Renault follows the life of poet (and real historical figure) Simonides of Ceos, as he lives through the reign of the Samian pirate king Polykrates anRenault follows the life of poet (and real historical figure) Simonides of Ceos, as he lives through the reign of the Samian pirate king Polykrates and the fall of the Pisistratid dynasty in Athens. I didn't find this as enthralling as The Mask of Apollo, though I liked it. I felt that she didn't spend enough time spent with each character, so some of the famous historical figures (Aischylos and Pythagoras, for example) felt like cameos, there for the sake of being there. Renault's eye for historical detail is still penetrating, though, and conveys Simonides' life and times excellently....more
These are entertaining and readable, on the whole, but probably only for the Heyer completist. She's done most of this to better effect in her novels,These are entertaining and readable, on the whole, but probably only for the Heyer completist. She's done most of this to better effect in her novels, where there's far more scope for situation and character development. That said, I did like "A Clandestine Affair", because the history between the two main characters made their relationship feel more real. I also liked "Night at the Inn", for its unusually suspenseful plot with genuinely tense and creepy bits....more
I think I was in just the right mood for this one: magic plus Scottish setting made me worry that it might be too twee, but happily, I mostly just fouI think I was in just the right mood for this one: magic plus Scottish setting made me worry that it might be too twee, but happily, I mostly just found it funny. I wasn't totally convinced by the period detail, but at least it wasn't the everlasting Regency. I did quite like the older, more experienced hero and heroine and their frequently very funny repartee....more
Waters starts her tale of WWII London in 1947, introducing several characters and showing us their situations: Kay, who's still obsessed with wartimeWaters starts her tale of WWII London in 1947, introducing several characters and showing us their situations: Kay, who's still obsessed with wartime and can't connect with anyone in the present; Helen and Julia, whose love affair is threatened by Julia's possible infidelity; Viv, who's involved with a married man; and Viv's brother Duncan, whose life is changed when he meets again the man he shared a prison cell with. Then Waters works backwards: having shown us where these characters are after the war, she goes back to wartime to show us how they got there, with the main part of the book occurring in 1944 and a much shorter section at the end in 1941.
The wartime setting is excellent; Waters obviously did her research, and she creates a very convincing atmosphere, particularly when her characters are out in the streets of London. As far as the unusual plot structure goes, Waters is clever about how much she reveals as she goes along, so that I never felt that I already knew what had happened. It does feel a little manipulative, as the characters refer to earlier events circuitously, so that the reader doesn't get too much information, but it's an interesting experiment.
Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for me. This was partly because I didn't find the characters all that engaging, and partly because once I finished the book, I would have liked to know what happened after the 1947 section, which is left very open-ended. Having been led back through the characters' lives to find out how they got where they were, I'd have liked a little more closure as to where they were going, too. It was worth reading, but it's definitely my least favorite of Waters' books and I doubt I'll read it again. ...more
Far Traveler is the story of Aelfwyn, daughter of Aethelflaed, heroine of Tingle's first book, The Edge on the Sword. When Aethelflaed, ruler of MerciFar Traveler is the story of Aelfwyn, daughter of Aethelflaed, heroine of Tingle's first book, The Edge on the Sword. When Aethelflaed, ruler of Mercia, suddenly dies, Wyn's uncle King Edward tries to use her as a pawn to re-establish control over Mercia, whereupon Wyn must reinvent herself in order to escape him. I wasn't quite as fond of the timid, introverted Wyn as I was of her stronger mother, but Tingle has come up with an intriguing story for a woman whose real fate is unknown to history. ...more
The Edge on the Sword is a imaginative, speculative tale of the early life of Aethelflaed, eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great of England, who grThe Edge on the Sword is a imaginative, speculative tale of the early life of Aethelflaed, eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great of England, who grew up to govern Mercia (and be known as the Lady of the Mercians) after the death of her husband Ethelred of Mercia. Aethelflaed is an independent and intelligent fifteen-year-old, accustomed to freedom, so when her father tells her of her betrothal and assigns her a guardian, she does her best to escape from her newfound loss of liberty. When her escape leads to trouble, her guardian begins to teach her to fight and ride, training her to lead her people.
This is a very accomplished first novel. Aethelflaed is a wonderful character, strong-willed, smart, and sympathetic, and her setting is thoroughly researched and detailed (though not in an overwhelming way). The plot is tight and the climax nicely paced and exciting. Tingle apparently has a sequel (Far Traveler), about Aethelflaed's daughter, and I'm definitely going to look that one up as well, as The Edge on the Sword was easily one of the best young adult historicals I've read. ...more
This is the first in a series of seven historical novels called the Williamsburg Novels, which follow the families of the Days and the Spragues of WilThis is the first in a series of seven historical novels called the Williamsburg Novels, which follow the families of the Days and the Spragues of Williamsburg, Virginia, through over 160 years, many generations, and several wars (from the American Revolution in Dawn's Early Light through the beginning years of World War II in This Was Tomorrow and Homing). I have read them so many times (starting when I was about seven years old) that I practically have them memorized, as have most of the other women in my family. Each book focuses on one or two main romances, with other strands of story weaving through them.
Thane has two remarkable gifts which keep the books compelling through every read. The first is the ability to portray the events, characters, and atmosphere of the historical periods she's writing about convincingly and memorably. Thane spent many years doing research in the United States and in England, and she's able to translate her research into a richly detailed historical background.
Against this background is set Thane's other gift: her characters. You might think that in a series of seven books about the same family, the characters would tend to blend into each other, but that's not the case; every one of them is an individual personality. The nicest effect of this is that as the books get closer together in time (Ever After through Homing only covers slightly over forty years), many characters feature throughout the books, and you get to see how their personalities and relationships develop over time and how the romances central to previous books worked out.
Rereading the Williamsburg books is like revisiting old, loved friends; I can remember meeting them for the first time, but it's even nicer to revisit them....more
This historical novel, set mainly in 10th century Britain, tells the story of a young Cornish girl and a Breton knight, who become caught up in EnglisThis historical novel, set mainly in 10th century Britain, tells the story of a young Cornish girl and a Breton knight, who become caught up in English politics and Viking raids. As usual for Seton, it's well researched and convincing, and I liked the first half or so all right, when Merewyn and Rumon are caught up in English politics and the machinations of beautiful Queen Alfrida. Later, though, it became too episodic, skipping years at a time and interrupting character arcs; often, the characters' changes of emotion seemed more dictated by the needs of the plot than by consistent characterization....more
Désirée is one of those old family favorites which I've read many times and keep coming back to like an old friend.
It's the sweeping story of DésiréeDésirée is one of those old family favorites which I've read many times and keep coming back to like an old friend.
It's the sweeping story of Désirée Clary, the daughter of a Marseilles silk merchant, from her early love for and engagement to Napoleon to her later marriage to French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, who later became king of Sweden (and Désirée queen). Désirée herself is one of its chief charms; as the book is in the form of an ongoing journal, everything is filtered through her sparkling, direct, and charming personality.
Historically, I find it largely convincing (though I'd still like to read a good biography of Bernadotte to see if her picture of him is accurate), particularly in the portrayal of Napoleon, who can easily turn into a caricature of himself if handled wrongly; Selinko makes him entirely believable, as an egotistical tyrant, but also as a human being. Although Désirée marries Bernadotte, it's her scenes with Napoleon which are frequently the most arresting and emotional.
The Judgment of Caesar is the latest entry in his series of mysteries set in ancient Rome and featuring Gordianus the Finder, and it's an excellent inThe Judgment of Caesar is the latest entry in his series of mysteries set in ancient Rome and featuring Gordianus the Finder, and it's an excellent installment in a consistently good series. In this one, Gordianus and his wife Bethesda travel to Alexandria so that she may bathe in the waters of the Nile to restore her health, but before they can even land in Egypt, they are caught up in the conflict between Caesar and Pompey, and eventually in the struggle between Cleopatra and Ptolemy for Caesar's influence and rule over Egypt.
Saylor weaves his plots around actual historical events and people, so that the series has provided readers (to this point) with an overview of Roman history in the first century BCE, a turbulent time when Rome was passing from the old republic through the dictatorship of Caesar to the empire of Augustus. Saylor's scholarship is excellent; I'm reasonably well-versed in this period, and I've never caught him in a misstep. The pages are alive with fascinating, real people: Cicero, Crassus, Catilina, Catullus and Clodia (Catullus's "Lesbia"), Caesar, Pompey, Cleopatra...the list goes on and on.
In Gordianus, Saylor has created a compelling character who rivals any of the historical figures in complexity, and watching his evolution throughout the books provides much of their enjoyment. That's doubly true in The Judgment of Caesar, in which the actual mystery, per se, takes up only about 50 pages; the rest of the book is devoted to exploring Gordianus's interactions and relationships with his family and the powerful political figures he meets. If you haven't read the earlier books, start with Roman Blood, in which Gordianus takes on a case for Cicero, of whom Saylor paints a particularly vivid and convincing portrait. ...more
A Gladiator Dies Only Once is the second collection of short stories in Steven Saylor's excellent Gordianus the Finder mystery series, set in ancientA Gladiator Dies Only Once is the second collection of short stories in Steven Saylor's excellent Gordianus the Finder mystery series, set in ancient Rome in the 1st century BCE.
The short story format doesn't allow Saylor to develop plots with the complexity of those in the novels, but the stories are satisfying nonetheless, not least for the exploration of aspects of Roman life and culture which haven't come up in the novels. These range from gladiators, in the title story, to chariot racing and the manufacture of the curious Roman condiment called garum. As always, the appearances of historical personages are convincing, and again, Saylor introduces people who haven't appeared in the novels, most notably the politician Lucullus and the rebel general Sertorius....more
Meg Pickel's older brother Orion mysteriously disappeared months ago, much to the dismay of Meg's family, who run a print shop. When Meg sneaks out onMeg Pickel's older brother Orion mysteriously disappeared months ago, much to the dismay of Meg's family, who run a print shop. When Meg sneaks out one night to look for Orion, she discovers a séance which might hold a clue, and there she encounters an old friend of the family, Charles Dickens. Dickens is concerned about the many disappearances of children from the streets of London, and he and Meg join together to find Orion and solve the mystery.
I wanted to love this, I really did. I adored Buzbee's memoir about bookstores, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, and was looking forward to his foray into young adult fiction. And in many ways, I did like it. Meg's an appealing character, brave and clever, and Buzbee's portrayal of Dickens is convincing. He has a good feel for the atmosphere of Victorian London and for Dickens' concern for social issues.
However, one thing just kept bouncing me out of the narrative: the constant references to Dickens' works and other cultural references. Since the story is set while Dickens was working on Our Mutual Friend, I could maybe accept the use of some of those characters' name: possibly Dickens could have met someone named Jenny Wren, for instance, and decided to reuse the name. But major characters named Mr. Micawber and Bill Sikes? Names unremarked by Meg or by Dickens himself? And worse than that, Meg and Dickens visit a street called Penny Lane, inhabited by a pretty nurse selling poppies and four young men cleaning a fire engine? It's all just too twee and clever for me.
I would probably try another YA by Buzbee, but I hope he'll tone down the self-consciously clever bits. ...more
These excellent Regency historical mysteries get even better as they go along. The sleuth, Julian Kestrel, is a dandy with a mysterious past, and therThese excellent Regency historical mysteries get even better as they go along. The sleuth, Julian Kestrel, is a dandy with a mysterious past, and there are many memorable supporting characters: Dipper, Kestrel's manservant and former pickpocket; Sally, Dipper's sister (whom I wanted to see more of after her initial appearance in A Broken Vessel); MacGregor, the crusty Scottish doctor; and young Philippa Fontclair (and I wonder if her name is meant as a homage to Dorothy Dunnett's Philippa Somerville, in the Lymond Chronicles). I only wish there were more of the series, as Ross sadly died after writing The Devil in Music. ...more