Tag Archives: historical fiction

Review: The Ruby Brooch by Katherine Lowry Logan

2 Stars

As the sole survivor of a car accident that took the lives of her parents and best friend, Kit MacKlenna struggles with survivor guilt.  This is especially hard for Kit because as an EMT, she was trained to save lives and she feels that she failed to save her loved ones.  She comes home to her family seat, a sweeping horse ranch, only to learn that the life she knew was built on a lie.  In a letter from her father, he reveals that she was abandoned as a baby 160 years earlier and the only clues to her identity are a blood-splattered shawl, a portrait of a 19th century man and a Celtic ruby brooch, which her father claims has magical powers.  Kit decides to continue her father’s search for her true identity and solve her birth parents’ murder.

Kit travels back to 1852 and arrives in Independence, where she meets Cullen Montgomery.  He is a San Francisco bound lawyer who is leading a wagon train over the Oregon Trail.  Against his better judgement, he helps Kit join his wagon train.  She passes herself off as a widow and makes fast friends with one of the families on the train as she hires their son as a driver.  But Cullen doesn’t believe Kit is who she says she is and he is determined to find out why she’s lying and what she’s hiding.  Especially after a series of accidents and miraculous survivals show Kit to be more than a simple widow.

As someone who has read a lot of fantasy novels, it’s not too hard for me to suspend belief and accept the supernatural and unusual.  But The Ruby Brooch wants me to not only to accept the existence of magic and time-travel, it also wants me to ignore basic science and common-sense.  I just couldn’t do it.  I could accept that Kit took her iPod and a solar charger with her and could listen to music, it might just be possible to do so.  But to be able to watch YouTube?!  Also, people were far too accepting of Kit’s behavior.  They just shrugged it off instead of being distrustful of her.  The only person who even has a hint of distrust is Cullen but he tempers that against his growing feelings toward her.

I had a lot of high hopes for this book.  I was really hooked by the description and the first few chapters did have me looking forward to Kit’s adventures.  I did appreciate that the author made Kit a fairly strong female lead and not a typical damsel in distress, though she does seem to find herself in trouble more often than not along the trail.  Unfortunately almost all of the characters followed a typical stereotype.  You had the crusty but heart-of-gold sidekick, the ever-faithful and strong mother, the little girl that reminded Kit of herself, and of course the dashing hero.

The romance between Cullen and Kit was more annoying than interesting.  At times I wanted to just scream at both of them.  Granted, I think most novels with a romance angle have many readers doing the same thing as we get frustrated with the characters lack of common sense!

The writing wasn’t bad and it was a quick read.  I just couldn’t get interested in Kit and Cullen the way that many other readers have been able to.  There wasn’t a connection for me.  There are other books in this series, but I’m not sure I’ll be checking them out.


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Review: A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

1 Star

Kendra Donovan is a rising star in the FBI, her team has finally tracked down one of the FBI’s most wanted and she’s there for the takedown.  But everything goes wrong and her team is ambushed and half her team is murdered as she discovers a traitor.  Kendra barely survives after being shot several times but vows revenge against the man responsible for the deaths of her team members.  She ‘goes rogue’ and travels to England to put her plan into motion.

While preparing her assassination attempt, Kendra is surprised by an unexpected complication and ends up needing to flee for her life through the back passages of Aldrich Castle but when she stumbles out of the passageway, she’s faced with an impossible sight.  She is still in Aldrich Castle, but she’s in a different time.  She’s in 1815 and in the presence of the current Duke.  She is mistaken for a maid, hired to help with weekend guests.  Kendra is forced to adapt to the time period until she can figure out how to get out of there and back to her own time.

The body of a young woman is discovered on the grounds of the estate and Kendra can’t help but get involved.  She was a profiler back in her time and she knows she can put her knowledge to use in helping solve the mystery of how this young woman died.  She has none of her 21st century tools at her disposal but must rely on her own wits and extensive knowledge of crime and criminals.

As unbelievable as the premise sounds, I was intrigued.  I’ve read the Outlander series, so I can learn to suspend belief and buy into time travel.  I’ve seen time travel done very well and I’ve seen it done very poorly.  Unfortunately, this was in the latter category.  Kendra is supposed to be a woman of incredible intelligence, someone who was genetically pre-disposed to be a genius and everything in her background seems to confirm this.  So how does someone so smart act so unbelievably stupid?

Kendra constantly uses phrases and words that would have absolutely no meaning to anyone from the 19th century and instead of everyone looking at her like she belongs in an asylum, they just shake their heads and let her continue.  And how does a woman (one posing as a maid no less) somehow become the lead investigator of a murder case?  She can’t explain how she knows what she knows, and everyone is content to just leave it at that?  And the romance angle?  Give me a break.

It’s not often that I give a book 1 Star, but I just couldn’t justify giving any more.  The characters were not believable.  The main character was annoying.  The entire situation was ludicrous.  And the ending?  Atrocious.  Apparently there are going to be more Kendra Donovan books, but not for this reader.


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Review: While You Were Mine by Ann Howard Creel

2 1/2 Stars

Gwen Mullen is a nurse in New York and the end of World War II has just been announced.  It’s V-J Day and she should be on top of the world like the rest of the populace.  The war is over and the men are coming back home.  It’s a circus and a joyous occasion, she’s swept up in the crowd.  She’s the iconic figure that graced the cover of Life magazine, she’s the nurse that gets kissed by some random soldier.  But Gwen really isn’t much for celebrating, she’s afraid of losing the little girl who has become her life over the last year.  Those fears are realized as she approaches her home and sees a soldier on her doorstep.

John McKee comes back home to see his wife and the child that he’s never met.  But he’s in for shock because Alice isn’t there waiting for him.  Instead, he meets Gwen.  We learn that Alice had been Gwen’s roommate and shortly after giving birth to Mary, she decided that she just couldn’t handle motherhood and had convinced herself that John was dead, so she left Mary behind without a second thought or a backward glance.  Since then, Gwen has become the only parent that Mary has ever known and now, she’s going to lose this child that she’s come to love as her own.

Gwen decides to help John get to know his daughter and help him learn to be a dad.  They slowly begin to get to know one another as well and begin to grow a bond and feelings for one another.  With the help of her best friend and her neighbor, Gwen and John look to be coming together as a happy family.

It honestly could have just stayed that way.  A really sweet story about a woman who stepped up when no one else could or would and the man who came home from the war to a destroyed life, only to find love again with this strong woman.  But no, it’s apparently not enough and there are obstacles that need to be thrown in the way.  John turns into a jerk and Gwen becomes the ultimate doormat.

The story ultimately has a happy ending, but it’s almost unsatisfying.  I’m really wanted to like this book more, especially since it started out so well.


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Review: Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood

4 Stars

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the chance to read this book prior to publication.  The review below is my opinion and was not impacted in any way by receiving an advance reading copy.

1904 Coney Island.  The newest amusement park, Dreamland, has opened and the summer tourists are beginning to swarm upon this bright new attraction.  But the other side of the island are the forgotten relics of a different era.  Part of that bygone era is Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, a museum of curiosities and oddities.  Home to a mad scientist and a place for the Unusuals to hang out and not be stared at or laughed at for their appearance.  Into this scene comes young Kitty Hayward.  A young English woman who has come to America with her family and has seemed to lost them along the way and no one will tell her where they are.  By luck or chance, she is brought to Magruder’s and its inhabitants take her under their wing as they try to help her find out what has happened to her mother.

The story brings together two sides of the coin in Coney Island.  The business owners and politicians who will do anything it takes to keep not only their investments but their own class safe.  On the other side you have the everyday people who make these investments profitable, the Unusuals who put on their shows and ply their trades to bring in the tourists.  In the wake of a plague going through the island like wildfire, the blame is put on the modest flea circus held at Magruder’s and on those who run the circus and other myriad of features around the island.  The tourists flee and those left behind have to struggle to stay alive, keep their way of life intact and solve the mystery of Kitty’s mother.

There are so many characters that sometimes it is hard to keep them all sorted out.  But they are all vividly drawn and they each have their own story that lends to the greater narrative.  The heroes and villains are sometimes one in the same.  There is plenty of action and suspense and there are a few twists and turns along the way that you may not be expecting.  I was left wanting more and I haven’t yet decided if that’s good or bad!

While this is a work of fiction, you can tell that the history of Coney Island was well researched and the descriptions of Magruder’s Curiosity Closet remind you of several oddities and curiosities museums all over the world.  The more unusual characters were treated with respect and weren’t allowed to become caricatures.  I think my favorite would have to be Rosalind and I think he will probably become yours too.

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Review: The Vatican Princess by CW Gortner

4 Stars

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The story of Lucrezia Borgia is one that has been told many times over the last 500 years and in most tales, she is made out to be quite evil and scheming.  But after research, most historians have changed their views of Lucrezia and her role during the reign of her father, Pope Alexander VI.  This book takes a fresher look at her life and is probably closer to the truth than many of the historical texts and stories that many of us grew up with.  This is still a work of fiction and there are many areas that are very sensationalized, but you can easily see the research that went into this book and how the author strives to show this enigmatic historical figure in a new light.

Lucrezia was the pampered daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, an extremely ambitious man who sought after and ultimately acquired the title of Pope.  She becomes a pawn at an early age to further advance the Borgia name and bring even more power to her father and her family.  Family always comes first and this is something that she is raised to believe, even to the detriment of herself and others around her.  She learns too late in life that sometimes family doesn’t always know best.

Set in 15th and early 16th century Italy, this book follows Lucrezia through almost a decade of her life.  Soon after her father is elected Pope Alexander VI, she is married off to repay a debt to the Sforza family who helped bring her father to power.  It is not a happy match and she is made to suffer for several years until her father decides that there is a better match to be made and works on annulling their marriage to make a better match, once again to further his cause.

The author admittedly does sensationalize a few unproven stories about Lucrezia and her brothers Juan and Cesare.  Many stories have mentioned an incestuous relationship between the siblings and some have even been so bold as to say that Lucrezia gave birth to a child that was sired by one of her brothers.  A Papal Bull decreed that the child was sired by Pope Alexander VI and an unnamed woman, but a second document states that it was a child sired by Cesare and an unnamed woman.  But what was the truth?  500 years later we will probably never know, but the author puts forward just one option.

The book does read like a soap opera in some ways but it is always entertaining, always interesting and incredibly descriptive and well researched.  You can’t help but feel for Lucrezia and what she had to endure during her life.  She had more heart break, more upheaval and more betrayal in less than a decade than most of us ever see in an entire lifetime.  This is an incredible story about a very interesting historical figure, one that was demonized for centuries but is now finding a new voice.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting a great read about a historical figure.

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Review: The Werewolf of Bamberg by Oliver Pötzsch

4 Stars

This is the 5th book in the Hangman’s Daughter series by Oliver Pötzsch.  Once again you are taken back to 17th century Germany to visit with the Kuisl family.  And for anyone who has read any of the previous books, the characters are just as stubborn and frustrating as ever.  And once again, you can’t get enough of them.

Jakob Kuisl and his family travel to Bamberg to attend the wedding of his brother, the Bamberg executioner.  Just as they reach the gates the severed arm of a man is found and sets in motion events that entangle the entire Kuisl family into a mystery that has left the citizens of Bamberg scared and superstitious.

There have been a number of disappearances of several highly esteemed citizens and with the discovery of severed limbs in the forest and surrounding rivers, the town is on edge.  There have been reports of a beast that behaves like a man, a werewolf.  Eyewitness accounts say that the beast runs on all four legs but then can stand up like a man.  Soon enough there is an inquisition set in motion by the bishop and the council to bring about the capture of the beast.  Jakob, Magdalena and Simon join together with the rest of their family to discover the real secret behind this werewolf and put a stop to the madness before anyone else gets hurt.  Especially someone in the Kuisl family.

This story had plenty of action and plenty of twists and turns.  There was also a good amount of the usual Kuisl family drama and insight into the class system that ruled their lives and caused people to look at them as little better than the people that he tortured and executed at the council’s demand.

Once again, the period was meticulously researched.  While this is a work of fiction, many of the characters truly existed and many of the events actually happened.  Any fan of a historical fiction and a good historic mystery would not go wrong in reading this series.


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Review: Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

4 Stars

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.  Médicis Daughter will be released on December 1, 2015, and I highly recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction.  Especially anyone interested in the Valois dynasty or Catherine de Medici.

This novel follows the young and beautiful Princess Marguerite, or Margot to her close friends and family, as she makes her way to the court of her brother King Charles IX in 1564.  She quickly learns the unspoken rules of the court and the terrifying machinations of her powerful family.

Margot becomes a pawn, used by her family to create alliances or to bring warring families to heel.  Her mother and her brother, the king, want to bring more power to their family and to increase the power of France.  Margot becomes an unwilling participant in their quest.

The young Princess soon finds herself falling in love with the powerful Duc de Guise, a member of the royal court and heir to the Lorraine family.  But despite their love for one another, he is not powerful enough for the King and his mother.  So Margot is bargained off to Henri of Navarre, leader of the Huguenots and in the eyes of the ruling powers of France, a heretic..

During this time, France is divided and a fragile peace had been achieved with the marriage of Margo and Henri of Navarre.  But this does not last.  The story culminates with the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre where thousands of Protestants were killed by rioting Catholics incensed by the marriage of their Princess to a heretic.  At the head of this revolt, and pleased with the outcome, are Catherine de Medici and the King of France.  Which side will Margot take?

This story is told in first person, from Margot’s point of view.  You are able to see life through her eyes and her emotions as she grows up in the court of her brother and used as a pawn at every turn.  I don’t normally enjoy first person narratives, but I found myself truly enjoying Margot’s voice as she grew from an awestruck young girl to a formidable Queen in her own right.

The research was meticulous and while this is historical fiction, you can tell that the author truly took the time to learn about the people she was writing about and the time that they lived in.  You were given a rich and descriptive display of what court life may have been like for Margot and her contemporaries.

I would definitely recommend this book to my friends and anyone who loves a good glimpse into what life was like back in the heyday of the 16th century.

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Review: The Heiress of Linn Hagh by Karen Charlton

3 Stars

Thank you to my Kindle Unlimited subscription for helping me find new-to-me authors and even more books to put into my TBR pile.  That’s how I came across this book.  I am a sucker for historical fiction and the plot had me interested enough to make it one of my 10 (yes, I almost always have 10 checked out at any given time!).  It was an enjoyable read for the most part.  The suspense well built up and even though I had half of the mystery figured out just over halfway through, it really didn’t take away from the story at all.  Sometimes I just like to have that confirmation of “YES!  I was right!” when I’m reading a decent mystery novel.

Detective Stephen Lavender has been called out of London to solve the mystery of the disappearing heiress from her locked room.  He and his partner, Constable Woods, travel North find out what has happened to young Helen Carnaby at the behest of her worried uncle.  The townspeople are suspicious and ready to blame the gypsies living on the grounds of Linn Hagh.  People are pointing to witchcraft and spirits and it’s up to Detective Lavender to find out what happened before it’s too late for both Miss Carnaby and for the town itself.  Helen’s siblings (half-siblings) are uncooperative and seem to care about nothing other than the inheritance that Helen was about to come into.

The characters were well-drawn and it was easy to conclude who was on the side of good and who was not.  George and Isobel Carnaby make you want to wipe your hands on your pants to get rid of their slimy nature.  They were both absolutely vile, unrepentant and irredeemable characters.  I enjoyed both Lavender and Woods, they had an easy camaraderie and were well suited as partners.  Even the bit characters were well thought out and put together.  I wish more time had been spent with the gypsies, but I can appreciate leaving them a bit mysterious because that’s exactly what they were, especially during this time in history.

Being that this is the first in a series featuring Detective Lavender, I can understand inserting other information into the story that will become relevant in subsequent novels.  But the storyline between Lavender and Magdalena Morales just seemed out of place.  And maybe this was more just personal taste, but I felt like it was more distracting than anything.  Maybe if more time had been allowed for it, I don’t know.

Fans of Regency mysteries and historical fiction will appreciate this book and I think that it would also appeal to other lovers of mystery novels.

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Review: Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen

4 Stars

I received a copy of Twain’s End as an ARC from NetGalley.  This review is my own and was in no way influenced by the fact that it’s an ARC.

As you may have guessed, Twain’s End has something to do with the famous Mark Twain.  But this isn’t your typical tale about Samuel Clemens and his alter ego, Mark Twain.  This story focuses on his secretary, Isabel Lyons.  She was with him for 6 years and did practically everything for him and his family from taking his dictation, to being their bookkeeper, to taking care of his grown children.  The woman he fired one week after her wedding to his accountant, a wedding that he gave his blessing to.  The woman he decried and defamed with a nearly 500 page manifest going over everything she ever did to him and where he called her every name in the book.

The people in the book are real and many of the relationships are also real and can be historically proven, or at least there was enough speculation that the questions showed up in newspapers and magazines at the time.  Twain’s End is a work of fiction, but it’s a very well researched piece of fiction.  There was still a lot of speculation in the book and the author decided to expand on two of the main rumors that were going around the country and even the world at the time.  That Mark Twain and Isabel Lyons were romantically involved and he was going to marry her.  And also that Clara Clemens, his daughter, was having an affair with Will Wark, her accompanist.  These two stories intertwine through much of the book and each one seems to explain the animosity that they feel for one another later in life.

Those who see Mark Twain as a beloved author and place him up on a pedestal, may have some issues with this book.  He isn’t always the nice guy and in some ways, it’s almost as though he is the true Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Mark is funny and warm and engaging.  Sam is a bit of a grumpy old man who tends to lash out at those who love him the most.

Isabel Lyons becomes the personal secretary to Mark Twain, but she never calls him that.  He’s always Mr. Clemens or the King or even just Sam.  But never Mark.  She causes a sensation because she begins living under the same roof as him and his family.  Rumors begin to fly.  Will Isabel become the next Mrs. Clemens?  The first Mrs. Clemens isn’t even dead yet!

It was easy to identify Mark Twain, mostly because he’s such a well known icon.  But the author does a very good job of giving you a picture of what he looked like and even what he probably smelled like.  The descriptions were rich and you always had a sense of who the characters were and each one had a depth to them, even Mrs. Lyons, Isabel’s mother.  You want to write her off as the overbearing mother worried about her spinster daughter, but she comes across as so hilariously lost that you can’t help but like her.  You go from like to dislike of a single character very quickly.  Each one of them has their own flaws and the more they begin to show their true colors, the more your skin crawls anytime they enter the scene.

The one person I didn’t like was Isabel.  I wished she had been given more of a backbone.  I wish she had stood up for herself more.  There are times where you just want to slap her silly.  In one scene she’s standing up to her King and telling him like it is, and in the next, she’s wilted like a cut flower.  I guess I just wanted more from her…not unlike Sam.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book and I think anyone who is interested in a good story with just enough truth to make it even more interesting.  I always like seeing historical figures in a different light, especially when it’s done outside of stuffy biographies and historical texts.  I really enjoy it when an author breathes new life into an old subject.

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