Historical Fiction

City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin

City of Liars

This period of New York history, right around 1800, is really lacking representation in historical fiction. I can think of only a few that I have ever read set then and it’s a shame because the big names like Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, etc. were either still alive or at least still known as contemporary figures and the whole country was finally settling down to the business of being a country. New York City still had a lot of wide open spaces, pigs roamed the streets as de-facto organic garbage collectors and the citizens were starting to struggle with the growing needs for drinkable water. There was no hint of the city we all know today.

Elma Sands, a young pretty Quaker woman, comes to the city to live with her cousin and hopefully to escape the out-of-wedlock label she has been forced to wear in her small town in Northern New York. Her cousin, Catherine Ring, looks upon her as a younger sister and hopes to alleviate some of her feelings of isolation with Elma near.

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and rising and hungry for more power. Their enmity is already set, but their ultimate confrontation was a few years away. Right then, they were the poster boys for the drive to get water to the city that was growing by leaps and bounds daily. Unfortunately, their aims were more about power and gain than by actually doing the public service of public works.

Elma falls in love with a boarder in the Ring household and while it makes Catherine worry, the risk seems to be resolving when she tells her cousin that she and her beau intend to be married as soon as they tell his brother, a right hand man of the water company. The young man looks to be in love with her and Catherine breathes a sigh of relief when the pair leave together to share the good news. The next morning, the young man is back home, but Elma is nowhere to be found.

Soon, the whole city is looking for Elma and hounding her extended family on Greenwich Street. Catherine soon learns that when it comes to dealing with the cronies of Burr and Hamilton, the public is at a distinct disadvantage. When Elma’s body is found at the bottom of a useless newly dug well, she finds herself alone in fighting for the truth and ultimately for justice.

The period was fabulously written and it is oddly comforting to see that the “haves” have always had a leg up when dealing with the “have-nots”. It is never right and always hard to swallow, but Catherine is a strong heroine that you can’t help identify with. I’ll be on the lookout for more from Eve Karlin.

City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin

  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Alibi (January 13, 2015)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • ASIN: B00LYXY076

 

This book was provided by TLC Book Tours. See what other readers thought here

 

 

 

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

Two Looks at Typhoid Mary

Fever  Deadly

In October, I read Fever by Mary Beth Keane and then earlier this month, I got my hands on Deadly by Julie Chibbaro. Both deal with Typhoid Mary in very different styles and from extremely different angles.  Also, it must be pointed out that Deadly is considered Young Adult, even won the National Jewish Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, while Fever is geared towards adult historical fiction.

Since Deadly is more fresh in my mind I will tackle that one first.  Prudence is a young lady slightly ahead of her time. Her losses, a brother to some disease and her father MIA in the Spanish-American War, have led her to be obsessed with what makes the body tick and what makes it stop ticking. Luckily she lands a job in the fairly new Health Department and this feeds her need for knowledge and leads her on the hunt for what turns out to be Typhoid Mary alongside her boss, George Soper.

Now Deadly, is a great book for young adults. It shows that women had to fight for their place in the world (especially the sciences), to be taken seriously, and to be sexually harassed while doing so at the beginning of the 20th century. However, it really didn’t focus one bit on the Typhoid Mary other than a few inner conflicts that Prudence felt about her treatment. The focus of Prudence’s strife could have been set in any backdrop at that time period, say a woman that wants to be a clerk as opposed to a shirt waste maker or any other field/area that women had yet to really enter at the time. At it’s heart, it is a story of a young girl with dreams  that are “above her station” and trying to achieve them. A great story until I compare it to Fever.

Fever was for adults and told from the viewpoint of Typhoid Mary herself, Mary Mallon. Imagine yourself, an Irish woman, never been sick a day in your life that you can remember, immigrating to the United States by yourself and working hard enough to become a well-known for hire cook in some of the more respected households. You live a fairly moral life, except for the fact that you have never married the man that you live with. It is the the early 20th century, so fevers and other often deadly illnesses are still common among all classes.  You, Mary the cook, pitch in when fevers hit a household that you are working in; preparing cold compresses, ice baths, and the like.

Suddenly, in 1906, some man named George Soper from the Health Department starts chasing you down telling you that you are the one responsible for all of those illnesses and deaths.  (Insert my great-great-grandmother’s Irish brogue here saying, “Are ye daft man? I’ve never been sick a day of me life, hows could I be making these people sick? ‘Tis crazy) She ran off from the man, multiple times and from job to job.

No matter, eventually Soper captures our dear Mary Mallon by force and quarantines her on North Brother Island in a hospital usually used for Small Pox victims. She is still healthy as a horse, but all told, spends 26 years living in a wee house on that island, not sick, but not allowed to leave.

Obviously, Mary’s travails griped me in Fever in a way that Deadly couldn’t and wasn’t meant to. The injustice, the loneliness, the longing, the sheer uncertainty of life and science at that point left me wanting to find the  grave of Mary Mallon and apologize for what we did to her.

So if you want a light young adult overview of Typhoid Mary, pick Deadly. If you want to feel her pain and really dealve into the story of Mary Mallon, read Fever.  And….if you ever find yourself wandering around Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx, doff your hat to her for me.

Fever: A Novel by Mary Beth Keane

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (March 12, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1451693419
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451693416

Deadly by Julie Chibarro

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (February 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 068985739X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689857393

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The Nine Fold Heaven by Mingmei Yip

The Nine Fold Heaven

Last year, I was given the wonderful opportunity to travel back in time to Shanghai in the 1930’s thanks to Mingmei Yip’s Skeleton Women. Now my favorite Skeleton Women, Camilla, is back. She laid low in Hong Kong for a time and is ready to brave the dangerous streets of Shanghai to find her son and the other two important men in her life.

Although this could be read as a stand alone, I think that one would garner a much better understanding of how much Camilla has to overcome just to even care about others let alone go off on what could be a suicide mission to find those that she has grown to care about if Skeleton Women is consumed first.

Yip’s writing again makes the Chinese culture so approachable without over explaining or creating uncomfortable lags in the story to get her characters motivations across. I found myself not only invested in the Camilla, but respecting the boundaries in which she was forced to live.

So much of the historical fiction I see is based in Europe, but Mingmei Yip shows us the glamour, suspense, and mystery of a country that we seem to overlook as Westerners.

I’m grateful for that peek into China’s past that allows me to see that it hasn’t always been that big bad “red” wolf that we are taught to fear and despise from today’s news. It’s rather beautiful.

The Nine Fold Heaven by Mingmei Yip

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington (June 25, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0758273541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0758273543

 

Don’t forget to check out my review for Skeleton Women.

I received my copy from the author.

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The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by by E.B. Hudspeth

The Resurrectionist

  • Feeling a bit Gothic?
  • Does fantastic artwork make you swoon?
  • Does Mythology get you out of bed in the morning?
  • Do you find yourself wondering what makes the fascinating creatures of your nightmares move?
  • Does a tale of genius gone bonkers keep you warm on a cold night?

If you answered Yes to any of the above questions, get yourself a copy of The Resurrectionist.

I am a fan of beautiful books. When I say beautiful, I don’t mean just the covers; I mean wonderful packages of words and creativity that make you see and think about those old dusty tomes in a new way. They can spark wonder, conversation, awe, and yes, even horror. This is one beautiful book for those with a slightly dark bent.

Dr. Spencer Black, rising from his resurrectionist (AKA Body Snatcher) father, showed an amazing amount of potential. In an age where deformities were fodder for traveling side shows, he wanted to go deeper to find their cause and possibly “cure” them. His studies led him to a dark conclusion however. What if what we call deformities were not something gone wrong, but more a sign of what we used to be, should me, and (shudder) were meant to be?

The first 65 pages tell the story of Dr. Spencer Black and his descent into either madness or genius, you’ll have to decide on your own. The rest of the 191 pages is his opus, thought lost, The Codex Extinct Animalia.    Billed as a Study of the Lesser Known Species of the Animal Kingdom, the sort-of Gray’s anatomy look at the creatures of legend and often, our nightmares and superstitions. Here you will find the muscular structure of the Minotaur, the bone structure of Ganesha, and just how the Cereberus was able to support it’s three heads.

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E.B. Hudspeth’s talent lay in these masterpieces.  Drawing the fearsome mythological creatures is a talent, but being able to look beneath the skin and create their inner structures is, well, a sphinx of another color. They are gorgeous.

The tale of Dr. Spencer Black is dark, very dark and may be hard to read for dog lovers, consider that a big warning, but the sheer wonder of Hudspeth’s plates has earned The Resurrectionist a place on my coffee table for it’s ability to spark conversation, horror, and even reverence at the artist’s skill.

 

The Resurrectionst:The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth

 

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (May 21, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1594746168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594746161

 

 

Note: This is also available as an ebook, but for the best results, it really needs to be seen in hardcover.

2nd Note: I thank Quirk Books for my copy and for continuing to challenge our idea of what a “book” really is.

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Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip

Skeleton Women

 

Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of reading Midnight in Peking by Paul French. It was non-fiction and great, but what really stuck with me was the whole cosmopolitan-ness of Peking and other cities in China in the 30’s.  There was this intriguing sometimes blend and other times, complete separateness of Chinese and European culture. It left me wanting to explore more.

Enter TLC Book Tours and Skeleton Women. Here is a bit of the blub that made me say YES!

Once upon a time in China, the most beautiful and gifted women were known as “skeleton women”—the ultimate femme fatales who could bring a man to his knees, or to his doom…
When Camilla, a young orphan girl in Shanghai, is adopted and brought to live in luxury, it seems like a stroke of luck. But as Camilla grows to womanhood, she realizes that her “rescue” was part of gang leader Big Brother Wang’s scheme. Camilla is trained in singing, dancing, knife-throwing and contortion—all to attract the attention of Wang’s enemy, the ruthless Master Lung.

Skeleton Women is a fictional look at that darker side of China in the 1930’s that filled my head with wonder in Midnight in Peking, that separate side and it was a compelling  introduction to the author, Mingmei Yip.

China, in general, baffles me and I have always struggled with reading any fiction set there, even the so-called greats like The Good Earth. The problem isn’t the historical setting in time, so much as my inability to understand the culture and therefore what makes the characters tick.

Skeleton Women’s main character, Camilla, is different though. While still steeped in the period and traditions on China, Yip has written about her in a way that highlights the struggles from a viewpoint that we all share, the slant of what I guess I would call the fundamental questions being human.  What am I here for? Do I have to do what the people that raised me told me to do? What do I owe them? And perhaps most importantly, am I “good enough” to deserve another’s love?

Camilla feels trapped in her situation, She was saved from the orphanage, groomed not to have everyday emotions, and trained to become a spy that would catch a rival gangs leader’s  eye in the hope of finding his stash and killing him. Not only does she have to deal with other skeleton women trying to do, what she assumes, the same thing, but she must deal with emotions that she was taught not to feel and desiring things that she never thought to want.

While I am sure that most of us can’t relate to being raised as a sexy spy bent on destroying a rival gang leader, we can relate to grappling new emotions and having qualms about  choosing our own path as opposed to what others want us to do.

I really enjoyed this book on many levels, obviously. While I can’t speak to it’s historical accuracy, I can say that it sucked me into caring about something and someone that I would have bet you I couldn’t before. Yip’s writing was the perfect follow-up to Midnight in Peking and where other books that I have read set in China make me see nothing but how different we are, highlighted how alike we all are and just have different ways of finding our answers to those fundamental questions.

Skeleton Women by MingMei Yip

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington (May 29, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0758273533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0758273536

 

Author’s Website: http://www.mingmeiyip.com/

 

Thanks goes to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.