YA Review: The Agency For Scandal

Title: The Agency For Scandal
Author: Laura Wood

Mystery, intrigue, danger, romance, and secret 19th century feminism come together in this gripping new book from Laura Wood. I’m not normally a romance reader (YA or otherwise), but I’ve loved every Laura Wood book I’ve picked up, and this one once again makes the grade.

Izzy is a self-confessed wallflower with a complicated life. Following the death of her father and the loss of his income she is battling to keep the family home and pay her brother’s school fees. Her bed-ridden mother has no idea that most of the servants have been laid off, and almost all the furniture sold. Izzy works hard to maintain the illusion of wealth and status for her family, keeping their secret from everyone – even her best friend.

But Izzy has another secret. Trained by her father before he died, she is an expert lock picker. No one her father worked for will hire a woman in his place, but her skills have caught the eye of a very secretive organisation. Izzy is an undercover agent for a group of exceptional women, whose mission is to defend other women, and put right the injustices of a system where wives are the property of their husbands, and women are not seen as equal to men.

The women are hired, Sherlock Holmes style, to investigate a puzzling case, and Izzy finds herself working with the Duke of Roxton – a man on whom she has a crush, but can only hope to admire from a distance. He’s a Duke, and she can barely support her family. As they work more closely together, Izzy finds herself falling for the Duke, but knows she can’t afford to develop feelings that cannot be reciprocated.

I loved this book. I loved the glittering parties and the dangerous exploits, and Izzy’s relationships with the people around her. I loved the undercover investigations, and the teams of women hiding in plain sight as they worked to right the wrongs of their society. I loved all the strong, capable women – especially Izzy, whose sensible approach to her feelings is balanced with a refreshingly bold attitude to the risks of her job. It’s an engaging story with a colourful cast of characters, and a highly sympathetic narrator. Come for the Bridgerton-style society intrigue, stay for the all-action feminist spycraft, and swoon over the wonderful romantic leads.

Have you read The Agency For Scandal? What did you think of Izzy’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

The Agency for Scandal will be published on January 5th 2023.

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

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YA Review: Young Eagle Rising

Title: Young Eagle Rising
Author: Ellie Joyce

We’re thrilled to be taking part in the Young Eagle Rising Blog Tour! Thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources for including our review.

William Baxter is thirteen when he leaves Ireland with his family to begin a new life in the colonies of North America. He doesn’t want to go – in 1735, leaving on a ship means saying goodbye to everyone you leave behind, and he doesn’t want to leave his grandmother or his aunt.

The three-month voyage sees him learning new skills, making new friends among the passengers and crew, and deciding that he much prefers life on dry land. By the time the boat reaches Philadelphia, he is excited to begin his new adventure, and the family sets out in search of land to claim.

As their second winter approaches, the family is settled in their new life, harvesting crops and preparing for the cold weather. But a tragic misunderstanding with a native tribe leaves William alone, and determined to return to the life he knew in Ireland.

His journey back to Philadelphia is full of adventure, culture shocks, and the engaging characters he turns to for help. His experiences teach him more about the New World as he comes into contact with settlers, explorers, slaves, cruel slave owners, native tribes, and the deceitful leaders of the Pennsylvania Colony.

William is an engaging and intelligent narrator with a distinctive voice, drawing the reader into the story with his vivid descriptions of people and events. The relationships he builds as he travels feel warm and respectful, reflecting his own personality. His confidence, resourcefulness, and willingness to learn allow him to overcome the difficulties he faces, and it is a joy to follow him on his journey.

Young Eagle Rising is an exciting story in the style of a classic boys’ adventure tale. There’s no romance, but plenty of genuine friendship, and most of the important characters are male. It reads like a YA Treasure Island, with the narrator piecing together the reality of his new home as he travels through it. While William’s initial contact with native people is violent, reflecting the racist and simplistic ‘Cowboys and Indians’ attitudes of the early settlers, the author is careful to present an alternative view through William’s experiences with the peaceful Lenape Nation later in the book.

As someone who has studied First Nation (Native American) experiences in North America, I appreciated this depiction. However, the story also features local tribes who are violent towards the Lenape, and their conflict is presented in very black-and-white terms. I found this surprising and uncomfortable in the context of William’s developing understanding, and I can’t help but think that this depiction might feel significantly racist to present-day members of the ‘enemy’ tribe.

It’s a small complaint, and overall the author is very careful to emphasise the complexity of life in the New World. History is often simplified and sanitised, but through his story William – and the reader – experience some of the subtleties, tragedies, and misunderstandings inherent in the aggressive colonisation of already occupied land. Reading this book in a class or book club would be an inspiring way to begin a conversation about colonialism, racism, slavery, and the way history is taught.

Four stars: recommended. A great friendship-based adventure story, but I can’t overlook the problematic depiction of some of the First Nation characters.

Have you read Young Eagle Rising? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts!

Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

Check out the other reviews, appearing over the next few days.

What’s it about?
Ireland 1735. Thirteen-year-old William Baxter has a grandmother with peculiar powers – so peculiar he believes she must be a witch. Taking this secret with him, he reluctantly sails with his family to the New World and the promise of a better life.

But Pennsylvania proves to be a savage, unforgiving place rife with warring tribes, slavery and dangerous animals. When William’s life suddenly takes a terrifying turn, he is thrust headlong into a battle for survival. Consumed with hatred for those responsible, he desperately wants to return to Ireland, but the coast is one hundred miles away and the trail runs through native territory. Alone and frightened, he sets out on what becomes the journey of a lifetime, determined to survive and have his revenge.

Young Eagle Rising is a coming-of-age story, a mix of fantasy, history, adventure and the enduring love of an old Irish witch.

Who is the author?
Ellie Joyce was born and raised in Belfast. She holds an A.L.A.M. (Dip. Acting) from The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She and her husband have four children and live in Leicestershire. Young Eagle Rising is her debut novel. See more at elliejoyceauthor.com.

You can order your copy from Waterstones, Book Guild, Foyles, Bookshop.org, Amazon, WHSmith and Book Depository.

YA Review: The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks (Montague Siblings #3)

Title: The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks
Author: Mackenzi Lee

I loved the other books in Mackenzi Lee’s Stonewall-Honor-winning historical adventure series, and I’ve been waiting for the final novel for far too long!

Adrian is the youngest of the three Montague siblings – so much younger that he doesn’t remember his brother or his sister. Both left home to pursue unconventional careers and lifestyles (Henry/Monty to live with his partner Percy, and Felicity to become a doctor in spite of her gender), and their parents have hidden their existence from Adrian for nineteen years.

On the cusp of adulthood, Adrian is living in London. He’s engaged to a political activist (the wonderful Louisa), and is expected to take his father’s seat in the House of Lords. But his politics are directly opposed to his father’s Conservatism, and he’s never felt able to confess this. When a package of belongings throws doubt on the official report’s of his mother’s recent death, Adrian finds himself on an unforgettable journey in search of the truth.

Mackenzi Lee once again throws her protagonist into a grand adventure – by sea to exotic destinations, helped (and hindered) by the friends and enemies his older siblings have made in their travels. It is wonderful to meet Monty and Felicity again – older, wiser, competent (Felicity) and disaster-prone (Monty), and to see them for the first time through their younger brother’s eyes. The story is exciting and gripping, with just a touch of magic alongside the historical facts.

The most remarkable aspect of the book is the focus on Adrian’s anxiety and mental health. He experiences intrusive thoughts, spiralling emotions, and debilitating panic, all of which are described with absolute sympathy and understanding. His symptoms are based on the author’s own anxiety, and throughout the book the other characters treat Adrian with love, and with validation and positive messaging. As the story progresses, he becomes more at home in his own skin, and less ashamed of his natural reactions. It’s a brilliantly positive message, and an absolutely organic part of his adventure.

A wonderful conclusion to the trilogy, and definitely worth the wait!

Have you read The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks? What did you think of Adrian’s adventure? And what about meeting Monty, Percy, and Felicity again? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.