Posts Categorized: Historical Fiction

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.*

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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.*

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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.*

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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.*

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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.*

atthewatersedge

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.*

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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.*

 

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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.*

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Nov 10

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett & GIVEAWAY!

Contemporary Fiction, Giveaways, Historical Fiction 32

Dearest Bookworms,

You’d think I’d be tired of Jane Austen tributes and spinoffs at this point in my reading career… But you’d think wrong. When I was contacted by the publishers of Charlie Lovett’s new novel, First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen I was really excited. Not only do I love Jane Austen, but I also enjoyed Charlie Lovett’s last novel, The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession (review). Everybody loves a subtitle, no? *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. I swear on the grave of Jane Austen than the following review will be truthful.*

first impressionsFirst Impressions is told in a dual narrative ping-ponging between the life of modern day Sophie Collingwood and the life and creative process of one Jane Austen. Sophie has recently finished her master’s degree and is feeling rather shiftless. She takes a job in an antiquarian bookshop until she gets things figured out, only to receive two requests for the same extremely obscure book in rapid succession. In researching the book, Sophie is drawn into a scandal that calls into question the authorship of Pride and Prejudice… And it might get her killed. Book enthusiasts can be intense, yo.

Throughout the narrative we’re brought back in time to see Jane Austen forming a close friendship with her elderly neighbor Richard Mansfield. The two have a bond that undeniably shapes Austen’s work, but just how much of an influence was Mansfield?

Back in the present, Sophie’s got mysteries to solve, not the least of which revolves around a pair of suitors. Sophie must channel her inner Elizabeth Bennet to figure things out and live to tell the tale.

And now I shall share my impressions of First Impressions, because it’s what I do and I wanted to smush the word “impressions” into a sentence thrice. (Ha! I win!) I typically enjoy dual narratives, and I liked Lovett’s take on Jane Austen’s life and writing process. I found Sophie to be a spunky heroine, though I will admit I found Sophie’s love life full of rather heavy handed Pride and Prejudice parallels. However, considering the whole book is awash in Austen fandom, it seemed fitting. (Also, never trust a dude whose name starts with a “W.” Scoundrels, the lot of them!) As in The Bookman’s Tale, I loved the peek into the antique book world that Lovett provides. As a person who has always focused on the content rather than the medium, it’s a glimpse into another delightful corner of bibliophilia. I doubt I’ll ever be the sort of person who seeks out first editions, but I can (and do!) appreciate historical objects. (Seriously, you should have seen me flipping out over the copy of the Magna Carta I saw at Salisbury Cathedral. I practically had to bust out the smelling salts. Oh, the vapors!)

As an extra special treat for all my favorite book nerds, the awesome folks at Viking/Penguin have sponsored a GIVEAWAY of BOTH First Impressions AND a gorgeous Penguin Classics hardcover edition of Pride and PrejudiceThis giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only. Check out the Rafflecopter goodness below to enter!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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Nov 03

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

Historical Fiction, World War II 17

Ahoy Bookworms!

One of my favorite things about reading, particularly when I read historical fiction, is learning new things. I mean, you THINK you know all there is to know about WWII and its aftermath and BAM. Something new. Did you have any idea that enough Australian women married British service members to necessitate a post-war trip hauling 650+ war brides to England in an aircraft carrier? And that was just ONE of the ships. Thank you, Jojo Moyes, for teaching me these things. *And thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a complimentary copy of The Ship of Brides for review consideration.*

shipofbridesThe Ship of Brides focuses on four Australian war brides who are making the pilgrimage to England aboard the Victoria. Everyone on board (brides and crew) are held to strict behavioral standards. Let’s face it, attempting to keep hundreds of young brides who haven’t seen their husbands in ages (and who likely didn’t know them all that well to begin with) AND hundreds of young sailors who just finished fighting a war to keep their hands off each other was going to require some discipline, you know?

Margaret, Frances, Avice, and Jean end up being bunk mates. Margaret is enormously pregnant and facing a new life on a new continent with a husband she barely knows, AND motherhood. Jean is all of 16 years old. She’s flippant, flirty, and a bit of a party gal. Avice is an uber snob from a fancy schmancy family. She spends her time looking down her nose at everyone and making me want to smack her. Frances was a nurse during the war and has a past full of SECRETS, I tell you! These four are stuck together on a boat, sharing a tiny room, in equatorial heat for SIX WEEKS. I’ll let you imagine that cesspool for a minute and then try to figure out just how well they all got along, mkay?

So, you know I love Jojo Moyes. I’ve read and enjoyed Me Before You (review), The Girl You Left Behind (review), Silver Bay (review), and One Plus One (review). I liked The Ship of Brides overall… It’s just that my Jojo Moyes standards are SO HIGH. The book started out kind of slowly for me and I found it dragged a bit. Then all the juicy tidbits were stuffed into the last few pages. It’s a great story, I just thought the pacing could have been better. Still, if you like historical fiction, WWII, or Jojo Moyes, you should DEFINITELY check this out!

Talk to me Bookworms. Since this book takes place on a boat, why NOT talk about cruises? Have any of you been? Do you recommend them? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. Maybe I’ll hoard the cash and buy a cruise.*

 

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Oct 16

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Fairy Tales, Historical Fiction 26

Bookworms, Bookworms, let down your hair!

I’m eeeeeeeevil and have locked you in a tower and forced you to grow your hair to unimaginable lengths that don’t occur in nature and now I want to use it as a rope, damnit! Heck yes, y’all, I just finished reading Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, a re-telling of Rapunzel. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration through NetGalley. May I be locked in a tower if this review is untrue.*

bittergreensBitter Greens begins with a note about how the folk tale Rapunzel originally surfaced in Italy but its best known published version appeared in France. What follows is Forsyth’s imagining of how the tale managed to travel. It gives a fictionalized account of the life of the French author, Charlotte-Rose de la Force as well as a creative interpretation of Rapunzel’s origin story.

Charlotte-Rose was a courtier in Louis XIV’s lavish and fickle court. After a series of scandals, Charlotte-Rose is, for all intents and purposes, disposed of in a poverty ridden convent. Out of sight, out of mind, no? Her greatest love was writing, but even that is denied to her inside the cloisters. It certainly doesn’t help anything that Charlotte-Rose was raised a Huguenot and was forced to convert to Catholicism… And then, you know, unceremoniously dumped in a convent. Bad form, Louis.

In any case, Charlotte-Rose is in a bit of a pickle, but comes to befriend Sœur Seraphina who comes to teach her the glories of gardening and shares her stories. What story do you think she starts with?! Why, a young maiden locked in a tower with a ginormous length of hair, of course!

Fairy tale retellings can be a bit hit or miss for me, but Bitter Greens was a big hit. It had all my favorite historical fiction elements; I felt like I was IN these times. And there was plague. MUAHAHAHAHA! Really though, the best part of this novel from my perspective was that the witch got a fantastically developed back story. I like my villains to have depth, and Selena Leonelli was one complex lady. If you like historical fiction, fairy tales, and interwoven storylines, Bitter Greens is your book, y’all!

Alright Bookworms, let’s talk villains! Who’s your favorite fairy tale villain? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I will NOT be using it on hair extensions, because at the moment, long hair seems incredibly over-rated.*

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