Reading Wrap-up | January & February

Wow! Is it just me, or did February fly by? It usually drags on for me, but this year I can’t believe it’s already over. I didn’t post a January wrap-up, so I’ll combine both months.

I had a surprisingly great reading month in February, because I’ve found the secret to keeping my reading motivation: curating a book subscription box! We’ve been a bit slow to find the perfect pick for our April box. We were struggling to find recent releases that intrigued us. At the end of January we came up with a list of a few to read and decide between. I ended up reading three contenders this month, and I loved all of them! I’ll include the runners-up, but will leave the featured novel outβ€”just in case any of our subscribers are reading and want to keep it a surprise.

Total Number of Books: 8
Total Number of Pages: 2,747
Average Pages per Book: 343
Average Rating: 4.4

I’ve linked the titles to Goodreads so you can read the synopsis, and I’ll just provide a few of my thoughts:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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I’ll start by saying that I think this is one of those “adore or despise” novels. I happen to love it. It has become a favourite that I’ll definitely read again. I don’t typically make notes while I read, but I found myself frequently scrambling for a paper or my phone to jot down a line… or an entire paragraph. I just adore Tartt’s elegant prose and the dark academia vibes of this novel. Dark, twisted, and almost satiricalβ€” it’s a story that begs to be savoured and read slowly by candlelight on a dark, stormy evening.

The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies

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I knew a little bit about the Montessori philosophy before reading this. I skimmed through some parts of it, but found it interesting overall. I like the practical suggestions for creating a toddler-friendly home as well as engaging activities using everyday items.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

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“Using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids.” I think I’ll eventually write a full review on this one, because I just have too much to say. I definitely connected with this book. It offered solid advice and suggestions for living a more simple and slow life, and the author discussed how that can benefit a child’s development.

The Other People by C.J. Tudor

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Perfectly creepy and un-put-downable! This was one of the contenders for our April book box. I breezed through this mystery/thriller, which had the perfect amount of suspense for me. I was drawn in from the first chapter and anxiously kept turning the pagesβ€”theorizing, desperate to “solve” the mystery. I thought I had it figured out, and I was right about one part. The gradual unraveling and final “reveal” was mostly satisfying, but there were a few aspects of the story that I didn’t feel were explained well enough in the ending, which bumped it down to 4 stars for me.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

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This is a middle-grade series by one of my favourite authors. I’m typically drawn to anything “dark” with history, hauntings, and suspense. Having said that, I am also such a chicken when it comes to anything “scary.” I definitely could not have handled these without nightmares as a child or teenagerβ€”I was creeped out enough as an adult! I love that this story is set in Edinburgh, which is one of my FAVOURITE cities in the world. It was neat to revisit many of the places I’ve been in the city, and I love Schwab’s concept of “the Veil.” As a middle-grade novel, the characters and plot lack the complexity of her YA/adult novels, but I still loved it and didn’t feel like the language was overly simplistic. It was a quick, perfectly creepy read for me!

Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

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I found this one significantly scarier than City of Ghosts. There’s something about a “child” ghost that just CREEPS ME OUT! I legitimately could not read this past dusk or if I was home alone. While I didn’t love the setting of Paris as much as Edinburgh, I did find the plot more engaging, suspenseful and intense compared to City of Ghosts. I cannot wait for the next book in this seriesβ€”set in New Orleansβ€”coming in September 2020.

The Words I Never Wrote by Jane Thynne

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This was another contender for our April book box. I adore historical fiction, so I was bound to enjoy this novel set before and during WWII. It definitely covers a lesser-known part of this time period, and I love how it centers around two sisters who are essentially “split” between the two sides of war. It is rife with historic details and packed with emotion. The story and perspectives do shift frequentlyβ€”often when you really don’t want them toβ€”which was annoying at times, but also kept me reading because I needed to find out what happened! I feel a bit torn about this one because at some points it jumped around too much and it felt overly detailed… but then the history nerd in me loved the inclusion of those details, and the end did tie everything together nicely.


How many books did you read in February? If you had to recommend ONE book you’ve read so far this year, which would it be!?

Thanks for reading!

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: β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…βœ°

 

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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 Plotβ€”claiming it will put an end to the plagueβ€”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.

Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters Indigo

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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.

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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.

 

Review: Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar

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Auschwitz Lullaby brings to life the story of Helene Hannemannβ€”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 β€” married to a Gypsy man β€” with five young children. As her husband and children are brutally arrested in their own home, Helene (as a β€œpure” 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 β€œray 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?

β€œI 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:

β€œβ€œIt’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.

β€œSometimes 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 β€” 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: β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

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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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