just that her trying is hindered by her addictions. Margo's expectations are so out of control. After making one movie, she wants validation that she's the center of the universe. It doesn't happen. She whines and nags all the time. Readers, like Dane, may find themselves tuning her out.

The content of Love Me is definitely more adult than in Starstruck.

The men of Love Me:

Harry. Leftover from book one. Is there anything he does in this novel that does not make me angry?! I do NOT care for him at all. I HATE him.

Eddie. A musician. A band leader. Hints of trouble. I didn't mind him as much as Harry, because, at least he was honest about who he was and where he came from and what he was looking for. There is something refreshing about what you see is what you get.

Dexter. Another jazz musician. Not really seen as a love interest, but, an interesting guy I'd be curious to see again in a sequel if the author chooses to follow up with this character. I liked his scenes a good bit.

Dane. What can I say?! It has to be frustrating to be forced into a serious relationship with Margo. So I don't fault him for finding her annoying and frustrating and not who he hoped her to be. He wanted a girl who was smart enough not to fall for all the lies and concoctions the studio produced, and she is not that girl at all. That being said, he is far from perfect.

Don't expect Jimmy to have any scenes in this one. His name is mentioned a few times, sure, but that is it. This has me worried that Dexter won't be around in following books.

I mentioned that I "yelled" at the characters...

Dear Amanda,

Please stop obsessing over Harry. He is not worth it. Seriously. I know you want to feel loved and accepted. But it will NEVER happen with Harry no matter how much you put yourself into debt. A new dress will not change his mind. Your problems cannot be solved by going shopping every day. You've had to deal with so much, I just wish you'd be a little more grounded.

Dear Gabby,

You are the one least likely to listen, but the one who needs to hear the truth the most of all. Your mother would drive almost anyone crazy, so I don't blame you for wanting to escape it all. But the way you're doing it--drugs--is NOT the right answer.

Dear Margo,

You're so clueless that it hurts to be around you. Yes, I mean that. It hurts to see you act like a fool. Especially when it comes to Dane. You're so blinded by your so-called "love" for Dane. I have to ask: do you really love the real Dane OR are you in love with the Dane you've imagined in your own head? Do you even know there is a real Dane? Do you listen, really listen, when he talks? Do you see the way he acts around you? The way he treats you? Because I think if you had a little common sense and would just pay attention a fraction of the time, you would realize that your "relationship" with Dane is in trouble.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, April 25, 2014

Reread #17 Ten Cents A Dance

Ten Cents A Dance. Christine Fletcher. 2008/2010. Bloomsbury USA. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I first read and reviewed Ten Cents A Dance in November 2008. It was almost love. I loved the idea of loving it. I loved the setting: Chicago 1941-1942, both BEFORE and AFTER Pearl Harbor. It is narrated by Ruby Jacinski, our heroine. Ruby may not always make the best choices, the wisest in the long-term choices, but she's got gumption and fight in her.

Ruby is exhausted and frustrated by poverty. Even if she were to get a "nice" job in the meat-packing factory, she would still stink at the end of the day. And Ruby, though pretty, is feisty. (Her "nice" job in bacon didn't last long.) She IS the earner in her family; after her mother lost her job, Ruby dropped out of school and got a job.

In the opening chapters, readers see just how feisty Ruby is. Fights just seem to find her. And the opening fight, well, it just happens to bring her to the attention of a gangster-wanna-be, Paulie Suelze. He just happens to mention HOW she can earn some real money doing something she loves: dancing. He tells her of how she could be bringing home fifty dollars a week instead of ten. He tells her exactly where to go.

Ruby goes for it. It opens up a whole new world for her: for better or worse...nothing is the same after she starts working...

Ruth Etting singing "Ten Cents A Dance." Doris Day singing "Ten Cents A Dance." There is also a movie with this name from 1931.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, April 18, 2014

Reread #16: A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck. 2000. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved A Year Down Yonder so much more than Richard Peck's A Long Way From Chicago. And I definitely enjoyed A Long Way From Chicago! While A Long Way From Chicago was told from Joey's point of view, A Year Down Yonder is told from Mary Alice's point of view. Because of the Depression, Mary Alice has been sent by her parents to live with Grandma Dowdel. Mary Alice has spent more than a few summers with her Grandma, alongside her brother, but this time she'll be there all year long, and without her brother.

While A Long Way From Chicago is fun, in many ways, it is a bit disjointed as well. Each chapter tells the story of a summer vacation. In A Year Down Yonder, the plot is more traditional. The book follows the course of an entire year. Readers get a better chance to KNOW the characters, to appreciate the characters and the small town setting. And Mary Alice is a great narrator!!! I loved her story. My favorite chapters were "Rich Chicago Girl," "Vittles and Vengeance," "Heart and Flour," and "A Dangerous Man." I loved the slight traces of romance. 

I would definitely recommend both A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Both books do stand alone, but, they do go together well.

I first reviewed A Year Down Yonder in May 2008.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Starstruck (2013)

Starstruck. Rachel Shukert. 2013. Random House. 339 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Starstruck is delightful and fun. It is. It is set in 1938 in Hollywood. It features three heroines; the narration switches back and forth between all three throughout the novel. The three aren't always friends. But. They aren't always enemies either. Each girl has a dream, a hope, an idea of how they want their happily ever after to come about. Selfishness comes naturally, but, that doesn't mean the girls lack depth of feeling.

Margaret (Margo) Frobisher (Sterling) has dreamed of being discovered for years and years. She is more than a little obsessed with the movies, with the big stars. When she is discovered, her life will change forever. It wouldn't have to be FOREVER, but, her family makes it super-dramatic. If she signs a contract with Olympus Studios, if she chooses to become an actress, then they never want to hear from her again. No matter what. She can never come home. Margo doesn't even take a minute to consider. To be a star is her destiny!

Amanda Farraday has reinvented herself more than once. She is another hopeful under contract at Olympus. She has not had her moment to shine...yet. She is not as obsessed with BEING A STAR as Margo. I think Amanda would settle for happily ever after off screen. I think Amanda just wants to be loved. Unfortunately, she seems to be caught in a world where appearance is everything and secrets have to stay buried because no one wants to live in the real world. I really cared about Amanda's story.

Gabby Preston is a talented singer, and a fine actress. Is she a great dancer? Not really. And Olympus wants her to SING and DANCE and ACT. To make it big, she needs to have it all, and Gabby isn't quite there yet. They encourage her to lose weight. They send her to a special doctor with special pills. Gabby is enthusiastic, or, as enthusiastic as one can be when struggling. Is Gabby happy? No! She wants to be a big star. She wants a HAPPILY EVER AFTER. And that means a romance with a star. Even if that romance is dictated and scripted--the product of the studio. Gabby has never felt good enough, she's always felt like an almost. Gabby, like Amanda, could use some good unconditional love.

Starstruck also features MYSTERY and ROMANCE.

For me, this series has more potential than Luxe. I enjoyed Luxe, but, saw the flaws and weaknesses with each book. That didn't stop me from reading the series! I read each and every one. I remember liking some characters, hating some characters. There weren't any characters that I truly LOVED. In Starstruck, I actually cared about all three girls.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lady Thief (2014)

Lady Thief. A.C. Gaughen. 2014. Walker Books. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely enjoyed Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen. But I LOVED the sequel Lady Thief even more. This one is all about "Lady" Marian and her not-so-fortunate marriage to Gisbourne. Unfortunate for several reasons: one, HE'S cruel and abusive and just wicked through and through, the puppet of Prince John; two, because her heart belongs to another: Robin Hood, of course!

I loved Lady Thief for many, many reasons:

I loved how it brings more history into the story. I loved seeing Prince John and his wife, Isabelle. I really, really, really loved seeing Eleanor of Aquitaine (the mother of King Richard and Prince John). The character of Eleanor was just awesome, I felt. It truly added something to the story to have her there, and Eleanor truly did impress and inspire Scarlet!

I loved how it uses other Robin Hood stories, but, somehow makes them even cooler. For example, in Lady Thief, Prince John comes to Nottingham to appoint a new sheriff. (The old sheriff having been killed in the first book.) Gisbourne is there, of course, eager and anxious to be appointed. He has every intention of being THE ONE. Yet, Prince John puts a twist on it: the new sheriff will be the man who wins a competition...the competition covers many things, but the last day of competition, of course, you guessed it AN ARCHERY CONTEST.

I loved the romance between Marian (whom readers know by another name) and Robin. But this is not an easily grasped love. It will be a love that demands sacrifice and hardship and call for heartbreak and angst too. If their love is to be realized, it will take both of them fighting all the odds.

I loved the characterization of Robin Hood. I loved seeing him drawn with such substance from the times in which he lived. I thought it was very well done having him suffer so horribly, so realistically, from PTSD. He is a haunted hero whose past in the crusades has left him broken and changed.

I continue to love the other characters: John Little, Much, Tuck, and in this one we meet Alan a Dale.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Scarlet (2012)

Scarlet. A.C. Gaughen. 2012. Walker. 292 pages. [Source: Library]

"Will Scarlet" is one of Robin Hood's best friends, a thief very good at what "he" does for the band. But what if "Will Scarlet" was just Scarlet--a young woman is disguise?!

I enjoyed this retelling of Robin Hood. Rob is young, as are his friends and fellow thieves. They have not fully matured into their heroic legends. Their mission to help the poor and needy is just getting started.

It is narrated by Scarlet, or "Scar." She's got a strong narrative voice, distinctive. (The grammar of it will either sweep you away or annoy you.) It was enjoyable to see the story through her eyes, to get to know John Little and Rob or "The Hood" through her eyes. (Also Much and Tuck). The villain of this one, besides the sheriff, is Guy Gisbourne. His presence plays a very important role in the retelling, in Scarlet's past and present.

I would definitely recommend this one. What I liked about this one was the potential, the promise. The characters--beyond Scarlet--are not developed well enough for this one to be AMAZING. But it works.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hideous Love (2013)

Hideous Love: The Story of The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein. Stephanie Hemphill. 2013. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

I am familiar with the story of Mary Shelley. I am probably more familiar than the target audience would be of Mary Shelley, her sister, Claire, her lover-husband, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, etc. I took a whole semester focusing primarily on these Romantic authors. (Claire was an extra bonus. You can't cover the lives of Mary, Percy, without mentioning Claire and her lovechild.) I was curious how the story would be presented. I am not usually a big fan of verse novels. I think some work really, really, really well. And I think others are absolutely awful. This falls into the "why is this a verse novel?" category. I think the story could have been told just as well, if not better, in prose format, in journal format in particular. We do know that Mary Shelley kept a journal, of sorts.

That being said, I do think the book did a fairly good job at capturing the ANGST that is Mary Shelley's private life. Her life was a BIG, BIG MESS. Oh, what she had to put up with! Oh, what she had to endure! Oh, the consequences of leaping into love without being ready for it! As a teenager, she runs away from home with a married man, a poet or would-be poet. She takes her sister. Because she took her sister, well, her STEP sister, with her, she'll be stuck with the sister for what seems like forever. With her husband's notion of free-love this and free-love-that, the LAST thing Mary needs is another woman in their lives who is constantly there and wanting/needing attention. Mary also suffered so very many losses. So many of her children died, died in their infancy or toddler years. And some of that was just the times they lived, and some of that was due to her husband's stupidity and stubbornness. Anyway, it is an emotionally demanding story. Far from boring. Because her husband was a poet, because she spent so much time with poets, it would be nice if this format of verse novel worked in telling her own story. However, I did not feel the verse format was one of the book's strengths. If the book works, which I think it does in a way, it is because of the emotion behind the words, not the words themselves. The writing didn't seem especially lyrical or lovely or poetic.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beauty's Daughter (2013)

Beauty's Daughter. Carolyn Meyer. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Beauty's Daughter is the story of Hermione and Helen of Troy. I'll be honest, Helen of Troy is more of an afterthought. The book has very little to do with her directly. Indirectly, I suppose, there is plenty having to do with Helen. The story follows Hermione and her father during the Trojan War. She goes with the armies. She befriends some of the other women. She falls in love. After they win the war, her father arranges a marriage for his daughter. She is angry but submissive. The novel then follows her through this mess of a marriage. She cannot forget her first love, Orestes, and when she learns the mess he's in, she sets out to rescue him. Accompanying her are a few of her best friends. The journey won't be easy, of course, but with the help of a god, perhaps they will succeed.

Beauty's Daughter makes Greek mythology accessible. I enjoyed it for that reason alone. Hermione may not be beautiful like her mother. But she is strong-willed and brave. She is not a particularly emotional heroine. The book isn't so much about how she feels at any given time as what she does.

Beauty's Daughter is not my favorite Meyer novel, but it is a good read. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, November 29, 2013

Rose Under Fire (2013)

Rose Under Fire. Elizabeth Wein. 2013. Hyperion. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

Compelling, intense, thought-provoking. Rose Under Fire is a book to be experienced, for better or worse. The subject is intense. The heroine Rose spends at least half the novel in a concentration camp as a political prisoner.  (Ravensbruck) Rose, our heroine, is an American pilot. She was not technically supposed to be flying so close to the war zone. Perhaps she was not even supposed to be ferrying planes to France. But when she gets lost, well, things happen. Rose finds herself captive. Her experience is horrifying, no doubt. Will every reader want to explore the darkness of evil? Of course not! But is it a story worth telling? I know it is. The theme of Rose Under Fire is that even when the telling is difficult, the story needs to be told. The story represents lives, lives of women whose lives were taken and destroyed by the Nazis.

Rose Under Fire is specifically the story of "the Rabbits." These were girls and women experimented on by doctors and scientists. Some of their subjects died. Some of their subjects survived. The book details a few of these as some of Rose's dearest friends are Rabbits. She can see with her eyes just what the enemy has done. It is with shame that she recalls her past, how she actually heard accounts of these experiments and laughed them off as bad propaganda. She hears stories as well. Her new family WANTS her to memorize the names of all the Rabbits, to know their stories, to know enough to TELL the story to others. They know that not everyone will survive; they are realistic to know that before the end of the war many more will die. But they hold on to the hope that surely a few will survive. And for those few, they have the responsibility, the duty, to tell the world.

The book is in journal format, for the most part. Rose Under Fire is a companion novel to Code Name Verity. It was an impressive read.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, October 04, 2013

Loving Will Shakespeare (2006)

Loving Will Shakespeare. Carolyn Meyer. 2006. Harcourt. 272 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

Loving Will Shakespeare was the very first Carolyn Meyer novel I ever read. It was LOVE. Loving Will Shakespeare was also one of the very first novels I ever reviewed here at Becky's Book Reviews. (To be precise, it was my SECOND review.) So I have wonderful memories of this one. I recently decided to reread it. 

Loving Will Shakespeare is the fictional memoir of Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway. After a brief framework is provided, the novel opens with the christening of William Shakespeare. Agnes Hathaway is in attendance. (I believe she is seven?) The age difference between these two is obvious from the start. The obstacle for the author to overcome is how to create a romance between the two in a believable way when the time comes.

Why did I love Loving Will Shakespeare? I think one of the main reasons is that it was so incredibly rich in detail. I really got a sense of what it was like to live during this time. Through Agnes (or Anne) readers get a chance to see this world up close. The lambing, the sheep-shearing, the sowing and reaping, the holidays and festivals, Twelfth Night and May Day. There is a great sense of community. Also the uncertainty of life. The health risks of living during this time in history. The recurrence of the plague that proves devastating or heartbreaking. The risks every single woman faces with each pregnancy and childbirth. The need for remarriage, the blending of families, etc. 

The other reason may be the presence of Will Shakespeare himself. Though this is a mixed blessing. Will is presented as having a way with words, a true gift, a BIG dream. He doesn't quite fit in his setting. He wants more. He can be charming and work hard. It's not that he's dreaming so big that he's lazy. Readers see him in cozy friendship with Agnes for many years. What he is thinking of this older woman readers can't quite be sure of. But from her point of view, this friendly young man is good fun but not a potential mate. She isn't wow this fourteen year old boy is oh-so-dreamy.

Will Shakespeare is not Anne's first love-interest. She has been disappointed in the past in her crushes and suitors. One man she truly loved--the two were even engaged--but he died of the plague. The wooing between the two [Will and Anne] occur when he's seventeen or so. He's started writing poems--sonnets--and songs. And he's a great dancer. He is persistent and she's willing.

But if this love story has a romantic ending, it's definitely bittersweet. For after just a few years of marriage...Will Shakespeare leaves his wife and three children to go to London to make himself into SHAKESPEARE. He becomes famous and successful. And his family is largely not a part of his life in any meaningful way. Anne is not a nagging wife; one to beg her husband to stay. She lets him go with grace and courage believing that he will do great things.

If music be the food of love, play on...
To be or not to be...

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Wild Queen

The Wild Queen. Carolyn Meyer. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 420 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

Mary, Queen of Scots, has every reason to sing the Blue-Blooded Blues...and I'll tell you for why...

Mary's story is a tragic one for many reasons. It isn't that Mary was a pure, innocent saint. It is the fact that from the time of her birth she was almost always manipulated, used, and abused; she was surrounded by power-hungry people who wanted to grasp power and control through Mary's so-called power. Surrounded by people who wanted to dictate and rule over her. Mary was crowned Queen of Scots before she was one.

The first half of the novel focuses on Mary's time in France. She was betrothed to the French dauphin from a very young age. She was raised in the French court. (She was half-French.) She was well-educated, became quite familiar with the royal household. She also got to see her French relatives (her grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc.) She marries young. All seems to be relatively fine until her husband dies leaving her a widow at age seventeen or eighteen. Then the pressure builds. Who will marry Mary next? Who will decide? Will it be her French uncles? her Scottish brothers? her cousin Queen Elizabeth? Will she decide the matter for herself?

Here, I believe, is where the tragedy begins. For Mary makes some fateful decisions with horrible consequences. Blinded by love, perhaps, or maybe just misplaced trust she chooses abominable husbands, one after the other. The good news, if there is good news to be found, is that Henry Stuart, her second husband, at least left Mary with a baby, James, destined to be James VI of Scotland and eventually James I of England. (And all monarchs ever since have descended from this line.) The last half of the novel traces her fall. If Mary betrayed the trust of Queen Elizabeth, it is perhaps the direct result of almost everyone in Mary's life betraying her first. Every person in Mary's life had an agenda. Mary's tragic flaw is that she didn't see people's not-so-hidden agendas. She trusted those who were unworthy.

I love historical fiction. I do. Carolyn Meyer happens to be one of my favorite writers. I've enjoyed so many of her historical novels! While The Wild Queen isn't my absolute favorite, it is a very good novel, a bit more mature, however, than some of Meyer's previous novels.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Boy on the Bridge (2013)

The Boy on the Bridge. Natalie Standiford. 2013. Scholastic. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Boy on the Bridge is set in Russia in 1982. Our heroine, Laura Reid, is an American college student studying abroad for one semester in Russia. The book covers that semester January through June.

So early in the novel, Laura meets Alexei (Alyosha). Yes, they meet on a bridge. He "rescues" her from some gypsies demanding money. They talk a few minutes; he tells her he would love to get to know her better, hands her his phone number, tells her how to get in touch. She's not to use any phone near the University. It would be dangerous for them both if their friendship were to be discovered. He wants to practice his English, so he says. And she wants to practice her Russian. And that is how this romance starts.

The Boy on The Bridge is very much a romance novel, one set in a unique place and time in history. It is very feelings-oriented. Laura is swept up in all these emotions as she falls hard for Alyosha. He becomes her entire world; she becomes his everything. It is pure agony to be away from each other even ten or twelve hours.

Is the relationship healthy? Is the relationship genuine? Is Alyosha wanting to marry her so he can get a green card and come to the United States? Is he using her to get out of Russia? Has he attempted this before? Those are the questions that haunt the pages of this romance novel. Laura has been warned by her friends, roommates, classmates, advisers, etc. that she is being too trusting, that she isn't using common sense.

The romance seems sweet in a few ways. But there are a few places where it grows darker. Readers will have to judge for themselves if the relationship is genuine and healthy.

I thought this one was very realistic in its ending.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ladies in Waiting (2013)

Ladies in Waiting. Laura L. Sullivan. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 336 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

Ladies in Waiting is set during the reign of Charles II, the 1660s. (Be sure to watch the video!) The book is not a romance. The book is about the choices or lack of choices women had during this time period. (Did women have any power over their lives? Were women merely the property of their fathers or husbands?) We see this depicted in the lives of three very different women all named Elizabeth.

Eliza Parsloe does not want to get married. She thinks she has a better chance of manipulating her father than any future husband. She is a thinker. She loves to write. She'd love, love, love to write plays and have them produced. The bawdier the play, the better!

Beth Foljambe will fulfill all her mother's plans...or else. Oh, Beth's mother is creepy and strict and cruel. Beth is at court to get a husband, not of her own choosing, of course, that would be ridiculous. But her mother is determined to protect her daughter's virtue until she can find the right husband for her. Beth secretly and perhaps foolishly is thinking of a childhood friend, a boy, that she hasn't seen in ages. When she sees him again, it's TRUE LOVE, or is it?!

Zabby Wodewose is an intellectual woman interested in science, nature, and medicine. Raised in Barbados, she is traveling to England for the first time. She happens upon Charles II at a very vulnerable time. He is very ill, and she nurses him back to health. He swears her to secrecy, and the whole world perhaps with the exception of Eliza and Beth thinks that Zabby is one of the King's (many) mistresses. As a result of her being in such close contact with him, she becomes obsessed with how in love she is with him.

These three become close to one another since they all serve the same Queen (Catherine of Braganza). All three women have secrets, of course: some they share with the others; some they don't. All three women have strengths and all three women have weaknesses. None of the heroines are perfect. I didn't exactly "love" (if love goes along with the idea of unconditional approval) any of the heroines. However, I found their stories fascinating or entertaining.

The book is full of sexual innuendos and jesting which completely suits the time period.

You might be interested in: Catherine of Braganza, Charles II, Thomas Killigrew, Barbara Palmer, Nell Gwyn, Duke of Buckingham, Samuel Pepys.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, July 19, 2013

All The Truth That's In Me (2013)

All The Truth That's In Me. Julie Berry. 2013. Penguin. 288 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

Love historical mysteries? Consider reading Julie Berry's latest YA novel. All The Truth That's In Me has a very colonial feel to it. Told in the first person, it tells a bittersweet story of a young woman, Judith Finch, who has endured much in her teen years. Though not as much as is at first feared. Days after a young girl's disappearance, Judith herself goes missing. One body is found, naked, in the river. The other remains a mystery--at least for two years. A tongueless Judith wanders back into the community after being gone for two years. She can't tell her story--or won't tell her story. So people make up their own stories about her. You might think Judith would be welcomed back, pitied; but the opposite is true. She's an outcast. No one knows for sure how tainted she may be from her experiences. But who would want to marry her now, not knowing? Who would want her to be friends with their daughters?
No one calls me by my name. No one calls me anything, save Darrel, who calls me Worm. Mother never really tried to stop him. When she calls me, it's "You, shuck these," "You, card that sack," "You grease this down," "You, watch the tallow pot." "You keep still." The warmth I remember in her eyes is gone, replaced with iron. Father is long-since dead, and the daughter she remembers is dead to her. She buries the name with the memory. No one calls me by my name. Younger children do not know it. I remind myself each day at sunrise, lest one day I forget. Judith is my name. (24-5)
Her story is revealed, slowly. And it is told so beautifully, so compellingly. All The Truth That's In Me is a great mystery, a great coming-of-age story, a great story of friendship. I loved seeing Judith find her voice and tell her story. From start to finish, Judith's story is full of Lucas, the boy she's spent her whole life loving. In fact, the whole story belongs to him, in a way; he is the "you" she's addressing.
She told no one of my return for days, bound even Darrel to secrecy. When at last the secret could no more be hidden, she led me to the shed and said, "You've come back maimed. I leave it to God to judge what brought this upon you. But the village will fear you. They'll call you cursed. Some men may try to take advantage of you. I know my duty to my own flesh and blood, and I will protect you. But you'll mind me and behave as a maiden should. Utter one sound to our shame and you'll sleep here among the rakes and shovels." (48)
Then you appear, through the trees, guiding your mule as he pulls a tree limb. Like a soldier back from battle you fill my vision. You're a flood, a baptism I'd forgotten, and the force of you leaves me breathless. (120)
I loved this one. I thought the narrative was beautiful, haunting, memorable. The book was not what I expected at all, based on the cover. It was so much better. This book deserves a cover that matches its genre.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, June 21, 2013

Al Capone Does My Homework (2013)

Al Capone Does My Homework. Gennifer Choldenko. 2013. Penguin. 224 pages.

I just LOVED this third book in the series. I really do love Moose Flanagan and his family. I think Moose is one of the best narrators! In Al Capone Does My Homework, Moose has a few mysteries to solve. First, he needs to find out WHO set fire to their apartment, and why! There are certain busybodies on Alcatraz who are telling everyone that Natalie, Moose's older sister, set the fire! In fact, this hateful woman calls Natalie's special boarding school and has her put on probation! All without proof. Moose may struggle with his sister, with his relationship to his sister, how he really feels about "being responsible" for her, but he knows that he HAS to defend his sister and protect her from people like that. There are a few clues to follow in this one, and I won't share any more details, but, this book is so great!!!

I loved spending time with Moose, Jimmy, Annie, Piper, and Janet.
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, May 06, 2013

Cross My Heart (2012)

Cross My Heart. Sasha Gould. 2012. Random House. 272 pages.

Cross My Heart is an enjoyable historical romance set in Venice in 1585. Laura, our heroine, was miserable in the convent, but her sister's tragic death changes everything: for her sister's death means Laura is now her father's pawn. Her sister's future husband is now her future husband. The thought disgusts her. Laura doesn't really appreciate her father's politics and his scheming to always make the best deal, the best alliance. Laura's options are few: she can choose to trust her father OR she can choose to trust a secret league of dangerous women. Women holding secrets--big secrets at times--that try to manage things behind-the-scenes. If Laura tells them a secret, they assure her she won't have to marry that repulsive man. But are these women especially trustworthy?

Cross My Heart IS a romance. Laura meets a young man, a painter. The attraction for both is very strong. But Laura is having a hard time trusting anyone as she discovers that secrets are ever-abundant and no one is quite as they appear...

I definitely liked this one.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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