Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: Illuminating Women in the Medieval World by Christine Sciacca

Release Date: June 20, 2017

This is an analysis of women's roles in the middle ages using medieval illustrations of women, and accompanying them with only a very brief description of each. It comes across as rather like an academic coffee table book. I was hoping for much more text and analyses than what there is, but it is still interesting if you take it for what it is. I am sure the images are much more interesting in the print version too (I was given a free ebook copy for review from the publisher via NetGalley). It is published by Getty Museum, and indeed it strikes me as the type of book you would buy in a museum gift shop as a souvenir of the paintings you viewed there.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Upcoming Releases in Historical Fiction

The Vengeance of Mothers by Jim Fergus

Release Date: September 12, 2017

9 March 1876
My name is Meggie Kelly and I take up this pencil with my twin sister, Susie. We have nothing left, less than nothing. The village of our People has been destroyed.Empty of human feeling, half-dead ourselves, all that remains of us intact are hearts turned to stone. We curse the U.S. government, we curse the Army, we curse the savagery of mankind, white and Indian alike. We curse God in his heaven. Do not underestimate the power of a mother’s vengeance...

So begins the journal of Margaret Kelly, a woman who participated in the government's "Brides for Indians" program in 1873, a program whose conceit was that the way to peace between the United States and the Cheyenne Nation was for One Thousand White Women to be given as brides in exchange for three hundred horses. Mostly fallen women, the brides themselves thought it was simply a chance at freedom. But many fell in love with the Cheyennes spouses and had children with them...and became Cheyenne themselves.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol: A Novel of Christmas Past by Samantha Silva

Release Date: October 31, 2017

For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. But when his newest book is an utter flop, his publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics moving in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit.

Frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman who might be just the muse he needs. Over the next few weeks, Eleanor Lovejoy propels Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey that tests everything he believes about generosity, friendship, ambition—and Christmas.

A Lady in Shadows: A Madeleine Karno Mystery by Lene Kaaberbøl

Release Date: December 5, 2017

New York Times bestselling author Lene Kaaberbøl returns with her beloved protagonist Madeleine Karno—an ambitious young woman who shatters the confines of nineteenth century France as she struggles to become the first female forensic pathologist and hunt down what appears to be a Jack the Ripper copycat.

On June 2nd, 1894, in the wake of President Marie Francois Sadi Carnot’s assassination, France descends into chaos and riots in the streets of Varbourg. Many lives are lost in the mayhem, but when one lady of the night is found murdered with brutal incisions and no sign of a struggle, it is clear something is amiss. Madeleine Karno, the tenacious protagonist from Doctor Death, must ask herself the terrifying question: Do they have their very own Jack the Ripper in France?

(Full description at Goodreads)

Dark Winds Rising: A Novel by Mark Noce

Release Date: December 5, 2017

Queen Branwen finds her world once again turned upside down as Pictish raiders harry the shores of her kingdom. Rallying her people once more, she must face her most dangerous foe yet, the Queen of the Picts. Ruthless and cunning, the Pictish Queen turns the Welsh against each other in a bloody civil war, and Branwen must attempt to stop her before her country threatens to tear itself apart.

All the while Branwen is heavy with child, and finds her young son’s footsteps dogged by a mysterious assassin. Branwen must somehow defeat the Picts and save her people before the Pictish Queen and a mysterious assassin threaten to destroy their lives from the inside out.

(Full description at Goodreads)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Review: Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England by Elizabeth Norton

In 10th century England, the wife of the king was not necessarily crowned and anointed. This is a much deserved biography on the first queen of England to be crowned, Elfrida (aka Ælfthryth, Alfrida, or Elfthryth) who is better remembered for the accusations against her of murdering her step-son to put her own son on the throne. The third wife of Edgar the Peaceful, she was a key figure in the strengthening of the Church in England, and as regent for her young son.

Due to a lack of primary sources, biographies on women of early English history often wind up being more about the people and events around them then about the women themselves, but that did not feel like the case here. Never dull or dry, it gave a thorough view on who Elfrida was and why she not only deserves her own biography, but deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the accusations of murder against her. It really illuminates this period of history too, giving you a complete picture of the politics of the time.

This biography proves that Elfrida's much overlooked story is ripe for a historical drama.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Upcoming Historical Novels

The Lightkeeper's Daughters: A Novel by Jean E. Pendziwol

Release Date: July 4, 2017

Though her mind is still sharp, Elizabeth’s eyes have failed. No longer able to linger over her beloved books or gaze at the paintings that move her spirit, she fills the void with music and memories of her family, especially her beloved twin sister, Emily. When her late father’s journals are discovered after an accident, the past suddenly becomes all too present.

With the help of Morgan, a delinquent teenager performing community service at her senior home, Elizabeth goes through the diaries, a journey through time that brings the two women closer together. Entry by entry, these unlikely friends are drawn deep into a world far removed from their own, to Porphyry Island on Lake Superior, where Elizabeth’s father manned the lighthouse and raised his young family seventy years before.

(Full description at Goodreads)

The Necklace: A Novel by Claire McMillan

Release Date: July 4, 2017

Always the black sheep of the tight-knit Quincy clan, Nell is cautious when she’s summoned to the elegantly shabby family manor after her great aunt Loulou’s death. A cold reception from the family grows chillier when they learn Loulou has left Nell a fantastically valuable heirloom: a stunningly ornate necklace from India. More than just a piece of jewelry, the necklace links Nell to a long-buried family secret. As predatory relatives begin circling and art experts begin questioning the necklace’s provenance, Nell turns to the only person she thinks she can trust—the attractive and ambitious estate lawyer who definitely is not part of the old money crowd.

Ambrose Quincy brought the necklace home from India in the 1920s as a dramatic gift for May, the woman he intended to marry. Upon his return he discovers May has married his brother Ethan, the “good” Quincy, devoted to their father. As a gesture of friendship, Ambrose gives May the necklace anyway—reigniting their passion and beginning a tense love triangle.

(Full description at Goodreads)

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires: A Novel by Daren Wang

Release Date: August 29, 2017

When escaped slave Joe Bell collapses in her father’s barn, Mary Willis must ward off Confederate guerrillas and spies, Joe’s vengeful owner, and even her own brother to help the handsome fugitive cross to freedom.

Mary has always been an outcast, an outspoken abolitionist woman in a town of bounty hunters and anti-Union farmers. Helping runaways is the only thing that makes her life in Town Line bearable. As the countryside is riled by the drumbeat of civil war and the promise of an extravagant bounty for the wounded fugitive, Mary finds herself drawn to the stranger in forbidden ways. When rebels cross from nearby Canada intent on killing him, they bring the devastation of the brutal war to the town and the farm, and threaten to destroy all that Mary loves.

The Girl From Ballymor by Kathleen McGurl

Release Date: September 7, 2017

Ballymor, Ireland, 1847
As famine grips the country Kitty McCarthy is left widowed and alone. Fighting to keep her two remaining children alive against all odds, Kitty must decide how far she will go to save her family.

Present day
Arriving in Ballymor, Maria is researching her ancestor, Victorian artist Michael McCarthy – and his beloved mother, the mysterious Kitty who disappeared without a trace.

Running from her future, it’s not only answers about the past that Maria hopes to find in Ireland. As her search brings her closer to the truth about Kitty’s fate, Maria must make the biggest decision of her life.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes: A Novel by Jamie Ford

Release Date: September 12, 2017

For twelve-year-old Ernest Young, a charity student at a boarding school, the chance to go to the World’s Fair feels like a gift. But only once he’s there, amid the exotic exhibits, fireworks, and Ferris wheels, does he discover that he is the one who is actually the prize. The half-Chinese orphan is astounded to learn he will be raffled off—a healthy boy “to a good home.”

The winning ticket belongs to the flamboyant madam of a high-class brothel, famous for educating her girls. There, Ernest becomes the new houseboy and befriends Maisie, the madam’s precocious daughter, and a bold scullery maid named Fahn. Their friendship and affection form the first real family Ernest has ever known—and against all odds, this new sporting life gives him the sense of home he’s always desired.

But as the grande dame succumbs to an occupational hazard and their world of finery begins to crumble, all three must grapple with hope, ambition, and first love.

(Full description at Goodreads)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh

Release Date: May 9, 2017

This novel about Bonnie Parker, of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, is so well written I didn't even notice at first that it's written in present tense, which I normally don't like.

The characterization was very well done too, with the best part being the evolution of Bonnie becoming the figure we picture her as (it's certainly an appropriately titled novel). Although this is a novel about how Bonnie met and fell in love with Clyde, I wouldn't call it a romance. It's more about a young woman finding herself in a chaotic world and learning what she really wants from it and from the people in her life. Blanche's character was compelling too and I almost wish for a sequel done in Blanche's voice. Knowing in real life, Blanche is the only survivor out of their group, her voice would make a good narrative for a sequel, but I don't know if the author has plans for a sequel at all.

Additionally, although Bonnie is a teenager throughout the book and there is nothing inappropriate in it for teens to read, I wouldn't call it a young adult novel (nor is it marketed as such, though I see some people on Goodreads have tagged it). Bonnie is very young, but she's very much living her life as an adult, and it deals with adult themes, so it doesn't have a young adult feel to it.

There are a few deviations from the factual timeline in the beginning but it does come together. At first, it seemed like Clyde was being introduced way too early, but then it became clear that he and Bonnie don't really formally meet until much later and so he was more of this shadowy, mysterious, background figure. It wound up working really well and made an excellent, believable story line. Keep in mind, this is not a tale of Bonnie and Clyde's life together, it's really about Bonnie's life before Clyde and everything that led them together. They don't really meet till near the end and the novel ends well before their crime spree. You might think that would make it boring, but it really doesn't. I read the entire second half of it in one day, I felt so compelled to finish it.

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: The Swan Daughter (The Daughters of Hastings, #2) by Carol McGrath

It's 1075, Harold Godwinson is long dead, and England is ruled by the Bastard King, William the Conqueror. Harold's family is separated and scattered so they can not conspire a rebellion. His daughter Gunnhild is destined for a nunnery, but she has other plans for herself.

I felt like this book was lacking a lot of things, but despite that it wasn't badly written, and the dialogue was believable. It's the only thing that made me bump it up to 2 stars instead of 1.

One of the things I felt it was lacking was good characterization, I didn't always completely understand the main character's thoughts or emotions. For example, when the main character makes an incredibly bold and rash decision that will massively change her life forever, and doesn't really have any idea whether this will turn out to be a good decision or the worst thing she's ever done, there appears to be no trepidation or second guessing. She blindly accepts what she is told without consideration to the fact that she might be being lied to. She does seem to have some moments of convincing herself this is the right decision, but that's the only inkling we get that she deep down might have an idea that this could go horribly wrong. I could maybe attribute it to youthful naivety, and the thrill of being a woman taking control of her own destiny in 11th century England, but I also felt like I never got a good sense of what she was feeling during it either. We hear her thoughts, but we don't feel her emotions. In the midst of this crazy decision she makes on a whim, the only mention of her feelings are "sublime exhilaration". But was her heart pounding? Was her stomach in knots with both excitement and fear at the same time? Were her hands shaking? Who knows? The author never tells us. She should have been boiling over with some kind of emotions but we barely get any mention of it whatsoever.

The complaint I had about the first book in this series was that I didn't really agree with or understand the main character's decisions. I thought that was primarily because the plot demanded those decisions, and so I thought the second book with a different plot would be different, but I think now my issue with both books is a flaw in the author's characterizations. In this book, I didn't necessarily disagree with the characters decisions, I just didn't understand her thoughts and feelings about those decisions.

The plot was also lacking as well. My other complaint about the first book was that it was anti-climatic and again, I attributed this to the nature of the plot, and hoped the second book would be different but unfortunately, I feel the same way. There's so much that could have been done with Gunnhild's life, for example bringing her face to face with King William, whose army killed her father. But Gunnhild's world was very limited to her home life, which may arguably be an accurate representation of the life of a countess at the time, but it felt like it could have been a story about any noble woman at the time. And not that home life can't be interesting, but other authors have done it better. There was a fabricated event near the end which was an obvious attempt to give it a climax or have something interesting happen with the plot, but it just felt deliberately planted.

On a side note, as a rider myself, I have to point out the scene where Gunnhild is travelling on horseback in her best dress she inherited from her beloved aunt, even though she had the opportunity to change into something more practical. Sorry, but that precious dress would have gotten filthy, even with a outer layer covering it, no one would wear their best clothing to ride a horse if they have another option. I could excuse the first time it happened because they had to rush to escape, but the second time it happened, there was no such excuse. The author made a point of the dress being put safely away while they were on a ship, so the salty sea water wouldn't ruin it, but there is no concern for it with the dirt one gets covered in while riding? This is perhaps nitpicking a bit, and I admit this alone wouldn't be enough for me to dislike a book, as it's not very important, but I still felt the urge to mention it.

Needless to say, I will not be continuing with this series.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Upcoming Historical Fiction

The Other Alcott: A Novel by Elise Hooper

Release Date: September 5, 2017

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

(Full description at Goodreads)

The Revolution of Marina M. (A Novel) by Janet Fitch

Release Date: November 7, 2017

From the mega-bestselling author of White Oleander and Paint It Black, a sweeping historical saga of the Russian Revolution, as seen through the eyes of one young woman

St. Petersburg, New Year's Day, 1916: Marina Makarova is as old as the century. A young woman of privilege, she writes poetry, dreams of a dashing young officer, and aches to break out of the constraints of her genteel life. But this life is about to be violently upended by the vast forces of history. Swept up on these tides, Marina will join the marches for workers' rights, fall in love with a radical young poet, spy for the Bolsheviks, and betray everything she holds dear, before being betrayed in turn.

(Full description at Goodreads)

A Darker Sea: Master Commandant Putnam and the War of 1812 (A Bliven Putnam Naval Adventure) by James L. Haley

Release Date: November 14, 2017

The second installment of the gripping naval saga by award-winning historian James L. Haley, featuring Commander Bliven Putnam, chronicling the build up to the biggest military conflict between the United States and Britain after the Revolution--the War of 1812.

At the opening of the War of 1812, the British control the most powerful navy on earth, and Americans are again victims of piracy. Bliven Putnam, late of the Battle of Tripoli, is dispatched to Charleston to outfit and take command of a new 20-gun brig, the USS Tempest. Later, aboard the Constitution, he sails into the furious early fighting of the war.

(Full description at Goodreads)

Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini

Release Date: December 5, 2017

The only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets, Ada was destined for fame long before her birth. Estranged from Ada’s father, who was infamously “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Ada’s mathematician mother is determined to save her only child from her perilous Byron heritage. Banishing fairy tales and make-believe from the nursery, Ada’s mother provides her daughter with a rigorous education grounded in mathematics and science. Any troubling spark of imagination—or worse yet, passion or poetry—is promptly extinguished. Or so her mother believes.

(Full description at Goodreads)

Ziegfeld Girls by Sarah Barthel

Release Date: December 26, 2017

New York City, 1914. Suzanne and Jada. Entwined as sisters. Talented and resourceful. Black and white. Wealthy employer and devoted maid. Together, they realize Suzanne’s dream to see her name in lights on Broadway as she becomes the dazzling Ziegfeld Follies’ rising new star. But Jada’s superb voice and dance skills give her an unexpected shot at her own success—and her own life. And when a jealous Suzanne reveals a shattering secret, their friendship becomes a bitter rivalry.

(Full description at Goodreads)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Upcoming Releases in Historical Fiction

The It Girls: A Novel by Karen Harper

Release Date: October 24, 2017

One sailed the Titanic and started a fashion empire . . .

The other overtook Hollywood and scandalized the world . . .

Together, they were unstoppable.

They rose from genteel poverty, two beautiful sisters, ambitious, witty, seductive. Elinor and Lucy Sutherland are at once each other’s fiercest supporters and most vicious critics.

But despite quarrels and misunderstandings, distance and destiny, there is no bond stronger than that of the two sisters—confidants, friends, rivals and the two “It Girls” of their day.

(Full description at Goodreads)

The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis

Release Date: October 3, 2017

Giulia has been an orphan all her life. Raised in Florence's famous Ospedale degli Innocenti, her probing questions and insubordinate behavior made her an unwelcome presence, and at the age of fifteen, she was given an awful choice: become a nun, or be married off to a man she didn't love. She chose neither, and after refusing an elderly suitor, Guilia escaped onto the streets of Florence.

Now, after spending two years as a successful pickpocket, an old man catches her about to make off with his purse, and rather than having her carted off to prison he offers her a business proposition. The man claims to be a cabalist, a student of Jewish mysticism and ritual magic, who works for the most powerful families in Florence. But his identity is secret—he is known only as "the Magician of Florence"—and he is in need of an assistant. She accepts the job and begins smuggling his talismans throughout the city.

(Full description at Goodreads)

Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Release Date: October 3, 2017

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

(Full description at Goodreads)

An Echo of Murder: A William Monk Novel by Anne Perry

September 19, 2017

In the course of his tenure with the Thames River Police, Commander Monk has yet to see a more gruesome crime scene: a Hungarian warehouse owner lies in the middle of his blood-sodden office, pierced through the chest with a bayonet and eerily surrounded by seventeen candles, their wicks dipped in blood. Suspecting the murder may be rooted in ethnic prejudice, Monk turns to London’s Hungarian community in search of clues but finds his inquiries stymied by its wary citizens and a language he doesn’t speak. Only with the help of a local pharmacist acting as translator can Monk hope to penetrate this tightly knit enclave, even as more of its members fall victim to identical brutal murders. But whoever the killer, or killers, may be—a secret society practicing ritual sacrifice, a madman on a spree, a British native targeting foreigners—they are well hidden among the city’s ever-growing populace.

(Full description at Goodreads)

The Way to London: A Novel of World War II by Alix Rickloff

September 19, 2017

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, impetuous and overindulged, Lucy Stanhope, the granddaughter of an earl, is living a life of pampered luxury in Singapore until one reckless act will change her life forever.

Exiled to England to stay with an aunt she barely remembers, Lucy never dreamed that she would be one of the last people to escape Singapore before war engulfs the entire island, and that her parents would disappear in the devastating aftermath. Now grief stricken and all alone, she must cope with the realities of a grim, battle-weary England.

Then she meets Bill, a young evacuee sent to the country to escape the Blitz, and in a moment of weakness, Lucy agrees to help him find his mother in London. The unlikely runaways take off on a seemingly simple journey across the country, but her world becomes even more complicated when she is reunited with an invalided soldier she knew in Singapore.

(Full description at Goodreads)

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

June 20, 2017

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

(Full description at Goodreads)
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