Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Forbidden Brownstones by Clifford Browder

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Author Clifford Browder, prolific in both his knowledge of New York history and its people, affords literary enthusiasts with another journey into historic New York with the fifth title in his Metropolis series, Forbidden Brownstones, a work which artfully portrays life from the perspective of its central character, Junius Fox.

As a young black male living in mid 1800s New York City, Junius Fox and his family, although free, faced political, cultural and social constraints of a society stuck in the throes of the system of slavery. Living in a world alive with rampant instances of overt racism and easily provoked violence towards blacks created an overall environment for blacks living in New York at the time a struggle to thrive in and very often dangerous to live in.

However, Junius witnessed something shining in the midst of his limited life sparking a deep desire within him for the seemingly unattainable, a Brownstone. For Junius his longing for owning a Brownstone became an obsession since the age of twelve, when he became initially entranced by the enticing visage and mystery of the buildings, fomenting a desire that continued to burn within him into his adulthood. However, Brownstones were not owned by black people at that time, not even those considered Black gentry. Instead, the sought-after homes were only owned and lived in by the white gentry in the city, who refused to sell to monied blacks. Blacks could only work in the buildings. For Junius to own a Brownstone as a black man was a fantasy that he wanted as a reality.

Meanwhile, determined Junius was not deterred from his desires by his station in life. Alternatively, he sought to be the best, as he makes his way into the world of gainful employment through jobs available at the time. Eventually, fate brings him closer to finally satisfying his Brownstone obsession with finally working and residing in a Brownstone not once but twice.

La Chimère of Prague: Part II (The Chimera of Prague Book 2) by Rick Pryll

Reviewed by Ray Palen

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and one of the largest and most bohemian cities in the European Union. It is important to have an understanding and a sense of Prague to truly appreciate this novel as the majority of it is set there during the late 1990s. Specifically, LA CHIMERE OF PRAGUE spans the length of August – December in the year 1998.

It was not that long before the action of this novel that Czechoslovakia saw a schism referred to as the Velvet Revolution and later the Velvet Divorce which saw the country split into the new Czech Republic and Slovakia. Prague is found in the former and by the late ’90s became one of the business and cultural centers in all of the EU. Author Rick Pryll knows all this only too well as he lived in Prague from 1997 to 2002.

Someone who knows and understands Prague even better is the protagonist in this tale, Joseph. He is an American ex-patriot American now living and working in Prague. He is not only leaving behind the U.S.A. but also the memories of his late love. In one of the most interesting love affairs in modern fiction, Joseph was involved with a bi-sexual mermaid who died under mysterious circumstances. He still intends to get to the bottom of her death but for now, must focus on his own life and moving forward.

A Bend in the River by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Reviewed by Teri Davis

From an American, Vietnam is usually from the soldier perspective. Yes, our young men were enlisted and drafted into military service. Many more interpretations of the situation half-a-world away from the United States do exist.

Libby Hellman wrote a realistic fiction novel beginning in 1968 involving two sisters from a small Vietnamese village, Tam and Mai.

This small village is approached by Americans both from land and air. The two know about how the servicemen drop bombs from helicopters leaving their crops burnt and poisoned. Even worse, they are then not able to grow anything on that land for years.

Tam and Mai select two different opportunities leading them apart and not reuniting again until 1978. What could happen in those ten years?

A Bend in the River is a beautiful image of life for the Vietnamese people of the South. Author Libby Hellman vivaciously researched this particular time, the land, and spoke to many people regarding their personal experiences in creating this gem. Her characterization makes real people in this fictional tale of the sisters.

Bird in a Snare (The Lord Hani Mysteries Book 1) by N.L. Holmes

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Bird in a Snare is the foundation stone of The Lord Hani Mysteries, a historical series that plays out in Ancient Egypt. N. L. Holmes masterfully resurrects from the sands of time a tale of a humble diplomat and a proud family man, who finds himself adrift in the whirlwind of changing times.

This is a story about the life and adventures of Hani, a diplomat serving under the rule of Akhenaten. As a new horizon slowly creeps upon the land, Hani is sent to the distant realm of Syria to uncover a murder with grave political repercussions. During his mission to solve one murder, he encounters only more death, political corruption, and a fragile net of relationships between leaders. But before coming to any conclusions, he must return to his home, mid-investigation. The sun has set. And soon a new sun will shine over the kingdom. The successor who rose to the throne seems to depart from the comfort of the old ways, into a new territory; a new direction that does not seem to meet with Hani’s set life course. But, nevertheless one must adapt and above all, survive.

Bird in a Snare is well documented and offers a historically convincing depiction of what once was. N. L. Holmes world building skills melt together fiction and historical facts, in her reimagined set of events. She addresses Ancient Egypt from a macro level – mainly through state and religion – and the micro level of everyday life. But what is more, she unites these two spheres through the main character, Hani. Although the story revolves around a central figure, he is constantly surrounded by a colorful bouquet of characters, be that pharaohs, his scribe Maya, or members of his family. This psychological attention to character development is what truly animates the pages of the book.

Under the penname of N.L. Holmes, an archeologist and university professor by trade, brings her in-depth knowledge to the realm of historical fiction. The abundant knowledge of the author seeps into the text in a natural way and brings color to historical details. For all those who love to dive into historical fiction, keep an eye on Bird in a Snare and other writings by N.L. Holmes.

Acts of Faith: Part 1 of The Inquisition Trilogy by Martin Elsant

Reviewed by Ray Palen

The British Jewish historian Cecil Roth, who was educated at Oxford, wrote a book that was of special interest to author Martin Elsant. The book was entitled History Of the Marranos and of the many figures covered in it was one Diego Lopes of Pinancos in Coimbra, Portugal. Ironically, Mr. Elsant is a former radiologist living in Jerusalem and Mr. Roth died in Jerusalem in the year 1970.

While much of ACTS OF FAITH is dedicated to the descendants of Diego Lopes, Martin Elsant includes two quotes prior to his Author’s Notes from different sources. One in particular I found quite interesting: “Folded under the dark wing of the Inquisition…the influence of an eye that never slumbered, of an unseen arm ever raised to strike. How could there be freedom of thought, where there was no freedom of utterance? Or freedom of utterance, where it was as dangerous to say too little as too much? Freedom cannot go along with fear.” – William H. Prescott, The Age of Phillip II and the Supremacy of the Spanish Empire, 1858.

It is easy to pick up a history book or click on Wikipedia to find out about Diego Lopes. I prefer, whenever possible, to read historical fiction — an infusion of actual history within the opportunities that allow for creativity when re-examining historical events. I believe that this is what Martin Elsant is doing with ACTS OF FAITH, retelling historical events during one of the most difficult times in human and religious history — The Inquisitions — in such a way that it feels as if the reader is enjoying a book of fiction, filled with all the expected plot twists and turns.

Lies She Never Told Me: A Novel (Historical Fiction Book 3) by John Ellsworth

Reviewed by Allen Hott

A historical type story that begins on the Great Lakes in July of 1915 when an excursion steamer capsizes and sinks. Hundreds of people are thrown into the water and many drown. However quite a few are saved and many by Knowles Graham a seventeen year old who jumped from his motorcycle right into the water to help out.

Strangely enough his bike and clothes had already caught the eyes of a group of “not too law abiding” cops. They ended up stopping Knowles and not only arrested him but pretty well beat the tar out of him before throwing him in jail. Shortly thereafter the same cops brought in another young man and threw him into the cell with Knowles after beating him pretty badly also. Knowles gave a lot of aid to the new man and together they made it through the night.

The other young man was Alphonse Capone who would later in life again run into Knowles Graham when they were each on opposite sides of the law. Knowles through some more good work that he does in saving a cop becomes not only a cop but moves all the way up through the system of government to eventually become Senator Graham from Illinois.

The Point of Light (Historical Fiction Book 1) by John Ellsworth

Reviewed by Allen Hott

In this fictional accounting of the atrocities of World War II Claire Vallant lives through those horrendous days. She was able to not only recount verbally but also by pictures memories of the happenings. Claire was a young French girl who quite by accident began her career in photography by taking some pictures in a hospital. She was then “hired” by many of the visitors at the hospital to take photos of relatives and friends. Little did Claire realize what this beginning would grow into?

She falls in love with Remy whom she had known from grade school and together they join the French Resistance to fight as well as they can against the advancing German Army. Together they made reconnaissance missions where Claire would take pictures of the German soldiers who had been sent ahead of the oncoming army that planned to take over Paris and all of France.

Because Remy’s father was the foreign minister to Paris Remy was forced to join the German army even though in his heart he was a French resistance fighter. As the story goes on he has the parents of a young French girl taken hostage and he secretly hides away the young girl because he doesn’t want her to be killed also. As he fights alongside the Germans he does everything in his power to prevent many of their atrocities and is a true rebel at heart.

The Eye That Never Sleeps by Clifford Browder

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Traversing back in time to New York City circa the late nineteenth century, Clifford Browder’s The Eye That Never Sleeps poses a decidedly brilliant take on the historical crime thriller with an enticingly twisted narrative that brings together history, mystery, and masterfully fleshed out characters.

A growing mystery is afoot in the expanding metropolis of 1869 New York City when three banks are robbed within a nine-month period. Of particular concern is the robbery of the Bank of Trade which is considered the heist of the century. Moreover, the thief has the gall to brag about the robberies by way of sending to the president of each bank gloating rhyming verses and a key to the bank within days of the wake of each masterminded robbery.

Meanwhile, unfortunately for the bankers, the police department has been overwhelmed by the heavy caseloads of other criminal investigations which leaves the city’s bankers in growing desperation. Looking for answers, they turn to private operative/ detective Sheldon Minick who agrees to take on the case for a substantial retainer which enables the financially strapped detective to pay bills and bring meat to his table.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Reviewed by Allen Hott

I have been reading and hearing about this one for quite a-while and was not too sure that I wanted to read it. Thought it would be too poo-poo or womanly if you prefer. But not only was I surprised but really I have to agree with everyone else. Where the Crawdads Sing is truly a great read.

“Marsh Girl” or Kya Clark which is her real name lives quite a different life from most folks. She grows up in the marshland outside of Barkley Cove, North Carolina. She has one of the strangest lives that can be imagined. Her family lives in a run-down shack and is pretty much bossed by the father of the family. But one day her mother leaves (because of the father’s actions) and never returns. Then as time passes each of Kya’s brothers and sister also leave.

Unsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

Reviewed by Teri Davis

UnshelteredA single run-down home is what combines two families about one-hundred years apart. Unfortunately, the house is in poor condition for both families. Part of the house with water for the kitchen and bathroom appears to be leaning in mid-air no foundation under this addition. Fortunately, the other part seems somewhat more substantial.

Willa Knox finds that her plans for this stage in her life as she planned. By now, she had expected herself to be a successfully published author and her husband, Iano being comfortably tenured at a college or university. Instead, Willa finds herself jobless with no prospects and her husband as an adjunct professor at a college with the two barely able to make ends meet. She believes her son is successful in life with career and family and her daughter, Tig, is just hopeless.

One-hundred years ago, Thatcher Greenwood moved into the house along with his wife and of course, his mother-in-law. Both are disappointed in Thatcher. They both expect to lead a high-class and wealthy lifestyle which could be difficult on a science teacher’s salary. Thatcher chooses to teach evolution in his classroom based on Darwin’s recent discoveries. Along with his neighbor, the two continue
It does seem strange with both families suffer from the uncertainty of the future, both with worry about the house, feeling of the insecurity of becoming unsheltered is a fear.