Tag Archives: historical fiction

Alex and Eliza: A Love Story (Melissa de la Cruz)

13 Jul

I haven’t splashed around in the Hamilton craze at all, but Alex and Eliza: A Love Story might just do it for me.

 

 

Alex and Eliza

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1.  I love Melissa de la Cruz’s writing style.  It’s as if she were right there in the room with Alex and Eliza, writing down everything they say, recording every blush and secret glance.  It’s not necessarily that she speaks in period language, but there’s an authenticity to her voice that makes you lose yourself in the story rather than in wondering whether the characters are truly talking in 18th-century turns of phrases.  This is the first book I’ve read of de la Cruz’s works, though I did read enough of The Isle of the Lost (Descendants #1) to know that my students would like it, and the first two books of the series are in our school library.  (The third, which has just published, is on its way.)

2.  The setting of this story is 1777 in Albany, New York, which is part of the reason why I was intrigued by it.  I love stories set during times of great tension, and the American Revolution (and subsequent years) has so much tension.  It’s a really great backdrop for the story.

 

Alex and Eliza 2

 

3.  I like that Eliza in this take is neither prudish nor coquettish.  I’ve read essays about her relationship with the General where she’s too easily hooked by him, or she makes Alexander jump through hoops to test him.  De la Cruz’s Eliza is smart, loyal to her family, and completely aware of the constraints of her time.  She doesn’t really play hard to get, but she doesn’t bat her eyelashes unnecessarily at Alexander either.  (At least, I don’t think so.)

4.  You know that I enjoy MG stories than YA, but this particular title can very easily be read by those in elementary and high school alike.  It’s clean enough that teachers and parents don’t have to worry about explaining concepts to children that they may not be ready for.  The great thing about Alex and Eliza, too, is that the romance in it is not one that’s found in other YA stories set in modern times.  Another reason to thank the backdrop of the American Revolution.

5.  I’m the type to care more about a character’s back story than what he or she is doing at the moment.  That being said, I really want to read more of how Alex and Eliza’s marriage and family life work out.  Do they have their own places in society, or do they find adventures as a team?  (Spoiler alert: They both eventually die.  Sorry to break it to ya.)  I’m very excited that de la Cruz will be writing a follow-up called Love & War: An Alex and Eliza Story, due out in the spring of 2018 (OMG, that’s so long from now).

  

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Melissa de la Cruz’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House, for sending me a copy of Alex and Eliza: A Love Story in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

 

The Confessions of Young Nero (Margaret George)

23 Jun

I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved this book.  If the only thing you know about Nero is that he blamed Christians for a great fire, then you really need to pick this title up!

 

Confessions of Young Nero Squinklethoughts

1.  I am embarrassed to admit that even I fell under the trap of skating over Nero and relegating him as merely one in a list of inefficient emperors of the Early Roman Empire.  When I teach my favourite course, Classical Civilizations, we give him maybe 15 minutes of airtime, and then we move on.  I just can’t do that anymore after reading this book.

2.  You know my life revolves around middle-grade stories, and that even the YA or adult choices I make are usually historical fiction (like this one) or retellings of old favourites (like Mechanica and Eligible).  The drawback of being immersed in MG is that I don’t find enough good supplementary reading material for my high schoolers.  Teachers/parents, in case you’re wondering, this book is totally appropriate for a senior-level history or English class.  It’s clean and, obviously, written at an adult reading level.  I very well might add it to my Classical Civs course if I can restructure the units somehow.

 

Confessions of Young Nero Lesson

 

3.  This is my first Margaret George book, and I’m keen to try more of her work.  Her prose is gorgeous and polished, making her narrative voice completely unobtrusive to Nero’s story.  I have the unfortunate habit of being able to recognize (and see over and over again) the phrases that denote an author’s voice or style, but in this case, I was just so engrossed in the story that I didn’t even think of analyzing the prose.  Really, Nero’s story is so well told that you might, as I often did, think that Nero, himself, is telling the story.  Also, Locusta is such a great instrument.  I don’t know if she’s real or not, but her chapters really make the plot sizzle.

4.  I rooted for Nero the entire time I was reading this book.  I mean, history has relegated him to the halls of the crazy/evil/useless leaders, but my heart broke time and time again over the sad moments of his life.  (I kept thinking about Crispus until the end of the novel.)  So, now, I keep wondering whether history has completely messed up his story.  He was a product of his time, for sure, but in so many ways, he rose above expectations.  For one thing, he actually cared about what happened to his people.  I don’t know if that’s solely George’s interpretations of events, or if she read historical papers that actually mentioned his kindnesses, but it was a really good feature of the Nero in this book.  You know the saying, “History is told from the perspective of the victors”?  Well, in this case, the victors were Nero’s enemies, so most (all?) of the stories that exist of him reflect their belief that he was a terrible leader and person.  No one tells the story of how beloved he was by the citizens of the Rome that he led.

5.  I imagined Simon Woods as Nero about a quarter of the way into the story.  I’m not sure if that’s because I had just rewatched the TV series Rome or what, and I don’t think he quite fits the traditional images of Nero, but if there’s ever a movie of The Confessions of Young Nero, I think Woods would be a good choice.

6.  The ending was rather abrupt, and I wish I had known that the book wouldn’t cover everything in Nero’s life.  Well, I guess I could have figured that out for myself if I had tried to work out his timeline in comparison to the book length.  Anyway, I was left hanging!  But not in a terrible, terrible way.  Now that I know that this is the first in a duology, I can admit that this one ends in the perfect spot.  The great thing is that it seems like you can read both books as standalones.  But if you enjoy the story and writing as much as I did, you’ll be just like me … eagerly anticipating the follow-up.

7.  This is at the top of my list of best books I’ve read in 2017 so far.  I highly recommend this to all lovers of history, Ancient Rome, character-driven stories, and engaging prose.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Margaret George’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Pinterest | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Berkley and Penguin Random House, for sending me a copy of
The Confessions of Young Nero in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Blackthorn Key (Kevin Sands)

7 Oct

I was so pleased to receive a couple of copies of the Blackthorn Key at a blogger event this summer. In fact, the very Monday after the meet-up, I began teaching it because I had already finished reading it, and I knew I just had to share.

 

Blackthorn Key - Poster

 

If you’ve been searching for a book with mystery, heart, and a little bit of history, this is the perfect book for you. I’m happy to say that my students loved this book – and they were very engaged in the culminating tasks I had them do, including a hashtag image (below) and book poster (above). It was the perfect way to end summer school. And now, well, there’s a waitlist for our school copies.

Squinklethoughts

1. I’ve found historical fiction to be hit or miss with younger students, so I was happy that the historical aspect of this novel was not a deterrent for my kids. Personally, I LOVE history and tying dates and events together, so I really enjoyed learning about Oak Apple Day. It became even more interesting to correlate the real feast days with the fictional events to find themes in Sands’ story.

Blackthorn Key - Hashtags

2. I’ve got an unusual affinity for chemistry. Unusual only because I teach humanities and social sciences, and, oh yeah, I hate math. But I LOVE chemistry, so I was particularly drawn to the formulae and concoctions scattered throughout the chapters. And “oil of vitriol” just sounds so old fashioned. I love it! (It also led to a great discussion on vitriolic diatribes …)

3. Speaking of chapters, there are many in this story, and none are too long. It’s got nothing to do with attention span; I think stories are much more exciting with shorter (but more) chapters. It might have to do with the fact that I flip the pages more often.

4. I really admire Christopher’s relationships with both Tom and Master Benedict. The fact that he is loved and respected by both a peer and a superior says a lot about his character, and the banter between the two boys, which only happens when two people are as close as they are, is funny and even enviable.

Blackthorn Key - Quotes 2

5. Christopher is honourable and loyal. He will defend and champion his best friend and master at all costs, and his fealty to them drives many of his choices throughout the novel. He is also exceedingly brave and inquisitive – characteristics that anyone would be lucky to possess. And though his inquisitiveness is what sometimes gets him into trouble, I’d argue that they inform his bravery as well.

Blackthorn Key - Quotes 0

6. I love codes and solving puzzles. Our class had a grand old time trying to solve the clues before reading the answers. It was also a great stepping stone to the various games we ended up playing in class.

Blackthorn Key - Quotes 1

7. There are a great many things that my students and I were able to discuss from this story, including solutions, planets, feast days, history. I can’t help but think that Sands had cross-curricular activities in mind when he wrote it. I love books that can be appreciated across the curricula, so that’s part of what puts this book at the top of my suggestions list. I think this story can be appealing to a wide range of kids.

8. This book seems to be a standalone – and it works well as it is – but my kids and I still wonder what happens after the last chapter. That’s always a sign of a great book.

* Teachers/parents, if you’d like a copy of the chapter-by-chapter reading questions that I give to my students, please feel free to email me!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Kevin Sands’ Online Corners
Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for giving me a copy of the Blackthorn Key in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Paris Winter (Imogen Robertson)

18 Aug

What little creativity I had when I was in elementary school led to my determination to somehow improve this sad shortcoming.  However, while I have good penmanship and can plan events pretty well, I still have not developed any measurable drawing or painting talent.  Your fellow Squinks throughout the years have gotten bellyaches from all the laughter induced by my drawing attempts on the whiteboard.  Why do I tell you this?  It’s just a roundabout way of explaining to you why I admire artists, especially portraitists, so much.

 

Paris Winter 

Imogen Robertson’s protagonist, Maude, is a struggling artist voluntarily “lost” in the City of Lights.  She’s left the small-town charms and constraints of her little English village to study at the Académie, one of the few places where women could study alone and without condescension during the time period known as la Belle Époque.  I really empathized with Maude throughout much of the story on two accounts: First, I love studying, so I know what courage it takes for her to give up a relatively comfortable life back home to chase her art-related dreams across the Channel.  The trouble is … she is skint and desperately dreading the imminent cold Paris winter.  This is the second reason that made me feel for Maude.  Not many people have all the money they could ever need, but to not even know where your next meal is coming from must be a truly frightening and helpless experience.

I love historical fiction, and, in general, history.  The beginning of this novel was a little slowly paced for me, but once Maude finds employment with the Morels, I found myself drawn into Robertson’s world of rich characters, and I couldn’t read fast enough.  The women in the Paris Winter, in particular, I found very appealing as a reader – though I don’t think I’d be quite as nice to Sylvie as Maude is.  Regardless of their moral behaviour or social appearance, I found great pleasure in seeing the story lines of each woman unfold.  It’s not surprising that I was rooting for Maude.  She is, after all, the protagonist.  But she is hardly without fault.  I found her seeming lack of gumption galling at times, and on some pages, I really wanted to scream, “Stop being so gullible!”  But she is kind and honourable, and I admired her for that.  Yvette was a blast to walk through the novel with.  She is fiery and fabulously French, typifying the je ne sais quoi expression.  I ached for and with Tanya, whose life only seems remarkable to one not living it.  But she is decent and loyal, and I cannot find fault with that.

I didn’t fall in love with this book as much as I thought I would, but there is so much strength in Robertson’s writing that I cannot NOT recommend it all the same.  Fans of historical fiction and strong female characters will particularly enjoy it, and I’m sure anyone who’s as in love with Paris as I am will find much of the narrative a delight for the senses.  Robertson’s writing is eloquent and enchanting – a piece of art in itself.  She writes as Maude would draw a portrait: a sketch here, an outline there, and before you know it, a vibrant burst of colours sits before you.  I look forward to exploring what other stories Robertson has to offer.

Did you read the Paris Winter?  What did you think?

 

4 Squinkles 

Imogen Robertson’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

 

Thank you, St. Martin’s Press, for sending me a copy of the Paris Winter in exchange for an honest review.
All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own.

I Read YA 2015 – Day 4

21 May

I love historical fiction, so Day 4 of #IReadYA week is all about the world of the Brontë sisters.  I don’t know as much about Emily, Charlotte, and Anne as much as I’d like to – I did not fall in love with Wuthering Heights as I thought I would – but I like reading about them!

 

World Within 

From the publisher (Scholastic):

Emily Brontë loves her sisters, responsible Charlotte and quiet Anne, and her brother, tempestuous Branwell. She loves the moors that stretch all around the little village of Haworth, and wandering over them in the worst of weather. And she loves most of all the writing that brings all these things together, as she and her siblings create vast kingdoms and vivid adventures that take them deep into their imaginations.

But change is coming to Haworth, as their father falls ill and the girls must learn how to support themselves. How can Emily preserve both what she loves, and herself, and find her way into the future?

From the award-winning author of Wildthorn, the story of a young writer finding her voice, and a window into the mind of the beloved but mysterious Emily Brontë.

 

Ever wonder where the word “gothic” comes from?  The Brontë sisters’ stories fit snugly within the period of gothic literature, so I’m very interested to know if anything gothic will pop up in this novel.

Do you read/like gothic lit?  What are your favourite titles and/or authors?

 

I Read YA - Purple 

Remember that this week (May 18-22) is a celebration of all things YA.  You can even win some prizes!  Click on the icon above to find out more, and if you’re planning to talk about YA books this week, don’t forget to use the hashtag #IReadYA.

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