books, review, Uncategorized

Book Review: Estrid by Johanne Hildebrandt

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

Estrid by Johanne Hildebrandt. AmazonCrossing, 2017. 524 pages. ISBN 9781503943575.

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The second book in the Valhalla Series (after The Unbroken Line of the Moon), Estrid follows Queen Sigrid of Svealand, her twin children Estrid and Olaf, and Sweyn Forkbeard, Sigrid’s long-ago lover and now the exiled king of Denmark. Sigrid, Estrid, and Olaf are not your everyday family in the neighborhood, though, as they play the power games of royalty—for indeed the Vikings portrayed in this title are bloodthirsty, foreign, and driven by strange passions.

The title character, Estrid, is flawed by mental instability and physical weakness and resigned to a brief life of duty. She has been pledged to the dark goddess Hel, to whom she is faithful—at first. Taking place at a time when Christianity was making inroads against native Scandinavian gods, the book effectively shows the Vikings’ pre-Christian culture, most jarringly when Christians are referred to as “evil cross-worshippers.”

Although it deals with Christianity, this is not a Christian book, and those readers that cannot separate their personal belief systems from the world portrayed here will likely be offended by its content. However, they will be missing out on a tale that winds around and about in fascinating, surprising, and touching ways. A solid, well-crafted read with an exciting balance of action, romance, and intrigue, it provides a fascinating look at Viking society and the daring characters who ruled it.

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books, review, Uncategorized, US history

Book Review: Flight of the Hawk: The River

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

Flight of the Hawk: The River by W. Michael Gear. Five Star, 2018. 271 pages. ISBN 9781432840679.

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The fur trade in 1812 Missouri takes center stage in this tale about hardscrabble business, ruthless politics, and the untrammeled majesty of nature. Mysterious John Tylor signs aboard a trading expedition helmed by Manuel Lisa, a well-known figure of the era. Andrew Jackson, William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame, and John Jacob Astor are other important figures who make appearances as Tylor flees from his past to battle nature, a mentally unstable pursuer, and destiny itself.

From the first page, author Gear’s prose reflects confidence, skill, and solid research, making it easy to imagine and enjoy the difficult, desperate setting. The protagonist, Tylor, is revealed in dribs and drabs. A veritable baker’s dozen of other major characters—French, Spanish, Scottish, and Native American—are introduced in bewildering succession. Because many of these characters come with little background, readers without at least a passing knowledge of the time period may find themselves struggling to get their bearings. Once they settle into the story’s rhythm, though, they will enjoy a plot-centric, high-stakes tale that moves as quickly as the swift-rushing Missouri River.

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, fantasy, new release, review, Uncategorized, young adult

The King’s Champion by Xina Marie Uhl is worthy of its cover.

Great review for my latest novel by SciFiMonkeys.com!

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I love the cover of The King’s Champion by Xina Marie Uhl! Swords tend to be popular with fantasy novels, and with good reason. We immediately know that the book contains warriors, probably some epic fighting, possibly magic, and hopefully a great story. Thankfully the inside of this book lives up to its cover.

Source: The King’s Champion by Xina Marie Uhl is worthy of it’s cover.

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.

 

review, Uncategorized

Book Review: Lower Education by A.M. Leibowitz

Lower EducationLower Education by A. M. Leibowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard-nosed educational consultant Phin Patterson is used to breezing into town, analyzing troubled schools and taking off before his superiors bring the hatchet down, disrupting the status quo. When he takes a job in small town New York, though, he figures he’ll do what he’s always done and be finished in no time. No harm, no foul. This town is different, though. For one thing, it doesn’t take administrative assistant Dani long to figure out that Phin’s hiding something. And then there’s deliciously attractive school psychologist Alex, who’s someone he has a significant past with. It seems, though, that Phin’s past is now wrapped up with his present and it’s proving harder than he thought to keep the two separate.

Lower Education is a slow build kind of story, one which relies on multi-faceted characterization and strong dialogue to guide the reader through the tale. What it lacks in narrative tension it makes up for in a real world premise, a well-rounded setting, and characters who juggle work and home. I particularly liked how refreshingly open they were about their sexuality. The heart of the story lies in the relationships, like it does for any satisfying romance. Most satisfying is the front row seat to savor the fissures that appear in bad boy Phin’s carefully constructed emotional walls when he slowly lets love in

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Purchase here: Lower Education