Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Salon: Recommending HIstorical Fiction Edition

Loving Will Shakespeare by Carolyn Meyer $6.95. 13+ My review. "Told from Anne Hathaway's perspective, LOVING WILL SHAKESPEARE, is her memoir of sorts. Using the framework of her just having received a letter from her husband in 1611, the rest of the book is her recollection of her life up until that point...a sharing of sorts with the reader of how the then-famous Shakespeare had become her husband."

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson. $6.95. 11+ My review. "Based on a historical event, BREAD AND ROSES, TOO, is an unforgettable novel recounting the injustice of the industrial revolution regarding its workers—particularly its immigrant workers—and the need for the Union to support and provide for its members assuring them of a better tomorrow. Set in the streets and tenements, it is a powerful portrait of poverty, hunger, and the fight for survival. It shows the strength of a community in supporting one another despite limitations and differences. It is a beautiful novel. While the strike itself plays an integral role in the story, it is in some ways a simple story of a young boy’s struggle to find himself, to find a place to belong, to find a family. To find rest."

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata. $6.99. 9+ My review. "Told with humor and honesty, KIRA-KIRA is narrated by Katie Takeshima and tells the story of one Japanese-American family's experiences in the fifties and sixties. The novel shares the family's experiences with poverty, prejudice, illness, and death as Katie's older sister is diagnosed with a terminal illness and slowly deteriorates before her family's eyes. It is both painfully poignant and honest and at times laugh out loud funny."

Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. $8.99. 11+ My review. "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is either the best-worst book I’ve ever read OR the worst-best book I’ve ever read. There are many words I could use to describe this novel or “fable” by John Boyne. Powerful. Gripping. Emotional. Haunting. Tragic. Beautiful. Manipulative. Disturbing. Thought-Provoking. Challenging. Whether you hate it or love it, one thing can’t be denied...it is a novel that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it. And how many ‘novels’ can you honestly say have that same effect?"

Singing Hands by Delia Ray. $12.48 (hardcover). 9+ My review. "Set in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1948, Singing Hands is a unique historical novel revealing insight into the hidden--and not-so-hidden prejudices of the times. Augusta “Gussie” Davis is the middle child of her family, not to mention the fact that her father is a well-respected minister...and you’ve got the perfect recipe for rebellious pranks and a summerful of trouble. “Up until the summer of 1948, when I was twelve, probably the worst thing I ever did was hum in church” (v). But there’s more to the story, her parents are deaf; her father ministers not only to the white community but to the black community as well. And his ministry doesn’t stop there..."

Orphan of the Sun by Gill Harvey. $4.99 (hardcover--bargain--1 in stock) ($9.60 paperback). 9+ My review. "Set in Ancient Egypt--during the New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1070 BC)--Orphan of the Sun by Gill Harvey is an exciting mystery. Meryt-Re is a young girl, an orphan, being raised by her aunt and uncle. While at first life in the village seems relatively normal, strange things soon begin happening. The uncle is quick to blame the family's troubles on Meryt-Re accusing her of "turning the gods" against the family and the village. Could the strange dreams she's been having really be having an effect on the villagers? Or is there a darker force at work. As Meryt-Re unravels the mystery--to clear her own name--she discovers the gods may have a special role for her to play after all."

Pepperland by Mark Delaney. $7.95. 12+ My review. "Pamela Jean Cochran (a.k.a. Star) is sixteen when her mother dies from breast cancer. Struggling to find a way to cope, she turns to her music hoping that if she can write a song to honor her mother then she can finally let go of her anger and pain. While going through her mother's belongings, Star discovers a fan letter to John Lennon and a vintage Gibson guitar--now in need of repair. These two items are the catalyst to Star's healing process. Set in the fall of 1980, Delaney's novel is a wonderful exploration of grief, anger, loss, and confusion. Star and Dooley, her best friend, are remarkably well-developed characters. And Delaney's use of language is impressive."

Young Royals Boxed Set: The Tudor Women by Carolyn Meyer. $23.85. Includes four books: Mary, Blood Mary; Beware Princess Elizabeth; Doomed Queen Anne; Patience, Princess Catherine. (Also sold individually.) 12+ My review of Mary, Bloody Mary. "Ever wondered what it was like to grow up as a princess? Have you always thought that princesses always get their own way and never have any problems? Meet Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, and realize that royal blood isn’t always a blessing. This novel based on the terrifying true story presents perhaps one of the most dysfunctional families in history." My review of Beware, Princess Elizabeth. My review of Doomed Queen Anne.

Crooked River by Shelley Pearsall. $6.50. 10+. My review. "Set in Ohio in 1812, CROOKED RIVER tells the dramatic story of an unjust trial of an Indian--nicknamed Indian John--who was captured and held prisoner by one of the white settlers. "Indian John" is accused of murdering a white fur trapper. The story is told from two perspectives: prose chapters narrated by Rebecca Carver, the 13 year old daughter of the white man who captured the Indian, and a series of poems narrated by the Indian--whose real name is Amik. As his formal trial draws closer--although the men in the settlement have already concluded his guilt--Rebecca becomes more and more convinced that "Indian John" is innocent. One other man, Peter Kelley, a lawyer, also believes in his innocence. Kelley tries his best to win the case and set his friend Amik free, but the judge and jury will not be swayed. The trial is a mockery. Evidence or no evidence, they want this man to be convicted and hung. CROOKED RIVER is based loosely on the true story of an Indian named John O'Mic who was tried and convicted of murder in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1812. He was held captive in a cabin and shared it with the white man and his family--there was a thirteen year old daughter. Using this true story as a basis and framework, Pearsall fictionalized the account to show how these people might have felt. Her research was thorough and impressive as her author's note indicates. While CROOKED RIVER is based on a true story, fact and fiction in this case have two different endings."

The Teacher's Funeral by Richard Peck. $6.99. (Highly recommended.) 8+ My review. "With a winning opening line--"If you're teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it" --THE TEACHER'S FUNERAL is off to great start. Set in 1904, Russell Culver, fifteen, narrates this hilarious novel about his family, his community--and above all else--his experiences at Hominy Ridge, the local one room schoolhouse."

Incantation by Alice Hoffman. $8.99. 12+ My review. "With a title like Incantation, one doesn't know quite what to expect. I certainly didn't expect to find the book to be about a Jewish family living in sixteenth century Spain masquerading as Catholics trying to blend in during the Inquisition. But that is exactly what Incantation is about. Mostly."

Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher. $6.99. 12+ My review. "Set in the Ancient MiddleEast (Persia/Babylon/Judea), Mitra and her brother Babak are beggars who are not what they appear to be: royal children on the run hiding from an evil king who murdered their parents. They have escaped notice from the adults so far, but when Babak starts having "true" dreams about other people, attention begins to fall on them. In some ways, they are better off than before. They now can pay for food instead of steal it, but in some ways it is dangerous for people are talking about these strange foreigners who have dreams that foretell the future. When Babak is 'captured' by a/the magus (magi), he begins dreaming of stars, kings, and a newborn baby. Mitra and Babak travel with the three magi on a long journey that ends in Bethlehem."

The Book of Bright Ideas by Sandra King. $10.40. 12+ My review. "Set in a small community in Wisconsin, Eveyln "Button" Peters and her family (mother, father, aunt, uncle) expect this summer--the summer of 1961--to be quiet and quite ordinary. All that changes when the Malones come quite noisily into town to stay. Winnalee and her older sister Freeda are a bit wilder and more vivacious than their new neighbors. But Button knows this: Winnalee is her new best friend and her drab life will never be the same again."

The Night of the Burning: Devorah's Story. By Linda Press Wulf. 10+ $12.48 (hardcover). My review. "Based on a true story, The Night of the Burning, tells the story of two sisters, orphans who at the ages of twelve and nine have witnessed too much already: the death of their uncle, father, mother, aunt, and the destruction of the entire Jewish community where they lived. As their community's sole survivors, the girls are rescued and sent to an orphanage in Pinsk. There the girls are chosen to be part of two hundred children sent to the Jewish community in South Africa."

Nine Days A Queen by Ann Rinaldi. $5.99. My review. 11+ My review. "NINE DAYS A QUEEN is the story of Jane Grey's childhood and adolescence. The daughter of a very important family--a titled family--she spent at least a year or two at court in London. As a child, she was a favorite playmate of Edward. She was on familiar terms with the other royal children as well, Mary and Elizabeth. The story focuses on her time spent at court and on her time spent with Katherine Parr and Sir Thomas Seymour--the former queen who was widowed and her new husband. Also in that household was Princess Elizabeth. Through it all, Jane Grey remains a likeable character. Mistreated by her family, she trusts no one really. She's come to view life as a skeptic. She's seen how dangerous it is to get involved with the royal family and the power struggle. She's seen close loved ones pay with their lives. Now, as a teen (fifteen or sixteen) her family involves her in a dangerous power play. Her husband and father-in-law have determined to make her queen instead of Princess Mary. Why? Because they don't want a Catholic on the throne. So manipulating the dying king, Jane is named next in line for the throne. Does Jane want to be queen? NO! There is nothing tempting her to claim power and wield the authority of life and death over her subjects. But can she escape the throne with her life?"

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. $6.99. My review. 9+ "Set in 1918, during World War I, the novel presents what life was like at home during the war. Hattie corresponds with a soldier, a childhood friend, whom she ever so secretly wishes would be more than a friend when he returns. Also in her new home in Montana, Hattie befriends a German family. These neighbors know what it means to be in need. Yet they give wholeheartedly to their young neighbor. Their friendship teaches her so much. She cannot understand why the other neighbors openly despise this German family. Discrimination and prejudice are just the beginning. Life is becoming dangerous for Germans and German-lovers."

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. $6.99. My review. 9+ "Set in Philadelphia in 1793, FEVER follows the spread of yellow fever within the community through the eyes of a young girl, Mattie (Matilda). Mattie's family owns a coffeehouse. At first, when the epidemic first begins their side of town has not been effected yet. In fact, their business is booming because people are scared to go to certain streets/places in town. But all that changes as the disease makes it way through town. Young, old, man, woman...all are at risk...all are at danger. Mattie is no stranger to danger as she watches her mother get sick. Soon her and her grandfather are packing up what they can and trying to leave town. There is a family in the country where they feel they'll be safer. But are they taking the danger with them into the country? Is any place really 'safe' with an epidemic this size? The novel traces the epidemic from August to December. It is a personal, emotional journey of struggles, sorrows, and endurance."

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli. $6.99 10+ My review. "Milkweed is a wonderful fictional account of the Holocaust. Set in Warsaw, Poland, our narrator is at first a nameless thief--a thief without a past, a family, or a name. Adopted by sorts by a gang of thieves--who steal to survive--he makes his way into the world. As he learns from the world around them, from his gang, from the people he encounters, he learns a few things. One, it is never a ‘good’ thing to be a Jew. It is dangerous if people think you’re a Jew. You get beaten up. You get killed. So his friends--one friend in particular, named Uri--makes up a story for this homeless boy. He’s a gypsy--being a gypsy is slightly safer than being a Jew--but not much. His created identity is Misha Pilsudski. But that is only one of the names he’ll wear throughout his life. Misha (formerly Stopthief) as the war progresses becomes a skilled smuggler who goes back and forth between the Jewish ghettos and the city. It’s a dangerous lifestyle. But these are dangerous times. Can anyone really be safe? In this harsh novel, our narrator learns some of the cruelties of life along with some of the small joys and pleasures. He learns to create and mold his own identity from the wreckage."

Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle. $6.99. 10+ My review. "Let me just say how wonderful it was to be surprised by a book. I didn't just like BLACK DUCK. I absolutely LOVED Black Duck. I thought it was great. I loved so much about it. I loved the framework of the story. I loved the intergenerational aspects of the novel. I loved the storytelling format of the novel. Most of all I love how this novel unfolds bit by bit...On December 30, 1929, the Coast Guard killed three suspected rum-runners on the vessel Black Duck which they claim failed to stop (and surrender) when warning shots were fired. This newspaper account in the Newport Daily Journal introduces us to the book Black Duck. David Peterson is a young boy in town looking for a story. He dreams of one day being a journalist. And he is looking for any chance to get away from the family business of lawn care. So David is a boy on a mission..."

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. $7.99. 10+ My review. "Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, during World War II, THE GREEN GLASS SEA tells the story of two young girls--Dewey and Suze--whose parents work for the government on a top-secret project called Project Manhattan. Told that they are working on the gadget that will end the war, the children are confused by their new surroundings but soon become accustomed to its strangeness."

Greetings From Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley. $13.59 (hardcover). 9+ My review. "Theo might appear to be your average sixth-grader. The year? 1977. His hobbies? Building models. Riding his bike. Hanging out with his best friend, Kenny. But with this assignment and his birthday, Theo's life is beginning to change. Almost overnight, Theo begins questioning everything he thought he knew. What happened to his father in Vietnam? What really happened? Why does no one talk about him? Is he MIA? A POW? Dead? Why does his mom forbid anyone to talk about him? Why are all the pictures of his dad missing from the family albums? What is so awful about his father and the war that would make his mom act like he never existed? But his grandmother--his dad's mom--is more than willing to open up with her grandson. Finally, Theo is beginning to get some answers. But will he likes what he learns? Will his quest for the truth bring him more than he bargained for?"

At The Sign of the Star by Katherine Sturtevant. $6.95. 10+ My review. "Ever since she could remember Meg Moore has wanted more. More than what her society thinks a girl should have. More than what her father and stepmother are willing to allow. She wants to be a girl who is more than just a wife-in-training. She loves to read. She loves books. She loves philosophy. She loves debate. She loves to discuss the importantthings in life. She doesn’t want to be stuck mending or embroidering. She doesn’t want to be trained in how to run a household...she wants to run a bookshop...or better yet write the books that go into a bookshop...Set during the Restoration in London, it is a wonderful historical novel that brings this time period to life. As Meg discovers the work of Aphra Behn, a whole new world opens up for her."

Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller. $11.55 (hardcover) 9+ My review. "Annie Sullivan is a young woman on a mission. Her job? To teach a child--a six year old child--who is blind, deaf, and dumb. It won't be easy. There has only been one successful case in the past to base their hopes and dreams on: Laura Bridgman. But Annie is strong-minded and determined. She'll need every ounce of stubborness she has if she's going to master the willfullness of Helen. Used to getting her own way, Helen runs wild. And as Annie soon points out, the family expects better behavior from the dogs than they do their young daughter. Helen has never been disciplined a day in her life--at least since an illness left her blind and deaf. This journey from despair to hope, from chaos to communication, is an important one. It is full of emotion--as day by day Annie struggles to teach and love a child who fails to comprehend the meaning of words altogether. Anger. Frustration. Rage. Joy. Happiness. Fear. Hope. Despair. It's all here. Annie and Helen. This is their story."

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. $10.88 (hardcover) 10+ My review. "How do I capture the perfection that is The Wednesday Wars??? It is funny. It is serious. It is about meaning-of-life stuff. And the characters? Unforgettable. Set in 1967-1968, The Wednesday Wars, follows the school year of a Mr. Holling Hoodhood, his seventh grade school year. He is in Mrs. Baker's class, and almost from the very beginning he feels singled out."

AngelMonster by Veronica Bennett. $7.99 14+ My review. "AngelMonster is the exciting behind-the-scenes story of Mary W. Shelley and Percy Shelley. Mary was just sixteen when a young--but married--poet came into her father’s bookshop. The daughter of quite a famous--and radical--woman, Mary held much appeal to this romantic poet. Percy began pursuing her quite openly. Their chaperone? Mary’s stepsister Jane who was around the same age. Two young girls in love with the idea of love....The book covers it all--Mary Shelley from sixteen until the death of Percy Shelley in an Italian boating accident. It covers a wide range of emotions--anger, frustration, love, devotion, loyalty, hate, bitterness, rage, pain--as Mary Shelley’s life changes time and time again...AngelMonster is a fictional account of Mary and Percy Shelley. While many facts within are true, a few have been rearranged to fit the author’s own liking."

Gentle's Holler by Kerry Madden. $6.99. 9+ My review. "Set in North Carolina in the early 1960s, Gentle’s Holler is a pleasant read. The Weems family, while poor, is never lacking in love. And the warmth and strength of family shine through. Strength is one thing this family will need when tragedy strikes close to home." If you enjoy this one, there are two more in the series: Louisiana's Song, Jessie's Mountain.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. $11.55 (hardcover) 9+ My review. "Elijah of Buxton is about as perfect as a book can get. What can I really say about it? It's historical fiction. It's set in Canada. It is about the community of Buxton--a safe haven for runaway slaves...
The rich narrative style, the characters, everything is so well done, so perfect. Elijah is a great narrator. He gives a great portrait of his family, his friends, his community--from school to church and everything in between. The first two-thirds of the book has a relaxed framework. It's all about establishing the setting, getting to know the characters, just sitting back and enjoying story after story after story. But the last third of the book the plot becomes focused--centered--around one story in particular."

Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker. $13.25 (hardcover) 13+ My review. "Billie's story begins in 1968. The summer of 1968. Set in Cumberland, a community Billie sums up in this way, "Nothing much bigger than a silent fart can get past the neighbors in a town this size." (3)...This book has it all. Well-written, unforgettable characters, each one seemingly human and authentic. Charming narrative style. It has its ups and downs as far as drama goes. Showing that life is made of joy and sorrow, hope and despair, love and hate. But it is truly a beautiful, beautiful masterpiece. It just works. It's the kind of book that I finished and immediately wanted to read again."

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. $9.59. 13+ My review. "There is depth, substance, to these words, to this story. The descriptions. The details. The powerful sway of the words whether they're describing the beauty of love and family and friendship or capturing the ugly heaviness of hate, anger, and death. It's not an easy story to read. It's full of emotions. It's full of words. It's a book that at it's very heart and soul captures humanity in all its depths--the good, the bad, the ugly. Here is a book that captures what it means to be human."

The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers. $6.99. 11+ My review. "Recently released in a new paperback edition, The Glory Field is a true must-read. Why? It's practically perfect in every way. It is a novel that traces a family from its Sierra Leone roots to what was at the time of its publishing modern-day, urban America. The Glory Field loosely weaves together the story of one family through multiple generations. Our story begins with a brief vignette (1753) focusing on Muhammad Bilal, a young boy who is captured and sold into slavery in the South. Many settings, many narrators, many individual stories and legacies that collectively capture the African-American experience. (1753, 1864, 1900, 1930, 1964, 1994). It is an emotional, well-written, almost poetic journey. Very heartfelt. Very real. Very moving. The characterization is wonderful. I really came to love, came to care for all the characters across the generations. I've read a few other novels through the years that have sought to tell a multi-generational story...but none have been so effective, so masterfully done."

Primavera by Mary Jane Beaufrand. $12.74 (hardcover) 11+ My review. "The Italian Renaissance. Two powerful families are about to feud--the Medici and the Pazzi--and our heroine, Lorenza, nicknamed Flora, is soon to be caught in the middle."

Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell. $13.59 (hardcover) 9+ My review. "Beautifully written--almost lyrical in fact--Shooting the Moon is the story of a girl, Jamie Dexter. Twelve-and-going-on-thirteen, Jamie has a lot to learn about life, about love, about family, and about friendship." (Set during the Vietnam War).

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. $11.55 (hardcover) 10+ My review. "A nation at war. A young country seeking freedom, justice, liberty. Set in New York City during circa 1776-1777, the story is vibrant and heartbreaking. It's a story rich in detail and emotional and powerful in nature. Isobel's story--her struggles--resonates so deeply that I think this one is a must-read."

Ten Cents A Dance by Christine Fletcher. $13.56 (hardcover) 14+ My review. "Set around 1940-1941, the novel follows the adventures and misadventures of a teen girl, Ruby Jacinski, who is charmed away from the meat factories by the glamor and allure of a local dance hall. Instead of slaving all day for a very small paycheck, she could be dancing the night away at a taxi dance hall. Ten cents per dance. A nickel is hers to keep. A nickel is the dance hall's share. And her partners almost always tip as well...They want much more than a dance for their trouble if they're going to spend more than a dime or two on her. It's a sometimes dangerous game that Ruby is playing with herself."

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

2 comments:

Sarah Miller 5:04 PM  

Muchas smoochas!

Alyssa 9:45 PM  

I love historical fiction! Thanks for the list, I see some of my favorites on here too.

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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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