Posts Categorized: Historical Fiction

Oct 06

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Chick Lit, Historical Fiction 6

Howdy Bookworms!

I’ve been reading a lot of spooky novels to get me in the mood for Halloween (I’ll tell you all about it, of course, in due time.) Because I’ve been so deep in the dark and broody I decided to lighten things up a bit by picking up The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg. The last Fannie Flagg novel I read, I Still Dream About You (review) was kind of disappointing. It was fine, but it didn’t have enough of that “I’m happy to be alive” vibe that I’ve come to expect from her novels. I’m a glutton for the warm fuzzies. Suffice it to say that I was MORE than fulfilled by The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.

allgirlfillingstationlastreunionMrs. Sookie Poole has finally married off the last of her three daughters and is recovering from wedding overload. Just as she and her husband prepare for some R&R, Sookie’s world is rocked by a registered letter informing her that all is not as she expected it was in her family’s past. All her life, Sookie has been failing to live up to the impossible expectations of her formidable/eccentric/overbearing mother, Lenore Krackenberry. Lenore’s fixation on Southern gentility and the family silver perplex and exhaust Sookie, but she good-naturedly puts up with her mother’s airs. When Sookie receives her surprising package, Lenore’s behaviors confuse her more than ever. Determined to learn more about her family, Sookie embarks on an unexpected journey.

Sookie’s quest to uncover her family’s secrets leads her on a cross country trek and into a time and place she’d never imagined. Namely, a large Polish family in 1940s Wisconsin. Told half in present day Alabama and half in WWII era Wisconsin, this book was an absolute treat. I’m sure a large part of my affection for this book comes from the Midwestern setting and the Polish family. Technically I grew up in Illinois and technically I’m not Polish, BUT the Chicago area (where I grew up) has a ginormous Polish population. (Fun fact: I once asked a couple of the immigrant girls I went to high school with to teach me how to swear in Polish. They demurred and taught me the names of fruit instead, assuming that even if I tried to use them in a violent fashion at worst I’d sound like a crazed woman obsessed with produce. At least I wouldn’t offend anyone who spoke the language. Probably.) With a colorful cast of characters in each time and place, the Fannie Flagg I’ve come to love was represented fabulously. Historical fiction, contemporary fiction, warm fuzzies, and polka abound. If you need a pick-me-up, you need to pick up The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

Talk to me, Bookworms! Do any of y’all know how to polka? I don’t actually know how to, myself, but sometimes I do anyway. Evidence:

I'm dancing with my brother-in-law's mom who actually DOES know how to polka. She tolerated my nonsense beautifully.

I’m dancing with my brother-in-law’s mom who actually DOES know how to polka. She tolerated my nonsense beautifully.

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Sep 10

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Audio Books, Historical Fiction 4

Greetings, Bookworms!

You’ll probably recall my giant rant about Scribd changing up its audio book program. As a result, I scoured my library for the oodles of expiring titles and prioritized those I simply couldn’t live without hearing before they turned into pumpkins. I’ve been meaning to read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton for quite a while, and I’m so glad I decided to check this one out. Not only was it a great story, but the incomparable Davina Porter narrated (she’s the one who reads all the Outlander books and is beyond amazing.) Yay audio books! Boo Scribd for bursting my bubble! (I’m totally still bitter, Scribd!)

theminiaturistNella Oortman is a mere 18 years old when she arrives in Amsterdam, the newly minted bride of merchant Johannes Brandt.  While Nella is thrilled to leave her rural home for the excitement of the big city, she soon discovers that her marriage isn’t going to be what she expected. Johannes is incredibly distant, though when he does interact with Nella he is kind. His sister Marin, however, is even less welcoming.

Set adrift in an unfamiliar city, Nella is completely unmoored. Things begin to change when Johannes presents Nella with an unusual gift: a cabinet sized replica of their house. Nella is both intrigued and mildly insulted. I mean, a doll house?! That’s somewhat less than romantic, and kind of weird, actually. Nevertheless, Nella enlists the services of a mysterious local miniaturist in order to furnish the house and finds herself pulled into the inner circle of the Brandt household and its secrets quite by accident.

The cover art for this novel is genuinely representative of this book. It’s a pretty piece of historical fiction if there ever was one, and the narration of Davina Porter makes it even more magical. I found the story fascinating and loved the look inside the Brandt family. 17th Century Amsterdam was NOT the sort of place you wanted to be seen as different, that’s for darn sure. While I enjoyed the novel, I really wish there had been a few loose ends tied up, particularly in reference to the title character, but all in all, it was quite a ride. If historical fiction is your jam, The Miniaturist is certainly worth a read!

Talk to me Bookworms! Are any of you into tiny things? I’ve seen some impressive work done with miniatures, but I lack the patience to create my own and the funds to get into the hobby buying ready made. I’d love to hear from any budding miniaturists out there!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Sep 08

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

Asia, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 4

Good Day, Bookworms!

It probably says troubling things about my character that I love hooker books so ding dang much, but I do, I so so do. The circumstances that lead young women into lives of prostitution are endlessly fascinating, and it’s a profession that transcends time and culture. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, this revelation comes as no surprise. If you’re new here, I really dig books about prostitutes. From a cultural perspective, not a porn-ish one, in case that wasn’t obvious. This is a long weird intro, so I should get to the point! Today we’re talking about The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry. *I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. It is not at all like prostitution because there is zero promise of a favorable review (or any review) involved. That said, the way to my heart is through hooker books, so. Yeah.*

thecourtesanThe Courtesan is the fictionalized account of an actual historical figure, one Sai Jinhua. The novel opens with the execution of Jinhua’s beloved father, an unjust punishment for political dissent. At merely seven years old, she is left in the care of her stepmother (her mother having passed away before the book begins) and unceremoniously sold to a brothel. Though Jinhua suffers the horrors of foot binding and forced prostitution, she finds kinship with the brothel’s maid. Eventually Jinhua’s fortunes change as she is purchased (again) this time to live as a concubine to a wealthy diplomat. She goes on to accompany him on a lengthy trip abroad in Europe, through Austria-Hungary (you know, back when it was an empire?), Prussia (back before it was Germany), and Russia (back when Romanovs were still Czar-ing it up.) I was pretty stoked to see that another famous historical figure made an appearance in this novel, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, whom I feel like I know rather well after reading Daisy Goodwin’s The Fortune Hunter (review). Worlds colliding all up in this piece.

This book kind of tore my guts out, in any number of instances. I mean, how could it not? There were times I cried for Jinhua and times I wanted to give her a good smack. The fact that she lived such a large life in a time and place where women’s lives tended to be secluded was fascinating. As with any piece of historical fiction based on a real person, I have no doubt that many liberties were taken for dramatic effect, but it all swirled together into a rather lovely package. If you’re like me and dig hooker books, The Courtesan would make an excellent addition to your collection.

Talk to me, Bookworms! Do you like it when real historical figures make cameos in books?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*



Jul 06

Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway

Asia, Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 11

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

I hope all of you in the US had a safe and enjoyable 4th of July weekend. I know I did. I read TWO BOOKS! I know. It’s been a while since I’ve had the luxury of pure binge reading with no real obligations and it was glorious. The first of the books I devoured was Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway. Two of Dilloway’s earlier books, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns (review) and How to Be an American Housewife (review) were winners for me, so I was stoked when the publisher emailed me with an offer to read and review her latest book. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influences the content of my review, though it does influence my ability to pass books along to friends and family. Yay for that.*

sisters of heart and snowDrew and Rachel Snow are sisters with a strained relationship. Rachel is a married mother of two in suburbia. A rather surprising outcome given that her wild teenage antics led to her being expelled from her childhood home. Drew is a bit of a drifter, a musician who follows her passion but never quite manages a semblance of adult stability. The girls haven’t been especially close thanks to the familial rift, but they’re thrown back into each other’s lives when their mother, a Japanese immigrant, begins to suffer from dementia. Though she requires constant care, while she was still lucid, Hikari awarded her elder daughter Rachel power of attorney, enraging her douchebag father, Killian.

During one of Rachel’s visits to the nursing home, Hikari asks Rachel to locate a book she kept in her sewing room. The book and its contents lead Rachel and Drew on a journey back into each other’s lives and shed light on their mother’s difficult past. The book tells the story of Tomoe Gozen, a badass lady samurai in twelfth century Japan, an unlikely tale that resonates across time.

You guys, I love me some Margaret Dilloway! Her inclusion of the badass lady samurai was just the icing on the cake. Drew and Rachel’s relationship was beautifully rendered. The crazy Snow family dynamic was masterfully portrayed even though I wanted to PUMMEL Killian. OMG. PUMMEL. Is it okay to want to pummel a very old man in a walker? I don’t care, he’s fictional and so are my punches. But I hate him. Luckily his awfulness didn’t rub off on his daughters. Long story short? You should probably read Sisters of Heart and Snow.

Talk to me Bookworms. How often do you want to punch fictional characters? Is this a thing that happens to other people?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will make a small commission.*


Jun 22

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

Historical Fiction 15

Howdy Bookworms!

Remember once upon a time when we read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for The Fellowship of the Worms? And it was wonderful? Well. I was browsing NetGalley recently when I noticed that one of the authors of that charming book, Annie Barrows, had another offering coming up called The Truth According to Us. My requesting finger got all twitchy and I asked the publishing czars if I could pretty please have an advanced digital copy of the novel. They said yes, because they are very nice. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley for review consideration. The integrity of this review will be compromised by nothing except my limitations as a non professional reviewer and general weirdo.*

thetruthaccordingtousA depression era debutante named Layla attempts to break away from the shackles of her privileged life by accepting a job with the Federal Writer’s Project. It’s a bit of a scandal for a girl from a wealthy background to take on a relief position, but Layla has a thing or 10 she wants to prove. She’s assigned to write the history of Macedonia, West Virginia, a far cry from her metropolitan DC stomping grounds. She boards with the enigmatic Romeyn family. The Romeyns were once prominent in town, but scandal and tragedy have plagued their name for decades. A colorful cast of characters provide Layla with ample material to complete her project and weave themselves into the fabric of her life. (If you now have the jingle for the cotton commercials stuck in your head, I’m not even sorry. That is catchy as heck.)

You guys, I have all the mixed feelings about this book. I wanted to love it, I really did, but it just felt kind of disjointed. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been tired lately and I kept dozing off while reading before bed, but I had a hard time keeping things straight. It felt like some of the characters were thrown in as an afterthought and never fully developed. It wasn’t a bad book by any means. Jottie was a delight, and who wouldn’t love precocious little Willa? Still though, I’m left wondering if I’d have had a higher opinion of the book if Annie Barrows didn’t have so much to live up to. I feel like she lost a bit of the magic she had in writing The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Talk to me Bookworms! Have you ever read a book that you didn’t completely adore but couldn’t put your finger on why? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Jun 01

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber

Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 13

Greetings Bookworms,

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ll probably know that I have a penchant for what I lovingly refer to as “hooker books.” That’s right, kids, I love a good book about prostitution. Not in a pornographic way, but a historical fiction way. I find them absolutely fascinating to the point where I made a list of them while discussing the brilliant Emma Donoghue’s book, Astray. To my astonishment, EMMA FRIGGIN DONOGHUE read my post. Then she left a comment in which she recommended I read Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. Of course, it took me almost 3 years to get around to reading it, but I finally did, and wahooooooo hooker books!

crimsonpetalandthewhiteSugar is a 19 year old prostitute in Victorian England. She was forced into the world’s oldest profession by her mother (of all people) and spends her free time penning revenge fantasy novels. Her life takes an interesting turn one night when she meets up and coming perfume magnate William Rackham. Rackham soon becomes obsessed with Sugar and pays to keep her at his personal disposal. Sugar’s rise in fortune lands her in a new world- one very different yet nearly as dangerous as the one she’s just left.

The Crimson Petal and the White was a big, fat chunkster. It was quite good, if you like hooker books, but it wasn’t the speediest of reads. It had other perks for me, of course. On Facebook, I saw a friend discussing how multi-layered sheets and waterproof pads on crib mattresses are a life saver for late night blowouts. Whipping off the top sheet once a child spews vile secretions is apparently much less trouble than remaking a crib in the middle of the night. Obviously, I had to chime in that I’d heard great things about the method… In a book about a Victorian era prostitute. Because you KNOW Sugar totes used that method in her back alley days. I’m pretty lucky in that my friends aren’t easily offended when I inadvertently compare their children to prostitutes, but I wouldn’t recommend the habit, as a general rule.

Talk to me, Bookworms! What’s your most recent incident of spurting out an inappropriate book factoid?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Apr 16

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

Historical Fiction 19

Bonjour Bookworms,

Sometimes songs get stuck in my head and it’s a book’s fault. Occasionally, it’s because a song is mentioned in a book. Sometimes it’s because the song and the book just go together. Sometimes it’s because they share a title. I probably should have been kind of suspicious of Elizabeth Berg’s new novel, The Dream Lover, when it succeeded in getting a Mariah Carey tune stuck in my head. My 10 year old self didn’t make up a dance routine to “Dreamlover” or anything. That would definitely did not happen… *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley for review consideration. I pledge on my right to wear pants that the following opinions are uninfluenced by the fact that I didn’t have to purchase this book.*

dreamloverThe Dream Lover is about scandalous 19th century novelist George Sand. She not only took on a man’s name for her nom de plume (rather a fad in those days. Just ask the Bronte sisters… Erm… “Bell” “brothers”) but she also dressed like a man and had extra marital affairs while hobnobbing with Paris’s intellectual elite. As one does. The most famous female writer of her time, Sand had an impressive list of friends and lovers including Frederic Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugene Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and probably all the other famous writers, actors, artists, and musicians in Europe at the time. She was terribly popular. Salons, you know. And not the kind in which I have my hair dyed. The fancy kind with the thinking and the art and the discourse. Elizabeth Berg takes on Sand’s story from a first person perspective and tackles love, family, loneliness, and companionship.

This book sounded like it would be everything I loved. Ladies succeeding in a man’s world? Celebrity name dropping? Historical fiction? Cross dressing? It seemed like the perfect book for me. Until it wasn’t. I’ll admit I wasn’t at all familiar with George Sand’s story and I’ve not read any of her work (though I totally dig the work of some of her pals.) I think, for me, things went badly because it was written in the first person. It got very introspective, which is incredibly difficult to pull off when you’re writing about a historical figure. I found the life of George Sand fascinating, but I think I would have enjoyed reading about it more as non-fiction. (I know! Who is writing this, and what have you done with Katie, right?!) I struggled getting into this book and never really hit a stride. To be completely honest, I very nearly didn’t bother finishing the thing. I managed to finish (because DNF guilt), but I’m afraid The Dream Lover simply wasn’t the book for me. Just because the book wasn’t a winner for me, though, doesn’t mean it won’t be for you, my darlings. If you are a big fan of George Sand, introspection, and 19th century-esque prose, run, do not walk, and check out The Dream Lover.

Tell me something, Bookworms. At what point do you  give up on reading a book that isn’t ringing your bells? If I’ve made it to the halfway point I try my darnedest to finish it, but I’d like to know how long y’all give it before throwing in the towel.

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Mar 30

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Historical Fiction, World War II 18

Hello Bookworms!

I wish I could say that there was a tried and true way to pitch me a book that will guarantee I read it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. However. Your odds are VASTLY improved if you have already written a book I loved and if the book is set in Scotland. That’s about as close to a Katie-Guaranteed-Read as you can get. Sara Gruen of Water for Elephants fame (which I loved) has a new book out called At the Water’s Edge that just happens to be set in Scotland. Obviously I ran the other way when I heard about it. If by “ran the other way” you mean frantically clicked the “request” button on NetGalley, natch. *I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher through NetGalley. May the Loch Ness Monster devour my very soul if this review is anything less than my honest opinion.*


In 1944 Madeline Hyde and her husband Ellis are living the high life… If the “high life” means spending your parents’ money, getting wasted, and making public scenes. After one particularly scandalous New Year’s Eve party, Ellis’s father cuts him off financially. Problematic, seeing as Ellis’s “allowance” is their only form of income. Ellis’s BFF Hank proposes that the three of them make a pilgrimage to Scotland to track down the Loch Ness Monster. Ellis’s allowance-cutting-off father had his own public scandal once upon a time involving said monster, and this is Ellis’s chance to get back in his father’s good graces with the added bonus of rubbing it in his face.

So, because it is a GREAT idea to hop in a boat and cross the Atlantic in the middle of a WAR, Ellis, Hank, and Maddie head off to the Scottish Highlands. The bubble Maddie has been living in is unceremoniously popped en route and upon arrival. Money and distance have separated her from the war, but it’s impossible to escape the rationing, fuel shortages, and air raids in Scotland. Gradually Maddie comes to some important realizations about herself, her life, and her marriage during her Highland adventure, and her life will never be the same.

I know what you’re thinking. “But Katie, is there a hot Scotsman in this book?!” Aye, my Bookworms, there is! Never ye fear! I enjoyed At the Water’s Edgeand I would definitely recommend it to fans of Water for ElephantsIn fact, I found the romantic plot of the two books to be extremely similar… Almost too similar, actually, but not quite. Seriously though, find me a book with a hot Scotsman I don’t enjoy. (No. Please don’t. Don’t ruin hot Scotsmen for me.) If you like Sara Gruen’s writing, hot Scotsman, the Loch Ness Monster, and SECRETS, At the Water’s Edge is your book, y’all!

Let’s chat, Bookworms. About the Loch Ness Monster. Do you think Nessie is real? Hogwash? I’d like to know!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Mar 12

How to Be an American Housewife (And Other Upsetting Historical Things.)

Audio Books, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 21

Konnichiwa Bookworms!

Today you get a Japanese greeting because the main character in today’s book hails from Japan. I’m terribly appropriate, I know. A couple of years ago I read a book called The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns (review) that knocked the socks right off my feet and halfway around the room. I made a mental note to check out ALL THE BOOKS by Margaret Dilloway, and in typical Katie fashion, it took me forever to do it. But do it I did! When I saw that How to Be an American Housewife was available from my library’s audio book section, I decided to give it a shot.

howtobeanamericanhousewifeHow to Be an American Housewife tells the story of Shoko, a Japanese woman who marries an American serviceman. The novel features a (fictional, thank heaven) instructional document that attempts to educate Japanese women emigrating to the US in their new country’s cultural expectations and domestic duties. It is, as you would expect, astonishingly offensive, but very telling of the time period’s social mores. Shoko is encouraged to cut ties with Japan and focus on assimilation. As is the case with most novels focusing on Asian immigrant mothers and their American born daughters, Shoko and her daughter Sue have a rather rocky relationship. As Shoko ages and her health fails, she desperately wants to make a trip back to Japan to mend fences with her brother. Because she is too frail to do so, she enlists Sue’s help to make the trip in her stead. Family secrets and heartbreak dovetail with hope and warmth making How to Be an American Housewife an enjoyable read.

I think that listening to this book was a good move, as Shoko’s English is very fragmented. I often struggle with reading heavily accented language, but listening to it is always a treat. In listening to the acknowledgements, I learned that Dilloway’s mother was, like Shoko, a Japanese immigrant married to an American GI. It’s clear that Shoko’s story was heavily influenced by her mother’s experience, which struck me as a beautiful tribute. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the mushy stuff. If you’re in the mood for a mother-daughter story with that Asian immigration twist, How to Be an American Housewife is not to be missed. Fans of Lisa See and Amy Tan, take note!

Talk to me, Bookworms! Have any of you lived in a country other than the one you were born and raised in? Did you experience culture shock? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*



Nov 13

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Historical Fiction, Plague 16

Bring Out Your Dead, Bookworms!

Monty Python jokes never, ever, ever get old, I tell you! Seriously though, the bubonic plague was NO JOKE. I just finished reading Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks and it was plague-tastic. Y’all know how much I love me some plague, right? That sounds almost as bad as my love affair with “hooker books.” I’m beginning to worry about myself…

yearofwondersIt’s 1666 in a small English mining village. When the plague descends upon the town, the villagers seal themselves off from the outside world in order to prevent the spread of infection. A quarantined village with bubonic plague? Oh you know shiznit got real in a hurry!

We see the events of the plague through the eyes of a young housemaid named Anna Frith. The town’s minister makes valiant attempts to keep the villagers from self destructing, along with the assistance of his wife Elinor and Anna, their servant. With losses felt in every croft and cottage, it’s a herculean task to be sure. As the contagion spreads through the village, Anna witnesses frantic prayers, murderous witch hunts, corruption, and desperation. The best and worst of humanity are on display in stark relief.

I didn’t realize until I’d finished the book that Year of Wonders was based on a true story. The plague did indeed strike a rural town in 17th Century England called Eyam, and the folks of Eyam sacrificed themselves in order to prevent the spread of disease. Two thirds of the village perished. TWO THIRDS. I feel like I should write a thank-you note to antibiotics right about now.

One of my favorite things about Geraldine Brooks is that she never shies away from the super icky gross bits. Imagining people being sick is one thing, but reading about giant lymph node pustules? That rupture? It really brings the icky home. Fans of historical fiction, plague stories, and things that are awesome should definitely check out Year of Wonders

Alright Bookworms. Let’s talk. If your town looked like it was going to be plagued out would you try to run, or would you stay put in the interest of the greater good? (Look at us today with the ethical dilemmas! We’re growing here, I can tell.)

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I’ll use it to invest in a flu shot or something. Ain’t nobody got time for that.*