Eva Ibbotson, Journey to the River Sea — Maia is an orphan living at a boarding school in England, when one day she is adopted by distant relatives living in Brazil. She is eager to meet her new family until she discovers that they are selfish and cruel and only took her in for financial reasons. However, she finds consolation in the natural beauties around her, the strange vegetation and wildlife, and the friends she makes in her new homeland. I’ve read and loved all of Ibbotson’s adult/YA books, but I’m still discovering her works for younger readers. This is delightful, and I think it would appeal to kids (and adults!) who enjoy exploration and adventure.
Melissa McShane, Burning Bright — This is a Regency-era fantasy novel, so obviously it’s right up my alley, and I very much enjoyed it! Protagonist Elinor is a Scorcher, which means she can start fires with magic; and she’s also an Extraordinary, which means she can control and put out the fires as well. This talent makes her an extremely valuable prize on the marriage market, and her controlling father wants to snare a rich and powerful husband for her. To escape this fate, Elinor offers her services to the Royal Navy instead. There’s shipboard combat and pirates and romance — basically everything I’m looking for from this type of book. Highly recommended if the premise appeals to you!
Winston Graham, Bella Poldark — Phew, I can’t believe this is the last book in the Poldark series! Clowance decides whether to marry again and must choose between two suitors; Bella embarks on a career; Valentine stirs the pot, as usual; and a serial murderer is on the loose in Cornwall. Not every loose end in the series is tied up, but overall the book is a strong conclusion for the characters I’ve come to know and love over the past 12 books. It’s hard to believe there won’t be any more stories about them!
Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers (trans. Richard Pevear)
This classic novel, whose title is somewhat misleading, follows a young solider named D’Artagnan who travels from his native Gascony to Paris in order to join the musketeers, an elite military force that serves the king. D’Artagnan naively believes that he will swiftly realize his dream and make his fortune, but his simple goal soon becomes much more complicated. Through a series of accidents he befriends the three most prestigious musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. He also becomes involved in the struggle between King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, the two most powerful men in France. As a would-be musketeer, D’Artagnan is the king’s man, but his loyalty wavers when he meets the beautiful Milady, one of the cardinal’s most influential spies. With the help of his three friends, D’Artagnan must foil Milady’s sinister plot while fighting his own attraction for her.
I actually read this book when I was 12 or so, but I’m very glad I read it again now that I have at least some knowledge of the historical context! I find it very interesting that Dumas, who was writing in the 19th century (shortly after the Napoleonic era), chose to set this story during the 17th-century wars of religion, a similarly tumultuous time for France. But even without the bigger picture, this book is quite simply a rollicking good read! It’s a long book, but the story is gripping and seems to fly by. The strength of the book is definitely its plot; by contrast, the characters aren’t developed very well. It’s fun to watch D’Artagnan and the musketeers interact with each other, but they’re essentially stock characters (Athos is the noble one, Porthos is the buffoon, etc.). And Milady is an extremely flat villain who is Pure Evil ™ through and through. In my opinion, the scheming cardinal is by far the most interesting character! Regardless, I really enjoyed this book and would love to read the rest of the series…one of these years!