Review of “My Dear Hamilton” by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Dray, Stephanie, & Laura Kamoie. My Dear Hamilton. New York: William Morrow, 2018.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062819826 | 641 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I enjoyed My Dear Hamilton perhaps more than Dray and Kamoie’s previous effort, because while Patsy Jefferson was interesting as a woman who worked to preserve her father’s legacy, Eliza did so much more than that, being as much in the thick of all the political machinations of the founding of America as it was possible to be for a woman of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was fascinating getting reasonably faithful insights into the all in-fighting going on between all the Founding Fathers, with the book even beginning with Eliza about to confront James Monroe again after all these years.

I like that it also acknowledges Eliza as her own person, in a way that many biographers, including Ron Chernow, and and other media commemorating Hamilton, like the Hamilton musical, do not. I was particularly struck by her responses to many of the key historical events later in the book, like how her emotional turmoil regarding the Reynolds affair and later her questions about Hamilton and Angelica’s relationship, as well as the way she ended up working to preserve his name and his ideas in spite of all of that, while also highlighting her own charitable contributions, especially later in life.

I enjoyed this one, and am now eagerly looking for more historical fiction set around the lives of the Founding Fathers. I recommend this to other fans of historical fiction, especially if you’re interested in women who contributed a lot more than they are given credit for and are left more to the margins of the stories of their famous partners.

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Review of “The Lady and the Highwayman” by Sarah M. Eden

Eden, Sarah M. The Lady and the Highwayman. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629726052 | 344 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

I have long been interested in reading Sarah M. Eden, but the premise of the The Lady and the Highwayman, along with a recommendation from a friend, was the one that finally caught my interest in a serious way. And given my recent interest in the Victorian Gothic literary characters, this seemed like a perfect follow-up to some of my other recent reads.

And it truly is a delightful romance, building from Fletcher and Elizabeth being somewhat rivals in the penny dreadful business to them falling for each other in a beautiful way, while also exploring how each of them, despite their different class backgrounds, has a common goal in helping the less fortunate.

I love how their narrative is juxtaposed against the installments of their respective penny dreadful stories, and how they each reveal something about the writer’s character and thoughts. Fletcher’s story is very much motivated by his past as a street urchin, while we get insights into Elizabeth’s head about how her growing feelings for Fletcher interfere with her writing.

This is a delightful and fun historical, peppered with insights into the world of publishing both silver-fork novels and Penny dreadfuls in Victorian England. I would recommend this to love sweet historical romances.

Review of “European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman” (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #2) by Theodora Goss

Goss, Theodora. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. New York: Saga Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481466530 | 708 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

I enjoyed the previous installment, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, so much, I was glad that I had the foresight to also pick up the second book, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. I was a bit concerned about it being nearly double the length of book one, and upon reading, did find some areas where I felt the story did lag a bit, particularly toward the end, with the moment that felt like the climax being succeeded by a rather long and drawn-out conclusion.

The book also does feel a little slower than the previous one, with the action being split into two parts: London to Vienna, then Vienna to Budapest, instead of confining the action to a single location. While that did lend itself to some of the pacing issues, I feel the characters and their growing dynamics within one another more than made up for it, with a lot of humor (particularly in the interstitial conversations) to keep me laughing and a reasonable amount of action to keep the pages turning.

There are also more interesting introductions of literary characters, particular Mina Murray Harker and Count Dracula, the former of whom was already pretty interesting in the context of the original due to the way she was described, but is given a much more satisfying fate, especially for those who love the romanticized depictions of her relationship with the Count. There are also hints of romantic interests for the main Athena Club ladies, and while they are still subtle, I am excited to see how they develop, especially given that this topic elicited some great commentary on the part of the ladies amongst each other.

While this one has more flaws in terms of the mechanics than the previous book, it is still an enjoyable book purely for the excellent characterization and the continued tribute to Gothic literature. I once again recommend this series to fans of Victorian Gothic literature, or lovers of historical fantasy.

Review of “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #1) by Theodora Goss

Goss, Theodora. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. New York: Saga Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $24.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481466509 | 402 pages | Fantasy

4.5

I randomly heard about The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter through an advertisement at the end of another book, something that hasn’t happened in a while, but I was immediately intrigued by the idea of the daughters/creations of famous Victorian Gothic literary figures, not to mention Sherlock and Watson. And while I have not read all the books the characters come from, I appreciated how well each major character’s backstory was explained, while also showing some recognizable differences in the narrative arcs to give the characters more agency.

And this is just pure fun. Given the mystery and monster elements, it does get a bit gritty, but it was ultimately a fun ride that I zipped through in a matter of hours, with lots of questions left open that kept me intrigued to immediately pick up the next one.

The writing style does take a bit of getting used to, because, in between the actual narrative and plot, there will consistently be interruptions from the characters, commenting on the text itself, uner the pretext that the book itself is one they’re collaboratively writing, which is made even odder by third person for most of the book, and the revelation of an external narrator making themselves fully known at the end. However, it is such a fun and quirky book, I just kind of went with it after a while. But I can see why some might find the style a little jarring.

This is a delightful homage to 19th century Gothic literature, and meshed together in such a natural way too. I’m sure other fans of those clssics who are looking for a new take on them would love them.

Review of “The Dare and the Doctor” (Winner Takes All #3) by Kate Noble

Noble, Kate. The Dare and the Doctor. New York: Pocket Books, 2016.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-476749402 | 355 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I was more or less an avid fan of Kate Noble’s first series, not to mention her work as a writer for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and their tie-in books under the name Kate Rorick, in the past. However, with Winner Takes All, while I loved book one, I was soured by book two due to the unlikability due to both main characters. Yet, I still had a lingering interest to at least give The Dare and the Doctor a try, given the character dynamic appealed to me.

The characters themselves were the strength of the book. I loved the friends/correspondents dynamic between Margaret and Rhys, and how it led to love. I love the insights into Margaret’s passion for horticulture, and how Rhys nurtured this interest and her desire to pursue it. I also love tht Rhys was essentially the head of his family, and that he was trying to do what was best for them.

However, there were several plot threads, and I found myself confused at how they all came to nothing, especially the way his engagement to another woman, which plays a role in the big crisis, is essentially solved at the last second without much fuss. I was taken aback when it just…ended the way it did, and suddenly the path was clear for him and Margaret to be happy.

As saddened as I am that Kate Noble has left her historical romance career on hold (at least for the moment, I haven’t seen any updates on new historical projects) after the release of a more subpar title, I am interested to check out of the contemporary/women’s fiction Kate Rorick projects she’s been working on, and hope that, like some of her other mult-genre writing romance peers (Lisa Kleypas?), she comes back with a fresh perspective and new and exciting historicals. But, if by chance, you haven’t read her up to this point, I would recommend this one (as well as book one, The Game and the Governess, and maaaybe book two if you like more difficult characters), if you’re looking for more historical romances with humor in the vein of Julia Quinn.

Review of “Miss Leslie’s Secret” by Jennifer Moore

Moore, Jennifer. Miss Leslie’s Secret. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524404154 | 218 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

I was delighted to win a copy of Miss Leslie’s Secret and another Jennifer Moore title from fellow LDS author, Josi S. Kilpack, in one of her weekly ARC Thursday giveaways, and having wanted to try Jennifer Moore for a long time, I almost immediately dove into this one.

This is on the very short list of books that makes me love Scotland. And part of that is due to the hero. While other books from secular publishers highlight the sensuality of the kilt and his muscles, not to mention his broody alpha persona (if that’s your thing, that’s great, but I just don’t get the appeal), I love the idea of a more outwardly compassionate hero like Conall who cares for both Aileen and Jamie.

Aileen’s love for Jamie, and when the titular “secret” concerning her past and Jamie’s father’s identity were revealed, and truly felt for her in this situation, especially given the father’s involvement in criminal activity.

I did find the use of Scots dialect, even outside of the dialogue, a bit jarring at first, especially since the story was written in third person, so it wasn’t like we were getting the characters’ thoughts directly from them, as we would with first person. But I applaud Moore for committing to this sense of immersion with both the language and the culture, engrossing me fully in the setting.

This is a delightful, short, and sweet Regency read, with a good dose of emotional depth. I would recommend this to other fans of sweet Regency romances.

Review of “An Unkindness of Magicians” by Kat Howard

Howard, Kat. An Unkindness of Magicians. 2017. New York: Saga Press: 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481451208 | 354 pages | Fantasy

4.5 stars

I heard about An Unkindness of Magicians through BookTuber Merphy Napier, and while I was a little hesitant due to the urban fantasy setting, Merphy also seems to favor more high fantasy and still praised this one highly, and given that she pitched it as an “adult Harry Potter” of sorts, I decided it was worth at least keeping an open mind.

And I found all my preconceptons about urban fantasy going out the window without this one. There is still intricate world building and, while there isn’t a lot of hand-holding where the explanation of of the magic is concerned, I found I enjoyed learning about things as I went along. I love that it is a little darker, and delving into the mysteries of the Shadows, juxtaposed against the lavish Houses.

I enjoyed the characters for the most part, some more than others. Sydney particularly was pretty badass and kept me intrigued by who she was meant to be, especially with her uncertain origins.

While very much a story in itself, the ending does leave something to be desired, something which I hope will be rectified in the forthcoming sequel. I recommend this to other fantasy fans looking for a slightly less popular book to check out, especially if they also love Harry Potter.

Review of “America’s First Daughter” by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Dray, Stephanie, & Laura Kamoie. America’s First Daughter. New York: William Morrow, 2016.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062347268 | 590 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie’s collaborations have been on my radar for a while, due to my desire to read more historical fiction about the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers, but the slightly larger page count, particularly relative to other historical fiction books, intimidated me for a while. However, I finally gave America’s First Daughter a chance, and found that I was flying through the pages, not because it was particularly fast-paced, but because I was so invested in the story.

Thomas Jefferson is a complicated man, with recent years especially bringing about discussion of his hypocrisies, and I love the way these were handled. Through Patsy’s eyes, we see a flawed man, yet he is still a great politician and a father to whose legacy she was devoted…to the point of shaping the narrative through careful curation of his letters, which serves as the central framing device of the book, with excerpts from his letters peppered throughout to signal passage of time, and her comments about them in relation to her own recollections of how it happened.

And while Dray and Kamoie do admit to taking some liberties, such as romanticizing the relationship between Patsy and William Short based on some of the vague hints provided in the historical record, I love how they are otherwise unflinching in providing an accurate look at the reality of the times, including in the portrayal of the Jeffersons in relation to slavery and the ways in which the women of the family were at the mercy of their husbands, whether it be the circumstances surrounding Patsy’s son-in-law causing the death of his wife/one of her daughters due to his abuse, and the deterioration of her own marriage to Thomas Mann Randolph, which also turned abusive, due to the financial losses and alcoholism.

This is a truly beautiful historical novel that also taught me a lot about the domestic lives of the Jefferson family, and how important Patsy was in shaping who Thomas Jefferson became, even if she wasn’t important in her own right. I recommend this to historical fiction lovers, especially those who love reading about the “power behind the throne,” so to speak, or the women who played influential roles behind the scenes in the lives of their fathers, husbands, or brothers.

Review of “Star Wars: Bloodline” by Claudia Gray

Gray, Claudia. Bloodline. New York: Del Rey, 2016.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425284784 | 341 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

I held off on reading Bloodline for a while, despite liking some of Claudia Gray’s other offerings in the Star Wars New Canon, particularly her book on young Leia. But I finally decided to give this one a go, especially as we’re coming up on The Rise of Skywalker’s release at the end of the year, and I wanted to further explore the Star Wars Universe again, and I do like Claudia Gray as a storyteller.

And I love the way Gray is able to flesh out Leia as older, battle-hardened politician, just as much as she does in her YA book as a hopeful futurre leader. The exploration of the trauma from her imprisonment in A New Hope, which was only alluded to there, is poignant, and explains her more complicated feelings toward Anakin/Vader as her father compared to Luke’s. I could understand why she would want to keep this a secret from the public, and especially her son, Ben, and was torn to see how it all backfired, even though I knew it would, based on the sequel movies thus far.

The one drawback is that this story is kind of politics-heavy. I’m actually one of the people who didn’t mind the politics in the prequels, and I do like that this book is trying to highlight that history is repeating itself, but a lot of it was quite dry. I don’t hold that against Gray, as a writer commissioned to write based on the overall direction of the canon information, but more as one of the flaws in the direction of the new era of Star Wars material itself.

This is a great book in the Star Wars universe,in spite of any of these flaws. I recommend this to any Star Wars fan who loves Leia.

Review of “Becoming Josephine” by Heather Webb

Webb, Heather. Becoming Josephine. New York: Plume, 2014.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0142180655 | 310 pages | Historical Fiction

I won Becoming Josephine in a giveaway from Heather Webb, and while I put off reading it for a while, I had a desire to finally read it after finishing Meet Me in Monaco and coming to the realization that while I had read everything Hazel Gaynor had written, I had yet to truly experience Webb’s work. I also was excited to get a more intimate portraste of the marriage of Napoleon and Josephine, especially since I didn’t know much about either of them except what I had learned in history books.

And Webb perfectly captures Josephine’s life, with all its troubles, with her loveless mariage to her first husband, his execution in the Revolution and the uncertainty of her position during the Reign of Terror, and the ups and downs of her passionate, turbulent marriage to Napoleon. I truly felt for her in the second half, with Napoleon’s family being cruel to her, the very kingly hypocrisy that he can take lovers, because “they mean nothing,” but he forbids her from doing the same, and the ultimate breakdown of their union due to her inability to give him an heir.

If there is one criticism of the book, it’s that the language isn’t always one hundred percent accurate, and in my subsequent research, I found some others were concerned with some of the historical liberties taken as well. I can understand why Webb made some of the decisions she did to appeal to a very specific audience of historical fiction readers, and, being that I don’t know very much about Josephine, I wasn’t too bothered, but can understand why others might be.

That said, I think this is a great historical fiction read for those newer to the genre or to Napoleon and Josephine’s love story.