Mean Girls meets The Age of Innocence in this deliciously decadent debut. Just imagine Lindsey Lohan and Rachel McAdams in rustling silk dresses, batting their eyes at boys in white tails behind feathery fans in tastefully decorated drawing rooms, and you’ve got The Luxe, a Gilded Age Gossip Girl. The year: 1899. The place: upper crust NYC. Here, you’ll meet good-as-gold girl Elizabeth Holland, a frosty blond with a boiling hot secret—she’s in love with stable boy Will, and has been trysting with him late at night for some less-than-innocent rolls in the hay. But she’s being forced to marry wealthy playboy Henry Schoonmaker for his inheritance because her blue-blooded family is on the brink of financial ruin. When her best friend ( and worst enemy) Penelope Hayes discovers Elizabeth is engaged to her crush, she begins to plot her friend’s downfall in order get Henry for herself. Meanwhile, Henry has become smitten with Elizabeth’s wild younger sister, Diana, who isn’t sure she can stand by and watch her sister marry the man she knows is meant for her. And don’t forget the sly chambermaid, Lina, who knows Elizabeth’s shameful secret, and isn’t afraid to sell it to the highest bidder so she can better her position and win the heart of stable boy Will (who we started with, remember?) This high society romp is light, fluffy, and totally escapist. The scandalous ending hints at a sequel, so hopefully we will be able to continue swooning over Henry Schoonmaker for several thick books to come. And the cover, oh the cover! Talk about swooning–do they carry that dress at Macy’s? If you enjoy The Luxe and want to read more about the Gilded Age, look up the classics by Edith Wharton and Henry James that clearly inspired this teen tale of manners (or just rent the very fine movie adaptations of The Age of Innocence and Portrait of a Lady).
Lady’s maid Dashti may look meek, but her inner fortitude is far more than that of her fragile Lady Saren. When Lady Saren is condemned to seven years in a locked tower by her father for not marrying evil Lord Khaser, Dashti is the one who rations the food, sings the songs of healing to ease her lady’s anxiety, and chases the rats from their precious stores of food. When Lady Saren’s true love, Lord Tegus, comes calling through the tower’s only opening (a chamber pot dump hole), it is also Dashti who must speak to him, under her shy lady’s orders. After a few such intimate, whispered visits, Dashti is horrified to discover that she is in love with her lady’s man. She writes it all down in her Book of a Thousand Days; her forbidden thoughts of Tegus, her despair that her lady will ever come out of her depression, her fear that they will not survive the tower imprisonment. But survive they do, and before Dashti knows it, they are on to another adventure where she will need to call on the strength of her ancestors to keep them both alive. Finally, they come to the point where Dashti’s precious Book will either save their skins, or condemn Dashti to death. Will Dashti, a lowly mucker girl, be able to claim both her life and the love of a lord? This rarely told Grimm fairy tale, re-imagined by Hale to have taken place on the Mongolian steppes, is a sweeping romantic epic that will steal your heart even as it makes it race with excitement. It’s one of the best fractured fairy tales I’ve ever read, and the fact that Hale sets it in a real time and place makes it even more rich. Follow this one up with Donna Jo Napoli’s historically imagined Pied Piper story, Breath.
The 2007 Top Ten list has been posted! You can find it under “Jen’s Yearly Top Ten Lists” on the right hand sidebar, towards the bottom of the RR homepage. Please check it out and let me know what you think. Am I right on the money? Or have I missed/dissed some of your favorites? Please leave a comment and let me know what would have made YOUR top ten of 2007! (Even though I try to love all my Top Ten Books the same, if I had to pick my very favorite, it would have to be Peter Cameron’s angsty YA debut, shown at right.)
Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by age, gender or genre. These are just my “from-the-gut” favorites. No annotations this year, just click on the title to go right to the review.
Well, fiddle-dee-dee! Picture book author Rosemary Wells has penned a rousing Civil War novel whose heroine is the very antithesis of spoiled southern belle Scarlett O’Hara. India Moody is the daughter of a modest Virginia harness maker who reluctantly leaves home to become an ambulance wagon driver for the Confederates. In his absence, India (who is a daddy’s girl through and through) pines for him as she tries to help her mother keep their family together while the war goes on and resources become scarcer. She is encouraged and inspired by her teacher, Emory Trimble, a young man of science who teaches India all about the wonders that exist beneath the glass of the microscope. After a friend up North writes to tell her that there is a college in Ohio that accepts women, India becomes determined to work her way there, war or no war. Soon Emory follows her father to the battlefield and India finds herself unable to just sit and wait for bad news. She leaves home to find her father, and ends up smack dab in the middle of the bloody battle of Sharpsburg. Will India survive long enough to find her father and realize her dream of a college education? Although Wells succumbs to the occasional bit of melodramatic purple prose (in this example, literally): “Mauve is a pinkish purple of such delicacy I can only hold the silk square to the light and gaze at it. I have seen it only in petunias and stained-glass windows,” it suits India’s rebellious, yet lady-like personality. And who doesn’t enjoy a little historical melodrama, especially of the skirt-swishing, finger-wagging, swooning sort? I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what would happen to India and her dream of studying science with the big boys, and I will definitely be recommending Red Moon to my 8th grade students next year as a perfect selection for their Civil War book project.
This third installment of Aussie author Margo Lanagan’s short story collections is just as bizarre and mind-bending as her previous two. My favorites include “A Good Heart,” about a medieval peasant boy who discovers that the girl he loves, a lady above his station, is harboring a dark secret, and “Under Hell, Over Heaven,” which takes place in Purgatory, where some souls try to earn their way into Heaven by forcibly transporting other unfortunate souls to Hell. “Winkie,” in which Lanagan reinterprets the benign Wee Willie Winkie from Mother Goose into a tall, scrawny, child-snatching bogeyman gave me the heebie jeebies, which were soothed away by “A Feather in the Breast of God,” a sweet story that suggests sometimes our pets come back to watch over us after death. Another thing I appreciate about Lanagan’s books is that she always includes notes at the end that let readers know where the inspiration for her weird, wonderful stories comes from. I loved the shout-out she gave to fellow Aussie Garth Nix when she wrote that the title of her last story, “Daughter of the Clay” came from reading about the Clayr in his Abhorson trilogy. If you want to take a short trip to a strange place, then these stories are just the ticket. Don’t forget to go back and check out her first two books, Black Juice (a Printz-honor title) and White Time.