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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