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Search tags: American-Civil-War
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review 2017-06-15 19:40
Recommended to fans of romantic historic novels looking for a short, enjoyable and thrilling read set in the early Civil War era
Genteel Secrets - S.R. Mallery

I have read, enjoyed and reviewed several of S.R. Mallery’s novels and short story collections (most recently The Dolan Girls, check the review here) and she has a knack for combining historical fact and characters with gripping stories that grab the readers, transporting them into another world, sometimes closer and sometimes  far back in the past.

In this novella, the author takes us back to the period of the early American Civil War, and our guides are two characters, James, a medical student from New York (an Irish immigrant who moved with his parents when he was a child and suffered tragedy and deprivation from an early age) and Hannah, a Southern girl, the daughter of slave owners, although not a typical Southern belle, as she enjoys books more than balls and feels closer to some slaves (including her childhood friend, Noah) than to her own cousin, the manipulating Lavinia.

The story is told in the third person from both characters’ point of view. They meet in Washington D.C. at the beginning of the novel, realise they have plenty in common (their love of books and their political sympathies among other things) and fall in love (more at at-first-meeting than at-first-sight) as they should in these kinds of stories. There are many things that separate them (I’m not sure I’d call them star-crossed lovers, but there is a bit of that), and matters get even more complicated when James decides to join the Pinkerton Detective Agency and ends up chasing Confederate Spies. At the same time, Hannah is forced to spy for the South, much against her will, and… Well, as the author quotes at the start of one of the chapters (thanks, Shakespeare) ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’. I won’t give you full details but let me tell you there are secret codes, interesting hiding places, blackmail, occult passages, and betrayals galore. The underground railway is put into action, Frederick Douglass (one of my favourite historical figures of the period, and I’ll recommend again his  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave here in Project Gutenberg) makes a guest appearance, and famous spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow plays an important part. (I must confess I hadn’t heard of her before but the author’s decision of using her as one of her background characters is a great success).

The story flows easily and although there are no lengthy descriptions that deflect from the action, we get a clear sense of the locations and of the atmosphere of the period, including the abuse slaves were subject to, and the social morasses of the time, particularly the different treatment of women and the expectations of the genders and races. I was fascinated by the Washington of the period, the political machinations, and the fantastic description of the Battle of Manassas from the point of view of the spectators (as it seems that the well-off people decided it was a good occasion for a picnic and they ate and observed the fighting from the hilltop). The two main characters and Noah are likeable and sympathetic, although this is a fairly short story and there is no time for an intense exploration of psychological depths (their consciences struggle between complying with their duties and following their feelings but their conflict does not last too long). There is no time to get bored, and the ending will please fans of romantic historical fiction (although some might find it a bit rushed).

My only complaint is that the story is too short and more traditionally romantic than I expected (pushing the suspension of disbelief a bit). I would have liked to learn more about the Pinkerton’s role chasing spies during the war (one of the author’s characters in the Dolan Girls was also a Pinkerton detective), and I hope there might be a more detailed exploration of the underground railway in future stories (although the role of quilts to signal secret messages is discussed in one of the stories of Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads).

Recommended to fans of romantic historic novels looking for a short, enjoyable and thrilling read set in the early Civil War era. Another great story from S.R. Mallery.


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review 2016-02-11 08:51
The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverant Romp Through Civilization's Best Bits
The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through Civilization's Best Bits - Steve Wiegand,Erik Sass,Johny Heller,Tantor Audio

A big thanks goes to Murder by Death for introducing me to this book. When I saw one of my library's digital services offering the audiobook of this, I had to give it a try.


I am sadly remiss in my knowledge of World History with some minor exceptions, so I found this book's overview (tinged with humor) perfect. It's packed full of information, but written with the average reader in mind. This made it perfect for listening to while doing other things. I actually had to stop the audio as my focus was ensnared too much at times. There is often a tongue in cheek aspect to the writing and the narrator delivered every line perfectly.


One of my favorite elements of the book were the side boxes (or asides as they manifested on the audiobook) that focused on specific elements, going more in depth into key facts. One I always looked forward to was a list of numbers comparing things like world population, city sizes, etc.


This is a must reread and I'll probably end up getting it from Audible. Hopefully, their American History is just as good.

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review 2016-02-03 07:37
Mourning Lincoln (Audiobook)
Mourning Lincoln - Martha Hodes,Donna Postel

I wanted to like this book as the idea and information interested me. While Lincoln's death brought on great public mourning, I'd never believed that everyone mourned his passing at once. It simply couldn't be, as many places still received news from newspapers or letters delivered vast distances, not to mention that many people - quite a few within his own government and party - hated him when he was alive.


All of this, as well as a focus on how people on both sides reacted through primary sources, made this the first audiobook I attempted on Hoopla. I even bypassed Star Wars audiobooks for this. 


Sadly, it didn't live up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong, this was clearly very well researched; however, information poorly presented does little good for anyone. And this was very poorly written. Not so much its sentence structure and word choice - though at times these seemed overly verbose - but in repetition. The author would state something and then in other section the author would convey the same information though often in a slightly different way. I could even see how many of these instances could have been helped by tying the two sections together but not simply reiterating the same information every time it comes up. And the second time was always after going into great detail about everything the first time. I felt the book greatly needed another editor and, though I can't prove it, believe this was a doctoral thesis before it was turned into a book. It would explain some of the issues.


The narrator further did the book no favors. I don't expect a giggling performance, considering the topic, but the monotone was extremely interest killing! I got over halfway through the book and just couldn't take it anymore. After hearing the same information for the third time as if it were new and apposite, it all became too much.


On to the next book!

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review 2014-11-13 22:35
Once Upon a Time: Illustrations from Fairytales, Fables, Primers, Pop-Ups, and other Children's Books
Once Upon a Time: Illustrations from Fairytales, Fables, Primers, Pop-Ups, and Other Children's Books - Amy Weinstein

I love the old illustrations in books and the ones in children's books can be particularly interesting. That's why I had to pick up this book; it covers several years and types of books common for children. It turned out to be both what I was looking for and not quite.


cover of one of their A Visit from Santa Claus booksThe book is largely based on a private collection of children's picture books from the 1850s to early 1900s, mostly from the McLoughlin Brothers. It's beautifully put together, the pages are printed on photographic style paper, bringing the reproductions to the reader in brilliant color, which their chromolithographic process created.

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review 2014-11-03 08:51
Chasing Lincoln's Killer [Audiobook] - Great YA read
Chasing Lincoln's KIller - James L. Swanson

Yes! After being disappointed by the WWI audiobook I listened to, I decided to try and diminish my insane eBook wishlist. I took out a few clay pigeons with one bullet (thank you Murder by Death for that new phrase) as it is also the YA version of Manhunt, which has been sitting beside me for the better part of a year, begging to be read. If it's as well written as this book was, I've been putting it off for no reason.

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