Book Review Round-Up: Boxers, One Night For Love And City Of Night

I have quite a few books I want to talk about, so I figured I share some quick thoughts on some of them!

boxers-coverBook #1: Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

Published September 2013 by First Second|325 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: Boxers And Saints #1

Genre: Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

What It’s About: China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers–commoners trained in kung fu–who fight to free China from “foreign devils.”

Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of “secondary devils”–Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

What I Thought: I liked it, but not as much as I liked Saints.  I think reading Boxers before Saints will help you understand what’s going on in Saints, because it goes into greater detail about what the Boxer Rebellion actually was. I really like the idea of history being told in the form of a graphic novel.  It’s been a while since I’ve read it (over a month), and now I’m finding that I’m having a hard time talking about the book and what I thought about it.  It’s definitely worth reading, though, and it does make me want to learn more about it. Whether I actually do so remains to be seen, but maybe one day…

It is a good introduction to the subject, though, and I think if you’re new to graphic novels (like I am), Boxers (and Saints) is a really good place to start.  I also liked seeing the other side of the story, and that there are many sides to one event.

My Rating: 3 stars.  Mostly because it’s a good introduction to the Boxer Rebellion and the format makes it different. But it also gets 3 stars because I don’t remember enough to give it a higher rating.

one-night-for-love-coverBook #2: One Night For Love by Mary Balogh

Published January 2012 (originally published 1999) by Dell|384 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: Bedwyn Saga #0.5

Genre: Adult Romance, Adult Historical Romance

What It’s About: One reckless man…One passionate woman.

Enter the world of Mary Balogh—the glittering ballrooms and vast country estates of Regency-era England, where romance, with all its mystery, magic, and surprises, comes vibrantly alive.

It was a perfect morning in May…

Neville Wyatt, Earl of Kilbourne, awaited his bride at the altar—when a ragged beggar woman raced down the aisle instead. The cream of the ton saw him stare, shocked, then declare that this was his wife! One night of passion was all he remembered as he beheld Lily, the woman he’d wed, loved, and lost on the battlefield in Portugal. Now he said he’d honor his commitment to her—regardless of the gulf that lay between them.

Then Lily spoke her mind…

She said she wanted only to start a new life—wanted only a husband who truly loved her. She had to leave him to learn how to meet his world on her terms. So Lily agreed to earn her keep as his aunt’s companion and study the genteel arts. Soon she was the toast of the ton, every inch a countess fit for the earl, who vowed to prove to his remarkable wife that what he felt for her was far more than desire, that what he wanted from her was much more than…One Night for Love.

What I Thought: This is another one I don’t remember a lot about.  I vaguely remember liking it, but not being super-into the romance.  I do remember not being surprised by the fact that she wasn’t really dead, and that he never told anyone about it.  Other than that, nothing stands out.

My Rating: 2 stars- mostly because I remember nothing, and I don’t remember enough to dislike it, but I also don’t remember enough to actually like it.

city-of-night-coverBook #3: City Of Night by John Rechy

Published January 1994 (originally published 1963) by Grove Press|400 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

What It’s About: When John Rechy’s explosive first novel, City of Night, was first published in 1963, it became a national bestseller and ushered in a new era of gay fiction. Bold and inventive in his account of the urban underworld of male prostitution, Rechy is equally unflinching in his portrayal of one hustling “Youngman” and his restless search for self-knowledge. As the narrator careens from El Paso to Times Square, from Pershing Square to the French Quarter, we get an unforgettable look at a neon-lit life on the edge. Said James Baldwin of the author, “Rechy is the most arresting young writer I’ve read in a very long time. His tone rings absolutely true, is absolutely his own; and he has the kind of discipline which allows him a rare and beautiful reckless.”

What I Thought: This was a really hard book to get through, and I really struggled with it.  I can see why it was such an important book when it was published, considering what the book is about.  But I had a hard time with it, and it felt really dry.  I know it’s loosely autobiographical, and it really read that way.  It’s not a bad thing, but it just didn’t work for me.

It is a glimpse into what life was like during that time, but it seemed to drag on.  It also seemed really repetitive, and I’m sort of doubting why I took the time to finish the book.  It just seemed like an endless cycle of the same behavior for the main character, but I suppose it goes with the lifestyle that the character is living.

My Rating: 2 stars.  It’s definitely not the book for me, and it was a struggle for me to get through but I can see why it gets a lot of praise.

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Top Ten Tuesday School Freebie: Ten Books I’d Have On My Shelf If I Were A History Teacher

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely folks over at The Broke And The Bookish.  Every week, bloggers share their own bookish top ten lists based on the topic of the week.  You can check out Ten Tuesdays here.

Blog Graphic- Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Books I’d Have On My Shelf If I Were A History Teacher

This week is a back-to-school freebie, so we get to pick a school-related topic.  I’ve been wanting to read more history lately, and I’d like to think I’d be that teacher who uses historical fiction to teach history.  These are the books that I’d have on my shelf if I were a history teacher.

TTT 10 History Books I'd Have In My Classroom

  1. Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.  She’s a good choice if you want to know more about female pilots during World War 2.
  2. Prisoner Of Night And Fog by Anne Blankman.  What I like about this duology is that it focuses on what it was like to be part of Hitler’s inner circle, and I think that could be interesting contrast to Elizabeth Wein’s books, especially because it’s about Hitler’s rise to power.
  3. Between Shades Of Grey and Out Of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys.  Between Shades Of Grey, for a unit on World War 2, but also Out Of The Easy…I don’t know how I’d fit that in to an actual lesson, but it might be good to have on the bookshelf.
  4. And I Darken by Kiersten White.  Because it’s about the Ottoman Empire, and that would be cool for a few different history classes.
  5. A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller.  It’s all about the suffragettes in London in 1909, and a good book to include in a lesson on the right to vote for women.
  6. A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier.  I don’t think the Spanish Flu pandemic really came up in school (but then again, I’m a little fuzzy on that), so this book would be an interesting look at that.
  7. A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury.  I didn’t even know that the Partition of India was an actual event until I read this book, and that is why it would be on my shelf if I were a history teacher.
  8. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley.  This book is perfect if you’re talking about civil rights.
  9. Crow by Barbara Wright.  I didn’t know that there were race riots in Wilmington in 1898, and this is something I’d want in my history classroom.
  10. Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee.  If you want to talk about The Oregon Trail, I think this book is a pretty good book to have around.

Book Review: A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

A Criminal Magic CoverBook: A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

Published February 2016 by Saga Press|432 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction/Fantasy/Alternate History

Blog Graphic-What It's About

In Lee Kelly’s newest fantasy novel, two young sorcerers experiment with magic and mobsters in 1920s Prohibition when a new elixir is created that turns their lives upside down.

Washington, DC, 1926. Sorcery opponents have succeeded in passing the 18th Amendment, but the Prohibition of magic has only invigorated the city’s underworld. Smuggling rings carry magic contraband in from the coast. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Gangs have even established “magic havens,” secret venues where the public can lose themselves in immersive magic and consume a mind-bending, highly addictive elixir known as “the sorcerer’s shine.”

Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from the backwoods of Norfolk County, accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, The Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws. When Joan meets Alex at the Shaws’ magic haven, she discovers a confidante in her fellow partner and he begins to fall under her spell. But when a new breed of the addictive sorcerer’s shine is created within the walls of the magic haven, Joan and Alex are forced to question their allegiances as they become pitted against one another in a dangerous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

When I first heard about this book, I knew I had to read it, because the idea of Prohibition, but with magic, instead of alcohol, was really different but also interesting!

I just love the idea of a world where Prohibition was all about magic, and not alcohol.  It’s really different, and I wanted to keep reading, even when I had finished the book.  I particularly loved the last few chapters, and especially the last chapter.  It was all so unexpected, and for the entire book, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as the ending went.

And it’s interesting is that things are tied up really well, and you know it’s the end of the book, but it’s still just open enough that you’re hoping it’s the first book in a series.  I was surprised to find that’s a stand-alone, because the world was so fascinating that I wanted more, and I couldn’t believe that this was all we were getting.

I loved the world, and I wanted to know more about it.  Considering it’s fantasy, and just over 400 pages, the world-building was pretty good.  You get a really good sense of what magic is like in this world, and how different the magic is for everyone who can do magic.  And I loved the concept of The Shine- and the other products (which seems to be the best way to describe it) that produce a similar effect that Shine does.  In a way, the effects reminded me of someone on drugs, so maybe that would be a slightly better word than products.

Still, I can’t remember if we ever learn why magic was illegal, and if it’s not explained why, then I wish it was something that was explained, because it’s something I really want to know.  And if it was mentioned, then clearly it didn’t stick.

But I really liked the twist on Prohibition, and I think the time period was why it worked as a stand-alone. While there was a lot of world-building, it didn’t need as much because it was a twist on something that already happened.

I really liked Joan and Alex, but I found that I liked Joan’s chapters a lot more than Alex’s.  Alex did have an interesting story, and I liked how their stories came together, but as the book went on, I found that I cared a lot more about Joan than Alex, and I’m not sure why.  Still, they both had such an interesting story that I can’t help but wonder what happened to both of them after the end of the book, and if Prohibition was ever repealed in this world.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

4 stars.  I didn’t love it, and I’m not sure why, because there are a lot of really interesting and different things about A Criminal Magic.  But I did really like it, and it’s definitely worth checking out!

Book Review: Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk On Earth A Stranger CoverBook: Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson

Published September 2015 by Greenwillow Books|432 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #1

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I really liked Walk On Earth A Stranger!  I am really glad I read it!

I really like that it’s set during the Gold Rush, and that you see Leah on the Oregon Trail.  The time period made me think of Under A Painted Sky by Stacy Lee, so chances are, if like one book, you’ll like the other one. But really, why are more books not set during this time period?  I want to read more books set during the Gold Rush.  Especially Gold Rush-era books that have a hint of the paranormal.

I really liked Leah, and I felt for her, losing her parents becasue of her ability.  And if people found out, what would they do to get to Leah?  Like her uncle.  Oh, how I hated her uncle.  He’s just horrible.  I did like that that the people she traveled with supported her, and took her in, and stood up to her uncle.  They’re definitely a good group of people, and I hope we see more of them in the next book.  Even though I didn’t like her uncle, and don’t want to see him again, I’m pretty sure we have not seen the last of him.  And I will admit that a lot of the characters could have been a little bit more developed, but I’m hoping that comes later, and I feel like there’s more to them than what we see in the book.

The Oregon Trail really was a dangerous journey, and yet, for people like Leah and the people she traveled with, it was worth it for a different life. If I decided to pack up and move across the country, I probably wouldn’t think anything of it, but for Leah, and others like her, it was a pretty big and dangerous decision and journey, and I can’t imagine the obstacles she had to deal with.  Because of all of the traveling, the book moves at a pretty slow pace, but it was something I hadn’t thought of until right now.  But in this case, it works well for the book, because of everything that happens on this part of the journey.

And her ability to sense gold!  That’s definitely different, and yet it works for the time period.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to know where gold is, and how dangerous it would be to have that ability during the gold rush.  Or that time period.  It could be handy, as long as people don’t figure it out. And really, Leah is just awesome.  She is really tough (though I imagine she would have to be) and she is one determined young lady.  I want things to work out for so, so much.  I like that she wants to be herself, and that she wants to be more than what society expected her to be.  Sometimes, characters like Leah frustrate me, but with her, it wasn’t frustrating at all!  I think there’s a certain vulnerability to Leah, and that was really nice to see.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

4 stars.  For some reason, I didn’t quite love it, even though it is the sort of book I would love, but I still really liked it, and I can’t wait to read the next one!

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fire CoverBook: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Published September 2013 by Hyperion|350 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback!

Series: Code Name Verity #2

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

What It’s About: 

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

What I Thought:

I liked Rose Under Fire so much better than Code Name Verity…which will come up a lot in this review.  It’s as much a review of Rose Under Fire as it is an updated review of Code Name Verity (you can find my original review of Code Name Verity here).

I wasn’t sure if I’d like Rose Under Fire, because while I liked Code Name Verity (well, I liked it the first time around, but after a second reading, I didn’t really like it), I think I was expecting something more like Code Name Verity.

Rose Under Fire, to me, is told in a more traditional way than Code Name Verity.  It’s much more straight-forward, and it was really emotional for me.  There were a couple of times where I had to put Rose Under Fire down because I needed a minute to breathe.

There are things that happen that got me so emotional- much more than Code Name Verity- and there were so many times when I was reading this book that I wished I felt the same way about Code Name Verity.  I did go back and re-read Code Name Verity because I felt like I needed a refresher.  The nice thing about Rose Under Fire is that you don’t need to read Code Name Verity first, but in a lot of ways, I’m glad I read Code Name Verity first.

When I was re-reading Code Name Verity, I found that the story made a lot more sense the 2nd time around. Knowing what happened made the story make more sense, especially with how Verity is structured.  Having re-read it while reading Rose Under Fire…certain characters made more sense.  I did notice that this read that I really had force myself to keep going- I had a much harder time caring about what happened to Maddie or Julie, and it felt more technical this time than it did when I first read it.  I understand why Verity did what she did, but it also made it harder to connect with what happened.  Their friendship felt fake to me, especially in comparison to the friendships that Rose makes.

In a lot of ways, I’m glad I read Verity first, because I’m pretty sure I would have hated it had I read it after Rose.  I really do think Rose is the better of the two books.

It was hard to read, because you see what it was like in a concentration camp for political prisoners.  It very much focuses on Rose and the women she interacted with and became friends with, and while you don’t see the other people who were at Ravensbruck, you still get a glimpse of how horrible it was.  Rose changes so much by the end of the book, and I wish we got to see her life a little bit more after getting out of Ravensbruck. But at the same time, I thought we got enough of what happened to see what her life was life after and how hard it was for her to adjust to everything.

For so much of Rose Under Fire, I forgot that I was reading historical fiction, because it really felt like I was reading a memoir. Especially when Rose is actually in Ravensbruck, and what happened after.  And that brings me to the author’s note at the end of the book.  I loved that Wein had so many resources at the end of the book, much more than she included at the end of Verity.  It’s so detailed, which is awesome, because- in my experience- you’re usually lucky if you get an author’s note in YA historical fiction.

My Rating:

4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but it’s such an important story, and I liked it much more than Code Name Verity.

Book Review: Prisoner Of Night And Fog by Anne Blackman

Prisoner Of Night And Fog CoverBook: Prisoner Of Night And Fog by Anne Blackman

Published April 2014 by Balzer + Bray|305 pages

Where I Got It: the Nook store

Series: Prisoner Of Night And Fog #1

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

You can find Prisoner Of Night And Fog on goodreads

Goodreads Summary: 

A gripping historical thriller set in 1930s Munich, Prisoner of Night and Fog is the evocative story of an ordinary girl faced with an extraordinary choice in Hitler’s Germany. Fans of Code Name Verity will love this novel full of romance, danger, and intrigue!

Gretchen Müller grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her uncle Dolf—who has kept her family cherished and protected from that side of society ever since her father sacrificed his life for Dolf’s years ago. Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

When she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen, who claims that her father was actually murdered by an unknown comrade, Gretchen doesn’t know what to believe. She soon discovers that beyond her sheltered view lies a world full of shadowy secrets and disturbing violence.

As Gretchen’s investigations lead her to question the motives and loyalties of her dearest friends and her closest family, she must determine her own allegiances—even if her choices could get her and Daniel killed.

What I Thought:

Prisoner Of Night And Fog is a book I’ve wanted to read for a while, and I’m glad I finally read it!  I really liked it.

One of the things that I loved about this book, and what I think sets it apart from a lot of 1930’s/WW2 historical fiction, is that it’s about a girl who’s super close to Hitler.  I feel like that’s pretty unique, because it seems like so many books set during this time aren’t from the perspective of a girl who see Hitler as an uncle-type person, and who grew up so close to the Nazi Party.  I really liked seeing his rise to power through Gretchen’s eyes, and how she saw him and what he stood for change so much over the course of the book. Especially as she learned what really happened the day her father died and how she couldn’t turn to him for help after things went horribly wrong with her brother.  I liked that her beliefs changed by the end of the book, and while it seemed like they changed awfully fast, it also made sense for this story.

I also liked how her life and Daniel’s life intersected with history.  It made the history seem so much more real because you felt for these characters and saw what things were like for them.

I didn’t quite feel their romance- we know so much about Gretchen, and it her story we see in this book, but I also felt like I didn’t really get to know Daniel enough to be fully invested.  Still, I liked that he played a role in helping Gretchen challenge her beliefs about the world around her.  I especially like it because it’s set during a time when things were changing so fast in Germany, and things got to what we see in World War 2.

The fact that there’s something very inner circle about this book…it makes it stand out to me, because I feel like it’s not something we see.  It’s a very different perspective, and I really liked that.  Which I think is obvious by now, because I feel like that’s all I can talk about.

I’m actually glad that this is the first in a series, because I want to know what is in store for Gretchen and Daniel, with everything that happened.

I also loved the author’s note and the end, and that Blackman even included a short bibliography.  It’s really great, because she directs to books where you can learn more.  Plus, it felt like she really knew the historical details, and did a lot of research.  It really showed throughout the book.

Let’s Rate It:

I really liked Prisoner Of Night And Fog, especially because I feel like we get a perspective we don’t normally get with Nazi Germany.  I didn’t love the romance, but I’m hoping I warm up to it in the other books, because I feel like there’s a lot of cute and potential in terms of the romance.  Prisoner Of Night And Fog gets 4 stars.