The Edge on the Sword

The Edge on the SwordThe Edge on the SwordThe Edge on the Sword by Rebecca Tingle by Rebecca Tingle

I think my favorite type of historical fiction is that based on a true individual or story, and then brought to life by filling in details lost to time. I still know it’s fiction, but it becomes so much easier to connect with the actual events and people. (Bonus points to authors who include a note at the end of their books explaining what was real, and what was invented. Major bonus points to authors who don’t contradict any known historical facts, and instead weave a tale that adds color and interest to what is known.)

Tingle is a historian, and in shows in the text – there are lots of detail included, but never so many that it feels like it bogs down the story. A disclaimer though that I love that sort of detail and want a lot of it, so if you’re not as into it as I am, you might disagree with me about how much she includes. 🙂

A heads-up for homeschooling parents looking for historical fiction set in ninth-century Britain: you might want to consider this title. There are seemingly endless options covering the Tudor era, but options for this time period are much sparser, and that’s a shame.

Don’t think this one is only worth reading because there are no other options however – I really enjoyed it! So much so that I went looking to see what else was out there dealing with this time period, which is when I realized just how rare the books are.

It was fascinating learning about Aethelflaed, and the book inspired me to want to know more about her and her time period. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel!

Publisher’s Description:
In ninth-century Britain, fifteen-year-old Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred of West Saxony, finds she must assume new responsibilities much sooner than expected when she is betrothed to Ethelred of Mercia in order to strengthen a strategic alliance against the Danes.

Book Details

Title: The Edge on the SwordThe Edge on the Sword by Rebecca Tingle
Author: Rebecca Tingle
Category: Juvenile Fiction / Historical
My Rating: 4 Stars

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The Last Full Measure by Ann Rinaldi

The Last Full MeasureThe Last Full MeasureThe Last Full Measure by Ann Rinaldi by Ann Rinaldi

Rinaldi has written some fantastic historical fiction for children/young adults, so my expectations are high when I read a new book by her. While she once again developed a compelling story with an appealing main character, this book doesn’t live up to her best works.

If you’ve got a voracious reader looking for more books about the Civil War (especially related to to the Battle of Gettysburg), this isn’t a bad choice. It might be more emotionally wrenching than the most sensitive readers would want, but it’s an ok book, so my criticisms relate more to how much I expect from Rinaldi, and how good the best juvenile historical fiction can be.

One of my favorite aspects of Rinaldi’s work typically is how she is able to highlight a mostly-unknown aspect of history, and weave it into a complete story. This time, her overall goal seemed more amorphous – she just wanted to write a story set in Gettysburg? She had research to use? I’m not sure. One of her biggest “this really happened” aspects is fairly well known, and it somewhat bugged me how she used the real character in her fictional story.

Do not read the full publisher’s description included on Goodreads or any online retailer if you don’t want to be spoiled for some events that take place towards the end of the book. I included the first paragraph, but omitted the second that includes a ridiculously bad spoiler. [Read more…]

The Secret Keeper

The Secret KeeperThe Secret Keeper: A NovelThe Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton by Kate Morton

If you’ve read Morton’s books before, you’ll find this fits her pattern. The narrative alternates between contemporary and historical events. There’s a bit of a mystery, and maybe a bit of romance in at least one of the time periods. The main character is appealing, and the descriptions are detailed and even magical at times.

If that sounds like a complaint, it’s not. I’ve enjoyed all of Morton’s books, and don’t mind that she has found a formula that works for her and sticks with it. She can weave a captivating tale and I like trying to guess how all of the pieces fit together.

While it took me ages to finish this book, that’s not because I didn’t enjoy it – I did! It just wasn’t fitting in with the reading mood I was in, and I wouldn’t have picked it when I did except for it being March’s book club pick. It does make a wonderful book club choice – plenty to discuss in a compelling narrative.

Morton’s writing has improved over each of the books I’ve read by her – the pacing is better, and although I still think the overall word count is a bit padded, it’s smooth and easy to read.

Publisher’s Description:
The new novel from the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Distant Hours is a spellbinding mix of mystery, thievery, murder, and enduring love.

During a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the road and sees her mother speak to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions she has not thought about for decades. From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, discover the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined.

The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths people go to fulfill them, and the consequences they can have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers, and schemers told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

Book Details

Title: The Secret Keeper: A NovelThe Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton
Author: Kate Morton
Category: Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

If you’re interested in Morton, I’ve also reviewed her books The Distant Hours and The Forgotten Garden

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Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After

Hattie Big SkyHattie Ever After

Hattie Big SkyHattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson and Hattie Ever AfterHattie Ever After by Kirby Larson by Kirby Larson

There are lots of historical fiction books for children that discuss homesteading. There are books that are set during World War I. But there aren’t many that discuss homesteading during that era – most of the ones I’m familiar with are set in the 1800’s, not the late 1910’s.

That’s just one of the reasons I liked Hattie Big Sky so much – the unexpected twist on what could have been a familiar story line. Another big reason is how appealing Hattie is as a main character. I love a protagonist I can root for whole-heartedly, and Hattie definitely is one. The fact that her story is based on an ancestor of Larson makes it all that much more enjoyable.

Hattie Ever After picks up right after Hattie Big Sky ends, and so I’ve avoided providing a publisher’s description or many other details it, because it’d be hard to avoid spoilers for book 1. And that would be a shame. 🙂 Something to keep in mind if you go looking for information on book 2 if you haven’t read book 1.

I didn’t like Hattie Ever After quite as much, but some of that is simply that I loved Hattie Big Sky so much. Recommended with cautions however – there is an element in the first book that may be too much for tender-hearted readers, so be aware of that before you hand the book over to a younger reader.

Publisher’s Description of Hattie Big Sky:
Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle’s homesteading claim.

For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends–especially Charlie, fighting in France–through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a “Loyal” American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie’s determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

Book Details

Title: Hattie Big SkyHattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson and Hattie Ever AfterHattie Ever After by Kirby Larson
Author: Kirby Larson
Category: Juvenile Fiction / Historical
My Rating: 5 Stars and 3.5 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Jenny of the Tetons

Jenny of the TetonsJenny of the TetonsJenny of the Tetons (Great Episodes) by Kristiana Gregory by Kristiana Gregory

A solid historical fiction choice for children – there are some beautiful descriptive passages, but enough action to keep the book moving. As an adult reading it, I wanted a little more depth in the story and would have like it to be a bit longer – it’s very short – so I wouldn’t consider it a must-read for older readers.

My favorite aspects of it is how Jenny and many of the elements in the book are based on a true story. While the protagonist, Carrie, is invented for the book, the outline of her story is realistic and works well to showcase Jenny’s story.

Another favorite element was how each chapter opens up with excerpts from her husband’s journal (misspellings and all). If you’re familiar with the Teton area of Wyoming, Jenny Lake is named after her, and Leigh lake for her husband. I loved how Gregory took details from Leigh’s journal and integrated those aspects into her fictional account.

I would caution parents considering it as a book for their children that there are some very sad elements in it, so it might not be a good choice for sensitive readers. There is also a fairly subtle reference to sex that might be a concern depending on the age or maturity of the reader. [Read more…]

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate

A Murder at Rosamund's GateA Murder at Rosamund’s GateA Murder at Rosamund's Gate (Lucy Campion Mysteries) by Susanna Calkins by Susanna Calkins

As is probably obvious to anyone who has read this blog for long, I love historical mysteries. And if I can find ones that take place in less-familiar time periods it’s that much more enjoyable. Calkins delivers with her 17th-century setting, which gets to include such fun topics as the plague, London fire, and those awful Quakers (the opinion of the time, not my own). Historical details are interwoven nicely, especially relating to issues with the Quakers and legal defenses.

Lucy is an appealing main character, and another benefit to the time period selected is that some of the situations involving her would have been completely unrealistic at other times, but due to the social upheaval brought about in large part by the plague, were possible then.

The second book in the series is expected to be published later this year, and I’m looking forward to reading it. There are two additional books listed as being expected in 2015 and 2016, so hopefully that will give me lots more fun reading to look forward to.

Publisher’s Description:
For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone close to Lucy falls under suspicion. Lucy can’t believe it, but in a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn’t kill the suspect first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never find out what really happened. Unless, that is, she can uncover the truth herself.

Determined to do just that, Lucy finds herself venturing out of her expected station and into raucous printers’ shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and even the bowels of Newgate prison on a trail that might lead her straight into the arms of the killer.

In her debut novel A Murder at Rosamund’s GateA Murder at Rosamund's Gate (Lucy Campion Mysteries) by Susanna Calkins, Susanna Calkins seamlessly blends historical detail, romance, and mystery in a moving and highly entertaining tale.

Book Details

Title: A Murder at Rosamund’s GateA Murder at Rosamund's Gate (Lucy Campion Mysteries) by Susanna Calkins
Author: Susanna Calkins
Category: Fiction / Historical Mystery
My Rating: 3.5

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Read This, Not That: Mysteries with a Madam

A Mortal Bane by Roberta Gellis; book 1 in the Magdalene la Bâtarde seriesIndia Black (A Madam of Espionage Mystery) by Carol K. Carr

Last month I read and was disappointed by India BlackIndia Black (A Madam of Espionage Mystery) by Carol K. Carr, the first book in the “Madame of Espionage” series by Carol K. Carr. If you’ve read the plot summary and thought it sounded interesting, do yourself a favor and instead read Roberta Gellis’ Magdalene la Bâtarde series, which begins with the book A Mortal BaneA Mortal Bane by Roberta Gellis; book 1 in the Magdalene la Bâtarde series. While the time period is different (12th century vs. the 1870’s), they both take place in London and feature a retired prostitute-turned-madam as the main character.

Carr’s book suffers from poor characterizations, a ridiculous plot, and the supposed chemistry between the main character India and the mysterious gentleman French is nonexistent. What’s not nonexistent is endless gushing over how beautiful India is still, and how devastated all the men who meet her are that she’s now retired and unavailable to them. Especially since her skills in that area are as amazing as her beauty. Yeah, I’m not making this up.

Magdalene, Gellis’ main character, is also a stunning beauty, but that fact isn’t brought up time and time and time again. The interactions between her and Sir Bellamy are believable and have the chemistry that the India Black series promised. And the plot line didn’t have me rolling my eyes. Magdalene’s involvement in solving the murder felt plausible – if she didn’t figure out who killed her client, she and her girls were likely to be executed as the killers. India’s involvement from the beginning was a stretch, and by the middle of the book it was absurd. She … wanted to prove to those nasty politicians that she was more than a pretty face? Make them finally appreciate her? It never made sense.

While I would have happily read the entire India Black series despite the similarities to the Magdalene series (which I’ve finished), the book was ultimately frustrating enough that I can’t justify spending the reading time on any more of it. Unless someone whose reading tastes I trust tells me that the later books are much stronger, I’ll pass on any more of India’s story.

And if you need still another reason to try Gellis’ series? Those books are out of print, but the first two are available on Kindle for only $3.99 a title. Not bad, especially compared to the Carr books which range from $7.99 – $10.99 each for Kindle copies.

Let me know if you like the idea of a regular/semi-regular “Read This Not That” feature (or maybe even a link-up if lots of you have your own strong opinions on whether someone should read one book versus another on a related theme or topic.)

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns

A Simple MurderA Simple Murder: A MysteryA Simple Murder: A Mystery by Eleanor Kuhns by Eleanor Kuhns

A slower-paced historical mystery, and one I’d only recommend to strong fans of the genre. The plotting is one of the better elements in the story – it’s involved and while some aspects seemed obvious, I didn’t unravel the entire plot until the very end. Disappointingly, one of the supposedly biggest reveals was also one of the most obvious ones the me, but the fact that some subplots weren’t as easily solved eased the disappointment.

The historical setting is the other standout feature in the book. The timeframe and main character’s occupation aren’t ones that have been done a million times, and the inclusion of the then much-reviled Shaker sect was appealing. I especially appreciated that the author avoided lots of information dumps to reveal her research, and instead found that it was generally well-integrated into the story at an appropriate level. What I missed was an author’s note at the end where she could have included more of the historical details that didn’t fit in the narrative. Readers who aren’t as familiar with that time period in history might especially miss that information.

Characterization is a weakness, and hopefully will improve as Kuhns continues writing. The interactions between Rees and some of the others seemed off, and the supposed romance that blossoms towards the end of the story felt forced and trite.

Despite my complaints, I did still enjoy it overall, and will happily read the next in the series.

Publisher’s Description:
Five years ago, while William Rees was still recovering from his stint as a Revolutionary War soldier, his beloved wife died. Devastated, Will Rees left his son, David, in his sister’s care, fled his Maine farm, and struck out for a tough but emotionally empty life as a traveling weaver. Now, upon returning unexpectedly to his farm, Rees discovers that David has been treated like a serf for years and finally ran away to join a secluded religious sect—the Shakers.

Overwhelmed by guilt and hoping to reconcile with his son, Rees immediately follows David to the Shaker community. But when a young Shaker woman is brutally murdered shortly after Rees’s arrival, Rees finds himself launched into a complicated investigation where the bodies keep multiplying, a tangled web of family connections casts suspicion on everyone, and the beautiful woman on the edge of the Shaker community might be hiding troubling ties to the victims. It quickly becomes clear that in solving Sister Chastity’s murder, Rees may well expose some of the Shaker community’s darkest secrets, not to mention endanger his own life.

An atmospheric portrait of a compelling time in American history, A Simple Murder is an outstanding debut from Eleanor Kuhns, Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America’s 2011 First Crime Novel Competition Winner.

Book Details

Title: A Simple Murder: A MysteryA Simple Murder: A Mystery by Eleanor Kuhns
Author: Eleanor Kuhns
Category: Fiction / Historical Mystery
My Rating: 3 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

A Duty to the DeadA Duty to the DeadA Duty to the Dead (Bess Crawford Mysteries) by Charles Todd by Charles Todd

A little bit slow at times, but this is a promising start to a new series by an author I love (if you haven’t tried their Ian Rutledge series, it’s fantastic).

For readers who may find historical mysteries to be too slow and dull, this one won’t change your mind. It gets bogged down quite a bit in the middle, and would have been improved with some tighter editing and plotting. The mystery itself also seems quite obvious, and the only real questions to me were how it would all be resolved.

These complaints aren’t enough to keep me from looking forward to more Crawford stories – I really liked her as a character, and trust Todd enough as an author to think that future stories will be stronger.

If you’re a fan of the Maisie Dobbs series, this is one you may want to try.

Publisher’s Description:
The daughter of a distinguished soldier‚ Bess Crawford follows in his footsteps and signs up to go overseas as a nurse during the Great War‚ helping to deal with the many wounded. There‚ serving on a hospital ship‚ she makes a promise to a dying young lieutenant to take a message to his brother‚ Jonathan Graham: “Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother′s sake. But it has to be set right.” Later‚ when her ship is sunk by a mine and she′s sidelined by a broken arm‚ Bess returns home to England‚ determined to fulfill her promise.

It′s not so easy‚ however. She travels to the village in Kent where the Grahams live and passes on to Jonathan his brother′s plea. Oddly‚ neither Jonathan‚ his mother‚ nor his younger brother admit to knowing what the message means. Then Bess learns that there′s another brother‚ incarcerated in a lunatic asylum since the age of 14 when he was accused of brutally murdering a housemaid.

Bess rightly guesses that the dying soldier′s last words had something to do with the fourth brother. Because the family seems unwilling to do anything‚ she decides that she will investigate. It′s her own duty to the dead.

Book Details

Title: A Duty to the DeadA Duty to the Dead (Bess Crawford Mysteries) by Charles Todd
Author: Charles Todd
Category: Fiction / Historical Mystery
My Rating: 3 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Witch Child

Witch ChildWitch ChildWitch Child by Celia Rees by Celia Rees

The driving force behind me reading this book was the publisher. I’m not kidding – Candlewick is one I trust to produce interesting books, so a historical fiction book produced by them? I couldn’t resist, and overcame my aversion to the cover.

I loved the framing of the story – the journal entries that were supposedly discovered centuries later and are studied as historical treasures. I loved the is-she-or-isn’t-she aspect of Mary as a new way of addressing Puritans and witch trials in Colonial America (and England too).

The writing is engaging, and the story is compelling. While I was expecting the overall plot line that unfolded, there were several subplots that occurred that included aspects that I hadn’t anticipated, so that was enjoyable to discover where the author was taking all the threads in the story.

The ending is abrupt, and had me frustrated that I didn’t have the sequel, SorceressSorceress by Celia Rees, the sequel to Witch Child, on hand and ready to read. I’m impatiently waiting for my copy from the library to discover what it reveals about the story. My only hesitation for recommending it is for those who don’t want to read about witches or witchcraft in any form. Otherwise, it’s a compelling read with strong writing and some well-developed characters.

Publisher’s Description:
When Mary sees her grandmother accused of witchcraft and hanged for the crime, she is silently hurried to safety by an unknown woman. The woman gives her tools to keep the record of her days – paper and ink. Mary is taken to a boat in Plymouth and from there sails to the New World where she hopes to make a new life among the pilgrims. But old superstitions die hard and soon Mary finds that she, like her grandmother, is the victim of ignorance and stupidity, and once more she faces important choices to ensure her survival. With a vividly evoked environment and characters skilfully and patiently drawn, this is a powerful literary achievement by Celia Rees that is utterly engrossing from start to finish.

[Read more…]