Author: Michelle Cooper
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 13, 2009
Series: The Montmaray Journals, book one
Audiobook: Listening Library/Books on Tape
Source: Purchased audiobook at NCTE
About the Book: “There’s a fine line between gossip and history, when one is talking about kings.”
Sophie Fitzosborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray with her eccentric and impoverished royal family. When she receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday, Sophie decides to chronicle day-to-day life on the island. But this is 1936, and the news that trickles in from the mainland reveals a world on the brink of war. The politics of Europe seem far away from their remote island—until two German officers land a boat on Montmaray. And then suddenly politics become very personal indeed.
A Brief History of Montmaray is a heart-stopping tale of loyalty, love, and loss, and of fighting to hold on to home when the world is exploding all around you.
My Thoughts: This was one of those books that I've been meaning to read but never seemed to get around to. The time period and location really caught my eye. I also liked the fact that it was told in journal entries. I was thrilled to see the audiobook at the Books on Tape/Listening Library booth at NCTE. I snatched it up (along with the second book) and began listening to it right when I got back to "real life." The narration is great. The dialect and pronunciation really added to the atmosphere of the story. Emma Bering sets a wonderful cadence. She does a nice job with using different voices/inflections for different characters. Her reading adds a lot to the story.
As far as the book goes there were a couple things I really enjoyed.
1. Montmaray: Creating a fictional place was a great way to tell a historically accurate story while still having the freedom to make much of it up. The characters view the events of the world a bit differently than if they had been British or French or Spanish. I liked learning about the Montmaravian (spelling?) history. Seeing how it fit in with world history helped explain the climate of the time.
2. The history: As I stated above I enjoyed this aspect. The years between WWI and WWII have always fascinated me. Reading a fictional story that had historical connections was a bonus!
3. Sophie's Journal: I liked that we got to see the events that Sophie recorded AND what she was thinking/feeling. It really personalizes the story.
While I enjoyed these aspects and the story overall I will say that it was a bit slow for me. Montmaray is an isolated island with few people living on it. Correspondence and news take forever to get there. It made much of the books seem a bit repetitive. Yes, this was representative of the characters lives but still... if the narrator hadn't been so good I may have had a harder time finishing. The story does pick up towards the end. It made me want to start The FitzOsbornes in Exile right away! I guess I ended up liking this one but feeling like it was really more of a build up for book two. I would recommend it to fans of historical fiction. A Brief History of Montmaray is an interesting look at a teen trying to survie and find her place in a world on the brink of war.