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10 Aug, 2017

Unbroken Line of the Moon – Women in Translation Month

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Unbroken Line of the Moon – Women in Translation Month The Unbroken Line of the Moon by Johanne Hildebrandt, Tara F. Chace
Series: Sagan om Valhalla #4
on October 1, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 464
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Sweden

In this grand saga of love, war, and magic set in the tenth century, young Sigrid is destined to be the mother of the king of the Nordic lands that would become Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England.
A devout believer in the old Nordic gods, Sigrid is visited regularly in her dreams by the goddess Freya, who whispers to her of the future. Though Sigrid is beautiful, rich, arrogant, and matchlessly clever, her uncanny ability to foresee the future and manipulate the present guides her through dangerous politics as a bloody war between Vikings and Christians rages on.
Sigrid’s father wants her to marry Erik, a local king, to secure the peace between the Goths and the Swedes. Thinking she is doing Freya’s will, she accepts the marriage offer, only to find that her destiny lies not with Erik but with Sweyn, a warrior who dreams of dethroning Harald Bluetooth, the legendary ruler of Denmark. Will Sigrid sacrifice her will for the greatest Viking kingdom of all time, or will she follow her heart at the risk of losing everything?


I got this book for free through the Kindle First program for Amazon Prime members.  That’s a great way to try out some translated books since usually at least one of the selections are translated.

This book 4 of a series published in Sweden but it is the first book available in English.  The next book the series is going to be translated later in 2017.  I’m not sure what the first few books cover but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by starting the story at this point.

This book is set during the time of the Vikings and everyone knows that they were awful.  That aspect of Viking life is not sugar coated here.  There is a lot of violence.  There are graphic descriptions of multiple gang rapes.

Despite that, I did enjoy this story.  I haven’t read much set during this time in Scandinavia when there was conflict between traditional Nordic beliefs and Christianity.    True believers on both sides are coming across people who will switch religions for personal or political gain.

If you like Game of Thrones style fantasy or historical fiction you will probably enjoy this book.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
04 Aug, 2017

The Cost of Sugar – Women in Translation Month

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Cost of Sugar – Women in Translation Month The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
Published by HopeRoad on January 7th 2011
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 296
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Surinam

The Cost of Sugar is an intriguing history of those rabid times in Dutch Surinam between 1765-1779 when sugar was king.Told through the eyes of two Jewish step sisters, Eliza and Sarith, descendants of the settlers of 'New Jerusalem of the River' know today as Jodensvanne. The Cost of Sugar is a frank expose of the tragic toll on the lives of colonists and slaves alike.


This is the second novel that I have read by Cynthia McLeod.  She is a hard author for me to review.  On one hand I love the stories that she tells.  She gives you a look into life in colonial Suriname, on the northeast coast of South America.  She tells stories that I haven’t heard from any other author.  The previous book I read of hers, The Free Negress Elisabeth, is a story that has stayed in my mind because it is the type of women’s history that is so often overlooked.  I want to put her books in everyone’s hands and tell them they have to hear about this.

On the other hand though, the writing in the books just isn’t very good.  Clunky is the word that keeps coming to mind.  I’m reading an English translation from the Dutch but I don’t think that is the whole issue.  She is so careful to have so much documented historical fact in the books that she info-dumps continuously.  That doesn’t usually bother me in a story but these passages aren’t blended into the fictional story that she is telling well.  She even has footnotes.  I’m not sure what the footnotes were about because many of them weren’t translated.  The untranslated ones appeared to be quotes.

I’ve had this book for a long time before reading it.  I tried to start it a few times but the writing style made me stop after a few pages.  I decided to knuckle down and read it for Women in Translation Month.  Once I decided to power through, I read it in less than a day.  The story carries you through.

One early wave of settlers to Suriname were Portuguese Jews who migrated from Brazil.  They set up large plantations and did well for themselves.  Subsequent waves of settlers from Holland though were anti-Semitic and over time the Jewish families found themselves not at the top of society anymore.  This is the story of two half-sisters, one had two Jewish parents and one had only a Jewish father so was not considered Jewish herself. The story shows how their lives diverge as Suriname begins to deal with the effects of people living too far in debt for them to maintain. 

White people in Suriname did nothing for themselves.  There were so many more enslaved people than white people that whites gave all responsibilities for running their lives to the slaves.  With nothing to do, they entertained themselves with lavish parties that lasted for weeks.  Gossip was rampant.  There wasn’t a single rich white person that I didn’t want to slap at some point in this book.

The Cost of Sugar refers to all the lives wasted in the plantation system – the enslaved people, the white landowners, the Dutch soldiers brought into protect the plantations, the escaped and free blacks living in the jungle.  It was a system that hurt everyone.

It now occurred to Elza that her family was in fact a model for all Suriname society. Wasn’t everyone and everything totally dependent on the slaves? Just as she felt so completely lost without Maisa, so the colony would be totally lost without its slaves. They did everything and knew everything, and the whites knew nothing and were incapable of anything. The whites needed the negroes, but the negroes didn’t need a single white person”

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Latin America
  • POC authors
02 Aug, 2017

The Dress in the Window

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Dress in the Window The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 25th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads
Setting: Pennsylvania

World War II has ended and American women are shedding their old clothes for the gorgeous new styles. Voluminous layers of taffeta and tulle, wasp waists, and beautiful color—all so welcome after years of sensible styles and strict rationing.
Jeanne Brink and her sister Peggy both had to weather every tragedy the war had to offer—Peggy now a widowed mother, Jeanne without the fiancé she’d counted on, both living with Peggy’s mother-in-law in a grim mill town. But despite their grey pasts they long for a bright future—Jeanne by creating stunning dresses for her clients with the help of her sister Peggy’s brilliant sketches.
Together, they combine forces to create amazing fashions and a more prosperous life than they’d ever dreamed of before the war. But sisterly love can sometimes turn into sibling jealousy. Always playing second fiddle to her sister, Peggy yearns to make her own mark. But as they soon discover, the future is never without its surprises, ones that have the potential to make—or break—their dreams.


None of the women in this story expected to live a life without their men.  Now, after World War II, they are trying to adapt to what their lives have become. 

Jeanne is a talented seamstress but making knock off dresses for rich women in her small town isn’t enough to make ends meet.  Peggy is a good designer but with a small daughter she needs to find a way to make money.  Thelma is Peggy’s mother in law.  She owns the house they live in and is barely keeping them afloat.

Thelma was my favorite character in this book.  She is portrayed as the matriarch but she is only in her mid-40s.  She has a lot of secrets including lovers who will still do her some favors as the need arises.  She is smart but always underestimated due to her gender and socioeconomic condition.  She comes up with a plan to help them all based on secrets, blackmail, and her talents. 

This is a good look at life for women who were forced to grow up quickly because of war.  Peggy has a child that she probably wouldn’t have had so young if not for the war making things feel urgent.  Jeanne is concerned about being a spinster forever because of the lack of men. 

Overall, this is a grim book.  Times were tough and the women had to be even tougher to get through it. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
27 Jul, 2017

The Gilded Years

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Gilded Years The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
Published by Simon and Schuster on July 1, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 379
Format: eBook
Source: Playster
Goodreads
Setting: New York

Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.
Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.


I loved this story of a woman trying to get an education at Vassar before they accepted African-American students.  Her life is compared and contrasted to the life of her brother who was enrolled as a Negro student at newly desegregated MIT.  Where he is able to live relatively freely because the racists just ignored and/or avoided him, her attempts to keep from drawing attention to herself were thwarted by a roommate who is determined to be best friends.  Lottie drags Anita into a high class social life and introduces her to people who she knows wouldn’t talk to her if they knew she was black.

The book addresses the pain of having to cut family members out of your life if you are passing.

The author did a good job of incorporating the views of many different types of people – black people who saw this as a practical way to get an education, black people who wanted her to be a vocal proponent for civil rights, white people both for and against desegregation, and white people who were against bigotry until events touched their lives.

What I found most remarkable about this story is that it is based on real events.  I wasn’t surprised by a woman passing as white to attend a segregated college but I was surprised about some of the details that seemed a bit over the top that turned out to be based in reality.  I can’t discuss it all because of spoilers but make sure to read the historical note at the end.

A good companion to this book would be:

 A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in AmericaA Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America by Allyson Hobbs

“Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
18 Jul, 2017

When The Future Comes Too Soon

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading When The Future Comes Too Soon When the Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Series: Malayan #2
on July 18, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Goodreads
Also in this series: The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

In Japanese-occupied Malaya, lives are shattered and a woman discovers her inner strength in a world ravaged by war.
Following the death of their matriarch, the lives of Chye Hoon’s family turned upside down. Now that the British have fled and the Japanese have conquered, their once-benign world changes overnight.
Amid the turmoil, Chye Hoon’s daughter-in-law, Mei Foong, must fend for her family as her husband, Weng Yu, becomes increasingly embittered. Challenged in ways she never could have imagined and forced into hiding, Mei Foong finds a deep reservoir of resilience she did not know she had and soon draws the attentions of another man.
Is Mei Foong’s resolve enough to save herself, her marriage, and her family? Only when peace returns to Malaya will she learn the full price she must pay for survival.

 


I loved the first book in this series – The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds.  That was the story of a woman in Malaya who witnesses  the change of her area when the British colonize.  Her oldest son is educated in England and she has huge hopes for him that he fails to live up to.  He marries a Chinese girl to please his mother.  This book picks up immediately after the death of the protagonist of the first book.  Her Chinese daughter-in-law tells the story of how they survived the Japanese occupation of World War II.

I was a bit reluctant to pick this book up because of the time period.  I know that Japanese occupations in Asia were brutal.  This book does talk about one massacre but overall it keeps a much narrower focus.  It looks at how this one family survived the war.  They know people in the resistance but that isn’t talked about much.

One of the conflicts was knowing how to react to the Japanese.  They were invaders and they could be cruel but they also allowed Asian people into high ranking jobs that the British establishment would have never allowed.  Our narrator Mei Foong’s husband, Weng Yu is given a job that he has always wanted by the Japanese.  She has learned that her husband is a coward.  He would head to bomb shelters first before helping her or their children.  She has lost a lot of respect for him.  He is in turns indifferent and cruel to her.  Mei Foong learns to grow her own food and sells her mother’s jewelry in order for her family to be able to eat.  The family basically keeps their heads down and does what they have to do to survive unnoticed.

“If anyone had called me a collaborator to my face, I would have recoiled.  As far as I was concerned, we were only giving the Japs our unwilling cooperation.”

 

This is a shorter book than the first one.  It only covers the years of the war.  It mostly the story of the disintegration of a marriage and a woman’s finding strength in herself that she didn’t know she had set against a backdrop of war instead of a novel about the war.  It isn’t necessary to read the first book before picking this one up but it adds to your background knowledge of the area and the characters.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction.  Mei Foong is a great character.  She grows from a shy, pampered, upper class bride into a woman who knows her worth and is able to take care of herself.

About Selina Siak Chin Yoke

Of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, Selina Siak Chin Yoke (石清玉) grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends. She always knew that one day, she would write. After an eclectic life as a physicist, banker and trader in London, the heavens intervened. In 2009 Chin Yoke was diagnosed with cancer. While recovering, she decided not to delay her dream of writing any longer.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
27 Jun, 2017

Kiss Carlo

/ posted in: Reading Kiss Carlo Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani
Published by HarperCollins on June 20th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match.
Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.


Kiss Carlo is a meandering family story that takes place over a few years in post WWII Philadelphia.  The Palazzini family lives together in a large house containing Uncle Dom and Aunt Jo, their three sons and their wives, and a cousin, Nicky.  The men all work together also in the family cab company.

What no one knows is that Nicky has been moonlighting at a struggling Shakespeare theater.  He’s a stagehand but an emergency forces him onstage mid-play and makes him realize that he wants to act.  He also has a man die in his cab which forces the realization that he isn’t doing exactly what he wants with his life.  His actions shake up the whole Palazzini family when Nicky breaks off his engagement and moves out of the house.

The book is full of distinct and interesting characters.  With such a large cast it could have been hard to keep the characters separate, but the author did a very good job of writing each one as a individual with their own backstory, personality traits, and motivations.  There are no “generic sisters-in-law” here.

Hortense is the African-American dispatcher and telegraph operator at the cab company.  She’s no nonsense and proudly self-educated.  Her husband doesn’t appreciate her and demeans her.  She forges a friendship with a housebound Italian widow over a weekend who shares part of her way of making marinara sauce.  This leads to a business opportunity for Hortense because she’s savvy enough to see how a simple sauce fits into the need for convenience for the modern house wife.  Adding this character gives an outsider’s view of the Italian families and neighborhood of Philadelphia.

This is a long book that doesn’t have one distinct through story.  It is a book that you just need to settle into and let it take you along for the ride instead of trying to imagine where the journey is going to take you.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon | Barnes
& Noble

About Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of 17 books, which have been published in 36 countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is co-founder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than a thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.

Visit Adriana at her website: www.adrianatrigiani.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • Foodies Read 2017
26 May, 2017

Flirting Through Math – Two Courtney Milan Stories

/ posted in: Reading Flirting Through Math – Two Courtney Milan Stories Hold Me by Courtney Milan
Published by Courtney Milan on October 25th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, LGBT
Pages: 313
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: California

Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.
But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…


I’m a big fan of Courtney Milan’s historical romances.  I wanted to read another one of her books for AsianLitBingo but they don’t qualify because they don’t have Asian main characters.  I decided to try one of her contemporary romances.  Most contemporary romances don’t work for me.  I like romances PG-13 or less and you don’t generally get that in a contemporary.

I chose this book instead of the first book in the series.  The first book is about a billionaire.  That’s one of my key NOPE words in descriptions.  I don’t want to read about billionaires in romances.  This one is billionaire-free although the said billionaire is lurking around as a secondary character.

Jay is:

  • a professor at a university in California
  • Thai/Chinese
  • bisexual
  • a frequent commenter on a website who moved to being an online friend of the creator of the website

Maria is:

  • an older undergrad at the same university
  • Latina
  • trans
  • a self-proclaimed girly-girl
  • the creator of a blog that examines end-of-the-world scenarios
  • the sister of one of Jay’s friends

Jay takes an immediate dislike to Maria when they meet in person through her brother because he perceives her to be overly interested in shoes and makeup and girl stuff.  He finds her shallow. He can’t even seem to make a connection between a woman he sees in front of him and the woman he has been flirting with through science and mathematics for two years.  They aren’t even the same species in his mind.

I’m not a big fan of books that are all about mistaken identity.  This book ends the mystery about halfway through.  The rest of the book is about them trying to translate a two year online relationship into real life.  Maria has some major abandonment issues that cause her to be very fearful of committing to a relationship.  Jay needs to deal with his dismissals of women who appear very feminine.  He considers himself to be a feminist but still thinks women in dresses and makeup must be dumb.

I thought these issues were handled well in the story.  There was a lot going on.  The author writes flirting very well.  I wasn’t completely swept away with the romance here.  I think that is more an issue of not being a huge fan of contemporaries instead of being completely the fault of the book.  If you like contemporary romances that deal with issues and aren’t purely fluff, I’d recommend this one.


So well then after I read this one I had to go back and read another one of her historical romances, didn’t I?  This one happened to be all about mathematical flirting too.

 
Flirting Through Math – Two Courtney Milan Stories Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan
Published by Courtney Milan on August 19th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General, Victorian
Pages: 133
Goodreads
Setting: England

Nobody knows who Miss Rose Sweetly is, and she prefers it that way. She’s a shy, mathematically-minded shopkeeper’s daughter who dreams of the stars. Women like her only ever come to attention through scandal. She’ll take obscurity, thank you very much.
All of England knows who Stephen Shaughnessy is. He’s an infamous advice columnist and a known rake. When he moves into the house next door to Rose, she discovers that he’s also wickedly funny, devilishly flirtatious, and heart-stoppingly handsome. But when he takes an interest in her mathematical work, she realizes that Mr. Shaughnessy isn’t just a scandal waiting to happen. He’s waiting to happen to her…and if she’s not careful, she’ll give in to certain ruination.


This is a rare historical romance novella set in England that acknowledges that England at that time was not uniformly white.  Rose is black.  She is staying with her pregnant sister who is about to have her baby while her Naval Officer husband is at sea.  They are dealing with the horrible racism of the doctor who is supposed to be helping.  At the same time, a once in a lifetime astronomical event is about to take place.  Because Rose is just a woman who does the calculation in the lab, she isn’t going to be allowed into the prime viewing space to watch it. 

When she finds out that she has a suitor who is white, she is unimpressed by his assertions that everything will work out just fine.  She knows that he has no idea of the prejudice that they will face as an interracial couple. 

This is part of the Brothers Sinister series but it can be read alone.  There is great dialogue between the characters.  I like these stories because they feature women who know their worth (and it is based on something other than their money or their looks) and men who are actually nice and worth caring about.

About Courtney Milan

“C ourtney Milan’s debut novel was published in 2010. Since then, her books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. She’s been a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller, a RITA® finalist and an RT Reviewer’s Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance. Her second book was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010.

Courtney lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat.

Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships with some really important people who are way too dignified to be named here. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.” from her website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
16 May, 2017

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

/ posted in: Reading The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Series: Malayan #1
Published by AmazonCrossing on November 1st 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 474
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Also in this series: When the Future Comes Too Soon

Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a Nyonya—and her destiny as a cook, rather than following her first dream of attending school like her brother.
Amidst the smells of chillies and garlic frying, Chye Hoon begins to appreciate the richness of her traditions, eventually marrying Wong Peng Choon, a Chinese man. Together, they have ten children. At last, she can pass on the stories she has heard—magical tales of men from the sea—and her warrior’s courage, along with her wonderful kueh (cakes).
But the cultural shift towards the West has begun. Chye Hoon finds herself afraid of losing the heritage she so prizes as her children move more and more into the modernising Western world.


 

This is an historical fiction novel set between the 1870s and the 1940s in Malaysia.   In this area of Malaysia at the time it was common for people to be of mixed ethnic heritage.  But now the British have started to establish a presence.  Towns and cities are growing.  Chye Hoon’s father decides to learn English and move the family to a larger city to get ahead.  Although she is smart, she is not able to go to school.  She is headstrong and not beautiful so stays unmarried for a long time before becoming a second wife to a Chinese man who left his family behind in China.

This story focuses on the way the world is changing around Chye Hoon.  She is taken to a backwater town after her marriage.  She watches Ipoh grow into a mining center.  She sees her children grow up and learn English as their major language.  Even her daughters are able to be educated.  But her family traditions are very important. She longs to be able to pass on the stories that were told to her and the traditions of the families in her area.  Her children are not interested.

What do we lose in the name of progress?

I had never heard of the Nyonyas and Babas.  It took me a while to understand exactly what those terms meant.  This is from Wikipedia.

Peranakan Chinese or Straits-born Chinese are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago including British Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, where they are also referred to as Baba-Nyonya) and Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia; where they’re also referred as Kiau-Seng)[4] between the 15th and 17th centuries.[5]

Members of this community in Malaysia address themselves as “Baba Nyonya”. Nyonya is the term for the women and Baba for the men. It applies especially to the Han populations of the British Straits Settlements of Malaya and the Dutch-controlled island of Java and other locations, who have adopted Nusantara customs — partially or in full — to be somewhat assimilated into the local communities. Many were the elites of Singapore, more loyal to the British than to China. Most have lived for generations along the straits of Malacca. They were usually traders, the middleman of the British and the Chinese, or the Chinese and Malays, or vice versa because they were mostly English educated. Because of this, they almost always had the ability to speak two or more languages.”

 

When you try to investigate Nyonya culture, the first things you see are food.  Food played a big part in this story.  Chye Hoon is widowed and has to make a living.  She decides to sell traditional Nyonya food to the men working in the tin mines of Ipoh.  Her specialties are cakes. Here is a video of a type of Nyonya cake.

I really enjoyed this book. I was immersed in her world that was changing so rapidly that by the time of her death it was unrecognizable. This series will be continuing and picking up with the story of her daughter-in-law in World War II.  That book comes out in the few months.  I’m glad for a bit of a break in between because I feel like a need to mourn a bit for amazing life of Chye Hoon before switching the main character of the story to the daughter-in-law.

 

 

About Selina Siak Chin Yoke

Of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, Selina Siak Chin Yoke (石清玉) grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends. She always knew that one day, she would write. After an eclectic life as a physicist, banker and trader in London, the heavens intervened. In 2009 Chin Yoke was diagnosed with cancer. While recovering, she decided not to delay her dream of writing any longer.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Asia
  • Foodies Read 2017
  • POC authors
05 Apr, 2017

People of the Songtrail

/ posted in: Reading People of the Songtrail People of the Songtrail by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Published by Tor Books on May 26th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

On the shores of what is now northeastern Canada, a small group of intrepid settlers have landed, seeking freedom to worship and prosper far from the religious strife and political upheaval that plague a war-ridden Europe . . .
500 years before Columbus set sail.
While it has long been known that Viking ships explored the American coast, recent archaeological evidence suggests a far more vast and permanent settlement. It is from this evidence that archaeologists and early American history experts Kathy and Michael Gear weave their extraordinary tale.


I never know quite how to characterize the Gear books.  Historical fiction with magic?  Magical realism?  Historical fantasy?

The authors are archeologists.  They start with the archeological details of pre-Columbian American sites and build adventure stories from there.  This book is set on the east coast of Canada during the time of the Vikings.  A group of boats has sailed together from Greenland but were separated in a storm.  They make landfall up and down the coast.  The different groups have different experiences of contact with the Native Americans.

There have been Viking raids previously.  The Native Americans are rightly hostile to any landing on the shore.  Children have previously been taken as slaves.  These slaves have taught a few Vikings the language so they have translators.  One group talks to the Native Americans.  Another sets off a massacre of a village.

Now one boat with a judge on board tries to convince the Native Americans to trust him to deliver justice to them for the crimes committed against them.  Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed him either.

This isn’t my favorite of their books.  There is so much going on that it is hard to focus on a main plot.  There are political dealings in Scandinavia and England.  There is a Danish witch and a Native American spirit worker getting together to fight the bad guys.  There is fighting among the Vikings.

I think I would have liked this one more with a little more historical detail and less magic.  Those aren’t words that I say very often.  I was interested in how these groups of people interacted.  With all the magic flying around I knew that it didn’t go like that in real life.  No one was resurrecting people by riding into the afterlife on eight legged horses.

Read this one if you are in the mood for a historical fantasy that compares and contrasts Native American and Scandinavian spirituality and mythology. Look elsewhere if you want to know what really happened.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
30 Mar, 2017

The 228 Legacy

/ posted in: Reading The 228 Legacy The 228 Legacy by Jennifer J. Chow
Published by Martin Sisters Publishing on July 25th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Taiwan

Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 are each guarding personal secrets. Grandmother Silk finds out that she has breast cancer, as daughter Lisa loses her job, while pre-teen granddaughter Abbey struggles with a school bully. When Silk’s mysterious past comes out—revealing a shocking historical event that left her widowed—the truth forces the family to reconnect emotionally and battle their problems together. A novel of cultural identity and long-standing secrets, The 228 Legacy weaves together multigenerational viewpoints, showing how heritage and history can influence individual behavior and family bonds.


I didn’t know anything about Taiwanese history until I read this post from Shenwei about the 228 Massacre.  After World War II Japan ceded control of Taiwan to China.  The government that was put in place on the island was hated for corruption.  There were protests on February 28, 1947 that led to a violent crackdown from the government.  Thousands of people died.  It was not officially acknowledged or discussed until 1995.

Shenwei gave a list of books in her post that touch on the massacre.  I decided to read The 228 Legacy.

This book is about three generations of Taiwanese-American women living in LA in the 1980s.  The grandmother, Silk, came to the U.S. as a pregnant widow.  She has never talked much about her life in Taiwan other than trying to pass on the language.  Her daughter, Lisa, knows nothing about her father.  She is struggling with keeping dead end jobs while caring for her mother and daughter.  The granddaughter, Abbey, is trying to make friends with the popular people at school but this has disastrous consequences.

The heart of the story is Jack, a Chinese man who recently lost his wife.  He lived at the nursing home that Lisa worked at.  He recently ran away.  Lisa gets involved in his life but when Silk meets him she reacts violently to having a Chinese man in her house.  This is the beginning of finding out about Silk’s memories of the massacre.

I wish this book went deeper.  There are several good storylines here but I didn’t feel like it did more than scratch the surface of each.  There should have been more emotion in both Silk and Abbey’s stories.  Both are traumatic but they feel like they are recounted matter of factly.

I liked Lisa’s story the best because it showed her growth as she discovers a career that she actually enjoys.

I may look into some other books on Shenwei’s list to learn more about Taiwanese history than I learned from this book.

About Jennifer J. Chow

Jennifer J. Chow, an Asian-American writer, holds a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Master’s in Social Welfare from UCLA. Her geriatric work experience has informed her stories. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
26 Aug, 2016

The Governess Affair

/ posted in: Reading The Governess Affair The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
Published by Courtney Milan on April 21st 2012
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General, Victorian, Regency
Pages: 100
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: England

“Hugo Marshall earned the nickname “the Wolf of Clermont” for his ruthless ambition–a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner’s son to the right hand man of a duke. When he’s ordered to get rid of a pestering governess by fair means or foul, it’s just another day at work.
But after everything Miss Serena Barton has been through at the hands of his employer, she is determined to make him pay. She won’t let anyone stop her–not even the man that all of London fears. They might call Hugo Marshall the Wolf of Clermont, but even wolves can be brought to heel…”


I’m a huge fan of Courtney Milan’s novels.  I love Regency Romances and hers are exceptional.  They are smart and funny.  I can even handle the sex because the descriptions aren’t cringe-inducing.  While I was reading this I noticed that I was smiling, which is about the best recommendation I think I can give a book.

This novella is a prequel to her Brothers Sinister series.  You don’t have to read this series in order.  Each book stands on its own.  Characters from other books may show up as secondary characters in the next book but you don’t need to have read the previous one to understand what is going on.

This story is currently free for Kindle (on the day this review is published) if you want to try out her writing.  Fair warning though you might get hooked and need to read the rest of the series.

5bunny

About Courtney Milan

“C ourtney Milan’s debut novel was published in 2010. Since then, her books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. She’s been a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller, a RITA® finalist and an RT Reviewer’s Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance. Her second book was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010.

Courtney lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat.

Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships with some really important people who are way too dignified to be named here. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.” from her website

26 Feb, 2016

The Japanese Lover

/ posted in: Reading The Japanese Lover The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
on November 3rd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
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Translated from Spanish

In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family—like thousands of other Japanese Americans—are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.
Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.


I always hear about Allende as a magical realism author but the two books I’ve read by her  (Ines of My Soul, The Japanese Lover) have both been historical fiction.

Alma has lead a life of privilege so it is surprising when she suddenly gives it all up and moves into an assisted living community.  She hires a popular employee, Irina, to work after hours for her as a personal assistant.  Both women have secrets that they are keeping from the world that gradually come to light as their lives become intertwined.

This book covers the interment of Japanese people following Pearl Harbor and how it affected the people who were forced into the camps.  Each member of the Fukada family responds in a different way.  Some are broken and some find strength that they didn’t know they had.

I found it interesting to see how Alma and Ichimei’s lives intersected at different points.  I don’t think that you get a strong read on either of them as people.  This isn’t a book that makes you really like any of the characters but the slowly unfolding mysteries are intriguing.

I could have done without Irina’s story.  It seemed very superficial to me.  It either needed to be gotten into more deeply or left out.

29 Jan, 2016

Strange Gods

/ posted in: Reading Strange Gods Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri
on June 24th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Kenya

In early 20th century British East Africa, there are rules for the British and different ones for the Africans. Vera McIntosh, the daughter of Scottish missionaries, doesn't feel she belongs to either group; having grown up in Africa, she is not interested in being the well-bred Scottish woman her mother would like her to be. More than anything she dreams of seeing again the handsome police officer she's danced with. But more grisly circumstances bring Justin Tolliver to her family's home.


Vera’s uncle is the doctor at the Scottish mission where Vera lives.  His body is found with a Masaai spear in his back.  The colonial government wants a suspect in custody rapidly and seizes upon a local witch doctor who has been highly critical of the white doctor.  The African people know that he would never have done this in this manner.  A cursory investigation points at several English suspects but this is not acceptable to the local authorities.

Vera, Justin Tolliver an English policeman, and Kwai Libazo, a half Masaai/half Kikuyu policeman are left to investigate on their own if they want to get the real killer before an innocent man is executed.

This book captures an era where British landowners were running roughshod over the local tribes in Kenya.  There were African police employed by the British but they were not allowed to be seen having any authority over Europeans.  They weren’t allowed to speak in meetings about cases.  Police investigations did not bother to interview Kikuyu people who may have information about crimes.  The goal was to show that this was a safe place for British people and to keep Africans subjugated.

Vera was born in Africa to Scottish parents.  She was raised by her Kikuyu “second mother”.  She understands the unfairness of British rule and the resentments of the African people but can’t do anything about it because of her sheltered status as an unmarried European woman.

Justin has come to love Africa.  He is the second son of an Earl but his local status fell sharply when he joined the police.  Now he is ostracized from society in Nairobi.

Kwai wants to learn about how the British investigate crimes but is seen as a traitor because he works for the occupiers.  He has never fit in anywhere because of being half Masaai.  He has never been fully accepted by either tribe.

There is a casual racism throughout this book that was probably typical of the time.  Even characters who are supposed to be enlightened are dismissive of most Africans.  Attempts are made to include the Kikuyu point of view but I’m not sure how effective it is.  They seem a bit too passive for everything that is happening to them. This may be because we are only hearing the stories of Africans who have chosen to work closely with the British.

28 Jan, 2016

A Fall of Marigolds

/ posted in: Reading A Fall of Marigolds A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
on 2014
Genres: Historical, Fiction
Pages: 370
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads

A beautiful scarf, passed down through the generations, connects two women who learn that the weight of the world is made bearable by the love we give away....


1911

Clara Wood worked as a nurse in a doctor’s office in a building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on the top floors.  She has a flirtation with a bookkeeper who works at Triangle.  After the fire happens, she doesn’t want to return to the building.  She gets a job on Ellis Island.  She nurses the potential immigrants who are too sick to be admitted to New York.

When a man comes in whose wife died on route, Clara is drawn to him because of his grief. When she finds evidence that things weren’t as her patient thought in his marriage, she agonizes over what to do with this info while also working through how to move on in her own life.

2011

Taryn Michaels was on her way to meet her husband at the World Trade Center when the planes hit. Now just before the 10 year anniversary, a picture has surfaced of Taryn and a man on the street just as the first tower fell. Reminders of that day make her realize that she is still carrying a lot of guilt about her role in inviting her husband to go to the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the Tower that day.

Clara and Taryn are linked by a scarf that Clara’s patient’s wife owned that eventually being worn by Taryn when her picture was taken on 9/11.

The story is told alternating between Clara and Taryn. I found Clara’s story to be more interesting. I had read about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire but didn’t realize that it was in a multistory building with other businesses underneath that were unaffected.

I also didn’t know much about the treatment of sick immigrants in the hospital at Ellis Island.

25 Jan, 2016

The Violinist of Venice

/ posted in: Reading The Violinist of Venice The Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Palombo
on December 15th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Italy

Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d'Amato adores music-except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family's palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.


This is a wonderful historical novel about the life of Antonio Vivaldi, the composer best known for writing The Four Seasons. 

I didn’t know anything about Vivaldi’s life when I started this book.

He was a priest who worked in a home for abandoned children in Venice.  He wrote many of his works to be performed by the female musicians there. These women were talented musicians who signed a promise never to perform again if they left the home to marry.

In this book, he takes a private student from a prominent family who is wonderful violinist.  As he teaches her they fall in love and begin an affair.  When the truth of this comes out, her family is scandalized.  The book follows both Vivaldi and his student, Adriana over the next thirty years to see what this affair cost them both.

The writing is wonderful and conveys the sense of place and time beautifully.  From the excesses of Carnival to sneaking around at night, you feel like you are there.  The musicians’ love of music comes through in the story and the despair that comes from being denied the right to express yourself in music.

If you’d like to win a copy, join in the #historicalfix chat on 1/26/2016 at 8:30 pm EST.  We’ll be discussing historical love stories and this book will be given away to one participant.  It will also be discussed at #bookclubfix on 2/24 at 8:30 PM.

21 Jan, 2016

The Last Midwife

/ posted in: Reading The Last Midwife The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas
on September 29th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn't imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead...and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.


For someone who hates babies as much as I do, I sure do like reading books about midwives.

Maybe it is because at one time it was the only opportunity available for women interested in health care.  Maybe it is because midwives aren’t taking any lip from anyone.  I don’t know.

This story takes place in an isolated Colorado mining town high up in the mountains.  The men here are miners, looking for the claim that is going to make them rich.  They head out into the mountains in the summer for months at a time leaving the women to fend for themselves.  Gracy Brookens is a midwife with a reputation for helping in difficult cases.  Her reputation is put to the test when the owner of one of the local mines accuses her of strangling a baby.

This isn’t really a mystery story.  You know right off that Gracy didn’t do it.  This book uses the framework of the accusation and trial to discuss what life was like for people in the mountains.

  • What is it like to know that this pregnancy may kill you?
  • Does a midwife have a responsibility to help you if you don’t want a pregnancy?
  • Who raises the children if a woman dies?
  • What happens to two men who have lived together for a long time when one finds a wife?
  • How do women cope if they can’t have children or if their husbands are having affairs?

 


If you are interested in another book like this one, check out:

The Birth HouseThe Birth House by Ami McKay

“The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife’s apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.

When Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau’s methods – and after Miss Babineau’s death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her.”

26 Dec, 2015

Winter Journey

/ posted in: FamilyReading Winter Journey Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong
on 2005
Genres: Historical
Pages: 483
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Australia and Poland
Length: 14:33

Halina Shore is a forensic dentist working in Sydney. She is invited to return to Poland to examine bodies in a mass grave to shed light on whether this was a German or a Polish war crime.


 

Helina Shore is a forensic dentist.  She was born in Poland and moved to Australia when she was nine.  Finding herself at loose ends after the death of her taciturn mother, she accepts an invitation to help exhume a mass grave in Poland.  The Jews of the town were burned to death in this barn in 1941.  Local lore says that the Nazis did it but rumors persist that it was the Polish people who committed the crime.  The investigation is supposed to find out the truth but is running against public opinion in this very conservative and nationalistic part of Poland.

To Sum Up

This book is amazing.  Go get it and read it or listen to the audio – whatever, just go do it.

The Longer Answer

I am always looking for historical fiction books set in Poland.  Generally, I want ones that aren’t about World War II.  This book is set in the early 2000s and in 1941.  The reason I’m interested in Poland is that my grandmother’s family comes from there.  She never told us much.  She didn’t like to be reminded that she was Polish.

In this book, Helina’s mother never told her anything about Poland.  It all sounded very familiar.  Every time Helina found out that her mother had lied about something I laughed.  It sounds like my family.  They never met an official form that they filled in truthfully.

In the course of listening to this audio, I got back on ancestry.com and got in contact with my second cousin.  We’ve been sharing documents about the family.  So far I found out about three more children that were siblings of my grandmother who all died young.  No one in my family had heard of them.  That’s not a surprise considering no one had heard of the adult brother that was murdered either.  Grandma didn’t talk about the past.

This book tries to discover what could make neighbors commit atrocities against their neighbors.  She has the viewpoints of Jewish survivors and of the people who burnt the barn.  She sets this against a picture of Polish nationalism that still exists today and leaves readers wondering how easily it could all happen again.  The rationalizations of the perpetrators are chilling.

There is a lot of discussion about identity.  This annoyed me a little.  I don’t have much tolerance for the plot device of finding out that your parents lied to you about some part of your background and then the character falls apart crying about how they don’t know who they are anymore.  You’re the same person you were two minutes ago.  Quit yer whinin’!

This can be a hard book to listen to because of the descriptions of what happened to the Jews of Nowa Kalwaria.  The author draws you into the story in both times leaving you wanting to find out who was involved and to see if the town can move past it into a brighter future.

This author has written other books about Poland and European immigration into Australia – both historical fiction and nonfiction.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.

 

 

20 Aug, 2015

My Name is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner

/ posted in: Reading My Name is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner My Name Is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner
on February 18th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 593
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

The year is 1729, and Resolute Talbot and her siblings are captured by pirates, taken from their family in Jamaica, and brought to the New World. Resolute and her sister are sold into slavery in colonial New England and taught the trade of spinning and weaving. When Resolute finds herself alone in Lexington, Massachusetts, she struggles to find her way in a society that is quick to judge a young woman without a family. As the seeds of rebellion against England grow, Resolute is torn between following the rules and breaking free. Resolute's talent at the loom places her at the center of an incredible web of secrecy that helped drive the American Revolution.


“My story is the story of other women like me, women who left no name, who will not be remembered or their deeds written, every one of them a restless stalk of flax who lent fiber to the making of a whole cloth, every one of them a thread, be it gold, dapple, crimson, or tarred.”

Resolute was the spoiled and indulged ten year old daughter of a plantation owner in Jamaica when pirates raided her family home. Her father, sister, and brother were taken along with Resolute and many of the slaves to be sold. The pirate ship was taken by English privateers and eventually Resolute and her sister Patience were sold in New England.

Resolute at this age annoyed me and I had to keep reminding myself that this was a very naive child. Her sister tells her that women are taken from the hold of the ship to go on deck for dancing and feasting but then knocks Resolute almost unconscious when someone tries to take Resolute above deck at night. She thinks Patience is just trying to keep all the fun away from her.  She thinks that they will be able to buy their way back to Jamaica and their mother as soon as they land no matter what Patience tries to tell her.

She is sold as an indentured servant in a house that is poorer than she has ever lived in. She needs to quickly learn how to do everything that she had slaves to do for her.

Resolute learns to survive though. Over the next few years her life is turned upside down as her village is raided and she is taken captive and sold again.  Eventually she escapes and makes her way as a free woman to the outskirts of Boston.  She has been trained to weave and starts to make her living with cloth.

Her life is fairly ordinary.  She marries and has children and tends her house and farm.  But the British are putting harsher and harsher restrictions on Massachusetts and her family and neighbors are getting involved in the rebellion in various ways.  She isn’t one to sit idly by while her family is in danger.

“Perhaps, along with hundreds of other women in this place during this momentous time, I have made a difference.”

This is a wonderful historical fiction novel.  I found myself reading late into the night and ignoring other things I had to do in order to finish it.  It captures a time and place and the lives of the simple people who were part of it.


The one quote that kept coming to mind while reading this book was this one from The Princess Bride.

Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…

The Grandson: Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try to stay awake.

Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

That description of that book seems like it would fit this book and there are pirates throughout it!

 

 

About Nancy E. Turner

“Nancy Elaine Turner was born in Dallas, Texas and grew up in Southern California and Arizona. She began writing fiction as an assignment for a class at Pima Community College and completed a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts Studies from the University of Arizona in 1999 with a triple major in Creative Writing, Music, and Studio Art. She lives in Tucson with her husband and Snickers, a dog rescued by F.A.I.R. She has two married children and four grandchildren. She also enjoys the outdoors, theater, movies, and antiques.” from her website

03 Jun, 2015

The Mapmaker’s Children

/ posted in: Reading The Mapmaker’s Children The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy
on May 5th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

"The Mapmaker's Children is the story of Sarah Brown, the vibrant, talented daughter of abolitionist John Brown. Her conventional life trajectory is dynamically changed when she's told the shocking news that she can't bear children and stumbles into her father's work on the Underground Railroad. Realizing that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the movement's leading mapmakers. Since many runaways are unable to read and cannot carry obvious maps demarcating safe houses, Sarah takes her cues from the slave code quilts of her abolitionist colleagues, hiding her maps within her paintings. But joining the mission makes her a target for the same bigotry and hatred that led to the execution of her father and is steering the country toward a bloody civil war. Interwoven with Sarah's adventure is the present-day story of Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, who moves to an old house in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar--the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. Sarah and Eden's connection bridges the past and present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love and legacy in a new way"--


It is 2015.  Can we please move away from the idea that a woman’s worth is tied solely to her ability to reproduce?

I understand that feeling being expressed in the historical parts of this novel but I just don’t get it in the contemporary section.

By the way, Sarah Brown’s doctor tells her that she is infertile after a bad bout of dysentery.  I’m not certain but I can’t see how dysentery could cause that and even if it did –  how would a 19th century doctor be able to determine that?  I call B.S. on that doctor — especially if it is true that she made her decision not to marry based on his info.  She didn’t even try making babies to see if his diagnosis was true or not.

I liked the parts of this book about the Browns so I decided to go on a field trip. Ever since I moved here three years ago I’ve been passing a sign on the highway for the John Brown House.  I didn’t know he had lived in Ohio.  This is talked about briefly in the book.  Basically, he was here to be a shepherd for the family that founded the town.  He was good at that but he tried to run part of the business and ended up losing a bunch of money.  Then he went to New York where the book starts.  I decided to go see the house so I could add some pictures and history to the book review.

I got there and the historical society volunteer was so excited.  She couldn’t believe I was there for a tour.  I told her I didn’t need a tour.  I could just look around.  No can do.  This is a tour only operation. Can you say introvert nightmare?  A one on one tour. To top it off –no pictures allowed.

It was fairly interesting even though I learned a lot more about the family that hired John Brown than I learned about John Brown.  I was hoping for a bit of history about Sarah.  A sign with pictures of the family would have been good, but no.

From here

The house is across the street from the house that the family of the founders of Akron built.  This house was originally the house they lived in while they were building their fancy house.

 

About Sarah McCoy

“SARAH McCOY is author of the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestseller The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee. Her first novel is The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Sarah’s work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso.

The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas.” from her website

21 Feb, 2015

The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod

/ posted in: Reading The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia Mc Leod
Published by Arcadia Books Limited on 2008
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 316
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

Elisabeth Samson, a free black Surinamese woman who lived in 18th-century Dutch Guyana, is the central character in this compelling novel. Challenging the prevailing racial stereotypes by demonstrating her intelligence and business acumen, she is determined to marry a white man in defiance of all established norms and conventions. Set amidst the rich backdrop of the Golden Age of Suriname, this biographical account depicts the complex social and racial stratifications which were features of slave colonies of the era as well as this remarkable woman who overcame institutionalized discrimination and prejudice to become one of the wealthiest individuals in the slave colony of Dutch Guyana.

Sometimes a book is a perfect fit for what you are looking to read.  This book checked off all the boxes for me.

Set in a country that I’d never read about before?  Yep, Suriname.  Here’s where it is.  Elisabeth was most annoyed when people didn’t know.

Written about a person of color by a person of color who has lived in the area? Yep, Cynthia McLeod (right in the picture) was born in Suriname and is the daughter of the first President of the country.

Written in a language other than English? Yep, written in Dutch and translated to English.

I was so excited that I was getting that all in one book that before I started it I had a moment of panic.  “What if this book isn’t any good?”

I was worried for nothing though.  This is historical fiction about Elisabeth Samson.  She was born to a black woman who had been freed following the death of her owner who had fathered two of her children.  Elisabeth was born two years later and had no white blood in her.  Black women were the lowest rung of Suriname society but she was raised as a free child by her half-white older sister and her sister’s white husband.

Black women were caught in a logical loop.  They were not allowed to marry so many lived with men out of wedlock.  Because so many lived with men out of wedlock, they were considered too immoral to be allowed to marry.  Mulatto women could marry freely.  When she became one of the richest people in the colony, she decided to fight for her right to marry.

The author spent years researching her.  At the beginning of her work it was known that Samson had a fortune but everyone assumed it came from a white man who either freed her or was sleeping with her.  Going through the primary sources the author found that Samson was a self-made woman who was involved in several prominent court cases.  After publishing her research, she wrote this historical fiction version of Samson’s life.

She was a fascinating woman and is presented here faults and all.

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