Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt – Sawbones #3

I received this novel as an advanced copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was a long time coming. I remember reading the second novel in this series and wanting to get started on this one right away … but life (and other books on my TBR list) got in the way. However, I’ve finally done it and I’m ready to review:

Just when Laura thought things were going to get better, her worst fears have been realized: she is separated from Kindle and is once again on the run. She can’t go back to New York without risking death, and it is almost certain that Kindle will be tried and hanged. The only person Laura has as an ally is a woman that she cannot trust. Will Laura be able to survive? Or is it finally time for her to face her past?

This was a really good conclusion to an interesting series. In this concluding novel, the story was focused almost entirely on Laura, which I really enjoyed. Kindle, while always present, took a backseat in this story and it actually worked for the better. This novel had 2 female protagonists (including Laura) and I really liked reading about how they fought and worked with each other throughout the course of the story. Again, the author did a great job maintaining the historical setting of the novel. All of the open ends were tied up really nice with this book. After all the negative things that occur in this novel, it still ended on a positive note, which I was happy about. This was definitely a successful Western historical fiction series and I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of this genre!

Happy reading ~

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor

Thank you to Penguin Random House and their First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’m not a big fan of historical fiction and if you go through my blog, you will see that I haven’t read very many books from this genre. I always feel a bit guilty about not widening my horizons so this time I chose a book that is not only part of the historical fiction genre but also the romance genre (which I also don’t delve into very much).

Austria, 1938.
Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. However, when Kristallnacht occurs, Kristoff’s teacher disappears and it is up to Kristoff to deal with the Germans, who want him to engrave stamps for the Fuhrer and his army. With the help of his teacher’s fiery daughter, Elena, the stamps get made …. but for each stamp created for the Fuhrer comes another stamp for the Austrian resistance, along with forged papers to help Jewish Austrians escape. As Kristoff and Elena’s love for each other grows, they must find a way to keep each other safe before they get caught.

Los Angeles, 1989.
Katie Nelson is struggling with her life, as she goes through a divorce and deals with her father’s memory loss. As she cleans up her house, she comes across her father’s beloved stamp collection. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter, Katie finds herself intrigued. As she and Benjamin try to get to the bottom of this mystery, they are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall.

This was a very well-written story and looked at a very different angle of the war than one I’ve previously read about. I’ve heard of Kristallnacht, of course, but this novel took an interesting perspective of it. Even though half of the story takes place during WWII, the emphasis was evenly divided between the relationship of Kristoff and Elena and the resistance effort. I also really liked the other narrative that was happening with Katie and her father’s stamp collection. I learned a lot about stamps and their significance that I was unaware of before this story, and that was a nice surprise. The romance aspect of this novel was really well done; it was believable and simple and touching. I quite enjoyed the read and got a bit emotional at the end, which is always a good sign. This is definitely a strong historical fiction novel with a well written romance angle!

Happy reading ~

Bright Air Black by David Vann

Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Medea or Jason and the Argonauts. In fact, I did a quick Wikipedia search into the origins of these characters before delving into this book so that I could properly understand the content. Here is my review:

The story brings us aboard the ship Argo as it makes its epic journey back home across the Black Sea from Colchis – Medea’s homeland where she has fled her father with Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. As Medea sails along with the man she loves, she must decide whether she is a sorceress or a monster. As the journey continues and reality hits Medea, we witness Medea’s humanity, her Bronze Age roots and position in Greek society, her love affair with Jason, and her tragic demise.

It definitely helped that I had a little background on the story before beginning this book because this novel starts at the point when Medea is on Jason’s ship, running away from her father. The story doesn’t really delve too much into the events that preceded this but you eventually do find out as you continue reading. Apart from that, the story is quite indepth in terms of storyline, giving a great amount of detail into the way the journey progresses. Having never read anything about Medea or Jason, I found the story fascinating. There was never a dull moment and with each page comes more violence, brutality, and treachery. If you have never heard of Medea, then you need to read this book and get to know her story!

Medea’s character….. was incredible. She is strong, ruthless, intelligent, and determined in a way that no other female protagonist I have each very read about has been. When she spoke, she voiced the thoughts of countless women over countless generations. She is the epitome of the struggles of a woman who does not fit into the mold created by men. In short, I loved her. She was violent and lacked mercy and yet shred he managed to exude femininity while acting completely unfeminine (according to our views on what a feminine person  is typically like). I cannot stress enough how well the author portrayed her and how mesmerized I was by her strength. She is definitely one badass female protagonist, even if I don’t support all of her violent actions.

At first, the writing style seemed unusual to me. It’s poetic but not in the typical way. It made me take note of every word being used, every transition being made. This was a beautifully written story and it demanded that you pay attention attention appreciate that beauty.

Happy reading ~

The Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel

Awhile back, I read a book called Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel. It felt like I was watching one of my historical Asian dramas, and I was happy to discover that the story was based off of a real historical figure. Not only is it based off of a historical figure, the main character was the first female Empress of China! I really enjoyed the first novel so I knew I had to read the sequel and find out what happened to her.

When the Emperor passes away, Mei’s lover, Pheasant is crowned as the the new Emperor. But a power struggle begins between Pheasant and his uncle, who insists on becoming Regent. Mei also suffers from this backlash, as Pheasant’s wife, Empress Wang, goes to extreme lengths to destroy Mei’s life. As the political game becomes more dangerous, Mei realizes that she must defeat the bloodthirsty Empress and the sly Regent to save herself and also to protect her country.

I’m going to begin my review by saying that this is not a book you can read as a standalone; you absolutely have to read The Moon in the Palace before reading this one or you won’t understand what is going on. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I really liked this book. Just like its predecessor, the novel reads like an asian drama, full of intrigue and political mind games. The author really made history come alive through this story! I really enjoy reading about constant manipulation and power struggles, which is why this book was so wonderful for me but if you don’t like either one of those things, then this novel probably isn’t for you. While this story may not be 100% historically accurate, the author really gave some depth to Mei’s character and made her actions believable and understandable. Overall, a really interesting novel on a prominent historical figure in China!

Happy reading ~

 

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’m not going to preface this review with much. I have too many opinions and thoughts going on and I know if I start writing something now, I will literally ramble and never stop. So with that being said, let’s begin:

When Merrick Tremayne becomes crippled after an injury, he thinks his life of adventure as an East India Company smuggler is gone. Well, he’s wrong. When the India Office contacts Merrick to go on an expedition in Peru for quinine, which is essential for treating malaria, Merrick is hesitant. Even able-bodied expeditionaries have struggled to survive, and he can barely walk. But so desperate is he to escape his trapped life at home, that he sets off against his better judgement. He arrives at a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon, where a salt line separates the town from a forest that is forbidden. Anyone who tries to breach the forest is killed by something – but beyond the salt are the quinine woods and there is no other way to get to them. Surrounded by local lore on cursed woods and lost time, Merrick must separate truth from fantasy in order to find out the history behind this place – and the mystery behind its people.

Let me tell you right now: I was really excited to read this novel. There is this historical aspect mixed with magical realism and so much adventure … I was looking forward to going on an amazing journey.

When I first started to read, I was a little bored. I wondered where exactly the story was going and what the personality of the narrator, Merrick, would be like. Within the first couple chapters, the magical elements started surfacing and I began to pay interest. I started putting the pieces together and making sense of all of the different characters being introduced.

However, there were quite a few things that made me feel … off. For one thing, Merrick is described as a young-ish man, around 30 years old. However, he talks like someone much older than his age. It was very hard at times to put these two things together and imagine a realistic character. He was very good at describing the things that were happening, and I really must say that the author did a fabulous job with her depictions of Peru… but I didn’t feel like Merrick really had a voice or personality. Merrick reminds me of the narrator from The Great Gatsby; an observer who is along for the ride but who really doesn’t have much input. I was much more intrigued by Raphael’s character and that of Merrick’s friend. However, I would have liked to have been invested in the main character, as he is the one who is supposed to pull the reader into the story.

The magical realism in this novel is really done quite well. There were loads of interesting facts, mixed with incidents of magical/supernatural happenings that kept me interested in the story. In fact, had those elements not been there, I would probably have given up on this novel a while ago. To be fair, at times it felt like there really wasn’t a plot. Many things were brought up and the timeline was constantly shifting as the author went backwards and forwards into the lives of the different characters. There were many occasions during which I wondered where exactly the author was going, and it made me feel a little disappointed with the story.

Truth is, I really wanted to like this novel but I didn’t feel like it led to anything significant in terms of plot or theme. It was really well-written, with beautiful descriptions and tons of supernatural/magical elements. However, the plot wasn’t focused and the characters lacked that spark to make me care about them. For those reasons, I’m giving this book a 2.5/5 stars rounded to 3.

Happy reading ~

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The first book I read about anthropology and archaeology was Lucy’s Child. It was a fascinating novel that made me rethink my future goals. After discovering my interest in this field, my school librarian suggested I read Clan of the Cave Bears by Jean M. Auel. To this day, it is my favorite book. So it should come as no surprise that when I heard about this book and its subject matter, I knew I had to read it. Here is my review:

40,000 years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. It has been a hard winter, and with numbers low, the family knows it is imperative that they travel to the annual meeting place; Girl, the oldest daughter, and Him, the oldest son, must each find a mate. But there is danger everywhere, and Girl finds herself left alone to care for Runt, a foundling that her family adopted. As they face the coming winter, Girl realizes that there is only one way for her to save her people.

In the modern day, Dr. Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy on her archaeological dig, racing to excavate the newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her due date. Linked through the shared experience of motherhood, both Girl and Rose reveal the taboo corners of women’s lives through their narratives.

Let me just make it clear: there is no real suspense in this novel. That isn’t to say this novel isn’t engrossing – it is. But the blurb for this novel basically gives away 50% of what happens in the story. However, this doesn’t in any way diminish the story’s compelling voice. My favorite narrative was that of Girl, for obvious reasons. Neanderthals have long been thought to be primitive and less developed compared to us, and having this author (and Gale) show us otherwise was just fascinating. I think the true magic in this story is how real the Neanderthal narrative was; you could feel the emotions, and their experiences came alive on the page. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected to Neanderthals – and they’re part of our genetic makeup. No, but with all seriousness, the author did a fantastic job in her portrayal of the Neanderthal family and Girl’s struggles to survive. My problem was with the modern day portrayal. I didn’t really care for Dr. Gale; I found her petty and weird and just … not that personable. Her narrative didn’t really do anything for me and it really didn’t do much for the story, either. Since Gale’s narrative makes up half of the story, it made me only like part of the story, which is why I’m giving this novel a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Blood Oath by Melissa Lenhardt – Sawbones #2

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sawbones, the first book in this series, was one of my first forays into the Western genre. And I really liked it. The story was good, the theme was good, nothing felt overdone… it was just a great experience overall. It was with high hopes that I began to read this sequel… so here is my review:

After escaping danger, Laura Elliston and William Kindle are on the run — from the Army and from every bounty hunter after Laura. But the danger isn’t just from those pursuing them. Laura and Kindle can’t escape their past and are haunted by their secrets and trauma. Exhausted, scared, scarred and surrounded by enemies, neither realize the greatest danger is yet to come.

As usual, the author maintained that awesome grittiness that I have started to associate with the Western genre. Laura and Kindle do not get it easy at all in this novel! Every time they turn, there is some struggle or the other – but that’s what I like about this book series. The author does not shy away from difficult themes like the conflict between Natives and the “Westerners”, and the trauma from rape. The story was powerful because of the topics it covered and I think the author did a good job of addressing them. There is a lot more romance in this novel but I think that the chemistry between Laura and Kindle worked very well, so it was a success for me! I will say that this novel is more of a filler between the first book and what is to come; while this novel was interesting, it wasn’t really necessary. However, with all that being said, this is definitely a good Western book series and I cannot wait to see what happens to Laura and Kindle in the next installment!

Happy reading ~

The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What drew me to this novel was the long title. It made me curious (ha-ha) as to what this novel would be like.

For several years, Miss Lane served as a collaborator and friend to Miss X, a member of the Psychical Societs – only to discover that Miss X was a fraud. Upset by this betrayal, Miss Lane leaves to go find new employment, and she does so with Mr. Jasper Jesperson, a consulting detective. While she is much happier in her current position as assistant detective, the cases aren’t plentiful and money is a bit tight. They need a breakthrough case, something that will give them a reputation – and some cash. Then they get one: it involves a somnambulist, the disappearance of several mediums, and a cat stuck up a tree. And Jesperson and Lane are the perfect people to solve this case! 

Sometimes a novel just doesn’t work for a reader. This is one of those times. I’m going to go through the list of things that caused this novel to not work for me, but keep in mind that it may just be a case of personal preference.

When I began reading this novel, I was startled by the pacing of the book. The focus was more on recounting events rather than showing the true passage of time and the full events, which was a bit disappointing; I would have preferred to have read the scenes in real time.

I was also taken aback by the similarities between Jesperson and Sherlock Holmes. The author did allude to Sherlock Holmes in the very beginning so I knew that there would be comparisons between these detectives and him. However, I wasn’t expecting the author to create characters and relationships so strikingly similar. While I love Sherlock Holmes, I don’t like seeing characters that try to emulate him.

I didn’t like the main characters in the story, which is unfortunate because it led me to not like the story. Jesperson was quite whiny and I didn’t like his ideologies; he believed himself to be the next Sherlock, and showed a great deal of selfishness and arrogance in his decisions. Miss Lane was a bit annoying, and that made it hard to get through the story, which is pretty much told through her perspective.

My favorite thing about this story is the Victorian Era setting for this novel. The author really did a good job in staying true to this time period and I just love reading novels set in Victorian England. I also quite liked the mystery itself, as it had a lot of funny and interesting aspects to it.

Overall, this was an interesting story but the characters didn’t work for me, and that is why I didn’t really enjoy this novel as much as I could have. While I give this novel a 2.5/5 stars, I’m sure there are others that would rate this novel higher!

Happy reading ~

 

Shadows of the Dead by Jim Eldridge – DCI Stark #2

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

London, 1921. Lord Johnny Fairfax has just been discovered dead in his study, along with another victim: an American man who was visiting Fairfax unexpectedly. For DCI Paul Stark, this case is more personal than just a heinous crime: he’s currently in a relationship with the former Lady Fairfax, Lady Amelia. And she is one of the top suspects. However, Lord Fairfax had his fair share of enemies, which means the suspect pool is large. And nobody knows who the American is and what his connection is to Lord Fairfax. As Stark digs deeper, he uncovers evidence of a shocking conspiracy that could mean doom for the British Establishment.

When I first read this novel, I was unaware that it was the second book in a series. However, that wasn’t too much of an issue as the author provided enough detail about everything that I didn’t feel like I missed out on much. This was an interesting historical mystery in that it involved more detail than many historical fiction novels I’ve read. There was a lot of name-dropping of historical figures, which at first was cool but eventually got tedious, especially since they weren’t always that important for the story. I also found that this book was more about DCI Stark’s private life than the mystery itself, which isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case, it made me lose interest in the story. So while the novel had an intriguing plot and was well-written, it just didn’t do it for me. I’d give this a 3/5 stars and recommend this to someone who is really interested in historical fiction (like… REALLY interested)!

Happy reading ~

A High Mortality of Doves by Kate Ellis

It’s been a while since I’ve read a classic historical fiction crime novel. I’ve heard about this author’s work but I’ve never had the pleasure of reading anything by her, so I thought this would be a good time to accomplish both goals. Here is my review:

It’s 1919 and the village of Wenfield is still trying to recuperate from 4 terrible years of war, as it comes to terms with the loss of so many men. The last thing this place needs is the brutal murder of a young woman. When Myrtle Bligh is found stabbed to death in the woodland, with her mouth slit to accommodate a dead dove, everyone is horrified by the nature of the crime. During the war, Myrtle spent time as a volunteer nurse with Flora Winsmore, the daughter of the local daughter; along with other volunteers, the girls cared for wounded soldiers at the nearby big house, Tarney Court. After 2 more women are murdered and left in the same circumstances, the village calls in Inspector Albert Lincoln from London, a man who is also suffering from the aftermaths of war. With rumours of a ghostly soldier with a painted face being spotted near the scene of the murders, the village is thrown into a state of panic – and with the killer still on the loose, who will be the next to die at the hands of this vicious soldier?

This was definitely an interesting novel. The author did a good job of creating a realistic impression of the historical time period, replete with examples of the social issues and prejudices that were prevalent in those days. The writing style was interesting, flitting between different characters. Flora had her own designated chapters that read more like diary entries, and Albert’s chapters were in 3rd perspective. At first, I didn’t really enjoy this style but it stopped mattering as I focused more on the story. The plot was intriguing and there were many avenues of investigation that the author explored. The ending definitely took me aback, as I wasn’t suspecting this direction; however, it wasn’t satisfactory for me and felt more like the author chose to do this just to add a thrill element. In other words, it wasn’t as well thought out as it could have been. The relationship between the two main characters was also not something I enjoyed; I don’t usually like novels where infidelity is accepted and I also felt as if the romance was not too well developed. Overall, a nice historical fiction with an interesting crime twist. This novel didn’t wow me but it wasn’t terrible, so I would give this a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~