Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Diver’s Daughter by Patrice Lawrence

Review: Diver’s Daughter by Patrice Lawrence

diver's daughter

Extract:

‘You want me to go to an unknown place and seek out a guide to help me find hidden treasure? That’s not a plan. That’s a children’s tale.’

(From Diver’s Daughter by Patrice Lawrence. P35.) 

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Synopsis:

When Eve falls into the River Thames, she is rescued by her mother, possibly one of the only people in Tudor London who is a strong swimmer. This catches the attention of one George Symons, who asks them to go to Southampton and find the diver who salvaged treasure from the Mary Rose. There is another shipwreck nearby, and it’s contents might lift Eve and her mother out of poverty.

The reception they get in Southampton is cruel and places them in a debt they can’t pay. Eve is desperately afraid of water, but she knows that treasure below the surface is the only chance she and her mother have of escaping terrible punishment and accusation.

Will Eve and her mother ever be free to live a secure life?

 

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Review:

 An extraordinary story which draws on the forgotten voices of the past. Patrice Lawrence’s tale started with the African divers who salvaged treasure from the Mary Rose (Henry VIII’s warship which sank in 1545). Set years after the event, Diver’s Daughter follows a child on a quest to find the surviving diver and improve her family circumstances.

Although slavery wasn’t legal in England at that point in history, and there were black people in British society, it was legal in other European countries and Englishmen could be involved if they operated from countries like where it was legal like Portugal. This meant that black people in England at the time, although protected by law, were not free from threat. Diver’s Daughter, set in Elizabethan London and Southampton, shows how this shadow overhang people’s lives.

Eve is a great protagonist. She has a strong voice and isn’t easily fooled by the people around her. She’ll also do anything to keep her mother afloat in a world which can be unbearably cruel.

The story doesn’t shy away from the less savoury parts of Tudor society – the tarred heads stuck on spikes and the women pinned to the pillory posts in the town centre. Threat of hunger and cold may look the same today as it did then, but the penalties for stealing food or failing to pay for shelter were higher. The darker parts of the narrative are balanced with friendship and determination and hope and a sense that Eve, whatever the odds, is a survivor.

A must for readers of historical fiction. I hope we’ll see more stories based on lesser-known characters from the past, and I would love to see some non-fiction on the same subject. Britain has been a diverse island for centuries and it is time our literature reflected it.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my gifted copy of Diver’s Daughter. Opinions my own.

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Firebird by Elizabeth Wein

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Extract:

I wondered what would happen to my friends. I wondered how long it would be before they were armed and fighting – protecting the blue skies of Motherland from the enemy invaders. 

(The Firebird by Elizabeth Wein. P37.)birdSynopsis:

I am not a traitor. Let me tell you why I landed my plane behind enemy lines …

Nastia is the daughter of revolutionaries and a life-long Communist. As Russia enters the Second World War, Nastia is determined to fly a fighter-plane. Instead she is sent to train new pilots alongside Chief. As war takes over, Nastia uncovers secrets which have been buried since the fall of the Romanovs.

birdReview:

 A short and compelling narrative about a Soviet woman during the second world war. This pulls together two strands of history – the fall of the Romanovs in 1917 and the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

The greatest difficulty about learning history as a young person is understanding that time-periods didn’t happen in isolation. The events of one time-period were shaped by or in reaction to the time which preceded it. The brilliance of this story is it shows how the past twenty-five years have built-up to the time-period of the story. Nastia is also very aware of the wars in her country. She has been raised to revere and fight for her country.

This is an exceptionally well-written story. Its format makes it accessible to a wider audience – Barrington Stoke produce books which are friendly to people with lower reading levels – but the story itself is as well-told as anything Elizabeth Wein has written. I felt as if I knew Nastia and enjoyed the strand about the Romanovs. It is interwoven in a way which allows the reader to guess at things before they are revealed.

Both Nastia and Chief are strong female role-models. Nastia is a captain at her rowing-club and is the person in her friendship group who goes first. Both Nastia and Chief are looked up to and respected. It is wonderful for young readers to see female characters in these roles.

Reading this felt like a window into a different life. The level of research which has gone into this was apparent from the text but also detailed in the back of the book. This would be a wonderful introduction to study of the Romanovs, the Second World War or the history of aviation. Empathising with people from very different times or places is the first step to understanding their history.

There are many books set during the second world war but I felt this did something new. Maybe it was that sense of history as a complex web of events, or maybe it was the strong female voices from this particular time and place. All I know is Nastia’s voice will stay with me and I hope to learn more about the history behind the book.

 

Thanks to Barrington Stoke and Kirstin Lamb for my copy of The Firebird. Opinions my own.

Round-Up · Young Adult Reviews

Round-Up: 6 wonderful historical YA titles

 

I’m loving historical YA right now. Books take me to places I can’t visit, from the smoggy streets of Victorian London to the dining room of an inter-war mansion. I love films too, but scenes can be fleeting. Only a book gives me the time I need to savour the details.  They also help us to empathise with people from the past. 

There is a great selection of historical YA right now. I thought I would share some of these titles with you. bird

Unveiling Venus by Sophia Bennett

Mary is no longer a maid. Hiding behind her alter-ego of Persephone Lavelle, she becomes a muse to painters and a regular at the high society events of Victorian London. 

When her identity is exposed, Mary flees to Venice with her friend Kitty. There she encounters a man who offers her the world – at the cost of her friendship with Kitty.

Unveiling Venus continues the story started in Following Ophelia. I love the continuation of Persephone’s story, and how the story focuses so much on her friendship with Kitty. Sophia Bennett’s world-building is sublime. If you’re looking for historical fiction which takes you right into an era, put this series high on your list. 

 

Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon

Olivia was born in the workhouse and raised on the streets of London. When she is taken in by a wealthy uncle, she finds it hard to leave behind her thieving ways. She also refuses to forget the children living in London’s streets and slums. 

Olivia meets Jack, the boy once known as the Artful Dodger. Jack too has risen to higher places. He sees it as an opportunity to rob the people of high society. 

The pair must decide whether to turn their backs on their comfortable lives in favour of love. 

This is on my TBR. I am interested to see a retelling of Oliva Twist with a female protagonist. I hope there will be some interesting heist scenes before the lead pair figure out what they want in life. 

 

The Goose Road by Rowena House

 

1916. 14 year-old Angélique poromises to keep the family farm running until her brother returns from the war. To keep her promise, she will have to embark on a journey across France, accompanied by a flock of geese. 

I’ve been looking forward to The Goose Road for months now, and have it on good authority that it is the sort of book that you want to last forever. The idea of a young girl travelling with a flock of geese stuck with me. Maybe it is because I live in an area where migratory geese winter. They fly over the house twice a day for half a year, and I stop what I am doing to look up every singe time. 

 

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

News of a mermaid who lives on shore reaches P.T. Barnum, showman extraordinaire. The mermaid becomes part of his museum. Leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was. 

P.T. Barnum was a real-life figure. His story was recently told in The Greatest Showman On Earth. I am interested to see how Christina Henry portrays him. It sounds as if this story focuses on the unheard voices of the people in Barnum’s ‘museum’.  

 

The Electrical Venus by Julie Mayhew

Mim and Alex have been raised in a traveling show. Money is tight and Mim is afraid she will be thrown out on to the street. Mim and Alex start plotting to overcome their problems, a plot which is interrupted by the arrival of Dr Sebastian Fox. Fox uses electricity to give Mim a new identity. He bills her as the girl whose kisses are truly electrifying. Now Mim is in the spotlight as men queue up to buy one of her electrifying kisses. 

I adore books set in Circuses and performing communities. This book shows history in its gory reality. Think poverty and guts and stench. This makes an interesting juxtaposition with Alex and Mim’s story of love and self-discovery. 

I found the narrative a bit unusual. It is told in alternating sections, some of which are addressed to animals – a parrot and a pig. This made more sense when I found out the story originated as a radio play. It took me a little while to get used to the unusual voice. 

 

A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

Aspiring writer Lou has always wondered about the grand house which has stood empty for years. When the owners arrive home for the summer, Lou is swept into a world of cocktail-parties and glamour beyond her dreams. As she grows closer to the Cardews, she becomes aware of a darkness at the heart of the family. 

This is on my TBR. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. As a teenager I loved big house stories. Anything with a Du Maurier vibe and I was there. I’m looking forward to reading A Sky Painted Gold. This is one my younger self would have adored. 

 

Do you have any favourite historical fiction? What is on your TBR? Let me know in the comments below

Louise Nettleton