Archive for the 'Historical Fiction' Category

Out of the Pocket by B. E. Stanfel

out of the pocket

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  209

RAC Book:  Yes

Mercer is a high school senior in 2003 struggling with his father’s deployment in Iraq.  The entire book is written in journal entries for his English teacher as well as emails to his dad in Iraq.  Mercer is focused on football and the dream of getting a full ride scholarship to the University of Iowa.  He begins writing emails to a teenager in Iraq that his dad works with occasionally.  Through these emails, Mercer begins to see that his life is very different from that of a teenager in Iraq and he should be grateful for the life he has.  At the same time, it is very difficult for Mercer to not have his dad with him for his senior year and he believes his family is starting to drift apart with his dad’s absence.  As time passes, Mercer begins to question his loyalty to this war.    Can he be the man his father wants him to be while he’s away?  Can he take care of his family the way he thinks he should?  When will his dad return to him?

This new title is written by a former teacher of Dowling Catholic High School and we are pleased to have received some copies early after it’s release.  The story captures the many worries and thoughts that go through a typical teenager’s head during his or her senior year but adds in the extra burden of having a father deployed.  The book provides a lot of detailed information concerning the war.  Students who enjoy reading about soldiers will enjoy the book as it is easy to identify with Mercer.  Recommended for those teenage boys who often have trouble finding titles that appeal to them.

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

The-Berlin-Boxing-Club-by-Robert-Sharenow-198x300

Genre;  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  400

RAC:  Yes

Karl is living in Berlin in 1934 and although he does not look Jewish or practice any Jewish beliefs he has ancestors who were Jewish and because of this connection has started getting bullied by the Hitler Youth.  After one particularly bad beating he had to go serve at his father’s art gallery opening and he meets Max Schmeling, the famous German boxer.  Max offers Karl free boxing lessons in exchange for a painting and Karl takes this promise seriously.  He begins working out on his own while Max travels overseas and it’s almost a year before he actually joins the Berlin Boxing Club with Max as his coach.  He begins fighting in some junior competitions and slowly the men from the boxing club begin to support him.  Karl is always careful never to reveal details from his personal life, however.  At home, he has been expelled from his school and evicted from his house because of his heritage.  His parents fight all the time and do not know what to do.  Things finally come to a head on Kristallnacht and Karl knows they need to get out.  Is he strong enough to stand up and fight for his family?  Who can he rely on for help?

Fans of Between Shades of Gray, Night, and Sarah’s Key will enjoy this title.  It is very serious and realistic in how Karl and his entire life begin to unravel during WWII.  You also see many periphery characters and how they react to their own changing environments, some for the better and some for worse.  Karl is a very honest young man and often admits he wishes he wasn’t Jewish so that he wouldn’t have to worry about the abuse and prejudice.  He doesn’t hate his old friends for joining Hitler Youth because he is too jealous.  He has no connection to his Jewish faith which means he has no conviction to fight for it.  He does not handle every situation heroically, but he does respond the best way he knows how at the time.  The boxing aspect provides a unique spin on things because boxing was big during this time in Germany and although trained people could ensure a fair fight, the outside world is not so simple.  Highly recommended.

The Agency: a spy in the house by Y.S. Lee

a spy in the house

Genre:  Mystery/Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  335

RAC:  Yes

This title was recently named to the Iowa High School Award Winners for 2013-2014.  The first in this series, Mary is rescued from a death sentence for stealing in 1853 by a woman who runs a special school for young girls.  After many years of schooling, Mary is taken into a special program designed to turn young women into spies.  Her first assignment is to be the paid companion of a wealthy teenage girl who is ungrateful for the company at best.  As Mary enters the house she is supposed to keep her ears open for information about the family business and whether or not they are really suffering from as many lost ships as they claim, but in the end she overhears much more than that.  She also meets another spy trying to dig up information on this family.  Will he be a threat or an ally?  Can Mary perfect her spying skills in order to become a permanent fixture in this alliance?

Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this title because it is set in a unique time period while also including intrigue and mystery.  The story moves fairly quickly and the ending is exciting.  The final revelation of who is behind the lost ships is surprising, but also a bit confusing in the details for some young readers.  Mary’s background is touched on, but readers will look for more to be revealed in the future sequels.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Genre:  Romance/Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  549

RAC:  Yes

     Ismae was born with terrible scars on her back because her father is Death and her mother tried to have her killed before she was born.   Later, Ismae’s stepfather sells her into a terrible arranged marriage.  Once her new husband sees her scars he believes Ismae to be cursed and starts to beat her.  She is rescued and sent to a convent where everyone works for Death.  Ismae comes to find she has talents for working as an assassin whenever Death shows her the mark that someone should die.  She is sent on a mission to help a man named Gavriel to protect a young girl who has recently taken power over a big nation.  Ismae knows there is a traitor amongst the duchess’s advisors, but is not as prepared for the task as she thought she would be.  Can Ismae find the traitor who threatens to put an entire kingdom in jeopardy before it is overtaken by enemies?  Can she trust Gavriel as her convent believes or is he in fact hiding any secrets of his own?

     This book is getting a lot of attention because it is engaging right from the beginning.  Any reader naturally wants to know more about Ismae’s skills as well as who is betraying the young duchess.  The characters are all memorable, which is important in a book with so many characters any of which could be the traitor.   The ending is satisfying and readers will want to see more of this character to find out what she is capable of.  Fans of Graceling and Star Crossed will enjoy this title as well.

Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Romance

# of Pages:  358

RAC Book:  Yes

This sequel to the Bright Young Things novel picks up with Letty, Astrid, and Cordelia.  Cordelia is settling into her new life with her newly discovered brother, but still feels very responsible for their father’s death and is dying for a way to make herself useful.  When her brother, Charlie, decides to open a speakeasy he chooses her to run it.  Letty is still trying to get her singing career off the ground and is hopeful there might be a place for her in Cordelia’s club, but things do not turn out exactly as she planned.  Astrid is still partying and hoping Charlie will get serious about his proposal to her, but she finds her mother’s lack of support for her engagement confusing.

The setting is fun and flirty and of course several men wander through that will inevitably become important to these young women.  The women do grow and change, but the beginning is a bit slow and some readers might not make it to the end to see how the characters evolve.  The eventual paths these three take will make readers want to know more about them and what will eventually become of them, especially as the 20s come to an end.  A fun story set in a fun time that will intrigue romance and historical fiction readers.

Gordon Ryder’s Blues by Jeff Dee

Genre:  Historical fiction

# of Pages:  165

RAC Book:  No

Gordon Ryder is navigating his junior year in high school during the year 1969.  His father has recently moved out and his mother has responded by being extremely overprotective.  When he meets a confident, attractive hippie he decides to get to know her better.  Myra invites him to a walkout and then a rally and he thinks it’s a good idea to show his disapproval of the war, especially since his best friend lost a brother to it.  The book reads as an adventure story that primarily happens in one day, so many things are not resolved at the end of the night.  Will his parents reconcile?  How will his best friend cope with the loss of his brother?  Will he ever get together with Myra?

The setting of this story is unique and many students will identify with the ideas and beliefs of the time depicted.  The characters are interesting, but it’s difficult to get to know them when the entire story takes place in one day.  The relationships between Gordon’s parents, Gordon and his mother, and Gordon and his friends are all relatable to teens of any age.  The setting of the story will be enough to entice many readers to pick this one up.

Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  330

RAC:  Yes

The five Taylor sisters live with their mother in Spirit Vale where she works as a medium who speaks to dead people.  The older sisters, Mimi and Jane, have long doubted their mother’s clairvoyance abilities, but their younger sisters all seem to believe.  The twins even seem to have a special gift of their own.  When their fates all collide together on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, Jane becomes worried when her twin sisters show fear that something bad will befall the ship.  Can all of the sisters survive one of the world’s most famous disasters?

This story weaves true and false facts about the Titanic’s famous fall.  The introduction of the Taylor sisters adds a bit of intrigue as they explore the very popular trend of clairvoyance for the time.  Famous faces make appearances throughout the story and are fun for reader’s to identify.  The motivations of the five sisters are all clear and justified as they each try to find their own way in this world, but the ending is unexpected and not everyone makes it to New York.  Recommended to fans of historical fiction and the Titanic.

The Returning by Jean Sorrell

Genre:  Realistic/Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  245

RAC Book:  Yes

This heartwarming story follows a young girl named Sara, who never gives up hope that her father will return from WWII despite the six years since his disappearance.  She meets a young girl named Nathalie, who is a Jewish refugee, and the two of them become close friends.  Nathalie’s father is still missing as well.  When a new preacher comes to town named Emmett, the two of them begin to wonder if he is either Sara’s missing father or if his spirit was transferred into his body.  The man looks remarkably like him, but does suffer from some facial scars, which make it hard to prove.  Also, he has no memory of anything before Iwo Jima.  Sara and Nathalie find a book about soul transference and start to wonder if this is in fact her father.  Unfortunately, no one else wants to see the similarities between Emmett and Sara’s father and they begin to pressure her to let the situation drop and accept that her father is dead.  Can Sara give up on her father?  Will Emmett ever get his memory back?

This story is both historical and modern at the same time, which many readers will find refreshing.  A lot of people like to read about WWII era stories, but Sorrell has managed to put a new and unexpected twist on this time period with her introduction of soul transference.  She also does a nice job of developing all of the characters so that the reader can understand how each person feels in this difficult situation.  The friendship between the two girls is pure and complex, which makes their actions believable and understandable.  The story will draw in readers from the beginning and hold them until the end.

 

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

Genre:  Historical Fiction

RAC:  Yes

This WWII story follows Sarah in 1942 and Julia in 2002.  Sarah’s family is rounded up by the French police and sent to a detention center, but her little brother refused to go and hid in a small closet in their room.  Sarah locked him in and kept the key promising to come back later in the day for him.  She did not think they would actually be detained since it was the French police and not the Germans rounding them up. When she realized she would not be going back to her home her and her father tried to leave to get her brother, but the police would not allow them out.  She held onto the key for weeks praying to find a way back to him.  In 2002 Julia is a reporter who is assigned an article on the roundup of Jewish families by French police.  She is shocked to find that many people living in Paris had no idea such a thing took place.  As she comes across Sarah’s story she becomes determined to find out what happened to the little girl.

This is a different angle on a topic that has been covered in numerous ways.  As the story moves between Sarah and Julia you cannot help but get immersed in finding out what happened to Sarah and her family.  Sarah’s journey is truly amazing and realistic as she is forced to face adult issues as a child.  The characters are written incredibly well in a complex, multi-faceted way.  Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about this era.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

**Student Review** by Chloe Hlas

Genre:  Historical Fiction

I think one of the main themes of this book was to poke fun at people who during the Renaissance, still believed in Middle Ages chivalry. The author basically murders the concept of knights displaying chivalry through Don Quixote’s hilariously ridiculous adventures. This book really helped me understand the Middle Ages mindset, and how the Renaissance evolved from it. Don Quixote’s incessant belief in all of the chivalrous concepts he’s read about in his old books brilliantly illustrates how people thought at the time, and how they themselves ridiculed anyone who had believed what they had once believed during the late Middle Ages, and on through the Renaissance.  This book was definitely worth reading to me, and significantly helped me in my studies of the late Middle Ages-Renaissance era. This book is designed to be humorous, yet informative at the same time to anyone learning about the mindset shift from late Middle Ages to Renaissance. It showed how people during the Renaissance time period reacted to fellow community members who believed in knights displaying a certain degree of chivalry.

This book was very useful to me, especially when studying the differences between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (particularly the state of mind). It was amusing to read about all of Don Quixote’s adventures as he set out to save others and conquer evil, all in the name of his beloved lady, Dulcinea del Toboso. He devotes all of his actions to her, fighting windmills and saving princesses kidnapped by monks all in her name. I hadn’t expected Sancho to lie to Don Quixote and say that an evil enchanter has transformed his love, Dulcinea, into a peasant girl, which practically drives Don Quixote crazy as he strives to change her back. Sancho had been Don Quixote’s right hand man the whole book, and always tried to keep him out of ridiculous situations, and it shocked me that he would do something like that, which he knew would affect Don Quixote so deeply. However, it was hilarious to read about what the Duke and Duchess tell him would undo the hoax of Dulcinea’s enchantment. This was definitely a good book, and I certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys books that mock historic time periods. I would’ve read this book on my own time, outside of class.

 

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

**Student Review** by Lauren Pyle

Genre: Historical Fiction

Told from five different points of view, The Poisonwood Bible incorporates the cultural arrogance of the United States with the ancient traditions of a Congolese village. During the 1950s, a radical Baptist minister, Nathan Price, brings his family to Africa in order to save the “unenlightened” souls of the Congolese. His four daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May, narrate the novel in the present tense with varying attitudes towards their new life. His wife, Orleanna, however, tells her side of the story as though grieving over past events, creating foreshadowing for the reader.

The oldest daughter, Rachel, is a materialistic teenager who hates her new life, while her younger sisters are excited, though each for their own reasons. Leah, for example, is overly enthused, like her father, at the prospect of welcoming more souls into their newly established Baptist church, while her twin sister Adah, a cripple and mute, silently observes her new surroundings with interest, though slightly detached from the rest of her family. The youngest Price daughter, Ruth May, quickly becomes friends with the children of the village and spends hours exploring the surrounding area.

The conversion of the villagers to the Baptist faith proves difficult, and Nathan Price faces many challenges in the old traditions and blasphemous (according to Reverent Price) rituals of the Congolese. He and the chief have several disagreements on the incorporation of Jesus into the Congolese faith. Meanwhile, the Price family begins to grow apart due to their varying faith convictions, and the headstrong Leah butts heads with her father over many issues. Amidst all these familial battles, the battle for the independence of the country is taking place, causing anxiety for the whole village. It appears as though the Price family, who hoped to stay in the country for at most a year, will have to stay longer due to tensions between the United States and the Congo. Dry spells, disease, violence, and the death of one of the Price family members threaten to widen the divide between the women of the Price family and Nathan Price.

This story is breathtakingly beautiful in its storytelling, and incorporates the many aspects of light versus dark, religious intolerance, familial relations and love, growing up, the ideas of individuality and true justice, as well as many other universal themes. Kingsolver creates many wonderful and three-dimensional characters for the reader to enjoy, including many villagers, a CIA operative pilot, a foulmouthed parrot, the six-toed religious leader of the village, and a young schoolteacher, with whom Leah falls in love. The story itself is a political allegory that focuses on the point the author wishes to make clear to all: the guilt that all citizens of the United States share when violence is done and they “sit passively by”. The author, Barbara Kingsolver, expertly handled the story’s plot and situation, almost as if she had been there herself (which she hadn’t). Personally, I loved the book, and it seems to be a feel-good story, in its own way. For those who didn’t like Cry, the Beloved Country, trust me, this is completely different (I would know, because I really didn’t like Cry, the Beloved Country). I would give this novel five stars, for sure, because it often made me close the book and think about our society today, and how we must respond to crises similar to the ones in this book. RECOMMENDED.

 

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Romance

# of Pages:  389

RAC Book:  Yes

Anna Godbersen, the author of the Luxe series, has created a new and interesting series with Bright Young Things.  The story follows three young girls trying to make a life for themselves in New York City in the summer of 1929.  Letty and Cordelia run away from Ohio after Cordelia is forced into a marriage she does not believe in.  Letty’s goal is to sing for adoring fans, while Cordelia wants to find her long, lost father.  Meanwhile, Astrid is already rich and fashionable in New York, but desperately wants her boyfriend, Charlie, to show her the commitment she feels she deserves.  As the three girls’ lives intertwine the spirit and innocence of this time comes through in a way that will keep readers eager for more.

Godbersen once again created characters that readers will care about with a backdrop of the Roaring 20s at its best.  Many interesting characters are introduced, some a bit on the unsavory side, which keeps the reader guessing as to the true motives of everyone.  There are some remarkable coincidences in this story, which tends to happen in Godbersen’s stories, but most readers will be so caught up in the story they will be easily overlooked.  This is a fun, fresh, and exciting historical fiction novel for teens.

Past World by Ian Beck

Genre:  Fantasy

# of Pages:  353

RAC Book:  Yes

Pastworld is a theme park designed to look exactly like 1880′s London.  In this historically accurate world, anyone who comes to visit must abide by the dress, laws, language, and even technology found at this time.  Some people were born in Pastworld and do not realize it is merely a tourist attraction utilized mainly by the wealthy.  Others, like Caleb, travel to the old London in order to see what life was like back then.  The problem is that crime definitely existed in the 1880s and has crept up again in this new city.  Law officials are forbidden from using any technology not found during the 1880s to solve crimes.  When a Jack the Ripper type serial killer starts killing innocent people there seems to be no way of stopping him.  Meanwhile, Caleb is blamed for a crime he did not commit and must go on the run or risk spending the rest of his life in a historically accurate prison with an archaic judicial system.

The idea behind this story is very intriguing and sets itself up with lots of details and interesting characters.  The Fantom, or serial killer, is an interesting idea but the character ends the story feeling unfinished and undeveloped.  Readers who enjoy fantasy or historical fiction will enjoy the idea of this interesting tourist attraction, but may find the ending a bit abrupt and unsatisfying.

Elephant Run by Roland Smith

 

Genre:  Historical fiction

# of pages:  318 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Iowa Teen Award 2010

Nick Freestone is living with his mother in London during 1941.  When the blitz begins she sends him to live with his dad in Burma, only life isn’t much better there as the Japanese invade his father’s plantation.  Nick is held captive and forced to work as a slave and his father is sent to a prison camp.  Mya, a native girl whose family has always worked the plantation, is trapped as a slave with Nick because her brother has been sent to a prison camp as well.  When life begins to get worse for them on the plantation they decide to make a clever, but risky escape attempt in order to save Nick’s father and Mya’s brother.

Roland Smith always does a nice job of telling unique stories from different cultural places and times.  Elephant Run is no exception as Smith delves into WWII from an angle many adults and students do not usually hear about.  The invasion of Burma by the Japanese will be interesting to young readers studying this time or who just like adventure books.  The cultural aspects of life in Burma are described well and the characters are well developed.  A very unique adventure story that will keep Roland Smith fans coming back to find out what he will write about next.   

Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell

 

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  163 p.

2010 Iowa Teen Award Winner

RAC Book:  No

Twelve-year-old Jamie is excited when she hears her older brother, T.J., has enlisted in the Army.  Their father is a Colonel and they have lived all of their lives on army bases.  She would love to go fight for her country too if they would let her.  She is surprised when their father does not want T.J. to go to Vietnam.  He does everything he can to convince her brother to back out of his enlistment agreement, but T.J. persists and is sent to Vietnam almost immediately after basic training.  He sends generic letters home to his parents, but he sends rolls of film to Jamie.  She learns how to develop film by herself so that she is the first one to see the prints and she is surprised by the content of the film.  First of all, the war does not look at all as glamorous as she thought it would.  Secondly, there are many pictures of the moon, which make her wonder what her brother is trying to show her with the pictures.  Jamie soon decides she is not so thrilled about her big brother fighting in the war anymore. 

This Vietnam tale is a great way to introduce the Vietnam War to students this age.  Jamie’s perspective of the young child who sees war as glamour and heroes quickly changes when she starts seeing what is going on over there.  Her father is a well-written character as he is the one who describes some of the errors in the strategy used in the war.  The emotions and feelings of soldiers and families help the reader to truly get into the story and feel what it would be like to be in their position.  A very well-written book on a very difficult topic.



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