Books – With the centennial of WWI upon us and that of the Russian Revolution soon to come, the last imperial family of Russia has been a popular subject recently. Two important histories were published in 2014.
The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport, a book for adult readers, is an intimate and personal family history that accomplishes the difficult task of making its royal subjects individual and relatable. As the title suggests, its highlight is the degree to which it addresses with the four Romanov grand duchesses–Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia–as unique personalities, avoiding the tendency of onlookers (during their lifetimes and since) to lump them together into one unit. The treatment of the family, its personalities and their actions, is neither sentimental nor condemnatory, providing a detached authorial perspective that allows readers to make up their own minds.
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, intended for teen audiences and up, distinguishes itself from The Romanov Sisters by the strength of its narrative thread and breadth of its scope. Rather than limiting itself to the Romanovs, The Family Romanov features a series of “Beyond the Palace Gates” sections that describe broader events in Russia and the world. Even for older readers who may have some familiarity with the history of the period, this context is a thoughtful addition that enriches the story. Fleming is also adept at exploiting the inherent tension of her tragic subject to keep readers on edge and eager to continue. That said, Fleming has much more of an authorial agenda than Rappaport. Readers of The Family Romanov will emerge with a very clear sense of her opinions and point of view (not necessarily either a good or bad thing).
Both books are well-written, deeply researched and engaging; I would have no hesitation in recommending either one. If I were forced to choose between them, however, my verdict would come down in favor of The Family Romanov, whether for adult, tween or teen readers. It is more readable and memorable, and the added background into the lives of everyday Russians and famous historical figures outside the royal family adds an extra layer of depth.
Book – Cinder is a cyborg mechanic earning wages in New Beijing to support a very unkind stepmother and two stepsisters. All around her, people are dying of a strange plague while under constant threat of invasion or annihilation from moon-dwelling people called the Lunars. And while Cinder can fix nearly anything, she cannot find a way to make her life her own.
When Prince Kai asks her to repair his broken android, she agrees and manages to keep her mechanical aspects hidden. As they begin to spend more time together, Cinder finds that she has been volunteered by her truly wicked stepmother to serve as a test subject. Under the care of a strange doctor, Cinder begins to uncover secrets about herself and her origins. But time is running out if she is to save her world and her prince from the Lunars and their diabolical queen.
It has been ages since I read such an interesting mash-up of classic fairy tales. It was really fun trying to spot the similarities between details in Cinder’s world and those found in other fairy tales, but I really enjoyed all of the differences along the way. I can’t wait to read Scarlet, Cress and Fairest.
If that is not incentive enough, Cinder is a 2016 Rebecca Caudill Award nominee. The entire Lunar Chronicles series is available in both print and on our Caudill Award Kindle.
Book – Code Name Verity follows the World War II adventures of two young Scottish women. Sensible Maddie, who grew up in her grandfather’s bike shop, has a skill with machines matched only by her love of aeronautics. As a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force she mostly flies supply planes, but her missions become a lot more interesting once she meets Queenie, the girl with many names. Queenie is fearless and funny, brilliant and aristocratic—and a spy. Thrown together under extraordinary circumstances, it isn’t long before the girls form a fierce friendship. When Maddie’s plane is shot down over occupied France and Queenie is captured on a mission, however, both girls will find their strength, and their bond, tested to the limit.
Told through letters and documents written by both young women, Code Name Verity introduces two equally vivid lead characters whose affection for each other makes them jump off the page. Elizabeth Wein does an extraordinary job of building tension and maintaining the novel’s pace, making it hard to put down. Code Name Verity functions equally well as an action-packed war story and as a coming-of-age novel, but for me the absolute highlight is the friendship between the girls—perhaps the single best female friendship I have ever read. There are mentions of off-screen torture that may be uncomfortable for some, and readers are definitely advised to keep their tissues handy, but the depth of emotion and exquisite writing in this top-notch story make it well worth the ride.
Book- To quote Mr. Elton John, “It’s a little bit funny. This feeling inside…”
The year is 1986, in Omaha, Nebraska. This is a story about two misfit teenagers who were not looking for love, but fell into it together. Eleanor is a frumpy, fiery redhead with a broken family. Park is an average boy who wears eyeliner, and has a father who oozes masculinity. Eleanor is new in town, and she is forced to sit next to Park on the bus. Park reads comic books and listens to mix tapes to pass the time. Eventually Park notices Eleanor reading the comics with him, and their budding romance (and friendship) begins.
This is not just another sappy young adult romance novel. It deals with issues including, racism, bullying, body image, and domestic violence. Children of the ’80s and early ’90s would enjoy this book for the nostalgic factor alone. If you’re looking for a quick, easy read, but one that will linger on your mind, this one is for you.
Book – The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a hauntingly beautiful story set in an extraordinary time. The rotation of the Earth is gradually slowing which affects the length of days and nights, gravity, tides, the food supply, and human and animal behavior.
Told from the perspective of Julia, a sensitive bright 11 year old, this is more of a coming of age tale than science fiction. Julia narrates her life as an adolescent bringing to light typical experiences of popularity, bullying, friendships, cliques, and crushes. But if life weren’t complicated enough, Julia now must face the reality of what the future holds for her and if she has a future at all. Not only are there blatant environmental changes, but normal daily activities are increasingly difficult to hold onto. The Earth’s inhabitants are divided on whether to live by the clock or let the sun and darkness, which are both slowly increasing as the Earth’s rotation continuously is slowing, dictate their sleeping and waking patterns.
Walker consulted scientists in her research and while reading the book I questioned how I would react and what would I do under similar circumstances. This is a great book for both teens and adults. It was named one of the “Best Books of the Year” by O: The Oprah Magazine, BookPage, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and others. A movie based on the book is currently in production.