Tag Archives: genre: historical fiction

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Series: Flame in the Mist, Book 1
Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Mariko, the daughter of an influential samurai, finds she has few choices in life. Though she is intelligent, skilled, and driven, her place is to marry the son of the emperor and do her duty to her family. But when her convoy is attacked by the Black Clan on her way to the imperial city, Mariko escapes and finds herself alone. Using her cunning, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan in disguise, and she soon learns there is more to the story of this rogue gang that she had imagined. She also finds that the Black Clan values her knowledge and skills in a way her family never seemed to do. And as she grows closer to the Black Clan’s leader, she finds she may need to make a hard decision about whether her duty to her family is the most important thing for her to consider.

I was a little uncertain of what to expect when I started this book, having only scanned the blurb but hearing a lot of buzz about it beforehand. It is certainly an intriguing story, one where history, social class, and vengeance are big influencers on the lives and actions of the characters. There are a few surprises along the way, which keep the story interesting, and it does a good job of setting up the rest of the series. I will note that while I have seen some categorizations of this as a young adult book, I question that–or at least place some caveats–because of some graphic depictions of violence that may not be appropriate for younger readers.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher via the First to Read program.]

There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon

There Your Heart Lies

There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon

Published by: Pantheon Books on May 9, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Marian never really felt like she fit with the rest of her family, with the exception of her brother, Johnny, who she felt was truly a kindred spirit. And after his tragic death, she broke ties with them and headed to Europe to volunteer during the Spanish Civil War. Now in her nineties, Marian relays her experiences to her granddaughter, Amelia, telling a story that spans two continents and over seven decades. Having been tested by family, friends, strangers, and circumstances, Marian’s story challenges notions of what it means to be a woman, a sister, a daughter, a mother, and a moral person in the face of adversity.

If you enjoy historical fiction and character studies, then this is a book you would be likely to enjoy. Mary Gordon weaves a tale that keeps you turning the pages, watching and waiting to see what happens next in Marian’s journey. Her story is a reflection of an eventful life lived, one of a woman who did the best she could despite the circumstances in which she found herself.

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Cold Summer

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Published by: Sky Pony Press on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Kale Jackson has an exciting special ability, but it is one that he is beginning to think is not quite so exciting anymore. He travels through time. That might sound fascinating to many people, but Kale cannot control it. Though he can usually tell when he’s likely to travel shortly before he does, he can’t stop it or force it to happen. And with his recent travels taking him back to World War II, fighting on the front lines as a sharpshooter, the danger has taken much of the fun out of the whole experience. Of course there’s also the fact that he cannot explain to most people why he disappears for days at a time without any notice. They would never believe him–including his own father.

But one person who has always believed Kale is Harper, a childhood friend who used to live next door. And when Kale finds out she’s returned for the summer, he has the smallest glimmer of hope that quickly fades. In the years that have gone by Kale has changed. But so has Harper. Although she promised she would never ask Kale where he travels, she is more assertive and insistent that Kale not resign himself to being alone. The two quickly reforge a friendship that has the potential to become something more. That is, until Harper looks up Kale’s involvement in World War II online. What she finds has the potential to change everything.
This is a wonderfully written young adult science fiction story that doesn’t rely on all of the tropes that are so common these days in the genre. Yes, there’s angst and a budding relationship, but they don’t drive the story. Instead we see Kale, a young man who feels very much at the mercy of this thing he can’t control or explain, finding his way back to feeling like he has some agency over his life. And we see Harper, a young woman who has recently claimed her own agency, working to feel comfortable with her choices while trying to help Kale do the same. And everyone will have to love Uncle Jasper. Definitely recommended reading!

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.]

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

June

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Published by: Broadway Books on February 14, 2017 (originally published May 31, 2016)
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Cassie Danvers has isolated herself in her family’s estate, needing the time to herself to mourn the loss of her grandmother, June. And she really would like to be left alone. Which is why she’s none too happy to be disturbed by a man she’s never met before. And she has no idea what to think when he informs her that she’s been named as the sole heir to the fortune of Jack Montgomery, a famous movie star. Jack has two daughters who have their own interest in the inheritance, and they would like Cassie to submit to a DNA test to prove she has no claim to the money. But, again, Cassie just wants to be left alone.

Contrary to Cassie’s wishes, Jack’s daughters soon show up on Cassie’s doorstep, not willing to let their father’s fortune get away from them. And in between flashbacks to June’s childhood, they begin to understand what it means to be family, famous, and fortunate.

There are some interesting twists in this one that I will admit I did not see coming. It proved to be just enough to keep me interested and turning the pages to see what would happen next. The flashbacks to June’s story were helpful in understanding how things got to their current state, but they didn’t always have a strong connection to an overall thread in moving the plot forward. That said, it all builds to an unexpected ending.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via BloggingForBooks.]

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Published by: Bloomsbury on September 20, 2011
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Princes in exile generally know they cannot expect too many great things out of life. Which is where Patroclus found himself when he was sent to the court of King Peleus. What he did not expect was to become friends with the king’s son, Achilles, and forge a quick and defining bond. The two become fast friends and there is the lingering sense for Patroclus that their connection might mean something more. A sense that Achilles’s mother, the sea goddess Thetis, does not appreciate at all. And Thetis makes it her mission to keep the two of them apart–for her son’s own good, obviously.

But things change for everyone when Helen of Sparta is kidnapped. Princes from all around are asked to join in the fight–and Achilles cannot escape the call. Despite the danger, Patroclus must decide whether to go with Achilles into battle, knowing in his heart that they cannot live apart. And knowing that the battlefield might just be where everything about both of their lives is truly tested…

I’ll be honest that I was a bit sold on this book before I even opened it up. Mythology, fantasy, romance, etc. are all things I tend to enjoy. But when I opened it up and fell into the story that Madeline Miller crafted, I was surprised at the wonderful construction of this book. Telling epic tales is not easy. It can be even more challenging when it is a story with which many readers may already have some familiarity. But Miller’s narrative is fresh, engaging, and compelling. And this has quickly risen to near the top of my favorite mythology-based novels. If you haven’t read it and have even a passive interest in any of its genre tags, considering picking it up at your earliest convenience!

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin

Last Train to Istanbul

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin

Published by: AmazonCrossing on October 8, 2013 (translation)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Selva is the daughter of a traditional Turkish man who disowned her when she decided to marry Rafael Alfandari, son of a prominent physician–and a Jew. As much as it pained her to lose the connection to her family, Selva had to follow her heart. And to get out of the shadow of disapproval from both sets of parents, Selva and Rafael relocated to France where they had a son and made a life for themselves. But things changed quickly when the Nazis invaded France and began seeking out and rounding up Jews. While Turkey, being neutral in the conflict, has been able to keep some of their Jewish citizens from being taken, they worry that they may not be able to protect them in the face of continuing extreme approaches by Nazi officials. In an effort to keep their citizens safe, Turkish officials arrange for a train to bring a single car of Turkish citizens home. But for people like Selva, whose community includes friends who are not Turkish but are clearly in danger, there’s a compulsion to take a risk to protect them. And it’s a risk that could lead to consequences for everyone…

This is a wonderfully-written and well-researched piece of writing that I am so glad I took the time to read. While this period of humanity’s history is challenging to approach and read about, I think it’s incredibly important that we don’t simply ignore it. And thankfully this story provides the contrast between those who acted with very little regard for others and those who are willing to risk themselves in service of doing what’s right. You’ll quickly become connected to these characters. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll enjoy an excellent story that embodies the better aspects of our nature.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Series: Untitled Series, Book 1
Published by: Del Rey Books on January 10, 2017
Rating: 5 stars (★★★★★)

Vasilisa (Vasya) lives with her family in the Russian wilderness, where the winters are hard and long but they work together to make it through. And one of the hallmarks of those winter nights is the gathering of the children around the oven to hear tell of fairy tales and legends from their history. They are stories that are being quickly left behind with the spread of Christianity throughout their lands. But Vasya knows there’s some truth to them. She can see the household spirits–the subject of several of the nightly stories. Vasya also knows that as people stop paying mind to these spirits, they become weak and lose their hold over the families land and the ability to keep them protected from more malevolent beings. And there is a danger lurking just beyond the trees waiting for the right opportunity to leap out from the shadows.

I struggle with where to begin with this story because I want to avoid spoilers as much as I can. I even feel like my synopsis above might be too much if it wasn’t for the fact that most of this information can be gleaned from the publisher’s blurb. But I will say this is an excellent fantasy title, referencing mythology of Russia with a strong emphasis on family dynamics. The characters are well written, especially Vasya who faces a number of challenges and moments of growth throughout the book. And the narration easily brings this world to life on the page.

This is the first book in what the author plans to be a trilogy–I certainly look forward to the next installment.

Man & Monster by Michael Jensen

Man & Monster

Man & Monster by Michael Jensen

Series: The Savage Land, Book 2
Published by: Buddha Kitty Books on January 4, 2017 (re-release)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Cole Seavey knew it might not be the best idea to venture west on his own. But he needed to get away from his life back east and he figured he might see if he could catch up with his brother out on the frontier. But a run-in with a cougar as he tried to save a young child in the middle of the woods left him in the path of a much more dangerous and mysterious creature. And it also left him on the run without any of his supplies. He’s saved by a Delaware Indian name Pakim and he quickly finds himself pulled into the politics and drama of the local community. But the creature he encountered in the woods isn’t going away, and more people are going missing or reporting sightings of something strange in the forest. When it finally makes a move that could bring them all down, Cole and Pakim realize they might be parted–just when they’ve started to connect on a deeper level. Is this just Cole’s luck? Or is there a chance they will both make it out alive?

This is a very well-written historical m/m romance, which is a genre I absolutely think we need more of in the world. We know that there were certainly LGBT people during these eras in history, but because they had to keep their lives hidden most of their stories are lost to us. I love the idea of thinking about what life may have been like and filling in those gaps with good stories just like this one.

This is the second book in a series, but there is no need to have read the first book to dive into this one–it can live as a stand-alone novel. I’ve not read the first book, and I had no problems understanding what was going on or following the story.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Flight of Magpies by K.J. Charles

Flight of Magpies

Flight of Magpies by K.J. Charles

Series: A Charm of Magpies, Book 3
Published by: Samhain Publishing on October 28, 2014
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Life for Stephen Day has never really been what one would call normal. But things are getting weird even for him. The justiciary is still in the process of rebuilding their forces, and one of the apprentices may be going mad with power. Of course, this only adds to the stress between Stephen and his lover, Lord Crane. A stress that comes to a head over the investigation of a theft in which Crane finds himself the victim. Can Stephen help solve the theft, figure out what’s going on with the young apprentice, and keep his relationship afloat?

I have enjoyed this series; the combination of historical and paranormal always has a way of drawing me in. And the characters here are the same characters that I’ve grown to enjoy reading about during the previous two installments. I have to say that I do feel like there’s just a little bit too much going on in this one, though. There’s the case at the core, there’s the drama with the justiciary, there’s the short-staffing of the judiciary–it’s just so many layers and makes things suddenly more complex than I feel they have been thus far. Perhaps I just wasn’t ready for this turn. I still enjoyed this book, and I absolutely recommend it. It just didn’t quite hit the spot in the way I expected it would.

A Private Gentleman by Heidi Cullinan

A Private Gentleman

A Private Gentleman by Heidi Cullinan

Published by: Samhain Publishing on February 14, 2012
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Lord George Albert Westin (“Wes”) is incredibly shy and introverted. His stutter often makes people look down upon him, including his own family. He tends to stick to himself and his garden. But when he hears of an exotic orchid that he needs to see, he ventures out to the home of a fellow gardener. It’s there that Wes meets Michael Vallant. Wes is drawn to Michael immediately, but there are many things about Michael he doesn’t know. Not only is there the issue of Michael’s profession, but there’s a much darker secret that connects them. Can Michael help Wes come out of his shell more? And can Wes help Michael work through his past? And will Wes believe Michael if he tells him the truth?

A great and well-written historical. These two connect in a seemingly unexpected way, and the story that connects them through their history is even more out of the ordinary. I enjoyed their interactions even though their relationship developed in a rather unorthodox way. In some ways, I’m still not sure how I feel about the interactions with Wes’s family, but it does play into the history of both men. Overall an interesting read.