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Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Now I Rise by Kiersten WhiteNow I Rise by Kiersten White
Published by Delacorte Press on June 27th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 471
Goodreads

She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.

After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.

5 Stars

“Do not lose that hunger. You will always have to fight for everything. Even when you already have it, you will have to keep fighting to maintain it. You will have to be more ruthless, more brutal, more everything. Any weakness will undo everything you have accomplished. They will see any crack as evidence that they were right that a woman cannot do what you do.”

If you’re looking for a Young Adult novel that combines a Vlad the Impaler reimagining with a rich historical setting and a glorious feminist storyline, then The Conqueror’s Saga is your address. This series excites with multi-layered characters and fascinating character dynamics, intriguing political/war schemes and engaging personal endeavours. And I Darken was a slow build-up but I was really intrigued, especially by the sibling leads. The book’s ending gave me a hint that I was going to like where Kiersten White was headed with this story, and I was right.

Though Now I Rise is split into Lada’s and Radu’s separate storylines, it does not feel like a filler book. Compared to And I Darken, the sequel is grittier and bloodier. The stakes are raised, as each sibling yearns and fights to be something their harsh world will not permit them to be.

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The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

The Perilous Sea by Sherry ThomasThe Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas
Series: The Elemental Trilogy #2
Published by Balzer + Bray on September 16th, 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 414
Goodreads

After spending the summer away from each other, Titus and Iolanthe (still disguised as Archer Fairfax) are eager to return to Eton College to resume their training to fight the Bane. Although no longer bound to Titus by a blood oath, Iolanthe is more committed than ever to fulfilling her destiny—especially with the agents of Atlantis quickly closing in.

Soon after arriving at school, though, Titus makes a shocking discovery, one that makes him question everything he previously believed about their mission. Faced with this devastating realization, Iolanthe is forced to come to terms with her new role, while Titus must choose between following his mother's prophecies—and forging a divergent path to an unknowable future.

3.5 Stars

Sequels are often compared to their predecessor(s), especially when with regard to deciding on a fitting rating, but I can tell you that this did me absolutely no good at all. Because The Perilous Sea seems so fundamentally different from The Burning Sky in many aspects.

The Perilous Sea was an exciting, gripping read and a worthy sequel for this series. The book excelled in taking the tension, the danger, and the action to the next level. Some of the plot twists in this book had me practically gaping.  But I also felt like the overall drama factor was turned up a notch as well, and I don’t know how I feel about that, especially where that puts me with the rating. 

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All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrAll The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published by Scribner on May 6th 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 530
Goodreads

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

5 Stars

“When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”

What a gorgeous creature of a book.

I knew I needed to write a review for this book because I want to convince everyone to read it, but at the same time, it was such a struggle. Some books you just can’t describe, putting your finger on what you loved about them is difficult. But I will do my best.

All The Light We Cannot See is, simply put, beautiful. It’s a historical fiction novel set during World War II told from two perspectives. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who has to flee her home of Paris with her father; the other is Werner, a German orphan who joins the Hitler youth and becomes a Nazi soldier. We also get some other perspectives interspersed throughout, but the focus is on the story of these two children and later on, young adults. It is told in a non-linear fashion and jumps between timelines so that we end up experiencing life before, after and during the war. This book is about the smaller players, the stories that usually go untold, that get forgotten in the turmoil of history.

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Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

Prince of Shadows by Rachel CainePrince of Shadows by Rachel Caine
Published by NAL on February 4th, 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Goodreads

In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and—if they survive—marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.

Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona—and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona…

… And will rewrite all their fates, forever.

4.5 Stars

I’ve only read one other novel by Rachel Caine, and Ink and Bone sorely disappointed me. So when I picked up Prince of Shadows, realizing only halfway through the book by whom it had been written, I was pleasantly surprised. Because this book was amazing. Now, let me tell you about my feels because I have many.

Let it be known that I love retellings, especially those that expand an original beyond its horizon. This Romeo and Juliet retelling was enriched by the point of view of Benvolio Montague, Romeo’s (much more reasonable) cousin. Prince of Shadows combines an engaging narrator (yes, Benvolio Montague is my dreamboat), a dark atmosphere set in the streets of Verona (yes, Verona is a gem of Italy) and poetic prose that makes the historical setting come to life.

First of all, how can I not fall in love with a Romeo and Juliet retelling that commences with trespassing and thoughts of murder? How, I ask you? Simply impossible.

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Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichiePurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published by Harper Perennial on 2005
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 307
Goodreads

Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.

When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways. This is a book about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new.

5 Stars

She seemed so happy, so at peace, and I wondered how anybody around me could feel that way when liquid fire was raging inside me, when fear was mingling with hope and clutching itself around my ankles.

 Purple Hibiscus is the first book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I’ve read, but I can guarantee it won’t be my last. I loved this book so much and felt deeply connected to the characters and story. It was such an insightful and thought-provoking read, I couldn’t put it down and was utterly absorbed in these characters’ lives.

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NgEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Press on June 26th 2014
Genres: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, LGBTQ+
Pages: 304
Goodreads

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

5 Stars

This book opens with the line: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

Everything I Never Told You is a story about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. At the beginning of the book, the favourite daughter of the Lee family, Lydia, goes missing and turns up dead in a lake. From this synopsis it may sound like a mystery suspense or an investigative novel but that really isn’t the case. The book is not plot-driven at all but is a very slow-burning, character-driven read. It’s about loss and grief and family dynamics. About secrets and miscommunication, but also gender, race and interracial relationships.

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My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi MeadowsMy Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
Published by HarperTeen on June 7th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Retelling, Young Adult
Pages: 494
Goodreads

Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?

2.5 Stars

When I read the synopsis for My Lady Jane, I mentally immediately filed it under “not my thing”. I don’t really enjoy historical fiction set in the Tudor era and books about royalty are usually a miss as well. Also, all the reviewers described this book as extremely funny; again, not really what I’m normally interested in.

But then more reviews started rolling in and some of my GR friends personally recommended it to me. I got interested and decided I would pick it up whenever I needed something that would put me in a good mood.

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The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene WeckerThe Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
Published by Blue Door on April 23rd, 2013
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 657
Goodreads

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

Struggling to make their way in 1899 New York, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their immigrant neighbors while masking their true selves. Meeting by chance, they become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Djinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

4 Stars

A newborn creature made of clay.
An ancient creature made of fire.
Meet by chance in the city that never sleeps.

Helene Wecker drew inspiration from Jewish and Middle Eastern mythology to create a beautifully written story of a cautious golem and a reckless djinni who find themselves in a foreign city in 1899 and find solace in each other’s company. The Golem and the Djinni is a tale of solitude, of capture, of finding a place to fit in, and of friendship.

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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Series: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1
Published by Phoenix Press on October 5th 2005
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 520
Goodreads

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets--an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

3 Stars

Hold your tomatoes!

I feel like writing anything negative about this book would be considered some kind of literary treason, but I’m going to do it anyway.

The Shadow of the Wind is an extremely popular book around the world and for good reason. I can see why other people would love it even if I could not.

The story follows a young boy named Daniel, who lives in his father’s bookshop in Barcelona during the 1940s. One day at the age of ten, his father takes Daniel to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he is allowed pick one book he is expected to “save”, i.e. read and remember throughout his life. Daniel ends up picking The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax and immediately falls in love with the story. From that point onwards we follow Daniel as he grows up and tries to untangle the mystery behind the book and its illusive author. The search turns out to be more dangerous than anyone could have anticipated.

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And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken by Kiersten WhiteAnd I Darken by Kiersten White
Series: The Conquerors Saga #1
Published by Delacorte Press on June 28th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, LGBTQ+
Pages: 475
Goodreads

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

5 Stars

“I cannot afford to lose you, too”

“You cannot lose something you do not own. Take me with you”

This book was everything I never knew I wanted.

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