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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 2017-05-23 15:41
My forty-seventh podcast is up!
The Civil War Diary of Rev. James Sheeran, C.Ss.R.: Confederate Chaplain and Redemptorist - Patrick J. Hayes

My latest podcast is up! In it I interview Patrick J. Hayes about his edited edition of the diaries of Patrick Sheehan, a Catholic priest who served as a chaplain for the Confederate army during the Civil War. Enjoy!

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review 2017-05-18 21:58
Review: Ms. Marvel Vol 6
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 6: Civil War II - G. Willow Wilson,Takeshi Miyazawa,Adrian Alphona

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say Kelly Sue Deconnick isn't writing Captain Marvel any more? Her appearance in this installment of Ms. Marvel is a complete stranger to me. Maybe I'd have enjoyed it more if I didn't find the difference so jarring.

 

There's some great stuff that happens around the Minority Report riff that makes up most of this volume. (Also, delighted that a character references that movie at one point, because, yeah.) There is also some stuff I'm struggling with. In Vol. 5, Kamala's the cause of her own problems because she's trying to do too many things, and be too many people. In this volume, she lets her hero worship for her namesake override everything else. It's a far less interesting, less appealing arc saved only by not pressing a specific reset button at the end. 

 

I loved the last issue in this. I hope she keeps up with her new friend. And I hope there's minimal contact with Captain Marvel from here on out. 

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review 2017-05-09 18:48
Powerful historical fiction
March - Geraldine Brooks

Historical fiction with a powerful grounding in both the fictive world of Louisa May Alcott ("Little Women") as well as the real history of the American Civil War. A pitiable and complicated main character (March) leaves his family to fight in the war as a committed abolitionist. As the father of Jo and Beth and Amy from Little Women, we get to hear his side of what was happening in this critical period in U.S. history.

I found the premise more intriguing than the execution, but I liked the way in which his life and decisions had complicated outcomes, not predictable ones that were clearly heroic. The story reflects the complications and horror of the Civil War itself, and capably demonstrates the terrible life of slavery and its affects on human beings in that period.

Source: nednote.com
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review 2017-05-09 07:16
Ms Marvel, Volume 6
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 6: Civil War II - G. Willow Wilson,Takeshi Miyazawa,Adrian Alphona

I'm torn on how I feel about this volume. I still love the story and the characters, but I feel like parts of this one were really tied into another series (one I don't read) and it felt confusing at times. I mean,

Rhodey's dead, Captain Marvel's really upset about it but Tony Stark seems unaffected?

(spoiler show)

What's all that about? I have no idea.

 

Kamala's origin arc seems to be over, and I'm excited to see where the series goes from here. I just hope the next volume is lighter on the crossovers.

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