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review 2018-09-24 23:07
Ruin and Rebirth by Michael Whitehead
Ruin and Rebirth - Michael Whitehead

Note: While this is Book 3 in the series, it works mostly OK as a stand alone. The series is worthy, so I recommend starting at Book 1 for entertainment value.

Lucia and the archer Vitas have made it this far and they aren’t giving up! These were my two favorite characters from Book 1 and it’s good to see they have survived the zombie plague to play important roles in Book 3. It’s been a few months since the end of Book 2, but our little band of heroes is on a nebulous quest. Lucia has gotten better and better with weapons and avoiding zombies. She pulls her own weight while also noting how much she’s stepped outside the typical Roman woman’s role in society. These are extraordinary circumstances and they require shields, weapons, and some common sense. The men in her group are all for it because this is a fight for humanity. No room for shrinking violets here!

Meanwhile, back in Rome proper, some few humans have managed to survive by scavenging for supplies and hiding from zombies. There are a few brave folks that ban together to rescue those that can be brought back to one central location. Garrick, a butcher, is a lead character in these scenes. He’s smart, careful, and becomes a major force in the fight to reclaim Rome.

Flavia and her husband do much to bring the survivors of Rome together. I really like Flavia because she’s competent, gets stuff done, and yet sticks to the societal boundaries of the time and location. She doesn’t get to pick up a weapon but she does use her wits. She shows bravery in the toughest moments and appreciates what others risk to keep her and others safe.

Back in Germania, Vitus and Lucia keep moving their band north. Regulus is at the heart of something, having visions of the source of the plague. Vedus (spelling?) has been showing Regulus a temple via these visions. So there’s this supernatural quality to the story and as it progresses, Regulus becomes more and more aware of what might await them. Lucia and Vitus do everything they can to get the weakening Regulus north.

The Roman Empire was huge and contained many cultures. This series and this book have nods to that. There’s a young Chinese lad and the Persian warrior Harkour. And the Spaniard (Gallus, if I recall correctly). I love that the Roman Empire isn’t white washed in this series.

The final conclusion to the tale is carried out on two fronts: the truth of Regulus’s visions and back in the City of Rome where frenzied zombies threaten to eradicate human life. It was only in the last moments that I realized what a toll this plague would take. It pulled on my heart strings, being both horrible and beautiful at once. The concept of sacrifice is well captured in these scenes. It’s a worthy ending to a worthy series. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Terry Self is his usual outstanding. Every character was distinct and the ladies sounded like women. I especially appreciate how he kept Vitus and Vedus very clearly delineated from each other as it would be easy for a listener to mix up these names if the narration was sub-par. His true gift this time is working with all the emotions of the characters. They are seeing their society fall in short order and so much has already been lost. I also liked his various accents. The pacing was perfect and there were no technical issues with the recording. 5/5 stars.

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review 2018-09-24 22:55
Nomenclator: Initium by Bill O'Malley
Nomenclator Initium: A Novel Of Ancient Rome - Bill O'Malley

This is the story of Lucius, a roman boy who wishes to know the true history of Julius Caesar, not the stuff that is written for the masses. So he seeks out a slave named Polybius (who is now very old and free), who lived during the time of Caesar and knew him personally as his nomenclator. As it says in the synopsis, a nomenclator was the close personal attendant who announced the names and information on people to his master.

 

                                             See the source image

 

This is the first of a series of 4 books that follows the life of Julius Caesar from his beginning, as told by his personal slave Polybius and I loved it. The author did a great job putting you in that time period and getting an intimate, close up look at the rise of the first emperor of Rome. I am really surprised at how well it is written considering the author seems to have put out only 1 book before this. I am really looking forward to the rest of the series.

 

5 stars and recommended for all historical fiction fans.

 

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text 2018-09-23 23:03
Reading progress update: I've listened 33 out of 585 minutes.
Mr. Churchill's Secretary (Audio) - Wanda,Donada Peters McCaddon,Susan Elia MacNeal,Donada Peters

So it looks like here we have a British-born, American-raised MC working as a secretary for Churchill during the war.

 

Crossing my fingers...

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review 2018-09-23 16:44
Death on the Saphire by R J Koreto (audiobook)
Death on the Sapphire: A Lady Frances Ffolkes Mystery - R. J. Koreto,Justine Eyre

Series: A Lady Frances Ffolkes Mystery #1

 

This is another one of the books that I stumbled across while looking for mystery genre audiobook possibilities at my library since I've been doing so much walking lately that I need to listen to something! Don't be scared away by my rating, for the reasons that I'll explain below.

 

Lady Frances (I think I'm using the naming convention correctly since her father had a title) is a very modern woman in Edwardian London (1901-1910) who has moved out of her brother's house upon his marriage (to a good friend of hers) to a respectable ladies hotel because she's just that kind of independent woman. She's involved in the suffragette movement too, naturally, and actually went to university in America (so she calls it "college"). She gets drawn into a mystery when a friend of hers asks her to help look for a manuscript that her brother (the friend's brother) was writing before his accidental death.

 

All that is well and good. The mystery was somewhat interesting, the narration was good, and the relationship between Frances/Franny and her maid, Mallow, was well done (Mallow got promoted to lady's maid partly because she used to cover for Franny back in the day). It was well-done but overall just average, and I'm giving it 2.5 stars instead of 3 because it was just a bit too American and Franny was just a bit too modern. At one point she calls trousers "pants", which was just a little bit shocking (I don't know when pants came to be known as underwear in Britain but to a modern ear it doesn't quite work), and her insistence that Mallow travel first class with her on the train just struck me as odd. Also, I think it may still have been just a little bit early for the upper class to be dining in restaurants for dinner/supper (I may be wrong on this point) and I'm pretty sure accepting a tête-à-tête dinner invitation to a man's house would have been outright scandalous.

 

There were a few other things, but to me it felt that Franny ignored her class just a little too much to really work for me. I like to read historical fiction books that try to understand the culture of the time rather than just overwrite it with modern sensibilities. Admittedly, some books piss me off when they seem to be doing the opposite (applying outdated notions to modern day settings). However, I do know that others enjoy modern women plopped into historical settings, and so if you're one of them you might want to look into this one. It is part of a series, and if my library has the rest of them, I may check them out.

 

Also, Franny's first suitor was far more interesting when the reader thought he was just trying to seduce her and/or take advantage of her.

 

I'm counting this one for the "Amateur Sleuth" square for the 2018 Halloween Bingo.

 

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review 2018-09-23 02:44
The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts
The Solace of Water - Elizabeth Byler Younts

After leaving her son’s grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband’s hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start. Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways. Delilah’s eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother’s pain, never allowed for a moment to forget she is responsible for her brother’s death. When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma’s house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted. Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation. But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions. Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness. Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, and custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topic of self harm.

 

 

After the death of their young son, Carver, African American couple Delilah Evans and her preacher husband, Malachi, decide to move the family from Montgomery, Alabama back to the small town community of Sinking Creek, PA near where Malachi grew up. Malachi gets to work settling in as the new preacher of a local church in the area, but he finds resistance in his congregation. When he sits down with a family member for perspective on the problem, it's explained to him that he's simply been gone from the community too long and people need their trust with him restored. 

 

Delilah blames Carver's death on her daughter, Sparrow, who was supposed to be watching Carver when tragedy struck. Right from the beginning of the story, it's obvious that Delilah takes out her grieving on Sparrow in cruel ways. Struggling with feelings of guilt and abandonment by her mother, Sparrow, over the course of the novel, turns to self harm to alleviate her inner pain, turning to things such as stinging nettles, glass, even a clothes wringer to leave marks on her physical body as a way to let off steam from inner turmoil. Sparrow comes to find comfort in the presence of Emma, a local Amish woman who knows a thing or two about loss herself.

 

She had this warm milk sort of way about her. A body just couldn't walk away from somebody like that. You just want to drink it in 'cause you don't know if you ever gonna meet anyone like that again.

>> Sparrow, on getting to know Emma

 

 

But once the interactions come to the attention of Delilah, both she and Malachi warn Sparrow that she should probably keep her distance. This novel is set in the racially tense times of the 1950s and interracial friendships (and relationships otherwise) play a big part in the novel's dramatic moments. Emma hears similar warnings from her Amish neighbors and even her husband, a head deacon within the Amish community. It doesn't concern them so much that their new neighbors are black, but simply that they are "Englishers", or non-Amish. In their own ways, both the African-American and Amish communities push on these characters the damaging idea that "we'll all do a lot better if we just stick to our own kind." But as we the readers know, the world doesn't really work like that. We either cultivate love, kindness and appreciation for a multi-cultural world, or our lives face potential implosion, just as the characters in The Solace of Water learn for themselves.

 

"Since when do you know them?" John asked (after he discovers Emma knows the Evans family)

 

"I met them when they moved in. They're a nice family."

 

"The bishop said to leave them all alone because there always seems to be trouble between them and the white Englishers. We aren't like either of them and need to keep to ourselves."

 

Within Emma, we see a vessel for change. She has a poet's soul, full of curiosity in the stories of others, a love of words and a desire for knowledge. But she struggles against the darker corners of her life that threaten to tamp out her light. Her husband's secret struggle with alcoholism, his dislike of her "fancy lines" (her habit of crafting her own bits of poetry) that he sees as a form of vanity, quite the sin in Amish culture. Emma is weighted down with heavy guilt from being an enabler for her husband's drinking. She knows it's not only wrong but dangerous as well. It's not addressed directly, but parts of Emma's story suggest that perhaps John turned to drinking as a way to cope with crippling social anxiety, but over the years his bouts of aggression seem to have escalated along with the amount of alcohol he needs to consume to feel able to function. 

 

Emma's teenage son, Johnny, has had years of spoiling from his father and is progressively drawing more and more toward English ways -- drinking, late night carousing, sneaking pornographic magazines, even befriending an out-and-out racist! What changes Johnny is the first sight of Sparrow, whom he describes as the prettiest, most interesting and different girl he's ever met. You can imagine the firestorm that develops for a man who simultaneously maintains a friendship with a racist AND secretly tries to court a black teenage girl!

 

**Sidenote: I wasn't all that impressed with Johnny as a character. I couldn't help but feel that he saw Sparrow as something exotic and interesting in his Amish life rather than someone he honestly wanted to have a deep loving friendship with... even if he does talk about running away together (I think that was more about "young man caught up in the moment" than anything) and tells his mother that "Sparrow taught me things I never knew before"... What? WHEN? Their interaction throughout the whole book added up to only a handful of rushed conversations in secret! I just didn't buy that his feelings ran as deep as he claimed.**

 

The novel is presented in alternating POVs, rotating between Delilah, daughter Sparrow, and Amish neighbor Emma. To date, the novel seems to have gotten solid 4-5 star ratings across the board but I just did not have the same reaction as so many others. To be honest, I actually struggled to get to the end of this book. I DID finish it but for a book this size (under 400 pages), it took me WEEKS to get there. Highly unusual for me, especially for a historical fiction novel -- one of my favorite genres! The pace felt molasses-slow... which is sometimes nice in a novel if the writer brings the right tone... but when you combine slow with a deeply depressing plot for most of the novel... that alone left me exhausted enough.

 

But then add in Delilah as a character. That woman had a personality that just came off as almost straight vinegar. Yes, it is explained later (through her conversations with Malachi and later, Emma) that much of her acidic demeanor is driven by a combination of fear and grieving, even fear that letting go of the grieving will somehow dishonor the memory of Carver. Full disclosure: I do not have children, have never personally experienced the loss of my own child. BUT, in my own circle of family and friends, there are a number of women who have had that experience in one form or another, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, or tragedy. With that, I can say that none of the women in my circle have ever come anywhere near the unpleasantness of Delilah. They've known the sadness for sure, but they went on to live the best lives they could, full of love and appreciation for the people they still had around them. Delilah was just EXHAUSTING in the way she never gave anyone or anything a chance, she just assumed everything was more misery in disguise ... at least for a large part of the story.

 

So what kept me reading? Well, this is one of those stories that does have its important, moving moments, even if they are few and far between for some readers. But as I said, I stuck with it, and the plot's pace FINALLY picked up for me around the 250 page mark. But remember, the entire book is less than 400 pages. That's a long wait to a payoff. But readers who choose to stay with it do witness revelatory conversations, where women ask the important questions such as "Is that what you want --- to be separate?" and we come to realize that though the details and the POVs may differ, one commonality bonds these women together: they are all desperate for unconditional love and affectionate touch, something to remind them they are still important to others... yet their actions show just how scared all of them are to voice that need.

 

Aaron believed his arrival was a surprise, but I knew better. John's forgetfulness was getting worse the more he drank. His gentleness toward me was diminishing like dampness whisked away in a May breeze. And anytime he was gentle, I was filled with my own regrets and in my guilt I pushed him away. 

>> Emma

 

Good concepts for a novel, the problem for me mainly fell on the characters not having enough dimension for me to have much emotional investment in them.

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

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