Review: The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington


The Red Ribbon

Lucy Adlington

Hot Key Books, 2017

YA – Historical

When women arrive at Birchwood they are stripped of their clothes, their belongings and their dignity. They are given striped sacks to wear and wooden shoes, their hair shorn and their name replaced with a number. Those who are able are put to work, those who aren’t disappear. Fourteen-year-old Ella is a seamstress, but the workshop she works in is in Birkenau-Auschwitz and her clients are the guards, the wives of the officers and the commander.  Ella’s dresses are her key to extra bread and to items she can barter, but she is also creating couture for the enemy. And at any moment, she could be out of favour.

This is a compelling and moving read. The characters are complex and varied, and show us the different ways people survive, the ways they hold on to their sense of self. Ella, the protagonist, is often quite conflicted. Her best friend Rose is an idealistic dreamer, their boss Marta is a hard-edged fighter. There is also a guard, Carla, who strikes up a complicated friendship of sorts with Ella. Each character is fleshed out and interesting.

This book really made me think about the importance of clothing – in terms of identity, dignity and self-expression. As Ella says, clothes don’t seem trivial when you don’t have any, and are left vulnerable and frightened. Each section is given a different colour, which links to the mood and to material items in the story. The red ribbon of the title is key to the book – a symbol of hope, of wish for liberation and a happier future.

The book is well-researched, and features plenty of detail. I will definitely be checking out Adlington’s book, Stitches in Time, about fashion history.

With its memorable characters, emotional depth and historical detail, The Red Ribbon is an absorbing read. Highly recommended!

Review: Name upon Name by Sheena Wilkinson


Name upon Name

Sheena Wilkinson

Little Island Books, August 2015

Historical Fiction, 10+

Belfast, 1916. Fourteen-year-old Helen feels caught between two conflicting identities. Her mother’s family are Catholic, her father’s Protestant. Caught between two faiths, and between Britain and Ireland, Helen doesn’t know where she fits. Her cousin Sandy is fighting in the British forces, and her cousin Michael is keen to join up. As a girl, Helen can have less direct involvement with the war or with the conflict in Dublin. But she receives letters from her cousins, and learns from them the terrible cost of war. Helen must take a stand herself, and work out her own identity.

Name upon Name is a compelling book that will entertain and educate its readers. The historical accuracy reflects Wilkinson’s in-depth study of the period, and the details such as the school novels Helen reads are fascinating. The strong characters give the narrative heart and make this a memorable read. The Belfast setting and the female protagonist mean this book offers a different perspective on the events of 1916. Wilkinson raises a number of important issues for her readers to consider, such as women’s education. Helen’s teacher Miss Cassidy encourages her to further her education: “Why not? It’s 1916. Lots of girls go to college now.” Helen is a very relatable protagonist and through her readers become engaged with the conflicts of her the time. She grows throughout the novel, developing her own opinions and becoming more certain of herself. Wilkinson presents the reader with the larger conflicts of World War One and the 1916 Rising through Michael and Sandy’s letters but she also focuses very much on the conflicts Helen experiences at home and at school. This is a very worthwhile read – both as historical fiction and as a coming-of-age story. Highly recommended, a perfect class novel for the forthcoming 1916 centenary celebrations.

Sheena Wilkinson wrote an excellent article for about historical fiction called ‘The Vital Details’, check it out here.

Review: Seeds of Liberty by Claire Hennessy


Seeds of Liberty – Three Battles for Independence

Claire Hennessy

Poolbeg, 2014

Historical Fiction, 10+ 

It is the eighteenth century, and revolutionary ideas are spreading – The Boston Tea Party in 1773, the French storming the Bastille in 1789 and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Seeds of Liberty is divided into three parts, each told from the point of view of a young character caught up in revolutionary events in Boston, Paris and Wexford respectively. Each story is told in a diary format, allowing the reader see through the protagonists eyes as they witness, and take part in, historic events and grapple with ideas of revolution, liberty and nationhood.

While this book has a lot of information about life in the eighteenth century, it also tells three very memorable and engaging stories.The protagonists ( Jack, Catherine and Robert) are likeable and strong, and their curiosity about the turbulent times in which they live makes this historical period very accessible for readers. Their accounts capture the excitement and danger of the changes happening around them, while often being very moving. This is an educational and enjoyable read, one that makes history vivid for the reader. Derry Dillon’s illustration for the cover is bright and eye-catching, and highlights the dramatic events in the book. Highly recommended for history buffs aged 10+.

Claire Hennessy is an Irish author who has written many contemporary YA novels (Stereotype is one of my favourites). Seeds of Liberty is her first foray into historical fiction. She is also the new childrens editor for Penguin Ireland. Check out her website here.

Review: The Madness – Alison Rattle


The Madness

Alison Rattle

Hot Key Books (2014)

YA – historical, romance

Marnie, a dipper’s daughter in the fashionable village of Clevedon where wealthy ladies come for the ‘sea-cure’, leads a lonely life. She is judged for her disability, and ostracised in her community. Her life seems dull and pointless, until the arrival of Noah de Clevedon. Marnie is entranced by Noah’s sophistication and handsome looks, and he is intrigued by her mysterious charm and her connection to the sea. The two have a passionate secret love affair. However, what was a fun summer fling for Noah meant much more to Marnie. She  becomes obsessed with him, and refuses to let anything stop their love.

Alison Rattle is an excellent historical writer and really captures the atmosphere of the fashionable bathing resort of 1868. Her characters, while not entirely likeable, are certainly memorable and have strong personalities.  Marnie is not defined by her disability, she is a strong, brave character who fights for what she believes in, no matter what the cost. This is an emotional and tragic love story, with a convincing and detailed historical setting. The story is told in Marnie’s first person narration, interspersed with extracts from Noah’s journal. Rattle gives her protagonists distinctive voices, with Marnie’s way of speaking echoed in her narration. While I did not always like Marnie, it is very easy to feel sympathy for her – a lost girl who thought she had found someone to love her at last.


Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids.

Check out my review of Alison Rattle’s first book, The Quietness, here.

Review: The Mystery Tour – Judi Curtin


Friends Forever: The Mystery Tour

Judi Curtin

Puffin 2013

10-12, Contemporary, Friendship, Historical

In their third time-travelling adventure, Lauren, Tilly and Saturn the cat wind up in wartime Britain. Arriving in London 1939 during a blackout, the girls must try to blend into this very different world. What starts out as an exciting adventure becomes more serious as they see the impact the war is having on their new friends, and experience rationing and air raid drills. Will they ever make it home again?

This book is part of a series, but also works as a stand-alone. As the title of the series suggests, friendship is at the heart of the book – both the bond between Lauren and Tilly, and the friendships they make with people in the past. These new friends include Violet, a young girl they meet when being evacuated from London, who is struggling to come to terms with her father being at war, and to find a way to feel useful and cope with her disability. Violet and the girls stay with Ellie, an elderly lady who tells them wonderful stories, and they also befriend George, a local boy who wants to sign up for the army. There is a hint of romance, but the focus on friendship in the text is refreshing and echoes Judi Curtin’s Megan and Alice series. The three girls are strong, empowered characters who make a difference to those around them, and show great bravery and intelligence.

The Friends Forever series is a very enjoyable way of learning about history – Lauren and Tilly’s adventures are sure to get readers excited about the past. While The Mystery Tour does deal with some of the hardships of life during World War Two, it is a light and enjoyable read overall. The happy ending may not be entirely convincing, but it is certainly touching and satisfying. I look forward to reading about more of Lauren and Tilly’s time-travelling escapades!

Originally reviewed for Inis Magazine.

Review: Finding Fortune – Pippa Goodhart

The blog has been a bit slow lately, but I’m working on more reviews and hopefully some more art content. I know it’s summer, but I started an internship last week and things have been busy!

This is a book I read a while ago, it’s a really interesting read with lots of adventure and a fantastic setting. I also love the cover, it is beautifully designed and really captures the atmosphere of the book.


Finding Fortune

Pippa Goodhart

Catnip, 2013

Adventure, Historical Fiction 10+, 12+

When Ida’s father decides to go to Klondike and join in the gold rush, she is determined to go with him and avoid the boarding school her stern grandmother is trying to send her to. She plans to stow away, and join her Fa on his great adventure. Together they undertake long voyages, cross treacherous mountain passes and begin the seemingly impossible task of finding their fortune.

This is an interesting historical read, exploring an exciting time period. The fact that Ida, a young girl, was involved in the gold rush is also of interest. The book makes it very clear that places like Klondike were considered unsuitable for ladies. It is also a very atmospheric novel – the icy winters are chilly, and the cramped condition of the ship uncomfortable. The close relationship between Ida and her father was enjoyable to read, and there was also a good cast of supporting characters such as Ida’s strict grandmother (‘I am tolerably well, but not as well as I look, you know’), and their Klondike neighbours, young couple Nathan and Carrie. However, I felt the ‘bad’ characters were far too obvious, and their actions were often predictable. The changing between the third person narrative and Ida’s letters in the first person also jarred at times. However, overall this was an engaging historical read, with a convincing sense of adventure, hardship and danger. Finding Fortune will appeal to fans of books like Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea.


Review: The Quietness by Alison Rattle

The Quietness captures the darker side of Victorian London – the squalid slums, the desperate measures those on the streets must take to survive, the sinister secrets of the city. It is told from two different female perspectives. These are Queenie – a young girl living on the streets, trying to escape the poverty and desperation of her family – and Ellen – another young girl with a wealthy but lonely life. Queenie finds a job, looking after babies for two sisters running a sanctuary for ‘fallen women’ or unmarried women, giving them a place to have their babies. In several dark twists, Queenie and Ellen’s worlds collide.
Both Queenie and Ellen are strong characters, each with an interesting tale to tell. While some of the twists were predictable, it was a compelling read, if much darker than I had expected. While some of the minor characters are less fleshed out, they are memorable (particularly the evil characters) and provide a striking image of Victorian London; one which will stay with readers. What is also unusual is that Queenie’s chapters are in the third person whereas Ellen’s are in the first person – it is strange that Queenie’s story is not told in her own voice. The author’s note at the end gives the fascinating truth behind the story. The setting seems historically accurate, giving a view of the tough life of people like Queenie – this is no Christmas card Victorian London. Given the dark themes of the story – including rape, prostitution and baby farming – this is a book I would recommend for older teens, 14+.

Originally published on in January 2013.

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Age Group: 14+

Genre: Historical Fiction