All Book Reviews by Genre: Historical

The Winter of the Witch
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In everyone’s reading adventures they find that there are those books they come across that they like, some they love, and then there are those books that resonate so deeply, that you say to yourself and all who will listen “this is why I read.” Its not just the stunning world building, the lyrical prose, or the deep character development, but something more, that speaks to your soul, about who you truly are or what the world around you is really like. Something that can’t always be expressed through spoken word or any other means, expect through story. This is what Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch has done for me.

Picking up right where The Girl in the Tower had left off with Rus in shambles and the people needing to blame someone for what happened to their city they naturally turn to Vasya. I am not going to try to explain the rest of the plot because so much happens. But suffice it to say that in this one there is so much more wintery magic, more of the winter king, everyone’s favorite hero, and so much more action and adventure I could barely keep up.

This book flows seamlessly from the 2nd to the third one without taking a single breath. And the blending of the historical and fantastical is so complete it totally had me believing that 13th century Rus existed side by side with this wintery magical world called midnight and had me longing to time travel so I can visit it. With mysterious and magical midnight roads, it’s chiriti and spirits of all types, its magical house, and a lake on the edge of worlds, it’s flying horses, its river monsters and so many other fairy tale elements this book appealed to me on so many levels. It really awakened that inner child in me, that I think is in all of us that loves fairy tales and magic, wants to be accepted and loved but also wants to have purpose and feel needed. Their was just so much about this fable and Vasya as a character that spoke to my soul that it’s hard to express it all in one measily review.

Vasya also grows so much into her power in this tale. She really discovers her identity and the book delves not only into more of who she and is becoming but also who her family is and their magical legacy. I really grew to love Vasya as a character and her determination to never give up even in the most difficult of circumstances, her love of her city and people, her strength, and how she doesn’t just accept her circumstances but fights for better things and saves herself and those around her.

Can we also talk about Vasya and Morozko relationship for a second. I love their relationship and think it is a great representation of what love in real life is often like. I love how they grow into their relationship, and that she loves him but doesn’t always love everything about him or the choices he makes. It proves what is often true about love that it is not always magic and sunshine and unicorns but can often be difficult. It often requires sacrifice and one to be selfless enough to make sacrifices. It also requires each partner to live with each other in daily life with all their imperfections no matter how much it annoys and frustrates you. I love the fact that, though Morozoko is this ancient powerful being, his character also has imperfections and issues and his own sorrows that Vasya has to learn to live with. I also love that they save each other in more ways than one, and in the scenes when they do connect it is often tender and beautiful and heart wrenching all at the same time.

Beyond the character development, the story itself is filled with lush and atmospheric imagery, beautiful and lyrical prose, and quirky and whimsical details that speak to my heart childhood heart. I also, being a history major, really appreciate the research done for this series with regards to historical detail. In history we call this establishing historical context, putting the person we are studying in their historical environment within the whole of history. It blended Vasya’s magical world and grounded her in a specific place in history seamlessly.

All this to say I loved this book and this series! Both are a solid 5 stars! And when it comes out next Tuesday Jan 8, run, don’t walk to your local library or book store to get this beautiful fable and complete your collection of one of the best series of all time. Seriously it’s up there with CS Lewis and Tolkien for me ya’ll. Thank you to Edelweiss and Del Ray for my Digital Review Copy for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Gilded Wolves cover
Chokshi, Roshani
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Severin’s legacy has been stolen. And he wants it back. As the sole heir to the House of Vanth, leading it should be his birthright. But folks from two of the other three houses stopped him from assuming the mantle of head of House Vanth. So when a secret society, the Order of Babel, approaches him and promises him his true inheritance in exchange for an artifact, he agrees to find the artifact along with his crew.

I enjoyed this one, though it isn’t without its flaws. Normally I end a review with my complaints, but in this case my main issue is also a positive so we’ll just start there! This book is quite similar to Six of Crows. Arguably a bit too similar. I mean, there are character analogs (Severin is fairly close to Kaz, Laila is like a Inej/Nina hybrid), and aspects of the plot are pretty similar as well. It felt like I was reading really incredible fanfiction on occasion. The thing is, though, I loved Six of Crows, so I really ended up enjoying this book too. Where Six of Crows is gorgeously bleak, The Gilded Wolves is exuberantly lavish. Set in late 19th century Paris, the trappings of this book are dazzling. Each scene is more lush than the last, and our characters’ surroundings are brought to life in the most whimsical of ways. Magical extravagance abounds, and I had the best time imagining the various rooms, secret chambers and tunnels. The world building was cool, although it occasionally felt convoluted. Overall, though, the author manages to blend religion and science and math, which is really no easy feat. The other thing that I really liked about this book is that the cast is very diverse in race, ethnicity and sexuality and that the author makes commentary about important, relevant issues such as colonialism, racism, and immigration.

I’ve read a few other books by this author, one that I hated (Star Touched Queen) and one that I enjoyed (Aru Shah). This one was much closer to an Aru read for me, although I do find that the rich prose reads as purple on occasion. There will obviously be a sequel, and I’ll definitely give that a go when it comes out in something like two years. I think a this book may also improve upon a reread. Some of the characters were a bit hard to keep track of - when the villain was ultimately revealed, I was like…who was that again? The end also felt super rushed and disjointed, and I think several of the plot points and character developments introduced might have made more sense at the top of the next book.

TLDR: A lavish heist and adventure fantasy for readers of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Ryan Graudin’s Invictus or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I think most readers of YA fantasy will like this one – I did! 3.5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Gilded Wolves will be available for purchase on 15 January 2019, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
King of the Wind
Henry, Marguerite McCallum
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The book, King of the Wind, is a lovely story about a horse and his master. The connection between Sham, the horse, and Agba, a boy, is focused upon during the book, and the author certainly created something special.

The characters are decently developed, but the connections between characters are much better. The setting of the book is also quite unique and fits well with the story. It's more than just a classic horse story. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone, as it's a pretty quick read and a great book.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
Sounder
Armstrong, William H.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The book, Sounder, is a great read. While it is a short read, it packs a powerful punch. The only reason I could really no like the book was that it does get to a be a cliche "dog story" at times. The characters are pretty well developed, and the story does get very dark. The multiple ongoing conflicts also captivate the reader. While its sort-of a children's book, the book also does have some cool underlying themes that the reader can pick out.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone, as its quick and phenomenal read.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
The Paragon Hotel
Faye, Lyndsay
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

1922. Alice James finds herself on a westbound train with two bullets in her stomach and $50,000 worth of counterfeit cash. On the run from the mob, she befriends a black porter who saves her life by taking her to his doctor friend in the only black hotel in Portland, Oregon. When a mixed race child goes missing from the hotel, the residents panic as KKK activity in Portland has been escalating. This excellent novel switches back and forth from the events leading up to Alice’s shooting and then her experiences at the hotel after arriving.

Alice James is one of my favorite characters in recent memory – she’s flawed, but self-aware, whip-smart and most importantly compassionate. Her empathy gets her into the trouble and she knows it, but she’s the sort who is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater cause. The supporting characters, especially Blossom, are equally flawed but lovable, especially as their truths slowly come to light. I’m a sucker for a 20s setting, and we get a lot of the good stuff here, especially linguistically. Our Alice has quite the endearing way of explaining herself in 20s style aphorisms.

In addition to being a charming read, the book covers some really important issues around race, gender and sexuality. The author has a deft enough hand at covering these issues that she manages to make the commentary work for the 20s as well as present day. If you decide to read this book, you’ll laught, cry and rage along with the characters at the injustices handed to them based on their gender, race or sexuality. My one complaint is that the middle sagged a bit – this is book that’s largely focused on character development and the mystery really just served to get Alice to learn things about her new friends.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but the promise of mob-excitement, mystery and racial commentary brought me to this book, and I’m so glad it did. Richly drawn characters and a fascinating setting pretty much guarantee that most fiction (historical or otherwise) readers will enjoy this one, and I’ll be pre-ordering a copy for my mother. 5 stars – I adored it.

Thanks to Netgalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Paragon Hotel goes on sale on 08 January, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Shadow of the Wind
Zafon, Ruiz
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Wonderful mystery reminding me of Umberto Eco. "Anyone who enjoys novels that are scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling should rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up The Shadow of the Wind." Really amazing depiction of characters and setting in early 20th century Spain. Captures feeling of fear caused by Spain's political environment and war and aftermath when villainous police. Can't put down type of read.

Reviewer's Name: S Andrews
Awards:
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Orczy, Baroness
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Ever since I saw the inimitable Richard E. Grant in the "The Scarlet Pimpernel" TV series, I have been enamored by these tales from Baroness Orczy. As the cliche goes though, the book is far superior to any adaptation I've seen thus far. After the French Revolution, the new government of France established the "Reign of Terror", where the citizens of France took out their anger and vengeance on any of the old aristocracy that they could find - whether they were guilty of oppressing the people, or not. Enter The Scarlet Pimpernel(!), an elusive daredevil, whose secret league of Englishmen risk their lives to save the aristocratic victims of the people of France. When the government of France charges their agent, Citizen Chauvelin, with discovering the identity of their mysterious enemy, he blackmails Lady Blakeney, a pinnacle of London society, into aiding him in his treacherous task. Who will she turn to, to help save her only brother - her insipidly foppish husband, Sir Percy Blakeney? He may be rich, and the leader of fashion in London's high society, but he's certainly not a "man of action" for something so perilous and vital. Lady Blakeney must face her inner struggles to try to find the hero who she admires so much, only to betray him. Meanwhile, the infamous guillotine awaits her next victims...

Published in 1905, "The Scarlet Pimpernel" established many of the hero tropes that are familiar today, such as having a secret identity, and using disguises and intelligence to outwit one's enemies. This is truly one of my favorite series. If you like this book, there are follow-up chapters, such as "I Will Repay", and "The Elusive Pimpernel", that are worth your attention as well!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
The Red Badge of Courage
Crane, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

War is an ugly thing full of death and destruction. While most books written today bemoan this fact and complain that wars should never start in the first place, what do the individual soldiers handle a war that they didn’t even start? Set in the Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage is perhaps the best representation of the growth of a soldier from a deserter to a courageous fighter. Our intrinsic fear of death is what motivates so many of us to do the things we do to survive. Overcoming that fear and charging headlong into battle does take a measure of courage usually not present in most people.

Stephen Crane does a fantastic job weaving the story of a young man who has to learn what it truly means to earn the titular “red badge of courage.” His prose is almost poetic as he describes the landscapes, battles, and people who were forced to endure this historic war between brothers. There’s realism to the narrative that immerses the reader into the era and the battles that helped to define the war as a whole. In the end, though, this book could almost be set during any period and any war; the themes present within it are that timeless.

While it took me this long to finally sit down and go through this book, I’m glad I finally did. I had started it many years ago but lost interest for some reason. This time around, I was able to appreciate the story based solely on the strength of Crane’s writing. I know this book is usually assigned to elementary school students at some point, but if it has escaped your “read” list as it did for me, then I would urge you to pick it up and give it a read. It won’t take long, and it’s certainly worth the time spent reading it.

A timeless classic that deals with the human side of war, I give The Red Badge of Courage 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Book Thief
Zusak, Markus
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"The Book Thief", an intriguing story that focuses on a little girl living in Nazi Germany, is a delicate and emotional piece that will have you turning the pages until it is finished. This story is quick read, though surprising based on the 584 pages, and has you hooked on every word of every sentence of every paragraph. This novel is historical fiction, and is written by the perspective of death. Liesel Meminger, the main character of the story, is a foster child living in the excruciatingly difficult times of Nazi Germany. In the story, she faces so much, many of which happening before she meets her foster parents, only to have more head her way in the face of the war. This book is very raw and emotional, and really puts life as we know it into perspective. If you like historical fiction, real stories, and a happy ending, this book is for you.

Reviewer's Name: Siena G
Genres:
Book Review: Dear Mrs. Bird
Pearce, A.J.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This book was pretty good. It was an easy and fun read. Very formulaic chick lit. The only real problem I had with it is it seemed the author was trying too hard to make the dialog match with the time period. The slang was heavy handed and made me feel as if it had been made by Mad Libs. I would recommend this book if you are looking for something easy and fun to read that takes place in WWII.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
A Tale of Two Cities
Dickens, Charles
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The opening lines say it all. I do enjoy Dickens, but this is by far, my favorite novel of his. This book follows the effects and far-reaching ramifications of the arrogant cruelty of the French aristocracy before their Revolution. A man is saved from an unfair imprisonment, but must regain himself through his devoted daughter and friends. They build a new life in England, where we get to know an array of complex characters – each with their own foibles and narratives. Meanwhile the fervor of the people of France veers towards the inevitable overthrow of the tyrannical aristocracy, and as often happens, the oppressed become the new oppressors. Destiny drives our main characters into the French turmoil where they find chaos, danger, and ultimately redemption.

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Woods Runner
Paulsen, Gary
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When Samuel is just thirteen, he is already grown up. He is a man of the forest who enjoys being deep in the wilderness rather than around other people. He is an expert hunter and his neighbors rely on him to bring them fresh meat. From his neighbors, he and his family hear that a war is starting.

One day, while he is out hunting, he sees smoke coming from the direction of his house. He runs back to find almost everyone in his village dead. The few who were not killed were taken prisoner. Among those few left alive are Samuel’s parents. Now he must use woodsman skills to track down his parents. Finding allies and avoiding the enemy are key in the survival of himself and his parents.

Even though this book takes place during the war, it focuses more about Samuel’s journey to find his parents. It skims the surface on some of what happened during the battles, but more on Samuel’s problems and how he survived. I really enjoyed how, at the end of each chapter, the book explained a little bit about something that was in the war, whether it was the type of guns they used, some of the different jobs people had, etc.

Reviewer's Name: Ben C.
Genres:
Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Choldenko, Gennifer
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Al Capone Shines My Shoes is an incredible story, that follows up the Newbery Honor novel Al Capone Does My Shirts. In this book, Moose Flanagan's autistic sister is headed to a boarding for special needs students, due to one of the most notorious inmates in Alcatraz. Al Capone is more involved in this story
than the first and writes Moose a letter asking a favor. Choldenko does a great job of mixing real life criminals and fictional characters to make an amazing narrative to read. I enjoyed how this book was very surprising and stood out from the first book in the series. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a mysterious and exciting story to read.

Reviewer's Name: Miles
Genres:
Al Capone Does My Homework
Choldenko, Gennifer
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Al Capone Does My Homework finishes off an amazing book series to read. This book is action packed and includes gambling, stolen belongings, and counterfeit money. Al Capone plays a surprising role in this story and saves someone's life. Moose's relationships with his friends are further developed in this novel, and his father is promoted which puts Moose's family in even more danger. This book is spectacular and filled with action. It is a very good closing to the series and gives all readers a different perspective of Al Capone.

Reviewer's Name: Miles
Zebra Forest
Gewirtz, Adina Rishe
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

The book Zebra Forest, by Adrina Gewirtz, tells a story of four lives that are held captive by their father and... the book is essentially just that. The plot is incredibly dull and basic, the characters have no real life to them, the book just seems ramble on and on, and here, everything that can be wrong with a book is present. The title doesn't even have any real importance in the book! I get how maybe a few people might like this book, but from a writing perspective, this book lacks in everything. The book tries so hard to address a somewhat difficult-to-cover topic but forgets that it's meant for older audiences and fails at both. Overall, I would only recommend this book only to the most desperate of readers, or a younger kid.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L.
Awards:
The Clockmaker's Daughter
Morton, Kate
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This story centers around an impassioned artist and his dreams, a mysterious murder, an enchanting English manor and all that went on their throughout its many years, a ghost that stands outside of time witness to it all, a vanished girl, an archivist and her discovery of a priceless artifacts, and how what went on there all those years ago effects who she is today.

In the past, the 1860’s to be exact, this story begins with a talented artist Edward Radcliffe and a group of artists that spend a summer at the house of his dreams Birchwood Manor. But shortly after arriving a mysterious murder is committed, a priceless artifact disappears and one of the women vanishes. A hundred years later in the present an archivist, named Elodie, finds a satchel which contains an unrelated photograph and a sketchbook that contains a drawing of Birchwood Manor. As she digs deeper into the mystery she is pulled into a story that has her questioning her past and who she truly is. This beautiful atmospheric mystery spans the length of time, and is told by the many voices and people all living within and around the Manor’s walls.

Before I go any further, first, let me say this. Kate Morton is the master of atmospheric beautiful Gothic mysteries and I am a big fan of hers and have loved every one of her past books. Her intricate and deeply rooted stories her beautiful prose, and her enchanting settings are the reasons why she is simply one of the best in her genre. That being said, this work, was a bit of a disappointment. While all the elements of what I love about Kate Morton’s books were there; an intricate story steeped in history, an old vast English manor with a secret or two to hide within its walls, old families with long pedigrees, a family mystery, an enchanting setting, this book fell short for me mainly because of its intricacy and complexity. I also believe the ending was a bit weak. I really wanted to love it, I just couldn’t.

Morton, I believe, really attempted to tell a challenging story, but simply had to many voices trying to tell it. While I like a good dual timeline novel, this one, with at least four voices and timelines was simply too much. There were times that, because of how she bounced around among the numerous timelines, when I got completely lost in which timeline I was following. This combined with how many characters and voices there were throughout the novel, made the story overall a whole lot less enjoyable. I’ll admit, this story took me a good while to get through and I do recommend, if reading this, keeping a list of who everyone is and which timeline goes where. It’s definitely a book you have to think through. That being said the story itself was beautiful and it makes me wonder, if it wouldn’t be better as an audio book where each of the voices are sounded out. Overall a 2.5-3 star read for me. However, if you are a Kate Morton fan and if you love atmospheric Gothic mysteries, I couldn’t count this one out, I would still give this one a go, just maybe as an audio book. Place your copy on hold today!

Thank you to Netgalley, Atria books, and Simon and Schuster for a DRC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Poisonwood Bible
Kingsolver, Barbara
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Nathan Price moves his wife and four daughters out into the Congo in 1959. He's a prolific and die-hard evangelical Baptist pastor, with his mind set on converting the majority of the Congo population to Christianity. His wife, Orleanna, is submissive and silent, obeying him and allowing him to hit their children. Rachel, the eldest Price daughter, arrogant, self-centered, and sorely missing her comfortable 16 year-old life back in the States. Next come the twins, Adah and Leah. Adah is shriveled up and crippled, but her mind runs like a confusing, rampaging fire. Leah has cut her hair short and vows to shoot her bow and arrow as well as any village boys. And Ruth May, the baby of the family at 5 years old, with her warped and imaginative outlooks on their jungle surroundings. The Price family is trying to hold it together as the Congo fights for independence from Belgium, as they watch children starve to death on their doorstep, and the colorful like of the jungle swirl around their broken household. -Jordan T, 8th grade

Reviewer's Name: Jordan T.
Genres:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Twain, Mark
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

The classic tale "Huckleberry Finn" is about a young boy and his adventures with a slave named Jim amidst war and racism. I hated this book for two reasons. Firstly, the plot doesn't seem to go anywhere. It seemed that Finn and Jim just wandered aimlessly around, befriending unlikable people and getting into trouble. Secondly, Finn was a very unlikeable protagonist. He doesn't show any sort of compassion or kindness towards anyone -- and doesn't seem to care if his friend Jim lives or dies. It is difficult to root for and follow a hero that you hate. While I personally did not enjoy this book, don't let that stop you. I know many people who really enjoyed "Huckleberry Finn" -- I was just not one of them. But, if you are someone who likes a strong plot and a fairly likable hero, this one is not for you.

Reviewer's Name: Gillian P.
The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald, Scott F.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

The classic tale of "The Great Gatsby" follows Nick Carraway, a newcomer to the city, who discovers the lavish and intoxicating life of Jay Gatsby, his next door neighbor. Nick soon becomes entangled in a net of secrets and deception that involves his friends Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. After hearing so many incredible things about "The Great Gatsby", I came into the story with high expectations. Unfortunately, they were not really met. While the story is undeniably powerful, it lacks in some areas. I found all the characters extremely unlikable. There was no one to really root for. In addition, there were parts of the story that seemed to drag on for far too long. I found myself asking, "When is something going to happen?" at several points. All in all, I didn't hate this story, but it definitely wasn't my favorite classic to read. Grade 12.

Reviewer's Name: Gillian P.
Awards:
The Romanov Empress : a novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna
Gortner, C.W.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Fabulous. If you are at all interested in the Romanovs as a whole (beyond Nicholas and Alexandra), this is a wonderful introduction. This book expands the story of the Romanovs from the point of view of Empress Maria Feodorovna who married the Russian Tsarevich and was the mother of the ill-fated Russian monarch Nicholas II (she was also the sister of Queen Alexandra of the U.K., King Frederick VIII of Denmark, and King George I of Greece - luckily there is a handy family tree in the front of the book for you to refer to!) Beautifully written and engrossing.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
Genres:

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