When my siblings and I were home for Christmas, my mother mentioned wanting to discuss who would eventually take which of the pieces of furniture she had been saving for us. That discussion went amicably, but once it was adjourned, we children found ourselves gathering around the bookshelves upstairs, placing dibs on favorite books. It is funny that attempting to divide the books brought on much more argument than dividing the furniture. We never did settle who got what, but I have a list of books everyone wants. My mission is to find multiples of as many of them as possible. On that list are two books by the prolific author, Mara Kay. They tell the story of a young girl in a bleak boarding school who eventually becomes Lady in Waiting to Czarina Alexandra, lives through the Decemberist revolt inside the castle while her betrothed agitates outside, and picks up the pieces of her broken life in the aftermath that shook the privileged Russian aristocracy. The first of these books is titled Masha.
Young Masha loved her comfortable old house with the cobwebs in the corners and the Domovoy in the attic. She loved living in the country with her kind mother and doting servants. When her father is killed at the battle of Borodino, Masha faces a terrible decision. There might be enough money to support her mother and herself for a little while, but there is not enough to provide a future for Masha. Will she continue to live comfortably at home until the money runs out, and then face a future with no income and no skills by which to support herself, or will she leave the family and home she loves in order to attend school and prepare herself for life? There are no vacations at the Smolni Institute for Girls. If Masha goes, she will not see her home again for nine years. She will leave a little girl and return a young lady. Masha makes a remarkably mature decision, and the book tells the story of her school days. You meet Masha’s friends and enemies, and share her sadnesses and her triumphs. It is a fascinating story with an authentic feel and lots of historic details. The story is a little dreary for young children, but it is inspiring for tweens and older to read about a younger child making responsible choices even when she would rather not. The story is highly entertaining, even if it is a little bleak at times. I highly recommend having the sequel, The Youngest Lady in Waiting, on hand before you begin Masha. Everyone will want to know what happens once Masha leaves Smolni and adventures into the bright world of the Imperial Russian court!
These books are out of print, and older copies run about $1000 for the pair. However, they are being re-printed and will be available in October for about $40 for both books. You can pre-order here: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/mara+kay/masha/10013620/ Shipping is from the UK and seems to be one price per order, regardless of the size, so get some friends together and save on shipping! (To find out about other books by Mara Kay, see: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/187809.Mara_Kay )