Book Review: Like a River Glorious – Rae Carson

Title: Like a River Glorious
Author: Rae Carson
ISBN: 9780062242945
Pages: 416
Release Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
Source: Publisher

Summary

There have been casualties along the way, but Lee Carson has survived the arduous journey to California and settled down with her companions, eager to begin a new life. But the tragedies she left behind aren’t done with her yet; Lee’s uncle manages to track her down once again, and he will do anything to obtain her witch-like ability to track down gold for himself, including putting her companions in grave danger. How will Lee be rid of this man, the person responsible for her parents’ murder, once and for all?

Review

The second book in the Gold Seer trilogy, Like a River Glorious, continues the story that began in Walk on Earth a Stranger, and it’s a fascinating one at that. The trilogy takes place during the California gold rush and features young Lee Westfall, a teenage girl who has had to cope with the murder of her parents and leaving almost everything she holds dear behind to escape from her uncle. In this era, women couldn’t own or inherit property, and Lee is constantly struggling against the expectations and limitations placed upon her because of her gender.

Like a River Glorious sees Lee somewhat settled in California with her friends, content to start a new life. Of course, her past isn’t quite finished with her. This is a rollicking read to be sure; one twist after another fills its pages. It’s easy to read this novel in one sitting, as Carson keeps the tension high. She takes on various topics as the treatment of the indigenous population (and, indeed, the idea of “claiming” land that is already spoken for by the native people) and immigrant Chinese, as well as the gender issues already tackled in the first novel. It’s interesting and well-done commentary.

The one quibble (and it really is a small quibble) that I had with this book is Lee’s uncle. Specifically, he is so irredeemable, such a caricature of a villain that I found it frustrating. I kept looking for some complexity beyond the one-dimensional bad guy we were presented with, and never found it. In some ways, that’s refreshing—Carson makes no apologies for how the man treats his fellow human beings. But at the same time, I wouldn’t have minded some sort of depth to him.

If you don’t read a lot of YA novels, Rae Carson is where I suggest you start. Her previous trilogy, Girl of Fire and Thorns, is one of my favorites of all time, and the Gold Seer trilogy is shaping up to be pretty great as well. Her novels have depth and incredible world building; you’ll be able to close your eyes and picture the scenes unfolding around you. My favorite aspect, though, is her incredible main characters. They’ll stick with you for a long time, and you’re sure never to forget them.

Other books by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger

The Crown of Embers
The Bitter Kingdom

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Book Review: The House Between Tides – Sarah Maine

house-between-tidesTitle: The House Between Tides
Author: Sarah Maine
ISBN: 9781501126918
Pages: 400
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

Hetty is ready for a change, so when she receives news that a relative has died, and she’s been left a massive estate, Muirlan, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands, she jumps at the chance for something new. She’s interested in turning the huge house into a hotel, but between the house’s dismal condition, a body found beneath the floorboards, and the mystery surrounding the estate’s past, Hetty might have received more than she bargained for.

Review

The House Between Tides is a beautiful atmospheric historical novel that jumps in time between Hetty’s story and that of her ancestor, Theo, and the mystery surrounding his time at Muirlan. The finding of a body isn’t exactly an optimistic note to start a new life on, and Hetty isn’t sure what to think of any part of Muirlan, or the locals inhabiting the island it’s on. This novel is filled with uncertainty, and it contributes to the thick atmosphere well.

It’s a slow novel, to be sure—this isn’t your fact-paced crime read, with a whodunit and a twist around every corner. No, it’s a deliberate novel, moving at its own quite pace; at the beginning, it can seem like a bit of a slog, as it takes time to get going. But if you stick with it, you’re rewarded with a beautiful and rich tale about the past and present, and how the two are intertwined.

Responsibility plays a huge role in The House Between Tides—what responsibility does Hetty have to the locals of the island? What responsibility does she have to the house? Is she responsible for the actions of the family that came before her, even if she has almost no ties to them beyond blood? It’s really interesting to see this theme unfold and watch how it affects the various relationships of the novel.

If you love character-driven novels, if you love novels thick with atmosphere, if you love books where the setting is just as crucial as the characters, then you absolutely should pick up The House Between Tides. As I said, it takes awhile to get going, but once all the pieces start falling into place, it’s an incredibly rewarding and thoughtful read.

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Book Review: The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

the nightingale kristin hannahTitle: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
ISBN: 9780312577223
Pages: 448
Release Date: February 3, 2015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, living in France in the 1930s; Vianne is responsible, caring for her husband, child, and younger sister, while Isabelle is flighty and selfish. But war is on their doorstep and when Vianne’s husband must leave for the front, life changes for the two sisters as they find their place in war-torn France.

Review

I’m not much of a fan of World War II-era novels. It takes a lot to convince me to pick one up; usually, it’s an author I trust not to lead me astray, which was the case with Kristin Hannah. The time period didn’t intrigue me, but I have enjoyed Hannah’s previous novels, and the fact that this was about sisters, a subject I do love? It was enough for me to give it a chance, and I’m so glad I did. The Nightingale drew me in from the very first pages, and I read it breathlessly and eagerly from cover to cover.

Vianne and Isabelle appear so different on the surface in The Nightingale, but they have so much in common that they don’t recognize. It’s the curse of sisters in many ways; you’re more alike than you are different, but often you can’t see those similarities that are right in front of you. Hannah writes them very well; they are each flawed, and they both think they’re weak. But wartime demands things we never would normally expect from ourselves, and it’s interesting to see how they each rise to the challenges before them, and how they succeed and fail in their own ways. The character development in this novel is really excellent.

If I had to pick one word to describe The Nightingale, it would be sweeping. It’s not that it covers a huge length of time (though the novel begins in the near-present and flashes back to reveal what happened and uncover the mystery of the past), but that these two women were heroes. That’s really what this novel is all about; the suffering people deal with in war is extraordinary, but ordinary in that everyone must undergo their own unique form of it. Everyone has an extraordinary story to tell; it’s ordinary people who were the heroes.

If you’re looking for a novel to really suck you in, especially if you’re coming off a reading slump or having difficulty finding something that captures your attention, give The Nightingale a try. Despite its 400+ page length, I read this cover to cover. I couldn’t put it down; I had to know what was going to happen to Vianne and Isabelle, to solve the mystery of the past and find out what was happening in the present. It’s very well done and is just another example of how great a storyteller Kristin Hannah is.

Other books by Kristin Hannah:

Firefly Lane
Home Front
Fly Away
Night Road
Winter Garden

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Book Review: A Murder in Time – Julie McElwain

a murder in timeTitle: A Murder in Time
Author: Julie McElwain
ISBN:9781605989747
Pages: 499
Release Date: April 11, 2016
Publisher: Pegasus
Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

Kendra Donovan might be young, but she’s making a name for herself at the FBI. That is, until something goes horribly wrong on a raid, and Kendra wakes up in the hospital. Set on revenge, Kendra strikes out on her own, determined to bring her own brand of vigilante justice to the person responsible for killing her team members. But just as she’s catching up with her man, something unexplainable happens: Kendra is thrown back in time, to the year 1815. Trapped in a world she doesn’t know or understand, Kendra must figure out how to get home…if a murderer in the past doesn’t find her first.

Review

A Murder in Time is a hard book to summarize, as you might be able to tell from the plot synopsis above; there’s so much going on in this book that it’s hard to do it justice in a few sentences. The bottom line is that the second I heard about this book, I knew it was for me. Lady main character? FBI? Murder? Time travel? This was 100% up my alley, even if I never expected a book combining all these themes. I was a little worried at how McElwain would handle it—if it would be too silly to really be enjoyable—but I shouldn’t have worried. I was hooked on this novel from beginning to end.

The novel starts off a little slow, as the reader gets to know Kendra and her place within the FBI; this is necessary background, but it doesn’t feel as though the story really starts taking off until Kendra sets out on her own. At this point, things start moving at a breakneck pace, and it doesn’t let off much over the course of the book. Kendra’s grappling with being out of her own time, unsure of how or if she’ll get home, trying to fit in, railing against how women are treated in this world, grappling with the class divides…and oh yeah, solving a murder that happens while she’s in the past. There’s a lot going on, and the author juggles it all very well.

You don’t expect a fun murder mystery to be especially thought provoking, and yet A Murder in Time is. By setting the bulk of the novel in the past, McElwain is able to discuss issues of class and feminism, providing a social commentary through Kendra on how much has changed, but more importantly, what hasn’t. The social undertones never get in the way of plot, as the author makes sure they’re such an integral part of Kendra’s character. This novel really does have it all.

The second I finished A Murder in Time, I was immediately on social media asking if there would be a sequel because I fell in love with this world that McElwain created. Kendra is such a great character—capable, smart, funny—but she isn’t perfect. I loved getting to know her, and I hope that we do see that sequel (in development, but no guarantees) soon!

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Book Review: A God in Every Stone – Kamila Shamsie

Title: A God in Every Stone Author: Kamila Shamsie ISBN: 9781632864154, Pages: 400 Release Date: February 9, 2016 Publisher: Bloomsbury Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction Source: Publisher Summary It’s the summer of 1914, and Vivian Rose Spencer is working on an archaeological dig in Turkey alongside Tahsin Bey, a friend of her father’s. When she […]

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Book Review: The Muralist – B. A. Shapiro

Title: The Muralist Author: B. A. Shapiro ISBN: 9781616203573 Pages: 352 Release Date: November 3, 2015 Publisher: Algonquin Books Genre: Historical Fiction Source: Publisher Summary When Danielle, who works at Christie’s auction house, finds pieces of ripped painted canvas stored behind other paintings, she thinks she recognizes the style. Danielle’s great-aunt, Alizee, was a painter […]

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Book Review: Tiny Little Thing & Along the Infinite Sea – Beatriz Williams

Title: Tiny Little Thing / Along the Infinite Sea Author: Beatriz Williams ISBN: 9780399171307 / 9780399171314 Pages: 368 / 464 Release Date: June 23 / November 3, 2015 Publisher: Putnam Genre: Historical Fiction Source: Publisher Summary These two novels follow the Schulyer sisters Tiny and Pepper as they come to terms with the blows life […]

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Book Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger – Rae Carson

Title: Walk on Earth a Stranger Author: Rae Carson ISBN: 9780062242914 Pages: 448 Release Date: September 22, 2015 Publisher: Greenwillow Books Genre: Historical Fiction, Teen/YA Source: Review Copy Summary Leah is a 15-year-old living in Georgia in the 1800s, and though the gold rush is coming to an end, Leah’s unique ability means that she has […]

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