Tag: history

Book Review: A Silken Thread, by Kim Vogel Sawyer

A Silken Thread
Image courtesy of WaterBrook.

Title:  A Silken Thread
Author:    Kim Vogel Sawyer
Genre:  Historical, romance, Christian
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Just a few short years after the Civil War, Atlanta is set to host the Atlanta Exposition, which will draw visitors to the city from far and wide. Eighteen-year-old Laurel, the youngest of seven, is expected by her siblings to stay home and take care of their mother. But Laurel dreams of a family of her own and hopes that operating a silk loom at the Exposition will give her the opportunity to meet a man wealthy enough to care for her mother as well.

Brendan Rochester, only son of a very wealthy family, wants to continue his drinking and carousing, but his father has given him an ultimatum:  settle down and get married or lose everything. Brendan doesn’t want that. He likes Laurel well enough and her beauty would complement his reputation, so he chooses to pursue her and decides nothing will stand in the way of getting what he wants.

Willie Sharp is poor and caring for his ailing father, so he takes a job as security guard at the Exposition. Willie’s friendship with his best friend—a black man—is normal to him, but results in hatred from others, and when a break-in at the Women’s Building at the Exposition happens, Willie is chosen to be guard there, to keep him away from the others. As he and Laurel become friends, his feelings for her change—but he has nothing to offer her.

I really enjoyed this novel. Although it dealt with subjects that I don’t like—racism, sexism—I think it’s probably an accurate portrayal of life in the late 1800s. I loved how all the characters seemed to learn and grow during the course of the novel, and I found the scenes from the Exposition and the Silk Room to be fascinating. If you’re looking for a sweet, clean read, this one is an excellent choice.

Kim Vogel Sawyer has published over fifty books. A Silken Thread is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Mercy Road, by Ann Howard Creel

mercy road
Image belongs to Lake Union Publishing.

Title:  Mercy Road
AuthorAnn Howard Creel
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

In 1917, Arlene Favier’s home burns to the ground one night. Her father dies in the fire, leaving Arlene to care for her mother and brother and try to rebuild the family’s horse-breeding business. Arlene is determined, but jobs are scarce, especially for women. Until she gets the opportunity to join the American Women’s Hospital as an ambulance driver.

Soon Arlene is part of a trailblazing all-women team of doctors, nurses, and drivers headed to war-torn France. Arlene must work day and night dodging bombs and shells to help civilians and soldiers escape the horrors of war. Somehow, she has caught the attention of Felix Brohammer, a captain who charms everyone he meets—except Arlene, who sees darkness in the man’s eyes.

Arlene also finds Jimmy, a childhood friend who makes her feel things she never imagined. But she’ll have to risk everything—and everyone she loves—to find out the truth about Felix.

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical tale. The courage and bravery of this team of women stuns me. I cannot imagine how much strength it would take to not only work on the front lines of war, but to do so while fighting centuries of tradition and rules preventing women from doing so. Arlene’ strength and determination shine through on every page, and her love for those around her motivates everything she does. Definitely worth reading.

Ann Howard Creel is an award-winning author. Mercy Road is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Lake Union Publishing 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: The Immortal City, by Amy Kuivalainen

the immortal city
Image belongs to BHC Press.

Title:  The Immortal City
Author:    Amy Kuivalainen
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  3 out of 5

Dr. Penelope Bryne has been shunned and ridiculed by the scientific community for her theories about Atlantis. Until a woman is sacrificed in Venice, and an ancient script is found at the murder site and the police need Penelope’s help.

Alexis Donato has spent the last few years trying to destroy Penelope’s career from afar, so she doesn’t discover the truth about Atlantis:  it did exist, and seven of its magicians escaped its destruction.

With Carnivale erupting around them, Penelope and Alexis will have to work together to keep dark magic from pulling Venice into the sea—just like Atlantis.

I love the tales of Atlantis and I love archeology, so this book sounded exactly suited for me. However…this felt more like a rough draft than a polished novel. Some of the relationships (like Penelope’s friendship with the detective) escalated too quickly to be believable, and there were a few too many instances of things conveniently/coincidentally working out for me to be fully invested in and believing the story. At this point, I wasn’t satisfied enough with the writing to want to read more of the series, as fascinating as the premise was.

Amy Kuivalainen likes to combine fantasy, mythology, and magic in her writing. The Immortal City is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: If You Want to Make God Laugh, by Bianca Marais

if you want to make God laugh
Image belongs to G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

 

Title:   If You Want to Make God Laugh
Author:   Bianca Marais
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

In the 1990s, Zodwa is a 17-year-old girl living in a squatter’s camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg with her mother. The constant threat of civil war and the disappearance of her brother years ago haunts their every step. Overwhelming poverty casts its shadow over their lives—as does the growing AIDS epidemic. And Zodwa, once the hope of her mother, is pregnant.

Ruth might be wealthy, but she’s far from happy. She knows her husband wants a divorce, and when her drinking leads her places she never intended, she ends up living on the empty family farm outside Johannesburg…where the sister she hasn’t seen for decades arrives unannounced. Delilah is a disgraced former nun haunted by a past she’s never spoken of, a past her sister knows nothing about. When they find an abandoned baby on their porch, they are confronted with their own beliefs about motherhood, race, and the secrets of the past.

If You Want to Make God Laugh is not a book meant for light reading. There are some very heavy topics here, and these three women have experienced truly terrible things. They might be broken, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strong. Poverty and violence shadow their lives and the life of their community. The setting, on the cusp of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa, is torn by conflict, war, and disease. However, this is a wonderful, wonderful read.

Bianca Marais is from South Africa but now lives in Toronto. If You Want to Make God Laugh is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons 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.)