Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: The Specimen by Martha Lea

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From Goodreads:
The year is 1866. Edward Scales is a businessman, a butterfly collector, a respectable man. He is the man Gwen Carrick fell in love with seven years before. Now he is dead and Gwen is on trial for his murder.

From country house drawing rooms to the rainforests of Brazil, The Specimen explores the price one independent young woman might pay for wanting an unorthodox life.

Set in a Victorian world battling between the forces of spiritualism and Darwinism, polite society and the call of clandestine love, Gwen and Edward’s tale is a gripping melodrama, a romance and a murder mystery that will compel readers to its final thrilling page.

A sweeping drama with a Victorian backdrop, The Specimen is a book worth examining.

The Specimen has so many interesting characters. Gwen and Effie, two sister who are the complete opposite of one another become the bane of each others existence. Mr. Scales, the womanizing doctor, betrays his wife with various affairs that help to weave a web of deceit. All three are tangled together into a drama that ultimately leads to murder.

The chapters alternate between the present year, 1866, which finds Gwen on trial for the murder of Mr. Scales, and the past, the years leading up to the murder itself.

Gwen and Effie have inherited their father’s estate in Cornwall. Being polar opposites, their relationship is anything but smooth. Gwen seizes the opportunity for escape when she falls in love with Edward Scales and is invited along to Brazil as an assistant helping Edward collect and catalog specimens.

Gwen soon finds that the man she fell in love with during those fleeting moments of lust repulses her in the light of day. She endures the journey, through all sorts of conditions, only to find that she has been betrayed beyond anything she could ever have imagined.

There are many twists and turns in this murder mystery. The author allows the reader to come to some their own conclusions and doesn’t feel the need to bog us down with details but allows our imagination to fill in some of the plot. I really liked this style of writing. Some pieces of the puzzle were given out of order, which at first made me feel like I must have missed something. But, smartly, the answer becomes known later in the story.

Martha Lea has created such a wonderful Victorian setting for this book, making a unique reading experience. The changes in locale made the story interesting and reflected what was transpiring among the characters. I was surprised to find a little humor and had to laugh at some of the quips made by some of the minor characters.

If you enjoy unconventional murder mystery that makes you think outside the box like The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax or Mistress of the Art of Death, you’ll enjoy this book.

This book was provided for review by Netgally.

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Book Review: Kiss River by Diane Chamberlain

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From Goodreads:
In the anticipated sequel to KEEPER OF THE LIGHT, award-winning author Diane Chamberlain takes fans back to the sea-swept place called KISS RIVER. Ten years ago, a hurricane caused the upper half of the Kiss River lighthouse to crumble into the sea. Deemed beyond repair, the remaining 100-foot brick shell of the lighthouse and its spiral staircase have been cordoned off and left for nature to finish the demolition job. Sister and brother Lacey and Clay O’Neill live in the keeper’s house next to the Kiss River lighthouse. When stranger Gina Higgins arrives in the area, she joins them in their bid to restore the decrepit beacon. But all three are hiding secrets from their past, and Gina’s arrival puts in motion a chain of events sure to change their lives forever.

This title is the second in Diane Chamberlain’s Kiss River trilogy. I had not read the previous title, Keeper of the Light, but when I saw Kiss River at the used bookstore, being a big fan of Diane Chamberlain, I decided to pick it up.

I had no trouble diving right in and, although this is part of a trilogy, it made a great stand alone story. Ms. Chamberlain’s books always get me hooked. She creates great drama with a hint of mystery and her characters are always down to earth and realistic. They’re characters you can invest in. Kiss River has a great cast of characters.

The main drama of the story comes from Gina Higgins, a teacher on summer break, who has headed east for the sole purpose of getting an up-close look at the Kiss River lighthouse. She soon befriends a brother and sister duo, Lacey and Clay, who live and are currently restoring the keeper’s house. Gina hides her true purpose under the pretense of being a lighthouse fanatic who is intent on preserving the Kiss River lighthouse beacon. What Lacey and Clay don’t know are that Gina has more than one motive and the lighthouse mean more to Gina than they could ever have imagined.

The best parts of this book lies with a more subtle drama brought to light through diary entries made by the daughter of the lighthouse Keeper during WWII. I loved these parts of the book! The two stories, past and present, come together in a surprising way.

Parts mystery, drama, romance and historical fiction, this book offers something for everyone.

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Attention Historical Fiction Lovers: Today’s Kindle Deal 1/20/13 – Wilderness by Lance Weller

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Today’s Kindle Deal is Wilderness: A Novel by Lance Weller. You can pick this wonderful book up for just $1.99!

Wilderness was my favorite book of 2012. I reviewed the book back in August. It’s a heartbreaking, deeply affecting civil war story like no other. Grab it at this great deal while you can!

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City of Thieves by David Benioff

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A moving tale of two boys who are brought together by circumstance and end up bound by so much more, City of Thieves is a journey well worth taking.

From Goodreads:
As wise and funny as it is thrilling and original – the story of two young men on an impossible adventure. A writer visits his retired grandparents in Florida to document their experience during the infamous siege of Leningrad. His grandmother won’t talk about it, but his grandfather reluctantly consents. The result is the captivating odyssey of two young men trying to survive against desperate odds. Lev Beniov considers himself built for deprivation. He’s small, smart, and insecure, a Jewish virgin too young for the army, who spends his nights working as a volunteer firefighter with friends from his building. When a dead German paratrooper lands in his street, Lev is caught looting the body and dragged to jail, fearing for his life. He shares his cell with the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested on desertion charges. Instead of the standard bullet in the back of the head, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible. A search that takes them through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and the devastated surrounding countryside creates an unlikely bond between this earnest, lust-filled teenager and an endearing lothario with the gifts of a conman. Set within the monumental events of history, City of Thieves is an intimate coming-of-age tale with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

This was such a moving story. Lev and Kolya are opposites in so many ways. Lev is the serious one, the poet’s son. A good heart, a sense of right and wrong, he’s a gentle soul at heart. Kolya, the ladies man, the sweet talker, is the negotiator. He’s the boy soldier with the big talk but a soft heart. Circumstance brings them together for a quest that sends them on an adventure like no other. The two work in tandem, each playing off the other and before they realize it, they become friends capable of loving each other like brothers.

Their adventures lead them to the brink of what will be their defining moments, the moments they find out what they are truly capable of and they are transformed into men right before our eyes. It’s such a compelling story. It felt like I was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee listening to Lev tell the story in his grandfatherly voice. After reading it, I can tell you with certainty that: I have never known real cold. I have never known real hunger or fear or loneliness. I really only have a semblance of what it would be like. A book like this puts all those things into perspective.

One of the things I loved was the humor that shined through the darkness of this harrowing story. It endeared Kolya to me and leant authenticity to the story. Even in the worst of predicaments, humans are still human. We need laughter to help quell our fears.

I’ve passed this one along to my teenage sons. I’m hoping it will leave as positive an impression on them as it has left with me. This one is going on my list of all time favorites.

If you enjoy historical fiction, WWII history, life changing adventures or love the inspiration that stories of friendship can give, you will LOVE this book.

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Siege of Leningrad – Wikipedia


All Hail the Return of Robert Langdon

Titans and other giants are imprisoned in Hell...

Today, Dan Brown announced his long-awaited new novel, Inferno, which will be published on May 14th. If you recall, back in May, I posted a link to an article which mentioned that Mr. Brown was hard at work on the then unnamed book.

Inferno will center around Dante’s Inferno and will again feature one of my most beloved characters of all time, Robert Langdon.

You can read the official press release on Dan Brown’s website. It’s also available for preorder on Amazon.com or iBooks.

Let the count down begin!


Book Review: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

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Melanie Benjamin captures Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s extraordinary years of marriage to Lucky Lindy and brings them to life through the pages of this captivating story.

From Goodreads:

For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.

Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The Aviator’s Wife is the story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a wife, mother, seasoned pilot, accomplished writer and most famously, Lucky Lindy’s co-pilot through life. The book spans 46 years of a very eventful marriage. It’s written in an engaging way, sometimes glimpsing into the future before continuing with the past.

The story opens to a fresh young Anne who, visiting family on break from college, meets, quite starry-eyed, a young, dashing Charles Lindbergh back from his famous flight to Paris. She’s instantly smitten with him, or the idea of him, and grabs the chance to come out of the shadow of her older sister and the normal housewife life she thought she was destined to have and let Charles sweep her off to soaring heights, as she becomes his wife.

Anne soon finds that life is certainly exciting as her and Charles embark on flying adventures and she accomplishes some surprising feats including becoming a pilot herself. Life isn’t always easy with the brooding self-centered, sometimes manipulative man she married. Early on she is awakened to the fact that Charles has certain expectations and, following suit of young impressionistic women of that age, she does everything she can to please him and measure up to the high standards he’s set.

Throughout their marriage, Charles remains a driving force, getting her to do things she never would have done without his insistent drive to make her what he wanted her to be. Charles is a huge presence in the book, which is fitting; he was the presence in Anne’s life.

Charles is deified by the world and Anne is thrown into a whirlwind and constantly hounded by the press and “fans”. This star power makes her feel privileged that he chose her over all others. She’s self-deprecating and she excuses his bad behaviors and controlling ways because of fleeting moments when he acts like the adoring man the public is so taken with. This makes her come across as weak, but if we keep in mind the time period, a wife didn’t question her husband like we do today; it’s easier to understand her behavior.

Anne mirrors many women’s lives, those who marry and find themselves in their husband’s shadows, behind the scenes, swept along with time. She questions whether she’s even gotten the chance to decide for herself who she wants to be or what she wants to become. She freely admits that she allowed Charles to shape her in this way.

Their marriage is marred by an inconceivable sadness which changes both of them; the loss of their first-born son. Anne is guilt ridden over having been away from him during much of his short life. Her grief lasts the rest of her life and remains a constant cloud of contention over their marriage.

The book continues as Anne regretfully helps her husband in his stand against war with Germany, as she raises her children practically on her own, as she finds herself alone finally becomes enabled to live her own life on her terms, at least in part.

I found Anne’s life to quite privileged and extraordinary. The author does a wonderful job telling it. She does what she sets out to do; her historical fiction inspires us to dig deeper into the Lindbergh’s story and into this time in history.

If you liked The Paris Wife, you will LOVE The Aviator’s Wife.

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This book was provided for review by Netgalley.


Book Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

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Loss sets the tone for this novel of a mother’s unending grief and the effect it has on her family.

From Goodreads:

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

This book is everywhere! Every time I pick up a magazine of visit a book site, this book is there, thanks, in part, to Oprah making it her newest book club pick.

Entertainment Weekly summed this book up best when they said “…this is a slim, poetic novel, one that focuses less on American progress than on the small but powerful moments that are strung together, like beads on a necklace, to make one long strand of a family’s history.”

This story is a web, which is spread out over time and space ensnaring all of Hattie’s children.

The writing style in this book is such that even with just chapter long snippets of each child, we get a sense of where this family has been, what it has meant to each of them and what their observations of Hattie were. We get to know Hattie through the stories of her children. I have to wonder though, if we really get to know her or just a semblance of her children’s perception of her.

This book has to be taken for what it is, a short story of a family surviving the best way they know how. It’s not kind and sweet; it’s not really inspirational. To me it was more tragic. Circumstances, both her own doing and those beyond Hattie’s control, affects each of her children in different ways. She allowed a cloud of hurt and wants to surround her family. Not in the physical sense of clothing and food, she did everything she could to keep their needs met, but in the emotional sense. This book will definitely make you think about the effect your actions or inactions and your emotional health have on your own family.

It’s very well written for a debut. Each chapter could have been a stand-alone story. But, I didn’t find any inspiration in the pages. Only heartfelt sadness for both Hattie and her children.

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A Year of Reading Recap – 2012

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What would the New Year be without a look back at the old one? Here’s a recap of my year of reading 2012.

I’ve had the opportunity to read so many wonderful books this year. I surpassed my reading goal of 75 and reached an all time high of 117. 1Q84 was the longest book I read, 945 pages. I think that made the all-time high also. I gave mostly 3 and 4 stars with only 14 making the 5 star distinction, which makes me think I’m a bit too picky and hard to please. I had two books that were so terrible I couldn’t finish them and I’m still cursing about wasting my time on them.

I read more memoirs this year than ever. People are truly interesting and in some cases their stories are stranger than fiction. I cried more this year than ever too. Some of the stories were just so heartbreaking. I’m pretty sure I blubbered through more of The Art of Racing in the Rain than I’m willing to fess up to. Dogs dying in books seemed to be a common theme this year. I seriously cannot take anymore of that!

I had a zombie run and it was a great one. Zombies are the new vampires. Super cool! If I were giving an award for best cover it would go to My Life as a White Trash Zombie. As Steven Martin said in Father of the Bride, “Bitchin!” That cover earns the Bitchin award. (if there were such a thing) Patrick Ness is my favorite author of 2012. Reading his book has inspired both my children and me.

Historical fiction is still my favorite genre. Mixing fiction in with a history lesson makes learning fun even at my age.

Out of the 117 books I’ve read this year, here’s my top 10 favorites:

1. Wilderness: A Novel by Lance Weller
2. Chaos Walking: A Trilogy by Patrick Ness
3. The Wild Girl by Jim Fergus
4. A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
5. Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo
6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
7. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
8. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
9. The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court by by Michelle Moran
10. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My goals for 2013 are much the same. I’m upping my reading goal to 100. I think I can manage it without feeling too pressured. I’m going to do my best not to purchase books this year. I have probably 75 on my bookshelf waiting to be read and they deserve my love and attention. “Try” is the main word here.

I’m going to give a State Challenge a go and will be book blogging my way through the US. I hope you’ll join me along the way! Every book is an adventure and it’s so much more fun when you’re along!

I wish each of you a New Year filled with joy, happiness and many, many great books!

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!


Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

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Rip-roaring 20’s style is what stands out in this lengthy novel by Libba Bray.

From Goodreads:

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.

Not having much luck with my first Libba Bray book, Beauty Queens, I decided to give this popular author another try with her newest novel. Set in the 20’s, Bray has obviously done her homework. She succeeds in creating a world that feels like it’s surrounding you as you read. The visual descriptions and catchy slang make the 20’s come to life.

Her main characters are strong and likable. Evie is so much fun and her youthful exuberance is infectious. All the introduced characters are truly mesmerizing.

Having said that, there are a few things that kept me from loving this book. My main gripe is that the book is too long and too slow. Many things seem to be repeated. A little editing could have gone a long way to making this book something special. To much time is spent on introduction and characters rehashing their inner feelings over and over. It’s just too much. I actually stopped reading it for a while and read a few other books before starting it up again. It felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere which leads to boredom. Cut this down 100-200 pages and it would have been much more enjoyable.

There are too many loose ends making some of the introduced characters seem out-of-place and had me wondering what their purpose is. I know this is a series but I need something to tie these characters to the story in a meaningful way. Hopefully the next installment will shed some light and fit these puzzle piece characters together.

Overall, if you have the time to devote and can overlook repetition, this book is sure to charm you with nostalgia alone.

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Book Review: My Enemy’s Tears: The Witch of Northampton

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Soaked in drama and steeped in history, My Enemy’s Tears is historical fiction at its best.

From Goodreads:
In the 1630s two young girls fresh from England settle with their families in the Connecticut River Valley. There, on the frontier of a terrifying wilderness surrounded by warring natives, they must face the rigors of life among the Puritans — a people steeped in superstition and piety. Based on the lives of Mary Bliss Parsons and Sarah Lyman Bridgeman and the men they loved, this fictional account of a true story transports us to a land founded on a dream, where life was uncertain, and where fear and jealousy would lead to ruin.

Well written and well researched, this book is equal parts history lesson and family drama. Based on a true story and set in Puritan New England circa mid 1600’s, we’re introduced to Mary Bliss as she and her family flee religious prosecution in England. Growing up in the New World is a harsh reality for Mary. This was a harsh time period all around. If I could travel back in time, this century would be far, far down on my list of times to visit. Religion is at the heart of these hard times creating poor living conditions (bathing is frowned upon), strict rules (especially for women) and harsh consequences.

We see Mary transform from child to young woman. Sent to serve in a more prominent household by her parents who view her as willful and outspoken, she befriends the young mistress of the house, Sarah. Eventually, circumstances make it impossible for Mary to remain in service and the girls part with Sarah blaming Mary for their parting.

Mary and Sarah’s adult lives are lived throughout the pages that follow. We are privy to marriages, alliances, many births and deaths. There’s plenty here to keep the drama going. Sex, lies, jealously and hatred run wild through Northampton. There’s plenty of action as Indians are an ever increasing threat and wars loom.

At the core of this story are women who gossip away the unexplained and accuse those they don’t like at the time. Fear of witches and the Devil work to weave doubt about even the most upstanding citizens. Women, and even some men, who deal in herbal remedies or have birthmarks are prime suspects of witchcraft.

I appreciate that the author used wording of the time but was careful not to make so much use of it that it made the book hard to read. The backdrop was so well thought out and the descriptives really put the town into focus.

I was delighted with this gem and would like to thank the author and PR by the Book for providing me with a copy to review. Hopefully, this author has other interesting ancestors that we can look forward to reading about!

You can read the first chapter of the book on the author’s website, myenemystears.com.

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