History has been my favorite subject since middle school. I loved the stories of people’s lives and how they shaped the world we live in today. I read a lot of historical fiction novels. When I was younger my interest was on World War II and the Holocaust. It was and is hard to imagine what happened and reading about it helped me to understand it better.
We have some wonderful databases that are useful when studying history. It covers world and American history. There are links to articles and journals that are helpful for writing research papers.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
First line: Lale tries not to look up.
Summary: Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Jew from Slovakia, who spent several years in Auschwitz as the Tatowierer. His job was to tattoo the numbers onto the arms of all incoming inmates. He witnesses shocking things every day. It is hard to imagine a happy world after the atrocities of the camp. When he meets a young woman, Gita, he uses his influence to keep her alive and safe.
Highlights: This story is heartbreaking but also beautiful. Lale is put in the most terrifying place but somehow keeps his spirits up in hopes of a brighter future. He learns quickly how to navigate life in Auschwitz. He “befriends” an officer who gives him news of the camp. The job of tattooist is a stroke of luck bringing him privileges which he uses to help out his fellow inmates. He was a good and honest man who did much to keep people alive and strong. It shows how being kind can lead to good things. I love his relationship with Gita. Even in such a horrible place he found the love of his life.
The writing was very simple but the story is powerful. It is shocking to hear the stories of survivors of such a place. I cannot even imagine living through those conditions. Read the author’s notes at the end where she discusses the interviews over years where Lale told his story.
Lowlights: Like I said before the writing is very simple. Sometimes it seemed a little choppy but if you can get past that the story is well worth the read.
FYI: If you found this interesting then check out The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe.
Some of the classics are hard to read. Either we do not understand the language or the story is not as fast paced as the latest thriller. However, there are so many great things about them. They have survived the times. The stories still speak to readers today. One of greatest is the bard, William Shakespeare. I read several plays during high school English, my favorite being Hamlet. Do you have trouble with Shakespeare? Trust me sometimes I do too. Check out Alyssa’s blog post about her recent interest in the works of Shakespeare.
An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason by Virginia Boecker
First line: It is not the usual interrogation.
Summary: When Katherine’s father is killed in front of her she vows that she is going to take revenge on the person responsible, Queen Elizabeth I. She travels to London dressed as a boy to meet with fellow Catholic conspirators to hatch a plan to kill the Protestant queen. Toby, an agent of the queen, is on the lookout for any assassination plots. When he teams up with William Shakespeare and his company of players, he sets a trap for the would-be assassins. However, Katherine and Toby are drawn to each other complicating both of their missions.
Highlights: Assassination plots and William Shakespeare?! Yes please! I found the story to be lots of fun from the very beginning. I enjoyed both of the main characters. Katherine is a strong willed young girl who is determined to avenge her father. Toby is a heartbroken playwright working as a spy for the queen. I loved watching Katherine throwing off her inhibitions as she took on the role of a man. She gets to see things that women would not be privy to normally. As their relationship progresses I got more and more nervous about how the story would end. This story was fit for Shakespeare with the mistaken identities, daring murder attempts and tragic love.
Lowlights: I would have loved more Shakespeare. Any time he entered the story it became even better! His patron even mentioned how he liked to make up words, which he does throughout the story. Such a nice little historical tidbit to add into the dialog.
FYI: Perfect for fans of A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee.
As a kid I remember walking the one block down to our local library. My sister and I would spend hours every week browsing the shelves and picking up more items. One of my favorite items was Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Follows. Anne was so imaginative and fun. I wanted to be her or at least be her best friend. I watched the VHS all the time. I was so happy when I started working here that we have a copy on DVD, which I have checked out multiple times.
When I saw that there was going to be a “prequel” to the Anne novels, delving into the girlhood of Marilla Cuthbert, I was immediately interested. I needed to read this! I hope that if you love Anne as much as I do that you will enjoy this look into life at Green Gables.
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
First line: It’d been a rain-chilled May that felt more winter than spring.
Summary: Before Anne there was Marilla of Green Gables. Marilla is an intelligent and strong willed young woman. She is just starting to venture into adulthood and a budding relationship with the handsome, John Blythe. When her mother dies in childbirth Marilla is left as the matriarch of the Cuthbert home. Even with her new responsibilities, Marilla ventures forth into the world and sees that there is more than just Avonlea.
Highlights: I recently read the books for the first time and enjoyed following Anne through her imaginative life. McCoy’s book is a perfect companion to the original story. We get to know Marilla in a completely new way. She was young and was in love. I remember hearing Marilla talk about how John Blythe was her beau, which always made me wonder what happened. I am so happy that I was able to take a look into her past.
The writing was very well done. The author stayed true to the times and added little details to flesh out the Cuthbert’s lives on Prince Edward Island. I never realized how much Canada was involved in the Underground Railroad and the path to freedom for so many escaped slaves. As a narrative and a historical fiction book, this is a fantastic read!
Lowlights: It was so short! I could have read so much more in this world. Maybe it is time to revisit Anne and Gilbert?
FYI: Perfect for fans of Anne of Green Gables!
There are many different versions of Frankenstein. They range from the classic film with Boris Karloff to hilarious Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder. It has been 200 years since his first appearance. What fascinates us with this monster?
On a trip to Germany in 2002, my family and our German family visited Frankenstein Castle outside of Darmstadt, Germany. Even though it is not the actual home of the monster it is still very formidable. I could easily picture the Gothic tale happening in the ruins.
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
First line: Lightning clawed across the sky, tracing veins through the clouds and marking the pulse of the universe itself.
Summary: In this retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein, we see the story unfold through the eyes of the Frankenstein family’s ward, Elizabeth. She is brought to Frankenstein manor as a playmate and helper to the strange eldest son, Victor. As they grow up the two become dependent on each other. However, when Victor disappears with no word, Elizabeth must search for him and bring him home. When she finally finds Victor, she learns the truth of what he has been doing those many months he has been gone. She has kept his secrets for years but can she keep this one?
Highlights: Kiersten White did a great job of fleshing out the story and adding to the original. I think that she made it even darker than the original. Which I really loved. I liked the character of Elizabeth. She was secretive, cunning and not shocked by the things that Victor did. For a woman of the time she relied on the men in her life. She tried to guarantee that she would be taken care of by any means necessary.
Lowlights: I read Frankenstein several years ago and was not as impressed as I had wanted to be. I love to read classics. I love Dickens and Stoker. I listened to the audio version and it was rather slow moving for the first two thirds. There is more description and little conversation. The last third was more engaging and fast paced. I would recommend reading this one instead of listening to the audio.
FYI: If you love Frankenstein then you should read this!
Legendary by Stephanie Garber
*This is book 2 in a series! May contain spoilers. Check out my review of Caraval on our blog as well.*
First line: While some rooms on the estate had monsters hiding beneath the beds, Tella swore her mother’s suite concealed enchantment.
Summary: At the end of Caraval it appears that Scarlett and Tella are now safe from their evil father. But this is far from the truth. Tella is entangled in a bargain with a mysterious friend. This friend plans to help Tella find her mother, who disappeared years before, but it comes at a price. Tella must find out the Legend’s real name. However, the truth could bring about the end of Caraval and Legend himself.
Highlights: Once again I cannot help but rave about the beautiful cover! But the language and story make it even more wonderful. I was a little weary about reading Tella’s story when in the previous novel she was a minor character that caused much of Scarlett’s troubles. However, I was surprised by how much more I enjoyed this book than the first one. Tella is a tough girl who does not think that love is anything she is destined to experience. This is quite a change from many YA novels where the girl only wants to find love. She is smart and tricky. She is not scared to get her hands dirty.
I loved the Fates! So creepy and detailed. I was truly terrified of the Undead Queen and her Handmaidens but not more than the Prince of Hearts. Everything about him makes my skin crawl. The addition of these supernatural beings expands and makes the story even more elaborate than Caraval.
That ending! Throughout the story, we follow Tella as she tries to figure out what is real and what is not. I felt like I was slowly going mad along with her trying to piece together all the clues. As we reached the last few pages, I kept wondering if we were going to get another book and we certainly will! I wonder if it will follow Tella some more or expand on another minor character. Either way I am in!
Lowlights: That I have to wait a year for the next book!
FYI: Book 2 in the Caraval series.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
First line: There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t.
Summary: Roy and Celestial are newlyweds. They are happy until one night Roy is arrested for a crime that he did not commit. He is sentenced to a twelve-year sentence. Celestial tries to hold onto the love for her husband but it becomes harder as the years pass by. She takes solace in her friend and the best man at their wedding, Andre. However, Roy is released after five years and plans to return to his life and his wife. Can they go back to the people they were before?
Highlights: This book is one that is relevant. It is a contemporary story about a couple who has to deal with odds that are out of their control. I enjoyed the correspondence between Celestial and Roy while he is in jail. It gives us an insight into the challenges of a couple who are separated by incarceration.
Lowlights: I felt like the climax (when Roy is released) was not as exciting or intriguing as I wanted it to be. I thought there would be more conflict.
FYI: Language and some adult content.
Love & War by Melissa de la Cruz
First line: Forget Paris.
Summary: As the Revolution is coming to a close Alexander Hamilton and his new bride, Eliza Schuyler, are learning that being married is not always easy. Alex is setting up his law offices and Eliza is establishing their home. The long hours at the office defending Loyalist clients puts a strain on the young couple. Will they be able to continue their love story or will it crumble?
Highlights: I enjoyed the story of their early marriage. De la Cruz does a good job of portraying how hard it would be to try to find a balance in this new country. I particularly liked the struggle of a young patriot having to defend the wife of a Loyalist. He must have faced lots of ridicule from other members of his party.
Lowlights: This is young adult and it feels like it. The love and feelings are very immature. However, it does as good job of bringing the history to a young audience.
FYI: Book 2 in the Alex & Eliza series.
How To Stop Time by Matt Haig
I often think of what Hendrich said to me, over a century ago, in his New York apartment.
Summary: Tom Hazard may look like an ordinary man but he is anything but. He is several hundred years old. He has seen the world change from Elizabethan England to the modern era. Sounds like a dream right? Maybe so but it can be lonely. When a group called the Albatross Society discovers him, he learns that there are many more people like him. Their main rule is to never fall in love. It complicates things. Tom has led many different lives but now he takes on a role that could jeopardize his existence, a history teacher. When he intrigues a fellow teacher, he has to decide if it is worth it to break from the rules of society or start over again.
“I sometimes want to stop time. I sometimes want, in a happy moment, for a church bell never to ring again. I want not to ever have to go to the market again. I want for the starlings to stop flying in the sky…But we are all at the mercy of time.”
Such a great story! I love the thought that someone can live forever and see so many things. I would love to be able to see the world of Shakespeare and the Roaring Twenties. These are iconic times in history. Being a history major, this book was right up my alley.
“It’s not that long ago, not really. History is right here, Anton. It’s breathing down our necks.”
I like that Tom does age. He is not immortal. He just ages slower than the average person does. He has demons. He wants to know what and who he is. He feels guilt. He knows love. He is a flawed character instead of the perfect ones in many stories of immortals. He has made mistakes and learned from them. He has not collected tons of wealth and profited off his condition. He has lived. He has searched for years for someone and never given up.
Lowlights: I listened to part of this on audiobook. The reader was good but when there are many changes from time and location it makes that story harder to follow. Tom often looks back at his past in order to help explain his present. However, while reading it flowed much easier.
FYI: It is already optioned to be a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch!