Ladies in Waiting

Ladies in WaitingLadies in Waiting by Laura L. Sullivan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books

There are no spoilers in this review.

Eliza dreams of being a playwright for the king’s theater, where she will be admired for her witty turns of phrase rather than her father’s wealth.

Beth is beautiful as the day but poor as a church mouse, so she must marry well, despite her love for her childhood sweetheart.

Zabby comes to England to further her scientific studies—and ends up saving the life of King Charles II. Soon her friendship with him becomes a dangerous, impossible obsession. Though she knows she should stay away from the young, handsome king, Charles has a new bride, Queen Catherine, and a queen needs ladies in waiting.

And so Zabby, Beth, and Eliza, three Elizabeths from very different walks of life, find themselves at the center of the most scandal-filled court that England has ever seen.

“Harcourt Children’s Books” and I need to sit down and have a discussion about what makes a “children’s book.” Yes I understand that this is historical fiction, but if you’re selling something as Children’s or Teen’s I expect, as a teenager, to be comfortable reading it.

I was not.

Its been a while since I read a book with this much focus on sex and the general disgustingness of the court at the time. Yes, perhaps I should have been expecting it given that its set in the court of King Charles II, one of the most scandalous of English kings, but I didn’t because I thought it was for teens. I believe in freedom of reading, but I did lobby to have this removed from my shelves at my school. Yes you can read whatever you like at school, but there are rules about what can be provided, this is too much. (The issue with banning books is that states that they cannot be in the school at all, even if the student brought it in for person reading).

Putting aside my issues with the definition of “children’s books” aside, it was a pretty decent book. I’m not sure I would call it “realistic” because there were things that happened that I thought “hmm, I’m not sure that could really take place” but other than that it was pretty good and well written (and overall well-researched).

The girls were very diverse, at times too much so. To me it almost seemed as though the author was attempting to put in the most diverse stereotypes of girls at that time that she could, rather than letting them form as unique entities.

Overall

If you’re not bothered by the sex then it may be worth the read. However, for me personally, I would’t recommend this to a friend and I’m going to tell you that there are a lot of better books out there.

The Aftermath

The AftermathThe Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House Canada
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers. Unless you don’t know how WWII ended, that is.

This review is part of my Alphabetical Books Goal.

Hamburg, 1946. Thousands remain displaced in what is now the British Occupied Zone. Charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the de-Nazification of its defeated people, Colonel Lewis Morgan is requisitioned a fine house on the banks of the Elbe, where he will be joined by his grieving wife, Rachael, and only remaining son, Edmund.

But rather than force its owners, a German widower and his traumatized daughter, to leave their home, Lewis insists that the two families live together. In this charged and claustrophobic atmosphere all must confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.

This is a very interesting take on the aftermath of history’s most famous war and tells the story of the destruction that took place within the German borders at the end of the war.

The characters were all fairly well written, but for me the biggest enjoyment came from the setting. The characters were nice and they (obviously) supported the setting and made the plot flow, but there were times when I was just mad at all of them and wanted to find new characters to support the story.

Overall

I think the publisher summed it up best: The Aftermath is a stunning novel about our fiercest loyalties, our deepest desires and the transformative power of forgiveness.

I’d reccomend this to anyone who likes historical fiction, WWII history buffs in particular. I think that the context is the most important part of this book, because we have to learn to remember that just because someone is not on our side, or on what we consider the ‘bad side’ they aren’t necessarily a monster. We have to remember that not all the Germans were Nazis and even of those that chose to be many were victims just like everyone else.

Nobody’s Princess

Nobody's Princess (Nobody's Princess, #1)Nobody’s Princess by Esther M. Friesner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

This was published as a part of my Alphabetical Book Goal.

She is beautiful, she is a princess, and Aphrodite is her favorite goddess, but something in Helen of Sparta just itches for more out of life. Not one to count on the gods—or her looks—to take care of her, Helen sets out to get what she wants with steely determination and a sassy attitude. That same attitude makes Helen a few enemies—such as the self-proclaimed “son of Zeus” Theseus—but it also intrigues, charms, and amuses those who become her friends, from the famed huntress Atalanta to the young priestess who is the Oracle of Delphi.

I love anything Greek or Roman. I guess I would fit in well with Renaissance Humanists. It was a well written book and a pretty decent story and if it introduces Helen and the Trojan War to a new generation of readers then I’m all for it. If I had read this as a younger person, or maybe as the middle schooler that this is intended for, I might have enjoyed it more.

My biggest issue with the book was the unbelievability of it. Yes I’d love to imagine Helen as a tom boy, however, given beauty standards of the time and just the amount of work that girls had to go through to maintain themselves, I have a hard time believing that she could have done all of these things. This isn’t even dealing with if her parents would have allowed her to do this or not. So far as I am aware there is no historical basis for Helen’s characterization.

My gripes about the main character aside, there was clearly a lot of research put into this book. Everything that I read was well researched and had a definite basis in face. There were no facts that were wrong and the day-to-day life of the characters was a good snapshot as to how they might really have lived.

Overall

I’d reccomend this for younger readers who are just beginning to be interested in history. They might not be as bothered by Helen as I was, and might be young enough for it to be believable. If you want really solid historical fiction, I’d read something else.

Maybe if the author had decided to tell a story about a random, nameless, Spartan princess I might have liked it more. However, because it was stated to be about Helen of Sparta – the face that sailed a thousand ships – I was expecting something different.

A Northern Light

A Northern Light A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

This review contains no spoilers.

This is part of my Alphabetical Books Goal.

Mattie Gokey has a word for everything. She collects words, stores them up as a way of fending off the hard truths of her life, the truths that she can’t write down in stories.

The fresh pain of her mother’s death. The burden of raising her sisters while her father struggles over his brokeback farm. The mad welter of feelings Mattie has for handsome but dull Royal Loomis, who says he wants to marry her. And the secret dreams that keep her going–visions of finishing high school, going to college in New York City, becoming a writer.

Yet when the drowned body of a young woman turns up at the hotel where Mattie works, all her words are useless. But in the dead woman’s letters, Mattie again finds her voice, and a determination to live her own life.

Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, this coming-of-age novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original.

The book has one of the strangest set ups ever. The POV is all Mattie, however, it bounces back and forth between her time at home (while she’s struggling to get out of the life she has) and her time at the inn (when the murder takes place).

One of the best parts, is Mattie’s love of reading and education. The entire POV at her house is set around her deciding whether or not to leave home, and because of the alternate POV at the inn where she already has left home, a majority of the suspense is what will finally drive her to leave. It sounds like it should be hard to get invested in, after all you already know that that POV will end, however, the book is so well written that there were times the author almost tricked me into thinking she wouldn’t leave.

The POV at the inn is also interesting. It starts long before the murder takes place, and covers the struggles faced by a young woman who is trying to make a better place for herself in a time that was very difficult.

Mattie is very easy to relate to, clearly if you’re reading this you love books and Mattie does too. She has an amazing way of looking at the world and of capturing the hardships around her in a poetical way (speaking of poets: a real-life poet has a cameo, but I won’t spoil who it is!).

The Murder

This book is set around a real like murder, which is the reason I picked it up (in case you don’t know: I love murder cases and strange death cases).

The Victim: Grace Brown

The Murderer: Chester Gillette

The Murder: After realizing that Brown was pregnant, Gillette invited her to visit an Inn. Once there they rowed out to the center of the lake, he hit her over the head, and shoved her in.

I had actually heard of this murder before – it’s been portrayed in movie and in film before – however, I didn’t know very much about it. It was really neat to see the people brought to life in such a matter as if they were desperate for a chance to tell their own stories. The research was phenomenal.

Best Quote

“Words fail me sometimes. I have read most every book in the Webster’s Dictionary of the English language, but I still have trouble making them come when I want them to. Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get – a cold sick feeling deep down inside – when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don’t want it to, but you can’t stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again quite be the same person you were.”

Overall

This is one of the most moving pieces of historical fiction I’ve ever read. Everyone I’ve ever recommended it to has loved it and agreed that the style of POV hopping is a bit difficult to get into, however, once you do it’s more than worth it.

Victoria Rebels

Victoria RebelsVictoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Young Royals
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

Queen Victoria’s personal journals inform this captivating first-person account of one of history’s most prominent female leaders.

Queen Victoria most certainly left a legacy—under her rule as the longest reigning female monarch in history, the British Empire was greatly expanded and significant industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military changes occurred within the United Kingdom. To be a young woman in a time when few other females held positions of power was to lead in a remarkable age—and because Queen Victoria kept personal journals, this historical novel from award-winning author Carolyn Meyer shares authentic emotional insight along with accurate information, weaving a true story of intrigue and romance. 

Victoria Rebels is by the same author of Cleopatra Confesses, which I’ve reviewed previously. It follows in the footsteps of Meyer’s other works by giving a detailed analysis of some of history’s most infamous historical women. This one follows Queen Victoria, the second-longest reining monarch of England (only recently surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II) and is one of the most detailed accounts of her I’ve ever read. It adds in famous events during her life that defined her (some of which my AP Euro teacher hadn’t heard of!) such as Sir John Conroy and his “Kensington System” which defined her younger years.

One of the things that this book is best at, is giving depth to young Victoria and developing her relationships with other people, including her husband and first cousin Prince Albert and her often estranged mother. King William IV, Victoria’s Uncle, was so un-fond of her mother that when he announced Victoria as his heir he famously remarked that he hoped he would live long enough that she wouldn’t need a regency. These relationships are well written and historically accurate, Carolyn Meyer researched everything and even used Victoria’s personal diaries (which she wrote her entire life) as a source.

In the book Victoria struggles through problems that she faced in real life; coming to terms with her position in court and the kind of power she did hold (she once prevented the Tories from gaining power in Parliament just by refusing to change the women in her Royal Household), and the scandal with Lady Flora Hastings that almost completely destroyed her reign.

I loved this book and I think anyone who enjoyed historical fiction or who just wants a better look at one of the most infamous queens of all time will too. I don’t think you should let it limit you because of its YA listing, I think people of all ages could enjoy it and successfully read it. The writing itself is not terribly difficult, but it is long, so bear that in mind.

We Hear the Dead

We Hear the DeadWe Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Series: Standalone
Genre: Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Young Adult
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

It started out as a harmless prank. But soon enough, spiritualism was the fastest growing movement of the nineteenth century, and Maggie Fox was trapped in a life of deceit.

Maggie:
I began the deception when I was too young to know right from wrong. No one suspected us of any trick, because we were such young children. We were led on by my sister purposely and by my mother unintentionally. Only with the passing of time did I come to understand the consequences of my actions. As Doctor wrote to me: “Weary, weary is the life by cold deceit oppressed.”
 

Kate:My sister has used the word “deception.” I object to her use of that word, for I do not believe that I have ever intentionally deceived anyone. Maggie has a different understanding of all the events that have happened since that night in Hydesville forty years ago. To her the spirits were always a game. For my sister Leah, they were a means to an end. For my mother, a miracle. And for me, they were my life’s calling. I have no regrets.

 

We Hear the Dead is the story of Fox Sisters – Leah, Maggie, and Kate – the three girls credited with starting Spiritualism (the thought that you can communicate with the dead). Although history remembers that they were exposed as frauds – they cracked their fingers and toes and tied lead balls to their skirts to make ghostly ‘answers’ – the youngest sister, Kate, always maintained that they were indeed real, even after her sister confessed they were frauds. Spiritualism has become less popular over the years, but it is still something that many people believe in.

What makes We Hear the Dead such an interesting account of the sisters is that it is presented so that it doesn’t matter what you believe. Maggie (the middle sister and the one to eventually confess to their lies) serves as the narrator which leaves it up to the reader to decide if Kate really did fake it or not (of the three, Kate was most convinced of their truth). It was also very well researched and it showed. It fit almost perfectly into how I imagine the time period to be and there was nothing that was blazingly unrealistic.

I had a lot of fun while I was reading this book and I came away with a much deeper understanding of Spiritualism and how it affects the history of America. Lots of influential people, including presidents, sought out spiritualists for both communicating with lost loved ones and asking advice.

I certainly could get into the characters, from the ones I loved to the ones I hated, and there was just the right amount of them to keep the story flowing without getting lost. The book also follows the love story of Maggie Fox and Elisha Kane, once the most beloved Arctic explorer in the country. Although it was not a well-known story, even at the time when they were both in the spotlight for very different reasons, personal letters have been discovered that prove its existence. I won’t spoil any more about how the love story turns out (I will say there is no love triangle!), but I will confess that it was very sweet and a love story that I actually enjoyed.

Overall I think all fans of historical fiction will like this book, as well as anyone who likes a good (but not too scary!) ghost story. It is definitely a solid YA book, and while the reading level isn’t too high, I took my time while working through it because it almost felt a little dense (which was a good thing, because it covers a very long span of time!).

Splendors and Glooms

Splendors and GloomsSplendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Candlewick
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Historical Fantasy
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

For all its magical elements, Splendors and Glooms paints a very realistic picture of turn-of-the-century London, England. If the magic and wizardry were taken out then there would be nothing left but a well researched historical novel about the differences between the poor and the rich – not unlike a novel by Charles Dickens. It read like a classic fairytale, and reminded me a lot of another book I’ve read recently, The Kingdom of Little Wounds.

Splendors and Glooms is a story about a young girl who gets turned into a doll by the evil Grinisi, which for many people would be a terrible thing. However, because she is a weathly young lady with a structured like (and a rather insane mother) Clara is almost delighted by the freedom afford to a doll, for the first time in her life she can dance, even if she isn’t in control of what she’s doing. However Grisini’s young helpers know theres something not normal about the new doll and set about trying to rescue Clara.

It almost reminds me of the Nutcracker, a very twisted version anyway. Its a story about a young person, an evil person, and an innocent turned into a doll. Unlike in The Nutcracker there’s no love story, (okay, maybe a tiny crush), but certainly no age-inappropriate marriage. Overall I really enjoyed it, there were times when it was a little slow, but for the most part I really got into the storyline. It was almost one of those books that I really liked, but I’m not entirely sure why.

Who I Recommend it For: I think fans of classic books will enjoy this, because it is reminiscent of stories by ETA Hoffman, The Brothers Grimm, or Charles Dickens. It rings with the gritty realism of that time, showing the huge gap between rich and poor while combining it with elements of magic.