Historical Fiction

Nazi Saboteurs on the Bayou

Nazi Saboteurs on the Bayou
Published: November 15, 2016
Author's Twitter: @steven_burgauer
Nazi Saboteurs on the Bayou intertwines historic persons, events and locales of World War II with a fictional Nazi plot to disrupt the manufacture of Higgins boats, the Allied landing craft which won the war.  Spanning the globe from amphibious landings at Gavutu and Guadalcanal, to the Navajo code talker school near San Diego, to the exotic environs of New Orleans, to the secret world of Bletchley Park, England, to the Allied invasion of North Africa, this tautly written thriller, covering two weeks during the summer of 1942, combines an intriguing cast of characters with the historically important Andrew Jackson Higgins, Admiral John Godfrey of British Intelligence, Navajo code talker Chester Nez, Colonel “Wild Bill” Donovan of the OSS (later the CIA), Commander Ian Fleming of MI6, along with a Polish intelligence officer code-named “Rygor,” and Sylvestro “Silver Dollar Sam” Carolla, the crime boss of New Orleans.   A German dies in a New Orleans whorehouse.  He is carrying a mysterious notebook filled with hand-drawn maps, surveillance notes and cryptic codes.  As a result, Nazi Waffen SS conspirators ruthlessly search for that notebook, killing anyone, including two U.S. Marshals, who get in the way of their plans to disrupt the production of the Eureka steel-ramped landing crafts built by Higgins Industries.   Can this sabotage be stopped by a U.S. Navy intelligence officer, or a New Orleans Mafia don and his Cuban mistress with ties to British MI6, or the brilliant codebreakers of Bletchley Park?  The lives of U.S. Marines and Navajo code talkers in the Pacific and the Allied Forces of Operation Torch in North Africa are depending on their success in disrupting the plot.   The victory of Allied Forces hangs in the balance.

Assessed 

5 Stars

Nazi Saboteurs on the Bayou by Steven Burgauer is a brilliant historical fiction about, well – Nazis trying to sabotage Allied manufacturing capabilities of the Higgins Boat mostly in and around Louisiana. Or, it could be that the Allies are the saboteurs and the Nazi’s plan is what is being disrupted. Either way, the title fits and while it is a bit on-the-nose, what you find between the covers is a thoroughly-researched, incredibly detailed story of some of the unsung heroes of WWII. I say “unsung” because I, myself, had never heard of many of the real people, technologies and events that are featured in this book. Someone who has thoroughly researched the second World War would probably have to do a lot less Googling than I had to, but I was pleased to find that all of the author’s real facts were accurate. More importantly, I found very few real historical facts that were unnecessary. Sometimes, in historical fiction, you get two books: a fiction story and then a bunch of un-related data about the real-world events that were simultaneously taking place. This doesn’t happen here, and the historical information the author provides us not only augments the story he’s telling, but is almost-certainly going to be interesting data that you haven’t heard before. If anything, this should be a sign to those who don’t normally go in for historical fiction that this book can be enjoyed by anyone. In this respect it’s a bit like the film Saving Private Ryan, a fictional interpretation of a historical event that is written in a way that can be appreciated by even those who might not normally like war stories. That film and this book have other things in common as well, which I will get to shortly.
This is a book with many well-developed characters and branching storylines, mostly centered around a dead Nazi found in New Orleans, the attempts by the Nazis to get back information he was carrying and the Allied attempts to stop the Germans from destroying the factory which produced the Higgins Boats – the Allied craft that Dwight D. Eisenhower credited with being crucial to Allied victory on the European Western Front, North Africa and Italy. Most people have probably seen a Higgins Boat before, even if they didn’t know what it was called, as they were featured in the film Saving Private Ryan as the crafts the soldiers disembark from during the Normandy Beach sequence, just as they did during the actual storming. While that is presented as the main plot of the novel, this a book with a number of intricate subplots that intersect at times and diverge completely in others. It’s a tough balancing act, but the author pulls it off with aplomb. Without giving away too much, I can assure readers that the surprise cameos from history, the romance, the intrigue and the (at times) horrifically-detailed events of the story will be enough to keep you reading, likely at the edge of your seat, from the first page to the last.
If there’s one small thing to nitpick about the book, it would have to be the title. While “Nazi Saboteurs On The Bayou” is a one-hundred percent accurate depiction of what the book is about for the reader regardless of which way you interpret it, it would be hard to argue that it doesn’t sound like a Doc Savage pulp subtitle or the name of a B-movie from the fifties. Since the book is a thoroughly-researched and intricate fiction with innumerable factual, historical elements, I can’t help but wonder if the title would be enough to turn off the very target audience that this book is looking to attract. While I think the book would absolutely be better served by a different title, this is a very minor grievance I have with an otherwise beautifully-crafted book and I don’t think it warrants the deduction of even half of a star. 5 Stars.

Toru: Wayfarer Returns

Toru: Wayfarer Returns
Publisher:
Published: February 16, 2016
A Japan that might have been... Revolutionary young samurai take on the West in this alternate history technofantasy set in 1850s samurai-era Japan. In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as the commoners grow impoverished and their lords restless. Swords rust. Martial values decay. Foreign barbarians circle the island nation’s closed borders like vultures. Tōru, a shipwrecked young fisherman rescued by traders and taken to America, defies the Shogun’s ban on returning to Japan, determined to save his homeland from foreign invasion. Can he rouse his countrymen in time? Or will the cruel Shogun carry out his vow to execute all who set foot in Japan after traveling abroad? Armed only with his will, a few books, dirigible plans and dangerous ideas, Tōru must transform the Emperor’s realm before the Black Ships come. Tōru: Wayfarer Returns is the first book in the Sakura Steam Series, an alternate history of the tumultuous period from the opening of Japan in 1853 to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This volume covers the year prior to the American Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan and follows the hero and his young allies as they lead Japan through a massively compressed industrial revolution, dramatically altering that pivotal moment in history. While Tōru and his dirigibles are fictional, the story unfolds against the backdrop of the "real" Japan of that period, with historical figures and their political environment woven into the tale, staying true to their motivations and agendas even as the alternate history warps their actions, history and a few laws of physics. Underpinning the adventure plot is a young man's yearning for his father's approval and an honorable place in his world. Readers who enjoy steampunk alternate histories more typically set in Victorian England or the American Wild West may enjoy this steampunk story made fresh by the Japanese samurai setting, as well as readers who enjoy historical fiction set in Japan.

Assessed  

5 Stars

In Ecclesiastes 1:9 it is written that there is nothing new under the sun. That is a mostly true statement, and the meaning is evident to anyone who has noticed that most mediums of artistic expression (notably cinema) have struggled to come up with fresh ideas in the modern era. For every new or semi-new concept, there are a hundred carbon copies of existing work. For every A New Hope there is a Star Wars: Episode VII. For every debut album there are a hundred reunion tours. For every successful film franchise, there is a television adaptation. There really is nothing new under the sun.

Now that I have truly brought the mood down, let me try to bring it back up again by saying that Toru is one of those novel, original stories set in a fantastic land that for once doesn’t seem like a charcoal etching of another realm. Toru is a steampunk story set in the far east. Disciplined samurai ride into battle aboard bustling locomotives and the paths of sword and steam cross brilliantly. About halfway through this novel, I had to stop and look to see if this kind’ve thing had been done before. To my surprise, it has, and if you’re interested in samurai steampunk stories, there are one or two others out there, though I would be very surprised (and pleasantly) if they carried the depth and attention to detail of this one.

If there is anything to nitpick about the story, it might be the capabilities of the main character of Toru. In many ways, this book is a coming of age tale, or a bildingsroman if you squint, but there is little room for growth for this character. Toru can do it all, knows just about all there is to know, displays few (if any) character flaws and is basically an infallible force in the world. It would be interesting to see Toru grow and change more than what we’re given, but much like Star Wars or the bible, we are dealing with very powerful, legendary characters and there is clearly more story to tell beyond this first entry so this is forgivable. Also, as I mentioned, this a nitpicky thing and one that doesn’t distract from an otherwise remarkably well-written and well-edited read, nor does it warrant the subtraction of even half of a star. This is easily a 5 star novel that I think most readers will find approachable and satisfying.

 

 

 

Hosanna

Hosanna
Publisher:
Published: May 8, 2016
The last thing Hosanna wants is a bucket, a dishrag, and a brush. After all, it’s been fifteen years. Her heart and knees have grown callous from years of scrubbing floors for her racist grandmother who’s disgusted over the unlawful deeds of Hosanna’s white mother and black father. But Hosanna is now tired. Tired of her grandmother who has cloaked the family’s shame for far too long. So tired, she has waxed in wrath, counted every injustice, and rebelled against all who obstruct her quest for truth. So will she ever find peace? This uniquely-crafted story transcends time and takes us from the racial animus of 1945 to the abiding power of grace that heals and binds divisive wounds.

Assessed by Awesome Indies

December 15, 2016

5 Stars

Hosanna is a well-written book, obviously professionally edited, with a thought-provoking story line that embraces the racial divide in 1940s Georgia. The author artfully developed the characters and their sometimes difficult dialogue to portray the culture for that time period in such a compelling way that I felt I was right there with them. The plot was well-structured, the narrative flowed well, and the story was engaging. 5 Stars.

 

 

The Likeness

The Likeness
Author:
Published: October 14, 2016
Author's Twitter: @carver26
Aberdeen, 1841. Woodcarver John Grant has an unusual new commission - creating a figurehead to feature onstage in the melodramas of a newly-arrived theatre group. Simultaneously, he’s also trying to unravel the mystery of the death of a young woman, whose body has been found in the filth behind the harbour’s fish sheds. His loving relationship with Helen Anderson, which began in The Figurehead, has grown stronger but, despite the fact that they both want to be together, she rejects the restrictions of conventional marriage, in which the woman is effectively the property of the husband. As John works on the figurehead, Helen persuades her father, a rich merchant, to let her get involved in his business, allowing her to challenge yet more conventions of a male-dominated society. The story weaves parallels between the stage fictions, Helen’s business dealings, a sea voyage, stage rehearsals, and John’s investigations. In the end, the mystery death and the romantic dilemma are both resolved, but in unexpected ways.

Assessed  

Approved

5 Stars

In the port city of Aberdeen, the battered body of a young woman is found in the muck near the wharves. She is unidentified, but from her clothing is definitely not someone who would normally be in such a locale.

John Grant, a ship figurehead carver, is certain that the town’s constable will not do a good job of learning what happened to her, and in his quest for justice takes on the task of investigating her death. At the same time, Helen Anderson, daughter of a prosperous shipping company owner, is seeking to break out of the strictures placed on women of the era, and is pressuring her father to allow her to participate in managing his company. Her quest for liberation is affected by the growing romantic feelings for John.

This story starts off with a sense of heightened tension, as John is awakened to help rescue sailors from a ship that is foundering just offshore, and picks up with the discovery of the dead woman.

The Likeness is actually several stories that proceed on parallel courses, and while John’s investigation and finally solving of the young woman’s death is an important storyline, the main story is John and Helen’s relationship and how they manage to navigate the strict societal conventions of the mid-1800s and maintain their own sense of individuality and freedom.

The author has created a masterful interweave of several stories that come together beautifully at the end with all the mysteries solved and the personal relationships resolved in a most satisfying way. The mores, conventions, sights, sounds, and smells of the era are described so well, I was able to see the story unfolding in my mind like a period movie. The characters are so real, you can hear them, smell their sweat and perfume, and you either like and support them, or you want to take them to a locked room and throttle them mercilessly.

The mark of a great story is that it draws you in so fully that time unfolds without your awareness of it. I started reading this story in mid-morning, and didn’t eat lunch until I’d finished in mid-afternoon. Another is that after reading it you feel that you’ve learned something interesting about a bygone era.

A great story that is more than worthy of the five stars I give it.

 

 

 

Plaint for Provence : 1152 in Les Baux

Plaint for Provence : 1152 in Les Baux
Author:
Publisher:
Published: November 29, 2015
Author's Twitter: @writerjeangill.
Summoned to the court of Les Baux, Estela and her lover, Dragonetz, are embroiled in two rival claims for power as their feuding liege lords gather in Provence. Although Estela is reluctant to leave her idyll with her young child Musca, and her pursuit of Arabic medicine, she welcomes the chance to show her musical skills and to support Dragonetz, who must use his swordsmanship to play peacemaker. Both of them must face their own personal demons as the storm-clouds gather over Provence. . In this third volume of the Troubadours Quartet, Jean Gill, the ‘master of historical intrigue’, continues to weave the gripping adventures of Dragonetz and Estela seamlessly into real historical events. Medieval France comes alive in all its facets, from healing with leeches to training a goshawk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosette: A Novel of Pioneer Michigan

Rosette: A Novel of Pioneer Michigan
Published: January 22, 2016
Author's Twitter: @CindyRMarsch
We meet Rosette in 1888 as she revises the wedding-day page of her journal. In lush detail, in the voices of Rosette and others, the novel traces how we both choose and suffer our destiny, how hopes come to naught and sometimes rise from the wreckage. Why did she edit her wedding-day journal? Almost-spinster schoolteacher Rosette Cordelia Ramsdell married Otis Churchill on a Michigan farm in 1857. Her real-life journal recounts two years of homesteading, history hints at the next six decades, and the novel explores the truth. We meet Rosette in 1888 as she revises the wedding-day page of her journal. In lush detail, in the voices of Rosette and others, the novel traces how we both choose and suffer our destiny, how hopes come to naught and sometimes rise from the wreckage.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penny for Them

Penny for Them
Published: January 14, 2014
Author's Twitter: @PhilipCatshill
After learning of her stepfather’s death, Penny reveals the secrets that have kept her in hiding for thirty years. Her account begins in 1982, when a jewel robbery brought mayhem and death to central England. The following day, secret agents persuaded Penny to pursue her father’s murderer, Sean Moran. Penny discovered her stepfather, who was a junior minister in the British Government, had conspired with Argentinian agents towards the occupation of the Falklands. While trying to warn the British Government, the adventure takes Penny and Sean to Argentina, where a colonel in the brutal military regime realised Sean had the diamonds from the robbery. After rescuing the badly injured Sean, Penny discovered how her stepfather had engineered the arrest. Having thwarted his plans, her stepfather promised not to rest until he sees her dead body. Penny escaped him, but underestimated the lengths he would go to ensure her death.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

February 19, 2016

"a zinger of a surprise ending"

5 Stars

 

Penny for Them by Philip Catshill is an adventure story set mainly during the outbreak of the 1982 Falklands Conflict between the UK and Argentina, as the two countries slugged it out over a group of rocky islands in the Atlantic.

It’s primarily the story of Penelope Kendall-Wilkes, the stepdaughter of former British MP Henry Kendall-Wilkes, a central figure in the events leading up to the war. When Kendall-Wilkes sees Penelope as a threat, despite the relationship, he is determined to have her killed, and in the end, decides that he wants to do the deed himself.

The author does a credible job of portraying the complex, almost schizophrenic character of Penelope, as he allows us to see her multiple identities and personalities in her own words. The use of the first person, present in the narration, puts the reader in the picture, bringing the action alive very effectively in most of the book. It does cause a bit of confusion in places, but not fatally so.

Penelope’s relationship with Sean Moran, the man she’s been told murdered her father, is complex, but the author handles it well, including the surprise of Moran’s actual identity.

Penny for Them is a riveting read. The main character is complex, not a very good person at times, but someone the reader can root for, and the author came up with a zinger of a surprise ending. He also did a very good job of incorporating the background and action of the Falklands War into the overall narrative.

I give him five stars for this book.

 

 

 

 

 

Delivering Virtue

Delivering Virtue
Published: November 7, 2015
Author's Twitter: @briankindall
Poetic rogue Didier Rain is hired by The Church of the Restructured Truth to deliver a baby – Virtue – to be the bride of the Prophet Nehi at his church’s new settlement in the wilderness territories. A picaresque novel set in the American frontier of 1854. “It’s 1854 in the American West and Didier Rain – rogue, poet, and would-be entrepreneur – is hired by an upstart church to deliver a child bride to the sect’s prophet across a frontier fraught with perils.” Delivering Virtue is a picaresque novel set in the American frontier of 1854. A poetic rogue by the name of Didier Rain is hired by The Church of the Restructured Truth to fulfill a prophecy. He is to deliver a baby – Virtue – to be the bride of the Prophet Nehi at his church’s new settlement in the wilderness territories. The story is an account of the trials Rain endures on this journey, attempting to adhere to the contract he signed prescribing his sacrosanct behavior throughout, while wrestling with his more base animal inclinations. As he walks this precarious line between the sacred and the profane, Virtue remains Didier Rain’s guiding miracle, showing him the true meaning of salvation by journey’s end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1066: What Fates Impose

1066: What Fates Impose
Publisher:
Published: March 4, 2013
Author's Twitter: @GlynnHolloway
Historical fiction where history is the star. The novel is set mainly in pre-Conquest England and deals with the fascinating events and characters that led up to the Battle of Hastings. It is full of papal plots, court intrigues, family feuds, assassinations, battles and betrayals.