Historical Fiction

All posts in the Historical Fiction category

A White Wind Blew

Published September 28, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

a white wind blew cover

Review of A White Wind Blew by James Markert

Overview from www.bn.com:

When the body fails, you’ve got two choices. Send a doctor in, or send a prayer up. And if neither works?

You’ll find Dr. Wolfgang Pike at his piano.

Music has always been Wolfgang’s refuge. It’s betraying him now, as he struggles to compose a requiem for his late wife, but surely the right ending will come to him. Certainly it’ll come more quickly than a cure for his patients up at Waverly Hills, the tuberculosis hospital, where nearly a body an hour leaves in a coffin. Wolfgang can’t seem to save anyone these days, least of all himself.

Sometimes we just need to know we’re not the only ones in the fight. A former concert pianist checks in, triggering something deep inside Wolfgang, and spreading from patient to patient. Soon Wolfgang finds himself in the center of an orchestra that won’t give up, with music that won’t stop. A White Wind Blew delivers a sweeping crescendo of hope in a time of despair, raising compelling questions about faith and confession, music and medicine,and the undying force of love.

My Review:

This is a sad but beautiful story. Mostly sad though. Our main character, Wolfgang Pike, is both doctor and future priest but that was years ago. He has yet to finish his seminary training and is only about half-way through. His training was interrupted by a marriage that ended in the tragic death of his wife. When she died, Wolfgang vows to resume his studies, thinking that he can never love again.

In the meantime he becomes a doctor and gets a job at Waverly Hills, a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. It is the 1920’s  and the preferred treatment seems to consist most of sun therapy, that is the patient is basically told to sunbathe in hopes that it will reduce the effects of the disease.

A few patients do seem to get better and they eventually make “the Walk” that shows that they are strong enough to leave the place. Those patients still have an uphill battle when they go out in the world among the healthy. But some of them come back to help others.

Wolfgang tells himself and the priests at the seminary that he is only staying at Waverly because he is needed there. TB has made a resurgence in the area and he wants to help but three years go by. Three years and he is showing no signs of leaving. And he seems to be falling in love again though he doesn’t want to admit it to anyone, let alone himself.

And there is the music. Wolfgang loves it, was raised on it. He will play to any patient at the hospital that asks it of him. And it seems to be working. Many of them are getting better.

When he finds some musicians and singers among the patients, he decides to start an “orchestra.” I put that in quotation marks because he only has three real instruments playing in this “orchestra.”

Some don’t like Wolfgang’s orchestra but in particular they don’t like the fact that he has invited some patients from the “colored” sanatorium down the hill to join with the whites. Some amateur clansmen will do anything to stop him, even killing those involved if necessary. They also don’t like the fact that Wolfgang is Catholic.

And now for the negatives. There are a few sexual scenes as well as some language but I didn’t find it that it overpowered the plot. I think the story might be a bit too sad for some but it wasn’t nearly as depressing as some of the books I reviewed in the past. At least there is a positive overall tone at the end so I didn’t find it to be too much of a downer.

So in summary, I guess, I liked though it might now be one of my favorites. Still I think I feel comfortable in recommending it to a friend or anyone else looking for some thought-provoking historical fiction.

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The Kingmaking

Published September 21, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

the kingmaking cover

Review of The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick

Overview from www.bn.com:

Who was THE MAN Who became THE LEGEND We know as KING ARTHUR?

“You are the Pendragon, rightful Lord of Dumnonia and the Summer Land; Lord of less Britain. By all that is right, you ought be seated where Vortigern sits…You ought to be King.”

Here lies the truth of the Lord of the Summer Land.

This is the tale of Arthur flesh and bone. Of the shaping of the man, both courageous and flawed, into the celebrated ruler who inspired armies, who captured Gwenhyfar’s heart, and who emerged as the hero of the Dark Ages and the most enduring hero of all time.

This is the unexpected story of the making of a king — the legend who united all of Britain.

My Review:

The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick looked promising to me as I downloaded it, one of Barnes and Noble’s Free Friday offerings that I just couldn’t pass up. In the end though, it was a disappointment.

In fact, it disappointed me many time. I thought about turning off the book many times but then the characters would do some small thing that would make me think that maybe they will redeem themselves but in the end, they didn’t.

That is not to say that I disliked all the characters. In fact, I like the character of Gwenhyfar a lot. She was strong and brave and seemed to always try her best even though her feelings often confused her. Also, she seemed to learn from her mistakes.

Unlike another main character: Arthur. This story is based on the now famous character of King Arthur. In this story though, he is not yet king. He starts off as some tag-along boy who Uther keeps with him on his quests to regain his lands in England.

But the quest goes badly and Uther is killed battle. All seems lost until Gwenhwyfar’s father Cunedda reveals the secret of Arthur’s parentage—he is Uther’s son. It was kept secret from all but three or four people to keep him safe from Vortigern, his father’s mortal enemy.

Arthur seemed to start out as somewhat likeable. He was the silly misfit who was trying to make his way in the world; to make something of himself despite what thought were his humble origins.

Then he becomes a man and everything seems to change. He loves Gwenhyfar sure, but he doesn’t tell her and maybe that is for the best for it seems that there is one thing that he loves even more than her, much more than her: his crown. He admits throughout the story that he will do anything for and proves it with his actions.

First, he joins up with his father’s enemy Vortigern in an uneasy alliance but admits he will break it when it suits him. Then he marries Winifred, Vortigern’s half-Saex daughter to obtain her dowry and although he at first declares that she will be his wife in name only he impregnates her with a child.

He worries that she will have a boy and take him to her Saex family to use as a pawn against him. He takes her away to “Less Britain” so that she can’t use his son against him but she has a girl who dies shortly after the birth. All the while he tells anyone who listens that he doesn’t love his wife and wants to divorce her.

But then later in the book he gives into his wife and impregnates her again. He just doesn’t seem to learn his lesson. All throughout the story he is guided by his impulses—both sexual as well for war. They seem to be running the show, not him. This made him a less than sympathetic character for me. If it weren’t for Gwenhwyfar, I wouldn’t have kept reading. I kept wondering what she saw in him though. Her story was worth reading, her courage admirable though I think she could have done without him.

Contains: war violence, sexuality, some language

The Steel Wave

Published September 7, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

the steel wave cover

Review of The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara

Overview from www.goodreads.com: General Dwight Eisenhower once again commands a diverse army that must find its single purpose in the destruction of Hitler’s European fortress. His primary subordinates, Omar Bradley and Bernard Montgomery, must prove that this unique blend of Allied armies can successfully confront the might of Adolf Hitler’s forces, who have already conquered Western Europe. On the coast of France, German commander Erwin Rommel fortifies and prepares for the coming invasion, acutely aware that he must bring all his skills to bear on a fight his side must win. But Rommel’s greatest challenge is to strike the Allies on his front, while struggling behind the lines with the growing insanity of Adolf Hitler, who thwarts the strategies Rommel knows will succeed.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Jesse Adams, a no-nonsense veteran of the 82nd Airborne, parachutes with his men behind German lines into a chaotic and desperate struggle. And as the invasion force surges toward the beaches of Normandy, Private Tom Thorne of the 29th Infantry Division faces the horrifying prospects of fighting his way ashore on a stretch of coast more heavily defended than the Allied commanders anticipate–Omaha Beach.

My Review:

The Steel Wave is the second book in Jeff Shaara’s World War II trilogy. I read and reviewed the first one, The Rising Tide a couple of months ago and like it in spite of the fact that it was different from the stuff that I normally read. War novels are not normally my thing but I found these first two books compelling so far.

This one picks up not long after we left off the first one. Herr Rommel has been sent to France in spite of the fact that he is drawing more ire from Hitler every day. Adams has been put back in action just in time for D Day along with all the troops under him, including Unger. Eisenhower is going nuts trying to make the British and American sides happy, all the while planning D Day and fielding complaints about Monty. And Monty and Patton are, well, busy being Monty and Patton.

The Rommel story line on this one gets really interesting here I think. I always thought he was a fascinating character since the first novel, especially when I would be reading the story and finding myself secretly rooting for him despite the fact that he was working for the other side. Shush, don’t tell anyone. Even as I was reading this one, I kept thinking to myself: What’s going to happen to Rommel? He just seems to have some very likeable qualities such as his affection for his wife and later, his son.

Anyway, in this one Rommel is presented with a plot to assassinate Hitler. It’s incredible really. I mean he is a high-ranking German officer and people are asking him if he wants to help assassinate Hitler. A couple of different people keep trying to convince him throughout the course of the novel, citing some really excellent reasons too. It will be good for the country Field Marshal. Hitler is dragging Germany down. If Hitler is dead we can make peace with the Allies and end this unwinnable war.

However Rommel just can’t do it. At first he is only worried about getting caught. But in the end he says killing Hitler wouldn’t make a difference. He would just be replaced by some other nutcase and the war would go one. But will his indecisiveness help him? Or will he go down anyway?

Of course, there is also the whole story of the D Day invasion. And there is a lot of fighting and drama there. Everybody hates Monty it seems. Maybe that could have been a TV show to go up against “Everybody Love Raymond.”  Ha, ha. Sorry I couldn’t resist but seriously Ike seems to spend the bulk of his time defending the guy who doesn’t seem to deliver half the time. Everyone, even Churchill himself, is just begging him to complain about the guy so that Churchill will have a reason to fire but Ike doesn’t take the bait.

All in all, this was a great read, even though I didn’t understand what was happening half the time nor could I keep track of which weapons were which.

The only downside was the swearing. I don’t know why but it seemed like there was a lot more of it in this one. Maybe it is just me though. Still I liked it. Have you read it? What did you think?

Contains: war violence, foul language

In the Shadow of the Banyan

Published July 27, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

In the Shadow of the Banyan cover

Review of In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Overview from www.goodreads.com: For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus.

Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival.

Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is testament to the transcendent power of narrative and a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.

My Review:

The book for this week will be one of my few forays into the world of Literary Fiction. It was recommended by one of my writing magazines and it sounded intriguing.

In the Shadow of the Banyan tells the story of the experiences of one seven-year-old Cambodian girl when the Khmer Rouge win the civil war in that country and attempt to change it into a Communist nation.

The girl, Raami, has been born into the royal family of Cambodia and her father is considered a minor nobleman as well as something of a famous poet. As if war wasn’t bad enough, Raami’s life is about to get much worse when they are forced from their home in Phnom Penh in the new government’s attempt to make peasants out of city dwellers.

The family is moved around until her father finally admits his royal heritage to the new government and is taken away. That is when Raami’s world really begins to change. As per her father’s admonition, she and the rest of their family must never admit their royal origins. It is the only way for them to survive and this is what her father wanted. He sacrificed himself for them though it soon appears to Raami that is all in vain when her family members are dying right and left.

It isn’t until near the end of the story that Raami finally understands her father’s words to her before he was taken away and what he was trying to do.  She vows to carry the memory of her father’s love and sacrifice around for the rest of her life. It is all she can do to survive the atrocities the government carries out against her and keep his memory alive.

This story is very sad yet beautiful at the same time because of the author’s beautiful and poetic prose. Some awful, dehumanizing things happen yet the way she weaves the tale makes it beautiful and bittersweet.

It reminded me a lot of Lisa See’s book Dreams of Joy which covers “The Great Leap Forward” period of China’s history. Both stories cover similar atrocities as well as mass starvation of the people. Under the guise of helping the poor, the governments involved simply use them to further their aims of proving to the rest of the world that they are in the right.

In this book, the government is referred to as “The Organization.” As a citizen of Cambodia, each person “belongs” to The Organization and can be ordered to go wherever officials send them and to do whatever work they deem necessary. To be an ideal citizen one must essentially become a robot. Any display of family loyalty or emotion in general is considered “unrevolutionary” and can be punished severely.

I liked this book, in spite of the heavy content. It is a story that needs to be told and the author at least makes it as painless as possible. I am therefore recommending it highly because no matter how sad it may make you feel, you need to know this story. It is based on the truth.

Contains: lots of violence, some language.

The Rising Tide

Published June 29, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

the rising tide cover

Review of The Rising Tide by Jeff Shaara

Overview from www.bn.com (shortened for length): As Hitler conquers Poland, Norway, France, and most of Western Europe, England struggles to hold the line. When Germany’s ally Japan launches a stunning attack on Pearl Harbor, America is drawn into the war, fighting to hold back the Japanese conquest of the Pacific, while standing side-by-side with their British ally, the last hope for turning the tide of the war.

Through unforgettable battle scenes in the unforgiving deserts of North Africa and the rugged countryside of Sicily, Shaara tells this story through the voices of this conflict’s most heroic figures, some familiar, some unknown. As British and American forces strike into the “soft underbelly” of Hitler’s Fortress Europa, the new weapons of war come clearly into focus. In North Africa, tank battles unfold in a tapestry of dust and fire unlike any the world has ever seen. In Sicily, the Allies attack their enemy with a barely tested weapon: the paratrooper. As battles rage along the coasts of the Mediterranean, the momentum of the war begins to shift, setting the stage for the massive invasion of France, at a seaside resort called Normandy.

My Review:

The Rising Tide is the first in trilogy of novels about World War II that begins after America joins the war on the Allied side. This is the second novel about period that I have read in two weeks but it could not be more different from last weeks’ book.

A Mortal Terror focused a little more on solving the mystery of who “the red heart killer” was than in the war itself which merely served as backdrop. I did get a glimpse though of the war and an interesting one at that. I liked the way the author contrasted the idea of a soldier who kills for country with a murder who kills people as part of a game.

The Rising Tide however has only soldiers who kill and fight though that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Like the previous book though, it also illuminates the character of those involved, including some on the Nazi side.

For me this part was perhaps the most interesting. The character of Erwin Rommel was previously unknown to me. I thought that the term “the desert fox” sounded vaguely familiar though I never would have guessed that it described a Nazi. And for all his ability to see beyond Hitler and the Nazi party, Rommel seems to close his eyes to the evil of the party. The Nazi’s have helped him advance his ideas and his book and even himself. That’s all that matters to him. That and his wife.

The hard part, besides the length of the book, was understanding the military jargon. I didn’t know about the different officer rankings. I don’t understand always who is above whom unless the characters reveal it in their speech. I thought a general was a general but it turns out that there is a hierarchy within the ranking of general even. Yes, I know, I am an idiot when it comes to the military but that is part of the reason I wanted to read this book—to learn something.

The book I am working on now takes place during the same era but most of my characters are not soldiers, most. I do have two who are soldiers and one of them is my primary characters love interest so I thought it would be a good idea to know what he would be facing as a soldier.

The plot tells the whole story of certain offensives of the war, first in Africa and then in Sicily. We see the whole story but each chapter is told through different eyes. This allows us to see what the Germans are thinking at the same time as we see Eisenhower’s point-of-view about the same event. Or Eisenhower’s versus that of an infantry man who becomes a German POW.

And the best part is: these are real people. The author tells us all about them in both the forwards and afterwards. They once existed and maybe left a diary that Jeff Shaara read. Then he made him and his story real for his readers. I love that.

I think I am going to try to move out of this time period for my next review just for variety sake but I am looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy sometime in the future. This book was good even if it was different from what I usually read.

Contains: war violence, language

A Mortal Terror

Published June 22, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

a mortal terror cover

Review of A Mortal Terror by James R. Benn

Overview from www.bn.com: In his sixth investigation, Lieutenant Billy Boyle finds himself in pursuit of a serial killer with a particularly frightening agenda.

1943: Billy Boyle is sent to Caserta, Italy, to investigate the murders of two American officers stationed there. The MOs are completely different, and it seems like the officers had no connection to each other, but one frightening fact links the murders: each body was discovered with a single playing card: the Lieutenant, the ten of hearts; the Captain, the jack of hearts. The message seems to be clear—if the murderer isn’t apprehended, the higher ranks will be next. As the invasion at Anzio begins, Billy needs to keep a cool head amidst fear and terror as the killer calculates his next moves.

My Review:

I discovered this book by searching through my county library’s catalogues for fiction stories that take place during World War II and I discovered a gem. A Mortal Terror is not only a tale of the Second World War but it is also a murder mystery so I loved it both as a Mystery and as Historical Fiction.

Billy Boyle is a detective working for Eisenhower during the war. He is a member of the Armed Forces (currently ranking as a lieutenant) but Ike apparently calls on him to solve crime as well. The army believes him to be an experienced investigator due to the time he spent on the Boston PD though he actually spent little time there as a detective. He is not letting that cat out of the bag however as his current job allows him a few perks now and then from “Uncle Ike” that he’d rather not do without.

He might be up a creek without a paddle however when he is ordered to investigate the murder of two officers stationed in Italy. Though they both seemed well-liked by the men under them someone apparently thinks that the Germans have been remiss in their duties to exterminate these two Americans. Billy thinks that someone might be an American G.I. who has a grudge against officers.

“The Red Heart Killer” seems to be going up the ranks leaving a playing card as his calling card with each corpse that he takes out because he doesn’t stop at two. He means to go all the way up to a general and that’s got the brass terrified.

Billy must find out who he is and stop him before he gets that high while protecting his little brother from the same killer who maybe using Billy’s brother Danny against him. The question is, if he has to choose between the general and Danny, who will he pick?

In case you’re still wondering, I really liked this story. It kept me guessing all the way to the end and with the war as a backdrop there was certainly no shortage of action. It was interesting how even in the midst of war; our killer has time to murder on the battlefield while fighting off the German invaders. It seems a mere war isn’t stimulating enough for this “psychopath.”

The only negatives I could site were that in some parts of the story the foul language was a bit strong but not as bad as what I have seen in other books. Of course there is violence: both from the war as well as the murders but it was not as graphic as it could have been.

I liked it about as much as I liked the last Historical Mystery and I hope to read more of both series. I thought it was also interesting to see how the term “shell shock” from World War I evolved into the term “combat fatigue” in this war. Both are now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I think. It makes me wonder what they called it during Vietnam.

Finally I will close with a quote from the book that I liked a lot. This is at the close of a chapter where Danny is nearly killed when the Germans decide to launch a surprise attack. (By the way, this author is especially good at ending the chapters of the book in interesting ways.) To understand it I must first tell you that the character Charlie Colorado is a Native American whose tribe believes in a god named Usen and that is who Billy is referring to here.

“’Danny?’ I spoke his name but looked to Kaz.

‘He’s not hurt, Billy. It is Malcomb, the other ASTP boy. He ran.’ Kaz pointed to a lifeless body twenty yards out, clothing, skin, blood, and bone shredded by the shrapnel-laced blast.

‘I tried to stop him,’ Danny said. ‘I tried.’

‘You would have been killed too,’ I said. ‘He panicked. You were smart to stay put.’

‘I didn’t. Charlie grabbed me and held me down,’ Danny said, his voice shaky as he glanced toward Charlie Colorado, sitting on the edge of the trench. A big guy, bronzed skinned, and quiet.

‘Usen,’ I said.

‘I am not the Giver of Life,’ Charlie said. I begged to differ.” P.193-194

Contains: some foul language, violence, references to prostitution

The Hero of a Hundred Fights

Published June 15, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

the hero of a hundred fights cover

 

Review of The Hero of a Hundred Fights by Ned Buntline (principal author)

Overview from www.bn.com: The Wild West came alive under the pen of Edward Zane Carroll Judson, who wrote many of America’s best-loved “dime novels ”under the pseudonym Ned Buntline. From Buffalo Bill (whom Judson knew first-hand) to Wild Bill Hickok, these vivid tales feature some of the most colorful characters on the American landscape. This anthology gathers a selection of his best-loved work, including four full-length unabridged novels, each with an introduction by author and critic Clay Reynolds.

Stories include: Buffalo Bill, the King of Border Men, or The Wildest and Truest Tale I’ve Ever Told Hazel-Eye, the Girl Trapper, or A Tale of Strange Young Life The Miner Detective; or, the Ghost of the Gulch Wild Bill’s Last Trail.

My Review:

This review is unusual to say the least. The book in question is actually an anthology containing four dime novels which were all said to have been written by Ned Buntline.

What is a dime novel? For those not in know, I will tell you. Dime novels were like the comic books of the 1800’s. Many of them featured characters that we now think of today whenever images of the Wild West surface. Of course the big difference was that there were not the vast quantities of drawings that you see in a comic book. You might also compare them to pulp fiction or popular fiction of today but I will not go into a dissertation on this subject in this book review. Instead, I will provide links that will explain dime novels more fully, should you be interested in learning more about them, at the end of this review.

According the introduction for this book which I skimmed through, Ned Buntline is a pen name for one of the best known dime novelist of this day—a man named Edward Zane Carroll Judson. Since I am not an expert on the subject of dime novel authors, I will take the editor’s word for it.

In any case the “novels” are extremely interesting from both a historical as well as literary point of view. I put the word “novels” in quotation marks because these books are much shorter than novels that most of us read today. The ones in this volume average out to about one hundred pages or so per book. Today we would call them novellas.

The first one is Buffalo Bill, the King of the Border Men; or The Wildest and Truest Tale I’ve Ever Told. The last half of the title is ironic because according to our editor, Mr. Buntline spent very little time worrying about facts in his stories and nowhere did that seem more evident to me than in this story that seems at times hard to believe.

This is the story of Buffalo Bill Cody, his early life, and the beginning of his career as a “border man” (which by the way does not refer to the US border but rather the border between states or territories). It has all the essential elements of a work of popular fiction: melodrama, action, violence, evil, and personalities that appear to be bigger than life.

The next novel was Hazel-Eye, the Girl Trapper. A Tale of Strange Young Life. This one surprised me slightly because of the semi-strong female character that we see in Hazel-Eye. She is not your typical damsel in distress the way that the females in the Buffalo Bill story are but the story disappointed me by how clichéd the mystery was. I guess all clichés started somewhere though.

The third one, and by far my favorite, was The Miner Detective. True to the title it was a detective story and some elements of this as well as that of Hazel-Eye reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes stories that were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I couldn’t help but wonder if Doyle himself drew some inspiration from these.

There was also something of the Scooby Doo element to this one though not nearly as corny or obvious. I liked the idea of the bad guy getting what’s been coming to him.

The last one was Wild Bill’s Last Trail. This one seemed to present us with a very different Wild Bill than the one we met as Buffalo Bill’s sidekick in the border men story. This Wild Bill seemed more like a villain than a hero. I didn’t like him at all and felt like he deserved what he got.

The other thing that kept me wondering about this one was that it begins with Wild Bill’s premonition that his end is near. First, I thought, if I read it correctly, that Wild Bill had already died in the first novel so how was he still alive? Second, how did Wild Bill change so much between that first novel and this one? The only thing that both Wild Bills seemed to have in common was the fear that they would be killed by a woman. I am guessing that maybe there were some in between novels that might have explained this a little for me but who knows?

On the whole I found these novels fascinating from both a historical and literary perspective. They were different from what I expected in that vulgar language that you expect from most Westerns is only alluded to and everyone seems to speak proper English for the most part. The violence is not as graphic as what I expected either. I can see why many people of this time period might have enjoyed these novels. You might too, if you don’t mind the clichés.

Contains: some violence and racial stereotypes.