Dread Nation by Justina Ireland #Review @justinaireland @BalzerandBray

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Historical fiction meets the zombie apocalypse in Justina Ireland’s addictive new novel, Dread Nation.

The Civil War came to an abrupt end when the dead rose from the battlefields to feast upon the living, and slavery fell sometime later, with the passing of the Native and Negro Reeducation Act. Children of a certain age (and race) are required to go to combat schools to learn how to fight the dead. Jane McKeen has nearly finished her training at Miss Prescott’s School of Combat for Negro Girls when a friend requests for help from Jane and Katherine (another girl at Miss Preston’s) regarding a missing family, it leads to the discovery of a deadly conspiracy that puts all three of them in danger.

Historical fiction with zombies—two of my favorite things put together meant I had to read this book. My only regret is that I didn’t start reading it early in the day, because I read 80% of this in one sitting. (I would have finished it in one sitting, but my eyes kept insisting on closing. How rude!) I was hooked from the moment I read the Prologue title: In Which I Am Born and Someone Tries to Murder MeWhat a way to kick off a book!

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Each chapter title began the same way (In Which I…) and I looked forward to each one. Chapter titles aren’t used much anymore (at least, not in the books I read), which is a shame because they really add something to the overall reading experience that is quite enjoyable. I’m going to go on record right now and blame those enticing chapter titles for keeping me up all night. If it weren’t for those little hints of what each new chapter held, I might have been spared the major book hangover the next day… but no! There they were, making it impossible for me to set the Kindle aside and get some sleep… and I’m SO glad! 🙂

Dread Nation never shies away from the unsavory topics of racism and white supremacy. It’s used in the context of the historical setting, but one cannot help but acknowledge that it’s remains a serious blight on present-day lives; as such, it serves as a subtle commentary on the race issues that continue to plague America.

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Ireland’s writing is simply fabulous, and the world she created within Dread Nation is frightening in more ways than one. The zombies, known as shamblers in the book, are a definite threat in this world, but they aren’t the sole enemy. As with any good zombie story, people—white, religious zealots, in the case of Dread Nation—are the biggest threat to people of color.

I loved the fact that a woman is the main protagonist in this story. Jane is everything you could want in a heroine—she is courageous, a fierce fighter whose loyalty and need to protect her friends is as deeply ingrained within her as her will to survive. Jane is a force to be reckoned with—an admirable character that I won’t soon forget.

Final Thoughts

Dread Nation is an outstanding cross-genre novel that readers are sure to love. I’m extremely excited for the next novel in the series, and can’t wait to see what awaits our fierce heroine in the next chapter of this thrilling series. I’m highly recommending this novel, as it is truly a book worth reading!

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Balzer+Bray via Edelweiss.

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Author: Justina Ireland
Title: Dread Nation
Series: Dread Nation #1
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Alternate History
Published: April 3, 2018 by Balzer+Bray
Rating: 5 stars

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
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Hunger: A Tale of Courage by Donna Jo Napoli #Review

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Hunger: A Tale of Courage is set in western Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine of 1846, a time when a potato blight ruined the main source of food for Irish families. Hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation and disease during this terrible time. Twice that number is estimated to have emigrated to America and other countries in an effort to escape certain death. It is estimated that death and emigration caused the population of Ireland to drop between 20% to 25%, overall.

In this book, we see the dreadful famine through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lorraine, the daughter of a tenant farmer. The story begins in the autumn of 1846, with Lorraine, her parents, and little brother Paddy being cautiously optimistic about a good potato crop—desperately needed after the blight caused last year’s crop to rot. All seems well, but the dreaded blight strikes again, leaving them (and everyone they know and love) with very little food and even fewer options: they had no money to purchase food, and were not permitted to hunt on the land owned by their English landlord. The outlook was bleak, to say the least.

Hard times became even harder as sickness spread, taking the lives of strangers and loved ones alike. A chance meeting with the daughter of their English landlord—a girl named Susannah—presented an opportunity for food, but Lorraine knew convincing the girl to help wasn’t going to be easy, thanks to the way the privileged landowners perceived the Irish. With her family and friends slowly starving to death, Lorraine had no choice but to try.

The famine years in Ireland are a particularly poignant part of history, and I rarely pass up the opportunity to read about it, fiction or otherwise. I expected to be emotionally invested in this story, and Napoli did not disappoint. She crafted a story that is mindful of the devastation wrought by the famine, with characters readers are easily able to connect with and feel empathy for—characters who show both strength and generosity even as they struggled to survive.

This book was the definition of unputdownable for me; I read most of it in one sitting. The end of the book contains a postscript, glossary, bibliography, author’s note and a timeline (Timeline of Ireland to the End of the Famine) that were as fascinating to read as the story itself. It’s a sure bet to be of interest to history buffs, as it gives a brief accounting of important points in Irish history.

I thought this was a wonderful book, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I definitely recommend this book to readers who love historical fiction. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books via Edelweiss.

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Author: Donna Jo Napoli

Title: Hunger: A Tale of Courage

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Published: February 13th, 2018 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Rating: 4 stars

About the Book

Through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lorraine this haunting novel from the award-winning author of Hidden and Hush gives insight and understanding into a little known part of history—the Irish potato famine.

It is the autumn of 1846 in Ireland. Lorraine and her brother are waiting for the time to pick the potato crop on their family farm leased from an English landowner. But this year is different—the spuds are mushy and ruined. What will Lorraine and her family do?

Then Lorraine meets Miss Susannah, the daughter of the wealthy English landowner who owns Lorraine’s family’s farm, and the girls form an unlikely friendship that they must keep a secret from everyone. Two different cultures come together in a deserted Irish meadow. And Lorraine has one question: how can she help her family survive?

A little known part of history, the Irish potato famine altered history forever and caused a great immigration in the later part of the 1800s. Lorraine’s story is a heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive story of one girl’s strength and resolve to save herself and her family against all odds.

About the Author

Donna Jo Napoli
Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli is the acclaimed and award-winning author of many novels, both fantasies and contemporary stories. She won the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water in 1997. Her novel Zel was named an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon, and a School Library Journal Best Book, and a number of her novels have been selected as ALA Best Books. She is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband.

What the Dead Want by Norah Olson #Review @TheNorahOlson

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Gretchen is a 16-year-old photography enthusiast, living in New York City with her oft-absent father. Her mother, renowned owner of the Mona Axton Gallery, disappeared without a trace nearly five years earlier. Gretchen is surprised to receive a call from her Great-Aunt Esther—a woman she doesn’t know—informing her that she is leaving the Axton Mansion, which Gretchen will inherit as the last remaining member of the Axton family. Gretchen agrees to go and help Esther with the house, and the next day she is on her way.

Contrary to her expectations, Gretchen arrives at her family’s ancestral home to find a dilapidated, 150 year old house that appeared ready to collapse. The interior of the house wasn’t any better. Papers and books lay in piles everywhere, and the house was cluttered with countless objects all over the place, looking as if nothing had ever been thrown out once it was brought into the house. Believing she came here to help clean up the house and help Esther move, Gretchen is overwhelmed—then she discovers that’s not the sort of help her Great-Aunt requires of her after all.

The Axton Mansion holds the key to a terrible secret from the past. Somewhere, hidden within old documents, the faded letters and journals of Gretchen’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Fidelia Axton, and horrific photographs from the past lies the answer to an unsolved tragedy that occurred at the nearby church. A tragedy that the dead—and the living—cannot escape, even after 150 years. In order to free them all, Gretchen must discover and expose the truth of the evil deed.

What the Dead Want is a fascinating paranormal young adult mystery. Olson dives into the action almost immediately, and there’s never a dull moment. Gretchen’s story in the present is  interspersed with glimpses into the past,  through the letters and journal entries of Fidelia Axton and other relevant documents. Rather than being an unwelcome interruption, each piece is a crucial part of the story, taking the reader one step closer to solving the mystery.

The one thing that prevents me from giving this beautifully written story a full five-star rating is the inaccurate usage of the word racism. Fidelia uses this word several times in her letters and journals, which were written before and after the American Civil War. It seemed out-of-place as I was reading, and after I finished the novel I looked it up. The original date of its first usage was either in 1902 or 1927. I was unable to find a definitive answer on which date was correct, but either way, it was long after the time period in which it was used in the novel.

I feel very strongly that historical writing must stay true to the time frame it portrays in every way, but especially when it comes to word usage. Using a word that didn’t exist during the time frame you are writing about is a guaranteed way to throw your reader out of the story every time they see it. It’s always an unfortunate thing to run into, but it’s even more disheartening to see it in an otherwise wonderfully written story.

The out-of-place usage of that single word is my only criticism, however, and I still highly recommend this book.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books via Goodreads Giveaways.

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Author: Norah Olson

Title: What the Dead Want

Published: July 26, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the Book

16 -year-old Gretchen takes photographs to understand the world around her, a passion her mother Mona fostered and encouraged when she was still around. Since her mom disappeared years ago, Gretchen and her dad have lived on their own in New York City, haunted by Mona’s absence.

When Gretchen’s great aunt Esther calls unexpectedly to tell her that she has inherited the pre-Civil War mansion on her mother’s side of the family in upstate New York, Gretchen understands nothing except that her aunt needs her help. But what she finds there is beyond her imagination. The house is crumbling apart, filled with stacks of papers and journals from decades, even centuries past, and it’s crawling with rodents. It’s also full of secrets and a legacy of racism and violence so reprehensible that the ghosts of the past are exacting revenge on the living.

Somehow the mystery of Mona’s disappearance and the atrocities that happened on the land during the Civil War are inextricably intertwined, and it’s up to Gretchen to figure out how…before even more lives are lost.

About the Author

Norah Olson is a former journalist who covered criminal cases for a regional New York newspaper and received a prestigious fellowship for her work. She was educated in New England and lives in Manhattan. Her novels for young adults include Twisted Fate, Before Now, and What the Dead Want.

Author bio via HarperCollins.