This inventive, engrossing novel imagines Napoleon's escape from his exile on the island of St. Helena in 1821 which lands him in America. Reunited wi...moreThis inventive, engrossing novel imagines Napoleon's escape from his exile on the island of St. Helena in 1821 which lands him in America. Reunited with former army officers and surrounded by sympathetic Americans, Napoleon repeatedly protests of his desire to be a simple citizen -- but the lure of a new kingdom, Mexico, becomes too much to resist.
I was immediately taken with this novel. Selin's writing style (you can read an excerpt at the author's website) sucked me in from the first page.
The narrative is peppered with diary entries, letters, newspaper articles, and other missives to round out the story as we experience it. (I just died of happy reading the diary entry by John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, wrestling with the news of Napoleon's request for asylum.) The feel of the book is slightly 19th century, which I enjoyed; the writing is wordy and philosophical.
While the cast of characters is huge, there's enough context in the story to understand who is who if one doesn't want to flip back to the list of characters included at the end.
More than once, I had to remind myself this was wholly fictional, not a fictionalized account of events that really happened. The strength of this book comes from Selin's ability to keep this story from being ludicrous, despite the outlandish plot. Her Napoleon is slightly delusional and very ambitious, surrounded by supporters and allies who bolster and encourage him. Every decision made felt realistic and possible, and I read hungrily to see just how things would end. (I found myself kind of rooting for Napoleon to be successful!)
Included are two pages of sources and seven pages of who's who. There's no historical note as the events of the novel are entirely fictional; historically, Napoleon dies in May of 1821, without having escaped from St. Helena, while Selin starts the novel just a few months earlier, in February.
A fantastic read for fans of French history and those who like 'what if' kind of stories; any fan of Napoleon will want to read this, too, and imagine a world where this might have happened. Those new to speculative fiction should give this a try -- it's dangerously addictive!(less)
I'm an enormous Michelle Diener fangirl. Her writing is warm and inviting, her stories the right mix of adventure and romance, her heroines are alway...more I'm an enormous Michelle Diener fangirl. Her writing is warm and inviting, her stories the right mix of adventure and romance, her heroines are always delightful, and there's rich historical detail and ambiance in every book.
This one was familiar and cozy and new and imaginative, and was the kind of book I love for cranky days: it got me out of my head and wholly absorbed me.
Mistress of the Wind, inspired by the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, is ambigu-historical, set in a land resembling Scandinavia (or thereabouts). Bjorn, a half-god prince cursed to live as a bear, searches for the woman he met when they were both children. Should he not find the maiden, he must marry a troll's daughter and unite his kingdom with theirs.
Astrid is a woodcutter's daughter who feels an affinity with the wind. Whether a fancy or real magic, her family doesn't care. Starving and exhausted, they are only briefly taken aback when a massive talking bear asks to take Astrid for the price of two bags of coins. Astrid agrees out of curiosity and an awareness of her family's need for the money, but she's unprepared for Bjorn's rules once she arrives at his palace. Despite their growing intimacy, she doesn't trust his rules and secrets, and becomes embroiled in the greater danger in Bjorn's kingdom.
While the story arc follows the fairy tale, Diener incorporates pieces of the Cupid and Psyche myth as well as original elements that make this a satisfying read. The novel just races; I inhaled it in a matter of hours, unable to stop reading. Astrid is a resourceful if not occasionally maddening heroine and I was charmed immediately by her. The magical world Diener invents for Bjorn is intriguing and appealing.
Diener shares some of her thoughts about this book on GoodReads, but her comments could be spoiler-ish for those who aren't familiar with how the Cupid and Psyche myth shakes out.
For those who are intrigued by Elizabeth Blackwell's While Beauty Slept, this is another book to add to the queue. Fans of fairy tales will absolutely want to read this one as well as those who enjoy fierce heroines who aren't flawless. Diener's next endeavor, The Golden Apple, is inspired by the less often used fairy tale, The Princess on the Glass Hill and I am so excited for it. (less)
In brief: sweet, funny Regency with thankfully few obstacles due to hero and heroine not using their grown up wo...moreMy review for Historical Novel Review.
In brief: sweet, funny Regency with thankfully few obstacles due to hero and heroine not using their grown up words. Very tame sexytimes, although novel opens with a surprising tumble in bed -- right in the first chapter!(less)
In brief: loved the focus on working class hero and heroine in this Regency, with the surprise ascension of hero...moreMy review for Historical Novel Review.
In brief: loved the focus on working class hero and heroine in this Regency, with the surprise ascension of hero to dukedom. Plot verged on the gothic-ridiculous at moments, but heroine was pleasingly complicated and pulled her weight like nobody's business.(less)
In 2011 I read Weisgarber's fantastic debut, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree. It was the kind of historical novel I adored -- unique setting an...moreIn 2011 I read Weisgarber's fantastic debut, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree. It was the kind of historical novel I adored -- unique setting and era, unbelievable heroine, fabulous historical detail. It got tons of love (lots of wonderful prize nominations), and most recently, was praised at a writing class I took -- all for good reason.
Weisgarber's newest surpasses my love for Rachel Dupree. I'm in that flail-y, can't speak coherently kind of place with this review, so I'll just say this: read this book, stat!
Set in Galveston, Texas in 1900, ahead of the devastating hurricane, the novel follows two women loosely bound together by Oscar, a dairy farmer, and his five year-old son, Andre. Nan Ogden is a neighbor, a hearty woman asked by Andre's mother, on her deathbed, to care for him. Devoted to the boy, and half in love with Oscar, Nan's unprepared and angry when he suddenly remarries.
Catherine Wainwright is from a monied Ohio family, college educated and gifted at piano. But she falls from grace (and society) when her affair with her crippled cousin's husband comes to light, and renews her acquaintance with Oscar, whom she knew when they were children. Recently widowed, he proposes after a few letters, and she accepts with resignation that grows when she arrives in Galveston.
Despite the seeming love triangle set up, this isn't a novel about who wants who. Instead, it's a book about family connections, secrets, obligations and the assumptions we make; Weisgarber describes an emotional storm ahead of the very real hurricane we know is coming.
The descriptions of place are just stunning. I know nothing about 1900s Galveston, and Weisgarber paints a world hot, steamy, bustling, and lonely. (It turns out Galveston the city is also on Galveston the island; Catherine and I both assumed she'd be living in the city, but it turned out she was going to live out on the island.) Catherine as an outsider means Weisgarber can load up on details about what Galveston was like, but it never feels awkward, heavy, for infodump-y.
The writing generally is just lovely, too: Nan and Catherine have two distinctive voices, their own views and prejudices, their own keen observations and their own blindnesses. But there's poetry and lovely evocation of place and mood through the book.
It was a sorrowful time; there wasn't no other way to put it. What the storm did to us was cruel, and I won't never forget it. Or forgive it. The storm did what it wanted and then blew itself out, leaving us to try to put things right. But some things can't be put right. (p290)
A must read for historical fiction fans, as well as anyone who a love for Texas. This is a wonderfully emotional novel, too, in the vein of women's contemporary fiction, and I think those who aren't sure they like hist fic might want to consider this one for it's exploration of love and family. A top ten read for 2014, hands down. (less)
From the first page of this delightful, delicious novel, our heroine Nora Simms makes no bones about who she is. A teenaged prostitute from Boston, No...moreFrom the first page of this delightful, delicious novel, our heroine Nora Simms makes no bones about who she is. A teenaged prostitute from Boston, Nora has moved to San Francisco in search of gold of her own, and she works hard to improve her standing in life. As prostitutes are murdered, however, Nora finds herself doing a little organizing and crime-fighting in hopes of living long enough to enjoy her earnings.
There's a rave quote on the cover from Diana Gabaldon, and I have to say, it's no hyperbole: this novel is wonderful (it's just upset my top ten of 2013 list!).
This book has everything for a diverting historical read: great sense of place (19th-century San Francisco, back when it was a frontier town!), standout characters (Nora, our prostitute narrator; Mehitabel Ashe, her tender-hearted landlady; Abe, her simple-minded client); and various plot threads that are dramatic and fun (self improvement, murder mystery, and a search for a kind of happy ending).
Nora tells us her story, and she's a charming and warm narrator. And though Nora is funny and wry in her narration, Mailman doesn't use quippy banter to make light of the real desperation of Nora's life and situation. Nora is trying to improve herself, but she's not a self-loathing woman swayed by Christian reform. No, Nora wants to work in a parlor house and refashion herself a kind of courtesan rather than a common street woman. When faced with real threats on her life and those around her, Nora acts with courage and cleverness. (Why yes, I'm not a Nora Simms fangirl for life!)
Mailman's inclusion of historical detail is wonderful. With first person narrators, infodumps can be especially awkward, what with our narrator lecturing us, but Mailman never lectures. Nora shares small tidbits about 19th century San Francisco in a way that felt authentic and effortless, and I felt immersed in that dirty, grimy, frontier city. Mailman doesn't whitewash Nora's work, so those who are uncomfortable with the realities of sex workers might want to pass, but the scenes are presented without salaciousness. They were grim, hilarious, adorable, sexy, discomforting, scary, and weird, and they helped me get a sense of Nora and her world.
My only complaint is a lack of Historical Note (something I depend on now to help me separate the imaginary from the factually historical). Otherwise, this novel is flawless -- a real delight.
Highly recommended, Woman of Ill Fame will appeal to those who enjoy stories of the American West and the women who tamed it, as well as those who enjoy novels with a strong voice. This is a can't-put-it-down-once-you-start-it read, so splurge and hope for a snow day!(less)