Archive for the 'Historical Fiction' Category

Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey

suitorsImogene Chively has been raised to find a wealthy husband in 1917 England and her family believes they have done just that when she attracts the interest of Ernest, but unfortunately, Imogene is much more intrigued by his younger brother, Benjamin.  Ernest is perfectly friendly and accommodating but she feels they have very little in common while Benjamin is an architect’s apprentice and desperately needs her help in improving his drawing skills so that he can bring his architectural visions to life.  As the two work together they begin to get closer and closer which makes Imogene wonder if she is brave enough to go against her family’s wishes and reject the heir for the younger working class brother.  Meanwhile, a series of unfortunate accidents leads Imogene to believe that someone is trying to do Benjamin harm and no one believes her.  She grows more frustrated as the incidents escalate and everyone dismisses her warnings since she is a young woman.  Is there someone trying to harm Benjamin and if so why?  Will she find the strength to be with the man of her dreams versus the one who can give her a comfortable life?

This Junior Library Guild selection mixes light romance with a little intrigue in a historical setting.  Imogene is very modern in her thinking for this time, but she is still contained by the expectations of a young lady of her class in 1917.  Her growing aspirations as an artist are also an issue for her and she faces the repercussions when she tries to break free from the constraints set upon her by the times and her family.  Fans of historical fiction romance will enjoy this lighter title.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Genre: Historical Fiction

# of Pages: 372

Iowa Teen Award Winner 2018-19

In 1845 Sammy, a Chinese American teenager flees her town after her father unexpectedly dies and she realizes there is no one else she can trust.  She’s hoping to chase down her father’s business partner who recently departed for California on the Oregan Trail.  She convinces Annamae, an African American slave to join her on the run. They disguise themselves as boys since the Oregan trail can be so dangerous with gangs and other threats.  Annamae is hoping to find her brother who was sold separately from her and she has not seen for many years.  Even as they befriend three young men on the trip and manage to avoid thieves, disease, and even wild animal attacks they know eventually they will have to go their separate ways and at this time they are the closest thing to family each of them has.  Can they find a way to survive the Oregan Trail?  Will they find what they are looking for?

This historical fiction book tackles an area that students have probably never seen before and that is what it would have been like to be on the Oregan trail at all, but also for those people who were labeled as minorities at the time.  How would that make life harder for them than everyone else?  How would they know who they could trust?  Sammy and Annamae have a really difficult road ahead of them, but they stick together and never give up which helps them to survive.  Even though it is a historical fiction book I think fans of survival stories would also enjoy this title.  The characters are multi-dimensional and well developed which helps the readers truly understand their motivations.  Recommended.

The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill

Genre:  Historical Fiction Mystery

# of pages:  349

Piper is living on the outskirts of 1920s Chicago.  As she nears the end of her senior year she is startled to learn that her best friend, Lydia, is suffering from seizures and her own family has not told her about them because they do not want to upset her.  Piper has witnessed two of these episodes and both have frightened her terribly.  She’s not that surprised when Lydia arrives on her doorstep one afternoon distraught because her parents want to send her to the Mayo Clinic mere weeks before graduation.  Piper is sad to see Lydia leave, but understands why her parents feel she needs medical attention.  She watches Lydia walk the short distance to her house and waves at her from her white picket fence and that’s the last Piper sees of her best friend before Lydia’s family notifies her that Lydia never came home.   As the police begin investigating Lydia’s murder Piper can’t help but begin investigating herself a bit by retracing Lydia’s last steps and finding that not everyone is telling her the truth about that night.  Many people around Piper believe she should leave the crime solving to the police and act more like a traditional lady, but Piper believes she may be the only one who can truly find out what happened to Lydia that fateful day.

This mystery is well written and engaging.  The 1920s backdrop is fun as Piper tries to become a more modern woman at a time when that earned you a ruler to the back of the hand in school.  When it counts, Piper’s family support her even if they don’t approve of her behavior all the time.  There are many intriguing characters which helps to keep the mystery more difficult for Piper to solve.  The mystery itself holds up as everything is properly explained in a plausible way, but it is still challenging for Piper to solve.  Highly recommended.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

salt to the sea

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  391

RAC:  Yes

In this companion to Between Shades of Gray, a group of individual refugees are trying to escape the final dangers of war as the Russians close in.  Joana, Emilia, Florian, and a few others end up coming together to try and escape the final horrors of this war.  They endure many difficulties on their journey (and they all have their secrets), but eventually make it to the ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff and are granted passage to freedom.  The ship is meant to carry 1500 passengers and instead thousands of women, children, and wounded soldiers fill every corridor of this luxury liner.  Unfortunately, tragedy and heartache are not behind them quite yet.

The characters in this book are all different and yet interesting in their own way.  They’re all escaping something and wish to forget their pasts yet for various reasons they cannot. The story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is in itself very interesting because it was a bigger tragedy than the Titanic, but yet very few people even know about it.  Sepetys always finds a way to tell the stories of those people and events that were not properly told in history books.  Students at my school have greatly enjoyed learning about Stalin’s regime in Between Shades of Gray and I think they will also enjoy this title and its unique perspective on this terrible war.

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

secrets she kept

Genre:  Historical fiction

# of Pages:  405

RAC:  Yes

This title has been on my list to read for awhile and it was worth the wait.  Hannah and her mother have never been close, but when her mother dies of Cancer she finds herself lashing out at those around her as if she’s struggling more than she expected.  After going through her mother’s things she realizes that not only was her mother German, not Austrian like she’d always been told, but she still had a living grandfather in Germany.  She decides to go see him and try to learn why her mother was the way she was.  Meanwhile, the story keeps flashing back to Hannah’s mother, Lieselotte as a girl growing up with the ever growing Nazi presence.  Lieselotte’s father and brother become completely engaged in the Nazi party, but she finds herself horrified by the injustices she’s seeing around her.  She works with a family who was very kind to her mother as she lay dying of Cancer, to aid those being chased from their homes.  Hannah slowly uncovers what happened to her mother and why she never told her about her past or her grandfather.

This is a fresh take on WWII fiction in that it really depicts what it was like growing up in Germany during this time no matter where your loyalties laid.  At the same time it depicts the lingering affects of WWII and the Nazi mentality.  Since Hannah was born and raised in the U.S. she has a hard time understanding why there are still so many hard feelings until it is explained to her just how bad things got for Jews during this time.  The story unfolds nicely and it’s easy to see why Lieselotte ended up feeling bitter and betrayed.  Highly recommended.

The Princess Spy by Melanie Dickerson

princess spy

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  293

RAC:  Yes

Margaretha lives on her father’s estate in Germany and knows she must choose a suitor to marry soon.  When a man named Claybrook comes and begins to woo her she thinks he might be the one, but then an injured man is brought to the healer’s cottage from England.  She is one of the few people around who knows English and she translates what he’s saying.  He followed a man named Claybrook from England in order to make him pay for murdering a young girl, but instead Claybrook’s men beat him and left him for dead in the street.  Margaretha is unsure who to believe, but decides to spy on Claybrook and learns he is plotting to murder her father and take over his estate.  Can she save her family and her family’s land without alerting the wrong people to the threat?  Does she know whom she can trust?  Is she equipped for such a venture?

This is a fun, fast paced adventure story in which Margaretha and her new companion from England try to save her family from a very miserable future in which they are pushed out of their own land by sheer force and violence.  There are many twists in the plot as Claybrook tends to be one step ahead of them at all times.  Many of the characters lack depth, but they do not need to be over developed since the plot rests mainly on Margaretha and her English gentleman.  Fans of other period stories like The Selection and The Queen of Someday will enjoy this title.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

code-name-verity

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  343

RAC:  Yes

Verity is a young female British spy who is captured in France while on a mission simply for looking the wrong way when crossing the street.  The first half of the novel is Verity’s written confession about her incarceration, interrogation, and even torture by the Gestapo for information on the British.  Some of the things she says seem tedious or unimportant, but in the second half you hear from her best friend, Maddie, who is a female pilot working for Britain.  She was the pilot who flew Verity in on her mission, but her plane was hit and Verity had been forced to jump out with a parachute leaving both of them unaware of the other’s fate.  Maddie ended up crashing, but then found herself stranded in a land where if she were caught she would definitely be put in jail as well.  As Maddie’s story is told some of the facts Verity mentioned suddenly make sense.  All of this leads up to the shocking ending when the reader learns what happens to these two dedicated friends.

This title has received amazing reviews and for good reason.  The story is captivating, intriguing, mysterious, and unique.  Verity and Maddie’s friendship ends up reflecting just how important these relationships were during wartime.  The very beginning starts a little slow as the setting it set, but eventually this leads up to an exciting premise as these two unique voices tell their tales of female involvement in WWII.  Highly recommended.

Queen of Someday by Sherry D. Ficklin

queen of someday

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  249

RAC:  Yes

Sophie has been summoned to Russia to meet with the Empress and her nephew, the heir to the throne.  Sophie’s mother has impressed upon Sophie how important it is for their family to secure a match with the prince because they have many debts and are in danger of losing their title and land.  Once Sophie arrives in Russia it becomes clear that the prince is very self involved and wants all attention on him at all times.  She begins to spend a lot of time with her Russian tutor, Sergei, and one of the prince’s men, Alexander.  Eventually, Sophie begins to have affection for Alexander and she knows how much trouble she would be in if anyone ever found out.  Meanwhile, she is informed that she must learn fluent Russian and convert to Greek Orthodox before she can marry the prince.  Can she turn her back on her family and marry the man she loves or must she marry a man she finds vile in order to save her family?

Loosely based on Catherine the Great, Ficklin makes no apologies for any historical inaccuracies.  The story is interesting in that very little is written in the young adult category for this era in historical fiction.  Due to the fact that it is based on true events, there are some twists to the story that may shock and dismay readers, but is essential in order to follow the arch of Catherine’s life.  The characters are interesting and written so that they are not easily confused.  Fans of series such as The Luxe or Cleopatra’s Daughter will enjoy this title.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

housegirl

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  372

RAC:  Yes

Lina is a lawyer at a high profile firm in New York City.  She is assigned a bizarre slavery reparations case in which she is challenged to find a modern day descendant of a slave who can claim damages today.  She ends up coming across a story about a famous artist, Lu Anne Bell who was credited with wonderful paintings of the slaves on her plantation before her death in 1852.  Some recent criticism has come up in which experts are speculating the artist was actually the young slave girl, Josephine.  Can Lina prove that Josephine was the artist instead of Lu Anne?  Can she find a descendant of Josephine when there is no evidence of what happened to her after Lu Anne’s death?  Can she do it in time for the unimaginable deadline that her boss has set for her?

No one denies that many injustices occurred while slavery was still legal in the U.S., but this book reminds us that there are still many stories to tell.  Although, this is a fictional story it does remind us that each slave had a name and a story and people are interested in learning those.  The way the story is told pulls the reader in through old letters and documents.  It seems impossible to right the wrongs that occurred back then, but there are still truths that can overcome the lies that have pervaded history.  Fans of Sarah’s Key and Between Shades of Gray will enjoy this title as another book that sheds a different light on a big piece of history.

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.


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