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.

Write About it Wednesday: Ellen and William Craft’s Flight from Slavery


“Although runaways were free once they stepped on free soil, they could still lose their liberty.”

I have been continuing my research on the Underground Railroad and wanted to read some accounts of people who successfully escaped their circumstances into freedom. The Craft couple are one of the most well-known cases of escape. Ellen and William Craft had spent their entire lives as slaves being passed around from family to family. After they were married they began to discuss their mutual concerns for starting a family. They did not want their unborn child to be property that could be sold without their consent so they began to discuss plans for running away. The plan evolved into Ellen dressing as a Southern white gentleman heading to Philadelphia to consult a physician with her husband William assisting her along the way as her slave. They had the forethought to ask for passes for the Christmas holiday so they would not be immediately missed. Their plan was quite advanced and shows their true determination to escape.


The first step was boarding a train to Savannah where a neighbor sat right next to Ellen out of pure coincidence. She was able to fool her neighbor and continued to their second stop: boarding a Steamboat to Charleston. There was yet another scare on this leg of the journey that was thankfully quelled by an army officer who vouched for the couple after sharing a few meals together. Next they boarded a steamboat up the Carolina coast, followed by a train to Richmond, a steamboat up the Potomac, and then another train to Baltimore. At this point they had been traveling for nearly four days. They barely slept, ate, and the worry was constant that they would be found and returned to their owner to face harsh punishment if not death. On the final stop in the journey from Baltimore to Philadelphia the couple is stopped by an official. It was against the rules to allow any person out of Baltimore into Philadelphia without the proper approval/paperwork. They only managed to clear this checkpoint due to Ellen’s apparent illness that she concocted with her disguise. There were so many stops along this journey that I honestly can’t believe they made it. Even with their careful planning this was nothing short of a miracle. Many slaves didn’t even make it past their plantation, let alone several states over. I had heard this story on a Podcast before reading and remember almost biting my nails with worry at each stop. I felt certain they would never make it.


The Crafts became involved with several abolitionist groups and lectured across the country and eventually across England. They organized speaking tours and opened up schools in London and Georgia after the Civil War. No matter how hard or overwhelming the obstacle they never gave up. They believed in the cause of ending slavery and did their part to save and help those they could. There are tens of thousands of slaves that escaped throughout the years, but the Crafts had the courage to speak out at the time even with fear of capture once the Fugitive Slave Law was passed. Their story was printed in newspapers, circulations, and spread from plantation to plantation. They were hunted but still remained free from the moment they set foot in Philadelphia.

I can understand the appeal of this story, especially amongst slaves. They are heroes in their own right as they gave hope to those that needed it most. Slavery is gruesome, and the details of their past and what they bared witness to would shock and horrify even the most hardened person. I have found several other interesting slave escapes and if you are interested in a few then I would urge you to look at this concise list: http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/5-daring-slave-escapes

I utilized 5,000 Miles to Freedom: Ellen and William Craft’s Flight from Slavery by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin for this post. I recommend it to those who want more detail! Stay tuned for a few more posts about all things Underground Railroad. I have thoroughly enjoyed researching this topic, even though it makes you question the cruelty of humanity. There are a lot of lessons to be learned.

A Stolen Life

“I don’t believe in hate. To me it wastes too much time. People who hate waste so much of their life hating that they miss out on all the other stuff out here.” 

Who hasn’t heard of the Jaycee Dugard case? An eleven year old girl kidnapped on her way to school. The horrors she faced while captive are outlined throughout this book. Jaycee writes her experiences, and then shares a reflection on how the events make her feel looking back. These reflections bring reality to her abuse and how it affects her long term. We often see kidnap victims returned to their family with a big party and media outlets splashing it everywhere but what happens after the newness wears off? She is left to return to a life that she hasn’t lived since she was 11 years old. She has daughters, and has never made real choices of her own. She has to learn to drive, learn to rely on herself, and cope with the sexual abuse that became normal for her. She felt sorry for her kidnappers, and wanted to do what was best for them. Changing an entire mindset takes time.

This book is horrifying. I would be concerned about anyone who felt it wasn’t. She was 11 years old the first time he raped her. She thought that being with someone was lying next to them. Her first child was born when she was 14 years old. As her kidnapper began to use drugs the abuse became worse. He asked her to have sex with a dog. This is a CHILD. He believed that by living out his fantasies with her, he would not harm anyone else. She was his salvation, and the angels told him what he was doing was right. He was a master manipulator, and Jaycee truly believed that she must suffer the abuse to save others. Another horrifying truth is that his wife never said a word. She knew what he was doing and let it happen. She had several opportunities to let Jaycee go, but chose to keep her locked up and parade Jaycee’s children around as her own.

The most frustrating part of this book is the failure of parole officers, psychiatrists, and numerous other people to find the truth. He believed he was smarter than law enforcement and that he would never be caught. They would live their life as a family. It scares me that the world has people like this in it. At this very minute something of this nature could be occurring and we are blind to it. I know it must have been hard for her to write this book, but I am so glad she had the courage to speak out. This is a book for anyone who feels like they have been through too much and can’t make it back. Not only did she make it through, but she has founded an organization “to be of service to families that have suffered a familial or non-familial abduction or other trauma; to spread the message of compassion and awareness through educational programs; to encourage the collaboration of various entities to provide “Protected Spaces” for families to heal.” Here is a link to check it out: http://thejaycfoundation.org/

Blood, Ink & Fire

Blood, Ink & Fire

“Because readers and books hold a dangerous power. Her eyes light up as she says it. The power to imagine.”

There was so much hype surrounding this book. I thought it had the potential to be the next Hunger Games, or Divergent series with a movie soon to follow. I must admit that it took me a tremendous amount of time to finish reading, and I kept asking myself “I know I enjoy this concept, but is it ever going to end?” Noelle is born into Fell society, but never quite fits in. (Sound familiar?) Before she is stuck in Fell forever, she decides to meet her friend John in another sovereign. Her decision ends up leading to her parent’s death, but sets her on a journey to her future. Noelle is the last reader on Earth. All books have been destroyed, except for the volumes that have been spread across the sovereigns. She must find them all to find the hidden books. She falls in love with Ledger, who has taken over John’s body, and eventually ends up getting into several scares and adventures along the way. After you stick with the story, the ending is a major letdown.

I love the concept of the loss of books. We take knowledge and the ease of access to books for granted. What would happen if they all were burned and we were forbidden, even trained not to read? There are several good quotes throughout the story about the importance of reading and the imagination. I think even the quotes were overdone though, and if I read the line blood, ink or fire one more time I thought I might scream. Overall, I can appreciate an author’s first book and wish her the best on future endeavors but I wanted so much more from this book. 

Somewhere in France

“By the summer she’d have found a place for herself in this war. She was certain of it.”

After reading The Last Summer, I was on the hunt for another war romance. I found Somewhere in France, a novel of the Great War. Lilly is born to a life of luxury, her father the Earl of Cumberland, and was not allowed to attend school or consider a career. Lilly attends a party before the war breaks out and runs into her brother’s best friend, Robbie, and is drawn back into the hopeful wishes of her youth. As the men go off to war, Lilly longs to find a way to contribute to the cause. She goes to her country home to learn to drive (without her parent’s consent) which leads to her finding her true calling in the war. I think this book was pretty predictable, but still entertaining. The romance between Lilly and Robbie brings you back to a time when letters were passed back and forth, and love had patience and strength.

I enjoyed learning about women ambulance drivers in the Great War, and the gritty side of war from a woman’s perspective was very enlightening. An interesting detail is Lilly’s employment with the WAAC, the Women’s Auxiliary Corps, which was founded to replace men with women in noncombat roles. I would love to read more about the women who volunteered for these roles, and the author adds several suggestions for further reading.

The Last Summer

“None of us could return to that briefest of moments before the war, when the heady anticipation of a life unfulfilled lay before us. It had gone forever.”

I just closed the book, and looked up to realize that I’ve not left my recliner for four hours. I don’t know why I’m just now realizing that I’m a hopeless romantic. I couldn’t leave Tom without knowing how their lives would turn out. If you are reading this you are probably wondering what is wrong with this crazy lady. Does she realize that these are fictional characters? Yes, I do realize it and I was so consumed that I forgot the world around me completely. Isn’t that why we all read? This author wrote a book that she would like to read, and it was wonderful. I haven’t read many books set in World War One, but I LOVE historical fiction. I will be thinking about Tom and Clarissa for many nights to come. I wish there were 500, 1000 more pages for me to read. I do not want this to be the end of their story. I would write more, but I’m not ready emotionally to let them go…