Book Review: Alchemy’s Daughter by Mary A. Osborne

Alchemy's Daughter cover imageLife for women in medieval Italy did not offer many choices, and girls who didn’t conform were looked upon with suspicion. So when seventeen-year-old Santina leaves her comfortable life to live with and learn from the local midwife, some say witchcraft influenced her. But Santina wishes to follow her heart, which means rejecting marriage to a local merchant. After the women perform a risky medical procedure, their own lives are in danger. Santina will have to delve deep inside herself to find a way out.

Alchemy’s Daughter by Mary A. Osborne is great historical fiction for teens. Covering topics such as the roles of women, practices of midwifery, the place for love and romance, as well as the plague of 1348, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the times. Santina is smart and strong-willed and curious—traits that were not widely valued in a time when women were supposed to follow the wishes first of their fathers and then of their husbands. Young readers will appreciate her tenacity and her creativity in forging a life for herself.

I recommend Alchemy’s Daughter for any teen and members of mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash

Three Day SummerIt’s 1969 and the biggest concert of the summer is about to take place at a farm in Bethel, near Woodstock, New York. Seventeen-year-old Cora lives on a nearby farm and volunteers as a candy-striper in the medical tent. She’s still recovering from a breakup with Ned, a boy everyone seems to love but who no longer loves her. Eighteen-year-old Michael drives to the festival with friends from his home near Boston. Michael loves music, but he’s unsure about what else to do with his life now that he’s graduated from high school. When the two meet, the relaxed attitude of festival-goers, the headiness of hearing some of the best performers in the world, and a dash of daring lead them to share secrets and more as they get to know each other.

Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash is the story of two teens grappling with major decisions of what to do with their lives. They know the expectations others have of them, but the times are turbulent. Cora knows that roles for women are changing, but she’s not sure if she dares to push back against her traditional father or others in town. Michael knows he may be drafted to serve in Vietnam, but he doesn’t feel strongly about it one way or another. He feels he’s drifting along without anything to look forward to. Freed for a few days from having to worry about their future gives both of them more clarity about what they really want.

As might be expected with a story that takes place at Woodstock, drug use and some sexuality are part of it. Mature teens and book groups with members aged 15 and up should find a lot to discuss in Three Day Summer. You may also be interested in listening to the playlist the author has gathered at her website.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sarvenaz Tash Talks About Writing Historical Fiction for Teens + A Book Giveaway

Sarvenaz Tash photo

Sarvenaz Tash photo by Corinne Ray

Today I’m taking part in a blog tour for Three Day Summer, a book about how the Woodstock Music Festival changes the lives of two teens. I’ll feature my review of the book tomorrow, and  today I’m happy to have a guest post by the author on the challenges of writing about recent historical fiction for teens.

I have one copy of Three Day Summer to give away to a reader with a U.S. address. To enter, just leave a comment here by midnight (PDT), Wednesday, May 27, and tell us about the role music plays in your life.

If you’d like to follow the rest of the tour, the schedule is listed below:

Here’s a bit of info about Sarvenaz Tash: She was born in Tehran, Iran, and grew up on Long Island, NY. She received her BFA in Film and Television from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, copywriting, and professional tweeting. Sarvenaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. For more information, visit: Find her on Twitter: @SarvenazTash

On Writing Historical Fiction for Teens

By Sarvenaz Tash

I’d never written historical fiction before I wrote Three Day Summer. I had incorporated historical facts and elements into my previous middle grade book (The Mapmaker and the Ghost), but this was the first time that I had straight up written a story that took place in another era.

But I wrote it for one very simple reason: It is an era that I truly love and have loved for a very long time, though I never lived in it. The ‘60s have always seemed so magical to me, but also rife with some extreme events and emotions that leave so much room to explore narratively: war, racism, political unrest, shifting cultural tides and—of course—some of the most glorious music and fashion in history. For me, Woodstock seemed to embody so much of that but, above all, seemed like a triumph of hope and youth and optimism. I wanted to experience it for myself and, in writing this story that took place there, I wanted readers to be able to experience it too. After all, I truly believe that one of the greatest magic tricks that fiction has up its sleeve is its ability to transport a reader to another time and place.

Here’s something else I truly believe: There are aspects of the teenaged experience that are universal, that truly transcend time. Sure, Cora and Michael weren’t Instagramming their photos from the festival like a 17-year-old at Coachella 2015 might—but they are grappling with questions that I think are at the heart of coming-of-age for everybody: What do I stand for? What do I want out of life? Who am I now and who will I become?

My goal and my challenge was to make their story immediate and to make them feel like real flesh-and-blood teens who are witnesses to an extraordinary event . . . that just happens to have taken place 46 years ago. I did a ton of research, of course, to make sure that the book was as historically accurate as possible (for the record, it was extremely fun research like looking at pictures of clothes, reading tons of first-hand accounts, watching documentaries, listening to setlists. . . . ). I wanted the festival to feel like another vivid character in the book and I wanted it to be as close to the real thing as possible. But, above all, I wanted it to be an amazing setting for two characters who I hope feel as real to the reader as they do to me.

Book Review: The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl

Add another great historical fiction novel to the growing list from Michaela MacColl focusing on famous women. In The Revelation of Louisa May, MacColl imagines a mystery for Louisa May Alcott to solve, and in the process brings to life the town of Concord, Massachusetts, where she lived for much of her life. (Read the author’s blog post about the book.)

As in real life, Alcott is friends and neighbors with some of the greatest writers of their time: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. It’s known that the Alcotts were abolitionists active with the Underground Railroad, and MacColl creates a story that involves a runaway slave, a slave catcher, a list of unsavory characters, and quite a few people with secrets to hide.

Louisa appears in the novel as a spunky 17 year old who knows that like her idols Thoreau and Emerson, she wants to be writer. In a family that is often short on money, she also knows she wants her writing to support her and those she loves. Because women of her time were expected to marry, stay home, and manage the children and the household, she has to reject tradition to pursue what she wants. Louisa grapples with conflicting emotions as she tries to work out the mystery that develops during the story.

The Revelation of Louisa May is fun and fast-paced and provides a bit of insight into the historical life of the beloved writer of many stories, Little Women being the best known. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Michaela MacColl Talks About Louisa May Alcott— Plus a Book Giveaway

Today I’m taking part in a blog tour by hosting Michaela MacColl, who writes great historical fiction with strong female characters. As part of the blog tour, I’m giving away one copy to one reader who leaves a comment here. Just let us know what you like about historical fiction or Louisa May Alcott and/or her books. Just be sure to comment by midnight (PDT) on Monday, May 18 (U.S. addresses only please.).

Here’s a bit of information about Michaela: She attended Vassar College and Yale University earning degrees in multi-disciplinary history. Unfortunately, it took her 20 years before she realized she was learning how to write historical fiction. Her favorite stories are the ones she finds about the childhood experiences of famous people. She has written about a teenaged Queen Victoria (Prisoners in the Palace, Chronicle 2010) and Beryl Markham’s childhood (Promise the Night, Chronicle 2011). She is writing a literary mystery series for teens featuring so far a young Emily Dickinson in Nobody’s Secret (2013) and the Bronte sisters in Always Emily (2014).  Her newest in the series is The Revelation of Louisa May, about Louisa May Alcott. She lives in Westport, Connecticut with her husband, two teenaged daughters and three extremely large cats.

In this note, she talks to readers at Mother Daughter Book Club. com about her series on famous women writers. You may also be interested in my review of The Revelation of Louisa May.

Michael MacColl.1 photo

Michaela MacColl photo by Melanie Lust

Louisa May Alcott headshot

Louisa May Alcott

Hi Cindy – it’s so nice to be back at the Mother-Daughter Book Club. Thanks for hosting the blog tour for The Revelation of Louisa May, the latest literary mystery from Chronicle Books featuring Louisa May Alcott as my ‘detective.’

In The Revelation of Louisa May I play with my favorite theme – what were famous women writers like when they were teenagers? I comb through biography to figure out what young Louisa was like. In Louisa’s case, she did a lot of the work for me. She readily admitted that Little Women was based on her family and Louisa herself was the model for Jo March. Both Louisa and Jo are tempestuous, quick to anger, quick to love, loyal, literary and determined as Louisa said “to paddle [their] own canoe.” Neither thought much of marriage (although Jo eventually marries a very unlikely choice), preferring to get rich through their own efforts. Jo disappears for days at a time in her writing “vortex,” while in real life, Louisa trained herself to write with both hands so she could switch her pen from one hand to the other when she got tired.

Jo March in a Vortex picture clipping

Jo March in a “vortex.”

So my Louisa was not hard to find. The Revelation of Louisa May begins when the unthinkable happens. Marmee is leaving. Louisa accuses her of abandoning the family, but Marmee has little choice but to find work. The family may literally starve if she doesn’t. Bronson, Louisa’s father, is a philosopher who doesn’t believe in working for others. Louisa wrote that “he was a man in a balloon with his family holding the ropes trying to hold him down to earth.” Louisa is left to manage the house, the cooking, the shopping, her father’s prickly temper and poor Beth’s ill-health. A fugitive slave appears running for his life from a vicious slave catcher. Henry David Thoreau has a secret that Louisa wishes she hadn’t discovered. The boy next door, who had left for college, comes back. He’s handsome and admires Louisa and she’s not quite sure how to handle this new aspect of an old friend. Louisa despairs of finding time to write. Wait until she discovers a murdered body in the woods!

The Revelation of Louisa May is a real who-dun-it. It was a blast to write and I hope you enjoy it. As in all my books of “intrigue and romance,” I have to introduce a credible (and dreamy) love interest and then get rid of him. After all Louisa is a renowned spinster. Can you guess how I’ll get rid of Louisa’s suitor this time?

Please visit me at or AuthorMichaelaMaColl on Facebook or follow me at @michaelamaccoll.


Book Review: In a World Just Right by Jen Brooks

In a World Just Right cover imageLife has not been easy for Jonathan Aubrey after he survived the plane crash that killed his family 10 years ago. Now a senior in high school, he’s adrift without plans for after he graduates. There’s only one place where he feels happy—the alternate world he created where Kylie Simms is his girlfriend.

Jonathan doesn’t know how he is able to create worlds, it’s something that started after the accident, but he knows it’s the only thing that’s kept him going over the years. But when reality and the Kylie world start to collide, he realizes he’ll have to choose how he wants to live in the future.

In a World Just Right by Jen Brooks takes readers into the possibility that worlds can exist alongside the one we know. The physical and emotional distance escaping into them brings can have powerful appeal to anyone going through problems in the real world. Jonathan’s dilemma comes from deciding whether it’s best to take chances on rejection and pain in the real world or live in a place where people behave a certain way only because he created them that way. Neither world will be perfect.

With several plot twists and moral and ethical issues to discuss, In a World Just Right is a good choice for book clubs whose members are 14 or older.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Interview with Kate Hannigan, Author of The Detective’s Assistant

Kate Hannigan PhotoKate Hannigan grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She worked on school newspapers through high school before going on to study journalism in college and working for newspapers in different parts of the country. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three kids. Hannigan is the author of the Cupcake Cousins books and The Detective’s Assistant (see my review). Here, she share with readers what prompted her to be a writer, why she likes writing for young readers, and more.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

KH: As a little girl, I would tell people I was going to be a writer. Books seemed so important, and I liked the sound of it all – though my 10-year-old self had no idea what it meant. I spent a lot of time world building during imaginary play, and I wrote down favorite names in my journal all the time. I think I’ve always like the power to name people and places!

All my life, I have been drawn to family stories, and I loved hearing my parents, grandparent, aunts, and uncles telling great tales of living in Ireland and Philadelphia. So maybe that’s where the love of historical fiction comes from. I remember sitting under the table at a very young age and just listening to their voices, their laughter, and imagining my grandparents as young people.

When I got into middle and high school, I really loved when we studied grammar and the mechanics of writing. So it all started to come together when I began working on school newspapers, then journalism classes in college. I went on to work in newspapers before turning to creative writing.

What is your favorite thing about writing for young readers?

KH: They’re so open! Young readers aren’t jaded or cynical about life. They’re earnest, and they look for truths – how we treat each other, what it means to be a good friend, how we can make things better. I love being around people and characters who embrace that!

What do you find the most challenging?

KH: It’s challenging to hit the right spot that is not condescending or speaking down to readers, but at the same time doesn’t treat them as adults. Somewhere in between there is the voice that resonates with young readers. I think it’s a balance, of respecting young readers – that they know a lot and are very savvy about things – but also recognizing that they are still kids!

Nell in The Detective’s Assistant has such a strong voice. What inspired you to create a character like her?

KH: I had a lot churning in my head as I created Nell. But first and foremost was making it clear that Nell is a GIRL! Of course she would be brave and clever, but I was not going to make her a girl who wants to be a boy or feature stereotypically boyish traits like refusing to wear a dress or loathing anything feminine. I wanted to make it clear that a character can be girlish AND smart and clever, that those are not mutually exclusive things.

And I wanted to put Nell and her aunt at the center of the action, not tsk-tsking on the sidelines. Often in books and films, the boys get to have all the fun. The girls are portrayed as more reserved or delicate or tangential, and they get shunted off to the side. But with this story, I thought it was important to show Nell and Kate Warne as dynamic, the problem solvers, the clever thinkers, the capable actors. THEY are the ones having all the fun!

And as to her voice, in the sense of expressions and speech, well, I think my upbringing in Oklahoma might have come through in a few turns of phrase.

Nell’s Aunt Kitty is based on a real person in history, why were you interested in including Kate Warne in your fictional story?

KH: I had never heard of Kate Warne when I first came across her name. The first woman detective in America? How cool is that? Right away, I wanted to learn more about her. But also, I wanted kids to know about her too. Often we hear stories only about the amazing men of American history. There were loads and loads of women and people of color who were doing remarkable things too, but their stories were often overlooked or simply discounted. So I felt like it was important to present Kate Warne and the cases she was involved in, to intrigue young readers to look for other fascinating women to learn about too.

How long did you spend researching the real events that went into The Detective’s Assistant?

KH: Years! I began by reading tons of adult non-fiction about the Pinkertons, the Baltimore Plot to assassinate Lincoln, and life in mid-19th century America. I also immersed myself in fiction from the era, like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and other books that could give me a sense of the way people spoke and dressed and ate. I read books about the history of underclothes, life in a boardinghouse, photography from the 1800s. I think I began all this in late 2010, contacted the Library of Congress for Pinkerton’s records in spring 2011, had a working draft of the book (still researching!) in spring 2012, landed an editor in spring 2013, and turned in the final version of the book in spring 2014. Now it’s publishing in spring 2015. Phew!

What do you hope readers remember after reading your book?

KH: I hope readers remember the fun. There’s lots of American history in this book, so I hope it gives kids some interesting context to wrap around important dates. But I wanted to write the type of book that I love to read: accounts of women doing remarkable things, told with humor and suspense! And I hope that readers remember Kate Warne and realize there were lots of other women forgotten by history, and that they might be the ones to discover them and share their stories too!

Is there anything else you’d like to add for readers at Mother Daughter Book Club. com?

KH: Read everything! Seed catalogs, graphic novels, cookbooks, musty old biographies, as well as great fiction and non-fiction! I’ve been enjoying books side-by-side on the pillow with my three kids since they were born, and it’s one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes, we get six of us in the bed at night – all five humans and one happy dog – to read the bedtime book and talk about what’s happening. It’s a special experience to share a book with someone you love.

I hope readers will stop by my website at and say hello. There is lots more information about The Detective’s Assistant and Kate Warne, and there are discussion guides as well. Thanks for your interest!

Book Review: The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan

The Detective's Assistant cover imageEleven-year-old Cornelia Warne is destitute when she shows up on her aunt’s doorway in Chicago one day in 1859. Her parents and siblings have all died, and Aunt Kitty is the only relation she has left in the world. But her aunt isn’t exactly thrilled to see her. As the first female working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, she often has to go in disguise or slip away to other cities. She thinks Nell, as Kitty decides to call her, would only be a burden and probably better off in the Home for the Friendless.

Nell decides to prove her value and win a place in Kitty’s home as well as her heart. She makes herself useful around the boarding house, and she even gets to help out with some detective work. But before she can feel truly accepted, she’ll have to unravel the mystery of what happened the night Kitty’s husband died, splitting the family apart.

The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan is funny and touching while also shedding light on such historical happenings as the Underground Railroad, boarding house life, the tensions leading up to the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln’s election and first inauguration. Nell is a wholly delightful character who can be both perceptive and clueless as to what’s going on around her. She likes to read newspapers, has to work hard at learning correct grammar, and thinks the fashions of the day are silly even if she does want to wear them. She’ll clomp her way to your heart while wearing her daddy’s boots and have you cheering for her every step of the way.

I highly recommend The Detective’s Assistant for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 8 to 12. Also, if you’d like to learn more about the author, check out my interview with her.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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