Review: White Houses

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Title: White Houses
Author: Amy Bloom
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Source: NetGalley
Release Date: February 13, 2018
Rating: ★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

For readers of The Paris Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenuecomes a “sensuous, captivating account of a forbidden affair between two women” (People)–Eleanor Roosevelt and “first friend” Lorena Hickok.

Lorena Hickok meets Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 while reporting on Franklin Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign. Having grown up worse than poor in South Dakota and reinvented herself as the most prominent woman reporter in America, “Hick,” as she’s known to her friends and admirers, is not quite instantly charmed by the idealistic, patrician Eleanor. But then, as her connection with the future first lady deepens into intimacy, what begins as a powerful passion matures into a lasting love, and a life that Hick never expected to have. She moves into the White House, where her status as “first friend” is an open secret, as are FDR’s own lovers. After she takes a job in the Roosevelt administration, promoting and protecting both Roosevelts, she comes to know Franklin not only as a great president but as a complicated rival and an irresistible friend, capable of changing lives even after his death. Through it all, even as Hick’s bond with Eleanor is tested by forces both extraordinary and common, and as she grows as a woman and a writer, she never loses sight of the love of her life.

From Washington, D.C. to Hyde Park, from a little white house on Long Island to an apartment on Manhattan’s Washington Square, Amy Bloom’s new novel moves elegantly through fascinating places and times, written in compelling prose and with emotional depth, wit, and acuity.

Review:

Since I’m Canadian, I don’t know much about American History. I wasn’t very familiar with the Roosevelts before reading this story. I learned a lot, but this story just wasn’t for me.

The story was quite confusing at times. It jumped around in the timeline. The main story was about Lorena and Eleanor in a hotel in New York following Franklin Roosevelt’s death. But Lorena would tell stories from her past at times. It was confusing when she would jump to a different time between paragraphs. Sometimes, I would be reading a scene and I would forget what the point of it was or even how she got to that story.

Whenever I read historical fiction, I end up googling the characters to see what parts are true. Many of the events in the story really happened. But some seemed over the top. One example of this is a scene with a circus troupe near the beginning of the story. It reminded me of the exaggerated circus story from the movie Big Fish. These scenes didn’t seem connected. This book was really missing an overall plot to weave these scenes together.

Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me.

Review: Mad Miss Mimic

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Title: Mad Miss Mimic
Author: Sarah Henstra
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Canada
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Jane Austen meets Arthur Conan Doyle in a historical fiction debut for fans of Ruta Sepetys and Elizabeth Wein.

Born into an affluent family, Leo outwardly seems like a typical daughter of English privilege in the 1870s: she lives with her wealthy married sister Christabel, and lacks for neither dresses nor trinkets. But Leo has a crippling speech impediment that makes it difficult for her to speak but curiously allows her to mimic other people’s voices flawlessly. Servants and ladies alike call her “Mad Miss Mimic” behind her back… and watch as she unintentionally scares off every potential suitor. Only the impossibly handsome Mr. Thornfax seems interested in Leo…but why? And does he have a connection to the mysterious Black Glove group that has London in its terrifying grasp? Trapped in a city under siege by terror attacks and gripped by opium fever, where doctors (including her brother-in-law) race to patent an injectable formula, Leo must search for truth in increasingly dangerous situations – but to do so, she must first find her voice.

Review:

I loved this Victorian novel! As the description says, it has aspects of both Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes novels.

Leo is an interesting character. She’s very secluded because of her stutter, but she is still expected to follow the path of a Victorian lady by marrying into money. Because of her stutter, she has faced many hardships. A unique aspect of her stutter is that she can mimic voices perfectly. But that has led her into more trouble than anything. When she mimicked the voice of her sister’s suitor, her words ended her sister’s engagement and also ruined her relationship with her only sibling.

Most of the characters were unlikeable, which is hard for the writer to do and still create a great story. Right from the beginning I didn’t like Christabel, her husband, or Mr. Thornfax. I didn’t like the way they patronized Leo, solely because of her stutter. But I liked Leo and I rooted for her through the whole book. She was intelligent, and took risks to solve the mystery of the Black Glove.

I’m definitely going to follow this author, because this was a great debut novel!

Blog Tour: Robin Hood’s Dawn

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Title: Robin Hood’s Dawn
Author: Olivia Longueville
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Angevin World Publishing LLC
Source: NetGalley
Release Date: January 16, 2018
Rating: ★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

England, 1154-1194
A kingdom under assault.
A conspiracy born of anarchy.
A hero standing against tyranny.

Falsely convicted of a shocking crime, Robin Fitzooth, the Earl of Huntingdon, finds refuge in Sherwood Forest and becomes Robin Hood.

Leading a band of men against the injustices of a malevolent sheriff and his henchmen, Robin begins to unravel a web of treachery threatening the English royal family.

As shadowy forces gather to destroy the future of a nation, Robin faces deceit, betrayal, and the ravages of war as he defends his king, his country, his people, and the woman he loves from a conspiracy so diabolical, so unexpected, that the course of history hangs in the balance.

From the mists of an ancient woodland, to lavish royal courts teeming with intrigue, to the exotic shores of the Holy Land – Robin Hood leads the fight in a battle between good and evil, justice and tyranny, the future and the past.

Part one of an exciting three-part retelling of the Robin Hood legend!

Review:

When I was approached about reading this book, I was only vaguely familiar with the story of Robin Hood. I watched the Disney movie and I read some Robin Hood books when I was a kid. I knew he took from the rich and gave to the poor, but that was just a small part of this story. This book gave so much more fascinating details about Robin Hood.

I loved the background of the characters that was given at the beginning. The characters all had so much depth, because their family histories were told before they were introduced. I enjoy English historical fiction, so I really liked this story.

The story wasn’t just about Robin Hood. It really talked about the royal issues at the time, such as who will inherit the throne. Many people took advantage of their position to abuse their power, such as the Sheriff. But these situations only gave Robin Hood an opportunity to become a hero.

The story was incredibly detailed. So much happened in the story, that I can’t imagine what will happen in the next instalments. This story would be great for fans of historical fiction and Robin Hood.

Blog Tour: A Pearl For My Mistress

Title: A Pearl for My Mistress
Author: Annabel Fielding
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HQ Digital
Source: NetGalley
Release Date: August 9, 2017
Rating: ★★★

Goodreads Synopsis:

A story of class, scandal and forbidden passions in the shadow of war. Perfect for fans of Iona Grey, Gill Paul and Downtown Abbey.

England, 1934. Hester Blake, an ambitious girl from an industrial Northern town, finds a job as a lady’s maid in a small aristocratic household.

Despite their impressive title and glorious past, the Fitzmartins are crumbling under the pressures of the new century. And in the cold isolation of these new surroundings, Hester ends up hopelessly besotted with her young mistress, Lady Lucy.

Accompanying Lucy on her London Season, Hester is plunged into a heady and decadent world. But hushed whispers of another war swirl beneath the capital… and soon, Hester finds herself the keeper of some of society’s most dangerous secrets…

Review:

I love books set in England. I was excited to read this new historical fiction novel.

Because it was set in the 1930s, it kept reminding me of Downton Abbey. I kept picturing Lucy and Hester’s relationship like Mary and Anna from Downton, at least from their early friendship.

There were a bunch of parts that had high tension, such as someone being chased through a dark alley. But they were often resolved in a calm way. These parts had the potential for a lot of drama if they ended with more exciting twists.

I found the romantic relationship between two main characters unbelievable (I don’t want to give details to give away spoilers). There didn’t seem to be a valid reason that they loved each other. They just suddenly said it so it had to be true. I didn’t see their relationship grow and develop, so I wasn’t rooting for them.

I also thought the beginning of the story wasn’t a good introduction. It talked about characters that disappeared for quite a while, so I was lost when Hester’s story began. If that prologue wasn’t there, it would have been a much stronger beginning.

I would have liked to see Lucy’s parents. Lucy talked about them but they never appeared in the story. I also wondered why Lucy was being given a lady’s maid. Typically, only married women had a lady’s maid. And if the family could only afford a housekeeper and one housemaid, how could they afford the extra expense of a maid for their daughter? These things didn’t make sense.

This story was a unique historical fiction, though questionable at times.

Review: Birdcage Walk


Title: Birdcage Walk
Author: Helen Dunmore
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Source: NetGalley
Release Date: November 7, 2017
Rating: ★★★

Goodreads Synopsis:

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence.

Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism.

But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat.

Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants.

In a tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror, Diner’s passion for Lizzie darkens until she finds herself dangerously alone. 

Review:

I love books that are set in historical England. I always learn things from them. I was a little lost when at the beginning because I wasn’t familiar with what was happening at that time period.  

The story began with a contemporary narrator who found Lizzie’s mother’s grave. He wants to learn more about Julia but there isn’t anything documented about her. Then Lizzie’s story begins. I wish the first narrator was revisited throughout the story. I enjoyed his part, while he searched for information on Lizzie’s mother. 

Lizzie’s mother, Julia, was a feminist. She believed in fighting for women’s rights. This was nice to see in a historical setting, though I have to wonder how realistic that would be during that time. 

The story was narrated by Lizzie, but I didn’t feel connected to her. She did things that didn’t make sense and she couldn’t even explain herself. I found her annoying most of the time. 

The story was very character driven. There wasn’t a lot of plot happening. In the last quarter of the book, the story picked up when some drama happened. But I didn’t find it exciting for most of the book. 

I found this book a little disappointing. It just wasn’t exciting enough for me.  

The Address


Title: The Address
Author: Fiona Davis
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Dutton
Release Date: August 1, 2017
Rating: ★★★★★

In 1885, Sara Smythe was the head of housekeeping at a hotel in London, until she met Theodore Camden. He asked her to be the manager at the Dakota, an apartment in New York. Sara packs up and goes there, and ends up with more than a job from Theodore. One hundred years later, Bailey has just gotten out of rehab. She goes to her cousin’s apartment in the Dakota to renovate it. Her cousin, Melinda, is Theodore Camden’s great great  granddaughter. Though they say they are cousins, Bailey and Melinda are not related by blood. Bailey’s great grandfather was taken in as a ward of Theodore Camden, but he never felt like part of the Camden family. Now, when Bailey starts digging into the Dakota’s history, she learns things that will change her life forever. 

This was an amazing story. I love historical fiction, though I prefer English historical stories. The plot was so intriguing! I really couldn’t put it down. 

The story switched perspectives between Sara and Bailey. Sometimes that kind of narrative can be confusing, but it worked well here. The alternating chapters were consistent and the story had a great pace. 

The end was full of twists that I couldn’t have predicted. I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. I highly recommend this book! 

Two Times A Traitor

Title: Two Times a Traitor
Author: Karen Bass
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Pajama Press
Release Date: May 15, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

Lazare Berenger is very unhappy on his family vacation in Halifax. He still hasn’t forgiven his parents for moving from Ottawa to Boston while he was staying with his grandmother. He has big fights with his father too. After one of their big arguments, he runs into the ruins of a citadel, and falls into a tunnel, being knocked out. When he wakes up, he is taken as prisoner by sailors. At first he assumes it’s a camp his father has sent him to as punishment. But he soon learns that he has travelled back in time to 1745. The British assume he is a spy because he has a French name and a French accent. However, his French background also makes him a perfect spy for the British, so he can infiltrate their town without suspicion. Laz has to endure a lot on his time in the past until he can figure out how to return to 2017.

This is a great story. The historical aspects are really good for middle-grade students. Canadian history isn’t taught as much as it should be in school, so this story would be a great supplement for kids.

Though Canada’s 150th anniversary is being celebrated this year, this story demonstrates how Canada’s history goes far beyond 150 years.

The character of Laz is relateable to kids today because he sees things through modern eyes. For example, whenever something happens to him, he thinks of what he would text his best friend back home in 2017. This drifts off a little after he becomes more comfortable in 1745.

I wish we had seen the reunion of Laz and his parents at the end of the story. It would be interesting to see how Laz has changed in relation to his family. Also, I would have liked to see how his dad treats him after their many months apart.

This is a great story for middle grade readers!