historical fiction

February Reads. End of Month Wrap-Up #amreading

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Hello, fellow book junkies! This month’s flash reviews will each be accompanied by a complaint. Yes, even for a five-star book. Why? Because I’m feeling ornery–and, yes, I did use the word ‘ornery.’ Happy reading!  XOXO, Eve Messenger

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson  YA fantasy – I’m so glad I finally got a chance to read this book. There’s a sort of love triangle. The main character Lia is a snowflake. Wait, that doesn’t sound good. But this book was so fun to read, thanks to Pearson’s excellent writing skills, imaginative world-building, and strong characters. Complaint: the ending was too abrupt. 4.75/5 stars

Hold Still by Nina Lacour YA contemporary– There is something both bold and gentle about Lacour’s writing style, and I could read it all day long. Read Hold Still if you like A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Complaint: The photography teacher is a bitch. 4/5 stars

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen  adult historical A college student in the Depression-era Midwest loses everything and winds up working in a circus. Rosie the elephant is a superstar. Main character Jacob Jankowski is hugely likeable. The historical details are well-researched. Complaint: I’m not convinced Jacob’s old-man-reflecting-back-on-the-past chapters were necessary to the plot. 4/5 stars

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin YA historical Outstanding writing, interesting concept, memorable main character with a very unique ability. (Full Goodreads review here.) Complaint: Yael’s inner thoughts sometimes veer toward melodrama. 4/5 stars

DNF – The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick -adult historical mystery  Sadly, my affinity for books with “girl” in the title failed me here. Netgalley has been the source of many good books, but this was not one of them. My favorite thing about this book is the pretty cover. The Girl Who Knew Too Much had too much telling, not enough showing. I never got into the characters–or past chapter five. Complaint: I decided to read this book.

The Girl with the Lower back Tattoo by Amy Schumer –celebrity autobiography audiobook – Beneath that bawdy comic exterior, Amy has plenty of depth and intelligence, and she isn’t afraid to express it in her book. Well done. Complaint: Amy occasionally gets preachy. 4.25/5 stars

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – adult contemporary  This book is a brilliant character study, a must-read. Often humorous, A Man Called Ove opens the door to the world of suburban Sweden. One-of-a-kind character Ove (whose name is apparently pronounced oo-vay, which I didn’t learn until I’d read all 337 pages thinking it was ove like “stove”) and the entire cast of diverse characters comes alive under the masterful pen of Fredrik Backman and translator Henning Koch.  Complaint: Ove acts like he’s 90, not 59. 5/5 stars

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham – celebrity autobiography audiobook Lauren Graham seems just as sweet in her book as she does in her interviews and the characters she plays. She is a good writer, but. . . Complaint: Lauren Graham is too sweet to reveal anything riveting about her life or career.

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

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Kiersten White’s newest book And I Darken, is beautifully written and epic in scope. It is told from the alternating viewpoints of Lada and her younger brother Radu, children of Prince Dragwyla of the kingdom of Wallachia.

Lada is ferocious (“She had a soul. At least, she was fairly certain she did.”) but, contrary to what some reviewers say, she is not psychopathic nor even particularly vicious. While Lada has no qualms about killing people, her logical mind serves as a sort of moral code, holding her back from wanton murder. As she tells Radu, “Why do anything without purpose?”

Considering that the character of Lada is based on Vlad the Impaler (AKA Count Dracula), known for having impaled over 50,000 Turkish soldiers, I predict Lada’s personality will “darken” significantly through the course of this series.

Vlad the Impaler

Radu is an interesting contrast to his older sister Lada. While Lada is warrior-like, sharp-toothed, perpetually disheveled, and could care less about manners and good graces, Radu is watchful, cerebral, and physically beautiful.He is sweet but not as compelling a character as his sister.

One of the biggest misconceptions about And I Darken is that it is a fantasy. It  is not. There are no supernatural elements or magic of any kind. It is historical fiction, set in the 1400s, with treaties and border invasions, and people who could commonly speak multiple languages–an interesting setting for a story.

Through chapter eight, And I Darken is a five-star read across the board. It’s very powerful when Lada, after losing her mother, begins to think of her kingdom Wallachia as her true mother. She is committed to her kingdom and will defend it at all costs.

Then the trajectory of the story changes.

Lada and Radu wind up in Edirne, the capital of the Ottoman Turkish empire, and Lada’s devotion to her homeland takes a backseat to the interests of the sultan’s youngest son Mehmed. In essence, Mehmed becomes the center of this story’s universe. Through Act Two, practically everything Lada and Radu do revolves in some way around Mehmed. Political maneuverings also become a big part of the story. Lada continues to train as a warrior, but the fighting spirit she exhibits earlier in the story diminishes.

In addition to Lada(!) and Radu, there are many memorable characters in the story. Some of my favorites were the nanny who raised Lada and Radu, the slave soldiers (called Janissaries), as well as women in the  harem who must use wits, feminine wiles, and whatever other resources at their disposal to survive their oppressive situation.

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–Eve Messenger