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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: historical fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Straight From the Source: Kathryn Fitzmaurice on Writing Historical Fiction

When Kathryn Fitzmaurice was thirteen years old, her mother sent her to New York City over the summer to visit her grandmother, who was a science fiction author. After seeing how her grandmother could make the characters in her books into whomever she wanted, Kathryn decided that she, too, wanted to become a writer someday. Years later, after teaching elementary school, she now writes full time and lives with her husband, two sons, and her dog, Holly, in Monarch Beach, California.

Kathryn is the author of The Year the Swallows Came Early (2009, HarperCollins), A Diamond in the Desert (2012, Viking), and Destiny, Rewritten (2013, HarperCollins). Visit her at www.kathrynfitzmaurice.com or at http://kathrynfitzmaurice.blogspot.com/   

How did you conduct your research for A Diamond in the Desert?

Kathryn:  Very carefully and with an amazing amount of note taking.  I conducted several interviews over the course of two years and read through four years of THE GILA NEWS COURIER, which was on microfiche.  I collected photographs and maps, printed several pages from the newspaper, and kept all of this in a file.  I made sure to find at least one other back-up source, which confirmed what I had learned, so that I had two primary sources.  In some cases, I was unable to do this, but for the most part, I did my best to confirm what I had learned.  This was so that when the copy editor asked a question, or was attempting to confirm a fact, I could easily send her what I had.

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?

Kathryn:  I make sure ALL of my research is complete before I start writing.  This is because I want to understand everything that has happened in my story before writing the first word.  I need to know how the story will begin and how it will end.  I believe that by making a timeline in my office on the wall (with sticky notes) that this helps me to know where I am going.  Each day, I can write, using the timeline as a reference, and then the next day, I am able to pick up where I left off.  I also like to place photographs on my wall and maps of the area I am writing about.  All of these things help to keep me grounded in the time period I am writing about. 

What is your favorite thing about research?

Kathryn:  Finding something I had no idea had happened, and then deciding whether or not to include it in my manuscript. 

What kinds of sources do you use? 

Kathryn: Phone and in person interviews, newspaper articles from the Pacific Region National Archives Center in Laguna Niguel, online research, The Japanese American National Society in San Francisco, and California State University at Fullerton provided a collection of Japanese American interviews.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

Kathryn: Being able to give a copy of the finished book to the person whose life it was written for.  In my case, I was able to do this because the gentleman I interviewed is still alive.  This was such a thrill and to this day, nothing brings more joy than to see how happy Mr. Furukawa was when he first opened A Diamond in the Desert and saw that it was dedicated to him.

Why is historical fiction important?

Kathryn: Historical fiction novels are able to show young readers a part of our history they may not be aware of.  These stories are important because often times, readers are introduced through a medium that brings more understanding and therefore, perhaps, more compassion toward a situation or group of people. 

The post Straight From the Source: Kathryn Fitzmaurice on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. The Sittin' Up - a review

I would never think of "North Carolina fiction" as a genre in children's literature, but I seem to have read quite a bit of it lately. I picked up Three Times Lucky  because my daughter is attending college in North Carolina.  I loved it!!  Later, I had the good fortune of reviewing The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (also by Sheila Turnage) for AudioFile Magazine.  I can't say enough how quirky and wonderful and timeless these books are!

Another North Carolina book caught my eye last year (I love the cover art!) but I just got around to reading it.

The Sittin' Up by Sheila P. Moses (Putnam, 2014).

The premise for The Sittin' Up is an interesting one.  The year is 1940, and former slave, Mr. Bro. Wiley has died.  Stanbury "Bean" Jones is 12 years old, finally old enough to attend his first "sittin' up," an area tradition with similarities to an "Irish wake" or Judaism's "sitting shiva."  There is not a lot of action in The Sittin' Up - something I've seen it knocked for in other reviews.  I, however, loved the opportunity to take my time and get to know the rich personalities of the Low Meadows community, where they treat death with sorrow, remembrance, practicality, and humor.

Mr. Bro. Wiley lived with Bean and his parents, Stanbury and Magnolia Jones, and was revered by the everyone in the closely-knit African American community. Bean's father, a stutterer, is generally accepted as a leader of the community and is a foreman on the tobacco farm where many of the Low Country men work for the white, wealthy, Mr. Thomas. Bean's mother is Magnolia, a kind, commonsense woman with a baby on the way.

Other characters include Miss Florenza (the bootlegging sinner who dares wear red to a sittin' up) and Miss Lottie Pearl (Pole's busybody mother and Magnolia's best friend),

"Yes, Lord. Please help us," Miss Florenza said.  Miss Lottie Pearl rolled her eyes at Miss Florenza.  Poor Miss Florenza can't even talk to Jesus without Miss Lottie Pearl putting her two cents in.  

Bean's best friend is Pole (they go together like a bean to a pole), and there's the preacher (who is more concerned with fancy clothes, cars, and women, than his parishioners),

"I thought we were in a Depression," Pole whispered to me.
"We are." I whispered back.
"Look like to me Reverend Hornbuckle should have been thinking about how the folk at Sandy Branch Baptist Church are gonna eat come winter instead of buying a new car," Pole said.  Wasn't sure if the preacher heard my sassy friend, but she didn't seem to care.  She got a whole of Miss Lottie Pearl in her as sho' as Mr. Bro. Wiley was dead in the house.
There's also Uncle Goat the liar,
Ma swears Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in Northampton County.  Papa said that ain't so.  He said Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in the state of North Carolina. That's how he got the nickname Goat.  Ma says he eats the truth up faster than a goat eats grass.

Even Mule Bennett has a personality,
"I will never forget Mr. Bro. Wiley," I thought as we headed to town.  Mule Bennett must have felt the same way.  He was slowing down and barely lifted his head.  Papa kept saying, "Get-get, get up, mule, get up." But Mule Bennett took his own sweet time.
Mr. Bro. Wiley,the reader gets to know through the remembrances of the living.

Yes, this is a story about segregation and how a great catastrophe serves as a catalyst for change, but that is the backdrop for a story that is mostly about people - wonderfully flawed people - people who sometimes do the wrong thing, but choose the right one when it matters - people who know the value of dignity and community - people who find sorrow and joy and humor in the small occurrences of daily life  - people - just plain people - just like us.

I may have nothing in common with North Carolina sharecroppers of 1940, but these people "spoke" to me, nonetheless.  If you enjoy historical fiction with a character-driven plot, you'll love The Sittin' Up.



Next on my list of North Carolina fiction: Stella by Starlight. More on that one later.

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3. In Tandem: BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN, by ELIZABETH WEIN

Welcome to another edition of In Tandem, the read-and-review blog series where both A.F. and I give our two cents at the same time. (You can feel free to guess which of us is the yellow owl and which of us is the purple owl...we're not telling!)... Read the rest of this post

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4. Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan -- multilayered, heartfelt historical fiction (ages 10-14)

Pam Muñoz Ryan captivates readers with this multilayered story set around the tumult of World War II. Themes of hope, resilience and inspiration echo (yes, pun intended) throughout three different characters' separate stories, set in Germany, Pennsylvania and California in the 1930s and 1940s. Already, my students are raving about this, telling each other that it's one of the best books of the year.
Echo
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Scholastic, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
*best new book*
Ryan's story is framed by a short fairy tale that introduces themes carried through the whole book. In this tale, young Otto started to read a magical story that suddenly comes to life -- in which the spirits of three cursed princesses are carried in a mystical harmonica. They will only be free if the harmonica can save someone on the brink of death.

The story then shifts to 1933 in Germany, where young Friedrich struggles to survive in Nazi Germany, dealing both with a birthmark on his face and an intense love of music, especially the harmonica. Ryan not only shows the conformity insisted upon by the Nazis, but also the risks people took to stay true to their ideas and passions. Through Friedrich, readers really feel the power of music to inspire and fill a person's soul. Friedrich works in a harmonica factory with his father and discovers the magical harmonica that Otto leaves behind. The chapter ends on a cliff-hanger as Friedrich tries to rescue his father from a Nazi prison camp.

I wondered if young readers would like the way Ryan shifts each section of the story to another location, following the harmonica as it travels from Europe to America in the 1930s and 1940s. Our 4th and 5th grade students who are ready to tackle a long novel are really enjoying it. Norah said,
"I liked how the author changed stories right as you were about to get bored with one story--I really liked how it was a total fairy tale in the beginning, and then suddenly changed to the beginning of WW2. I like how one object connects all the stories -- the harmonica."
Next, the harmonica travels to Depression-era Pennsylvania, where it is given to two brothers, Mike and Frankie Finnegan, in an orphanage. Once again, music plays an important role in their lives--both as a connection to their mother who taught piano lessons and to a wealthy woman who adopts them but doesn't seem to want them.

The final chapter is set in Southern California, where Ivy Lopez learns to play the harmonica and discovers she has exceptional musical ability. Ivy, the daughter of Mexican-American migrant workers, must confront segregation and discrimination.

In each case, characters find inner strength from their love of music and inspiration it provides. This comes across particularly well, as readers get the sense that each character's dreams are captured within the harmonica and passed to the next player. As Lora Shinn writes in Kirkus with her interview of Ryan:
"Echo contains lyrical, emotional descriptions of melodic pieces—often from the musician’s point of view—with such realism that it’s somewhat surprising that Ryan isn’t a working musician...
“That's the wonderful thing about music and so many of the arts,” Ryan says. “You don't have to be the one who makes the art to love and appreciate it or even to become an expert on it. Someone has to be the audience. Music is a universal language understood by both the person speaking—the musician—as well as person spoken to, the listener,” she says.”
The final chapter ties all of the stories together, as the characters meet in New York City in 1951 at a grand performance in Carnegie Hall. Several students commented that this chapter was confusing in the way Ryan jumped back and forth in time as she wrapped up each story. Even so, this is a story that they are recommending to one another with great enthusiasm.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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5. Win a Ten-Copy BLUE BIRDS Book Club Kit!

blue birds on shelf

As I did with May B., I am donating to one lucky school, library, homeschool co-op, or reading circle a Blue Birds Book Club Kit. The kit will include the following:

  • 10 copies of Blue Birds
  • teacher / discussion guide
  • bookmarks and stickers for all readers
  • interactive Skype visit

Grades four through eight qualify. To enter, simply tell me about your readers and why Blue Bird is a good fit for your group in the comments below. That’s it! 

The contest is open to US residents only. Winners will be announced March 27. Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers for providing the books.

The post Win a Ten-Copy BLUE BIRDS Book Club Kit! appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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6. Classroom Connections: THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER by Jessica Lawson

age range: 8-12

setting: 1860 Missouri; retelling of Tom Sawyer

curriculum guide

Jessica Lawson’s website

“The deliciously impetuous, devilishly clever, and uncommonly brave Becky Thatcher is now one of my all-time favorite heroines, and I’m desperate to follow her on more adventures. Captivating, exciting, and great barrels-full of fun, this is a book to adore.”
Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs

A delightfully clever debut.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Young readers will race through this adventure, while teachers and adults will delight in its gold mine of creative parallels.”
– BookPage

Please tell us about your book.

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is part origin story, part retelling of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Written from the perspective of Becky Thatcher, it takes the setting and many characters from Twain’s beloved work and forms a new plot that puts Becky in the spotlight as she grapples with the after-effects of her brother’s death and has adventures in his honor. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), who was actually a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi during the time of the novel (1860), makes several appearances and serves as a reminder that every writer’s stories and characters have an origin.

What inspired you to write this story?

I’ve always admired the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain. His books are among the most treasured of my personal collection. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer caught my eye while I was dusting my bookshelf one day, and I found myself thinking about how, as a much younger reader, I had wanted nothing more than to run around with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, making mischief and having adventures. As I thought about the other characters, I considered the fact that I’d never really connected with Becky Thatcher. Why was that? Upon reflection, I think it was because Becky, an iconic female character in her own right, didn’t get to embrace the same things/traits that the boys did. And although her actions and manner fit Twain’s image of the character perfectly, they didn’t really fit the girl I had been. So as an adult, I decided it could be fun to give Becky Thatcher an opportunity to embrace adventure and see what she did with it.

Could you share with readers a lesson learned while conducting research?

During my normal research process for historical fiction, one of favorite things to do is read old newspapers. Not only do I discover a sense of what sort of things were newsworthy, but I get a sense of language and culture. I also like to hunt down academic articles; for a recent Work-In-Progress, an internet search helped me find some article titles that sounded informative, intriguing, and pertinent to my setting/plot. I sent an email to the author, a professor at New York University’s Irish House, explaining who I was and that I was hoping to get access to a few of his articles that were only published in a (very large, very expensive) anthology. I was so thrilled when he responded, attaching the requested articles and wishing me luck with my project. The lesson I learned is that people, even ones that may seem intimidating in skill level/profession, are nearly always willing to help. So ask. 

With my Becky Thatcher book, my research was fairly limited, concentrating mostly on finding biographical information about Samuel Clemens’s life. I avoided close re-readings of Tom Sawyer until after I’d written several drafts to avoid any subconscious tendency to try to copy Twain’s voice. I wanted any similarities in tone to come out naturally and not be forced.

What are some special challenges associated with retellings?

I wrote something several months ago about the nature of retellings and how such a large variety of approaches exist, making it difficult to establish “rules.” But my personal guidelines for retellings always involve the following three things:

First, you should love the original work as written and have respect for the author. In my opinion, a retelling shouldn’t be undertaken in order to “fix” something that the original author did wrong, but rather to bring fresh attention and a new perspective to a well-loved tale.

There must be at least one large twist. But the twist should be a playful/thoughtful/deliberate one that has meaning within the original elements, not just a random item. Know why you’re changing a key element of the story and be confident in your reasoning.

Keep the heart of the original in mind and try your best to honor it. While my own retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer alters personalities and changes plot elements, the themes of learning what it means to grow up and struggling with losing pieces of childhood are still there and are recognizable.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

I think the inclusion of historical figure Samuel Clemens could promote interesting classroom discussions on who the “real” Mark Twain was as a younger man and how writers form their stories.

Themes touched upon in my book are things that students deal with each day in both home life and school situations (morality, friendship, telling truth and lies, labeling people, decision-making, consequences of choices) as well as a couple of more personal, sensitive themes (loss and grieving).

Simon & Schuster was kind enough to put together a curriculum guide for the book as a standalone and also as a companion to both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

The post Classroom Connections: THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER by Jessica Lawson appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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7. The Accidental Empress (2015)

The Accidental Empress. Allison Pataki. 2015. Howard Books. 512 pages. [Source: Review copy]

If you love historical fiction with a royal focus, this book may prove quite satisfying. I do love historical fiction. And this one does have a royal focus. The Accidental Empress is set in Austria (and Hungary) in the 1850s and 1860s. It tells the story of Empress Elizabeth of Austria and Emperor Franz Joseph I. She is the "accidental" empress because the arranged marriage was originally between Franz and her older sister. She accompanied her sister to court, and Franz fell in love with her and not the sister.

The book captures many events, many emotions, many tensions. DRAMA. The book has plenty of drama!!! For the most part, the book is told from HER point of view, and only her point of view. Readers can judge for themselves if her perceptions are fair or not. Plenty of arguments between husband and wife are related. In some cases, it's easy to see what it was all about. To see HER side and to see HIS side. Yes, the book is from HER point of view, but, readers can pick up on why he's acting and reacting the way he is. Not all the time, not every time, but enough to give the impression that she is far from perfect and not always right. For example, when she nags him every single time she sees him about how horrible his mother is, readers know he's not going to like her complaining and whining about how awful and horrible his mother is. Should he try to see it from her perspective, try to put himself in her shoes, to be more understanding and supportive of his wife's feelings. Probably. But you could see why it would be difficult to enjoy spending time with her. To be fair, he's not great at fidelity. And the idea that no royal could ever, ever, ever be expected to be faithful--that it was unnatural--doesn't sit easy. So I could only take my sympathy so far with him.

Actually, did I really "like" either character? I'm not sure I did. I found the book fascinating however!!!

Though I tend to think of this division of Simon & Schuster (Howard Books) being "Christian," there was nothing distinctively Christian about the book itself. It is historical fiction. It's based on real people, royal people. But it isn't your typical Christian book with a Christian message about life and love and family. I would have a difficult time classifying this as a clean read.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Reviews are In!

DSC_0664

Don’t forget to enter for a chance to win one of four Blue Birds poetry rings.

Composed in varying formats, the descriptive and finely crafted poems reveal the similarities the two girls share, from loved ones lost to hatred between the English and the Roanoke to a desire for peace…Fans of Karen Hesse and the author’s May B. (2012) will delight in this offering.
— Kirkus

Rose skillfully paints the abject loneliness that primes both girls for friendship… Though the poems generally alternate between the girls’ voices, Rose occasionally combines both perspectives into a single poem to powerful effect… Rich with detail, it’s a memorable account of a friendship that transcends culture and prejudice.
— Publisher’s Weekly

With two compelling main characters and an abundance of rich historical detail, Rose’s latest novel offers much to discuss and much to appreciate.
— School Library Journal

The author skillfully builds conflict between the colonists and the Native Americans and between Alis and Kimi and their respective families… It is an excellent historical offering and belongs on public and school library shelves.
— VOYA

An imaginative historical novel with two sympathetic protagonists.
–Booklist

The post Reviews are In! appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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9. Every Day After, by Laura Golden | Book Review

This book will appeal to middle grade readers who like spunky protagonists, are dealing with difficult family situations, and who like learning about earlier eras in America, (in this case the depression in the 1930s).

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10. The Midwife of Hope River (2012)

The Midwife of Hope River. Patricia Harman. 2012. HarperCollins. 382 pages. [Source: Library]

The Midwife of Hope River is probably best classified as an almost love. I did enjoy quite a few things about it. And I'm definitely glad I checked it out from the library and read it. I like trying new-to-me authors, and this one worked for me in many ways.

Patience Murphy is the heroine of The Midwife of Hope River. There are dozens of births recorded--in detail--throughout the novel. So you've been warned! The intimacy of the details is not a bad thing, mind you. It just may not be a perfect match for every single reader.

So. Patience Murphy is the heroine's new name. She has a past--a past that is revealed oh-so-slowly-and-dramatically throughout the novel. But for the most part she's Patience. She's 'inherited' her occupation, in a way, the woman who essentially took her in off the streets and 'saved' her from being a wet nurse (an out-of-work wet nurse) was a midwife. They started working in West Virginia (rural for the most part) together, but, now she's on her own. She varies between super-confident and anxious--how did I ever get started? and WHY do I do this? The book opens in the fall of 1929, and it follows her practice for probably a year or maybe two years.

Patience is poor. She never knows IF she'll be paid for a delivery or not. And if she is paid, it's rarely in cash. More likely it's food or chopped wood. Or promises. So most of the novel keeps it basic: will I have enough to eat today, this week, this month, etc. and will I have enough fuel to keep me warm this winter?

Patience is also emotional and definitely lonely. She doesn't necessarily *show* her emotions. That's not what I meant by emotional. She's got layers to her, and, she hates to be vulnerable. But she's got layers and layers of ISSUES both past and present.

Several big issues are addressed in the book, but, not necessarily in a heavy way. For example, race relations/tensions in the 1930s, abusive relationships, poverty, sexuality/freedom, etc.

I wouldn't say I loved this one. But I did find it at times absorbing and fascinating. Definitely a quick read for me.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. TURNING PAGES: NOBODY'S SECRET by MICHAELA MACCOLL

Those of us who were English majors can be some of the biggest sticklers for facts, just the facts, ma'am, when it comes to our literary giants. We might argue loudly about canon, be Holmes buffs who tend to be wary of fan fiction, and dispute over... Read the rest of this post

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12. The Art of Writing and Reading the Verse Novel

The verse novel is a condensed blend of poetry and story that flows from one word to the next. It shows the reader how to listen, how to see more sharply, how to emotionally connect. And somewhere in the journey we are changed.

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13. More Royal Binge Reading Material

I've just completed reading the Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper, an account of the lives of an impoverished royal family from pre-World War II into the very early 1950s. I began the series back in 2012 with A Brief History of Montmaray, a strange, otherworldly trilogy that I definitely enjoyed. I read Book Two, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, right after reading Book One. I don't know why I waited so long to get to The FitzOsbornes at War, but I didn't forget about it.

In the early pages of FitzOsbornes at War, I was definitely sorry I hadn't binge read these books. I was having trouble getting up to speed with the characters. But I did. I won't go so far as to say I couldn't put it down, but I was anxious to get back to it.

I thought The FitzOsbornes in Exile was probably a formulaic England-under-the-cloud-of-coming-war story. The FitzOsbornes at War is probably a formulaic London-during-the-Blitz story. It's just a really good one. Or maybe I just really like that formula.

With the first two books, I felt that the change to the characters' lives that gets their stories started didn't really start into well into the book. The change to the characters' world in FitzOsbornes at War is World War II, of course. Things got underway pretty early on this time. I did wonder, though, whose story this is. Sophie, who maintains these journals, is the least out-there of the royal FitzOsbornes. She's not as dramatic and charming as her brother, the king/pilot and younger sister (oh, Henry, Henry, I was in the Laundromat when I read...well, let's not go there), nor as brilliant and beautiful as her cousin. Her war experience is far more limited than theirs. Her function is to record what happens to them. Is this her story of telling their stories or the family's story?

In one of the earlier books, HRH King Tobias' personal life is revealed but barely mentioned again in this final book. In the last pages of the book, which cover what happened to the family immediately after the war and includes a genealogical chart, those of us in the know can pick up a little something that might relate to it. I found what these royals ended up doing immediately after the war very interesting.

I have to wonder if this last book is actually Young Adult. Sophie, our main character, is nineteen when the war begins at the beginning of the book, meaning she is twenty-four by the end. The war experiences aren't anything that relate specifically to adolescence.

I don't find this to be a problem. The idea of a YA trilogy transitioning to adult is interesting.

Check out this post from author Michelle Cooper's blog in which she discusses some historical events she considered including in the Monmaray Journals and had to let go. Cooper's blog also indicates she's been doing research on the 1950s and '60s. What is coming up?

And, finally, this trilogy is completed so you can binge read. Don't wait for the last book the way I did.



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14. Cybils Finalist Review: HIDDEN: A CHILD'S STORY OF THE HOLOCAUST

Summary: Told through the eyes of a grandmother recalling her childhood during the Nazi occupation of Paris, this story takes the wrenching events of the Holocaust and shows how important it is to remember our history and set it free so that the... Read the rest of this post

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15. The Ship of Brides

The Ship of Brides. Jojo Moyes. 2005/2014. Penguin. 464 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I love absolutely everything about Jojo Moyes' The Ship of Brides? No, I can't say that I did. But I enjoyed it enough to read it in two days. I'll start with what I loved.

I loved the subject. I loved the idea of reading about a group of women--war brides--sailing together into the unknown. The book is about a ship full of Australian women--all war brides--sailing to England in 1946. It isn't any ship either. It's an aircraft carrier. The potential to mingle with the navy is definitely there, though obviously discouraged. There are over 600 women on board, though readers only get close to four women who share a room: Jean, Avice, Margaret, and Frances. They are sailing into the unknown in a way because they've never been to England, they've never met their in-laws, and they haven't seen their husbands in months or even years. Take into consideration, that some of these couples only knew each other a few weeks before they got married, and, yes there is plenty of unknown ahead. Even if they felt like they *knew* their husbands when they got married, they don't know how the war has changed them, if the war has changed them. The time on the ship is an in-between time: the first taste of a big change in all their lives. Will they be happy? Will it all work out? Are they still loved? Are they still wanted? Several women receive messages--telegrams, I believe-telling them NOT to come.

I liked the narration, especially of the time on the ship. The days/weeks are chronicled, and, one gets a sense of the experience, of the journey. The anxiety, the awkwardness, the heat, the opportunities, the stresses, etc. I thought the setting was well done, for the most part.

Did I love the characterization? Not as much as I hoped initially. I don't know if there was any one character that I loved. And some of the characterization felt a bit uneven.

What I didn't quite love was the framework. The beginning and ending felt a little off to me. Readers first meet a grandmother and a granddaughter on their trip in India. The two just happen to stumble upon a ship about to become scrap. It is THE ship, and it overwhelms the grandmother to see it. The rest of the book is about the four women--really, just three women if I'm honest--and tries, I suppose, to keep readers guessing which of the three is the grandmother of the future. The ending is part of that framework: readers finally knowing how it all fits together.

I liked it. I'm glad I read it. I am. I'm interested in the subject. I would be happy to read more books like it. But it wasn't love for me.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby, 336 pp, RL 4

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby winner of the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. And, while this award is well deserved,  Icefall is so much more than a mystery - it is a coming of age story and a story within a story as well, with memories coming together to create something greater than the mystery itself. In fact, Icefall reminds me of Shannon Hale's Newbery Honor winning Princess

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17. Cybils Finalist Review: THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS by Max Brooks and Caanan White

Summary: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II are, by now, well-known to American and African American history. But the regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters--the Army's 369th infantry unit--were the first American unit to reach the Rhine in the... Read the rest of this post

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18. Short Review: Salt and Storm

Salt & Storm by Kendall KulperLittle, Brown. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

Salt and Storm is set in an alternate 1860s, where witches and magic are real. Avery is the granddaughter of the witch of Prince Island, and should have been trained and raised to be the next witch. Except, her mother -- who refuses to have anything to do with magic or witchcraft -- drags Avery away from her grandmother and forbids her to see her. At sixteen, Avery is trying to escape her mother's control and claim her inheritance.

What I liked most about Salt and Storm is that Avery wasn't aware of the full picture. She knew what she knew, believed she had the full picture, believe she knew the real story about the witches of Prince Island. She thought she knew herself, but it turns out things aren't what she thinks they are. Which means what she wants isn't what she thinks it is. I also like the historical information in here, about life on nineteenth century islands.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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19. Tigers Promise: Tigers Curse Novella by Colleen Houck

Before the curse, there was a promise. A prequel to the bestselling Tiger’s Curse series, this much anticipated novella recalls the beginning of Ren and Kishan’s story. Before Kelsey there was a girl, raised by a villain, whose love for a hero changed the course of history.  Trapped under the thumb of her abusive and powerful father Lokesh, Yesubai struggles to keep her own magical abilities

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20. Review of the Day: My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp

My Near-Death Adventures (99% True)
By Alison DeCamp
Crown Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Random House)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-385-39044-6
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

Children’s historical fiction novels often divide up one of two ways. In the first category you have your important moments in history. In such books our heroes run about and encounter these moments by surprise. Extra points if it happens to be a Great Big Bad Moment in history as well. Then in the second category are the books that have opted to go a more difficult route. They may be well grounded in a time period of the past, but they do not require historical cameos or Great Big Bad Moments to transport their readers. Such books run a very great risk of, quite frankly, becoming dull. Read enough of them and, with the exception of a few, they all run together. Humor often helps me distinguish them from the pack. After all, would Catherine Called Birdy command quite so many hearts and minds if it weren’t also deeply amusing? Still, it’s rare to find fiction set in the past for kids that’s quite that original. It takes a certain kind of devious brain to hit on an all-new take. Enter My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp. Falling squarely into the second category rather than the first, this 1895 charmer utilizes plenty of visuals along with an unreliable narrator and classic comedic setting. I can say with certainty that your kids will never read a work of lumberjack fiction quite as fast and funny as this ever again.

Well, sir, it looks like Stan’s found himself in a heap of trouble. First off there’s the difficulty with his dead father. The problem? He’s not dead. He’s nowhere around, and now he seems to have divorced Stan’s mama, but dead he is not. Then there’s the fact that it’s the middle of winter yet Stan’s mama and his 95% evil Granny (her percentage fluctuates a lot) are packing him up and they’re all heading up to some godforsaken lumber camp in the middle of nowhere. Of course, that’s good for Stan since he’s been hoping to build up his manly skills so that he can support his mama. Unfortunately his cousin Geri, who seems to revel in torturing him, will be there as well. Can Stan fight off his mother’s multiple suitors, keep his eye on the lumberjack he’s dubbed “Stinky Pete”, and learn to be a man (if Geri doesn’t kill him first) all at once? If anyone can, it’s Stan. Probably.

Humor in historical fiction can come across as a case where the contemporary author is shoehorning his or her own beliefs onto characters from the past. Often when this happens it feels fake. I remember once reading a children’s novel set in the Civil War South where an enterprising young woman, with no outside influences, actually said, “Corsets don’t just restrict the waist. They restrict the mind,” or something equally out of left field. So to what extent are anachronisms a threat in books of this sort? For example, would someone like Stan really have called his cousin “Scary Geri”? For me, I don’t worry as much about the small details. If the language isn’t strictly of the late 19th century variety then who in the Sam Hill cares? (Forgive my language, granny.) It’s the big things (like mind restricting corsets) that catch my eye. With that in mind, I was somewhat relieved when I realized that Stan is a sexist jerk. He quite believably does not look on women’s accomplishments as something to commend (which, in turn, is an interesting way of building up sympathy for his cousin Geri). In other words, he’s of his time.

To bring the funny, DeCamp does two things I’ve not seen done in works of historical fiction before. The first involves a ton of late 19th/early 20th century advertisements. Using the conceit that this is Stan’s scrapbook, each image makes some kind of commentary on what Stan is describing. They’re also hilarious. I cannot help but imagine the countless hours DeCamp spent poring through advertisement after advertisement. One wonders if there were parts of the narrative wholly reliant on the existence of one ad or another. Hard to say.

The second clever and hitherto unknown thing DeCamp does with her storytelling is to make Stan an unreliable narrator with unreliable narration. Which is to say, you’ll be reading his private thoughts on the page when suddenly another character will comment on what clearly should have been kept inside Stan’s brain. The end result is that the reader will lapse into a continual sense of security, safe in the knowledge that what they’re reading isn’t dialogue (after all, there aren’t any quotation marks) and then, exactly like Stan, the reader will be shocked when someone comments on information they shouldn’t know anything about. It really puts you directly into Stan’s shoes and helps to make him more relatable. Which is good since he runs the risk of being considered unsympathetic as a character.

Unreliable as a narrator, potentially unsympathetic as a human being, Stan still wins our love. Why? He’s Kid Falstaff! A coward you root for and love, yet still don’t always approve of. Still, even in the depths of his own delusion, how can you not love the guy? He’s a Yooper Telemachus fending unworthy suitors off of his mama. And even when you’ve taken almost all you can take from the guy, you’ll find him saying something like, “This is the furthest I’ve ever felt from being a man. All I really want to do is cuddle up in bed and have Mama read me a book. Or play with the toy soldiers still lined up on my windowsill in the apartment house. But I can’t. Because that’s not manly, and being manly is the only way I’ll ever understand my father . . .” Poor kid.

A good author, by the way, allows their supporting characters some personal growth as well. It doesn’t all have to come from the protagonist, after all. In this particular case it’s Stan’s mama, a character that could easily have just been some passive, maternal bit of nothingness, who comes into her own. For years she’s been held down pretty effectively by her own mother. Now she has a chance at making a bit of a life for herself, choosing her own mate (or not choosing, as the case may be), and generally having a bit of fun. I know no kid reading this book is going to care, but I appreciated having someone other than Stan learn and grow.

I sit here secure in the knowledge that somewhere, at some time, an enterprising adult (be it teacher, parent, or librarian) will take it upon themselves to actually follow Mrs. Cavanaugh’s recipe for Vinegar Pie. The recipe is right there in black and white in the book, clear as crystal. If you have any goodness in your heart and you are tempted to tread this path, here is a bit of advice: don’t. It’s called Vinegar Pie, for crying out loud! What part of that sounds appetizing? You know what is appetizing? This book. Hilarious and heartbreaking and funny funny funny. You know what you hand a kid that gets the dreaded, “Read one work of historical fiction” assignment in school? You hand them this and then sit back to wait for their inevitable gratitude. They may never say thank you to your face, but you’ll be able to rest safe and secure in the knowledge that they loved this book. Or, at the very least, found it enticing and intriguing. 99-100% fantastic.

On shelves now.

Source:

Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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21. Straight From the Source: Janet Fox on Writing Historical Fiction

Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her 2010 young adult debut novel, FAITHFUL, was an Amelia Bloomer List pick, and was followed in 2011 by a companion novel, FORGIVEN, a Junior Library Guild selection and WILLA Literary Award Finalist. Her newest YA novel, SIRENS launched in November 2012; the Kirkus reviewer said in part, “SIRENS is a celebration of girl power, sisterhood, and hope for the future.” Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a former high school English teacher. Janet and her family live in Bozeman, Montana, where they enjoy the mountain vistas.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

Most of my stories begin with a scene, but it’s more like a dream sequence. I often have no idea what’s going on in the scene and who the characters are, but if it resonates at a deep level, has some meaning for me that I can’t – yet – put into words, then that becomes my mission: put this emotion into words. For example, the opening scene of SIRENS was also the first thing that came to me as I began thinking about the book, and that image of a wharf over the Hudson River at night was important but I had no idea why Jo was throwing medals into the water or why she was there, or even who she really was. Water, of course, became a motif, and Jo’s gesture was a metaphor for her to let go of the past.

As soon as I decide to go forward from my key scene, I focus on the character. I spend a lot of time thinking about my protagonist and my antagonist, although I do so very organically, because a great deal of what I learn comes through the drafting, since I’m a pantser. I write a lot of stuff that changes or goes away but that helps me discover who my character is and what she needs. My protagonist – her attitudes, behavior, dreams, desires – always drives my stories, not the other way around. When I write historical fiction it doesn’t change the fact that readers want stories that help them reach into their buried dreams, and they do that by identifying with the character.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I use a number of sources, everything from primary on. I read novels written in the period because they tend to mimic the voice of their era, and contain details that I can use. I look for period costumes in pattern books and magazines of the times – which often reveal nice details like “hunting costumes” or the layers of undergarments. I do visit museums for visuals. And I try to find anything that will add nuance to the era I write about. In SIRENS, which is set in the 1920s, I wanted more than the usual flapper/gangster/Prohibition stuff, and while listening to the radio one night, I heard a discussion about the Spiritualism movement of the 1920s, and thought “that’s it.”

But my favorite resource, depending upon the era, is period newspapers. They are available on line, and I love perusing the society column and the ads, in particular. From those I can harvest a feeling for what people were dreaming about – what they wanted, aspired to acquire, and how much that might cost. And how the “society” behaved, which the lower classes might desire to emulate, or rebel against. Again, it comes down to individual desires and dreams.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I draft almost right away, because I start with that dream and character. I research as I go. That’s because I’m usually too impatient to start the story-telling to do research first! So I’ll write until I reach a point where I need to answer a question, like “what was the flu pandemic like?” or “what was happening in Chinatown then?” And then I’ll research, which is easy in this internet era. Other details – the sensory stuff that comes from place – I’ll either tap from memory and experience, or go to that place and soak it up. Or watch videos or comb through photographs, since I’m a very visual person.

I never spend much time researching in advance, because the story comes to me way before I know where and when to place it.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I do love history. It was my favorite subject in high school. I like the echoes and resonant desires, I like especially the somewhat mythic historic elements – things like Robin Hood, or the Roman conquest, or the western expansion in America. I like taking history and turning over the rocks to discover the personal and small within historical times. I love the idea of having a character hear a famous speech or witness an historical event, and then interpret it at the scale of an individual lifetime.

Has your research ever affected the overall thrust of your book? How so?

Always, but in unexpected fashion. In researching FAITHFUL, I learned that in the early 1900s there were still highway robberies taking place in Yellowstone Park, and tourists were relieved of their possessions, but thought this was highly romantic and exciting, so I worked that experience into the novel – and it became crucial to both FAITHFUL and FORGIVEN. In researching FORGIVEN I learned of the importing of young – very young – Chinese girls who were sold into terrible slavery in San Francisco, and this became my protagonist’s larger goal, to free some of these girls. So while I have my core emotion and my character’s desire up front, I often find historical details that will bolster the story in unexpected ways.

faithfulforgiven

Why is historical fiction important?

That old adage about being condemned to repeat the things we don’t learn the first time is true, and there are lots of historical moments I wouldn’t care to repeat. Historical fiction makes history more accessible, especially to young people. It personalizes history, and sheds a different spotlight on details, and can bring into focus comparisons between today’s events and historical events. Plus, well-written historical fiction is just plain fun to read.

 

 

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22. Her Royal Spyness (2007)

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness #1) Rhys Bowen. 2007. Berkley. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

I wanted a quick, light read: light on history, light on mystery. I was satisfied enough with Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen. Why "satisfied enough"? Well, the book moved quickly for me. I was interested in the time period it was set. (England, spring of 1932) I was also curious about the "royal" aspect of it. (The heroine is 34th in line to the throne.)

The premise of this one is simple. Lady Georgiana (Georgie) may be royal, but, she's also young and poor. Being royal makes her eligible for making a good marriage, perhaps, most likely an arranged marriage. But it keeps her from getting a regular job and earning her own way. To escape a social event designed to match her to someone she doesn't want to marry, she lies to her family and arranges to go to London. Her brother is allowing her to stay at his place--the family's residence--but he's not allowing her to take any servants or providing any money to hire her own once there. She'll be completely on her own for however many weeks she chooses to escape. She'll get reacquainted with some people, meet several new people, etc. She'll also socialize with the queen on occasion. (The queen wants her feedback on the married American woman, David is infatuated with.) One of the people she meets is a potential fling. His name is Darcy. The two could have some light fun together. But. She's uncertain about him and if she even wants to have a fling.

So. The mystery. A body is found in the bathtub. A dead body, of course. (I kept thinking of Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers). She discovers the body, and since it's in her brother's house, well, she fears that everyone will conclude that her brother "Binky" did the crime...

I found it entertaining enough. I didn't find it to be the perfect read, however. In terms of characterization and dialogue and description. It kept me reading at the time, but, I'm not sure it's one that will stick with me.

Still, I think I will read one or two more in the series to see if it improves.

ETA: I have read about three or four chapters in the second book. Enough to know that I don't think it will suit me after all. It's just not a good match for me. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby, 336 pp, RL 4

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby winner of the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. And, while this award is well deserved,  Icefall is so much more than a mystery - it is a coming of age story and a story within a story as well, with memories coming together to create something greater than the mystery itself. In fact, Icefall reminds me of Shannon Hale's Newbery Honor winning Princess

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24. Free Online Laura Ingalls Wilder Course: Part 2

2015-02-16 10.57.51Author, teacher, and editor Pamela Smith Hill will begin the second part of Missouri State University’s Laura Ingalls Wilder course on April 6, 2015. The course runs for eight weeks and will cover the second half of Wilder’s Little House series, starting with By the Shores of Silver Lake as well as the second half of Hill’s Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life. Wilder’s recently released autobiography, Pioneer Girl, (edited by Hill) is recommended reading.

If you weren’t part of the 7,000 students who participated in the first course, no matter! Anyone can sign up. Click through to enroll.

 

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25. Lilies of the Field (1962)

The Lilies of the Field. William Edmund Barrett. 1962/1988. Grand Central Publishing. 128 pages. [Source: Gift]

There is a young legend developing on the west side of the mountains. It will, inevitably, grow with the years. Like all legends, it is composed of falsehood and fact. In this case, the truth is more compelling than the trappings of imagination with which it has been invested. The man who has become a legendary figure was, perhaps, of greater stature in simple reality than he ever will be in the oft-repeated, and expanded, tales which commemorate his deeds. Here before the whole matter gets out of hand, is how it was...
His name was Homer Smith. He was twenty-four. He stood six foot two and his skin was a deep, warm black.

 If you love, love, LOVE the movie--or if you only like it--you should treat yourself and read the book. How does it compare with the movie? Is it as wonderful? as magical? as perfect? I'm not exactly sure it's fair to compare the two. I can easily say it's well worth reading. I loved meeting Homer Smith. I loved meeting all the nuns. I loved seeing Homer at work. I loved his interactions with the sisters, especially seeing him teach them English. There are so many delightful and wonderful things about the book AND the movie. The book isn't better than the movie, in my opinion, but it is at least as good as the movie which is saying something. (My expectations for this one were very high!)

So in case you're unfamiliar with the movie starring Sidney Poitier, here's the basic plot: Homer Smith is a man who likes his independence. He's traveling the country in his station wagon, and, he's a handy man of sorts. He stops when and where he likes and he finds work. He does a few odd jobs for some German nuns. One of them feels that Homer is God's answer to her prayers. She feels that Homer has come specifically to build them a church. Though they don't have enough money or enough resources, they have faith that it will happen and that Homer is the man for the job. Can one man build a chapel?!

So Homer Smith is a delightful character. And the book is a great read.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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