Tag: history

Book Review: Firebrand, by Sarah MacTavish


Way back in…March, I think…I went to a local author event, mainly because Rachel Caine was going to be there, and I love her writing. I’d heard her speak before, and was pleased to have another opportunity. There was another author there, Sarah MacTavish, and I really enjoyed her talk as well. So, I ended up buying her debut novel, Firebrand. And it’s been sitting in that particular TBR pile until last week. Yes, I stockpile books…and then don’t have a chance to read them for months. I have a problem, okay?

When I did pick it up, I finished reading it in less than 24 hours. It was that good. It’s set right before the Civil War, and its about two young abolitionists and the struggles they face. I like historical fiction, but I thought this YA historical was extremely well-written, and I found myself rooting for the characters. (Also, I’m from Texas, not too far from where part of the book is set, and I had no idea about some of the things in the novel.) This book deals with difficult events and topics, but it’s history:  if we don’t learn from it, we’re doomed to repeat it.

Saoirse Callahan and her family are struggling to survive on their small Texas farm that’s a far cry from their home in Ireland. Tempers are short, and after the death of one of her brothers, the whole family seems on the verge of collapsing. Then a series of fires sweep the region, and rumors of a slave uprising spread, leaving vigilante justice in their wake. Saoirse is desperate to find out what really happened, but her questions land her family in even deeper trouble.

Westleigh Kavanagh is safely an abolitionist in Pennsylvania, until he realizes his father’s new boarder is a runaway slave. Westleigh is determined to keep the man’s secret, even from his father, who, as sheriff, is bound to uphold the law, no matter what his personal beliefs are. Then Westleigh finds an old journal, and uncovers secrets his father has long kept hidden from him, secrets that lead him to the Callahans in  Texas.


Book Review: The Indigo Girl, by Natasha Boyd

the indigo girl
Image belongs to Blackstone Publishing.


In 1739, Eliza Lucas is sixteen years old when her father leaves her in charge of the family’s three South Carolina estates so he can go chase his dreams of a military career. With the estates floundering on the edge of ruin, Eliza decides that producing indigo is the family’s only hope.

But not even her family wants her to succeed, and no one will share the thousand-year-old secret to making indigo dye, so Eliza must form a forbidden friendship with a slave who promises to teach her—if she breaks the law and teaches the slaves to read. Eliza is on her own as she fights against tradition and the law, except for the friendship of an aging horticulturalist and the married lawyer who is a friend of the family.

Somehow, I did not realize The Indigo Girl was historical fiction until I finished reading it. Though the issues of slavery and women’s rights in the book bothered me, that stuff happened, and erasing history means we won’t learn from it. Eliza was a wonderful character—and the fact that the character is at least partially based on a real-life woman who fought tradition and oppression is even better—strong, determined, and with the courage to stand up for what she believes in and fight even her family to do what’s right. This is a great read!

Natasha Boyd was born in Denmark, lived all over the world, and now lives in the United States. The Indigo Girl is her newest book.

(Galley provided by Blackstone Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Sixth Victim, by Tessa Harris

the sixth victim
Image belongs to Kensington Books.

Tessa Harris is a journalist who writes crime fiction set in the past. Her newest novel is The Sixth Victim.

Jack the Ripper stalks the street of the Whitechapel district of London, leaving women afraid to be on the streets at night. Constance Piper fears the Ripper, but she has other worries as well, like the odd things that have been happening to her, making her question all she’s ever known. If only her mentor, Emily Tindall, was around to give her advice.

But Emily is gone, returned to Oxford, they say, so Constance is on her own to deal with the sudden influx of clairvoyants, all offering to talk to the murdered girls. The gossip is about the latest horrifying remains found, and a lady tracks Constance down and asks for her help, afraid the latest victim is her missing sister. Constance agrees, and soon finds herself on the receiving end of help that makes her question everything she ever thought she knew about the world around her.

The Sixth Victim is a well-researched look into the famous serial killer of the 1800s. It depicts the squalor of Whitechapel, through the eyes of a character who wants more than the life she’s living, and who finds out that what she thought of the world isn’t quite true. At turns creepy and gruesome, the novel explores one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in history.

(Galley provided by Kensington Books.)

Book Review: A Twist in Time, by Julie McElwain


a twist in time
A Twist in Time,
by Julie McElwain. Image belongs to Pegasus Books.

Julie McElwain’s newest novel is A Twist in Time, part of the Kendra Donovan Mysteries series.

Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s efforts to return to the 21st century fail, leaving her stranded in 1815. Her protector, the Duke of Aldridge, believes it’s because she must help save his nephew, Alec, who’s been accused of brutally murdering his mistress.

The trail of the bizarre murder—Lady Dover was found stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved—leads straight to the Ton, London’s elite class, where things are never as they seem. As Kendra uncovers Lady Dover’s relationships with various men, sordid details about her past also emerge, leading a crime boss to threaten Alec. Now Kendra must learn the truth about the murder—before Alec is found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit.

A Twist in Time was an entertaining, fun read. I have not read the first book in the series, but I would, gladly. Kendra is a great character—tough, smart, and independent—stuck in a society where women are treated like property incapable of intelligent thought. I cannot imagine her frustration with the culture and with society, but the similarities she finds to modern times are disturbing, showing that our culture is not necessarily the better of the two.

(Galley provided by Pegasus Books via NetGalley.)

The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff

the orphan's tale
Image belongs to harlequin/Mira.

Pam Jenoff is a lawyer and former government employee who now teaches law school. She is an award-winning author, and her newest novel is The Orphan’s Tale.

Noa’s family kicked her out when she became pregnant by a Nazi soldier. She was forced to give up her baby, and took a job cleaning a rail station. When a boxcar full of Jewish infants headed for a concentration camp stops at the station, Noa finds herself stealing one of the babies and escaping into the snowy night.

A German circus takes Noa in, and she’s forced to learn the trapeze to earn her keep and so she can blend in. Her presence puts the entire circus at risk, and she butts heads with the lead aerialist, Astrid, who must train her. Soon, she and Astrid forge a strong bond, as the threat to the circus looms larger, and the two women must overcome the secrets between them if they—and the rest of the circus—are to survive.

I was supposed to read this last month, and somehow skipped over it. I’m so glad I figured that out and read this! It’s a dark book, set in one of the bleakest periods of human history. World War II-era Germany was a terrifying place to be Jewish, and this danger snakes through every page of this book. The tragedies faced by both Noa and Astrid are harrowing, at best, and the way they fight to overcome them and reach for a brighter future is both inspiring and sad. This is a great read, but not for someone looking for a book that’s light or happy—despite being set in a circus.

(Galley provided by Harlequin/Mira.)

Portal of a Thousand Worlds, by Dave Duncan

Image belongs to Open Road Integrated Media.

Dave Duncan started out life in Scotland, but moved to Canada as an adult. In addition to working as a petroleum engineer, he has published over fifty books. His newest novel is Portal of a Thousand Worlds.

In an Imperial China in an alternate nineteenth century, murder, shapeshifting, and dark magic are all commonplace things. But the Portal of a Thousand Worlds is about to open for the first time in a thousand years, bringing chaos, rebellion, and natural disaster with it.

Now the Firstborn—reincarnated through countless generations—is the only one who knows the future, and he’s imprisoned at the command of the dowager empress, who is hiding secret so large it would rock the entire nation to its core. Add in a rebel army led by a zealot, and several shapeshifting monks, and the stage is set.

Portal of a Thousand Worlds is not a fast-paced adventure story, yet it is filled with adventure, intrigue, and magic. Rich in historical and cultural detail, the setting takes center stage, and the characters are vivid and full of life. I recommend this to any fans of historical novels, and richly-detailed fantasies.

(Galley provided by Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley.)

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

Image belongs to Del Rey.

Katherine Arden is from Texas, but has spent time in Russia and Vermont, so she now chooses Hawaii as her home. Her background picking macadamia nuts makes novel-writing look good. The Bear and the Nightingale is her first novel.

In the almost-everlasting Russian winter, when snow grows deep enough to cover houses, the only thing to do is stay inside and huddle together for warmth, telling tales to pass the time. Vasilisa loves this time with her siblings, listening to the fairy tales told by their nurse, especially tales of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon who appears in the night to claim unwary souls. Even the household spirits fear him, so wise men do likewise.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies and her father brings home a devout new wife from the city, the family is forbidden from honoring the household spirits. This frightens Vasilisa, who senses this is far more important than anyone knows. When the crops fail and forest evil takes its toll on the village, Vasilisa’s stepmother becomes even more determined to either force her into a convent, or a marriage. But with danger drawing ever nearer, Vasilisa must call upon powers she has long denied, if she is to protect her family from a nightmare straight from the words of her nurse’s most frightening tale.

The Bear and the Nightingale is not what I expected. It’s layered and complex—and cold!—with Russian culture infusing every page. Vasilisa is an unusual character; she’s so strong and determined, yet with a touch of sweetness to her fierceness. The fairy tales in this novel are not the Disney version most of us think of, but dark and forbidding like the original tales are. I really enjoyed this novel, especially because of its unique setting and voice.

(Galley provided by Del Rey via NetGalley.)

House of Silence, by Sarah Barthel

Image belongs to Kensington Books.

Sarah Barthel writes historical fiction novels but appreciates cell phones and chocolate. House of Silence is her new novel.

In Illinois in 1875, Isabelle Larkin has it all:  a best friend to confide in, a mother who supports her, and a handsome fiancé on his way to the top. Isabelle has made the match of her dreams to secure the future she has only imagined. Then she witnesses her fiancé Gregory commit a horrible crime, and no one—not even her mother—believes her.

Gregory denies everything, and now Isabelle fears for her own life at the hands of the charming, popular politician. Her mother, more worried about scandal than Isabelle’s claims, forbids her to end the engagement. With nowhere left to turn, Isabelle hatches a plan:  fake a mental breakdown and muteness to land herself in Bellevue sanitarium. There, Isabelle forges an unlikely friendship with Mary Todd Lincoln and determines that she cannot remain mute forever. But Gregory will stop at nothing to keep her silent, and Isabelle needs the help of new friends if she’s ever to uncover the truth and regain her life.

House of Silence intrigued me with its setting of a sanitarium and the promise of Mary Todd Lincoln as a secondary character. But Isabelle is a fascinating character in her own right:  strong, determined, stubborn, and blessed with a creative idea to escape from danger. I loved how she grew in this novel, and how she fought for everything she believed in. The family interactions were both infuriating and believable…and made me grateful for the family I have. This is a great, fast-paced read with vibrant characters!

(Galley provided by Kensington Books.)

The Saint Louisans, by Steven Clark

I do not own this image. Image belongs to Amphorae Publishing Group.

Steven Clark is the author of The Saint Louisans, which came out in August.

Saint Louis is home to Lee Bridger, hospice nurse and longtime observer of upper-class society and everything else in the city she calls home. When Margot Desouche, the matriarch of one of the city’s founding families, is diagnosed with cancer, she requests Lee, and Lee finds herself dawn to the regal woman.

But things aren’t so easy in Saint Louis. Lee has her boyfriend—an activist trying to save the city’s history—and her daughter—a con artist who Lee has never understood; and Margot has her two children—vindictive, spiteful, and determined to thwart their mother’s plans. Throw in a battle over one of the city’s oldest traditions and a mysterious missing goddess, and Lee’s wish for peace is but a distant dream.

At first, I wasn’t sure about this book. But soon enough, I was drawn into the complicated lives of these two families, with dark secrets, current mysteries, and hard-headed individuals with no desire to see anyone else’s point of view. Lee is a fantastic character, open about the mistakes in her past and wanting to make the world a better place. Margot is kind yet reserved, and fighting a battle no one knows about. I ended up really loving this complex, emotional book!

(Galley provided by Amphorae Publishing Group via NetGalley.)

The Tea Planter’s Wife, by Dinah Jeffries

I do not own this image. Image belongs to Crown Publishing.

Dinah Jeffries was born in Malaysia but moved to England at age nine. Her newest novel is The Tea Planter’s Wife.

Gwen arrives in Ceylon full of anticipation and fear:  newly married after a whirlwind courtship, now she joins her husband, Laurence, on his tea plantation. Ceylon is so much more than Gwen ever imagined:  a lush, other-worldly paradise filled with racial conflict and secrets. Lots of secrets.

Like the hidden grave she finds near the house. And the trunk of old baby clothes. Laurence won’t talk about these secrets, and soon Gwen is wrapped up in her pregnancy and a secret of her own. These secrets put up a wall between Gwen and Laurence, one that leads to more secrets, lies and manipulation, and a tragedy of the worst sort.

Some books leave you speechless and emotionally reeling. This was one of those books. Ceylon is so vivid and brimming with life I could almost smell the flowers and the tea. Gwen and Laurence are flawed and frightened, but love each other so much and so deeply as their relationship grows. Their secrets haunt them both through every page of the book. This book is a phenomenal, emotional rollercoaster!

(Galley provided by Crown Publishing.)