Book Reviews

Book Review: THE FAMILY ROMANOV

RomanovTitle: THE FAMILY ROMANOV: MURDER, REBELLION, AND THE FALL OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA
Author: Candace Fleming
Publication Information: Schwartz & Wade, 2014
Pages: 304
Source: Library – author backlist
Genre: Young Adult – Biography
Warnings: Non-graphic discussion of the family’s execution
Rating: 4 stars
Recommended For: People looking for an introduction to the Romanov family and/or the Russian Revolutions of 1917.

Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs—at once an intimate portrait of Russia’s last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing. Using captivating photos and compelling first person accounts, award-winning author Candace Fleming (Amelia Lost; The Lincolns) deftly maneuvers between the imperial family’s extravagant lives and the plight of Russia’s poor masses, making this an utterly mesmerizing read as well as a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards.

(Summary from Goodreads)

Fleming’s take on the fall of the Romanov dynasty is extremely readable, which would make this an excellent pick for readers who normally shy away from biographies. It would also be an interesting perspective to include, since she is more critical of the Romanovs than some Romanov historians are wont to be. Additionally, the inclusion of numerous “interludes” focusing on events going on outside the palace walls – told from the point of view of ordinary Russians – both provided contrast to the lifestyle of the imperial family and provided important context for the events that unfolded toward the end of the Romanovs’ lives.

THE FAMILY ROMANOV is very much an introductory-level book, though. If you’re at all familiar with the Russian Revolutions – or even if you’ve just seen the animated ANASTASIA movie – you probably won’t learn anything new from reading this book. As an introduction, though, I thought it was fairly comprehensive, and Fleming includes photographs and quotes from multiple family members’ letters and journals. Those more familiar with this particular period in history would be better served reading a different book on the topic.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: OF FIRE AND STARS

F&STitle: OF FIRE AND STARS
Author: Audrey Coulthurst
Series: Of Fire and Stars, #1
Publication Information: Balzer + Bray, 2016
Pages: 389
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy
Warnings: Light violence, some sexual content
Rating: 5 stars
Recommended For: Tamora Pierce fans, people who like books with arranged marriages and/or forbidden magic, political intrigue lovers.

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I was really excited about this book when I first real the deal announcement, so I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed. It has some of my favorite tropes: an arranged marriage, an arranged marriage being derailed by one of the parties falling in love with someone else, forbidden magic, enemies (sort of) to lovers. And it was all done with characters I loved as well as immersive world building. So, wins all around.

There was INTRIGUE and SECRETS which are two more of my favorite things to read about. Denna has to keep her Affinity a secret, which becomes harder when her powers start leaking out of her control, not to mention people suspect something is up and she has to try even harder to hide them. There were also some shady things going on in regards to diplomatic relations with another country, and someone gets assassinated, and all of it may or may not be related to both each other and to the magic thing. And because of all of this, people spend a lot of time in libraries, which is another thing I am okay with.

I loved the romance (see: sort-of enemies to lovers). Denna and Mare had a lot of chemistry, and I thought their romance developed really naturally. I also loved that the obstacle to the two of them being together wasn’t that both of them were women, since any and all relationships in this world are acceptable and valid; instead, the obstacle was that Denna was already engaged to Mare’s brother. Which, to be honest, was way more interesting, anyway, especially since Denna didn’t actually dislike her betrothed.

I can’t wait for the next book.

Book Reviews

Book Review: UNBECOMING

unbecomingTitle: UNBECOMING
Author: Jenny Downham
Publication Information: Scholastic, 2016 (first published 2015)
Pages: 389
Source: Overdrive (ebook) – Stonewall Honor list
Genre: Young Adult – Mystery, Family Drama
Warnings: Non-graphic sexual content, legal alcohol consumption, homophobia
Rating: 4 stars
Recommended For: People who like family dramas and multiple storylines set in different time periods. Also has crossover appeal with adult readers.

Katie’s life is falling apart: her best friend thinks she’s a freak, her mother, Caroline, controls every aspect of her life, and her estranged grandmother, Mary, appears as if out of nowhere. Mary has dementia and needs lots of care, and when Katie starts putting together Mary’s life story, secrets and lies are uncovered: Mary’s illegitimate baby, her zest for life and freedom and men; the way she lived her life to the full yet suffered huge sacrifices along the way. As the relationship between Mary and Caroline is explored, Katie begins to understand her own mother’s behavior, and from that insight, the terrors about her sexuality, her future, and her younger brother are all put into perspective.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I really enjoyed UNBECOMING, despite how slowly it felt like it moved. It took me a little while to get into it, but I was sucked in by the mystery about halfway through as I kept reading to find out what had happened between Caroline and Mary all those years ago to led to their estrangement. I also really enjoyed watching Katie develop a relationship with her grandmother even as I rooted for her to stand up for herself to her mother and her schoolmates.

There are a lot of things packed into this book, and I think Downham wove them together masterfully. There’s the main storyline, with Mary winding up on Katie and Caroline’s doorstep with dementia and trying to care for her while Caroline wrangles with the healthcare system to get Mary placed into a home, but then there are actually multiple storylines, as Mary’s story and Katie’s story are woven together to paint a picture about Mary and Caroline’s estrangement. We get to see Mary as a young woman who refused to be unashamed of her sexuality and her decision to give up Caroline for adoption. We also get to see Katie’s struggles to define herself despite Caroline being controlling, not to mention the bullying she faces at school because she kissed a female frenemy – which complicates things for Katie, who is questioning her sexual orientation. That particular storyline I thought was handled sensitively, and I thought Downham did a respectable job capturing how confusing it is not to understand that particular facet of one’s identity.

My main complaint is that while there’s a lot of focus of Mary and Katie, we barely glimpse Caroline’s perspective. While intellectually I could understand why she might be controlling and cold as a person, I never really felt sympathy for her. A lot of that might have to do with the fact that she was cast largely as a villain in both Mary and Katie’s storylines: she was the daughter who rejected her mother, and the mother trying to enforce her will on her eighteen-year-old daughter. This could’ve been softened if we’d gotten more of her voice.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite YA Fantasy Books

OMG, guys. I have no idea how this summer got away from me, but it did. I’ll do an actual ~life update~ post soon, but for now, I’m going to talk up some awesome YA fantasy books.

TTT2016

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Favorite YA Fantasy Books

  1. The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson: My review here.
  2. STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle L. Jensen: Suddenly finding yourself attracted to trolls is a very confusing thing, but there you go.
  3. Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas: My review here.
  4. RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard: Really good pacing and I’m always here for court intrigue.
  5. THE WRATH & THE DAWN by Renée Ahdieh: Beautiful world building and writing all around. I couldn’t put this one down.
  6. Lumatere Chronicles series by Melina Marchetta: My review here.
  7. Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima: My review here.
  8. THE KISS OF DECEPTION by Mary E. Pearson: This book featured one of the best love triangles I’ve ever read.
  9. THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski: My review here.
  10. THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater: My review here.
Book Reviews

Mini-Reviews: QUEEN SONG & STEEL SCARS

Titles: QUEEN SONG and STEEL SCARS
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Series: Red Queen, #0.1 and #0.2, respectively
Genre: Young Adult – Epic Fantasy, Dystopian, Novella
Publication Information: HarperTeen, 2015 and 2016, respectively
Rating: 4 Stars and 3 Stars, respectively
Recommended For: Fans of the Red Queen series.
Watch Out For: Violence

QSQueen Coriane, first wife of King Tiberias, keeps a secret diary—how else can she ensure that no one at the palace will use her thoughts against her? Coriane recounts her heady courtship with the crown prince, the birth of a new prince, Cal, and the potentially deadly challenges that lay ahead for her in royal life.

(Summary from Goodreads)

This was my favorite of the two novellas because I liked reading more about the inner workings of the Nortan court, plus Coriane seemed like a genuinely lovely person who met an unfortunate end. This one was also particularly interesting because of the insight it gives us into Elara’s character, and Elara is my queen, so. (Idk, what does that say about me?)

SSFarley was raised to be strong, but being tasked with planting the seeds of rebellion in Norta is a tougher job than expected. As she travels the land recruiting black market traders, smugglers, and extremists for her first attempt at an attack on the capital, she stumbles upon a connection that may prove to be the key to the entire operation—Mare Barrow.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I actually could’ve just read an entire book about Farley infiltrating Norta because that part was interesting. I didn’t connect with her as much as I did with Coriane, but it was nice to get a look at how the Scarlet Guard came to be such a force in Norta and to learn about its inner workings.

TL;DR: You don’t have to read these novellas to follow the story in the main books, but it does add an extra layer to some of the character motivations if you do read them.