the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘historical

Masks and Shadows, by Stephanie Burgis

published April 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher







I’ve been reading a lot of “thinky” books lately,  books that whether or not they were meant to drill into my brain and set the neurons a light all over the place, that is exactly what they did.   I was looking for something lighter, an easy read.


Stephanie Burgis’s Masks and Shadows has been sitting in my ARC pile for over a year. It received a lot of attention when it came out last year, and garnered many positive reviews. The cover art is super pretty!  The concept of the book sounds right up my alley – historical fiction with lots of romance, intrigue, and magic! But it never quite got my attention enough to pick it up.  I like political intrigue, and I usually enjoy historical fiction / historical fantasy.  I’ve been known to enjoy stories with some romantic subplots. And I was in the market for a lighter read. So I picked it up. If the author’s name rings a bell, it’s because she is famous for the mid-grade fantasy series Kat, Incorrigible.


The year is 1779, the location is the opulent Esterhaza Palace in Hungary. As you do when you’re a royal who just built your own version of Versailles, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy hosts nobles and royals for months at a time, including a famous castrato singer, Carlo Morelli.  The Prince’s mistress, Sophia, has invited her recently widowed sister Charlotte von Steinbeck to stay at the palace as well.  In the first handful of chapters, we are very quickly introduced to a very large cast of characters – Charlotte and her spoiled sister Sophie; Charlotte’s young and naive maid Anna; Carlo Morelli the famous singer;  Herr Hadyn the famous composer;  Franz,  a singer in the Prince’s opera troupe; the rest of the singers in the troupe, van Born the alchemist;  Mr. Guersney, who claims to be an English writer; and Friedrich von Hollner, Sophie’s long suffering husband.  It was a lot to keep track of, to the point of distraction.


The plot settles into and handful of intertwined plots including the widowed Charlotte and Carlo having immediate romantic chemistry between each other,  Franz and Friedrich getting involved in some kind of mysterious political maneuvering, Sophie being needy and petty to the point of ridiculousness, Charlotte’s maid Anna becoming a singer with the Prince’s opera company,  demonstrations of the paranormal at the palace, and Morelli’s inward depression and being a plaything of the nobles.

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necessary evil coverNecessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

published in 2013

Where i got it: from a friend




Necessary Evil is the final book in Tregillis’s Milkweed series, and this book takes place immediately after the gut punch cliffhanger ending of the second book in the series, The Coldest War. So, I really can’t talk in any detail about Necessary Evil without giving epic spoilers for the entire series.  #sorrynotsorry


Before I get to the spoilers, let’s go back in a time a little bit. Back in 2013, I read the first book in the series, Bitter Seeds.  It was one of the darkest books I’d ever read.  When I finished it, I thought to myself that this Tregillis guy is a damn awesome writer, but I don’t know if I can read anymore of his stuff.  A year went by. And suddenly, all I could think about was this series – what happened to the characters?  So I finally read the second book. And it was even darker and more soul wrenching than the first one. And when I finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about how lonely Gretel is, that maybe she was a victim, that she’s a horrible human being and I hate her, but she is lonely and a victim.  I couldn’t stop thinking about how how Raybould Marsh got to this point in his life, where his wife barely talks to him and their son is, well . . .  not even going to go there because then I have to thinking about why his son is the way he is.   Like the earlier books in the series,  Necessary Evil was an utterly engrossing page turner.

I just now described Necessary Evil to my husband with “it’s about the psychology of redemption and every page is  like a punch to the nuts and you just want to die on every page”. He laughed, a little.


While I was reading Necessary Evil, a line from my review of Bitter Seeds kept popping back into my head:


“When the cost gets too high you are supposed to know it’s time to stop.”




Over the course of the series, Will and Marsh realized the cost was far too high for what they were getting from the Eidolons. But when you work for people to whom money is no object, how do you get them to stop spending?  By becoming the enemy.


And with that,  it’s epic spoiler time.

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outlanderOutlander, by Diana Gabaldon

published in 1991

where I got it: purchased new




As much as I love speculative fiction, sometimes I want something a little different. As much as I usually eat food that’s pretty healthy, sometimes I just wanna eat Arby’s curly fries.

And I am now part of the Outlander cult. One book in, and I’m all about drinking the kool aid and fangirling all over the place. This book was curly fries, really good potato chips, and salted caramel ice cream all rolled into one. It was all my guilty pleasures bound together into a doorstopper of a book that was a surprisingly fast read. Reading this book was like the best hand-to-mouth snacking ever.

And yes I know it is a TV show now. I haven’t seen the show.

Some of you are saying to yourselves “she’s finally read Outlander!”, and others are wondering what the hell the rest of us are going on about. For those of you in the second group, Outlander is a portal historical romance. It’s 1945, the war is over, and Claire and her husband Frank are enjoying a much deserved romantic getaway in Scotland. It’s the perfect location for Frank to research his family tree, for Claire to talk to the locals about herblore and local medicinal plants, and for the two of them to get some mental distance from everything they experienced during the war. And then one night, Claire touches something in a stone circle and finds herself hurled back two hundred years.

She doesn’t yet know when she is, but she knows where she is, and since she’s been listening to Frank drone on about his family tree, she knows his many-times-great Uncle Jonathan Randall is floating around here somewhere. She’ll just find a Randall, and all will be good, right? Oh wow, so wrong.

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Brides Story 5 6 coverWith much thanks to Orbit and Yen Press for providing review copies of A Bride’s Story, our joint review series continues! And by joint review series, I mean who better to review a series about getting married than two love fools (that would be my husband and I), and by continues, I mean check out our review of volumes 1 and 2 here, and volumes 3 and 4 here.

Quick sum up for those of you just joining the fun: A Bride’s Story is a gorgeous manga series by Kaoru Mori (creator of Emma and Shirley). The story takes place in Central Asia in the early 1900s, and follows young women who have either just gotten married, are about to get married, or need/want to get married.  The artwork is amazing, the story is compelling the characters have depth, and there’s plenty going on behind the scenes too.  The title of the series directly translates to “Brides’ Stories”, but to avoid confusion, i’ll be referring to it as the translated title “A Bride’s Story“, so you know exactly what you’re looking for at the bookstore.  😉

As we’ve done before with this series, the review is a discussion between my husband Michael and myself. We both wanted to focus on different things that caught our attention, so our review is basically us peppering each other with questions.  Let’s get to it!

the equally lovely back covers of the Manga

the equally lovely back covers of the Manga

Michael: So this time we are reviewing two very different volumes.  Volume 5 is the twin’s wedding and associated hijinks, while volume 6 is back to Amir and Karluk and a more dramatic, thoughtful story.

Andrea: Yeah, volumes 5 and 6 don’t really go together, because they are so different! Poor planning on my part! The twins wedding does have some laugh out loud moments, but I was really happy to get back to Amir, because she’s my favorite character. Not only is she awesome, but she’s got the best clothes!

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She Nailed A Stake through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror, edited by Tim Lieder

published in 2010

where I got it: Interlibrary loan







It being Passover/Easter week, what could be more appropriate reading than something biblical? I recently came across Tim Lieder’s blog, and he struck me as a swearing scholar (my favorite kind. of both). There was mention of an anthology that included old testament allegories and demons, and as I was already in a Haggadah frame of mind, so off to the library I went.

with a title like She Nailed a Stake Through his Head: Tales of Biblical Terror, it’s easy to think this is a one dimensional collection, that’s nothing but bible story retellings. You’d be wrong. While there were bible story retellings (which I admit, were my favorites) that don’t quite parallel what I’ve taught at Sunday school, but there were also vampires and Cthulhu monsters, and a Gilgamesh prequel and a parallel future where King David is a druggie rock star, and a few more vampires, and people, this is horrifically wonderful bizarro non-traditional stuff.

Mostly very short stories, this anthology was nice and easy to swallow, the whole thing is barely 150 pages long.  I read the entire thing in two sittings. And you don’t need a biblical education of any kind to enjoy these. There are no inside jokes for you to figure out, no parables to puzzle over. Just deliciously creepy and sometimes heavily sexualized fiction. That word “Terror” in the title? yeah, there for a reason. And if you have any kind of Judeo-Christian education, you’ll be even more creeped out, which for me, made it all the better.

Here are some of my thoughts on a few of the entries:

Whither thou Goest, by Gerri Leen – With the death of their husbands, Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth head back to Naomi’s homeland. In this version, it isn’t that Ruth doesn’t want to follow, it’s that she’s bound to follow. Not bound by anything Naomi has done, but bound, beautifully and powerfully, by her own words “Wherever you will go, I will go”. This Ruth survivies and lives off Naomi’s lifeforce. Naomi is trapped forever, for Ruth will never let her escape. And when they reach Naomi’s hometown, Ruth sets her sights on a new patron, someone new from whom she can steal lifeforce and energy.

Swallowed! by Stephen M. Wilson – told in reverse order, at first it’s easy to be disgusted by the man’s actions. He follows the voice in his head and does the horrible things it commands. He kills a few people, violently, needlessly, and viciously. But then we get an inkling of who he might be. that he was on a ship, fleeing something, and was thrown overboard by Cthulhu worshipping sailors, and was swallowed into warm darkness, where he didn’t die. The absolute creepiest retelling of the Jonah story I have ever had the pleasure of reading, this Jonah is deformed and mangled, possessed by something hungrier and more murderous than even himself.

Babylon’s Burning
, by Daniel Kayson – taking place right here, right now, nerdy Daniel gets dragged to a corporate company party by his brother. Daniel is disgusted by the kind of money this company throws around, their parties populated by high end call girls, their filthy government contracts that land them headlines about civilian deaths. And then he arrives at the party, and oh, the girls, the beautiful girls! A translator by training, Daniel witnesses something at the party that changes his life forever. He knows what those words mean, and he knows they will eventually point right at him. When you are the prophet, the translator, the high priest, there is no escape.

Psalm of the Second Body, by Catherynne Valente – Ya’ll know I love me some Valente. Although this anthology was published in 2010, this short story was originally published in 2005, it was Valente’s first. An almost prequel to the epic of Gilgamesh, it had me running to Wikipedia for a refresher course. I haven’t read Gilgamesh since high school. This is the story of Shamhat, the harlot who was instructed to seduce Enkidu, and took seven days to complete her mission. The story is from Shamhat’s point of view, and she is very good at what she does. I get the impression she’s offended to forever be known as the harlot, the prostitute, that the pains she took to help Enkidu become just slightly more human would never be acknowledged as important. I do love me some Valente, so it kills me that this story did nothing for me. The whole thing felt overwrought and overly ornamented just for the purpose of being overdone. Is she perhaps telling me that a harlot covered in the gaudiest golden jewelry will still always be seen by history as nothing but a woman who spreads her legs for money? The only story in the collection that I read twice, and the only one that didn’t do it for me.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.