Tag Archives For: historical fiction

29 Jan, 2016

Strange Gods

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

Goodreads

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.

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
Pages: 448
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Italy

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 Jan, 2016

The Last Midwife

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

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.

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

The Birth HouseThe Birth House by Ami McKay

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

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

26 Dec, 2015

Winter Journey

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

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.

Goodreads

 

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.

 

 

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.
Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on December 19th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents of the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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.

04 Nov, 2014

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

/ posted in: Reading

NefertitiNefertiti by Michelle Moran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

historical fiction, audio

Nefertiti is remembered as one of the most powerful women to rule in Egypt. She was the wife of Akhenaten, the Pharaoh who tried to change Egypt from a polytheistic society to a monotheistic one and almost destroyed it in the process. Not much is actually known for sure about the life of Nefertiti but this book suggests what might have happened.

Nefertiti was raised to be the wife of Pharaoh. It was assumed that she would marry the eldest son of the current Pharaoh, who was her cousin. When that son died (some said it was murder), his spiteful and angry younger brother became Crown Prince. Nefertiti was supposed to keep him under control. But in order to secure her status as Chief Wife, she encouraged him in his projects and became swept up in his visions of grandeur and insanity.

Together they destroyed the priests of Amun, who was considered one of the chief gods of Egypt. They raised the sun god Aten in Amun’s place and decided to build a new capital in the middle of the desert to glorify Aten. They used the army to build the city in record time while ignoring foreign armies taking over Egyptian territories.

This book is told from the point of view of Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti’s younger sister. She had no desire to be part of the world of the court. She was a gifted herbalist but was told to stay close to Nefertiti as an advisor who could be trusted to tell the truth. As the years passed and Nefertiti became more powerful and paranoid, Mutnodjmet realized that she was being kept as a glorified slave to her sister and needed to find a way to get out.

I listened to this book on audio and I wouldn’t recommend doing that. The performance was good but the action in the book slows down in the middle as Akhenaten and Nefertiti are getting totally out of control. They are so horrible to everyone around them that I had to walk away from this book for a while before I could take it again. If I had been reading, it would have gone more quickly.

I liked the ending that Moran imagines for the characters. It may not be what actually happened but it was satisfying from a story telling perspective. To discuss more about the differences between the book and the historical record, look at the spoiler page.

There is a follow up book called The Heretic Queen that looks at another generation of this family. I will probably read that one at some point.

This book did what good historical fiction should do. It encouraged me to look into the actual history and learn about a period in time that I didn’t know much about.

22 Oct, 2014

Oh My Stars by Lorna Landvik

/ posted in: Reading

Oh My StarsOh My Stars by Lorna Landvik
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction

Violet Mathers is growing up in the Great Depression. She’s motherless and friendless until she starts working in a factory at night. There she starts to finally fit in until an accident destroys her world again. Depressed, she decides to go to California to jump of the Golden Gate Bridge but the bus she is riding in crashes in North Dakota and changes her life.

Violet is taken in by the Hedstrom family. The son in the family, Kjel, is a musician who is forming a band with two brothers. The band is mixed race which is controversial in the 1930s, to say the least. They take Violet on a road tour with them because Kjel feels sorry for her and she shows enough business acumen that she becomes their manager.

The author uses the framework of a touring band in the 1930s to discuss race relations and music and the role of women in society.

15 Oct, 2014

Enchantress by Maggie Anton

/ posted in: Reading

Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda's DaughterEnchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter by Maggie Anton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction/historical fantasy

Hisdadukh is the daughter of an important Rabbi in fourth-century Babylonia. As a child she was asked which of his star pupils she would like to marry, Rami or Rava. She answered that she would marry both of them. This set up a rivalry between them that worsened when Hisdadukh married Rami.  After Rami’s early death, many people including Hisdadukh blamed Rava, so how could she ever marry him?

This is the second book in the story of Hisdadukh.  They really need to be read together to understand the full story.  Jews in Babylonia at this time lived in a world of study and of magic.  The men in the story are all Torah scholars.  They spend their time debating fine points of law.  These debates and rulings were eventually written down and became the Talmud.  The characters in these stories are taken from references in the Talmud.

The women at this time lived in a world of magic.  This is based on archeological evidence of curse tablets and amulets found.  In these books the magic is real and Hisdadukh is a strong practitioner.  She treats illness and injuries and attends childbirths.  She makes protective amulets for children and pregnant women.

As she gets more powerful she becomes a rival to other women and needs to learn to defend herself and her family.  Rava also comes back to her.  They are drawn together even though she does not fully understand or trust him.  He seems suspicious of her also but their lives keep putting them together so they need to learn to deal with each other.

A lot of the conversations in the book is either detailed points of law or magic.  At times it gets hard to remember that you are actually reading historical fiction and not reading about a made up fantasy world.

I really like this author’s books so I was excited to be involved in the book tour for Enchantress.

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Enchantress Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, October
6

Review at Unshelfish

Review at Book
Drunkard

Tuesday, October
7

Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Wednesday, October
8

Review at A
Dream Within a Dream

Thursday, October
8

Guest Post at Bookish

Friday, October
9

Guest Post & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Monday, October
13

Review at Book
Lovers Paradise

Tuesday, October
14

Review at leeanna.me

Spotlight & Giveaway at Words and Peace

Wednesday, October
15

Review at Based on a True
Story

Thursday, October
16

Review at Mari
Reads

Friday, October
17

Interview at Layered
Pages

Tuesday, October
21

Review at History From A Woman’s Perspective

Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Wednesday, October
22

Guest Post at History From A Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, October
23

Review at Layered
Pages

Spotlight at A Book
Geek

Friday, October
24

Review at Beth’s Book
Reviews

Interview at Mina’s
Bookshelf

Saturday, October
25

Review & Interview at A Cup of Tea & A Big Book

Monday, October
27

Review at TeacherWriter

Tuesday, October
28

Review at My
Book Addiction and More

Spotlight at Historical Tapestry

Wednesday, October
29

Review at A
Bookish Affair

Thursday, October
30

Review at Book
Nerd

03 Oct, 2014

Henna House by Nomi Eve

/ posted in: Reading

Henna HouseHenna House by Nomi Eve

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction

Adela is a young Jewish girl in Yemen in 1920. She has no marriage prospects which is troubling because her father’s health is poor. Any Jewish children whose father dies in Yemen are confiscated and given to Muslim families to raise. The Confiscator has his eye on Adela as a pet for his wife.

When Adela’s uncle, aunt, and cousin arrive from the distant city of Aden, she is taken under their wings and taught about the rituals of henna. When conditions in her town become too difficult, they flee back to Aden but life is becoming difficult for Jews there also.

I had not previously heard the story of the Yemeni Jews in the time surrounding the establishment of Israel.  This is a story of a specific time and a culture trying to decide how to adapt to all the changes around them.

It is also a love story.  Adela is waiting for a boy that she was promised to as a child to give her another layer of protection from confiscation but who she hasn’t seen in years. She doesn’t know if he is alive and is starting to wonder if she should be putting her life on hold for a fantasy.

29 Sep, 2014

Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie

/ posted in: Reading

Gutenberg's ApprenticeGutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical Fiction

Peter Schoeffer is about to become a master scribe in Paris when his foster father, Johann Fust, calls him home to Germany to meet an “amazing man.” The man is Johann Gutenberg and he has created a machine to make books without the use of a scribe. Fust is funding the venture and wants Peter in the workshop as his eyes and ears even though it means turning his back on everything he has been trained to do.

This is the story of the making of the Gutenberg Bible.

ransomcenter1_small Image from the Ransom Center

Gutenberg was a foul-tempered man who did not have a head for business. Fust was a bookseller who could see how this could revolutionize the world if they could get it to market without the Catholic church seizing the press for their own use and if Gutenberg didn’t bankrupt him along the way. Schoeffer is stuck in the middle.

The city of Mainz at this time was in the midst of huge political turmoil which complicated everything. That was one thing that slowed down this book for me. The politics are complicated and I got lost a few times in all the fights between the guilds and the church.

I thought this book captured the secrecy and intrigue of bringing a new technology to the world.

15 Sep, 2014

Stevenson’s Treasure by Mark Weideranders

/ posted in: Reading

Stevenson's TreasureStevenson’s Treasure by Mark Wiederanders

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical fiction

In 1879 Robert Louis Stevenson was a chronically ill, wannabe travel writer who had only published a few essays, when he met Fanny Osbourne in France. She was an unhappily married American who was in France to get away from her husband and who was mourning the death of her young son. Louis was immediately infatuated and when she returned to California, he decided to try to find a way to follow her.

I didn’t know anything about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson besides the fact that he wrote Treasure Island. This book covers the years leading up to the writing of that book. I was fascinated by Louis’ unfailingly (and sometimes irrationally) upbeat personality no matter what was going on in his life. The love of his life is married and lives on another continent in a time when travel is incredibly hard? No problem. He is so sick that he has to take time out of travel to recuperate with whatever stranger he happened to collapse on? Why let that stop you? Your intended is married and has no idea you are about to show up on her doorstep? No big deal.

If that type of personality is interesting to read about, I think it would be crazy-making to live with. I admire Fanny for trying to keep some type of order in the midst of the chaos.

If you are interested in the lives of writers, I definitely recommend this book. Would you like to win it?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

12 Sep, 2014

Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende

/ posted in: Reading

TraveltheWorldinBooksblue200

Inés of My SoulInés of My Soul by Isabel Allende
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction

Ines de Suarez was born in Spain where she married a charming man who abandoned her to make his fortune in the new world. Realizing that there was no future for her as a poor abandoned woman in her village, she traveled to Venezuela. She used the excuse of being a devoted wife looking for her husband but, in truth, she didn’t care if she ever found him. She worked as a seamstress and a cook. Eventually she met Pedro de Valdivia and became his mistress. When he decided to try to colonize Chile, she went with him.

One of my goals for the Travel the World in Books read-a-thon was to read a book about a place that I hadn’t read about before. I’m weak in South America so I googled historical fiction in South America and found this book. I didn’t know anything about the founding of Chile. Any books about this time and place can be hard to read because the Spanish were just so horrible. This book doesn’t gloss over the horrific treatment of the Indians. It talks openly about how the Spanish were famous for lying when making promises.

I found Ines fascinating. She did what needed to be done but what isn’t always considered important by history. She and her native servant talked to locals in each area they passed to learn about healing plants that grew nearby. They did the doctoring during battles. She had the ability to douse so they could find water. She is known for founding institutions. She started hospitals and other services that you need to make a city from scratch.

24 Aug, 2014

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

/ posted in: Reading

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French RevolutionMadame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical Fiction

The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax sculpturess but who was the woman behind the museums?

I knew nothing about Madame Tussaud other than seeing the museum in the tackier part of Niagara Falls and knowing an old Christian pop song called Meltdown (at Madame Tussaud’s) that has been in my head for weeks because of this book.

Marie Grosholtz came to Paris from Switzerland as a child with her family.  Her mother found work and eventually love with the owner of a wax museum.  Marie learned her trade from him.  The Salon de Cire was a popular attraction and they worked hard to keep it up to date with displays of the latest celebrities.  Think of it as the tabloids of its day.

The family also hosted a popular evening salon that attracted some of the leading rebels and intellectuals of the day.  Because of this the family bridged the gap of the French Revolution.  Marie was a wax tutor to the Emperor’s sister and a friend of some of the leading rebels.  Both sides considered her family as friends which kept them walking a tightrope.  When the country is collapsing, which friends do you support?  How do you decide who to feature in your museum when a wrong choice might cost you your life?

The book gets into the horrors of the French Revolution.  Marie was forced to make make models from the heads of people executed to appease mobs that appeared at her door.  She was in the middle as friends turned against friends in deadly ways.

I highly recommend this book for people interested in historical fiction, history of women, or French history.

18 Aug, 2014

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

/ posted in: Reading

A Paris ApartmentA Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fiction/Historical fiction

April Vogt is a furniture expert for an auction house.  She is flown to Paris to help assess the value of the contents of an apartment that has been sealed for seventy years.  The house is packed full of museum-quality pieces of furniture and a previously unknown portrait by Giovanni Boldini. 

This is the perfect time for April to get away.  Her marriage is strained and she thinks that time away will help her sort out her feelings.  As she digs deeper into the story of the woman who owned the apartment, a courtesan named Marthe de Florian,  she finds herself intrigued by the life of this woman who started from nothing and amassed this collection.

This book is based on a true incident described in this Wikipedia article:

Madame Marthe de Florian (Paris, France; 9 September 1864 – France; unknown date) born as Mathilde Héloïse Beaugiron was a little known French actress and demimondaine (courtesan) during the Belle Époque.[1] She was known for having famous lovers including Georges Clemenceau (before becoming the 72nd Prime Minister of France), Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau (the 68th Prime Minister of France), Paul Deschanel (11th President of France), Gaston Doumergue (13th President of France), and the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. Her story resurfaced when in 2010 her belongings were discovered in a Parisian apartment, untouched for nearly 70 years, like in a time capsule.

Boldini_Marthe_de_Florian

I liked the story of Marthe de Florian but wasn’t as interested in the story of April’s life.  I thought she was pretty whiny especially in the part of her story about her parents.  I tend not to care about anyone’s childhood trauma.  Grow up and move on.

 

Dreaming of France Meme Eiffel

15 Aug, 2014

Dance of the Spirits by Catherine Aerie

/ posted in: Reading

The Dance of the SpiritsThe Dance of the Spirits by Catherine Aerie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spring 1951: The U.S. Army thought that they had won in Korea until the Chinese Army poured into the country. Jasmine Young is a doctor in the Chinese Army. When being sent to a field hospital near the front as a punishment for treating an American POW, her convoy is attacked and only she survives. American Army officer Wesley Palm rescues her when she is injured. During the course of the rest of the war their paths cross repeatedly at hospitals and prisoner of war camps.

This book gave great explanations of what happened in China as the Communists came to power. Jasmine is from a wealthy family that has their wealth and power stripped from them. A former servant now holds power over the family.

There are also not many fiction books written about the Korean War. You get to see all sides of the conflict – Korean, American, and Chinese – depicted here.

About the Author

Catherine Aerie, a graduate from the University of California, Irvine with a
master degree in finance, grew up in China as the daughter of a Shanghai
architect. She was inspired to write The Dance of the Spirits while researching
a family member’s role in the Korean War, deciding to revive an often neglected
and overlooked setting in fiction and heighten the universality of resilient
pursuit of love and liberty. Her debut novel was finished after about two years
of research. She currently resides in southern California.

For more information please visit Catherine Aerie’s website. You can also
find her on Facebook and Goodreads.

The Dance of the Spirits Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August
11

Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Spotlight at Mina’s
Bookshelf

Interview at Library Educated

Tuesday, August
12

Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Wednesday, August
13

Review at Book
Nerd

Thursday, August
14

Review at Queen of All She Reads

Friday, August
15

Review at JM Ledwell
Review at Based on a True
Story

Spotlight at Passages
to the Past

Monday, August
18

Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Tuesday, August
19

Review at Book
Babe

Wednesday, August
20

Review at Unshelfish
Spotlight at Princess of Eboli

Thursday, August
21

Review & Interview Back Porchervations

Friday, August
22

Spotlight at Just One
More Chapter

 

11 Jul, 2014

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

/ posted in: Reading

The White Queen (The Cousins' War, #1)The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical Fiction

It is the War of the Roses. Cousins are fighting cousins as the Houses of the Lancasters and the Yorks squabble over England. Elizabeth Woodville is the daughter and widow of Lancaster men. As a punishment for their rebellion her lands have been seized by the new regime of the York King, Edward. Elizabeth has two sons to protect and she has a plan. She is a beautiful woman and the new king is known to have a weakness for women.

Elizabeth catches the King’s eye. She gets him to promise to have her lands returned to her and then she makes him fall in love. They marry in secret but soon she is declared Queen of England.

Elizabeth’s mother was a powerful lady under the Lancasters and Elizabeth has learned her lessons well. She arranges appointments and marriages to put her family firmly in control. But, constant warfare wears down her King and her family and soon even cunning and witchcraft may not be enough to save them all.

edward-family-tree1 Image from here.

It helps to have a family tree handy at times when reading these stories because everyone is related to everyone else and they are all either named Edward, Richard, George, or Henry.

I know from doing some genealogical research on my mother’s family that the main bad guy in this book is the nephew of a many, many times great-grandfather of mine.  He was probably just misunderstood.  Of course, it appears that he cheated my relative out of one of his deserved titles so maybe he was just a nasty fella.

See on the timeline above where it said that Edward IV had lots of bastards.  They talk about that a lot in the book.   I’m a fan of monogamy.  Actually, I don’t care what you do as long as it is fair and equable for everyone involved.  Whenever the discussion came around in the book to one of Edward’s other women, I would feel my blood pressure rising.  It wasn’t fair to Elizabeth.  She was a politically savvy woman in a time when that kind of thing had to be kept secret.

Linking up to British Isles Friday.

 

12 Jun, 2014

The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

/ posted in: Reading

The SpymistressThe Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical Fiction

When Virginia seceded from the Union and Richmond became the capitol of the Confederate States of America, not everyone in Richmond celebrated. The Van Lew family were staunch Unionists. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy spinster in her 40s, decided to show Christian charity to the Union soldiers being held in Libby Prison. This led to her building and running a large Union spy network in Virginia.

VanLew

Her spying started when she smuggled out a list of all the Union prisoners in a book that she had lent to an officer.  From then on she brought food, blankets, and paper for letters home to the prisoners and took out everything they knew.  She was even able to place a Unionist clerk in the prison to gain intelligence when she wasn’t able to get in.  She bribed Confederate officials with gifts of food and money to let her gain access to prisons.  Her neighbors knew of her Unionist sympathies but not of her treasonous activities.  A woman was not suspected of such things.

In this book Jennifer Chiaverini tells the fictionalized story of Elizabeth Van Lew.  It is a nice counterpoint to her other Civil War stories –  Mrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker (review) and Mrs Lincoln’s Rival (review). Her historical fiction introduces us to women who have been mostly forgotten by history but who made huge contributions at the time.

 

 

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