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Historical Fiction

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh

February 29, 2020

The year is 1817, and seventeen year old dressmaker Celine Rousseau is fleeing from Paris. This is how she finds herself in the french Quarter of New Orleans, under the care (and watchful eye) of the Ursuline convent. Celine plans to restart her life in the lively carnival city, but soon, her wit and curiosity lead Celine to rebel against society’s constrictions, and right into the Court De Lions. This dangerous, underground elite society holds more power over the city than anyone would ever imagine— and there’s more to it than meets the eye. With grotesque killings and a mysterious murder haunting the city, Celine dives into this world brimming with magic, decit, feuds, and Sébastien—the alluring, quick-witted gentleman who leads it all. Celine is determined to find the killer, unearth this city’s secrets, and avoid falling in love— all while carving out a new future for herself.

In this book, Renée Ahdeih proves how versatile she is in her writing—from retellings, to feudal Japan, and now 18th century New Orleans. In her latest book, Ahdeih immerses her characters in a vibrant and alluring recreation of the French Quarter. Even readers without prior knowledge about the setting will still feel like they know the bustling streets and dark alleys personally, as they read her work.

Ahdeih uses multiple perspectives— some of them named, and a few mysterious. Although the majority was through Celine’s perspective, Ahdeih also included chapters from the past, and many from the killer. As a reader, it was eerie to watch the killer plotting, and picking their next target— than for Celine to discover them dead the next day. By using the multiple perspectives, she was also able to maintain many story lines at once, like clues that the reader had to piece together.

By giving the killer a voice, Ahdeih created a deeper character, instead of just another classic antagonist. It made me question whether the Court of Lions and Celine were truly innocent, or if maybe the killer had justification. Ahdeih doesn’t just give the reader a plot to watch from afar, but launches them into the story, and forces readers to question all of the characters, while attempting to solve the mystery.

Although I have never looked for mysteries when choosing books, This read has convinced me to do otherwise. I loved piecing together the clues with Celine. Ahdeih was able to create a remarkable mystery, without sacrificing the character development, or the relationships in the book. Ahdeih misleads both Celine and the reader, with obscure leads and hidden signs that will stun in the end.

The use of french dialogue by many of the characters added to their personalities, and made the setting come to life. Much of it, a reader could guess what they were saying, and some dialogue would have explanations as Celine thought about what was being said in her mind. However— there were a few times when it was difficult to understand, and felt like I was missing something intriguing or comedic.

The separate plots transverse multiple decades. Ahdieh is unique in the way she keeps her plots entirely separate, until the final chapters. This adds to the suspense, and helps build depth in characters—you can see different aspects of their personality. For example, watching the killer when they are younger and the protagonist of their own story, and present time— when they have changed dramatically, and are now the antagonist. The stories twisted together in the final chapters creating an action-packed, revelation-full, and stunning finale.

For readers looking for romance, this book will certainly provide. Celine and Sebastian’s relationship evolves beautifully throughout the story, yet never overpowers the plot. Celine is not helpless nor obsessive, which is a refreshing take on the classic enemies-yet-love-interest scenario Ahdieh implements. Because Celine is such a strong protagonist, and Sebastian goes so much deeper as a character than just their relationship, their romance is never stereotypical or predictable. Instead, it forms a realistic window into society during the 18th century.

Finally, the aspect that pushes this book one more step ahead is Ahdeih’s writing. She creates paragraphs like a poet, and the emotion behind every phrase is evident. Readers will linger on sentences packed with stunning diction, and metaphors that are carefully crafted. Ahdeih writes as if her words are not only prose, but free-verse poetry— and the result is magic.

“The creature inside Celine writhed beneath her skin, stirring to life.

No. Celine Rousseau was not a weathervane. She would not be moved by the Ghost’s presence as everyone else was.”

Ahdeih has created yet another masterpiece, which will enthrall readers from the first page, all the way to the thrilling last chapters. Readers who enjoy dystopia, romance, or simply a strong female protagonist will love this book— and long to to live in the world of Celine Rousseau.

Aelia

Penguin Random House, 425


Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

February 14, 2019

When a fifteen-year-old artist, Lina, is ripped from her home in 1941, all she can think about is her father, who has been separated from her brother, mother, and her. While she grieves for him, she is also terrified for her own life, as she makes her way through Russian territory to slave away with limited food and rest at work camp after work camp. She attempts to send her artwork to her father to let him know she’s alive—in hopes he will receive it and understand it’s from his daughter. As she and her family take on an incredibly harrowing journey, she learns the most powerful values are strength, love, and hope.

I fell in love with the characters in this book, especially the main character of Lina. She is developed flawlessly as a strong young lady who can fend for herself, even in the tough environment that holds her captive. She and her brother are unlike any other brother-sister pair I’d ever heard of or seen. Their cooperation and support for each other is heartwarming and will keep readers invested throughout the ups and downs of the conflict.

The plot was extremely suspenseful and fast-paced. The storyline is interesting because Lina and her family are constantly being moved from camp to camp, and the audience will want to follow them on their journey. I loved how Sepetys ended each chapter on a suspenseful note; this was another aspect that added to the fast pace.

Although Between Shades of Gray is a work of fiction, it is well researched, and Sepetys includes many details about World War Two. She describes specific places in Russia and Poland, where the work camps were, and exactly the cities they traveled through.  This made the book plausible and more enjoyable to read, knowing that it could have happened in real life.  

Lina’s art was a wonderful addition to the plot, because the reader is always curious about whether her art will reach her father, and if it did, how that would affect her story. It also helped develop Lina as a character, because the artwork gave her a passion that added to her personality.

Sepetys has also published two other historical novels that are just as compelling as this one: Salt to the Sea and Out of the Easy. I have only read Salt to the Sea, but it easily became my favorite book of the year. Between Shades of Gray is a must-read, and I guarantee that your perspective on war and violence will be forever changed.

Kate

Philomel Books, 338


The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Sage is a baker struggling with her mother’s death: alone in the world until she meets Josef, an elderly man in her grief group. They strike up an unlikely friendship, but everything changes when he asks her for an impossible favor and confesses who he really is—not the Little League coach and retired teacher as everyone assumes, but a former Nazi SS Guard. With her view of this man completely changed and her grandmother a Holocaust survivor, she must decide what to do about the favor he asked—one that may have legal consequences if she grants it but personal ones if she doesn’t—and whether to forgive him or give her grandmother the revenge she deserves.

This gripping novel by Jodi Picoult from told in five perspectives. It starts with just Sage, and the others come in when their characters are introduced and wind around her perspective. I thought this was effective because it allows Sage to be the main character and her story to be in the foreground, but it also gives the reader all the background information and additional stories to make the plot more interesting.

Another effective aspect of the distinct perspectives is that each is in a different font. This is helpful because, since the perspectives usually last around twenty pages, the fonts make it easy to know which one you are reading if you flip to a random page. I thought the length of these narratives was effective because the reader has time to really get into each one, but they aren’t so long that the audience forgets other pieces of the story. They are also all told in first person voice, which I think allows the audience to have a deep connection to each character. 

I thought that Picoult successfully withholds information, such as Josef’s real name and who the fifth perspective is. I found this effective because it keeps the reader wanting to read on to find the missing information. The perspectives also change at critical moments in the characters’ stories, which adds to the suspenseful tone.

Picoult meaningfully incorporates many genres, including historical fiction, realistic fiction, survival, and touches of fantasy and romance. This makes this book accessible for everyone, and although the historical and survival aspects were my favorite, the others added nice touches to the story, and I found myself enjoying them as well.

I would rate this book a ten out of ten for its well-developed characters and captivating plot line, and I would recommend it to everyone twelve and over. So what are you waiting for? Go grab a copy and prepare for a phenomenal read that you just can’t put down.

Maren

Simon and Schuster, Inc., 460 Pages.


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

February 11, 2019

Two sisters. 1939. Nazi-occupied France.

Vianne is twenty-eight and cautious. Her husband has left to fight, and when a Nazi requisitions her home she must make one impossible choice after another to keep her daughter safe. Isabelle is eighteen and rebellious. She is appalled by France’s surrender, and when her lover betrays her she joins the Resistance and risks her life time and time again to save others. As the war escalates around them, each sister embarks on her own journey of love, hope, and survival in Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.

Hannah did an amazing job crafting these two perspectives with opposite personalities. Vianne is always careful, which is reflected in all of her thoughts and actions, and Isabelle is more courageous, which is shown in all of hers. I found this effective because I could see two different sides of the story—this allowed me to gain a wider view of the plot.

This novel alternates between the perspectives of the two sisters every couple of pages, so the reader has time to settle into each narrative, but is also kept updated on each sister’s current situation. Hannah always switches perspective at critical moments in the characters’ lives, which makes the reader want to read on to find out what happens.

The diction that Hannah uses has strong connotations and sucks the reader into each scene, by making it easy to picture Nazi-occupied France through her vivid details. Another effective aspect of the book is the strong connection Hannah creates between the characters and the reader through the sisters’ carefully crafted, realistic personalities. This makes this book emotionally powerful—every feeling the sisters portray is echoed in the audience’s reaction.

Although The Nightingale is a novel, it is well researched and relates to real-world people, places, and events, which made it very plausible—I could prove everything in the setting and quite a bit of the plot, which left the protagonists as the only truly fictional element. As someone who reads partly to gain knowledge of history, this added to my reading experience. Another aspect of this book that I found effective was that Hannah managed to squeeze in themes about love, war, survival, and the human spirit, to name a few, which makes this book accessible and interesting for everyone.

The Nightingale was such a successful title that it will be coming out shortly as a movie, and although I am excited to see it, I just hope it will capture the features of Hannah’s incredible story. 

I would rate this book a definite ten out of ten for its incredible characters and captivating plot, and I would recommend it to everyone twelve or older. So go get a copy and prepare yourself for an amazing read that makes you wonder: What would you do if you were in Isabelle or Vianne’s situation?

Maren

St. Martin’s Press, 438 Pages          


Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

March 16, 2018

Racism is a problem that always seems to circulate through our society— no matter how many improvements we make as a country. It isn’t just rude remarks, or a racial stereotype. Racism is toxic and can consume a whole nation. But Dreamland Burning shows that, no matter the era, one brave person can change many lives.

Rowan Chase had no idea that the choice to investigate a century-old murder on her property could lead to the discovery of brutal, racist truths from the past. As she learns, she realizes the similarities between modern day issues and history’s conflicts.

Meanwhile, Will   Tillman is living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the roaring twenties. As he witnesses racism, he becomes aware of the harmful actions geared towards the black community. He sees how children are put in danger by racist minds. Will knows that racism is wrong and is afraid of it at first. But when a certain, defiant friendship ignites, he feels the need to help those in danger, even if it means risking his life.

Latham’s purpose in writing this book was to show the parallels between contemporary America and the past. She used the thrill of a mystery to keep the story moving and connect the two eras. She included both clues from Rowan’s discovery, and from Will’s life. As the lives of these two start to intertwine, the clues slowly add up. Latham sets up false information in both time periods so clues don’t always match, creating an unpredictable outcome. Readers don’t know the truthful information until the secrets are unveiled. This unusual mystery not only lets the reader follow the story of the detective but also chase the characters who are living the mystery.

Rowan starts out as a naive teenager who has yet to experience the harm of the world. William has been taught that whites are superior and has never second guessed his father’s words— until he is turned aghast by the unfair actions of white men. Latham develops the characters similarly and illustrates the way that change occurs in one’s actions based on events in his or her life. When writing, Latham had to carefully ensure that the characters and plots developed at the same rate. If she moved one faster than the other, then the mystery would be revealed prematurely.

Dreamland Burning gives the reader more than enough: a page-turning mystery, ideas to ponder, and relatable protagonists coming of age. It is clear that Latham has thought about how the present depends so much on the past. She has contemplated the recurring issues that haunt our society and knows that this unconventional mystery will urge the reader to consider these concepts as well.

Emerson

Little Brown, 365 pages


Refugee by Alan Gratz

Josef is a Jewish boy living in the 1930s in Nazi Germany. With the fear of being sent to concentration camps, he and his family board a ship headed for the other side of the world. Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and chaos infecting her country, she and her family get on a raft hoping to find safety in America. Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With the land being destroyed by violence, he and his family set out on a long journey toward Europe. All of these kids go on unimaginable journeys to find refuge. They have to face many dangers, but their courage will help them survive into tomorrow. Although the kids are separated by continents and decades, their stories all have an interesting way of coming together at the end of this novel: Refugee by Alan Gratz.

Even though this book contained three stories, Gratz told each effectively using a strong third person perspective and descriptive dialogue to make reader feel like they were there with the characters. Each character’s story would switch to another’s at the end of every chapter. Gratz made each chapter less than ten pages, so his audience wouldn’t forget what happened to any of the other characters in previous chapters. At the beginning of a chapter Gratz tells the character’s name, the place they are in, and how far away they are from their home. By doing this he made it easy to never lose track of where the characters are in the world.

What made the book the most interesting was how Gratz wrote the book so realistically— I felt like I was there with the characters. I could see their facial expressions, and I could feel their emotions. Everything he was describing in the book I could easily picture in my head. Gratz made it easy for me to understand what it was like to be a refugee in different times. He incorporated cliffhangers throughout, so I never wanted to put the book down.

What made this novel especially effective for me was how it changed my view on the refugee crisis across the world. I used to think refugees were like migrants, but Gratz showed me what it was like to be a refugee and how hard it is to be forced to leave your home and fight your way to another country to be safe. This book also revealed the problems some countries have and what effect those issues have on citizens. This story demonstrated how long refugees have been around and the struggles that they go through on their journeys.

Gratz hooked me throughout this historical fiction book: in three different times, with three different stories, from three different kids, with one goal in common— escape. I hope you will love Refugee and its story of courage and hope because this book has a rating way above 10.

Marcus

Scholastic, 317 pages


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

February 2, 2018

Liesel Meminger is a girl living in Nazi Germany, who learns to read with the help of her adoptive father. She steals books for more to read when her family, the Hubermanns, takes in Max Vandenburg, a Jewish man on the run from the Nazis. Liesel’s best friend, Rudy Steiner, convinces Liesel to join a band of teenage thieves who steal apples from farmers for food and helps her through many tough situations. The aforementioned Max is my favorite character due to his role and involvement in Liesel’s growing up.

I rated this book a ten out of ten because Zusak created such a rich and descriptive world with strong narration and characters. The strength of this book was in the little details Zusak used to paint pictures in your head, such as when Max would imagine boxing with Hitler. This could have been cut, and doing so might have made the book shorter, but not as powerful.

This book isn’t for readers who dislike sad novels. One of the literary techniques that Zusak uses is having death as a narrator. This choice helps represent such a dark and ghastly time. I recommend this book to ages ten and up due to the sad topic and story. However, the  theme was friendship after all the friendships that occur throughout the book and the important roles they play for the characters.

This was one of my binge reads. I was hooked from the first paragraph:

First the colors.

Then the humans.

That’s how I see things.

Or at least how, I try.

* * * HERE IS A SMALL FACT * * *

You are going to die.

This quote shows the strength of having Death narrate the book and the straightforwardness of his storytelling style.

I loved every page of this novel. The moment I finished this it was in my top three books. This book is life changing. It will make you change how you think about the Holocaust and the world.

Liam

Alfred A. Knopf. 552 pages.


The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King

January 27, 2018

It all starts when fifteen-year-old, gawky, recently-orphaned Mary Russell literally runs into fifty-four-year-old, retired Sherlock Holmes on Sussex Downs. Surprised and impressed by her intellect, Holmes reluctantly takes Russell on as his apprentice. Soon they are called to Wales to help Scotland Yard find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator. Once they return, Holmes and Russell find themselves on the run from a mysterious killer, and they uncover clues that lead deep into their pasts—and change them in ways they never imagined.

In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King develops Russell as a smart and humorous protagonist, who made me think about each choice that she made, and what influenced those choices. I found that she complements Holmes, with his gruff sarcastic demeanor, which made them an interesting pair to follow. This improved my overall reading experience, because even when there was a lull in the plot, the engaging protagonists ensured that there was never a boring moment.

I enjoyed how King crafted a fast-paced, suspenseful plot that was full of excitement, while keeping it from becoming scary. For me, this was critical because I am sensitive to frightening books, and I often have trouble finding a good mystery, so this novel was perfect for me.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice was a well-written book, where there were never any loose ends. Each choice the characters made fit in with where the plot was at that time.

King is knowledgeable about London, Oxford, and Sherlock Holmes; she often goes into depth about Holmes’ “Baker Street Days,” then compares one of his past cases directly with the current mystery. There are also many references to real world objects and places, which I found that this made the book more plausible: I could prove everything in the setting, which left the protagonists as the only truly fictional element.

These characters were easy to relate to, despite their unusual lives, which made this book one of the best I’ve ever read. I hope you will choose to read this amazing novel. Follow Russell and Holmes in a breathtaking mystery through London and beyond, in King’s first book of the Mary Russell series.

Maren

St. Martin’s press, 356 pages


The Rattled Bones by S. M. Parker

Rilla Brae’s life has taken a drastic turn. With her mother living in a mental asylum and her father’s recent death, she has to live with her grandmother on an island off the coast of Sabasco, Maine. Rilla has lived on this island her whole life, but one day she suddenly starts hearing voices at night. Not wanting anyone to think she is going down the same path as her mother, Rilla decides to keep her secret to herself. With her father dead, the only way for her to make a living is to continue to keep up with lobstering, as her father had before: a hard and low-paying job. But one day, while Rilla is out on her boat, she meets Sam, a student from USM who studies the neighboring island, Malaga. Rilla joins Sam on his expedition, and together they uncover life-changing secrets about the place Rilla thought she knew like the back of her hand.

One aspect I appreciated in The Rattled Bones was that author S. M. Parker tells the story through Rilla’s point of view. Using first person was effective because I always got a taste of how Rilla was feeling throughout the book. However, most books told through first person fail to develop the secondary characters as well. In The Rattled Bones, this was not the case. Simply through the dialogue, I could see what each character’s personality was like and how his or her feelings impacted the story.

Parker crafts each character’s personality amazingly. With Rilla telling the story through first person, you’d think you will only get a strong sense of her personality, but Rilla’s boyfriend Reed’s sharp and quick-to-talk personality, Gram’s stern but caring personality, and Sam’s kind and humble personality all shone through.

Another feature of The Rattled Bones that surpasses other novels is the effective mix of three genres: historical fiction, horror, and contemporary realistic fiction. Historical fiction comes in when Rilla and Sam learn about Malaga’s history, and the horror comes in with the voices and visions Rilla experiences. Some readers might think that three genres in one book is too much, but here they blended together perfectly.

I enjoyed how real facts were mixed into the story. For instance, when Rilla takes Sam lobstering, you learn true details about how lobstering works in real life. Other examples are the facts Rilla and Sam learn while exploring Malaga Island. It was impressive to learn information about Maine’s history that I didn’t know before, especially from a novel.

I also enjoyed the theme: there’s always something new to learn about a place you think you know like the back of your hand. Although Rilla has lived right next to the overlooked Malaga Island, she has no idea of the secrets it holds. Be sure to read the book, and you’ll find the secrets she and Sam discover.

I thought that The Rattled Bones was an amazing novel. With nothing to criticize, I would rate the novel a perfect 10/10. It was a real page-turner and was the perfect length. Readers who like a suspenseful plot, well-crafted characters, and a story with real facts mixed in will love this book, but I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading. So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself a copy of The Rattled Bones!

Forest

Simon Pulse, 370 pages


The Green Mile by Stephen King

John Coffey is a black man in the 1930’s with a mind that seems like a child’s. He has been put into the Cold Mountain Penitentiary on death row and has an appointment with old sparky (the electric chair) because he has been accused of killing two white girls under the age of twelve. However, his life on “the mile” (death row) gets changed when he meets the head of the mile, Paul Edgecomb, who starts to treat him differently and with a little more care. Coffey also comes from a very poor farm life and a family that was treated badly and experienced racism and prejudice.

In The Green Mile, Stephen King develops a strong protagonist who faces lots of challenges throughout the book and shows lots of character development. The longer John is on the mile, the guards start to treat him better than usual and get to know him better than the rest of the inmates, which leads to John getting special privileges—like Paul’s wife’s corn bread and other little perks.

I appreciated that the theme of this novel is that not everything is always what it looks like—not everything is black and white. There will always be unknown areas in every scenario. There will also always be injustice. For example, John says, “I’m tired, boss. I’m tired of people hurting each other for no reason.” That quote shows the theme that not everything is how it looks, and it also shows that John is not some crazy killer but that he wants the world to be a safe place for everyone.

I rate this book a 10/10 and would strongly recommend this book to anyone who likes an older setting and a fantastic story with lots of plot twists and a very shocking ending—or someone looking to try a new genre or author. Considering the length of this book, it was fast-paced and hard to put down.

Zephaniah

POCKET BOOKS, 536 pages


Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

March 21, 2017

Etta started to pull herself up, not caring that she was crying, just looking for fresh air and a path out of this nightmare. Instead, she climbed into the mouth of another one.

Etta is an extraordinary violinist with a mysterious mother and a loving music teacher. Nicholas is a legal pirate and daring sailor, whose mother was a slave. They have one thing in common: they can time travel. Yes, they can visit any place, any time period, as long as there is a passage. Etta’s mother keeps this gift secret from her, until Sophia—another traveler—pushes her into a nearby passage, after shots ring out in the present. Etta wakes up several days later to find herself aboard an unfamiliar ship and that her clothes and beloved earrings are missing. For Nicholas, however, his gift is more of a curse. It placed him in indentured servitude working for a family he despises. It is not until he meets Etta, that he begin to question the hearts of his “family”, and what their ambitions truly are. Together they go on an impossible journey through time to recover (and hopefully destroy) an astrolabe with the capability to create passages—Although they know that Cyrus Ironwood, their grandfather, wants it for darker reasons.

Bracken crafts the narrative well: the perspectives switch back and forth between Etta and Nicholas, while remaining in the third person. For example, Bracken leaves cliffhangers, and then the narrative will cut to the other character and whatever he or she is doing in that chapter. I thought that this was effective because it kept the plot moving and the readers on their toes, making them want to continue. She also cues time transitions effectively so readers can easily tell where and when they are. For instance, when there is a new chapter, she tells readers what time period the characters are in and what the year is.

I loved how Bracken develops not only the protagonists but also the secondary characters and antagonists. For example, Sophia is well-developed so that the readers can feel pity for her but also hate her for being rude and annoying to both Etta and Nicholas. Readers can also picture her well: her long dark hair, black eyes, and milky complexion. I also liked how Cyrus Ironwood was portrayed and described, because he seems like a mysterious and creepy man. The way he talks and takes control of even the air around him is disturbing.

Bracken transported me to unimaginable times, and indescribable places. I hope you will join me as a Passenger on this time traveling journey, because this is a book beyond rating.

Emma

Disney-Hyperion, 486 pages


Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

January 31, 2017

Black Dove and White Raven are the stage names of Delia, and Rhoda a team of female stunt-pilots. Traveling with them as they perform are their two young children, Emilia and Teo. During one of their shows, a bird strike crashes their plane and immediately kills Teo’s mother. Emilia’s mother, Rhoda, survives and adopts Teo. But in this novel’s particular time, 1930’s America, it is often considered suspicious to see a white woman raising a black adopted son alongside her own white daughter. Following Delia’s lifelong dream, Rhoda moves to Ethiopia so she can raise Teo where he won’t be discriminated against for the color of his skin. But soon after they arrive, war with the Italians threatens to push them out forever.

This historical fiction book by Elizabeth Wein (author of Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity) is told in the first person through a letter to the emperor from the present (March 4, 1936), and then a collection of stories from the past attached. Wein gives the reader an overall idea of all the different characters and incorporates the points of view of both Teo and Emilia using flight log entries. These logs give the reader a glimpse of the characters’ thoughts, almost like a diary, revealing untold emotions. Throughout the book , short stories that Emilia and Teo write foreshadow or explain complicated events in a simpler situation. Wein portrays the characters in a way that makes the story come to life.

Although the beginning of the book is slow to develop, the result is an action-packed conclusion. Wein’s detailed plot will make the reader laugh and cry alongside the characters. This heartfelt historical fiction novel would be enjoyed by anyone who likes a heroic adventure. I definitely rate this book a ten out of ten for its realistic and unforgettable story.

Arden

Hyperion, 345 pages


Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

January 27, 2017

Amari’s life had once been perfect: engaged to the man of her dreams, blessed with an adorable little brother, and living in a beautiful African village. But one summer day in 1738, this changes forever. Amari is captured from her home and brought to South Carolina to be sold. On the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic, she meets an older woman, Afi, who encourages her and lets her know that everything will turn out right. After spending a year at the plantation Amari realizes that being a slave is not what she wants for her life. She makes many friends that treat her like family, but after a tragic event Amari chooses to escape with two of her friends: Polly, the indentured servant, and Tidbit, the cook’s son.

I enjoyed how Sharon Draper wrote this novel in third person; each chapter focused on a different character, either Polly or Amari. Draper also wrote from family history, knowing that made the plot more believable. Her diction was amazing throughout the book­–it felt like I was reading poetry because every sentence was so concise, which made it a quick read.

The only aspect that didn’t work for me was how the author developed Polly; Draper made her a very stuck up, self-centered character, who didn’t add to the book. This made me look forward to reading the Amari chapters more than the Polly chapters.

I loved that this book was written about a hard, unexplainable time in America’s history, but wasn’t completely focused on the horrors of slavery. If you’re over twelve and are interested this time period, you would love this book. Over all, this optimistic historical fiction novel is a must-read, so pull out that Someday List and write down Copper Sun by Sharon Draper.

Ella

302 pages, Simon Pulse

 


Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

February 13, 2016

Rev_paperback_US“Yeah. Sure. My brother’s dead. My mother’s insane. Hey, let’s have a crêpe.”

Andi Alpers is just a seventeen-year-old girl living in the heights of Brooklyn. She plays guitar; and has a talented French artist for a mother and a brilliant scientist for a father. Sounds perfect, “ja?” — as her teacher Nathan would say. Not so much. Andi’s younger brother, Truman, was killed in a car accident, her father lives with his new young wife, and most of the time Andi’s mother catatonically paints pictures of Truman, which leaves Andi on her own. But after Andi attempts suicide at a party, she finds her father at her house trying to make sense of her mother who sits dazed at her easel, and wondering why Andi wasn’t there. Abruptly, he suggests that he and Andi go to Paris, so that Andi can work on her college essay and try to move on from Truman’s death.

When Andi arrives in Paris she finds an artifact she never expected to spark her curiosity: a diary. It belonged to a poor girl Andi’s age named Alex, living in the time of the French Revolution. As Andi continues to read the diary, the world of eighteenth-century Paris captures her in a way more real than she could ever imagine.

I loved how Donnelly incorporated so many different personalities in both Andi and Alex’s stories. Even the characters in Alex’s diary entries Donnelly made both Andi and the reader feel like the people described were real. The three characters that I loved the most in Revolution were Amadé Malherbeau, Virgil, and Prince Louis-Charles. I loved those characters because they all helped Andi discover who she was —I know it sounds cheesy, but trust me— in different powerful ways: Louis-Charles shows Andi the innocence of the monarchy in the French Revolution, Amadé shows her how the revolution affected the people and how not everyone is as good as they seem, and Virgil teaches her that she needs to open up and let people into her life. I think all of these lessons are important in anyone’s life, regardless of the French Revolution setting.

I thought it was interesting and effective how Donnelly constructed the novel using specific entries from Alex’s diary to describe her life, so that both Andi and the reader can get know her and deeply understand the struggles of her life. I also thought Donnelly’s use of an epilogue to end the book was effective and satisfying.

I think all readers will absolutely love this book—I definitely did. I rated it a definite eleven out of ten. It’s the perfect size for this type of novel—about 470 pages— but I promise you, it will go by fast. PLEASE: do not be swayed from reading this spectacular book by the cover image of a key. I think it distracts from the theme and plot of the book, which is about people and things changing, and only a bit about Andi and Alex’s connection to Truman’s key.

Be prepared with some tissues; this book is an emotional ride.

Hope
Random House, Inc. 473 pages.


Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

February 11, 2016

VengeanceRoadWhen Kate’s father gets killed for a journal that contains a map to a gold mine, she knows it’s up to her to get vengeance for her father and get back the journal. Kate dresses up like a boy and sets off to find the Western gang called the Rose Riders who stole the journal, but so far all she finds is the desert and two cowboys, Jesse and Will, and an Apache Indian. Will Kate find her journal without being caught, or anyone realizing she’s a girl?

This book is an action-packed Western novel, with surprises and turns that will make readers sad, glad, and mad. The book starts off with Kate at home with her dad and has action right from the beginning, which makes the book very fast-paced and exciting. The novel also is set in back the Wild West, which sets it apart: I haven’t come across many young adult books set around that time period. The book includes comedy, action, and romance, which is a perfect combination here.The author, Erin Bowman, makes the plot exciting and packed full of adventure, and also balances the book out perfectly so readers can understand what’s happening.

The protagonist, Kate, is an emotional character: she has so many different feelings in the book it’s hard to keep track of them all. She’s so determined in get revenge on the Rose Riders that you don’t even think about how soft inside she can actually be. Jesse and Will are two characters that I didn’t think were important at first, but then realized how key they really were. I just thought they were going to leave the main character at the nearest town, but I was wrong.

Erin Bowman makes every chapter engaging and ends each so you want to read more. She makes all the characters interesting. I really enjoyed this book. I would rate it a ten and recommend it to any young adult reader who likes action, adventure with horses, and long risky survival journeys. I hope anyone who reads this book will love it as much as I did.

Lexi
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 318 Pages


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

February 10, 2016

The HelpThis book is how I know words can make a difference. The Help by Kathryn Stockett showed me that anyone’s persuasiveness and determination can change a nation or state’s perspective on equal rights.

This novel is about a women named Aibileen. She is an African-American maid who lives in the south in the town Jackson, Mississippi during the year 1962. This is when equality between blacks and whites didn’t exist. She takes care of white families. A women named Skeeter Phelan wants to write a book about the life of an African-American maid, And she wants Aibileen to be that women. But Aibileen refuses. While Aibileen tells Skeeter that this book won’t work and isn’t worth it—that the publishers won’t go through with it—Skeeter’s determination to tell people Aibileen’s story skyrockets. Aibileen eventually goes through with it, and they immediately start interviewing.

These were the days before the Civil Rights Movement when African Americans and white people didn’t get along. They had riots, and there were no equal rights. The African-Americans had to sit in the back of the bus, or wouldn’t be allowed to sit at the counter of a diner. This is a book that teaches readers that everyone should have equal rights and that no one should be discriminated against because of their race.

Skeeter is a great character. She shows her determination and power, and fights to show that all states, especially her own Mississippi, should have equal rights.

One day when Skeeter goes to Aibileen’s house to interview her for the book, They are about five minutes into the interview and Skeeter asks a question that Aibileen is not very comfortable with; she just stops talking. Skeeter doesn’t want her to stop, so she tries to persuade her to keep going, but there no budge.

As you can see there is a lot of conflict in this book. Among all of the characters and in almost every scene. But as the book progresses… well you’re just going to have to find out.

Emma

­Berkley, 530 pages


The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

January 19, 2015

Lions-of-Little-RockMarlee is known merely as the mute math whiz at the end of the summer of 1958 in Little Rock, Arkansas. She hates to talk to people outside her family, and counts prime numbers in her head when she gets nervous. As the fight for integration rages through the town, Marlee’s own world starts to crumble when the high schools are shut down and Judy, her older sister and best friend, is sent away for school. Marlee is left with the company of her school’s queen bee, Sally, and her parents, who just don’t seem to understand her. Little does she know that when she meets Liz, the new girl in her grade with a “lovely tan,” her life will change forever.

Liz is everything Marlee isn’t. She’s outgoing, but, more importantly, she’s understanding, welcoming, and stands up for herself. As Liz is accepted in the middle school, a friendship blooms, and things start to look up in Marlee’s life. For once someone her age really understands her. But when Liz leaves school suddenly, Marlee figures out that Liz was passing for white. Marlee needs to make a decision. Will she do what is right or what is easy? She decides to do what’s right, and she continues her friendship with Liz secretly. Soon she discovers the true dangers that accompany her decision and that both their families are at risk.

I loved how Levine incorporated Marlee’s personal growth into the plot development. As the book unfolds, Marlee is forced out of her comfort zone and compelled. to do the right thing. The first-person perspective adds metaphor to the story, because Marlee has nervous tics that show her emotions. As I read this book, I realized how segregation affected everyone: Marlee’s neighbors, friends, and even family turn against each other in the fight for the integration in schools. The book fills with suspense when the wrong people find out that Marlee is still associated with Liz’s family. I couldn’t put it down. It fascinated me how people could actually get killed because of how they looked, and I admired Marlee for standing up for what she believes in. She learns to accept people for who they are and not their differences.

Everyone who reads this story will get lost as they are transported back into 1958, where no one was safe being themselves. They will travel with Marlee through her adventures. The Lions of Little Rock is a captivating book that will change everyone’s views on the civil rights movement forever.

 

Sydney

Puffin, 320 pages


Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers

January 30, 2014

Imagine that it’s the middle of the Vietnam War, and you’re in the center of it. That’s how it was for Richard Perry in Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers. Richard is sent to the wrong place accidentally. He was supposed to go into a shipping company that works for the Army, but instead he ends up right in the Vietnam jungle in the middle of the war. While he’s there he makes friends with another guy in the Army whose nickname is Peewee, and the rest of the novel explores how they are trying to survive the war and how they are able to sustain their friendship.

I really liked this book because it had a great lead that included all of the background information that is needed to understand the whole plot. I also liked it because in some war novels the author gives away too much, which makes the story predictable. Myers kept it unpredictable by making readers figure out some things for themselves. I also really liked how Myers introduced each character at his own time and with his own story. For example, when Peewee is introduced they talk about where they come from and why they joined the Army. It is enough that you get to know each character without it getting too confusing. I also like how Myers gave each character his own background story.

I appreciated that Myers gave Perry problems that anyone in the Army could face. I liked this because I thought it made the book very realistic. Ulitmately, I enjoyed Fallen Angels for the plot and also for how well-developed the characters were.

Tristam

Scholastic, 309 pages.


The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson

February 13, 2012

In this unforgettable book, Maureen Johnson creates a plot like no other. First, Rory Deveaux moves to a London boarding school. Then she realizes that a series of horrifying murders that have been occurring in the city are all in a radius of a couple of miles. There is something even more unusual about this string of bloody deaths. The serial killer is mimicking the style of Jack the Ripper, who terrorized London in 1888 in a similar fashion. The modern-day murderer is going to lots of trouble to get the details down to the same place on the same month and date. “Rippermania” becomes the “thing” to chat in fear about. Rory and Jerome, the boy that she likes, are acting a little too brave, visiting the murder crime scenes, trying to get ahead of the police, figuring out who the “new” Jack the Ripper is and Johnson definitely gets you wondering, “Is this really possible?” You, too, become part of the adventure.

Knowing previous books that Johnson has written, I was a little unsure at first about this one. Unbelievably girly covers and shockingly candy-coated plot summaries were her style before The Name of the Star. But I took a leap, trusted Johnson, and hoped that this book was different from the others. I love high-action, edge-of-your-seat books, and this one filled those expectations, as well as giving me a fun, brief history of what people do know about the real Jack the Ripper. No page was boring.

A week prior to starting The Name of the Star, my brother rented a Sherlock Holmes themed movie after watching, and loving, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which I also thought was a spectacular movie. This second film had a plot based on the actual Jack the Ripper of 1888. This is when I started to become more anxious to find out who this horrifying man really was. The Name of the Star finished my Jack the Ripper phase because it was so satisfying. I didn’t want any other story to change how I saw him. Even if you have no interest in the subject of Jack the Ripper, I advise you to give it a try.

So many wonderful aspects of this book made it a favorite. First, the setting and plot build up. I liked how the prologue is short and Johnson stuffs the problem into two well-written pages, which gives the book a fast-paced effect and sets the tone for the rest of the novel. I think this is hard and takes a lot of work. Good job, Johnson.

I also enjoyed the map of London at the beginning of the book. Sometimes a map is included in a cheesy fantasy novel, but this one gave me a sense of place and also set me up for the geography of the buildings, places, and crime scenes. Having visited London myself, it was interesting to see how close I’d been to all the murders scenes of 1888. It gave me a thrill to connect the plot to a personal experience.

I recommend this book to anybody who is looking for suspense, mystery, and a fabulous ending.

Publisher: Penguin, 372 pages

Gabrielle

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The Rock and the River, by Kekia Magoon

June 20, 2011

MagoonIn The Rock and the River, fourteen-year-old Sam Childs has to decide if he wants to be the rock or the river.  Sam lives in Chicago in 1968 during the Civil Rights Movement.  His father, Roland Childs, is a civil rights activist that speaks against violence.  Sam’s brother, Steven, known to Sam as Stick, is in a group called the Black Panthers who believe in self-defense.  Then things start to get rough at home: Steven/Stick moves out, their family friend Bucky get assaulted by cops, and the Civil Rights protests start to get violent.  With the sudden change of events, Sam now realizes he cannot be both the rock and the river, and he has to decide which he would rather be.

Kekla Magoon has a very specific writing style.  She uses lots of sensory details to create a movie in your mind.  Here’s a example of a sentence with great thought feelings and sensory details that put you in the character’s shoes:  “Seeing that gentle smile, beneath all the blood and the sound of the beating, hits me hardest…”  The details in the book really helped create a sense of action.  Since the book is about Sam developing as a character, the details in the book show his movement.  The thoughts and feelings make you feel the same way as the character.  These are some of the great techniques the author uses to make this a engaging title.

Sam, the main character, is very timid through out the book but learns how to be his own person.  Sam is shy around new acquaintances, but he is very close with his brother Steven/Stick.  Sam looks up to Steven as a role model.  He wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps, but does not want to disappoint his father by doing what his brother has done.  He doesn’t want to break up his family even more.  But by the end of the book, Sam finds his own way.  Read the book and find out if Sam ends up as the rock or the river.

Kate

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The Good Thief, by Hannah Tinti

May 19, 2009

goodthiefThe Good Thief is the story of a boy named Ren who lost his parents as an infant and lives in an orphanage.  Ren is a shy boy; he is also missing one of his hands, so he has trouble getting adopted.  But one day Benjamin Nab, a man in his early thirties, arrives to take Ren away with him.  Benjamin steals anything he can get his hands on and breaks every law.  Ren becomes his assistant and has to accompany Benjamin on his dangerous adventures.

I read this long book in less than a week, which is fast for me. The action flew by, and I felt like I was with the main characters and a part of their lives and adventures. Tinti’s description of Ren’s thoughts and feelings made him come to life and feel like a real boy. This helped me get inside his head and stay with him throughout the whole book.

This book was written in third person, which made it easy for me to follow all of the different characters and what they were thinking. The setting was something else I really enjoyed. The Good Thief takes place in the late 1800’s, but it feels like a present-day story because the characters are so full of life.  And the dialogue is great, too.  Every spoken word shows the personality of each unique character. I felt like I was standing right beside each character and I was the one he or she was talking to.

My overall favorite part of this book was the conclusion. The Good Thief has one of the most surprising and powerful endings of any book I’ve ever read.

Without hesitation, I rate this one a 10 out of 10.

Brandon

Publisher:  The Dial Press, 336 pages

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