Tag Archives: historical fiction

CATTLE KATE by Jana Bommersbach

Photo from Amazon

Cattle Kate is a novel based on the legend of the lynching of Cattle Kate as a cattle rustler on July 20, 1889, in Wyoming Territory. In reality, the woman lynched never heard the name Cattle Kate; she was never referred to by that name until she was dead.

The book puts the reader in Ella’s (later known as Cattle Kate’s) shoes to set the record straight, telling her story in her words. It reads like an autobiography because Ella’s story begins when she was a child in Canada. It follows her family’s travels to Kansas and finally, her own travel to Wyoming Territory. Ella’s voice comes across like she is writing a letter to the reader, which fits in the “this is the real story” theme. The dialogue is true to life, at least it’s how I imagine those in the West spoke in the 1880s. There were a few typos but nothing too distracting and they didn’t significantly pull me out of the story.

Part I of Cattle Kate is told in first person from Ella Watson’s point of view; there isn’t really a traditionally character/story arc, but it is interesting and kept me reading. If you enjoy reading autobiographies or biographies, you will enjoy Part I, which ends violently and graphically. Part II is told in the third person and Part III contains notes pertaining to each chapter, which I enjoyed greatly. My own historical research has been based in the Midwest so I’d never heard of the Cattle Kate legend. I liked reading Ella’s story in her own words, the story of how the myth came to be, and where all of the facts the author used to pull it all together came from.

Cattle Kate is part fictional story and part history lesson. It did take me a little longer than normal to read it so, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a seven.

Source: Bommersbach, Jana. Cattle Kate: A Novel. Poisoned Pen Press: Scottsdale, AZ.

FROG MUSIC by Emma Donoghue

Photo from Amazon

Frog Music is historical fiction based on a murder that occurred in the sweltering summer of 1876 in San Francisco, California. I found it on Amazon with a keyword search involving American historical fiction and murder while doing a comparison for marketing my own historical fiction book, Taming the Twisted.

The story is told in the present tense from the third person limited point of view; the main character is Blanche. The book grabbed me violently in the first few pages with its description of the brutal murder which immediately sets ups the mystery I wanted to keep reading to solve. It goes back and forth in time with essentially two chronological starting points. It starts at the murder and also a few weeks prior when Blanche meets the murdered person, Jenny. The story switches back and forth between these two times, though they are both moving forward until, toward the end of the book, when the first story line (the meeting) catches up with the beginning of the later story line (the murder). I found this way of storytelling interesting and both kept me engaged. I had no trouble orienting myself in the story’s time.

Given the main character’s profession, the number of sex scenes shouldn’t come as a surprise, and they are told as tastefully as can be. And uncliched, with which I find many authors tend to struggle.

As mentioned, Frog Music is based on a real murder and the real witnesses who testified at the inquest about the murder. The characters are authentically human with both good and undesirable qualities. I found it difficult to completely love or completely hate any of them which testifies to their dynamics. Ultimately, Frog Music is a story of love between a mother and her child and how it overtakes the mother, even if at first she doesn’t want it to.

The book was obviously well-researched and I liked the Afterword that talked about the real people and the way San Francisco appeared in 1876.

I read this book within a little less than a week. So, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it an eight and a half.

Source: Donoghue, Emma. 2014. Frog Music. Back Bay Books: New York, NY.