Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

I received this book as a giveaway by William Morrow in exchange for an honest review.
The book left an ambiguous impression. On one hand, not many books nowadays tackle the subject of war with grace, patience, and poise. On the other hand, it was somewhat of a disappointing novel.
The plot line mostly moves forward with occasional flashback to the pre-war and early WWII Germany. The surviving wives of German conspirators against Hitler are grappling with their lives, survival, necessary sacrifices, and guilt.

Guilt should be and is the leading theme of the novel, but somehow the existential circumstances the characters faced did not move me. Believe me, I am not immune to the topic of war, senseless violence, and guilt, but Jessica Shattuck is not Dostoevsky.

I know – it is a hefty goal to strive to be, but there is one thing I see as a trend. American writers can do thrillers and suspense books, espionage and conspiracy novels very well ( it might be a part of literary tradition) , and, to be fair, Russian writers fail miserably at it, but when it comes to emotional anguish and self-devouring guilt, inner monologues and soul-searching, no one does it better that Russian writers.
It does not mean American writers should not try, though. A nice try …

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Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon

Speaks the Nightbird, Speaks Robert McCammon! The novel ‘Speaks the Nightbird’ celebrates McCammons’ return to the big publishing game after nearly a decade of silence when his contract with the previous publisher was terminated, and what a lovely celebration it it.
The novel that is classified as a historical mystery is actually a book that defies and expands the constraints of this genre. This is the third McCammon’s novel that I have read, and he is yet to disappoint me. This delightful novel for me reveals McCammon’s Southerness. I live in the South, and as an immigrant I do see many things I personally strongly dislike, but the South McCammon loves is the genteel South, the South of a true colonial style. Do not be confused – he does not show the South in the romanticized, biased way – slavery and bigotry, evangelical loud proselytizing and duplicity, humid unbearable climate with the swampy terrain, all these ingredients are there, but the narrative itself and the way people and places are described and shown conveys the unmistakable feeling of finesse and refined gentility of the old Colonial South.

The mystery per se is not a brilliant mind-boggling puzzle, and the suspect is clearly identified by the narrator quite early in the novel although his guilt and his role of a culprit are questioned throughout the novel. The quest to find the truth, on the other hand, reveals the deeper verity and other ugly discoveries. The seemingly ideal community eventually drops all the pretenses and turns into a nest of wasps. This image is only accentuated by the actual nest of wasps in one of the households with the most vitriolic and poisonous housewives literature has ever offered.

This plot-forming mystery eventually turns into a gruesome travesty, an orchestrated performance of malicious mind. And again, the troupe of actors underlines and spices up this idea of travesty, performance, duplicity, and double identities. If this is not enough for a doubting reader, the book that is constantly being read by our protagonist, Matthew Corbett, is about theatrical performances in England. The mystery of witchcraft turns into the mystery of murders, greed, and envy. It also challenges many of the characters to question their values and even question God. It also surprisingly forges the goodness in people in whom this goodness is present even if they dislike each other. I think namely this feeling of respect of other people, even disagreeable, gives this books this elusive feeling of gentility.

As any good book, it is not only an entertaining story, it is a story about painful losses (both present and past), redemption, forgiving love, and an unobtrusive social commentary. The passages about the slaves were among the most powerful ones in the book, and although these passages were not tremendously instrumental in the plot development, they are still very memorable.

The review would not be complete without the remarks about the narrator. I listen to the audio book, and sound-wise, it was a brilliant performance. Edoardo Bellerini manages to convey the inflections of many characters, both male and female; likewise, he relays the ambiance of multiple settings: the tavern, the official dinners, the jail, the untamed landscape, everything seems virtually tangible in this audio version.

What’s the conclusion – if you read the historical mystery for the sake of the mystery and the brilliance of human deduction, this book might disappoint you. If you look for a read about emotional maturity as a rite of passage for a young gentleman, about the journey of self-discovery, love, and loss, and revaluation of your personal stand, if you want to learn about the multicultural perspective during the early days of colonial life, if you enjoy patient and pleasant reads, this is the book for that occasion. I know one thing for sure – the next book in the series will be purchased as soon as possible

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Filed under Book Review, Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Mystery

Jack Dawkins by Charlton Daines

This is my first experience reading the self-published novel, and I believe it was a successful attempt. I sincerely and responsibly state that I enjoyed reading this novel. It was not a breathtaking read, neither was is a classy read when you enjoy and devour the literary dessert of words, phrases, and sentences, but not all books are created to be literary masterpieces. Some of them serve a laudable and pragmatic function to entertain its readers. This novel surely does.
The premise of the novel is the return and the new leash of life for one of the fringe but memorable Dickens characters, Jack Dawkins, also known as Artful Dodger.
Jack Dawkins tries to reestablish himself in the society and finds himself split between two societies: the underworld of London thieves, prostitutes, muggers, kidnappers, and other shadowy characters, and the world of the genteel and rich society, the upper crust. He even entertains the idea of being a gentleman thief. Eventually, he does have to make a choice, but it is upon the reader to decide how plausible his choice is.
The character of Jack Dawkins is a flawed character that is always torn between his natural impulses to be good and his desires to practice his superb skills. It might seem strange, but namely this duality is one of his most sympathetic features. The spontaneous combination of doing good things and being remorseful with his permanent desire to pick pockets is truly authentic.

I also believe that though the book is highly entertaining, it provides an interesting historical insight into the underworld and does convey a certain social message: the book reflects the societal structure of nineteenth-century London, the indulgent and decadent life of rich students, the dietary habits, means of transportation, and other facts that create a certain feeling of historicity.

On the other hand, there are things in this novel that prevented me from giving four stars. I refuse to believe that the life of one person could be so intensely built on serendipity: how he meets Oliver, Tom, and the policeman who eventually recognizes him, how other characters’ lives are interwoven, all this is highly questionable. For the situation to develop the way it developed in the book, too many things should come together, and they did, which, in my opinion, is a stretch.
Another weakness is the choice of words. The author makes a laudable effort and painstakingly diffuses the text with the professional argot of thieves, but he refuses to create a minuscule semblance to the Victorian discourse. Conversely, I have to admit that the author is definitely well-versed, but his choice of words, though elaborate, reflects his position as a modern man of letters. Again, some of those high-brow words and verbal moves did look sparklingly beautiful, hilarious, and even tongue-in-cheeky when they were used in the mundane context.
All in all, I spend a couple of enjoyable evenings in the company of this novel. If you want to know more about the dark underbelly of London in the 19th century and, surprisingly, about the ambrosial desserts, this is the book for you.

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Filed under Book Review, Dickens, ebook, Historical Fiction, Neo-Victorian, Self-publishing