Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Review of The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

The Crown’s Game

by Evelyn Skye

Balzer + Bray, 2016. 397 pages.
Starred Review

This book is about a magic duel in Imperial Russia.

Russia has always had magic, but over time it is hidden, and the people don’t believe in it. But the tsar needs an Imperial Enchanter, who draws on the magic of Russia. However, there can only be one, or they will dilute the magic. The magic needs to be concentrated.

The tsar explains the Crown’s Game to the two participants, Vika and Nikolai:

The Game is a display of skill and a demonstration of strategy and mettle. The goal is to show me your worthiness to become my Imperial Enchanter — my adviser for all things from war to peace and everything in between.

The Game will take place in Saint Petersburg, and you will take turns executing enchantments. There is no restriction on the form of magic you choose, only that you do not alarm or harm the people of the city….

Each enchanter will have five turns, at the most. As the judge, I may declare a winner at any point in the Game, or I may wait until all ten plays have been made. Remember, your moves will reveal not only your power but also your character and your suitability to serve the empire. Impress me.

So the two enchanters start the Crown’s Game. Besides impressing the tsar, they can end the game by killing the other enchanter. At the end of ten moves, if both are still alive, the tsar will declare a winner. The other will be incinerated by the brand placed on each enchanter at the start of the game.

So Nikolai and Vika begin the work they’ve trained for all their lives. Neither one expected to find a kindred soul in their opponent. It shouldn’t be a surprise, since never before has either one met someone who can work with magic like they can. But there is only room for one Imperial Enchanter.

The book gives the flavor of Imperial Russia. Nikolai has grown up in fashionable Saint Petersburg, a friend of the son of the tsar, mentored by harsh and power-hungry Galina. Vika grew up out in the country, learning how to manipulate nature from her kind mentor Sergei. For the first time, both are going to show their magic to the world.

evelynskye.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Wolf by Wolf

by Ryan Graudin

Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 379 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history novel about a world where Germany won World War II. On top of that, our heroine is a Jewish girl who was experimented on by Nazi scientists — who gave her the ability to shapeshift her face.

With the ability, she was able to escape the concentration camp. Now, in 1956, she is the key to a plot to assassinate Hitler.

Now, my fundamental problem with the novel is I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that any sequence of injections could make a person able to change their bone structure. Yael can adjust her height and add freckles to her arms — but she can’t get rid of her prison camp tattoo. Even if I could accept that, she can also change her already-grown hair to be a different color or be thicker. I don’t quite see how that can work.

However, the story is so gripping and so dramatic, I was able to forgive it for its unlikely premise. I’ll grant you, it was sobering to read about Hitler’s Europe as the 2016 election happened.

The plot is a complicated one. Because Hitler has survived too many assassination attempts, he now never appears in public, except twice a year — at the start and end of the great motorcycle race, the Axis Tour, where motorcyclists rode from Germania (Berlin) to Tokyo, the capital of the Japanese empire. Last year, a girl, Adele Wolfe, had disguised herself as her brother and won the race. Hitler had danced with her.

Now Yael is going to take Adele’s identity, win the race, and assassinate Hitler in front of the world when he dances with her at the victory celebration. This will be a signal for her allies in the Resistance to move and topple the Third Reich.

But the race is long and grueling. Adele’s brother has entered the race to try to stop her. — He wants to save her life. Then there are the two other previous race victors who also want to be the first to win the Axis Tour a second time. Life and death are on the line. On top of that, Yael must navigate relationships blind.

And she must get to the Victory Ball. She must win.

But to do that, she needs to survive.

It took me awhile to warm up to this story. As I said, I had a hard time with the premise. I thought the writing seemed a little overdramatic. But as I read, I have to admit that a girl in that situation would feel the weight of everything depending on her. The situation is inherently dramatic.

Little by little, we learn her history. Yael has gotten a tattoo of five wolves to cover her prison tattoo. Each wolf represents one person she has lost. She is doing this for them.

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them — made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.

WolfbyWolfBook.com
ryangraudin.com
lb-teens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Last Execution, by Jesper Wung-Sung

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

The Last Execution

by Jesper Wung-Sung

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 132 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Author Jesper Wung-Sung lives in Svendborg, Denmark. On February 22, 1853, fifteen-year-old Niels Nielsen was beheaded on charges of arson and murder of the sheriff’s son. This book fictionalizes that execution, getting us into the heads of Niels himself and various people who come to the execution.

The book takes us through the final twelve hours of Niels’ life, with a different perspective each hour, though usually going back to the boy, Niels Nielsen.

He and his father had wandered the countryside for years, looking for work. But his father became less and less able to work. Meanwhile, people like the mayor, the baker, and the carpenter think about how horrible he must be to do that terrible thing and how their town will now be a better place.

The book isn’t pleasant reading. In many ways, it just feels sad and empty. But it is an exercise in perspective. And will perhaps make you look at society’s outcasts with a little more compassion.

simonandschuster.com/teen

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman

Friday, June 29th, 2018

The Dark Days Club

by Alison Goodman

Viking, 2016. 482 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016.

This book is one of my favorite kinds – a Regency novel with magic thrown in.

We’re introduced to Lady Helen Wrexhall, eighteen years old and getting ready for her Royal presentation. Lady Helen is an orphan, and her mother died with the cloud of treason over her name. Helen lives with her aunt and uncle, who want her to curb any impulses to be anything like her mother. Lady Helen has recently noticed herself extra excitable and restless.

Then she meets Lord Carlston, about whom rumors swirl that he killed his wife. Lord Carlston believes that Helen, like her mother, is a Reclaimer – one of eight people in England who is able to fight the thousands of Deceivers who feed on the souls of others.

Lady Helen indeed discovers unusual powers. And when she holds the miniature her mother left her, she is able to see Deceivers. She witnesses the shocking scene of Lord Carlston fighting a Deceiver. He tells about the Dark Days Club – a group of people who work with the Reclaimers to fight the Deceivers and save humankind.

But meanwhile, her aunt and uncle and brother know nothing of this and are intent that Helen should be seeking a husband. They continue with preparations for her Royal presentation and her ball.

The two worlds are at odds and one is very dangerous. Then Helen receives a letter her mother left for her and discovers that she may have a choice as to which world she wishes to remain in.

This novel is clearly just the first of a series – and I definitely want to find out what happens next. Regency plus magic is one of my favorite genres. There’s still romantic tension going on, as well as real peril associated with the activities of Reclaimers. She is a Direct Inheritor from her mother, so it is believed this means a Grand Deceiver will arise, and Helen needs to fight them. It will be very interesting to see how this develops.

darkdaysclub.com
alisongoodman.com.au
penguin.com/teens

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Audiobook Review of My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, performed by Katherine Kellgren

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

My Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
performed by Katherine Kellgren

HarperAudio, 2016. 13.75 hours on 11 discs.
Starred Review

I’ve already reviewed this book in print form, but oh, Katherine Kellgren’s performance makes it so much fun!

We’ve got alternate history England, featuring Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days. In this version, many people have the magic power to turn into an animal. In the course of things, Jane finds out she is one, which is how she escapes losing her head.

The story is funny and clever and twists history just enough to be terribly fun. And Katherine Kellgren’s brilliant vocal abilities are perfect to bring out all the humor in the situations.

By now, I’ve become Katherine Kellgren’s fan. In a story set in England that was already outstanding in an over-the-top humorous sort of way, her performance puts it even more over the top. Now when I recommend this book, I’m going to suggest listening.

harperaudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Blood Rose Rebellion, by Rosalyn Eves

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Blood Rose Rebellion

by Rosalyn Eves

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House), 2017. 407 pages.

I’m getting used to alternate histories with magic, but this was an alternate history of something I didn’t know much about in the real world – the Hungarian revolution in 1848.

Anna Arden doesn’t mean to break other people’s spells. But sometimes, especially when her emotions get stirred up, this happens spectacularly, and people get hurt. After she ruins her sister’s debut, she’s sent off with her grandmother to stay in Hungary for awhile at her grandmother’s childhood home.

But various people find out about Anna’s unusual abilities. Would she be able to break the Binding spell – the one that confines magic to the nobility, the Luminate class? And what are the motives of the people who want to use her in this way? But at the same time, what would be the cost? Would this break the power of the Circle, so that common people can have access to magic? But what will the Circle do to stop her?

Anna’s confused as to what she should do. Meanwhile, there’s a handsome Romani young man whom Anna would like to teach her Romani magic. Maybe if she can’t do Luminate magic, maybe she could do Romani magic, which is so different.

Romance and adventure, magic and danger – all put into the context of the actual history of the Hungarian rebellion from the Hapsburgs.

randomhouseteens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo, read by Jenna Lamia

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Raymie Nightingale

by Kate DiCamillo
read by Jenna Lamia

Listening Library, 2016. 4 ½ hours on 4 compact discs.
Starred Review
(Review written in 2016.)

I already loved Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale. Now, having heard Raymie’s voice, and the voices of the others of the Three Rancheros, I love Raymie and her friends even more.

I already talked about the plot in my review of the print version. Now let me talk about the new things that struck me when I got to listen to the story.

The narrator of this book is wonderful, giving each of the girls a distinctive voice, and giving all voices a slight southern accent. Being a northerner myself, even though the book is set in Florida, I didn’t hear southern accents when I read it in my head. The accents definitely added to the charm.

Also, after listening, the characters and events are much more memorable. Maybe I read more quickly when it was in my mind. Now I feel more as if I’ve experienced the events of the book. And I now feel like I’ve met the characters, spent some time with them.

Again, the narrator’s characterizations of the girls are spot on. Raymie’s voice is tentative, figuring out the world. I just wanted to hug her and help her through. Louisiana is naïve and hopeful. Beverly Tapinski gives her tough-girl front. She’s not afraid of anything.

The story is a crazy yarn of good intentions that spin out of control. These girls can’t even attend a simple baton-twirling lesson without something going wrong. But we hear the girls tackle setbacks together. Even tough-girl Beverly can’t resist the sweet, innocent, and hungry Louisiana. And we understand how Raymie is pulled along.

This would make good family listening. I don’t remember them saying how old the girls are, but I would say upper elementary school age. There aren’t any boys in the story, but the antics are so amusing, I don’t think anyone in the family will get bored.

This beautiful story only gets better with re-listening. Kate DiCamillo just keeps winning Newbery Medals – and this new story is as great a book as any of them.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Echo

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

read by Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, Macleod Andrews, and Rebecca Soler
music performed by Corky Siegel

Scholastic Audiobooks, 2016. 10 hours, 22 minutes, on 9 compact discs.
Starred Review
2016 Newbery Honor Book
2016 Odyssey Honor Audiobook

This is an amazing audiobook production.

The story is about an enchanted harmonica. The prologue tells of a boy lost in the woods in Germany who learns about the sisters whose spirit enchants the harmonica, and who entrust it into his care.

Then the main part of the book gives us three stories – first a boy in Germany with a musical gift but with a birthmark on his face that makes him seen as less than perfect and in danger in Hitler’s Germany. The second story is about two brothers in Pennsylvania at an orphanage after their grandmother became too frail to care for them. Mike is a talented piano player, and it seems they have a chance of a home, but something is wrong. Perhaps he can join the harmonica band that’s auditioning for new members. Then Ivy, in California, has to move to a new home, where children of Mexican heritage aren’t allowed to go to school with the other children. But she can join the orchestra.

The three stories are told completely separately, with a different narrator for each part. What they have in common is that all involve a harmonica with an especially beautiful tone that has a red M painted on it. The three stories come together in an episode at the end, and then we get an epilogue to tell a little more about the story of the boy and the three sisters who sent the harmonica out into the world.

The book is good, and won Newbery Honor. Each story has some punch to it, and each child has reason to need the encouragement that comes through the harmonica.

The audio production is exceptional! There is harmonica music throughout, as well as piano music when that’s part of the story. It adds so much to hear the songs being played.

Some producers might not have dared to add harmonica music when the text is raving about the harmonica’s glorious tone. But for the most part, the music played went perfectly with what was described. For several of the songs, they added a singer, which I wasn’t completely happy with – but that was a way to let the listener know the words, which was a nice addition for the child listener. Even though I know the words to songs such as “Brahm’s Lullaby” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” an unobtrusive way to include them for kids was to have a voice along with the harmonica playing.

This is definitely a book that has much value added in audio form! A delightful listening experience.

scholastic.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Silver in the Blood, by Jessica Day George

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Silver in the Blood

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2015. 358 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Set in 1897, this is a historical fantasy romance about two cousins who are being sent from New York to Bucharest, Romania, to meet and learn the truth about their mother’s family.

Now, the copy on the back of the book gives away what they will find. LouLou also encounters a young man on the ship who asks her, “Are you the wing?” LouLou tells about it in her letter to her cousin Dacia:

“Are you the wing?” He said it again, and looked me up and down yet again! “You are not the claw, and there is never a smoke anymore.”

Complete gibberish, Dacia! What was I to do? I simply goggled at him for a moment. When I gathered myself, I started to turn away again, when he said, “You are the wing; I see it now.”

By the time the girls do find out what the Wing, the Claw, and the Smoke are, we are not at all surprised. I can’t help but wonder if it would have given the book more momentum if it had started when they arrived in Bucharest, rather than during their separate journeys there. There’s some build-up to the revelation of the family’s magic that falls a bit flat by the time we discover what it is.

We do end up with an interesting situation. Two young ladies ready for New York society suddenly discover magical powers and that their powerful family is part of a prophecy – and a political plot. They must decide which side they are on.

The timing of the story fits with the publication of the book Dracula and the girls meet Prince Mihai, a descendant of the famous count. Their family has always served the Dracul family. Prince Mihai intends that they continue to do so.

This book is a historical novel for teens who like regency fiction with dances and gowns and society – combined with a twist of magic and political intrigue. The exotic setting of the Romania of 1897 adds to the fun.

JessicaDayGeorge.com

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Source: This review is based on an advance reader copy I got at an ALA conference.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ashes, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Ashes

The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book Three

by Laurie Halse Anderson

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 298 pages.
Starred Review

This book concludes The Seeds of America Trilogy. I never did read the first book, Chains, about Isabel, an African girl stolen into slavery during Colonial times. (I need to remedy that!) I did read Forge, the second book, about Curzon, a slave turned soldier, and what he went through at Valley Forge.

In Ashes, Isabel and Curzon have joined forces and are going through the countryside looking for Isabel’s little sister Ruth. When they find her, their welcome is nothing like Isabel hoped for. But they wind up at the army camp in Williamsburg as the American and French soldiers prepare to lay siege to the British army at Yorktown.

Isabel’s the narrator of this volume. She’s got lots to worry about — finding her sister, staying alive, staying healthy, getting money and food to travel on, and staying free. Also, how does Curzon really feel about her? He seems to care more about fighting for so-called “freedom” than about her.

This book gives a fascinating look at a time I thought I knew a lot more about than I did. Giving the vantage point of African-Americans inside the camps brings it to life so much more vividly than a textbook.

I enjoyed the Revolutionary War-era diary excerpts and letter excerpts at the start of each chapter. There are also in-depth notes at the back. I knew from reading Octavian Nothing that the British promised freedom to African-Americans who fought for them. I learned in this book that 17 of George Washington’s slaves escaped during the Revolutionary War and fled to the British. Many of those were returned to him after the war, but a few did make it to New York and managed to get safety and freedom in Nova Scotia. Twenty-three of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves fled to join the British, though six were found and recaptured after the war.

All of these tidbits (told as answers to questions that naturally arise out of the story) are accompanied by suggestions for further reading.

MadWomanInTheForest.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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