Category Archives: historical fiction
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
Published April 5th 2011 by Atheneum
Format: Paper Book
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Magical, Historical
Goodreads | Amazon
Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she’s inherited her mother’s magical talents, and despite Stepmama’s stern objections, she’s determined to learn how to use them.
But with her eldest sister Elissa’s intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat’s reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost.
If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love?
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis has been on my to read shelf for some time and it’s only recently that I’ve gotten off my butt enough to go through my backlog of books. I’m sorry I waited so long! Kat, Incorrigible is a middle grade book and has the same original and imaginative quality to it that I expect from really great middle grade books. There is a host of likeable characters, a spot of magic, and a plot that ended up being more than I expected.
What I Liked
The plot of Kat, Incorrigible surprised me with a bit more depth than I was expecting. The book has a type of Matilda feel to it and the introduction of the Guardians extended the plot further than I was assuming it would be. It took a book that might have been just merely cute and predictable into something with a bit more meat on its bones.
I liked all the characters. Everybody has depth to them and I didn’t feel as if I were reading about cardboard cutouts. Kat is hilarious, her sisters are spot on in their rolls and play an active part in the plot rather than just being there for scenery, and even the bad guys are awesome, in a mustache twirling type of way.
I liked the setting and timeline. I found the Victorian aspects of proper manners and dress to be interesting. It added to the plot without being stifling. Younger readers might not care for the focus but older readers will find it to be a good detail.
What I Didn’t Like
There are times where Kat seems kind of bumbling. I know she’s young, only twelve, but at times she sort of annoyed me. She makes up for it by being stubborn, feisty, and independent. The sisters aren’t much better sometimes. Elissa is insipid and needs a good whack and Angeline is so self-involved and arrogant that I want to kick her. There were times when I just wanted to start throwing things.
There is not enough information given about the magical system and the Guardians. We’re left kind of wondering what the big fuss is all about. I’m hoping the sequel corrects this and we learn more as Kat’s training starts.
The plot and dialogue are a little wandering. I found myself waiting for things to happen, especially at the beginning, and some conversations between the three sisters are rather like beating your head against the wall. Yes, it’s very “family” but it’s also annoying.
Middle grade books are often my favorite and Kat, Incorrigible is no exception. It was a quick and fun read at under 300 pages and made my Saturday afternoon very enjoyable with a cup of tea and a comfy chair. If you are looking for a magical adventure but don’t want anything too heavy, than this novel is what you are looking for. There is nothing ground breaking but Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis is a great weekend read nonetheless.
The Back Passage by James Lear
Published May 5th 2006 by Cleis Press
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 199 pages / 1317 KB
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Gay Erotica, LGBT
Reading Level: Erotica – Adults Only
Goodreads | Amazon
Agatha Christie, move over! Hard-core sex and scandal meet in this brilliantly funny whodunit.
A seaside village, an English country house, a family of wealthy eccentrics and their equally peculiar servants, a determined detective — all the ingredients are here for a cozy Agatha Christie-style whodunit. But wait — Edward “Mitch” Mitchell is no Hercule Poirot, and The Back Passage is no Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Mitch is a handsome, insatiable 22-year-old hunk who never lets a clue stand in the way of a steamy encounter, whether it’s with the local constabulary, the house secretary, or his school chum and fellow athlete Boy Morgan, who becomes his Watson when they’re not busy boffing each other.
When Reg Walworth is found dead in a cabinet, Sir James Eagle has his servant Weeks immediately arrested as the killer. But Mitch’s observant eye pegs more plausible possibilities: polysexual chauffeur Hibbert, queenly pervert Leonard Eagle, missing scion Rex, sadistic copper Kennington, even Sir James Eagle himself. Blackmail, police corruption, a dizzying network of spyholes and secret passages, watersports, and a nonstop queer orgy backstairs and everyplace else mark this hilariously hard-core mystery by a major new talent.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Published September 20th 2011 by Bloomsbury Publishing
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology, LGBT
Reading Level: Older Teen
ISBN 1408816032 (ISBN13: 9781408816035)
Goodreads | Amazon
Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.
Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks’, is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.
Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.
I added The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller to my TBR pile when The Books Smugglers reviewed it earlier this year. I will freely admit that I wanted to read it mostly based on its LGBT theme and only slightly because I enjoy tales set in ancient history. I seek out LGBT books because I like reading about alternative forms of lifestyle, different forms of love, and diverse characters. It’s interesting to see how two characters in a romantic relationship of the same gender are depicted and how their relationship functions in contrast with a more mainstream romantic relationship with people of different genders. Even a romantic relationship between two girls is vastly different to a romantic relationship between two men. You have to remember that even if you are reading about a gay couple, they are still men and how that relationship functions needs to reflect that.
I studied the myth of Achilles a bit in college and I know a fair bit about him. The Song of Achilles deals with Achilles’ childhood through his death during the Trojan War. In that time, Patroclus sort of gets dragged along for the ride. Achilles is the son of a goddess but Patroclus is simply a mortal of no great reputation and yet he ends up doing astonishing things, mostly in the name of his love for Achilles. Amazing things happen to Patroclus and he does amazing things simply because these things are happening around him and there is no other choice but to deal with it. It’s a very human reaction, creating a character that could be anybody and a man who may be more of a hero than Achilles himself.
We examine what it means to be a hero or a coward. Is Achilles worthy of his praise as a warrior because he allowed thousands to die when he refused to fight? His beauty and fighting skill is given to him through his blood. He didn’t have to work for it. Is Patroclus’ compassion and the fact that he learned to be a healer and even risked his life to turn the tide in the war worth more than Achilles’ exploits? I think Achilles and Patroclus loved each other because they were all each other had, especially when they were young. Patroclus loved Achilles because he was beautiful, inside and out, and Achilles loved Patroclus because he knew the other boy’s love was pure. The Trojan War changed Achilles and he was no longer beautiful. He valued his pride and his promised glory more than Patroclus and Patroclus’ love could no longer withstand the changes in Achilles.
Sorry if I went all academic essay on you there. The Song of Achilles is a good book and will definitely appeal to readers of historical fiction and Greek history. Like most myths transformed into novels, it can be a bit slow in places. Novels often don’t have the luxury of skipping all the little boring bits and getting straight to the action the way a myth does. It can make the slog toward the Trojan War seem a bit much. This is a story about people, about love and personal worth. Don’t expect a war epic. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller ended up being less about Achilles and his myth than it was about the people trapped in the wheels of fate.
Rating 4 out 5
Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey
Published June 21st 2011 by Walker Childrens
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Reading Level: 12 & Up
ISBN 080279839X (ISBN13: 9780802798398)
Goodreads | Amazon
Violet Willoughby doesn’t believe in ghosts. But they believe in her. After spending years participating in her mother’s elaborate ruse as a fraudulent medium, Violet is about as skeptical as they come in all matters supernatural. Now that she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death, Violet can no longer ignore her unique ability. She must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose.
Afraid of ruining her chance to escape her mother’s scheming through an advantageous marriage, Violet must keep her ability secret. The only person who can help her is Colin, a friend she’s known since childhood, and whom she has grown to love. He understands the true Violet, but helping her on this path means they might never be together. Can Violet find a way to help this ghost without ruining her own chance at a future free of lies?
This October seems to be full of ghosts and mediums. I have a thing for the paranormal and my DVR is full of Ghost Hunters and Paranormal Witness episodes. Halloween is a yearlong thing for me. Young adult books and authors are more than happy to feed my obsession with the paranormal. There are no shortage of YA books that deal with ghosts and ghouls. Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey is one such book.
Haunting Violet is not a completely original idea, as plots go, but it is an enjoyable story. Violet herself is a great character. Colin is okay. The fledgling love between them is bearable. I’m rarely wowed by the love aspect of most YA books and while Violet and Colin succeed in not annoying me, I feel the book would have been just as good without it. It always confuses me that YA authors insist on having some sort of love story happening in their books and often one that really doesn’t make sense. Violet and Colin grew up together, shocking each other with spiders in their shoes and frogs in their beds, but now that they are teenagers, they are suddenly in love. I don’t think two people who grew up as sister and brother suddenly fall into romance love. It’s a little “ew” worthy, when you think about it.
Haunting Violet is set in Victorian times but I don’t get that type of vibe from the story. The only part that truly seems Victorian is the huge class distinctions, very upstairs/downstairs. Violet herself seems like a very modern girl and I can’t accept her being low born as the reason she is so capable and sensible. She’s very different from Elizabeth and Tabitha and even her own mother. Violet has a 21st century type of voice and tone that just doesn’t fit with the supposed Victorian setting. It’s hard to believe she’s only 16 years old in the book either. I thought she was at least in her early 20’s before the book revealed differently. Haunting Violet is a murder mystery but the murderer is obvious and even clichéd. The plot is classic ghost story, so don’t expect any surprises, but while the end result is unremarkable, the journey there is pleasant.
Looking at all I just wrote you’d think I didn’t like the book! But you have to remember that while the plot in Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey has been done before; it’s still well-written with likeable characters and is very entertaining. It’s a good book but just with a common story. The situation between Violet and her mother is interesting and it’s great getting a look into Victorian con practices. I’m a bit of a history buff and the height of the paranormal craze during Victorian times is fascinating. Haunting Violet won’t shock you with anything new but it’s still a good ghost story to read on a chilly autumn night.
Rating: 4 out 5
We are going to call this a mini-review because this is a very small book. I was browsing aimlessly through the library when the name caught my eye. I’d been on the waiting list for Marcus Sedgwick’s new book for about three weeks and I thought perhaps a peek at some of his early works might whet my appetite and give me some idea of his writing style. So I picked up Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick. It’s a short book, not even 150 pages long, and I raced through it in a little over an hour while at my favorite coffeehouse. I irritate the workers by camping out on the couch and abusing the bottomless cup they offer at least once a month. I’m evil that way.
From book jacket: The fire in his home was a family tragedy that Jamie can’t forget. Fire dominates his waking thoughts and his dreams. When his family sends him away to Crownhill to recover, they don’t realize they are sending him to a village with its own dark history of witchcraft – and with ancient buried powers that are unleashed by Jamie’s presence. A present-day boy, a seventeenth-century girl, and an ancient crone: for a single moment, their lives are fused by fire.
This is the type of story that feels so familiar you could have sworn you’ve read it before. (It’s entirely possible I have and just can’t remember.) It’s the type of story that is told around campfires and is ingrained into the human consciousness from our long oral history. It’s a classic with a thousand retellings and drags up the memory of being a young child, wondering at the shadows of our bedroom. Every thump and dump in the night is the boogieman coming to get us. However, the writing style is jerky. It’s as if you’re being yanked along a rough draft rather than a complete, polished book. There is no flow and Witch Hill ends up feeling like something unfinished.
I sincerely hope this is not all that Marcus Sedgwick has to offer. Witch Hill was first publish in 2001 and is a juvenile book, so it is possible that his writing has improved since then. I’m really looking forward to Midwinterblood and I hope it deliveries something different from Witch Hill. I was left dissatisfied by Witch Hill and feel like with more effort it could have turned into something fantastic. I can see the potential in the book and it’s frustrating to be presented with a story that falls so short of what it could have been.
I read a fair amount of books with witches in them and a good number focus on witch trials. They are inevitably set in some small village fallen on hard times, famine or disease. There is always some reason, something, that drives otherwise logical, fairly decent people into a frenzy. Those who were once friends are now foes. Sometimes it is the outcast accused. Other times it’s a well-to-do woman that the finger is pointed at. Occasionally a man ends up in the hot seat. A religious man or even just a witch hunter is there to goad the people into a passion. But fear, hate, and anger make people do strange things. The tale told in The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman is no exception.
The Witch’s Trinity is set in Tierkinddorf, a small village in Germany. Really, the only things that mark the story as set in Germany are the names and a few pieces of vocabulary. Such as using Mutter for the word Mother. Otherwise this could be any village anywhere in Europe in the early 1500’s. The village and the surrounding area have fallen onto hard times. There is famine and plague (the Black Death). For several years now the grain has not grown in the fields and the mill sits silent. The whispers of witchcraft start and a friar arrives in the little village, promising to stamp out the dark seed of evil. (I have to pause and wonder why the author chose to call the religious man a friar and not simply a priest. There must be some distinction, possibly in the Germanic way the clergy is set up, that I do not understand. There is a priest in the village already but he isn’t important to the story.)
The village of Tierkinddorf is beset with famine and pestilence. The crops have failed for many years and the people are starving. A friar arrives, armed with the Malleus Maleficarum, The Witches Hammer. The villagers hope that the friar can find the source of their misfortune. A witch is among them and God is punishing them all until the wrong doer can be found and dealt with. The friar turns his eye on each of the villagers, meaning to find this witch and put them to death. Now, each person is eyeing their neighbors, their friends, with distrust. How far will this witch hunt go?
The main character in this story is an old woman and bravo to the author for focusing on such an overlooked character. A lot of fiction books with witch trials have the main character as a young woman. All the better for readers to relate to and all the better to throw a little romance into the mix. (Obviously there is no romance in this story.) In reality, many of those accused as witches were the elderly and the poor. The unwanted peoples of society had no protection. Güde Müller is an old woman living with her son, his wife, and their two children. Irmeltrud, the wife, would like nothing more than one less hungry mouth at the table.
The first person is accused and it turns out to be Künne, Güde’s childhood friend and the local healer. Güde knows that Künne cannot be the witch but all her protests and those of her son, only allow suspicion to fall on her own head. Künne, unable to pass a ludicrous test for witchcraft, is burned at the stake. Irmeltrud is then all too willing to tell the friar that her mother-in-law is a witch. After all, the friar brought food and is willing to gift some of it to those brave enough to accuse a beloved family member of being a witch. Güde is arrested under the suspicion of witchcraft while her son, and most of the male members of the village, have left on a long hunting trip, hoping to find food further afield.
(Now for a bit of light historical fact. Being accused as a witch was not the death sentence most fiction books seem to portray it as. A good number of those accused were acquitted; sometimes more than once! Your social standing might never have recovered, but there was a chance you would be freed. Also, the burning of a person found guilty of witchcraft was not as prevalent as popular culture would have us believe. The preferred method was actually hanging (it’s easier), at least on continental Europe. Burning was seen more often in the United Kingdom.)
Witch trial stories are always driven by hate, anger, and greed. The little village of Tierkinddorf has all these in spades. The arrival of the friar (which I have now just realized is never named in the story) and the witch hunt allows people a chance to remove any thorns from their sides. Nobody is safe. At the end, it gets a bit ridiculous with everyone pointing fingers and screaming ‘witch’. Even the friar can see that he has lost control of the situation. Even Irmeltrud is accused by another blackheart seeing a chance to grab what they want. (Irmeltrud does not seem to realize that damning her mother-in-law (already under suspicion because she was friends with Künne) will just open the door for accusations to be leveled on every member of the family, including her children.) Both Güde and Irmeltrud are saved from being burned only by the timely return of the hunting party, who has captured a woman who may or may not be the true witch.
This story can go both ways. It can either be a supernatural story or a realistic tale. Supernatural events happen, involving what might be sex with the devil (only slightly graphic) and dancing in the woods. But the main character, Güde, is not quite sure if these things are really happening to her or if her aged mind is merely tricking her again. We are led to believe that it is possible that all this is happening in Güde’s head. She does display mild symptoms of Alzheimer’s or even dementia during the story. There is either a witch really pledging Tierkinddorf or it’s just bad weather. We are never sure.
In the end, the supposed witch and the friar are burned. (Break out the marshmallows and noise makers! Asshole friar deserved to die.) The villagers, in a frenzy of bloodlust and manic superstition, kill them both. The supposed witch is a surprise. She is not from the village of Tierkinddorf but from the next village over. Güde sees the woman in the woods as a part of the strange witchy visions she appears to have. Our main character remembers seeing the other woman during feast days years ago and Güde can never decide if it is her breaking mind that summons up the image of the woman or if she is really a witch. But at the end of the story prosperity returns to the village and the crops grow again. We are left wondering what really happened in Tierkinddorf.
Best line: “Fuck your Roman protocol!” he snarled. “We are Germans!”
Warning: While torture is not shown, it is described in detail. A torture device is shown to Güde and the process described by the friar in order to get Güde to confess to witchcraft. The description is more than enough. (shudder)
It’s National Book Week. The rules: Grab the closest book to you. Go to page 56. Copy the 5th sentence as your status.
Well, the book closest to me is the one I’m currently reading, The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston. I’m only on page 36 (I am in the process of moving and I am super busy), so turning to page 57 is going to be as much a surprise for me as it will be for you.
–> The next few hours passed in a whirl of activity.
I don’t even know what’s going on in this part yet but we’re in the middle of a flashback from the main character. Since the character is immortal and over 400 years old, that is quite a flashback.
I have a tick that completely irritates me in stories. That is using more than one name for a character. I understand that characters have nicknames and pet names and so on, but those names should be used within dialogue only. Using multiple names for a character in the text is confusing and annoying. Having the name Elizabeth, Bess, Beth, or Eliza sprinkled around a page is annoying because it is both confusing and shows the writer was not able to create enough descriptors for their character. In other words, it is the writer’s poor attempt to not start every sentence with He/She or the character’s name.
Paula Brackston is doing something a little different in her story. Because the main character is immortal, Brackston is using two different names to separate time zones. As a young girl the character goes by Bess and as an older woman the character uses the name Elizabeth. Bess the younger and Elizabeth the older. The other name does not appear when we are reading about one time zone. This is a neat little trick that I approve of to get readers to think of the two names as different characters, even if they are the same person.