book reviews

Historical Fiction You’ll love

Here are more great thrillers I read the last few months:

  1. The Old Lion--a captivating peek into what President Theodore Roosevelt was really like
  2. Gold Mountain–how the railroad was built
  3. The African Samurai–the tortured path of an African slave to becoming the first non-Japanese samurai
–a note about reviews: I only review books that inspire me. That’s why so many of my reviews are 4/5 or 5/5
–Some Books received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review of my opinions

The Old Lion

by Jeff Shaara

You can’t read Jeff Shaara’s The Old Lion without coming away feeling like you know Teddy Roosevelt–Teedy to his family. Though Teddy began life as a weak child with lots to complain about, his father never allowed him to feel sorry for himself, always provided guidance in how to overcome his shortfalls. That might be why Teddy developed a joie de vivre as he aged that rivaled any problems he faced. He focused this ‘never quit, never complain’ attitude, mixed with a firm core of justice, on doing right by the common man, those who worked hard their entire life for no other reason than they believed in the American dream. That propelled Teddy through ups and downs, wins and losses, from Assistant Secretary of the Navy who fought in the Spanish American War to president of the United States.

When I started this book, I thought I knew Teddy, would fill in a few holes in my knowledge, but soon realized all I knew was the narrative overlay of his life. I didn’t know about his love of the Old West, how he selflessly fought outlaws, his leadership in the charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish American War, the bias for action that often made him the proverbial ‘bull in a China shop, and so much more.

If I had one complaint, it would be jumping forward and back in Teddy’s life as Shaara made a point about influences on Teddy’s accomplishments. It wasn’t clear how much time had passed between the past and present, so I had to page back to figure that out. Annoying? Maybe, but not enough for even a lost star. Highly recommended for those who love American history and biographies of passionate, history-making people.

Gold Mountain

by Betty Yee

Betty Yee’s MG historical fiction, Gold Mountain (Carolrhoda Lab 2022), is a delight. 1800s China is rough and corrupt with the rule of law more a dream than reality. Tam Ling Fan’s twin brother received a lucrative contract to build America’s transcontinental railroad. When he dies, Ling Fan assumes his identify so she can earn the money needed to free her father from prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Her father raised her to be freer than most other women–without foot binding, educated and able to speak English–so she manages to carry of the trickery. When she arrives in California, she finds the life of a railroad worker is demanding and dirty with long hours and little rest. She is afraid to make friends for fear they will uncover her deceit so she keeps to herself, just working hard and saving her money.

The heart of the story is as much how she stops at nothing to earn the money necessary to free her father as it is about how that changes her inside and out. She meets Americans, a culture she’d never before been exposed to, gets caught amidst the opium trade among the Chinese workers, and along the way, must decide how much to compromise her morals for the worthy goal of freeing her father. I applauded her energy, exulted in her cleverness, but hoped the hunt for money wouldn’t ruin her deepest self. To find out if that happens, you’ll have to read the book!

This is well suited to expose students to a time in history most know little about. Thank you to the author and her publisher for the complimentary read.

–Though the book was complimentary, the opinions are my own and share my true attitudes.

The African Samurai

by Craig Shreve

Craig Shreve’s compelling story, The African Samurai (Simon and Schuster August 2023) follows the journey of a 16th century young boy, from a small African village  to the court of Japan’s ruler as the first foreign-born samurai. When his entire village is killed, the boy who eventually becomes known as Yasuke is left with no family, no connections, his value based on how well he serves his masters. He takes that seriously, developing himself physically and mentally despite little food, abysmal conditions, and many beatings. Because of his size and strength–and relative intelligence–he is sold over and over, finally ending in the hands of a Jesuit priest who treats him better than most and teaches him much about life and the world, only to again trade him, but this time to the Japanese ruler who finds value in the boy-man’s well-considered opinions and breadth of knowledge on the world–a side benefit of all the places he has lived as a slave. It is then that his life changes and begins an upward trajectory to the vaunted position of Japanese samurai with its attendant acclaim, wealth, and position.

“Make your name. Today, and every day forward. You are samurai. Be feared.”

This is historical fiction about little known events that will shock and educate you. It is told in first person making the man’s pain closer, the misery more personal, and his refusal to give up more emotional. There were times I struggled to keep reading not because the prose failed but because Yasuke’s life was so difficult. The lesson I came away with is never give up.

Recommended for all who love history about good people prevailing over obstacles, stories that are heart-stopping, action-packed, and unputdownable.

Copyright ©2023 – All rights reserved.

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Man vs. Nature saga, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the acclaimed Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Endangered Species, Winter 2024


79 thoughts on “Historical Fiction You’ll love

  1. I must read Old Lion and Gold Mountain. Teddy Roosevelt is one of my favorite presidents. I understand what you meant by knowing him from the narrative books. Your review interests me to find out other aspects of his life. Gold Mountain – I read many stories about females in that era such as MuLan (made into Disney movie) who disguised themselves as males to fufill family responsibilities. I’ll read Gold Moutain to find out about Tam Lin Fan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shaara tells a favorable but honest account of Teddy. I was a bit neutral toward him before I read this and am now a fan. Gold Mountain was the first I’d read about those events. Freedom has lots of requirements, doesn’t it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I appreciated Teddy’s and Elenore’s writings, not particularly about Teddy as a president. He was the only president won the third term, though. Even though he died before finishing his term.
        My sister works for the government in Hong Kong. As she said, “I love China, not its politics.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t wait to read The Old Lion (I’m afraid I stopped there because I had to put it in my Kindle!!) For some reason in middle school I got a passion with Teddy. Wrote lots of papers on him. And then when I started a Zine with other writers, it was called The Rough Riders (then changed to Writers). Now, my blog name is Roughwighting. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These sound great, Jacqui! I actually love historical fiction, especially when it takes place in a setting/culture I’m unfamiliar with, which two of these do. Great reviews. Thanks for introducing me to these books and sharing your recommendations! And Happy Reading.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. All three of these books sound good. I especially like the first one, but then Teddy Roosevelt has been a favorite (have you read Candide Millard’s “River of Doubt” about Roosevelts Amazon adventures in 1914?). The only Shaara book I’ve read was by his father, “Killer Angels” which set the standard for historical fiction about the Battle of Gettysburg. I’ve read it twice.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a fantastic thing to do! I was wondering how you manage to read only good books that merit 4/5 or 5/5 stars. I was thinking that maybe (in reference to a prior post you make) you don’t finish reading the books that don’t “grab” you, but only reviewing the ones that inspire you is simply fantastic!

    What’s funny is that a while back I read on a blog a book review that was negative, but actually made the book sound appealing to me. I just finished reading the third in the series 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent reviews, Jacqui! Historical fiction can be quite compelling and illuminating. FYI, I’ve had trouble getting to your blog sites through outlook email. Each time I click I get the unsafe link message, weird. I cut and paste this one into my browser and it worked fine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard that from others, but not sure what to do about it. I checked the URL and it always has HTTPS–no surprise since this is hosted by Another person mentioned they tried to get here through Outlook and it didn’t work. I don’t know if that’s the problem or something else.

      BRB–I’m doing a quick search…

      OK. Most help folks blamed it on the HTTPS, which I know isn’t the problem (you can verify that by exposing the URL and seeing the ‘https’). A few blame it on McAfee which I don’t have but others might, images I use (the ones on this post are straight from Amazon), links from other sites that aren’t https… There were a lot of complicated fixes, but none of them seemed to apply.

      My head is spinning.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for these recommendations, Jacqui. I enjoy historical fiction and all three sound like captivating and interesting reads. I’d especially love to learn more about Teddy Roosevelt and read The African Samurai. If only I had time…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow these historical fiction books sound terrific. A friend of mine, Mike Thompson looks a lot like Teddy and played him in a movie. Mike has a lot of stories about Teddy in the West. The African Samuari looks interesting. Is there an audiobook?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I learned so much about Roosevelt I didn’t know. Shaara is my go-to for American historical fiction. Love the guy.

      There is an audio book of The African Samurai. I think it would be great to listen to.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting that Old Lion is a “novel” and not another biography. Your review has me clicking keys to check it out. Thanks, Jacqui!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Jacqui – thanks for these recommendations – I’d love to read them if I didn’t have lots of others to read. We had a speaker come recently and give us a talk on Roosevelt – based on another similar book on his life – incredible man. The others would be fascinating too – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

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