Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tag: historical fiction

News from the Belvedere

Or, the sixth book about the sleuthing adventures of Veronica Speedwell and Revelstoke Templeton-Vane. At the beginning of An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn, published 02 March 2021, Veronica and Stoker are helping setting up an exhibition in honour of a female mountaineer who died in an accident climbing the legendary ‘Teufelstreppe’ [fictitious mountain in a fictitious Alpine country].

As can be expected, they find evidence for the mountaineer’s death having been murder. Trying to investigate this, at Stoker’s loud refusal, leads the two of them down a very interesting path indeed; Veronica has to impersonate a head of state, while Stoker has to try and keep her alive as death threats arrive.

If you’ve read the previous five books, you know what happened at the end of book five, A Murderous Relation. If you further think that those events, which I am not going to spoil here, might influence the dynamic between the duo, you are wrong. The two of them still banter, the air between them still crackles, and it’s still great fun to read.

Okay, I’m going to say it, I love Veronica and Stoker. But I didn’t love this story as much as the ones before. For the main part, the twists were very predictable. When the previous books mentioned to surprise me here and there and I couldn’t put them away until I had read the story, this instalment I kept putting away for other books.

Anyway, the last lines hint at another story for Veronica and Stoker, and I will gladly come back to Victorian London to investigate whatever Deanna Raybourn has thought up for them.

A bunch of quick reviews

Without further ado…

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, publishing date 27 April 2021.

Murderbot being Murderbot, it is not easy for it to interact with humans. But it has to find out about the dead human. A dead human it did not kill, thank you for asking. So, it’s playing Sherlock on a space station. Making new friends along the way, of course.

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes, published 02 March 2021.

This collection of fantasy and contemporary fiction short stories was a bit ‘yeah and meh’. Some of the Jewish ‘own voices’ stories were really really good. Yet reading some of the more speculative fiction stories, I felt a bit lost. Strong stories nonetheless even if they might make you feel uncomfortable.

The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme, published 02 March 2021.

This was surprisingly good for a rather generic YA fantasy romance. Boehme managed to make her characters and their love story believable by letting them both acknowledge that they had known each other only for a short time. A further plus: it’s a standalone that delivers a solid story in less than 350 pages.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, published 02 March 2021.

A historical fiction using the split timeline trope. I liked the storyline about the apothecary set in the late 18th century. Nella has a secret apothecary shop, she’s helping women who find themselves in ‘tricky’ situations. Until a chance encounter with 12 y/o Eliza sets the wheels of fate in motion, which lead to Caroline from Ohio. On a trip to London she finds an apothecary bottle while mudlarking in the Thames. She starts researching about the bottle and the apothecary. The story would have been just as interesting without the contemporary storyline, which was rather ‘meh’ compared to the historical story.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark.

Both short stories are set in an alternate Cairo in the early 20th century. Otherworldly beings are just as normal as the Ministry of Alchemy. In A Dead Djinn in Cairo, Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi is trying to solve a murder disguised as suicide and finds herself digging so much deeper that she encounters clockwork angels and a plot that might implode time itself. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 brings us back to Cairo, this time “Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.” I enjoyed both short stories and I am looking forward to reading the full novel A Master of Djinn (expected pub date: 11 May 2021), which has been idling on my ARC shelf for some time.

Just imagine London was French

Natasha Pulley’s fourth novel The Kingdoms, publishing day 27 May 2021, is an alternate history/time travel story set between the French Revolution and the early 20th century [I’m being vague on purpose]. The French won the Napoleonic Wars and Britain is under French rule; that might need a moment to sink in, take your time.

Our MC Joe arrives in a London that is familiar to him and is not. He’s lost his memories. He’s certain though that his wife’s name is ‘Madeleine’ and he has dreamlike memories of a man standing by the sea waiting for him. Due to his amnesia, he spends a few days in hospital until his owner and his wife Alice take him home. To a home and a life he cannot remember. He slowly adjusts to this new-to-him life and starts a family with Alice. When, some years after his arrival in London, Joe’s being sent to stay at a lighthouse in the northwest of Scotland for a winter, Joe knows that not seeing his young daughter for several months will have an impact on both their lives. He could not fathom how big this impact might actually turn out to be.

Pulley’s writing is excellent. I highlighted quite a lot of very apt descriptions in my eARC. My favourite, which I’ve already shared on Twitter and hope will make it into the final version of the book, was when Joe watched sailors pulling up the anchor chain of a ship, where one tiny slip might cause a fatal accident:

… his [Joe’s] teeth itched with the sense of potential energy.

Natasha Pulley, The Kingdoms

The chapters are mainly told following Joe, but we also get flashbacks to other major character’s pasts. This might be a little confusing at first, but each “jump” in time is labelled at the beginning of the chapter. I thought it was handled very well and easy to follow, but I love a good time travel story with twists and turns [Tenet did not give me a headache at all].

The story’s based on the so-called grandfather paradox of time travel. You know, will you still be alive if you travel back in time and kill your own grandfather before your parent is even conceived? That is, will changes made by your being in the past have an influence on your present/future? [Should you like research rabbit holes as much as I do, here’s a nifty Wikipedia article for you: Grandfather Paradox.]

What’s left to say? I’m looking forward to holding a print copy of this book in my hands. I’m actually hoping I can pre-order a signed copy and re-read the story by the fireside at the next Gladstone’s Library reading retreat that was cancelled twice in 2020 due to ‘the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named’.

Mercy in Pain

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was my first finished book of this year and it was a really good one. It is a historical fiction novel set in the small island town of Vardø, Norway, and is based on the real event of a sea storm in 1617 which killed most of the male population while they were out fishing. While this event alone could make for a really interesting story, it is the witch trials – the first in Norway – following the storm that make this book a hard but rewarding read.

The story follows two main characters. One of them is Maren, who had to witness the death of her father, brother and betrothed during the storm. We follow her struggles as she has to adapt to the new life with the rest of the women of Vardø. While still coming to terms with the trauma of losing so many people, they have to fend for themselves in order to stay alive. The second point of view is that of Ursula, wife of the new comissioner coming to Vardø. He is supposed to assist the appointed minister to keep the women on a tighter leash.

The comissioner’s arrival deepens a divide that has begun to emerge between the women. There are the kirke-women, going to church and praying and focusing on womanly and godly behavior – and there are the rest of the women, taking on “male” tasks like fishing to keep the community alive. Maren faces the divide even in her own home, as she is left with her mother, her sister-in-law and her newborn nephew. While her mother leans more and more toward the company of the kirke-women, her sister-in-law is one of the native Sámi people which are increasingly suspected of witchcraft due to their rites and rituals.

Ursula has come to Vardø trapped in her loveless marriage to the cruel commissioner. On her way from Bergen, she envisioned a place of sisterhood to help her through her loneliness. She finds a safe haven in her growing bond with Maren, while around them conflicts are growing and finally erupting.

The writing is wonderful and lyrical, capturing the harsh setting while still providing sources of light and hope. Although this is a historical fiction novel, the tone and style reminded me a bit of last year’s buddyread of The Once and Future Witches.

While the beginning and the end of the book are really fast paced, the middle is more character-driven to illustrate the connection developing between Ursula and Maren. The difference in pacing gives the feeling that the middle drags a little, but I still enjoyed seeing the relationship between the two women grow. The commissioner is a character that fills you with dread right from the outset, and the feeling grows the more you get to know about him. Religion is once again used as a tool of oppression here. Especially in the unfolding of the conflicts you really start to question how people really could believe all the accusations thrown at the supposed witches.

Mutineers and Mangos

Robert Merle’s The Island is based on the fate of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn Island and once again shows that a hunger for power begets quite a lot of blood. While not completely out of my comfort zone, it took someone close to my heart to put it into my hands. I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across it myself, given my somehow strained relationship with French authors.

After killing their cruel and sadistic captain, the mutineers aboard the Blossom need to avoid British persecution. Those directly involved in the mutiny therefore sail toward an uncharted island, determined to build a new home there. They stop in Tahiti, picking up several men and women of a tribe befriended by the main character Adam Purcell. But even before reaching their island, conflicts between the British sailors and Tahitians are starting to brew. One of the main reasons for dispute will prove to be the fact that there are less women than men and that their “distribution” hence leads to jealousy and rage. Combined with a decent supply of gun power and cultural differences, a predictable racial war ensues.

Merle’s writing style is very detailed and analytic, often discussing every possible outcome of a debate before the character has even uttered a single word. It’s not a style to really relax your brain, but enjoyable nonetheless. While the plot itself is easy to predict, the book keeps you hooked with extensive character development and moral considerations.

Would events have turned out differently if the most power hungry of the British had been killed early on? What kind of society would have emerged, if the whole crew had taken to Purcell’s approach of treating the Tahitians as equals? What if the women had been allowed to select their partners on their own, instead of being distributed like cattle?

After dipping my toe into this part of Merle’s work, his next book on my list will be Malevil. It will be interesting to see how his writing fares in a (dystopian) science fiction setting.

Haunted on the High Seas

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, publishing date 01 October 2020.

Here’s what I wrote after reading the sampler:

The excerpt of Turton’s book makes we want to read the full story. No, that’s not true. The foreword by Stuart Turton alone made me want to read this. Fortunately, I’ll only have to wait about 6 weeks until publishing day.

Bonus, one of the male characters shares a name, and some features even, of a family member of mine.

The Right honourable Harpy Eagle on NetGalley

I might have squealed, or done a little happy dance when I received an e-ARC of this book. Having enjoyed Turton’s debut novel The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I was really looking forward to his new book.

The book is set in the early 17th century. A ship loaded with spices and other valuable cargo is setting off from Batavia (Jakarta in Indonesia) on an eight month journey to Amsterdam. On board of the ship are several nobles, lots of musketeers and sailors, the best detective in the world and his assistant, and ‘Old Tom’, the devil.

Turton writes very vivid main and secondary characters. His descriptions of the life on ship and the ship itself are detailed but never boring. The story’s pace is good throughout and keeps you turning the pages, because you need to know who’s behind all this.

Why am I not giving this book 5 stars? I kept wondering throughout the book how some of the characters managed to obtain their information; character A finds out something, which two chapters later is used by character D, who shares it with character F. But there’s no mention of A talking to D at all.

4/5 Goodreads stars

It’s that time …

… when supermarkets start stocking gingerbread, Stollen, and chocolate Santas – or in other words: It’s September!

Contrary to what I thought at the beginning of the month – that I might be happy if I get a few books off my TBR – I had a very productive August, thanks to the schools reopening. That offered me a lot of hours of audio-reading while doing the chores. You have no idea how much that has helped with regaining my equilibrium.

My August was filled with sci-fi, fantasy, (explicit) romance, a bit of horror and historical fiction. Goodreads, probably the only place that keeps a halfway accurate record of my reading, has 19 books logged for August. That’s not true. I read a couple of ARCs that are not in the Goodreads database yet; and a few excerpts of books, which I don’t count towards my Goodreads challenge. Which is looking fine, btw. Thanks for asking.

The Sceptre buddyread The Only Good Indians was interesting, although I wouldn’t say my favourite of the month. That honour goes to the romcoms I’ve read, Dawn with a Duke and The Switch and Erin Mallon’s Flirtasaurus. I needed a cozy feel-good read for a change. I had virtually thrown too many books at the wall in August.

Looking forward to September I have to admit, I might have said “yes, let’s buddyread this book/series/author” a few too many times. My plate is full.

There are, as always, books I’m reading with my kids; strangely that list is getting longer every month too. There’ll be the Sceptre buddyread; we’re busy speculating on which book it might be. It’s a book that’ll be published in early September, because the bookshop will send out the books later this time.

Buddyreads: There’s Katie MacAlister’s Improper English that I am reading with a friend in Australia. My postal book club book for August is still unread – Ugh! – and the next book is on it’s way to me. Pratchett’s Last Continent wants to be read by September 7th for the Litsy OokBOokClub. There is Shusterman’s Scythe, which I’m buddyreading with my son. Then I’m looking forward to Laura Lam and Elizabeth May’s Seven Devils, which I wanted to start but accidentally started reading Kit Rocha’s Deal with the Devil; I am also savouring the ARC of Turton’s next book The Devil and the Dark Water. Coincidence? I think it just means September is off to a good start.

If you’re wondering, the current state of the NetGalley-ARC-shelf-of-shame is 95. Hand me some gingerbread, please! I need something to snack on while I get through that pile.

Alive and kicking

Well, it’s been a while. First of all, I have to thank my wonderful fellow Sceptres for keeping this blog alive. I feel like the 30-something child still living in your basement without paying rent. I have nothing to say in my defence except for this: life has been busy and some things have sadly taken a backseat.

To my astonishment, I somehow still managed to read nine books in August – seems like I was just too lazy to talk about them. I solemnly swear to change that. Just typing these few sentences makes me wonder what has kept me from doing so in the past couple of weeks.

One of my bookish highlights this month was a reread of two childhood favourites. They are the first two books of a trilogy which was recently updated by a fourth book – the reason for my reread. Originally published in German, their English translations are The Water Mirror and The Stone Light and they are quite a bit darker than I remember.

Let’s see what September has in store for us. Of course there will be a Sceptre buddyread and we already have our suspicions. Fingers crossed that we are once again correct. Other than that, I will finish And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. It’s one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf for ages. Once I picked it up, I quickly remembered why I liked Hosseini’s other books so much. His writing is a thing of beauty.

I will also have some days off, so I’m expecting a lot of reading time. Maybe I will even finally finish The Stand…. just kidding, let’s stay realistic. Knowing myself, I will probably pick up something lighter to stay in the reading flow.

Me(h)xican Gothic

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, publishing date June 30, 2020.

The story of Noemí and her cousin Catalina reminded me of books that are actually mentioned in the story, like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

It’s the 1950s in Mexico. Society girl Noemí wants to check on her cousin Catalina, who should be embracing wedded bliss. Instead she sent a missive to her relatives that hints at strange things going on in her new home in a rural part of Mexico. Indeed, from the moment of her arrival Noemí knows that something sinister is going on in this very strange, stuck in the Victorian era, house and household.

The writing is excellent and makes the dark house, the foggy cemetery, and especially the creepy figures come alive. Nevertheless, and although the beginning and ending of the book are worthy of the Gothic Horror genre, the middle is boring. One could easily skip the middle part and still understand the end of the story. Further, having an idea what the underlying problem of the plot was very early on made it a dull read for me.

3/5 Goodreads stars

Solving Mysteries with a young ACD

The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling, published April 2, 2020.

It’s the year 1870. We’re in Edinburgh, Arthur Conan Doyle is a medical student, but he’s not our main character. Our MC is Zinnie, a fierce young girl, trying to keep a roof over the heads of her sisters Sadie and Nell, and some sort of food on their table. This is how Doyle and Zinnie cross paths, Doyle pays Zinnie for small jobs – like recovering a pocket watch – which soon turns into solving mysteries.

Zinnie is a wonderful character, she’s loyal to her family and friends, she’s headstrong and intelligent. You know that she’ll prevail against all odds and that you can count on her to protect her siblings.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes their stories a little on the dark side, though not that dark, it’s a middle-grade after all. The historical figures included in the story don’t distract from Zinnie’s story or the mystery, they add to it.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén