Saturday, October 26, 2013

FLASH REVIEWS: Recent Audio Reads in Historical Fiction

I'm back with more quick reviews of my recent audio reads! I just finished two Bloody Jack Adventures  plus a couple of adult historicals. So here goes...

The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Audience: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

When the powers that be try to keep her from practicing her craft as a physician, Renaissance woman Gabriella Mondini decides now is the time to go searching for her long-lost father. What follows is a journey across Europe and beyond that calls to mind the Canterbury Tales. Through her entries in her diary and additions made in an anthology of diseases begun by her father (also a physician), readers are privy to Gabriella's adventures and obsessions. A woman physician in sixteenth-century Venice, Gabriella Mondini had the potential to become a fascinating character. The plot in and of itself is certainly intriguing, but the pacing is uneven and the supernatural elements are clumsily integrated and all too predictable. O'Melveney is a poet, and the prose is lyrical and striking at times; however, it also frequently veers into pretension and excessive description. Probably the only reason I finished this audiobook is Katherine Kellgren, whose magnificent voice performance kept me engaged.

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert  Goolrick
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Audience: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Psychological Suspense/Southern Gothic

When Charlie Beale arrived in the small Southern town of Brownsburg with a suitcase full of money, it was the summer of 1948. Decades later, a man who knew Charlie and was witness to Charlie’s torrid, fateful affair with the young bride of the town’s wealthiest man recounts the story. I was downright mesmerized by Goolrick's A Reliable Wife, but Heading Out to Wonderful lacked the tension and immediacy I expected in his follow-up novel. The setting and storyline had the haunting, nostalgic quality of a folk ballad, but the finale seemed forced and arbitrary. Also, I was troubled by the occasional awkwardness of the narrative voice and some unacknowledged loose ends. For example, it is never explained (MILD SPOILER AHEAD...HIGHLIGHT TO READ) how Charlie came by that suitcase of money. Although this was the most interesting part of the story to me, I would have understood if that particular plot point remained a mystery. But the fact that none of the book's characters seem to wonder or question it makes no sense. Still, even with all that being said, I think Heading Out to Wonderful would make a fantastic book club read. The recurring themes of lost innocence, sin and forgiveness, identities abandoned and recreated, and memory itself leave much to discuss.

Mississippi Jack by L.A. Meyer
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Adventure/Humor
Series: Bloody Jack Adventures #5

I am still a little furious at Jamie. But at the same time, I also like him a bit better now. In the past, Jamie has been almost too perfect for the wonderfully flawed adventuress that is Jacky Faber. Now, I see him as a more developed, if flawed character and I like him better for it. In this latest adventure, Jacky and Jamie are once again separated as Jacky makes her way down the Mississippi in a rollicking adventure reminiscent of the best tall tales. Legendary boatman Mike Fink even plays a significant role in the story. New love interests also emerge—most notably the irascibly charming Sir Richard Allen—to throw a wrench in Jacky and Jamie's relationship. Not to mention the intervention of the British Navy and Intelligence Agency, marauding Indians, and a homicidal Mike Fink. Also, did I already mention that I love Katherine Kellgren? Because I do. Her fabulous performances make the Bloody jack series a joy to listen to, bringing Jacky and the gang to vivid life.

Mt Bonny Light Horseman by L.A. Meyer
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Audience: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Adventure/Humor/War Story
Series: Bloody Jack Adventures #6

This time around, Jacky is tasked by British Intelligence to act as a spy against the French. Those who love the battle scenes of earlier Bloody Jack novels won't be disappointed. And Jacky being Jacky, there are also new flirtations for the more romantically minded (though the new love interest fails to live up to the standard set by Jamie's previous rivals for Jacky's affections, IMHO).

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