Tag Archives For: historical fiction

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
19 Jul, 2017

The Essex Serpent – My Total Book Tour Fail

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Essex Serpent – My Total Book Tour Fail The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Published by Custom House on June 6th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 422
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads
Setting: England

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.
They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.


I am a supremely organized book blogger.  When I do book tours as soon as I find out the date I am scheduled to post, I put a draft post on my WordPress calendar.  That way I don’t get messed up.  I’ve known for months that my review of The Essex Serpent was due on July 19.  When I went to write this up I looked at the list of other bloggers participating and wanted to see what they thought of the book.  I was surprised to find no posts for the people posting before me.  I looked at my email.  Still didn’t see the issue.  Then I saw it.  JUNE 19.  Oh.

 

So here is my way-belated book tour review of The Essex Serpent.

 


I first heard of this book through the enthusiastic promotion of the British release last year by Simon Savidge.  When the book became available in the U.S. I decided to read it to see why he was so enthusiastic.  We obviously read very different types of books because he considers this to be a very plot driven novel and I think of it as more of a character driven one.

Cora is not a typical Victorian widow.  It is implied that her husband was abusive and she certainly is not grieving him.  She decides to go with her companion Martha and her young son Francis to Essex because she wants to follow in the footsteps of female amateur naturalists.  Hearing rumors of a monster in the estuary thrills her to no end. Her friends urge her to contact the local vicar.  She has no interest in that.  She doesn’t want to be stuck in company with a stuffy vicar.  The vicar and his wife don’t have any interest in her either.  They assume she is an elderly lady with a wastrel son but they invite her to dinner to be nice.

This book covers a lot of issues in England at this time.  Martha is a socialist who is campaigning for safe housing for the poor in London.  At this time to get into good housing you had to prove that you were of good morals.  This offends her because the landlords could go out drinking and being irresponsible but the tenets would be evicted if they acted like that.  She convinces a young doctor with family money to spare to join in her the cause.

Francis would now be recognized as autistic but in this book he is just seen as a bit odd.  He’s mostly left to his own devices because Cora doesn’t know how to interact with him.

Cora has an admirer in Luke Garret, the doctor who treated her husband.  He wants to do more and more daring operations and is fighting the medical establishment.

The Ransomes, the family of the vicar, get involved with Cora and her entourage.  Will Ransome is the vicar who is interested in science.  He knows that rumors of a serpent killing people and livestock are just superstition but he can’t get his parishioners to listen to reason.  This talk is tearing his small village apart and then Cora appears and runs roughshod over the town. It is hard to tell what is more damaging – the rumors or the visitor.

The writing is lyrical and mystical.  It evokes foggy mornings and salt water breezes.  Of course because this is historical fiction and not urban fantasy, there is no magical creature in the river.  Seeing how the author resolves all these plot lines and logically explains the serpent is part of the drama.

This is a relatively slow read.  It takes time for the writing to sink in.  The plot jumps around often so it can be a bit tricky to keep track of who is where at what time. You don’t always know why you should be interested in characters until they start to tie into the larger narrative.

This book is good for people looking to lose themselves in the writing of a slow paced glimpse of life in rural Victorian England with a hint of mystery mixed in.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
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
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
21 Dec, 2016

Climbing the Stairs

/ posted in: Reading Climbing the Stairs Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
on May 1, 2008
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: India

“During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather’s large traditional family, where the women live apart from the men and are meant to be married off as soon as possible.
Vidya’s only refuge becomes her grandfather’s upstairs library, which is forbidden to women. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house who relishes her intellectual curiosity. But when Vidya’s brother decides to fight with the hated British against the Nazis, and when Raman proposes marriage too soon, Vidya must question all she has believed in.”


I’ve been a big fan of this author’s verse novel A Time To DanceClimbing the Stairs is a bit different.  This is a historical fiction book set in World War II.  Vidya’s father is a doctor who aids nonviolent protestors who are injured by British soldiers.  Vidya’s brother is concerned about the strategic value of India leading to a Japanese invasion.  He wants to enlist in the Army.  The rest of the family is horrified.  They are Brahmin and that caste does not traditionally join the military.  They especially do not join the British Army.

Vidya’s father believes in her dream to go to college instead of being married at a young age.  When he is injured and they have to move to his father’s home, all her dreams are forgotten.  Her family is treated as a burden.  Vidya and her mother are used as servants for the rest of the family.  Vidya gets permission to read in her grandfather’s library while she watches her newborn cousin.  Here she is able to help enhance her education while her world crumbles around her.

I really enjoyed this book.  It is a short book but sets the time and place well.  There is a true conflict between appreciating and supporting the British defense of India against the Japanese while still fighting against the British subjugation of Indians.  There is conflict between traditional ideas of a woman’s place in Indian society and the desire to have a different life.

Important Spoiler about the Dog

Vidya has a dog at the beginning.  It is known that her uncle hates dogs.  I had to put the book aside for a bit because I just knew something bad was going to happen to the dog when they had to move in with the uncle and grandfather.  I can’t handle something bad happening to dogs.  Nothing does though.  He gets a good home.  They even visit him later and he is doing well.  The dog is fine.  Carry on reading.

 

About Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatraman was born in Chennai India and currently lives in the United States. She has a doctorate in oceanography. Her debut novel was published in 2008.

02 Dec, 2016

Flygirl

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

 

10 Oct, 2016

Radio Girls

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

18 Aug, 2016

The Other Einstein

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

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


Albert Einstein and his wife Mileva Maric

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

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

So why did I delay reading this until now?

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

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

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

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

“CONDITIONS

A. You will make sure:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

4flower

freetogoodhome

28 Jul, 2016

Vivian in Red – Historical Fiction and a Ghost Story

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

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


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

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

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

I loved Milo and Eleanor! 

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

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

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

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

4flower

freetogoodhome

 

09 Jun, 2016

The Underground Railroad

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

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


Georgia

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

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

South Carolina

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

North Carolina

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

Tennessee

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

Indiana

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


This book addresses a lot in a short space.

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

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

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

 

freetogoodhome

First come first served

14 Mar, 2016

Moving Pictures

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

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


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

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

 

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

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

This is a good introduction to historical fiction graphic novels.

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

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.

02 Feb, 2016

My Favorite Historical Settings

/ posted in: Reading

What are my favorite historical settings for books?

Regency England

You know I’m a sucker for a good regency romance.  I love them from Jane Austen all the way until today.


Poland – not in World War II

I’ve been working on finding out more about my Polish roots.  I want to find historical fiction that doesn’t focus on World War II.  Poland has a rich history before then but it is hard to find books about it.

The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great (Catherine, #1)The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak

This book is about Russia but Catherine comes from Poland. This is the first book I read that talks about a vibrant Poland.

 

 

Winter JourneyWinter Journey by Diane Armstrong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is half World War II and half early 2000s but it is such an amazing book that I still recommend it. It is the story of a fictional investigation into war crimes committed in a Polish town. It is based on a true story.

 

I have these Polish historical fiction books on my TBR.

Push Not the RiverPush Not the River by James Conroyd Martin

A panoramic and epic novel in the grand romantic style, Push Not the River is the rich story of Poland in the late 1700s–a time of heartache and turmoil as the country’s once peaceful people are being torn apart by neighboring countries and divided loyalties.

 

 

The Journal of Countess Francoise KrasinskaThe Journal of Countess Francoise Krasinska by Klementyna Tanska Hoffmanowa

The coming of age diary of a young Polish Countess, Francoise Krasinska who in the space of three years travels from the shelter of her father’s court and becomes the secret consort of the Duke of Courland. In so doing she manages the transition from innocence to awareness in a time of political treachery.

 


 

France – turn of 20th century

I like reading stories about the artists of the time.

Luncheon of the Boating PartyLuncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

“Instantly recognizable, Auguste Renoir’s masterpiece depicts a gathering of his real friends enjoying a summer Sunday on a café terrace along the Seine near Paris. A wealthy painter, an art collector, an Italian journalist, a war hero, a celebrated actress, and Renoir’s future wife, among others, share this moment of la vie moderne, a time when social constraints were loosening and Paris was healing after the Franco-Prussian War. Parisians were bursting with a desire for pleasure and a yearning to create something extraordinary out of life. Renoir shared these urges and took on this most challenging project at a time of personal crises in art and love, all the while facing issues of loyalty and the diverging styles that were tearing apart the Impressionist group.”

 


Pre-Columbian America

People of the River (North America's Forgotten Past, #4)People of the River by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear

“A gripping new saga of pre-historic America that takes us to the Mississippi Valley and the tribe known as the Mound builders. It is a time of troubles. In Cahokia, the corn crop is failing again and a warchief–and the warrior woman he may never possess–are disgusted by their Chief’s lust for tribute. Now even the gods have turned their faces, closing the underworld to the seers. If the gods have abandoned the people, there is no hope–unless it comes in the form of a young girl who is learning to Dream of Power.”

This couple have many books out about Native American life.  They are archeologists so their understanding d of the current research adds to the stories.

 

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.

UA-56222504-1