Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “historical fiction”

Miss Kate’s CBR4 Review #13: Last of the Amazons by Steven Pressfield

Image

I really like Steven Pressfield as a writer. My favorite book of his is Gates of Fire, about the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. He is able to bring Ancient Greece to life in a way that other authors can’t.

In the Bronze Age (and before Homer), Theseus, the king of Athens, travels on a quest where he encounters the Amazons nation. They call themselves tal Kyrte (the Free People), and live by a strict code of honor. These warrior women are bound to each other in war and marriage. They welcome the Greeks, but when their Queen Antiope falls in love with Theseus, things get sticky. The queen’s defection is seen as a betrayal. Antiope’s tal Kyrte lover Eleuthera leads the Amazon invasion of Greece, with the destruction of Athens as their ultimate goal.

The book is told from 3 points of view: Mother Bones, an Athenian girl raised on Amazon stories, Damon, her uncle, and Selene, an Amazon warrior (and close companion to Eleuthera).

The story is involving. I confess I was unfamiliar with the details of Theseus and Antiope’s story, so I wasn’t sure what would happen next. Pressfield’s descriptions of life on the steppes were, for me, the highlight of the book. We gets sense of the desperation in a culture that’s on the verge of extinction and knows it.

The battle scenes were a bit too detailed for me, though. I found those portions a bit of a slog – not because of the subject, just that who was marching in front of who and where the Amazons dug their latrines just seemed to take up a lot of space. Space that could be filled with more action! But that’s just me. I also felt the ending to be a bit rushed. Pressfield doesn’t seem to have much use for his characters once the main storyline is done. Things are wrapped up pretty quickly. All in all, though, these are minor quibbles. I enjoyed this book.

 http://misskatesays.com/2013/01/05/cbr4-review-13-last-of-the-amazons-by-steven-pressfield/

Jen K’s #CBRIV Review #44: The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Inspired by a true events though much of the novel is conjecture. The Civil War from the perspective of a black woman working as a spy in Richmond. Worth the read, especially for someone who enjoys historical fiction.

Miss Kate’s CBR4 Review #11: The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

Image

I am a big fan of the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series. Well, slightly obsessed, actually. They have everything: history, romance, swordplay! Well written characters, unpredictable outcomes. And who wouldn’t want to go back in time, meet a handsome chivalrous stranger, and have sexytimes/adventures? Unfortunately, Gabaldon’s books are LONG. They take years for her to write, and while there is a big payoff, this also means big gaps between the books.  (See also: Martin, G.R.R.) So when someone suggested I read Susanna Kearsley in order to fill my Outlander-less days (and get my time travel fix), I figured I’d give her a try.

The Rose Garden is the story of Eva Ward, a successful Hollywood publicist. Devastated by the death of her sister, she travels back to the place where they had spent their childhood summers – the rocky, mist shrouded coast of Cornwall. There, Eva reacquaints herself with the area and renews old friendships. She stays at the rundown mansion of family friends. Here we meet a familiar cast of characters: the bickering brother and sister duo, the wise free-spirited stepmother, the artsy shopkeeper, the former playmate (who’s grown up into a hunk).The estate has fallen on hard times, and Eva agrees to help out.

While she heals her heart and starts to reassess her life, strange things happen. One day, while out walking, Eva finds herself transported back to the early 18th Century. Just as abruptly, she’s transported back. This begins to happen more frequently and without warning. The time she is sent to is dangerous, especially for a woman alone. The Jacobites are gathering for their first (failed) rebellion. Fortunately Eva meets a handsome, chivalrous stranger (of course!), and he becomes her protector. As she finds herself pulled back and forth, romance and adventure ensue. Will she choose to stay in the 18th Century, or go back to her Hollywood life? Can you guess? C’mon, guess.

The book is filled with detail: the lush countryside, the Gothic mansion. The characters, while stereotypical, are likeable enough.One thing that I found very strange was the lack of description of the main character. What does she look like? We’re never told, and it’s kind of frustrating, especially when you consider that she’s flouncing back and forth 300 years. You’d think her appearance would inspire some kind of comment, other than “Woman, your hair is not dressed!” It must have been a conscious choice by the author, but it’s a curious one.

The Rose Garden is a romance with a little adventure, tied up neatly at the end. It’s more romance than adventure, while I enjoy my historical fiction with a side of romance/sex, not as the main focus. But that’s just me. (Gabaldon fans may argue with me that her books are romance, there’s still a LOT of swashbuckling going on there, as well as a wealth of historical detail.) I did enjoy this book, even though I thought it slight and very predictable. I found myself trying to figure out how it would end, and was mostly right.

This is a cozy read, if not one that will stick with me.

http://misskatesays.com/2013/01/02/cbr4-review-11-the-rose-garden-by-susanna-kearsley/

Miss Kate’s CBR4 Review #10: The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow

Image

Jennet Stearne is the daughter of the Witchfinder General. Her story begins in 1680s England. When Jennet’s educated Aunt Isobel is tried and executed for witchcraft, the young girl makes it her life’s mission to take down the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. She seeks to use science to prove that witches could not possibly exist, therefore making the law unnecessary.

What follows is a 40-odd year quest. Along the way, we meet the villagers of Salem, Algonquin warriors, Sir Isaac Newton, and most memorably, a young Ben Franklin.

I expected this book to be much more somber than it was. I also did not expect it to be funny, which it was in some places. Morrow takes quite a few liberties with history (something that usually bothers me), but the ride is so much fun it didn’t matter. I think “rollicking” is really the only way to describe it. The Last Witchfinder is pretty long – over 500 pages – but very, very fun.

http://misskatesays.com/2012/12/31/cbr4-review-10-the-last-witchfinder-by-james-morrow/

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #24 – Royal Renegade by Alicia Rasley

This book is subtitled:  “a Traditional Regency Romance Novel.”  Not my usual fare, but the description of the book on Amazon sold me.  Full disclosure, I got this for free for my Kindle, like quite a few others (seriously, there are a ton of free books for Kindle, you should check it out). It’s for sure a romance novel, but no bodices are ripped, and I’m pretty sure Fabio had nothing to do with the book cover.

Our heroine, Tatiana, is a Russian princess.  I have learned (through this book, and my attempts at reading Anna Karenina, among others) that Russia was lousy with royalty back before the revolution. Tatiana is the daughter of one of the conspirators who took out the most recent Tsar, who was then executed by the current Tsar (even though that’s who he helped).  Tatiana is extraneous, and is basically sold to the Duke of Cumberland, who may be a murderer, among other things (he’s apparently also ugly, and a bit scary in the boudoir).  Our hero, Viscount Devlyn, is a soldier in Wellington’s army, and is suffering from a form of PTSD.  He’s sent home to England to rest, and is then sent to fetch Tatiana safely to England.

They (of course) meet cute, they (of course) don’t like each other at first, and they (of course) have more in common than they realize.  They also (of course) fall in love, and (of course) encounter a number of difficulties along the way.

The book isn’t great, but it’s entertaining in its own way, especially if you are a romance fan. It’s generally not my bag, but for Regency period pieces, I’ll make the occasional exception.  There’s a sequel that involves John Dryden, Poetic Justice, but I’m not certain I’ll check it out.

Jen K’s #CBR IV Review #35: Someone Knows My Name

An incredible book that I waited way too long to review. I especially enjoyed it since I had read Bury the Chains around the same time, so it was nice to see all the things I had just learned about in a non fiction book referenced in a novel.

Miss Kate’s reviews: 6,7,8: The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning

Miss Kate’s reviews: 6,7,8

Miss Kate’s CBR4 reviews 6, 7, 8: The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning

The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke is a trilogy of books set in and around the Cape Cod village of Satucket in the years leading up to the American Revolution. While not a strictly linear story, (they all pretty much stand alone), they definitely belong together, and tell a larger tale.

The first book, The Widow’s War, centers around Lyddie Berry. When her husband of 20 years drowns in a whaling accident, she finds her life altered in ways she hadn’t expected. In the midst of her grief, she is forced to watch as her husband’s property (which includes her home), is turned over to her greedy and obnoxious son-in-law. This is in accordance with the laws of the times – a woman has no property and no social standing without a husband. As her grief turns into rage, she resolves to become independent and get her home back. The legal and personal battle that follows takes it’s toll on her in surprising ways.

Bound is the story of Alice Cole, a young bond slave. The book follows her from early childhood in London and a harrowing sea voyage where her mother and brother die, to the docks of Boston where her father is forced to sell her into bondage for 11 years. She is bought by John Morton, a kindly man who brings her home as a companion to his daughter Nabby. Nabby and Alice grow up together, and when Nabby marries, Alice’s bond is sold to Nabby’s husband. Alice goes along as maidservant. Nabby’s new husband, however, is not what he seems to be. When Alice finds her life endangered, she runs away and stows aboard a ship bound for Satucket. There she meets the Widow Berry and her friend Eben Freeman. They are kind to Alice and take her in. Alice believes that her nightmare is over, until a secret comes to light that could ruin everything for her.

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke centers around the Widow Berry’s step-grandaughter. Jane grows up in privilege as the daughter of one of Satucket’s biggest landowners (the odious son-in-law from the first book). The year is now 1769. When she refuses to marry the man her father chooses for her, Jane is packed off to Boston as punishment. She is sent to care for an elderly aunt, and she finds herself in the middle of a city in turmoil. There are British soldiers bunked across the street, and Jane’s brother is a law clerk for John Adams. She meets and becomes friends with the bookseller (and later Revolutionary hero) Henry Knox.  As she takes this all in, and becomes witness to the Boston Massacre, Jane struggles to make sense of it. She also is determined to make up her own mind for the first time in her life.

All three books are very different, but as I said, together they tell a whole story. Each book focuses on one woman and her struggle to take control of her own destiny. Throughout the books, we meet patriots who meet to discuss independence from Britain. Yet the plight of the women and servants among them is not considered important enough for discussion. It is these small, personal struggles that are at the heart of these books, mirroring the bigger, historical struggles As a 21st century woman, I take my freedom for granted. It’s sobering to read about a time, not too long ago, when women had no legal standing. The endings are realistic in the way things are a little open-endednot necessarily “wrapped up”, and you are left to draw your own conclusions from what you’ve learned of the characters personalities.

These are “stand alone” books, but I would only recommend reading The Widow’s War by itself. It helps set up the characters for the next 2 books. I also found Lyddie Berry and Eben Freeman to be my favorite characters. They appear in the last 2 books, but are not the focus.

All in all, I enjoyed these books. The endings are realistic in the way things are not necessarily “wrapped up”, and you are left to draw your own conclusions from what you’ve learned of the characters personalities.If you enjoy reading about the colonial life before the Revolution, I would recommend them.

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Divine Wind, by Garry Disher

wind

The Divine Wind is is a young adult historical fiction novel that I am currently reading with my high school students. I read it before they did, and I was entertained by the plot and character interactions as well as the multiple examples of conflict. So far, students have enjoyed the book as much as I did.

The setting is Broome, Austrailia both before, during, and after World War II. Broome is a seaside town with a mix of culture and ethnicity. The narrator is Hartley Penrose, a seventeen year old son of a pearl master, Michael Penrose. His family also includes a sister, Alice,  and an English born mother, Ida Penrose. Hartley has a friend and love interest, Mitsy Sennosuke, a Japanese girl whose father, Zeke works for Michael Penrose as a pearl diver.

With war looming in the background, the cultural and ethnic differences begin to rise to the surface causing all types of conflict between families and friends. My students are half-way through the book and have found so much to discuss about relationships: can you choose whom to love? What if your parents don’t want you to be together because of race/ethnicity/culture? Can a relationship survive multiple challenges? We have discussed cultural differences of the English, Australian, Japanese, and Aboriginal. We have discussed the conflicts of the expectations of the time period and conflicts between countries in war time.

Garry Disher has so many little nuggets of historical and cultural information. I was not familiar with Broome, Australia past or present. I did not know what pearl divers did. I had no idea what the Register of Aliens was. Yet, I found myself exploring the Internet for information about Australia, stumbling upon the NFSA Film Australia Collection on YouTube. I’ve read countless informational articles about Australia’s beginnings and its geographical landscape, looked at Google Maps Streetview to see Hartley’s viewpoint at Cable Beach, and what Chinatown looks like in Broome. I’ve investigated the newsreels of the time, the music, fashion, and movies that might have been playing in the tin-topped cinema of Sheba Lane. I’ve share that information with my students and it has brought the text to life for them.

I think the book is interesting and entertaining. Disher’s language is plain, but he has some statements and sentences that are meaningful on multiple levels.  I recommend the book for light reading and it shouldn’t take long for you to enjoy it. All the outside research is purely optional.

Prolixity Julien’s #CBR4 Review #27: A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan

I read romance novels for the banter, and, indeed, the romance, but writing it genuinely and sincerely is very difficult. A Kiss for Midwinter contains one heart-stoppingly romantic moment. Such moments are rare. Julie Anne Long almostalmost managed one in her last book , but of the dozens of novels I’ve read, I would say there have been maybe 8 times when I was actually overwhelmed by the sincerely romantic nature of what was happening. Not crying mind you, but gasping and covering my mouth, and doing that hand fanning gesture while I took a moment. This was that.

A Kiss for Midwinter is a novella in Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series. The collection includes two novellas, this one and The Governess Affair, and a full length novel, The Duchess War, so far. I have read and will read everything in the series, and anything else Milan publishes. She is the best writer in the business. Tessa Dare is a lot of fun, Julie Anne Long gives great smolder and is wonderfully funny, but Courtney Milan can write. She’s funny, romantic, realistic, and heartbreaking, plus this book has a Spinal Tap (!) reference in the first chapter. Her heroes are exclusively protectors, perhaps slightly forbidding (I’m looking at you, Smite), and possess fierce honesty. They demand the same honesty of their partners which allows the women freedom from Victorian society’s double-standards and strictures.

Read more…

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #15 – Pemberley to Waterloo by Anna Elliott

I think this might be my last Austen-ish book for a while. One can only read so much of this stuff.  This is the continuation of  Georgiana Darcy’s Diary, after Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam are in love.  I’ve already given my opinion of that (I disapprove).

Fitzwilliam is back from fighting Napoleon, and he’s got some serious PTSD. He has trouble dealing with everyone, even Georgiana, although she seems to be able to soothe him. Then Napoleon escapes from prison, and is on the march again.  Fitzwilliam is off to Belgium to fight, and Georgiana decides to go too (just like Becky Sharp, only way less cunning).  Somehow the little hothouse flower makes it.  Then Fitzwilliam is wounded, she has to search for him, then nurse him back to health.

Much like all of these other Austen-lite books, this one is fine, a nice diversion.  I’m not sure if it’s available in print or only for Kindle (full disclosure, it was a freebie), but if you like Austen, and don’t mind the whole Georgiana/Fitzwilliam thing, then this would be worth a read.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 608 other followers