The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

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In a time when young women are expected to act like proper ladies and aspire only to an advantageous marriage, Faith wants to be a scientist. Fascinated by the natural world, Faith takes pleasure in accompanying her father to fossil digs, even though she is not taken seriously because of her gender. When a scandal breaks in the scientific world involving Faith’s father, her family flees to a remote island. There, secrets about her father’s past begin to come to light, and Faith discovers that he may have brought an even bigger, more dangerous secret with him to the island. Using her deductive reasoning skills, Faith must uncover the truth of what’s happening on the island — before she gets sucked into its mysteries.

I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this book. It’s historical fiction, but it’s completely accessible and a super fast paced read. I especially love how this book tackles women’s rights, women in STEM, and fake news — all wrapped up in a murder mystery! You will definitely be eager to find out how the story ends. Characters are entertaining and well-rounded, and I liked that the author gave particular depth to the character of Faith’s mother. If you like historical fiction, mysteries, STEM, or are just looking for a good read, give this one a try. Worth it!

*Costa Book of the Year, 2015

Rating: 4.5/5

 

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The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

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Will’s family rockets from poverty to first class when his father is promoted in the rail business. But Will’s new wealth isn’t all he dreamed it would be. He misses the adventure of his old life, and feels trapped in his family’s new expectations. When will reunites with a circus performer, Maren, he becomes wrapped up in a mystery related to a valuable key. The key unlocks a car on the new Goliath train, The Boundless, and may lead to untold riches. Will and Maren must solve the mystery, or they may lose their lives on the train.

This one is definitely a great read! The plot is a little predictable, but it’s packed with action, adventure, and intrigue, so it moves very quickly. I also like that this is technically a historical fiction piece, but it is NOT boring at all. All the characters are very well done, and I especially enjoyed reading about the circus performers. If you are looking for your next mystery/thriller with a touch of history, Boundless is it!

*Texas Lonestar List, 2016

Rating: 4/5

 

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

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Nix and her father are sailors.But not typical sailors. Nix’s father is gifted with the ability to Navigate. Using a map, he can sail his ship across time , and that’s exactly what he and his crew do. But Nix’s father isn’t just sailing through time for fun. He’s looking for a way to save Nix’s mom, who died in 1886. Nix is torn between wanting to help her father and preventing a reality in which she might not even exist. In their quest, a series of adventures ensues, including pirating, waking an army of stone soldiers, and picking up new, fanciful crew members along the way.

Wow! I LOVED this book! The plot is a unique one; I was fascinated with the idea that Nix’ dad could sail off the edge of one map and into another. I also appreciated the way the author mixed elements of reality and magic into the story. The characters are funny, well thought out, and nearly every one is lovable in their own way. I’m sad that I can’t go and join this crew myself! Definitely give this one a try if you’re looking for a new fantasy/supernatural/time travel read.

*YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2017

Rating: 5/5

 

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

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In the days of the deadly Blitz on London, Kat and her younger siblings are sent to a country boarding school to escape the danger. Housed in an ancient and mysterious castle, the school is unconventional to say the least, and the children immediately begin to notice inexplicable happenings. Strange noises haunt the nights, and the children are locked in their rooms at night to keep them “safe”. What’s more, Kat finds evidence that the school may be housing a German spy. Though completely unconvinced of the ghost story theories put forth by the other children, Kat has trouble explaining much of what happens at Rookskill. Working together, the children will have to solve the complex mystery of the castle, before it’s too late.

This one is a mix of historical fiction, supernatural fiction, and sci-fi, and it’s amazing! I’ll take a story about a haunted castle any day, so I was more than excited to read of the children’s adventures in the spooky hidden rooms. The book also does a nice job with the historical fiction aspect. It isn’t difficult to understand what is going on with the history, and it certainly isn’t boring. I can’t say too much without spoiling the plot, but suffice it to say that if you’re looking for a ghost story with a bit of unexpected sci-fi mixed in, look no further. My one complaint about the book was that the author arguably had too many plot twists going on, but that also made for an exciting read!

Rating: 4.5/5

 

 

Conversion by Katherine Howe

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When a group of girls falls mysteriously ill at a private school, many believe some kind of poison or side effect is to blame. Colleen, however, doubts the opinions of the media. Guided by anonymous texts, Colleen is drawn to the history of her town, the town once-named Salem, Massachusetts, where nineteen women were hanged for witchcraft in 1692. Is the mystery illness a coincidence? Or is the bloody history of the town repeating itself in the afflicted girls? Told using flashbacks to the confessions of an afflicted girl in the 1700’s, Conversion is the story of paranoia, media frenzy, and a history of violence.

The Salem Witch Trials fascinate me, so I was looking forward to this book. It was extremely disappointing. Though I very much enjoyed the historical flashbacks, the modern part of the book was messy, unconnected, and difficult to read. The author has an interesting theory about what “ailed” the afflicted girls, but the execution of that theory was incredibly confused and lackluster.

Rating: 2.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

Gilt by Katherine Longshore

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Though they share the same name, Kitty Tylney and her best friend, Catherine Howard, couldn’t be more different. Where Kitty is quiet and reserved, Cat is outspoken and vivacious. Where Kitty is content to live in the shadows, Cat longs for center-stage attention. Abandoned into the care of the Dowager Duchess, it seems Kitty’s dreams of peace and solitude are far more realistic. But Catherine Howard has other plans. Taken to Henry VIII’s court by her uncle, Catherine wins the king’s heart and becomes his new, ridiculously young queen. Cat soon brings Kitty and some other girls to serve in her chambers. But, while it seems Cat has achieved everything she’s ever wanted, the new court is a dangerous place. Soon, Kitty finds herself wrapped in drama, intrigue, and deadly secrets.

As I’ve said before, I’m completely biased when it comes to Tudor fiction, so I loved this book — duh. My bias aside, it’s still great. Catherine Howard is an interesting wife to me, as she was, by far, the youngest, and had arguably the most dramatic fall. Catherine was married to Henry when she was just a teenager, and he was old enough to be her grandfather. Gross. A teenager who goes from living in poverty to being queen of England is bound to make some poor decisions. Give this book a try if you’re interested in romantic dramas full of secrets and intrigue. It’s like Mean Girls – 16 century style.

Rating: 5/5 

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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While WWII raged, Lina and her family lead normal lives in Lithuania. But Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, begins exerting his force on other nations, deporting those he feels are not Soviets. One night, the Soviet soldiers crash into Lina’s house, taking her, her mother, and her younger brother into captivity. Separated from her father, Lina and the rest of her family are shipped like cattle to a work camp. They are charged as criminals and sentenced to work to pay off their “crimes”. Around Lina, the other prisoners begin to die of fatigue, disease, starvation, and hypothermia. Somehow, though others around her beg for death, Lina and her family must hold on to hope — that someday they will be allowed to go home.

What I liked about this book is that it IS a Holocaust/WWII book, but it isn’t about the Jews in Germany. It’s told from the perspective of a teenager in Lithuania during Stalin’s aggression on neighboring countries. What’s really interesting is that Stalin (and the USSR) were allied powers — the ones fighting Hitler. So, even though the USSR was one of the “good guys”, Stalin was invading other countries and deporting the citizens to work camps. It’s pretty sad. And, it IS a sad book, so it’s maybe not the best pick if you’re looking for something warm and fuzzy. But, if you’re looking for a tear-jerker with an interesting historical perspective, this one might be it.

Rating: 3.5/5

*Golden Kite Award for Fiction, 2012

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.