books, literature, new release, review, Uncategorized

Historical Fantasy At Its Best

The Jinni's Last WishThe Jinni’s Last Wish by Zenobia Neil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the first page, the novel weaves a spell of another world – a harem in the Ottoman Empire, filled with the scents of cinnamon and cloves, and heavy with desire. Young eunuch Olin fights his lust for the beauties around him while navigating the Byzantine politics that pit wives and mistresses against one another to win the favor of their opium-enthralled sultan. The atmosphere of luxury is enhanced by Neil’s talented descriptions and impeccable historical accuracy. The names of the harem women, such as Crimson Petal, Red Tulip, and Peach Blossom, serve to add to this atmosphere, and to the lyrical quality of the writing. Sex is currency here in the harem, and death, if one is not wary.

Olin is a well-rounded, sympathetic character who struggles with courage, duty, and honor. When the beautiful odalisque Dark Star offers him a magical pendant he unleashes the power of the jinni, one which will change his world forever.

If you like your historical fiction with a touch of magic you can’t do better than this addictive novel.

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books, literature, review, Uncategorized, US history, young adult

Book Review: Retribution Rails by Erin Bowman

Another review originally posted on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

Retribution Rails by Erin Bowman. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2017. Children/Young Adult, Western, 19th century. 384 pages. ISBN 9780544918887.

Teenager Reece Murphy is compelled to join a ruthless outlaw gang, the Rose Riders, during a robbery, when the outlaws discover a mysterious gold coin in his possession. Reece doesn’t know much about the man who gave him the coin, but the boss figures he does, and keeps a close eye on him. In the meantime, Reece is guilty by association and finds himself dubbed the Rose Kid due to the train robberies, murders, and general mayhem caused by the gang.

Spunky 15-year-old Charlotte Vaughn means to follow in the journalistic footsteps of her idol, Nellie Bly, and in doing so lands in the middle of a train robbery committed by the Rose Riders and starring Reece Murphy. This sets up the frequently changing fortunes of the two main characters, which continues until the end of the book with breathtaking regularity.

Written in crisp, vibrant prose, the short chapters and shifting points of view of Reece and Charlotte suck the reader into the dangerous world of Arizona Territory in 1887, and play up the desolate surroundings, scrubby inhabitants, and the ever-widening grasp of the railroad in an effective combination. High stakes put Charlotte and Reece at odds and then in reluctant cooperation as feelings blossom between them.

Don’t be surprised if you hear the far-off echo of train whistles and cowboys’ yee-haws in this fast-paced, emotionally satisfying read that hits all the right notes of a western adventure.

ancient history, books, cats, general wackiness, Hiccups in History, literature, nonfiction, research, review, Uncategorized, US history, writing

Cats in History

Hiccups in HistoryAlthough Reddit can be, in the immortal words of Obi Wan Kenobi “a wretched hive of scum and villainy,” it is also the source of historical amusement, if you are selective about the subreddits you follow. One of my favorite is Old News, which shares interesting old newspaper articles on various and sundry subjects. A couple cat-related ones I discovered lately earn the Hiccups in History designation.

Forgive the yellow highlights, which I can’t seem to get rid of. These items are from the California Digital Newspaper collection, which lists sources from 1846 to the present.

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Since I have a currently untitled Icebound tale in the works that is set in 1910’s Alaska, this one caught my eye. I wonder about how H.J. Coleman’s cat scheme turned out. It is rather ingenious, though how in the world did warmth-loving cats fare in Alaska?

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And then there is this one, in which cats are meant to combat “great armies of gophers.” Did they put on armor and sally forth with tiny little swords, guns, and tanks? I’m reminded of this infamous gif:

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Currently, I’m almost finished reading a wonderful nonfiction history of cats. I haven’t been able to find much in the way of real history about animals so I was thrilled to find Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat by L.A. Vocelle of http://www.thegreatcat.org. The book relies on artwork and literature primarily to fill in the historical gaps, primarily in the ancient time periods, and even through the Middle Ages. Artwork and literature are useful in that they demonstrate the presence of cats and how they were conceived of, at least by the social class that is depicted, and they are particularly pleasant to examine–not always the case with books, unfortunately!

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The author also makes use of some older histories of domestic animals published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s always a bit perilous to write a complete history of anything because an author opens herself up to claims of “but you forgot this and that” which I suppose I am super sensitive to, but this book seems to carry it off with confidence.

It is written in engaging language and focuses on particularly interesting–and sometimes tragic–instances and individuals important to feline history. It proceeds chronologically and while it is well-written, it is also largely unbiased, another important feature of historical writing. Relevant photos and pictures are provided, a timeline, lists of tombs and cemeteries in Egypt to do with cats, and a voluminous references section. In short, this book is a giant YES and will be included in my future historical writings.

If you have any other references for me to check out please feel free to leave them in the comments.

 

books, literature, review, Uncategorized

Book Review: The Half-Drowned King

Here’s another of my Historical Novel Society reviews – this one all about the Vikings and drowning, which seems to be a thing in publishing lately, for some odd reason.

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The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker. Harper Little Brown, 2017. ISBN 9780062563699; $27.99, Hardback.

It is 9th-century Norway, and the Vikings are sailing, raiding, battling, and attending the gathering of peoples known as the Thing. Ragnvald Eysteinsson, a young warrior, finds himself betrayed by the very men he fought alongside, and left to drown in the cold waves of the Viking seas. His sister, Svanhild, faces challenges of her own back home, where she must navigate the social waters of suitors. The mercurial Solvi juggles political alliances and personal attachments deftly, and the warrior Harald of Vestfold—King Harald—comes to claim the loyalty of Ragnvald in a move that will change the course of each character’s lives.

A first novel, this title is also the first book of a trilogy. The author can trace her own lineage back to King Harald and, inspired by this family history, she has studied Norse history and literature for many years. Her attention to detail is the most enjoyable aspect of this book, which does an excellent job of evoking a vibrant society from years past. The opening scene, which finds young Ragnvald dancing across the oars while his ship sails, is evocative, dreamlike, and overwritten. The rest of the book follows this pattern.

This is the kind of book to sink into and enjoy for its beauty and atmosphere, not the kind to read for thrilling adventures or a complicated plot. The characters spend a lot of time debating things in their heads, and this trait serves to slow the narrative. However, if you are patient and in the mood for a period piece that brings to life a bygone era, you may find this volume satisfying reading.

books, literature, Uncategorized, US history

Book Review: Wisconsin Logging Camp, 1921: A Boy’s Extraordinary First Year in America Working as a “Chickadee”

That’s quite to book title, isn’t it? Well, it’s an interesting book and worthy of a looooong title. Here’s another of my Historical Novel Society reviews.

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Wisconsin Logging Camp, 1921: A Boy’s Extraordinary First Year in America Working as a “Chickadee” by James Bastian. Trails, 2015. ISBN 9781934553541; $18.95, Paperback.

Will Heinlein is only eight years old when he finds himself an orphan. Suddenly he is a new immigrant to the United States with no family nearby and no prospects. How will he survive, much less live up to the promise of the book’s subtitle?

The narrative opens years later when Will is a wounded soldier in World War II, and then backtracks to Will’s childhood. It takes a while before he becomes the promised Chickadee, or a boy who was given the job of helping the loggers by tending to the trails of their horse-drawn wagons. First, though, the reader is taken on an engaging trip through the struggles of American immigrants and European soldiers and country people. When Will finally does get to the logging camp, his experiences are well-detailed and immerse the reader in the personalities, dangers, and concerns of the workers.

The book is an unusual mishmash of fiction and nonfiction. The title and black and white photographs point toward nonfiction while the storyline and characters are fictional. The narrative reminded me of an oral interview with an irascible old World War II veteran. Well-researched without being pedantic, it gives a good look into the challenges of the era: war, disease, and economic devastation. Similarly, it shows how hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit helped America to thrive even before the explosion of prosperity that World War II engendered.

The author has a strong voice and a good hand with characterization. Despite this, though, it was sometimes hard to accept that an eight-year-old protagonist would speak and behave in the manner portrayed. If you can overlook this flaw, however, the story will take you on an entertaining journey.

books, literature, review, Uncategorized

Book Review: Good Water by John D. Nesbitt

Another review originally posted on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

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Good Water by John D. Nesbitt. Five Star, 2016. ISBN 9781432832759; $25.95; Hardback.

Tommy Reeves is a young ranch hand working his way across the West, accompanied by his friend Red Armstrong. When the two of them come across a settlement of Mexicans nearby, they can’t help be interested in the people there, especially the pretty young women. Despite the fact that their foreman orders them to stay away from the settlement, they return. Their defiance sets in motion a devastating chain of events that result in violence and murder.

The book proceeds at a slow, loping pace through most of the story events, relaying them in a restrained and understated manner. Characterization is satisfyingly complete, and the laconic style of dialogue is especially effective in portraying the Old West. The book really shines with its wonderful, authentic details, though. Most westerns don’t go into detail about how to skin an antelope or cook tortillas on an open griddle, but this book does, with fascinating realism. At its heart the story involves Tommy’s coming of age. His romance with a beautiful Mexican girl also illuminates Mexican culture and the challenges they faced due to their ethnicity.

Lots of the story’s pivotal action scenes take place offstage, so don’t expect a traditional shoot ‘em up tale of revenge and gunslingers. While the narrative does include range fires, bullet wounds, and other Western tropes, it suffers overall from a lack of drama. However, if you are looking for a story which evokes the spirit of the West, with its hardworking settlers, simple lifestyle and wide-open sky, you can’t go wrong with Good Water.

 

books, literature, Uncategorized, young adult

Book Review: A Castle in England by Jamie Rhodes

For some time now I have been reviewing books for the Historical Novel Society (an organization filled with probably the MOST enthusiastic history lovers I have ever seen). This children’s graphic novel is my favorite so far.

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A Castle in England by Jamie Rhodes. No Brow, 2017. ISBN 9781910620199; $19.99; Hardback.

For several months in early 2016, researcher and author Jamie Rhodes lived in Scotney Castle in Kent, South-East England. There he walked the grounds, pondered the ruins, and studied the archives for stories illuminating the castle’s centuries-long past. The result is a young adult graphic novel that includes five tales that span the ages from the late 14th century through the early 20th century. Each part is illustrated as a comic by a different graphic artist in their own unique style. Family trees, historical context information, and facts pertaining to Scotney Castle during the associated period accompany each story in order to provide needed information to help the reader more fully understand what he or she has read.

The stories include “The Labourer” (medieval), “The Priest” (Elizabethan), “The Smuggler” (Georgian), “The Widow” (Victorian), and “The Hunter” (Edwardian). Each of them is inspired by actual events that took place in, near, and around the castle.

The tales are engaging and interesting, making each a quick, easy read. Trying to figure out what, exactly, the tale ultimately means is not as easy or quick, though. Because of this, it is necessary for the reader to carefully examine the family tree and historical context information and think about how the tale was presented, and perhaps even read it over again with these details in mind. For that reason, the graphic novel becomes a potent educational tool for young people and adults alike, and not a piece of spoon-fed diversion. Highly recommended.

ancient history, books, fantasy, literature, new release, Uncategorized, writing, young adult

YA Fantasy Book Release! The King’s Champion

Today is a day that will live in infamy! Errr, wait a minute. I mean, today is a famous, fabulous, FANTASTIC day! For Book One of the Land, The King’s Champion, is finally available for purchase. How many years have I been writing, revising, angsting about and generally fiddling around with this book is more than I want to admit. If you like swords, sorcery, friendship, bickering, fun, drama, and dastardly deeds, this book is for you.

Anyhow, enough blathering. For, *drumroll please* ta-da ….

Young adult fantasy novel swords sorcery friendship love adventure magic fun

A nameless orphan and a despised prince must conquer a living magic that threatens to destroy them and the people of their sprawling, beautiful land.

The first book in a fantasy series of swords, sorcery, and adventure.

A generation ago, a great war convulsed Cantwin. Amidst blood-soaked battles the Stormlifter kings rose up to save the kingdom by imprisoning the dark god Moleck in hell for all eternity.

Or so they thought.

Seventeen-year-old Lance thinks his life is just about perfect now that the prettiest girl in the village wants him. Sure, he dreams of fighting far off battles, but that’s nothing more than a fantasy. Until the elders order him away to find a name for himself.

In the dazzling capital, Lance navigates court intrigues with Prince Kieran’s unlikely friendship. Yet the glitter and gold obscures a dark conspiracy. Soon the two friends find themselves propelled to the edges of the world on a desperate quest. The stakes: Lance’s life, Kieran’s throne, and the survival of the Land itself.

Hunted by assassins, and haunted by the awakening of a strange and frightful power within them, they must find proof of Kieran’s claim to the throne before a dark god’s vengeance destroys them all. For the Power is summoning a champion, and it will not be denied.

Excerpt on Book’s Official Website

It’s this sense of fun, combined with a fast-paced series of adventures, which constantly place Lance in dangerous situations, lends a surreal atmosphere to the story, and leads readers to become more than casually involved in the outcome of his quest …. a story packed with satisfying twists, wry humor throughout, and the coming of age of a young man just beginning to realize his strengths and weaknesses. Young adult through adult readers will relish this original, lively story.Midwest Book Review

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Amazon * Smashwords

To Come: Barnes and Noble * Google Play * Apple Store

About the Author

Xina-300x225Xina Marie Uhl spends her days laboring in obscurity as a freelance writer for various educational projects and dreaming of ways to scrounge up enough cash to: 1. travel the world, and 2. add to her increasing menagerie of dogs, cats, and other creatures. The rest of the time she writes humorous titles such as The Cat’s Guide to Human Behavior and A Fairy Tail and Out of the Bag, fantasy like Necropolis, The Ruling Elite and Other Stories, and quirky romantic historicals like Whiter Pastures and All Mouth and No Trousers (to come). The King’s Champion is the first of a six book series.

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ancient history, books, historical romance, humor, literature, romance, Uncategorized, women

Two More Days and These Will be History

Mybookcave.com is running a free promotion for just two more days. Thirteen historical novels – no money. What could be better. Check them out HERE. We’ve got some pretty fascinating times and places – Ancient Egypt, Byzantium, the Middle Ages, the American Revolutionary War, Antarctica at 1900 and more. Love, war, betrayal, triumph. We’ve got it all, baby! Come have a looksee:

Page from the Past reduction

As of Saturday they’ll be history, so click quick.