New book reviews

With a new edition of the Historical Novel Review out, I can share the three books I reviewed this quarter, plus the feature I wrote for the print magazine. Here they are:

My reviews are available from the Historical Novel Society, but in brief…

Sword of Destiny by Justin Hill. This is a must-read for all the fans of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Shulien is back with some new friends to fight beside. I was so impressed by how Justin Hill made those crazy fight scenes work on the page. For the interview in the latest print edition of the Historical Novel Review, it was really interesting to hear how turning a screenplay into a novel (rather than the other way round) worked for him.

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. Loved this story which is set in Philadelphia – so local history for me! – and starts on the night that Lincoln was assassinated. Both the story and the writing put me in mind of Toni Morrison and I was sorry not to be able to go the Free Library and hear McKinney-Whetstone talk about the book, as I did last year go and hear and see Morrison. This one is definitely on the literary end of the historical fiction spectrum – I so enjoyed the way the point of view shifted in this story – but there are also great characters and it’s a dramatic and engrossing story.

Three-Martini Lunch by Susanne Rindell. For me this would be the perfect thinking woman’s beach read. It evokes a great sense of time and place, reads easily and is full of incident, but also doesn’t shy away from showing that actions have consequences and that the world can be a dark place. There is a great plagarism storyline, lots of love and loss and I particularly liked the bitchy office politics that Eden has to contend with. Susanne Rindell is definitely someone whose books I would look out for. I also really enjoyed her earlier novel, The Other Typist.

The Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel. I came to this book (and its precursor, The Moon in the Palace) with no knowledge of 6th Century China and the history of the Empress Consort Wu. What a treat reading these two has been! I can hardly think of any other historical fiction where so much historical detail has been so seamlessly woven into a page-turning story. I’d definitely recommend reading these novels in order. Prepare to escape to another time and place and root for Mei as she battles to make a life at the Imperial court.

High Dive by Jonathon Lee

Although it doesn’t qualify as a historical novel (thankfully – since I can remember 1984 pretty well!), this excellent novel evokes the recent past. Well worth reading. Here’s my review of High Dive for Bookbrowse.com

https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/reviews/index.cfm/book_number/3367/high-dive

I think this link will work for a while and then after that you need to join BookBrowse to read it and all the other review and beyond the book articles on there.

1924, the year that made Hitler

A quick link to my most recent article for the Historical Novel Society about 1924, the Year that made Hitler:

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This is the kind of non-fiction I really enjoy – clearly well researched but also highly readable and engaging. I particularly liked the way Peter Ross Range gave his view on Hitler’s character in passages like this one:

“When faced with high-risk situations, Hitler’s instinct was almost always to take the leap. Action was his aphrodisiac, his catnip, his default.”

Among lots of interesting insights, I was struck by the discussion of Hitler’s reading habits. Ross Range suggests that historians differ on the amount of reading Hitler actually did. Although it seems pretty clear that he owned a lot of books, as any bibliophile knows, owning and reading are not always the same thing. I subsequently found an interesting article about Hitler’s reading habits in the New York Times, and also this photo of Hitler in his Munich apartment which Peter Ross Range also mentions in his book.

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