Saturday, November 23, 2013

To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie (Book Review)

Publication Information: Little, Brown & Co., hardcover, 1982; Lizzie Skurnick Books, trade paper, 2013
Genre: Young Adult    Setting:  1956, United States

Plot:  Sylvie is a pretty, movie-magazine-obsessed, mature-looking 15-year-old who has lived in foster care since she was 7, and the last three foster families have included a lecherous father.  Sylvie learned the hard way that no one takes her fears of these men seriously so she has saved every penny to run away to Hollywood where she expects to be discovered.  Naturally, some creep on the bus steals her savings and Sylvie is forced to use her wiles to continue her journey to stardom.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sense & Sensibility (Book Review)

Publication Information: HarperCollins, 2013, hardcover
Genre: Fiction    Setting: 21st century England

Plot: As in the Jane Austen novel that inspired this book, when Mr. Dashwood dies, his estate passes to his son, John (and son’s detestable wife Fanny), leaving his second wife and their three daughters virtually penniless.  John ignores the promise he made his father to support his relatives and feels put upon rather than guilty. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Buying In (Book Review)

Title: Buying In
Author: Laura Hemphill
Publication Information: Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 2013
Genre: Fiction             Setting: NYC

Plot: Sophie Landgraf, a recent Yale grad, landed a coveted analyst position on Wall Street, but she is unprepared for the competitiveness of her (mostly male) coworkers, the long hours and ambiguity of her assignments, the unrealistic expectations and unceasing pressure, and the knowledge – shared by everyone at Sterling – that they are only one failed deal away from losing their jobs.  The people Sophie should be able to rely on, her boyfriend, Will, and her father, back in western Massachusetts, are both very critical of her job and believe she has changed since selling out to capitalism.  As her work becomes even more stressful and all-absorbing, Sophie has to figure out what is most important to her because it doesn’t appear she can Have It All.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Another Place Another Spring (Book Review)

Publication Information: Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1971
Genre: YA Historical Fiction      

Plot:  No one asked Marya Breshnevskaya if she wanted to accompany Countess Elena Temkova to Siberia, escorted by the harsh police Captain Boris Branov, but loyalty to her former master binds her, although she learns  that Elena and her mother are not worthy of her devotion.  Marya, a peasant from the Ukraine, was brought up more as a companion to the young Countess in St. Petersburg than as a servant.   Then, five years ago, Elena’s father was exiled to Siberia for his support of the Decembrist Revolutionaries, and now Elena’s mother has turned in her own daughter to the imperial secret police for cherishing her father’s letters.  More surprising, however, is Marya’s growing recognition that Branov is not her enemy as they share a dangerous yet intimate journey to Siberia, encountering foes and friends along the way.
What I liked:  This book reminded me of two much beloved books from my childhood, Masha and The Youngest Lady inWaiting by Mara Kay, also set in 19th century Russia (I was delighted to come across this link to background on Kay).  Masha is gently born but brought up almost in peasant poverty until her mother sends her to the Smolni Institute to be educated (tragically, ensuring a better life for the daughter she will never see again).  Later, she too, like Marya (even their names are the same), is caught up in the Decembrist Revolt.  In contrast, Marya is a serf’s daughter rescued by Count Pavel Temkov when she was orphaned, brought up generously by him practically as a lady, but never considered anything but a servant by Elena or her mother.  Both are brave young women, set apart from their peers, forced to rely on themselves for survival.  And you know I love books about orphans.

One is conditioned to expect a book about an aristocratic heroine, but Marya is the unexpected but admirable character who knows – as does the reader –  that her ungrateful mistress will not survive imprisonment without her.  The book took unexpected turns: I was really surprised to read about the 1812 Russian settlement at Fort Ross, California, which continued until early 1842 (and didn’t really believe in it until I looked it up).  For those interested in 20th century exile to Siberia, I recommend The Endless Steppe (which even has a Betsy-Tacy connection).

What I disliked:  There were a lot of very sad scenes, bleakest of which is when the spoiled Countess prevents Marya from sharing in the reunion with her father, the exiled Count Pavel. In addition, it is a bit hard to imagine someone escaping from Siberia, penniless, and winding up in California but that is what fiction is for.

Source: This book was recommended by author Sophie Perinot, and I got a copy via Interlibrary Loan from Fitchburg, MA.  It is one of those crossover YA historicals will satisfy an adult historical reader, and was definitely worth the wait.