Tag: historical

Book Review: The Oracle of Cumae, by Melissa Hardy

oracle
Image belongs to Second Story Press.

Title:  The Oracle of Cumae
AuthorMelissa Hardy
Genre:  Speculative Fiction
Rating:  3 out of 5

Mariuccia Umbellino is 99 years old when a miracle occurs, and she asks to see a priest. While her family thinks she wants to confess, Mariuccia just wants to tell someone the story of what happened years ago when she was a child in the Italian countryside. Mariuccia’s family had always been guardians of the Oracle, but one year, that guardianship entailed a lot more work than others.

When a priest and a wealthy man arrive at the family home en route to destroy the Oracle’s cave, Mariuccia and her mother sneak away to rescue the Oracle, bringing her home with them where it’s safe. Soon there are love spells with unforeseen results, strange mummies, and disembodied voices all around. It will take years for things to be set right with Mariuccia’s family.

That wasn’t a very good summary, but…I’m still not sure what the actual point (or plot) of the book was. I would have enjoyed more stories from Mariuccia’s life, instead of focusing on this one. I loved the Oracle’s sass, but really, what was the point of this book?

Melissa Hardy’s first novel was published when she was 17.  The Oracle of Cumae is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Second Story Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Girls Like Us, by Randi Pink

girls like us
Image belongs to Feiwel & Friends.

 

Title:  Girls Like Us
Author:    Randi Pink
Genre:  YA, historical
Rating:  3 out of 5

Georgia, 1972.

Izella and her sister Ola do everything just as their mother, a very religious woman, tells them. Cooking, cleaning, serving…and most of all, staying out of trouble and not getting pregnant. Except Ola didn’t listen to that last one, and now Izella must get her out of trouble somehow.

Their neighbor, Missippi, is also pregnant, through no fault of her own—and she’s too young to understand what the ramifications are. When her father sends her to Chicago to a woman who will take care of her until she has the babies, she meets Sue, also pregnant and the daughter of a pro-life senator.

Four different girls. Four different stories. All facing the same issue.

This book was not what I thought it would be. It’s rougher than I would like not, not fully polished, and while it’s about an emotional topic, I never felt an emotional connection with any of the characters. I found Izella and Ola basically unlikable, although I did like Missippi and Sue. The sisters’ choices show their ignorance of reality—perhaps due to their almost-cloistered upbringing—while Missippi is a character I felt sorry for, making the best of a horrible situation. Sue, on the other hand, is full of great motives, but zero follow-through. She talks a good game, but her rebellion vanishes in the face of opposition.

Randi Pink lives in Birmingham, Alabama. Girls Like Us is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Feiwel & Friends via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Widow of Rose House, by Diana Biller

the widow of rose house
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  The Widow of Rose House
Author:    Diana Biller
Genre:  Historical fiction, romance
Rating:  5 out of 5

In 1875, Alva Webster has spent three years developing a tough hide and learning how to ignore the whispers and gossip going around about her. When she left her abusive husband, he crucified her in the press, and the sordid tales followed her from London back home to New York, where she longs for a fresh start. She bought Liefdehuis, an abandoned mansion, in the hopes of repairing it and her hopes for the future.

But rumors of ghosts haunting the mansion make her task impossible, until eccentric professor Samuel Moore turns up, eager to study the phenomena. Sam’s family is famous for its love of science, and Sam himself is beloved by the press—and women—all over, so Alva wants no part of him, no matter how charming and caring he is. But Sam is her only hope of solving the mystery of the ghost in Liefdehuis—and unlocking the secrets in Alva’s heart.

I feel like Sam—and his family—are the stars of this book, although Alva is pretty incredible herself. But Sam…he’s like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, except caring, considerate, and funny. I loved him from his first introduction and am quite impressed that Alva resisted for as long as she did. There’s a lot of humor in this novel, a little bit of fright, and it all adds up to an entrancing read.

Diana Biller loves ballet and hiking. The Widow of Rose House is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Today We Go Home, Kelli Estes

today we go home
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Landmark.

Title:  Today We Go Home
Author:    Kelli Estes
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5

Larkin Bennett doesn’t know what to do with herself now:  she’s out of the military, trying to heal, and cannot forget what happened in Afghanistan. She knows she must live with the consequences of the choices she made that day, but she’s not sure she has the strength. Until she finds a treasure:  the diary of Emily Wilson, who disguised herself as a man to fight for the Union army during the Civil War.

In 1861 Indiana, Emily is happy with farm life with her family. Until her father and one brother leave for the war—and don’t come home. Longing for change, Emily disguises herself as a man—knowing in this case, her own comrades are just as dangerous to her safety as the enemy soldiers. But pretending she’s someone else allows Emily to get to know herself, and her reasons for fighting, even better.

I loved this book! And I don’t generally choose to read or like military books (or movies, for that matter). I loved seeing the journeys of these two women, Larkin and Emily, and the obstacles they faced. Both are strong, believable characters, and I never knew there were so many well-known cases of disguised women soldiers in the past! Now I’m completely intrigued by the subject. An excellent read!

Kelli Estes grew up in Washington state and used to work for an airplane manufacturer, allowing her to travel. Today We Go Home is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Bethlehem, by Karen Kelly

bethlehem
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   Bethlehem
Author:   Karen Kelly
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

In the 1960s, Frank and Joanna have moved their two children to Bethlehem, where his mother and grandmother live alone in a grand mansion. Frank works all the time, and Joanna struggles to scratch out a place for herself with a husband who’s always away. Her working-class background leaves her unprepared for Frank’s wealthy home, but she finds a friend in cemetery caretaker Doe, an old friend of Joanna’s mother-in-law—and her enigmatic grandson.

In the 1920s steel town of Bethlehem, the Parrish and Collier families have grown up together. Susannah, a budding flapper on the verge of adulthood, has always known the families expected her to marry Ellis, but then she falls hard for someone she never imagined. When unthinkable tragedy tears her world apart, she’s left holding secrets that can destroy both families.

This book was a slow, smooth ride into story. The two timelines were twisted together so well that they formed one incredibly detailed tapestry. I enjoyed every single page of this book and was so invested in the characters I cried!  A must-read!

Karen Kelly has a B.A. in English from Vanderbilt. Bethlehem is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in June (2019)

I read 20 books in June, bringing my total to the year for 102 books read.

I have to say, this was a case of quantity, not necessarily quality, as there were a few books that I really enjoyed, but most were just solid to mediocre reads.

That being said, two of my monthly goal books and one of the last books I read for review for the month were outstanding.

at the water's edge

At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen. This was my cultural pick of the month. Which, admittedly, was fudging it a bit, since the heroine is American and the books starts in New York in 1942. But…socialite Maddie and her horrid husband, Ellis, and his best friend, Hank, end up in Scotland in search of the Loch Ness monster, so I rationalized it. Fantastic, engrossing book! I would love to go to Loch Ness, and Gruen’s prose is top-notch. Highly recommend this!

backseat saints

Backseat Saints, by Joshilyn Jackson.  This  was from my TBR pile. I discovered Joshilyn Jackson when I read gods in Alabama for the first time several years ago (and re-read it last year and was just as entranced). This was when I discovered Southern fiction was a thing. I’ve read several of her books now–and cannot wait to review her upcoming novel, Never Have I Ever, at the end of the month. Backseat Saints takes a minor character from gods in Alabama and explores her very challenging life. Joshilyn Jackson is an auto buy for me, and that’s a really short list, so…

the stationary shop

The Stationary Shop, by Marjan Kamali. I’m still emotionally reeling from reading this, so I’m not sure I can talk coherently about it. Most of this takes place in 1953 Tehran, when Roya and Bahman fall in love on the edge of a revolution. it’s…not a happy book, which I realzied immediately. Usually, I would have chosen not to finish what I knew would be a sad read, but this was so good that I continued reading.

 

 

Book Review: The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali

the stationary shop
Image belongs to Gallery Books.

 

Title:   The Stationery Shop
Author:  Marjan Kamali
Genre:   Historical Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Roya is a teenager in 1953 Tehran. Her nation is on the verge of revolution, and she finds comfort within the walls of Mr. Fakhri’s stationery and bookstore. Mr. Fakhri introduces her to his other favorite customer—Bahman—whose desire to help change Tehran burns bright.

Soon Roya and Bahman are in love and engaged to be married. Their love for each other gives them hope even in the dark days surrounding them. When they are separated, Roya wants to find out what happened, but constant letters from Bahman comfort her. When he asks her to meet him in the square so they can be married, she is ecstatic. But violence erupts and Bahman never shows, and she never hears from him again.

Life must go on, but years later, a chance meeting gives her the opportunity ask the questions that have haunted her since her youth:  why didn’t he show up in that square? Why didn’t he love her enough?

As a general rule, I prefer not to read books that I know will be sad. I knew this book did not have a happy ending, but it was so good I read it anyway. The Iranian culture comes to life on these pages, but even more so does Roya and Bahman’s love for each other. Such a wonderful read!

Marjan Kamali was born in Turkey and has lived all over the world. The Stationery Shop is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Book Review: Montauk, by Nicola Harrison

montauk
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  Montauk
Author:  Nicola Harrison
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

In 1938, Beatrice Bordeaux is looking forward to spending some time during the summer trying to repair her marriage with her husband, Harry. Instead, she realizes she’ll be spending the summer at Montauk, a fishing village turned playground for the wealthy where Harry wants her to foster relationships with the wives of wealthy men than can further his business dealings.

She wants to fix their marriage, but Harry is staying in the city—pursing other interests. And women. Beatrice has never felt at home with the other society wives. She was raised simply and has never gotten over the death of her brother. She just wants a baby, but after five years of marriage, it seems like she’s missed her chance at motherhood.

Bea befriends a laundress who works at the hotel and is drawn to her simple life and the community of the island. Then she meets a man who is her husband’s opposite in every way, and connected to her past, and realizes the life she has is not the life she wants.

Bea’s emotions come through so clearly in this novel. Her fears, her grief, her hopes and dreams. I loved her as a character and wanted a happy ending for her so badly. The society she lives in is so foreign it’s almost impossible for me to imagine, and Montauk is vividly realized, as are most of the characters. This was an engrossing read.

Nicola Harrison is from England but moved to California when she was 14. Montauk is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Time After Time, by Lisa Grunwald

time after time
Image belongs to Random House.

Title:  Time After Time
Author:  Lisa Grunwald
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

In the Great Depression, Joe Reynolds’s life revolves around Grand Central Terminal and his brother’s family. Joe lives and breathes Grand Central and his job there with the railroad, but one December morning, he meets Nora Lansing, a Manhattan socialite whose flapper clothing and talk of the Roaring Twenties just don’t make sense. When she vanishes as Joe tries to walk her home, he is intrigued—and determined to find her again.

And he does, on another cold December morning. Nora is an aspiring artist who wants to live her own life, and Joe is fascinated by her. When Nora realizes she’s somehow become trapped in Grand Central and its community, she’s determined to make the best of the life she’s been given. She and Joe create a life there in the terminal, their love making their world feel bigger than it actually is.

Until construction of another city landmark threatens their life, and Joe and Nora must decide to face the future or cling to the life they’ve created.

I have no idea what I was expecting from this book—but reading it was a surprise. I’ve always loved reading about the 20’s, so I loved that, and the idea of an entire civilization in Grand Central Terminal was fascinating. Seeing Joe and Nora grow as the years passed was beautiful—and heartbreaking. A lovely read!

Lisa Grunwald is an author and editor. Time After Time is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Random House via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Bonavere Howl, by Caitlin Galway

bonavere howl
Image belongs to Guernica Editions.

Title:  Bonavere Howl
Author:  Caitlin Galway
Genre:  Historical fiction, middle grade
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

In New Orleans in 1955, the languid heat presses down on everything. Thirteen-year-old Bonavere, the youngest of the Bonavere sisters, has her best friend Saul to turn to and her two older sisters. Her parents pay the sisters no mind, even when middle sister Constance goes missing.

Some of the blame falls on Saul and his family because of their race, but Bonavere knows that isn’t true, so she sets out to find what really happened to Constance. Her questions lead her to the wealthy Lasalle family, and stories of girls found half-mad in the nearby swamps. Bonavere has no idea what secrets she’ll stir up when she starts asking questions. She just wants her sister back.

I’ll read just about anything set in New Orleans, and this novel captures the feel of the city very well:  the heat, the cobbled streets, the craziness…However, most of the story itself is a bit inexplicable to me. Things happened, but I couldn’t always see the connection to them and anything else, and I’m still not sure exactly what was going on.

Caitlin Galway’s newest novel is Bonavere Howl.

(Galley courtesy of Guernica Editions via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)