Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Saving Hamlet

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth, Hyperion, 2016. ISBN: 9781484752746. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Sophomore year should be great. At least that’s Emma Allen’s expectation. She’s going to be assistant stage manager for the drama club’s production of Hamlet, she has a new hairdo that makes her feel cool, and her crush, Brandon, is directing. All should be well, but we know how that goes. In short order, her best friend, snubbed for the part she wants, stops talking to her, she’s bumped up to stage manager, and Josh, the soccer player who got the lead, can’t remember his lines.

If all that weren’t enough, the guy in charge of the stage crew defies the club’s adviser and cuts a hole in the stage to serve as a trap door. When Emma falls through it, she finds herself in a very different theater—one in London and in the year 1601. Her new hairdo has the people behind the curtain thinking she’s a boy. That is all but one very sharp and attractive young man.

As Emma tries to navigate between everyone’s egos and feelings as well as through the intricacies of two theaters several hundred years apart, it’s a miracle she doesn’t have the mother of all meltdowns. Instead, she discovers inner strength and wisdom that allows her to do the impossible while meeting the original Bard himself.

This is a finely crafted, often funny story that will grab theater loving teens as well as those who like romance, strong heroines and complex plots. It’s a definite add for school and public libraries.


Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Historical Fiction

A Taste For Monsters

A Taste For Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby, Scholastic Press (September 27, 2016). ISBN: 9780545817844. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Numerous mysteries and novels have been written involving Jack The Ripper. A few have been written where Joseph Merrick (known as the Elephant Man) was featured. In this juvenile mystery, the two come together under the excellent crafting of Matthew J. Kirby. I read and cheered on (for a well deserved Edgar) his Icefall, so I was eager to see how he treated this markedly different setting.

London, 1888: Evelyn, a young orphan, has already experienced multiple tragedies when she seeks a position at the London Hospital. She lost her mother very early and then her father when speculation in commerce turned against him and he drank away both his wealth and his life. Left to survive on her own, she was dealt another cruel blow when she was poisoned by the phosphor in the match factory where she worked. Surgery saved her life, but took part of her face and jaw. Forced to survive amid taunts and jeers from passersby on the streets of London and needing to scrounge enough coins to pay for lodging each night in filthy flop houses, she’s desperate.

When she seeks an interview with the hospital matron, the woman’s initial impulse is to send her away, fearing her disfigurement will upset patients. However, Mr. Merrick has come to spend his remaining days in isolation at the hospital and it has been difficult to keep anyone on staff who is not completely unsettled by his appearance. Despite her misgivings, Evelyn soon realizes that he’s a kindred soul and she feels a sense of comfort and safety when taking care of him. She reads to him, as well as assisting him with the completion of a complex jigsaw puzzle. The more they converse, the more she warms to him, realizing there’s a lovely, caring soul underneath his disfigurement.

All is well until a mysterious killer calling himself “Leather Apron” begins murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel, the ghosts of the victims begin to appear each night at exactly the same time in Mr. Merrick’s quarters. Each visitation seems to sap his strength a bit more. Evelyn can also see them and the two realize these spirits have something unresolved in life that has locked them into their nightly visits. Realizing that she’s the one who must leave the safety of the hospital in order to learn what must be done to send each ghost on to eternal rest scares Evelyn silly With the help of Charlie, a violinist who befriended Mr. Merrick, she does so, but not without several upsetting experiences.

How she deals with them, secures peace for the ghosts, overcomes betrayal and deals with “Leather Apron”, make for a dandy read. Both young teens and adults will very much enjoy the story, the plot twists and the very strong main characters. It’s a book well worth adding to any school or public library or buying as a gift for younger family members who love to read.

Leave a comment

Filed under Grade 7-9, Historical Fiction, Supernatural

The Memory of Things

The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner, St. Martin’s Griffin (September 6, 2016). ISBN: 9781250095527. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


How do you think you might have reacted if you were sixteen and close to Ground Zero on 9/11? Add in the realization that your NYC police detective dad probably rushed to the tower as soon as the first plane hit and that your mom and little sister are supposed to fly back from California, but all flights are grounded. Now factor in that phone service is extremely spotty because of everyone being frantic, not to mention that both cell and landline circuits were destroyed or damaged by the terrorist attack. In addition, Kyle Donohue’s Uncle Matt waits at the family apartment. He’s paralyzed following an accident that nearly killed him and needs plenty of personal care.

While running with classmates to escape the chaos and toxic fumes from the towers’ collapse, Kyle sees a girl about his age wearing bedraggled angel wings, clinging to the side of the Brooklyn Bridge. He impulsively rescues her, bringing the frightened and confused teen home with him. His action is the beginning of a touching and intriguing story about two young people dealing with different fears and feelings during one of the most traumatic events in recent memory. At first, Kyle isn’t sure whether she remembers anything and is scared she’ll vanish in another attempt to harm herself. In addition, he has to respond to his growing fear that Dad might be dead, another tower victim, that Mom and his sister may be stuck in California forever and that Uncle Matt may completely freak out because he’s also a NYC policeman, but is completely unable to do anything to help.

As the first few days go by, Kyle walks on egg shells for fear of saying or doing something that might damage the mystery girl, but after she begins talking, something starts creating a bond between them, in part because she relates well with his Uncle Matt. The longer she stays in the apartment, the more smitten Kyle becomes.

Told in alternating voices, readers get a very gut level feel for what happened on 9/11 to those directly impacted as well as how love can blossom even in times of disaster. Along the way, they also learn the girl’s story and what brought her to stand on the bridge. This is an emotional and satisfying story, one teens will very much enjoy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Historical Fiction


cover artPax. Written by Sara Pennypacker. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

Pax, a wild fox, and Peter are the best of friends.  However, Peter’s dad enlists in the army and Peter is sent to live with his Grandpa, so Pax must be returned to the wild.  Although he over 300 miles from home, Peter decides to strike out on his own, into the woods, to try and reconnect with his beloved friend, Pax.

I really enjoyed this bittersweet story because it is well-written with inspiring, timeless characters.  If you know a child that enjoys animal stories of love and loss, this book will fill that need.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade K-3, Historical Fiction

Book: My autobiography

Cover ArtBook: My autobiography, transcribed by John Agard (author), illustrated by Neil Parker and reviewed by Cheryl M. Coffin.

A fictionalized (autobiographical) account, of how books came to be, told from the perspective of “Book”.

This is the history of how books came to be.  The story is somewhat odd in its telling, but does have some interesting bits of information to relate to the reader.  The author starts with oral traditions, then moves on to how writing came to be, and the mediums that were used.  Other intriguing topics include the formation of the alphabet, the use of clay and papyrus, how books have evolved over time, specialty books (like those written in braille) and finally the E-book.

Bibliophiles and other interested in a historical perspective of books will enjoy this “autobiography”.



Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade K-3, Historical Fiction

The Game of Love and Death

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. Arthur A. Levine Books (April 28, 2015) , ISBN: 9780545668347.

game of love and death

Aren’t we all sometimes pawns in the game of life? Love and Death have been playing the same game over and over since the time of Cleopatra. Each chooses an infant, one male, one female who will meet when they’re older and fall in love…maybe. If love persists, Love wins, if love falters, Death wins and claims her chosen as a victim.

It’s 1920 and the latest round is about to begin, this time in Seattle with two babies who couldn’t be further apart given the times. Love chooses first by appearing in the nursery where Henry Bishop, a Caucasian, lies in his crib. Love pricks his finger and lets baby Henry suckle on his blood, thus setting his part of the game in motion.

One night later in a much poorer neighborhood, Death pickes up a baby girl of African-American heritage named Flora Saudade. After carrying the child to the window where they watch snow falling, Death sheds one black tear which she captures on her fingertip, using it to write the word someday on the infant’s forehead. Thus is the game sealed.

While the rules of the game often seem arbitrary and stacked in Death’s favor, Love harbors little ill will toward his opponent (Love is male, Death, female). Both can assume whatever shape they choose, even appearing for extended periods as people familiar to their chosen players. In fact it is this very ability that factors into how both Flora and Henry interact when they meet seventeen years later.

By then, Flora’s parents have been dead a very long time, having perished when hit by a drunken police officer the night Death chose her. Henry is likewise an orphan. His mother and sister perished in an influenza outbreak and his father, terribly distraught by their loss, jumped to his death, leaving Henry to be taken in by his father’s best friend, the owner of the Seattle newspaper.

Flora has fallen in love with flying and has been taken under the wing of a French war hero who owns a fancy biplane that she maintains and flies whenever she’s allowed. Her other source of income comes from singing jazz in the club she and her uncle own, the only legacy left after her parents’ death. She’s an amazing singer, something Henry discovers when he convinces his best friend and son of his benefactor, Ethan, that they should check out the club. This isn’t the first time Henry has seen Flora. Ethan took him along when he went to do a feature on the plane and Flora was running a pre-flight check on it. Henry is also someone who has music in his blood as he plays the bass and loves to improvise.

While Death has never lost, there’s something about this match that worries her, so she pulls out all the stops, as if the fact that blacks and whites simply don’t mix in 1937 wasn’t sufficient to doom any sort of spark between Flora and Henry. The roadblocks thrown up in front of each lover, the direness of the times and all the gyrations both the players and their manipulators must go through by the end of the story will keep most readers enthralled. While the pace might be a bit slow for some, I loved this book, the characters and the sense of elegance it creates. Astute readers will also appreciate the relationship and insight Love and Dearth have with and about each other. Teens and adults who like an offbeat love story with some decidedly paranormal aspects will enjoy this book.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Historical Fiction

Crow Mountain

Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis, Chicken House (UK) 2015 ISBN: 9781910002353. reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

crow mountain

Sixteen year old Hope lives in London with her extremely feminist, scientific researcher mom. She has very little contact with her actor father who took off with his pregnant co-star around the time Hope was born. Mom is extremely controlling…Of Hope’s schooling, her diet, what she can do, pretty much everything.

When Mom heads off to do an ecological study on a Montana ranch, one of the few remaining unspoiled ones that practices environmentally friendly ranching, she drags her daughter along, even though Hope wants to stay in London and be with her friends.

Crow Ranch has been in operation since the 1870s and run by the same family. When a handsome young man, Caleb, the owner’s son, meets Hope and her mother at the airport in Helena, she feels an immediate attraction, but her shyness keeps her from saying anything. When they stop in Fort Shaw and the local sheriff harasses Cal, as he prefers to be called, while hinting to Hope about unsavory behavior in Cal’s past, it’s her first inkling that there’s trouble ahead.

It doesn’t take long for Cal and Hope to start talking and become very aware of their growing mutual attraction. After he shows her the room above the barn where she can hide out from her mother, Hope discovers a diary written by a girl named Emily who was on her way to an arranged marriage in San Francisco via Portland Oregon, by stagecoach in the early 1970s. She’s fascinated by the story and takes the diary with her the following day when she and Cal head off through back country roads in the national forest on a trip to get Cal’s mother who has been caring for her sister in law following a broken bone. They’re also hauling a horse trailer as they’re to bring back a couple horses.

At this point, the book begins to alternate chapters between Hope and Cal following a scary accident, and diary entries telling the story of Emily and the mysterious young man she first sees outside her hotel room in Helena, as they encounter an eerily similar fate. To say more might spoil the plot, but I can say that first off, I bought this immediately following my reading of her other book City of Halves, which is equally stellar.

This is an excellent book, part adventure, part love story, part historical fiction and a book that forces you to keep reading because of the tension and uncertainty facing both couples. It’s one that deserves a place in many libraries, both school and public.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Historical Fiction

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke

Cover ArtConspiracy of Blood and Smoke. Written by Anne Blankman. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

This novel is set in war-torn Europe.  A young girl, once in Hiter’s inner circle, has fled Germany for Oxford, posing as an immigrant, under the alias of Gretchen Whitestone.   But when Gretchen’s boyfriend goes back to Germany and is deemed an enemy of the state, Gretchen  knows that she too must return to her homeland, to do what she can to save the one she loves.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction will be drawn into this compelling story of danger and intrigue.

(Sequel to Prisoner of Night and Fog.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Historical Fiction

The Girl In the Torch

Cover ArtThe Girl in the Torch. Written by Robert Sharenow. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

Sarah and her mother are in the process of emmigrating to America when Sarah’s mother dies, just as they reach New York Harbor.  Sarah, now an orphan, is forced to board a boat back to her homeland, but while the boat is still in the harbor, she glimpses the Statute of Liberty, which gives her the courage to jump into the water and swim to shore.

All alone, Sarah takes temporary refuge inside the statute itself, with only her father’s scissors to protect her against the less than savory elements of the big city.

This book is nicely written, and it will appeal to children who enjoy a bit of adventure with a historical perspective.


Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade K-3, Historical Fiction

The Hired Girl

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, Candlewick Press, 2015. ISBN: 9780763678180. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

hired girl

When your mom dies suddenly and you’re twelve and living on a hardscrabble Pennsylvania farm with your perpetually angry and demeaning father, what happens? You’re verbally abused, no longer allowed to attend school and have to assume all the work your deceased mother was doing. This is the reality in 1911 for smart, but impetuous Joan Skraggs. When her father tears up and burns her only three books, now fourteen year old Joan takes the money her late mom sewed into an apron and runs off, hoping to find work and a new future in Baltimore. Arriving at night and frightened when a man tries to take advantage of her, She’s rescued by a young Jewish man who takes her to his home. His parents, the wealthy Rosenbachs, give her shelter and then employment as a hired girl. Her job is to do whatever the elderly Malka, who has been with the family since Mr. Rosenbach was a boy, cannot or will not. She changes her name to Janet and tells the family members that she is eighteen.
There’s a steep learning curve because of her impetuosity and complete ignorance of Jewish customs and religious practices, not to mention her infatuation with David, the older son, as well as her determination to become a confirmed Catholic. Told through the entries in her diary and dialogue with others, this is an excellent historical novel for curious and smart juvenile and teen readers. They will cringe when Joan rushes into numerous situations with the best of intentions, only to be like a bull in a china shop and they will cheer as she survives and even thrives as she learns from her mistakes and is treated ever so kindly by the caring and understanding people who have employed her. It is a perfect addition to any library interested in adding a worthwhile title to their historical fiction collection.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9, Historical Fiction