I am very picky when it comes to historical fiction–and I enjoyed Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray immensely. It has the perfection combination of great storytelling, good writing, and enough historically accurate detail to earn my admiration and respect. I detest historical fiction books that go of course in terms of authenticity, but Deception on Sable Hill stays true to the time period.
At its heart, the book is a romance between the wealthy Eloisa Carstairs and the middle class Sean Ryan, an Irishman who has worked his way up in the police force to become a detective. Set in 1893 against the backdrop of the Chicago World’s Fair, Eloisa confides in Sean that she is a sexual assault victim.
As a reader, I enjoyed the novel because in was a great story. As a writer, I was impressed by Shelley Gray’s mastery of the craft. This is probably something most people won’t notice, but she hardly ever uses sentence tags like “he said” or “she asks.” The dialogue is seamless and this is part of what makes Gray’s book so gripping.
Deception on Sable Hill is the second book in the The Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, but it holds up exceptionally well as a stand-alone novel. I have not read Secrets of Sloane House but I did not feel lost at all. In fact, I loved Deception on Sable Hill so much that I am definitely interested in reading the entire series.
P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinions and review.
“Dickens meets Tolkien for Kids.” That’s how I’d describe The Three Thorns (The Brotherhood and the Shield) by Michael Gibney. Three orphans are abandoned in Edwardian England, raised in wretched circumstances, and then happily reunited–only to discover the truth about their destiny.
It’s hard to talk about the plot of The Three Thorns without giving away major spoilers, but remember what I said earlier about Tokien? If you love trolls, goblins, magical creatures and battles, this book is for you! As soon as my nine-year-old read it he begged me to purchase the sequel, which will be published next year.
What I especially appreciated about The Three Thorns was the richness of location. I really felt like I was in 1912 London, or out in the countryside on a rabbit hunter’s estate. That made the contrast to the otherworldly scenes all the more sharp.
For more information about this series, check out http://www.thebrotherhoodandtheshield.com/.
Do you love a great historical fiction book for kids as much as I do? Then check out my previous review of Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson. Today I’m excited to share a bit more about this fabulous new book. Darlene graciously accepted my offer to interview her!
Jenny: Was your protagonist Emily Soper based on a historical person in real life or is she purely a work of fiction?
Darlene: Emily is the name of my grandmother whose father was a carriage maker in DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Grandma also attended a reception at the White House and met Theodore Roosevelt. Those are the facts; the rest is fiction.
Jenny: You manage to work a surprising amount of vocabulary into your book, making me think you must be a killer Scrabble opponent. Where did you develop a love of big words?
Darlene: My Dad – Emily’s son – was a wordsmith who loved crossword puzzles. He often used big words and never talked down to my sister or me. My sister and I still enjoy competing against each other in word games. Our favorite is PERQUACKY. As far as SCRABBLE goes, my son’s got me beat. He plays online and really kills me with two letter words.
Jenny: Ouch! Two letter words are tough.
One of the funniest scenes is when Emily bakes a peach pie under duress. That’s exactly how I feel whenever I encounter pie crust. Do you like to bake? What’s your favorite pie: peach, blackberry or apple?
Darlene: I really enjoy baking. Cookies and muffins are my specialties, but there is something satisfying about a fresh baked pie. Strawberry Rhubarb and Key Lime are my favorites.
Jenny: Thinking about the book is making me hungry! Another food related scene revolved around gingerbread. Kids today are likely familiar with gingerbread cookies, but not many have probably tried real gingerbread. Do you have a favorite recipe to share?
Darlene: Have you tried the recipe for Mrs. Jackson’s Gingerbread found in the back of the book? It’s actually a very simple recipe and produces a tasty gingerbread. It’s been adapted from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook of the era. Here it is:
Mrs. Jackson’s Gingerbread
¼ lb. butter or shortening
2 ½C flour
1 C sugar 2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs ½ tsp salt
¾ C boiling water 2 tsp ginger
¾ C molasses 1 TBSP white vinegar
- Grease and flour a square cake pan. Preheat oven to 350.
- Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs. Add water, molasses and vinegar. Stir until blended.
- Add dry ingredients to wet mixture. Pour into prepared pan.
- Bake 35-45 minutes. If a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry, it’s done
Jenny: Yum! That sounds good. Unfortunately, I can’t eat gluten but I bet my family would like that recipe.
A big theme of the book is Emily struggling with her mother and society’s expectations of what it means to be a “proper young lady”. She has to iron, keep clean, bake and stay tidy. When you were a 6th grade girl did you have expectations placed on you that felt like a burden?
Darlene: My parents never told us what we should or should not do. I’ve always been a goal setter. I get a great satisfaction from achieving goals that I’ve set for myself. There was always peer pressure and pop culture telling us girls to look and act a certain way; that still happens today. But then – and now – I choose to march to my own drum and do what feels right for me. I tried to convey that message to my own daughter as well.
All the expectations of my life have been self-imposed. I grew up reading Nancy Drew books. She seemed so cool and confident. It was fun to pretend to be Nancy. I think early seeds of feminism sprouted within me from reading books like that.
Jenny: That, and a life-long desire to buy a yellow convertible. Oh, wait. That’s my own reaction to Nancy Drew. 🙂
A very moving scene is when Emily’s family goes to visit their African American friend Henry in the Shaw neighborhood. For those of us who are unfamiliar with D.C., what is Shaw like today? Is it still a predominantly African American part of town?
Darlene: Washington DC is a much more urbanized place than it was 100 years ago. There is a large African American population as well as people of Hispanic, Asian and other cultures and ethnic backgrounds…much like any American city. Shaw suffered during the riots of the late 1960’s, and population declined throughout the district. It has been on the rebound over the last two decades. The Shaw section of the district is a mix of multi-generational professionals who are committed to revitalization of the area. It has become a very fashionable neighborhood.
Jenny: Civil rights, both for women and people, of color is a central element in Wheels of Change. When you were a child, did you ever witness a civil rights struggle that made an impression?
Darlene: While I never personally witnessed the struggles that took place, they were a part of the daily landscape of growing up in the 1960’s.
Jenny: Any new books in the works?
Darlene: I am working on a PB titled TOGETHER ON OUR KNEES about the childhood of a little known suffragist named Matilda Joslyn Gage. There is also another historical MG in the editing stage called A SPARROW IN THE HAND. This story takes place in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania during Prohibition.
The premise of Merlin’s Shadow is that Merlin, his fiancé, a baby Arthur, and a few Druid and Christian tagalongs, are on the run from the evil king Vortigern. Their only escape is to head north into the hands of the blue Picti.
This book is a real page-turner, but at the same time Treskillard weaves an extensive amount of Celtic history into his new interpretation of the Arthurian legends.
But (insert evil laughter), I can take Treskillard’s fascination with obscure history, and up the notch of nerdiness. This past fall I studied Celtic Christianity along with the rest of my local United Methodist church. One of the favorite books I read was Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Sprirtuality by J. Philip Newell.
After the Romans left the British Isles, Celtic Christianity developed into it’s own culture, without interference from Rome. Whereas Roman Christians revered Peter and believed infants were inherently evil, Celtic Christians looked towards the apostle John and believed that God’s creation was naturally good, but that free will led to sin.
The famous Celtic Christian Pelagius, is either a heretic or a saint, depending upon whom you talk too. He encouraged women to read scripture and think about spiritual things.
The Iona Abbey in Scotland is still active, and people from all over the world travel there to learn about God and ancient spiritual practices that still have meaning today: praying while you work, blessing your children before they walk out the door, and enjoying nature.
If you take all of that history and put it side by side with Merlin’s Shadow, it becomes even more interesting. Treskillard is writing about a world right after the Romans left, when Celtic Christianity is just getting a foothold. Druids like Caygek, have their own sense of morality that will eventually be enveloped into the Celtic Christian church; the Earth is sacred because it is God’s creation.
I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in the Merlin’s Spiral series.
P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.
Full confession: I was going to give All Things Hidden by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse a 5 on Amazon because it is everything a historical fiction book should be. But then I read the true story of Kimberley’s experience as a mom, fighting to help her daughter Kayla battle a rare illness, and now I wish I could give this book at 10. Holy Toledo! How does Kimberley Woodhouse find time to write? Wow. I am seriously impressed.
Don’t let the cover fool you; All Things Hidden is not necessarily a historical romance. It’s told from multiple points of view including a mix of genders. It’s also a “clean read”, meaning I’ll be saving it for my own teenage daughter someday. I’d have to destroy the cover to get my son to read it. 😉
It’s not just the quality writing that makes All Things Hidden a good book. There is an exceptional amount of historical detail in the pages too. Peterson and Woodhouse tell the story of Gwyn Hillerman and her father Harold who are (at first) the only medical personnel in the Matanuska Valley, Alaska Territory, circa 1935. The Hillermans are fictional characters in a real life adventure story. As part of the New Deal, FDR sent 200 families to homestead the valley. The families got 40 acres, a house, a $300 loan, and a commitment to live in Alaska for 30 years. (More information here.)
What I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE about All Things Hidden, is that the authors clearly spell out which characters in the book are historical, and which are fictional. They also share links to find more information about the Matanuska Colonization project. I felt like I learned a lot while I was being entertained.
P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review.