Tag Archives For: historical fiction

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

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

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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 four-half-stars

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

four-half-stars
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 three-stars

"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.

three-stars
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
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 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
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
28 Dec, 2014

Citizens Creek by Lalita Tademy

/ posted in: Reading

Many African-American slaves were bought by the southeastern tribes in the United States. Cow Tom earned his name from his ability to work with cattle. He earned money with some cattle he raised on the side to start saving to buy his freedom. He was sent out to be a translate during the Seminole Wars with the understanding that his pay would be put against his price. He had another agenda. His mother had been captured a slave by the Seminoles and he wanted to find her.

The book follows Cow Tom through the war in Florida. The Seminoles did not want to give up their land in Florida and move west. They also treated their slaves as family members and were unwilling to leave without them. White citizens in Florida wanted to be able to keep the slaves when the Seminoles left.

Cow Tom moves through many relocation camps looking for his family. They were moved with the rest of the Creeks to holding camps on the way to Indian Territory.

Because of his facility with language Cow Tom is able to negotiate with the Army on behalf on the Creeks and all the black slaves belonging to tribes. For his service he is named the first black chief in the Creek nation.

He stays in politics as the Creeks decide whether or not to recognize blacks who have lived with them for generations as part of the tribe.

The story moves on to his granddaughter Rose who lives during the Civil War and beyond. She runs a large ranch as a black Creek woman.

I wasn’t crazy about Rose’s story. It got more soap opera like than I cared for when the rest of the book had been so good.

The book is based on a true story. The author started researching a descendant of the family who started an oil business when she realized that the rest of the family was interesting too.

This is a good introduction to the relationship between slaves and the Indian tribes.

19 Dec, 2014

Noah’s Wife by T.K. Thorne

/ posted in: Reading

I absolutely loved this book!  I couldn’t put it down and read it in one day.

Na’amah is thought to be cursed because she seems different from everyone else in her village.  She wants to be a shepherd, which is a job for a child and not acceptable for grown women.  She has no interest in marrying.  She doesn’t think anyone would ever want to marry her.  One day she bonds with another outsider named Noah over a talking bird in the marketplace.  He buys it for her as a betrothal present.  Her father accepts and Na’amah thinks that having Noah’s protection will help her deal with her very hostile brother.

Their village is on the edge of a lake and there have been minor floods through the years.  They scared Na’amah so she asked that Noah, a boat builder, build them a house that will be able to float.  As they add people and animals to their family they add on to the house until their house becomes a bit of a tourist attraction.

The book has many strong female characters which are lacking in the Bible story.  If you are expecting a faithful retelling of the Genesis story you will be disappointed. The flood is based on historical evidence of upheaval around the Black Sea and not on the wrath of God.

 

Noah’s Wife Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, December 15
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, December 16
Review at Just One More Chapter
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Wednesday, December 17
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, December 18
Review at Forever Ashley
Interview at Passages to the Past

Friday, December 19
Review at Based on a True Story

To enter to win an Autographed copy of Noah’s Wife & magnetized bookmark, please complete the giveaway form below.
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Noah’s Wife

22 Nov, 2014

The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

/ posted in: Reading

The Lost Sisterhood tells two separate but intertwined stories that attempts to explain the Amazonian myths in Greek history.  Myrina and Lilly live as priestesses in Algeria.  When their temple is raided by Greek soldiers and several priestesses are captured, the rest follow to try to get their sisters back.  In the present day, Diana unknowingly is following the trail that Myrina left but someone seems determined to stop her from finding out about the Amazons.  Is it an unscrupulous collector with a penchant for all things Amazon or are there really Amazons who don’t want to be discovered?

I wasn’t aware of a lot of the myths surrounding the Amazons or that the myths show up in such far apart places as Algeria, Crete, Greece, Turkey, and Germany.  This story does a good job of trying to put together a narrative that shows how those myths could have come to be.

I liked the ancient story better than the modern one. Diana and her friend Bex seemed a bit too passive at times.  There were several times that they should have gone to the police or at least kicked up a bit of a fuss but they just went along with whatever was happening to them. Very unAmazonian.

12 Nov, 2014

Necessary Lies by Eva Stachniak

/ posted in: Reading

Necessary LiesNecessary Lies by Eva Stachniak

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Historical fiction

In 1981 as the Solidarity movement is disrupting Soviet control of Poland, Anna is offered a fellowship to travel from Poland to Montreal to study.  She leaves behind her activist husband Peter.  She plans on being gone for six months.  She doesn’t plan on falling in love and leaving Poland for good.

Anna was from a town named Wroclaw which used to be apart of Germany until the end of World War II.  Her new husband was born there and was five years old when his town fell to the Russians and his family evacuated.

After 10 years of marriage, Anna’s new husband expectedly dies.  The Berlin Wall has fallen and Poland is ostensibly free.  She decides to visit her family in Poland again to see the changes for herself.

One of my historical fiction reading goals has been to find more books set in Poland that aren’t about World War II.  This author is one of the reasons for that.  I loved her book The Winter Palace about Catherine the Great that talked about the greatness of Poland at that time.  This was her first book though and it doesn’t live up to what comes later.

The author also left Wroclaw in 1981 to go to Canada.  That part of the story is good.  It discusses adapting to a life suddenly free of rationing and shortages.  But the story takes a turn after her husband’s death.  Her return to Poland is just boring.  Everything is pretty much that same and her ex-husband is mad at her.  There’s a shocker.  I just wish there was more to the story because the beginning showed so much promise.

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