Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: 1066 Turned Upside Down by by Joanna Courtney, Helen Hollick, Annie Whitehead, Anna Belfrage, Alison Morton, Carol McGrath, Eliza Redgold, G.K. Holloway, Richard Dee

It appears that another group of authors has attempted to do what the H Team has done in compiling short stories from each author on a major event in history, except this group is doing it with an alternate history twist. These short stories explore how things would have gone down in 1066 England if Edgar was crowned instead of Harold, or if William of Normandy had lost at Hastings, and several other "what if" speculations.

It also differs from the H Team's books because these are truly individual short stories. Each tale has nothing to do with one another (apart from being based on the events of 1066), which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of unrelated short story compilations out there which people really enjoy. But it's disappointing when you also consider that most of the stories are so short that you really don't get an idea of how history would have been radically different if these "what if" scenarios had happened. I felt like it posed more questions than it answered. I would have liked each story to not only present an alternate event, but also show us how the succeeding events thereafter would have been different as a result. Don't just show us how the Battle of Hastings would have been different if Harold had won, show us what would have happened after that - how would it have changed England? If they had done that, I wouldn't have minded each story having nothing to do with the next, as it allowed more than one alternate history scenario to be explored.

There were author's notes and discussion suggestions that attempted to explore the resulting events a little bit, which were informative and enlightening, but it just wasn't the same, and wasn't what I was expecting. I did enjoy them though, and actually wound up thinking this might have been a better project had they just approached it with academic essays instead of trying to make them into fictional short stories.

Don't get me wrong, the writing quality from all these stories is very good. But to me, the short stories felt like something that was just quickly thrown together to make each author a few extra bucks on the self published ebook sales, and give them some more exposure. I guess I was hoping for something a little more in depth. However, for only $1.99, it's probably worth the read for those really interested in this topic.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Review: America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

When I first started this novel, I wondered how the life of the daughter of one of our founding fathers, and not the man himself, could possibly fill such a long book (over 600 pages). Sometimes authors like to take a lesser known relation of a historical figure and give them a voice but it just doesn't work out well because their life just isn't as interesting. I figured it would be all about Thomas Jefferson himself and his affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings, and when things like that are told from a third party perspective, it tends to be lacking. But while that was one of the sub plot lines, Martha Jefferson's own story was not lacking and no less fascinating than any novel on Thomas Jefferson himself could be. It's actually amazing how much the authors managed to fit into only 600-some pages.

The beginning was a little bit of a slow start, but the writing was excellent, and the character development is what really makes this book great. I did often wonder why Martha was so dedicated to a father who frankly could be rather selfish sometimes. I understand it had to do with losing her mother, but I couldn't help feeling like at some point enough should just be enough. That's not necessarily criticism though, I appreciated that Martha was a flawed character, it made her human. And not just Martha, but all the characters were so well formed, so complex, so believable, and so sympathetic. Combined with a surprisingly eventful plot, I just couldn't wait to see what would happen next and how the characters would handle it. So much had already happened in just first half of the book, and I knew there was so much more to come, it truly felt like something of an epic saga.

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