A Brief History of Montmarayby Michelle Cooper
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,/i>
"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 islanduntil 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.
"Once in a while, a special book will cross our paths and make us grateful for life and the ability to read. I'm talking about A Brief History of...
"A smart and stirring choice to usher fans of the Brontës into the twentieth century."
From the Hardcover edition.
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A Brief History of Montmaray
By Michelle Cooper
Knopf Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2009 Michelle Cooper
All right reserved.
23rd October 1936
Happy birthday to my favorite little sister! I've been trying to recollect the day you were born so I can gush about it in an appropriately sentimental fashion, but I'm afraid it's all a blank. I must have been too busy pulling Veronica's hair or smearing stewed apple over my smock to notice you popping into existence. I do remember Henry's arrival ten years ago, and if you were anything like her, you were a most unattractive baby--wrinkled, red-faced, loud, and rather smelly. Lucky for all of us that you've improved somewhat with age.
Now, did the presents arrive safely? I had to go all the way to Knightsbridge for the journal, and then I got detention for sneaking off from Games, so I hope you appreciate it. You can use it to write down your thoughts. You must have plenty of them at the moment, given Aunt Charlotte's letter--I assume you've read it by now. Are you thrilled? Terrified? Well, it's all your fault for turning sixteen--you gave Aunt Charlotte quite a shock when she realized how old you'd suddenly become. She had to sit down and have an extra-large sherry to recover.
As for me, this new school is almost as ghastly as the old one. I suppose I'd been hoping Rupert would come too when I was thrown out of Eton, but his parents keep sayingno, worse luck. The House Masters have finally sorted out dormitories, and now I share with three boys. Two are in the Rugby First XV, ugh. The other has noxious feet and learns the bagpipes, so is nearly as bad. I have already had two detentions, one for missing Games on Saturday and one for not doing Latin prep. The Latin prep wasn't my fault. I didn't know there was any prep because the Latin Master told us about it in Latin and I didn't understand a word he said.
Remember, I am in MarchHare House, so please make sure you put that on the address when you write, otherwise the letters might get lost. It's a good House to be in because it inevitably comes last in the House Cup, so no one cares much when I lose House points. The other good thing about MarchHare is that we can climb out the top-story windows onto the roof and look into the hospital next door, which is very educational. Also, sometimes the nurses come out onto a balcony to smoke, and they throw us a cigarette if we beg nicely.
It's almost lights-out, so I'd better finish. Tell Veronica to come and live in my trunk so she can secretly do my Latin prep for me. She could write my History essay as well, it is on the Restoration. And ask her to bring Carlos with her so he can eat the bagpipes.
Love from your wonderful brother,
As usual, Toby's letter was coded in Kernetin, which Toby and my cousin Veronica and I invented years ago so we could write notes to each other without the grown-ups being able to read them. Kernetin is based on Cornish and Latin, with some Greek letters and random meaningless squiggles thrown in to be extra-confusing. Also, it is boustrophedonic (I adore that word and try to say it as often as possible, but unfortunately it hasn't many everyday uses). "Boustrophedonic" means you read one line left to right, then the next right to left. Veronica can translate Kernetin straight off the page into English, but I find it easier to write it out, so there it is, my first entry in my new journal. It has a hundred blank pages thick as parchment, and a morocco binding, and is almost too lovely to write in.
I did get some superb birthday presents this year. Veronica gave me a pen with my initials on it. From my little sister, Henry, came a new Pride and Prejudice, because I dropped my old one in the bath and it hasn't been the same since. (Henry, who wishes she'd been born a boy, looked quite disappointed when I opened the journal from Toby--she'd probably told him to get me one of those pocketknives with attached magnifying glass, screwdriver, and fish-scaler, hoping that I'd then lend it to her.) The villagers presented me with a honey-spice cake, a lavender pillow, and a beautiful comb carved out of driftwood. Uncle John doesn't even know what year it is, let alone the date, so I never expect so much as a "Happy birthday" from him, but Rebecca, our housekeeper, gave me the day off from washing up the breakfast dishes. Even Carlos, our Portuguese water dog, managed a birthday card, signed with an inky paw-print (now I understand why Henry was being so secretive yesterday and how the bathtub ended up with all those black streaks).
And then there was Aunt Charlotte! I opened her letter long after breakfast was over because I couldn't imagine her approving of anything as indulgent as birthdays, but that turned out to be the most exciting part of the whole morning. I won't copy it all out, most of it being her usual scoldings about our idle, extravagant lives here on Montmaray, and do we think she's made of money, and so on. But here is the important part:
._._._and now that you are sixteen, Sophia, I am reminded yet again of the sad burden I have been forced to bear since my youngest brother and his wife were so cruelly torn from this world, God rest their souls. My only comfort is knowing how grateful Robert and Jane would be if they could see all that I have done for you children.
However, my responsibilities are not yet complete, and your mother in particular, Sophia, would have wanted you to be given the same social opportunities she had. As for Veronica, it is not her fault that her feckless mother is who-knows-where and quite unable to make appropriate arrangements regarding a matrimonial match. I feel it is my duty, then, to sponsor your debuts into Society. We cannot postpone this event much longer, in light of your advancing ages.
I expect early in the new year would be the best time for both of you to travel to England. I leave it to Veronica to write to Mr. Grenville regarding steamer passage and railway tickets. In the meantime, I shall begin perusing the Almanach de Gotha for eligible prospects_._._.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper Copyright © 2009 by Michelle Cooper. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
MICHELLE COOPER has held a variety of jobs including selling ladies' shoes and working in a blood bank. But she now works as a speech and language pathologist. She specializes in learning disabilities and reluctant readers, so she's passionate about getting children and teenagers interested in books. You can learn more about Michelle and her books at MichelleCooper-Writer.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Sophie may be a princess, but she must deal with typical family issues like difficult siblings, crazy relatives, and loss of her parents. While she lives in a castle, it is falling down around her! She is grappling with who she is and what direction to take her life in, just like any other 16 year old. Michelle Cooper has created a captivating world on Montmaray and Sophie recounts her madcap life there in a compelling way.
Sophie FitzOsbourne lives on the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray. She and the rest of her family are royalty, even though their subjects are few and the castle is falling down around them. Princess Sophie decides to keep a diary of events so that the history of Montmaray will not be lost. She chronicles the everyday happenings on the island, discusses the tragic death of her parents, and also touches upon the political unrest in both Germany and Spain. The whole world seems to be on the brink of something terrible/wonderful, and Sophie is left to tend to her younger sister and insane uncle, the King of Montmaray. Inevitably, Sophie is forced to make hard decisions, but she does it with a princess' grace. I have always been a fan of sweeping, epic tales, and A BRIEF HISTORY OF MONTMARAY feels like one to me. Michelle Cooper has all of the bases covered - adventure, romance, suspense - they all can be found in this novel. I enjoyed reading Sophie's perspective on things - What would happen to Montmaray if another Great War took place? Would Sophie be forced to leave the only home she has ever known? Her narrative is strong and very detailed. The author also does an excellent job of including conversations that Sophie has with other characters. We get to see all points of view through her diary. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and am looking forward to more stories from Michelle Cooper.
Even though I was certain Montmaray was not a real place, I continually second guessed myself throughout reading the text. Cooper does such a fantastic job of creating a believable history, topography, and culture for this imaginary island that it makes it difficult to believe it's not an actual place. Also, typically I don't like the whimsical girl 1st person narrative, but I believe it worked for this story very well. However, there were sometimes where the journal concept Cooper uses to tell the story breaks down a bit. By that I mean specifically that the events and the way Sophie is relaying those events seem less like a girl writing in her journal and more like a standard 3rd person omniscient narrator. The most accomplished element of the book is certainly the intertextual weaving of historical fiction with historical fact over the course of the history of Montmaray with the rest of Europe, as well as the discussions that arise between the characters about their roles in the world as European royalty given the tumultuous nature of Europe at the time. The war feels real told through the eyes of Sophie as does everything else about her little island kingdom. I recommend this novel to readers 13-17. -Lindsey Miller, www.lindseyslibrary.com