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02 Dec, 2016

Flygirl

/ posted in: Reading Flygirl Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
on January 22nd 2009
Pages: 288
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Louisiana and Texas
Goodreads

“Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her.
 When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots – and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly as well as do something significant to help her brother stationed in the Pacific. But even the WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of “passing,” of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be.”


I loved this book so much.  From the very first pages, I believed that we were in Louisiana in the 1940s.  Ida Mae and her best friend feel like real people who grow apart over time because of the differences in their abilities to advance in the world. This book addresses not only racism but also the colorism in the African American community.

Ida Mae’s father taught her to fly for their crop dusting business.  She hasn’t been able to get her license because the instructor wouldn’t approve a license for a woman. When women are started to be hired to ferry planes between bases to free up male pilots for combat, Ida Mae wants to join.  She is very light skinned so she lets the recruiter assume that she is a white woman.  This makes a divide between Ida Mae and her darker skinned mother, family, and friends.  A big question in the story is can she come back from this?  Once she starts living the life of a white woman, will she be willing to be seen as a black woman again?

I read about this topic in A Chosen Exile:  A History of Racial Passing in America but I haven’t seen it addressed in historical fiction often.

If you are interested in reading more fiction about the WASP, check out The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.

Flygirl is YA so it is a quick read.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes women-centered historical fiction.

 

 

10 Oct, 2016

Radio Girls

/ posted in: Reading Radio Girls Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford
on June 14th 2016
Pages: 384
Genres: Historical Fiction
Published by NAL
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: England
Goodreads

“London, 1926. American-raised Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job as a secretary at the upstart British Broadcasting Corporation, whose use of radio—still new, strange, and electrifying—is captivating the nation. But the hectic pace, smart young staff, and intimidating bosses only add to Maisie’s insecurity.
Soon, she is seduced by the work—gaining confidence as she arranges broadcasts by the most famous writers, scientists, and politicians in Britain. She is also caught up in a growing conflict between her two bosses, John Reith, the formidable Director-General of the BBC, and Hilda Matheson, the extraordinary director of the hugely popular Talks programming, who each have very different visions of what radio should be. Under Hilda’s tutelage, Maisie discovers her talent, passion, and ambition. But when she unearths a shocking conspiracy, she and Hilda join forces to make their voices heard both on and off the air…and then face the dangerous consequences of telling the truth for a living.”


I love historical fiction and especially British historical fiction.  I was thrilled to receive this book from my OTSP Secret Sister and had to read it immediately.

BBC radio was only allowed to broadcast during set hours and was not allowed to cover news.  One of their most popular departments was Talks, headed by Hilda Matheson.  It was unusual for a woman to be allowed to head a department.  The head of the BBC, John Reith, was a very conservative man who asked all (male) applicants for executive positions two questions – Are you a Christian? and Do you have any character flaws?

He thought that Miss Matheson was too liberal in topics she wanted to cover.  She also kept bringing in homosexuals to present topics.  He did not approve but did seem strangely up to date on who had rumors circulating around about their sexuality.  Their conflict was real and this novel examines their issues through the voice of Maisie, a secretary that they share.  Reith warns her about being too ambitious and being exposed to the wrong kinds of people while working in the Talks department.  Matheson encourages her to speak up and promote ideas for new shows.  Eventually Maisie is enlisted by Matheson to spy on some new backers of the BBC who have ties to an increasingly unstable Germany.

Hilda Matheson was a fascinating woman who I’d never heard of before.  She was a political secretary for Lady Astor, the first female Member of Parliament.  Then she went to the BBC and after that she worked on the Africa Survey.  She also became a radio critic and wrote a textbook on broadcasting. She was a lesbian who had relationships with several high society women in England.  A book on her alone would have been fascinating.

There is spying, burgeoning feminism, the evolution of new technology, and arguments about censorship.  What more could you want from one book?

18 Aug, 2016

The Other Einstein

/ posted in: Reading The Other Einstein The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie Benedict
on October 18th 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Historical Fiction
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Switzerland and Serbia
Goodreads

“What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.
In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.”


Albert Einstein and his wife Mileva Maric

This was one of the books that I was most excited about after BEA. It is a book that seems designed just for me.

  • Historical fiction ✔️
  • About women’s history ✔️
  • Science ✔️

So why did I delay reading this until now?

Every time I picked it up I couldn’t quite bring myself to read it.  I knew what it was going to be.  It is yet another story of a woman who was forced to give up her own ambitions to fit in with the mores of her time.  Honestly, the thought exhausted me.

The book is a well written story of the life of Mileva Maric.  She was a Serbian woman who attended university in Zurich in physics.  She was Einstein’s classmate.  She finished her coursework but failed her degree.  She had a child with Einstein before they married.  That child either died young or was given up for adoption.  Nothing is known for sure.  After their marriage they had two sons.  They divorced when he was having an affair.  His mother didn’t like her because Mileva was an inferior dark-skinned Slavic person.  (I don’t know.  She looks pretty pale to me but I’m Slavic too so Mama Einstein probably wouldn’t have cared for my opinion either.)

It isn’t known if she helped him with his scientific work.  There are some letters from him to her where he refers to “our work” but it is earlier in the relationship.  This book imagines that she had the idea for relativity and worked on the math.

What follows is a story of erasure.  Her name isn’t on the paper because it wouldn’t look good that he needed the help of a woman.  He stops asking her for advice.  She feels like he sees her as just a housewife.  He spends more and more time away and blames her for being selfish if she questions him.  He tries to impose a bizarre contract on her in order to keep the marriage together for the sake of the children.

“CONDITIONS

A. You will make sure:

1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:

1. my sitting at home with you;
2. my going out or travelling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;
3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.”  Source

This is the part that was hard to read.  I wish I was more surprised by it but my feeling as I was reading this was, “Yeah, same ol’ same ol'”  This is the story of ambitious women from the beginning of time.

I was thrilled when she was awarded the proceeds of any future Nobel Prize in the divorce settlement.  You go girl!  She got it too.  That’s actual historical fact.  Actually she got to live on the interest from it which she invested in rental properties.


I’d recommend this book to any historical fiction fans.

4flower

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28 Jul, 2016

Vivian in Red – Historical Fiction and a Ghost Story

/ posted in: Reading Vivian in Red – Historical Fiction and a Ghost Story Vivian In Red by Kristina Riggle
on September 13th 2016
Pages: 352
Genres: 20th Century, Historical Fiction, Occult & Supernatural
Published by Polis Books
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: New York
Goodreads

“Famed Broadway producer Milo Short may be eighty-eight but that doesn’t stop him from going to the office every day. So when he steps out of his Upper West Side brownstone on one exceptionally hot morning, he’s not expecting to see the impossible: a woman from his life sixty years ago, cherry red lips, bright red hat, winking at him on a New York sidewalk, looking just as beautiful as she did back in 1934.
The sight causes him to suffer a stroke. And when he comes to, the renowned lyricist discovers he has lost the ability to communicate. Milo believes he must unravel his complicated history with Vivian Adair in order to win back his words. But he needs help—in the form of his granddaughter Eleanor— failed journalist and family misfit. Tapped to write her grandfather’s definitive biography, Eleanor must dig into Milo’s colorful past to discover the real story behind Milo’s greatest song Love Me, I Guess, and the mysterious woman who inspired an amazing life.”


In 1999 Milo is the recently widowed patriarch of a high achieving family.  He lives surrounded by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  He still goes into his production company even though his son is the running the place now.  The business isn’t doing as well as it used to and his son wants to do a revival of the last musical Milo wrote, The High Hat, along with commissioning a biography of Milo as a tie-in.  Milo is opposed to both.

He’s leaving the office after telling his son that when he sees a woman he knew in the 1930s.  She looks exactly like she did then.  She looks at him and he collapses.  When he wakes up he is unable to speak or use his right hand.  Robbed of ways to communicate, he has to figure out why Vivian Adair is haunting him without looking so confused that his family insists on a nursing home.

Now that Milo can’t voice his objections, the plans for the revival go ahead.  His granddaughter Eleanor is chosen to write the biography.  She is the only person who seems to understand that Milo is still lucid and aware and she doesn’t talk past him.  In her interviews with the son of his writing partner she hears the name Vivian and starts to investigate why that family thinks that this Vivian ruined everything.

I loved Milo and Eleanor! 

Milo’s mind is fast, as fits a lyricist, and he has a great sense of humor that comes through even when he is locked inside himself.  Eleanor has always been seen as the family misfit because she is quiet and she isn’t ambitious.  The rest of the family feels like they need to manage her life for her since she isn’t doing it up to their standards on her own.  She feels bad about being handed a book deal that is both a charity project for her and something that she knows her grandfather doesn’t want.  Now she’s gone and uncovered a scandal so everyone will be mad at her.

The author writes both time periods well.  There are little details from each era that anchor the writing firmly in that time.  Some of the social attitudes of the characters are jarring to modern thinking but seem accurate for the time and the place.

I stayed up past my bedtime to find out more about Vivian role in Milo’s past.  The mystery was well done with no easy easy to guess answers.

I would recommend this to any historical fiction fans even if you aren’t a fan of ghost stories.  The ghost aspect is just a way to get Milo to start focusing on this aspect of his past.  It isn’t written as a scary or horror-type story.  Ghost Vivian mostly just makes sarcastic comments that only Milo can hear.

4flower

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09 Jun, 2016

The Underground Railroad

/ posted in: Reading The Underground Railroad The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
on September 13th 2016
Pages: 320
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Published by Doubleday
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Indiana

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape.
Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey...Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors of black life in pre-Civil War America. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage, and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Goodreads

Georgia

Georgia functions like a typical slave state.  There are large plantations that house many slaves.  Cora was born here and has been on her own since her mother escaped when Cora was nine.  All she has of her own is a very small plot of land where she grows some vegetables.  After she violently defends her plot from an interloper, she is an outcast among the slaves.

When the master dies and the plantation is in the hands of his sadistic sons, an educated slave convinces Cora to escape with him.  He tells her about the Underground Railroad.  This is a literal railroad underground with stations under houses of abolitionists.  There aren’t many stations now.  Service is erratic at best and no trains may come at all.  They run and catch the train.

South Carolina

Slavery is illegal here.  Former slaves are educated and given places to live.  They have jobs and the ability to live a peaceful and productive life.  But there is a strange tension.  There is a feeling of something sinister under the surface of this utopia.

North Carolina

African-Americans are banned here.  Labor is done by immigrants from Europe.  The penalty for an African-American being in the state or a white person helping a black person is death.

Tennessee

Tennessee is dismal and bleak.  The slave catcher finds her here but she escapes with help from some other escapees.

Indiana

In this free state, black people live happily on a prosperous farm but will they be allowed to keep their enclave?


This book addresses a lot in a short space.

  • The hierarchy of slaves
  • Torture
  • Slave catchers
  • White people reluctant to help to free people
  • Black people helping to catch escaping slaves
  • What is an ideal society?

My only issue with this book is that there is a jarring change of story structure in Tennessee that took me completely out of the story.  I had to work to get back into it.  I’ve talked to other people who have read this and they agree that it was strange.  That’s the only reason why I’m going with 4.5 stars instead of 5.

I loved the idea of making it a literal train and exploring each state as a different form of government.  It lets him examine what might have been after emancipation if different ideas took hold.

 

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First come first served

14 Mar, 2016

Moving Pictures

/ posted in: Reading Moving Pictures Moving Pictures on 2010
Pages: 136
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, Crime & Mystery, Historical Fiction
Published by Top Shelf
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in France

"Moving Pictures "is the story of the awkward and dangerous relationship between curator Ila Gardner and officer Rolf Hauptmann, as they are forced by circumstances to play out their private lives in a public power struggle. The narrative unfolds along two timelines which collide with the revelation of a terrible secret, an enigmatic decision that not many would make, and the realization that sometimes the only choice left is the refusal to choose.

Goodreads

I’ve talked here before about not being a big comic/graphic novel fan because they are too short.  However, my library just got Hoopla which lets you read graphic novels from their collection on an iPad.  I figured I would be more likely to read them that way than getting multiple short books from the library.  After I read my first 25 page comic on the life of Ganesh, which was interesting, I realized that I could only download 10 books a month.  That killed my plan to read all the short ones about the Indian gods and goddesses.  So I started looking to see what books they had that were fairly long.

Moving Pictures is 146 pages.  It is the story of a Canadian woman working at a French museum during World War II.  She has been in charge of boxing up the non-important works of art and storing them in the basement of her museum.  She has decided to stay in France during the war for reasons that aren’t clear to her coworkers.  At the beginning of the book she is being interrogated by a German officer about her work at the museum.

 

The artwork is black and white and very minimalist except when a particular piece of art is being discussed. It shows up well in digital form.

The story is told in flashbacks to show how these people ended up in this interrogation room.

This is a good introduction to historical fiction graphic novels.

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