Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

War Horse

War Horse book cover
Image from Youth Voices

Title: War Horse

Author: Michael Morpurgo

Genre: Historical

Joey has lived his life as a farm horse, cared for by the loving Albert. But when Albert’s father, who never really liked Joey anyway, needs money, he sells Joey to the army fighting World War I. Ripped away from everything he knew, Joey finds himself holding various positions as a war horse. Will he ever see Albert again?

I’d seen the movie War Horse, and it was okay. But I had no intention of reading the book until it was a book club pick. Then I decided, what the heck. It couldn’t be as bad as some of the book club’s selections – after all, the movie wasn’t bad.

Joey was…well, he was a horse. It’s hard to discuss a horse main character. He had little emotion, and no thinking besides what was required to tell the story.

I have never read Black Beauty, and I don’t ever plan to. But from what I know of the plot, it sounds an awful lot like War Horse – a horse’s perspective on a series of owners, but in this case in the midst of World War I. The main plot was Joey trying to survive the war – I was going to say to find Albert again, but he was such a laid-back horse, he didn’t even try to do anything. He just obeyed and did what was asked of him.

The movie was almost exactly like the book. Only, in my opinion, it was better – it was shorter, and the battle scenes lent themselves well to the screen. I think watching the movie first decreased my enjoyment of the book, since they were so close, I already knew the plot.

War Horse wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good, either, but it wasn’t bad. Overall, not my favorite, but there have been worse book club picks.

Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Secrets of the Realm

Secrets of the Realm book cover
Image from Bev Stout; used by permission

Title: Secrets of the Realm

Author: Bev Stout

Genre: Historical

Blamed for her uncle’s death, fifteen-year-old Annie takes to the streets of 18th century London disguised as a boy. Her life changes course when she becomes Captain Hawke’s cabin boy. Not only must Annie work alongside the Realm’s motley crew of outcasts and gentlemen, she must also keep her superstitious shipmates from discovering she is a girl. Annie vows she will never leave the Realm, where dreams are chased, shattered lives can mend, and secrets are stowed like keepsakes in an old desk drawer. But, when Annie’s past catches up with her, can she stay on the Realm? More importantly, will she have a choice?

I saw the title of this book, and the word “realm” immediately made me think of magic realms. So I skimmed the synopsis – girl, sailing ship, magic realm, sounds good – and said, “I’ll take it!” Then I actually started reading it and discovered there were actually no magic realms involved – the ship was called the Realm.

So after getting over my surprise that Secrets of the Realm was actually historical, I was actually glad of my mistake. I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise.

Annie was super fun. She wasn’t the kick-butt character I’d expected, but she was stubborn and could hold her own, if not physically, at least mentally and emotionally. I loved watching her navigate being a cabin boy.

I feel like I should mention other characters, but the rest of them were minor. Sailors, the captain, her friend/mistress Abigail…they were in and out of the story, enough to be important to the story, but not enough to warrant their own paragraph.

With a fifteen-year-old girl on a ship full of men – some of them not too much older than her – there was a lot of potential for romance. And there was some hinted at, but it was more of a one-sided crush than anything. That was nice, because even though it would have been a little unrealistic if the potential had been ignored, the middle grade tone of the story couldn’t have handled a full-blown romance.

The plot itself – Annie trying to hide her gender while living on a ship – doesn’t seem like it should have enough plot to keep me interested, but it did. I think part of it was the sailor that had it in for Annie, and part of it was just that I liked Annie. But I was interested the whole way through.

I have to say I wasn’t as big a fan of the ending as I was of the rest of the book. I know it makes sense, but it’s really not what I wanted to happen.

Overall, I’m glad I picked up Secrets of the Realm. I might venture to say it’s like a middle grade version of Avi’s awesome The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. I think a sequel would drag a good story on too far, but I wouldn’t mind reading something else by Bev Stout.

I received a free review copy of Secrets of the Realm from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

The Highwayman’s Footsteps

Photo from tower.com

Title:  The Highwayman’s Footsteps

Author:  Nicola Morgan

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Most friendships don’t start at gunpoint.  But that’s how highborn Will meets the highwayman’s daughter.  They’re both in desperate situations – one badly injured, the other on the run from soldiers.  And so they begin to work together.  But while wounds may heal, the soldiers won’t stop chasing…

I don’t normally read historical fiction, but two things convinced me to pick up this book.  One was the promise of highwaymen, which sounded at least interesting.  The other was the three-dollar price tag.  I figured for three bucks, it couldn’t be that bad.

It wasn’t exactly like I expected, but it wasn’t bad.  And it’s almost funny that Henry played such a big part in the story (despite the fact that he wasn’t in much of it) and wasn’t even mentioned in the synopsis.

Will was the main character and the narrator.  I actually wasn’t too happy with the fact that he narrated.  His speech and his thoughts were, as best as I can figure, in keeping with the time period (the 1700s, I believe).  Which means the whole book had a formal, almost stiff tone.  That kind of kept me from getting into the book.

Other than the narrative problems, I liked Will.  Even though sometimes I wanted to give him a good long lecture about what it really means to be cowardly.  He was good with horses and totally unused to Bess’s kind of life, but he was up for giving it a try.  He was a likable character, but not necessarily a memorable one.

Bess (the highwayman’s daughter) herself wasn’t too remarkable, but seeing through Will’s eyes, she was.  Will had grown up with the kind of girls who stayed in bed for a month if they got stung by a bee – and then there’s Bess, who rides a horse as good as any man, robs people at gunpoint, and says whatever she thinks.  Except for the robbing people part, she wasn’t too remarkable to me – but she was to Will.

This was kind of a “meh” book for me.  I liked the plot just fine.  Plenty of adventure and excitement and running from soldiers to keep me interested.  But the characters just weren’t remarkable or memorable to me.  I don’t regret the read, but I highly doubt I’ll read it again.