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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)
Goodreads
Translated from Spanish three-half-stars

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.

three-half-stars
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 three-stars

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.

three-stars
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
three-stars

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.

three-stars
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 four-stars

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.

four-stars
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
three-stars

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.”

three-stars
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 five-stars
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.

 

 

five-stars
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
four-half-stars

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!

 

 

four-half-stars

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
three-stars

"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.

 

three-stars

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
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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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