Tuesday, September 30, 2014

REVIEWS--Three historical novels

Reviews by Christy K Robinson

 Shadow on the Highway is the second book I've read by Deborah Swift. I enjoyed the mix of historical fact and fiction, and the description of everyday life of 17th-century tenants and servants. I'm so thankful that the story didn't fawn all over the aristocracy and royal family. I wonder if the family the author portrayed was a little too middle-class and comfortable when England's civil wars had plunged the country into economic depression, political chaos, famine, and epidemics. On the other hand, since much of that is going on in our world today, I don't need grit and disaster in my leisure reading!

The author balanced the characters nicely, with two budding romances, political idealism and the reality of war, a vicious villain, and the looming evil of Sir Simon--though after a short and sadistic appearance, he took off for parts unknown. I suppose he'll reappear in the sequels. Because readers need to see that he's eventually punished!

The only thing I disliked about this book was NOT the author's fault: I wanted to refer to Author's Notes at the back while holding my place, but it's too hard to navigate on Kindle or the free Kindle app (I have both), so I just kept reading until I finished the narrative.

Shadow on the Highway was a pleasant read, and I read it in about 10-12 hours over several days. Suitable for the teenage, young adult, and adult audiences.

This review is from: Secrets in Time (Kindle Edition) by Alison Stuart

 Secrets in Time was a lovely surprise. I bought it primarily because of the 17th-century historical-fiction theme, and was interested to see that most of the story takes place in the modern era. Also, my first love in books is not the romance genre--because I dislike the usual template of boy-girl attraction, misunderstanding, lust, but then pushing away again when you know they'll come back together... Alison Stuart didn't do that! Yay! That means that there was actually some suspense for the reader. And she was able to suspend my disbelief in the impossibility of time travel with some clean plot twists. 

It took me less than five hours to read through the book. I'd classify it in the (17th century) historical romance genre, suitable for teens and adults.

 This is a serial-murder mystery that's investigated by the protagonist of the story, the 18-year-old chamber maid, Lucy Campion. The setting is 1665 London, just before the outbreak of the Black Death.

Slight problems: One red herring was left without resolution; the plague scenes were probably depicted as far more mild than their horrific reality; and the probable murderer was apparent to me early on because he wasn't very often mentioned or particularly characterized until the big reveal. The murder that's central to the mystery doesn't happen until almost halfway through the book.

Pluses: The prison and trial scenes seemed well-researched and were vividly described, and not at all trite or cliché. In fact, the trial testimonies were a surprise. Two men who might have been killers, were left to perhaps be the killer in a future book in the series. The writing style is clear and very easy to read. The copyediting and proofreading were impeccable (always important points for me).

Another Amazon reviewer mentioned the benevolent master-servant relationship as unbelievable, but in that period, masters were obligated to be responsible and accountable before God for the morals and education of not only their family, but the servants, day laborers, and apprentices under them. That's not to say that every master was "good," but it's what was ideal under Calvinist thought. The author got it right. (How do I know? Extensive research for my own 17th-century novels.)

The author was very sparing and neutral about depicting religion of the time, but religion was at the top of everyone's mind in an era of war, plagues, extreme poverty, signs in the heavens (comets, eclipses, catastrophic storms), and other remarkable events. Whether or not they practiced their "thou-shalt-nots," everyone was conscious of eternal life or hellfire. Religion wasn't one of the themes in this book, only a color in the backdrop.

In Amazon's 5-star rating system, I'd prefer to give it a 4.5, but will round up to 5 because the problems were very slight. It's an enjoyable read.

Suitable for younger teens through adults. Genre: mystery, light romance, historical fiction (17th century), England.

Monday, September 15, 2014


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