“between shades of gray” book review

imageI previously read Salt to the Sea and decided I needed more Ruta Sepetys in my life. I feel behind the times this year, catching up on so much YA that I missed out on in the last couple of years. But this book…oh, this book.

While I enjoyed from salt to the seaBetween Shades of Gray is more my style. With only one POV and Lina as the narrator– I connected with it so much more.

Here is the Goodreads description:

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

When I read Ruta Sepetys’ books, I feel as though I’m being plunged into areas of history I previously had no knowledge of. I suppose when we learn things ins school, or even on our own time, we focus so much on what is closest to us. With WWII, I am very aware of the American part, and more of Britain and the Western European front than anything else. But Ruta Sepetys has introduced me to something I hadn’t thought of in so long, and that is what happened to so many others.

This book pulled on my heart and opened my eyes to Lena’s world. I wanted, more than anything while reading, to see her drawings. While Septeys describes everything so vividly, I kept hoping to flip the page and find an illustration. I know that many times this is the beauty of novels, that we can see without seeing, but this was an exception where I wanted it in front of me so badly. I wanted to see the pain in her charcoals, and her twisted views like Munch.

I want to call this book beautiful, but in fact the images that come to mind are anything but your standard “beautiful.” They are heart breaking, and stomach churning, and mind blowing– as they should be.

If you have yet to read this book, or any of Ruta Septeys books, might I suggest changing that– especially if you are a lover of YA historical fiction.

 

book review: the wrath & the dawn

imageThe Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh is one of my favorite books that I have read thus far. Based on A Thousand and One Nights, the story of Scheherazade. It was one that I could not put down, and now all I want to do is life my self-inflicted-book-buying-ban to get the sequel, The Rose & the Dagger.

The Wrath & The Dawn was released in May of last year, and the sequel was released in April of this year.

Here is what Goodreads has to say:

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

 

When I was young, one of my favorite books was The Shadow Spinner, by Susan Fletcher, was one of my favorite books. It was also based on Scheherazade, but was from the perspective of a young girl who was taken into the story-tellers confidence to fuel her with more stories to share with the Sultan so she may continue to live.

The Wrath & The Dawn was like the story went even further for me, only better. Being able to see from the perspective of many characters, and get to know Khalid and Shahrzad in an entirely new light, I literally could not put down the book.

Another thing that it did was make me desperate for the food and colors of this Arabian world that Ahdieh created. With the descriptions of costumes, foods, surroundings, and traditions– I wanted to dive deeper and deeper into it, and Ahdieh did an amazing job of providing me with enough to fuel my imagination in technicolor.

There were a few parts of the story that I found myself questioning the tale, but then I felt like a ‘traditionalist’ and wanting all the stories of One Thousand and One Nights to come to life, not just the love story between Khalid and Shahrzad. With a killer cliff-hanger ending, I can’t imagine how readers who bought this book when it was first released felt without having the sequel ready at their finger-tips. I’m already itching as it is because I didn’t buy the two together at the same time!

This book gets 5/5 for me. Shahrzad, Jalal, Khalid, Despina– all the characters in this story have a voice of their own that makes a reader love (and sometimes dislike) them. If you haven’t read it (and I already feel late to the game), you must. And heed my warning: buy The Rose & The Dagger at the same time so you don’t end up like I am right now.

my love for historical fiction

historical fictveion loI come by my love of historical fiction honestly. Growing up in a family of historians, writers, readers, artists– all of it added up to my creation.

It started when I was young and I would hear my parents talking about historic events at the dinner table. Whether it was Biblical, American, Russian, European, it didn’t matter. Any topic was open for discussion, debate, and ultimately giving my sisters and me history lessons. As I continued in my education, it shocked me that others didn’t know the things I knew already. Not to say that snobbishly, only to say I was blessed in knowing what I knew because of my parents.

Not only did I know it, but I appreciated it. I lived for it. And I always wanted to know more.

I’m pretty sure I only read historical fiction up until I had required reading in school. Even then, the classics to me are from the same pot of tea, so I was always wanting to get my hands on more. However, there are three authors who made me want to read more, and more, and more– and with that, study more, and more, and more.

Ann Rinaldi

Samuel Shellabarger

Elizabeth George Speare

These three authors, to me, filled pages with adventures, challenges, and history that everyone should want to learn more about.

When I first started writing, I knew I wanted to write historical fiction. But it frightened me. I was afraid of the hours dedicated to research to get the details right. I was intimidated by the idea that someone could read my book and decide that I was no true historian, and give me a raving review that was less than mediocre.

I. Was. Afraid.

So I avoided it. I first wrote a YA Contemporary, which I love and hope someday others still might as well, but my editor and CP pointed out the language was very formal. I didn’t understand the concept of it being anything but, and realized that perhaps that came from my choices of reading. When I started reading contemporary novels, I tried to refocus my own into language that wasn’t ‘antiquated’.

Then I moved West, and something clicked inside of me. Having gone through my own adventure of moving with my family cross-country, I remembered books I read about families doing the same in covered wagons. And that’s when I realized I needed to stop being afraid of chasing my passion, and go for it.

I wrote my first historical fiction. And it’s what got me my agent.

History, the past, is a part of all of us. The amazing thing is that we all have our own lineage, our own pasts, our own family stories that have been passed down for generations– but the bulk of it is we all come from somewhere.

That, to me, is the beauty of historical fiction. These stories bring everything that we may have learned or wished to learn to life. Even if we know they aren’t straight facts, they help us feel a part of that time in history. They make us crave for ‘simpler’, or harder, times. And many times, they also make us appreciate the here and now.

You will find me reading just about every genre, and if you question that you can take a look at my bookshelves. But, if we get down to it, I write historical fiction because it made me who I am as a reader and a writer– and I’m so thankful for that.

 

“Under a Painted Sky” review

under a painted skyI realize I’m late to the party with this book. I saw tweets and posts alike last year about it, but I was a bit busy with my unrelated-to-books-life and missed out.

And, oh, did I miss out.

As you may know by now, I’m a sucker when it comes to historical fiction. Since it’s what I write myself, lately I’ve been soaking more and more in as motivation and push to work on my current WIP. I would say it’s definitely working, but this book made me ache for my own story that’s on submission. And I don’t mean that on any self-involved level.

Stacy Lee does such a beautiful job painting disaster, loss, struggles, and love in 1837 on the trail west I could hardly put the book down. I finished it way too quickly, and missed it all the more for it. When Sammy and Andy have to masquerade as boys, get “adopted” by Cowboys, and continue to face challenge after challenge, inward and out…I could barely stand it.

The style of Lee’s writing reminds me a lot of Ann Rinaldi, who has written a countless number of Historical Fiction that I was addicted to as a YA. Now, as an adult, Lee made me feel 15 again with her novel, and I love her for it.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading this book.

 

 

Just to to say something, I try to keep my reviews positive because I have yet to finish a book u don’t like. This space is to encourage reading, and support authors. I hope you see that and aim to do the same when you buy and read books! 

“Passenger” review

imageThere are many books that leave me wanting more.

And I mean that in the best of ways.

More time with the characters. More chances to know their deepest secrets. More adventures to share with the characters. More, more, more.

And PASSENGER left me wanting more.

This is the first book I’ve read by ALEXANDRA BRACKEN, but it won’t be the last. She has a way of taking a reader through history that leaves one feeling like it’s so many books in one.

The very beginning reminded me of Libba Bray’s A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, with Etta being thrown into an unfamiliar life with a surprising gift she had no idea she possessed.

I was transported with Etta and Nicholas through time wishing it would go on because I wanted to experience the era longer.I am a historical fiction guru, so the twist with the time travel was an all time win for me. I mean, America in 1776? Paris in 1880? London in 1940?? Um, yes, please!

Bracken’s descriptions and talent to voice each point of view kept me so wrapped up, admittedly I read well into the night on more than one occasion (and fought sleep because I didn’t want to miss what happened next).

With a surprising turn of events near the end, one I was grateful for because I was preparing to go on a spoiler rant, I am now in a lull just WAITING for the next book. To my dismay, I didn’t realize that PASSENGER just came out this year.

How much longer will I have to wait??

If you haven’t read this YA treasure, you need to. If I had the authority, I’d say that’s an order–but I hope you’ll just take my word for it.

snobby [young adult] reader

snobby ya readerAs a young adult I didn’t read young adult fiction. I looked at people reading “modern books” and wondered how they thought they could call it reading. After all, you haven’t READ until you’ve read the classics.

In college I had to take an adolescent literature class, and it wasn’t until then that it dawned on me that I was being hypocritical. I thought less of those who actually ENJOYED contemporary literature when I, me, myself wanted to write contemporary literature.

Are you seeing the problem?

The truth is, I used to hate reading just about anything that wasn’t historical fiction or close to it. I still love period pieces the most–it’s why I write them. Being transported to another time with different style and ideals and challenges intrigues me the most.

What would it have been like to live as a governess, or cross America in a covered wagon, or sailed the seas on a tall ship, or lived in the middle of nowhere when technology was a glint of the future?

Books take me to these times, reveal the impossible, and give me a sense of character, through characters, of the time. That’s the beauty of books.

I have since learned, that is the beauty of ALL books. Not just historical fiction.

While I’m probably shooting myself in the foot with this post, I’m sharing to be honest. I didn’t start off reading contemporaries– I started as a literature snob.

It started in first grade when I wrote my first true story: “The REAL story of Pocahontas, not the Disney one.”

It continued to fourth grade when I started reading Shakespeare. And in seventh grade when I read Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

I don’t know if these facts come across as bragging, but they’re not meant to. On the contrary, it’s to show that I couldn’t see past the classics stand at Barnes and Noble to open my eyes to so many other opportunities.

But now I have. And it’s exciting. And I’m ashamed of nothing that I read. Because I’m reading, and learning, and growing. And Stephen King really did say it best:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

I would add: Read a variety of things. Your writing (and knowledge and growth and creativity) depend on it.