Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reading on a Theme: YA Historical Fiction Inspired by Real Historical Figures

I have really been in the mood to read historical fiction and historical fantasy lately. I've been particularly taken by books whose main characters are actual historical figures. High, high marks to every one of these books. For this post I gathered a variety of characters and settings as well as straight historical fiction and fantasy. All are set prior to 1700. Anyone read any of these? Did you love these books as much as I did?

Vlad the Impaler:
In her newest book Kiersten White recasts Vlad the Impaler, famous for being the historical inspiration for Dracula, as a smart and terrifyingly vicious girl, Lada Dragwlya. The book is narrated by both Lada and her brother Radu. Ransomed to the Ottomans in 1442, the two meet and become friends with Mehmed, the future Sultan, and the novel's other towering figure. With great character development, lots of political intrigue, a high-stakes love triangle, and fabulous historical atmosphere, this book explores issues of gender equality, sexuality, religion, familial relationships, and politics in a sophisticated and unflinching way. A true tour de force. And I Darken is out June 28, 2016. Review copy from NetGalley.

Lady Jane Gray: 
My Lady Jane is the story of Jane Gray who ruled England for nine days after the death of Edward VI. But this book doesn't tell the same story that you've learned about in history class. I knew the book was revisionist, but I didn't know what exactly the authors (there are three:
Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows) had changed until after I started the book. This made for a fun and highly amusing surprise. It's obvious the authors had a fantastic time writing this book together, and that translated to a really fun time for the reader. There were many laugh-out-loud moments in the reading of this book. I loved every moment of this book and was so sad to see it end! My Lady Jane was out June 7, 2016.

Captain Blackbeard:
It's the year 1697 and Anne is a servant in Master Drummond's household. It is her sole desire to escape his service until his son, Edward, comes home from sea. Edward wants only to return to sea, but his father is dead-set against it. Things get even more complicated when Edward and Anne fall in love. Debut author Nicole Castroman takes the reader back in time in this historical fiction about Blackbeard before he became a pirate. I really enjoyed the setting and the feel of the Blackhearts. Anne is a great character with lots of drive and spunk. The ending felt a little abrupt, but I am happy to say a sequel was recently announced! Blackhearts was out February 2016. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Ginevra de' Benci:
Ginevra de' Benci is the subject of one of Leonardo's first portraits and the only painting by Leonardo in North America. I can attest that she is absolutely lovely in person. In her novel, L.M. Elliott imagines what Ginevra's character might have been like, the circumstances around the commission of the portrait, and her relationship with the young Leonardo. This novel makes Renaissance Florence come alive. All the art mentioned in the book is real (keep the internet handy so you can look them up), as are the festivals, the clothing, the courtly traditions, and most of the characters. The basic facts of Ginvera's life are true and Ms. Elliott then fills in the gaps and gives her personality. I'd recommend this book for any art or history lover. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Alexander the Great:
In Legacy of Kings, Eleanor Herman brings her prowess as a historian and storyteller to the world of ancient Macedonia where a young Alexander the Great is poised to take the throne. I have always loved ancient history and mythology and I love a well done alternate history. In many ways, this book was meant for me. Told through a number of perspectives, the book follows several characters on their roads to self-discovery. Filled with magic, political drama, curses, and journeys but rooted in real places and events, Legacy of Kings is a great pick for both fantasy lovers and history lovers. I enjoyed seeing how Ms. Herman incorporated the mythology and personalities of the ancient world.

And I Darken, My Lady Jane, Da Vinci's Tiger, and Legacy of Kings reviewed by JoLee.
Blackhearts reviewed by Paige.

P.S. More historical fantasy here.

P.P. S. More books about real historical figures here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pair It With: Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee and One by Sarah Crossan

In this Pair It With I'm featuring two books about sisters who are conjoined twins. The sisters all must contemplate venturing out into the wider world and all that that entails. This is definitely a case where reading the two books together makes for a richer reading experience. I read these books right in a row, and as I was reading, I liked to pretend that these sisters all lived in the same world and that someday Clara and Hailey and Tippi and Grace would connect on the internet, become friends, and then down the road they would all meet. Isn't that a lovely, little fantasy?

Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee

Publisher / Year: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers - July 26, 2015

Genres: YA Contemporary

Source: ARC from the publisher

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Clara and Hailey are conjoined twins living with their parents in a secluded mountain town in California. The town of Bear Pass has been good to the family, and Clara and Hailey are pretty well accepted by their community. The sisters are seniors in high school and a couple things occur that intrude upon their sheltered life. The first is a boy, Max, who moves into town. Max is someone who has never met the twins and his reaction to them becomes something of a catalyst for the rest of the book. The other big thing is that soon Clara and Hailey will graduate, and, although their parents have certain plans in mind for their girls, Clara and Hailey start to wonder if those plans are what they really want.

I love how Sonya Mukherjee's book takes that difficult transitional period between high school and college and ups the stakes. The things that Clara and Hailey are feeling about finishing high school and perhaps venturing out on their own are so easy to relate to, and yet their challenges are more intense and come with greater consequences.

When I started this book, I thought that it was going to go down one road--a road that has been very well traveled. I was surprised but very pleased to find that the author took an another route, one that is both less overdone and more real.

The one thing that bothered me a little about this book is the lack of distinction between Clara's voice and Hailey's voice. The story is told through alternating perspectives, but I found that unless I made certain to actively remember whose turn it was to narrate, I became confused, and had to think to myself, "Okay, now who is saying this?"

Gemini is a lovely debut from Sonya Mukherjee. 

One by Sarah Crossan

Publisher / Year: Greenwillow Books - Sept. 2015

Genres: YA contemporary, realistic fiction, novel in verse

Source: My local library

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins. Joined at the waist, the two have survived the odds and lived a fairly quiet and sheltered life. Lately their family has had some financial difficulties resulting in their inability to pay for the girls' in-home tutors. So now, at sixteen, they are going to be attending school for the first time.

I found Sarah Crossan's novel to be lovely in both its story and its execution. One is a novel in verse, and I thought the style added so much to the story. The verses are all only a couple of pages or less, and they both propel the plot forward and muse on feelings. One brings together realism and poetry. By that I mean that it dealt with issues that you often see in realistic YA fiction--trouble with finances, trouble with parents, trouble with family and friends. And, in addition to the new school and ever increasing financial difficulties, the books takes us to the girls' doctor and therapist appointments. At the same time, the verse gave the book a beauty that made it a more emotional read.

Sarah Crossan handled her subject with a lot of respect. In her Afterward she wrote a bit about her research and intentions. Poignant, graceful,empowering, and sad, One is the type of book that sticks with you. I didn't want to put it down and ended up reading the entire book in one day.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Have a Listen: Audiobooks We Love

Every year the number of audiobooks I listen to increases. I just love being read to. A good audiobook can make a great book even better, and audiobooks have helped me conquer many books that I was afraid might be a little dull. Here are some of my favorites from the last year or so. Are you an audiobook fan? I'd love if you'd share your favorites with me! (More of our favorite audiobooks here.)

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows:
This book turns me into a crazy fan! I downloaded the audiobook the day it came out and loved every minute. Kathrine Kellgren narrates the book. (She also narrated Austenland which is one of my very favorite audiobooks). Kellgren's narration made the book even funnier. She hits it out of the park with her over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek style. (Is that enough idioms for one sentence or what?)

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar:
I loved this epistolary novel about Vanessa Bell, Virginia Wolf, and the rest of the Bloomsbury Group. I think the letter/ journal format works really on audio, and once I got used to who was who, I fell completely in love with this book and the narration. I'd love a sequel. (featured here)

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown:
This book made my favorites of the year last year. It's about the rowing team that won the Olympics in 1936. I loved it. I recommended it to all my real-life friends and pushed it on this blog tons. That the audiobook is read by the late Edward Herrmann is an added bonus and a real treat.

Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini:
I've listened to the first two book in the Worldwalker series, and I have found them both to be absolutely unputdownable (that is totally a word). Once I start listening to these books I'll find every excuse in the world not to stop: take the long way home, do some more housework, stay up too late. I'm so eager for the third book in the series to come out. (featured here)

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman:
I listened to this book last year when I was working on this post. I found it so interesting that I decided to pick it for my book club selection the next month. In Heiligman's book, Darwin's doubts about God and Emma's religiosity are a microcosm from the greater conflict between the theory of evolution and the Christian society. I appreciated that Heiligman treated each side with respect.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle:
This book is worth listening to just so you can enjoy the reader's lovely Irish accent. Cara's family calls October The Accident Season because they always have a lot of injuries during that month. I listened to this around Halloween, and it was a perfect spooky seasonal read.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein:
This book is brilliant in audio format. Rose is a poet, and, as much of Rose's poetry was composed in Ravensbrucke without pen and paper and then recited and memorized by her friends there, the audio version had an added authenticity. And Rose's poems are stunning, raw, and heart-wrenching. Also, Rose does some singing, and I loved hearing the melody along with the words. (featured here)

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & The Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming:
I much prefer my non-fiction in audio format, and this book was obviously the right one for me because I could not stop talking about it. There is so much romanticism that surrounds the last Russian Imperial family, and I love that this book is the real deal. It tells the story straight and the results are fabulously demystifying. (featured here)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell:
I loved Fangirl and so I couldn't pass up the chance to read Carry On, the book that grew from Cath's fanfiction in Fangirl. I highly recommend the audio version (obviously, the book made this post); I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have enjoyed this book as much as I did if I had read the paper version.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir:
This book was the big YA fantasy of last summer, and if you listen to it now you'll be all primed for the sequel which comes out in late August 2016. The audio version has two narrators--one for Laia and one for Elias. I especially had a hard time turning off the book when Elias was narrating. I'll definitely be listening to the sequel. (featured here)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Young Adult Books for Fans of Meg Ryan Movies

Paige and I both adore Kasie West's books. We've read them all, loved them all, and were very excited for the release of P.S. I Like You on July 26th. We both read the book in one day. (Thanks to Scholastic for providing a copy.)

P.S. I Like You is about Lily Abbott, a girl who is very bored in Chemistry class. Daydreaming in class, she writes a line from her favorite song on her desk. The next day someone has written the next line. Soon Lily and her mysterious pen pal are exchanging notes daily.

P.S. I Like You reminded us of one of our favorite movies, You've Got Mail, and that got us thinking about all of Meg Ryan's other movies. The result is this blog post. So, if you love Meg Ryan movies and you love YA, we've got you covered. Now I'm off to watch my favorites.

If you love You've Got Mail try P.S. I Like You by Kasie West:

Mix together secret admirers and main characters who hate each other and you've got You've Got Mail and P.S. I Like You. As always, Kasie West writes a charming tale. We loved how Lily is an aspiring song writer and the banter between the two main characters took us back to You've Got Mail. Also, we love Lily's large family. Her parents are hilarious. Her siblings are great.

If you love When Harry Met Sally try Better off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg:

Navigating a male/ female friendship is at the center of this movie and book pair. Macallan and Levi are best friends. They are goofy, finish-each-others'-sentences, have-tons-of-inside-jokes best friends, but a boy/girl best friendship is a complicated thing. Each chapter in this cute YA romance is told by one of the two characters, and then, at the end of the chapter, the two provide commentary on what was just said. It's darling and funny and really helps the reader get to the know the two of them as a pair. (Also featured here.)

If you love Kate & Leopold try Until We Meet Again by Renee Collins:

Kate and Cassandra fall in love with someone from the past in Kate & Leopold and Until We Meet Again. Cassandra meets Lawrence on the beach by her house one night and, after a great deal of confusion, the two realize that they are from different centuries.The only place where the timelines overlap is on the beach, and after Cassandra and Lawrence begin spending all their time there Cassandra starts to notice disconcerting changes in the timeline. (Also featured here.)

If you love French Kiss try The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt:

Love France and a loathing-becomes-love relationship? Abby Berman is enrolled in an advanced French class at Huntington University in hopes of attending a high school in Paris her senior year. Everything is going her way until she's paired with Zeke Martin who she can't stand. Hopefully she can keep her head, and heart, focused on her goal.

If you love Sleepless in Seattle try The Lost & Found by Katrina Leno:

Do you love the magical realism of Sleepless in Seattle? The Lost & Found has the same mystical feel and also features people who fall in love without meeting. Frannie and Louis met in an online support group for people who have experienced trauma. They became fast friends, and their connection grew when they discovered they both tend to have things vanish on them. They decide to meet in Austin, Texas as they search for answers behind their losses.

If you love City of Angels try Halo by Alexandra Ardonetta:

In this pairing we have angels who fall in love with mortals. Bethany is sent with two other angels to earth to serve and protect humankind while remaining anonymous. Then Bethany meets and falls in love with Xavier Woods. The other angels attempt to keep the pair apart. What will happen when an immortal angel forsakes her mission to be with a human boy?

If you love I.Q. try P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han:

In the sequel to Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Lara Jean is reeling over what happened with Peter and the results of all those letters she never intended to send. I put P.S. I Still Love You and I.Q. together because in each a group of old folks attempts to set up a young couple. I loved all the scenes that took place at the retirement center, and I just love John Ambrose McClaren a whole bunch.

P.S. Our reviews of Kasie West's other books here, here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Reading on a Theme: American Girl in Europe

Summer has us dreaming of traveling. Since a European trip isn't in the cards for us this summer, we're satisfying our inner travel bugs with YA books about American girls who travel to (or are preparing to travel to) Europe. Perfect summer reads whether you are home or abroad.

Parlez-vous francais?
Abby Berman can't wait for a summer away from her baseball-obsessed family. She's enrolled in an advanced French class at Huntington University in hopes of attending a high school in Paris her senior year. Everything is going her way until she's paired with Zeke Martin, who appears to be as baseball enthused as her family. Hopefully she can keep her head, and heart, focused on her goal. Natalie Blitt has written an absolutely charming story with excellent characters. Abby's roommate, Alice, the poet, and Colin, the artist, are among my favorites. A light, sweet, fun romance, The Distance from A to Z is a perfect summer read and (as of when this post went live) it's only $1.99 on Amazon! Review copy from Edelweiss.

When in Rome:
Laura loves the Classics. She always dreamed of visiting the sites of ancient civilizations, especially Rome. But Rome, as it turns out, is more than she bargained for. Strange things begin happening the day before her class is set to fly home, and Laura finds herself at the mercy of the Roman gods. Paula Morris displays a firm knowledge of Rome and Roman mythology in The Eternal City. A mythology enthusiast myself, I enjoyed hearing about how the fountains and monuments Laura and her friends visited were connected to the Roman gods. The Eternal City is an interesting mythology in the modern world story (more here) made all the better by being set in Rome. Review copy from Edelweiss.

A Tuscan View:
In the wake of her mother's death, Lina moves to Italy to live with her estranged father. When she arrives, she's given her mom's journal from when she lived in Italy before Lina's birth. Through the journal, Lina comes to know her mom better than ever before. In Love and Gelato, Jenna Evans Welch deals with big topics in a calm, comfortable way. I especially enjoyed reading the journal along with Lina. As the reader, I discovered things along with Lina, which kept me invested in the story. The relationship between Howard and Lina was particularly well written, and I really enjoyed the read. Love and Gelato was out May 3, 2016. Review copy from Edelweiss.

The Reluctant Tourist:
When Aubree Sadler's sister gets into trouble, Aubree is talked into taking over her summer job. Did we mention that the summer job involves leading a tour of senior citizen across Europe and that Aubree is a huge homebody?  This job definitely takes Aubree way out of her comfort zone. However, as the trip moves from country to country, Aubree begins to really embrace this chance to see the world. Jen Malone's Wanderlost is a cute read. I kind of wish that I could have been a tour guide for the At Your Age tour company when I was a college student. I loved the relationships that Aubree built with the older members of the tour, and the banter between Sam and Aubree is cute and clever. Wanderlost is out May 31st, 2016. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Roman Holiday: 
Love, Lucy made my list of favorite reads of the year for 2014. It was such a treat to read. It's a retelling of E.M. Forster's A Room with a View, and I really, really love A Room With a View. Lucy Sommersworth is bound for college in the fall, but first she's taking a trip to Italy. While there she falls for Jesse Palladino, a free-spirited musician from New Jersey. I think that April Lindner must have been channeling Italy when she wrote this novel. The Italian portions just ooze sun and old-world charm. I love art museums and traveling anyway and Italy just added so much to the romance between Lucy and Jesse. I also loved how Lindner put a little bit of Roman Holiday into the story as well.

The Distance from A to Z, The Eternal City, and Love & Gelato reviewed by Paige.
Wanderlost and Love, Lucy reviewed by JoLee.

P.S. Girls who study abroad here.

P.P.S. Mythologies in the modern world here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Story Continues: Glass Sword, The Mirror King, & Shiny Broken Pieces

Lately I've really been itching to read sequels. I hope that continues because there are a lot of sequels coming out in the second half of the year. Here are a few of the sequels I've read lately.

Okay, you guys, I cannot resist a clever theme, and putting these three sequels together makes my nerdy heart so happy. (You see what I did here, right?)

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Publisher / Year: HarperTeen - February 2016

Genres: YA Science Fiction 

Source: My Local Library

Goodreads | Amazon

Last year Red Queen (featured here and here) made my Favorite Debuts of the Year list. Over time my ardor for the series cooled significantly, but I still really wanted to find out what happened, so I got in the queue for the audiobook at the library.
In Glass Sword, Mare Barrow and Prince Cal are on the run from Prince Maven. There are certain high-ups in the rebellion who are afraid of Mare and her unusual powers but still want to use her for their own ends. This aspect of the story reminded me of Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Mare, Cal, and a few loyal rebels escape the rebellion and go on a hunt to find all the red bloods with powers before Maven does. This part of the story reminded me of how in Breaking Dawn Carlisle and the gang were gathering all the talented vampires to combat the Volturi.

I never find this type of setup--where the heroes are traveling from place to place, living in the wilderness, preparing for battle--quite as engaging as when the heroes are thrust into the heart of the oppressive society. But, it seems like most dystopias need a middle book that does just this. Because it's not really my thing, I rightly cut books like this some slack. 

Glass Sword is definitely not the most original YA fantasy/ dystopia out there, but it is still a lot of fun, and when I finished the book I definitely wanted to know what would happen next, which is always a good sign.

The Mirror King by Jodi Meadows

Publisher / Year: Katherine Tegen Books - April 2016

Genres: YA Fantasy

Source: Review copy from Edelweiss

Goodreads | Amazon 

Last year I read my first Jodi Meadows book, The Orphan Queen (feature here). It's the story of Wilhelmina Korte's plan to take back her kingdom. It has spies, magic with hefty consequences, and a young, masked vigilante who fights crime. I loved how the book combined elements of high fantasy and superhero comics and that Ms. Meadows gave Wilhelmina some serious fighting skills. Plus, it ended with an earth shattering cliff-hanger, so I was all set for the sequel.

In book two, Wilhelmina is still working to gain back her kingdom, but it seems like maybe she is in an even worse position than she was in the first novel. How is that possible!

What killed me about book two is how many conflicts/ crises Wilhelmina had to deal with. Let's see if I can even remember them all. 1. She wants her kingdom back. 2. Her former ally is really more like an enemy now. 3. The ruler of Aecor has no intention of relinquishing his control. 4. Her best friend has abandoned her. 5. The prince is dying. 6. She has turned a bit of the wraith into a living creature and it is completely unpredictable and amoral. 7. She's in love with a man who belongs to someone else. 8. And, oh yeah, the wraith is going to destroy EVERYTHING. Did I miss any? Maybe. There are so many. So my main thought throughout was, "How on earth is Ms. Meadows going to take care of all these problems in one book?" Guys, she did. I'm still not sure how, but it was impressive.

The Mirror King is a very different book than The Orphan Queen. The setting shifts. We don't get to spend as much with with The Black Knife or Prince Tobiah. Those can be hard blows to take. James is still around and the secrets surrounding his character really kept me reading.

Overall, I found it to be a satisfying conclusion to the series.

Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Publisher / Year: HarperTeen - July 2016

Genres: YA Contemporary

Source: Review copy from Edelweiss

Goodreads | Amazon

Huge ballet book fan here, so when I found out that Tiny, Pretty Things, however, were a bit more complicated than I had anticipated. The book is so crazy cutthroat with scary backstabbing and horrifying bullying,

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