I think I got a pretty good start on the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this month. I really thought I was going to have to work hard to prevent this from becoming a 19th century English novel reading challenge but actually, only one of the fictions books I read this month fits that criteria. (I also read a biography from that time period and watched Downton Manor so don't worry, I still got my "period" fix :-)
Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron
I hadn't even heard of these books when I stumbled upon a reading challenge specifically for them. To be honest, as much as I love both Jane Austen and mysterys, the idea of Jane being a detective seemed a bit corny. I figured I would at least give them a chance though and I am very glad I did. Barron could have easily capitalized on the idea of Jane without staying true to what we actually know about Ms Austen but she doesn't and overall does a good job keeping Miss Austen's character believable while maintaining the mystery plotline. The story was good but perhaps my favorite part of the book was the editor's notes sprinkled throughout the story that give insights into life in early 19th century in general as well as Jane's life specifically. I will be reading more of these.
Half-broke Horses by Jeanette Walls
I love bigmama but wasn't planning to participate in her read-along until I saw that she picked a historial fiction book. Then I couldn't resist it, not just because of the challenge but because it was touted as "Little House on the Prairie for adults." Although I read most of this one on a train, I really felt like I was sitting in Lily's living room listening to her tell me stories about her life on a ranch and then suddenly realizing that put together, they actually had a plot and made up her memoirs. And I can't wait to see what everyone else thinks about this book, especially the main character. The book was engrossing and I liked reading about her, but I don't think I would have actually liked her. For a book written in first person, we just didn't seem to get any sense of emotion from her. Now I'm not sure if that is because 1) Lily truely was very "gritty" and unemotional, 2) Walls viewed Lily through her mother's eyes which made her seem that way or 3) Walls tried too hard to portray Lily as spunky and gritty and as a result, failed to balance her ruggedness with any display of emotions. It seems that most people read this after reading The Glass Castle and are let down as a result. I am waiting for the storm to abate and the library to reopen so I can pick that one (prequel?) up. Perhaps it while shed some light on the situation. Either way, I did enjoy this book but not I don't think it quite lives up the LHOTP comparison.
Little Britches: Father and I were Ranchers by Ralph Moody
Funnily enough, I've also heard this book compared to the Little House books but this one was described as "Little House on the Prairie for boys." That's not accurate because I am not a boy but I completely loved it. I can't wait to read the rest of the series about Ralph Moody's adventures growing up on a Colorado ranch. Alas, I was focusing too much on the historical part of the challenge and not enough on the fiction part because I got about 3/4 of the way through before realizing this was a biography and not a fiction book so it doesn't really count for the challenge! I couldn't help talking about it though because it was the best thing I read all month and as you can probably tell from my mistake, it reads more like a novel than a biography :-)
To quote VeggieTales: I laughed, I cried, it moved me [Bob]. And it's true. It's just a beautiful story of a boy growing up. His struggles to be a man are so real and his father's guidance touching without being preachy. By the end you feel as if you know Ralph and the rest of the characters. It made me want to have a son so Craig can read this to him - but wiht or without a boy in the house I'm pretty sure it will be a family read aloud in a few years (yes, I think it is geared more for the younger crowd but don't let that stop you). I'm so glad I finally took my mom's advice to read this book - now I've just got to search through the 10+ boxes of curriculum in my basement to find the rest of the series to read.