Posts Tagged ‘Historical Fiction’

Bookshelf roundups” are just what they sound like: they “roundup” my latest reviews and upcoming reviews.

Recent Reviews

Yo readers! I’ve been reading a TON of YA, this month. Here’s the roundup, thus far:

First up was The Children of Icarus, a YA Fantasy by young author Caighlan Smith.

Children of Icarus

Kiersten White’s fabulous Alt Historical YA, And I Darken, was next:

My favorite of the bunch was a crossover fantasy from the 1980s: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.

The-Blue-Sword

I’m always looking for fantasies like this book, so I welcome your suggestions! This was a five-star, for me.

My latest review was of a new serial YA Dystopian called “ReMade,” put out by Serial Box Publishing.

Remade

Multiple authors, including the author And I Darken, Kiersten White, will contribute to this serial; episode one, authored by Matthew Cody, will be released on Sept 14th, 2016.

Upcoming Reviews

But in the next two weeks, I’ll be reviewing a couple of adult picks, in addition to an upcoming YA:

The Thief of Kalimar by Graham Diamond, a 1979 middle-eastern-flavored Fantasy that was recently republished as an ebook.

The Golden Torc by Julian May, book 2 of The Saga of the Pliocene Exile, an adult sci-fi published in the 1980s and republished by Tor in 2013.

Aaaaaand Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, a Latin-flavored YA Fantasy which will be published Sept 6th by Sourcebooks Fire. [Review now available!]

Labyrinth Lost.jpg

Isn’t that cover creepy!?

What have you been reading lately? What are you planning to read next? I do hope you’ll link your next “bookshelf roundup” to this post so I can see what you’re reading, too!
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Grave Mercy

Premise: Ismae joins the convent of Mortain, the god of death, where she trains to become his assassin. Her most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she falls in love with her target, the illegitimate brother of the young duchess, Anne of Brittany. Historical Fantasy, 2012.

What I Liked: (1) The setting! This is good YA historical romance/fantasy. Brittany comes alive with the well-researched detail. The setting and atmosphere are the lovely, shining things about this novel. (2) Castle intrigue, how I love it. The big mystery is, “Who is betraying the duchess?” And the story really is about a conflicted and inexperienced, yet competent assassin fighting to protect the true royal of Brittany. It never devolves into a simple romance plot. The pacing slows down, at a few points, but I never lost interest, after I was hooked by the action in chapter six.

Other Stuff: (1) I didn’t like the first few melodramatic chapters—Okay, everyone, GO HATE ISMAE, the PERFECTLY INNOCENT ANGEL CHILD THAT NOBODY LOVES! Make her life A MISERY!!!!!!!—an irritation that was emphasized, in part, by the first-person present tense. But I got over that fairly quickly—by chapter six, I was hooked. (2) The characters are…well, their personalities aren’t very unique. Their motivations are, but they all sound the same, including Ismae. I think the first-person present tense also contribute to this. But the setting is enough of a character to make up for it. (3) The romance in Grave Mercy is both beautiful and melodramatic. They can’t just say, “Yeah, I think I’m in love with you. Let’s shake it up, baby.” No, it has to be all frustrated and shy and irritating. Siiiiiigh. Also, [Highlight to Read Spoiler:]I really wish we could have seen the wedding—because despite Ismae’s stupidly “strong career woman” answer to her man’s proposal, we know they’re going to get hitched. NOVELLA PLZ! (4) I wish there had been time for more about Ismae’s physical training, but the author would likely have needed to write two or three books (with separate adventures) to do it justice; and while this book is part of a trilogy, books two and three star different protagonists. I’m just going through Tamora Pierce withdrawals (since forever) and I haven’t found anything quite so spectacular to replace her females actually being knights and stuff, yet. There were some great scenes, though, wherein Ismae showed off her skills.

Overall: This story has flaws, but it’s quite engaging and well-crafted. I’m definitely going to read book II and possibly book III.

Recommendation: For readers who might like historical romance without tons of sex. For teens who are interested in history and light fantastical elements. Don’t read this if you’re weary of the common romantic pitfalls. There is no love triangle, but as I said, the romance isn’t the strong point of this story.

Also, the book trailer is fun!

****4/5 STARS

Click Covers for April Reviews!

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WildSeed2

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May TBR!

 

Premise: Anyanwu cannot be killed and Doro cannot die. When Anyanwu is chosen by Doro as his companion, she agrees to his breeding plans only to keep him from hurting her children. But Doro ends up needing more than just Anyanwu’s unusual gene pool to bring new meaning to his 4,000+ years of life. Historical Fantasy published in 1980 by multiple Hugo and Nebula award winning author Octavia E. Butler.

Why I Read This Book? Blame this quote: “[Doro] wandered southwest toward the forest, leaving as he had arrived–alone, unarmed, without supplies, accepting the savanna and later the forest as easily as he accepted any terrain. He was killed several times–by disease, by animals, by hostile people. This was a harsh land” (pg. 3).

About:  This book is a love story (although sometimes, I thought it was turning into a hate story) that spans ages of time and two different continents. Because of this, the atmosphere and settings change drastically throughout the course of the novel. But the fantasy component makes this book a power story, also. The long-lived protagonists seek out other people with unusual, inheritable powers (like mind-reading or healing abilities) and work to develop these powers through opposing methods (force vs cultivation). The inherited powers often drive their users mad, and the two protagonists react differently to this eventuality.

Themes: I don’t usually talk about themes, in my book reviews, because who cares? But this novel is so heavy, it would be pointless to write a review without exploring them. It explores some common themes like the redemptive power of love; several specifically African themes, like the brutality and preciousness of life in pre-modern Africa and in the slave trade; it also examines more specifically American themes like race relations throughout our country’s history–but in a unique way, not just from the modern African-American perspective, but from the very powerful, very African perspectives of Doro and Anyanwu; and several more modern themes like the fluidity of gender. They are complex and interesting—Butler does not preach at us, in this novel.

And best of all, she manages all this in a tense, moving narrative.

The Cover & The Atmosphere: That first cover disturbs me, but it does accurately reflect the weirdness of this novel. The story and characters feel ancient, even barbaric. I had trouble relating to Anyanwu and Doro because they were so strong and other-worldly. There is a strong animal presence in them because they lived for centuries in the premodern times where survival was the virtue.

Overall: Read it! Seriously, this book is completely unique.

P.S., Trigger Warnings: There’s some weird sexual stuff in this novel—several historically-realistic depictions of sexually or physically abusive relationships, including incest. It’s really a beautiful story, but just FYI.

*****5/5 STARS

I would like to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you the book lover’s 7 booktag! Do steal it and pass it around. You can do it on Facebook, too…
A Book or Author You Wish More People Had Read:
The Scorpio Races!!! Everyone seems to have read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver series (which I don’t like) or her Raven Boys series (which is fine) but The Scorpio Races is by far her best. It won the Printz Award, a screenplay is being written and it is my most hearted book. Like, ever.
Scorpio
A BRILLIANT Book or Author You Just Discovered:
I adored Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth! The audiobook was absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this memoir. A fascinating look into the social problems, healthcare and midwifery of the 1950s east end.
callthemidwife
A Book or Author That Has Been On Your TBR List For WAY TOO LONG:
I have been meaning to read Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler for WAY TOO LONG, people, way, way too long. Ever since I read about it in Donald Maass’s Writing The Breakout Novel. Which was long ago. So I just checked it out and I’ll let you know what I think of it.
wildseed
Your Last Guilty Pleasure Read:
Hehe. Vampire Academy. I was quite surprised by the character-building and the structure in Mead’s world. I particularly liked the social fabric between the guardians and the Moroi–the stigma of being a “blood whore,” the single-mother situation among the female guardians, etc. That was really well developed and added credibility to the world.
vampire
A Book You Are Proud to Have Recently Finished:
The Penguin Guide to the Constitution, I suppose. *BRAG*
const
An Author or Genre You Need to Read More of: 
I tend toward children’s and YA because they’re quicker and often happier, so I need to read more adult fiction, particularly sci-fi and epic fantasy. Asimov, Brent Weeks, Mercedes Lackey, Vonnegut, etc.
A Book or Author that Really Is Next TBR:
Well, I’m currently alternating among three: Brandon Sanderson’s lively Mistborn: The Final Empire, Flannery O’Connor’s terrifying Wise Blood & the fascinating The Nations Within by Deloria and Lytle. After that? Wild Seed and probably The Martian.
mistbornwise bloodthe martianTheNationsWithin
I would love to hear your answers to the 7 questions! Link me to your post, if you do the tag.

englishHistory

This is sort of unrelated to my normal speculative fiction reviews, but I had to post about Great Tales from English History because, well, a lot of fantasy involves early English history, and I think Fantasy readers would enjoy the book 🙂 Also, even though the collection is almost more like a fun, episodic version of early English history than a book of tales, the chapters often involve mythological elements.

About: Lacey lays out short, informative tales from c. 7150 BC all the way up to AD 1381 in this first of three volumes. Every story is packed with detail and carefully presented to be interesting and inspiring for the casual reader (like me!).

My Favorite Parts: (1) Lacey describes each ruler’s personality in such a way that I’ll be able to remember them when I run across their names again, in other readings. (2) It’s a great volume to read alongside a more expansive book of history. I hadn’t been planning on supplementing the book with another, when I started it; but it was so interesting, I couldn’t help looking up more on several topics! (3) Lacey encourages readers to seek out primary documents to truly understand the past. It’s good advice.

This isn’t a history book; but it covers a lot of history in its various tales, and a casual reader can’t come away from it without a greater grasp of early English history.

Recommendation: This short book of tales is fluid and engaging enough for young adults, and maybe even children. Not to mention, ahem, adults. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Particularly for new writers wanting to write high fantasy in a European middle ages-like setting.

*****5/5 STARS

2008 Cover First Edition Cover FrontierWolf

YA/Adult Historical Fiction; originally published 1980

Premise: Twenty-three year old Alexios failed his last command miserably, but he’s determined to prove himself when he’s given a second chance: a new post commanding the feisty legionnaires on the edge of the Roman Empire—the men known as “The Frontier Wolves.”

About: Apparently Rosemary Sutcliff is quite famous in Britain for her legions (hah, pun intended) of fiction about Roman Britain. This particular book was recently re-marketed as YA fiction (in 2008), but it could also be really appealing to adults. I think Sutcliff actually wrote it as adult historical fiction that also appealed to youth. But Alexios’s age—and the lack of sexual content—make it appropriate to young adults and even children who are good readers.

My Thoughts and Feels: One Goodreads reviewer mentioned “understatement” as one of Sutcliff’s best tools in this book, and I agree, especially in relation to the characters. Compared to the flawed, loud and lovable characters of much modern fiction, these characters seem simple and quiet. There’s nothing particularly special about them—they are understated. But when they fight, you cheer; and when they die, you ache. Alexios is a good, old-fashioned hero. He accepts his mistakes, learns and pushes on until he overcomes his next challenge, and his next, and his next. I love his character. As a whole, the others fade into the background, usually with one or two telling characteristics to tell them apart.

Usually, when I’m unimpressed with the cast of characters, I knock a star or two off the rating. But I’m going to go unprecedented with this book and give it five stars anyhow, because the setting was enough of a character to keep me enthralled. I absolutely fell in love with AD 300s Britain.

Also surprising is the very slow plot in this book. I forget exactly where the plot actually began, but it was somewhere near the halfway point. Thankfully, the commander had enough work at the fort that I hardly noticed the plot lack until later. (It reminded me a lot of Lady Knight Keladry’s command at Fort Haven, in the Protector of the Small Quartet by Tamora Pierce.) So I decided not to take off a star.

Overall: So there you have it: a book that manages, with little to no character development and a plot lag of epic proportions, to five-star impress me. Just a good, old-fashioned hero on a good, old-fashioned quest (of sorts). No girls, no dramatics, no contrivances, no voice, no modernism, no head-games or trickery. Just Alexios, his honest mistakes and his hard-earned successes.

I already checked out another Sutcliff book that turned out to be a part of the same series. I didn’t know that Frontier Wolf was part of a series, even after I finished it, because it flowed so nicely as a standalone. But I’m definitely going to read more. And I have my eye on another of her adult fiction titles as well…

Recommended: Yes, absolutely! To fans of historical fiction and British history that isn’t epic or boring. I would also recommend this to parents who want to get their teens interested in historical fiction.

*****FIVE STARS