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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Not Just Any Man: A novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Tollefson #Historicalfiction with a diverse cast and a fascinating account of life in early XIX c. New Mexico

Hi all:

I bring you the review of the first book in a series I’ve been following for the last few years, and despite reading it out of order, or perhaps because of it, I loved it!

Not Just Any Man by Loretta Tollefson

Not Just Any Man: A novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Tollefson Historical fiction with a diverse cast and a fascinating account of life in early XIX c. New Mexico

Just a man. Known for his character, not the color of his skin.

That’s all Gerald, son of a free black man and an Irish servant girl, wants to be. It’s an impossible goal in slave-holding Missouri, but in the West, mountain men and villagers alike seem to accept him without question.

New Mexico is all that Gerald hoped for, but shortly after he arrives in Taos, he realizes he wants more than he’d thought: A girl with her own complex ancestry and a high mountain valley with intriguing potential.

To make either dream possible, Gerald needs to earn something more than a scratch living. The only way to do that is to trap beaver. It’s a tough way to earn cash and the wilderness is an unforgiving place.

Can Gerald survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid south rim of the Grand Canyon as well as the fellow trapper who hates him for the color of his skin? Can he prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?

Loretta Miles Tollefson grew up in the American West in a log cabin built by her grandfather from timber harvested from the land around it. She lives in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains, where she researches the region’s history and imagines what it would have been like to actually experience it. 

https://www.amazon.com/Not-Just-Any-Man-Mexico-ebook/dp/B07JQSZGWS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-Just-Any-Man-Mexico-ebook/dp/B07JQSZGWS/

https://www.amazon.es/Not-Just-Any-Man-Mexico-ebook/dp/B07JQSZGWS/

Author Loretta Miles Tollefson
Author Loretta Miles Tollefson

About the author:

Loretta Miles Tollefson has been publishing fiction and poetry since 1975. (She’s not old–she started young!) Growing up in foothills of the Olympic Mountains in the log cabin her grandfather built and her father was born in led naturally to an interest in history and historical fiction. When she retired to the mountains of northern New Mexico, writing historical fiction set there was a logical result. The Moreno Valley Sketches books are the first in many planned books set there.

Before turning to historical fiction full time, Loretta wrote Crown of Laurel, a novel set in Seattle in the recession of the early 1980’s. Loretta holds a B.S. in Bible Education from Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. This background informs her poetry collections Mary at the Cross: Voices from the New Testament and And Then Moses Was There: Voices from the Old Testament.

In the mid-1980’s, Loretta and her husband suffered the loss of their first child in the fifth month of pregnancy. Her poetry collection But Still My Child came out of that period and is designed to help others deal with the pain of miscarriage.

Loretta holds M.A.’s in Communication and in English Literature from the University of New Mexico. Most days, you’ll find her researching New Mexico history in the 1800’s and writing furiously. She publishes short historical fiction every week at https://lorettamilestollefson.com/

My review:

A copy of the novel was provided for my perusal, and I freely chose to review it.

This is the third of Loretta Tollefson’s Old New Mexico novels I read, although it is the first one in the series that relates the adventures of Gerald Locke and his family. I came across the second novel thanks to a review group I belong to (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check Rosie’s Book Review Team here), (Not My Father’s House, check the review here), loved it , and read the third one when it was published, (No Secret Too Small, you can find the review here), and loved it as well. When I was offered the option to read the beginning of the saga, I couldn’t resist. And although I know I haven’t read the series as it was designed and intended, it has worked wonderfully for me. It was like having hindsight in reverse: I knew everything that would happen later, and I got to see how things had started, and why they had developed the way they did. It was a fascinating exercise, as it helped me realise how well-conceived the whole story is, and how many details and words that we might not think are important to the plot when we read them, in the end, are fundamental to the development of the whole narrative. It all fits in, organically. This is not a series where books are just added to stretch the story or to tell the further adventures of the characters. This is a story told in three books, where each one gives more attention and voice to one of the characters in the family. And, although that does not mean each book cannot be read in its own right, the whole is more than the sum of its individual parts.

The author has personal knowledge of the area, and of the lifestyle as well, as stated in her biography, and her skills as a researcher and her interest in history shine through this book and the whole series. She manages to insert her fictional characters into a world that feels incredibly close to how life must have been in New Mexico at the time, and the inclusion of real historical events and characters (mayors [alcaldes, as the territory was under Mexican rule in the early XIX century, when the story is set], governors and other local politicians, priests, soldiers, and military men, trappers, Native American chiefs, members of the important families, merchants…), and her use of original sources from the era make give it a very vivid feel, as if we were immersed in the era, partaking in the trapping expeditions, and becoming involved in the complex and changing politics.

The style of writing is beautifully descriptive, with special attention being paid to the rhythm of the seasons, nature and landscapes, the land and the resources it could provide for sustenance and livelihood, and the action is narrated in the third person and present tense (that although it might come across as a bit weird at first, it adds to the impression readers get of sharing the experience with the characters as it is taking place), mostly from the point of view of Gerald Locke, although there are some brief fragments from other character’s perspective (we get to know what Suzanna thinks of Gerald before he does, and we also witness some interesting conversations that give us an insight into matters we are likely to have been wondering about, and others that might come to the fore in the future). Although there are plenty of adventures included in this novel, the pace is not a whirlwind, and it doesn’t rely solely on non-stop action. There are high pressure moments, but there is a lot of drudgery, hanging around, or simply travelling from one place to the next and then waiting around, as is the case in real life, and more so when you depend on the seasons, the weather, and the will and actions of others. As usual, I’d recommend checking a sample of the book to those wondering if the writing style would suit them, or the author’s blog, as she shares a lot of stories there as well.

I don’t want to provide too many details about the plot, other than those already included in the above description, which I think gives a fair idea of the adventures and the conflicts Gerald experiences. Themes like race and discrimination play an important part in the story, and the author explains in her note at the end of the novel what the society of New Mexico was like at the time in that respect. It sounds like the “melting pot” one hears mentioned very often when referring to the United States, which seems to be —in many cases and historical periods— unfortunately very far from the truth. Tollefson explains the laws and the traditions in the area, and why they were more tolerant there than in Missouri, where Gerald comes from. Of course, that does not mean that everybody was as understanding and open-minded as the more enlightened people, and one of the characters in the book exemplifies the worst of all behaviours: he is lazy; he blames others for his shortcomings; he is racist and prejudiced; he is abusive towards all he perceives as his inferiors or weaker than him (women, Mexicans, mixed-race…). He is a villain through and through, but there are other characters who are morally ambiguous, and although they seem to behave reasonably enough in some aspects (they might give Gerald a fair opportunity and help him along), they might not always be honest in all their dealings with others or with the government or the law (that is shown as capricious at best, truly unreasonable or worst in most cases), or might have other flaws (they drink too much, talk too much, tell tall tales, chase after women, are selfish and only think of themselves…).

The author offers a list of historical characters and also of the sources she has used at the end of the novel, and in her note, she explains how closely she followed some of the trapping expeditions and real events that took place then. The brief biographical notes she provides about the characters suffice to give us a good idea of how colourful some of these characters really were and to make us understand that she doesn’t seem to have strayed too far from the truth in recreating them.

As for the fictional characters… I’ve mentioned the villain, although I won’t say anything else about him to avoid spoilers. Let me warn readers, though, that he is the protagonist of some scenes that might cause upset or trigger some readers, as he threatens physical and also sexual violence and abuse in several occasions, and once quite explicitly so. I like Gerald, though. Especially after having read the other two novels, where we see him from other people’s perspective most of the time, it was good to get to know him and understand where he was coming from, his circumstances, his deep love for the land, and also why he makes a certain decision that will, much later (in the third book), come back to bite him. He is quite understanding and willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, and his view of the property of the land and the rights of those who live in it makes him a truly modern character, much more enlightened than most. Even if he doesn’t always choose wisely, he tries to do what he thinks is right. We also meet many of the characters that will play big parts in the other novels, like Suzanna, who already appears like a remarkable young woman who knows her own mind and has many skills, despite her age (not quite sixteen yet); her father (a man with an interesting past and quite open-minded when it comes to education and to his daughter and her future), Encarnación (the cook, who has a strong sense of loyalty and loves Suzanna’s family as if it was her own), Ramón (the perfect companion for Gerald, and one that will continue to play an important part in the series), and many others. As I’ve mentioned at the beginning, I was impressed by how well the arc of the characters works through the series, and how consistent the overall atmosphere and story is.

The ending is also perfect. It seems to be a fairly happy ending (a bit hesitant, perhaps), but the epilogue hints at things yet to come. I don’t mean there is a cliffhanger at all, but readers will probably guess that the story is far from complete, and some of the things that seem solved are anything but.

In sum, I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction looking for a story about a historical period and an era not usually the subject of novels, and about people who don’t normally feature in historical books either, as they are not considered important enough. I mentioned Little House in the Prairie in a previous review, and fans of those books, and anybody interested in the pioneers, and in life in New Mexico in the early XIX Century should check this series. It is a joy.

Thanks to the author for her book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, keep reading, reviewing, smiling, and above all, to keep safe. ♥

 

 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog NO SECRET TOO SMALL. A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson. New Mexico historical fiction that confronts some painful truths #historicalfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a new book by an author I read last year for the first time. Recommended to readers of historical fiction.

No Secret too Small by Loretta Miles Tollefson

No Secret Too Small. A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson

A novel dedicated to all the world’s children caught in the cross fire of adult squabbles.

New Mexico, 1837. As New Mexico teeters on the verge of revolution, eight-year-old Alma’s family experiences an upheaval of its own. Ten years ago, her father, Gerald, chose not to tell her mother, Suzanna, that some of his ancestors were born in Africa. Now Alma’s mother has learned the truth.

Stunned and furious, Suzanna leaves the family’s mountain valley and takes Alma and her younger brother, Andrew, with her. Gerald allows the children to go because he believes they’ll be safer with their mother than with him in the mountains. However, as Suzanna, Alma, and Andrew reach Santa Fe, revolt breaks out and the children are exposed to sights no child should ever have to experience.

This trauma and the prejudice the children experience because of their heritage makes Alma long for home. But even if her mother can forgive past secrets, the way is now blocked by wintery weather and entrenched rebels. Will Alma’s family ever be reunited?

A heart-breaking yet ultimately triumphant story about secrets, prejudice, love, and the impact of adult conflict on our children.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08K9DBCNC

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08K9DBCNC

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B08K9DBCNC

Author Loretta Miles Tollefson
    Author Loretta Miles Tollefson

About the author:

Loretta Miles Tollefson has been publishing fiction and poetry since 1975. (She’s not old–she started young!) Growing up in foothills of the Olympic Mountains in the log cabin her grandfather built and her father was born in led naturally to an interest in history and historical fiction. When she retired to the mountains of northern New Mexico, writing historical fiction set there was a logical result. The Moreno Valley Sketches books are the first in many planned books set there.

Before turning to historical fiction full time, Loretta wrote Crown of Laurel, a novel set in Seattle in the recession of the early 1980’s. Loretta holds a B.S. in Bible Education from Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. This background informs her poetry collections Mary at the Cross: Voices from the New Testament and And Then Moses Was There: Voices from the Old Testament.

In the mid-1980’s, Loretta and her husband suffered the loss of their first child in the fifth month of pregnancy. Her poetry collection But Still My Child came out of that period and is designed to help others deal with the pain of miscarriage.

Loretta holds M.A.’s in Communication and in English Literature from the University of New Mexico. Most days, you’ll find her researching New Mexico history in the 1800’s and writing furiously. She publishes short historical fiction every week at LorettaMilesTollefson.Wordpress.com

https://www.amazon.com/Loretta-Miles-Tollefson/e/B00I47VVZ4?

https://lorettamilestollefson.com/

My review:

I discovered Loretta MilesTollefson’s writing through Rosie’s Book Review Team when I first read and reviewed one of the novels in the Old New Mexico series, Not My Father’s House  (you can read my review here). That was the second book that tells the story of Gerald Locke and his family. The series also includes short stories and microfiction set in the same territory during the XIX century, and also a novel based on real events, The Pain and the Sorrow. I loved the setting of the previous novel and the characters and thank the author for offering me an early ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review and enjoyed.

While the previous novel was set in the Moreno Valley, and we lived the life of mountain settlers, with its harshness, its dangers, its challenges, and also its moments of wonder and joy; this novel sees Suzanna and her two children (Alma and Andrew) move from town to town (from the Valley to San Fernando de Taos, to Chimayó and then to Santa Fe.  In the process, they get involved, although marginally, in the political upheaval of the era, coming into contact with both, rebels and supporters of the Mexican government, and witnessing some tragic events. And although their lives in the Valley weren’t easy, they soon discover that sometimes, hard work and stubbornness are not enough to ensure a decent living.

At the heart of the novel is a secret, something Gerald kept from Suzanna, although, to be fair, she insisted she didn’t need to know. The situation reminded me of one of Antonio Machado’s poems: ‘Dijiste media verdad. Dirán que mientes dos veces si dices la otra mitad.’ ‘You told half a truth. They’ll say you lie twice if you tell the other half.’ The secret (if you read the description carefully, you’ll find out what it is) involves the assumption that we are not all the same, and some are better than others just based on our ancestors and their origins/skin colour. Such prejudice is more deeply rooted than Suzanna realised (or wanted to acknowledge), and it challenges her own opinion of herself and others. Her beliefs and her attitude are put to the test while she is away, and she learns truths about herself that she does not like but ultimately make her stronger.

As was the case in the previous novel, we can find a mix of fictional and true historical characters, and the author provides a summary of historical events at the end, which help provide a more detailed background to the story, a glossary of terms (both Spanish and also English of the period), and also brief biographical notes on the real historical figures that appear in the text. Some of my old favourites from the previous novel appear as well: Ramon, although he stays behind for much of the action, Old One-Eyed Pete, the trapper, Old Bill, Gregorio García, and some new ones that I love as well, especially señora Ortega (who can appear grumpy, harsh, and keen to tell unpalatable truths, but also a fair and honest woman happy to give other women a chance), and Antonia García, the mother of Gregorio, who grabs a second chance when it comes her way.

The story is told in the third person in present tense, not a common choice, but one that works particularly well as we see things form the point of view of Alma, an eight years old girl forced to grow up far too quickly for her age. She tries hard to be strong, to do her part, and to support her mother and brother, even if she doesn’t agree with what her mother has done. I love Alma and she is easier to empathise with than her mother, whose behaviour is sometimes petulant, unreasonable and selfish. She puts her children and herself in danger, and although her husband is in the wrong as well, her stubbornness drives her too far. Having read the previous novel, and knowing how hard Suzanna had to fight to survive in the valley, and the horrific experiences she went through, make her disappointment and her inflexible attitude easier to understand, although not so much some of the deep (and perhaps even not fully conscious) reasons behind it.  The fact that others in her life don’t dare oppose her or prefer to let her do and keep the peace could have had dire consequences, for her and the children, although, of course, nobody realised how quickly the political situation would deteriorate, or how hard making a living would be for a mother of two on her own. (Or they underestimated Suzanna’s stubbornness).

The author manages to provide a strong sense of the setting, the historical period, and the customs and traditions of the era without overdoing the descriptions or disrupting the action. The story flows and ebbs, as does life, and we have quiet moments, of routine, work, and everyday life, but the three main protagonists (Suzanna, Alma, and Andrew) also travel, are exposed to dangers, and are shocked and traumatised by the violence around them. We learn about weaving, about life in the New Mexico of the late 1830s, and about the prejudices of the period. Unfortunately, some things don’t change, but at least the main characters in the novel learn from their mistakes. One can but wish the same would happen in real life in the here and now.

The ending is satisfying, and I am sure all readers will enjoy it. I don’t know if we’ll hear more about the Locke family and their adventures, but, somehow, I know they’ll be all right.

I think readers who get to this story without having read the rest of the series will be able to connect with the characters and follow their adventures without too much difficulty, although it will be easier to understand the motivations and appreciate more fully the relationships and the background to the story for those who have read the other two novels related to the Lockes’ (and I hope to catch up on Not Just Any Man at some point in the future). Although we don’t witness any violent acts directly, there are scenes illustrating the consequences of the violence bound to be upsetting for some readers of the book, and prejudice and racism are an important theme, so prospective readers need to take that into consideration when deciding if this might be the book for them. As I usually say, it is worth checking a sample of the book to see if the voice and the narrative style is a good fit for those thinking about purchasing it.

I recommend this novel to fans of historical fiction keen to learn about a little-known period of the history of the United States, to those interested in the life of pioneer women, and also any readers looking for a story that is as relevant and inspiring. And the bonus is that there are other books in the series for those who enjoy this one.

Thanks to the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep safe (and smiling)!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry (@FaberBooks). Sometimes it’s hard to be a Lakota woman

Hi all:

I hope you’re keeping well, or as well as possible in the circumstances.

I bring you another book by Sebastian Barry. Not for everyone, but quite extraordinary.

Cover of A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry
A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry

From the Costa Book of the Year-winning author of Days Without End

Even when you come out of bloodshed and disaster in the end you have got to learn to live.

Winona is a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole.
Living with Thomas and John on the farm they work in 1870s Tennessee, she is educated and loved, forging a life for herself beyond the violence and dispossession of her past. But the fragile harmony of her unlikely family unit, in the aftermath of the Civil War, is soon threatened by a further traumatic event, one which Winona struggles to confront, let alone understand.

Told in Sebastian Barry’s gorgeous, lyrical prose, A Thousand Moons is a powerful, moving study of one woman’s journey, of her determination to write her own future, and of the enduring human capacity for love.

‘Nobody writes like, nobody takes lyrical risks like, nobody pushes the language, and the heart, and the two together, quite like Sebastian Barry does, so that you come out of whatever he writes like you’ve been away, in another climate.’ ALI SMITH

https://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Moons-unmissable-two-time-winner-ebook/dp/B07Z5C4LN2/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thousand-Moons-unmissable-two-time-winner-ebook/dp/B07Z5C4LN2/

https://www.amazon.es/Thousand-Moons-unmissable-two-time-winner-ebook/dp/B07Z5C4LN2/

Author Sebastian Barry
Author Sebastian Barry

About the author:

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His plays include Boss Grady’s Boys (1988), The Steward of Christendom (1995), Our Lady of Sligo (1998) and The Pride of Parnell Street (2007). His novels include The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998), Annie Dunne (2002), A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008). He has won, among other awards, the Irish-America Fund Literary Award, the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Prize, the London Critics Circle Award and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize. A Long Long Way, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Dublin International Impac Prize, was the Dublin: One City One Book choice for 2007. The Secret Scripture won the Costa Book of the Year Award, the Irish Book Awards for Best Novel and the Independent Booksellers Prize. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, Christopher Ewart-Biggs award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sebastian-Barry/e/B001HD0UCC

My review:

Thanks to Faber and Faber and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I read Barry’s Days Without End, loved it (you can read my review here) and couldn’t resist when I saw his next novel was available. This story follows on from the previous one, and it shares quite a few characteristics with that one. Although I’ve read some reviews by people who hadn’t read the previous novel and said that they felt this one could be read on its own, I wouldn’t dare to comment on that. Personally, because the story follows closely on from Days Without End, and it refers to many of the characters we had got to know there, I’d recommend readers thinking about taking up this series to start by reading the previous novel.

This story, like Barry’s previous book, is a historical novel, in this case, set in Tennessee shortly after the American Civil War. In the previous novel, we followed two characters, Thomas McNulty (the first-person narrator) and John Cole, through their adventures as actors, Indian hunters, and soldiers, and learned that they had adopted a young Lakota girl, Ojinjintka, renamed Winona; in this second book, we hear the story from Winona’s point of view. The couple of men have settled down now, and the fact that this is not only a woman’s story, but the story of a Native-American woman, means that her ambit of action is much more restricted and despite her efforts to take control of her own life, she’s often at the mercy of laws and circumstances that consider her less than a human being. Although she is loved by her adoptive parents and the rest of the extended family she lives with, that is not a general state of affairs, and if life had treated her badly as a child, she also suffers a major traumatic event here, as a young woman. No matter that she is educated (she keeps the books for a lawyer in town), strong-willed, and determined. She is either invisible (just an Indian girl) or a creature to be abused, vilified, and made to take the blame for other’s crimes. That does not mean what happens to her does not reflect the events in the larger society (we do hear about racism, about lynching, about the corruption of the law, about Southern resistance…), but we get to see them from an “other” point of view, and it creates a sense of estrangement, which I suspect is intended by the author. While Thomas and John were outsiders themselves and always lived in the fringes of society, Winona’s position is more precarious still.

I have mentioned some of the themes of the novel, and others, like family relationships, race, gender, identity (Winona remembers a lot about her life as a Lakota, and the memories of her mother, in particular, bring her much comfort and strength), and the lot of women also play an important part in the novel. There is also something of a mystery running through it, as there are a couple of crimes committed early on (one a severe beating of an ex-slave living with Winona’s family in the farm, and the other one her assault) and Winona spends much of the novel trying to clarify what happened and to get justice, one way or another, as the authorities are not going to intervene because neither of them is important enough. Although she turns into something of an amateur detective, this is no cozy mystery or a light adventure novel, and there are plenty of harrowing moments in it, so I wouldn’t recommend it to people who are looking for cheerful entertainment.

The characters are as fascinating as those from the previous novel, although we get to see them from a totally different point of view. It Thomas was the guiding consciousness of Days Without End, Winona’s voice (in the first person) narrates this fragment of the story. We get to see things from her perspective, and that also offers us an opportunity to reevaluate our opinion of the characters we already knew. We also meet some new characters, but because of Winona’s status (or lack of it), we are put in a difficult position, always feeling suspicious and expecting the worst from those we meet, because she has no rights, both because she is a woman and because she is an Indian woman. Her voice takes some time to get used to. She has been educated, but a bit like happened with Thomas in the previous novel, her speech and thoughts are a mixture of vernacular expressions and lyrical images. She is sometimes confused and can’t make sense of what is happening around her, and at others can show a great deal of insight. When she reports the dialogue and words of others —although she is quite an astute observer of others’ behaviour —, all the people she mentions talk pretty much the same, no matter how educated they are, and farm-hands and judges cannot be told apart from the way they speak. Although I felt for Winona at an intellectual level and was horrified by the things she had to go through, perhaps because of the estrangement I mentioned and of the style of the narrative, I didn’t find it as easy to connect at an emotional level. I liked her and I loved her insights and some of her comments, but I didn’t feel as close to her as I did to Thomas in the first book.

The writing is beautiful and poetic at times, while at others it can be difficult to understand due to the mental state of the character and to her peculiar style. It reminded me of the stream-of-consciousness narration typical of modernist writers in the early years of the XX century. Winona’s thoughts jump from one subject to the next, and although the story is told in chronological order, memories of her time with the Lakotas and flashbacks from her trauma keep interfering in the narrative. This is not a particularly fast novel or a page-turner in the traditional sense, as it meanders along, with exciting and horrifying scenes intermixed with scenes of domesticity and everyday life. I confess to having to go back and forth at times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, but it was worth it.

I highlighted many parts of the novel, but I’ll share a few samples (note that this is an ARC copy, so there might be some changes in the published version):

I wonder what does it mean when another people judge you to be worth so little you were only to be killed? How our pride in everything was crushed so small it disappeared until it was just specks of things floating away on the wind.

You can’t be a geyser of tears all your life.

‘She got to have some recompense in law,’ said Lige Magan. ‘An Indian ain’t a citizen and the law don’t apply in the same way,’ said the lawyer Briscoe.

Only a woman knows how to live I believe because a man is too hasty, too half-cocked, mostly. That half-cocked gun hurts at random. But in my men I found fierce womanliness living. What a fortune. What a great heap of proper riches.

I’ve seen some reviews who felt the ending was disappointing or unbelievable. I’d have to agree that there is something of the Deus ex machina about the ending, but overall I liked where the story ended and would like to know what happens next to Winona, to Peg (one of my favourite new characters), and to the rest of the characters.

Would I recommend the novel? It is a fascinating book, and one lovers of Barry will enjoy. I advise anybody interested in this historical period and eager to read this author’s work to start with the previous novel, as I found the style of this one more challenging and more difficult to follow, and having an understanding of the background of the characters helps put it into perspective. As I usually do, I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the novel before deciding to purchase it, but give it a good chance, as it does take some time to get used to the style, and the story is well-worth reading and persevering with. I will definitely be looking forward to the next novel.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and the author for this novel, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep reading, smiling, keep safe, and if you know anybody who might enjoy it, pass it on!

Oh, and if you’re bored, remember a couple of my books are available for free, so don’t hesitate to give them a go and pass them on. 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Not My Father’s House: A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson Recommended to lovers of historical fiction, pioneer narrations, and women’s stories #historical fiction #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a review of one of the books from Rosie’s group and one I recommend to people who love historical fiction, especially stories of New Mexico and settlers.

Not My Father's House: A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson
Not My Father’s House: A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson

Not My Father’s House: A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson

Suzanna hates everything about her New Mexico mountain home. The isolation. The short growing season. The critters after her corn. The long snow-bound winters in a dimly-lit cabin.

But she loves Gerald, who loves this valley.

So Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust, even when the babies come, both of them in the middle of winter. Her postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge.

But the Sangre de Cristo mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the mountains of the Gila two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

And his lust for Suzanna may be even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.

https://www.amazon.com/Loretta-Miles-Tollefson-ebook/dp/B07VXFP2KY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Loretta-Miles-Tollefson-ebook/dp/B07VXFP2KY/

https://www.amazon.es/Loretta-Miles-Tollefson-ebook/dp/B07VXFP2KY/

Author Loretta Miles Tollefson
Author Loretta Miles Tollefson

About the author:

Loretta Miles Tollefson has been publishing fiction and poetry since 1975. (She’s not old–she started young!) Growing up in foothills of the Olympic Mountains in the log cabin her grandfather built and her father was born in led naturally to an interest in history and historical fiction. When she retired to the mountains of northern New Mexico, writing historical fiction set there was a logical result. The Moreno Valley Sketches books are the first in many planned books set there.

Before turning to historical fiction full time, Loretta wrote Crown of Laurel, a novel set in Seattle in the recession of the early 1980’s. Loretta holds a B.S. in Bible Education from Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. This background informs her poetry collections Mary at the Cross: Voices from the New Testament and And Then Moses Was There: Voices from the Old Testament.

In the mid-1980’s, Loretta and her husband suffered the loss of their first child in the fifth month of pregnancy. Her poetry collection But Still My Child came out of that period and is designed to help others deal with the pain of miscarriage.

Loretta holds M.A.’s in Communication and in English Literature from the University of New Mexico. Most days, you’ll find her researching New Mexico history in the 1800’s and writing furiously. She publishes short historical fiction every week at LorettaMilesTollefson.Wordpress.com

https://www.amazon.com/Loretta-Miles-Tollefson/e/B00I47VVZ4?

https://lorettamilestollefson.com/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

When I first read about this book, I was intrigued by the setting (one I must confess I’m not very familiar with but I’ve always been interested in) and the period of the story most of all. I’ve become an eager reader of historical fiction, and I’ve learned plenty about times and places I knew nothing about. This is another perfect example of the way novels can inform and entertain at the same time, immersing us on a time and place completely at odds with our everyday experience. This is book two in the series of novels of Old New Mexico, and although it can be read independently, I must admit I would have liked to be better acquainted with the previous lives of the characters.

Suzanna is very young. Newly wed and only sixteen, she is thrown in at the deep end. She is not very domesticated for a woman of the period (the story is set in the early XIX century): she does not know how to cook, and she was brought up by her father to love books rather than other more feminine tasks, although she does sew, cleans, and knows how to keep a house, more or less (but she did have help back at her father’s house, in Taos, and she still has some help here, because Ramón does the cooking, otherwise they’d die of hunger). She loves to be outdoors and grow plants and vegetables most of all and that is another source of irritation for her in her new location, as this is high mountain territory, and neither the weather nor the seasons are as mild as what she was used to at home.

Suzanna finds fault with everything and she is not the most likeable of characters to begin with, although as we keep reading, the sheer drudgery and harshness of her life, and her brave attempts at making the best out of it end up by endearing her to the reader. We also come to understand that there is something more behind the changes in mood and she needs help, although it is difficult to imagine what form it could take at that point and in that place. Gerald, her husband, does his best and tries to understand her, although he has little time and no workable solutions to make things better. Ramón is a quiet presence and a likeable one, as he is always at hand to help. A perfect example of the strong and quiet type, Mexican style. He and the main characters in the novel experience major and very traumatic losses, and they use different coping strategies to deal with very difficult circumstances. There are other very colourful characters that make their appearance in the book, including Native Americans of different tribes, trappers, Mexican Army soldiers, and assorted animals as well. Some of them, as the author explains at the end of the book, where real historical characters, and they seamlessly mix with the fictional characters whose story we are reading.

The story is a slow burner, rather than a quick page turner, and it is narrated in the third person, mostly from Suzanna’s point of view, but also from a pretty nasty character’s viewpoint (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, although the description will give you a fair idea of the plot), that gives us a different perspective and also creates a fairly uncomfortable reading experience, as we get to share in the thoughts of a man who does not seem to have a single redeeming feature. The author does an excellent job of capturing the natural rhythm of the seasons, and we experience the harshness of the natural environment, the difficulty of coping with extreme weather conditions and having to survive on one’s own wits, but she also brings to life the beauty and the joy of the landscape and the location.

Another very strong point of this novel is the way it reflects the mental health difficulties of Suzanna. Her dark moods, the way she is influenced by the seasons and the lack of light and exercise in the winter months, her irritability, her difficulty explaining her feelings, and how she is further hindered by several losses throughout the book and the effect the birth of her children has on her already fragile mental health are explored and made palpable. Because we share in her perspective, although at first we might think she is just too young and immature for the situation she has landed herself in, we later come to see how hard her circumstances would be for anybody. And when her father visits and explains that she’s always had difficulties in certain times of the year, but they’d managed it well, we understand that she had not been aware of these problems until she had to face them by herself, in more extreme and tough conditions. The author explains her research on depression (post-natal depression and also seasonal affective disorder) and provides the historical context as to how the condition would have been dealt with at the time, in her note at the back of the book. From my experience as a psychiatrist, having talked to and looked after many patients suffering from similar conditions, her portrayal is realistic and vivid, and it reflects well the feelings and desperation of the sufferers.

I learned plenty about the New Mexico of the era, its inhabitants, its customs, and its politics. The author’s research shines through, and she makes an excellent use of it without overbearing the reader. The book also includes an index of the sources used, and a list of the historical characters that make an appearance in the series.

I would recommend this book to anybody who loves historical fiction of this era and location, in particular people who enjoy books about the pioneers and the settlers of the Southern United States. It is not a book for people looking for constant action or for a light read. There are humorous moments, and there is light relief (mostly provided by the dogs. I loved all the dogs, although my favourite was Chaser), but there are also sad and scary moments, and although the book is not terribly graphic in its depiction of violence (and there is no erotica at all), there is violence and a sense of menace and threat that permeates a lot of the novel. If you are fans of Little House in the Prairie and prefer narrations that build up slowly but have a realistic feel, you must check this novel out. I am intrigued by the series, and I hope to learn more about the further adventures of Suzanna and her family.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her wonderful group, thanks to all of you for reading, and thanks for liking, sharing, commenting, clicking, and don’t forget to review and always keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE NAPOLEONIC WARS: AS ILLUSTRATED BY J J JENKINS by J J Jenkins (@penswordbooks) . A great collectable and beautiful reproduction of a fine book

Hi all:

I bring you something pretty different today. I don’t know why, but I could not resist this book (perhaps because I’m fascinated by antiques…)

Cover of the Napoleonic Wars as illustrated by J.J. Jenkins
The Napoleonic Wars As Illustrated by J J Jenkins

The Napoleonic Wars: As Illustrated by J J Jenkins by J J Jenkins.

Originally published as Martial Achievements of Great Britain and Her Allies From 1799 to 1815 this is one of the most magnificent of all period art books to have been produced. The text is pure British propaganda but is overshadowed by the rarity of the art work. Includes 54 stunning color plates including a great Wellington portrait, his coat of arms and a list of subscribers to the Martial Achievements. This is one of the finest books of its type ever produced and an absolute must for the collector of British or Napoleonic military art and literature.

https://www.amazon.com/Napoleonic-Wars-As-Illustrated-Jenkins/dp/1526717891/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Napoleonic-Wars-As-Illustrated-Jenkins/dp/1526717891/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Napoleonic-Wars-Hardback/p/15638

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I was checking the publisher’s catalogue and read the comments about this book, that was a reproduction of the original version, and although I’m no expert in military campaigns or Napoleon (although I suspect, like most people, I’m intrigued by that fascinating historical figure) I felt this was the book to get on the subject. I love art, and a book full of illustrations of the period sounded like a must-have. And I was right.

The book, as some of the reviewers have commented, is all the better for being a straight reproduction, without added comments or attempts at bringing it up to date or explaining and contextualising it. It is old-fashioned, but gloriously so. Oh, it isn’t politically correct either, and I’m not sure any French nationals with strong feelings about Napoleon would appreciate the comments, which, as the description says, are pure British propaganda. A lot of the book centres on the campaign in Spain, for evident reasons, and the book is dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, and I think it is a great example of what books of the period on this subject would have been like, and I’m sure its original quality is reflected in the current edition.

I particularly enjoyed the illustrations, which have something of the naïveté of a talented and skilled amateur (they reminded me of the notebooks people kept in the XVIII and XIX century when they were travelling that often included watercolours or pencil drawings of the places they visited). The written accounts of the battles and episodes are aggrandising and do not go into deep analysis, but include war dispatches, lists of some of the fallen and wounded, easy-to-read descriptions of the events (how accurate is another matter), and also letters that at times can bring the real people to life for us. As a small example, the chapter “The Death of Moreau, 28th August 1813” includes a letter General Moreau addressed to his wife, three days after his wounding:

My dear Love, — At the battle of Dresden, three days ago, I had both legs carried off by a cannon-ball. That scoundrel Buonaparte is always fortunate. The amputation was performed as well as possible. Though the army has made a retrograde movement, it is not at all consequence of defeat, but from a want of ensemble, and in order to get nearer General Blücher. Excuse my hasty writing. I love and embrace thee with my whole heart. I charge Rappatel to finish. (Jenkins, 2018, pp. 117-8).

I recommend this book to anybody interested in military history, particularly in the Napoleonic campaigns, in art of the era, or who simply enjoy books from the XIX century and would like to have an excellent quality replica of a book of the era. This is a collectable for those who love books as artworks and it brings to life an era past but not forgotten. It would make a fabulous gift as well.

Jenkins, J.J. (2018, originally published 1815). The Napoleonic Wars as illustrated by J.J. Jenkins. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Military.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for this treat, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog ELEGANT ETIQUETTE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY by Mallory James A fascinating look into the past and a great source for writers and social history researchers

Hi all:

I bring you another one of my reviews of a non-fiction book that I found delightful. I must confess I am pleased I don’t have to live by these rules as I am sure I would have been totally useless and would have done all the wrong things. But reading about it is great fun!

Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James. Book review
Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James

Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live in the nineteenth century? How would you have got a partner in a ballroom? What would you have done with a letter of introduction? And where would you have sat in a carriage? Covering all these nineteenth-century dilemmas and more, this book is your must-have guide to the etiquette of our well-heeled forebears. As it takes you through the intricacies of rank, the niceties of the street, the good conduct that was desired in the ballroom and the awkward blunders that a lady or gentleman would, of course, have wanted to avoid, you will discover an abundance of etiquette advice from across the century. Elegant Etiquette is a lively, occasionally tongue-in-cheek and thoroughly detailed history of nineteenth century manners and conduct. Drawing upon research into contemporary advice and guidance, Elegant Etiquette is both fun and compelling reading for anyone with an interest in this period. In exploring the expectations of behaviour and etiquette, it seeks to bring the world of the nineteenth century back to life.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1526705206/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B078KBBLBC/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078KBBLBC/

Author Mallory James
Author Mallory James

About the Author

Mallory James read History and German at University College London, before moving to postgraduate study at Queen Mary, University of London. She has long been interested in the nineteenth century, which led to the creation of Behind The Past as a place to explore (in a generally tongue-in cheek-manner) the social and cultural history of the Regency and Victorian periods. The blog aims to look at the way ladies and gentlemen ate, dressed, behaved and generally navigated the social landscapes (and minefields) in which they lived.

Her first book, Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century, was published by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017.

https://behindthepast.com/

@_behindthepast

My review:

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I am a big fan of Pen & Sword books and I have learned a lot on a variety of subjects thanks to their great selection, but I must admit to having a soft spot for social history. Although I love history books and have recently become keen on historical fiction, I think that social history helps us get a better sense of what life was like in the past, not only for the kings, aristocrats, and powerful people but also for the rest of the population. The everyday life of going around one’s usual business, talking to people, working, rarely makes it into the big books, but it is what life is truly about. And those are the details that bring the past to life. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, these books are also great to provide background to writers, filmmakers, and, in general, artists looking to create works set in a particular time in history, as it helps them gain a better understanding of what it would have been like to live then.

This particular volume is a delight. I have read a number of novels set in the era and watched uncountable movies and television series that take place in the XIX century as well, and although I thought I was familiar with the customs, social rules and mores of the time, I was surprised by how truly complicated following proper etiquette was. As the author often explains, rules were not set in stone and they changed throughout the century. What was a must at the beginning of the XIX century would have been out of fashion by the end, and rules were open to interpretation, as sometimes different sources offered completely different advice. Should you eat fish with a fork and bread, two forks, or a fork and a fish knife (the answer depends on at what point of the XIX century we were eating it)? Would it have been proper for you to introduce people you knew, or even greet people you met in the streets even if you had been introduced? What was the best time to go for a walk or to visit your acquaintances? What did it truly mean if somebody was ‘not at home’?

Such topics and many more are discussed in this short volume, and it makes for fascinating reading. The author is skilled at summarising the rules from a large variety of sources (there is a detailed bibliography at the end and footnotes to check where each point can be expanded on), and also at providing practical examples that help clarify matters like how would you address somebody you are introduced to, or in which order would guest enter the dining room. Her turn of phrase is particularly apt, as her own explanations and the quotes and references to texts blend seamlessly, and she manages to write clearly and engagingly in beautiful prose.

The tone of the book is light and there are funny moments, but there are also reminders of how different things were for those who had more serious concerns than following the rules of etiquette. The book includes 11 chapters that deal in a variety of topics, from rank, precedence and title, to what was considered good company, paying calls, dining, ballroom behaviour, conversation, and correspondence, how to treat the service, courtship, and it also offers hints for ladies and gentlemen. The book (I had access to the paperback copy but I know the pictures are available in the digital version as well) contains a number of plates that help illustrate the proper dress etiquette throughout the century for different occasions and there are also pictures of some of the fashion accessories of the period.

I had to share a couple of examples from the book, so you can get a feeling for the writing style and the type of advice it contains:

If a lady or gentleman was plagued by a person saluting them in the street who they did not like, who they did not want to call upon, and who they thought was taking a gross impertinence continually bowing to them, it was still better for the afflicted lady or gentleman to return the recognition. (For some reason, this brought to my mind the nodding bulldogs that used to grace the back windows of cars).

Talking about men’s fashion, the book has this to say:

Similarly, a gentleman would have been restrained in his use of personal ornamentation. After all, a gentleman was a gentleman, not a magpie hankering after shiny trinkets.

Although some of the rules contained in this book might seem too fussy and silly nowadays, there are some about listening to people and being respectful towards others, no matter what their social circumstances (in fact, being more polite and generous the more difficult things are for them) that will make readers nostalgic for those more gentile and kinder times. There are always things we can learn from the past and it is important to learn and remember.

Another great little volume from Pen & Sword and one that I particularly recommend to anybody interested in XIX century history, novels, movies set in the period, and to writers and creators looking for inspiration or researching that era. It is also a fun read for people that study social history or are interested in the origins of some of our customs and on how these have changed. Unmissable.

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW! And keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE ENGLISH WIFE: A NOVEL by Lauren Willig (@laurenwillig) (@StMartinsPress) Recommended to fans of Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Jane Austen’s novels. #bookreview #historicalfiction

Hi all:

I am sure today’s book won’t be to everybody’s taste, but I loved it. See what you think.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig
The English Wife by Lauren Willig

The English Wife: A Novel by Lauren Willig

From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

https://www.amazon.com/English-Wife-Novel-Lauren-Willig-ebook/dp/B072TY6MS6/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Wife-Novel-Lauren-Willig-ebook/dp/B072TY6MS6/

Author Lauren Willig
Author Lauren Willig

About the author:

Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Pink Carnation series and several stand alone works of historical fiction, including “The Ashford Affair”, “That Summer”, “The Other Daughter”, and “The Forgotten Room” (co-written with Karen White and Beatriz Williams). Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in English History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her “Pink Carnation” series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

https://www.amazon.com/Lauren-Willig/e/B001IGQV62/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

In case you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to read the whole review (you know I can go on and on), I love this novel. I recommend it to anybody who enjoys historical fiction with a mystery at its heart, especially if you enjoy gothic novels. If you love Rebecca and Jane Eyre, I would advise you to check it out. And, for the insights it offers on the society of the time (both sides of the Atlantic), I think fans of Jane Austen who are interested in novels beyond the Regency period will also enjoy it.

This historical novel, set at the end of the XIX century, starts with a murder and the mystery surrounding it. On the day when Annabelle and Bay, a couple of the best of New York society (Annabelle, the aristocratic English wife of the heir of the Van Duyvil dynasty) have organised a ball to celebrate the completion of their new mansion, he is found dead with a knife (a dagger from his costume) in his chest, and his wife is presumed drowned under the icy waters of the river. Janie, Bay’s sister, alarmed at the different versions of the story that circulate (either her brother killed his adulterous wife and then committed suicide, or his wife killed him intending to run away with her lover, although her brother is also accused of adultery with their cousin Anne…) and how they will affect her little niece and nephew, decides to try to find the truth. She chooses an unlikely ally (more unlikely than she realises at the time), a reporter (her mother values privacy, appearances, and reputation above all, and she appears to be the perfect obedient daughter), and the novel tells the story of their investigation, that we get to follow chronologically from the moment the body is discovered, in January 1899, for several weeks. We also get to read about events that took place several years earlier (from 1894 onward), when Annabelle (also known as Georgie) first met Bay, in London. She was working as an actress and they become friends. These two strands of the story, told in the third person, but each one from the point of view of one of the main characters, Janie and Georgie, run in parallel until towards the very end, and that offers us different perspectives and insight while at the same time helping keep the mystery going. The more we know about the ins and outs of the characters, their relationships, their families, and their secrets (and there are many. Other than Janie, who only starts keeping secrets after her brother’s death, all the rest of the characters carry heavy loads, sometimes theirs, sometimes those of others), the more we feel invested in the story, and the more suspects and red herrings that keep appearing. I have read some reviewers that complained about the story not being a mystery or a thriller. Well, a thriller it is not, for sure (although I found the reading experience thrilling for other reasons). It has some of the elements of a classic mystery of the era, with the added beauty of the detailed setting, the appreciation of the subtle social nuances of the time, the strong portrayal of the characters, and the beautiful language. You might guess who the guilty party is (I must confess I kept wavering between several possible explanations), and also some of the other secrets (some are more evident than others), but I thought it worked well, although not, perhaps, for a reader who is looking, exclusively, for a mystery and wants to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. This is not a book written following the rules of the genre we are so familiar with (nothing extraneous that does not move the story forward, kill you darlings, keep descriptions to a minimum) and, in my opinion, is all he better for it.

This book is full of great characters. We are limited to two points of view only, which might be biased due to personal reasons, and some characters, like Cousin Anne, generates strong emotions from all those involved (she never conforms, she steals the man her cousin Janie was going to marry, later divorces, and her attitude towards Annabelle is not supportive), but she has some of the best lines, and we get to understand her quite well by the end of the story. Janie, who has always been dismissed by her mother and ignored by the rest of the family, is an articulate, intelligent, cultured, and determined woman. Burke, the reporter, is a complex character with stronger morals than anybody would give him credit for, and Mrs. Van Duyvil, the mother, is a larger-than-life woman, whose influence is felt by those who come into contact with her, and she is far from likeable, and there are other characters that appear in a negative light. Even the “good” characters (Bay and Janie) have complex motives for their actions, and nothing is a black or white as we might think at the beginning.

As I mentioned above, the author (whose work I’d never read before but I’ll make sure to check) captures well the nuances of the time, the dress, the setting, the social mores (yes, a little like Jane Austen, although in a very different historical period), writes beautifully, and her choice of female characters as narrators allows us a good insight into what life was like at the time for women, whose power always had to be channelled through men. Times were changing already, and people keep referring to the Vanderbilts’ divorce, but this was not generally accepted yet, and certain things had to be kept hidden. The dialogue is full of wit and sparks at times, and although there is drama, sadness, and grief, there is also merriment, fun, romance, and very insightful comments on the society of the time (and yes, our society as well).

The book is full of literary references, historical-era appropriate, and most readers fond of the genre will enjoy the comments about books (and plays) of the time. I did. The narrative takes its time to explore the situations and the characters in detail, but I felt it moved at the right pace, giving us a chance to reflect upon the serious questions behind the story. Who decides who we truly are? How important are appearances and social conventions? What role should other people’s opinions play in our lives and actions? I don’t want to give any spoilers away (I enjoyed the ending, by the way, but that’s all I’ll say about it), but I thought I’d share some snippets from the book.

The juries of the world were made of men. A man could hold his honor dear in masculine matters such as gambling debts and never mind that he left a trail of ruined women behind him. Men diced with coin; women diced with their lives.

Georgie took a sip of her own tea. It was too weak. It was always too weak. She blamed it on the Revolution. Since the Boston Tea Party, the Americans had apparently been conserving their tea leaves.

“So you came rushing through the ice?” Janie didn’t know whether to be touched or shake him for being so foolish. “Slaying a dragon would have been easier. And warmer.”

Viola lifted her head. “I don’t want a lullaby. I want a story.” “Even better. I have a wonderful one about a prince who turned into a toad. You’ll adore it. It’s very educational.” (This is Anne. She has many wonderful retorts).

And this one must be one of my favourite sentences of the year so far:

Janie felt like a prism: fragile, but with the chance of rainbows.

In sum, a beautifully written historical fiction novel, with a mystery (several) at its heart, memorable characters, fantastic dialogue, and a gothic touch. Unmissable.

 

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

[amazon_link asins=’1250027861,125005642X,125002787X,045121742X,0451232054,B000OIZV3O,0451474635,0451473027′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’53fff0d6-123c-11e8-8d93-2145a195db9e’]

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog Fatal Evidence: Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor & the Dawn of Forensic Science by Helen Barrell (@helenbarrell) (@penswordbooks) A great book about a fascinating historical period and one of the forefathers of forensic science. #Bookreview #forensicscience

Hi all:

I thought I’d bring you another one of those historical books that always make me think of how many writers would feel inspired when they read them. Today, it’s a book about a man I wasn’t familiar with but whom I won’t forget any time soon.

Fatal Evidence: Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor & the Dawn of Forensic Science by Helen Barrell
Fatal Evidence: Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor & the Dawn of Forensic Science by Helen Barrell

Fatal Evidence: Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor & the Dawn of Forensic Science by Helen Barrell

A surgeon and chemist at Guy’s Hospital in London, Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor used new techniques to search the human body for evidence that once had been unseen. As well as tracing poisons, he could identify blood on clothing and weapons and used hair and fiber analysis to catch killers.

Taylor is perhaps best remembered as an expert witness at one of Victorian England’s most infamous trials – that of William Palmer, ‘The Rugeley Poisoner’. But he was involved in many other intriguing cases, from a skeleton in a carpet bag to a fire that nearly destroyed two towns, and several poisonings in between.

Taylor wrote widely on forensic medicine. He gave Charles Dickens a tour of his laboratory, and Wilkie Collins owned copies of his books. His work was known to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and he inspired the creation of fictional forensic detective Dr. Thorndyke. For Dorothy L. Sayers, Taylor’s books were ‘the back doors to death’.

From crime scene to laboratory to courtroom – and sometimes to the gallows – this is the world of Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor and his fatal evidence.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Fatal-Evidence-Professor-Forensic-Science/dp/1473883415/

https://www.amazon.com/Fatal-Evidence-Professor-Forensic-Science-ebook/dp/B074P4DTJX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fatal-Evidence-Professor-Forensic-Science-ebook/dp/B074P4DTJX/

Author Helen Barrell
Author Helen Barrell

About the author:

Helen Barrell has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Punt PI, has written for magazines such as Fortean Times and Family Tree, and guest blogs for Findmypast. She has given talks at literature festivals and for local and family history groups.

Fatal Evidence, the biography of Victorian forensic scientist Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor, was published on 4th September 2017 and is available in ebook and hardback.

Poison Panic, the story of women accused of a string of arsenic murders in the 1840s, was published in 2016.

Find out more at http://www.helenbarrell.co.uk

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Helen-Barrell/e/B01BMGSP70/

 

My review:

Thanks to Pen & Sword, particularly to Alex, for offering me a copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

As a doctor, a writer, and an avid reader of crime fiction (and spectator of crime films and TV series) when  I read the description of this book I knew I had to keep on reading. Although my studies in Criminology included a basic history of the discipline, this book offers a very detailed look into one of the main figures in the early times of forensic science, Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor. The author, Helen Barrell, uses her expertise in history and genealogy to research his biography and investigate the legacy of this fascinating man. As she states:

This is both Taylor’s biography and the story of forensic science’s development in nineteenth-century England; the two are entwined. There are stomachs in jars, a skeleton in a carpet bag, doctors gone bad, bloodstains on floorboards, and an explosion that nearly destroyed two towns. This is the true tale of Alfred Swaine Taylor and his fatal evidence.

I found the book riveting. Not only the biographical details (and, as a doctor, I was intrigued by his studies, and by how complicated it was to study Medicine at the time. In fact, becoming a surgeon and becoming a medical doctor involved a very different process in the early XIX century, and although now the degree combines both, their origins were completely separate), but, especially, the in-depth study of his close involvement with forensic science, his passion for the subject, and his total dedication to ensure that forensic evidence was rigorous and given the importance it deserved in criminal trials. He produced books on the subject that were updated and continued to be published well into the XX Century and his expertise as a chemist, photographer, and defender of public health made him a well-known and respected figure. On the other hand, he was not the easiest of men, he did not tolerate fools gladly, he was a staunch supporter of unpopular measures (banning certain products containing arsenic, for instance, or introducing a register of the purchase of poisons), and he held grudges that found their way into his writing, and perhaps made him not receive the recognition others did (he was never knighted, while some of his peers were).

The book follows Taylor’s life in chronological order, and although it delves more into his professional life (the cases he gave evidence in, other cases of the period he advised on, his teaching, his books), it also talks about his wife, and how she was fundamental to his books, as she helped him organize and compile the cases, about the children they lost, his friendships and collaborations… We get a good sense of the person behind the scientist, but it is clear that he was a man dedicated to his work, and it is not so easy to differentiate the public from the personal figure.

The book is written in an engaging way, it flows well, and the author provides enough detail about the cases to get us interested, making us experience the tension and the controversies of the trials, without becoming bogged down in technicalities. And, despite her historical rigour, the author’s observations showed subtle hints of humour on occasions.

The chronology and all the cases he worked on help give us a very good idea of what crime was like in the period. Having recently read some other historical books (many published by Pen & Sword as well) about the era, it manages to create a great sense of how easy it was to buy poison, how difficult it was to detect crime (even confirming if a red stain was blood was very complicated), and how dangerous everyday life could be (wallpaper contained colours filled with arsenic). Some of the cases are still remembered to this day, but Helen Barrell offers us a new perspective on them. This book would be a great addition to the library of anybody interested in the history of the period, especially the history of crime detecting and poisons, and also to that of writers of crime novels who want to know more about forensic science and its origins.

The last chapter includes a summary of some of the ways Taylor influenced crime writers, including Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers (who either created characters based on him or used his books as reference). I am sure many writers will feel inspired anew by this book, especially those who write historical crime fiction. There is also a detailed bibliography and notes that would help anybody interested in finding more information about any of the cases.

As the author writes in her conclusion:

Alfred Swayne Taylor is one of the ancestors of modern forensic science: he is part of its very DNA.

A great book, of interest to anybody fascinated by crime detecting and its history, to readers of the history of the period, and to writers (and readers) who love crime historical fiction. A fascinating historical figure and a well-researched and engaging book that gives him some the credit he deserves.

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW.

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#Bookreview Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Kathryn Burtinshaw (@PinpointAnc) and John R F Burt (@penswordbooks) A great book for researchers of the XIXc

Hi all:

I bring you today the review of another one of the jewels in the Pen & Sword Catalogue. I know it isn’t a topic for everyone but it is fascinating and a very well researched book, and you’ll realise straight away why (you’ve probably already noticed by the title). And no, this is not an old one. Don’t worry, I’m just sharing books I’ve finished reading recently. 🙂

Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John R F Burt
Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland
by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John R F Burt

Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John R F Burt

In the first half of the nineteenth century, treatment of the mentally ill in Britain and Ireland underwent radical change. No longer manacled, chained and treated like wild animals, patient care was defined in law and medical understanding, and treatment of insanity developed. Focusing on selected cases, this new study enables the reader to understand how progressively advancing attitudes and expectations affected decisions, leading to better legislation and medical practice throughout the century. Specific mental health conditions are discussed in detail and the treatments patients received are analyzed in an expert way. A clear view of why institutional asylums were established, their ethos for the treatment of patients, and how they were run as palaces rather than prisons giving moral therapy to those affected becomes apparent. The changing ways in which patients were treated, and altered societal views to the incarceration of the mentally ill, are explored. The book is thoroughly illustrated and contains images of patients and asylum staff never previously published, as well as firsthand accounts of life in a nineteenth-century asylum from a patients perspective. Written for genealogists as well as historians, this book contains clear information concerning access to asylum records and other relevant primary sources and how to interpret their contents in a meaningful way.

Hardcover:

https://www.amazon.com/Lunatics-Imbeciles-Idiots-Insanity-Nineteenth-Century/dp/1473879035/

e-book:

https://www.amazon.com/Lunatics-Imbeciles-Idiots-Insanity-Nineteenth-Century-ebook/dp/B06XGNLH5M/

 

About the authors:

Kathryn Burtinshaw is an experienced researcher who holds an Advanced Diploma in Local History from Oxford University and an M.Sc. in Genealogy, Palaeography and Heraldry from the University of Strathclyde. Kathryn runs her own genealogy company, Pinpoint Ancestry, and lives in North Wales. Dr John Burt is a professional genealogist and family historian based in Edinburgh. A retired general medical practitioner, he has held a lifelong fascination in Scottish social history. He graduated in Medicine in 1983 and holds an M.Sc. in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies from the University of Strathclyde. John was an honorary clinical tutor to the School of Medicine, University of St Andrews, 2010-2013. John specialises in medieval, military and medical records.

If you are interested in genealogy and studying your ancestry, you might want to check these two websites:

http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com/speaker/dr-john-burt-and-kathryn-burtinshaw

http://pinpointancestry.co.uk/

My review:

Thanks to Pen & Sword for gifting me a copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed several books by Pen & Sword and have commented on their great catalogue before. As you know, I’m a psychiatrist and could not resist it when I saw this book.

The authors, who are well-known for writing about genealogy, note in their introduction that when people try to trace their ancestors and find that some of them seem to have disappeared from records or be lost, a possibility worth considering is that they might have had a history of mental health problems or epilepsy. If that is the case, checking the records of lunatic asylums, workhouses and the poor law records might provide plenty of information not available elsewhere. Their book focuses on mental health care during the XIX c. although there is a chapter about the pre-nineteenth century situation (that chapter, in particular, is very hard, and the way patients were cared for at the time until new reformers came along, is scary to read).

The book is divided into chapters that revise the laws in different areas of the United Kingdom, the asylums that were built, who run them, how they worked, and always offers some case studies, that share the stories of some of those patients, for the most part, voiceless and lost to history.

Later chapters look at the life in asylums (that as a psychiatrist, I found fascinating), the staff and their work, and then at different types of patients (the criminal lunatic, imbeciles and idiots, epilepsy, general paralysis of the insane, puerperal insanity, suicide). The chapters on diagnostic and causes, and treatments were particularly illuminating for me (even though I had read of some of them, the case studies and the details brought it to life).

I started working in psychiatry in the UK in 1993 and by then many of the asylums had disappeared, but, although I’ve only ever talked to people who had worked in them in the late XX century, I’ve had a chance to visit some of those fascinating buildings (some are listed buildings now and have been transformed into apartments and offices) and some are still dedicated to caring for people with mental health disorders, although, evidently in a very different form. With the changes to the philosophy and theory of caring for people with mental health problems, the discovery of new medications and a more enlightened attitude towards learning difficulties, it is important to record and revise how much the situation has changed, and not lose sight of the history of those places and particularly of the people (reformers and especially patients). In my professional capacity I’ve heard many discussions as to the advantages and disadvantages of the different models of care, and after reading this book I have gained perspective and feel much better informed.

As I read, I highlighted many points and quotes I wanted to share, but some are so extreme (when talking about ‘care’ pre-asylums) that they put horror movies and books to shame. I did not want to sensationalise a book that is, above all, a chronicle and a study that reflects changed social attitudes and laws, and that is invaluable to anybody who wants to have a good overview of mental health care in the UK in the XIX c.  and part of the XX (a recent book about R.D. Laing reminded me that even with the discovery of new medications, some things had changed little regarding the care of the mentally ill until the later part of the XX century).

This is a good compendium of the care of people with mental health illnesses, learning disabilities and epilepsy in the XIX century, and it encompasses laws, reformers, workers, buildings, and more importantly, patients. It is a great resource for researchers looking to gain a general view of the subject and offers biographies of the main players, a glossary and bibliography. The paperback copy also has great drawings and also pictures of ledgers, buildings, patients. I recommend it to anybody looking for information on the subject, to genealogists interested in researching in depth some of the lesser known records and to anybody interested in the history of psychiatry and psychiatric care, in particular in the UK.

Thanks very much to Pen & Sword and to the authors, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and of course, CLICK and REVIEW!

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