Ross Poldark by Winston Graham: A decent read, but it’s not for me.

Ross PoldarkRoss Poldark

by Winston Graham
Series: The Poldark Saga, #1


Paperback, 379 pg.
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2015 (originally published 1945)

Read: December 27 – 28, 2018

Ross Poldark, the scandalous son of a minor land-owner, comes back from serving the Crown in the War for American Independence to find his father dead, his estate in disrepair, and the woman who he’d hoped to wed engaged to someone else (a formerly close friend, actually). Understandably, he’s about to throw in the towel on life, but instead he starts putting things together.

He bullies his fathers’ (and now his) servants into getting to work restoring the house and lands, and hires some new help and even rescues a poor little girl being picked on by some nearby children and brings her into his house as a kitchen maid. He has to fight and then pay off her abusive father for the privilege, but does so. He takes care of his tenants, and is soon seen as half-one of them half-landowner. He starts a new mine with some other people in the area, doing a lot to help the local economy.

There’s some legal drama, a touch of medial as well, a malicious criminal presence, too — but it’s hard to take any of these seriously, and they are all dispatched quickly. In fact, that’s pretty much par for the course for everything — a problem arises and is resolved soon. There’s no real book-length plot to this novel — there’s no central or driving conflict. You might be able to make the case that it’s a story of Ross finding contentment and/or happiness after the way his homeland welcomes him. But I’m not sure I can buy that.

There is just so much wrong with the love story involving Ross that I’m not going to touch it. I get that it’s a different time, different standards, and everything, but he’d be locked up today for what happens — and rightly so. Frankly, all of the romances are a bit . . . off. Nothing that Austen would touch, for sure. One of the Brontë sisters might have, though.

This book feels like someone was convinced the only proper kind of book for a British person to write is one that Austen, a Brontë, or Dickens could have written — so he combined the three influences into one. But Graham isn’t one of those. He’s a passable writer of limited imagination. Every so often he’ll write a passage — a small paragraph to a page or so in length — that strikes me like he’s realized he hasn’t done anything “writerly” for a bit and dashes something off that fits the bill. Then he gets back to his usual story telling for 5-10 pages until he repeats the process. This isn’t to suggest he’s a bad writer, it’s just usually decent prose with odd splashes of flair.

It’s hard to describe any of the characters except in reference to Ross — and would end up spoiling a lot of the book to do so. I found them all relatively two-dimensional and without a lot of growth or development. What change there is in most of them is hard to believe, or at least happens off-screen and without explanation. The maid that Ross brings in is the easiest to see grow and develop, and we almost get a real sense of who she is — but I’m not sure I can say that.

Ross Poldark isn’t a bad book — but there’s nothing about it that grabbed me. I did grow to be a bit interested in two of the characters, and was pleased to see things go well for them. I’m not driven to pursue things to the next book much less eleven more, however. I can see the appeal — I think — that this book and/or this saga would have for some, but it’s not for me. But for people who like semi-romantic historical epics, you’d be well served by trying this. I probably sound more negative than I really am — I’m more indifferent than anything else.

—–

3 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

✔ Read a book recommended by one of your parents (in-laws count).

The Crescent and the Cross by Kurt Scheffler: An Uneven But Ultimately Satisfying Historical Fiction

The Crescent and the CrossThe Crescent and the Cross

by Kurt Scheffler


ebook
2014

Read: December 20 – 24, 2018


I normally reserve disclaimers for the end of a post — but I’m going to start this post with one. I’ve met Kurt Scheffler, he seems like a good guy. He has taught every one of my children, is currently teaching two of them, and will be teaching one for the next three years. He’s beloved in my house and the impact that he’s had on my kids is almost incalculable. Also, one of my kids bought this for me — not in a “hey, here’s an easy way to get brownie points” kind of move; but a “I know someone who wrote a book, my dad likes books, I should combine those things” kind of way. So basically, I’m trying to say that I have every reason to airbrush what I’m about to say, but I’m going to try to not do that. Also, no parent wants to see one of their kid’s teachers use the word “whoring” that much.

This is the story of The Battle of Tours (in 732) and events leading up to it, told through the lives of people close to Charles Martel and Charles on the one hand and a couple of the leaders of the Muslim forces involved in the Arab invasion of France. Specifically, that’s Charles, his longtime friend, his sons, his mistress, and some children who are adopted by a close associate and are practically part of his household; and then the son of the Caliph and Abderrahman.

It’s your typical historical fiction, blending historical events and fictionalized events into one narrative. I really liked some of the characters a lot, and the ones I had no patience for were the one’s the book doesn’t want you to enjoy. I’m not convinced that I didn’t like them for the same reasons I wasn’t supposed to like them — it wasn’t their less-than-savory characteristics, but their portrayal. But still, that’s better than many novels are able to pull off.

I’m not going to try to summarize the plot more thoroughly than that, or talk about any of the particular characters — this post would quickly become too long to bother with. The story takes awhile to coalesce — it almost feels like the novel couldn’t decide what it was going to be about for the first half — it started trying to be X, then it became Y, then Z and quickly A, B, and finally settling on being C (I might have exaggerated a bit there, the book might have settled on B). That’s how it felt, I should say. In retrospect, I don’t think that was the case, it was simply taking it’s time (arguably too much) setting the stage and establishing the characters before launching into the major story.

That said, I found myself enjoying each version of the story the novel gave us along the way, and when it seemed to shift into a different story, I was disappointed to leave X, Y or Z — at least until I got into the new version. Scheffler can tell a story, that’s clear. He’s skilled at sucking you in and feeling what he wants you to.

I do have a few quibbles with the book — I’ll only talk about a few. My notes are full of question marks when we got a historical particular, I just wasn’t sure if he got the timing on some things correct. There’s a lot of anachronisms — for example, Pascal’s wager a few centuries early (sure, someone could’ve said it before Pascal — but it seemed a bit off); some statements about equality that sounded like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rough drafts; and people holding opinions/values that I just can’t accept given the time (mostly benign things, I should add, like a noblewoman baking as a hobby). The villains might as well be wearing black hats and twirling mustaches, while the “heroic” characters are subtly drawn and live in the gray — I just wish the villains got the same treatment. Practically every character is very aware of the historical significance of the struggle they’re part of — particularly when it comes to the ultimate (and impending) battle between Charles Martel’s and Abderrahman’s armies. I don’t doubt that sometimes individuals understand how vital a role they play in the grand scheme of things, but this seemed a bit overkill (or this is a case of one of the greatest conglomerations of narcissists ever).

There’s redemption, personal reformation, romance, action against a sweeping historical backdrop — there’s something for almost everyone here. Could this book have been better? Yes. Given the themes, the scope, the characters, the setting — there’s a lot more that Scheffler could’ve done here. Also, it would’ve been very easy to make this incredibly dull and/or hack-y. Scheffler avoided that — and I’m very happy about that. In the end, we’re left with something in the middle — an entertaining work with a few problems. You’ll keep turning the pages to see what he does with the characters, but you’ll wonder a little about the background and details. At worst (or best?) this’ll spur you to further reading on the history of the period after reading Scheffler’s fictional take. Really can’t complain about that, right? I’m glad I read it.

—–

3 Stars

✔ Read a book you received as a gift.

Pub Day Repost: Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart: Deputy Kopp faces her biggest challenges yet — a new Sheriff and an Uncertain Future

Miss Kopp Just Won't QuitMiss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

by Amy Stewart
Series: The Kopp Sisters, #4
eARC, 320pg.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Read: August 8 – 9, 2018

So it’s been roughly a year for Constance Kopp working as the ladies’ matron for the Bergon County Jail. In that time she has investigated crimes, tracked down murderers, sought justice for women of all walks of life, and put her life on the line more than a few times. She’s gained nationwide notoriety, and caused more than a few scandals at home. About now, some of those scandals are coming back and are in the forefront of local elections.

Because of New Jersey law, Sheriff Heath, Constance’s boss and chief defender, cannot run for another term of office without taking one off — so no matter what, after Election Day, Constance will have a new boss. Heath’s former Sheriff is running for the position again, and is the expected winner. He finds the idea of a female deputy silly, and while he won’t take Constance seriously, he’ll probably leave her alone. His opponent is a current detective in the Prosecutor’s office who has been opposing Constance’s position and person since Day 1, he’s essentially running a campaign against Heath (even if Heath isn’t the opponent), and Constance is the easiest way to do that. Clearly, the future isn’t bright for Deputy Kopp.

While this is going on, Constance makes a couple more headlines — she runs down a burglar single-handedly, she jumps into a river to apprehend a potential escapee under their custody when another deputy is injured. Constance has to take a woman to an insane asylum, after her husband and doctor get a judge to commit her for a while. This isn’t the first time this has happened to the woman, and it seems clear to Constance that this woman is as sane as anyone. So Constance attempts to find out what’s behind this commitment so she can free this woman. She’s very aware of the trouble that this could cause for herself and for Sheriff Heath, she tries to do this under the radar. Under the radar isn’t something that comes naturally to her, and her results aren’t stellar (but better than one would expect).

The story was a bit flat, honestly. A lot of things seemed to be foregone conclusions (not necessarily the way that various characters saw them working, either). The one case that she really gets herself into is really pretty tidy and doesn’t take a lot of effort — although she does take plenty of risks. So really, the novel isn’t about Constance sinking her teeth into a case, into helping a woman through some sort of problem, or any of the usual things. This is primarily about Constance worrying that she’ll do something to jeopardize Sheriff Heath’s Congressional campaign by giving his opponents something to harp on, while contemplating her future in the jail under the upcoming term of office for either candidate. Which is fine, really — it’s just not what I’ve come to expect from these books — I expected the case of the poor committed woman to take the bulk of the attention, so the problem is my own. But it comes from being conditioned by the previous books.

Constance’s sisters have a background role in this book — Fleurette in particular, she’s around frequently, but she plays a very small role. I appreciate that she seemed to have her head on straight and wasn’t the cause for trouble (inadvertently or purposely). Norma seemed to primarily be a conduit for comic relief in this novel. But it never feels right to laugh at her, she’s the most practical, she’s the only realist in the family — it’s her blood, sweat and tears that’s kept the family going. On the other hand, her obsessive nature does lead her into some strange preoccupations.

This is not to say it’s a bad book — Stewart is probably incapable of writing a bad book. Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit feels very different than the others in the series (although, really, each has felt different than the others), and it left me feeling dissatisfied. Still, it was an entertaining and compelling read. The ending is likely the best the series has had thus far — we just have to go through some meandering passages, and some dark times for our favorite Deputy before we get to it. I don’t know what comes next for Constance Kopp (I’m deliberately not consulting anything to tell me, either) — but it’s going to be very interesting to see what Stewart does next.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3.5 Stars

BOOK BLITZ: The Deadliest Fever by June Trop

 photo The Deadliest Fever_zpsnvrndz7g.jpg

A Miriam Bat Isaac Mystery in Ancient Alexandria
Historical Mystery
Date Published: April 2018
Publisher: Black Opal Books
 
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Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist and amateur sleuth in first-century CE Alexandria, is concerned when she learns that the threads of gold in the Great Synagogue’s Torah mantle have been damaged. She takes the mantle to Judah, a renowned jeweler and the unrequited love of her life. He repairs the threads and assures her that the stones in the mantle are still genuine. Like Miriam, he is astonished that someone would damage the threads but leave the gems behind.
Shortly before, the Jewish community of Alexandria welcomed their visiting sage and his family, who had just arrived from Ephesus on the Thalia. Also on the ship were the perpetrators of an audacious jewelry heist. And shortly after, the captain of the Thalia is found dead in a sleazy waterfront inn.
Can Miriam discover the connections among the jewel heist, the death of the sea captain, and the desecration of the Torah mantle before the deadliest fever claims its victim? Not without help from the bite of a rabid bat.
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Other Books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria Mystery Series:
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The Deadliest Lie

A Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria, Book One
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Published: October 2013
She’s a brilliant alchemist-with a talent for solving mysteries.
Miriam bat Isaac is a budding scholar in first-century CE Alexandria, though her dreams seem doomed. Who in her household or among her father’s Shabbat guests stole the scrolls containing the Alchemical League’s valuable formulas? Perhaps the thief was even her frantic father, on the cusp of financial ruin, eager for Miriam to end her dalliance with a handsome jeweler and marry into an honorable and wealthy family. Or her rebellious brother, intent on raising money to travel to Capua so he can enroll in the Roman Empire’s most renowned gladiator school. Or her faint-hearted fiancé, who begrudges her preoccupation with alchemy and yearns for their forthcoming marriage?
And how did the thief manage to steal them? Miriam is not only faced with a baffling puzzle, but, to recover the scrolls, she must stalk the culprit through the sinister alleys of Alexandria’s claustrophobic underbelly. The Romans who keep a harsh watch over her Jewish community are trouble enough.
Miriam is based on the true personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
June Trop (Zuckerman) has had over forty years of experience as an award-winning teacher and educator. Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she spends her time breathlessly following her intrepid protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, who is back in the underbelly of Alexandria, once again searching for a murderer in The Deadliest Sport while worrying about her brother.
 photo The Deadliest Hate_zps69wt6n1v.jpg

The Deadliest Hate

A Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria, Book Two
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Published: October 2015
The Roman Empire may be the least of her enemies.
A secret alchemical recipe to transmute copper into gold surfaces in first-century CE Caesarea. As soon as Miriam sets out to trace the leak, Judean terrorists target her for assassination. Eluding the assassins while protecting a secret of her own, she discovers that she, herself, is responsible for the leak. Moreover she is powerless to stop its spread throughout the Empire and beyond.
But who is really trying to kill Miriam? Is it a case of mistaken identity, or is her late-fiancé’s ex-scribe, now an assistant to the Procurator of Judea, seeking to avenge an old grudge? Or is her heartthrob’s half-brother, a Judean patriot who inherited his mother’s mania, afraid Miriam knows too much?
And how did the recipe find its way from Alexandria to Caesarea anyway?
June Trop (Zuckerman) has had over forty years of experience as an award-winning teacher and educator. Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she spends her time breathlessly following her intrepid protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, who is back in the underbelly of Alexandria, once again searching for a murderer in The Deadliest Sport while worrying about her brother.
 photo The Deadliest Sport_zps7eghqlm0.jpg

The Deadliest Sport

A Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria, Book Three

Publisher: Black Opal Books
Published: October 2017
Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath. When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady, and dangerous, enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam’s elderly charge, turns up missing, Amram becomes seriously ill, and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?
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 Excerpt
May 1, Thursday, Almost Midnight:
He waited, listening to the darkness flow into the sanctuary. With the thick drapes blocking the flare of torches lining the Canopic Way, the only light scratching the air was the meager glow of the eternal flame, the ner tamid of Alexandria’s Great Synagogue.
The coolness of the night had already begun to assert itself. Just a little longer, he told himself as his fist closed around the open edges of his long black robe. A few minutes later, as his other hand pulled back the hood over his head, he emerged from his hiding place, his body taut, his legs tingling from having stood in place for so long.
Stretching his cramped muscles, he approached the front of the Torah Ark. His fingers trembled with excitement, his eyes shining with greed as he drew open the parokhet, the curtain that screened the Ark.
“Like a bride’s veil,” he said to himself, amused by the analogy.
With a self-congratulatory nod and a tight satisfied smile, he pulled open the ornate bronze doors and carried the Torah to the Reader’s Table. For a few moments, he gazed at the coveted prize adorning the Torah mantle, three peerless jewels, each set into the bowl of one of the three vessels embroidered in gold on the mantle.
He didn’t need much light. His eyes were already accustomed to the darkness, and his hands had performed this procedure many times before. Taking a few deep breaths to calm the twitch at the corner of his mouth, he removed a slim wooden box from the goatskin pouch attached to his belt, took out his tools, and lined them up on the table: his silver pick, plyers, tweezers, snips, and a double-handled vial of olive oil. Then he undressed the Torah and positioned the mantle so the jewels caught the narrow strip of light from the ner tamid.
Oh, Lord! Even in the thinnest light, they spew out their fire!
Half-frightened, worried that he’d uttered the words aloud, he released only a feather of breath.
But hearing no echo, his jaw softened.
He was safe.
Then, hunching over the table, balancing his forearms against the edge, he took hold of the pick and laid his hands on the mantle.
He tried to loosen the center stone, the emerald. The setting was tight. Very tight. He tried again, this time after placing a droplet of oil on each prong.
This is going to take a while.
He shifted his weight and continued.
The silence was absolute save for the occasional sputter of the ner tamid and the distant rumble of hooves on the Canopic Way’s granite pavement.
Until he heard loudening footfalls ringing out against the tessellated floor, waking the echoes in the corridor’s coffered ceiling.
A crease of light swept under the sanctuary’s ceiling-high, bejeweled double doors.
He froze and held his breath, as fear prickled down his spine, until the clicking heels receded into the silence. He blinked slowly and released an unbidden sigh. Just the watchman on his rounds. He won’t come in here. He locked the doors to the sanctuary and all the outside doors to the Synagogue hours ago and won’t open them again until dawn.
His fingers worked through the night. Despite the chill, rivulets of sweat trickled down his back and collected under his belt. He straightened up now and then, rolled his shoulders back, and cocked his head as he admired his work.
His mouth curved into a triumphant smile.
Beads of saliva clung to his lips.
By now a pearly grayness was seeping under the doors. He could see the darkness dissolving. Objects in the sanctuary were reclaiming their color and shape.
He mentally ticked off the remaining tasks: Dress the Torah. Put it back in the Ark. Tuck my prize and the tools into the box. Slide it back into my pouch. Slip out as soon as the watchman unlocks the doors but before what’s-his-name…Gershon, that’s it, Gershon ben Israel…comes in to check the sacred—
Oh, Lord, what on Earth is that squeaking sound? Surely not a bird.
A sharp-toothed, leathery-winged bat shot out of nowhere, swooped across the sanctuary, and, wheeling around the bemah, took a dive, and nipped the crown of the man’s head before disappearing with a shrill screech behind the Ark.
His thin howl—part gasp, scream, and strangled sob—tore through the sanctuary.
Then he heard a pair of boots smacking the tiles.
I gotta get out of here! Where’s the—
Dressing it quickly, he shoved the Torah into the Ark, throwing everything else into his pouch.
Except the vial.
The vial. Oops!
Oil everywhere.
Oh, Lord! Not now.
A hasty wipe with the sleeve of his robe.
The rising volume of hammering footsteps.
Now two sets—one close, the other farther away but catching up. Their volume swelled as they turned a corner.
Must be Gershon trailing the watchman.
The jangle of keys. The ping of the latch as the watchman unlocked the doors.
No place to hide. And, Lord, all this blood gushing from my head.
“No, Daniel, no!” Gershon shouted. “The other way. Hurry! The scream came from the library.”
About the Author

 photo The Deadliest Fever Author June Trop_zpsmqjpwzad.jpg

June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.
“I don’t remember how I spent my share,” June says. “You could buy a fistful of candy for a penny in those days, but ever since then, I wanted to be a writer.”
As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students’ imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling. Her first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin Press, 2009), is based on the stories new teachers told about their first classroom experiences.
Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing The Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. Her heroine is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
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Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart: Deputy Kopp faces her biggest challenges yet — a new Sheriff and an Uncertain Future

Miss Kopp Just Won't QuitMiss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

by Amy Stewart
Series: The Kopp Sisters, #4

eARC, 320pg.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Read: August 8 – 9, 2018

So it’s been roughly a year for Constance Kopp working as the ladies’ matron for the Bergon County Jail. In that time she has investigated crimes, tracked down murderers, sought justice for women of all walks of life, and put her life on the line more than a few times. She’s gained nationwide notoriety, and caused more than a few scandals at home. About now, some of those scandals are coming back and are in the forefront of local elections.

Because of New Jersey law, Sheriff Heath, Constance’s boss and chief defender, cannot run for another term of office without taking one off — so no matter what, after Election Day, Constance will have a new boss. Heath’s former Sheriff is running for the position again, and is the expected winner. He finds the idea of a female deputy silly, and while he won’t take Constance seriously, he’ll probably leave her alone. His opponent is a current detective in the Prosecutor’s office who has been opposing Constance’s position and person since Day 1, he’s essentially running a campaign against Heath (even if Heath isn’t the opponent), and Constance is the easiest way to do that. Clearly, the future isn’t bright for Deputy Kopp.

While this is going on, Constance makes a couple more headlines — she runs down a burglar single-handedly, she jumps into a river to apprehend a potential escapee under their custody when another deputy is injured. Constance has to take a woman to an insane asylum, after her husband and doctor get a judge to commit her for a while. This isn’t the first time this has happened to the woman, and it seems clear to Constance that this woman is as sane as anyone. So Constance attempts to find out what’s behind this commitment so she can free this woman. She’s very aware of the trouble that this could cause for herself and for Sheriff Heath, she tries to do this under the radar. Under the radar isn’t something that comes naturally to her, and her results aren’t stellar (but better than one would expect).

The story was a bit flat, honestly. A lot of things seemed to be foregone conclusions (not necessarily the way that various characters saw them working, either). The one case that she really gets herself into is really pretty tidy and doesn’t take a lot of effort — although she does take plenty of risks. So really, the novel isn’t about Constance sinking her teeth into a case, into helping a woman through some sort of problem, or any of the usual things. This is primarily about Constance worrying that she’ll do something to jeopardize Sheriff Heath’s Congressional campaign by giving his opponents something to harp on, while contemplating her future in the jail under the upcoming term of office for either candidate. Which is fine, really — it’s just not what I’ve come to expect from these books — I expected the case of the poor committed woman to take the bulk of the attention, so the problem is my own. But it comes from being conditioned by the previous books.

Constance’s sisters have a background role in this book — Fleurette in particular, she’s around frequently, but she plays a very small role. I appreciate that she seemed to have her head on straight and wasn’t the cause for trouble (inadvertently or purposely). Norma seemed to primarily be a conduit for comic relief in this novel. But it never feels right to laugh at her, she’s the most practical, she’s the only realist in the family — it’s her blood, sweat and tears that’s kept the family going. On the other hand, her obsessive nature does lead her into some strange preoccupations.

This is not to say it’s a bad book — Stewart is probably incapable of writing a bad book. Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit feels very different than the others in the series (although, really, each has felt different than the others), and it left me feeling dissatisfied. Still, it was an entertaining and compelling read. The ending is likely the best the series has had thus far — we just have to go through some meandering passages, and some dark times for our favorite Deputy before we get to it. I don’t know what comes next for Constance Kopp (I’m deliberately not consulting anything to tell me, either) — but it’s going to be very interesting to see what Stewart does next.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3.5 Stars

Reluctant Courage by Rica Newbery: I just can’t muster the energy to excoriate this

Reluctant CourageReluctant Courage

by Rica Newbery

eARC, 234 pg.
BookVenture, 2017

Read: May 5 – 7, 2018

When I don’t like a book (yes, it’s going to be one of those posts), sometimes I’m tempted to describe all the problems I had with the book. And some deserve it. But generally, I don’t want to do that — it seems mean, a lot of this is subjective anyway, and someone poured themselves into their book and why kick them?

So I’ll keep this short and vague.

We’re in Oslo, two years into the Nazi occupation. One thing that’s easy to forget is that even under oppressive governments, life goes on — people love, get married, have kids, go to school, have affairs, abuse substances, and whatnot. Sure, you’ve got to be careful about it — you don’t want to attract the attention of the oppressors or anything, but hey, into each life family turmoil must fall.

Maria and her three daughters (and sometimes her husband) spend so much time bickering and fighting with, or just hurting, each other that it’s almost like they forgot there are Nazi soldiers walking the streets. Sadly, throughout, the antagonism and outbreaks of anger, or sadness, or what have you, don’t feel organic, but rather the results of authorial need. Their lives are filled with poverty, hardship, disease and bitterness — and more than a few attitudes that don’t seem genuine for anyone living tat that point in history (with or without Nazi soldiers on the streets).

I do want to stress that everything that happens is plausible, is possibly based on fact — I’m not commenting on that. It’s the frequently melodramatic way this novel depicts it — it’s just not well-written. Shallow characterization, poor pacing, and strange organization are what dooms this.

There’s one scene that comes out of nowhere that gave me a little hope for the book when someone (who’d basically be depicted as a horrible person) risks life and career to save some Jewish families from arrest. It’s a long time before anything comes from that one scene. I didn’t dislike and/or get put off by the whole book, there was a point that I breathed a sigh of relief — something interesting was finally happening. It was page 148 when I noted that. Sadly, most of what followed (at least the parts that had to do with that event) was hard to believe — and was shoehorned in with a few other storylines for the last 80 pages.

Dull, cliche-filled, aimless, and difficult to believe. Don’t waste your time on this.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

1 1/2 Stars

Profane Fire at the Altar of the Lord by Dennis Malley

Revised after being inspired by a comment from Bookstooge to talk about something I really should’ve included initially.

Profane Fire at the Altar of the LordProfane Fire at the Altar of the Lord

by Dennis Maley


Kindle Edition, 314 pg.
Jublio, 2018

Read: January 19 – 23, 2018


Infamous papal indulgence-seller, Tetzel is falling out of favor with the German people — which means economic trouble for him, as well as those he’s paying to assist him. One such person is David, a little person (“dwarf” in sixteenth-century eyes), a con man, juggler, and entertainer. He gets himself in some legal trouble and draws upon his dubious ethnicity and a character he played to some success in the past and convinces the court that he’s a member of one of the Lost Tribe of Israel, living in Arabia, sent to Europe to secure partners in a new Crusade. To stay out of legal trouble, he has to embark on a tour of various cities to try to recruit the help of assorted kings, bankers and Bishops of Rome. Along the way, David finds a kindred spirit in Diogo, a womanizing actor hiding out as a deckhand on a merchant ship. Diogo joins David as an assistant, translator, and more.

The backdrop to these antics is a loose survey of early sixteenth-century history of Europe — the politics, diplomacy, and wars the characterize the relations between France, Spain, England, the Holy Roman Empire, German princes, German peasants, and the Popes. As I said, it’s a loose recounting, told mostly in summary form with a conversational tone.

Watching these two lie, deceive and sneak their way through the hearts and purses of Europe is a good time. I could have used a couple of female characters that were better drawn, but David and Diogo are an amusing pair. At one point, a rift between the two arises and one of them begins to believe their own press (among other things) and their lives get more interesting.

Despite the title, there’s really nothing that is satirical about religion — true believers, anyway. David and Diogo are shown as scoundrels throughout. Tetzel’s appearance is fairly matter-of-fact about what he did, Tyndale and Luther are mentioned frequently, but only for what they actually did (true, colored by popular mis-characterizations of their work, but not done to insult/defame/mock them). The various Popes and Cardinal Wolsey are discussed in terms of their political machinations (mostly having to do with becoming/staying Pope). When it comes to people of actual religious belief (Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Jewish or Kabbalistic), Maley is pretty-hands off, he doesn’t comment at all about the belief — yeah, several people are duped by these scoundrels, but that doesn’t mean that their faith isn’t real.

In the Acknowledgements, the author states that this “book’s purpose is to entertain. The standard of its scholarship is low. I am not a historian.” It’d be nice if that came before the text, so I didn’t spend so much time hemming and hawing about some of the history/depictions of historical characters.

Actually, now that I mention it — this novel would’ve been stronger without all the historical ramblings — yes, they were amusingly told. But it added nothing to the story. Not just because as a reader, you need to take his history with a generous helping of salt; but all the history primarily served to distract the reader and detract from the story of these con men. Yes, some of it — some — was helpful for some context, but the other 97-95% of the historical material could have been excised to help the rest of the novel.

Nevertheless, this was a funny story with some amusing characters. This wasn’t a typical religious-fraud satire, although it easily could’ve been — and that’s to be commended. Like many satires, Maley had some trouble toward the end and the plot threatened to get away from him — but he was able to bring things back into shape by the conclusion, which is a pretty neat trick, too. Flawed, but entertaining, it’s worth a shot.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion in this post. I thank him for the shot.

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3 Stars

✔ Read a self published book.