Tag Archives: historical fiction

ARC Review – Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk

Title: Blood and Sand

Author: C.V. Wyk

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Roma Victrix. The Republic of Rome is on a relentless march to create an empire―an empire built on the backs of the conquered, brought back to Rome as slaves.

Attia was once destined to rule as the queen and swordmaiden of Thrace, the greatest warrior kingdom the world had seen since Sparta. Now she is a slave, given to Xanthus, the Champion of Rome, as a sign of his master’s favor. Enslaved as a child, Xanthus is the preeminent gladiator of his generation.

Against all odds, Attia and Xanthus form a tentative bond. A bond that will spark a rebellion. A rebellion that threatens to bring the Roman Republic to its end―and gives rise to the legend of Spartacus…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure what to make of Blood and Sand when I started reading it. I loved the idea that it was a lady!Sparticus story, but if I am being honest, this one took me awhile to get into. The writing wasn’t my cup of tea from the start and I had a hard time connecting with Attia, which I recognize was somewhat the point at the beginning.

This is a book that needs to build, so there’s a lot of information at the start about the world that Attia inhabits. Once she’s in the arena, this book turns on in a great way. The action sequences are clearly this book’s strong suit, as Attia is quite the lady badass. However, I couldn’t stop drawing parallels to Lesley Livingston’s The Valiant as I was reading this book, and I’ll admit, I liked that one a bit better just because the pacing and writing in Livingston’s book had a good push to it. I recognize that this and The Valiant have their differences, but at times I couldn’t stop thinking about what made them similar.

I will say that I wasn’t fond of the romance between Attia and Xanthus. A lot of the time Xanthus’ behaviour just rubbed me completely the wrong way. Again, I don’t mind a romance formed by an unlikely bond, but there I just couldn’t get into their romance and found myself skimming those sections because I really just wanted to go back to the political intrigue and the battle scenes.

Blood and Sand is a decent debut, but not without its ups and downs. I think once the world was established, the book truly hit its stride for me and I was enjoying the politics and struggles that Attia had to overcome, but parts of the book just fell short for me. I think this will appeal to readers who love bad ass ladies (which I do love) and who don’t mind a slower build up. The mix of fantasy and historical fiction is interesting, but I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with the series.

ARC Review – Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy & Ali Fadhil

Title: Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein

Author: Jennifer Roy & Ali Fadhil

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: At the start of 1991, eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil was consumed by his love for soccer, video games, and American television shows. Then, on January 17, Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein went to war with thirty-four nations lead by the United States.

Over the next forty-three days, Ali and his family survived bombings, food shortages, and constant fear. Ali and his brothers played soccer on the abandoned streets of their Basra neighborhood, wondering when or if their medic father would return from the war front. Cinematic, accessible, and timely, this is the story of one ordinary kid’s view of life during war.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was intrigued by Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein when I heard about it during Raincoast’s Fall #TeensReadFeed preview. It’s a story about living through bombings, yet still trying to live life despite constant fears. This book takes place during 1991 when Saddam Hussein goes to war with the United States. Ali Fadhil, an eleven year old boy, who just wants a normal life of loving soccer, video games and American television.

This was an interesting read since it’s grounded in historical events. Ali is such a sweet main character who seeks normalcy with his friends and family. His siblings Ahmed, Shirzad and Shireen are also such wonderful characters. You learn so much about their family life and how as children they have to cope with a war that is surrounding them. I felt so many feelings read this book, from sadness to laughter. There’s a lot of emotion in this very short read and a lot of Ali’s feelings truly pack a punch.

Overall, I really enjoyed Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein. It’s a very compelling read, and the author’s note is really intriguing given Ali’s life situation and who he becomes much later in life. I wish there had been a bit more characterization to all the other characters as they did feel a touch one note, but since this book is more about an event and a family’s connection to it, I can be forgiving. This is a great story and an absorbing read.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe & Lilit Thwaites (Translator)

Title: The Librarian of Auschwitz

Author: Antonio Iturbe & Lilit Thwaites (Translator)

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust. Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. 

Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Librarian of Auschwitz is a novel based on the life of Dita Kraus, a young woman who risked her life to protect literature in a Nazi death-camp. Dubbed “The Librarian of Auxchwitz,” Dita made it her priority to protect the books that were found on the grounds, while also helping those in need during a period of turmoil.

This book is depressing, but important. There is so man sad and horrifying moments that remind you how truly dreadful human beings are. This book reminds readers of the horrors of the Holocaust and how difficult that event truly was. I loved Dita’s courage in the story and I appreciate that as someone as young as she is, she decides to be brave in a place where bravery could potential mean death. There’s a vividness in this translation that gives the reader the sense of tragedy and foreboding. There is discomfort, fear, and sadness in these pages, and I found myself truly feeling for people represented in this story.

This book shows so much hope in the darkness, and while I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, I appreciate the learning opportunities that come from a well researched book. The Librarian of Auschwitz is a slow read, but a thoughtful one throughout.

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.

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.