Tag Archives: historical fiction

The Tintern Treasure by Kate Sedley Book Review

 A Roger the Chapman Mystery

Kate Sedley captivates us with her Roger the Chapman mysteries. by Kate SedleyShe takes us to England during the late middle ages. Interesting characters placed in fascinating foreign settings enhances the read.  In this mystery, Roger, traveling trader, stays at a monastery with three wealthy men from his home town. The monastery’s vault remained sealed for over one hundred fifty years when the mystery begins. When the vault is violated, nobody knows what is missing.

Roger endeavors to locate the contents, while he attempts to identify a the traitor to King Richard who would steal from the monastery. Several subplots with those from his past and within the monastery spice up his investigation.

The action in The Tintern Treasure flows easily, but the plot was too obvious. Regardless I enjoyed the quick read.

Kate Sedley’s from Bristol

Known for her Rodger the Chapman series, Kate Sedley follows many England born mystery writers. A list of the twenty-two books in the series can be found on Cozy Mysteries web site.

The Tintern Treasure by Kate Sedley Book ReviewThe Tintern Treasure (Roger the Chapman #21) by Kate Sedley
Series: Rodger the Chapman #21
Published by Severn House Publishers on July 1st 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 233
Goodreads


An important discovery puts Roger the Chapman’s life in danger . . . -
In the autumn of 1483, Roger goes on an errand of mercy to Hereford, where he is caught up in the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion against the new king, Richard III. Roger takes refuge in Tintern Abbey, but on his return to Bristol, a murder and a series of house robberies lead him to the eventual discovery of the treasure stolen from the abbey on the night he was there. It also means great danger, not only for himself, but a member of his family . . .

Book Review, salt to the sea by Ruth Sepetys

Historical Fiction for All Ages

The brutality of war from the civilian refugee perspective comes to life in Ruth Sepetys’ historical fiction novel salt to sea, the story of refugees evacuating Germany during WWII.

by Ruth SepetysRussia’s invasion of Germany comes alive through four refugee’s perspectives. While they flee, the atrocities behind their struggles and the secrets they carry haunt them. Joanne struggles to protect her travel companions, while nursing everyone she can. Alfred, a german soldier stationed on a ship, writes letters in his head. His love back home destined not to receives them.  Emilia, a fifteen year old polish girl who lost her family, fights the demons trapped in her mind. And Floria, a German civilian who saved Emilia’s life, distrusts everyone, especially himself, as he runs from the country he once honored.

Written in first person point-of-view, Sepetys’ story focuses on  individual refugee’s perceptions and internal struggles.  Short dialogue sequences capture interactions between them.

It’s clear a lot of research went into Sepetys’ plot, but she manages to create a story that touches the cord of humanity so deeply that the historical components of the story support the characters, rather than the other way around. It would do us well, however, to remember this harrowing piece of history lost in common knowledge.

Ruth Sepetys Writes for Writers

Beyond the integration of history in Sepetys’ story she offers much to learn for any writer. She uses every means she can to develop character. Note the sparse language used to create settings and establish emotions, while still driving the story forward.

Instead of each chapter telling what that person did, Sepetys often choses to develop characters through others’ observations. An example from Emilia’s chapter follows. “The shoe poet woke early, rapping our feet with his walking stick.”

Another example from Joanne’s perspective: “I had woke in the middle of the night and imagined I saw the German standing above me in the dark. When I blinked he was gone and I realized it was a dream.” or was it?

The climax wraps around the converted cruise ship Wilhelmina Gustoff. For pictures and a history of the Cruise Liner Wilhelm Gustloff check out feldgrau.com

Book Review, salt to the sea by Ruth SepetysSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 393
Goodreads

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

Book Review of Sacred River by Debu Majumdar

The Story of a Temple Gold Heist,

In Sacred River, A Himalyan Journey, Debu Majumdar introduces us to East Indian characters from all walks of life.  He weaves them Sacred River by Debu Majumdartogether as they journey to the source of the Sacred River, each for their own reasons. The meld of characters on their disparate quests immerses the reader in the complexities of India’s rich and diverse culture.

The question of ‘what happens to the gold that monasteries receive from worshipers’ became the focus of the murderous prologue scene. From there we follow three primary story lines. The poor farmer Jaglish, a light to cherish, begins and ends Majumdar’s story. Persons associated with the SMS society contrast with the farmer’s endearing role. The SMS needs money for philanthropic endeavors. Although work by the SMS helps the poor, its leaders  plan to grow the charity exponentially, thus putting them into a precarious financial position. When they acquire an old manuscript with a mysterious sequence of numbers, they make plans to rob a temple at the source of the Ganges.

Majumdar introduces Shovik in chapter 5. Although Shovik grew up in India, he married and lived with his family in the USA. His midlife crisis drew him back to India. Majumdar intertwines the three story lines, with each character reflecting a different aspect of India.

Backstories peppered throughout enlighten the reader on motives and personal challenges. We travel through a couple childhoods which took me out of the main plot. But ultimately, the story returns to the gold heist.

Debu Majumdar Writes India as a Character

India exists as a character itself in Majumdar’s tale. Rich detail on the intricacies of Indian culture impregnate every page. His descriptions take you there. You walk the streets and meet the people.  Majumdar blends history and religion, while Hindu folk tales add yet another layer.

The cover fooled me. It gave me the impression of a spiritual book, rather than a fiction novel. While the spiritual transformations that the journey to the source of the Ganges prompts is the theme of the story, the gold heist functions as the plot holding everything together. The heist itself is a fun read.

Majumdar wins

Literary Suspence/Adventure

Book Review of Sacred River by Debu MajumdarSacred River: A Himalayan Journey by Debu Majumdar
Published by Bo-Tree House on October 10th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Goodreads

"Mystery, love and beautiful scenery wrapped into a terrific journey."
- Jim Porell, Pine Plains, NY.
An Indian-American journeys to mystical Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas, searching for peace and renewal. As he travels, a pilgrimage temple near the glacier becomes the target of a gold heist. Pilgrims, thieves, tourists, and events flow toward the temple independently with their individual stories. The life struggles of an illiterate farmer, lofty goals of a charitable organization, desire for fame, romance, and cultural nuance, along with Indian myths and legends, supply colorful threads to the story. Their paths cross and re-cross until the ultimate denouement. As little tributaries flow together to make the magnificent Ganges River, each thread is woven to make a beautiful tapestry with an uplifting conclusion. While, on the surface, all action centers on the treasure heist, underneath, this is a story of a spiritual quest invigorated by Indian mythological and folk tales. The novel is also a travelogue of India; through the events of the journey and planning for the gold heist, the reader comes face to face with the real India. A Himalayan journey that will touch your soul.

Praise for Sacred River

Sacred River is a deceptively readable novel that begins with murder and ends with a temple treasure hunt. The real treasure, however, is the intervening story which unwraps India itself--its deep history, dramatic geography, captivating people and above all its spirituality, both Hindu and Buddhist. The writing is clear, swift and engaging, as if written for young readers, but readers of every age will enjoy and profit from it. Since at least Tagore, modern Indian writers have offered great gifts to the rest of the world. Sacred River is another one.
- Jerry Brady, former newspaper publisher, Peace Corps staff member, and co-founder of one of the world's largest micro-lending organizations, Accion International.
Sacred River graciously introduces us to the old songs and stories about gods and heroes who make sites sacred and pilgrimages fruitful. And as an Indian story of pilgrimage ought to do, Sacred River also teaches its readers that the best fruits of pilgrimage are reserved for those who do not seek them.
- David Curley, Professor Emeritus, Western Washington University.
A brilliant novel, which gives a wonderfully vivid flavour of India with all its idiosyncrasies and contradictions. It transports you there, from Delhi to the foothills of the Himalayas, and there is an intriguing glimpse into Hindu beliefs and gods with insightful snippets of scriptures and stories. The novel also involves an ancient manuscript, a mysterious number sequence, and a plot to steal temple treasures. Fascinating and thought provoking that will bowl you along, wanting to know more.
- Barbara Hall, Nibley Green, Gloucestershire, U.K.
Mystery, love and beautiful scenery wrapped into a terrific journey. This book has elements of both a murder/mystery and historical fiction. What is unexpected is the spiritual journey that the author took with his characters, which might also be a pilgrimage of sorts for the reader. There are some great life lessons shared in the book, intertwined with a love story, deception and intrigue and a wonderful travelogue on the trip to the head of the Ganges River. All of these different angles are woven together in a very enjoyable way. It is worth every minute!
- Jim Porell, IBM Distinguished Engineer, retired, Pine Plains, NY.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Redd Becker Book Review

The True Confessions of Charlotte DoyleThe True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, a coming-of-age adventure, leads the way with a dynamic heroine. Avi portrays Charlotte as smart, courageous and ‘willing to make things right’ when she makes mistakes. But as Charlotte faces a world more convoluted than her protected girl’s school had been, her moral compass requires fine tuning.

Avi mixes historical details well in this mystery adventure. Written in first person, Charlotte shows us the world of the high seas. Our thirteen year old heroine finds herself caught between captain and crew, when she transverses the Atlantic as the only female on a ship ripe for mutiny. Her naivety as a privileged girl, schooled at Barrington School for Better Girls in 1832, gets her in trouble when she does what they taught prudent. Their advice backfires and Charlotte finds herself an outcaste on a ship of ruffians.

In her desire to fix things, Charlotte joins the ship’s crew. She regains their respect because she’s willing to work hard, but she quickly finds herself accused of murder. The story and mystery of who committed the murder progresses with no shortage of action.

Charlotte Doyle’s story is a fun read, but thematic meanings are never far. The heroine’s innocence, due to gender and class, limits her at first, but she learns quickly and tries to make amends–regardless what it costs her. An unconventional ending leaves readers satisfied that the life lessons she learned will go to good use.

Newberry Book Honor Award for The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle received a Newberry Honor Book Award. Sometimes Newberry Honor books are overly literary, but Avi’s tale depicts a strong heroine in a fun, swashbuckling adventure. This makes it great to read in classrooms. Action keeps young readers engaged, while life messages lurk beneath the surface.

Schmoop provides a wonderfully insightful critique on the book, even if you don’t agree with all of it.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by AviThe True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Published by HarperCollins on August 10th 2004
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 229
Goodreads

A vicious captain, a mutinous crew and a young girl caught in the middle. Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. Be warned, however: If strong ideas and action offend you, read no more. Find another companion to share your idle hours. For my part I intend to tell the truth as I lived it.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

Redd Becker Book Review

by Jennifer ChiaveriniChiaverini presents many interesting aspects of the civil war era in her novel. Historical fiction provides an avenue for little known viewpoints of a time in refreshing relief. Chiaverini uses the genre to its fullest, while remaining true to plot and character.

Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, is an empathetic heroine who bought her way out of slavery. She worked for several presidential families, authored a book and survived many personal trials. The dressmaker acts as the thread holding this story together, but President Lincoln’s wife, Mary Lincoln, features predominantly in the story. Each character represents a slice of America’s racial history, but neither Elizabeth Keckley or Mrs. Lincoln were stereotypical of their time. It is clear Chiaverini walks a balance in her story telling, to mix details of historical events without burying Keckley’s fascinating story.

Chiaverini Stands Out among Writers

For those interested in writing: Chiaverini is a well established, New York Times best selling author, with over twenty novels published. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker stands as a good example of how much  backstory and rhetoric can be layered onto storyline, while remaining an engaging story.

My Rating four-stars For another perspective check out the New York Times book review of the book.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer ChiaveriniMrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
Published by Dutton on January 15th 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
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three-stars

In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.
In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.
Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Redd Becker Book Review

The Japanese Lover by Isabel AllendeIsabel Allende is a proven master of story telling.  Little dialogue or ‘traditional’ scene structure encumber Allende as she weaves her story with uncanny knowledge of human secrets and motivations. Historical events turned inside out provide unexpected characters and relationships.

Isabel Allende creates diversions that matter

Allende goes on tangents within scenes to create new characters before returning to the plot, where she ties it all together. This adds multi-dimensions the reader doesn’t expect. It can be difficult to maintain the intensity and momentum during the middle sections, but Allende does it with finesse. She delivers a heart wrenching climax by the end. Thank you Allende for documenting the most human sides of history with compassion.

A young woman, Alma, works in an old folks home where she befriends a wealthy resident. When the old woman disappears for short vacations Alma decides to discover the truth of the woman’s past. Readers moved forward and backward in time piecing together the effects of World War II on each of the character’s lives: the main character Alma’s, the grandmother, her grandson and the Japanese lover.

For those interested in writing:    Writers today are told to “Show, don’t tell”, but  Allende stands out as a wonderful example of someone who “tells” her story effectively. The lack of action scenes doesn’t draw away from the novel. She has a style that lets you walk along with her.

My Rating five-stars

The Japanese Lover by Isabel AllendeThe Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende, Nick Caistor, Amanda Hopkinson
Published by Atria Books on November 3rd 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 322
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Goodreads
four-stars

In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco's parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family's Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family, like thousands of other Japanese Americans are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.
Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco's charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

Redd Becker Book Review

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay brings to life a rich fantasy world with interesting historical scenes of chariot races, the deceitful life of courts and politics between feudal kingdoms. The time period depicts religious powers braced against pagan beliefs that causes mistrust at every turn.

Guy Gavriel Kay Attends to Detail

Kay writes with more description than I prefer, but it is Kay’s detail and intimate portrayal of characters that suspends the reader in the novel’s time and place. Exotic voluptuous detail heightens every scene. The perspective of the story moves easily from one point-of-view (POV) to another in third person omniscient with multiple plots creating the fabric around the main character, Chrispin; a mosaicist ensnared between powers.

Chrispin is called to the city of Sarantium to make mosaics for the emperor’s personal chapel. He’s immediately thrust in the middle of palace intrigue, but he is not of it. Byzantine court is dissected from multiple perspectives.   In this epic tale of intrigue we follow the mosaisist, Chrispin. He struggles against the forces around him , while struggling to maintain integrity.  

My Rating five-stars

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel KaySailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay
Series: The Sarantine Mosaic #1
Published by Earthlight on November 4th 2002
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
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Goodreads

Crispin is a master mosaicist, creating beautiful art with colored stones and glass. Summoned to Sarantium by imperial request, he bears a Queen's secret mission, and a talisman from an alchemist. Once in the fabled city, with its taverns and gilded sanctuaries, chariot races and palaces, intrigues and violence, Crispin must find his own source of power in order to survive-and unexpectedly discovers it high on the scaffolding of his own greatest creation.