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review 2018-04-21 23:07
Gorgeous, fierce YA historic fiction
Sky in the Deep - Adrienne Young

Disclaimer: reviewing uncorrected pre-publication galley via NetGalley

 

This was an awesome read. To be honest, I decided to review it because it was getting so much prelaunch hype, but I kinda thought I wouldn't be the target audience. I really just couldn't care less about Vikings, and so much of the marketing around it emphasizes that element.

 

If you're in the same camp, not to worry. Sky in the Deep is incredibly well-done and tells an exciting, high-stakes story with a fierce multi-dimensional main character who goes through an incredible character arc and journey. I don't think it's positioned as fantasy, but to me, it felt as much like fantasy as historical fiction.

 

Eelyn is a warrior, and the book opens with her totally eviscerating guys in battle. Which . . . I wasn't that into. I think I was afraid she was going to be really flat, like some implausible, too-perfect super-warrior, but she becomes more of a sympathetic character pretty quickly because her dead brother shows up to the battle. So maybe she's crazy or in shock, but then he shows up again--and when she chases him, she gets captured by the enemy.

 

Eelyn lives by a sort of warriors' code and puts honour above all, so being taken captive and forced into slavery by the group they're perpetually feuding with is nearly grounds for suicide. However, this isn't really the story of Eelyn the Viking superhero shutting down the old-world slave trade. It's way more nuanced than that.

 

I really appreciated the slow development that shows how someone with a rigid view of the world could come to understand others and challenge her own beliefs and those of her family/community. The slow-burn romance wasn't bad either~~

 

I'm looking forward to seeing what else Adrienne Young has in store for us. This was a beautiful, powerful debut about a girl who's not only a wicked-strong warrior, but has the strength to learn, grow, and love others despite the cost.

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review 2018-04-13 15:53
The Ashes of London
Ashes of London - Andrew Taylor

by Andrew Taylor

 

The Ashes of London is set against the Great London Fire of 1666. There are two stories intertwined. A first person narrative from James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, who is tasked to track down the killer of a mummified corpse found in St Paul's after it has burned down, alternating with a third person account of Cat, an heiress whose father is in exile for treason who faces many of the hardships that women had to deal with in that era, rich or poor.

 

Cat is a strong character and intelligent. She has an aptitude for architecture that the role of women would usually squelch, but through a series of mostly unfortunate circumstances, she finds herself in a position to develop.

 

The changing perspectives actually work very well. There is a healthy dose of political intrigue and an element of mystery to be solved. The book held my attention and the last few chapters got into some tense action that had me glued to the pages. I'm glad I've got the sequel waiting for me because this was definitely one of my best reads this year!

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review 2018-04-04 11:18
Paris
Paris: The Novel - Edward Rutherfurd

by Edward Rutherfurd

 

Like other books written by Rutherfurd, history is illustrated within intertwining stories of people and families covering a sequence of centuries showing life and how it developed within the chosen city, in this case, Paris.

 

I enjoyed the book a lot, though it didn't have quite the generational flow that some of his others did. The stories of individual characters kept me interested and seeing what happened with their descendants was reminiscent of Rutherfurd's style in earlier books.

 

It is a long book, over 800 pages, and took me a long time to read through all of it, but it was time well spent. Seeing the construction of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, plus exploring the variable feelings that local residents had about the latter, really brought the history alive. Also reading through eras of religious and political strife in France and how Paris residents were affected expanded my knowledge of history, which is part of the point of reading Historical Fiction!

 

Rutherfurd remains one of my favorite authors in this genre. The last few chapters took us underground in the French resistance of WW2 and although I find that era generally over saturated, I really got caught up in events, some real, some fictionalized. Rutherfurd included an afterword to differentiate which was which.

 

There were a few very long chapters that could do with sub-chapters, but it was a good read and kept my interest, despite the length.

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review 2018-03-29 14:48
A nice guide to London’s history, but poor directions
Cadogan Book of Historic London Walks (Cadogan Guide) - Leo Hollis

London is a city of layers.  From its Roman core, successive generations have built over and outward, turning the walled town into the vast metropolis that it is today.  This evolution can be seen just by walking around central London, yet many of the signs of it are tucked away in obscure corners or hidden in the anonymity of everyday life.

 

It is for those people who seek to discover the city’s past for themselves that Leo Hollis wrote this guidebook.  In it he details a dozen walks that allow participants to explore the span of London’s history, from the Roman remnants to its vast physical expansion during Victorian times.  Each walk includes a small map and instructions in bold as to the streets to take, along with explanatory text providing the background of the sites and their historical relevance.

 

Hollis’s book can be a good tool with which to explore London’s past.  His text is readable yet insightful, bringing to light the relevance of so much of the architectural and geographical landscape that might otherwise be taken for granted.  Yet its usefulness is marred by the unclear directions the walks offer.  Oftentimes these are more simplistic than London’s streets can justify and in a few places they prove to be outright wrong.  These problems can be surmounted by an aware reader, though, and should not detract from the informative explorations of the city that Hollis offers within its pages.

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review 2018-03-26 19:35
Dense, interwoven historic fiction within a conspiracy-mystery frame story
Minds of Winter - Ed O'Loughlin

Remarkable work of historical fiction. Intricate in structure, convincing and meticulous in detail, and surprisingly engrossing in character, this novel avoids typical plot, organization, and closure in favour of more challenging choices.

 

The modern-day frame story is of two lost souls in the high Canadian Arctic and, oddly, a historic marine chronometer. Nelson's brother (recent) and Faye's grandfather (long past) went missing in the area - but they're not there on a Dan Brown-esque mystery-thriller search for the truth. This case of missing, confused, and obfuscated identities resists such tidy progressions. Instead, the unlikely couple stumble their way into uncertain discoveries of questionable validity based on documents left behind by Nelson's apparently-missing brother. This modern day progression is interspersed with "found" documents and firsthand accounts of explorers, adventurers, and secret-history-movers of the last two centuries prodding at the edges of the unknown on journeys that range from Australia to the Arctic and very nearly everywhere in between. The dots don't connect - or maybe they do - but the real surprise is how enjoyable the ride is.

 

I don't usually enjoy fiction that lacks the classic rise-and-fall story arc or that evade neatly-wrapped endings, but the unconventional format of this book somehow worked for me. Strong research, a talent for authentic(-seeming) voice, and telling details bring to life far-flung locations and eras long since passed. I couldn't keep track of the location, time, character, and (potential, suggested, unconfirmed) links between the jumps for most of the book - and in fact, once I thought I'd worked out the trajectory, this book happily dumped the drawer upside down on me once more. In effect, the experience is like reading a loosely-linked series of short stories or historic records. I'm not sure if it's the inherently fraught circumstances of so many of the players, the exotically far-reaching locales, or the promise of a mystery to untangle, but this dense, interwoven narrative completely held my attention. Highly recommended read.

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