Book Review: Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice Roosevelt was the daughter of US President Theodore Roosevelt. Born into the heights of New York Society, and thrust further into the spotlight as a member of the first family, Alice was a determined rebel in an age where proper behavior was paramount for well heeled women. Fiercely intelligent and chafing at the limitations placed upon her by society, Alice drank, smoked, and drove in cars with men. She imposed herself on her father’s policy meetings, offering political advice and helping in diplomatic meetings. Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

R.J. Koreto brings this remarkable woman to life in the historical mystery Alice and the Assassin. Koreto is an old hand at historical mysteries, his Lady Frances Ffolkes series features another strong (and fictional) heroine, and is quite a fun read (you can read my review of Death Among Rubies here).

This book, hopefully the first of several, features seventeen-year-old Alice and her Secret Service bodyguard, Joseph St. Clair. The year is 1902, and Theodore Roosevelt has recently ascended to the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz. Alice, wishing to satisfy her own curiosity about the incident, decides to seek out famous anarchist, and associate of Czolgosz, Emma Goldman. However, this meeting seems to disturb powerful factions within the local community, and soon Alice and St. Clair find themselves embroiled in a wide-reaching conspiracy which may threaten another president.

I am a fan of Koreto’s previous work and this book did not disappoint. Alice is well realized, both as a vulgarity-slinging iconoclast and a sheltered seventeen year old who wants to protect her family. Historical details are sprinkled throughout with satisfying accuracy, and those aspects which are fictionalized for the plot roll nicely into the feel of the era.

The book begins with some stutters as the author introduces us to the protagonists and the world they inherit, but rapidly finds its footing. The pacing is splendid, with enough narrative false trails and red herrings to make for an enjoyable mystery. The plot, while fictional, is based on real events, and the final solution to the plot feels a bit too possible for comfort.

In all, fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this book. I would recommend Alice and the Assassin to fans of Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series, Deanna Raybourn‘s books,  or the Maisie Dobbs series. Anyone looking for an engaging book featuring a strong female protagonist will also enjoy this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Lola by Maria Scrivner Love

Lola by Maria Scrivner Love

Lola is adept at pretending to be less than she is. To the world she is the dutiful girlfriend to her gang-leader boyfriend, Garcia. She cooks, she cleans, and she keeps house. What no one outside the Crenshaw Six realizes is that Lola is actually the power behind the throne. In reality she is the sharply intelligent and utterly ruthless leader of their gang. When a representative of the Mexican Cartel makes the small-time gang an offer they can’t refuse, Lola finds herself drawn increasingly deeper into the world of the international drug trade. As the stakes get higher, Lola has to use every tool in her arsenal to ensure that not only does she survive, but that her gang makes it out on top.

This is a stong debut showing by former CSI: Miami writer Maria Scrivner Love. The character of Lola is well-realized as a strong, intelligent woman who must always play the part of the quiet, subservient girlfriend in order to succeed in the man’s world of the drug trade. Her internal struggle between feeling the need to adhere to social norms and her desire to be recognized for her own accomplishments mirrors the struggle of all ambitious women, no matter the legitimacy of their work.

Also on full display in this book are the racial tensions within the city of Los Angeles. Each group, latino, black, and white, have set aside their own exclusive areas within the city, and stepping outside one’s assigned area invites suspicion at best and violence at worst.

In all, this is an original and intriguing thriller. The action is fast-paced, the characters well realized and multidimensional. Fans of crime fiction will enjoy this book, as will anyone looking for an atypical book featuring a strong female protagonist.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Firebrand by Kristen Britain

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Firebrand by Kristen Britain

Firebrand is the sixth book in Britain’s Green Rider series. So: There are going to be major spoilers for the previous five books in this review. I will also say that you probably don’t want to dive into this book without having read the previous ones. If you haven’t read any of the Green Rider Series, stop reading this review right now and click here to find out where to start.

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Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: it’s wonderful to be reading a Green Rider book again! Britain averages about three and half years between books, and the wait for a new one always seems interminable. Add that to the rather disappointing Mirror Sight (the last book in the series, not bad on its own merits but not really a Green Rider book), and it has been seven years since we last got to travel to Sacoridia.

This book takes place shortly after the events of Mirror Sight, and five years after the first book. Karrigan G’ladheon (one of my original favorite badass female characters) has returned from the dark future time with a shard of looking mask embedded in her eye. The Second Empire, led by creepy and cunning Grandmother, still threaten Sacoridia’s northern border. To prepare for war with the Second Empire, King Zachary and his Eletian allies decide to send a party to seek out the legendary P’ehdrose people and convince them to fight at their side. Though not yet recovered from her past ordeals, Karrigan is chosen to make the perilous journey. Meanwhile, Grandmother has unleased an elemental force against the Kingdom, one that puts the royal family in grave danger.

As a fan of the series, I must say that this was a very satisfying book. It was wonderful to enter back into Sarcoridia again, and to take up all the treads that had been left dangling in Blackveil (the fourth book), and not addressed at all in Mirror Sight. The events of this book mainly revolve around heroine Karrigan (naturally), her friend Estral the bard, and an Eletian named Enver (briefly introduced in the first book). Grandmother returns, as does her frankly disturbing granddaughter, Lala. the book unfolds in typical Green rider fashion, with disaster and happenstance radiating off the main storyline. Nothing in Kristen Britain’s universe ever goes as planned.

Britain’s main strength is, as always, her ability to create worlds and characters that resonate. The setting she has created in Sacoridia is vivid and believable, with a wondrous amount of depth, and layers enough to provide for many more novels. Her characters, especially her female characters, have grown and evolved through the events of five previous books. I am constantly amazed at the organic way Karrigan and her counterparts grow and change through the Green Rider novels. Even with characters like Queen Estora, who would be easy to turn into a two dimensional foil, or Grandmother, who could simply become another raving villain, are given a depth and breadth of character that is rare in any genre. Even those characters you don’t like, you wind up at least understanding.

If you have read and enjoyed the previous books in this series, you will more than likely enjoy this latest book. In light of that, if you haven’t read any in this series, this book is not for you. There is simply too much back story, and too much intricacy lost without having read the previous five novels. However, if you tend to enjoy fantasy, and are looking for a series with a plethora of strong female characters, and you want to edge away (sometimes far, far away) from the young adult genre, then this series will appeal to you. I highly recommend you pick up Green Rider and get started.

An advanced copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Firebrand will be available for purchase on February 28th, 2017.

Book Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

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The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

When we first meet Noa, she is cleaning a German train station in exchange for scraps of bread. Kicked out of her parents’ home at sixteen for becoming pregnant to a Nazi soldier, and later forced to give up her baby in service to the Reich, Noa is cast adrift, keeping herself to the background and speaking with no one. On the fateful night, an odd sound draws her outside the station, and to a boxcar filled with dead and dying infants; Jewish babies whose parents have been sent off to concentration camps, their children left to die of exposure in the German winter.Seeing movement, she snatches a still-living infant from the pile. As the enormity of what she has just done overcomes her, she flees into the winter night.

Astrid is a trapeze artist from an old Jewish circus family. Returning from Berlin after her Nazi-official husband divorces her, she finds her family home abandoned, her parents and siblings vanished. She seeks out Herr Neuhoff, owner of a rival circus for answers, but no one knows what has become of her family. Neuhoff makes her an astonishing offer: to hide her from the Nazis by giving her a new identity as a performer in his circus. Astrid accepts the offer, and, one snowy night, the circus finds a half-frozen teenager and a baby in the woods.

Noa, fearful of retaliation by the Nazis, and desperate to keep safe the Jewish baby she rescued, accepts a similar offer to hide within the circus as a performer. She is placed under Astrid’s tutelage to learn the flying trapeze. Rivals at first, the two women form a bond as everything crumbles down around them.

The Orphan’s Tale is incredibly well written. Both Noa and Astrid are brought sharply to life through the power of their dueling narratives. Each woman is broken but resilient, each vividly wrought and believably fashioned. The horrors brought on by the Nazis are contrasted with the small braveries of those who resist them.What emerges is a tale of love and humanity against one of the bleakest backgrounds imaginable. The story is made all the more amazing once you learn it is based (loosely) on real people and events.

This book is a good fit for those who enjoyed books like The Orphan Mother or The Light Between Oceans. Anyone with a fascination for World War II will also enjoy this book. I would also recommend this book for anyone looking for a reaffirmation of humanity; for the knowledge that even small acts of resistance in the face of fascism can make a difference.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Orphan’s Tale will be available for purchase on February 21st, 2017.

Book Review: Maiden Flight by Harry Haskell

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Maiden Flight by Harry Haskell

You’ve surely heard of the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. The Wright Brothers took the first sustained flight in Kitty Hawk in 1903. However,  you may not have heard of the Wright Brothers’ little sister, Katharine.

Katharine helped raise her older siblings, and was the first in the Wright family with a college education. Once her socially awkward brothers became worldwide celebrities, she left her teaching job to help Wilbur and Orville deal with well-wishers, journalists, and irate members of the scientific community. For years, Katharine took care of her older brothers, and with Wilbur’s untimely death in 1912, she and Orville became incredibly close.

While in her 50s, she fell in love with an old school friend, Henry Haskell (the Grandfather of the author). When the two were married in 1923, Orville considered their union the ultimate betrayal. He cut off all ties with his sister and refused to even go to her wedding. Haskell’s book details this period of her life.

The book is engagingly written in the first person, from Orville, Henry, and Katharine’s point of views. The tone is that of a journal entry or a letter to a good friend. Haskell does a good job of creating a unique voice for each of the three, and no wonder: he used their own letters as the primary source for the book. The story stutter-steps through time, doubling back on itself occasionally so we can see certain events through more than one perspective. This occasionally makes the chronology a bit tough to follow, but overall the method worked well.

In fact, my biggest complaint about the book is that there wasn’t more. The characters will reference something in passing, and I generally found myself looking to the Wright brothers’ Wikipedia page (I have a little bit of guilt over that) to get the full story. While I understand that the structure Haskell chose does not lend itself to long, detailed backstory, I do wish he had been able to include more detail.

In all, lovers of history or historical fiction will enjoy this intimate portrayal of a fascinating woman. Katharine Wright is a fiercely intelligent and forward-thinking woman in a time when women’s rights were just starting to take flight (ha).

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Maiden Flight is currently available for purchase.

Book Review: Crossing the Horizon by Laurie Notaro

Crossing the Horizon: A Novel by Laurie Notaro

 

We’ve all heard of Amelia Earhart, daring aviatrix and record setter. She was the first woman to fly nonstop across the Atlantic ocean, the first to fly from Hawaii to California. She wanted to be the first to fly around the world, but disappeared during the attempt. In 1928, Earhart was also the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane, though this first trip was made with her as a passenger. It is this trip we are concerned with here.

We all know Earhart, but the names of the women who tried and failed the crossing have largely fallen from the history books. While Earhart and her crew were preparing for their flight, countless others were also making the attempt at nonstop transatlantic flight. In Crossing the Horizon, Notaro shines a light on three of Earhart’s contemporaries; strong willed women determined to claim the title of first woman across the Atlantic for themselves.

In Notaro’s book, we meet Elsie Mackay, British aristocrat and former WWI nurse. Mackay is a determined, capable, and ambitious aviatrix, who is determined to use the considerable resources available to her to make the attempt. There is Ruth Elder, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks in small town Georgia, who uses her prize money from beauty pageants to pay for flying lessons. And Mabel Boll, known as “The Diamond Queen”, wealthy widow and socialite, ready to go to any ends to add “Queen of the Air” to her titles.

Each of these women is spirited, intelligent, and determined. And each incredibly accomplished, especially when you consider the role women were expected to play in the 1920s. None wait passively for help in accomplishing their goals, but take the reins themselves, and god help anyone who gets in their way.

Notaro has written this book as a novel, a la Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, making this nonfiction history engaging and accessible. Knowing that these women really attempted to cross over one of the most unforgiving oceans in the world–in tiny planes (without heat)–with little to no chance of rescue, and the odds stacked deeply against them, is incredible. This is one of those books where you find yourself staying up until the wee hours of the morning to finish.

I highly recommend this book to just about everyone. History buffs will be delighted in Notaro’s work. Fans of Erik Larson and his work will find a lot to love here. Anyone looking for motivation to get off the couch and do something can find far worse role models than these three women. If you want a real life story that reads like an adventure tale, Crossing the Horizon is perfect for you.

An advance ebook of Crossing the Horizon was provided by the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Crossing the Horizon is scheduled to be published on October 4th, 2016.

Book Review: The Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lefferty

The Girl Who Fought Napoleon: A Novel of the Russian Empire by Linda Lafferty

This wonderful historical novel follows the tale of Nadezhda Dorova,  born in the Ukraine in 1783, literally as part of the Russian Calvary. Nadezhda’s father is a Russian Cavalry officer, and his Ukrainian wife delivers his child while the calvary is on the march. Nadezhda grows up to the sound and smell of horses, the clash of steel sabers and the simple camaraderie of military life. 

Nadezhda is not beautiful; her features changed by a bout of smallpox when she was a child, but she is striking. Nadezhda seeks nothing more or less than freedom to be her own person. Her mother, attempting to tame her eldest daughter’s wild ways, seeks to secure an advantageous marriage with  merchant in Ukraine. Nadezhda fights back the only way she feels she can: she dresses up as a Cossack Warrior, steals her favorite horse and a saber, and goes out to join the Russian army.

Once in the army, everything doesn’t necessarily go smoothly. Nadezhda’s disguise is not foolproof, and even as active a woman as she was, the physical exertion of being a lancer in Russia’s Army is intense. But Nadezhda works hard, her rise through the Russian ranks determined not by any natural or unusual skill, but by grim determination. 

What makes this story even more compelling is that this is not fiction; this is a novelized life of a real woman who fought in Russia’s Army in the early part of the nineteenth century against the armies of Napoleon. The author has done a fabulous job of taking the memoirs of Nadezhda Durova and making them into an accessible novel. The plot weaves between Nadezhda’s story and that of Tsar Alexander I with richly realized detail and much personal sympathy. Most of the book is taken straight from Nadezhda’s memoirs (have I mentioned how much I love a book with sources?). Even the unexpected twist towards the end of the book is historically accurate.

In all, the Lafferty has written a historical epic accessible to even the non history reader. Nadezhda’s life as a female Russian army soldier, won through hard work and grit is a story for the ages. History buffs and those seeking a book with a strong female character will greatly enjoy The Girl Who Fought Napoleon.

 An advance ebook was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Girl Who Fought Napoleon will be available for purchase on September 20th, 2016.