Friday, October 28, 2016

REVIEW: Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

Midwife of the Blue Ridge
by Christine Blevins

Publisher: Berkley
Page Count: 417
Release Date: August 5, 2008
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal buy via Amazon; used

First attention getter: subject and enjoyed author's previous works


From GoodReads:

From the villages of eighteenth-century Scotland to the colonies of America, Christine Blevins takes us on a richly imagined, perilous adventure, as one woman seeks the life she deserves...

They called her Dark Maggie for her thick black hair, but the name also had a more sinister connotation. As the lone survivor of an attack on her village, she was thought to be cursed—and unfit for marriage.

Maggie is not cursed but gifted with quick wits, skilled in medicine, and trained as a midwife. Venturing to the colonies as an indentured servant, she hopes to escape the superstitions of the old country, help women bring new life into the world, even in the most primitive and isolated corners of an unsettled land—and find a home of her own.

What she discovers is a New World fraught with new dangers—and, having given up her own freedom to join a people that yearn to be free, she must rely on her talent for survival now more than ever...

My Thoughts:

Star Rating
- 3.5

I've been on a historical midwife and witch kick lately, so this book was right up my alley. It's actually been on my to-shelf for years, at least two. So I figured it was time to give it a go. It proved to be a fairly enjoyable read with a great main character and fascinating historical storyline with unknown elements for me. Despite a few hitches, I would feel comfortable recommending this book on to others.

I adored the historical story explored in this book. Information about indentured servants and the back country of Appalachia are not often represented in historical fiction. The author gives a ton of details about how the indentured servant system worked and how it impacted all the parties involved, both the servants themselves and the bidders for their contracts. She also makes the rough life on the frontier in the 1700s come alive. Abundant details on daily life illustrate how tough it was to survive in this wild environment, where either the weather or the natives could take your life easily. The author does a great job at making the reader viscerally experience both aspects of the history explored.

Maggie made this novel for me; she's tough, courageous, and practical. She comes from a harsh background to create a life in a new world equally as harsh. Death and despair are common occurrences in her life. However, Maggie doesn't let that drag her down. I loved the way she approached the hardships in her life, with grit and a sensible outlook on life. I found elements of my own personality in hers and so found her all the more relatable.

Most of the secondary characters and the main male lead, Tom, were as distinct an individual as Maggie. I loved Tom. He stands out as a rugged, courageous man comfortable in the wilds of frontier North America and within his own skin. I also grew to love Maggie's indentured family whom she served and the rest of the inhabitants of the nearby town.

However, one of the hitches of this book fell in this area. The main villain came off as a caricature for the most part. He's over-the-top, to the point of un-believability. Let's just say that if the railroad had existed in this time, I could have seen this villain tying Maggie up and doing a Snidely Whiplash routine like the cartoon. There would have been much mustache twirling going on. This exaggeration of his character detracted from my enjoyment of his scenes and role in the book.

My other problem with this book has to do a bit with the villain and his scenes with Maggie. The story goes into some very dark places; yet, I expected that from reading other reviews. In fact, that was one of the reasons I hadn't picked up this novel till this point. After reading this book, I feel that some of what happened to Maggie at his hands were over-the-top, like his characterization. I felt the story would have held as much weight without these unnecessary brutal scenes. I don't fault scenes like these being in historical fiction titles; brutal things like this did happen. Yet, the ones included with this book seemed unnecessary with the rest of the narrative flow.

Despite a few hiccups with unnecessary scenes and a two dimensional villain, this book was an enjoyable journey into colonial frontier America. A strong main character leads the cast of equally strong secondary characters to make the reader live the story, not just read it. The fact that the author explores unfamiliar historical details and stories is just icing on the top for me. I would feel very comfortable recommending this book to friends and family, especially if you have an interest in colonial America fiction.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

REVIEW: The Witches by Stacy Schiff

The Witches
by Stacy Schiff

Publisher: Little Brown and Co
Page Count: 498
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: free copy from GR giveaway

First attention getter: subject matter


From GoodReads:

The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched--at a politically tumultuous time--on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness." With devastating clarity, the textures and tension of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

I had to laugh at the timing in which I received this book. I had just finished a fictional work on witchcraft in the modern world and the history of the main family. So I was on a witch high when I got this book. Imagine my excitement to get such a large volume on the history of the Salem witch trials, the United States, biggest historical example of a witchcraft hunt. Unfortunately, this volume did not meet most expectations.

The author definitely did her research. She goes in depth on many aspects of Puritan society and the history of the colonies, witch trials, and the superstitions of the Puritan brand of religion. At times, the author's research seems to veer away from the witch trials themselves, but everything ultimately gives background and depth to the trials themselves and the ladies involved.

Ultimately, I got what I wanted out of this volume. I learned the intimate details of the lives of the accused, their accusers, and their judges. I learned little known aspects of this well known historical event such as the different type of accusers and how closely families stuck together or how quickly they fell apart under the burden of suspicion and death. However, beyond the wealth of information and the joy of learning such, this book suffers from many flaws.

The author tends to get wordy, she'll use five words were one will do. I am not sure if she was aiming for readability, to make the work more relatable to the common reader rather than just scholars. If so, her plan backfired. The reader can get bogged down in so many words that the general point of the paragraph, page, or chapter gets lost.The author's tendency to wander also doesn't help with this.

The author tends to wander from subject to subject, on one societal aspect to another randomly. She'll go in depth about a particular person's witch trial; then three paragraphs later, she'll talk about the superstitions of Puritan society or the history of its ministers. There are some stretches to this work where you could have five or six subjects crammed onto one page, varying from paragraph to paragraph. Some consistences from chapter to chapter would've helped this book.

There are also narrative issues. Many of the trial scenes, and I stress the word SCENE, read as fictional rather than nonfiction. Now in and of itself, this aspect wouldn't be as glaring if the author used the same narrative style for the rest of the book. However, she does not. So the trial scenes are glaring in there scene setting rather than flowing with the rest of the work.

At the end of the day, I got what I wanted out of this work. I learned more about a seminal event in American history and intimate details of those involved. I only wish, however, that the author had paid as much attention to the nitty-gritty details of writing as she did to the historical facts presented. Formatting is screwy, words pile up on top of each other, and a wandering narrative drag this nonfictional work down. Would I seek this work out again? Maybe if I had a specific question on a party involved with the witch trials. I would not, however, seek to read this work again for pleasure.

Note: Book was received for free from the publisher via a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 24, 2016

REVIEW: The Soldier's Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian

The Soldier's Scoundrel
by Cat Sebastian

Publisher: Avon Impulse
Page Count: 213
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: that cover!!


From GoodReads:

A scoundrel who lives in the shadows

Jack Turner grew up in the darkness of London's slums, born into a life of crime and willing to do anything to keep his belly full and his siblings safe. Now he uses the tricks and schemes of the underworld to help those who need the kind of assistance only a scoundrel can provide. His distrust of the nobility runs deep and his services do not extend to the gorgeous high-born soldier who personifies everything Jack will never be.

A soldier untarnished by vice

After the chaos of war, Oliver Rivington craves the safe predictability of a gentleman's life-one that doesn't include sparring with a ne'er-do-well who flouts the law at every turn. But Jack tempts Oliver like no other man has before. Soon his yearning for the unapologetic criminal is only matched by Jack's pleasure in watching his genteel polish crumble every time they're together.

Two men only meant for each other

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

This book caught me by surprise. It's the first m/m Romance I've seen from a major publishing house. In the past, all the ones I've seen have been either self or indie published. So that alone would have caught my attention. Yet, the author gives us enjoyable characters and a lovely romance to go along with that individuality.

I adore Jack and Oliver. Both characters have distinct personalities, uncouth Jack and refined Oliver. Yet where other authors my fall into the trap of making these characters stereotypes or caricatures, the author succeed in making both men individual unto themselves. As the story progresses, each character changes with the turns of the story as well. Both leads were able to develop and grow, not being stuck in characterization ruts.

The relationship between these two made for sweet reading. The author does a great job in conveying that two men can have as emotional and romantic a connection as a man and woman can, especially given the timeframe this takes place in. The Regency era was a time when a relationship such as theirs was punishable by death. Jacks and Oliver's personalities played off each other beautifully, rounding each other out to create a cohesive relationship.

I also liked the time the author spent with her historical details. I got a real sense of the societal rules of the Regency era and the little details of everyday life like dress and home life. Seeing those details play into our lead’s personalities and how their relationship developed was an added bonus.

The one aspect of this book that was weak was the background mystery. The sleuthing was predictable, the clues somewhat hackneyed, and the overall mystery itself borderline silly. I could care less what happened to the Wraxhalls or their associates. However, this is a historical romance; such a story aspect really doesn’t have to be that strong in this genre. It’s still an enjoyable tale.

For what this book is, it shines. The romance and leads are very well done, especially as this is a debut novel. I adored watching these two men grow, both in themselves and together in their relationship. While the background mystery was predictable and boring, historical romances don't hinge on that story aspect, at least for this reader. I would definitely look for other volumes by this writer; she's a promising author for the m-m romantic subgenre.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

REVIEW: Love Across the Ocean by Ellynore Seybold

Love Across the Ocean
by Ellynore Seybold

Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Page Count: 158
Release Date: August 3, 2016
Format: Kindle ARC

How got: ARC copy from NetGalley for free

First attention getter: the pretty cover


From GoodReads:

Charlotte Mesinger is willing to do almost anything to escape the beatings in the home where she grew up. When she spies an advertisement for a wife to help care for three children, she sees it as an answer to her prayers, even though it means going to America and forgetting the young man she's been seeing.

When Friedrich Haupt's wife dies giving birth to their third child and her parents insist he must hand over the children to them, he is frantic. A customer in his jewelry shop suggests going to America, and another offers to buy the establishment. But convention forbids a woman living in his household without marriage, for whatever reason, and he places the ad, ready to give the woman her freedom after a year.

With these desperate situations resolved, Charlotte and Friedrich still have many secrets...

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - none as DNF-ed @ 30% (put 2 on Amazon as had to put something)

I really tried to like this book; my expectations were high as it involved a trope that is a favorite of mine. I am also partial to immigration stories. However, and this is a big however, this book has so many issues that it has reached the point of not being enjoyable. After 30%, I have to declare this book a DNF.

The premise of this romance is strong initially. An arranged marriage to protect a family and build a new life makes for intriguing reading. I also grew to like Friedrich. He's a caring, considerate man whose main focus in life is to protect his children and build a new life for them after a tragic circumstance.

With a great starting premise and relatable main hero, one would think this romance had a strong foundation. However, these two points were the only good ones in all of the part that I read.

The first offender was Charlotte, our main heroine. She is far, far too perfect. She is innocent, beautiful, angelic, and good. I grew to hate her, even though I only read 30% of this book. I can only imagine the depth my hate would have reached if I had tried to force myself to finish.

Next is the premise. What started out as an intriguing idea quickly moved into absurd territory. The background with Friedrich’s in-laws and the intricacies of family law in Germany seems silly to me; nothing about that seemed real. I'm not an expert on 19th century German law so maybe the author had some grounding in fact. Yet, it wasn't portrayed on the page well enough to be believable to this reader.

The writing style didn't work for me as well. The author did have some good descriptive passages. I got a clear picture in my head of the scene the author was trying to set. Yet, the way she chose to frame the writing seemed simplistic. Choppy dialogue paragraphs and short sentence structure made this a hard read, grammar-wise.

My next point of contention is probably a small one for other readers. It just bugs me more, because I like things to have a strong historical background, even my historical romances. The author was very ambiguous about her historical setting. I got the vague impression it was the 19th century with the immigration to America storyline and some of the background details. However, the author chose to leave the reader guessing on a more specific time frame. Whether this was in the 1830s, 1850s, or the 1870s, the reader could only guess. But like I said, this is a personal bone of contention. It may not bug another reader, so take this paragraph with a grain of salt.

What started out as a highly anticipated historical romance turned into a big disappointment for this reader. Good bones seemed to be in the offering in the beginning. Yet, bad characterizations, an absurd premise, a flaky writing style, and vague historical details quickly killed this bird for me. I'm not sure I could recommend this book to anyone. I feel it could do with a good edit and a good going over by the author.

Note: Book received for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

REVIEW: The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

The Hamilton Affair
by Elizabeth Cobbs

Publisher: Arcade
Page Count: 408
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Format: Hardcover

How got: free ARC from publisher via GR

First attention getter: primary characters


From GoodReads:

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Revolution, and featuring a cast of iconic characters such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette,The Hamilton Affair tells the sweeping, tumultuous, true love story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, from tremulous beginning to bittersweet ending—his at a dueling ground on the shores of the Hudson River, hers more than half a century later after a brave, successful life.

Hamilton was a bastard son, raised on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. He went to America to pursue his education. Along the way he became one of the American Revolution’s most dashing—and unlikely—heroes. Adored by Washington, hated by Jefferson, Hamilton was a lightning rod: the most controversial leader of the American Revolution.

She was the well-to-do daughter of one of New York’s most exalted families—feisty, adventurous, and loyal to a fault. When she met Alexander, she fell head over heels. She pursued him despite his illegitimacy, and loved him despite his infidelity. In 1816 (two centuries ago), she shamed Congress into supporting his seven orphaned children. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton started New York’s first orphanage. The only “founding mother” to truly embrace public service, she raised 160 children in addition to her own.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I’ve always liked Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father who thought a strong central government was key to success and a strong financial basis for a new nation key to growth. I’ve read where he’s been demonized by his fellow patriots for his views. It was a fantastic change to see him humanized in the middle, neither a firm monarchist nor a superhuman figure. His relationship with Elizabeth Schuyler is explored with as adept a skill. I thoroughly enjoyed this look at an often misunderstood man.

As mentioned, Hamilton was portrayed fantastically as a three-dimensional man. I loved seeing his journey in growth from a man of uncertain beginnings to a deviser of national finances and industrial growth. Each step in his life from apprentice to warrior to father to Secretary of the Treasury is given equal measure. I liked seeing his insecurities in regards to his origins and what he deserved out of life; he grew from them to become real to me beyond words on a page.

I also liked how the author portrayed Elizabeth, though she didn't spend as much time on her. She's made out as a practical, sensible woman looking to make her own way in the world and love in marriage, a thought far removed from the norm of the day. I felt she was a wonderful balance for Alexander's ambition and intelligence.

Seeing the American Revolution, early Colonial society, and the early years of a struggling republic also made for intriguing reading. Besides fighting for a common ideal and enemy, so many opinions and plans were involved with the shaping of our country. It's fascinating to contemplate where the nation might have gone if Jefferson and Madison had had their way...

The author's done a great job of balancing the intimate of characters and relationship with the broadness of history, war, and politics. I got to know the Hamiltons well enough to make them feel real. I feel this is a worthy read for any lover of the era, the American Revolution and Founding Fathers in particular.