Category Archives: historical fiction

Etiquette and Espionage [Finishing School series] by Gail Carriger

etiquette and espionageLong-time readers of my blog have suffered through my constant lamentations that everything is a freaking series …  I sometimes read a book not realizing that it is the first in a series (ahem, Cinder) and just about die waiting for the rest of the series to be published.  Back when this book first came out, I knew it was part of a planned series and made the conscious decision to wait until after all of the books were out before I read it.  I had heard it was good and all, but I didn’t hear enough to lure me into actually cheating.  The final book of this series came out in November, so I decided I was ready to binge-read the series (well, binge-listen to the audiobooks) this winter.  Part of me is glad I didn’t have any major gaps of time in between the stories, but part of me is so mad at myself that I didn’t just suck it up and read these from the start.  Such is life, right?!?  Darned if you do, and darned if you don’t!

The Finishing School series is just so amazing that it’s hard to explain, but I will do my best to point out the various things I loved.  The cast of characters, both normal and nefarious, was fabulous.  I think I may have clicked with this series so quickly because Sophronia has a very Georgia Nicholson feel to her — awkward but lovable; smart but bumbling.  She’s awesome enough that readers might want to be like her and not so perfect as to be annoying, you know?  And although it’s a mystery and a fantasy that takes place in a finishing school, it is a lot sillier than Libba Bray’s [Gothic mystery] Gemma Doyle series.  It still had plenty of mystery, and there were conflicts with supernatural creatures aplenty, but there was a much lighter feel to it overall.  Readers who enjoyed the steampunk airships of Oppel’s Airborn series and Westerfeld’s Leviathan series will appreciate the fact that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is held aboard a dirigible.  Not to mention the proliferation of gadgets, like exploding wicker chickens and mechanical wiener dogs!  If you like steampunk, supernatural mysteries, and/or tales of girls who don’t quite fit in with their high society families, I recommend you check this series out.

Happy Reading!

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

these-shallow-gravesJo Montfort is a beautiful young woman whose family is among the social elite of New York City.  She is about to graduate from finishing school and is very likely to wed Bram Aldrich, one of the most sought-after bachelors in high society.  Yet, she isn’t sure that is what she truly wants.  Jo longs to be a writer.  She wants to be an investigative reporter like Nellie Bly, though she knows her family would never approve.  But then, something happens that makes Jo question everything she knows about her family.  Her father is found dead in his study — an apparent gun-cleaning accident.  But Jo knows that her father knew better than to clean a loaded gun, and there are other details that just don’t quite add up.  Will her penchant for investigative reporting and a new friendship with a young reporter, Eddie Gallagher, help her uncover the truth?  Or will Jo’s desire not to upset her family and social order get in the way?

Fans of Donnelly’s A Northern Light will not be disappointed…  I think this story was even better, and I absolutely *loved* ANL!  I also recommend this to fans of Anna Godbersen’s Luxe series and people who enjoyed Manor Of Secrets.  If you like stories of scandal set in the Guilded Age, you definitely need to read this book.

Happy Reading!

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

salt-to-the-seaI couldn’t believe how shocked I was when I read Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray.  I mean, I had taken a world history class with “in depth” unit about WWII and didn’t really know much of anything about what Stalin had done — nor had I even heard of the [Soviet] Holodomor (roughly translated to “death by hunger”) that rivaled the well-known [German] Holocaust.  After reading Between Shades of Gray, though, I felt like I had a much better grasp of WWII history…  And then I read this book.  How is it that there is yet another major piece of WWII history that has flown under the radar for so long?!?

Before reading Salt to the Sea, I had never even heard of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.  I was stupefied to learn that OVER NINE THOUSAND people died in this tragedy.  Prior to reading this book, I would have been willing to bet that the Titanic and the Lusitania were the two largest maritime tragedies of all time.  Even when you combine the death tolls of those two ships, nevertheless, they only account for about a third of the losses of the Gustloff.  I wish American ethnocentrism didn’t extend to history classrooms in which *world* history is being taught, but it seems pretty evident to me that the anti-Germany sentiment surrounding WWII and the lack of American passengers aboard the ship have both contributed to a lack of American attention.  People from all walks of life [civilians, refugees, and soldiers] and of all ages [from babies to senior citizens] were aboard that ship.  It was a tragedy of unbelievable proportions.

Thank goodness Ruta Sepetys!  With her well-developed characters and gripping plots, Sepetys is providing readers with compelling stories that will also spread awareness of these previously unknown tragedies.  Who knows?  Maybe her books will even lead to better coverage in future history textbooks and classes.  I can only hope that the multiple points of view provided by this particular story will resonate with readers and finally bring much-deserved American attention to the great number of lives that were lost in the Baltic Sea [almost exactly] 71 years ago.

Happy Reading!

Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath

like-water-on-stoneI think this book should be required reading for all teens and adults in America right about now.  All too often, I find myself listening to or reading about people who just don’t understand why America should step up and actually help the Syrian refugees.  Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that people don’t have any concept of what life is truly like for people who are forced to flee their home and country in fear of losing their very lives.  Without a frame of reference, people have no idea what it is that they are turning their backs to.  I am sick of the, “It sucks to be them, but it’s not America’s problem” mentality.  Perhaps, by reading this story [about three children who narrowly escaped the Armenian genocide of 1915], people can begin to understand what these current refugees are experiencing.  And maybe, just maybe, people can put aside their fear long enough to see that there is something we can do.  We can open our hearts — and our borders — to the huddled masses who so desperately need somewhere safe to go.  I think Master Yoda said it best when he said, “Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”  So, let’s stop letting our fear get in the way.  In this season of giving, love, and goodwill, let’s do our best to put aside our fear and to actually help out our fellow human beings.

Happy Holidays!

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

when-you-reach-meThis book was an interesting blend of historical fiction, mystery, and science fiction.  I can certainly see why it won the Newbery Award, since it was well written, pays homage to a “classic” children’s book, and has a nostalgia factor for the teachers and librarians who grew up in the 70s and 80s — especially with all the references to Miranda’s mom practicing for her appearance on the game show $20,000 Pyramid.  I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that a lot of tweens and teens would find it difficult to really get hooked on this story.  I was curious about how things would play out in the end and all, but the story didn’t exactly keep me on the edge of my seat.

One day, as Miranda walked home with her best friend, Sal, he got punched in the stomach.  The kid who punched him was new to the neighborhood and didn’t even know Miranda or Sal, so there didn’t seem to be any reason for the attack.  Even worse?  Right after that incident, Sal began to get distant.  Miranda felt lost without Sal, since the two of them had been constant companions since their early childhood.  And then, when the hidden/”emergency” key to her apartment went missing and she found a strange note hidden in a library book, Miranda got understandably freaked out.  Especially since the author of the note seemed to know things about her — even things that hadn’t happened yet.  Fans of A Wrinkle in Time are sure to enjoy the way Miranda’s life experiences drew parallels to that book and made her question the real possibilities of time travel.  I think there are enough details, nevertheless, that the story will still make sense to readers who aren’t familiar with L’Engle’s work.

Happy Reading!

A Corner Of The Universe by Ann M. Martin

corner of the universeYou may have noticed that I am doing daily reviews this week, as opposed to my typical weekly post, and that is for several reasons.  First of all, I have a lot of book reviews to catch up on!  Secondly, school vacations are the perfect time for tweens and teens to read for fun, and I wanted to help out the people who might want/need extra suggestions.  Last but not least, I realized that I was inadvertently on a roll with books that took place in summer…  Since I still have a few more books that fit the bill, I decided it would make sense to  keep with it and to help us all escape the winter blues, one book review at a time. :-)

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Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

strings-attachedAfter listening to What I Saw and How I Lied, I was excited to check out Blundell’s second book.  So many books were piled up on my “to be read” list, though, that this book got bumped… and then I forgot about it.  (Ack!)  Sometimes, thankfully, fate will intervene and remind me about a book I’d forgotten to read.  In this case, my audiobook ended while I was out and about.  Since I didn’t have another CD audiobook on standby, I browsed the OverDrive app on my phone to see if any of my “wish list” downloadable audiobooks were checked in.  Boy, am I glad this one showed up! Continue reading