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A Brief History of Montmaray (The Montmaray Journals) Hardcover – October 13, 2009
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Best of the Month, October 2009: On a remote island kingdom of Montmaray live the last of the FitzOsbornes, a royal family of scrappy (but dignified) orphans teetering on the edge of poverty in their crumbling castle. It’s 1936, and sixteen-year-old Sophie occupies her days with mundane household chores, half-hearted study in the family library, raising her unruly tomboy sister, and keeping a diary of distant hopes and longings. Her older cousin Veronica—a budding scholar—writes a history of the Montmaravians while keeping close tabs on the current political signs that point to another world war. One of those signs--in the form of a boat carrying Nazi "historians"--lands on their shores. The arrival of the Germans sets in motion a chain of events that rivals any of the high adventures of the princesses’ colorful ancestors. Michelle Cooper’s A Brief History of Montmaray breathes new life into the dark and stormy romantic suspense novels that made earlier generations ardent fans of the Bröntes, Daphne du Maurier, and Victoria Holt. Teens and 'tweens will be tearing through the novel's second half by the night light. --Lauren Nemroff
From School Library Journal
Grade 7–10—It's 1936, and 16-year-old Sophie FitzOsborne lives on the edge of poverty in an island castle off the coast of England. With her cousin Veronica; her younger sister, Henry; a dog named Carlos; and her reclusive Uncle John—the mad king of Montmaray—for company, Sophie spends her days helping her cousin and the few remaining servants keep house while documenting her dreams and experiences in her journal. The girls' intellects and fierce determination are put to the test when the Nazis invade their island and quickly turn their state of solitude into a struggle for survival. This book has a bit of everything: romance, betrayal, a haunting, espionage, psychological discord, intimate liaisons, and murder. Although the beginning is heavily laden with the protagonist's accounts of historical events, the mood eventually shifts to an exciting pace illustrating the heroine's adventures and courageous endeavors to preserve her family's bond and royal lineage.—Kimberly Monaghan, formerly at Vernon Area Public Library, IL
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Sophia is an utterly beguiling narrator, her chronicle of life in her crumbling family home full of wry humor and razor-sharp, disarmingly honest observations. The first half of her journal has an almost fairy tale-like quality to it -- the closest literary equivalent that comes to mind is E. Nesbit's Five Children and It. Similar to Nesbit's classic, there's a quality almost akin to magical realism saturating the FitzOsbornes' lives -- two teenage girls, raising a ten-year-old, eking out a living on their wave-battered island because of the precedent of their royal lineage. But Sophia isn't content with tradition and dreams of life off Montmaray, of experiencing the "season" in London and falling in love. But as world events begin to intrude on the simple rhythms of their lives, Sophia begins to see herself as a chronicler of something more, her writing infused with fresh purpose as she records conflict first landing on Montmaray's shores.
Cooper's world-building is superb -- for a fictional kingdom and family, she's given the FitzOsbornes a gloriously realized, thorough history. Coupled with her deft characterizations and sure plotting, readers may find themselves forgetting that Sophia's journal is a work of fiction rather than autobiography. *wink* Cooper pairs her rich, descriptive world-building with a wealth of real-life history that sets this novel apart. A Brief History of Montmaray is an unexpectedly rich, meaty historical -- from the fictional FitzOsborne family history that bore witness to the Battle of Hastings, Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada, and the horrors of trench warfare in the Great War, to the inflammatory political ideals alternately capturing and horrifying the imaginations of the world in the 1930s. Similarly to the recent re-boot of Upstairs Downstairs, through the eyes of Sophia and her family Cooper allows readers a window into the past as Toby meets Ambassador von Ribbentrop, Veronica debates fascism and socialism with the housekeeper's son, Simon, and the FitzOsbornes are shocked when Edward VIII abdicated to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.
Sophia's first journal is a lovely, absorbing read that deftly navigates the pivot from coming-of-age novel to high suspense with uncanny aplomb. This is a rare treat for readers of all persuasions, but an absolute gift for those passionate about this interwar time period and its affect on those living in such tumultuous times. A Brief History of Montmaray is an utterly captivating reading experience, a unique and memorable, thought-provoking blend of fact and fiction that entertains even as it inspires further reading and research. A marvelous introduction to Sophia and her world!