Tag Archives: genre: historical fiction

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor

The Lost Letter

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor

Published by: Riverhead Books on June 13, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

When Katie Nelson takes her father’s stamp collection to an expert to see if there’s anything of value, she doesn’t expect anything will come of it. But when the appraiser, Benjamin, expresses interest in what may be not only a rare find but also an anomaly, a mystery is laid before her that she can’t help but try to answer. And the journey takes her down a path that spans back over fifty years and exposes secrets and identities that have been long-buried and thought lost forever. Along the way, Katie also just might find some things she thought she had lost forever as well…

When this book first started jumping back and forth between the 1989 “present” and the 1938 “past”, I found myself wondering if there was any real connection or if it was just two stories being told side-by-side because of a single point of connection: a stamp. And the reality is that while that stamp is the key to much of the story and the connection, there is so much more here that reveals itself as you go. This is a story of love, of perseverance, of exploration, and of never giving up hope.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance review copy received from the publisher as part of the First to Read program.]

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

The Fifth Petal

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

Published by: Crown on January 24, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The mysterious death of a young man on Halloween night leaves Salem’s Chief of Police, John Rafferty, wondering about a possible connection to a triple homicide that occurred on Halloween night in 1989. Of course, one of the reasons they might be related is that Rose Whelan was present at the scene of both crimes, and in both cases she said something about a banshee being responsible for the killings. Rafferty believes Rose is not a murderer, and he’s set out to prove it. His quest is bolstered by the return to Salem of Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the original victims and a witness to some of that night’s events. But unearthing the truth proves to be potentially dangerous for them both. If the murderer was an evil spiritual force, are they prepared to take it on? And if the perpetrator is of the more mundane criminal variety, they’ve carried the secret and covered their tracks for almost 30 years–so they might just stop at nothing to keep it that way.

This is a tale of intrigue across decades that ties back across centuries. Questions abound about who can be trusted and who cannot. Some in town have been carrying secrets that they don’t want to get out, which in itself provides a recipe for danger and disaster. But the ways in which those secrets connect (and the possibility of a supernatural element thrown in) provide a path to figuring out what happened all those years ago. If Rafferty and Callie can stay out of the crosshairs…

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Published by: Redhook on September 5, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

When Ursule, matriarch of the family, dies, it seems as though her power goes with her. While her daughters keep the old ways and traditions alive, it seems none of them possesses the same skill and strength with magic that she always did. But the power burns anew when Ursule’s unsuspecting granddaughter is brought into the circle. What follows is a story of a family history that spans generations and raises questions about how far one will go to protect their secrets, their power, their family, and their future. Sometimes by doing what we think is necessary to protect that which we hold dear, we may be doing more damage than we realize…

An interesting story, for sure. What I think is most interesting about this book is the way the story threads across the generations, focusing on each new daughter as it works its way forward. The mother-daughter dynamic plays out here in various ways, but it all comes back to some of the same themes of how power and secrets can impact a family dynamic. As much as we may think that life would be so much easier if we just possessed the power to do something just outside the range of what is humanly possible, the reality is that the more ability we have may also mean more complication–especially if we need to keep that ability a secret in order to survive.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Published by: Viking on October 20, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Thomas McNulty is a seventeen-year-old Irish immigrant in the 1850s who decides to enlist in the U.S. Army. It’s not a first-choice sort of decision, but it’s also not like he has a lot of options. His best friend, John Cole, joins up with him, and the two serve as a rock for each other as they are faced with the trials of army life and the viciousness and hardships they must endure. Their lives before the army and after the army are what some might see as unusual, but for Thomas and John, it is what it is. And neither of them would have it any other way.

This is a challenging one to get into as it is written in Thomas’s voice, which is rather affected. But once I found myself getting into the groove of the narration and the story, I found that I really enjoyed Sebastian Barry’s method of storytelling. The adventures of John and Thomas are interesting (though there are some bleak and some violent moments), and they help illustrate the ideas of love and family–the importance of those concepts and the ways in which they can triumph over even some of the most dire circumstances.

The Case of the Insufferable Slave by Gillian St. Kevern

The Case of the Insufferable Slave

The Case of the Insufferable Slave by Gillian St. Kevern

Published by: Goodreads M/M Romance Group on June 25, 2014
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

In an alternate universe where the United States remains split between the North and the South, Private Detective Harry Flint is finally setting out on his own thanks to his benefactor, a major crime boss whose life he saved. Flint already feels as though he has taken more than he is comfortable with when a young slave, Friday, arrives at his doorstep as a “gift”. Flint has no intention of keeping Friday, but he also knows that he needs to tread lightly–the key word in crime boss is crime, after all. And when a case falls in Flint’s lap that Friday might be connected to, he finds even more reason to keep him close. The layers of danger that lurk for both of them are deeper and more complex than either could have imagined…and are just enough to draw them together in unexpected ways as well.

I was not quite sure what to think when I started this story, but I found myself pleasantly surprised as I worked my way through it. It reads like a classic detective story, and the images it painted in my mind were like a good old sepia caper. The twists and turns will keep you guessing, and the dynamic that builds between Flint and Friday pulls readers on their journey–understanding both sides of their situation.

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Series: Flame in the Mist, Book 1
Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Mariko, the daughter of an influential samurai, finds she has few choices in life. Though she is intelligent, skilled, and driven, her place is to marry the son of the emperor and do her duty to her family. But when her convoy is attacked by the Black Clan on her way to the imperial city, Mariko escapes and finds herself alone. Using her cunning, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan in disguise, and she soon learns there is more to the story of this rogue gang that she had imagined. She also finds that the Black Clan values her knowledge and skills in a way her family never seemed to do. And as she grows closer to the Black Clan’s leader, she finds she may need to make a hard decision about whether her duty to her family is the most important thing for her to consider.

I was a little uncertain of what to expect when I started this book, having only scanned the blurb but hearing a lot of buzz about it beforehand. It is certainly an intriguing story, one where history, social class, and vengeance are big influencers on the lives and actions of the characters. There are a few surprises along the way, which keep the story interesting, and it does a good job of setting up the rest of the series. I will note that while I have seen some categorizations of this as a young adult book, I question that–or at least place some caveats–because of some graphic depictions of violence that may not be appropriate for younger readers.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher via the First to Read program.]

There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon

There Your Heart Lies

There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon

Published by: Pantheon Books on May 9, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Marian never really felt like she fit with the rest of her family, with the exception of her brother, Johnny, who she felt was truly a kindred spirit. And after his tragic death, she broke ties with them and headed to Europe to volunteer during the Spanish Civil War. Now in her nineties, Marian relays her experiences to her granddaughter, Amelia, telling a story that spans two continents and over seven decades. Having been tested by family, friends, strangers, and circumstances, Marian’s story challenges notions of what it means to be a woman, a sister, a daughter, a mother, and a moral person in the face of adversity.

If you enjoy historical fiction and character studies, then this is a book you would be likely to enjoy. Mary Gordon weaves a tale that keeps you turning the pages, watching and waiting to see what happens next in Marian’s journey. Her story is a reflection of an eventful life lived, one of a woman who did the best she could despite the circumstances in which she found herself.

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Cold Summer

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Published by: Sky Pony Press on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Kale Jackson has an exciting special ability, but it is one that he is beginning to think is not quite so exciting anymore. He travels through time. That might sound fascinating to many people, but Kale cannot control it. Though he can usually tell when he’s likely to travel shortly before he does, he can’t stop it or force it to happen. And with his recent travels taking him back to World War II, fighting on the front lines as a sharpshooter, the danger has taken much of the fun out of the whole experience. Of course there’s also the fact that he cannot explain to most people why he disappears for days at a time without any notice. They would never believe him–including his own father.

But one person who has always believed Kale is Harper, a childhood friend who used to live next door. And when Kale finds out she’s returned for the summer, he has the smallest glimmer of hope that quickly fades. In the years that have gone by Kale has changed. But so has Harper. Although she promised she would never ask Kale where he travels, she is more assertive and insistent that Kale not resign himself to being alone. The two quickly reforge a friendship that has the potential to become something more. That is, until Harper looks up Kale’s involvement in World War II online. What she finds has the potential to change everything.
This is a wonderfully written young adult science fiction story that doesn’t rely on all of the tropes that are so common these days in the genre. Yes, there’s angst and a budding relationship, but they don’t drive the story. Instead we see Kale, a young man who feels very much at the mercy of this thing he can’t control or explain, finding his way back to feeling like he has some agency over his life. And we see Harper, a young woman who has recently claimed her own agency, working to feel comfortable with her choices while trying to help Kale do the same. And everyone will have to love Uncle Jasper. Definitely recommended reading!

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.]

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

June

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Published by: Broadway Books on February 14, 2017 (originally published May 31, 2016)
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Cassie Danvers has isolated herself in her family’s estate, needing the time to herself to mourn the loss of her grandmother, June. And she really would like to be left alone. Which is why she’s none too happy to be disturbed by a man she’s never met before. And she has no idea what to think when he informs her that she’s been named as the sole heir to the fortune of Jack Montgomery, a famous movie star. Jack has two daughters who have their own interest in the inheritance, and they would like Cassie to submit to a DNA test to prove she has no claim to the money. But, again, Cassie just wants to be left alone.

Contrary to Cassie’s wishes, Jack’s daughters soon show up on Cassie’s doorstep, not willing to let their father’s fortune get away from them. And in between flashbacks to June’s childhood, they begin to understand what it means to be family, famous, and fortunate.

There are some interesting twists in this one that I will admit I did not see coming. It proved to be just enough to keep me interested and turning the pages to see what would happen next. The flashbacks to June’s story were helpful in understanding how things got to their current state, but they didn’t always have a strong connection to an overall thread in moving the plot forward. That said, it all builds to an unexpected ending.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via BloggingForBooks.]

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Published by: Bloomsbury on September 20, 2011
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Princes in exile generally know they cannot expect too many great things out of life. Which is where Patroclus found himself when he was sent to the court of King Peleus. What he did not expect was to become friends with the king’s son, Achilles, and forge a quick and defining bond. The two become fast friends and there is the lingering sense for Patroclus that their connection might mean something more. A sense that Achilles’s mother, the sea goddess Thetis, does not appreciate at all. And Thetis makes it her mission to keep the two of them apart–for her son’s own good, obviously.

But things change for everyone when Helen of Sparta is kidnapped. Princes from all around are asked to join in the fight–and Achilles cannot escape the call. Despite the danger, Patroclus must decide whether to go with Achilles into battle, knowing in his heart that they cannot live apart. And knowing that the battlefield might just be where everything about both of their lives is truly tested…

I’ll be honest that I was a bit sold on this book before I even opened it up. Mythology, fantasy, romance, etc. are all things I tend to enjoy. But when I opened it up and fell into the story that Madeline Miller crafted, I was surprised at the wonderful construction of this book. Telling epic tales is not easy. It can be even more challenging when it is a story with which many readers may already have some familiarity. But Miller’s narrative is fresh, engaging, and compelling. And this has quickly risen to near the top of my favorite mythology-based novels. If you haven’t read it and have even a passive interest in any of its genre tags, considering picking it up at your earliest convenience!