Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Waiting On Wednesday: Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly blogging event hosted by Breaking the Spine. Bloggers can share the soon-to-be-released books that they can't wait to read.

The book I'm waiting for is a new one by one of my favorite authors, Colleen McCullough.

Here's the blurb from Amazon:
In her first epic romantic novel since The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough weaves a sweeping story of two sets of twins—all trained as nurses, but each with her own ambitions—stepping into womanhood in 1920s and 30s Australia.

Because they are two sets of twins, the four Latimer sisters are as close as can be. Yet these vivacious young women each have their own dreams for themselves: Edda wants to be a doctor, Tufts wants to organize everything, Grace won’t be told what to do, and Kitty wishes to be known for something other than her beauty. They are famous throughout New South Wales for their beauty, wit, and ambition, but as they step into womanhood, they are not enthusiastic about the limited prospects life holds for them.

Together they decide to enroll in a training program for nurses—a new option for women of their time, who have previously been largely limited to the role of wives, and preferably mothers. As the Latimer sisters become immersed in hospital life and the demands of their training, they meet people and encounter challenges that spark new maturity and independence. They meet men from all walks of life—local farmers, their professional colleagues, and even men with national roles and reputations—and each sister must make weighty decisions about what she values most. The results are sometimes happy, sometimes heartbreaking, but always . . . bittersweet.

Rendered with McCullough’s trademark historical accuracy, this dramatic coming of age tale is wise in the ways of the human heart, one that will transport readers to a time in history that feels at once exotic and yet not so very distant from our own.
The release date is August 19th. Sounds like a great summer read!

Monday, January 27, 2014

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan

I needed something light and fun to read next, so I grabbed An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan. I’ve become quite a Jude Morgan fan since reading Passion and A Little Folly. I still have a couple more of his books on my shelf, waiting to be read, but I bought this one recently because I wanted to read another of his Austen-esque romances.

The accomplished woman at the center of this novel is Lydia Templeton. Lydia is an independent-minded bluestocking who, at thirty, is on the shelf and quite content to be so. In her youth, she rejected the marriage proposal of her neighbor and friend of the family, Mr. Lewis Durrant. He was not only a very eligible suitor but also a man she genuinely liked even if she often found him insufferable. Since then, she has not seriously considered the matter of marriage except to consider herself contentedly unwed. She and Mr. Durrant are still neighbors and continue to see a good deal of one another. They still find each other sometimes tolerable, sometimes oddly charming, and often insufferable.

Lydia has such a reputation for being sensible that she is tasked by her godmother with chaperoning a naive young girl as she summers in Bath. The girl, Phoebe, a beautiful heiress newly introduced to society, was too successful in London. Two men, equally eligible, have fallen in love with her. The problem is that Phoebe cannot choose between them. She needs the advice of a steady, mature companion. Against her better judgment, Lydia is compelled to play that role.

In Bath, Lydia tries to be neutral and let Phoebe’s courtship(s) take a natural course, but the choice seems so obvious to Lydia, it’s difficult to remain impartial. As an added complication, Mr. Durrant is also in Bath. Determined not to leave his fortune to a wastrel of a nephew, Mr. Durrant has decided it’s time he found himself a wife. Lydia is subjected to the spectacle of his courting someone else and finds it not as amusing as she anticipated.

In true romance fashion, it’s pretty easy to guess how the relationships will all work out, but it’s fun seeing the characters bumble their way there. Morgan is a master at witty dialogue. The verbal sparring between Lydia and Lewis is delightful because it is so clever and even when they are trying to one-up one another, they are never truly malicious. (I can’t enjoy Romances where the characters are truly ugly to one another.)

Still, although I enjoyed this, I can’t count it among my favorites. It has a very slow start. It takes a long while to set up the premise, which isn’t as complicated as all that, but Morgan works in a lot of Lydia’s angst and reluctance and personal backstory before the plot can get off the ground. I like books with character development, but so much of it takes place in Lydia’s head that the story feels stalled.

It does get going when Lydia and Phoebe arrive in Bath. There are balls, entertainments, misunderstandings, bold confrontations and finally, satisfying resolutions. It’s very much what I expected for a book set in Bath styled after Jane Austen’s romances. But I think my next Jude Morgan book will be something more substantial.

I've had a good month for historical fiction! This is my sixth book for the historical fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


I haven't taken part in this meme in awhile but I have a Saturday morning free to blog so here goes.

To join in, describe in six words what is going on in your life, then visit Show My Face to link up and visit other participating blogs.

Here are my six words:

Snowed in. More time to read!

I'm trying to look at the bright side of this cold, wet weather. At least it's Saturday and I have nowhere I need to be for awhile.

Monday, January 20, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: City of Women by David R. Gillham

I just finished City of Women by David R. Gillham. This is another WWII book set in Berlin. I never used to read WWII fiction, but ever since The Book Thief, more and more of these novels are finding their way into my hands.

I entered a goodreads giveaway for this book last year. I didn’t win, but still wanted to read it. I was at the library picking up Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen and I saw City of Women on display. Since it has been on my goodreads list since I entered that contest, I thought: why not?

This novel focuses on a German soldier’s wife and stenographer named Sigrid Schroder. She’s a difficult protagonist to empathize with at first. She lives in a small apartment with her mother-in-law. The two grate on one another and the fault does not lie entirely with the mother-in-law. Sigrid’s husband, Kaspar, is at the Russian front, but she doesn’t miss him. The man Sigrid thinks about, pines for, is her lover, Egon Weiss. Egon is Jewish, and as the book opens, he is gone from Sigrid’s life, but it doesn’t seem, at first, as though she connects his Jewishness with his disappearance and the fact that it is Berlin in 1943. She must, but those thoughts are blocked.

The reader is informed about Sigrid’s relationship with Egon through Sigrid’s memories of events and scenes. It was a passionate relationship but not a pretty one. In fact, it was pretty awful. But passionate. And as we learn more about Sigrid’s childhood and her relationships in general, it isn’t so surprising that Egon meant so much to her.

Sigrid moves through her daily life, which in war-torn Berlin was a bleak and frightening existence, pretending to be a normal "good German." She keeps to herself, eyes closed to what is going on around her, trying to live for the past. But then, a young woman who is a barely an acquaintance, comes to her for help, inexplicably trusting her. Sigrid is drawn out of herself. She is forced to choose how to live, how to deal with the nightmare that is Nazi Germany.

Although City of Women has many elements in common with other WWII books that I’ve read — terrified citizens waiting out nighttime bombings in their basements; brave souls hiding Jews at the risk of their own lives; evil, tyrannical Gestapo — this novel fits more into the genre of thriller. It’s more cloak and daggerish. Everyone here has a secret. Nothing is as it seems. The novel moves back and forth in time, dropping clues about the who, what and why, and despite the usual claustrophobic feeling I get from WWII-set-in-Germany books, this book was a page-turner. It doesn’t have quite the appalling realism that some of the other WWII books have had, but it still provides a chilling dose of Nazi Germany.

I don’t read a lot of thrillers but I think, in the end, that’s what made this book work for me. I wasn’t crazy about Sigrid as a protagonist, although she grew on me as she found a sense of purpose and focus for her anger. If it had been a more typical book about people in Germany who were trying to do the right thing, against odds, I don’t think it would have had enough emotional depth. The characters are fascinating, but many of them are characters—they don’t seem all that real. It was the twists and turns of the plot that pulled me along.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

It was inevitable that I would read Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen. I’ve been a fan of Poe since I was a kid and I love historical novels about literary figures. While I knew that Poe’s life had been difficult and ended in a tragic and mysterious way, and was also aware of the odd tidbit that he had married his thirteen-year-old cousin, I was not aware that for a brief time rumors swirled that he was involved with a married woman. This book is told from the point of view of that woman, Frances (Fanny) Osgood.

The book opens in 1845, in New York City. The recently published poem, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, has taken the city, in fact the whole country, by storm. Fanny Osgood, a struggling poet, a young mother abandoned by her philandering portrait-painting husband, cannot understand the poem’s appeal. It’s wordplay, not true poetry. It has no emotional depth.

Fanny and her two young daughters have been taken in by an old friend, Eliza Bartlett, and her husband. If not for their kindness, Fanny doesn’t know how she would survive. Although she has successfully published poems in the past, currently all anyone is interested in is more in the macabre vein of Mr. Poe’s The Raven.

Fanny runs in literary circles, thanks to her friend’s support and her own reputation. It isn’t long before her path crosses that of Edgar Allan Poe. To her surprise, he publicly compliments her work, though he is known for being ruthlessly critical of the poetry of others. Although he is generally antisocial and protective of his young (and frail) wife, Virginia, he invites Frances to his home, hoping that she and Virginia will become friends. At least, that is the excuse.

Virginia is consumptive and, although it isn’t spoken of outright, she is dying. She is also jealous, manipulative, and strange. Fanny is very uncomfortable around her. However, Edgar and Fanny are drawn to one another and a friendship between Fanny and the couple is more socially acceptable than a relationship between Fanny and Edgar alone. And yet, a relationship does develop between them. They write flirtatious poetry to each other that is published in the literary journal Poe edits. They imagine themselves to be getting away with their emotional affair but no one is fooled. Least of all, Mrs. Poe.

This is a fascinating look at New York literary society in the mid 1800s and a disturbing love triangle. Lynn Cullen does a wonderful job of drawing New York and of making the people come alive. Even if you are not so much a fan of Poe, this is wonderful historical fiction.

Monday, January 13, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson is a light-hearted, charming romp through the small English village of Silverstream, somewhere outside of London. Written in 1936, the book has recently been re-released by Sourcebooks Landmark. I say recently, but it was 2012. This is one of those books that I bought right away because it sounded like just my type of book. Then it sat on my shelf waiting for a TBR pile challenge.

Barbara Buncle is a single woman of an indeterminate age (not forty we’re told in a roundabout way, but not a young thing either) who has gotten into a tight spot financially as her dividends have lessened. She needs money and her housekeeper is not too keen on the idea of raising hens. So she hatches a scheme to write a book. Barbara doesn’t have much imagination (her words), so she writes about her neighbors. She changes the name of the town to Copperfield and very thinly disguises the people of her village in a book that is either scathing satire or charmingly innocent. She packs the book off to the first publisher on the list–Mr. Abbott–who immediately recognizes its potential.

Barbara, who was smart enough to use a pseudonym, John Smith, was not quite astute enough to foresee the trouble the book would cause. Of course the inhabitants of her town recognize themselves. And the ones who were most honestly and amusingly portrayed are the ones who are most offended.

Barbara Buncle watches with anxiety as a witch hunt for John Smith ensues, and at the same time, her book has some unforeseen influence over members of the community, including herself. All this makes delicious fodder for the follow-up book that Mr. Abbott insists she must write. Barbara is quite safe from exposure, since the whole town considers the book clever, if scandalous and libelous, and no one has ever given her credit for cleverness. It’s almost enough to make her want to claim credit, if not for the fact that doing so would ruin her life. Or at least, change it.

This is insightful, old-fashioned comedy and sweetly romantic. It’s a quick and pleasant read–a great way to while away a few hours.

This is my first book for the TBR pile reading challenge hosted by Bookish. And since it’s a historical novel, it also counts for the Historical Fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry. Check out the links for these two fun challenges!


Saturday, January 11, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

I’ve seen a couple early reviews for Roomies, co-written by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. I haven’t read a contemporary YA in a while and the idea behind this one grabbed me, so I requested it from the library. I must have been one of the first people on the list, because the book came to me already. It’s a quick paced, read-in-one-sitting kind of book and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Told in alternating chapters from two first person points of view, and partially told by email, Roomies is the interlacing story of Elizabeth and Lauren, two about-to-be college freshmen at UC Berkeley. For each of them, this is the last summer at home. They are preparing themselves for major life changes. They can’t wait. And yet. . .

Elizabeth is a Jersey girl. She is quite desperate to get as far from home as possible. Her relationship with her mother is at a very low point. Her father abandoned them when she was five. He’s gay. Her mother has never really recovered from this. Elizabeth is having a rough summer. She is drifting apart from her friends, breaking up with her boyfriend, fighting with her mother, and starting a new relationship with a perfect boy despite knowing they have only a few weeks to be together.

Lauren’s circumstances are entirely different. She lives in San Francisco. She has an intact family. Too intact. She is the oldest of six children and feels more like a third parent than a sibling. When she isn’t helping take care of the kids, she is working to set aside money for the things she’ll need for college. She has a best friend but never gets to see her. She got a summer job working with a really nice guy, but he never noticed her at school so he’s just a work friend, right?

Early in the summer, they are notified by the Berkeley housing department that they are to be roommates. Lauren is dismayed at first. Crowded all her life, she had really hoped for a single. But Elizabeth (EB)’s email to break the ice starts off a chain of communication between the two that is not only the basis for a future friendship, it IS friendship. And the support they lend each other through the very difficult summer becomes a sort of life line for both of them.

The situations are realistic. (Maybe some are a little too realistic for my old fashioned taste when reading about contemporary teens. I have contemporary teens! This is why I usually read historical fiction. So I can hide my head in the sand.) The characters are well drawn. Their problems are real and they face them with admirable maturity and/or resignation. And they are able to recognize their blessings. This is a sweet book that captures that very awkward transitional time when the future is so exciting and full of promise and the past is falling away so fast it hurts even when you think you want to escape your past.

Friday, January 10, 2014


I've found TBR pile challenges to be very useful to me since I've started blogging. Like everyone else, I have too many books I've been meaning to read for too long sitting on my shelf, books I was very excited about reading at one point, but then I got distracted by something newer or more urgent. The TBR challenges are wonderful for sending me back to my own bookshelves. This year, I'm joining the challenge hosted by Bookish.

In short, only books from 2013 and earlier will count. For a full list of the rules and to sign up on the linky, go here.

The levels are:
1-10 - A Firm Handshake
11-20 - A Friendly Hug
21-30 - First Kiss
31-40 - Sweet Summer Fling
41-50Could this be love?
50+Married With Children
I'm going to go for the Friendly Hug level. I'll shoot for 12 books. I should be able to average one a month, I hope. I'm not going to make a list ahead of time, mainly because I'm a bit disorganized at the moment (or always.)

Reviews will be linked back to Bookish and I'll also keep a running list here. Thanks to Bookish for hosting and good luck to all the participants!

1. Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson
2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
4. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
5. Where Things Come Back - John Corey Whaley
6. Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan
7. Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
8. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
9. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
10. The Great Meadow by Elizabeth Madox Roberts
11. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
12. Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


I'm signing up again for the Back to the Classics Challenge. Originated by Sarah at Sarah-Reads-Too-Much, the task of hosting the challenge has been taken up this year by Karen at Books and Chocolate. (Thank you, Karen!)

Here are the rules:

The challenge will be very similar to the way Sarah created it.  Like last year, there will be six required categories that all participants must complete.  Everyone who reads and reviews six eligible books and writes a wrap-up post will automatically be entered into the drawing for an Amazon gift card for $30 (U.S) or a choice of book(s) from The Book Depository.
There will also be five optional categories for additional entries.  Participants who complete three of those (with corresponding posts) will also get an additional entry into the prize drawing;  those completing posts in all five categories will get another entry, for a total of three.  To receive the maximum of three entries, you would need to post eleven times.  

 There is one slight change, other than varying the book categories.  Karen is a little stricter than Sarah regarding the definition of a classic, defining a classic is a book that has endured for some reason ; therefore, she defines a classic as a book that was published at least 50 years ago.  Therefore, any book published after 1964 is ineligible. 

Here are the rest of the guidelines:

  • All books must be read in 2014.  Books started prior to January 1, 2014 are not eligible.  Reviews must be linked by December 31, 2014.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible!  Books can count for other challenges you may be working on.  However, books may NOT crossover categories within this challenge.  You may NOT count the same book twice for different categories in this challenge.  
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link your review from Goodreads or other publicly accessible online format.  
  • Please sign up for the challenge using the linky here BEFORE MARCH 1, 2014.  Please link to your sign-up announcement post (if possible/applicable).
  • You do not have to list your books prior to starting the challenge, but it is more fun that way :).  You can always change your list at any time.  You can read the books in any order (including mixing in the optional categories at any time).
  • You can decide to attempt the optional categories at any point (you can also bow out of the optional categories at any point as well).
  • Please identify the categories you've read in your wrap-up post so that I can easily add up your entries for the prize drawing! Adding links within the post would also be greatly appreciated. 
And finally. . . . The 2014 categories: 


  1. A 20th Century Classic
  2. A 19th Century Classic
  3. A Classic by a Woman Author
  4. A Classic in Translation  If English is not your primary language, then books originally published in English are acceptable.  You could also read the book in its original language if you are willing and able to do so.
  5. A Classic About War  2014 will be the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  Any book relating to a war is fine -- WWI, WWII, the French Revolution, the War of the Worlds -- your choice.
  6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You This can be any author whose works you have not read before.  It doesn't necessarily have to be an author you've never heard of.  
Optional Categories:
  1. An American Classic
  2. A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller 
  3. A Historical Fiction Classic.  This is any classic set at least 50 years before the time when it was written.  For example, Margaret Mitchell published Gone with the Wind 70 years after the end of the Civil War; therefore, it is considered a historical novel.  A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Letter are also historical novels.  However, older classics set during the period in which they were written are not considered historical; for example, the novels of Jane Austen.
  4. A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series.  Any period, any genre!  This is practically a free choice category.  However, it's a separate category than the required categories.
  5. Extra Fun Category:  Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4.  This should be some kind of posting reviewing the book read for the previous optional category above.  It can be any adaptation -- does not have to be adapted before 1964.  For example, if you chose Pride and Prejudice as your the optional classic above, you could review any adaptation -- 1940, 1980, 1995, 2005, etc. These two optional categories go together, but this must be a separate blog posting -- no fair just mentioning it in the book review!

And here are my choices. Reviews will be linked here when available as well as at Books and Chocolate.

1. 20th century classic: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
2. 19th century classic: Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
3. Classic by a Woman Author: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
4. Classic in Translation: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
5. Classic About War: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
6. Classic by an Author who is New to Me: The Great Meadow by Elizabeth Maddox Roberts

1. American Classic: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
2. Classic Historical Novel: I, Claudius by Robert Graves
3. Classic Mystery/Suspense: Study in Scarlet/Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
4. Classic Adapted into a Movie: Howards End by E.M. Forster 

Monday, January 6, 2014

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Handfasted Wife by Carol McGrath

I don’t recall where I first saw mention of The Handfasted Wife by Carol McGrath, but I’m grateful to whoever it was that made me aware of the book. This is a novelized account of the life of Edith Swanneck, the wife (first wife, hand-fasted according to old custom, but not recognized by the Church because they were cousins) of Harold Godwin (or Godwinson). Harold was the unfortunate short-term king of England who was defeated by William the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066. It sounded right up my alley and, at the time, it was available on kindle for the delightfully low price of $2.99 so I couldn’t resist downloading it onto my ipad. (It is currently a steal on kindle at $0.99! I don’t know how long that will last.)

I had my ipad with me on my trip so that I wouldn’t have to pack extra books. When I finished Oliver Wiswell I still had a couple hours of flying to go. Inspired by our trip to Battle Abbey and the fields of Battle near Hastings, I knew it was time to read The Handfasted Wife.
My son at the memorial where Harold fell in Battle.

My son, my husband and me in front of the battlefield at Battle.

Edith (Elditha) and her husband, Harold, along with their brood of children, meet up at King Edward’s Christmas court at Westminster in 1065. It’s not a happy time. Edward is dying. He has no son, so whispers abound about the succession. The most prominent name is Harold’s. However, it is also known that Harold has sworn on holy relics to support Duke William of Normandy (William the Bastard) who claims the throne should be his. Harold did swear to support him, but he’s a bit vague on what he meant by "support." And there are other claimants as well, perhaps with more valid claims, but too young to be a real threat.

Elditha is worried. She doesn’t particularly want her husband to push himself forward as king. They are comfortable as they are. Mainly, she recognizes the precariousness of her own situation. She is a handfasted wife. They made their vows according to an old custom. The Church would not marry them because they are cousins. They have had a long, loving, passionate marriage. She has given him many healthy, strong sons and daughters. She is wealthy and beautiful. But there is a young widow from the north, with brothers whose political support Harold will need. This woman is also attending Christmas court and Harold is paying far too much attention to her.

Edward dies. Harold is chosen for successor. Harold confesses that he has arranged to marry the northern widow and put Elditha aside. He offers her an estate, Reredfelle, as a retreat where he can still come to her. His new wife will be a political expedient only. Elditha is the woman he loves.

Despite her broken heart, she tries to maintain her dignity and do what is best for her children. She moves to Reredfelle and rebuilds it into a fine estate. Harold’s visits are infrequent, but they are able to retain something of their past relationship. Of course, it doesn’t last.

This is the setup for what we know must come next.

Duke William invades England. Harold is killed at the Battle of Hastings. Elditha, along with the other noblewomen of the extended family, have to do what they can to survive and accommodate to the new regime. The Normans are ruthless and determined to stamp out any resistance and to absorb the wealth of the English nobility for themselves.

Although there is little factual information about what happened to Elditha, McGrath takes the snippets that are known and weaves a richly satisfying story about a brave, determined woman, loyal to the warrior king she loved. The characters are well developed. The plot is engrossing. The historical detail is transportive. I love books like this, and highly recommend The Handfasted Wife.

This is book two for the Historical Fiction Challenge. Check out the 2014 challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts

Happy New Year! What a wonderful Christmas Holiday I’ve had. My family and I went to England! We spent a week in London (with a couple train excursions to sight-see) and then a few days in Bath (renting a car to see Stonehenge and Old Sarum.) I got to see places I’ve wanted to see forever- like Canterbury Cathedral. We went to Battle. We saw Jane Austen’s house and the Jane Austen Center. It was wonderful. I might post some pictures once I get them off the camera and organized.

The plane ride was long- good thing. My historical fiction book club has chosen Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts for our next meeting. This doorstop is 836 pages and is rather a slow read, so I needed the trans-Atlantic flight to get through it.

There are at least two sides to every conflict. Oliver Wiswell is the story of the American Revolution told from the point of view of a loyalist. It was published in 1940, and the author received a special Pulitzer Prize citation in 1957 for his historical fiction so it’s a classic book. As a general rule, detailed, accurate historical fiction is my favorite type of novel. But I had trouble getting in to Oliver Wiswell.

The book begins with Oliver as a young man returning to his Massachusetts home to visit his father, a well-respected lawyer, who has recently suffered a stroke. On the way, he comes across a mob of rebels burning a farm and tarring and feathering a man they discovered on the premises-- Thomas Buell, a printer, inventor, man of many skills, whose printing press happened to be on the site. Wiswell rescues Buell and brings him to his father’s home, thus saving his life, and from then on Buell does not leave Wiswell’s side, not for long anyway. The ingenuous but rather coarse Buell proves invaluable to highbrow Wiswell.

The rebels, stirred up by Sam Adams and John Hancock, have been making life miserable for honest, loyal Americans for a good while. But things are about to get worse. Oliver Wiswell’s neighbors, the Leightons, have been good friends all his life. He is best friends with one of the brothers and in love with the sister, Sally. Unfortunately, the Leightons are patriots. Word has gotten out that Buell is in the Wiswell home, and rebels come to get Buell and to drive out the Wiswells. Sally warns Oliver just in time and they are able to make an escape, but he must leave Sally behind.

The book follows the fate of loyalists. First, they collect in Boston. When Boston falls, they flee to New York. During the course of the war, it seems the bulk of Americans are loyalists or, if not outright supporters of the British, are against the rebels but are too afraid to say so. The rebels, though a small minority, are bullies who terrify the population into submission.

Wiswell does not fight against his fellow countrymen but he does spy for the British army, first in America and then in England and France. Unfortunately, the British higher-ups refuse to believe or act upon any of the intelligence he brings them. Fed up, he returns to America where he continues his information gathering and does a little fighting, all to no effect. (The rebels win.)

Wiswell meets the most famous people of the day. He manages to be present at quite a few of the most important events. For this reason, the book is interesting and informative if a bit farfetched. But I found that its lack of subtlety in its bias towards the loyalists made it read more like propaganda than an enjoyable novel. The loyalists are too unbelievably GOOD GUYS: brave, honest, morally unimpeachable, intelligent, gentlemanly, upstanding all around, and the rebels are LOUTS: uneducated, gullible, greedy, violent, brutish and untrustworthy. The rebel leaders are self interested liars and cheats. They start the revolution not for high ideals like liberty, etc., but out of spite towards England and in order to get out of paying debts owed to the Crown. For these personal and mercenary reasons, they are willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands. As for the British, they are corrupt and/or incompetent. The rebels are so cowardly and such poor soldiers, so badly commanded, that they never could have won the war. The British lost it by being completely inept. They lost it, it seems, by not listening to the advice of Oliver Wiswell. The loyalists would have won if they had been allowed to fight under American loyalist commanders from the get-go. The loyalists were pretty much perfect in every way. These assertions are repeated and demonstrated over and over and over again without any variation. Except at the end, one of the rebels does come around and admit that the rebel cause was misguided and its leaders were corrupt, so he wasn’t quite as much of a goon as the others, but he was a Leighton.

I prefer books that are a bit more nuanced. Nevertheless, I do feel that I’ve learned more American history and that’s time well spent!

This is my first historical novel completed in 2014 so I’m jumping right in to the Historical Fiction Challenge, hosted by Historical Tapestry.

Saturday, January 4, 2014



A new year means it's time for new reading challenges. First up, the 2014 Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.

This is my favorite challenge since historical fiction is my favorite genre and I find this one the easiest to complete. Here are the instructions:

The challenge will run in the same way as it has over the last couple of years that H.T. has hosted the challenge. The only thing that has changed is that they have added an additional category for those hard core HF readers who want to challenge themselves to read more than 50 HF novels over the course of the next 12 months.

Here are the details:

Each month, a new post dedicated to the HF Challenge will be created. To participate, you only have to follow the rules:

  • everyone can participate, even those who don't have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section if you wish)
  • add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky they’ll be adding to their monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide them directly to your review)
  • any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,...)
During the following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels: 

20th century reader - 2 books
Victorian reader - 5 books
Renaissance Reader - 10 books
Medieval - 15 books
Ancient History - 25 books

Prehistoric - 50+ books

You can tailor the challenge to suit you in whichever way you like!

To join the challenge you only need to make a post about it, add your link in Mr Linky at H.T. or just leave a link to your blog if you are not yet ready to post about it yet. If you don't have a blog you can just leave a comment at H.T.'s post saying that you are joining.

The challenge runs from 1 January to 31 December 2014.

We look forward to having you join us in reading and enjoying the best in historical fiction over the next year.

Don't forget to grab one of the buttons to add to your posts. Special thanks to Heather from Capricious Reader who created the buttons.
I'm going with the Ancient History level again this year. I read about 35 historical novels last year. I don't know if I can make it to 50, but I'll go as high as I can!

1. Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts
2. The Handfasted Wife by Carol McGrath
3. Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson
4. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
5. City of Women by David R. Gillham
6. An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan
7. I am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith
8. Wake by Anna Hope
9. A Good American by Alex George
10. Sedition by Katherine Grant
11. The Iron King by Maurice Druon
12. A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
13. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
14. The Wharf of Chartrons by Jean-Paul Malaval
15. Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
16. Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
17. The Swan-Daughter by Carol McGrath
18. A Tangled Web by Sandra Schwab
19. The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones
20. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
21. The Great Meadow by Elizabeth Madox Roberts
22. Trapped at the Altar by Jane Feather
23. Death Comes to the Village by Catherine Lloyd
24. Death Comes to London by Catherine Lloyd
25. Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall
26. Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmar
27. Howards End by E.M. Forster
28. Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer
29. The Towers of Tuscany by Carol M. Cram
30. Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar
31. First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
32. A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber