Book Review: Hattie Ever After

March 15, 2013

When Kirby Larson revealed two years ago on Damsels that she was working on a sequel to her Newbery-honor book Hattie Big Sky, my comment was “Be still my heart!”  And I meant it.  Hattie Big Sky is one of my favorite books and it was the book my grad school mentor told me to study as a template for plotting a somewhat quiet, first-person historical novel.  Kirby claims that she felt like Hattie’s story was over when her homesteading adventure came to a close.  Glad to know I wasn’t the only reader who didn’t agree.

At her launch party in the indie bookstore near the Seattle suburb where Kirby and I both live, she showed pictures of fan letters begging to know what happened to Hattie next.  To me and these letter-writers, there were enough loose ends in Hattie’s story that a sequel seemed almost a given.  After writing two picture books and two middle grade novels, Kirby was finally persuaded to dig into this herself.  The result:

hattie-ever-afterIs that not the most gorgeous, inviting cover you’ve ever seen?  And it’s only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.  Hattie Brooks, an orphan who called herself “Hattie Here-and-There” most of her life, has had a taste of a home of her own on the Montana prairie and is determined to settle into a permanent home somewhere.  She takes a chance to get herself from Montana to San Francisco, where dreams of being a newspaper reporter begin to take shape.  But a girl has to support herself on more than just dreams, so Hattie’s first newspaper job isn’t typing at a desk but rather cleaning the desks after the reporters go home for the night.  On her “lunch” breaks, Hattie learns her way around the paper’s morgue, trying to find information about her Uncle Chester, who had lived there before coming to Montana.  His only letter to her said that he had been a “scoundrel,” but Hattie will learn that scoundrels as well as kind souls come in all shapes and sizes.

Oh, and remember Charlie, her school chum from Iowa?  He has his own dreams for Hattie’s new home, and he won’t take no for an answer.

Some books I rush through to see what happens next, but this is one I savored, loving Hattie’s practical, humorous take on the world and Kirby’s painstaking attention to historical detail.  Like all good historical novels, it made me want to travel to its setting, so a trip to San Francisco may be in my near future.  But even if not, the book was definitely a satisfying answer to this fan’s pondering of “What happens next?”


Book Review: Courtship & Curses

August 7, 2012
Courtship & Curses
Marissa Doyle
Historical Fantasy
Ages 14 and up
352 pages

Lady Sophie Rosier is anticipating her first London social season with less than full enthusiasm. It’s no wonder. An illness two years previously left her with one leg shorter than the other. Her aunts bicker over dull fabric colors at the dressmaker’s shop and can’t come to a decision—one wouldn’t want to wear a bright color and call attention to one’s infirmity, would one? Not to mention the ignorance of many in Society who think that since she’s crippled, she must also be dimwitted or hunchbacked.

Yet worse than this is the fact that Sophie’s mother and younger sister died from the same illness that left her lame. Sophie still deals with the pain and grief of their absence. Thank goodness that Madame Carswell—Amelie—has come to stay with Sophie’s family. The widow of one of Sophie’s father’s oldest friends, Amelie understands both Sophie’s grief and the need to not be constantly reminded of her leg. She also understands current fashion and takes over the selection of a wardrobe for an extremely grateful Sophie.

So begins Marissa Doyle’s Courtship & Curses, a novel filled with mystery, romance, and magic in 1815 London. Napoleon is back in power and England is on the brink of war. Sophie’s first social event is marred when a bust of Zeus crashes to the floor. If not for the quick action of the handsome Lord Woodbridge, the statue would have hit her father—a War Office minister. And Sophie senses magic at the scene, which can only mean it was no accident. But Sophie can’t tell people how she knows, because while magic is around, it isn’t commonplace.

Accidents continue to happen to War Office members. Sophie shares her concerns with her new friends Lord Woodbridge—Peregrine—and his cousin Parthenope, and finally with her father, who doesn’t take her fears seriously. Still, Sophie is determined to do whatever she can to keep him safe. Meanwhile, a budding romance grows between Sophie and Peregrine.

I really enjoyed Courtship & Curses. The mystery is well done, with suspicion falling on several different characters. The romance is sweet—even during its rough patches—with both Peregrine and Sophie behaving with realistic motivation. And Parthenope is such a fun character that she almost steals scenes from Sophie. But Sophie has much to struggle with during the course of the book and she grows stronger and more confident as the story progresses.

The author of Bewitching Season and Betraying Season, Doyle weaves all the threads of the book together with her usual expertise. The historical details, including the slang of the time period, make for a fun read. I highly recommend it for lovers of historical fantasy.

Make sure to check back on Thursday for an interview with author Marissa Doyle!


Book Review: Glory Be

May 22, 2012
Glory Be
Augusta Scattergood
Historical Fiction
Middle Grade
208 Pages

I admit it. I’ve read very few novels set in the 1960s or 70s. Typically they just don’t quite live up to my expectations for that time period. Most of the books are centered around segregation, and I find they’re either too preachy or lack enough seriousness on the topic. I’d heard so many good things about Glory Be though, that I was excited to read it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it definitely exceeded my expectations!

Glory Be takes place during the summer of 1964 in a small town in Mississippi. Gloriana, affectionately known as Glory, is looking forward to a summer of swimming in the public pool and impatiently awaiting her twelfth birthday. Things start to go downhill fast though! It all starts with the pool closing, because of supposed needed repairs. Glory doesn’t understand the real reason behind the closing and is worried that she won’t be able to hold her birthday party there, like she does every year. Her strong headedness and unrelenting need to understand why the pool has “really” been closed pulls her into the troubling issues of segregation.

As she watches adults, deals with her ex-best friend Frankie, and spies on her sister Jesslyn, Glory’s understanding of segregation and how it is wrong grows. She takes action, in her own way, trying to make her voice heard.

What I really liked about the book is it wasn’t just about discrimination. Glory also struggles with her older sister Jesslyn, who suddenly has a new boyfriend and doesn’t have the time of day for her. Being an older sister and having gone through the same thing, their relationship really rang true to me and added to the story. Glory has difficulties with her best friend and she also meets new people and learns from them. The heart of the story does deal with a difficult topic, but the story is also about sisters, love, friendship, understanding, courage, and forgiveness.


On a side note, take a moment to check out Scholastic’s Mother Daughter Book Club. Glory Be is Scholastic’s first book! They’re offering a free Skype visit with the author! And there are some great discussion questions and a recipe that was adapted from the book!

Be sure to take a moment to check out Augusta Scattergood’s wonderful blog and webpage

Book Review: Her Own Devices

April 17, 2012
Her Own Devices
Shelley Adina
Young Adult

When I finished Lady of Devices, the first book in Shelley Adina’s “Magnificent Devices” series, I knew one thing for sure—I’d definitely be back for more. How could I resist Victorian England, airship travel, and steam-powered cars? Or a heroine who, despite setbacks in her life, uses her brain to overcome difficulties, and eventually ends up leading an underworld gang? I couldn’t. So I was more than ready to read about seventeen-year-old Lady Claire Trevelyan’s further adventures in book two, Her Own Devices.

The story begins with Lady Claire starting her job as assistant to engineer Andrew Malvern. Here she hopes to learn and get a letter of recommendation so that she’ll be accepted into engineering school at university. But Andrew’s experiment with slow-burning coal isn’t working, so Lady Claire, with the help of a member of her gang, works on a solution. Adventures ensue!

Adina’s plot has smoothly placed twists and turns that kept me riveted. Along with the fun “what if?” aspect of steampunk, the story highlights the difficulties women in the late 19th century had when they wanted to further their education. Society’s constraints and the plain ignorance of men over a woman’s abilities played a key role. But Lady Claire doesn’t let it stop her. Despite the manipulations of her fiance/nemesis Lord James and the confusion over a budding romance with Andrew, Claire learns to stay true to herself.

This review is more of a recommendation for an entire series, rather than just one book. With any luck (and Adina’s hard work), the third book, Magnificent Devices, could be ready by September as an e-book. Check these out. I think you’ll be glad you did. Oh, and the covers are stunning, don’t you think?

Don’t forget to visit again on Thursday when we’ll have an interview with author Shelley Adina.


Book Review: The Trouble with May Amelia

March 19, 2012

The Trouble with May Amelia
Jennifer L. Holm
Ages 8+
224 pages

I read Jennifer L. Holm’s Newbery Honor winner, Our Only May Amelia, a few years back.  I was taken in immediately by May Amelia’s hilarious rants about living in a household with seven older brothers.  The writing style departs from the norm–no quotation marks (all dialogue comes across as May Amelia, the first-person narrator, saying that someone said something), and capitalization awarded to various emphasized words.  The result was that I read it within twenty-four hours, laughing and crying all the way.

Imagine my delight, then, when I heard of last year’s sequel, The Trouble with May Amelia.  I had no trouble at all falling as much in love with this book as I had with the first.  Both are set in southern Washington state in 1899-1900, where farming, logging, and navigating the Columbia River to the nearest city, Astoria, Oregon, are the struggles of the day.  Most of the people in May Amelia’s tight-knit community are Finnish, and English is not widely spoken except in school.  May Amelia’s fair grasp of English gives her a way to serve her father, who is often annoyed with her inability to be either a proper young lady or a boy.  She translates a deal for him when a businessman comes to town, promising the end of their hardships with the land for investment in a new community.

But before that can come to pass, May Amelia and her pascal of brothers have their fair share of adventures–out-smarting a harsh new teacher, out-running a vicious bull, and nursing one of their own back to health after a logging accident, to name a few.  May Amelia doesn’t spare us any of the harsh realities of her life, but she doesn’t skimp on the victories or the sweet moments, either.  In the end, she’s a few steps closer to knowing that it’s okay to be herself, even if there’s no one else quite like her.

Please stay tuned for an interview with author Jenni Holm on Wednesday, and a chance to win a copy of the brand-new The Trouble with May Amelia audio CDs starting Friday.

Book Review: Hourglass

February 7, 2012

Myra McEntire
Time Travel
Ages 14+
397 pages

Southern Belles from the 1950s, Civil War Soldiers, and 1920s jazz trios: what do they all have in common? They’re all poltergeist seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole has started to see since her parent’s death a few years ago. All she wants is for these apparitions to disappear so she can lead a normal life. Nothing she’s tried has worked though. She agrees to try one last “cure” when her well-meaning brother hires a consultant from a mysterious organization known as Hourglass.

In enters mysterious, sympathetic and cute Michael Weaver. Michael is an anomaly to Emerson. He believes every word she says, but despite his faith in her and his assurances that he’s there to help her, there’s something she doesn’t trust about him. It doesn’t help that strange things happen whenever they’re in the same room.

Hourglass is a novel of mystery and romance that merges with science fiction and tosses in a good dose of the paranormal. Ultimately though, it won me over because of its fascinating use of time travel. I can’t remember why I requested Hourglass. I couldn’t even remember what it was about when the library said it was waiting for me, so imagine my surprise when about a third of the way through I realized it was a time travel book! A few months back I wrote a post called “Time Travel: Beginnings” where I looked at the beginnings of time travel novels and how they typically were their weakest points. In general I claimed that the time travel needs to start very early on in the story. There are exceptions to every rule though (or in this case, claim). The time travel might not have started until a third of the way through, but it worked. I’m not going to explain how the time travel worked because I’d give away too much of the plot, but it was well plotted and very consistent. The concept behind it was fascinating. The pacing built and built until all hell broke loose (keeping me up well past my bed time). Ultimately the strength of this book really does lie in how well the time travel was used to advance the plot.

All the characters in this book are blessed with good looks. It has bothered some readers, but I didn’t mind it as it wasn’t unbelievable and it didn’t take away from the story…and well I like tall dark and handsome men! So, some “written” eye candy isn’t always bad. Back to Emerson though. She starts out in a vulnerable place when we meet her, always unsure of who’s “real” and who’s not, with no one to talk to about who these apparitions are and what they want from her. As the novel progresses she learns to trust her instincts more. She still has many of the doubts that initially haunted her but she starts to confront them rather than hide from them as she once did. One thing I like best about her is she makes decisions, her own decisions. Good, bad, or catastrophic they’re hers and she learns from them and accepts responsibility for her actions.

This book has received mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it. The combination of strong writing and a clever plot left me unable to put Hourglass down. Give the book a shot, especially if you’re a time travel fanatic like me. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Book Review: Cleopatra Confesses

November 28, 2011
Cleopatra Confesses
Carolyn Meyer
Historical fiction
Ages 12+
304 pages

In the twenty-third year of King Ptolemy XII’s reign, ten-year-old Cleopatra learns that her father’s fleet has been spotted outside of Alexandria’s Great Harbor. Too excited to wait in her quarters, she dresses like a servant and sneaks off to the public marketplace. Here she watches as workers prepare the docks for the king’s arrival from Rome.

Commoners grumble about cruel overseers and high taxes, and Cleopatra can see that the people don’t live well. How much of that is her father’s fault? He’s been gone for almost a year on a mission to placate the Roman triumvirate so they will support him as ruler of Egypt. Knowing her father was worried when he left, Cleopatra is eaten up with anticipation.

So begins a fascinating tale, rich in historical detail. In Cleopatra Confesses, author Carolyn Meyer takes the reader on a journey with the royalty of ancient Egypt, presenting their excesses, foibles, and political maneuverings.

Cleopatra is the third of the king’s six children and is considered his favorite. She shares his intelligence and concern over Egypt. And even though she’s young when the story begins, she’s well aware of the murderous threat her older sisters and others represent to both her father’s rule and her own expected succession to the crown.

Meyer wrote Cleopatra’s story in the present tense. I don’t usually even notice present tense in books anymore, but in this instance, it brought an immediacy to the narrative that drew me deeper into Cleopatra’s hopes and fears.

I choose this book because I’d never read fiction set in ancient Egypt. Is it just me, or is there an overabundance of YA books set in Victorian England? Not that those are bad—I was just ready for something different. And Cleopatra Confesses provided royalty, intrigue, and an actual historical character. It was also nice to read something that helped me let go of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. By the way, I love the cover!

Please join us on Wednesday for an interview with author Carolyn Meyer and on Friday for a contest to win a copy of Cleopatra Confesses.