I can’t believe it’s been so long since I did a Sunfire novel! I am way behind on my quota of trashy romance. Would you believe I didn’t completely and totally hate this one with the fire of a million suns? It’s true!
Sabrina, Candice F. Ransom, 1986.
This cover is…you know, a little weird. The artist made a game stab at how Sabrina is described in the book, but then whiffed big-time on the outfit, because half of this book is Sabrina’s complaints about how she doesn’t have anything nice to wear. At one point she borrows a fancy dress from her cousin, but why would that be the cover? Also, check out Sabrina and Greencoat there in the corner—he looks like he’s trying to bore into her with his eyes and she’s going “Uhh…I think I’m getting a call, you’re going to have to excuse me,” and then there’s Fringey in the other corner. Good show.
What I did enjoy is that this is a Revolutionary War book, but it’s set in South Carolina, instead of the 15 million books from that era that are set in Boston and maybe New York if you’re super lucky. So points for that. And I didn’t completely loathe Sabrina! Although I will note that there’s an error on the back cover blurb—it says that Sabrina “lives and works in her uncle’s shop,” when she…just works there and lives somewhere else, which is actually a fairly major plot point. But I get ahead of myself.
God, I hated this book. I should start a tag expressly for books I hate, so people can better hate-read along with me. (Would you rather read about me hate-reading books, or gushing about books I think are amazing? There seems to be no middle ground.)
American Diaries: Mary Alice Peale, Philadelphia, 1777, Kathleen Duey, 1996.
I picked this book specifically because the cover art is so, so, so bad. God, I hope a real girl didn’t sit as the model for this, because how very dreadful. Besides having a pretty bad face the artist has thoughtfully accessorized with a “WTF” hairstyle and a gift-wrap bow around her neck. The whole thing has the air of “Colonial family if they had access to a camera and delighted in taking awkward photos of their children.”
Anyway, this book is almost exactly as bad as the last one. The premise is that the Peale family is a wealthy Loyalist family in Philadelphia, but Mary’s older brother has gone off to fight for the patriot cause, causing a lot of drama and strife in their family. They haven’t heard from him in some time, and Philadelphia is being occupied by the British army, so Mary’s older sisters are pretty obsessed with finding officers to marry. I know this sounds promising, but trust me: it is definitely not.
Does it still qualify as a Revolutionary War book is it takes place just slightly afterwards? Sure, why not. This takes place juuuust as the war is finishing up and then just after.
With Nothing But Our Courage: The Loyalist Diary of Mary MacDonald, Johnstown, Quebec, 1783, Karleen Bradford, 2002.
I have to say I’m not the biggest fan of Karleen Bradford, and this isn’t even my favourite novel by her. But it’s still really interesting to visit the postwar period from a non-American perspective, since the Dear America novels on this period focus on the war itself and even the Loyalist novel takes place at the very beginnings of the war.
The Revolutionary War is one of those mish-mashy things that encompassed a bunch of different combatants (did you know Spain was involved???) and brought a generally rocky start to the United States. So the book’s setting, in 1783/84, is right in the thick of the nonsense. The protagonist, Mary, lives in Albany with her Loyalist parents and grandmother and two younger siblings—her older brother Angus being off fighting with the King’s army. A group of Patriots—including former friends of the family—take her father and tie him to a mule and parade him through town, telling him to get out of town or else.
Let’s do another Compare and Contrast of one historical event: Loyalists in the Revolutionary War in both Dear America and next week, Dear Canada!
Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson, Green Marsh, Massachusetts, 1774, Ann Turner, 2003.
I’m not crazy about Ann Turner as an author, and this book really didn’t do anything for me. It’s more childish in tone than a lot of the other entries in the series, which I think works against it. A tone that could have worked for a less fraught period really doesn’t function incredibly well here, and ends up inadvertently minimalizing the issues at hand. The protagonist of the novel for the opposite perspective, The Winter of the Red Snow, is even younger, but the general tone of that book is much more mature. I would love to say that it was a stylistic choice, but I doubt it.
Prudence, the narrator, lives in a small village in Massachusetts with her family (two parents, two brothers, three sisters) on the eve of the Revolution. They’re Tories, but Prudence’s best friend is Abigail, a girl whose family are all Patriots. That doesn’t last very long, since on Page 9 Abigail tells Prudence that her father has forbidden them to socialize with one another any more. In an effort to give some of the basics behind the war, Prudence wonders why it isn’t a good thing to be loyal to the king, or why anyone would want to do anything else, or why they should change. I get it—it’s just a bit heavy-handed. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just strikes me as vaguely odd.
Another thing that aggravates me about this book is that it features that classic trope of Girl Who Hates Typical Feminine Chores So Modern Readers Can Relate. (I need a catchier title.) And another thing (while I’m at it) is that Prudence keeps complaining of her “corsets,” and that she can’t breathe. They were called “stays” in the eighteenth century, not corsets, they weren’t called corsets in English until the 1830s. And stays were much less restrictive than corsets and were not intended to inhibit breathing, but only to support the breasts and back. Things like this make me pretty irritated with the lack of research and makes me fret for the rest of the novel.
Dude, look at this cover. For a long time as a kid I was really confused about this cover because it looks like the character is carrying around a tray while the house is being slowly consumed by a fiery blaze, and she doesn’t know what to do. But there is no house fire in the book, so I think it’s maybe just a horrible design choice?
Finishing Becca, Ann Rinaldi, 1994.
Why do I remember Ann Rinaldi as being so much more interesting than she actually was? All of her books that I’ve reviewed so far fall somewhere between “super dull” and “what happened here in my memory?” They’re accurate, all right, but it’s like a combination between reading a very animated textbook and an extremely boring novel.
Becca, the titular protagonist, lives in the countryside outside Philadelphia with her mother and stepfather after her brother has gone off to fight for the Americans. When Becca’s father was alive, he was a master silversmith, and the family was in better circumstances, but now they live on a farm and manage to make ends meet, but just so. Her mother does dyeing and works as a seamstress for some of Philadelphia’s most elegant families, and tells Becca about all of the families and who’s related to who and all that. Becca internalizes this and feels that if she only had the trappings of a wealthy life (learning to dance and play music and speak French and all that), she could “finish herself.” Not in a Death Wish type way, in a completed way. Hence the title.
Another classic that I had very little memory of, but on rereading it all came screaming back to me. I must have read this a dozen times as a kid during my American Revolution phase.
The Fifth of March, Ann Rinaldi, 1993.
Parts of this went a bit over my head as a kid, but I remember enjoying it a lot nonetheless. The picture is pretty bad, but this is the cover of the book I had—I guess it was re-released recently with an ugly cover, and I actually quite like the one I had. This is another book in the Teenage Girl Falls In Love With Soldier From The Other Side genre that I so dearly loved, but man, it was not as interesting this time around.
Why put off until tomorrow, etc., so let’s get started with the oeuvre of one of the Greats, the Big Names of 80s-90s-era historical fiction, the woman who was on every library shelf and in every school classroom at some point, one of the big kahunas herself: Ann Rinaldi.
Book: Time Enough for Drums, Ann Rinaldi, 1986.
This may not be one of Rinaldis’ absolute most popular books, but it was one of my favourites. This may or may not have been because Jemima, the protagonist, was wearing a gorgeous dress on the cover. Jemima is fifteen years old and living in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1778. She clashes almost immediately with her strict tutor, since rather than go to her lesson, she was running around in the woods getting her older brother to teach her how to fire a musket. Her older brother Dan is in charge of the local militia, and seems to spend most of his time in the first half of the book looking to recruit men while looking very dashing in his officer’s uniform. John Reid, Jemima’s tutor, is twenty-four and a staunch Loyalist, as well as the local schoolmaster. Jemima’s parents were good friends with the Reids, which is why I suppose they continue to engage him as a tutor for their daughter while holding vastly different ideological views.
Here’s a book that I loved so much as a young teen that my copy was ragged and dog-eared and unfit for donation when I grew up. I cannot explain why I liked it so much now.
Book: Katherine, Heart of Freedom. Cameron Dokey, 1997.
This is the first of a four-book series called “Hearts and Dreams,” which tells you exactly how awful they’re going to be. I will note that on the back of it, it says “Boston 1776,” and on the very first page, it says “Boston, 1773.” Good communication between the book assembler and chief editor.
Anyway, as we start, Katherine (or “Kit” as will become apparent) is reading a newspaper and we learn that Kit is an ardent patriot and her mother is “passionately devoted to all things English.” Which does make sense as she is from England, I suppose. You can tell right off the bat that this is going to be one of those books where Loyalists are simple-minded, deluded, or otherwise blind to see the obvious charms of revolution.
Now, I figured, while I’m on a Revolutionary War kick, I might as well do this gem that I picked up in a Kingston used bookstore.
Book: Sarah Bishop, by Scott O’Dell, 1980. I have a very clear, very distinct memory of absolutely loving this book when I first came across it, which must have been in about Grade 5 or so. The book struck me like a live wire, so there must be some memory there. But even when reading the blurb on the back of the book I can’t remember anything about it, so this should be an entertaining reread.
Let’s continue on with the Revolutionary War theme, because I have a truly surprising number of books on that topic.
Book: The Winter of the Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777. Kristiana Gregory, 1996.
This is an interesting one because though it’s set in the Revolutionary era, it’s definitely during the progress of the war rather than in the “exciting” part of 1776, with the Declaration of Independence and the outbreak of war and all the other exciting stuff. Anyone who passed fourth grade can tell you right from the title that it’s going to be taking place during the terrible winter Washington’s soldiers spent at Valley Forge, where the men were starving and had no shoes and left bloody footprints in the snow. But like 99% of historical novels, there are going to be very few surprises here in terms of what exactly happened there.