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Currently Browsing: Historical Fiction
May
24

Review: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

Review: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton Dragon Teeth Author: Michael Crichton Reviewer: Jen Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Dragon Teeth is a wonderful historical fiction set in the old West during the time of the infamous Bones Wars; a time when two great paleontologists raced to uncover and collect the most impressive dinosaur discoveries. Released almost ten years after the author’s death, Dragon Teeth has the feel of a genuine Crichton story. I don’t know how much of the book was edited and filled in by a ghost-writer, but it was done very much in the vein of his body of works. The story follows Yale freshman William Johnson, who decides to worm his way into Professor Marsh’s government-funded expedition to dig for fossils. Why would this carefree and somewhat reckless young man take on such a dangerous journey in a time when tensions are high between the white settlers and Native Indians? Because of a bet. Yep… a bet that changed his entire life. Professor Marsh is a highly suspicious, nearly mad man who assumes the poor, naïve Johnson is a spy for his adversary, Cope. This leads Marsh to abandon Johnson in Cheyanne. So when Professor Cope shows up and offers Johnson a spot with his crew, he feels he has little choice. And although they are forbidden to head out from Fort Benton, Cope and crew slip out to dig bones. The story follows Johnson has he experiences firsthand how difficult life in the West was during the late 1800’s. Yet Johnson finds a way to persevere, developing an unhealthy fixation on protecting the dinosaur bones in his care. I empathized with poor Johnson, who is naïve and in way over his head. He’s an unknowing pawn that could be crushed in the race for supremacy between two Barons of Bones. His demeanor and the situations he’s placed in created an emotional tie to his character, keeping me invested in his entire story from beginning to end. Dragon Teeth is a highly interesting and engrossing tale. I have always loved Crichton’s matter-of-fact writing style, and I can’t distinguish between fact and fiction. It’s a gripping way to tell a story. Crichton also adds details that make the scenes pop and come to life. The story is that of a young man’s rough journey to becoming his own man. He had a summer that changed him, and hopefully his life will be richer for it. The book is all about the journey,...
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Apr
29

Review: Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove

Review: Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove Joe Steele Author: Harry Turtledove Reviewer: Nima Rating: C- What I’m Talking About: Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili was born in the Soviet Union in 1878.  When he was in his 30s, he took the name Stalin from the Russian for “man of steel.”  What if Joseph Stalin’s parents had immigrated to the United States before he was born, making him a full citizen and eligible, like any other American-born citizen, to run for president?  Joe Steele is author Harry Turtledove’s game of “what if” Stalin were in the White House? The average reader with a cursory memory of high school history will be able to follow the alterations to our present timeline.  I did feel compelled, however, to look up certain facts to remind myself of what was factual and what was fictional, like John Nance Garner as the presidential running-mate. The story alternates between the experiences of two brothers, Mike and Charlie Sullivan.  Both are seasoned reporters, working as Associated Press stringers.  The story really begins as both cover the 1932 Democratic Convention where Roosevelt is expected to take the nomination until the New York Governor’s mansion burns down with him and his wife Eleanor still inside.  Still feeling the effects of the Depression, probably anyone could have won against Hoover.  Steele takes the nomination and the election, but there is some question as to who was responsible for the mansion fire.  It is from here that the brothers’ lives split.  Charlie is inclined to give Steele the benefit of the doubt even though he questions Steele’s methods and sincerity.  Mike doesn’t hold back, going after the Steele for obvious criminal activity and walking all over the Constitution.  Their lives couldn’t be more different after Mike ends up in a forced labor camp as retaliation by the administration for a particularly poignant article spotlighting Steele’s crimes. Already by his second term, the First Amendment means nothing.  Neither brother is an especially interesting character or accomplishes much in the story.  In fact, despite heinous events, I felt like the story was being reported to me.  I didn’t feel a part of it or inside it in anyway.  It felt like a simple accounting of events. I was ready to mess with history, but unfortunately, I had an issue with the premise right from the start.  In the age of modern technology, it’s hard to believe anyone in this country would be gullible enough to believe that The Mercury Theater’s radio...
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Mar
27

Review: The Mourning Bells by Christine Trent

Review: The Mourning Bells by Christine Trent The Mourning Bells Author: Christine Trent Reviewer: Una Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: The Mourning Bells, the fourth installment in the Lady of Ashes Mysteries, is haunting and gripping.  Though Violet seemed a bit slow on the uptake on some of the clues in this novel, she continues to be a gripping, unique, sensitive, and unconventional sleuth. First off, I continue to love Violet.  She is a fairly down-to-earth woman, for the Victorian era.  I love that she fusses over her appearance (and the extra pounds she seems to be fighting).  These qualities help to humanize her and allow me to truly connect to her.  Despite her insecurities, she possesses determination and steadfastness for the dead and those under her care.  Her worry over Inspector Hurst’s interest in Mary, the bit of lackluster in Susanna’s personality as of late, and her husband Sam’s continued attempts to secure a loan for his coal mining venture all distract her while she tries to figure out why such strange things seem to be occurring.  Though she seemed to be slow at picking up what seemed to be to be fairly obvious clues, she does eventually catch on. Even though the clues were there, seemly obvious, the main villain wasn’t.  I enjoyed how clues were strung so plainly but the path connecting them was so twisted and hazy.  I seriously thought I had it all figured out only to be thwarted at the end when I realized how wrong I was.  This is what I truly love about this series, no matter how the clues fit together, there is always something minute I miss that turns it all around.  The nemesis in The Mourning Bells was very clever, extremely greedy, and very secretive as it turns out.  His unveiling was captivating and excruciatingly nail-biting. There are several things going on when the novel concludes.  These threads leave me wondering what is next for Violet.  I worry about Susanna and how she will do once she returns to Colorado.  Sam’s venture and the Queen’s request for Violet and Sam to join her for the opening of the canal loom in the future.  Not to mention Hurst’s continued pursuit of Mary – there is much I am anticipating in the next Lady of Ashes Mystery.  Whatever it is, you can bet I will be reading it. If you haven’t tried this series and enjoy historical mysteries with unconventional sleuths, pick up the first book,...
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Feb
5

Review: Master of Plagues by E.L. Tettensor

Review: Master of Plagues by E.L. Tettensor Master of Plagues Author: E.L. Tettensor Reviewer: Gikany & Una Rating: A- What We’re Talking About: Gikany and Una have been on pins and needles, anxiously awaiting Master of Plagues.  Ms. Tettensor did not disappoint!  Though this mystery was a bit different from the first, we still enjoyed the mythology, the world, and the twists and turns of this tightly woven story. The novel opens as a plague is starting to decimate one of the outlying areas of Kennian.  Lenoir and Kody are called in to determine if the epidemic was intentionally caused and if so who might have orchestrated it.  As the clues are slowly uncovered, our heroes find themselves in the sights of the mastermind of it all. Without spoiling the novel, let us just say it was great.  Master of Plagues takes place in the wonderfully gray world of Darkwalker.  This alternate world fascinates us with its combination of different cultures and politics.  Although the paranormal aspect that we loved in the previous novel was absent in this one, we still found it engrossing.  The prejudices that exist between the Adali and Kennians were even more poignant in this story.  The Adali have the ability to cure the plague, but the physicians dismiss their treatment as witchdoctor rubbish.  Watching as Lenoir works to ease the prejudices enough that some cooperation can exist was fascinating. What truly sets off this gray world is the contrast we have between Kody and Zach.  Kody is one of the few people who still sees the world as black or white.  He is young and idealistic – reminding Lenoir of who he once was and will never truly be again.  Zach, on the other hand, can see all of the shades of gray.  His understanding of how the world works allows him to survive and yet still dream of being a hound.  Zach adds the bulk of humor and innocence to this story.  The contrast of Kody and Zach helps to highlight the changes in Lenoir. Upon the conclusion of Darkwalker, we wondered what character growth would manifest in Lenoir as Master of Plagues unraveled.  When Una mentioned to Gikany that Lenoir seemed almost just as he was, her response was, “you were looking for miracles?”  Despite Lenoir appearing almost unaffected by his experiences, there were minute changes that could be easily overlooked.  Without Lenoir’s inner monologue, we would have continued to believe, as those around him do, that he is...
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Oct
31

Review: A Virtuous Death by Christine Trent

Review: A Virtuous Death by Christine Trent A Virtuous Death Author: Christine Trent Reviewer: Una Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: A Virtuous Death is the third novel in the enchanting Lady of Ashes Mysteries.  Although this novel had a slightly different feel from the previous ones, I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery and the continuing insights into Violet. The novel unwinds slowly.  Violet is still stuck in England and is anxious to return to America to see her daughter, Susanna, get married.  Her husband, Sam, is researching the possibility of starting a dynamite plant in Wales.  As he enters the train station to return to Violet, a massive uprising occurs between the coal miners and the police.  A poor young innocent woman is caught and killed in the crossfire.  Although Sam tries to help her, he is only able to provide comfort while she passes.  This moment appears to be the catalyst to a more sinister plot later, however all is never as it seems. Violet has become someone the Queen relies on; not only in the fond remembrance of her husband, but the Queen admires the way Violet has been able to unravel mysteries with tact and discretion.  Although Violet wouldn’t agree with the Queen’s assessment, she dutifully follows the Queen’s directive.  It appears that Mr. Brown, the Queen’s ghillie (outdoor servant), has discovered, through tarot card readings and séances, a plot within the palace and the spirits are telling him that only Violet can sort it out. As the novel progresses, Violet’s personal life becomes a bit mixed up.  Although she is trying to get things in order to return to America, it seems destiny is flat against it.  I love how Violet’s personal life is entwined with the mystery. She is an odd duck, but in a good and independent way.  I enjoy Violet’s outlook in life along with her wit, loyalty and the strength of her character.  She is delightful, and I wish I could join her for a cup of tea.  However, in this mystery it felt as if she bumbled more than ever.  Although the murder mystery was just that subtle, it caught me by surprise, even though I knew who it wasn’t. Although we are given more points of view through this novel, there were not too many.  It was well-balanced.  While giving more information and background they also helped to keep the reader from figuring out who the true villain was.  I may be dating myself, but I...
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Oct
13

DNF Review: Broken by Traci L. Slatton

DNF Review: Broken by Traci L. Slatton Broken Author: Traci Slatton Reviewer: Una Rating: DNF What I’m Talking About: Broken is the latest release by Traci Slatton. I was intrigued by the premise, but unfortunately I did not care for the book.  Between the contrast of flowery, romantic language and the atrocities of this time period, along with the overt sexual scenes and innuendoes side-by-side with political/historical discussions, I was never able to get into the story and ended up not finishing it. The novel is told from the point of view of the fallen angel Aria.  Since it is told in first person present, I felt as if I was being told what was going on rather than allowing me to experience the journey with the characters.  But what really made me uncomfortable was the flowery language.  Broken reads with a heavy romantic essence, which contrasts with the ugliness of the events. The novel was further stifled in its flow due to the characters discussions regarding the war, politics, and current events.  However these discussions were entwined with sexual non sequiturs taking form in either innuendoes or actions.  These sexual overtures added to my discomfort while the discussions left me disinterested and bored. I did not think that this story would be rainbows and roses.  The history and horrors of this time period are understood enough that I didn’t think I would be spared the ugly realities of war – especially considering the characters and their plight.  But I didn’t think I would the story would contain such graphic detail.  The rape that occurs at the 50% mark was not something I was expecting, and it was overly graphic.  My stomach was just as nauseated as the character’s.  This moment was awful enough, but knowing that these forced interludes continued throughout the book, and that the character tries to find respite in another, was distasteful to me.  Though it seems the ongoing rape affects the character, the fact that she tries to continue as if it did not happen, bothers me greatly.  Especially when a few pages later, it seems this character is most happily engaging in sexual intercourse and firmly in denial. At the 67% mark, my stomach turned so much, I could not continue reading.  There is yet another graphic scene; the torture of a man and the introduction of another rape.  Maybe others can read this without the disgust and horror I experienced, but I do not see how this can be...
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Apr
29

Review: Stolen Remains by Christine Trent

Review: Stolen Remains by Christine Trent Stolen Remains Author: Christine Trent Reviewer: Una Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Stolen Remains is the second novel in the Lady of Ashes Mysteries.  I was wonderfully surprised to find this sequel is as engrossing and interesting as the first novel, Lady of Ashes.  Although I didn’t think I was in the mood for a historical mystery when I picked it up, I found myself completely engrossed and unable to put it down. Violet is a wonderfully characterized heroine.  Clearly a woman who loves what she does, Violet sticks out like sore thumb in Victorian society.  Through the interactions between her and various characters, we learn about the odd role in society that undertakers have.  They are tradesman and looked down upon in some ways because of what they do, yet they make a fairly comfortable living, placing them higher in society monetarily.  It is because of their work that the deceased are given their final respects so they can rest and the family can grieve. I sympathize with Violet’s life and the conviction she has in ensuring a loved one is fully respected and put to rest.  After the events in Lady of Ashes, I am happy with her situation in Stolen Remains.  I enjoyed her inner monologue when dealing with clients that are overcome with emotion.  She is a lovely blend of gentleness and steel with a large dash of intelligence.  For as much as she does not think of herself as a skilled detective, she is amazingly talented at collecting clues. The mystery in Stolen Remains was quite different from what we experienced in Lady of Ashes.  This novel had a different feel, but I enjoyed the difference.  We are privy to both the Prince’s and Queen Victoria’s point-of-views (POVs), but the majority of the book is told from Violet’s perspective.  There are a few other POVs from a few minor characters, but these were mostly in the beginning and helped to set up the novel.  Despite all of the information we were given in the beginning, the revelation of the murderer and their motives completely surprised me.  For as much as Violet feels as if she is bumbling along, as I thought back over the novel, the clues were there, if you looked carefully.  Even as she came to the conclusion, I was still surprised and needed the unveiling and confession from the guilty person. One of the best aspects of Stolen Remains is...
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Apr
18

Review: The Medea Complex by Rachel Florence Roberts

Review: The Medea Complex by Rachel Florence Roberts The Medea Complex Author: Rachel Florence Roberts Reviewer: Una Rating: C What I’m Talking About: The Medea Complex was an interesting premise and nothing like what I expected.  Although I liked the idea of the novel and where the author was going, the execution of it fell flat. The Medea Complex is a psychological thriller based on a true story.  I admit the mystery of whether or not Anne was insane was gripping.  I saw this novel as more of a mystery than a psychological thriller with the underlying mystery the truth of Anne’s illness and its cause.   As the story unfolded I found myself trying to figure out what was going on, what was true and what was not.  However, nothing proceeded as expected.  Though this could be seen as a positive, there are a couple of elements that grated.  From the synopsis I expected the story to focus just on Anne’s personal struggle, but that is not the case.  Although she is the major character, the conflict involves more than Anne’s personal turmoil.  The historical politics at work and political schemes were the central core of the story.  This is something we do not discover until later in the novel.  I found this intrigue to be fascinating and gripping.  The different ploys in place and the lengths to which people would go, regardless the cost, were staggering and heart-wrenching. There are multiple points of view in The Medea Complex.  All of them slowly combined to give a glimpse of what is really going on.  Fittingly, all is not revealed until the end, but the deliberate moments where information is withheld are insulting and annoying.  At one point, Anne is hypnotized and questioned regarding the incident that caused her to be incarcerated in the asylum.  It was blatantly obvious at the conclusion of the interview (of which we only saw the barest beginning) that something major was revealed.  However, we are not privy to that information until the very end.  I found this very frustrating and insulting to know a major plot point is discovered but purposely hidden from us. Another item that is difficult to discuss without spoiling the novel stems from the first person narrative.  We have multiple points of view but they are all first person narrative.  This means that if a character is performing a ruse, it should be evident in the narrative.  Since we are privy to their thoughts and feelings as...
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Feb
13

Review: Darkwalker by E.L. Tettensor

Review: Darkwalker by E.L. Tettensor Darkwalker Author: E. L. Tettensor  Reviewer: Gikany and Una Rating: A What We’re Talking About: Darkwalker is the debut novel in the Nicholas Lenoir series.  It seems the series will chronicle Nicholas Lenoir, a detective in a dark, historical fantasy world.  We were wary at first, but we found ourselves rooting for this anti-hero and really loved this first offering that left us hungry for more! Gikany and Una have a habit of diving into a book without much research (unless you count reading the book’s back blurb).  As we started Darkwalker, it started to dawn on us that not only is it historical, it is taking place in a fictional world.  Take Sherlock Holmes’s London, change the name and place it somewhere else, with another cultural group nearby that transects it, and take the dark, dreary factor way up.  This is where our story takes place…and it is mesmerizing.  We really enjoyed the landscapes that were created in our mind’s eye – the descriptions are rich and they greatly enhance the atmosphere of the novel.  The conflict and prejudice that exists between the “whites” and the Adali is compelling, reminiscent of those conflicts between Anglos and Africans as well as Anglos and Gypsies in our histories.  We found the tension between these two groups authentic, enriching the world and storytelling without any sign of preaching.  It truly added another element to the world-building, giving it a foundation as it alluded to our own historical pasts. However the most compelling element in Darkwalker is most assuredly Nicholas Lenoir.  This is the author’s take on the five things you need to know about Lenoir (taken from a guest post linked on her website): He’s the smartest person in the room. In his mind, at least. He doesn’t believe in redemption—least of all for him. Wherever you come from, Lenoir’s hometown is better. You’re just going to have to trust him on this. Words are weapons, but silence is power. We all have our demons, but his are darker. And in the room. Right now. We have read other novels where the main character is not well liked by others, but to the reader is captivating and enchanting.  That is not Lenoir.  As we started Darkwalker, we disliked him (we have some colorful pejoratives we could use, but we’re sure you get the gist).  In fact, we were so angry with him, we almost stopped reading.  But, this shows how well the...
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Mar
28

Review: Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent

Review: Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent Lady of Ashes Author: Christine Trent  Release Date: Feb. 26 2013 Publisher: Kensington Lady of Ashes #1 ISBN: #978-0758265913 Genre: Historical Mystery Format(s): Paperback (420 pgs), e-book Book Source: Publisher About the book:      In 1861 London, Violet Morgan is struggling to establish a good reputation for the undertaking business that her husband has largely abandoned. She provides comfort for the grieving, advises them on funeral fashion and etiquette, and arranges funerals.      Unbeknownst to his wife, Graham, who has nursed a hatred of America since his grandfather soldiered for Great Britain in the War of 1812, becomes involved in a scheme to sell arms to the South. Meanwhile, Violet receives the commission of a lifetime: undertaking the funeral for a friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But her position remains precarious, especially when Graham disappears and she begins investigating a series of deaths among the poor. And the closer she gets to the truth, the greater the danger for them both… What Una is talking about:      Lady of Ashes is a book that piqued my interest.  I grew up watching Agatha Christie and Masterpiece Theatre with my mom.  There is a very soft spot in my heart for historical mysteries.  Only recently have I started indulging that love.  I requested this book from Twimom as a way to rekindle a love of a genre and fondly remember my mother as the anniversary of her death looms.  What better novel to read than a historical mystery about a female undertaker in Victorian England who may have uncovered a serial killer?      First, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed Lady of Ashes, once I let go of waiting for and eagerly searching for the mystery.  As the beginning book of a new series, there was quite of bit of building to where we discover the apparently odd deaths.  However, that is not to say that it is a bunch of historical “window dressing” drama.  Ms. Morgan is a fascinating character.  I found myself drawn to her, understanding her passion for a rather odd trade for a woman, especially a married one.  Her gentile nature combined with her iron backboard presented a female character that not only was realistic in the period, but understandable as she accepted her role in society (to an extent) even while pushing boundaries.      By a twist of fate, Ms. Morgan is accidentally acquainted with the Prince Consort,...
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