Non-fiction Review: Chicago’s Great Fire, by Carl Smith

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Between October 8–10, 1871, much of the city of Chicago was destroyed by one of the most legendary urban fires in history. Incorporated as a city in 1837, Chicago had grown at a breathtaking pace in barely three decades, from just over 4,000 in 1840 to greater than 330,000 at the time of the fire. Built hastily, the city was largely made of wood. Once it began in the barn of Catherine and Patrick O’Leary, the Fire quickly grew out of control, twice jumping branches of the Chicago River on its relentless northeastward path through the city’s three divisions. Close to one of every three Chicago residents was left homeless and more were instantly unemployed, though the death toll was miraculously low.

Remarkably, no carefully researched popular history of the Great Chicago Fire has been written until now, despite it being one of the most cataclysmic disasters in US history. Building the story around memorable characters, both known to history and unknown, including the likes of General Philip Sheridan and Robert Todd Lincoln, eminent Chicago historian Carl Smith chronicles the city’s rapid growth and place in America’s post-Civil War expansion. The dramatic story of the fire—revealing human nature in all its guises—became one of equally remarkable renewal, as Chicago quickly rose back up from the ashes thanks to local determination and the world’s generosity and faith in Chicago’s future.

As we approach the fire’s 150th anniversary, Carl Smith’s compelling narrative at last gives this epic event its full and proper place in our national chronicle.

Review

Disclaimer: Although I received a copy of the Uncorrected Proof of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, the words and opinions below are my own.

Don’t ask how I developed an interest in Chicago, its Great Fire, and the later World’s Fair, because I won’t have an answer for you. I’ve not even been to Chicago unless you count being at O’Hare Airport for flight transfers. I’ve only seen downtown from the air. It might’ve been the story of an infamous murderer doing his deeds during the 1893 World’s Fair that got me started. From there, I would’ve looked at the event, and then back to the Great Fire 22 years earlier. The Fair was a way to promote Chicago’s grandeur and rebuilding after the fire. It was a phoenix, rising from the ashes. The preface from this recent release about the fire goes as far as stating that, with hindsight, it was a good thing that the city burned. Continue reading

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Review: A Deadly Fortune, by Stacie Murphy

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A historical mystery in the vein of The Alienist, in which a young woman in Gilded Age New York must use a special talent to unravel a deadly conspiracy.

Amelia Matthew has done the all-but-impossible, especially for an orphan in Gilded Age New York City. Along with her foster brother Jonas, she has parleyed her modest psychic talent into a safe and comfortable life. But safety and comfort vanish when a head injury leaves Amelia with a dramatically-expanded gift. After she publicly channels an angry spirit, she finds herself imprisoned in the notorious insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island. As Jonas searches for a way to free her, Amelia struggles to control her disturbing new abilities and survive a place where cruelty and despair threaten her sanity.

Andrew Cavanaugh is familiar with despair. In the wake of a devastating loss, he abandons a promising medical career—and his place in Philadelphia society—to devote himself to the study and treatment of mental disease. Miss Amelia Matthew is just another patient—until she channels a spirit in front of him and proves her gift is real.

When a distraught mother comes to Andrew searching for her missing daughter—a daughter she believes is being hidden at the asylum—he turns to Amelia. Together, they uncover evidence of a deadly conspiracy, and then it’s no longer just Amelia’s sanity and freedom at stake. Amelia must master her gift and use it to catch a killer—or risk becoming the next victim.

Review

Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, the words and opinions below are my own.

What was the Gilded Age like for those not fortunate enough to be members of The Four Hundred? In her debut novel, Stacie Murphy describes a view far removed from the ballrooms of excess. Amelia and Jonas only rub shoulders with New York City’s wealthy males when they patronize the private club where they work. Amelia makes a living spinning fortunes with the aid of an unusual gift and keen observation. But their lives change when Amelia comes to Jonas’ aid during a fight. The repercussions of a head injury eventually send her to the insane asylum, made infamous by Nellie Bly’s reporting six years previously. There she discovers what many people don’t realize: that wealthy some men send their wives there as an excuse to be rid of them. Continue reading

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Review: Tidewater Bride, by Laura Frantz

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They’re both too busy for love . . . but love is not too busy for them

Selah Hopewell seems to be the only woman in Virginia Colony who has no wish to wed. True, there are too many men and far too few women in James Towne. But Selah already has her hands full assisting her father in the family’s shop. And now she is in charge of an incoming ship of tobacco brides who must be looked after as they sort through their many suitors.

Xander Renick is perhaps the most eligible tobacco lord in the settlement. His lands are vast, his crops are prized, and his position as a mediator between the colonists and the powerful Powhatan nation surrounding them makes him indispensable. But Xander is already wedded to his business and still grieves the loss of his wife.

Can two fiercely independent people find happiness and fulfillment on their own? Or will they discover that what they’ve been missing in life has been right in front of them all along?

Review

Disclaimer: Although I received a copy of this book from the publisher, the words and opinions below are my own.

I don’t choose books to read based on their romance potential. Yeah, I’m a weird reader who looks at the plot, and the historical aspects involved. With Tidewater Bride, I knew I could rely on Laura Frantz to write a good story. Tidewater Bride is set in 1634, shortly after recorded massacres of colonists and times of starvation. It’s also a spin on the bride ships trope, in that the bride ships are not the focus of the story. Continue reading

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Review: To Dwell Among Cedars, by Connilyn Cossette

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Eight years ago, after the Philistines surrendered the stolen Ark of the Covenant back to the Israelites, Eliora and her brother left their Philistine homeland to follow it to the community of Kiryat-Yearim. Though they both were lovingly enfolded into a Levite family that guards the Ark, Eliora can’t stop feeling like she doesn’t belong.

Meanwhile, a faction of discontent Hebrews finds Kiryat-Yearim to be an unfit resting place and believes that the sacred vessel should be in the hands of the priests who mean to restore the Holy of Holies in a new location. Under the guise of gathering Hebrews to worship together for the festivals, Levite musician Ronen has been sent by his uncle to find where the Ark has been hidden and steal it back. But Ronen never expected that the Philistine girl he rescued years ago would now be part of the very family he’s tasked to deceive.

Ronen’s attempts to charm Eliora into revealing the location of the Ark lead them in unexpected directions, as they must battle betrayal and fear to help establish Israel’s leadership for a better future.

Review

Disclaimer: Although I received a copy of this book from the publisher, the words and opinions below are my own.

Connilyn Cossette returns with a new series about Philistine siblings living around the time of the prophet, Samuel, in the Old Testament. Continue reading

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Review, A Castaway in Cornwall, by Julie Klassen

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Set adrift on the tides of fate by the deaths of her parents and left wanting answers, Laura Callaway now lives with her uncle and his disapproving wife in North Cornwall. There she feels like a castaway, always viewed as an outsider even as she yearns to belong.

While wreckers search for valuables along the windswept Cornwall coast–known for its many shipwrecks but few survivors–Laura searches for clues to the lives lost so she can write letters to next of kin and return keepsakes to rightful owners. When a man is washed ashore after a wreck, Laura acts quickly to protect him from a local smuggler determined to destroy him.

As Laura and a neighbor care for the survivor, they discover he has curious wounds and, although he speaks in careful, educated English, his accent seems odd. Other clues wash ashore, and Laura soon realizes he is not who he seems to be. Despite the evidence against him, the mysterious man might provide her only chance to discover the truth about her parents’ fate. With danger pursuing them from every side, and an unexpected attraction growing between them, will Laura ever find the answers she seeks?

Review

Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, the words and opinions below are my own.

Cornwall has a history of being the location for classic titles such as Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. In recent years, perhaps due to the success of the 2015 television adaption of the Poldark novels, it has become a favored location again. This is the third novel I’ve read this year that focuses on the area and its dangerous coastline, and a way of life that includes shipwrecks and smuggling. Continue reading

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