Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Review: A Dead Man in Trieste, by Michael Pearce

Set in pre-World War I Europe, Special Branch officer Sandor Seymour is sent from Whitechapel to Trieste to probe the disappearance of the British consul there. Seymour finds that Trieste, an important port of the Austria-Hungarian Empire bordering Italy and Serbia, is a mass of intrigue. When the consul is found dead in the harbor, Seymour investigates the crime while concealing his true identity as a special investigator of the British government. The city is a hotbed of Serbian, Bosnian and Italian nationalism as well as home to Futurist artists who create their own brand of havoc. Seymour must find out: who wanted the well regarded consul dead? I found the foreshadowing of the events that lead to the First World War most interesting.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

Check our catalog

Advertisements

Comments Off on Review: A Dead Man in Trieste, by Michael Pearce

Filed under Historical Fiction, Mysteries and Thrillers, Staff Picks

Review: Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue

This novel is totally different from the other novel, Room, which I read by this author. Frog Music is set in 1876 San Francisco during an extended heat wave and smallpox epidemic. The events are based on the real life unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet. The story is told from the viewpoint of Blanche Beunon, a young exotic dancer who came with her lover Arthur Deneve from France, where they had both been circus performers. Jenny, the murder victim, dresses in men’s clothing at a time when this was a crime and rides around on a high wheel bicycle. She catches frogs for restaurants for a living and befriends Blanche after knocking her down with her bicycle. This accident sets the plot in motion leading to Jenny’s murder and Blanche’s efforts to find the culprit. I listened to the book on CD and the narrator, Khristine Hvam was excellent.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

Check our catalog

Comments Off on Review: Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue

Filed under Audiobooks, Historical Fiction, Mysteries and Thrillers, Staff Picks

Review: The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

In the early 1800s, Sarah Grimk√© and her younger sister, Angelina, became the most infamous women in America. Kidd takes their story and eloquently weaves it together with their family slaves in Charleston, SC. At 11, Sarah is “given” a slave named Handful (Hetty). What develops, who is a slave to what, and how the women in this book work through their many issues is deeply moving and beautifully written.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: LAG

Check our catalog

Comments Off on Review: The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

Filed under Historical Fiction, Staff Picks

Review: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, by Valerie Martin

Martin weaves several story strands into this well written novel, which are all tied to the real life unsolved disappearance of the crew and passengers of the brig Mary Celeste, found abandoned in the Atlantic Ocean in November 1872. The novel begins with another Briggs family tragedy, the death of Sallie Briggs’ aunt, Maria Gibbs, who drowned in 1859 with her husband off Cape Fear. Another plot line concerns Arthur Conan Doyle and his real life story “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement” which was published in the Cornhill Magazine in 1884 and is based on the unknown fate of the crew of the Mary Celeste. There is also a section about a spiritualist medium, Violet Petra, and her friendship with Phoebe Grant, an independent journalist. Doyle was actually very interested in spiritualism and mediums, especially after the death of his wife and son. The last section is the story of the captain of the Mary Celeste, Benjamin Briggs, and his wife Sallie and 2 year old daughter Sophie, and their fateful 1872 voyage. Lastly, Martin characterizes the sea itself, by turns sparkling with sunlight, spangled with stars or filled with deadly waves and wind, ready to snatch away those who venture upon the deep.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

Check our catalog

Comments Off on Review: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, by Valerie Martin

Filed under Historical Fiction, Staff Picks

Review: The Silver Pigs, by Lindsey Davis

Set in A.D. 70 when the Roman Empire ruled the known world, this is the first in the series of Marcus Didius Falco mysteries of which there are now twenty. Falco rescues the niece of a senator from a kidnapping attempt brought on by her knowledge of the location of a stolen silver ingot or “pig.” The trail of the purloined pigs leads Marcus from Rome to Londinium at the outer reaches of the Empire and back. This book won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and Davis received the 1999 Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective for her character, Marcus Didius Falco. I listened to the book on CD and the lengthy Latin names of the characters were a little confusing but the narrator, Christian Rodska, was excellent.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

Check our catalog

Comments Off on Review: The Silver Pigs, by Lindsey Davis

Filed under Audiobooks, Historical Fiction, Mysteries and Thrillers, Staff Picks

Review: Longbourn, by Jo Baker

Jane Austen is having another good century. This book was more appealing to me than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, another Austen spin-off from 2009. In Longbourn the focus is on housemaid Sarah and her fellow servants in the Bennett household. All the scut work involved in cooking, cleaning and laundry for a family of seven, no running water or any kind of appliances involved is depicted in detail. One of the characters is in the British Army and the extreme brutality of the Napoleonic War era is also portrayed. Baker’s involved plot intertwines the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper and butler and Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. A worthwhile read, early nineteenth century life from the below stairs view.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

Check our catalog

Comments Off on Review: Longbourn, by Jo Baker

Filed under Historical Fiction, Staff Picks

Review: The Testament of Mary, by Colm Toibin

This novella is no hagiography but instead imagines Mary as a first century peasant woman, an older widow, sad and bewildered by what she has witnessed in her life. Originally written as a play by the Irish award winning writer Toibin, this novel was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, losing to The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I listened to the excellent audio version read by another award winner, Meryl Streep.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

Check our catalog

Comments Off on Review: The Testament of Mary, by Colm Toibin

Filed under Audiobooks, Historical Fiction, Staff Picks