Historical

Review: The Mine by John Heldt

The Mine
Image from John Heldt; used by permission

Title: The Mine (Northwest Passage #1)

Author: John A. Heldt

Genre: Historical

In 2000, Joel Smith is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned Montana mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can’t use, money he can’t spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing, and a peacetime draft, Joel begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books. But when an opportunity comes to return to the present, Joel must decide whether to leave his new love in the past or choose a course that will alter their lives forever.

I debated for a while on whether or not to read this book. Time travel is a subject that I either love or I hate, there’s very little in between. I think what finally convinced me to give it a chance was the decade. I don’t know much about the early forties, but after taking a modern U.S. history class last semester, I’m much more interested in the 1920s-50s era.

I loved Joel. He was friendly and upbeat and witty and basically the kind of guy I’d love to have as a friend. Part of me admired him, part of me wanted to act like him, part of me wished he was real so I could be his girlfriend, and all of me loved reading about him.

The other characters were awesome, too. Quiet and sweet Grace, the girl Joel falls for; lighthearted and friendly Tom, Joel’s first friend in the forties;  bold and independent Ginny, Tom’s girlfriend (and Joel’s grandmother)… there was a pretty large cast of minor characters, too, and they were all great.

The plot actually had very little to do with time travel. Joel ends up in the forties, but then the entire book is him navigating the decade starting with nothing and his relationships with Tom, Grace, and various other characters. It was more historical than sci-fi (hence my genre categorization), and I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it nearly as much if I hadn’t loved Joel.

I would have thought that being the forties, the morals would have been a little stricter than they were. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the decade. Nothing was explicit, but I expected a lot less impropriety.

I loved The Mine more than I expected I would…or I just really liked Joel. Either way, I completely enjoyed the story. It was totally worth the read. And I’m looking forward to reading The Journey, the next book in the series.

The Northwest Passage series:

  1. The Mine
  2. The Journey
  3. The Show
  4. The Fire
  5. The Mirror

I received a free review copy of The Mine from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Report Card

For more on my grading system, please see my About page.

THE MINE scored a 3.3 (B)

Historical

Review: Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick

Tsarina book cover
Image from Jackson Pearce

Title: Tsarina

Author: J. Nelle Patrick (pen name of Jackson Pearce)

Genre: Historical

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.

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.

Contemporary, Historical

Review: Tea Cups and Tiger Claws by Timothy Patrick

Tea Cups and Tiger Claws
Image from Timothy Patrick; used by permission

Title: Tea Cups and Tiger Claws

Author: Timothy Patrick

Genre: Historical/Contemporary

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.

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.

Blog Tours, Fiction, Historical, Mystery, Young Adult

Blog Tour + Review: Jewel of the Thames by Angela Misri

Baker Street or Bust Blog Tour bannerExciting stuff today: The Baker Street or Bust blog tour! (Isn’t that a fun name?) The book itself is fun, too. A 19-year-old girl inherits 221 Baker Street and starts solving mysteries. What’s not to like?

About the Book:

Jewel of the Thames book cover
Image from Fierce Ink Press; used by permission

Title: Jewel of the Thames (A Portia Adams Adventure #1)

Author: Angela Misri

Genre: Mystery

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.

My 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.

Angela Misri author photo
Image from Fierce Ink Press; used by permission

About the Author:

Angela Misri is a Toronto journalist, writer and mom who has spent most of her working life making CBC Radio extraterrestrial through podcasts, live streams and websites. These days she’s focusing on her writing but taking on freelance and digital projects along the side.

You can find her:

Giveaway!

Fierce Ink Press generously gave me an ecopy of Jewel of the Thames to give away to one of my readers! (This giveaway is open worldwide, excluding the UK.)

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Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Young Adult

Strange Metamorphosis by P.C.R. Monk

Strange Metamorphosis book cover
Image from PCR Monk; used by permission

Title: Strange Metamorphosis

Author: P. C. R. Monk

Genre: Historical/Fantasy

Marcel is considering a difficult choice – one that will decide his future. But making that decision is put on hold when a giant oak tree starts gradually turning him into a bug. Forced to carve his own path and follow his heart, he sets off on extraordinary journey. He soon finds himself teaming up with a wonderful group of insects, each of which has their own agenda. And with time running out and his existence in peril, Marcel must fight to the finish, or die a bug.

I picked this up because the boy turning into a bug idea sounded somewhat interesting. I wasn’t so sure about the coming-of-age themes, because those had the potential to be too preachy or theme-y.

Marcel was fun. He was absent-minded, frequently oblivious, and not very good at making decisions for himself. He was also way, way too trusting, to the point of being gullible, which got on my nerves every once in a while. Sometimes I just wanted to yell, “haven’t you learned yet?” He was still very fun, though, especially as his journey made him step up and take charge of his own life.

The whole story was excellent. The main plot is Marcel trying to survive life as a bug and get to the royal jelly in time. That involved a super-fun cast of bug characters, including a flighty bee, a pessimistic beetle, and a very quirky inchworm – plus a bunch of bugs who want to stop or hinder Marcel for some reason or another. There was also a minor romance plot: Henriette’s father wants Marcel to marry Henriette, but Marcel likes Julia who doesn’t seem to like him. It was all brilliantly done, light-hearted, and interesting.

One of the problems I had with the book was that the bugs called Marcel “a marcel,” like it was a species. That wouldn’t have bugged (no pun intended) me so much if the narration hadn’t started calling him “the marcel” on occasion, like it really was his species. I looked up “marcel” in the dictionary, and Miriam-Webster told me it was a female hairstyle characterized by a certain type of curl. It might mean something different in French, but every time I read that, it made me think of curly hair.

The whole book had the feel of a French classic, or a very old (yet still good) children’s story. There were a few phrasings that were a little modern and seemed out of place, but for the most part, I could easily imagine it being written in 1911, when it’s set.

I’m glad I gave Strange Metamorphosis a chance. It was light-hearted, yet there was plenty of danger. It was fun, but there were strong emotional and coming-of-age plots worked in. In general, a great pick-me-up read.

I received a free review copy of Strange Metamorphosis from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.