Tag Archive: historical fiction


the traitors wifeThe Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki

Published February 11th 2014 by Howard Books

Buy this book at: Amazon / B&N / Book Depository / Books a Million

Synopsis:

A riveting historical novel about Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America’s most infamous act of treason . . .

Everyone knows Benedict Arnold—the Revolutionary War general who betrayed America and fled to the British—as history’s most notorious turncoat. Many know Arnold’s co-conspirator, Major John André, who was apprehended with Arnold’s documents in his boots and hanged at the orders of General George Washington. But few know of the integral third character in the plot: a charming young woman who not only contributed to the betrayal but orchestrated it.

Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John André. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.

Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress’s affairs even when it could cost her everything, The Traitor’s Wife brings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom.

Rating: 2 star

 

Review:

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, no compensation nor promise of a good review was made. Thank you Howard Books!

Summary:

As much as I wanted to like this book, I just couldn’t get there. It should have been so good. Some parts of it were good but unfortunately the bad outweighed the good much of the time. Everyone knows the story of Benedict Arnold, even if it’s just the basics. It has been speculated that his wife Peggy was a much bigger part of that plot to betray the U.S. than history gave her credit for. So I was very excited to read a story about her part in things and how she orchestrated the entire plot. Spying, betrayal, secrets, and traitors is what I expected. That’s not what I got though.

Plot:

This part of the book was actually very good. The book begins by introducing us to Peggy Shippen, the future Mrs. Peggy Arnold. She is a society girl in Philadelphia whose entire existence revolves around the next big party and whether she’s been invited or not. She has been having a love affiar with a British office, Major John Andre. When the colonialists take over Philadelphia Major Andre is ordered to leave the city. With her main romantic match gone she fakes sympathies with the colonial cause in order to win the affection of the new big dog in town, Major General Benedict Arnold.

Eventually they marry but Peggy is not happy with this new lot in life. Her husband is accused of several crimes, most of which he is guilty of, but he manages to beat the charges with little more than a reprimand. They do not make enough money to occupy the vast estate that Arnold bought for his new bride and are forced to live on her parents’ property. Peggy mentions that she is a personal friend of John Andre, who is looking for colonial spies….and thus our treachery begins.

I liked seeing this side of a story, it was interesting and told from an objective POV, Peggy’s maid Clara.

Characters:

Peggy – I hated Peggy Shippen so much. She is vapid, shallow, selfish, narcissistic, manipulative, and mean spirited. Yet she had men falling all over her all the time, it was maddening. The only thought ever in her head was “How will that benefit me…and do I look pretty enough to do it?” It would have been different if she was subtle in her manipulations, then I could have liked her. But she wasn’t. She actually looked at her suitor one time and says, “if you love me then you’ll learn to walk for me. I don’t want to be married to a cripple.” Yeah, Peggy is about as subtle as a brick to the side of your head.

Clara Bell – Seriously, that’s her name. And EVERYONE insists on calling her by her full name too. I felt like I was watching an episode of Hee Haw. But the character was great. I found her to be observant, delightful, funny, and a great narrator.

Benedict Arnold – I don’t know what to say about this guy. What a pushover! I think Peggy took his cajones away and kept them in her jewelry box. He puts up with outright emotional and verbal abuse and calls it love. She insults him constantly, stokes the fire with his complaints about the colonial army, outright lies, and then puts him in correspondance with her former lover! This guy is a doormat with a capital D.

I have no real thoughts on any of the other main characters since they all seemed very secondary and I didn’t feel any particular emotion about them.

Writing:

This was the biggest problem with this book, the execution. Approximately 40 pages of this is told in flash forwards. We get a brief scene about what will happen on that fateful day that Benedict’s treachery is revealed, and then back to the main story. That’s fine on its own but the problem came at the end of the book when that same 40 pages is repeated again when the store caught up with itself. Either don’t do the flash forwards or don’t repeat it again later, that was massively annoying.

There were also some continuity problems with Peggy’s character. Yes she was petty and selfish and treated people poorly, but as far as the reader was aware she was never physically abusive. Then all of a sudden out of the blue Peggy hits Clara. And Clara goes on and on about how this is typical of her mistress and she’s been fed up with her abuse for years. But, wait, that’s the first time anything like that has happened. And it never happened again. So either it’s a pattern or a one time incident, it can’t be both.

I also felt the story took far too long to get going. I didn’t care about Peggy’s tantrums, I didn’t care about the next party she went to. If the author got rid of the extraneous details this book would have been half the length it is, and would have been a better story for it.

Overall:

This book was decent. I liked parts of it and I disliked parts of it. But ultimately it was my dislike of Peggy’s character that drove the rating down. The ending though was brilliant with Clara taking Peggy to task, I liked that scene a lot.

the forgotten queenThe Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan

Published January 29th, 2013 by Kensington

Cover image and synopsis provided by the publisher.

 

Buy this book at: Amazon / B&N / Book Depository / Books A Million

 

Rating 2 star

 

Synopsis:

From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. As daughter of Henry VII, her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland.

Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But she has rivals. While Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And providing an heir cannot guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an invading army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of tragic loss she falls prey to the attentions of the ambitious Earl of Angus—a move that brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal, secret alliances, and the vagaries of her own heart, Margaret has one overriding ambition—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost.

Exquisitely detailed and poignant, The Forgotten Queen vividly depicts the life and loves of an extraordinary woman who helped shape the fate of two kingdoms—and in time, became the means of uniting them.

 

Review:

 

**Warning: Mild spoilers ahead!**

Something is wrong with me, or at least wrong with the books I’ve been reading lately.  My past 3 or 4 books were 2 stars, I need to stop that trend!  Unfortunately, this book is not going to be the one to end the streak.  I wanted it to be, so desperately.  The cover is amazing, I am so in love with that dress that I wanted to read the book simply for that.  The synopsis also grabbed my attention.  Everyone has read books about the infamous Tudors.  Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Princess Catherine, all of these are names that most people would recognize.  Margaret is the oft overlooked Tudor that I can’t recall having too many books written about her.  In retrospect, there seems to be a very good reason for that.

Initially, I thought that I would quite like Margaret.  She was spunky and fiery, with a bit of an attitude on her too.  Her journey to the altar (by proxy) at the age of 13 to the King of Scotland, who was 20 years her senior, was a sweet introduction to the story and her character.  I liked that she understood her role in a royal family of being a queen and producing a royal family, while trying to bring two kingdoms together.  She was being proactive and determined to do her part for both England and Scotland.  I also enjoyed seeing her struggles to acclimate to a new country and discovering exactly what being a queen entailed.  Unfortunately, Margaret went from spunky and intelligent to selfish and narcissistic in a hurry. I found myself furious with her so many times that I stopped counting.  EVERYTHING was about her!  And when things stopped revolving around her for half a second she threw a fit and did something stupid, like firing a cannon at her husband.  She humiliated herself often but then got angry at every perceived slight that “shamed” her, no honey you are doing a wonderful job of that yourself.

I am not done unloading about Margaret here, she was also a horrible narrator because it was alllllll about the Margaret show.  Her child dies, it’s shoved aside when she gets a new dress and is so excited about it.  Her favorite servant dies and she is stunned that the woman had family and other interests besides hearing her self-indulgent rants all the time.  Her husband lies to her, deceives her, cheats on her, steals from her, and abandons her.  Yet she lets him take her son (the crowned king!) for a visit.  And then is absolutely shocked that he won’t give him back!  What the holy mother of God did you think would happen?!  He’s scum and has always had aspirations to control the king so you just hand the king over!?  Her late husband tells her, you must remain unmarried or they will challenge you for the crown.  She remarries and then is stunned when they challenge her for the crown!! AAAAHHHH!!  I can’t talk about Margaret anymore or I’m going to have a rage induced stroke.

Jamie was the complete opposite in terms of character, I really liked him a lot.  He was kind, considerate, intelligent, and looked to the future in a way befitting of a king.  I thought that this was the character I’d hate, marrying a 13-year-old and bringing her to Scotland at 14.  But I didn’t.  He recognized that she was just a girl and probably had no idea what being a wife and queen meant and was patient with her missteps.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that Jamie genuinely and honestly loved Margaret even if he was far from the perfect husband.  He did everything he could to make her happy but it didn’t end up working because she still nagged at him about everything.  I felt sorry for him by the end simply for having to deal with her.

The plot also presented me a lot of trouble, mainly because I wasn’t sure that there was one.  It was over 300 pages of a narcissistic rant that was all about Margaret.  That got boring really quick.  There was almost no mention of the intrigue of the time, nations in turmoil, her brother’s court in shambles, Scotland under siege from within, nothing of any import for the time at all.  All about Margaret and what made Margaret happy or unhappy.  I also pray that the formatting was fixed for the final copy because the ARC was practically unreadable.  In one sentence, a son was alive and well and being christened.  Literally in the next sentence, with no segue, the same son is dead and they are at his funeral.  I have zero idea how much time passed in between the two events.  Topics were mentioned and changed at will and with no explanation, segue, or even a paragraph break to tell me what was going on.  At one point, two whole years passed from the time we ended one paragraph to when we started the next.  It was so confusing.  I hope this was only a problem with the ARC because if the final copy is like that, God help anyone who reads it.

I cannot recommend this book.  It nearly killed me just to finish it and I considered putting it down and giving up more than a dozen times.  Unless you are a massive fan of the author then I fear your reading experience will echo mine.

Thank you Kensington for providing me an ARC of this book via NetGalley.  It was provided in exchange for an honest review.

 

the 19th wifeThe 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Published June 2nd, 2009 by Random House

Synopsis and cover image from the Goodreads book page

Buy this book at: Book Depository / Amazon / B&N

Synopsis:

It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of her family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how both she and her mother became plural wives. Yet soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death. And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love, family, and faith

 

Rating: 3 star

 

Review:

For anyone who doesn’t know, I used to belong to the Mormon church.  I was born into it (4th generation actually) and lived it until I was around 18 and then removed myself from church membership at 19.  So, in a sense, I can identify with Ann Eliza and her apostasy from the church.  I may have left for different reasons but I was surprised how many were the same.  This also left with me a rather biased view of the church and their teachings.  I was still interested in this book for the story it presented and tried very hard not to let my own biases color this review.  But I feel a tiny disclaimer is warranted just in case I didn’t quite succeed.

This book attempts to tell two stories simultaneously.  First is the story of Ann Eliza, 19th wife to the 2nd prophet of the LDS church Brigham Young.  It tells the story of her disenchantment with the church and later her divorce from Brigham and apostasy over the issue of polygamy.  She later goes on a personal crusade to end polygamy in the United States for good.  The second story is the story of Jordan Scott.  His mother is the 19th wife of a polygamist man in a fringe branch of the LDS church, which branched off over the issue of polygamy, and she is arrested and accused of murdering her husband.

Now, I found both of these stories interesting but I wasn’t entirely happy with the way they were handled in the book.  Ann Eliza’s narrative overtook the large majority of the pages and quite frankly it wasn’t the most interesting thing going on.  Anyone with even a tiny bit of knowledge of Mormon history knows how Ann Eliza’s crusade ends.  They know that the church banned polygamy from practice in order to coincide with US law.  We know that her crusade was only partially effective since fringe elements in the church branched off from the main church and still practice polygamy to this day.  These are all things we KNOW happened, so Ann Eliza’s story is not surprising but only mildly interesting.  What was surprising was Jordan Scott, a young man cast out of this fringe group (called the Firsts) for holding hands with his stepsister.  His mother drives him to the highway and puts him out on the road to fend for himself at 15.  He is then pulled back into the sect when his mother is arrested for murdering his father year later, and he finds that he believes her to be innocent.  We follow Jordan on his quest to discover the truth of his father’s demise.

Although I felt that Ann Eliza’s story got far more coverage than it needed to, I can’t say that I disliked what I read.  The only part that got on my nerves was when we read something from her memoir and then a chapter or so later are told the SAME THING as someone tells Jordan Scott about it.  I felt like this was a forced attempt to connect the two stories when it wasn’t necessary.  We already had the connection of polygamy, the Firsts being founded by Ann’s brother, and both being the 19th wife.  We didn’t need anything else to be intrigued so it felt forced to put all these connections between the stories in there.  The other part of Ann’s narrative that I had issue with was that it got repetitive all by itself.  We hear her talk about her lecturing on multiple occasions, we hear about her marriage from not only her but her former husband AND her son.  It got cumbersome and took up way too many pages, meanwhile I was frothing at the mouth to hear about what Jordan was doing!

Jordan’s story, unfortunately, got neglected.  We kind of think he has a boyfriend (Roland) who is kind of an asshole, but he so readily hooks up with goody goody Tom that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on.  Johnny was a delightful character who added some much needed levity to this otherwise very heavy story.  All of the other characters in Jordan’s narrative I really had no feelings for because none of them were fleshed out very much, so I couldn’t have any feelings toward them one way or the other.  I feel like the author relied too much on the reputation of sects like The Firsts and that the reader just automatically understood the interactions.  Here’s a hint, we didn’t and we wanted to!  The ending of Jordan’s narrative took me by surprise.  I honestly never saw it coming, mostly because I never had enough information to see it coming.

Also SPOILER!!!!

Minor grip about the title.  Neither of these women was actually the 19th wife.  Popularly they were known as the 19th wives, but neither actually were in reality.  I don’t know why that bugged me, but it did.  Overall, it was an interesting story and the ending saved it for me on many accounts. A good investment of my time, but it could have done with a few hundred pages less.