All Fall Down Review

All Fall Down by Sally Nicholls

A deadly contagion races through England…

Isabel and her family have nowhere to run from a disease that has killed half of Europe. When the world she knows and loves ends for ever, her only weapon is courage.

The Black Death of 1349 was the deadliest plague in human history. All Fall Down is a powerful and inspiring story of survival in the face of real-life horror.

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I haven’t read much historical fiction around the Black Death, so I decided to give this a go. And I’ve read another of Sally’s books before, so at least I kinda knew what to expect.

It was a very interesting book as you’re introduced to Isabel, and her world. And how it is so “natural” to just be part of it, you can see which parts they question and which ones they don’t. As a way to plunge into the world and setitng, this book does a good job at that but without feeling like you’re just reading a history book with just facts. Isabel and her family make the history become alive.

There’s not much that can’t be spoiled since we know Black Death killed a lot of people. And as the small village Isabel lives in slowly gets affected by it, and then it hits her family, tough choices have to be made, but also some questions arise about roles, responsibiltiies and status quo.

When everyone is dying around you, do the rules that kept you in that place still stand?

I didn’t love the book but it was a quick read, easy to consume without bogging down in facts, the plot was a bit broken into odd parts which is why it isn’t getting more stars, but it still got to somewhere and gave a good “ending” (or as good as you can have given the topic and circumstances).

Smoke and Key Review

Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton

A sound awakens her. There’s darkness all around. And then she’s falling…

She has no idea who or where she is. Or why she’s dead. The only clue to her identity hangs around her neck: a single rusted key. This is how she and the others receive their names—from whatever belongings they had when they fell out of their graves. Under is a place of dirt and secrets, and Key is determined to discover the truth of her past in order to escape it.

She needs help, but who can she trust? Ribbon seems content in Under, uninterested in finding answers. Doll’s silence hints at deep sorrow, which could be why she doesn’t utter a word. There’s Smoke, the boy with a fierceness that rivals even the living. And Journal, who stays apart from everyone else. Key’s instincts tell her there is something remarkable about each of them, even if she can’t remember why.

Then the murders start; bodies that are burnt to a crisp. After being burned, the dead stay dead. Key is running out of time to discover who she was—and what secret someone is willing to kill to keep hidden—before she becomes the next victim…

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px Grey

Smoke and Key was one of those “this book sounds interesting, could be a total flop, but it may also be good”. So I bought it at YALC. And for some odd reason I decided it’d be a good variety to the rest of the books I took with me for our honeymoon.

It was a quick read, easy to read, doesn’t require much thinking even though there’s a lot Key doesn’t know and a lot to try to puzzle out in this Under world. But the story takes you along, not in a condescending way but just with Key to learn as she does.

The world of Under got interesting and then it gets a little bit weird, specially as Key keeps remembering more and more and things start to connect between Under and Key’s life before she died.

I liked the concept that an item you were buried with was the thing that “defined” you and how “Under” had adapted to this odd fate, until Key arrives and can’t adapt or rather her memories won’t really her do so.

The rest of the characters are somewhat fleshed out and at first feel very bare bones but as memories come back and things get slowly revealed, they become better fleshed out (some never do, but oh well, the main ones kind of do).

Coming to the ending was interesting as I had no clue what to expect from this book. And it somehow left me feeling like it had ended well, despite being a bit of a “how did this all happen? Magic? Magic!” but it was exactly the type of book I kinda expected it to be in the good way. It passed the time, didn’t require a lot of thought and engagement to keep up with it, and it was interesting with an ending that left me pleased and not angry at the book.

Under a Dancing Star Review

Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

In grey, 1930s England, Bea has grown up kicking against the conventions of the time, all the while knowing that she will one day have to marry someone her parents choose – someone rich enough to keep the family estate alive. But she longs for so much more – for adventure, excitement, travel, and maybe even romance.

When she gets the chance to spend the summer in Italy with her bohemian uncle and his fiancée, a whole world is opened up to Bea – a world that includes Ben, a cocky young artist who just happens to be infuriatingly handsome too. Sparks fly between the quick-witted pair until one night, under the stars, a challenge is set: can Bea and Ben put aside their teasing and have the perfect summer romance?

With their new friends gleefully setting the rules for their fling, Bea and Ben can agree on one thing at least: they absolutely, positively will not, cannot fall in love…

A long, hot summer of kisses and mischief unfolds – but storm clouds are gathering across Europe, and home is calling. Every summer has to end – but for Bea, this might be just the beginning.

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It seems to me that Laura is set on making me love her books on things I do not like. She did it first with A Sky Painted Gold, a “Gatsby” like kind of book (I do not like Gatsby at all), and now she’s done it with Under a Dancing Star for Shakespeare.

Her ideas are a different take on things, for Under a Dancing Star, she asks, “What made Bea and Ben in Much Ado About Nothing, get to that point where the play starts?” and she does it masterfully. Not only for the main two characters, but for the whole ensemble, and I loved it deeply.

There is a lot of care into the fashion part and on setting the scene and the feel for it, which is also delightful and makes you feel like you’re there chatting with the artists, sharing a lazy dinner with them.

The banter and teasing between Bea and Ben is glorious! I laughed a lot throughout the book and also giggled and smiled. Oh, if I had the guts Bea does. And maybe a younger me did have some of that. Plus it is nice to see her blossom into herself rather than stay in the shell of what her parents want for and from her.

Highly recommended alongside A Sky Painted Gold.

Among the Red Stars Review

Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz

World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.

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True to form, I read this book at an RAF base while my boyfriend did pylon racing (I mean, Russia really wasn’t an option just to go read a book).

Among the Red Stars was one of those books I knew I needed to read, so I preordered it and then put it on my WWII shelf and didn’t read it for a long time. Reviews to do, books to read for x or y event, and then I wasn’t in the mood for it. I didn’t want to read it in the wrong mood because I knew it’d be a book I would love, and I wasn’t wrong.

The book takes you through two points of view. Valka as a young woman joining the one all female aviation group (who would later become known as the Night Witches, the women that gave Hitler nightmares). She takes you through the nuances of joining this force and of how training goes. And her narrative takes you through her journey as a Night Witch and what it entailed.

On the other hand, we have Pasha who is a gentle soul with a knack for radios, and who is now a soldier at the front. Both exchange letters, and through Pasha we learn a lot about the nuances of religion and what socialism meant to those born in it.

Valka talks more about what happened when you are suspected of being against the system. And she explores how the women of the aviation group were initially considered inferior by all the other regiments until they proved their worth and changed things around.

One of my favourite things is that there are all this gorgeous details about the aircraft (Po-2, which was later renamed U-2, this brought a long discussion between my boyfriend and me about why they renamed it and which one I was referring to) and the world of flying for the Soviet Union. But there are also everyday details like the women adjusting their own uniforms to fit, or Pasha learning to sign hyms through one of his fellow soldiers.

And it is also relatively “true” to the actual things that happened. I didn’t at any point feel like saying “woah, too many artistic liberties here”. Never had anything to complain, except that at first the whole “letter” and then narrative part was odd, but I got used to it quickly.

At the end there is a nice note explaining who inspired each character and which ones are based on real people that lived and fought and did the things they’re known for in the book.

If you’re a WWII enthusiast or an aircraft one, do read this, it is more than worth it!

Voices Review

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Voices: The Final Hours of Joan Of Arc by David Elliott

Author David Elliott explores how Joan of Arc changed the course of history and remains a figure of fascination centuries after her extraordinary life and death.

Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood). Along the way it explores issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power. Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices.

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I used to love playing Age of Empires II on my Windows 98 computer (yes, I am old, shush!) as a child and teenager. And one of the first campaigns is Joan of Arc. I learnt a lot about her story and France (I am not saying it was perfect, but I learned a lot, and Age of Empires sparked my interest in more history). But the point wasn’t about gaming on a 1990’s computer, rather that it sparked my interest in this book.

As starter things, this book is a poem, it isn’t 100% accurate but more of an “artistic” view as the idea was to focus on the type of poems that would be used during Joan’s time. (This part I found nice, as the poems made a little more sense than modern poetry. Apparently Medieval poems are more similar to general Spanish poems, therefore make more sense poetically speaking than other poems in English do for me). And it isn’t a book about Joan’s whole life, but rather it is meant to be a “I am about to die, my life choices are questioned, this is what led me here” type of book.

I liked the artistic take on the story, and the poems. Some are shaped, and there’s a lot of formatting in it which made the experience of reading it, more of an experience in itself. My absolute favourite is the Fire, but in general, I enjoyed the poems, and I don’t know if I have a sooty mind thanks to hanging out with my friends, but there were some interesting hidden jokes in the poems that made me raise an eyebrow and laugh quietly at it.

It was a nice change of reading, and it was a relatively familiar story, so it was a neat read as I had been suffering from head splitting headaches, and this wasn’t too hard. Which probably made me enjoy it more than I would’ve otherwise. As did my love for Age of Empires…

 

The Book of Boy Review

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The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert-Murdock

Boy has always been relegated to the outskirts of his small village. With a large hump on his back, a mysterious past, and a tendency to talk to animals, he is often mocked and abused by the other kids in his town. Until the arrival of a shadowy pilgrim named Secondus. Impressed with Boy’s climbing and jumping abilities, Secondus engages Boy as his servant, pulling him into an expedition across Europe to gather the seven precious relics of Saint Peter. Boy quickly realizes this journey is not an innocent one. They are stealing the relics, and gaining dangerous enemies in the process. But Boy is determined to see this pilgrimage through until the end—for what if St. Peter can make Boy’s hump go away?

This compelling, action-packed tale is full of bravery and daring, stars a terrific cast of secondary characters, and features an unlikely multigenerational friendship at its heart. Memorable and haunting, Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s epic medieval adventure is just right for readers of Sara Pennypacker’s Pax, Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale, and Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo.

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Oh my gosh, this was such a cute read. Boy is such an interesting character and it immediately made me feel like I was 1350.

The way Boy talks is very much from a different time, and at first I wasn’t sure what exactly his secret was, but I have to say I loved it (I do not want to spoil you, but that was my favourite part and how that mixes with the adventures of Secundus).

Boy is delightful, the lines between heaven, hell and earth blur beautifully. Relics are all the rage and life is so different, yet at the same time some things don’t change, do they? It not only mixes fantasy but religion, beliefs and a simple way of life. And it was very interesting to see Boy talking to animals and understanding them.

What are you waiting for? Go read The Book of Boy.

Moon recommends

When I read The Book of Boy, I was reminded a lot of Cadfael’s mysteries, so why not try Ellis Peters’ books?

 

Historical and Sci-Fi Leafer Box

Before I unbox this lovely box (it is the cheapest box I have found), let me tell you that December’s boxes will include an exclusive colouring bookmark design by me. This design won’t be available in the shop and can only be found when purchasing a Leafer Box.

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Just as a reminder, I receive two boxes in one (which means only one chocolate and no repeat items). This time I went for the Historical one rather than Fantasy (the theme appealed more to me), and it is my first “Historical” box.

So let’s unbox it, starting from the chocolate and going clockwise:

  • A Mint and Lemon dark chocolate bar which is quite refreshing and my boyfriend even stole a few squares of it.
  • The First Casualty, the Sci-Fi book. I was very pleased that it is an “indie” paperback size (until recently, this was the size I had in my head when anyone said paperback).
  • A glorious golden cage bookmark, it is so detailed and beautiful.
  • Galaxy socks, they are soft and comfy and fun to wear.
  • Space stickers, which I want to stick everywhere and at the same time neveruse them up because they’re so cute and there’s so many designs…
  • A choker with a purple rose. This is very pretty and I can’t wait to have an occasion to wear such a beauty.
  • Hidden under the chocolate and by the choker, there’s a magnet with a quote from Charles Dickens which is now holding some To-Do on my fridge.
  • The Undesirables, whcih was the Historical pick of the month.

As per usual, I was very pleased with my box. It is less main stream but most of the items make me happy and I think it is the box that has the least “set apart to give away” items ever. (As I mentioned in my 101 post, it is normal to choose not to keep some items).

If Leafer Box sounds up your street, you can purchase the November box until the end of the month and then the December one as soon as it is the 1st of December. If you use code KESTREL10 you can get 10% off any purchase and there are several genres to choose from.