Tag Archives: historical fiction

ARC Review – Berserker (Berserker #1) by Emmy Laybourne

Title: Berserker (Berserker #1)

Author: Emmy Laybourne

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Her brother Stieg swears their powers are a gift from the old gods, but Hanne Hemstad knows she is truly cursed. It’s not Stieg’s fault that their father is dead, their mother has left, and their brother Knut has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit.

No, the fault lies with Hanne and her inability to control her murderous “gift”–she is a Berserker. When someone she loves is threatened, she flies into a killing state. The siblings must leave Norway for the American frontier or risk being brought to justice.

Aided by a young cowboy who agrees to be their guide, Hanne and her siblings use their powers to survive the perilous trail, where blizzards, wild animals, and vicious bounty hunters await.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Emmy Laybourne writes some fast-paced novels, and her latest,Berserker is not exception. I’d even argue it’s her most unique book to date given it is a Western-meets-Norse Mythology-meets-Historical Fiction. It’s a cluster of so many genres, a mish-mash that is though very fun, doesn’t entirely work together as well as it could.

I’m all for a genre mash-up, but Westerns tend to be always a difficult genre to mash given it has very specific tropes that it follows. Weirdly, I loved the Western-y bits of this story, but mixing it with Norse Mythology is a bit of an odd choice given how rich Viking culture is. This book has so much in it and at times it can feel very overwhelming, and yet it is also such a compulsively readable book where you want to know what is going on. There’s so much action and insanity, it makes for an entertaining read. Laybourne is great at bringing fun and disaster to her stories and Berserker doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

While I loved the action, gore and just utter insanity of the story, I wish I had enjoyed the characters more. Henne is a fun character who is troubled by her powers of murder, but if I am being frank, a lot of the characters felt very interchangeable for me and didn’t feel too distinctive on their own. Mind you, I’ve always felt that as a writer, Laybourne’s characters are not always the starring attraction (unless we are talking Max from Monument 14 aka the best character), but it’s the worlds that she creates which are truly the draw.

Berserker is a book where I need to explain to readers going into it before hand to just “go with the flow.” It’s a fun, delightful romp, but it’s also messy in that it’s trying to do a lot at once creating sensory overload. I still think it’s a great read for those who love a fast-paced story full of crazy and murder. I definitely am still curious as to where the next book in the series is going to go as well.

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ARC Review – Lost Boys by Darcey Rosenblatt

Title: Lost Boys

Author: Darcey Rosenblatt

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Based on historical events, this unforgettable and inspiring tale for middle-grade readers is about a young boy torn from the only life he’s ever known and held captive as a prisoner of war.

In 1982, twelve-year-old Reza has no interest in joining Iran’s war effort against Iraq. But in the wake of a tragedy and at his mother’s urging, he decides to enlist, assured by the authorities that he will achieve paradise should he die in service to his country.

War does not bring the glory the boys of Iran have been promised, and Reza soon finds himself held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Iraq, where the guards not only threaten violence—they act upon it. Will Reza make it out alive? And if he does, will he even have a home to return to?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Lost Boys is both a beautiful people of historical fiction. While this book is classified as middle grade fiction, it actually reads much older in some aspects of the story, but regardless of that it’s a very heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship in Iran during 1982. According to the author’s note, parts of the story where based on an account by her neighbour who had been growing up in Iran.

Reza is a wonderful protagonist who is both kind as he is curious. You learn about Reza’s love of Western music which he got from his Uncle. You learn his love of modern music and the kinds of songs that were present in the 1980s. In some regards this makes Reza seem a little older than he actually is, but I found him to constantly be endearing throughout the story. His friendship with Ebi and Miles are both unique aspects in the story as Ebi at the tender age of twelve believes young boys need to die for their nation, while Miles an Irish aid worker tries to instill a different perspective…

…And it works well in this story. In this story you see Reza feeling torn between the love of his family and country, but also struggling with his feelings towards the political environment in Iran. Characters like Ebi break your heart because they are the product of propaganda, the belief that every man must die for his nation. There’s an idealism in this notion, but the story shows how many of the children are completely robbed of childhoods.

Lost Boys is a very thoughtful read, and Rosenblatt is a beautiful writer. I appreciated much of the leg work that went into this novel, and if you haven’t read the Author’s Note it is worth checking out just to get some extra context to where the author was coming from with the story. This book will leave you sad yet very hopeful in the end.

ARC Review – The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way.

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I knew I had to have this book when it was described to me as “Monty and Percy’s Big Gay Eurotrip.” A lot of friends and bloggers who I trust who had read this book early had said it was one of their favourites in a long time. Needless to say, this book was super hyped in my brain and it lived up to all my expectations.

What I loved about this book is the chemistry between all the main characters. Monty nearly killed me half the time with his hi-jinx, while Percy always made me smile trying to be the rational one. I also loved, loved, loved Felicity and I am stoked she is getting her own book. The friendship between all the main characters was easily one of my favourite parts of this book.

While this book is chock full of humour, it also had some more serious moments that were so compelling and sad. This book was over five hundred pages, but it was one of those books where I savoured and enjoyed it regardless of size. Sometimes I find chunky books have too much padding, but that was not the case in Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.

I also adored the romance in this book as it’s so cute. I found myself constantly shipping Monty/Percy even from the beginning and I loved how Lee develops that relationship and how it unfolds in the narrative. It’s wonderful, funny, charming and it just made my teeth rot with it’s cuteness. I ship it. I also think the way in which Lee describes all the locations that Monty and Percy visited was exquisite and vivid. It made me feel like I was there with the characters!

With strong, interesting and quirky characters coupled with fun and quippy writing, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a must read for those who love historical fiction, cross-country globetrotting, and a fun romance. Mackenzi Lee is an author worth reading and watching for.

 

ARC Review – The Pearl Thief (Code Name Verity #0) by Elizabeth Wein

Title: The Pearl Thief (Code Name Verity #0

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scottish Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister, Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion & Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Scottish history? Thieves? Travellers? There’s a lot to love about Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief. Richly researched and always accessible, it’s something that I always admire when I am reading her books. I feel like I learn so much, even if it may not always be perfectly accurate.

I am going to state something: I did nearly DNF this book. The beginning is very, very, very slow, and I wouldn’t fault readers for ditching this one early given the beginning. However, I found for me, each section of the novel really did grow on me, bit by bit. This is a story that slowly builds to it’s climax, and it takes its time. That actually does make it somewhat different from Wein’s other books (and I’ve read all of her historical fiction to date).

For me, this book was less about the characters and more about what is happening in Scotland regarding the river pearl industry, as well as a larger family conspiracy regarding pearls and Mary the Queen of Scots. The mystery in this book, much like the writing, is a slow burn and I think for some readers that will be problematic. I am fine with a slow burn if the build up still keeps me interested, and I won’t lie, sometimes this book meandered in ways I didn’t always enjoy.

If you’ve read the other books in the Code Name Verity series, I think you’ll still enjoy this installment. It’s definitely very different from some of the other novels in the series, but I still think Wein is a fantastic writer with the ability to capture locations in a way that is vivid and emotional. The Pearl Thief is a solid book, but it’s hard to capture the magic of the other books in the series in the same way.

ARC Review – The Valiant (The Valiant #1) by Lesley Livingston

30320008Title: The Valiant (The Valiant #1)

Author: Lesley Livingston

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The youngest daughter of a proud Celtic king, Fallon has always lived in the shadow of her older sister Sorcha’s legendary reputation as a warrior. But when Fallon was a young child, the armies of Julius Caesar invaded the island of Britain and her beloved older sister was killed in battle.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her rightful place in her father’s royal war band. But she never gets the chance. Instead, Fallon is captured by a band of ruthless brigands who sell her to an exclusive training school for female gladiators—and its most influential patron is none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, Fallon’s worst enemy, the man who destroyed her family, might be her only hope of survival.

Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, chilling threats and the dangerous attention of Caesar himself to survive the deadly fights that take place both in and out of the arena—and claim her place in history among the Valiant.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am so excited that this is becoming a series, because daaaaaaaaamn The Valiant is a fun read. I’ve read nearly every book Lesley Livingston has written, but I swear she continues to up her game with each new book she writes. This book is about badass lady gladiators, and that alone makes me pretty amazing, let me tell you.

I adored Fallon as a heroine, and I thought she was just amazing. She’s strong, she has conviction, she demands the best of herself. She has such a strong will, making her someone I think that a lot of women can relate to or aspire to. I loved the politics in Livingston’s version of the Roman Empire, and I think the book shows that a lot of research was done for the sake of historical accuracy. The world that Fallon lives in feels so hopeless, filled with hardship and terror. It makes the reader feel as though they are a part of Fallon’s world.

Also some of the twists and turns in this book? They were so awesome. They didn’t feel predictable, they didn’t feel out of place, and these moments really showed how great of a storyteller Livingston is. I just found myself so connected to Fallon and her world. I really also found myself disliking a lot of the male characters in the novel, because they were just dreadful human beings. Though, I did like the romance in this story, even if it felt a bit conventional at times. Can I also say I loved Nyx? Because I kinda loved her even if she was kind of malicious. She also just screamed badass woman with intense raw power.

The sisterhood, the glory, the area, the characters, the history — The Valiant really feels like a complete package. There is just so much action and suspense topped with excellent characterization. I seriously cannot wait for the arrival of book two given how this novel ended, and I can only image how much more fierce of a world of Rome will be. Seriously, if you love history and awesome ladies, pick up The Valiant ASAP.

ARC Review – Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

28114583Title: Midnight Without a Moon

Author: Linda Williams Jackson

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Midnight Without A Moon is a timely read given the world’s political state at the moment. While it is a historical novel based on the event of Emmett Till’s murder in the summer of 1955, a lot of the events in this story are sadly things that are still happening in today’s world. While Rose’s story is not new, but what Linda Williams Jackson presents in this story is reminder of the world before and a world we need to need to make better.

I loved Rose, by the way. I loved her curiosity, her tenacity and her kindness. She’s a character I feel like a lot of young women can identify with and respect, as she holds such strong ideals for a better world. What’s heartbreaking is that Mississippi seems to be a place that no one can escape from, and if you do return back, you are forever changed. What really saddened me was Ma Pearl’s response to Rose’s desire to leave, especially because there is this mentality to keep your head low and just do what you are supposed to — in a way I couldn’t fault Ma Pearl, but again it’s a mentality that is a product of the time period.

There is so much hardship and prejudice in this story, and it’s so easy to engage with and be reminded that we’ve both come a long way, but also have reverted back into primitive forms of dealing with racial prejudice and oppression. Rose is a fantastic character because she believes in bigger, better, ideals, and I found myself nodding along to her values and what she wanted throughout the story — to have acceptance.

I felt like I learned so much from this novel, and the way in which the historical information was presented was truly well done. It never felt overpowering (which can sometimes be an issue in historical fiction) and its integrated in a way where it just feels organic to the progression of the story. Jackson’s prose is also just so beautiful and raw, making this book so wonderful and thoughtful to read.

Midnight Without a Moon is a very powerful middle grade novel, and one that offers a lot of thought even after the book has long been completed. It’s timely, it’s smart, and it reminds that the world has a lot of growing still to do. Beautifully written and emotionally charged, this is an amazing debut novel that should be read by everyone.

ARC Review – Black Apple by Joan Crate

26113982Title: Black Apple

Author: Joan Crate

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Black Apple was an ARC I received last January, and it’s a book I put off reading until now. Why I did that, I couldn’t tell you. I love books about tough subject matters, but I am also a Canadian who is very prideful of her country. This novel focuses on a large blemish in Canada’s history, and one that shouldn’t be ignored: residential school systems that harmed s many of Canada’s First Nations.

This book was difficult to read, and that isn’t an understatement. Sniopak, or Rose Marie, as she is renamed at St. Mark’s, is a feisty young Blackfoot girl who is thrust into the residential school system, and is fighting to not lose her roots. She is treated fairly poorly by the nuns and fathers in the school, as she refuses to allow reformation to take hold of her.

Rose Marie’s story is sad, but not uncommon, as this blight went on for many years, unchallenged or unchanged, which is why Crate’s novel is such an important read. There was so much research and empathy that went into this story, and that I can applaud wholeheartedly. I was completely invested in the story, what was happening to Rose Marie and her friends, and I was so aggravated and disturbed by how the First Nations were being treated in this story. You feel a lot of anger, a lot of sadness, and its emotionally draining. However, the secondary characters do have a solid amount of personality, and they help to contribute to Rose Marie’s overarching story of trying to choose the right path: staying true to her roots or becoming religious.

However, I did have a few gripes. One issue was with the writing itself. Sometimes I really struggled to connect with the writing, even though the content itself was really strong. Crate is a poet by trade, so parts of this novel read with such a poetic mindset, but for me sometimes I found it read a bit awkwardly. The other issue I had came in the form of the ending, which comes across a bit too “White saviour,” which I wish wasn’t the case given how the romance in this novel blossoms. I like the way in which Rose Marie leaves St. Mark’s, I’m just not sure if that ending worked for me personally, though it’s really plausible too given that sometimes people can give us a way out.

I think Black Apple is a very interesting, if challenging read. While I did have some problems with it at times, I won’t deny how engaging the story was or how much Rose Marie as a character spoke to me. This was such an interesting look at Canada’s history, and I’d be curious to see if Crate decides that Rose Marie’s story needs a continuation.