Thursday, November 4, 2010

U is for Uprising

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

A great book for Young Adults.  Here's what I wrote about it for a review I did for Historical Novels Review:

Set in New York City in 1910-1911, Uprising tells the story of three young women from different walks of life whose lives become connected through the shirtwaist workers’ strike. Yetta is a Russian immigrant who moved to America and works at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in order to earn money to send back to her homeland. Bella is a recently arrived Italian immigrant who is overwhelmed in America and feels like a stranger. She is eager to learn and works at the factory as well. Jane is an unhappy rich society girl who longs for something different in her life but is uncertain about what she can do to change and break free from the cage in which she feels she is trapped.

The hundreds of workers at the factory put up with low wages and unsafe working conditions until one day, a strike is organized. Yetta feels passionate about their cause and quickly becomes one of the strike’s leaders, attending meetings and marching in the picket lines. Soon both Bella and Jane join her, and the girls quickly become friends. Haddix does a superb job of portraying the different aspects of the girls’ lives, from their involvement in the strike, the conditions of working in the factory, and their daily survival.
Chapters alternate between each of the girls, allowing readers to experience three different perspectives of the events that unfold. Not only is Uprising the story of the strike and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that changed American labor forever, it is also a story of friendship, family, choices, and the social classes and rules of society that existed in America in the early 1900s. This book is an excellent read and makes history come alive through all of the well-crafted characters.

T is for A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini , author of the bestselling novel The Kite Runner, again delivers a stunningly beautiful novel spanning a 30 year period in Afghanistan’s history.  A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, each from different social backgrounds whose lives unexpectedly intersect.  Hosseini provides a look at what life was like for everyday people in Afghanistan over the course of the country’s turbulent recent history from the Soviet invasion through the post-Taliban era.  The novel delves deep into family relationships, the beauty of friendship, feelings of loss and longing, and is a powerful testament to the spirit and strength of women.  A Thousand Splendid Suns is a must read.   

S is for The Serpent Garden

The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley

Another review I did for Historical Novels Review:

Riley’s exquisite tale The Serpent Garden begins in England in 1514 and follows the life of Susanna Dallet, daughter of a Flemish artist. Susanna is widowed when her unsavory husband is murdered by his lover’s spouse. Before his death, Mr. Dallet was part of a group who recovered a long lost manuscript that threatens to rip apart the French monarchy. Because of her husband’s role, Susanna is unknowingly thrust into peril, caught in the middle of conspirators who will stop at nothing to possess the complete manuscript.

As a widow, Susanna is left to make her own way in the world, no easy feat in the16th century. She begins by painting less than innocent Biblical scenes and portraits in miniature. Soon she is introduced to Cardinal Wolsey who employs her and sends her to France with Princess Mary Tudor’s wedding party to paint the festivities of the union of Mary and the aging Louis XII.

Susanna possesses an extraordinary gift for painting in miniature and is welcomed into the French court, a place full of schemes at every turn. Riley adds a good dose of the supernatural to the story with a demon named Belphagor who was released when the manuscript was unearthed. Belphagor’s goal is to cause chaos, and Susanna becomes a target for the demon’s wrath because of her association with the manuscript.

Riley packs quite a bit into the novel and achieves a nice blend of romance, intrigue, politics, and fantasy. The narration alternates between Susanna Dallet and third person viewpoints which may take a bit to get used to, but soon readers will find themselves engrossed in the tale. Susanna’s sense of humor and the depictions of the French court are only two of the aspects that make this a novel not to be missed.

R is for The Rebel Princess

The Rebel Princess by Judith Koll Healey

Here's a review I wrote for Historical Novels Review:

Healey (The Canterbury Papers) brings readers the second installment of the story of Princess Alaïs Capet, sister to King Philippe Auguste of France. Set in 1207, the tale begins as the court of King Philippe is awash in conspiracies. Alaïs’s aunt, the dowager countess Constance of Toulouse, is acting secretive, the king does not know which of his ministers he can trust, and two monks dispatched by the pope in hopes of persuading the king to support stamping out the Cathars, a Christian sect in the south of France, arrive at court. King Philippe turns to his beloved sister Alaïs for advice. Alaïs vows to help her brother and uncover the mischief at court. What she really longs to do though is finally reunite with and settle down with her lover, William of Caen, and reveal to Williams’ ward, Francis, that she is his mother. The plot deepens when the St. John’s Cup, a relic sacred to the Cathars, is stolen. Following the cup’s disappearance, Constance is absent from court, and Francis is kidnapped. Alaïs takes matters into her own hands and devises a way to search for her son, risking her life and rebelling against William’s explicit instructions to stay at court.

The Rebel Princess is a fast-paced historical mystery with plenty of suspense and intrigue. With every turn of the page there was the threat of bloodshed due to the rising conflict between the bishops and the Cathars. Healey does a fantastic job rendering the touching story of the intense bond between Alaïs and her son. Equally compelling is the exploration of Alaïs’s regret over the harsh parting words between her and William. I am looking forward to more in this series and hope that the love story between William and Alaïs unfolds even more. A very enjoyable read.