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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Historical

The Outcasts of Time
Mortimer, Ian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book follows the story of two brothers John and William in 1340’s Medieval England who are suffering from the Black Death. But as their end draws near, they are given a choice that changes the course of their lives forever. They are told that they have six days left to live, which they can either spend with their loved ones, or search for salvation and redemption for their lives across the centuries; spending each one of their remaining days 99 years after the last. So, each day takes places one century after the last. The brothers choose the latter and are launched into an adventure that spans centuries in the time frame of a few days.

Observers of the world across centuries, John and William hardly recognize the world around them each day they wake up, and as their journey for salvation progresses, questions the world around them in a way that has readers questioning humanities true motives. Rather than focusing on the good things and advancements the world has made through the centuries, the characters, especially John, ponder how these advancements have brought humanity farther and farther away from God. As the years and days progress, the novel asks the question what is true salvation really and examines the idea of what is good verses bad?

When I received an ARC of this book in the mail from the publisher at first, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it, but as I read the back, I became excited, because this book deals with a sci-fi like subject of time travel in a way I haven’t seen before. This book took me a while to get through and it also is a book that really makes you think. Warning! If you are looking for only a traditional time travel sci-fi book, this book is probably not for you however, if you like historical fiction this book is probably more for you. This book deals with time travel in a highly conceptual way. It is a time travel book written by a very noted historian and reads very much like a historical novel with all the historical details you would find in a history book. But it is also very philosophical as the main character questions the world and the ideas in it. As this quote from John shows when he is discussing, with the family he is staying with, the bad things done by others around them.

“I myself wish for nothing more than to spend the rest of my days engaged in good deeds,’ I say. But how can I tell what a good deed is in this day and age? What is “good” and “bad” if God’s law is constantly changing? How can we do good if the meaning of “good” and “bad” are dependent on who wins the war? How can a man go through this world in sure knowledge that he is doing the right and proper thing?”

This is just one of many philosophical musings that the author poses through the book that seek to answer difficult questions and these details really make the reader think and ponder the difficult answers to questions like, what is good verses bad. These details I think also give the book a conceptual quality that puts it above the norm and makes it more than just another sci-fi book about time travel.

Ian Mortimer is an excellent historian and the historical detail in this book are incredible! He weaves together history and time travel in a highly original and interesting way that makes readers both question the world and presents readers with a clear picture of England’s evolution from a small underdeveloped town to a large industrial country that leads the world in more ways than one. I highly recommend this book for readers of historical fiction or anyone who likes highly conceptual, philosophical books that question the world and everything in it. I give this book a solid 5 out of 5 stars!

Thank you to the publisher Pegasus Books for an ARC of this book for review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Book Review: Sounder
Armstrong, William H.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I've been on a children's book about dogs kick lately. I started with Shiloh, went to Where the Red Fern Grows, and ended with Sounder (I may read Old Yeller too). Sounder is the winner of the Newbery Medal, but it was the least powerful book out of the three. I almost feel like I may have read an abridged version of the book. The characters weren't well developed and there wasn't really a sense of desperation and overt class stratification that the book's summary promised. Overall, it was underwhelming. I'm being nice and giving it 3 stars instead of 2.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Book of Lost Things
Voigt, Cynthia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Max's parents have dashed off on an unexpected adventure and left their 12 year old son Max behind, alone...well, his grandmother is around to watch over him, but she is busy being a librarian. Max has to fend for himself and picks up a part time job as a solutioneer (sounds like engineer, but much more mysterious). His first task is to find a lost pet and this snowballs into many intricately involved adventures that will keep readers turning pages with anticipation to find out what this determined young man will do next. The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt, is sure to please children 9 - 13 who enjoy a good mystery.

Reviewer's Name: Barb
White Chrysanthemum
Bracht, Mary Lynn
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This was a very difficult book to read, but it was so beautifully written. Dual timelines tell the story of sisters separated by war. You will learn Hana's story from 1943 in Korea when she is taken by Japanese soldiers to become a "comfort woman" in Manchuria (the details of which are haunting).

Hana's sacrifice allows her younger sister, Emi, to stay on their island home off the coast of South Korea, but she is also tormented by the effects of World War II and the Korean War. We meet Emi as an older woman in 2011, still trying to find out what happened to her sister. Both stories are compelling and heartbreaking, but showcase the strength of these women to survive. Highly recommended.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
Genres:
The Cottingley Secret
Gaynor, Hazel
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“ I said my story had many beginnings, and the day the camera arrived was one of them. After all, without the camera, there wouldn’t have been any photographs. Without the camera, I wouldn’t have a story to tell...”

The Cottingley Secret is a story about fairies, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and an old bookshop in a Irish harbor town, what is not to love about this book.
This story is a modern retelling of the real historical legend of the Cottingley Fairies. After coming to live with her cousin Elsie Wright in Cottingley England, during the height of the first world war, Frances Griffiths and her cousin both claim to see real live fairies at the bottom of the garden. The cousins soon prove their claims by photographing the fairies in the garden. These real live photos soon catches the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wholeheartedly believes the girls and proceeds to publish several of these photos in a magazine. Soon after, the girls and the fairies became a national sensation and through the country into the grip of fairy fever. This marks the beginning of a time that would define their lives and have them keeping secrets until the day of their deaths.

Meanwhile in modern day Ireland, Olivia Cavanaugh inherits her grandfather’s bookshop and soon discovers a manuscript that recounts the story of Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths. As she reads through the manuscript, written by Frances, she soon discovers she has more in common with her than she ever imagined.

Hazel Gaynor connects past and present in a way that is both modern and extremely touching. I really connected with Olivia in this book. As she, and the reader, reads through Frances and Elsie’s story, she finds strength to face her painful past and let go of a life that has always been planned out for her to pursue a life that connects her to the desires of her heart.

Filled with amazing literary prose, a beautiful atmospheric environment and strong characters, this story is historical literary fantasy at it’s best.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Girl in the Tower
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Katherine Arden's The Girl In The Tower is just as good, if not better, than the first book, The Bear and The Nightingale. Filled with more Russian Fairy tales, atmospheric literary prose, rich and strong characters, and the same enchanting setting of Medieval Russia, this book picks up right where the first one left off. It follows the story of Vasya, now a grown up woman she, instead of conforming to the role woman in her day usually play, of marriage or life in a convent, chooses instead a life of adventure. Leaving her home and traveling the vast Russian Wilderness while dressed as a boy, she soon is called upon to defend the city of Moscow and finds the threat greater and more deadly than she imagined. While fighting this threat, only she can stop, she is also forced to protect her secret as she comes upon her brother and attracts the attention of the Grand Prince of Moscow.

Part of what drew me to this book is the fairy tales, yes, but also the historical setting of Medieval Russia. Katherine Arden does a masterful job of weaving fantasy elements with real life historical details only a great historian would discover. Blurring the line between history, fantasy, and reality this book and, more importantly this series, is contemporary historical fantasy at its best. It is a sketch not only of real life in Medieval Russia, but also displays the power of story and demonstrates the importance of fairy tales and the lessons they can teach us.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Awards:
Though Heaven Fall
Westerson, Jeri
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

If you like castles, medieval stories and a bit of supernatural I recommend this you!
Set in the 13th century, this novel whisks you back in time. The misadventures of this "cripple" build up from a puddle to a daring rescuing of a wanted madman. While it may seem to drag out sometimes, its worth the wait.

Reviewer's Name: Johana P.
Genres:
The Stolen Marriage
Chamberlain, Diane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

About halfway through this book, I wanted to throttle the main character and give up on the book as I saw it heading in an utterly predictable direction. Tess makes so many bad decisions that it is hard to feel sorry for her being in such a miserable situation. It was also difficult to read the characters' attitudes about racially mixed couples in a time and place when it was not only socially unacceptable, but illegal. However, I'm glad I stuck with it, as about 2/3 of the way through it turned around and ended on a very unexpected note, which I enjoyed!

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
Genres:
Fall of Giants
Follett, Ken
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Fall of Giants is a long but worthwhile book to read. I "read" this via audio-book and enjoyed the narration very much. Ken Follett never fails to write in a historically accurate method and this is no exception. The introduction to the characters takes a bit of time to get through, but it's worth it due to the intricate nature of their lives and how they will intersect later in the book and the following related novels. This book combines elements of politics, revolution, war, love, social injustices and reforms, and insight into daily lives of people living in WWI era Russia, England, Germany, Wales and America.

Reviewer's Name: Merry
Genres:
The Bear and the Nightingale
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A perfect winter read! A beautiful atmospheric retelling of the fairytale Jack Frost set in a wintry town on the edge of the Russian wilderness in Medieval Russia. Plus a strong independent female protagonist who risks everything to save her family from the evil forces all around her! What's not to love! Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale is a must read! This novel has it all mystery, magic, adventure, and love! With well developed characters and beautiful, atmospheric, lyrical writing that makes you almost feel the cold wind on your skin and see the snow flakes falling this book cannot be passed up! I cannot wait for the next book in the series to come out, The Girl in The Tower!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Book Review: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Hurston, Zora Neale
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book started off a bit slow and the vernacular was initially somewhat challenging to read, but once Janie meets Tea Cake the book explodes into a vivid account of life in the "muck." There were parts of the book that I couldn't put down. Hurston's prose is nothing short of voluptuous and the final paragraph was a triumph of the soul.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Little House in the Big Woods
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lovely book. It moves slowly and gently and paints a dream-like portrait of life in the woods in the 1870s. Nothing really exciting happens, but that's the beauty of it.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Lee, Mackenzi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In the 18th century, it was rather common for young wealthy English folks to embark on a Grand Tour of continental Europe between their school years and their careers or higher education. Henry “Monty” Montague’s Grand Tour, however, is anything but common. Monty’s formal education at Eton ended rather abruptly, due to being caught in a rather compromising situation with another one of the boys. Now his future as his father’s heir is in jeopardy, and his tour is his last chance to redeem himself.

So it is that Monty departs for the continent, knowing that if he doesn’t manage to behave himself (at least in his father’s eyes), he’ll be left penniless. He’s accompanied by his younger sister, Felicity, herself off to a school in France, and his best friend Percy, who will be leaving England for law school at the end of their tour.

Monty naturally feels a bit overwhelmed by the mounting pressure on him to completely turn his own life around. However, understanding the plights of others isn’t something he’s ever been good at, and Felicity and Percy each have their own deep concerns about what awaits each of them at the end of their trip. None of them expect Monty’s knack for attracting trouble to draw them into a web of intrigue that leads them from France to Spain to Italy, pursued by highwaymen, pirates, and vengeful nobles. And none of them, least of all Monty, expected him to fall desperately in love with Percy along the way…

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee was everything I wanted it to be and more. Adventure, mystery, and romance all fall neatly into place in this YA treasure. It’s available now, so do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Book Review: Between Shades of Gray
Sepetys, Ruta
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is an amazing book. So stark and unforgiving, written exactly like Siberia and the arctic circle. This isn't an autobiography but it sounds like it could be. I have no doubt that Lina's circumstances happened to thousands during Stalin's reign. The writing was so realistic I could feel the wind and the cold and every terrible thing that came with it.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Under a Painted Sky
Lee, Stacey
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Under a Painted Sky was just okay for me. The book was probably very similar to being on the Oregon Trail - every once in a while something exciting would happen but for the most part, you're on the trail with a long stretch of boring ahead of you! That being said, I really do like the fact that Stacey Lee used a "historical" setting to present two strong, multicultural female characters. Annamae (African-American) and Samantha(Chinese) came into each others lives at a critical time and in the end, they realize that you can choose your family. Also being accepted for who you are was a central theme. But I felt Under a Painted Sky was a historical novel with not much history. The story takes place on the Oregon Trail, and we do hear of some of the hardships of traveling that the pioneers faced, but Stacey Lee only did one mention of Native Americans in the book. One sentence about the Cheyenne. It's hard to believe that on the trail, they didn't encounter any Native Americans. I think this book will be popular with teen girls. They will love the romance!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Awards:
Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine
Whelan, Gloria
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A great, rolling doggerel accompanies this story about finding a way to allow the queen to enter the sea without any part of her being “seen!” Funny and factual, this will be a fun read for you and yours.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin Brown
Raymie Nightingale
DiCamillo, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The best way I can describe Raymie Nightingale is to say that it is a book you can fall into. Kate DiCamillo is a master of characters and story, and Raymie Nightengale is no exception. This author weaves magic through words. We enter Raymie’s life mid-stream; she is ten years old and floundering a little. Through some new, strong friendships, she discovers strength in numbers – and in herself. The subject matter might be a bit much for some. Raymie’s dad has “run off” with a dental hygienist. But DiCamillo is never heavy-handed with the details and navigates the discomfort with aplomb.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Lincoln in the Bardo
Saunders, George
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Hans Vollman died shorty before getting to consummate his marriage with his young wife. His spirit, full of regrets, stuck around the graveyard. The same is true for Mr. Blevins, who committed suicide because of his sexuality. No one really knows why the Reverend chose to stay in what amounts to purgatory, but he's there, and he mostly hangs around with Vollman and Blevins. Every night, those ghosts and more come out of their "sick boxes" to congregate. Until one night, a very special ghost arrives, and everything changes. Willie Lincoln arrives in the graveyard, and instead of immediately transferring to the "next place" as most young children do, he sticks around. Lincoln in the Bardo follows the ghosts and their reactions to the younger Lincoln and his very special visitor, his father, the living sitting president, Abraham Lincoln.

First, I listened to this book, and while the audio performances were stunning, it was initially extremely confusing for this listener. I had no idea what was happening for the first disk, and considered quitting the book entirely. However, after reading the synopsis on the back and a few online reviews, I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did. Like I said, the audio performances were stunning. Nick Offerman (Vollman) and David Sedaris (Blevins), in particular, deliver masterful performances. Along with exposition from the ghosts, there are interstitial segments that use actual quotes from newspapers and other sources from the time , and it's here that the narration goes into overkill. The audiobook features 160 narrators, and I think that instead of having a different person read each quote, the story would've flowed a little better had our narrator just read the quotes.

The book itself is an interesting paranormal postmodern story that has elements of historical fiction that also takes a long hard look at death, grief, and coming to terms with one's lot in life. There's a lot going on, but after the first sixth of the story, I was hooked, and I really started to care about Blevins and particularly Vollman. This book is short on plot, but that's not the point. This is a character study that also examines life, death, and whatever might lie in-between. As the book is set at the beginning of the civil war, there are some heartrending accounts from the ghosts of slaves, and some maddening accounts from dead confederate soldiers. The book is a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but as I like books that make me feel things, that wasn't a problem for me. This book will make most people feel something, be it ire, or sadness, or confusion (it's been a while since I've read a postmodern book, and the format was occasionally jarring).

While this was at first a difficult listen, I ultimately ended up enjoying it. I would recommend reading the book, and then revisiting it as an audiobook to enjoy the fabulous performances. A challenging, but worthy read. 3 stars - I liked it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Little House on the Prairie
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Such a classic. You might think that a book about frontier life on the prairie would be boring, but it's not. Well, I did skip a few places that detailed the construction of the cabin etc. Otherwise, it's relaxed in most places and downright exciting in others. The book is told from the perspective of the middle daughter, Laura Ingalls. I love that the author is writing about her family. Thumbs up!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Duffy, Damian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Octavia Butler's Kindred broke so much ground both as a flawless time travel novel and visceral retelling of the slave experience. As an African-American author writing science fiction, her body of work changed the field while winning its top honors -- the Nebula and Hugo awards -- and the author herself was awarded a MacArthur genius grant. This graphic novel is an excellent introduction to her work, and is highly recommended for YA and adult readers alike.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca

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