Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Reading on a Theme: Set in Baltimore

To celebrate the release of Karen Hattrup's gorgeous Frannie and Tru, I've gathered books that are set in Baltimore. Luckily, there are many. I didn't even have to do much digging (although you know I did some, just for kicks). I picked these YA novels because they represent a number of genres. We've got Baltimore in past and in the fantastical past and in the present and the in the fantastical present.

I've actually wanted to put together a Baltimore post for quite some time. It's really fun for me to read books that are set so close to home, and, as I've been thinking about this post, I've realized that Baltimore is probably the only place I've lived that could support a post like this. I can't think of very many books that are set in Colorado Springs (although Percy Jackson does visit that city twice!), Provo, or even Kansas City. I think that makes me like Maryland even more.

Have you read any novels set in your hometown? I'd love to here about them.

Historical Fantasy:
In the summer of 1889 Amelia van den Broek, from small town Maine, goes to Baltimore for the Season to find a husband.  There she begins to see visions at sunset; visions that come true. And these visions are not always pleasant. As the summer progresses the fortune telling gets more and more out of control, and Amelia has moments where she fears her gift. She also is drawn to Nathaniel, an artist who is not her social equal. This book started out kind of rocky for me but soon the plot started to really suck me in. It builds to a feverish climax. Amelia visits a number of city sites (Druid Park stands out). The Victorian romance is all very proper, and Nathaniel and Amelia fit

Frannie lives with her parents and her twin brothers in a row house in Baltimore. This book is set during the summer before her sophomore year when her cousin Tru comes to stay with her family. I fell hard for this book. Debut author Karen Hattrup does such an excellent job evoking the feel of the city in the summer. With its gorgeous prose and tight framework, Frannie and Tru is a quiet kind of book. But it's the good quiet; the quiet that I love best. While it handles big ideas, like racism, class, and sexuality, it does so on a personal scale, through Frannie and her engagement with the world, and I thought that Frannie, with her youth and naivete, was a really refreshing character. Frannie and Tru is out May 31, 2016. Review copy from NetGalley.

Those born after The Shift can see and talk to ghosts. Aura has never enjoyed this part of her life very much. Between working for her aunt's law firm that frequently goes to court for ghosts and being accosted by desperate ghosts everywhere, Aura's more than a little sick of it all. Then Aura's boyfriend, Logan, dies, and Aura actually wants to spend time with a ghost. Jeri Smith-Ready created a fascinating alternate reality in Shade. One of the scenes that has really stuck with me is when Aura and Zachary go tour the ghost-filled submarine in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. I wasn't crazy about the love triangle in this book, but I did love the melding of fact and fantasy.

The Sullivans are an old, affluent Baltimore family, so it comes as a shock when, on Christmas Day, Grandma Sullivan, known as Almighty, declares that someone in her son's family has deeply offended her, and she is cutting the whole family out of her will unless that person confesses. Each of the three Sullivan sisters, Norrie, Jane, and Sassy, has done something to offend their grandmother. Told in three parts, the confessions overlap in time and, with each confessional, more secrets are revealed. Natalie Standiford's Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters is a lot of fun. I like how each confession builds on the last and how each sister has her own voice, and, of course, I love that it takes place in Baltimore. 

Historical Fiction:
Joan Skraggs lives a life of drudgery on a Pennsylvania farm in 1911. After her father forces her to drop out of school and burns her books, Joan decides she's had enough. She runs away to become a hired girl in Baltimore. I love that Laura Amy Schlitz's book offers a glimpse into Baltimore's past. For Joan, Baltimore is like a whole new world with its elevators and streetcars and electric carpet sweepers. Joan writes of her new life in her journal. Bright, curious and eager, but also naive and prone to imaginings, she reminded me of Anne Shirley. She, like Anne, gets herself into a number of scraps. Funny and insightful, The Hired Girl is a delightful read.

All books reviewed by JoLee.

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