Tag Archives: historical fiction

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.

ARC Review – A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith

27414389Title: A Darkly Beating Heart

Author: Lindsay Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.

Huge thank you to Macmillan for sending me an ARC of this book for review!

Molly’s Review:

Okay, so I know that this book doesn’t come out until October, but I HAD to read it as soon as I got it. For those of you who DON’T know, I lived in Japan for seven years and I generally find a lot of issues with YA books set in Japan. I’ve kinda taken it upon myself to read them and pick them apart. So I went into this book both excited and leary because I don’t believe that the author has actually lived or even spent a significant amount of time LIVING in Japan (I did read her author’s note and she went there for a vacation, I know).

That said I REALLY enjoyed this book. This is the story of a troubled Japanese-American girl who goes to Japan to stay with her Uncle and cousin while she tries to work out her issues. She’s waiting to hear back from colleges and planning her own perfect revenge against… well you find out later on who and why, but for most of the book you just get glimpses at those who wronged her.

Reiko is an angry girl. She’s a cutter (trigger warning) and she spends A LOT of time thinking about how she’s going to kill herself and get revenge on her ex-girlfriend, brother, parents, and later this extends to her cousin and friends. We find out that Reiko had a passionate relationship with a girl named Chloe who unleashed Reiko’s dark artistic side. Reiko is swept up in Chloe’s orbit and does thing that she normally wouldn’t, which later gets her into a lot of trouble.

While in Japan Reiko works for her Uncle’s web design company and spends time with her cousin and the other employees who are also employed by the cousin, Akiko, who is trying to become a J-Pop idol. Akiko has her own lifestyle brand that she’s trying to sell via her youtube channel, blog, cell phone novel and website. The other employees are basically her entourage as she tries to find ways to get her name out there. And Akiko’s boyfriend, who is a washed up idol himself, gets Akiko a gig at a culture festival in a remote Japanese village.

So the group travels to Kuramagi village where Reiko is swept away to another time, the Edo period, where she inhabits the body of a young woman who is filled with her own rage and revenge plots. Reiko loves being in Miyu’s body and feeling all of Miyu’s hate. At first, when Reiko time travels, she thinks that her antidepressants are making her crazy and she gets rid off them. But we later find out that something much more sinister is happening, something that happens every year at the festival, something that the village is desperately trying to stop.

So the story was good, I really enjoyed it. As for the writing I thought that the whole”I walk the path of vengeance, I must get my revenge” parts were a LITTLE heavy handed. Like, we got it, Reiko is angry. And while I liked the glimpses of what had happened, and we do get the full story by the end, I was sometimes frustrated that I didn’t have a full picture and was just filling in gaps and wasn’t quite sure if I was even right.

As for the Japanese aspects a lot of them were pitch perfect. My only two nitpicks are:

1. Why in the world did Smith keep using the world “pallet” for a futon!? This boggled my mind to no end. She uses TONS of Japanese words (well) in the text with either direct translation or translation that follows not too long after. But the entire time they were sleeping on “pallets”. And I really don’t see why the word futon wasn’t just used, defined, and then used for the rest of the book.

2. Names. In Japan it’s Surname followed by Given name. There are many different honorifics that are used much like Mr/Mrs, Sir/Ma’am etc. Usually these name conventions fall away around foreigners. In the group and at work they should have ALL been referring to each other by Last name + san. Instead they all use first names. I chalked this up to them being around Reiko and falling out of the convention because of her, but from my own experiences even around myself the Japanese people (especially while speaking Japanese) would not have used first names. So while Reiko was being called Reiko and using everyone’s first names, Akiko would NOT have been calling Kenji by his first name unless they were VERY good friends and even then she probably should have added “kun”.

And then in the Edo period it was very odd that everyone was again using first names. Especially for Miyu who was so hated. And she would not have called Jiro by his first name from the very start. I’m not even sure if she would have used it after they got closer.

So yeah, those were my only two real issues. The rest of the Japan stuff felt very authentic and true to my experiences as well as those around myself. I enjoyed that Smith didn’t get too heavy with the “weird” Japan and that she really seemed to have a grasp on the lifestyle brand culture that Akiko was going for. Major props.

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

I love books set in Japan despite having never visited. There’s always something very atmospheric and lore driven, which A Darkly Beating Heart follows to a tee. I loved how well put together the story was, I thought the characters were very interesting, and the use of time travel was something quite special given our heroine goes backwards in time.

I loved Reiko and I thought she was a great character. I feel like we get such a huge sense of her emotions, her desire for revenge, and how she is struggling to define her anger given her circumstances. I also loved the Miyu half, because I think it perfectly manifests angry and aggression in a way that feels almost symbolic given Miyu’s story. They were a neat fusion of characters, and I liked how Smith blended them together.

I also thought the way idol culture was presented was really interesting here. Aki comes across like quite the nutjob at times, but it’s because you spend a lot of the story seeing her as her brand rather than a person. She’s malicious and calculating at times, but it’s interesting because you see it more from her being a businesswoman than just that type of person outright. It also doesn’t help that certain characters really pander to her branding, which made for some great moments in the story. Personally, I liked Kazuo. He likes the PlayStation Vita, which makes me happy given that no one seems to love the Vita.

While I think the ending wraps up a bit too neatly, I do love this story and I think Smith has a knack for doing balanced research and transforming it into an interesting narrative. I loved reading her Author’s Note where she explains where her inspiration came from, as well as the extent of her research went. There’s a great sense of tension and emotion in A Darkly Beating Heart and if you love books that feel dark and mysterious, check this one out.

ARC Review -The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz & Hatem Aly

29358517Title: The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Author: Adam Gidwitz & Hatem Aly

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: 1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead.
As the narrator collects their tales, the story of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Their adventures take them on a chase through France to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned. They’re taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. And as their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Revie

Let me preface this review by saying I knew nothing about this book going into it, and the first chapter basically wrecked me into a ball of tears. The rest of the book, thankfully, wasn’t that way, but it just goes to show you that sometimes middle grade books will throw interesting curve balls to get the reader engaged.

This book largely focuses on three children and their holy dog, but their story is actually being told by a large variety of narrators: a nun, a barmaid, an inquisitor, etc. Each character has their own version of the events in the novel, providing snippets of truth that focuses the reader to play a bit of a guessing game. With so many unreliable narrator’s,The Inquisitor’s Tale makes for such an interesting read.

The book is not for the heavy of heart — it’s an emotionally draining and exhausting read where you want to cheer for these characters. You as the reader feel like you are following their journey, partaking in both their successes and sorrows as well. There’s very well timed humour, and the children are really delightful as their are unique. Even just how the story unfolds is very unique in itself, and it makes for an interesting reading experience as well.

Also there is an intense about of research in this book, and I loved reading Gidwitz’s Author’s Notes at the end as to where the inspiration of the novel comes from. I really had no idea that the holy dog was in fact a thing, but there ya go. Fun, cheeky, and emotionally draining, The Inquisitor’s Tale is a ton of fun for those looking for an adventure that feels both entertaining as it is timeless.

ARC Review – Trouble the Water by Frances O’Roark Dowell

27206433Title: Trouble the Water

Author: Frances O’Roark Dowell

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Callie is fearless, stubborn, and a little nosy. So when she sees an old yellow dog wandering around town by itself, you can bet she’s going to figure out who he belongs to. But when her sleuthing leads her to cross paths with a white boy named Wendell who wants to help, the segregated town doesn’t take too kindly to their budding friendship.

Meanwhile, a nearly invisible boy named Jim is stuck in a cabin in the woods. He’s lost his dog, but can’t remember exactly when his pup’s disappeared. When his companion, a little boy named Thomas, who’s been invisible much longer than he, explains that they are ghosts, the two must figure out why they can’t seem to cross the river to the other side just yet…

And as Callie and Wendell’s search for the old dog brings them closer and closer to the cabin in the woods, the simmering prejudices of the townspeople boil over.

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

Sam’s Review:

This was a book that wasn’t on my radar at all and it was sent to me unsolicited. I am a sucker for dogs being on the cover of books and this book is a few things: it’s a story of a dog becoming loved, two children from different sides of the fence becoming friends, and an issue of racism that is being propelled in segregated Celeste, Kentucky.

I adored this book and I loved it’s approach to a tougher middle grade subject matter. The friendship between Callie and Wendell is so beautiful and raw, and I love their connection to this dog who ends up lost. In fact, how the story of the dog was handled was quite lovely, very mysterious, as well. There’s an interesting ghost story and I won’t spoil this, but it was such a fascinating storyline that’s a part of the novel. SO GOOD.

And then there’s the segregation plotline, which was well researched and really done well. The town hates the friendship between Callie and Wendell, and it gets to levels where it’s so heartbreaking how they are treated. In fact, how racism effects the children just made me so sad at times. The ending is satisfying though, and it reminds readers about a point in time that was so horrible, and how even now how things still need to improve. This one is definitely worth powering through, as everything about it left me thoughtful. Check this one out!