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Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

Historical Fiction Review – The Invention of Wings

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I have a ‘love/hate’ relationship with Sue Monk Kidd.  Well, maybe hate is strong word.  Perhaps it’s better to say I have a ‘love/don’t really love’ relationship with Sue Monk Kidd.  I loved her first novel The Secret Life of Bees.  It was such an honest, earthly, coming of age story.  And then came The Mermaid Chair and I was so disappointed.  I had a hard time finishing that book, to be honest.  So when a friend recommended The Invention of Wings I thought, ‘Ok, Sue, what’s it going to be this time? Should I give you another try?’ My mind told me to go with my friend’s recommendation and I am so glad I did!

The Invention of Wings is the story of Sarah Grimké and Hetty “Handful” Grimké, beginning in 1803 and Sarah’s eleventh birthday.  Sarah’s family has long owned slaves and for Sarah’s eleventh birthday she is given Handful.  Sarah, even at age eleven, feels she should not be given a person as property and tried to reject the gift.  In the end, Handful remains with the family, owned by Sarah’s mother, but Handful serves Sarah.  A friendship of sorts develops and Sarah grows into a woman of conviction and her choices put her on a course to defy her family and follow her conscience.

Hetty “Handful” Grimké is the daughter of Charlotte, a strong woman who belongs to the Grimké family and talented seamstress.  She instills a strength and quiet rebellion in Handful and wants nothing more than for Handful to one day be free of her slavery bonds.

The stories of Sarah and Handful cross decades as both women search for understanding and truth during their lives.  Sarah’s defiance of her family’s traditions and beliefs separates her from Handful and during that separation Handful experiences her own defiance and search to make a difference.

Told from both character’s perspectives, The Invention of Wings is a story of strength and resilience but it is also about the role of guilt in the lives of the two women and how that impacts their decisions and relationship to one another.  I am so glad I have Kidd another chance and read The Invention of Wings and I hope others will read it, too.  I am happy to say I give The Invention of Wings 5 out of 5 stars!

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Historical Fiction Review – Leaving Independence

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Leaving Independence by Leanne W. Smith

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I am always in the search of a great western.  Leaving Independence is a story of Abigail Baldwyn’s journey on the Oregon Trail with her children.  Abigail believed her husband Robert was killed in the Civil War but when she finds out he is alive and intentionally didn’t come back to his family, her grief changes to anger and then to resolve to find him.  While taken aback by the tone of her husband’s letter, she uproots herself and her children to travel west to, hopefully, be reconciled and reunited with him

Leaving Independence is full of the usual western genre suspects: the mysterious stranger, the strict religious believer, the rough cowboy, the damsel(s), etc.  But what category does Hoke Matthews fit in?  Hired to lead one of the companies during Abigail’s trip on the Oregon Trail, Hoke seems to be a man of integrity with loyal friends and the respect of the others; however, he is very secretive and generally keeps to himself.  Abigail and her children soon bond with Hoke and as the trail gets closer to Abigail’s husband,  Hoke begins to realize he has developed feelings for the family. But what will happen when Abigail and Robert are reunited?

Much of Leaving Independence is rather predictable.  In addition to the usual cast of characters, there are the usual trail complications: dangerous water crossings, weather difficulties, snakebites, illness, etc. Smith provides a story with characters that were fun to read about but the story left me a little unsatisfied with the quick conclusion.  I’m not sure this will make it on to my list of great westerns, it was an enjoyable read. 3 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

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Historical Fiction Review – Mistress of the Revolution

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I was hooked by Mistress of the Revolution from the first page.  Told in memoir style, Delors delivers a novel that feels like a real life experience.  I was swept back in time to France in the years leading up the French Revolution and thought it was engrossing and told from a unique point of view.

Starting in 1815 with a moment of reminiscing, the reader is quickly plunged back to childhood years of Gabrielle de Montserrat.  From a noble family who no longer possesses the wealth and status they desire, Gabrielle is used as a bargaining chip to hopefully increase their family wealth and position.  Thus the reader joins Gabrielle in her heartbreaking life journey. Love is gained and lost, along with Gabrielle’s innocence. Thrust into circumstances that are far, far from ideal, Gabrielle has seemingly impossible decisions to make about her survival and connections.  While she has few willing to come to her rescue, Gabrielle finds a way to forge new friendships and connections to make ends meet in the years leading up to the French Revolution.  But what will happen when politics and her personal life converge?  Will her connections save her or will she be another person caught up in corruption and greed?  Delors created a story that kept me interested and unsure of what would happen next to Gabrielle.

While it seems the author did extensive research and there was a lot of information later in the book about the politics behind the revolution, Mistress of the Revolution didn’t read like a history lesson.  Delors found a deft way to balance history and intrigue with love and hope with one character’s resilient spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

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Historical Fiction Review – Sacajawea

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

During a recent trip to South Dakota I discovered the novel Sacajawea in the Mt Rushmore gift shop.  I was intrigued and decided to give this massive paperback tome a try.  I love South Dakota and I am very interested in our country’s westward expansion and native cultures.

By all accounts, Sacajawea’s life started out pretty idyllic but it didn’t take things long to quickly unravel.  She experienced separation from her family, was traded as a commodity, treated badly and without respect by several key people in her life, and experienced many personal losses and disappointments.  When Sacajawea had the opportunity to join the harrowing Lewis & Clark expedition she was able to reconnect and honor many parts of her cultural heritage, while at the same time she came to appreciate some of the customs of the white explorers.  Much of Sacajawea’s life was tumultuous and uncertain but, based on all that is known of her, she was strong and resilient.

One thing cannot be denied about Waldo’s novel: extensive research was conducted to craft this novel.  The notes were lengthy but added a lot of depth to the novel.  I appreciate this level of research and attention to detail.  Even with this extensive research, there is much that is not known about Sacajawea’s life after the expedition.  There are various accounts of the direction her life took after the expedition and where and how she died.  Waldo presents one widely accepted version of Sacajawea’s later life and this, I think, is where the novel loses some of its traction; I think the first three quarters of the novel are stronger and more clearly presented.

From a historical perspective, Sacajawea is a wonderful novel that gives a voice to one of the most iconic women of American culture.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of the American west.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – Colonel Brandon’s Diary

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

 

Colonel Brandon’s Diary by Amanda Grange

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I love Jane Austen’s novels.  I have read each one more than once and I wish there were more.  I am forced to go to Austen retellings and continuations by other authors.  Amanda Grange has a series of novels that provide retellings from the heroes’ points of view.   I recently picked up Colonel Brandon’s Diary from one of my (too many?) ‘To Read’ bookshelves.

What I enjoyed about this book is I think it made Colonel Brandon more relatable.  In Sense and Sensibility he seems so serious and hard to get to know at times. This novel sheds some light on his possible thoughts and reasons for his actions.  Grange presents a Brandon with a gentle, caring spirit, which I think we see in Austen’s novel but not to this extent.

Robbed of happiness in love at a young age, Brandon thinks he is destined to be alone until his path crosses with that of Marianne Dashwood.  Brandon continues to try to right the wrongs of the past and make up for things he think went wrong because of his decisions (or indecision).

While I don’t think Grange’s novel possesses the depth of Austen’s novels, I think Grange does pay good homage to the characters and the spirit of Austen’s novels.  I think this novel series of heroes’ diaries is a fun way to revisit some favorite Austen characters.  I have also read Captain Wentworth’s Diary and Mr. Knightley’s Diary from Grange’s diary series and I liked Colonel Brandon’s Diary the best of the three.  If you’re a fellow Austenite, you may want to give this series a try.

Historical Fiction Review – Ross Poldark

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall (1783-1787) by Winston Graham

 

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

I am a huge fan of almost anything shown on Masterpiece Classic.  I get a lot of my reading suggestions through these television programs.  This year a new version of Poldark was added to the Masterpiece schedule and it was a huge success.  When I learned more and discovered it was based on a book series, I had to do some research.  Much to my joy, there are twelve books in the Poldark Saga!

In the first installment, Ross Poldark is just returning from fighting for the British in the Revolutionary War.  He is battered and tired and ready to settle back into a life in England.  Ross is looking forward to being reunited with his love Elizabeth but his return is not the happy one he envisioned.  Elizabeth is no longer his love, his father has passed away, and his homestead is in shambles.  Thus begins the battle to bring order and purpose back to his life under unexpected and dismal circumstances.  Ross must deal with family drama and ridicule from many in the district.  He doesn’t live up to the expectations many people have for him and is forced to forge his own path without their stamp of approval or assistance.  Graham gives Ross a rich voice with dialogue that is witty and direct, a style that was often avoided in those times because of tradition and social graces.

Ross has definite flaws and I found myself occasionally getting frustrated with him but he is also very mindful and, at a time when others are warped and controlled by greed, he remains a step above.  I absolutely love his cousin Verity and hope she is a prominent character in the future novels. Set in Cornwall, the landscape and descriptions of the mines and mining practices of the time were very interesting and not belabored (I’m thinking of the utterly painful pages and pages of descriptions of Russian farming practices in Anna Karenina).  I really enjoyed this first novel in the series and I look forward to learning more about the future of the Poldark family.  5 stars for Ross Poldark!

 

Author Interview with Jennifer Ashley

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Author Interview with Jennifer Ashley

 

By Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

I recently discovered the Captain Lacey Regency Mystery Series by Ashley Gardner and was hooked with the first book! So far I have read the first five novels and one novella from the series.  A fine mix of gallantry, romance and mystery, the series is fun and intriguing.  After doing some research, I discovered the author was Jennifer Ashley, writing as Ashley Gardner.  I found Jennifer on twitter and made a comment that I loved Captain Lacey and would love to have an opportunity to interview Jennifer for the PBS blog…and I got a response from her!

I hope you enjoy my interview with Jennifer and that you’re inspired to pick up one of her novels, she writes a variety of genres so there’s bound to be something you’ll enjoy and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! So without further delay…..

MW: You are prolific writer, writing a variety of genres as Jennifer Ashley and Allyson James.  What made you decide to create the Captain Lacey Regency Mystery Series, writing as Ashley Gardner? Is there something particular about that time period that interests you?

JA: The Regency does fascinate me, because it was such a complex time. Jane Austen’s world is only a small part of it, and even she hinted at darkness–the dangers to a woman unprotected by family, for example.  I wish I could remember *exactly* what prompted me to set the mysteries in this time period, but I think it was simply that I loved reading about it and researching it. Then when I “met” Captain Lacey, I wanted to write about him.

I love that you say you “met” Captain Lacey; I think it’s fascinating how the mind of a writer works.  What is your process when developing new ideas and writing for the series?  Approximately how long does it take you to write a book?

It takes me about 2-3 months to write a full Captain Lacey novel. I write 5-7 novels a year, total, so I can’t spend all my time on Lacey, darn it. But while I’m writing other things, I think about the book a lot, make notes, and do research on the aspects I want to bring up. I have quite a lot of material once I finally get to sit down and write.

Captain Gabriel Lacey is a dynamic character.  He has a strict sense of honor and integrity and, while a proud man, he is also humble. I think Lacey is wonderful but I am probably a bit biased since I’m married to someone in the military!  What was your inspiration for Captain Lacey?

Thank you! Actually, when I thought about doing a Regency series, I toyed with the idea of having a Regency dandy as the sleuth. Then I realized that had been done (several times–Beau Brummell has been the star of a few series), and I wanted a character the exact opposite of a wealthy Regency dandy.  I didn’t deliberately create such a character; I just let the idea swim around in my head. Captain Lacey took form and kept on growing, while I stood back and watched him. He’s a very organic character, and very real to me, in many ways.

My husband also was in the military–in the cavalry, in fact! He is a great source for information about weapons–and will quickly tell you all the gun errors made in TV shows and movies–quite a few!

Lacey isn’t the only great character in the series. I just love Grenville.  He and Lacey are an odd pair of friends in some ways but it really works!  I enjoyed The Sudbury School Murders because I think it took their friendship to a different level. What is it about the two of them that you think makes them a great pair?

Grenville is like the famous George Brummell in that his taste set fashion daily, but different because Grenville is from an old and titled family (though Grenville himself is only a distant heir to the title). Grenville has inherited a lot of money, and his wise investments have only made him richer.  At the same time, the proper English existence is not enough for him–Grenville has an adventurous streak he constantly feeds. This makes him a good friend for Lacey–Grenville envies Lacey his forays into danger, but also values Lacey’s resourcefulness and wisdom. They play off each other, though deep down inside, they are much the same: both are honorable, compassionate men who are willing to put themselves in danger for others.

If you had to cast the two of them in a movie, what actors do you think you would want to play Lacey and Grenville?

That’s a good question! I’m very bad at keeping track of who’s who in the acting world. Colin Firth certainly could play Captain Lacey. I’d be interested to hear what readers think about who should play whom.

No doubt, Colin Firth would make an incredible Captain Lacey…and I think I’d love to see Jonny Lee Miller or JJ Field as Grenville!  That’s a movie I would love to watch!  And then there’s James Denis (I’m thinking Jason Statham could play him in the movie)…he’s involved in shady dealings and is known to be a dangerous man but I can’t help but feel hopeful that deep down he’s good.  I don’t want to like him but I do! Why do you do this to me, Jennifer? Are we going to learn more about Denis in future novels?

Of course, you will learn more about Denis. He is a fascinating character to me, a villain definitely, but he has an honor, and understands that honor in Lacey. I know readers who are more or less in love with him, and that’s fine! I like him, because I’m never quite sure what he’s going to do.

Well, if you’re not sure what he’s going to do, I think we’re all going to be in for some Denis surprises!  In each novel of the series, relationships are tested.  I think A Body in Berkeley Square was all about secrets being revealed from various characters.  I can’t wait to see what happens with these relationships in future novels now that these secrets have been revealed.  Do you already know where you want these characters to end up or do you take it one book at a time?

I have a vague idea how relationships will develop over time, but I do like to take things one book at a time. I might develop something unexpected in a book, and I want to leave room for it to grow naturally, instead of forcing my characters into certain paths. So the answer is yes, I know where they’re going, and no, I don’t.  🙂  I do want to explore more of the Brandon / Lacey relationship, as well as those with other characters as the series progresses (don’t want to spoil…)

I think (so far) The Sudbury School Murders is my favorite in the series. I liked seeing the reactions of Marianne, Bartholomew, Matthias, and Lacey to the incident with Grenville.   Do you have favorite moments from the series or a favorite book?

I have a fondness for A Covent Garden Mystery, where Lacey’s past runs into his present. I liked that book. I also like A Death in Norfolk, because Lacey goes to his boyhood home and deals with more of his past. And we learn a lot about James Denis. 🙂  I also enjoy Murder in Grosvenor Square, my most recent book, which takes Lacey into the next phase of his life and makes him look hard at his friendships.

I look forward to getting to those books in the series! The friendships are one of the things I enjoy most about the series.  But I also enjoy the characters, secrets, intrigue, love, scandal.  When you read for enjoyment, what types of books or authors do you like?

When I have a chance to read for enjoyment, I like mystery novels (currently very fond of Kerry Greenwood). I also like biographies and social histories, sci-fi / fantasy that has a lot of action / adventure, and have decided I really like steampunk too! It’s a fun genre where almost anything goes. I have the hankering to write some. 🙂

Steampunk is very fun! I’d enjoy to read your take on it. According to your website, you’ll be releasing book 10 in the series, The Thames River Murders, soon.  Can you share any insight into this installment and what might be in store for Gabriel Lacey in the future? Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to share with the readers at PaperBackSwap?

Yes, I plan to have The Thames River Murders out this summer. (check my website http://www.gardnermysteries.com  periodically for pre-order info). This one will be a cold case brought to Lacey by Thompson of the Thames River Police, but it will have ties to Lacey’s current life.

I also have many other series going! The Shifters Unbound series (paranormal romance) continues in April with Mate Bond, with more installments in June and July. The Mackenzies series then picks up in August, September, and October. I’m writing a new era of Mackenzies, going back to the 1745 uprising.

I’ve also begun a new contemporary romance series called Riding Hard, which is lighter and sweeter than most of my series–it’s a small-town family saga rather than heavy romance.

I’m also continuing my Stormwalker (urban fantasy series) this year. Would like to put out a book and perhaps a novella, but I’m still in planning stages.

That’s a lot of writing! You are one busy woman, Jennifer, so I won’t keep much longer! I’d like to end with some fun rapid fire questions….

Chocolate of Vanilla?

CHOCOLATE!

Ok, I love that you used all caps and an exclamation!  You’re my kind of woman!

Cake or Pie?

Cake (and tortes). Though I just made a kick-butt coconut cream pie that really turned out well!

Yum, I’d love that recipe!

Winter or Summer?

Summer–love the heat!

Cats or Dogs?

I love them both equally. Though I have cats. Devil cats.

Morning or Night?

Night. I live in the desert. I like darkness.

Coffee or Tea?

Tea!!! Unlike Captain Lacey, who loves his coffee, I can’t stand it! 🙂 Tea, I drink by the gallon.

I agree, tea is delicious!

And on that note, I’d like to thank Jennifer for being so generous with her time. It’s been a joy to get to know her better and learn about her writing process and upcoming works.  For more information on the Captain Lacey Regency Mystery Series, check out Jennifer’s website:  http://www.gardnermysteries.com and for more on Jennifer’s other series and genres, check http://www.jenniferashley.com.