Historical

Book Review: Sounder

Sounder
Author: 
Armstrong, William H.
Rating: 
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

Book Review: The Paragon Hotel

The Paragon Hotel
Author: 
Faye, Lyndsay
Rating: 
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

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind
Author: 
Zafon, Ruiz
Rating: 
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

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel
Author: 
Orczy, Baroness
Rating: 
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.

Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage
Author: 
Crane, Stephen
Rating: 
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.

Book Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief
Author: 
Zusak, Markus
Rating: 
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

Book Review: Dear Mrs. Bird

Book Review: Dear Mrs. Bird
Author: 
Pearce, A.J.
Rating: 
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

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities
Author: 
Dickens, Charles
Rating: 
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.

Book Review: Woods Runner

Woods Runner
Author: 
Paulsen, Gary
Rating: 
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.

Book Review: Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Author: 
Choldenko, Gennifer
Rating: 
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

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