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

 

January Wrap-Up Plus Random Author Facts #amreading

Here I was thinking I’d read eight books a month throughout 2016–and then started with four books in January. Ah, well c’est la vie (or however you spell that). They were all fun to read.

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The Diviners by Libba Bray

With The Diviners, I got to completely immerse myself in a different era and thoroughly enjoyed it. I haven’t read much historical fiction, but I plan to now. The Roaring ’20s was an AWESOME setting for a book about “diviners” (kids with supernatural abilities) chasing down an occult bad guy. Deftly told from multiple points of view, I fell in love with the characters Memphis Campbell and Theta Knight (though Evie was actually the central character). Libba Bray has an excellent writing style, and I look forward to checking out the next book in the series, Lair of Dreams, as well as another Bray book I’ve heard good things about, A Great and Terrible Beauty.

~Random Author Fact ~

Libba Bray is married to her agent, Barry Goldblatt.

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Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

I’ll be honest, the first few chapters of Magonia found me skimming a bit, but before long I was thrillingly engaged. What words can I use to describe the world-building? Extraordinary, striking, outlandish, whimsical, hallucinatory . . . and completely believable. It’s so hard to explain without giving away spoilers, so I’ll just say I’m grateful to Beth @ betwixt-the-lines for making me read this book. If you’ve read it, too, I’d love to hear your take on it.

~Random Author Fact ~

In 2005, Maria Dahvana Headley wrote a very different kind of book, non-fiction actually, called The Year of Yes. When Shonda Rhimes (of Gray’s Anatomy fame) recently released a book with the same title, Dahvana Headley was, shall we say, miffed and wasn’t afraid to say so. Publicly. On Twitter.

Maria Dahvana Headley - pissed about copying The Year of Yes title

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The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler

Let’s see . . . what was my original reason for deciding to read this book? Right, I freaking love time slip stories! (If you have any to recommend, I am all ears–er, eyes?) It’s 1996, and Emma is one of the first kids on her block to get a home computer. Emma’s cute neighbor/former best friend Josh gives her a CD-ROM so she can load email onto her computer and, lo and behold, Emma magically gains access to her FUTURE Facebook account. The story is told through alternating chapters of Emma’s and Josh’s POVs, and I have to admit, the two voices were so similar I sometimes had to check the first page of the chapter to make sure whose POV I was reading. This is a complaint other readers have had, too, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying The Future of Us for what it was: a cute, entertaining, and a pleasantly quick read.

~Random Author Fact ~

The Future of Us came to be because a teen fan asked Carolyn Mackler (a panelist at a book event) what her dream writing project would be, and Mackler decided she really wanted to collaborate with Jay Asher.

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The Door that Led to Where by Sally Gardner

As I type this review for the last of my January reads, I realize I read all four book exactly in order of how much I ended up liking them. Coincidence. . . or not? Yes, pure coincidence. 🙂 The Door that Led to Where was well-written in terms of descriptions and similes and all that (I especially enjoyed Gardner’s fun anthropomorphisms). I definitely wanted to keep reading ’til the end, but The Door that Led to Where didn’t get in-depth enough into the story it sought to tell. Good-natured 17-year-old AJ Flynn discovers a secret door to the past, which reveals important information about his true identity and puts him on the trail (perhaps in the path) of a murderer. I loved the scenes set in the 1830s (hmm, more historical fiction–I sense a personal trend), but my biggest complaint is that I never felt like I really got to know the characters.

~Random Author Fact ~

Because of undiagnosed dyslexia, Sally Gardner did not learn to read and write until she was fourteen.

 

Upcoming Reads :

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Buddy-reading with Beth @ betwixt-the-pages and Jess @ Gone with the Words.)
  • Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (Buddy-reading with Sarah K. @ The YA Book Traveler.)
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  • Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
  • Angelfall by Susan Ee
  • The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey