Book Review | Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

 

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Title: Fawkes
Author: Nadine Brandes
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: July 10th 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★✰

 

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Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

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fawkes2.jpgFirst of all, can we please take a moment to appreciate how STUNNING the cover of this book is!? The cover was 100% the reason I gravitated towards this book. I’m happy I did.

The protagonist of the book is Thomas, Guy Fawkes’ son. Essentially it is a coming-of-age story in which he learns more about himself, his father, the plagued world of Igniters and Keepers, and of course love. Although some parts seemed a little drawn out (it could probably be 50 pages shorter), the rest of the story kept up a pretty good pace.

I found the world absolutely fascinating. For the first 200 pages, I was constantly asking questions about how the whole colour power thing worked, and I felt like the difference between the Igniters and Keepers was so vague. When I reached page 204, I realized that the reader was kept in the dark just as Thomas had been until that moment. Thomas actually says on that page, “Finally, I was getting answers,” and that’s exactly how I felt! It was at this point that my history nerdiness crept in and I was giddy to see how Brandes has taken the conflicts between religious sects during this period in England, and rewritten it as a war between two groups with differing magical practices: the Keepers and the Igniters. All of the pieces came together in my mind, which of course I exclaimed out loud; then I had to explain to Ryan everything that had happened in the book, how I had been feeling about it, as well as the revelation that had just occurred.

_Travel is never predictable. That's how adventure shows up._.pngI did struggle to connect with most of the main characters. Thomas became slightly annoying at times, and I wanted so much more from his father (as I’m sure he did as well). We also meet Fawkes’ co-conspirators (who really existed!), and Emma (who is entirely fictional). I think that the choice to include Emma – strong, determined, and independent – was a great one. She was definitely my favourite character.

I appreciate this unique combination of historical fiction and fantasy. I was also highly invested in the setting, as I have studied the time period throughout various history courses and have visited many of the locations in my travels. I also liked how the novel delved into some of the complexities of wars, disease, and racism – rampant in 1600’s England – but also of relevance at pretty much any point in human history.

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Despite some points that lagged, and my inability to connect to some characters, I did really enjoy this book! Magic-infused 1600’s England was a fun (and slightly terrifying) place to hang out for awhile.

★★★★✰

Have you ever read a book that combined historical fiction and fantasy?

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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book in exchange for a review.  All views and opinions expressed are my honest and unbiased, as I was not required to write a positive review.

 

Book Review | Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Do you listen to audiobooks? They’re relatively new to me, and I must admit that a good audiobook can be the perfect way to experience a story. I first started listening to them out of frustration, really; I was slogging my way through the fifth novel in the Outlander series – The Fiery Cross – and I was struggling to get through it. I had abandoned it months before, opting for lighter and shorter reads. Determined to finally finish it, I checked out the audiobook version from my library’s app. Although seeing the length of the recording (55 hours and 34 minutes *GASP*) was daunting, I soon realized that listening to an audiobook made monotonous household tasks – cleaning, laundry, cooking, and snow shoveling – SO much more entertaining! This also happened to be last winter, when our tractor was broken down for the duration of the season and we got seemingly endless piles and piles of snow; I finished the second half of the audiobook ONLY listening to it whilst shoveling snow.
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I’ve also recently listened to Amanda Lindhout’s A House in the Sky and Naomi Klein’s book about climate change: This Changes Everything. Although I enjoyed those audiobooks, Born a Crime, narrated by Trevor Noah (the author), was a completely unique experience. I had seen various clips of Trevor Noah on YouTube, but to be honest I didn’t know much about him. I had been eyeing up Born a Crime every time I entered a bookstore. I had read the synopsis and a few reviews; I was not-so-patiently waiting for it to come on sale… aaaand it didn’t. I recently subscribed to Audible, and when I first saw Born a Crime on there, I was hesitant, mostly because I had been waiting to buy the print version for so long. Upon noticing that it was narrated by Trevor himself, and after skimming a few reviews, I dived in.
I haven’t read the print version of the book (I think I’ll buy it eventually… if it ever comes on sale!) but I wholeheartedly recommend listening to the audiobook regardless. Perhaps it was destiny that the hardcover book just wasn’t coming on sale. Even if you’ve read the print version, LISTEN TO THE AUDIOBOOK! Sorry, I feel like I am shouting this from the mountaintops, but that’s how good it is!
Listening to this book felt like sitting down with Trevor Noah over coffee and hearing him tell his life story. He is such a natural storyteller, and is downright hilarious; he had me regularly laughing and guffawing out loud, which garnered concerned looks from my fiancé. His voice brought this emotional, brutal, insightful and hilarious story to LIFE.
Trevor Noah was born at the tail end of apartheid: the period of systemic, institutional, government-sanctioned racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa. He was born to a deeply religious, independent, and charismatic mother. He starts out by describing how he was, quite literally, born a crime:

“On February 20, 1984, my mother checked into Hillbrow Hospital for a scheduled C-section delivery. Estranged from her family, pregnant by a man she could not be seen with in public, she was alone. The doctors took her up to the delivery room, cut open her belly, and reached in and pulled out a half-white, half-black child who violated any number of laws, statutes, and regulations—I was born a crime.”

As a mixed-race child, Trevor straddled the various groups in South Africa – he looked “colored,” but identified as black. His childhood was complicated, as he tried to find his identity and place in a divided society. He effortlessly weaves hilarious anecdotes and escapades with heart wrenching and tragic accounts of poverty, violence and racism. His story is both entertaining and insightful. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it – and in fact, I actually cleaned and organized beyond what I needed to, just to keep listening. I learned a lot about life during and following apartheid in South Africa, and I completely fell in love with Trevor and his mother.

Now I am listening to it for a second time with my fiancé, because I just had to share it with him. If you end up listening to it, I’d love to know your thoughts about it.

Title: Born a Crime
Author: Trevor Noah
Publication Date: November 15, 2016
My Rating: ★★★★★

(P.S. The Hardcover book is actually on sale now… now you know my next book purchase!)

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Do you listen to audiobooks? Please leave your awesome audiobook recommendations in the comments below.

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Review | Times Square by Rich Walls

An unexpected scavenger hunt forces a woman to confront her past and present loves in New York City. Featuring a sparkling Manhattan lit late at night, Times Square is the novella which pinpoints what it means to live and love in a city that readily challenges and astonishes, so often in the same breath.

It is a rainy evening in New York city. Angie is at home talking to her husband on the phone, when she receives a mysterious letter, hand-delivered by the building’s night manager. The ice blue, silver-scripted letter initiates a scavenger hunt through the dazzling streets of New York City at night. Each place Angie is guided to relates to the romances of her past. We are swept through the streets of the city, meeting the men who have impacted her life. But who is sending her on this scavenger hunt – and why?


This novella felt whimsical and magical. I’ve always wanted to experience New York City, and this novella gave me a glimpse of its wonder for an evening. Although I had a hard time following the story at the beginning, eventually everything started to align and built up to the “grand reveal” at the end. I love that this novella illuminates how places are so utterly intertwined with our memories and our pasts. One city can be comprised of so many memories – people, experiences, conversations, decisions, and feelings. All of those pieces come together like a mosaic to form who we are as a person.

If you are looking for a vibrant, fun and quick romance read, definitely check it out!
A huge thank you to the author, Rich Walls, for sending me a copy of this novella. Now I am even more determined to visit New York City!

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Review: Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar

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Auschwitz Lullaby brings to life the story of Helene Hannemann—a woman who sacrificed everything for family and fought furiously for the children she hoped to save.”

 

 

Auschwitz Lullaby is based on true historical events involving the Nazi persecution of gypsies, Jews, and other minorities during WWII. Helene Hannemann was a German woman — married to a Gypsy man — with five young children. As her husband and children are brutally arrested in their own home, Helene (as a “pure” German) could have evaded arrest; however, she refuses to leave her family and ends up separated from her husband and imprisoned with her children in the Gypsy camp at Birkenau. As a German nurse, her talents are recognized by the famed Dr. Mengele, who instructs her to open a nursery and school for the camp’s children. We are shown in great detail the suffering and daily horrors that life at Auschwitz brings for Helene and her children. For many of the women and children, the nursery ends up becoming a “ray of hope in the midst of the darkness,” and although Dr. Mengele has provided them with this hope, the reality of his medical experiments weighs on Helene. She grapples with one of the enduring questions of humanity: how can humans be capable of such good and also such evil?

“I preferred to see the Nazis as inhuman monsters. The more human they acted, the more horrifying they became, as it meant any and all of us were capable of becoming as despicable as they were.”

I adore historical fiction, but it is a difficult genre to master. This novel is an enthralling and exceptional example of what historical fiction should be. I will admit that I am biased; as a history teacher, I’m fascinated by WWII fiction and non-fiction, and have been to Poland to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. Despite my bias, I think this novel would be an enjoyable read for most people. Escobar expertly describes the setting and characters while maintaining an engaging and fast-paced storyline.

I also enjoyed the writing, which was staightforward but also poetic. I found myself constantly pausing to re-read sections that were written so beautifully:

““It’s all coming to a close like a Shakespearean drama. Tragedy is inevitable, as if the author of the macabre theatrical work wanted to leave the audience with their jaws on the floor. The minutes are marching inexorably toward the final act. When the curtain falls again, Auschwitz will keep writing its story of terror and evil, but we will have become souls in purgatory haunting the walls of Hamlet’s castle, though unable to actually warn anybody about the crimes committed against the gypsy people.”

One of the reasons I find World War II so intriguing is because of the ineffable horrors inflicted upon others, essentially due to ideas of superiority based on race and ethnicity. It is hard to comprehend how such tragic and brutal events could transpire. I am fascinated by the resilience of the many people who endured these horrors, and reading about them serves to remind me of my blessings, cultivate greater empathy, and take stock of what is really important in life.

“Sometimes we have to lose everything to find what is most important. When life robs us of what we thought we could not live without and leaves us standing naked before reality, the essential things that had always been invisible take on their true value.”

As Auschwitz Lullaby is based on true events and real people, it is brutal, honest, and heartbreaking — but it is a beautifully written testament to the strength of love and the sacrifices we make for family.ausch

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Rating: ★★★★★

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Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this book through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.


Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? What is one of your favourite historical fiction books? Leave a comment below to let me know!

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