Book Review Saturday: Lincoln in the Bardo

“That stillness seemed the most terrifying thing of all. He was on his own now. None could help or hinder him on the profound journey which, it seemed, had now begun.”

I did not know what to expect with this book. I checked it out from the library previously but did not get around to reading it until the Man Booker finalists were announced. I love historical fiction, but this falls into a category all its own. I have never read a book like this. Saunders wins the award for most creativity, but the book did fall flat in some regards for me. The research is impeccable and presented in a new way that grabbed my attention. The history is entwined in the story with direct accounts from people who witnessed the events. It shows the discrepancies in what is remembered and how history can be misconstrued.

With a cast of 166 narrators, the book can be overwhelming at first. Saunders grabs your attention right away with stories from characters in the mysterious Bardo. It reads as a ghost story with historical elements. You will laugh, blush and feel sadness for the President in what must have been a heart wrenching experience. I do not have children. I can’t imagine having to bury one while still maintaining leadership of an entire nation. The weight of the world on his shoulders and watching his every move.

Unfortunately, the afterlife consumes most of the novel. I was more interested in the historical elements which left me a bit disappointed. I was ready for the ending about 50 pages before it came. The people trapped in the afterlife provide insight into the struggles of self and humanity, but I wanted more of the historical side of Willie’s passing. I am curious where the inspiration for the ghosts originated because they are so diverse. Their stories are well developed, and every detail was captured. It begs the question; do we really know we are dead once we pass? If there is an in between, why must we wait? Saunders tackles these issues and more with a book that is worth the read. I believe it will stand the test of time and be read for many generations to come.

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Book Birthday: Skavenger’s Hunt

“And the one thing that each of those three hunts had in common? Every riddle, every clue…was put together by one mysterious, very secretive man who put his very own name on it.”

Happy Book Birthday to Mike Rich!

I found this one on Net Galley while searching for a book to read with my class. I flew through it but didn’t LOVE it. It is a cute story. I am very hesitant of books that bring in historical characters to this age group. They see the history as fact even if labeled fiction. I wish that wasn’t the case but it affects my review of books in this genre.

Henry is cooped in the house and lacks any sense of adventure since his father’s death. His mother tries to keep him safe at all costs, even going so far as to suggest he wear a coat in the house to prevent a cold. What Henry doesn’t know is that his grandfather is about to bring him an adventure beyond his wildest imagination. His grandfather shares an ancient scroll with him and eager to find out the meaning, he sneaks into his grandfather’s study and is transported to the past. The Skavenger hunt is on! He must solve the clues to find his way back to his mother while keeping an eye on the scroll. If the scroll runs out, he will be locked into the past forever.

It sounds kind of cheesy. I will admit. I did like the story but some of the journey is a bit farfetched. I know times were different back then but I can’t see several children traveling by boat to Paris without a bit more difficulty than they encountered. It plays out like most treasure hunting stories by traveling on a journey to find the prize and ending up finding yourself along the way.  There is some added intrigue with Hiram Doubt and his Four Men of Darkness chasing the kids while they hunt for the clues but not enough to give the element of mystery and suspense. I knew what was going to happen early on but I finished to see what characters from history would appear next.

The entire time I was reading this novel I kept thinking Hunter S. Skavenger is based on Hunter S. Thompson. I need to email the author and ask. I wound up reading Thompson when it clearly stated Skavenger throughout the entire book. I’m always curious where inspiration strikes. On to the next review!

Book Review Saturday: Sarah’s Key

“Because they think we are different. So they are frightened of us.”

This book was hard to read. It’s so easy to put the Holocaust and its atrocities behind you and go about your day. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Not dwell on the past or give it another thought? This book slaps you in the face with it and then kicks you while you are down. Honestly, I knew very little about the French involvement in the deportation of Jews and that saddens me. We know what happened, we see the memorials and hear the sad tales but the digging stops there. We don’t want to face those kinds of truths. At one point, my boyfriend asked me why I was still reading if it makes me so upset? My answer was how can I not? The author does not spare you on details, and the pain is brought to life through her intertwining tale of Sarah, a Jewish child who was picked up by the French police, and Julia, a journalist investigating the round up.

Sarah is awoken by the French police banging on the apartment door. They ask for her father but he is already in hiding. The police are not aware of her little brother in the next room so she hides him away in the secret cupboard and locks the door. She knows he will be safe because she believes they will be coming right back. As they walk out onto the street her mother calls her father’s name and he appears. They board a train and are escorted to an arena where they are grouped with the other Jews. They remain there for days. Her brother has no one to save him. The children are eventually left alone and sent to Auschwitz. I waited for any sign of good news in Sarah’s story but little comes.

Julia is an American journalist married to a “typical” French man. She is asked to cover the anniversary of the roundup and becomes completely immersed in the story. Her research unfolds hidden secrets that her husband’s family wishes to stay buried. I don’t know if it’s the fact that she is a journalist or that the story so completely changes her but I just felt drawn to her character. I have buried myself into research and felt the changes in my own life. She wants to make a difference, she wants people to feel something. It’s a quality that appeals to me in a main character. I wasn’t a huge fan of her relationship with her husband that parallels her work, but overall this story will stay with me for a long time.

I highly recommend this book even if you normally shy away from historical fiction. It’s important to remember and study the past, and those emotions and feelings it sparks are what makes us human. It’s easy to leave things in the past, it takes courage to face it head on and learn from it. It only takes one person to change a life, one person to stand up for something, one person to help us remember.

Book Review Saturday: The Address

“It’s a monstrosity in the middle of nowhere. No good families would dream of living here, I tell you. Can only imagine what sort will end up inside.”

I am fascinated by the history of New York City. I have never been to the city myself and daydream of the streets existing as they did many years ago. It will be a big shock once I realize the city doesn’t exist in black and white and the people do not walk around dressed in cocktail dresses drinking whiskey out of glasses and smoking long cigarettes. I have to admit that might be why I’m prolonging my visit. I can keep the dream of New York alive without accepting the reality that modern times have wreaked havoc on my perfect picture. Fiona Davis attempts to bring her readers back in time to the popular homes of New York by blending the past and the present in a mixture of fiction and reality. I recently read The Dollhouse which took place at the Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York, and then picked up the Address which occurs in The Dakota. I had never heard of either and found a great deal of research on the history and architecture of the buildings.

From the very beginning the parallels to The Dollhouse are evident. I think I read the two novels too close together for my taste. I crave originality and this fell flat. This book alternates between the 1880s and the 1980s following two characters whose lives intersect, which is also the story line for The Dollhouse. Sara is whisked off to New York City by an offer she can’t refuse. She is to take over the management of The Dakota as a result of saving the architect’s daughter at a hotel in London. She begins an affair with the architect (Mr. Camden), is charged with theft and sent to an asylum, is rescued by a reporter and then returns to him and an apartment at The Dakota. Bailey is the secondary main character who is fighting an alcohol addiction and seems to have no options remaining. Her cousin allows her to live in her apartment at The Dakota while she oversees renovations and gets back on her feet. Bailey uncovers trunks of family heirlooms and begins to piece together the history of Sara and Theodore Camden. She believes she is related and must deal with the possibility of becoming part of a family while sacrificing her relationship with her cousin. The story concludes by revealing the truth behind the murder of Mr. Camden and revealing the true identity of Bailey. There is a slight twist involved, but nothing to make you gasp or get excited about.

I wish I could rank this book higher. I will say that reading her books so close together definitely weighed in on my review. I was more interested in the side stories than Bailey and Sara. Sara’s time in the asylum sparked some new research for me and added a few new books to the “TBR pile.” I was hoping to finish this book before its release but it took me almost a month to power through because I wasn’t interested enough to keep turning the pages. If you like to read about the history of New York then you will enjoy this one, but make sure to read the Author’s Note at the end for the minor changes to the historical accuracy.

What are your favorite books about New York? I’d love to add to my reading list!

Book Review Saturday: Cinders & Sapphires

“Looking up into the depth of the night and the countless stars, she felt somehow as if she were standing on the brink of a precipice, and that if she had the courage to step forward, she might find that she could fly.”

This book is definitely marketed for the Downton Abbey fan club that needs something to console them for their loss. I wanted so badly to love it, but the story line has been done before. These upstairs, downstairs books are supposed to leave us daydreaming of tea time and fighting for women’s independence. I just felt that I’d been there, done that.

Ada is expected to marry someone that will ensure her family’s fortune and keep her in luxury. She has other plans that include attending Oxford University and learning to support herself. On a return trip from India due to her father’s disgrace of his position (there is much talk and gossip as to what actually occurred), Ada meets Ravi and their kiss seems to open up a world of new possibilities for her. Act One occurs in Somerton where the family is returning home. Her father is quickly married to secure the estate from financial ruin. Ada longs to see Ravi and rejects a marriage proposal from an acceptable suitor because of her mixed emotions. Act Two moves us to London where Ada’s stepmother is determined to get invitations from all the right people to secure marriages for her own daughter and Ada. Ada convinces her father to allow her to attend a political dinner party by faking interest in Lord Fintan, who she shares many meaningful conversations with, to see Ravi again. This ends in an argument as Ravi believes her flirting to be true feelings. They part ways only to be brought back together as Ada returns to Somerset. Ravi is offered a position to act as a go between for the British and Indian Congress and although he wants to marry Ada he knows it isn’t the best path for her. Act Three shares yet another marriage proposal for Ada from Lord Fintan who will allow her to attend Oxford once they are engaged. There are several side stories caring on alongside Ada, my favorite being her ladies maid Rose. Rose was promoted from a downstairs maid to waiting on Ada. She is a wonderful piano player and writes her own music. Her story follows alongside with her struggle to want more and see her compositions on stage. She ties in the elements of the downstairs while assisting Ada with passing letters between her and Ravi.

The whole thing reads as more of a fairy tale than real life. First off, three marriage proposals just doesn’t read well to me. I know they help tie the story together but it felt like something else should be happening. It was expected and therefore disappointing as a reader. Second, I feel that the relationship between Sebastian and Oliver is forced. If you want to throw in a relationship between two men then it shouldn’t feel like the exact relationship in every other story line. Man loves man, man is blackmailed by man, and new man stands up against blackmailer. It has been done too many times. Lastly, there is SO much love in this story. Everyone is in love with someone. Can someone just be content with themselves? I needed a love break once it ended. I will say that I was intrigued with the insight into the British occupation of India. This has always been one of my favorite research topics and this element alone kept me reading. Overall it wasn’t a waste of time, but I don’t have a desire to continue the series. 

Who shares my love for Downton Abbey? Do you have any books that have helped fill the void? I’d love to hear from you!

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?