Special Sunday Edition: Guest Review!

“When you are standing there doing nothing remarkable, all you love can be yanked out of your open arms.” 

Welcome my guest reviewer: Ashlee Duff 

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

This historical fiction piece is full of love, loss, ambition, and sacrifice. Set in 1940’s England, Emmy Downtree is a teenage girl with talent and dreams looking for a better life for her and her sister, Julia. She is sent, along with all of London’s children, to the safety of the countryside to avoid the inevitable war that is looming. There she finds the attention and stability she was missing in the comfortable rooms at Thistle House and her foster mother, Charlotte. But it is her relentless ambition and the promise of an apprenticeship with a fashion designer that takes her back to London in secret with Julia by her side. On that day, the Nazi bombs will fall destroying most of London and the lives of those Emmy holds most dear. Julia goes missing and this sets up a new life that Emmy didn’t expect to live.

This novel was well researched and well written. I enjoyed the relationship between Emmy and Julia, as it reminded me of my sister and I. After the bombing, I could not put the book down. I had to know what happened to Julia and the other beloved characters after that fateful day. The guilt, longing and feelings of heavy loss are evident in those that survived. How they reshape and rebuild their lives is by one small step at a time. My only complaint is that even after all of the relationships and storylines are brought to a close, you still feel down. The uplift of closure and a semi-happy ending wasn’t given in near the detail that was used to develop these characters. I expected and wanted more for them. This was still a lovely story and I would recommend it to all historical fiction lovers.

If you would like to be a guest reviewer on my blog, please feel free to contact me! I would love to do a read-a-long or feature your individual review.

Book Review Saturday: The Great Trouble

“We don’t know enough to stop the course of the disease. I can only hope to save those who have not fallen ill.”

The Great Trouble is a young adult novel about the Cholera Epidemic of 1854 in London. It is narrated through the eyes of Eel, an orphan mudlark who is on the run from Fisheye Bill Tyler. Eel has to find odd jobs to keep him and his brother fed and sheltered because his mother has passed away. His luck seems to be turning around because he is working at Lion Brewery which provides a roof over his head, money in his pocket and the opportunity to work other side jobs as well. He manages to hide from Fisheye and continue paying for his brothers boarding until he is accused of stealing from the Lion by a bratty nephew of the owner. On his way to prove himself by locating one of his side employers he discovers that cholera has begun to pass through the neighborhood. The first victim appears to be the tailor that can vouch for him and save his job at the Lion. With the tailor on his deathbed he must turn to Dr. Snow, but the doctor is busy and his case seems hopeless to prove. Once he locates the doctor, he decides to ask him to help the neighborhood with its current cholera epidemic instead and they embark on a journey of discovery to find the root cause behind the disease. The reader can’t forget Fisheye because he makes his appearance at the most inopportune time. Will they be able to make the discovery and save lives? Will the girl he likes fall victim to cholera and survive? The story has no gaps for action and keeps the reader entertained throughout.

This book is a fantastic work of historical fiction for younger audiences. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Dr. Snow and Eel’s discoveries. The book is well researched and blends fictional and historical characters together with ease. I think the narration from a younger perspective allows kids to relate to a time long ago when things were hard and children were often forced to fend for themselves. I could picture myself drinking from the Broad Street Pump or breathing in the foul air that hung over London. The descriptions and story line show a mastery of writing. I enjoyed the opening to each part containing a quote from the past, and the author’s note containing real information about the epidemic and characters. I would have done the research on my own and this saved me from another round with Google.

What is your favorite young adult book? I have been looking for more historical fiction for this age group but the choices seem to be narrow. I enjoy a book that takes me back in time and allows me to experience something on a large scale. I would never have known about the Cholera Epidemic that plagued London without this story, and that is why I read. To know everything. Maybe one day right?

Special Sunday Edition: Where the Light Falls

“Funny, he thinks, how terror ages a man much more quickly than any passage of time.”

My first reaction to this novel is that I have never hated two antagonists so much. This novel follows the life of two men during and after the French Revolution, with two foes that want nothing more than their heads in a basket. It is an entirely new spin on the revolutionary events and doesn’t read as many of the others novels of this time period. The focus is on the trials before the guillotine and the battles being fought for independence. It shows the passion and spirit of the people who are fighting for what they believe is right and for those that are fighting for a bloodlust that can’t be tamed. You will grow to love the men with honor and hate the men who long to destroy anyone in their way. Many men used the threat of the guillotine to destroy enemies under false pretenses of treason. This shares the story of those that had the courage to fight against them and the hope to prevail.

Our first character is Jean-Luc St. Clair who has moved his family to Paris, revoking his title and lands, to do his part in the revolution. He has strong ideals and believes the revolution is for the good of the people. He works as a clerk inventorying the goods of noblemen that have been brought to justice by the guillotine. Jean-Luc is noticed for his potential and led to meet with higher officials of government. He does not realize at the time that he is challenging one of the superiors, Lazare with his intellect and arguments. This chance meeting leads to turmoil after Jean-Luc agrees to defend General Kellerman against Lazare in court. No one has challenged Lazare so openly, and it is one of the most devastating parts of the book. I wanted to scream as if everyone in the courtroom could hear me. Lucky for them, they could not. This trial shows the truth of the revolution and the many injustices that were carried out without proof or reason. His second attempt to challenge Lazare is successful but at the cost of his security. He will battle Lazare until the end, with the only outcome being one of them meeting death.

Our second character is Andre de Valiere, another deserter of his title and lands, serving in the military during the Revolution. His father was led to the guillotine and his mother sent away leaving Andre and his brother to fight and keep a low profile. He falls for Sophie, General Murat’s niece, which seems to seal his fate. He does not understand Murat’s hate for him but learns in due course that it goes well beyond Sophie. He stands as witness for the defense for General Kellerman, and is eventually tried for his own “crimes” by the same men. His trial does not go the way the accusers planned. He is not led to the guillotine and this makes him a permanent enemy of Lazare and Murat. They believe the best way to defeat an enemy is to take away everything they love and care for and they very nearly succeed in Andre’s case.

This novel was not what I expected from Pataki. I was absorbed in The Traitor’s Wife, but Where the Light Falls was a bit of an acquired taste. It took me longer to read than I would have liked, but I was captivated halfway through once my hate for Lazare and Murat was settled. I had to know who would come out on top. Would the good guys prevail? The story seems well researched and although the men are fictional they are based on real characters during the Revolution. I sadly have not researched Napoleon Bonaparte well enough, but will be adding him to my list. I find the battles toward the end of the book in Egypt intriguing, and the fact that the French people, who so longed for an outcome of a republic government, settled so easily into an empire ruled by Bonaparte.

So was the bloodshed all worth it? This book will make you take a step back and think about the Revolution in a new way. 

Book Review Friday: Wives of War

“There was no time; her sitting down to catch her breath or look for something to eat could mean a soldier died. Someone’s son, brother, husband…Tears filled her eyes, but she quickly blinked them away.”

Wives of War is a tale of three World War Two nurses, who find friendship and strength through one another during the hardships of war. The story starts out with Scarlet and Ellie meeting by chance at the railway station. Scarlet has signed up as a nurse to look for her fiancé Thomas who hasn’t been heard from in weeks. She believes that by being closer to the front she will be able to locate him. Ellie signs up because she wants to help and do her part. They agree on their way to remain close because together they will be able to handle anything. Their first stop was a home turned hospital to prepare for their arrival at the front. They do not know where they will be sent, but they are allowed to room together and develop a bond that will last through their lifetimes. Ellie meets a nice doctor and is asked to be his assistant once they embark on their journey. She is smitten right away but questions what he can see in her. When they reach their first assignment they are thrown into a world of decaying bodies, amputations and sleep deprivation. I have read about Normandy, but I can’t imagine the scene that lay in front of these nurses. Many men did not make it, or were left without legs or arms. The smells and lack of food and sleep would have pushed anyone to their breaking point. Ellie is affected the most and struggles to find her way. They meet a woman determined to become a doctor named Lucy. She takes some time to warm up to them, but in the end completes their trio. Lucy falls for a man that she saves, and Scarlet falls for a man that turns out to be her fiancé’s brother. Scarlet struggles between her heart and her duty while Lucy longs for the day her soldier will return. The ending sees the three women much changed and their lives set for the future.

The lightness of the friendship amongst the girls, their crushes on men and their determination to remain hopeful gives this story a spark that is needed when discussing difficult times in our past. War is dirty, hard on a body, and full of death and despair. These girls lived it right alongside the men and made it out to the other side. They were resourceful, and relied on one another to keep their strength. They faced extreme conditions for women of the time and only longed for hot baths and a cup of good tea. This story had excellent elements of the past along with a few love stories to keep you interested. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of a pessimist and think that everything working out so perfectly is a bit of a stretch. War time saw a lot of romances bloom and a lot of them die. Did I want any of them to lose their loves? No, but that may have been more realistic to the times. I love this kind of story because it’s an easy read and gives me some insight into the past. If you love historical fiction with romance then you will enjoy this tale of three women in their journey through war to love. 

Release Date: July 1st, 2017

Book Review Friday: The Underground River

“Conflicted. That’s what the feeling of torn fabric inside of you is called.”

I have been (im)patiently waiting for Martha Conway’s next novel and she did not disappoint. I can’t describe the ease with which you become involved with her characters but they truly come to life. She doesn’t miss a single detail and the characters stay “in character” throughout the book as if they exist somewhere out in the world and are just waiting for you to find them. I was watching the Floating Theatre instead of reading about a fictional scene. Her historical fiction breathes life into time periods that are often lacking the feel of experience and authenticity.

The story starts out with an account of the boiler explosions on the Moselle riverboat on the Ohio River. May is a passenger along with her cousin when the boat begins to sink. She is quick to react and saves the life of a small child that will haunt her nightmares for the remainder of the book. This act of heroism sets the tone for the reader that she is of strong character and can handle any situation. She begins the search for her cousin who has been taken in by a known abolitionist. Her cousin decides to stay and begin a lecture tour for the cause because she will be well cared for, but this leaves May without any income or a place to stay. The abolitionist agrees to pay May $20 for a ticket home to get rid of her as quickly as possible. May wants to continue her life as a seamstress and looks for work near her cousin and lucks into a job on the Floating Theatre. The only catch is the $20 she is paid to return home will be required to get the boat up and running. May is incapable of telling a lie and must learn in order to utilize the money for another purpose than returning home.

Once she has paid Hugo, the captain of the ship, she begins her new career out on her own. Her duties on the boat go far beyond costume design and she has little experience. As May begins to grow and learn she falls in love with the boat and her fellow passengers. She has always been in her cousin’s shadow and now she can stand on her own. The climax of the book comes when May is blackmailed by the abolitionist to pay back the $20 when she discovers her working on the boat and realizes the money was not spent to return home. May must face the decision to work for the Underground Railroad. She has little knowledge of slavery and doesn’t begin to experience the injustices until the boat begins docking on the free North and slave holding South side of the river. The differences become evident and she is torn within herself about what is right and just. She decides to accept the offer since she sees little choice and the reader is lead into an intense “OMG! What is going to happen? She can’t get caught? Agh!” of excitement. The combination of the threat of discovery and the debut of a new play made it hard to put the book down. Conway does an excellent job of combining romance, action, suspense and a fresh perspective on a troubling topic in American history.

This book is simply put, fantastic. Buy it, read it, read it again, and then you can join me in waiting impatiently for her next book! Release date is June 20, make sure to preorder!

Book Review Friday: The Dollhouse

“Where everyone acts like they’re the main character of their own book.”

The Dollhouse is the debut novel from author, Fiona Davis. I decided to read this tale of Barbizon’s Hotel for Women before beginning Davis’s next book. I had never heard of the hotel in Manhattan that housed many famous women as they were starting their careers in the big city. The history is fascinating, and there are several excellent articles covering the women who stayed there and the historical significance of the hotel. Sylvia Plath created a fictional Barbizon in The Bell Jar, after her short stay during an internship for Mademoiselle.

Davis weaves the story of a journalist in modern day with the past of a Barbizon girl trying to make it in the big city. The two women are connected through the hotel which has now turned into condominiums where they both reside. Rose, a journalist for a new startup company, sees a story in Darby almost immediately. As she begins to dig into the past she finds that her instincts were correct. The story is constantly evolving and keeps the reader intrigued. I liked the addition of the twist of mystery mixed with the rich detail of the characters and the history of jazz clubs and heroin trade. My only criticism of this book would be its correlation to the Bell Jar. It has very similar conflicts, and I kept thinking back and remembering events that unfolded almost the exact same way. I am going to be doing a feature on Sylvia Plath and the Bell Jar soon since this has peaked my interest.

This was a different era for women. They could start a career and depend on themselves. New York was a bright, new adventure. It was the city of opportunity. I find it sad that most books in this time period share a moment of men trying to take advantage of a woman. Did this occur often? I can’t say that I’d want to research this topic further but it seems that the assault of women was a common occurrence or at least literature wants us to believe that. Another reoccurring theme is the fear of failure. The women worry about returning home and their bleak possibilities if they are unsuccessful. The shame that these women must have felt had to be brought on by social pressure of the times. I think it’s important to look back at how far women have come and the confidence placed in our right to start a career, fail and keep going. This book does a great job of tying everything together and showing that women can be alone and successful. Stay tuned for my review of Davis’s next book: The Address.

Cassandra, Lost

“This was France. In America, they had said “France is in revolution,” but it had meant nothing to her. Revolution-what was that? It was only words, stories told at dinner, written in a newspaper. She had not expected this excess, this sensation of roughness in the air, this threat that peered at her from every face.”

Cassandra, Lost had so much promise. I was ready for a romantic adventure in France, an intriguing account of time at sea and family strife resolved. This was almost painful to get through. I did not like Cassandra, and her romantic experiences were almost too weird. I do not like to give up on a book, and the story did improve after 100+ pages but not enough to sway my opinion. I could have easily skipped the majority of this book and not felt deprived of any important information. After Cassandra runs away from her family to marry Benedict she is put in charge of her dying mother in law. She doesn’t even leave the house in France until half way through the book, and the historical details are very graphic but the potential for this time in a foreign country was wasted. When she returns, she and Benedict move to New Orleans after her father rejects her advances to repair the relationship. This rejection came through a letter and felt like a false truth. If she loved her father so much, why did she not at least try to go see him? In New Orleans, she meets back up with Jean Lafitte, who she begins an affair with. Overall, this book was disappointing. I think it was a missed opportunity to dig deeper into the world in the late 1800s and develop the setting instead of the awkward romantic ties.