24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: historical fiction

Abby Reads: The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
Penguin Books, 2004, 229 pages
Historical Fiction

Decades after the murder of the Romanovs, an elderly man previously known as the Romanov’s kitchen boy tells the family’s story to his American granddaughter through recorded tapes and sends her on a journey. With his narrative taking the the bulk of the prose, the kitchen boy The Kitchen Boy boy Robert Alexanderdescribes the final days of the Romanovs and his involvement. Rich with detail and research, The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander is a stunning look into a fictional take on the horror of the death of the Romanovs.

A brief disclaimer — anything I could say about this book won’t truly communicate what an incredible work it is. Just read it.

A framed story, most chapters describe Leonka’s experience with the Romanovs with brief passages visiting his granddaughter’s travel from America to Russia. Each moment with Leonka and his story is a gift made of a rich voice, totally formed and unique to any other narrator I’ve ever encountered. Alexander’s grasp of his character is extraordinary and is the foundation of this phenomenal book. Leonka tells his story with tension and, while the reader likely knows the fate of the Romanovs, the tension remains high throughout. Even as the reader knows death approaches, they hope for the release and survival of the Romanov family.

Alexander does take some liberties in the story — it is, at the end of the day, a fictional take on a real story. The twists that bring the story together are shocking. Alexander’s ability to mislead and redirect while maintaining a plausible narrative is another element that sets this novel apart from others. These twists are grounded in prose which is wholly immersive. Despite the very fine detail with which Alexander writes, there is never a sense of tedium or overwhelm. This style provides a story to savor and digest slowly and deliberately.

The prose also delivers wholly developed characters, from inconsequential guards to the Tsar himself. Leonka’s unique position as a family aid gives him particular insights into the family which others might be without. The culmination of these observations create a vivid look at the Romanovs as people, as captives, as royalty, as a family. Leonka himself makes for a fascinating character, particularly as the story builds and pieces of information are revealed.

The Kitchen Boy is a novel so far ahead of anything else I’ve read (at least to my memory) that I didn’t feel I deserved it. It was engaging, endlessly fascinating, fantastically clever, rich and detailed, breathtaking and more. It’s a book into which you put your time and energy, carefully chewing each sentence to get to a truly amazing center and a satisfying end that will shake and astound you. Fall into the Romanov’s story with this as a start and you’ll never want to leave that world.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl

The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl
Chronicle Books, 2015, 272 pages
Young Adult Historical Fiction

In The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela McColl, readers are brought to 19th Century Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott is surrounded by strong women in the form of her mother and sisters and philosophy from the mouths of her father and his friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. As a part of the Underground Railroad, Louisa and her family sometimes house former slaves on the run. When Louisa’s mother travels to New Hampshire in search of work to support the family for the summer, George, one such slave in search of refuge, needs shelter while he waits for his family to join him in the North before continuing on his journey. Louisa takes on the responsibility of keeping him hidden and communicating with another piece of the railroad network. Things aren’t so easy as a slave catcher in search of a monetary reward shows up and threatens Louisa and her family. To make matters worse, an old friend, Fred, has returned and brought with him new affections for Louisa, who just wants to focus on her writing and becoming an adult.

The Revelation of Louisa May is an entirely charming novel with a similar tone and style to Alcott’s most famous work, Little Women. The prose is both homey and beautiful, as if light dances through it on a pretty spring day. Despite some of the more difficult themes in the book such as slavery, poverty, and murder, McColl describes Alcott’s world with inviting and warm language while bringing to life an engaging plot with fascinating characters.

While many of the characters have somewhat two-dimensional personalities, their motivations are always crystal clear and unwavering in their strength, which serves to heighten conflicts. This is especially the case when fundamental motivations of characters are at odds. Louisa May’s characterization is true to what history has suggested (which I particularly enjoyed as someone who visited the Alcott home in Concord) and readers will be none too surprised to see many parallels between the fictionalized Louisa May and her real-life fictional counterpart, Jo March. In one tense moment toward the end of the novel, it appears that Louisa may abandon the characterization built up to that point as she ignores a rather anti-feminist sentiment which Fred expresses (as an aside, please stop telling women to “calm down.”). Louisa ultimately responds as readers and those who are familiar with the real Alcott would expect, an excellent example of McColl’s grasp and knowledge of Louisa and her life.

As Louisa runs about the town, Concord is as lively as the title character. With plenty of descriptions and atmospheric language, McColl draws readers into the world of 19th Century Concord with grace and ease. McColl’s background in history pays off with her attention to detail and excellent use of dialog to help set the historic scene.

The plot of The Revelation of Louisa May is, perhaps, a bit far-fetched, especially given that Louisa is all of fifteen during the events of the novel. However, the narrative provides a fun mystery along with comfortable-yet-elegant prose and well-researched characters and scenes while introducing some of the more upsetting topics of Louisa’s life and the world around her to her young fangs in a delicate manner. This absorbing and charismatic little book is a great companion to Alcott’s own work or, if you can swing it, a visit to her home in modern Concord. If you’re looking for a pleasant spring or summer read, this is it.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Show Off: Historical Fiction

I’ve never been really big on historical fiction unless there’s a fantasy element. If I learned anything from this book display, the readers of young adult fiction in Alexandria are basically in agreement with me. Book displays aren’t just a good way to up circulation, but a good way to assess from a general standpoint, what types and genres of books and other materials in which patrons or customers have an interest.

Unlike the Retellings display, the books for this display did not exactly fly off the shelves.  This is a library I’m only at for four hours once a week, so it’s difficult to say from that glimpse what types of books teens are checking out with fervor. There are circulation statistics available, of course, but those stats don’t come with a gauge of the level of excitement with which the book was checked out. I think, to degree, that matters. But let’s say I did know historical fiction circulated poorly in the YA fiction. If one of our goals is to increase circulation for under-circulating materials, then I might’ve made this display anyway, just to see if highlighting it made a difference.

I marketed this display with the idea of holiday giving — give yourself the gift of time travel. And some of the books did have a time travel element, but most were simply historical fiction. The images below give a sample of the titles I used in the display. You’ll also find a complete list of what else I might have pulled at the bottom of the post.

Do you have a favorite historical fiction?

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Come August, Come Freedom Amateau, Gigi
This Vast Land Ambrose, Stephen
The Diviners Bray, Libba
Caminar Brown, Skila
Born of Illusion Brown, Teri
Goddess of Yesterday Cooney, Caroline B.
Audacity Crowder, Melanie
The Year We Were Famous Dagg, Carole Etsby
The Road of Bones Fine, Anne
Spirit’s Chosen Friesner, Esther
Untimed Gavin, Andy
Silver in the Blood George, Jessica Day
Luxe Godbersen, Anna
The Wild Golden, Christopher
Blythewood Goodman, Carol
Changeling Gregory, Philippa
Wicked Girls Hemphill, Stephanie
The Falconer’s Knot Hoffman, Mary
Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy Kiem, Elizabeth
Mortal Heart LaFevers, Robin
Manor of Secrets Longshore, Katherine
Pateince, Princess Catherine Meyer, Carolyn
Miss Spitfire Miller, Sarah Elizabeth
All We Have Left Mills, Wendy
The Beautiful and the Cursed Morgan, Page
Venom Paul, Fiona
Dodger Pratchett, Terry
Sandell, Lisa Ann
The Hired Girl Schlitz, Laura Amy
The Enchantress Scott, Michael
The Ghosts of Heaven Sedgwick, Marcus
The Cup and the Crown Stanley, Diane
The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl Statham, Leigh
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Taylor, Mildred D.
Father of Lies Turner, Ann Warren
My Name Is Not Friday Walter, Jon
Countdown Wiles, Deborah
Palace of Spies Zettel, Sarah

Abby Reads: The Revolution of Sabine by Beth Ain Levine

The Revolution of Sabine by Beth Ain Levine
Candlewick, 2008, 224 pages
YA Historical Fiction

In Beth Ain Levine’s The Revolution of Sabine, Sabine’s revolution is not the only revolution going on. Sabine is experiencing the American Revolution but through a lens which is atypical for American readers. Sabine is a young French girl, struggling with the idea of traditional womanhood in Eighteenth Century France. Her coming of age becomes more difficult as, not only her headstrong attitudeDSC_0027 leads her to want something other than what her parents want, but the presence of Benjamin Franklin in France and his grand ideas. It doesn’t hurt that her governess’s son, Michel, has been hanging around more often and has plans to run off to the New World to help the colonies fight their English parent.  When Michel offers Sabine the opportunity to come with him, she’s torn. Does she leave her controlling parents or let the boy who’s grown on her more than she expected go?

Characterizations of the inhabitants of Levine’s story are rather flat. While the motivations of some of them are very clear (such as Sabine’s mother), their actions and descriptions cause a caricature effect, pushing their personalities to the extreme and making them somewhat unbelievable. Unexpectedly, one of the most reasonable characters seemed to be Benjamin Franklin, who makes brief cameos in the novel but does not get directly involved in the action of the events. Sabine herself is predictable as the but-I-don’t-want-to-get-married-mother teenage daughter typical of similar stories. Some of the characters mirror, in a superficial way, characters of a Jane Austen novel. Sabine’s friends provide the gossip-y ladies who care only for marriage; her potential suitor the
antagonistic and rude upper-class would-rather-get-the-plague-than-marry guy; the we-grew-up-together-but-we-aren’t-actually-related love interest; the actually-pretty-cool dad — you get the picture. All of this might be fine except these characters are recurring in historical writing and feel unoriginal.

Although Levine’s main character is sixteen or seventeen, the book feels more appropriate for readers ages nine to twelve. The content may be a little political for readers of that age, but the writing style fits right in with other books readers of those ages might be reading. The themes of the book are similarly very clear, leaving little room for debate. This may make the book a good candidate for younger students doing book reports or analyses, but for the casual reader, makes the experience somewhat uncomfortable. If Sabine had a theme song, it would probably be “Free Bird.” We get it.

The ending of The Revolution of Sabine isn’t totally predictable if a little anti-climactic. It’s a strange mixture of realistic and unrealistic that left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. It tied up the book as a whole with a shrug for me. This book had been sitting on my TBR list for several years and, ultimately, I didn’t feel like it was worth the anticipation and guilt I felt whenever I saw it sitting at the top of my Goodread’s list. This might be a great selection if you teach middle school English or are a middle school student. Beyond that, there are better options out there.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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