Adult Book Reviews by Genre: Historical

The Snow Child
Ivey, Eowyn
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple homesteading on the Alaskan frontier. The workload is never-ending, and without children to help with plowing, planting and harvest, they struggle not only to survive, but to avoid losing themselves to despair and disappointment. It is a story not only of survival and grit, but also of the kindness found in a community of like-minded individuals and families. This theme is typical of much historical fiction about western expansion and pioneer life, but this story holds an unexpected and delightful twist, where magic, reality and fairytales intersect. The first snow of the year is met with a playfulness that is not typical of Mabel and Jack. They end their snowball fight by building a snow-child near their cabin, complete with mittens, a hat, and arms made from twigs. The next day, they discover that their snow child was destroyed during the night – likely by wild animals. Their journey from that point is full of hope and expectation. The story has a dream-like, ethereal quality, yet the author maintains the sense of solidity that is required for historical fiction to work. The pace is slow, but fits well with the time and place. I sincerely enjoyed this author’s first novel. It made me think about the importance of accepting others as they are – always an important consideration. I have Eowyn Ivey’s second book in my “to read” stack right now, and will eagerly read her future offerings.

Reviewer's Name: Laura F.
Book Review: Pride and Prejudice
Austen, Jane
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Reader beware, this is my favorite book. This is probably the fifth or sixth time I've read it. It's observant, subtle, and cleverly written. I come away with something new every time I read it. This time I felt for Elizabeth upon coming to the realization that her father was greatly to blame for the shortcomings of her three younger sisters. Oh, and Mr. Darcy's subtle devotion to her was more apparent to me this time around. It's easy to imagine the BBC version and characters while reading, but this book - like most books - is more richly constructed than the mini-series.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Mortifications
Palacio, Derek
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Mortifications follows the Encarnacion family from Cuba to Connecticut and then back to Cuba again. Soledad's husband, Uxbal, is heavily involved in rebel groups resisting Castro's regime. She doesn't want her children growing up in that environment, and eventually she decides to take them and leave for America without her husband. Uxbal tries to hold her daughter Isabel captive, but she threatens to cut his son's throat if he doesn't let her take both their children. They escape successfully, but the incident leaves deep scars on everyone in the family. Soledad eventually begins a new relationship with Henri Willems, a Dutch man trying to cultivate Cuban tobacco in the US, and all the while she and her children drift further and further apart from one another as they try to adjust to their new lives.

The Mortifications is a leisurely-paced book and it draws rich portraits of all the characters: Soledad, who takes her children from Cuba to America to protect them but finds herself haunted by a lost marriage and country; Isabel, who took a vow to her father to remain chaste until she could have rebel children for his militia, and who later joins a convent in an effort to keep this vow; Ulises, a student of classical literature who feels abandoned by his mother, father, and sister alike; Willems, who is haunted by the idea that his tobacco holds the ghosts of the slaves his family once owned in Haiti; and many more minor characters who are written with equal depth and sympathy. It was a genuine pleasure to read -- beautiful writing, very introspective, and with enough humor to keep it from being too relentlessly depressing. That being said, it's a very (and I mean very) slow-paced book and is focused more on the internal lives of the characters than any cohesive plot, so that might be frustrating to readers looking for something with a little more structure. I would give it 3.5 stars, in large part because the writing was absolutely gorgeous.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Awards:
Of Mice and Men
Steinbeck, John
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Two men, George and Lennie, wander aimlessly throughout the West Coast of the United States during the Great Depression, looking for any kind of job.
Lennie is a large, strong, migrant worker who, unfortunately, has a mental disability. Whereas George is a skinny, quick-witted man who cares for Lennie. Lennie’s mental disability and his uncontrollable strength causes the two of them to lose every job they get and get driven out of town. George does everything he can to keep Lennie out of trouble, partly because he promised Lennie’s Aunt and partly because he cares for Lennie; and Lennie tries to stay out of trouble, for their hopes of owning their own farms drives both of their motivations. Finally, they are able to find work on a small ranch in Soledad, California and actually make friends with many of the workers. Their dream of accumulating enough money to own a ranch is close, but Lennie’s disability could cause them to lose even this job.
Reviewer Grade: 10

Reviewer's Name: Joe T.
The Nightingale
Hannah, Kristin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Rosignol sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, have never been close. Each has learned to survive a traumatic childhood in her own way. On the eve of World War II as Hitler’s forces are invading France, Vianne remains in the family home with her daughter and waits for her husband’s return. Isabelle, young and head-strong, decides to play a more active role in fighting the Nazis. Over the course of five years, both sisters experience the horrors of war, fight for survival, and play a part in saving others. In the process, Vianne and Isabelle find their way back to each other and reconcile their differences. Whether or not you are a fan of historical fiction, you will become deeply involved in the lives of these two sisters. The Nightingale, while sentimental at times, will touch your heart and leave you longing to learn more about these two remarkable women.

Reviewer's Name: Milissa F.
Genres:
Darcy and Fitzwilliam
Wasylowski, Karen V.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is another telling of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". This story follows the trails and tribulations of the famed courtship from the point of view of Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam. Fans of "Pride and Prejudice" will enjoy receiving more insight into the classic romance.

Reviewer's Name: Jennifer
Genres:
The Scarlet Letter
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
2 stars = Meh
Review:

A cultural classic, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
follows the story of a young woman named Hester, who is charged with adultery and punished in the Puritan town of Boston in 1642. The terminology and language used in this book is very old so it may be difficult for readers to interpret the plot or even the text, I know it was for me. The plot is somewhat dull, as it follows the life of Hester who has committed the sin of adultery with a man in the town, and when her husband, Roger Chillingworth, comes back for her, he is determined to find the man and seek revenge. After her punishment, Hester is banished and forced to live on the outskirts of town. With the aid of the minister Dimmesdale, Hester tries to live peacefully with her daughter, Pearl, but will Chillingsworth thwart their plans and get his revenge on the man whom Hester refuses to reveal? I read this book for my AP Lang class and the beginning was very confusing. This novel is very difficult to follow and I wouldn’t recommend it to many people other than those who enjoy old and classic works, but overall the plot is one of a kind and teaches morals that are very significant.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Joe T.
Mistress of the Art of Death
Franklin, Ariana
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Set in medieval England, Adelia, a female surgeon, is hired by King Henry II as a forensic expert to investigate a series of murders taking place Cambridge. Even though it is a fictional novel, Franklin adds lots of historical details to the story, creating multiple layers to the plot. The murders are not the only mystery in this story, the characters themselves have their own veil of intrigue making the story all the more exciting!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa S.
Awards:
The Dog Master: A Novel of The First Dog
Cameron, W. Bruce
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Dog Master: A Novel of The First Dog will appeal to dog lovers, scholars and those with inventive imaginations. The novel attempts to answer the fascinating question of how and why the lives of humans and canines might have become so intertwined. W. Bruce Cameron brings to life the daily challenges of prehistoric humans so vividly that the characters become readily accessible to the reader. Despite the necessary leaps of creativity involved in writing a novel about early humanity, Cameron grounds the story with details based on his own extensive research of the time period and wolf behavior. The resulting story is both realistic and fanciful. It was fast-paced and entertaining, but also made me want to raid the nonfiction section to study ancient history after I finished the book. The book hops between timelines and story-lines, so can sometimes be a bit difficult to keep track of, but the different perspectives are relevant and add depth to the story. The subject matter appeals to our deepest curiosities of what it means to be human and its portrayal of the beginning of the human/dog relationship is relatable to anyone who has formed a bond with a dog.

Reviewer's Name: Bethany
Genres:
Ithaca
Dillon, Patrick
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Ithaca is an Odyssey retelling, but told from the perspective of Odysseus' son, Telemachus. The first third of the book focuses on Telemachus' experiences on Ithaca up to the present day of the book. Odysseus has been gone for 16 years, and has been missing for eight, and other, strange men have started to live on Ithaca in hopes of becoming its new chief and marrying Penelope, Odysseus' wife. Telemachus eventually decides to take a journey to see Nestor on Pylos in order to find his father, and ends up travelling a little more extensively than he perhaps originally intended. In the next third of the book, we basically get the events of Odysseus' trip home from Troy as explained by Odysseus and a bard. The last third of the book follows Telmachus as he returns from his trip to find Odysseus, and then discovers that the man himself has come home.

The decision to retell the Odyssey from Telemachus' point of view was a great one, and it's those parts of the book that were, to me, the most successful. The book actually ends up being a great coming of age tale set against the backdrop of Greek mythology and culture. It made for an interesting read, and Telemachus' character and his relationship with his parents was flawed in a really genuine way. A+ for character development. However, the second third of the book, the sum up Odysseus' return journey bit, I could've done without. I read The Odyssey ages ago (in high school, like one does), but it's still enough of a pop culture reference (and yeah, I've read the Riordan books too, so that helps) that I knew the story already, and that part felt a little disjointed. I get why it was necessary, but ultimately, it harmed the narrative a bit. You are kind of pulled out of Telemachus' story to read the "best parts" version of Odysseus' journey, and it just felt rushed.

The Odysseus part aside, though, I really liked this book. I find myself liking it more and more the more I think about it. It's one of those books that stays with you for a while. If you are looking for a fantastical, gory, and ultimately very human coming of age tale, then this is for you. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Murder at Brightwell
Weaver, Ashley
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Amory Ames has left her philandering husband for a vacation by the sea with her erstwhile fiance on the pretense of talking his younger sister out of marrying her dastardly fiance. After a day of vacation, the dastardly fiance is murdered and the erstwhile fiance is suspect #1. Amory is convinced her old fiance is innocent, and works to clear his name.

At first, I was not at all sold on this book. The beginning is very slow and weighed down by constant descriptions of the sartorial choices of the many characters. The main character also initially comes off as a bit of a prickly doormat. Fortunately, about halfway through the book, the pacing picks up, the story gets really interesting, and our main character gets much less annoying. Her relationship with her husband, however, never ceases to be annoying because...did people not talk to each other in 1930s England? It was an unapologetically unhealthy relationship that was ultimately frustrating to read and was left (purposefully) unresolved at the end.

I don't read a ton of mysteries, but this one ended up being a lot of fun! Its kind of like an old school mystery where there is a cast of characters/suspects in one setting and you KNOW one of them did it...but which one? Based on what other readers have said, it's Agatha Christie-esque. I was able to guess the "who" but not the "why", and the book ended up being entertaining enough that I immediately checked out the sequel, Death Wears a Mask. I'd recommend it to mystery lovers who like their mysteries with a historical setting and a touch of fashion. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
A Criminal Magic
Kelly, Lee
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

After the 18th amendment passed, magic became illegal. Shine, an addictive hallucinogen created as a by-product of sorcery, is the main reason behind the prohibition. So, of course, a seedy underworld of gangsters trafficking in shine immediately springs up, and it is embroiled in this underworld that our two main protagonists, Joan and Alex, accidentally and not-so-accidentally find themselves. As they are both sorcerers, Joan and Alex must figure out how to use their sorcery to survive the crime syndicate and it's machinations.

This is a fun fantasy read that is fairly original in it's premise and setting, with likable and believable characters. The premise does most of the heavy lifting, as gangs set in the 1920s trafficking magic gives Kelly lot to work with. She doesn't disappoint. The gangsters are pretty fearsome and the body count ratchets up quickly. The pacing is tight, and the magic is both deadly and beautiful. Joan is a performer, and the descriptions of the performances themselves are somewhat bewitching.

I did have a few problems with the book. First, while the two main characters were fleshed out and developed, almost none of the other characters got any development, and those that did were then basically ignored for the rest of the book. So when the secondary characters started dying, I didn't really care all that much. And then there's the relationship between Joan and Alex. I didn't mind it at first, but it did that thing that relationships in books often do of getting too serious too fast. It's not instalove, but it's instalove's cousin or something. I also felt that aspects of the 20s were wasted on this book - I wanted more flappers, insane clothing, and awesome music. We really only got the gangsters and the cigarette smoking.

For all it's problems, this fantasy novel was ultimately a great read. The ending was pitch perfect, and left the door open for a sequel. I'd recommend it to light fantasy readers looking for something without a ton of substance that is endlessly entertaining and a little different. I'd probably give it something like 3.5 stars, but since that's not an option, we'll go with 4. I quite liked it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Walking Drum
L'Amour, Louis
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Walking Drum by Louis L’Amour is the story of the twelfth
century adventurer Mathurin Kerbouchard and his journey to find and rescue his father who had been captured at sea. His journey takes him all across Europe and into the Muslim world, a world of culture and science that is much different than the squalid life of Europe. It is a lively story, full of exciting characters, vivid description of life in the Middle Ages, and daring exploits that climax at the infamous Valley of the Assassins. Throughout the book are many historical facts thrown in by Kerbouchard as he narrates his travels which I found interesting, but someone who is simply looking for an adventure book might find them tedious. I would definitely recommend this book to someone who loves history and travel, because it satisfied some of my own wanderlust with its vivid description of the splendors of an age long gone.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Grace O.
The Help
Stockett, Kathryn
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Another amazing book! This #1 New York Bestselling novel is truly a piece of art; with a captivating plot and many lovable characters. Taken place back in 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help, focuses on the story of a white southern woman named Skeeter whose life-long goal was to become a profound writer for the New York Times, however odds kept stacking against her. The first obstacle for Skeeter was that all of her pish-posh friends since childhood greatly looked down upon her ambitions and discouraged poor Skeeter for not wanting to marry and raise kids. The second obstacle was that the book she wished to complete, which would give her the opportunity to write for the New York Times, focused on the terrible conditions of the Help, a group of black women who worked as maids for the privileged white families of the Deep South. And the final obstacle, which was the biggest obstacle for Skeeter, was that segregation and racism was at an all-time-high in Jackson.
This would have an incredibly negative impact on her eagerness to aid in exposing the terrors inflicted on the black women by the white, meaning extreme courage, caution, and determination. Now all she needs is maids to tell her their stories. A stunning piece of work, an eye-opener, a book about
truth: The Help.
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Logan H.
Genres:
The Bourbon Thief
Reisz, Tiffany
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The main characters in the story are Paris Christie, Cooper McQueen, Tamara Maddox (the Maddox family is the family who owns the Red Thread Bourbon company), and Levi Shelby.

The Bourbon Thief is a must read! It's simply captivating and different from many other thrillers I have read. The story focuses on the past and ties it with the present. The author did a spectacular job in making sure we were blown away in everything she wrote. It felt original and the plot was mysterious and romantic. It was mysterious because the Maddox family's bourbon company shut down suddenly and no one knows why. Paris wants the bourbon, but why? What does Paris want to hide? I love the third person narrative because I saw each character's view points and the fact that I could read that was already amazing to me.

Reviewer's Name: Jade
A Brief History of Seven Killings
James, Marlon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A very heavy, difficult book to get through, in part because it was written in dialect, which always takes some getting used to, but largely because it was so relentlessly depressing that I couldn’t read it for too long of a stretch. A Brief History of Seven Killings tells the fictionalized story of the (factual) 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley, referred to throughout simply as “The Singer”. Told from a staggering number of different perspectives, ranging from the young would-be assassins themselves, to the unemployed daughter of a middle-class family pretending to be pregnant with Marley’s child in an attempt to get out of the country, to a CIA agent assigned to keep communism from spreading to Jamaica, it’s a grueling, violent read, but there’s a lot worth hearing. The story begins with the assassination attempt, then jumps forward to sections set in the 1980s and 1990s, with close attention to Jamaica’s changing political scene and the lasting mark that violence leaves on the characters. The writing is strong and Marlon James does an excellent job juggling the huge cast (though if you’re like me you’ll probably have to refer back to the character list provided at the beginning of the book at least a few times). I don’t know if “enjoyed” is the right word, but I felt like I got a lot out of it, and it was certainly a deserving winner of the Man Booker Prize. I will say that the word “brief” in the title is a bit of a stretch -- it weighs in at 688 pages. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Cold Mountain
Frazier, Charles
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Charles Frasier’s novel Cold Mountain intrigued me from the beginning. It tells the story of Ada and Inman who both have suffered from their own tragedies and horrors from the beginning of the novel. Inman is scarred emotionally and physically from serving in the Civil War. Ada is left with the family farm after her father dies and having been raised sophisticated, she has no idea how to maintain it. However, each is able to overcome their trials and defy society’s expectations in pursuit of each other and their own dreams. The characters in this novel are both so relatable in the idea that we all experience horrible, sad things that we must learn to overcome and we also all face limitations and expectations from society that we must ignore in order to embark on our own journey in pursuit of our own American Dream. Although long and a bit tedious at points, this novel is definitely one of the best I’ve read this year.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Tessa B.
Genres:
Flight Of Dreams
Lawhon, Ariel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Pretty amazing book. I didn't know too much about the Hindenburg, but the author described everything so well I felt like I was right there! I love that she based the stories off of real people, after I finished the book I went to the website she recommended and read more about the people I "met" in the novel. I also viewed the footage, and it's hard to believe anyone survived that horrible inferno. Great novel!

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
Genres:
The Night Circus
Morgenstern, Erin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This novel is unique. It is a historical fantasy that is almost impressionistic in style and dreamlike in tone. It tells the story of two enchanters who occupy themselves by forcing their respective students into decades-long, painfully drawn-out, life-engulfing…duels? Competitions? Contests? Endurance tests? The rules are vague and the structure of the contest difficult to illustrate, describe, or understand, but the author is so skilled that the reader is drawn in completely, despite the lack of concrete concepts. The mysterious Night Circus of the title is merely the venue for the contest, but it is so compellingly depicted that it pulses with life – almost as if it is a character itself. The real stars are the competitors, however. Celia and Marco – two impossibly gorgeous, talented, and intelligent magicians whose magic is so beautiful and illusory in itself that the reader wishes that it were real, if only to experience the dream which the circus patrons are privileged to witness. The magicians are trapped in a constant battle for something they don’t understand, despite their being drawn to one another and entirely fascinated by the other’s whole being. They strive to win, and, eventually, strive to lose.

The plot is nonlinear, going back and forth in time with almost every chapter, but this is rarely a problem since the chapter headings give precise dates and the chapters focus almost exclusively on one set of characters at a time. The plot is filled to the brim with other fascinating side characters with enchanting plot lines of their own – some are likable, some despicable, all mysterious. The story is woven together intricately. No thread is complete until the final moment, and even then, some enigmatic strings are left hanging, just to give the reader something to think about.

The author does a wonderful job of simply describing – everything. While occasionally the detail is overwhelming and the plot only loosely defined, it makes for pleasurable reading nonetheless. The brief portions written in 2nd-person are spellbinding. Suspension of disbelief is required in enormous quantities, but if you have a good imagination, that should be no problem. Additionally, I found Celia and Marco to be rather boring and unrealistically perfect compared to other characters (the unlikely hero is much more compelling), but that’s part of the charm – the author merely portrays the facts, and the conclusions are left to the reader. If you can briefly relinquish your hold on reality, this book is absolutely magical.

Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Caroline K.
Awards:
The Alienist
Carr, Caleb
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is amazing. It spent weeks on the bestseller lists the year it was published, and is currently being turned into a television series. It takes place in 1896 and concerns fictional psychologist (or “alienist”) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler who works with his best friend John Moore, a crime reporter, to solve a series of brutal and perverted murders of New York City child prostitutes. They are joined by several other unconventional and intrepid characters who help them investigate the murders, eventually leading to an edge-of-your-seat climactic showdown worthy of any blockbuster thriller.
Our narrator, John Moore, is well-drawn and extremely likeable, providing insight into the personalities of more-difficult-to-access characters such as Laszlo as well as entertaining the reader with sarcastic asides and private commentary. His interactions with Laszlo are especially enjoyable – the two are polar opposites, yet have an enduring friendship that allows them to work together like Holmes and Watson. Dr. Laszlo Kreizler himself is dark, brooding, and intelligent, but moves beyond a stereotype and gains the reader’s sympathy, especially as his intriguing past – and relationships -- come to light. The other members of the team are generally likable as well, if rather underdeveloped. Their racial and religious political correctness seems somewhat manufactured considering the time period, but the strength of the plot and their own likability allows the reader to accept it as signs of the characters’ progressive viewpoints and accepting natures. Also, Theodore Roosevelt and other actual historical figures make cameos – it’s like a treat for history buffs.
Speaking of history, a main factor in the story is the concept of “psychological determinism,” a psychological theory that was new at the time but is now largely accepted, as well as forensic science, which was also mostly untested in 1896. The heroes in this story aren’t your typical Victorian detectives, using Holmesian deduction and raw logic to trace the killer. These investigators use psychology and forensics to catch a murderer who leaves no hard clues, making this mystery uncommonly scientific and engrossing. Additionally, the abundance of subplots -- romantic, criminal, historical, etc. -- create an atmospheric and fleshed-out world that serves its reader well.
I urge fans of psychological thrillers as well as traditional mysteries to read this book. However (as you may have guessed), the subject matter is dark, and there is more than one gory and detailed description of a dismembered body. Additionally, the nature of the investigation leads the investigators into some very unsavory locales. The imagery alone requires that I recommend this book for mature readers, probably ages 15 and up. If you don’t have a strong stomach, you may want to skip a few scenes. Otherwise, this is one mystery you won’t want to miss.

Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Caroline K.
Awards:

Pages