The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
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Apparently Josephine Tey normally wrote mysteries. Not a big mystery fan, myself — especially if there are multiple murders involved — but Tey’s writing is intriguing and compelling enough that I may make an exception for her.
This mystery is more of a historical puzzle, which is why I picked it up. I love those questions historical figures have left in the cloth of our reality, and I enjoy the quest to solve them. This particular mystery has to do with the Princes in the Towers, who were murdered around the beginning of the Tudor reign in Europe. Apparently it’s commonly accepted that Richard III, last of the Plantagenet dynasty, killed them.
Using the device of an injured policeman bored with his hospital stay, Tey examines the evidence for and against Richard III murdering his nephews and looks at other possible murderers.
It’s a great book, and does what I think all great books examining history should do — makes the reader want to know more. I’ve been researching the Plantagenet’s and early Tudors since I read this book.
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Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare
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This is one of those books (like Johnny Tremain) that I read as a kid and loved. I never did own a copy, but I checked it out from the library so often it was at my house more often than at the library.
It follows the story of Miriam, a young English colonial, who is captured by Indians during the French and Indian war. She’s sold as a slave to some French Quebecoise, where she begins to make a name for herself as a seamstress.
However, Miriam was not the only one captured — her sister, nieces and nephew were also captured and enslaved. Miriam and her sister are faced with many hard choices as they try to pay their slave debts (if I recall, it’s been a while since I read it) in Quebec, bring their family back together and eventually make their way home.
As Miriam’s seamstress business becomes more successful, she’s courted by a handsome French soldier — a moral dilemma, as he’s allied with the same Indians who attacked her colony, and he fights and kills the British colonials she loves. At the same time, he helps her track down her scattered nieces and nephew, and assists Miriam in widening her clientele base.
I’ve always loved this book, though I have to admit I rooted for the French solider. I always wanted Miriam to marry him and leave her stodgy English roots. Apparently the book is based on the diary of a real-life Miriam who actually experienced these events (I guess they left out all the rape-iness), so extra points for bringing history alive.
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Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
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I haven’t read this in ages and ages, but I’ve been telling so many people about it lately that I figured I should just go ahead and put up a review.
Johnny Tremain is, quite simply, among my absolute favorite books. It’s one of the beautiful childhood literary experiences that introduced me to my enduring love of historical fiction — and not incidentally, to my love of history. Because of Johnny Tremain, the events of the Revolutionary War became real to me on a personal level. This is the book that first breathed life into history for me, and made it something real and amazing that was pertinent to my daily world. This is the book which first helped me realize that while actual time travel isn’t possible, I can still witness and experience history through the pages of a book.
Johnny Tremain also introduced me to concepts and language that were new and strange to a 10 year old girl in 1990, such as “apprenticeship” and “sweetmeats.” As a child being raised in a strictly religious household that eschewed cursing, I was also inspired and intrigued by Johnny’s colorful solution to his own household’s ban on swearing.
I read it so often as a kid that my copy of it — which was the edition pictured above, a paperback version with an actual paper-style cover — fell apart due to the frequent readings. I taped it together, but by the time I was 17, all the tape in the world couldn’t save it’s life. I did buy a new copy, which I read often enough even as an adult that the spine was starting to show abuse and the pages were worn soft by the time my dog chewed it up.
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