Book Love, Christian fiction

Book review: Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Book cover of Romanov by Nadine BrandesBack cover copy: The history books say I died. They don’t know the half of it. Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad … and he’s on the other.

My review: I read Romanov by Nadine Brandes for my historical fiction choice in the Read Something New 2021 Book Challenge. It wasn’t the book I originally planned to read for that spot but kept begging me to take it from my ever-growing to-read stack. So I finally gave in – and am glad I did.

Portions of Romanov are based on historical fact. The father, Emperor Nicholas II, was the last czar of Russia. Their family was exiled and later executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. When the gravesite of the family was found years later, two members were missing: Anastasia and her younger brother Alexei. Rumors persisted for years that they had somehow survived the firing squad and lived out their lives in secret and/or under different identities. Their remains were not found until 2007, buried in a separate grave near the rest of the family.

Romanov adds magical aspects to historical facts to weave a fantastical but believable story. Anastasia is a beginning-level spell master who knows just enough magic to create spells that help relieve the pain and injuries that Alexei experiences because of hemophilia. She is fiercely loyal and feels tremendous responsibility to help him however she can, but the Bolsheviks are hunting down and killing spell masters (in addition to wanting the Romanov family out of their way).

But Anastasia also is a typical teenage girl in many ways – playing pranks, doing things to make her sisters or Alexei laugh, navigating the feelings associated with her first crush, and learning to remain hopeful despite grappling with frustration, anger, and forgiveness.

The characters of Romanov are multi-layered and believable, even the secondary characters and antagonists. That’s part of what kept me reading and enjoying the story.

Faith elements are also strong, despite having magic be such an important element in the story. The family prays together and talks about things related to their faith, plus topics related to living a life of faith (hope, respect, forgiveness, grace) are integral to the story.

Who should read it: Historical fiction fans should enjoy Romanov, though sticklers who might get hung up on the magical aspect might enjoy reading something like I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon more (I read that one a couple years ago and liked it). Romanov is categorized as young adult fiction, but I can see it appealing to readers from middle school to adult. It covers some fairly heavy topics related to the war and violence, but they aren’t too much for a mature middle schooler to handle (and are much less graphic than plenty of other books targeting that age group).

Your turn: Did you read a historical novel for this month’s challenge? If so, tell us which one and what you thought of it! If not, share what you did read – because there had to be something, right?

Coming next month: The February book category for our reading challenge is science fiction or fantasy. Any idea what you’ll read?

Book Love

First Line Friday: Heart of a Royal

Welcome to First Line Friday, where book lovers across blogland share the opening line from a nearby book (since we all have books everywhere we turn). It’s a fun thing I hope to do more often in 2021, so I’m kicking off my participation for the New Year with a story from an Australian YA author I recently discovered:

Heart of a Royal by Hannah Currie

Heart of a Royal book cover

The first line is:

If mortification could kill, I’d be six feet under.

Talk about an opening line I could relate to (plus, what a gorgeous cover)! And so begins the story of Kenna, the companion/practically sister to Princess Alina of Peverell. But Kenna and Alina are about to turn 18 and Alina will soon be engaged to Prince Marcos of the neighboring kingdom — which means everything is about to change for both of them.

I enjoyed Heart of a Royal so much that I read it and the second story in the series, Heart of a Princess, about Princess Alina’s own journey over the 4-day weekend. They reminded me of the Selection Series by Kiera Cass, which is saying a lot.

The final book in the series, Heart of the Crown, releases next week: January 15. I’ll definitely be reading it and keeping an eye out for others by Hannah Currie. I’ve also been participating in Hannah’s Instagram challenge leading up to Heart of the Crown, if you want to check out the photos I’ve shared.

Your turn: Share the first line from one of your books in the comments. Then hop over to Hoarding Books (the blog I’m joining in this fun) to see what they’re sharing.

Happy reading!

Book Love

Read something new 2021 book challenge

I read a pretty wide variety of things but am always telling myself I should branch out more. 2021 will be my year to start, with a Read Something New book challenge. I would love for others to join!

Here’s how it will work.

stack of books against a yellow and blue backgroundA different genre or topic is assigned to each month of 2021. Toward the end of each month, I’ll post something here and on my social media pages reminding what the next month’s category is (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram). If you want to participate, read something in the category that month. It’s as easy as that!

The schedule is:

  • January: Historical fiction
  • February: Science fiction or fantasy
  • March: Fiction or nonfiction centered on a specific event or time period
  • April: Young adult
  • May: Reread a favorite from middle or high school
  • June: Contemporary fiction
  • July: A classic you’ve never read
  • August: Fiction or nonfiction that takes place in your state
  • September: Biography
  • October: Mystery or suspense
  • November: Fiction or nonfiction written by a local author
  • December: Something for personal growth

I’ll post reviews of whatever I read and invite you to share about yours in the comments. Join in whenever you want – you don’t have to commit to participating every month.

Plus: Anyone who shares about what they’ve read will be entered in some bookish prize drawings along the way.

So, let’s get ready for historical fiction in January. Plenty of amazing options there! I’m leaning toward Colors of Truth, which is the newest from Tamera Alexander. What are you thinking about?

Happy reading,

Leigh

Book Love

Three great YA books for giving (or reading yourself)

YA books have come a long way in the last 10 or so years. Yes, you’ll find some cheesy or cookie-cutter stories that don’t seem connected with today’s world (those still surface in every genre). But the young adult book market has become really competitive – which means higher expectations from publishers and better books for us as readers.

The YA titles on today’s shelves cover any genre you might want. And although a glance at their covers in the local bookstore might make it seem like they all tie in with dark topics, there are plenty that can entertain and challenge you without being something you would have hidden from your mom when you were 15.

Here are three I’ve read lately that are clean reads for teens – or anyone else – who want a great story that pulls you in and keeps you guessing on every page.

Book cover of Nine by Rachelle DekkerNine by Rachelle Dekker

Back cover copy: Some secrets can’t stay hidden. Zoe Johnson has spent most of her life living in the shadows, never drawing attention to herself, never investing in people or places. But when a wide-eyed, bedraggled teenager with no memory walks into the diner where Zoe works, everything changes.

Against her better judgment, Zoe, who has been trying to outrun her own painful memories of the past, finds herself attempting to help a girl who doesn’t seem to have any past at all. With little warning, they must follow the only sure thing they know: a woman hundreds of miles away will either save them … or be the last person to see them alive.

This book grabbed me within the first few pages, when the mother figure in Lucy’s life helps her escape from people who have been controlling her from birth. She sends Lucy to find another woman who can help; Lucy meets Zoe along the way and they both know nothing will be the same. The people who have controlled Lucy are hot on her trail and determined to do whatever it takes to keep her from exposing their work. Lucy and Zoe don’t even know each other, but still realize they can trust each other more than anyone else.

Everything about the story is believable and kept me guessing until the end. Even though I expected twists along the way, the story surprised me several times. And kept me up reading way past my bedtime more than one night.

I already have two more of her books on my to-be-read stack, if that tells you anything about how much I enjoyed Nine.

Book coer of Dust by Kara SwansonDust by Kara Swanson

Back cover copy: The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale. Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real — since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London … and a boy who shouldn’t exist.

Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.

The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan — and herself.

I’ve read quite a few fairytale retellings over the years and must say it’s hard to keep them from being predictable. Dust is different because it isn’t a new take on the all-too-familiar story of Peter Pan. Instead, it’s a modern-day tale of Peter doing whatever he can to get back to Neverland – and he’s not always the sunny, charming Peter you might expect. The book is written from both Claire’s and Peter’s points of view, so it’s fun to get inside both their heads.

Having a cover this gorgeous sets a high bar for the story – you don’t want to open something that striking and read junk! Fortunately, Dust definitely met the mark for me and I’ll be reading the sequel, Shadow, when it’s published in July 2021.

Book cover of Thirst by Jill WilliamsonThirst by Jill Williamson

Back cover copy: A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Seventeen-year-old Eli McShane and his friends flee the chaos and violence in Phoenix and journey north toward the rumored location of a safe water source. They add several to their number, including a mysterious girl named Hannah, who, unknown to Eli, is being hunted by a dangerous man. Desperation brings out the worst in many of the travelers, infecting even those closest to Eli. When division comes, will he be able to hold his group together or will each fall victim to their own thirst for survival?

I read a couple other books by Jill Williamson several years ago but missed this one when it came out in 2019. I’m glad I came across it a few weeks ago. It’s a good story with believable teenage characters and good lessons about friendship, leadership and growing in your faith. Not in a preachy way, but woven naturally into the story so that the points are made if you take time to stop and think.

Some people might not want to read Thirst right now since it centers on a pandemic, but that didn’t bother me. The follow-up book Hunger will be published next year and I’ll definitely want to read it to learn what happens to Eli and his friends.

 

There are lots of other great YA books I’ve enjoyed and recommend, but they’ll have to wait for another post. Nine, Dust and Thirst are from different categories of YA fiction, but trust me when I say any middle- or high school reader would probably like all three. And any adult, too – because even though they’re labeled as YA fiction, they’re so well written that they prove YA often is not just for kids anymore.