Monday, March 13, 2017

If You Enjoyed Masterpiece's Victoria…



I fell in love with Princess Victoria’s story when I first watched Young Victoria (2009).  I always pictured this queen as boring and dowdy until I learned how much she overcame as a young teen to be taken seriously as queen. I also love that she is short (like me!). Recently I’ve been enjoying Victoria on Masterpiece Theater, which is like Young Victoria, but in more depth. If like me, you’re having Victoria withdrawals, here are some young adult titles to keep you firmly immersed in this time period.


BEWITCHING SEASON
 

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In 1837 London, young daughters of viscounts pined for handsome, titled husbands, not careers. And certainly not careers in magic. At least, most of them didn't.

Shy, studious Persephone Leland would far rather devote herself to her secret magic studies than enter society and look for a suitable husband. But right as the inevitable season for "coming out" is about to begin, Persy and her twin sister discover that their governess in magic has been kidnapped as part of a plot to gain control of the soon-to-be Queen Victoria. Racing through Mayfair ballrooms and royal palaces, the sisters overcome bad millinery, shady royal spinsters, and a mysterious Irish wizard. And along the way, Persy learns that husband hunting isn't such an odious task after all, if you can find the right quarry.



This is a historical fantasy take on young Queen Victoria’s ascent to the throne, a magical explanation for real history. Like all of Doyle’s work, it is lush and descriptive with tons of authentic period details. This is my favorite of the Leland sister’s novels, probably because I related to Persephone the most and because of Queen Victoria's story line. 

PRISONERS IN THE PALACE

Synopsis (from Goodreads):


London, 1838. Sixteen-year-old Liza's dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in an accident. Penniless, she accepts the position of lady's maid to young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servant's world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the chance to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future queen?

While Bewitching Season gives us insights into Victoria through an upper class girl’s viewpoint (albeit one who can do magic), Prisoners in the Palace shows us what it was like to be “downstairs” in Princess Victoria’s house. I loved the meticulous historical detail in this one, and the way Liza helps the Princess to find her strength. 


If you enjoyed PRISONERS IN THE PALACE, also check out MacColl’s historical mysteries about Victorian British and American authors: Always Emily (Emily Bronte), Nobody’s Secret (Emily Dickinson), and The Revelation of Louisa May (Louisa May Alcott).





Did you watch the new Victoria series? What are your favorite books set in the Victorian time period?

Monday, March 6, 2017

MMGM: The Mozart Season



I’m back! I didn’t mean to take such a long break, but a lot has happened in the past few months. I’ve had a wonderful time celebrating the holidays and lots of birthdays over the last few months (my grandma, a poet herself, turned 90!). In January, I started substitute teaching, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment working outside the home, even part time, for the first time in fourteen years. But I am enjoying being back in the classroom and soaking up lots of first-hand research.

This book came to my attention when Gail Carson Levine mentioned it as one of her favorite authors—and a good mentor text—on her blog. I was immediately intrigued by the title and the premise. Although I am an amateur musician myself, I love books about music.

Here is the synopsis (from Amazon):

"Remember, what's down inside you, all covered up―the things of your soul. The important, secret things . . . The story of you, all buried, let the music caress it out into the open."

When Allegra was a little girl, she thought she would pick up her violin and it would sing for her―that the music was hidden inside her instrument.

Now that Allegra is twelve, she believes the music is in her fingers, and the summer after seventh grade she has to teach them well. She's the youngest contestant in the Ernest Bloch Young Musicians' Competition.

She knows she will learn the notes to the concerto, but what she doesn't realize is she'll also learn―how to close the gap between herself and Mozart to find the real music inside her heart.


What to love:

1.    It’s set in Portland! While I now live outside of Portland, I lived in Portland for a year—and managed to survive without a car by using my bike and public transport. The book happens to take place right near where I used to live, so the parks, the outdoor concerts, etc. are places I have been. It’s not often that I find books set in places in the U.S. where I’ve lived or spent a lot of time.  For this Northwesterner, these “I’ve been there!” moments were delightful.

2.   Rich characters. I can’t think of a middle grade with as rich and developed characters as MOZART SEASON. I think NEWSBOY would come close. The little details (like the mom collecting dead bugs) all serve a purpose—they are never insignificant. And you will not meet any cardboard, stereotypical characters in Mozart. Prepare to be amazed.

3.   A “quiet” book that’s anything but boring. If you want to write a book that’s mostly about characters (and no one saves the world from destruction), this is one to study. I couldn’t stop turning the pages even though it was about a very ordinary girl in an ordinary family. Being a musical prodigy and having parents in the symphony is perhaps not ordinary, but the interactions in this family were ones I could relate to.

4. The major thrust of the book is not about recovering from something terrible, but about reaching for something wonderful. It was refreshing to read a character-driven book that was centered on a violin competition. Character-driven doesn’t have to be synonymous with depressing.

5.   Music, music, music. I loved the music in the books—from the very realistic descriptions of what’s it’s like to play a violin to  Allegra’s struggles to get the music right to what it’s like to turn pages on a windy day. I loved the atmosphere of competition (coincidentally, my sister, a pianist, has played in the same competition as Allegra). It was obvious that the author was a violist and knew her instrument well.

If you like music, Oregon, competitions, or character-driven books, check out THE MOZART SEASON! You won’t be disappointed.

Have you read any good books about music?