Thursday, August 1, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown -- Historical Fiction

Sir Philip Buxton, younger son of an Earl was unconventional to say the least. He believed in living simply and that everybody was equal - very shocking for the Edwardian era. He raised his daughters, Rowena and Victoria to feel the same. They consider Prudence Tate their sister though her mother was their governess. When Sir Philip dies unexpectedly, all three girls lives are turned upside down. Their well-meaning but snobbish uncle whisks the Buxton girls off to his estate Summerset Abbey. He declines to include Prudence, but Victoria knows she can't live without her sister. Who will calm her when she has her breathing spells? Rowena knows it's an injustice not to invite Prudence but the best she can manage is to bring Prudence along as a lady's maid. Prudence, not raised for service, finds herself neither fish nor fowl. The servants think she's uppity and the family thinks she's beneath her. No longer the privileged daughter of the house, she's reduced to wearing cheap, shapeless clothes and doing chores she's only ever had servants for. She begins to long for a family to belong to and searches for answers about her mother's past life. Rowena, lost and confused, nearly succumbs to inertia. Only a young daredevil pilot brings the spark back. Victoria forms friendships of her own and begins to uncover family secrets she hopes will help right a wrong. Though this series may be piggybacking on the fame of Downton Abbey, this novel is entirely different. It focuses mainly on the three girls and their relationships with the Earl and his family and friends. The period details are wonderful. The reader truly gets a sense of what it was like to live in a grand home like Summerset Abbey. There's also information on labor strikes, women's suffrage, technology and transportation woven into the plot. The reader also gets to see what the TV show doesn't truly convey - just how difficult it was to be a woman and especially a woman without means, in the Edwardian era. It's a real eye opener for those who love to romanticize the era. Some of the minor characters are drawn from the same mold as the Downton Abbey characters but mostly they're all original. I felt really bad for the Buxton girls and especially for Prudence. I feel Victoria's frustration with her sister but at the same time I understand how Rowena must feel. She's not a character you instantly love yet that makes her more real. She's hurt and confused and doesn't know what to do next. Victoria is sweet and naive. I liked her better than Rowena because she stands up for what she believes is right. However, her crusades are largely driven by naivety. She's led a sheltered life and doesn't really understand the way their world works. Prudence is the most sympathetic character. She's taken from the only life she's ever known and thrust into an alien world where almost everyone hates her. She doesn't know whom to trust or what her future holds. The writing is fairly simple so the plot moves quickly. It's interesting but doesn't really go anywhere. The big reveal at the conclusion wasn't such a surprise. I had already figured out part of the story and the rest made perfect sense. I disliked the epilogue and was completely shocked by what happened. I can't wait to read the other two books to see what happens. I would recommend this to anyone in their teens or older who loves historical fiction.

Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Raisa has lived her whole life in a small Polish shetl. Her sister was forced to leave for America several years earlier and Raisa stayed behind to live with their foster mother. After a serious illness, Raisa learns that her sister has finally sent for her. Raisa is nervous about moving to a new country but she looks forward to being reunited with Henda. The trip is not what Raisa expected but she makes a few new friends along the way: little Brina; the vivacious Zusa and the beautiful artist Luciana help her arrive safely in New York. Upon arrival, she discovers Henda is missing! She hasn't been seen since the fateful day a letter arrived announcing Raisa's death. Raisa discovers that in New York the streets are not paved with gold and strangers aren't as kind as they are back in the shetl. Raisa finds a friend in the whimsical scholar Gavrel who takes her home to his family. Though she has a loving home again, she longs to find her sister. She also needs to find a job and learn English but her situation leaves her little time or energy. Finally, she lands a job at the most modern factory- The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. She's at work that fateful day when the building catches fire. Did she survive her illness only to be taken by fire? What about her friends? Will her sister ever find out the truth? This is one of many books about the famous Triangle fire. It's slow to start. The first 2/3 of the novel is a typical immigrant experience novel. The details are really good. I felt like I was there with Raisa and experiencing the newness of New York with her. I quibbled with one major fact the author got wrong but she says in the afterward that she had to do it for the sake of the plot. The story sets the stage for the fire by making the reader care about the characters and what happened to them. I liked Raisa and admired her courage. Gavrel is a bit immature and annoying with his constant teasing but he's a true friend. I loved his warm. loving family. I didn't like Zusa much. I found her constant digs really rude for someone who claims to be a friend. I loved Luciana, of course, and wish there was more of her and her crazy Italian family. Once we get to know the characters they are put in the right place at the right time and then the rest of the book is difficult to put down. I needed to know what happened to the characters. I guessed and some of my guesses were correct. The ending had WAY too many coincidences for me. I did like that it touched on something that no other author of this subject has dealt with- PTSD and how it was treated. I wish that part of the book had been longer and less fairy tale like. The author took up most of her word count setting the story. I liked this book and I would recommend it mostly to teen readers. Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix remains my favorite novel about the Triangle Fire, but this one is pretty good.

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