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At the Sign of the Sugared Plum Paperback – 4 Aug 2003
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"This story still manages to be thoroughly romantic whatever the growing corpse count." -- Independent, Monday 28th November 2003
'Mary hooper is a writer to watch' -- The Independent
From the Publisher
Through Hannahs eyes, Mary Hooper brilliantly recreates the smells, sounds and sights of seventeenth century London life. Hannahs excitement at coming to the big city is vividly evoked as is the growing terror of a seemingly unstoppable plague that takes hold of the city, street by street, house by house.See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
Historically, it reads as though the author did a bit of research in the form of reading books for background information into the Great Plague (she quotes Pepys's Diary and W G Bell and also Liza Picard's Restoration London - and to be honest, if you want to know about the Great Plague , these books will tell you much more than ATSOT Sugared Plum ) but the characters she drew were very dull and boring and one- dimensional which one would expect in pre teenage fiction books and although I finished it, I was bored by the end of it . If there is a sequel to this book, I won't be in a hurry to find out what happened to Hannah and Sarah and baby Grace .
The only part which interested me was the description of the Royal Exchange - because I used to work there !
The book is about Hannah who comes from her country home to join her older sister in London at the time of the plague in 1665. The girls work together running a shop selling confectionery. As it becomes evident that the plague is spreading life becomes more and more difficult, houses are shut up, no one wants their products any more and they are in danger of catching the disease themselves.
The plot is simple and the author reflects all the different things which might happen to people at this time but in a sanitised way suitable for the younger reader. She doesn't shy away from death or danger but the book isn't terribly gory and the girls are more onlookers than participants which helps to keep the events at a distance. The adult reader will see the author's research very obviously but for a younger reader with little or no knowledge of what happened there will be a lot to learn whilst being entertained. There is a slight romance and the main characters are mildly threatened. The book has a sequel set in 1666 in London (I guess we know what the characters will experience then !).
This story was well told and conveyed the events of the plague well. The characterisation was shallow and the plot very straightforward but that is what you woudl expect in a book aimed at younger teenagers. An adult reader may well find it unsatisfying
Impressively detailed (sweetmeat recipes included), the novel vividly shows how Londoners strive to cope at one of the darkest times in the city's history. Readers are likely long to remember images of red crosses on doors, the scrawled LORD HAVE MERCY ON US, the tolling of the church bells, the carts collecting the dead, the graveyards with piles of bodies awaiting disposal.
What now for Hannah, Sarah and Tom, the ever-helpful apothecary's apprentice? Pages will be turned quickly, with some anxiety, in the bid to find out.
The fascination with Hooper's novel is the way in which she describes the people and the atmosphere of the time. The sense of everyday life, laced with a growing sense of fear and dread as all those affected struggle to find reasons why it is happening, is gripping stuff to read. Hooper describes wonderfully the different 'preventatives' used by people at the time; the herbs and spices, the beliefs about what they should and shouldn't do, usually to no avail, and particularly the descriptions of those affected by the plague. But more over it is the story of Hannah and her sister - two healthy women, trapped in an increasingly unhealthy world - who try to remain normal whilst all around them is anything but. And 15 year old Hannah experiences all the familiar 'teenage' angst too - bad hair, worrying about her skin, boys, clothes - all the things that a modern day teen can relate to.
When the plague finally takes over, Hannah and Sarah must make a painful decision about their future in London, and the reader can really feel their anguish - wanting to stay, but knowing in their hearts that they can't.
Even though this is a young adult novel, I would definitely read more from Hooper - a very interesting historical event, recreated for modern teenage audiences in a well-written and easy to understand and relate to way.