Flashback Friday: The Tea Rose

by Jennifer Donnelly

“We’re not punished for our sins, lad. We’re punished by them.”

This week I found out that Jennifer Donnelly will have a new young adult novel this fall (which I promptly secured an ARC of, and am so excited to read!), which I was taken aback by more because I check in on her website pretty regularly. So I decided to celebrate with my favorite Jennifer Donnelly title for Flashback Friday.

While Donnelly made her name with A Northern Light, The Tea Rose is my favorite title. It begins an epic trilogy filled with beautiful historical details and wonderfully drawn characters. The Tea Rose starts in England in 1888. Fiona grows up in the slums of London. She has dreams and a lover, and a life in the making. And then all of that is shattered by men striking back at her father’s attempts to unionize. Fiona flees to America. And we continue to follow her journey to make her dreams come true, and reconcile her former life. We explore complex issues and we get a good romance.

The Tea Rose is followed up by the Winter Rose and the Wild Rose. Each installment is impeccably drawn and deep, while remaining compelling throughout. Donnelly is just so good at drawing historical worlds. She doesn’t romanticize the past, but it still feels tangible. Her characters feel like real people existing in a real world. Their world and circumstances are much different than ours, and yet she manages to highlight the similarities as well.

Donnelly’s upcoming YA title, These Shallow Graves, looks to be a promising addition to this tradition in a way that I wasn’t wow-ed by her mermaid novel Deep Blue. I’m excited to see her come back to historical fiction, not that I do not believe she isn’t capable of executing other genres, just that I’m selfish and love her historical novels. Also be sure to check out her time travel YA historical Revolution!

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Flashback Friday: Both Sides of Time

by Caroline B. Cooney

“People think they own time. They have watches and clocks and digital pulses. But they are wrong. Time owns them.”

In honor of Barnes & Noble kicking off their Get Pop Cultured events with time travel weekend ( which starts today with events through Sunday), I want to recognize another of my favorite time travel novels from my childhood. This is really the novel that began it all– Both Sides of Time. But let’s be real, I’m going to find any excuse I can to talk about time travel.

Annie is just a typical 90s girl, but she’s a romantic at heart. And the typical 90s boys just aren’t up to par. She goes back to turn of the century America and falls in love with rich boy Strat. The online summary mentions love triangles. I remember no love triangles. I remember Annie and Strat and their love. There were class differences. And forbidden love. And great outfits.

We get gems such as

“Strat yearned to imagine her without even the thin white dress, but it would not be honorable, so he prevented himself from having such a fantasy.”

Get it? Because he’s too honorable for that. He’s fighting his impulses. Stinky 90s boys would totally imagine Annie without her dress.

This series was the bomb.com for me as a preteen (when saying things like the bomb.com was borderline socially acceptable). The series only went up in my esteem when a sequel features a heavy consumption plotline. I read these books just a couple of years before falling in love with Moulin Rouge and I absolutely still refer to tuberculosis as consumption because of both of these things.

While I included the newer cover at the top of this post, the above cover is the one I read from my local library. Here it might appear that Annie falls in love with a  ghost, but I promise that’s Strat. Although, he’s obviously more attractive in my imagination.

I tried and failed and tried again to read The Face on the Milk Carton as a preteen. But the Both Sides of Time series I devoured twice, maybe three times, surely not more right?

Flashback Friday: The Princess Diaries

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

I am of the Princess Diaries generation. I was given the first two novels for my 10th birthday. When I was 11, Anne Hathaway brought Mia Thermopolis to life. The movie also featured Mandy Moore as mean girl Lana, so it was pretty much early 2000s perfection. Add on to that a soundtrack that was the perfect belting fodder for a tween girl. I continued hanging out with Mia well throughout my teen years.The novels also began my lifelong love of Meg Cabot.

With the summer release of Royal Wedding, an adult installment of the Princess Diaries franchise, following Mia’s engagement to Michael, and the announcement that a 3rd Princess Diaries movie is in the works, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the role The Princess Diaries played for a generation of young women.

I connected Mia so much. She overthought everything. She was somewhat spastic. And, she journaled (I was a big journal keeper in my teens). She was down to earth and awkward. She was the inner spirit of so many girls. And she got to be a princess. It was the dream. And it also gave me confidence that if even princesses can be like this, I would be fine.

I also love the differences between the movies and the books, allowing me to enjoy different story lines in both. I obviously lamented the loss of Michael in the movie series, but I got to keep him in the books. And I loved Mia’s friends. Loud-mouthed activist Lilly. And Tina, who was obsessed with romance novels.

One of the most entertaining differences to me is Mia’s grandmother. Julie Andrews is a beautiful human soul, and that will never change. She mastered the art of tough love in the movies, but there was always a love, kindness, and wisdom behind everything. Because that is Julie Andrews. Not the case in the books. In Cabot’s novels, Clarisse Renaldo chain-smokes, paints on her eyebrows, and is convinced everyone is in love with her her. She is prickly, and it is almost impossible to tell whether she feels filial affection for her granddaughter. She is crafty though. And has basically no filter. Both versions of Mia’s grandmother are delightful.

Before we go, enjoy two of my favorite tracks from the soundtrack.

I’m hoping a new generation of girls will also fall in love with these novels, especially with a new middle-grade spinoff series Cabot has recently released.

Flashback Friday: A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray

The Premise via the Goodreads blurb (which is notably different than the original first edition jacket copy):

A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy–jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.

Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.

This book though. Where to begin?

Okay, the cover. I remember picking it up in Barnes and Noble. It was crazy eye-catching. At the time, not every YA novel had a girl in such a pose on the cover. And to be honest, I still find the cover striking, maybe because I’m so emotionally attached to it now. I think I picked this up in the same trip I got Dracula and Twilight. This was the first book I picked up.

This is a book that celebrated and understood young women. Within the pages of the Gemma Doyle trilogy girls were complex, and ever growing and changing. We were allowed to grapple with big ideas, and big adventures. Things that were fantastical, but so real at the same time. The atmosphere was great, feeling dangerous in both the paranormal and the relationships. The setting was distant but still felt so pertinent. And there was one hell of a liminal space.

I would definitely clump it in with the YA I read as a teen that really defined me. And, full truth, I loved that there was a lively, lovely redheaded protagonist. At the time this seemed novel to me.  I think A Great and Terrible Beauty is thought of fondly by a lot of bloggers that encountered it in their teens. This gives me hope because I definitely think the next generation of young women should be allowed to go on this journey. Not because I see a lack right now, but because it’s so good. And surely you can’t have too much? Granted, my own thoughts are influenced by my love of the series as a teen. How would I respond to it today as a first time reader? I’m not sure. But I’m glad I got to experience it at a time in my life when it was so easy to love a thing completely, to fall under its spell and inhabit the world.

Also, I still have stanzas of “The Lady of Shalott” memorized because of this book.

Who else has fond memories of A Great and Terrible Beauty? Or anyone just digged in recently?

Flashback Friday: The Royal Diaries Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor

by Kathryn Lasky

Since I just finished a book about the War of the Roses, I decided it was fitting to look at my early reading of the next era of English history. This is the book that spurred my obsession with all things Tudor. This is one of the oldest books on my shelf that I refuse to weed. Even if I haven’t reread it in a long time, it has a lot of sentimental value.  I also still sometimes use the brief biography in the back if I need a quick fact for a project, before consulting a heavier source.

What I remember from this book: Hatfield, Elizabeth doing translations, Elizabeth attempting to save Henry VIII and Kathryn Parr’s marriage, playing with Edward, Mary being a bit of a butt as usual, the story of Anne Boleyn on the eve of her arrest pleading with the king by holding up a baby Elizabeth, cameo by Anne of Cleves, the kids being convinced that Kathryn Howard haunts a hallway (they leave out the probably guilty of adultery part of Kathryn and focus on her relation to Anne),and finally Elizabeth and Robert Dudley.

This may have been the book that inadvertently started shipping for me. When I learned that Elizabeth and Robert Dudley did not end up together I was irate. Granted, politically this was probably never a thing. But at the time these royal diaries books were basically real life fairy tales and I wanted my happily ever after. I’m sure Lasky took some liberties with their relationship. Yet, when I learned years later that Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley were imprisoned at the Tower of London at the same time, I allowed my mind to dream of possibilities.

Flashback Friday: Old Magic

I’m reading all kinds of wonderful books, both recently published and backlist, that I am able to share and talk about on this blog. But I recently realized there are so many books that hold a special place in my reading life that I don’t talk about because I’ve read them years ago. Note: I’m really bad about re-reading lately because there are so many new books I want to read. So, I’m instituting Flashback Friday so that I can share some of my favorite titles from the less recent past.

First up

Old Magic by Marianne Curley

I’ve included the cover from my 2002 paperback edition above. There are other great editions of this book floating around, including one to match Curley’s Guardians of Time trilogy (which I will probably talk about later).

Not to know what happened before you were born is always to remain a child. For what is a man’s life if it is not linked with the life of future generations by memories of the past?

When Jarrod Thorton walks into Kate’s science class, she knows he has powers. After all, she’s a witch. Too bad Jarrod doesn’t believe her. After all, the paranormal doesn’t exist. But as his powers increase he has a harder and harder time denying them. Soon they are embarking on a journey to understand his powers and unravel his family secrets (hint: there’s a curse involved). This involves traveling in time for Jarrod to visit his ancestors and try to undo the curse. Along the way Jarrod and Kate’s relationship deepens. Kate and Jarrod’s story is told in chapters that alternate POV.

Score: timetravel

Bonus Points: telepathy, witches, Australia (including a handy-dandy glossary of Australian lingo in the back for us Yanks. I laugh now but I remember needing to use it to understand that bush= forest instead of, you know, a bush. I was 11.)

Upon flipping quickly back through the novel I realized it takes about halfway through the novel for Kate and Jarrod to travel back in time. If you had asked me I probably would have told you there were a couple of chapters of exposition, a quick inciting incident and then all past all the time. Obviously that’s what excited me most about this novel to completely misremember the structure (also it’s been over ten years since I read it).

Will this hold up as well for me today? Probably not. If I remember correctly the villain was kind of campy. Would I read it for nostalgia and enjoy every campy moment. Yup. I also like that Kate is the one who starts out understanding herself and her powers in this one. Curley was turning the gender and genre tropes on its head before they even really became YA tropes. There you go.

Also, my edition of this novel is a wonderful $6 mass-market paperback. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a YA novel as a mass-market paperback, especially as this was a new release when I purchased it. In theory that’s the market ebooks now fill, but often ebooks are still more expensive. The Kindle edition of Old Magic is currently listed at $6.87. I am too lazy to calculate inflation right now but I recognize that is also a factor. Regardless, I got a good bang for my buck here. Or my mom’s buck.