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An Art History Mystery! Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Hiya!

It was recently announced that Under the Egg, a debut by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, is on the 2015-16 South Carolina Junior Award Book list! I read it this past fall and I  can tell you that this art history mystery definitely deserves the recognition!

Overview

When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgeralddiscovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

My Thoughts

Two topics of history that my students are always interested in are World War II and the Holocaust. Under the Egg is a middle grades mystery with quirky characters that includes a little bit of WWII, Holocaust, and art history tidbits in it. These history tidbits are definitely an intriguing side story to the WWII narrative, one that might not be known to many middle grade readers.

One thing that makes Under the Egg such a fun book is the quirky characters and friendships formed between them. Theo, our main character, is not your average thirteen year old – she has been raised mostly by her grandfather, who has recently died, has a mother who requires more care than Theo can give, and because of her family’s financial situation worries about how to make ends meet and wears the strangest clothes. Theo doesn’t realize that she’s lonely until she meets Bodhi, the daughter of two movie stars who lives in the neighborhood, who is also quirky and also lonely. The friendship that unfolds between Bodhi and Theo while they attempt to solve the mystery of the painting is one of the things that makes this book so special because neither girl realized just how much they needed companionship. The supporting cast of characters are also eccentric and each (An Episcopalian priest, the local diner owner and a helpful librarian) play an important role in uncovering the truth behind Theo’s painting. Characters like these are just plain fun to read!

Overall Under the Egg is a really quick read. I finished it in less than a day because I was so fascinated by the painting’s puzzle. Middle grade readers who are interested in World War II history or those who are just looking for a quality mystery with a witty, smart, and resourceful heroine will most definitely enjoy this one. Also if fans of other art related mysteries like Shakespeare’s Secret, Masterpiece, and Chasing Vermeer will find Under the Egg just as entertaining!

Details

Author: Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Publisher: Dial Books (March 18, 2014)
Format: Hardcover
Length: 247 pages
Series: Standalone
YA/MG: MG

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Immense Like: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Hello!

I just recently taught a lesson in my library to a digital arts class about book cover design. One of the things we discussed was the things that draw us individually to book covers and I shared with them about my love for covers with pretty gowns on the front.  It’s a sign of how girly I really am! I am almost always drawn to a cover that has a gorgeous dress on the cover whether it be fantasy, historical fiction, or another genre.

Knowing this, it’s no surprise why I first picked up A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller.

Overview

Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Walleroverwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

My Thoughts

Historical fiction is a genre that I usually always enjoy, being the history nerd that I am and I was pretty much immediately a fan of A Mad, Wicked Folly when I began listening to the audiobook. The story introduces us to Vicky, a student in Paris taking secret art classes to further her love for drawing. Vicky makes a choice regarding her art which immediately sends her back to her enraged parents in England who swiftly engage her to a wealthy man still willing to have her. In the meantime we see the political atmosphere in England, specifically London getting more and more tense as the Women’s Suffrage Movement is gaining speed. What I love about this book is that you see Vicky’s small-scale revolution in her own private life set up against the backdrop of a much larger, although similar, social revolution.

As a main character Vicky is believable, if not naive. Throughout the whole book Vicky is struggling. She wants to please herself and pursue her own interests and talents, but is stuck in the mire of society’s constraints. Her actions are often incredibly naive, but who can really blame her when all she knows is the way in which is brought up which was in a world of black and whites. As Vicky begins to mature she starts to see that the world is full of grays as well and that decisions and right versus wrong is not always so cut-and-dry. I liked her immensely!

What I also liked immensely is the romance! Ohhhh the romance! There is a small love triangle in A Mad, Wicked Folly and it is pretty common with its rich guy versus poor guy theme, but that doesn’t alter how enjoyable it is. This romance was one of the sweetest I’d read in a while and was one of the best things about this book!

I also have to say that I learned so much from this book! After finishing it, I immediately went online to find more information regarding the Suffragist Movement in the United Kingdom! There were parts of the suffragette experience examined in this story that sickened and shocked me and I had to figure out what was fiction and what was fact. In my mind, if you’re lead to research more about a specific topic after finishing historical fiction, the author has done his/her job! Tidbit: the title of the book was inspired by a quote from Queen Victoria calling politicians to speak out against Woman’s Suffrage…interesting!

See?! There is more to A Mad, Wicked Folly book than a pretty gown on the cover! There is have romance, suffragettes, Victorian England, art, and self discovery! Due to the detailed and pretty disturbing accounts of specific suffragette experiences, I (highly) recommend this one to fans of YA historical fiction who are 8th grade and older. I just liked this whole book immensely!

Details

Author: Sharon Biggs Waller

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (January 23, 2014)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library Audio)

Length: 11 hours and 13 minutes

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA