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Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Archive for the tag “Historical Fiction”

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa“The Passion of Dolssa” is set in medieval times. It’s 1241, and the Crusade is trying to rid the world of heretics.  Dolssa and her mother are deemed heretics and sentenced to be executed.  Her mother is executed, but Dolssa manages to escape her sentence and run away.  She flees to the countryside. There, Botille finds her half dead in the woods and takes her in.

Botille and her sisters run a tavern in the seaside town of Bajas.  While running their tavern and trying just to survive alongside their neighbors, they nurse Dolssa back to health.  But they can’t hide Dolssa forever, and the truth of the miracles she has performed starts to spread.  The townsfolk stand behind her, but once the Inquisition comes to town, their good intentions are put to the test.

When I read historical fiction, I usually read books from different time periods, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  The story was well-written, and I was drawn into the characters’ lives.  While this is categorized as a YA book, and the writing was age-appropriate, I felt the subject was something that would probably not appeal to most young adults.

– Denise

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the SeaHistory jumps off the page and into life with Ruta Sepetys’ latest novel Salt to the Sea.  While there are many stories told of WWII, this is a lesser known tale brought to life at Sepetys’ skillful hand.

As part of thousands of refugees, we are drawn into the stories of Joana, Emilia, and Florian as they meet on their way to freedom aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff ship.  We are swept along in this action-packed adventure as the unthinkable happens: the Wilhelm Gustloff is attacked by a Russian submarine and sinks.  Joana, Emilia, and Florian each carry their own secrets. They must band together and rely on each other’s strength for sheer survival.

This is a great book to add to your YA collection. It not only sheds light on the worst maritime disaster in ever, it also reveals a generation whose strength and courage is now told primarily through the pages of history as we lose those who fought insurmountable odds to strengthen generations to come.

– Becky

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Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the SwallowThis book has elements of historical fiction, fairytales, and folklore — all set against a backdrop of war and anguish. It’s 1939 Poland where we find seven-year-old Anna, whose father (a university linguistics professor) has just been taken away by the Gestapo. Alone, hungry, and afraid, Anna is taken in by a mysterious, nameless stranger that she comes to call the Swallow Man.

The pair quickly connect through a shared gift — an affinity for speaking and understanding multiple languages. Thanks to her father, precocious Anna is conversant in German, Russian, French, and English as well as some Yiddish and a few other dialects. The Swallow Man is even more skilled than Anna, as he can speak all of these languages and also has an apparent supernatural connection with birds.

As they travel together, the Swallow Man teaches Anna the language of “Road” which involves adapting to whatever identity is necessary to survive in a war ravaged and evil world. It’s clear that the Shallow Man cares deeply for Anna as he serves as protector, guide, teacher, and father, but there is always a shroud of mystery that surrounds this man.

Without an actual destination, the companions wander together for years just trying to survive. The Swallow Man tells his young charge that they are on a journey to save an extremely rare and endangered bird — the last of its kind that the Germans and Russians want to kill so they can become more powerful. It’s never made clear who the “bird” is and this is one of many themes in the book that aren’t fully explored or resolved. Overall, the writing was quite good for this debut novelist but the ending was fairly abrupt and leaves many unanswered questions.

— Mark

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Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chaverini

Christmas BellsI like Jennifer Chaverini but I have to admit that I haven’t read one of her books in quite some time. I’m not a huge fan of Christmas books because they tend to create images of snowy nights and the world at peace (when it’s not); however, I was taken in by this book.

Chaverini does a brilliant job of interweaving the stories of a teacher who is about to be downsized, a family that has a father serving in Afghanistan, and the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

While it may take a minute to place the characters as you move through their stories, the depth and quality of the story is superb.  I would recommend this for any library collection. I believe it will circulate for years to come, and it will bring a whole new life to the Christmas song and Wadsworth poem I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day  

When I hear the bells this Christmas, I know I’ll think fondly of this book and hope that one day we will have good will and peace towards all men.

– Becky

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The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

9780425271810Fans of historical fiction will want to check out this engrossing novel about New York society in the 1880’s which features an unforgettable cast of characters and the glittering backdrop of old world Manhattan.

The story revolves around the lives of Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie. Both accomplished graduates of the Women’s Medical School, it is their daily mission to aid and comfort women with exemplary professional and personal skills. Both doctors face obstacles that would be unheard of in today’s society, but were a very real threat at that time. Anna struggles to prove herself a competent surgeon in a field dominated by patronizing authority. Sophie, who is of mixed race, has her own struggles as she endures the constant disapproval of people deeming her unworthy of carrying out a noble profession.

You’ll be highly entertained as you follow these fascinating heroines while at the same time learning a great deal about daily life in early America. Parallel plots concerning female reproductive rights and a family’s relentless search to locate two missing orphans will no doubt open your eyes to the challenges that were front and center during this time period.

Combining a successful and satisfying mix of historical, romantic, and mystery fiction, this novel will ring true for a multitude of readers and will showcase once again the talents of a writer at the top of her game.

– Susan

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Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

Villa AmericaIf you are a fan of 1920’s literary culture, The Lost Generation, Hemingway or the Fitzgeralds (F. Scott and Zelda), this book may be for you. The novel mixes fact and fiction together to create an interesting, atmospheric narrative of wealth and indulgence among an eclectic group of artists.

The main characters are Gerald and Sara Murphy, who are wealthy expats – living on the French Riviera just after the First World War. In fact, the Murphys are not just characters; they’re real people who really did live in the time and place described. In the 1920’s they escaped to the South of France and built a home which they called Villa America. It was here that they hosted lavish and glamorous parties with famous guests they befriended such as Ernest Hemingway, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker, and countless others.

Celebrity name dropping aside, the book eventually focuses on the life that Sara and Gerald built together along with their three children. The Murphy’s home and marital relationship would later become the inspiration for Fitzgerald’s novel, “Tender Is the Night”. Unfortunately, tragedy and loss enter the couple’s life and threatens to destroy everything they’ve built.

All in all, this was an interesting look at wealthy Americans of the roaring 20’s as we read fictionalized accounts of their friendships, flaws and desires. Although a very long read, this book is worth the trouble for anyone who has an interest in that “Lost Generation” era.

– Mark

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The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to UsFans of the charming bestseller, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, will certainly want to get their hands on Annie Barrows’ latest novel. It’s as luscious and satisfying as an iced tea on a lazy summer afternoon! Harkening back to the simpler times of 1938 America, we are introduced to Miss Layla Beck, a spoiled southern belle who gets a wake-up call when her own father boots her out of the lap of luxury and forces her to go to work.

Sent to the sleepy town of Macedonia, West Virginia to write a dissertation on the town’s history for the Federal Writers’ Project, Layla initially balks at the idea. Soon enough, she finds herself becoming deeply attached to the Romeyn family, the household in which she is boarding during her stay. She starts to uncover all sorts of fascinating and titillating family secrets and is even more surprised to discover her own burgeoning attraction to notorious black sheep Felix Romeyn.

If you love family sagas, served up southern style, then you will love this book as much as I did. There are all sorts of characters, storylines, and plot twists to keep you reading into the wee hours. I highly recommend this as the perfect beach read, book group pick, Mother’s Day gift … well, you don’t even need a good reason to devour this one! Pick up a copy and see for yourself.

– Susan

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes is a beautiful narrative following the life of a Scholar girl named Laia and a Martial boy named Elias. In their world, the Martials have invaded and taken over Laia’s people, the Scholars, and enslaved them. The Martials rule with an iron fist and tolerate no resistance. Her story begins in the middle of a war that she doesn’t know is raging between the resistance and the Martials.

Fearing raids and punishment for any tiny infraction, the Scholars tend to their daily chores as best as they can and Laia’s family is no different. That is until one day Laia discovers that her brother may be helping the resistance. That day her entire life changes. Her home is raided, her family is murdered and her brother is captured. Stranded and alone, she has no choice but to join the resistance that betrayed her and go on a suicide mission to rescue her brother.

Once on her mission she meets up with Elias and he shows her that not all Martials are the same. Their upbringing and lifestyles are vastly different and yet they are drawn to each other, bonded by similar love and loss.

This is a beautiful and exciting story and I am anxiously awaiting the sequel.

– Renee

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My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!) by Alison DeCamp

My Near-Death AdventuresThis book is set in the year 1895 and is about a boy named Stanley Slater who is quite the teller of tall tales. Stan is 11 years old (almost 12) and lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with his mom. He’s always assumed that his “dearly departed” Dad was not among the living but the sudden arrival of a mystery letter (and his not-so-nice grandmother) tells a different tale. It turns out that Stan’s dad is just “departed” and very much alive – but where is he? Thus begins a journey to find his long lost father who is obviously out enjoying some near-death adventures of his own – what with being a hero/cowboy/explorer and all.

The search starts as the trio is forced to move to a remote logging camp owned by Stan’s uncle. His mom and grandmother find work as cooks for the loggers due to their precarious financial situation. With his contentious cousin Geri as his guide, Stan gets to know an oddball cast of characters he befriends along the way.  There are loggers, possibly a murderer and plenty of men vying for his mother’s attention which doesn’t please him at all. To say that Stan has an overactive imagination would be an understatement as is evidenced by the scrapbook he keeps that’s filled with tons of vintage 19th century era magazine clippings – with some embellishment of course. A more poignant theme to the story is the series of imaginary letters that his dad “writes” to Stan while off traveling the world and chasing adventure.

All in all, this is a good read and the characters are enjoyable to get to know. The over 200 illustrations that fill the pages give the reader a nostalgic view of days gone by.

– Mark

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The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My LifeThis is the story of a young girl named Ada and her brother Jamie who live in London right at the start of World War II. Ada is nine years old and was born with a club foot. She’s never been outside of her family’s apartment as her mother is too embarrassed.  She even makes Ada think that she was to blame for her own deformity.

When younger brother Jamie is sent away from London to escape the coming war, Ada sneaks out to join him and the two are transported to the countryside.  They are taken in by a woman named Susan who is grieving over the loss of a close friend. When she met the children she was uncertain what to do with them. She starts by getting them cleaned up and into some new clothes and feeding them.

After some time with Susan, the children begin to settle in and explore their new surroundings now that Ada is finally free to go outside. She befriends Susan’s pony and learns how to take care of him and even ride. A strong bond is beginning to form between the children and their caretaker Susan who is also beginning to love them back. All is going well until their mother finds them and plots to make them return to with her to London.

This book is a great read about overcoming obstacles while mixing in history, adventure and family dynamics.

– Ellen

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