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Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

Historical Fiction Review – The Tsarina’s Daughter

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

The Tsarina’s Daughter by Carolly Erickson

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

There is something about the Romanovs, something that has made many people question what really happened to the family. Were they all executed? Could some members of the family and household have escaped the tragic end? Historical accounts tell us the Romanov family died 1918, executed by the Bolsheviks to keep the Russian people not loyal to Lenin from uniting under Tsar Nicholas, who abdicated the throne in 1917. But there are questions that surround the events of the execution and where there are questions, there will (inevitably) be doubts.  These questions and doubts have led to numerous books and movies about the possibility that not all of the Romanovs died that fateful night in 1918.

I was first drawn to Carolly Erickson when I read her novel The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette many years ago. That novel was based on the ‘what if’ scenario of Marie Antoinette leaving a hidden diary behind to be found after her execution by guillotine. I found it to be a real page turner. Erickson’s The Tsarina’s Daughter is written from the same ‘what if’ perspective. What if one of the Romanov daughters managed to escape? What if she was able to immigrate to the United States under a new name and live a full and meaningful life?

Erickson weaves a love story for Tatiana, daughter of the Tsar. Accustomed to a life of luxury, Tatiana is unexpectedly exposed to the dark reality of life in Russia after World War 1 and the start of the Russian Revolution.  Tatiana begins to go out in disguise and works to help the poor and sick. Tatiana meets people who are strong but struggling with the hardships of Russian life. While she is out from the confines of the walls of the palace, she falls in love with a young doctor. Tatiana also begins to see her father in a different light. He is not the strong leader she thought he was; his choice to turn a blind eye to what is really happening in Russia is doing real damage to the country. Upon his abdication, the family is imprisoned, and their lives quickly degenerate from the life of abundance they have always known.

This is not an accurate historical account of events, but it’s not supposed to be. Erickson clearly states this in her ‘note to the reader’ at the end of the book. She writes, ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter is an imaginative retelling of Tatiana’s story, with many invented characters and events added to the historical background’. Some of the more negative reviews I have read were accusations of the author’s lack of research and that things weren’t based on fact.  I think this is an unfair reason to not offer a positive review. Erikson has written her share of nonfiction works and knows how to do research but The Tsarina’s Daughter wasn’t meant to be an addition to the historical record, it was created to be a fictional, ‘what if’ tale.

This ‘imaginative retelling’, as Erickson calls it, allows the reader to daydream of a situation where an innocent girl finds love, escapes a terrible fate, and goes on to live a full and complete life….and I’m ok with that.  I read the book in two days, so it was another Erickson page turner for me.  I think if you can accept that it’s meant to be a ‘what if’ scenario and not a retelling of fact, you will enjoy this novel by Erickson as much as I did. After all, The Tsarina’s Daughter won the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction so I can’t be the only one who thinks it is a great read!

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Courtier’s Secret

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

The Courtier’s Secret by Donna Russo Morin

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

The Courtier’s Secret was my first official novel of summer.  I found it to be the perfect action adventure/love story to read by the pool (or on my pool float) while sipping a cool beverage. I was transported from sunny Florida to France in the 1600s.

Louis XIV is reigning over a court of opulence and deception.  Many courtiers love the grandeur that is Versailles, while others feel suffocated by the pressure of performing every day to the whims of the King.  Jeanne du Bois is newly returned to court and under the oppressive thumb of her abusive father, Gaston.  His only use for his daughter is to marry her off to a gentleman of the court who can improve her family’s standing before the King.

Jeanne is not the pliable daughter Gaston desires. Jeanne doesn’t want to be a pawn in his schemes and even through fierce, violent arguments and beatings, Jeanne will not bow to her father’s will. Her uncle secretly gives her fencing lessons and Jeanne feels most free when she is using a sword, independent and strong. Jeanne rebels against being the submissive and accommodating courtier that she is expected to be.

One day at the end of her secret lessons, Jeanne and her uncle jump into the fray to assist the Musketeers in an unexpected breach at the castle.  This one act takes Jeanne on an adventure with the Musketeers and she becomes a part of their efforts to foil a plot to assassinate the Queen.  In the process of building friendships with the Musketeers, Jeanne meets Henri who has his own family secrets that could change the course of Jeanne’s life and save the Queen.

I found The Courtier’s Secret to be very entertaining and would highly recommend it for those who enjoy historical fiction.  I thought the characters were varied and interesting, even if I found some of them to be despicable. I think the key for reading this book is to remember it is historical fiction and was meant to be entertaining, not a history lesson.  In the Acknowledgements, the author lists other books and resources for readers who want to learn about the time period.

 

 

 

Series Spotlight – The Scotland Yard Murder Squad

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

 

The Scotland Yard Murder Squad Series by Alex Grecian

 

by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

 
I want to share with you a series of murder mysteries that I thoroughly enjoyed, written by Alex Grecian. The series is called the Scotland Yard Murder Squad, and the first book, The Yard, introduces us to Inspector Walter Day, a young, up-and-coming detective with Scotland Yard, Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith, an unlucky but clever colleague, and Dr. Kingsley, the coroner who has a fascination with clues.   

Walter Day has just come to London to join the newly created Murder Squad.  He is recently married to Clare, a woman who loves and supports him, but according to her parents, she’s married beneath her.  In spite of this, she is happy and adjusting to being the wife of a Scotland Yard detective. 

Alex Grecian brings Victorian London to life: rainy days in a gray city full of fog and grim alleys.  His characters are likeable (well, the good guys) and very believable.  He explores the lack of technology by showing us the difficulties of no rapid communication and no forensic science. Imagine trying to find a boy to deliver an urgent message for a penny rather than having a telephone at hand. 

Today, applying forensic science to criminal investigations is commonplace, but the Scotland Yard Murder Squad operates in Victorian London, where such practices are just being born. Dr. Kingsley is very fond of fingerprints, in spite of the Yard’s skepticism, and tries (mostly in vain) to convince the police to preserve a crime scene rather than tramp all over the place destroying evidence.  The notion of trying to understand the criminal mind, and searching for patterns of behavior and thought is also new and being tested at this time.   

The second book is The Black Country, which sees Walter and Nevil traveling to the Midlands, a place of superstitious villagers, a mysterious epidemic that is killing people, and the sinking of the village into the coal mines below.  So trying to find three missing family members suddenly takes on a bizarre edge, and Walter is challenged to the utmost.   

 

The third book, The Devil’s Workshop, tells us what had happened to Jack the Ripper (he was still alive, being held prisoner by a vigilante group determined to bring him to their own brand of justice) and introduced us to a murderer called the Harvest Man, after the Harvest spider who lives in attics. The Harvest Man liked to lurk in attics until the family was sound asleep, and then come out to kill.  But he had been captured, and was in prison—until he escaped with three other prisoners during a jail break.  To make matters worse, Jack the Ripper managed to escape his captors as well.  Walter Day and Nevil Hammersmith are racing against time to find these two madmen.  

 

 

Without giving too much away, let me just say that The Devil’s Workshop ended on a ‘bit’ of a cliffhanger, and the tension immediately continues in The Harvest Man, with the action picking up shortly after the third book ends.  The hunt is still on, and time is rapidly running out as the victim count rises.  Oh, and if you thought the cliffhanger was bad in book three, then brace yourself!  It’s even worse in book four.  So have book 5, Lost and Gone Forever, close by!  You won’t be sorry.  Grecian has announced that there will be a sixth book, but no definite date has been set.  I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Lake House

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

The Lake House by Kate Morton

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, The Distant Hours, and The Forgotten Garden each made me a genuine fan of the Australian author.  With some historical accounts and modern-day connections, Morton delivers novels with suspense and characters with so many facets you wonder if you’ll ever really figure them out. When I had a chance to attend an author event for Morton a couple of years ago I was so excited, and she did not disappoint.  Kate was down to earth and spoke honestly about the ups and downs of being a writer.  She also spoke about how she would get intrigued by real life events and become inspired to write, which is how she got some ideas for The Lake House.

The Lake House begins in 1933 at the estate of the Edevane family.  During the night of their midsummer party, the family’s young son goes missing.  There are no leads and the mystery goes unsolved.

Fast forward seventy years to Sadie Sparrow, a detective who finds herself on the outs with the career she loves because of her blurring of the lines in a case and getting too close to the mother of a victim in one of her cases.  Sadie is feeling out of sorts while dealing with a suspension from the force and escapes to her family in Cornwall.  While there, Sadie discovers the Edevane estate and learns about the haunting disappearance of the young boy.  Not having her job to go to and a crime to solve, Sadie locks onto this mystery.

Through reaching out to an older sister of the missing boy and the original detective on the case, Sadie begins to unravel family secrets that have been buried or denied for decades to help bring closure to his family.  She finds relationships between the Edevane case and the case that lead to her suspension in a way that completes the novel.

Kate Morton combines a mysterious event with classic story telling to draw the reader into the Edevane home.  The characters are complex and haunting and leave you searching for more answers with every chapter.  I would give this a solid 5 out of 5 stars.  I greatly enjoyed the story and felt drawn into the mystery.  I thought I had a good theory but that was turned on its head and a different story unfolded than I was expecting.  When I give a book 5 stars it must be a book I would be willing to read again, and I think I could read The Lake House again and find small hints throughout that I missed the first time.  Morton is a joy to read and I encourage all who enjoy mysteries and classic novels to give her a chance.

 

Mirah with Kate Morton at her book event promoting The Lake House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – In the Land of the Long White Cloud

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

In the Land of the Long White Cloud by Sarah Lark

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Ok, full disclosure.  This book is long.  If you’re not interested in sweeping sagas, this might not be the book for you.  However, if you like books that take you on adventures, characters who make you want to cheer or throttle them (depending on the chapter), twisted love stories, and high drama, keep reading.  And it’s the first book in a series so those of you who like to series, that’s another bonus!

Helen Davenport is a governess in England when she sees an advertisement for young women to travel to New Zealand and, hopefully, marry one of the many eligible bachelors. Helen decides this could be the opportunity she has been searching for to get away from her dim prospects of an advantageous marriage in London.  She gets passage to New Zealand through the church when she agrees to chaperone young girls being sent to New Zealand to work as housekeepers or nannies.

Gwyneira Silkham reluctantly agrees to marry the son of a wealthy New Zealand sheep/land baron when her father makes an unscrupulous bet and wagers his daughter’s hand in a game of cards.

Helen and Gwyneira meet on the ship while sailing to New Zealand and an unlikely friendship grows.  Both are optimistic about their future lives in New Zealand but what will be their realities? They will each face hardships of much different natures but both will be challenged and both will find strength they didn’t know they had.  And what will happen to the young girls Helen is chaperoning?

In the Land of the Long White Cloud had a lot of drama that kept me interested but there were some lulls in the action that made it a little hard to get through. I cannot comment on the realistic portrayal of New Zealand during the 1800s.  I imagine if I was more familiar with the landscape and culture of the country, I would find some discrepancies.  Some of the characters use some language that I’m not sure was prominent at the time.  But I am willing to overlook some of that and chalk it up to artistic license on the author’s part. Overall, I would give it a solid 3.5 stars out of 5…good for the entertainment but I have a feeling it is lacking on authenticity for the time.

 

 

Fiction Review – Calling Me Home

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Dorrie and Isabelle have what many call an unconventional relationship.  Isabelle: eighty-nine years old, white, set in her ways, and facing the realities of secrets she has kept all of her life.  Dorrie: single mom in her thirties, black, business owner, and dealing with issues of trust and acceptance.  Somehow, these two forge a relationship akin to granddaughter/grandmother when Isabelle begins seeing Dorrie regularly for haircuts.

When Isabelle approaches Dorrie with the request for her to drive Isabelle from Texas to Ohio the following day in order to go to a funeral, Dorrie accepts even though she is not clear on the details.  The resulting road trip brings Dorrie and Isabelle even closer.  Isabelle shares memories with Dorrie that explain her guarded life and deepen the connection between the two women.

Calling Me Home is the quest of one woman to find closure and acceptance to events that happened to her many years before, events that she has never fully been able to move beyond.  Both women are warm characters with connections that deepen their love and appreciation for one another.  And one is able to learn how to navigate today’s world and relationships by learning from what happened to another many years before.

Love comes from all kinds of places, some of which are totally unexpected.  Kibler reminds us in Calling Me Home to be open to love from others even when our differences seem so insurmountable. I give this novel a heartfelt 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Winter Sea

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

When thinking about this review I had a difficult time deciding what category to put it in…The Winter Sea is historical fiction, with the feel of chick lit and modern day fiction and a little fantasy thrown in for good measure.  I decided to go with historical fiction due to the presence of actual historical figures and events that were integral to the success of the novel.  But with all of that said, I hope the readers who claim not to be fans of historical fiction will still give it a chance.

Carrie McClelland is an author conducting research regarding the efforts to restore James Stewart (the young King James) to his throne in Scotland.  Beginning her research in France, where James was living in exile, she soon realizes she actually needs to be in Scotland and changes the perspective of her story.  Through historical research and family connection, Carrie creates the story of Sophia and her place at Slains Castle, her relationships with various supporters of King James, and her love story that transcends war and exile. The depth of Carrie’s connection to the story, and the way in which the truth is revealed to her, leaves her questioning what she has long believed of her family history.

I think Kearsley has a winner with this novel.  She used an interesting format (chapters set in the present day and chapters that were from Carrie’s historical novel that she is writing) and I liked the mirroring of the past in the present. Kearsley carefully weaves together the past and present and makes sure all of the details connect between the past and present. Kearsley created an ethereal love story that left me feeling hopeful and fulfilled with both stories being told.  For creating fantastic characters and leaving me satisfied with the story but still wanting more, I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars.