Tag Archives: historical fiction

Review The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she’s found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.
To Gemma’s delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma’s charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma’s standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma’s biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she’s never dreamed.
 
Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and ’60s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy–a captivating homage to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre–is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.
 
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Page Count: 447
Source: My copy.
Rating: 4/5

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book so beautifully crafted as The Forgotten Garden or any of Kate Furnivall’s books. I know The Flight of Gemma Hardy isn’t exactly historical fiction, but it sure reads like one. Which is definitely not a bad thing.

I haven’t read Jane Eyre, so I don’t have a lot to go on when comparing this retelling. But I can tell you that its rawness and turmoil shines through Gemma’s young eyes, and it’s beautiful. It’s ugly. It’s ugly and it’s beautiful, like life so often is. But this is not a normal life. Young Gemma is treated horribly not only by her schoolmates and her teachers but by her own family. She’s never really been given a chance. And everyone seems to think that she thinks she is better than everyone else she’s around but that’s the thing… she is better. After being orphaned—even when she has family who is perfectly capable of taking care of her—worked to the bone, and never been given a chance, she refuses to stoop to their level of darkness and evil. Anyone would be damaged by this kind of treatment at such a young age but Gemma thrives and stays true to the good person she is, the good person her beloved uncle brought her up to be. I admired her. I’m not going to say that she didn’t frustrate me at times—she reminded me of The Language of Flowers’s Victoria Jones—but I believed in her. She was truly a good person. And sadly, a character like that has been hard to come by in literature lately.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is one of those books you want to take your time with. Though I read it in a day, it’s not one of those books you just read. You have to take your time absorbing its elements and eventually it will swallow you whole. I read the first two hundred pages without looking up. It’s just written that beautifully. You can’t look away.

Despite this, I thought the romance (or romances) could have been better. I didn’t think there was much development to be found in Gemma and Hugh’s relationship and there was practically no build up. I liked him, but I felt that the author wanted us to fall head over heels for him but with the way he was portrayed I thought he was just a normal guy. I’m a romantic at heart—I pretty much need at least a little romance in every story I read—but I would have been happy without it here. Gemma was intriguing enough on her own.

Furthermore, I thought the ending was a bit off. It didn’t feel rushed but I felt like other relationships (friendships especially) could have been wrapped up better. Actually, I didn’t feel like some of them were wrapped up at all.

These are forgivable elements though, as the novel as a whole was so wonderfully crafted. Livesey has definitely worked some magic here. And, though it doesn’t matter to some people, the cover of this book is freaking PERFECT.

A new favorite, for sure.

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Review Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team.

Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Page Count: 343
Source: My copy.
Rating: 5/5

Though I’ve given this book the highest rating it could receive, I want to mention that I still don’t know what to rate this book. I rated it five stars, mainly, because there were parts of it (in the second half, mostly), that made me grip its edges so fiercely that it felt like prying my fingers when I had to set it free. But I wanted to rate it lower, God I wanted to rate it lower when Maddie made me think, “who is this girl?” or when the plot was so far fetched it was unbelievable. Which the author apologized for in her Author’s Debriefing. I don’t often read the Author’s Note or whatever, but when I read the ending of this book and then saw the words “I am legally bound to write this afterword…” I just had to read on. And I just don’t know what to think about the author practically apologizing for the lack of historical accuracy in this novel, but I’ve come to appreciate her explanations to the reader:

“More reading ensued-okay, I could have a pilot AND a spy, and they’d both be girls. And it would still be plausible…. Bear in mind that despite my somewhat exhaustive quest for historical accuracy, this book is not meant to be a good history but rather a good story.”

I don’t know if some will consider this a cheap shot to the reader, or see it as Writer Laziness, but I don’t. I actually appreciate her for pointing out that hey, this is a fictional novel, and while I did my best, I couldn’t have told my story effectively without stretching the binds a little bit.

There are other things to be mentioned, such as Maddie and her shotty personality when the story jumped to her perspective. Part One, Verity was very imaginative in that it told Maddie’s story from the perspective of her unnamed best friend. And Maddie was portrayed by her friend as this strong, badass, Pilot/Motorcycle Rider/Girl who could do anything. And then in Part Two Maddie’s perspective came into the picture and she wasn’t that girl at all. She was this blubbing (Wein’s word, not mine) little girl that didn’t know what to do with herself. I won’t call her weak because she definitely wasn’t – she stepped up when it was her turn to survive – but I wasn’t convinced that she was the same girl. But she wasn’t. The same girl. And that’s the whole point. This experience, this war, changed her. And I’m not going to say that she didn’t handle it well because she really did, she just changed. So yeah, I thought, who the hell is this girlwhen I started reading about Kittyhawk, but really, this is exactly who she is. Who she’s meant to be. And I really loved her.

Laurie Halse Anderson said, “This astonishing tale of friendship and truth will take wing and soar into your heart.” And that’s what Code Name Verity is. A tale of friendship. There isn’t a hint of romance anywhere in the book and I think this is a refreshing trait in YA. Everything about the book is refreshing; I’ve never read a book like it. The unnamed girl (she is named eventually but I don’t want to spoil it) and Maddie truly are a sensational team. Throughout their friendship they have been there for each other and looked out for one another in a man’s world. I haven’t encountered a friendship like theirs anywhere in YA and I thought it was beautiful. I thought the whole thing was just really, very beautiful. And I realize that this review is sort of all over the place but it’s just really hard to sum up this book in a few easy words. I’m not going to say “I don’t usually read historical fiction but this is great” because I do read historical fiction, or “the writing was good” because it’s so… beyond that. I can’t nitpick at this novel or cut it into pieces because it’s, wholly, an amazing novel, that any person who values the beauty of friendship or the soul of another person, should definitely read.