Historical

Book Review: The Lost Heir

The Lost Heir
Author: 
Foley, E.G.
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This is a series for children/teens. but I loved it. It really does combine the best of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and every fantasy story that you know and love into one amazing series with characters that you just can't help but love. Highly recommend.

Reviewer's Name: 
Aleena

Book Review: Caging Skies

Caging Skies
Author: 
Leunens, Christine
Rating: 
2 stars = Meh
Review: 

When I saw Jojo Rabbit (2019) nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, I decided to give Caging Skies a read to see how close the adaptation came. After finishing this book, I can see why Taika Waititi ended his movie at the half-way point of the plot. This is mostly because this book only has half a plot. I can forgive a bit of blind enthusiasm of Austrian children who thought the Nazis were great, but I can’t forgive a teenager that gaslights (and, let’s be honest, rapes) a captive girl and tries to come off as the victim.

While taking a much more serious tone than the one presented in Jojo Rabbit, Caging Skies does a reasonably good job exploring themes of war, disability, and the sacrifices it takes to do what is right. Unfortunately, a lot of the lessons presented by the main character’s parents are entirely lost by the half-way point of the book when the war ends. Instead, we get a sick, overly sexualized, and outright twisted look into the head of a teenage boy who doesn’t realize the reason he’s keeping his victim hostage is exceptionally different from the reason his parents took her in to begin with.

I get that this book is supposed to be a bit more “literary” than something I’d pick up to read for entertainment. However, I found it weird how the story—told through the eyes of a teenage boy—never sounded like a teenage boy wrote it. Sure, there’s plenty of hormones on display as he grapples with having a hidden girl in his house. However, that’s more in the theme of the story instead of how the story was worded. Plus, any sympathy I would have had for the main character immediately evaporated when he chose to lie to the girl for far too long and keep her freedom from her, only managing to whine and complain how his freedom was limited by having to hide her from everyone.

An OK story that’s ruined by its second half, I give Caging Skies 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Woven in Moonlight

Book Cover
Author: 
Ibanez, Isabel
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Ximenia Rojas has been the decoy for Condesa Catalina ever since the usurper Atoc overthrow the Illustrarians a decade ago. Ximenia's family, along with the Condesa's, perished during the civil war, and Ximenia and her fellow Illustrians want revenge. When Atoc summons the Condesa to the palace to be his bride, Ximenia goes in Catalina's place and uses her weaving magic to send messages to the Illustrians via tapestry. With only eight weeks before the wedding, Ximenia must find intel about a magical gem that is the Illustrian's only hope.

My literary 2020 is off to a great start with this gem of a historical fantasy YA novel! I went in with fairly low expectations as 2019 was, on the whole, not a great year for YA fantasy. This was very good and felt like something of a course correction. The "historical" aspect covers Bolivian politics and the introduction of cocaine, at least somewhat (I know nothing about Bolivia and the eARC didn't have an author's note at the end, but the author does reference her two Bolivian parents) and deftly weaves a story of magic, moonlight and betrayal. The moon magic is subtle, but well utilized. Ximenia's ability is, for lack of a better phrase, quite cool. The author took a familiar story of rebellion and a headstrong girl and combined those seemingly stale tropes with magical realism and Bolivian flavor to create a book that felt like something new. The romance was earned. The main character grows a lot throughout the course of the book. Ximenia's story is tied up by the end, but there's an intriguing jungle based thread that's left dangling (not a spoiler!) that I'd be willing to bet will be a second book. I'll read it.

Also, I dare you to read this book and not want some tasty Bolivian treats. The food sounds amaaaaaaaaaaazing and it's mentioned a lot.

TLDR: Woven in Moonlight takes a familiar tale of revolution and spices it up with excellent character development and creative magical realism. I'm having trouble thinking of something to compare it to, because I like it better than most books that I've read that are similar (The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson for example - this is in the same zone, but I enjoyed it a lot more). Recommended for readers who like their fantasies to be revolutionary (ha) with a strong female lead and a touch of magic. 4 stars - I really liked it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Page Street Books for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Woven in Moonlight is available for purchase or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: Heartfire

Heartfire
Author: 
Card, Orson Scott
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

It’s been a while since I read this far into a series, and I can start to see why I like trilogies and stand-alone books. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this series had evolved into a courtroom drama instead of a historical fantasy. At this point, the whole premise of this series seems to have veered off course and has lost its focus to tackle unrelated issues that were somewhat prominent at the time. Or, at least it’s merely acting as a chance to name drop historical figures and take the side of history against well-known issues that haven’t aged well over time. If anything, Heartfire could have easily been the fourth book in the series, since Alvin Journeyman added nothing to the story. Even so, Heartfire didn’t feel as strong as earlier books in the series. It almost seems like there’s more of a focus on world-building. There is less focus on actually progressing the story—like the path toward the Crystal City. Certain plot elements were almost entirely forgotten as well, even if there was a whole legal battle in the last book to re-hash how Alvin came into possession of a sentient golden plow (which itself is still unclear why it’s important).

By now, I’m merely reading the series on autopilot just to see if there is any conclusion to the alternate history presented here. I still think there are clever takes on historical figures, but by now, they seem added in as a heavy winking nod to the reader, most of whom will already know the referenced individual. Perhaps the lack of overall character growth in this book is what made it such a so-so read for me. Sure, there were baby steps toward some redemption arc, but in the end, nothing ended up changing the drive of the overarching story.

Another weak link in the Alvin Journeyman series, I give Heartfire 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Girl with Brush and Canvas

Girl with Brush and Canvas
Author: 
Meyer, Carolyn
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Learn about artist Georgia O'Keeffe in this fascinating novel about her life. Beginning with her early life in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin when she announced her plans to be an artist and following with family hardships where she refused to give up her dream, you'll learn about where she found her inspiration and how she persevered. Girl with Brush and Canvas, is a well-written, entertaining story about one of the most interesting artists of the 20th century.

Reviewer's Name: 
Carol

Book Review: The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried book jacket
Author: 
O'Brien, Tim
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

The Things They Carried follows through the perspective of a soldier within the 23rd Infantry Division. Enlisted during the Vietnam War, the book covers over the soldier's, as well as the platoons experiences throughout. The Things They Carried is a collection of stories that correlate to one another, bringing an ultimate immersion to those that are interested of any war, or historical context.

The Things They Carried is a book that has a deeper insight within the emotional, mental, and physical state of the soldiers that went through the Vietnam War. Having a darker and more serious tone than other novels, it is one that stands out and deserves recognition.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: 
Nam T

Book Review: Tongues of Serpents

Tongues of Serpents image
Author: 
Novik, Naomi
Rating: 
2 stars = Meh
Review: 

Up until now, I had only read one other book by Naomi Novik. I had loved Spinning Silver and the unique take on a classic fairy tale it presented. While I understand Tongues of Serpents is the sixth book in the Temeraire series, I found it to be inferior to Spinning Silver in many ways. I will also grant that I’m not necessarily the target audience for this genre of historical fantasy when it takes a more nautical tilt (like Far Side of the World does). Still, there was enough of a standalone element to Tongues of Serpents that I was able to pull a story out of it and write a review of it.

Some things I had trouble getting used to in this book were the fact that the dragons all spoke in the same English as the human characters. I had a tough time identifying which characters were dragons and which were humans, and I didn’t know why they sounded so similar (I’m sure a previous book explains this). Additionally, I eventually gained a slight sense of the overarching goal of the series (I think it’s to get to China), but I didn’t feel like the characters’ motives were very clear in this book.

I almost gave up reading this book until the end of part one when something interesting happened, but even that sub-plot felt like it never went anywhere and was only an excuse to use a lot more words to describe very few actions. In the end, there was a lot of fluff in this book, and I’ll chalk it up to the way authors write these historical nautical books. Perhaps if it were slanted more toward fantasy or more tied to history (like in the Alvin Maker series), I would have enjoyed it more. As it was, I just kind of skimmed through it and donated it to the next person who might like to read about dragons in Australia.

A historical fantasy that was too light in both history and fantasy, I give Tongues of Serpents 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: 
Lee, Harper
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”. Harper Lee writes a beautiful and provocative narrative in To Kill a Mockingbird in order to create a conversation about relevant themes that affect our world. The story follows Scout and her brother Jem as their father, Atticus, defends an African American man named Tom Robinson in court for raping a young white woman.
Meanwhile, the children meet a new boy named Dill, and are curious about their neighbor, “Boo” Radley. The book deals with intense themes such as racial injustice, class, and growing up.
When I first read this book in 9th grade, I didn’t care too much for it. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t think it was something that I could read again.
But I was wrong. While re-reading this book, I discovered why it is a classic. The book deals with serious issues while still remaining eloquent and poetic. I adored Scout’s character and her development seen through her interactions with Boo Radley. I thoroughly enjoyed Harper’s writing style and her ability to create distinct and well rounded personalities for each of her characters. I believe that this book should be read both in schools and outside of them because of its powerful and controversial narrative.

Reviewer's Name: 
Sophie L

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees
Author: 
Kidd, Sue Monk
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Phenomenal. That is one of the best words I can use to describe this book. The secret life of bees is an amazing story about a girl who leaves her abusive home with her housekeeper (1950s-60s era) and finds herself living with three sisters who make honey. A story bursting with vivid description and creative storytelling, the secret life of bees draws you in and keeps you there until you are suddenly done with the book. Truly an amazing story that shows that the family you're born with isn't always the family you end up with.

Reviewer's Name: 
Maddie K

Book Review: The Scent of Death

The Scent of Death
Author: 
Taylor, Andrew
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The scene is New York, 1778-1780, during the American War of Independence. The story is billed as a mystery. Richard Savill arrives from London to hear the claims of Loyalists who have lost property to the rebels. British Manhattan is a conglomeration of soldiers, refugees, and maybe double agents. As the death toll mounts, Mr. Savill can no longer be content in his roll as an observer. He even ventures out into the Debatable Ground with a pass from Gov. Franklin (Benjamin's son), which may or may not protect him. It is a mystery, but I was fascinated by the historical detail. Well worth your time!

Reviewer's Name: 
Vickie S.

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