Tag Archives: historical fiction

Outrun the Moon

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee26192915

Summary

Mercy lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown with her family. Her father spends long hours working in his laundry and expects his children to work hard for the family, too. Mercy dreams of something bigger and with the aid of a Texan lady’s business guidebook, she’s going to stop at nothing to get herself there. She uses her business acumen to secure a place at the local private school for wealthy girls and is on her way to finding success…and then the great San Francisco earthquake hits and everything changes.

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Romance Score: A+ Success

I really enjoyed the relationship between Tom and Mercy because it is the best kind – childhood friendship that becomes something more and then has to deal with family, future, and disaster. Tom and Mercy both have dreams and they selflessly do their best to support each other toward their goals – even at the risk of a future together.

I also appreciated that the romance, while obviously important to Mercy, is not the center of the story. Instead, it only serves to make Mercy a more complex character and to up the stakes of the story.

Feminist Score: A+ Success

This is a story about girls coming together to survive a terrible tragedy and unite communities to serve one another. Mercy doesn’t let racism, sexism, or her family get in the way of her dreams and she uses her wits to devise a plan toward success. I can imagine Mercy as one of the featured ladies in #BygoneBadassBroads because she will surely do even greater things as San Francisco and the Chinese community recover from the Earthquake of 1906.

Diversity Score: A+ Success

Through Mercy, readers get a glimpse into the early 1900 Chinese community in San Francisco. Her parents seek to maintain their traditions while adjusting to the necessities of life in the U.S. Through Mercy and the people in her neighborhood we see the racism, prejudice, and poverty that Chinese people in the U.S. had to (and continue to) deal with.

Plus, Mercy’s classmates at St. Clare’s School for Girls are a diverse bunch themselves – from heiresses from old money to Texan new money, these girls come from different places and families with their own stories. We don’t get to know all of them, but the main girls are more than the “mean” girl or the “friendly one.” I really enjoyed getting to know the ensemble of girls as well.

And, shout out to the headmistress who has her own story going for her!

Awesome Factor: A+ Success

Lee does an amazing job with historical fiction. She personalizes a dreadful day in U.S. history with rich characters and amazing setting details. The story is engaging and you’re rooting for Mercy after just a few pages. I loved that she referred back to a single book as her inspiration and guide for her success (and the twist at the end with regard to this book was fantastic). The reference to the power of books (especially when access to them is limited) makes the story that much more special.


Favorite Character

The Girls – Mercy is obviously a stand out, but the story is made even more amazing by the group of girls that she comes to know at St. Clare’s.

Fun Author Fact

When Lee won the Golden Gate Award at a SCBWI conference, she thought the winner was someone with the same name; she couldn’t believe it was her!

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY! The characters and story are an amazing and, just like Lee’s other books, the window into history only adds to the richness of the book.

Read These Next

Obviously, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee because she is a boss with historical fiction and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for a look at another tragedy with a much more disturbing end.

Post Author: Jess

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Filed under Heavy Topics, Historical

April Raintree

April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier 30732400

Summary

April and her sister Cheryl are Métis living in Canada. They are removed from their parents’ home and custody and we follow them through foster homes, school, marriage, and more. This book doesn’t flinch from showing how poorly Native people have been treated in North America and April’s journey to finding her strength, forgiveness, and happiness is powerful.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

When April finally finds happiness, it is a long time coming and the man she ultimately ends up with is totally swoonworthy with his willingness to wait, to uplift her, to give her support, to be there while she deals with her history, trauma, grief, and recovery. Plus, her romantic trajectory is one I think many people will relate to – innocence and a desire to be safe playing into her first pick and then defensiveness keeping her from a real winner…at least for a while.

Of course, there are also awful dirtbags in the book who contribute to April and Cheryl’s emotional and physical pain, including a rape, so it’s not all sunshine. The end is resilient and hopeful though.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

Women are pretty awful to April and Cheryl in this book – because they are Métis, because they are foster children, because they are poor, because because because…society has taught them to tear each other down. But, both girls rebel against this in their own way.

Cheryl is a spitfire protesting the treatment of Native communities in Canada and searching for the bits and pieces she can find to revive pride in herself and her identity. She offers support to other girls and women and she works within her community for change…until the weight of it all is too much to bear.

April takes a lot longer to find her space as Métis, but she has her own quiet resiliency. She faces slutshaming, betrayal, and more and still manages to retain her hopeful, gentle spirit. She tries to be there for her sister, even if she makes mistakes. And then, when the terrible happens, she doesn’t sit quietly and let things get neatly swept under the rug. Instead, she resolutely plows ahead with her rape trial. When she finally begins to heal – even through her grief – it’s a joy to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book features and centers Métis girls and their community. Through Cheryl, insidious racism is called out and we get a depiction of depression (and tw: suicice) that doesn’t flinch from how destructive it can be. Through April, the experiences of many Native women find a voice. Through the sisters and their experience as foster children, we see families torn apart by poverty and a system that didn’t (doesn’t) provide the support necessary for families to survive and prosper. Teachers and caseworkers expect the worst from the girls, never even offering another future. We don’t often get to see this kind of intersectionality and a clear illustration of the way systemic oppression works to prevent health…to prevent life.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

This is a truth book – it’s  hard to read because your heart hurts for the sisters, but you know in reading it that you are being given a truth that needs to be heard. As an outsider, this is a reminder to address privilege and to do what you can to support communities that your privilege allows you to ignore. If your identity is more closely aligned with April and Cheryl, I imagine this is a book for your soul – showing you that you are not alone.

I am glad to have read this book. The writing is very straightforward and simple (not my preferred writing style), and I think this helps in some places to make the story more powerful; at other times, it felt like it was too bare.


Favorite Character

Cheryl – because she fights the system and offers her love and support to her community until it breaks her.

Fun Heartbreaking Author Fact

Much of what happens in April Raintree is based off of Mosionier’s own life. She remains active in Canada pushing for environmental and Native issues.

Is this worth a book hangover?

The story is interesting and the characters are compelling. The sisterhood – with its highs and lows – is one of my favorite parts. This is an important book and, while it’s not necessarily an easy read, I think it’s worth it…but it may be one you linger over as your heart takes breaks from the sadness.

Read These Next

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie offers a more humorous take on Native American life in the US or The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock for an ensemble look at life for teens and children in 1970 Alaska.

Post Author: Jess

I received a free copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Chat: The Girl From Everywhere

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The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Summary

Nix travels on her father’s ship as he Navigates across time searching for a way to return to his beloved dead wife, Nix’s mother. Nix isn’t sure what will happen if he succeeds, but he’s the only family she has, so she does what she can to track down the next piece in the puzzle of their journey. Their adventures have taken them to mystic Persia, ancient China, and more, but now they’ve become entangled in political intrigues in 19th century Hawaii and everything may unravel.

Nix may find the answers she’s looking for, the family she’s always wanted, or…she could find the end to everything.

WARNING: Our podcast has SERIOUS SPOILERS and you don’t want to mess up your first read of this book – STOP LISTENING and GO GET THIS BOOK if you haven’t read it yet.

girl from everywhere

Favorite Character

Nix! – She is smart, resourceful, passionate, caring, and committed to making the best life choices she can. What a great character for readers to have!

Favorite Line

And once everyone agrees something is one way, all the other ways it could have been disappear.

I love the idea of unending possibilities and that dreams can create worlds if we believe in them.

Fun Author Fact

  1. Heilig has an MFA in Muscial Theater Writing which is very cool and she has posted some songs on her blog.
  2. She is open about her mental health struggles on twitter and is helping to break stigmas and start conversations about lots of important topics!

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY! Nix is amazing and her story is exciting. Time travel is one of those things that can turn non-SFF lovers away, but here the people and intrigue are so good, you just want to keep turning the pages!

Read These Next

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for more sailing adventures with intense lady characters and interesting beasts or Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis for a story that is driven by characters living in different worlds.

Post Author: Jess

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Filed under Adventure, Heavy Topics, Historical, podcast, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: The Second Empress

Empress

Anisha’s Note: I’ve been on a bit of a Michelle Moran kick lately! I recently reviewed The Rebel Queen and reread Cleopatra’s Daughter. I promise I read new books as well, but I believe Gretchen Rubin’s principle that re-reading is the best reading.  

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

Summary

Napoleon Bonaparte, the undeniable ruler of France and perhaps soon all of Europe, is looking for a wife. Not just any wife, but one who is young, fertile, and most importantly, with clear lineage to the throne of France. And when Napoleon sets his sights on something, he gets it. When Napoleon decides that he wants to marry Maria Lucia, the eldest daughter of Francis II of Austria, she is forced to leave behind her home, family, and even her precious puppy to help save her homeland. Can Maria Lucia find happiness in her new home under the reign of Napoleon?

The Second Empress is a fictional take on the life of Maria Lucia, the Archduchess of Austria and second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. The story chronicles the later reign of Napoleon through the eyes of three unique characters: Maria Lucia, Napoleon’s disillusioned sister Pauline, and a Haitian servant named Paul. It’s a well-told, enjoyable piece of historical fiction.

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort  

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but I did enjoy the story of Maria Lucia and her romantic interest. It is a bit simplified, and a bit of a princess-in-need-of-saving, but still sweet and light. It was a nice contrast to some of the darker parts of the relationship between Maria Lucia and Napoleon.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

On one hand, Maria Lucia is characterized as weak, meek, and unable to stand up to her husband. However, that husband happens to be Napoleon Bonaparte, so perhaps we can give her a little grace here. Still, I wish we had seen a little more of Maria Lucia’s personality (and standing up for herself) throughout the story. At best, she’s portrayed as the sacrificial lamb given to Napoleon to allow her country to remain free.
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Diversity Score: Good Effort

As mentioned above, this story is told from three perspectives, including Paul, a young Haitian servant who lives in France and serves the Bonaparte family. I was really impressed with Paul’s portrayal, and really enjoyed the descriptions of Haiti, his internal struggles about heritage and home, and his decisions in the book. This is only one character, but in a book focused on only a few (real) people, I was impressed with this fictional addition.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book is an enjoyable, quick read, but it’s not perfect. My biggest qualm (and my qualm with historical fiction at large) is that it mixes fact and fiction. While the main characters are based on real people in history, Moran takes liberties with new characters, dates, and specific events to make a more romanticized plot.

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Favorite Character

Paul, the Haitian servant living in France. His unique perspective on the events (and people) around him are a wonderful addition to the story.

Favorite Line

“No shame in crying” he tells me. “If we don’t cry for the dead, then what will we cry for?” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think it’s a fun read, especially if you enjoy historical fiction, but I don’t think it’s quite hangover worthy.

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Michelle Moran was inspired to write The Second Empress while researching her fourth novel,  Madame Tussaud.  She spent extensive time in France both for personal travel and to research the book.

Read This Next

Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built).

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: Beneath a Marble Sky

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

Summary

When many people think of India, they think of the Taj Mahal. Most have vaguely heard of the story — how the magnificent white tomb was built by a grieving husband for his deceased wife. But how many have wondered beyond the building of the moment, and to the lives of those involved in the events that took place in 17th century India?

Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum. Jahanara lives the privileged life as the favorite daughter of the Emperor, watching her parents rule India and spending time with her brothers. But after her mother dies, and her father begins a downward spiral of grief, Jahanara is forced to grow up quickly. She must help her father rule, and deal with increasingly dangerous power battles with her brother, Auragzeb. Auragzeb, a religious fanatic who twists the words of the Quran to support his cause, is determined to seize the throne, even if it means overthrowing his peace-seeking older brother. Jahanara must decide how to balance her love and duty to her family with her own safety and happiness.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I really enjoyed the romance in this story because it was not all-consuming. Jahanara and her partner are both deeply devoted to their work, and realize the importance of duty as well as their own personal happiness. I’ll admit that it’s a little too picture-perfect, especially for that time period, but I really fell in love with both characters and enjoyed watching them together.

FRosieeminist Score: Good Effort 

Beneath the Marble Sky takes place in 17th century India, where the role of women (even the imperial royal princess) was fairly limited. Jahanara navigates tricky political and social constructs to be an effective ruler in a male-ruled society. This story surely takes some liberties with the historical context, and the freedoms Jahanara is allowed, but it was well worth it.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort 

One of the best parts of Beneath the Marble Sky are the references to Islam. Through Jahanara’s eyes, we see both the peace and beauty of the religion, as well as as how power-seeking individuals will use “religious” justification to convince people to follow them. Every time Aurangzeb tries to use the Quran to justify violence, Jahanara counters him with other verses. Too many books focus on Islam as the justification for evil, rather than recognize that every written word can be twisted for political gain.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

This has been one of my favorite historical fiction stories since high school. I’ve always been pulled in by the fast-moving plot, and the language is beautiful. I’m always (unfairly) a little wary of authors who write about an unfamiliar culture — e.g. a white man writing about a Muslim-Indian teenage princess. But John Shors writes respectfully and compassionately, and doesn’t try to generalize an entire society by one particular viewpoint.


Favorite Character

Jahanara. She is determined to help her father and brothers, even at the expense of her own happiness.

Favorite Line

“The Qur’an is a book of many faces. As much as Aurangzeb liked to quote its passages concerning revenge, misdeeds, and hellfire, it is also a text that speaks often of forgiveness, charity and goodwill. Unlike my brother, I always found these verses to be most profound. They comforted me tremendously.” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, especially if you like historical fiction! 

Fun Author Fact

According to his Twitter, John Shors plans literary tours to the settings of his novels. I would love to visit the Taj Mahal with him, and understand what drew him to write particular parts of the novel.

Read This Next
Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. If you enjoy well-told historical fiction, Michelle Moran’s books are always great reads. While Cleopatra’s Daughter is my favorite, I’ve also enjoyed The Second Empress, the story of Napolean’s reluctant second wife.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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