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May 30, 2022

into the stacks 2022: historical fiction, part 1
posted by soe 1:35 am

Back in February, I joined Marg’s Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and that was the last we spoke of it publicly here on the blog. However, it’s not the last I thought of it, and I’ve been diligently reading historical fiction ever since. These are the six titles I finished between February and May.

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

Set primarily in New York City in 1945, this is the first of a fun detective series, Pentecost and Parker, about two female PI’s. Lillian Pentecost is on a case that’s very personal to her when her M.S. acts up on a job and a young circus performer, “Will” Parker, saves her life. Impressed by the girl’s wherewithal — and subsequent tight lips when interviewed by the police — Lillian offers her a job as her secretary and apprentice. As this case begins, Will’s been with Lillian for three years and has become more of a junior partner and surrogate daughter. A wealthy woman died in a locked room. A spiritualist Lillian’s been keeping an eye on over the years had been telling fortunes immediately before, which means Pentecost and Parker are on the case. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the dead woman’s grown daughter has caught Will’s eye.

If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes retellings or reinterpretations, this is a fun series by a D.C. author and a good listen if you’re on the hunt for an audiobook. It’s not a direct retelling, but Holmes and Watson (and Moriarty) are definitely relatives.

Audio. Library. 321 pages

A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore

The second in the League of Extraordinary Women romance series set in Oxford during the British suffragist movement, this novel focuses on Lucie, who is heading a group of women attempting to buy a publishing house with the secret goal of printing a treatise about women and voting. When they finally get the paperwork, though, they discover a hiccup: Lucie’s longtime nemesis, Lord Tristan Ballantine, has also purchased the publishing house, and he and Lucie will have to sign off on all decisions. Can Lucie bring noted lothario Tristan around to their feminist cause? It’s going to be a tough sell, because Tristan’s abusive father has threatened to send his mentally unwell mother to an asylum if he doesn’t shape up publicly — and fast.

While I didn’t find this installment of the interconnected novels to be as enjoyable as the first, there is still plenty to charm and inform in this book. Dunmore includes an author’s note at the end to share where her fiction has diverged from history.

Paper. Library. 448 pages

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Set in Edwardian England, genial Robin is a muggle, if you will, unaware that magic exists — until he accidentally gets placed in a minor governmental position that has him reporting instances of magical goings-on to the Prime Minister. Prickly Edward is his magical counterpart, but he’s barely able to perform spells and only if he has a physical aid to help him focus his magic. When Robin is cursed by a stranger on the street who seems to think he knows something about the disappearance of his predecessor, Edward must take Robin home to his family estate’s library to help remove it. While there, the two men find they have more in common than they’d originally thought — and that the fate of magic itself may rest in their hands.

I really enjoyed this first book in a new fantasy-romance series and highly recommend it. I will note that, as with some of the hetero romances I read, this would decidedly fall into an “R” rating, and you might not want to, say, pick this as an audiobook to listen to with your parents on a road trip.

Audio. Library. 377 pages

The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg

In the first book of this series, it is 1914, Sherlock Holmes is dead, and Dr. Watson an old man. But he is well loved by his son, John Jr., a doctor who visits him frequently. When the elder Watson is asked to consult on an apparent suicide by the dead man’s sister, they are introduced to quick-witted Joanna Blalock, whose young son witnessed the defenestration. As you might guess from the title, we learn that she’s not just an above-average widow, but is also the late detective’s illegitimate daughter, placed with an adoptive family by Dr. Watson so many years ago.

This was a pleasant enough spin-off of the original Arthur Conan Doyle series, but isn’t my favorite Holmesian work. However, you can absolutely listen to this with your parents.

Paper. Library. 305 pages

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In this retelling of Mexican folklore, Casiopea is a Cinderella-like young woman stuck in a small town, forced to wait on her tyrannical grandfather and cousin because her mother married below her class and her father then had the nerve to die. One day when the rest of the family is away, Casiopea opens a wooden box and accidentally releases Hun-Kamé, the Mayan god of death, who’d been imprisoned there by her grandfather in service to the other twin god of death, Vucub-Kamé. She is then forced to accompany him on a sweeping trip across Jazz Age Mexico in an effort to collect his other missing bones and to return him to his otherwordly throne. But his brother didn’t dethrone his brother just to give up without a fight.

While it took me two years to finish this book, that’s only because it lived in my beach bag and I only read it by the ocean — and we just didn’t make it to the shore quite often enough. This is a very well crafted story of the intersections of religions, familial rivalries, and believing in yourself, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Paper. Personal copy. 338 pages

An Impossible Impostor by Deanna Raybourn

In the latest Victorian-era Veronica Speedwell detective novel, the head of the Special Branch, Sir Hugo Montgomerie, asks Veronica and Stoker to investigate whether a man who has shown up at his goddaughter’s estate home claiming to be her long-lost brother is legitimate or if he’s a phony. Veronica may be the only person in the world who can verify his identity, since she traveled with him as a very young woman and last saw him as he headed off toward Krakatoa on an ill-fated exploration. When the man and family jewels disappear the same night, the family makes assumptions, but Veronica may know more than she’s letting on.

A solid contribution to a reliable series. If you haven’t read any of them, start at the beginning, as there is continuity that will be disrupted by reading ahead, although Raybourn does reference with footnotes which books key events happen in should you be jumping into the middle of the story.

Paper. Library. 325 pages

Category: books. There is/are 1 Comment.

Thanks for sharing all of these reviews with the Hist Fic challenge!

Comment by Marg 06.11.22 @ 6:31 am