Historical

Review: Tsarina

Tsarina book cover
Image from Jackson Pearce

Title: Tsarina

Author: J. Nelle Patrick

Genre: Historical

Back Cover:

Imperial Russia swirls with rebellion. The Reds are gaining ground, and the loyal Whites struggle to hold Saint Petersburg. But Natalya isn’t afraid. Wrapped in fur and tucked inside her lavish home, she feels safe. Alexei Romanov, her first love, has told her a secret: Hidden within the Winter Palace lies a Faberge Egg enchanted by the mystic Rasputin. With it, the Romanovs will never fall from power. The Reds will never take the country. And one day, Alexei will ascend the throne and Natalya will be beside him— the tsarina of Russia. But when the Reds raid the Winter Palace, the egg vanishes and the Romanovs are captured. Natalya must find the egg to save Alexei, her way of life, and her royal future. To do so, she’s forced to ally herself with the enemy— a young Red named Leo who wants the egg for his own purposes. But as they brave a war-battered landscape of snow and magic, Natalya realizes that the world isn’t as simple as it seemed back in Saint Petersburg. Nothing– not friends, not politics, and not love– are as clear as Red and White.

Review:

This might be historical fiction, or it might be historical fantasy. I’m not quite sure where to draw the line. In any case, it was the fantasy element of the magical fabrege egg that appealed to me in Tsarina. So I checked it out from the library and started reading one ambitious Saturday after finishing two other books.

At page twenty, I was ready to give up. So far, it was a picture of Russian high society, Natalya and Alexei’s romance, and a very brief bit about what the egg could do. The society was interesting, and the romance was awfully sweet, but it wasn’t what I signed up for. I wanted a revolution and quest for the egg and whoever the heck Leo was. If it wasn’t for my 100-page rule, I would have given up.

Then the revolution happened, and Natalya was so worried about Alexei that I felt terrible because I knew how that ended. But I kept reading because I actually like Natalya. She was brave and strong and such a patriot. Leo was also a patriot, but he had such a different upbrining, he came to a much different conclusion of what Russia needed. It made me sad, really. There was so much bloodshed between two groups that loved the same country.

The storyline wasn’t exactly what I expected, either. I thought Natalya would go after the egg. Really, the egg was important, but it came second to getting out of St. Petersburg, escaping Leo, and getting her friend Emilia to Paris. Plus, I knew where the egg was the whole time, so the suspense wasn’t as much of “where’s the egg?” as it was “how the heck is Natalya going to get it out of there?”

Despite a not-so-stellar beginning, Tsarina turned out to be a pretty good book. According to the author’s note in the back, most of the history isn’t accurate (although Rasputin’s daughter was a real person), so I can’t say I learned a lot about the time period. But I did enjoy the story, which is definitely something.

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Contemporary, Historical

Review: Tea Cups and Tiger Claws

Cover of "Tea Cups and Tiger Claws," featuring a hand holding a china teacup with blood dripping from its fingernails
Image from Tea Cups and Tiger Claws Facebook

Title: Tea Cups and Tiger Claws

Author: Timothy Patrick

Genre: Historical/Contemporary

Back Cover:

When identical triplets are born in 1916, newspapers from across the country cover the story, and the babies become little celebrities. Unfortunately, this small portion of fame leads to a much larger portion of parental greed, and the triplets are split up – parceled out to the highest bidders. Judith and Abigail go to live in a hilltop mansion, but Dorthea is not so lucky. She is stuck with a shady family in an abandoned work camp.

Identical in appearance and with the same blood in their veins, the sisters should have also shared united destinies. Instead, those destinies are thrown to the wind, and the consequences are extreme – and very visible – because in their small town, every detail of their lives is witnessed, deliberated, and judged.

Review:

I picked up this book mainly on the premise of identical triplets separated as babies and raised in very different households. The whole nature vs. nurture thing is fascinating to me (plus I’m writing a book with a similar concept, so the idea is pretty close to my heart), so I figured I’d try it.

Dorthea was the main character for the first half of the book. She was ambitious, which I admired…but that was about it. She was just so heartless and ruthless and immoral. I kept trying to find something redeeming, I really did. But as the book went on, she got worse, and I hated her so much.

Veronica, Judith’s daughter, was a spoiled brat. A spoiled, selfish, irresponsible, lazy brat. She had so much potential, though, and I hated her mostly because she could do so much…and instead, she got in trouble and threw money at it to make it go away.

Sarah, Abigail’s daughter, was the only redeeming main character in the book. She was nice, and actually cared about people. She tried a little too hard to please everyone, but I was willing to overlook that because she was the one main character I didn’t want to punch in the face.

One thing I did enjoy about Tea Cups and Tiger Claws was the sweeping scope. It started out with the birth of the Dorthea, Abigail, and Judith to a selfish, rude woman in the poor neighborhood. Then it followed Dorthea, the triplet her mother kept, up through middle age with her driving and ruthless desire to get ahead in the world.

When Sarah and Veronica get into their late teens, it switches to following them – and how they help, hinder, and react to Dorthea’s schemes. I found it interesting that this book managed to cover two generations, a huge cast of important characters, and shifting main characters while still maintaining a coherent plot.

This book was a struggle. The characters were so evil and immoral and petty. I hated almost all of them. Even the romance between Sarah and the sweet stablehand Mack was tainted by how much I hated everyone else. The problem was, Dorthea was brilliant, and I wanted to see how her schemes would play out. I hated the book, but I was fascinated by it, and I hated that I found it fascinating.

Tea Cups and Tiger Claws was just too much for me. Too much evil and too much selfishness and too much sin. I hated it, but I was fascinated by it, and that more than anything else is what made it difficult. This is my personal opinion and has little to do with the book or the writing – it was just not a book for me.

I received a free review copy of Tea Cups and Tiger Claws from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Historical, Mystery

Review: Jewel of the Thames

Cover of "Jewel of the Thames," featuring art of an apartment building with the silhouette of a person holding a magnifying glass above the title text
Image from A Portia Adams Adventure website

Title: Jewel of the Thames

Series: A Portia Adams Adventure #1

Author: Angela Misri

Genre: Historical/Mystery

Back Cover:

There’s a new detective at 221 Baker Street.

Nineteen-year-old Portia Adams has always been inquisitive. There’s nothing she likes better than working her way through a mystery. When her mother dies, Portia is left in the guardianship of the extravagant Mrs. Jones. Portia is promptly whisked from Toronto to London by her guardian, where she discovers that she has inherited 221 Baker Street — the former offices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Portia settles into her new home and gets to know her downstairs tenants, including the handsome and charming Brian Dawes. She also finds herself entangled in three cases: the first one involving stolen jewelry, the second one a sick judge and the final case revolving around a kidnapped child. But the greatest mystery of all is her own. How did she come to inherit this townhouse? And why did her mother keep her heritage from her? Portia has a feeling Mrs. Jones knows more than she is letting on. In fact, she thinks her new guardian may be the biggest clue of all.

Review:

I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, the movies with Robert Downey Jr., the BBC TV show…). So when an email appeared in my inbox saying “There’s a new detective at 221B Baker Street,” I decided to say yes before I even read anything about the book.

Portia was completely enjoyable. She was a bookish introvert like me, but with awesome deductive skills. She wasn’t quite as good at deductions (or disguises) as Sherlock, but she’s young. I’m sure she’ll get there.

There were also some good minor characters, like Portia’s guardian, Mrs. Jones, who has a lot of interesting secrets. And Constable Brian Dawes, whose parents live below Portia (and who I’m thinking may eventually play Watson to Portia’s Holmes).

The mysteries were very much like something I’d imagine Doyle would write – a little less complicated, perhaps, but still great. They were engrossing and fun, and just like Doyle’s plots, I had a hard time guessing the culprit. Angela Misri certainly did her research, and just like a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, I feel like I learned something while being entertained.

In my opinion, the writing was what really made the book. It read like an old classic book – in a good way. It perfectly fit the subject and tone and added the finishing touches to a very Sherlock-esque story.

The Jewel of the Thames was a fun mystery that definately felt like a Sherlock Homes adventure. It was a good start to a series, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Portia’s skills develop in further books.

I received a free review copy of The Jewel of the Thames from the publisher. Their generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Portia Adams Adventures series:

  1. The Jewel of the Thames
  2. Thrice Burned
  3. No Matter How Improbable