Archive for March, 2016

Book Review: Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

Book Review: Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt
Posted by Jessica Jewett No Comments »

Sawbones by Melissa LenhardtThis month I was given a chance to read the novel, Sawbones, by Melissa Lenhardt, which will be released on March 29, 2016. I received an advanced reader copy from Redhook, the publisher, so thank you for the opportunity.

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt appears to be the first book in a series since Amazon is listing it as “A Laura Elliston Novel”. It tells the story of Catherine Bennet, who trained under her father to become a doctor during the American Civil War, and is wrongfully accused of murder years later. She escapes New York City before the authorities can hang her and migrates out West with her maid. Having adopted a false identity, Dr. Laura Elliston, she is appointed by General William T. Sherman as a temporary army doctor. It’s a constant struggle to keep her identity secret and to keep herself from being traded for the bounty on her head.

This is a fantastic first effort by Melissa Lenhardt. I didn’t go into it expecting much simply because historical fiction usually leaves a lot to be desired in research and accuracy. While a few aspects of the novel came out a bit cliche (Indians attacking the wagon train, for example), each plot point was, in fact, necessary to move the story along. That’s a tight plot and moves fast enough to keep readers entertained whether they typically enjoy historical fiction or not.

The main character, Dr. Laura Elliston, is intelligent and – in a welcome surprise – not dependent on men for fulfillment and survival. She refuses to compromise herself as a woman and a doctor just to fulfill the roles of wife and mother that society demands of her. In some ways, Lenhardt seems to have unconsciously drawn influence from the television show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, if the show had been allowed to realistically depict the blood, filth, gore, and attitudes of the West. Parts of the novel were rather graphic but necessary for putting the reader in Dr. Elliston’s shoes, witnessing the West as a violent and uncertain place in the years after the Civil War.

I was pleasantly surprised by Sawbones. Like I said, I expected very little but instead met a character who knows how to survive by grit and determination. Readers who enjoy historical fiction will recognize some real life faces from the past and appreciate how seamlessly they fit into Lenhardt’s fictional world.

I gave Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

You may pre-order this novel on Amazon for your Kindle today. It will be released on March 29, 2016.

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Book Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Book Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie
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The Rivals of Versailles by Sallie ChristieRecently, I had the opportunity to read The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie thanks to an advanced reader copy from Atria Books. It’s the second book in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy set to be released on April 5, 2016.

The first book in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy followed the Nesle sisters in their affairs and intrigues with Louis XV of France, while this new second book follows the Marquise de Pompadour as she tries to hold onto her longstanding position as Louis XV’s official mistress. Younger girls might come and go from the king’s bed but the Marquise de Pompadour is determined that she should be his immovable rock. Along the way, she learns far more about herself as a woman and begins to question whether the inherently self-centered king and palace schemes are really worth it.

I found The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie to be a skillfully written novel that surpasses its predecessor, The Sister of Versailles. Christie does an excellent job of making the reader feel both the grandeur and the claustrophobia of being a woman living at Versailles. In addition, the intricacies of perception from person to person written through the lenses of their own life experiences are done in ways that I haven’t seen in other novels. Each person in life will view another person in a different way, which is something a lot of authors overlook in their storytelling. Whether a character is extremely naive or extremely clever and sly, Christie makes the reader believe it.

When it comes to novels that take place in royal palaces, writers can sometimes focus too much on the fantasy and the grandeur while forgetting to make the reader feel the fishbowl quality of life. By the time the Marquise de Pompadour begins feeling weary and trapped, I as the reader was feeling weary and trapped along with her. Quite often I found myself irritated and turned off by Louis XV but understanding why women had to bend over backwards to please him – sometimes literally. Women were disposable no matter how intelligent and worthwhile they were in his life. Men used women to push themselves further at Versailles. Christie wrote these truths with the ease of someone well-versed in Versailles history without making it in the least bit dry for the reader.

I gave this book a 4 out of 5 stars. I recommend this trilogy to anyone interested in women’s history.

You can preorder The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie now on Amazon or you can buy it on April 5, 2016.

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Book Review: Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly

Book Review: Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly
Posted by Jessica Jewett No Comments »

Mrs. Houdini, Victoria Kelly Recently I had the opportunity to read an advanced reader copy of Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly thanks to the publisher, Simon and Schuster through NetGalley.

Told from the perspective of Bess Houdini, wife of famed early twentieth century magician Harry Houdini, the novel looks at the quest for a wife to reach her husband beyond the grave. If anyone could find a way to communicate with the living from the afterlife, the world is certain Harry Houdini could do it. Bess, however, struggles with her grief and carving out her own identity as a woman after living for decades under the shadow of a man who was larger than life. Along the way Bess gets caught up in a mystery with a magazine reporter and they both begin to believe Harry is contacting them from beyond the veil of death. What is he trying to say? Why are they being brought together?

The one surprising aspect of Mrs. Houdini is the deeper look into the heart of a widow who doesn’t seem to know how to function without her husband. The darker themes of grief running through the main mystery plot keep the reader rooting for Bess and hoping she’ll find her footing as a woman in her own right before she gets too old to enjoy her second phase of life. Mrs. Houdini can make the reader uncomfortable at times with Bess’ inability to let Harry go but the unease is to the credit of Victoria Kelly as an author. Grief and the road to independence aren’t easy and they’re not supposed to leave the reader feeling cheerful about a wife’s lost husband. Even so, Mrs. Houdini recounts a stormy and passionate marriage through flashbacks that reveal, layer by layer, just why Bess struggles with letting old ghosts lie.

The writing in Mrs. Houdini is skillful and clean without being too overdone. It reflects the modernized attitudes in the Jazz Age and Art Deco periods in which Bess Houdini lived in her widowhood. She was a woman emerging from Victorian stiffness and embracing the freedoms women earned as they moved toward the vote and entering the workforce. Victoria Kelly’s imagery, language, dialogue, and narrative voices do a great job of sinking the reader into that transition period in world history.

Mrs. Houdini was an unexpectedly moving novel wrapped in a life-after-death mystery. It’s recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, women’s fiction, spirits, mediums, magic, and fictional takes on true stories.

On sale now in hardcover, electronic books, and so forth. Mrs. Houdini on Amazon.

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