Review Crew Book Reviews by Genre: Historical

The Book Thief book jacket
Zusak, Markus
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Book Thief starts in January 1939, in Nazi Germany. The main character, Liesel, was traveling on a train with her mother and brother when her brother suddenly dies. Liesel was only nine at the time, and the wound that was inflicted then, she would bear forever. At her brother's burial site, she stole a book for the first time, earning her the name "The Book Thief". Her story is told from the perspective of Death, who is depicted as an immortal being with feelings and a heart.

Liesel then traveled to Himmel Street, where she lived with her foster parents for the remainder of the book. Liesel made new friends, finds a family, and overcomes the grief caused by her brother's passing there. But most importantly, she discovered the power and impact of words there. The power of words is the central theme or message of The Book Thief.

Throughout the book, Liesel steals more books and becomes braver and more mature. Initially, she was a child who didn't know about all the beauty and ugliness in the world. But as the plot developed, she experienced more of the brutality of WW2 and found her role in her community. After she learned to read, she started to spread the love that was caused by words to her neighbors, by reading out loud during air raids. She also learned to love and understand people better.

The author, Markus Zusak, used the symbolism of colors to illustrate a picture of the world that Liesel lived in. For example, when Death described a scene, the sky was always a different color or texture. When describing a bloody battlefield, the sky was described as plasticky, to show the stillness and emptiness that was caused by the death of soldiers.

I highly recommend this book to readers looking for a thought-provoking and intense book. Liesel's and the other characters' lives were presented in a very relatable way, which will make readers question their own attitudes on life and the world.

Reviewer's Name: Nabhanya
All the Light We Cannot See book jacket
Doerr, Anthony
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a historical fiction novel that is set in World War II. This book focuses on two characters Marie-Laure Leblanc and Werner Pfennig. Marie-Laure is a blind girl in France that relies on her father to help her live her life. Werner is a genius German who gets drafted by the Nazi’s to build and find the enemy with radios. These two conflicting worlds will soon crash into each other in the most heart wrenching way possible. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history or suspense.
Jaala 12

Reviewer's Name: Jaala
At Briarwood School for Girls book jacket
Knight, Michael
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lenore Littlefield is a student at the Briarwood School for Girls. She plays basketball. She loves history. She goes out with friends. She's pregnant. Throughout the novel she will seek aid from an isolated history teacher, an intense coach turned play director, and a ghost that's been waiting for her call. But in the end, it'll be up to her to take the next step forward.
Despite never reading extensively from the genre, I believe this book is the epitome of southern gothic. It has a lazy purpose to it, a meandering story structure that maintains its tension. The characters are all disillusioned, which is contrasted starkly by the idealistic and energetic schoolchildren around them. This book is really good if you enjoy this sort of thing, otherwise there's a chance the plot could strike you as slow or boring. I personally really liked it, especially the use of prose to bring meaning and intent to the setting. Another great thing about the novel is the story-within-the-story, meaning the play that Lenore Littlefield participates in, that beautifully mirrors and enhances the significance of Lenore's situation and the themes of the novel. The only reason I gave this book four stars was that the ending felt out of nowhere to me, but looking back that was probably the authors intent.
All in all, this book was a very good supernatural southern gothic. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes great characters, interesting story structure, amazing prose, and a heartfelt story!
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Eve
The Red Badge of Courage book jacket
Crane, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book was a fascinating piece of literature. The author described war in more of a psychological format, as in the effect of war upon the mind, then a physical format. It reminded me of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers in its attention to the mind of a soldier. Many Civil War veterans would get a shock meeting Mr. Crane because they thought he had been in the Civil War when he hadn't. It was interesting how Crane referred to the main character, Henry Fleming, as "the youth". He uses similar naming for the other characters, like "the tall soldier," and "the friend." I enjoyed the book, and I'm impressed at how Crane, according to actual soldiers, so acutely described war on a minute-to-minute basis, when at the time of writing, he hadn't ever been in battle. This book almost felt like an experiment of Crane's, like he was just exploring new ideas. The result was international fame and a famous landmark of American fiction.

Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: Logan
A Tale of Two Cities book jacket
Dickens, Charles
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Thankfully, the older language in A Tale of Two Cities is slightly more manageable to read than other classics, so I was able to enjoy it. The story is about a young woman named Lucie and her father, Dr. Alexandre Manette, who had been smuggled out of prison and struggled with PTSD. Lucie is able to rehabilitate him and she falls in love with a young man named Charles. However, the last quarter of the book is a whirlwind as the characters discover one major factor: Charles may be involved with Dr. Manette's unrightful imprisonment. Each character is well-rounded and very practical under the gruesome circumstances of the French Revolution, though social norms of the time period still painted Lucie as incapable regardless of her courage in healing her father and coping with court troubles. The unexpected ending was my favorite, and is still memorable long after finishing the book. Despite the intimidating factor of the publication date, still give this book a try.

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
Grenade
Gratz, Alan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Grenade by Alan Gratz is a great book perfect for most ages. It is a historical fiction that will take you back to 1945 on Okinawa Island, Japan, in the grip of World War II. The two perspectives of Hideki, a native on the island, and Ray, an American Marine, both have never experienced war before and are fighting on opposite sides. Hideki is pulled out of school and drafted into the Blood and Iron Student Corps, they expect him to fight for the Japanese army and all he is given is a grenade. Ray, has landed in Okinawa with his group of soldiers, he is surrounded by the enemy and has no idea if he will live through the war. Both have to fight their way through the island and eventually they meet. The choices they make could change both of them severely.
This story is thrilling, suspenseful, and fun to read! I loved this book because it is constantly surprising and it puts you in 1945 with the characters, who have extravagant emotions and conflicts. I stayed up all night reading this book and it was so worth it! It can be a little violent but overall it is an amazing book. I was recommended it by a friend because I don't normally read historical fiction but it did not disappoint! I love all of Alan Gratz's books and I would certainly recommend them and Grenade.

Reviewer's Name: Ella
Awards:
The Betrayed
Cass, Kiera
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

After being slightly disappointed by The Betrothed, I stayed loyal to Kiera Cass and picked up a signed copy of The Betrayed. It was good! Hollis lives outside of the palace and vows to defeat a group of assassins who work for an evil king, all while avoiding the other king she left behind. The morals had changed from the first book to be focused on overcoming grief and juggling different family values. Plus, the unpredictable love story didn't hurt. Hollis' personality developed to be even more obstinate due to her experiences. The ending was, just like the first book, a little deflating, but I see the author's vision for an atypical female empowerment story to combat any criticism from The Selection and I will give her credit for being creative with the storyline.
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
The Betrothed
Cass, Kiera
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Three stars is pretty tough for me to rate, seeing as I love the Selection series so much! Kiera Cass is a great author, but The Betrothed didn't blow me away. The main character, Hollis, follows everyone else's lead in trying to seduce King Jameson and is surprised to succeed. She has trained in the ways of a queen her whole life and is prepared for life as a royal- until a handsome palace worker shows up and Hollis questions everything she thought she knew about true love. Hollis is a level-headed, passionate character (although a little whiny at times) and I liked her character arc from a conforming queen-to-be into a rebellious person who cares more about love than money or a title. What I didn't like as much was the disheartening twist and a complete change in the mood of the book. Many readers enjoy a good dark plot twist, but it felt like I had started reading a whole different book after being so invested in the first one.
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
Mexican Gothic
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Mexican Gothic follows an interesting take on haunted houses and distant ancestry. The resilient main character, Noemi, travels to a small town to visit her newly-married cousin at a house called High Place out of concern for her cousin's illness. The longer she stays, though, the more she realizes that there is something more sinister going on than an isolated family. Unlike some reviews I saw, the pacing was engaging for me. It was broken into short chapters with a lot of action in the last hundred or so pages, which is how a lot of thrillers are organized. This helped me be motivated to read more when the story line was not quite my taste. It was cool, however, that Noemi was realistic in her thoughts and reactions. It made the story feel more genuine as the plot got crazier. This isn't something I would necessarily recommend, but it was still enjoyable.

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Reid, Taylor Jenkins
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

It is a deal breaker for me when a book's main character is unlikeable. This book was not like that. Evelyn is a talented and determined character who was able to break away from her traumatic experiences and pave the way for female actresses that don't match Hollywood's cookie cutter movie stars. She isn't always polite and malleable, which was cool to see when other books set in the same time period only focus on men's perspectives. I was invested in Evelyn's life throughout the progression of her seven marriages and how they ended. Monique is a scatter-brained but relatable character as well. I enjoyed how she and Evelyn interacted and the twist of how their stories intertwined. Try this book if you like historical fiction and being uplifted by female empowerment.

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Hurston, Zora Neale
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Their Eyes Were Watching God, written by Zora Neale Hurstson, is a contemporary fiction novel regarding the tale of Janie Crawford and her quest to find love. I like how the book introduces the characters in the beginning, after Janie's journey to find love, and then Janie tells her best friend about how she ended up where she was. Originally, her grandmother wed her to a man she was uninterested in. In fact, she was so uninterested in her husband that she ran off with another, more exciting man. The more she stayed with the exciting man, named Joe Starks, (she eventually married him), the more he hurt (physically/emotionally) her. Later, Joe dies, and she has little to no remorse over his death. A couple months later, she meets Tea Cake, and eventually falls in love with him. The part that I don't like about this book is that Tea Cake has a lot of warning flags, but they all seem to fly over Janie's head. I don't know if the author intended for the main character to be foolish or not, it simply shocked me how willing Janie was to devote herself to Tea Cake.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
A Brief History of Seven Killings
James, Marlon
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Little is known about the attack on Bob Marley on December 3, 1976, but Marlon James re-creates the incident as well as the characters before, during, and after the attack on the singer's life. Including over 70 characters, the story follows the first perspective of gang members, CIA agents, affairs, journalists, and others as the way of life in Jamaica spans from the 1970s to early 1990s.
This book is packed with colorful characters, story, and the way of life present in Jamaica back in the late 20th century. I enjoyed reading about the characters and how they revolved around The Singer (Bob Marley) and each other. For an incident that people know little about, James is able to create a wonderful picture about the possible involvement of various parties, the situation that influenced it, and what may have happened afterwards.
However, a (personal) issue I had with the book is the way it is written. Since the many characters are from Jamaica in the late 1900s, I had trouble understanding their dialect as they spoke. One character in particular, Bam-Bam, was especially difficult for me to understand, and this made it difficult for me to go through the story smoothly. Another problem I had was the layout of the text. Everything is in big blocks of text and dialogue is written in a way that I find odd and unorthodox. While there is nothing wrong with having a unique style, especially for the characters and story, it made it hard for me to understand some parts of the story and drew away from the experience I had with the book.
If you're into more realistic and introspective fiction, this could be worth your time.
Reviewer's Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Antwaan
Songbirds
Lefteri, Christy
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Songbirds is about the disappearance of domestic workers in Cyprus--women who had no choice but to leave their families in Sri Lanka or Vietnam or the Philippines and find work as maids in the homes of Cyprus's wealthy class. Nisha, whom the story centers on, is a Sri Lankan woman who has faced much loss. She comes to Cyprus, leaving her daughter behind, and becomes a mother figure for Aliki, the daughter of a somber, grieving widow named Petra. Though Nisha has such an impact on the people around her, especially Petra and Aliki, she is merely seen as a maid, overlooked, taken for granted. In a parallel plot line, Yiannis is a poacher who hunts songbirds for a living. He and Nisha have a secret relationship, which would jeopardize everything if discovered by Petra, and when he finally tells Nisha about the poaching, she is deeply disappointed in him, though Yiannis doesn't stop his senseless killing of songbirds. One night, Nisha goes missing. What ensues is a long, agonizing search in which the police refuse to do anything and Petra begins to realize that she relied on Nisha for nearly everything and didn't appreciate her while she was there. Petra and Yiannis team up, determined to find out what happened.
In my opinion, this story could've been told so much better. The metaphor of the songbirds was far too loud and became redundant and irritating. Lefteri could've more effectively woven together the plot lines of Petra and Yiannis without being so blunt with her metaphor. However, I did find it very interesting--and saddening--to learn about the missing domestic workers of Cyprus. Just as in The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Lefteri brings to light real issues that go beyond news coverage and should be talked about but somehow aren't. These maids are just as human as anyone, having sacrificed lives in their home countries for the benefit of their families. I would have enjoyed this novel more if the pacing had been faster and the plot hadn't been so repetitive; the characters also weren't the most likable.
I wouldn't necessary recommend this book, but the premise is worth knowing.

Reviewer's Name: Alexa
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Hugo, Victor
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an early 1800s novel following the trials and tribulations of several characters living in 15th century Paris. Quasimodo, the famous hunchback, struggles with his unrequited feelings for the mesmerizing dancer Esmeralda, and competes with other characters to win her love. This story is likely best for ages 14+, since it has some difficult words and is written in an old-fashioned style. I believe the heartfelt and memorable ending is the best part of this book, and recommend it to anyone looking for an exceptional classic!
Reviews Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Audrey
The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This Book Is truly a classic, this I book that we've all read either as a assignment or for fun. This book was set in the Jazz era of New York, this novel tells the story of a self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby and journey to finding the love of his life Daisy Buchanan who also is a very wealthy women. In this novel we start out with a man named Nick who is also Daisy's cousin, he is basically the narrator of it all. He walks us through how he met Jay, and their journey finding daisy. Throughout this story we go through happiness, loss, and love, and it all unfolds out to be a really great novel. So if you like a tragic love story, I think this book is for you.

Reviewer's Name: Makaia
Pride and Prejudice
Austen, Jane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Pride and Prejudice is an 1813 classic novel that follows Elizabeth Bennett, an outspoken and bold woman for her time, and her journey through romance with Mr. Darcy, an anti-social and cold man. I really enjoyed this novel, and although the plot sounds pretty generic, I found myself falling in love with the characters. I especially liked seeing Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's romance unfold, and the clear chemistry between them was also exciting to read about. Both of the characters were well written and I liked the enemies-to-lovers trope the novel followed. Seeing Mr. Darcy opening up and being able to understand why he was the way he was, was also very satisfying.
Overall, this classic novel is a classic for a good reason, and for anyone who enjoys a good healthy romance, with actual depth, Pride and Prejudice is the book for you.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Hunting Prince Dracula
Maniscalco, Kerri
2 stars = Meh
Review:

In the second installment to the Stalking Jack the Ripper series, this time we follow Audrey and Thomas to Romania, mainly to escape the grief and memories that London contains, but also to attend one of the best schools of forensic medicine. However, Audrey and Thomas are once again thrown into another murder mystery, this time facing Vlad the Impaler.
Even though the plot of this novel seemed interesting enough, like the first book of this series, I still couldn't find myself connecting to Audrey or Thomas at all. Both of them just seemed like the stereotypical cookie-cutter fantasy romance interests, with no dimension and no personality. While I enjoyed some of the interesting cultural legends and information about Romania, I felt like the novel was going way too slow. I couldn't find myself getting into it, and none of the characters really interested me and kept me focused on the novel. Once I practically forced myself to finish the book, I didn't find myself thinking about the book ever again. There was nothing interesting or unique about the novel and all the characters just seemed like the same characters that I've read about over and over again in the fantasy genre. The murder was also pretty generic and simple to solve, so there wasn't much suspense or build-up. Overall, I could see why some people would like this book, but it wasn't for me.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Johnny Tremain book jacket
Forbes, Esther
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

If you like historical fiction or love tales of friendship through rough times, Johnny Tremain is one of those books you need to add to your reading list. Johnny Tremain is set during the revolutionary war as Johnny starts work as a blacksmith until an accident where he then turns to a more political job. Johnny also works alongside his friend Rab, who wrote for the Boston Observer and through the book, the two become close friends, working alongside each other throughout the revolutionary war. It can be a slow burn at times, but once the action picks up, it picks up highly and it is a very fascinating book to read. I love the very close friendship built between both Johnny and Rab and how it adds to their characters as the book progresses as characters who build off of each other is a favorite trope of mine. I did wish the book ended a bit differently as well, but it is still an amazing read for anyone of any age, whether you love historical fiction or not.

Reviewer's Name: Alexis
These Violent Delights
Gong, Chloe
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book does a wonderful job of educating readers about history of the 1920's in Shanghai while still being an action-packed and entertaining story. The plot of two gang heirs clashing as they each work to solve the mystery of an unleashed monster in the city is unique and captivating. I love the devotion of each character to protect their loved ones and battle the conflict of values in Shanghai. This book also keeps readers on their toes. The moment I felt like the story was predictable, it proved me wrong! The longer read is worth it for being immersed in these characters' experience. I look forward to reading the sequel.

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
Lightning Strike
Krueger, William Kent
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Lightning Strike is an excellent thriller. Cork O’Connor lives in his hometown of Aurora. Everything is normal and is going smoothly, until Cork discovers a dead man in the forest. It is deemed as a suicide. But Cork and his father have their own suspicions. Can they uncover the truth before it’s too late? I liked the setting and enjoyed the suspense. I chose this book because the book jacket captured my attention, and I wanted to find out what happens next. Cork O’Connor is curious about what took place, and also is great young sleuth. I appreciate Cork’s determination to solve the mystery. Lightning Strike was a great read and I would highly recommend it.
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Ananth