Monday, January 16, 2012

History Rocks: YA Bliss 2012 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

I've decided to step back into time through the pages of a novel by joining the YA Bliss 2012 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. I have pledged to read 5 Young Adult historical fiction books this year (level 1)!

Historical fiction is a phenomenal genre which invites the reader into the past through use of period situations, dress, and locations.

Follow me as my reading transports me to different time periods filled with beauty, intrigue, deception, joy, sadness, and romance that have influenced our world for eternity.

The following are the rules for the challenge:

Choose your level:

Level 1: 5 Books
Level 2: 10 Books 
Level 3: 15 Books 


  • All Historical Fiction books must be YA or MG 
  • Books don't have to be 2012 releases 
  • Anyone can join. Please link to a public (web) place I can find you. 
  • You can join at anytime. The challenge runs from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012.


Books Read

1I Am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Cullen 
    YA Cullen 
    Publication Date: 2007
    307 pages 
    Historical Period: 17th Century Amsterdam, The Netherlands 

A true work of art! Peruse the pages of this novel and be beguiled by the world of Cornelia, the illegitimate daughter of the famous painter Rembrandt and his common law wife Hendrickje Stoffels, who suffers through poverty, loss, anger, and a struggle for true love which is forever out of reach. 

Readers will be drawn into the fear of the plague which sweeps Amsterdam, intrigued by the beautifully rendered imagery brought to life by the author, and relish in the gripping ending which causes Cornelia to doubt the love of Rembrandt. 

One aspect of the book that I found most fascinating was the use of Rembrandt's masterpieces to explain poignant flashbacks of Cornelia's life which gave the novel truly expressive meaning and depth. 

2. Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen 
    YA Godbersen 
    Publication Date: 2010
    389 pages 
    Historical Period: 1929 Kansas, New York City and Long Island, New York 

Ms. Godbersen offers a dazzling introductory novel to the Bright Young Things series with the smooth and seductive page turner of the same name. 

At first glance I believed the book, which is set in 1929 Kansas, New York City,  and Long Island, to be rather shallow and too coincidental in plot and events, but soon was absorbed by the author's use of language and wordplay which was deeply captivating and convincing. 

In the story, you will meet three young women who wildly differ in demeanor, appearance, and style. First, you will meet strong-willed Kansas farm girl, Cordelia, who is determined to locate the bootlegging father she has never know in glamorous New York.  Next is Cordelia's friend, lovable, yet naive Letty who dreams of bright lights and stardom in the cold and cruel world of show business, and lastly Astrid, the young and beautiful flapper who befriends Cordelia and introduces her to the elite of Long Island. 

Many bumps and bumbles follow the three as they reach their goals, become victims of defeat, and live dizzying lives in the epic Jazz Age. 

3. The Letter Writer by Ann Rinaldi 
    Not available at Oak Brook Public Library, but can be put on hold
    Publication Date: 2008
    217 pages 
    Historical Period: 1831 Southampton County, Virginia 

The Letter Writer is a sweeping novel that draws readers into the injustices and struggles between white plantation owners and their slaves in 1830's Virginia. While the novel was enjoyable, I found it to be rather shallow in areas which needed more explanation and may have lost interest without the brisk pickup in action and meaning by the end of the story. 

The young protagonist, Harriet Whitehead, is a thoughtful, yet immature girl at the beginning of the novel who blossoms into a worldly and dignified young woman due to the slave rebellion which transpired partly due to her naivete. 

In the story, Harriet is told by her fire and brimstone preacher half-brother, Richard, to help his near blind mother write correspondence to her business associates as well as family and friends. Harriet willingly accepts  this duty by writing to her Uncle Andrew in London, in order to polish her letter writing skills. 

As time goes on, Harriet meets Nat Turner, a young slave preacher, who is hired out to help produce quality furnishings for the family. Harriet is drawn to this smooth talking and gentle man who speaks of a kind and loving God rather than her brother's angry and tyrannical one. 

One day, Nat Turner privately asks Harriet for a map of the county. Unknowingly, Harriet decides to copy the map for Nat because she believes he will be preaching the word of a peaceful God to the local plantation owners and their slaves. Sadly, she does not know of the destructive and horrific events that will ensue due to this action: The 1831 Nat Turner Slave Rebellion with left 57 souls dead. 

This chilling novel will leave the reader grappling for answers to one question: Why did Nat Turner choose to destroy so many peoples lives through such violence and terror? 

Unfortunately, we will never know. Mr. Turner is a total mystery. Even though he had the ability to read and write he never wrote or discussed any information relating to the reason for the rebellion. His reasoning is left to suggestions, hypotheses, and probabilities by historians and novices alike. 

4. Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards 
     YA Richards 
     Publication Date: 2010 
     293 pages    
     Historical Period: Late 1880's  Johnstown, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas leading   up to 1889 Johnstown Flood 

Enter the world of Celestia  who is resigned to being the bookish, good-girl daughter of a wealthy businessman who summers at the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club near the doomed to-be-flooded Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Only to meet a handsome, but poor club worker, Peter who sweeps her off her feet into a tumultuous secret romance. 

This book which is strikingly written in the unique and notable style of verse ensnares the reader in its streamlined use of text and dreamy quality of yesteryear. I was totally blown away by how Ms. Richards was able to blend many characters within this story through use of chapters. Not only will the reader be invited into Celestia's world, but also glimpse into the lives of Maura (a young teenage bride and mother of a railroad worker), Estrella (sister of Celestia who harbors a secret which leads to her abandonment), Peter (Celestia's love who live in forsaken Johnstown, PA), Whitcomb (Celestia's businessman father), and Kate (a young women with a sad past who becomes a nurse in order to run away from the pain of loss). 

Watch as this story unfolds into a crisp and detailed fictional account surrounding the events of the May 1889 flood which forever changed the landscape of the Three Rivers area of Pennsylvania. 

The brilliant characters and magic of Ms. Richards storytelling will leave readers lingering on how such profound sadness and indignities can happen upon so many souls in a mere nanosecond of time. 

5.   The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg
      YA Dagg
      Publication Date: 2011
      250 pages
      Historical Period: 1896 Mica Creek, Washington to New York City

The Year They were Famous is a poignant and touching story based on the author's great-grandmother and great-aunt Helga and Clara Estby, who courageously walked our nation entirely on foot  in order to save the family farm and win 10,000 dollars.

I found this story to be an eye-opening look at America's past where perseverance and resourcefulness led people to think and dream up even the most impossible schemes in order to stay afloat.

Readers will become drawn into the pages through some of the following situations: Helga divulges a staggering family secret, she and Clara meet Mrs. William Jennings Bryan, they almost lose their lives to a flash flood, and roam aimlessly through lava flats with no help in sight.

The story remained exciting to the end and allowed the reader to revel in the complexity of the human spirit, shed light on the early suffrage movement, and act as a  loving family portrait of the settlers of the Pacific Northwest.