Certainly there are eras that I am glad I did not experience first hand: the Middle Ages (that pesky witch- and heretic-burning situation, the relentless plagues, and a serious lack of water and sewage infrastructure are what come to mind); the French Revolution (nobody seemed to have come out of that unscathed); and pre-history, from what archaeologists and historians can glean from the bits and pieces left behind, seems to have been a hard-core, and very short, life.
While most historical fiction I pull off the shelf focuses on the challenges of a particular era, I occasionally come across a book or two that allow me to to romanticize history and envision what life might have been like had I been born in decades or centuries past. Here are a handful that make me wish I had a time machine:
Looking for adventure on the high seas? Dive into Star Crossed by Linda Collison (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780375833632). Patricia, recently orphaned, sets out from England as a stowaway on a merchant ship traveling to Barbados, determined to claim her deceased father’s plantation. She is soon discovered by crewmembers and brought into the life aboard the vessel, and eventually put to work as surgeon’s assistant in exchange for her passage. Although Patricia was raised in a proper and sheltered all-girl boarding school, she quickly learns to embrace the freedoms and hardships of life and warfare at sea and land in the 18th century.
Readers who enjoy Elizabethan drama will want to pick up The Stolen One by Suzanne Crowley (Greenwillow Books, 9780061232008). Sixteen-year-old Kat is looking for answers. She wants to know who her parents were; she wants to know the secrets her recently deceased foster mother kept from her; and she wants to know why she feels drawn to Queen Elizabeth. Deciding that she must seek these answers herself, she and fragile step-sister Anna leave behind land and love to make their way in London. Kat successfully ensconces herself in the royal inner circle, learning to navigate the Queen’s tumultuous moods and ever changing needs while also inching closer to solving the mysteries surrounding her birth.
Readers will have a love-hate relationship with feisty Kat, whose decision-making is edge-of-your-seat frustrating!
Any art lovers out there? Grab David by Mary Hoffman (Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 9781599907000). I majored in art history in college, and I remember one professor who admitted, reluctantly, to enjoying historical fiction that touched upon art history; although this wasn’t on her list of recommendations, I am sure she would appreciate it!
Gabriele–tall, handsome, and well-built–leaves his country home for the bustling city of Florence to earn his living as a stone-cutter. Gabriele isn’t long in the city before he is ensnared and seduced by aristocrat widower Clarice, and then convinced by a young Michelangelo to pose naked for his newest artwork: a large statue of David. Gabriele’s popularity overwhelms him as he is soon snatched up by another artist who needs a model and muse, and then caught up in the political web of post-Savonarola Florence when he naively befriends Republic supporters.
Gabriele may be a stretch of the imagination when it comes to answering the question of who really posed for Michelangelo’s David, but readers will appreciate this coming-of-age story.
Let’s jump ahead a few centuries to Victorian England with A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee (Candlewick, 0763640670).
Have you ever wanted to be a spy? Not a super-tech satellite, modern-day spy, but old fashioned sneak-around, listening through doors, heart-racing spy? Mary Quinn, orphaned as a child and raised in Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, has reached the age of maturity and must decide between a life in service, or a life of intrigue as the newest recruit at the Academy’s clandestine spying Agency. Luckily for us she chooses the intrigue! Mary is keen on gaining her mentors’ approval and determined to solve her first case which requires her to act as a paid companion in the Thorold household in order to investigate suspicious activities in the Thorold Shipping Company. But soon someone is onto Mary’s activities–can she solve the case while under suspicion?
In this first book of Lee’s Agency series we meet a great cast of characters that pop up from time to time in books 2 and 3, which are also must-reads!
— Dena Little, currently re-reading Fire by Kristin Cashore (in excited preparation to read Bitterblue!)