Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

Release Date: March 21, 2017

This book caught my attention because I loved the idea of a novel about Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton agent, and I just hoped the writing, plot, and characters would be as good as the premise. I knew from the first few pages they would be.

Excellently written with great characters, fictional and historic alike, the plot takes the reader into the spy world of the Civil War. I did feel as though the romance was a little superficial, but otherwise, I felt the character development was very good, especially Kate's. Told in first person, we really get to see and feel Kate's thoughts and emotions, how she deals with the moral questions of lying, deceiving, and hurting people for the greater good, and how she deals with knowing she'll never have a normal, family life.

The plot is what really drives this though, and I frequently found it hard to put down, always wanting to know what would happen next. Lot's of action and adventure.

I'm interested in the author's first novel now. Though it wasn't a premise I was previously interested in, knowing how much I enjoyed this one, I have to give it a try.

Advanced review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Matching Covers: Polka Dot Dress

Who did it best? For me, The Major's Daughter, or Skeletons at the Feast. River's Edge looks superimposed, and Maud's Line is too monochromatic.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Historical Fiction Coming Soon

The Night Mark: A Novel by Tiffany Reisz

Release Date: March 28, 2017

Faye Barlow is drowning. After the death of her beloved husband, Will, she cannot escape her grief and most days can barely get out of bed. But when she's offered a job photographing South Carolina's storied coast, she accepts. Photography, after all, is the only passion she has left.

In the quaint beach town, Faye falls in love again when she sees the crumbling yet beautiful Bride Island lighthouse and becomes obsessed with the legend surrounding The Lady of the Light—the keeper's daughter who died in a mysterious drowning in 1921. Like a moth to a flame, Faye is drawn to the lighthouse for reasons she can't explain. While visiting it one night, she is struck by a rogue wave and a force impossible to resist drags Faye into the past—and into a love story that is not her own.

The Girls of Ennismore by Patricia Falvey

Release Date: March 28, 2017

On a June morning in 1900, Rosie Killeen crosses the road that divides her family's County Mayo farm from the estate of Lord and Lady Ennis, and makes her way to the "big house" for the first time. Barely eight years old, Rosie joins the throng of servants preparing for the arrival of Queen Victoria. But while the royal visit is a coup for Ennismore, a chance meeting on the grounds proves even more momentous for Rosie.

Victoria Bell, Lord and Lady Ennis's young daughter, is desperately lonely. Though the children of the gentry seldom fraternize with locals, Lord Ennis arranges for Rosie to join in Victoria's school lessons. For Rosie, the opportunity is exhilarating yet isolating. Victoria's governess and aunt, Lady Louisa, objects to teaching a peasant girl. The other servants resent Rosie's escape from the drudgery of life below stairs. Bright, strong-willed Rosie finds herself caught between her own people and the rarefied air of Ennismore--especially as she grows closer to Victoria's older brother, Valentine.

(Read full description at Goodreads)

War Cry: A Courtney Family Novel by Wilbur Smith and David Churchill

Release Date: April 4, 2017

As a member of the remarkable Courtney family, Leon Courtney knows how quickly fortunes can be won and lost. Over the course of more than two centuries, generations of his family have risen and fallen with the tides of history. Leon, too, has experienced his own share of triumph and pain. In the wake of his beloved wife’s death, the renowned big-game hunter is raising his young daughter, Saffron, alone in colonial Kenya.

In the 1920s, the continent of Africa is a dangerous place. As Leon attempts to navigate the murky political waters of this most exquisitely beautiful and wildest of lands, his daughter grows into an independent and headstrong young woman bound for a far different life in Britain, as a student at Oxford.

(Read full description at Goodreads)

A Fever of the Blood: A Novel by Oscar de Muriel

Release Date: April 4, 2017

New Year's Day, 1889.

In Edinburgh's lunatic asylum, a patient escapes as a nurse lays dying. Leading the manhunt are legendary local Detective 'Nine-Nails' McGray and Londoner-in-exile Inspector Ian Frey.

Before the murder, the suspect was heard in whispered conversation with a fellow patient—a girl who had been mute for years. What made her suddenly break her silence? And why won't she talk again? Could the rumours about black magic be more than superstition?

McGray and Frey track a devious psychopath far beyond their jurisdiction, through the worst blizzard in living memory, into the shadow of Pendle Hill—home of the Lancashire witches—where unimaginable danger awaits.

Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

Release Date: May 9, 2017

For one hundred seventy years, Edward Fairfax Rochester has stood as one of literature's most romantic, most complex, and most mysterious heroes. Sometimes haughty, sometimes tender-professing his love for Jane Eyre in one breath and denying it in the next-Mr. Rochester has for generations mesmerized, beguiled, and, yes, baffled fans of Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece. But his own story has never been told.

Now, out of Sarah Shoemaker's rich and vibrant imagination, springs Edward: a vulnerable, brilliant, complicated man whom we first meet as a motherless, lonely little boy roaming the corridors and stable yards of Thornfield Hall. On the morning of Edward's eighth birthday, his father issues a decree: He is to be sent away to get an education, exiled from Thornfield and all he ever loved. As the determined young Edward begins his journey across England, making friends and enemies along the way, a series of eccentric mentors teach him more than he might have wished about the ways of the men-and women-who will someday be his peers.

(Read full description at Goodreads)

House of Names: A Novel by Colm Toibin

Release Date: May 9, 2017

“I have been acquainted with the smell of death.” So begins Clytemnestra’s tale of her own life in ancient Mycenae, the legendary Greek city from which her husband King Agamemnon left when he set sail with his army for Troy. Clytemnestra rules Mycenae now, along with her new lover Aegisthus, and together they plot the bloody murder of Agamemnon on the day of his return after nine years at war.

Judged, despised, cursed by gods she has long since lost faith in, Clytemnestra reveals the tragic saga that led to these bloody actions: how her husband deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles, only to sacrifice her because that is what he was told would make the winds blow in his favor and take him to Troy; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus, who shared her bed in the dark and could kill; how Agamemnon came back with a lover himself; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal—his quest for victory, greater than his love for his child.

(Read full description at Goodreads)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: India Black (Madam of Espionage Mysteries #1) by Carol K. Carr

India Black, madam of a brothel, gets caught up in international espionage after a government official dies in her, er, establishment. She is recruited by the Prime Minister's office to help recover the important papers stolen after the death before they fall into the hands of either two factions who want to use them against Britain/the Prime Minister.

The Stephanie Plum of the 19th century, India Black is headstrong and clever but not always very graceful and it lands her in a number of dangerous yet amusing situations that she handles with dry wit and sarcasm. Hell, she even has her own black sidekick at one point. Then there's the handsome Mr. French, a spy who works for the Prime Minister's office, but he only resembles Ranger with his mysterious background. India has her own secrets though, and I can't wait to read the rest of the series to find out what they are.

I did think the way Vincent, the young street urchin, kept sneaking into the most unlikely places was a little unrealistic, but it didn't play too big of a role in the plot so I was able to overlook it.

I saw a few reviewers saying the "strange" vocabulary like "bint", "cove", and "rogering" used throughout the novel wasn't very historically accurate, but actually, they are. "Bint" is a derogatory British term that dates from the mid 19th century for a woman or girl, like "tart". "Cove" is an informal British term that dates from before the 19th century for a person, especially male. "Rogering" is British slang for having sex and dates from the early 18th century. The authentic language was precisely one of the things I loved about this novel, the author made a good effort to use real slang from the time period. Maybe some readers haven't seen these words used before because most historical novels they read aren't about whores who would use language like that? Or perhaps most historical novelists don't make as great an effort to incorporate authentic language because they don't want to alienate readers so some people aren't used to it (though that's not to say most historical novelists use anachronistic language).

The whole time I was reading the book, I was thinking it would make a great movie. Lot's of adventure and humor, and even the hint of a potential romance in the future. There's not a huge amount of depth, but it is a lot of fun, and sometimes that's just what I'm looking for.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Review: The Boleyn King (Boleyn Trilogy #1) by Laura Andersen

An alternate history novel on what England's monarchy would have looked like had Anne Boleyn delivered a healthy, surviving boy to Henry VIII and subsequently never been executed.

I was a little disappointed by the fact that so many of the main characters were fictional. Obviously, being alternate history, you would expect some fictional characters, but I expected them to be characters born from the alternate event in question. For example, if they were the children of one of the four wives Henry VIII never wound up marrying, that would make sense, but that's not the case. Several fictional characters were born before the birth of Anne's son, sometimes to fictional parents too. I guess I expected everything leading up to the birth of Anne's surviving son to be historical and the only alternate events and people to be anything that would have happened after or as a result of that. The premise of this book is a great idea, but for me, it kind of loses some plausibility when you decide to make up things that occurred before the alternate event the book is based on.

Despite my long rant though, I did eventually get over my initial disappointment. Mostly. It wasn't what I expected but that doesn't mean I couldn't enjoy it for what it was. The character development was good, the plot interesting, the writing quality was very good.

It did feel a little like a young adult romance novel though. Fortunately, it's more than just that - there's also political intrigue, coup plots, mysteries, spying, etc. Marriage was an integral part of politics at the time, so it's to be expected that love and marriage play a large role in the book, but because the main characters are teens or in their early 20s, it had a very teen-like feel to it and I was surprised it wasn't marketed as young adult, as it easily could have been. Nothing wrong with young adult, I probably would have loved this book when I was younger but alas, I'm not that young anymore and usually look for something more mature.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Review: George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade

If you love the AMC TV show TURN: Washington's Spies, you'll love this non-fiction account of the same topic. I know the show was actually created from Alexander Rose's history book "Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring" but they were both on sale on Kindle and I couldn't decide so I just got both and wound up reading this one first. And honestly, I'm not sure how or why the show claims to be based on a non-fiction book when a non-fiction book is factual... so really, it's just based on history, and this is also a non-fictional book about that history.

I honestly had no idea just how important espionage was during the Revolutionary War. When I thought of this topic, I thought of what I learned in school: founding fathers, minutemen, Paul Revere, etc. But now I know it's so much more than that, and there was so much more going on in the background. They don't teach this in schools, but they should, maybe kids would pay attention.

Never boring or dry, this book really pulls you into the spy ring and let's you get to know each individual involved. At the end, it also explores who female agent 355 might have been. Sometimes, it's so juicy, I can't believe it really happened. It was interesting to compare and contrast it with the show too, which did add some fictional elements and make some changes, but not so much that it draws away from the real history, which makes me love the show even more.

This is precisely the kind of history book I would recommend to people who (wrongly) think history is boring, but it's also thrilling for those who already appreciate history. I don't think I've ever blown through non-fiction this fast.

Upcoming Historical Fiction Releases

The Half-Drowned King: A Novel by Linnea Hartsuyker

Release Date: August 1, 2017

Since the death of Ragnvald Eysteinsson's father in battle, he has worked hard to protect his sister Svanhild and planned to inherit his family's land when he comes of age. But when the captain of his ship tries to kill him on the way home from a raiding excursion, he must confront his stepfather's betrayal, and find a way to protect his birthright. It is no easy feat in Viking-Age Norway, where a hundred petty rulers kill over parcels of land, and a prophesied high king is rising.

But where Ragnvald is expected to bleed, and even die, for his honour, Svanhild is simply expected to marry well. It's not a fate she relishes, and when the chance to leave her stepfather's cruelty comes at the hand of her brother's arch-rival, Svanhild is forced to make the ultimate choice: family or freedom.

(Full description at Goodreads)

The Diplomat's Daughter: A Novel by Karin Tanabe 

Release Date: July 11, 2017

During the turbulent months following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, twenty-one-year-old Emi Kato, the daughter of a Japanese diplomat, is locked behind barbed wire in a Texas interment camp, the victim of misfortune and America’s new policies of fear. Plagued by fence sickness, her world changes when she meets Christian Lange, whose German-born parents were wrongfully arrested for un-American activities. Together, they live as prisoners with thousands of other German and Japanese families, but discover that young love can triumph over even the most unjust circumstances.

When Emi and her mother are abruptly sent back to Japan, Christian enlists in the US Army, with his sights set on the Pacific front—and a reunion with Emi. Sent away for her safety, Emi lives out the war in a Japanese resort town where many in the foreign community have fled, including both Jews and Nazis. When she overhears a German officer boasting of the men he has murdered in Asia, fate brings Emi back to Leo Hartmann, the son of prominent Austrian Jews, now a refugee in Shanghai—her oldest friend and her first love. Fearing for his life, Emi is determined to find Leo. But will Christian’s devotion be strong enough to stop her?

(Full description at Goodreads)

Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York by Francis Spufford 

Release Date: June 27, 2017

New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan island, 1746. One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat arrives at a countinghouse door on Golden Hill Street: this is Mr. Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion shimmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge sum, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he is planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money. Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?

Rich in language and historical perception, yet compulsively readable, Golden Hill is a story “taut with twists and turns” that “keeps you gripped until its tour-de-force conclusion” (The Times, London). Spufford paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later metropolitan self but already entirely a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love—and find a world of trouble.

Badlands (Sawbones) by Melissa Lenhardt

Release Date: June 27, 2017

Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in the conclusion to Melissa Lenhardt's fast-paced historical series.

Laura's worst fears have been realized: Kindle has been taken into custody and she is once again on the run. The noose awaits her in New York, but Laura is realizing that there are some things worse than death. Finally running out of places to hide, it may be time for Dr. Catherine Bennett to face her past.

Woman Enters Left: A Novel by Jessica Brockmole

Release Date: August 8, 2017

A woman in the 1950s sets out on a road trip from Los Angeles to New Jersey, unknowingly tracing in reverse the path her mother traveled thirty years prior, in this charming dual narrative from the author of the international bestseller Letters from Skye.

The Drowning King (A Fall of Egypt Novel) by Emily Holleman 

Release Date: April 4, 2017

It's the dawn of a new era for Alexandria: four years have passed since Berenice's gruesome execution, the Piper is dead, and Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy, are poised to inherit the throne together. Long overlooked by his father in favor of the beguiling Cleopatra, ten-year-old Ptolemy is eager to assert himself as a man and as a king. But he and his advisors are no match for Queen Cleopatra, who swiftly establishes her primacy throughout the land-from Alexandria to Upper Egypt. When she alienates Rome's remaining legions, Ptolemy finally gets his first taste of power, though not without its complications. Intent on retaking the crown, Arsinoe and Cleopatra have joined forces in Egypt, and Ptolemy must prepare to meet their army head-on. 

(Full description at Goodreads)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Upcoming Releases in Historical Fiction

I've made the decision to post releases based only on their US release date. I was posting them based on the first release date, regardless of whether it was US or UK (when they differed), but it was too complicated to keep up with. So occasionally, you'll see upcoming releases for books already available in the UK. And if a book by your favorite author is being released in the UK and I haven't posted it yet, that's probably why. This could all be avoided if publishers were just consistent with release dates...

Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh

Release Date: May 9, 2017

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family's poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her, and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas's newest speakeasy, Doc's.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school, and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, he embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—she tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. But her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

Bonnie Parker is about to meet Clyde Barrow.

The Competition: Da Vinci's Disciples by Donna Russo Morin

Release Date: April 25, 2017

In a studiolo behind a church, six women gather to perform an act that is, at once, restorative, powerful, and illegal. They paint. Under the tutelage of Leonardo da Vinci, these six show talent and drive equal to that of any man, but in Renaissance Florence they must hide their skills, or risk the scorn of the city.

A commission to paint a fresco in Santo Spirito is announced and Florence’s countless artists each seek the fame and glory this lucrative job will provide. Viviana, a noblewoman freed from a terrible marriage and now free to pursue her artistic passions in secret, sees a potential life-altering opportunity for herself and her fellow female artists. The women first speak to Lorenzo de’ Medici himself, and finally, they submit a bid for the right to paint it. And they win.

(Full description at Goodreads)

The Women in the Castle: A Novel by Jessica Shattuck

Release Date: March 28, 2017

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.

(Full description at Goodreads)

The River of Kings: A Novel by Taylor Brown

Release Date: March 21, 2017

The Altamaha River, Georgia’s “Little Amazon,” is one of the last truly wild places in America. Crossed by roads only five times in its 137 miles, the black-water river is home to thousand-year-old virgin cypress, direct descendants of eighteenth-century Highland warriors, and a staggering array of rare and endangered species. The Altamaha is even rumored to harbor its own river monster, as well as traces of the oldest European fort in North America.

Brothers Hunter and Lawton Loggins set off to kayak the river, bearing their father’s ashes toward the sea. Hunter is a college student, Lawton a Navy SEAL on leave; they were raised by an angry, enigmatic shrimper who loved the river, and whose death remains a mystery that his sons are determined to solve. As the brothers proceed downriver, their story alternates with that of Jacques le Moyne, the first European artist in North America, who accompanied a 1564 French expedition that began as a search for riches and ended in a bloody confrontation with Spanish conquistadors and native tribes.

(Full description at Goodreads)

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

Release Date: March 14, 2017

February, 1946. World War Two is over, but the recovery from the most intimate of its horrors has only just begun for Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina desperate to escape her past, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French Résistance spy.

Now the two women are joining hundreds of other European war brides aboard the renowned RMS Queen Mary to cross the Atlantic and be reunited with their American husbands. Their new lives in the United States brightly beckon until their tightly-held secrets are laid bare in their shared stateroom. When the voyage ends at New York Harbor, only one of them will disembark...

Present day. Facing a crossroads in her own life, Brette Caslake visits the famously haunted Queen Mary at the request of an old friend. What she finds will set her on a course to solve a seventy-year-old tragedy that will draw her into the heartaches and triumphs of the courageous war brides—and will ultimately lead her to reconsider what she has to sacrifice to achieve her own deepest longings.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Release Date: February 7, 2017

Profoundly moving and gracefully told, PACHINKO follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life.

So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history. In Japan, Sunja's family members endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty, yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges this new home presents. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
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