Tag Archives: historical fiction

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge. October 17, 2017. Amulet Books, 416 p. ISBN: 9781419725722.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 800.

This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .

Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there’s a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.”

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, War, Animal cruelty, Murder, Death of a parent, Misogyny


Video Review


Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 7-12. In her first novel since The Lie Tree (2016), Hardinge again summons history and fantasy, intermingling them in a most unusual way. Set against a backdrop of the English Civil War, the story opens in a small Puritan village, where a girl named Makepeace wrestles with vivid nightmares. When her mother is accidentally killed, the girl is sent to her father’s family, of whom she knows nothing. The Fellmottes, it turns out, are an old aristocratic clan with an insidious secret—they are able to “house” the spirits of the dead, a gift they have twisted, and the inherited cause of Makepeace’s clawing nightmares. The narrative opens slowly as Hardinge lays deliberate groundwork and conjures a palpably eerie atmosphere, which mounts in horror as the story progresses. It picks up after Makepeace, now 15, has spent two years as a kitchen girl at the Fellmotte estate, gathering information about the family. The plot becomes populated by spymistresses—whose ranks Makepeace fleetingly joins—and vengeful spirits, and is punctuated by her escape attempts and wartime battles. Yet much of the action unfolds in Makepeace’s head, as she acquires her own coterie of ghosts, most memorably that of an ill-treated bear. Hardinge’s writing is stunning, and readers will be taken hostage by its intensity, fascinating developments, and the fierce, compassionate girl leading the charge.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
Hardinge’s (The Lie Tree, rev. 5/16) latest tour de force is set during the reign of King Charles I against the backdrop of the 1600s English Civil War and is, as unlikely as it sounds, something of a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz and Get Out. When the orphan Makepeace is sent to live as a servant in the stronghold of the aristocratic Fellmotte family (she’s an illegitimate relation), she realizes that she shares the family’s ability to house the spirits of the dead–which the Fellmottes use to extend the lives and power of their Elders. Makepeace has already unwittingly absorbed the ghost of a young bear, whose “wild brute” behavior causes her difficulties at first. When her half-brother and only friend James runs away to join the regiment, taking the royal charter that grants permission for the nefarious Fellmotte “traditions” with him, and is then made an unwilling vessel for the Elders, Makepeace sets off to rescue him–and find the charter. On her fraught-with-perils journey, she collects more “passenger” ghost companions, from a doctor to a soldier to a mysterious and seemingly sinister noblewoman. Makepeace is a resourceful, brave, and intelligent protagonist, and readers will root for her and James’s triumph over the Fellmotte ghosts. The visceral immediacy of Hardinge’s prose (at times almost painful in its plethora of sensory details and its bleakness) can sometimes be unsettling, but the prose itself is always original and invigorating: “Lord Fellmotte was not a man. He was an ancient committee. A parliament of deathly rooks in a dying tree.” martha v. parravano

About the Author

Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge, isolated old house in a small, strange village, and the two things inspired her to write strange, magical stories from an early age. She studied English at Oxford University and now lives in Oxford, England.

Her website is www.franceshardinge.com


Around the Web

A Skinful of Shadows on Amazon

A Skinful of Shadows on Goodreads

A Skinful of Shadows Publisher Page


Like Vanessa by Tami Charles

Like Vanessa by Tami Charles. March 13, 2018. Charlesbridge, 288 p. ISBN: 9781580897778.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Lexile: 730.

In this semi-autobiographical debut novel set in 1983, Vanessa Martin’s real-life reality of living with family in public housing in Newark, New Jersey is a far cry from the glamorous Miss America stage. She struggles with an incarcerated mother she barely remembers, a grandfather dealing with addiction and her own battle with self-confidence. But when a new teacher at school coordinates a beauty pageant and convinces Vanessa to enter, Vanessa’s view of her own world begins to change. Vanessa discovers that her own self-worth is more than the scores of her talent performance and her interview answers, and that she doesn’t need a crown to be comfortable in her own skin and see her own true beauty.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Drugs, Language, Realities of living in a poor neighborhood, Child abuse



Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2018)
In pursuit of her dreams, Vanessa becomes an unlikely contestant in her middle school’s first-ever pageant. African-American eighth-grader Vanessa Martin is glued to the TV when Vanessa Williams is crowned the first black Miss America in 1983. Inspired, Vanessa imagines her own dreams coming true. Maybe she can rise above her painful family problems and dissatisfaction with her dark skin. Maybe she can escape her gang- and drug-plagued neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. But when the new music teacher, Mrs. Walton, who is white, encourages Vanessa to audition for the school’s first-ever pageant, she declines. She has an extraordinary singing voice but lacks the confidence to compete. When Mrs. Walton, Vanessa’s grandpa Pop Pop, and her cousin TJ join forces to get her to try out, she must face her fears—and the neighborhood mean girl—to have a shot at realizing her dreams. Vanessa’s compelling story unfolds through a combination of first-person narrative, diary entries, and well-crafted poems that perfectly capture the teen voice and perspective. From the first page, readers are drawn into Vanessa’s world, a place of poverty, abandonment, and secrets—and abiding love and care. The soundscape of early rap music helps bring the ’80s to life and amplifies Vanessa’s concerns about racism, friendship, family, and her future. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will cheer Vanessa on and see themselves in her story. This debut is a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her circumstances. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Tami Charles is a former teacher and full-time author of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, and nonfiction. As a teacher, she made it her mission to introduce her students to all types of literature, but especially diverse books. While it was refreshing to see a better selection than what she was accustomed to as a child, Tami felt there weren’t nearly as many diverse books as she’d hoped for. It was then that she decided to reignite her passion for writing.  Her website is www.tamiwrites.com.

Around the Web

Like Vanessa on Amazon

Like Vanessa on Goodreads

Like Vanessa Publisher Page

La Sombrilla Roja (The Red Umbrella) by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

La Sombrilla Roja by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. September 26, 2017.  Gables Publishing, 300 p. ISBN: 9780999214602.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 3.8; Lexile: 590.

(Spanish version of the award-winning novel, The Red Umbrella)

In 1961, two years after the Cuban Communist revolution, LucIa Alvarez continues to live a normal teenage life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But things in her country are changing. Freedoms are being stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution’s impact becomes more oppressive, LucIa’s parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States–through a secret, clandestine movement to save the children.

Arriving in the United States, LucIa is eventually sent to live with well-meaning strangers in Nebraska, but she struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, a new way of life. And what of her old life? Will she ever see her parents, friends, or country again? And if she does, will she still be the same girl?

Based on the real events of Operation Pedro Pan where over 14,000 Cuban children were sent to the U.S. in the two year period between 1960-1962 and the author’s own family experience, this novel depicts the pain of losing one’s homeland and showcases the generosity of the American spirit.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Violence, Mild sexual themes


Book Trailer


Booklist (August 2010 (Online))
Grades 6-10. When Castro comes to power, teenage Lucía wants nothing to do with the revolution; she is more worried about what to wear to the school dance. Then she witnesses the horrifying public hanging of her father’s boss, and her parents send her and her little brother, Frank, to safety in the U.S., where a church places them with a kind foster home in Nebraska. Based on the author’s parents’ story, Gonzalez’s first novel captures the heart-wrenching, personal drama of family separation. At the start of each chapter, a brief newspaper headline gives a glimpse into Cuban politics and history, but the core of Lucía’s first-person narrative is her emotional upheaval as she cares for Frank and tries to fit into her eighth-grade class, where everything is strange and different. The characters, including the loving, imperfect adults, are authentic, and teens will recognize Lucía’s rebellious moments, which sometimes get ugly, as well as her anguish over costly long-distance calls “home” and her hope for reunion with her family.

Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2010)
This is the story of Lucía, a Cuban girl who, at the age of 14, leaves her hometown of Puerto Mijares and flies to the United States from Havana with her little brother, Frankie, but without their parents. After arriving at a temporary shelter, they are soon transferred to the Baxters’ home in Nebraska. Through Lucía’s captivating voice, readers travel in time to the year 1961, when members of the Cuban bourgeoisie witnessed the drastic transformation of their society into a communist system. While Lucía’s best friend, Ivette, and her secret sweetheart, Manuel, embrace the revolution and become, with their parents’ support, “brigadistas,” Lucía’s parents, a banker and a housewife, refuse to accept the changes imposed by the new government and make the heartbreaking and, for the times, shocking decision to send their daughter and son to a foreign country, without knowing if they would be able to see them again. Gonzalez enters the literary scene with this exceptional historical novel that portrays the beginning of the Cuban exodus. (Historical fiction. 10 & up)

About the Author

Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the award-winning author of several books including The Red Umbrella, A Thunderous Whisper, Moving Target, Return Fire, and an upcoming book in the Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts series. Christina’s books have received numerous honors and recognitions with publications such as Publisher’s Weekly, The Miami Herald, School Library Journal, and The Washington Post calling her novels engrossing, compelling, and inspirational.

Christina currently lives in Miami, Florida with her husband, sons, and a dog that can open doors.  Her website is www.christinagonzalez.com.

Teacher Resources

The Red Umbrella Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

La Sombrilla Roja on Amazon

La Sombrilla Roja on Goodreads

Polaris by Michael Northrop

Polaris by Michael Northrop. October 31, 2017. Scholastic Press, 288 p. ISBN: 9780545297165.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.4; Lexile: 780.

Alone at sea, with only the stars to guide them…

The proud sailing ship Polaris is on a mission to explore new lands, and its crew is eager to bring their discoveries back home. But when half the landing party fails to return from the Amazon jungle, the tensions lead to a bloody mutiny. The remaining adults abandon ship, leaving behind a cabin boy, a botanist’s assistant, and a handful of deckhands — none of them older than twelve. Troubled by whispers of a strange tropical illness and rumors of a wild beast lurking onshore, the young sailors are desperate to steer the vessel to safety. When one of their own already missing and a strange smell drifting up from belowdecks, the novice crew begins to suspect that someone — or something — else is onboard. Having steeled themselves for the treacherous journey home, they now have more to fear than the raging waters of the Atlantic…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Violence, Bullying, Description of a mutation


Book Trailer


Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 5-7. As the ship Polaris sails on a scientific voyage to Brazil in 1831, young crew members no older than 12 are left to fend for themselves after half the crew mutinies, then abandons the ship. In this suspenseful blend of historical and science fiction, only a cabin boy, a botanist’s assistant, and four deckhands are left. Half the crew was lost in the Amazonian jungle, one returned to the ship deathly ill, and another returned, only to disappear again. The young crew suspects something bad lurks below deck, but what they discover is truly horrific: a giant part-human insect covered in red scales that smells like fungus. Can they destroy it before it kills them? While withstanding treacherous storms, secrets, and injuries, they battle over whether to sail straight for the nearest land (full of pirates and slavers) or back to the U.S. This fast-moving adventure-survival novel with a science-fiction focus (an author’s note says the creature is based on a real species) will appeal to reluctant readers who like thrills and chills.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
An 1830s American scientific voyage to the Amazon goes terribly wrong.Only half of the men who went ashore for provisions before the book’s outset return to the ship, the Polaris, anchored off the coast of Brazil. Afterward some remaining sailors seek to eliminate a sick crew member, and the resulting argument leads to violent mutiny. The successful mutineers, strangely, abandon ship while also attempting to blow it up—leaving behind a handful of the youngest, lowest-ranked, mostly white kids, who save it, overcoming class and racial distinctions to work together. Cabin boy Owen, captain’s nephew, takes charge. Botanist’s assistant Henry’s highly intelligent but knows nothing about sailing. Thacher’s rumored to be from a fine Boston family whose reversal of fortune has led to his being sold into servitude; powder monkey Aaron’s said to be half Pequot (the other half unspoken but presumably white). Manny and Mario, the olive-skinned “Spanish brothers,” are good sailors with a secret. The kids must keep the ship from sinking before they can reach land and safety. There’s also something lurking belowdecks—strange noises and a disturbing, sweet smell lead them to speculate about a haunting. What’s actually there is much worse than a ghost. The salty sailing details and the drama of keeping afloat in the face of damaging storms and winds is just as heart-pounding as the struggle for survival against the threat already onboard. An exciting blend of nautical adventure and monstrous horror. (Historical horror. 9-15)

About the Author

Michael Northrop is the New York Times bestselling author of Scholastic’s new multi-platform series, TombQuest. His first young adult novel, Gentlemen, earned him a Publishers Weekly Flying Start citation, and his second, Trapped, was an Indie Next List selection. His first middle-grade novel, Plunked, was named one of the best children’s books of the year by the New York Public Library and was selected for NPR’s Backseat Book Club. He is originally from Salisbury, Connecticut, a small town in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains, where he mastered the arts of BB gun shooting, tree climbing, and field goal kicking with only moderate injuries. After graduating from NYU, he worked at Sports Illustrated Kids magazine for 12 years, the last five of those as baseball editor.

Her website is michaelnorthrop.net.

Around the Web

Polaris on Amazon

Polaris on Goodreads

Polaris Publisher Page

The Player King by Avi

The Player King by Avi. October 17, 2017. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 208 p. ISBN: 9781481437684.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.9; Lexile: 690.

From Newbery Award–winning author Avi comes the gripping and amazingly true tale of a boy plucked from the gutter to become the King of England.

England, 1486. King Henry VII has recently snatched the English Crown and now sits on the throne, while young Prince Edward, who has a truer claim, has apparently disappeared. Meanwhile, a penniless kitchen boy named Lambert Simnel is slaving away at a tavern in Oxford—until a mysterious friar, Brother Simonds, buys Lambert from the tavern keeper and whisks him away in the dead of night. But this is nothing compared to the secret that the friar reveals: You, Lambert, are actually Prince Edward, the true King of England!

With the aid of the deceitful Earl of Lincoln, Brother Simonds sets out to teach the boy how to become the rightful English king. Lambert has everything to gain and nothing to lose, or so he thinks. Yet in this dangerous battle for the throne, Lambert is not prepared for what’s to come—or for what it really means to play at being a king.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Realities of war



Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Grades 4-7. In 1486, Oxford, England, a lad named Lambert works, sleeps, and lives at Tackley’s Tavern. A friar lifts him out of hunger and poverty in exchange for his learning to play the role of the Earl of Warwick (heir of Richard III) not on stage, but in earnest. He agrees and subsequently rallies others to rise up against King Henry VII in order to place himself on the throne. It’s a fool’s game, since others are plotting to kill the young pretender once the Tudors are overthrown. Can he win the kingdom or, failing that, his life? Told from Lambert’s point of view, the first-person narrative effectively avoids the complicated political backstory and focuses on the boy’s experiences as he learns the unfamiliar speech, manners, and knowledge and plays his part. Avi, whose Newbery Award-winning Crispin (2002) was set in fourteenth-century England, again makes the past vivid and personal in this relatively short, accessible book. An author’s note reveals what is known of the actual Lambert Simnel, whose story inspired the novel.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
From prolific, Newbery winner Avi, a novel set in the Middle Ages that is replete with authentic period details, page-turning brief chapters, and a plot filled with twists, turns, and political intrigue.Avi expands on the historical footnote of an unnamed boy who challenged the kingship of Henry VII, was crowned briefly in Ireland, then led an army to England where he was soundly defeated. Lambert Simnel is a young orphan of unknown age who works and lives in a tavern where he is treated cruelly. A friar with his own selfish motives sees Lambert, purchases him, and schools him in the rules of behavior in order to pass him off as the previous king’s nephew, supposedly escaped from imprisonment. The first-person narration adds immediacy to Lambert’s fears and confusion. Having previously watched street actors, Lambert determines his best chance is to be a convincing player king, perpetuating the sham and nearly convincing himself. Although Lambert rises from a “loathed nobody” who spent “his life in a cellar, like a rotten turnip,” his fortune rapidly plummets. Touches of humor, brought about by both Lambert’s need for spiffing up and a colorful vocabulary (“gundy-gut,” “bootlicker,” “want-wit”), are sprinkled throughout. Unsurprisingly, the cast is an all-white one. An appealing protagonist pursuing a grand adventure and struggling with themes of power, pride, and identity will appeal to fans of historical fiction. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Avi is a pen name for Edward Irving Wortis, but he says, “The fact is, Avi is the only name I use.”  Avi is the author of more than seventy books for children and young adults, including the 2003 Newbery medal winner Crispin: The Cross of Lead. He has won two Newbery Honors and many other awards for his fiction.

He lives with his family in Denver, Colorado. His website is www.avi-writer.com/

Around the Web

The Player King on Amazon

The Player King on Goodreads

The Player King on JLG

The Player King Publisher Page

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson. October 16, 2017. Candlewick Press, 208 p. ISBN: 9780763695088.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.6.

In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she volunteers for Fidel Castro’s national literacy campaign and travels into the impoverished countryside to teach others how to read.

When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Lora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Lora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Lora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, War, Violence, Racism, Murder, Torture


Author Interview


Booklist (October 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 3))
Grades 5-8. Fidel Castro’s rise to power elicited many different reactions from Cubans—see, for example, Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s The Red Umbrella (2010). Paterson’s latest focuses on how Castro implemented a successful national literacy campaign. Havana resident Lora, an amazing reader, volunteers to be a teacher in the mountains of Cuba for one year. Lora has never been away from home before, and must leave behind all her city comforts to embark on a journey that will change her life. Readers interested in Cuba will find a wealth of information here; both a time line and political background are supplied between pages. While Lora’s adventure is based on a true story, the weakness of the novel lies in the presentation of danger: the looming threat that Lora could be killed by the enemy at any time does not quite resonate. Readers will find that the strength of the book lies not in Lora’s adventures but in the critical question she asks: Which country is truly perfect? A fascinating, possibly controversial portrayal of a turbulent time in history.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
It is 1961 in Havana, Cuba. Despite her parents’ misgivings, thirteen-year-old Lora becomes a member of the Conrado Benítez Brigade. She, along with thousands of other young brigadistas, travels hours away to live with poor mountain farmers and become teachers in order to fulfill Fidel Castro’s vow that the country become one hundred percent literate in one year. In this idealistic and informative coming-of-age novel, readers experience alongside Lora her triumphs and challenges as she exchanges her sheltered city life for the experience of living on a farm and seeing how learning to read and write changes lives. Lora comes across as a distinct, individual character, but through her readers also learn many details about the brigadistas: how they were expected to work in the fields alongside their host families and help out as much as possible in the home; the dangers they faced due to “counterrevolutionaries,” including threats that they “would come and kill all the literacy teachers in the area.” Though all the brigadistas were young, none faltered in his or her duty to educate rural campesinos for the cause. Paterson also brings in Cuban politics, covering Castro’s rise to power as well as reasons why many Cubans resented America’s interference in their country. Lora’s story helps readers see the Cuban people’s resilience and fortitude in the face of extreme hardship. Though Castro’s literacy campaign happened fifty-six years ago, Cuba has still maintained one of the world’s highest literacy rates. Appended with an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history. alma ramos-mcdermott

About the Author

Katherine Paterson is the internationally acclaimed author of over 35 books for children and young adults.

She has twice won both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award. She received the 1998 Hans Christian Andersen Medal as well as the 2006 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for the body of her work, and was the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature for the Library of Congress.

Two of her best-selling books have been made into feature films – “The Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Great Gilly Hopkins”. An active promoter of reading, education and literacy, she lives in Barre, Vermont. She has four children and seven grandchildren, and her beloved dog, Pixie.

Her website is www.terabithia.com

Teacher Resources

My Brigadista Year Teacher’s Guide

Around the Web

My Brigadista Year on Amazon

My Brigadista Year on Goodreads

My Brigadista Year on JLG

My Brigadista Year Publisher Page

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict. January 16, 2018. Sourcebooks Landmark, 288 p. ISBN: 9781492646617.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the author of The Other Einstein comes the mesmerizing story of love, power, and the woman who inspired an American dynasty 

In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady’s maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie’s search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Immigrant farm-girl Clara Kelley clambers out of steerage and, by assuming the identity of a fellow passenger with the same name, hops onto the dock and straight into a position as lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie, the exacting mother of Andrew, captain of industry. By turns tirelessly ambitious, philanthropic, and deeply influenced by his bootstrap-climb from poverty, Andrew is the personification of the American dream. He values Clara’s intellect and seeming honesty, but their burgeoning relationship jeopardizes her position and ability to aid her family, desperately struggling back home in Ireland. Despite the Civil War setting, Benedict’s (The Other Einstein, 2016) novel has a Gilded Age feel. Info dumps occur, and sustained suspension of disbelief is required, yet the story is engaging. The chaste romance will draw readers of inspirational fiction, while the novel is constructed to appeal to those seeking a tale with an upstairs-downstairs dynamic and all-but-invisible female characters who are either the impetus for or the actual originators of great men’s great ideas. For Fans of Liz Trenow, Erika Robuck, and Nancy Horan.

Library Journal (September 1, 2017)
In 1863, Clara Kelley, a farm girl from County Galway, sails to America to procure employment, hoping to send money back to her impoverished family in Ireland. When she answers a call for a girl of the same name who perished aboard ship, Clara quickly assumes the identity of this unfortunate, which leads her to obtaining a better position than she could have hoped: lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie, mother of the successful, talented businessman Andrew Carnegie. Clara quickly renders herself indispensable to her employer. However, her good sense and intelligence come to the notice of Andrew, and a bond formed over talk of commerce turns to a deeper affection. Unfortunately, Mrs. Carnegie learns of Clara’s true origins. Can Andrew’s love withstand learning her secret-or should Clara simply leave it all behind? Benedict’s (The Other Einstein) second novel captures the rush of industry that accompanied the American Civil War and the men like Andrew Carnegie, who were truly self-made. VERDICT With its well-drawn characters, good pacing, and excellent sense of time and place, this volume should charm lovers of historicals, romance, and the Civil War period. Neither saccharine nor overly dramatized, it’s a very satisfying read.–Pamela O’Sullivan, Coll. at Brockport Lib., SUNY

About the Author

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in History and Art History, and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. While practicing as a lawyer, Marie dreamed of a fantastical job unearthing the hidden historical stories of women — and finally found it when she tried her hand at writing. She embarked on a new, narratively connected series of historical novels with The Other Einstein, which tells the tale of Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories.

Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also published the historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare.  Her website is www.authormariebenedict.com.

Around the Web

Carnegie’s Maid on Amazon

Carnegie’s Maid on Goodreads

Carnegie’s Maid on JLG

Carnegie’s Maid Publisher Page

Whistling in the Dark by Shirley Hughes

Whistling in the Dark by Shirley Hughes. November 14, 2017. Candlewick Press, 240 p. ISBN: 9780763690724.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.7.

Liverpool, 1940: Thirteen-year-old Joan’s home is under constant threat from the Nazis’ terrifying nightly air raids. Everyone is on edge, faced with strict food rationing, curfews, and blackouts. It’s not an easy time to be a teenager. Joan’s one solace is going to the movies with her best friend, the unflappable Doreen, but when the bombings intensify, even that becomes too dangerous. There’s also the matter of a strange man who Joan sees lurking near their home. Who is he, and why does he think Joan can help him? Even more unsettling, as the Blitz worsens, Joan and her friends make a discovery down by the old mill that will tear the whole community apart. In the hardship of war, everything seems to be rationed — except true friendship.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Xenophobia



Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 5-7. Living on the outskirts of Liverpool in 1940, 13-year-old Joan experiences the terrors of the Blitz, hardships such as food rationing, and the discomfort of watching a slick, unlikable army captain court her widowed mother. School continues as usual, though a new classmate arrives from Poland and, after Joan befriends her, confides her story of fleeing from the Nazis via the Kindertransport. When a stranger is seen lurking in her family’s garden at night, the unsettling event reveals a mystery with a surprising twist and a satisfying conclusion. The well-drawn wartime background is a constant presence, affecting many areas of the characters’ lives, and drawing readers into their story. Hughes, who was a 13-year-old in a Liverpool suburb during WWII, transports readers to that time and place through vivid details of commonplace sights and activities. Realistically flawed, but consistent and motivated by their individual concerns, the characters set in motion certain subplots that intersect as the story evolves. An eventful historical novel with a distinctive setting.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
Schoolgirl Joan Armitage is trying to adjust to life in her suburb near Liverpool in 1940, when everyone tries to carry on a normal life despite nightly air raids on the Liverpool docks by the Luftwaffe. Joan’s father, a wireless operator on an oil tanker, was lost in the mid-Atlantic when his ship caught fire and sank, and she knows quite a few girls at school who have lost a father or brother in the war, too. Now Joan’s mother, brother, and two sisters are just getting by. Hughes’ matter-of-fact third-person narrative details how, despite the dangers of wartime, daily life can be boring, made bearable by friends, school life, an occasional movie, American music on the radio, and chores such as collecting salvage. While her previous World War II novel, Hero on a Bicycle (2013), offered the excitement of an occupied city (Florence) with a resistance movement, Joan’s comparatively uneventful life is not without intrigue: who is that mysterious man Joan has seen in her yard? What’s the story behind the new Polish girl in school? Why has Capt. Ronnie Harper Jones begun hanging around Joan’s house, and how does he always manage to bring parcels of goodies? Aside from Polish Ania, the book’s diversity does not extend much past Anglican Joan’s Catholic and Jewish classmates. A fine war novel about living life despite trying circumstances. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

About the Author

Shirley Hughes is the illustrator of more than two hundred children’s books and has won many prestigious awards, including the Kate Greenaway Medal twice. She is the author-illustrator of Don’t Want to Go! and Olly and Me 1 2 3. She lives in London.


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The Assassin’s Curse by Kevin Sands

The Assassin’s Curse by Kevin Sands. September 5, 2017. Aladdin Books, 532 p. ISBN: 9781534405233.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.7; Lexile: 610.

Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this third novel of the award-winning Blackthorn Key series.

Wherever Christopher Rowe goes, adventure—and murder—follows. Even a chance to meet King Charles ends in a brush with an assassin.

All that’s recovered from the killer is a coded message with an ominous sign-off: more attempts are coming. So when Christopher’s code-breaking discovers the attack’s true target, he and his friends are ordered to Paris to investigate a centuries-old curse on the French throne. And when they learn an ancient treasure is promised to any assassin who succeeds, they realize the entire royal family is at stake—as well as their own lives.

In the third heart-pounding installment of the award-winning Blackthorn Key series, Christopher, Tom, and Sally face new codes, puzzles, and traps as they race to find the hidden treasure before someone else is murdered.

Sequel to: Mark of the Plague

Part of Series: The Blackthorn Key (Book 3)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Underage drinking, Murder


About the Author

Since escaping from university with a pair of degrees in theoretical physics, Kevin Sands has worked as a researcher, a business consultant, and a teacher.

His website is kevinsandsbooks.com.

Teacher Resources

The Assassin’s Curse Reading Group Guide

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Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz

Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz. October 3, 2017. HarperTeen, 376 p. ISBN: 9780062642745.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, War, Violence, Smoking, Harsh realities of war



Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 8-11. Based on true events and figures from WWII, Katz’s novel offers a fictional tale of a Russian airwoman called Valka and her childhood friend Pasha and how their lives are disrupted by the war. Kind, peace-loving Pasha is sent to a war-hungry veteran commander as a radio operator, while Valka eventually becomes one of the famous Night Witches, supremely successful regiments of all-women pilots, stealthily flying over enemy lines each night to drop bombs in strategic places. Pasha and Valka’s steady stream of letters—which become increasingly desperate as they’re both moved closer and closer to the front lines and, miraculously, each other—is what ultimately gets them through the war. Katz’s debut doesn’t skimp on the terrible realities of war, as described in Valka’s first-person narrative and the intermittent letters between the two characters, and she nicely weaves historical events through the fictional narrative. This beautiful, emotional entry into a key moment in Russian history will appeal to lovers of adventure novels, as well as historical fiction fans.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2017)
Katz’s highly readable novel offers an entry into the story of the Soviet Union’s famed WWII squadrons of airwomen, the “Night Witches.” An accomplished pilot of a quirky, unreliable small plane, Valka leaps at the chance to sign up for the Motherland’s first all-women fighter and bomber regiments. Soon she’s operating as a bomber pilot, assigned to one of the slow, low-flying planes used for night attacks, with her beloved cousin Iskra as her navigator. Nazi fire, terrible weather, darkness, the loss of comrades, even commands to bomb their own countrymen all come into play, exercising Valka’s aeronautical and emotional resources with dramatic effect. Most notably, though, Valka worries about her sweetheart Pasha in the infantry; when the chance comes to save him, she commits treason to do so. Katz is skillfully informative, interweaving historical figures and facts without losing emotional propulsion and suspense; at the same time, she opts to stretch credulity with an expansive correspondence between Valka and Pasha, the chattiness of which would have seriously endangered their comrades, and whose liberality with locations shows a naive–or incredible–disregard of the censors. But that very correspondence is part of what makes this story accessible to American YA readers–as does, no doubt, its suspenseful, Hollywood ending. deirdre f. baker

About the Author

Gwen C. Katz is a writer, artist, game designer, and retired mad scientist easily identified by her crew cut and ability to cause trouble. Originally from Seattle, she now lives in Pasadena, California, with her husband and a revolving door of transient mammals.

Her website is www.gwenckatz.com

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Among the Red Stars on Amazon

Among the Red Stars on Goodreads

Among the Red Stars on JLG

Among the Red Stars Publisher Page