Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: Sundance by David Fuller

I received an advanced review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
US Release Date: May 29, 2014

Harry Longabaugh, better known as the Sundance Kid, allegedly died in Bolivia in 1901 but the details are so uncertain that many speculate he lived on. This novel is based on the idea that he was instead captured and spent years in prison under an assumed name before being released.

If you’re expecting an action packed thriller about the Wild West, this is not it. While it’s spotted with action and starts out in the west, it’s mostly a little slower paced than that and quickly moves to the East coast, in New York City. It is partially about Harry learning to find his way, not only in the East, but also in a world which changed a lot during the first decade of the 20th century. He reflects a lot on the past and present and how, as an older man, he might have changed too. All of this really allows the historical setting to flourish and weaves in some historic events of the time period.

However, it’s not just a meandering reflection of self discovery. Harry’s goal, the thing that drives him, is to find his Etta, who he sent away to live her life and not be tied down by his incarceration. She still continued to send him letters but then suddenly, two years before his release, the letters stopped. Harry is trying to find her or discover her fate, and that makes it a little bit like a mystery novel, though I wouldn’t officially class it as such. Equally, even though Harry is driven by his love for Etta, I wouldn't call it a romance either. Harry’s journey takes him through the many worlds of early 20th century New York City, navigating through Chinatown and Little Italy, going up against the Black Hand, exploring the world of journalism and art. It also brushes him up against legendary figures like Theodore Roosevelt and Lillian Wald. Meanwhile, Pinkerton Charlie Siringo is hot on Harry’s trail, hunting him down after Harry was forced to shoot a young men with a grudge in self defense the day he was released from prison.

It’s well written with mostly good character development, though at times I didn’t really feel like Harry’s character matched up with the Sundance Kid. While it’s true that in history, he was not known to have killed anyone prior to the Bolivia shootout and therefore may have had some kind moral compass, as a bank and train robber, he obviously had a high disregard for the law and was probably a rather self serving man. So the picture of a man who acts practically as a marriage counsellor to two other characters, puts himself at risk for complete strangers, and is a little bit appalled to see corrupt policemen doesn’t totally line up with that. I guess it’s not totally unbelievable to pass it off as him being an older and changed man, it just seemed a little silly to me.

It does pick up the pace in the second half and though I still wouldn’t call it an action novel, it does manage to pack a lot in and it is very enjoyable if you don’t go into it expecting a Wild West action/thriller. So, if it's not a western, not a thriller, not a mystery, and not a romance, what is it? Just a good story.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland

Sarah Ward, daughter of an infamous pirate, wants nothing to do with piracy or the rebels. James Sparhawk, established British naval captain, wants only to get revenge on his father. When their paths collide amid the beginnings of a revolution, they find themselves reassessing their priorities and which side of the oncoming war they will be on.

Unlike some romance novels, this one is actually fleshed out with a complex story, interesting characters, and descriptions that make the historical setting come alive. The only thing I initially had trouble getting on board with (no pun intended) was the romance. The attraction between the two main characters is instantaneous, before we even really know enough about each character to understand why they are so attracted to one another. I prefer to see a romance grow as two people bond and get to know each other. It seemed a little unrealistic that two people who just met days ago would be risking so much to help one another. But the good thing about this book is that there is plenty more going on in the story than just the romance so it didn’t bother me nearly as much as it could have if there wasn’t more to keep me interested. And by the end, I was on board with the romance, it just took some time to get passed the initial “love at first sight” idea.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere of a building rebellion and reading about the characters who got caught up in it.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review: The Lincoln Deception by David O. Stewart

On his deathbed, John Bingham tells his doctor that during the trials of the Lincoln assassination, Mary Surratt confessed a secret to him which would have been so destructive to the Union that he and the only other man to know the secret swore to take it to their graves. After Bingham’s death, his doctor teams up with an aspiring newspaper entrepreneur to uncover the secret.

This sounded a lot better than it turned out to be. I thought it would be a fun conspiracy theory thriller, not only about a historical event but also set in historical times too. Sadly, the historical setting didn’t really come to life, the dialogue was stilted, the character development was poor, and the plot was remarkably slow and dull for such a short thriller. Additionally, I felt like there were too many coincidences or things that happened conveniently just for the sake of the plot. The whole thing felt very contrived.

From the very beginning, I didn’t understand why Bingham would confess that he held a secret about the Lincoln assassinations if he genuinely didn’t want anyone to uncover it. He seemed to honestly feel it would destroy the nation, so why even admit there is a secret to begin with? If you’re going to take something to your grave, you don’t tell people about it first! But of course the confession was necessary to get the ball rolling with the plot - how else was the main character going to learn about it and be inspired to dig deeper? But this kind of sacrifice of logic for the sake of the necessary plot was exactly the type of thing that made it feel contrived.

Likewise, I didn't understand why a friend of Bingham's would go to such efforts to disrespect his dying wishes. His claims that the world deserved to know the truth fell short. If he truly believed that, it doesn't say much for his values in friendship.

I also couldn't bring myself to believe that a doctor who claimed to be so busy that he didn't have time to sit down and read a book for pleasure could suddenly drop everything and go traveling around the nation looking for clues regarding something that he was never involved in. What about his patients who kept him so busy?

The only reason I finished it was because it was short and I wanted to know what the conspiracy was. Unfortunately, in the end, it wasn't worth finding out. The secret was not so shocking and annoyingly, men went to extreme lengths to stop the secret from being revealed throughout the book even though in the end, they claimed their denial of it all would be enough to make people think it was just another crackpot theory. and therefore, it didn't even matter if the secret was revealed to the public. So lots of things didn't make sense and with the poor character development on top of that and stilted dialogue, it just didn't add up to a great read.

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