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Showing 1-10 of 16 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 44 reviews
on February 22, 2010
Because I have nine grandchildren, 5 of which fall into the category of teen or young adult, I read many teen and young adult books as a preface to providing them as gifts. A Brief History of Montmaray is at the top of my list for being entertaining, suspenseful, and well-written. The author paints such a vivid picture of this island and its inhabitants -- all through the eyes of a young teenage girl -- that it's hard to believe it's a fictitious place. I had to put a sweater on while reading because I could feel the chill in the dark and dank castle! What a talent Michelle Cooper has to be able to bring the characters so effectively to life just through a first person narrative! I'm not a teen or young adult, but I was totally captivated by the story, and I'm hoping for a sequel. Ms. Cooper didn't have to resort to vampires, werewolves, or the like to write a terrific book -- scary Nazis work just as well. I highly recommend it to teens, tweens, young adults, grandmothers -- anyone looking for a good read. The only problem was it was over too soon!
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on August 19, 2012
On a small island in the Bay of Biscay, between France and Spain, lies the Kingdom of Montmaray, home of Sophia FitzOsborne, her tomboy sister Henry, and older cousin Veronica. They, along with Veronica's mad father the king and Sophia's brother Toby, are the last members of a once-illustrious and colorful royal family dating back to the 11th century. But despite their titles and and wealth of familial history, the FitzOsbornes are nearly bankrupt, clinging to the crumbling family home with the aid of only a handful of loyal subjects. In many respects they are an isolated time capsule, a proud relic of happier and more plentiful times. In the fall of 1936 Sophia receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday and resolves to document her life -- the hopes, dreams, and everyday occurrences that make up her day to day life. She has no ambition of crafting an authoritative family history of the type Veronica works endlessly to compile -- but Sophia's scribblings are poised to become a critical record of a world on the brink of implosion. Montmaray may be small, but world events are destined to intrude on its shores, realigning Sophia's priorities and changing the course of her life forever. With the Spanish Civil War on one side and the heavy march of German Fascism on the other, Sophia is set to become the unlikely chronicler of a world on the cusp of war.

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!
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on July 1, 2011
This book is a checklist of all the things that make a little romantic literary girl with intellectual pretensions sigh long into the night. Set in 1936 on the fictional island of Montmaray (halfway between England and France), both the stakes and the political intrigue are high. The plot is seasoned with orphaned royals and a mad king for a nice Dickensian-Shakespearian-Bronte mashup, making this tiny island a microcosm of the microcosmic moors. Unlike much literature for this age group, Cooper respects the reader's intelligence all the way, and manages to subtly educate the reader through the protagonist's discoveries rather than through lecturing. It turns into a real page turner at the end, and I can't wait to read the next book. I highly recommend this for all literary-minded teens who stroll past their moonlit windows longing for the greater world, as well as for adults who've been out there and are now strangely nostalgic for their days of entrapment, when the life they live now was so much more intriguing.
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on February 28, 2016
Excellent. My favourite book series of all time. It get's a bit boring in the middle but stick at it then read the next book and the one after that. Fantastic. Wonderful. Gorgeous. Heart-wrenching. Incredible
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on March 31, 2013
I'm in the middle of the last book in the Montmaray trilogy, so obviously I enjoyed "A Brief History of Montmaray" enough to continue to live with the characters for a few more days. But as I read "Brief History", and have reflected on it since, I feel a little bit sad that it never seemed to get off the ground. The main problem, I've decided, is that in this, the all-important Opening Act, Montmaray itself never got the attention it deserves.

The story is presented through the diary of Her Royal Highness, Princess Sophie of Montmaray, teenage daughter of the King's younger brother, and sister to the Heir Apparent. There are practically no adults on Montmaray, at least, not any responsible ones with authority. It's amazing that Sophie and her siblings and their cousin Veronica, daughter of the King, turned out to be so precocious and well-adjusted (even young Henry is just boisterous, not an actual Wild Child.) They certainly turned out resourceful and enterprising.

There are definite limitations when telling a story in this format. So many details that would breathe life into the setting are left out. The characters are well-written, if a bit narrow in creation (anybody over 30 is useless). Where Sophie's narration fails us is in closely connecting herself, and therefore the reader, to the Kingdom of Montmaray. I never felt it.

The inspiration and motivation for virtually all their actions is, allegedly, Montmaray. It is the reason for their existence and the definition of their identity. They are the ruling royal family. Some of them, including Sophie, have spent their entire lives on Montmaray. But there are novels where the characters' *house* has greater presence and influence than the entire Kingdom of Montmaray. Even Edith Wharton's *unfinished* last novel, The Buccaneers, is more evocative of Time and Place.

In fact, I'm struck, sharply, by an example which brilliantly captures time, place, people and heart, and which coincidentally has a surprising number of parallels, both trivial and significant, to A BRIEF HISTORY OF MONTMARAY.

There's more than a passing similarity between A BRIEF HISTORY OF MONTMARAY and Dodie Smith's coming-of-age classic I CAPTURE THE CASTLE. Both stories are narrated by young women, partially through journal entries. CASTLE takes place in England in the 30's (but the politics of the World Stage matter little.) Both young women are growing up without real adult guidance, living in genteel poverty within a claustrophobic family microcosm of colorful characters. Both are the quietly perceptive, sensitive observers in their families. Both are surprised, thrilled, and a little frightened by a new kind of adult they find emerging from within themselves, after having had so many adult responsibilities thrust upon them at an early age. They both face unique personal challenges as each girl, Cassandra of CASTLE and Sophie of MONTMARAY, begin to encounter and navigate the *real* world of adulthood. Both even live in a castle!

But despite the superficial similarities, and the more curious parallels, there is a profound difference between both the girls, and both the books. Cassandra does indeed "capture the castle", in quiet, exhilarating triumph, through an unfolding narrative that blossoms along with her: awkward, precocious, passionate, self-conscious and yet stunningly perspicacious. Sophie does not "capture" Montmaray, its citizens, or really even herself.

In a novel like A BRIEF HISTORY OF MONTMARAY, Montmaray itself should have as great a presence as any of the main characters. It should be like a living creature who speaks through the other characters. It's not. It should be so vividly presented that the reader finds herself falling - leaping - head over heels into its little world, and feeling so wholly ensconced there that snapping back to the "real world" takes some adjustment. (Well, of course, all the best books are absorbing, but you know what I mean.)

On Montmaray, it should feel as if time has stopped, and the kingdom hovers in some mystical plane, shrouded by mists that part only occasionally to let The Outside World touch it. It should be as remote, as magical, as colorful, and as beloved, as Brigadoon. That would make every single thing that happens in this book and later have a thousand times more IMPACT. From the moment Montmaray's idylls are destroyed, to every tragedy and every triumph after, the story would be so much more engrossing and exquisite if we had been properly enchanted by it *first.*

Instead, Montmaray feels like a cardboard-and-poster-paint stage set. The author makes perfunctory attempts, but winds up giving more time and energy to what's happening offstage than she does to actually building the stage itself. She relied very much on TELLING the reader instead of SHOWING the reader. She did a fine job lecturing on the Spanish Civil War, but never really left the podium to get on with spinning a thoroughly creative story.

It seems like she held onto that podium with white knuckles, clinging to facts instead of letting her imagination run wild. In fact, much of the plot is noticeably tentative.

The author toyed with some mystical elements but seemed a little uncomfortable with the idea. There are several plotlines that unravel awkwardly. The author was temporarily distracted by the idea of 1) a mysterious disappearance 2) the insanity of the king 3) a possibly prophetic dream 4) a ghost and 5) a Big Revelation, but instead kept snapping back to talking about the war in Spain again, letting those plots fall half-formed from her mind, left to fend for themselves somehow. They are frustratingly glimpsed, even as they are resolved. Their resolutions are decidedly lacking in heart or ... Impact. (There's that word again.)

I often found myself wanting to read Veronica's tour de force, the "Brief History of Montmaray" of the title, instead of Sophie's diary. It is often referred to but never illuminated. Perhaps the two of them combined would've created something closer to what I have envisioned for this book and series.

Ultimately, while a good read, the story does an awful lot of teasing without truly satisfying. It never crossed the line from plain Fiction into true Literature. It feels extremely limited in scope when instead it had the potential to be so, so much greater. This is true of all the books, but is most damaging here in the first one. And rather than go on clumsily trying to dissect why, I'll just leave it at this, a plaintive, somewhat frustrated mourn that a good story could've been a great one.
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on May 31, 2014
This book was an Interesting read. I Really liked this book. I would recommend it to others. There are other books in the series.
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on May 18, 2015
I liked this first book, but I am enjoying the second book even more. Look forward to reading the entire trilogy.
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on March 5, 2014
(3.5 stars) This is the first book in a trilogy. Sophie has just turned 16 and the year is 1936. She lives on a tiny island off of the coast of England, which is the sovereign nation of Montmaray. The king is mostly mad, and keeps to himself in their crumbling castle. She lives their with her cousin, Veronica, whose father is the king and is deeply involved in researching the history of the kingdom, her brother Toby, heir to the throne and away at school in England, and her younger sister, Harry. The island has only a few inhabitants and it is clear from her journal entries that they are barely scraping by. Their aunt wants the two eldest girls to come to London for the Season, but Veronica is unwilling to leave the island. What starts out as a tale of a unique, but quiet life, quickly transforms into a much darker and active story when the Germans arrive, looking for a mythical artifact. Events come together to change their lives forever, setting up the action for the next two books in the series. The story also touches on the relationships between the family members, including the issues of inheritance and love. I agree that the first part of the book definitely pays tribute to Dodie Smith's "I Capture the Castle", and the narrator, while self deprecating at first, certainly starts coming into her own as the story progresses. I look forward to reading the next installment.
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on February 20, 2015
Coser to fantasy than to a tale that could be easily believed or entered into.
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on June 3, 2015
A good beginning for an unusual family saga.
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