Q: who are your fave historical fiction writers?
The Four Winds begins in 1921 when 25 year old spinster Elsa Wolcott, who’s denied love & acceptance by her upperclass family & feeling stifled in their home & her life, sleeps with Rafe Martinelli, an 18 year old Italian-American man.
Pregnant & summarily denounced by her family, Elsa is sent to marry & live with Rafe & his parents. Reflecting on the fact that she is not loved, still, Elsa resolves to give her baby the family & home she never had.
The book picks back up in 1934 where we learn the effects on Elsa of living in that kind of marriage & trying to keep a home & farm going. Then the dust storms & Great Depression get worse & that’s where the story really takes off.
The Four Winds makes it clear from the Prologue that it’s a story about women, & that’s what we get as Elsa tries to protect her family in TX & across the country in CA. Elsa’s story also becomes a migrant camp worker’s story. The parallels between then & now—when the rich get richer off the work & hardships of those who do the work, when politicians & police work to support the system that keeps rich white people rich—are strong.
Kristin Hannah is a masterful writer & my emotions were definitely engaged—but while Elsa & her arc are inspiring, her story also feels overtly representative in some ways, symbolic. I felt some distance from her. That feeling is underscored for me by the ending, which is well-written but which I didn’t like on a couple of different levels.
This isn’t my favorite of Hannah’s books, & I do have some quibbles, but it’s another stunning offering. I’m grateful that we have this exploration of the power & strength of women & mother-daughter relationships during one of the US’s most tumultuous moments. A story that gives hope & assurance of some kind in the good people are capable of even as it points out some of the worst acts of humanity.
4⭐️. The Four Winds is out on 02/02/21. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I didn’t know what to expect pretty much throughout my reading of Rachel Givney’s Jane in Love. Unpredictable, fun, funny, & yet sad at moments too, Jane in Love offers compelling observations about our time & the social conditions Jane Austen might have faced as a woman who wanted to write in her own time—but in terms of execution it doesn’t always work for me.
In 1803 Jane Austen is a spinster who loves to write but can’t share her efforts with her embarrassed family. After she’s rejected by a promising suitor, she seeks help from a witch & tells her she wants love. As a result she’s sent to the 21st century.
Straight to a film set where they’re adapting one of her novels.
Jane immediately meets spoiled & yet likable actress Sophia & soon after, Sophia’s brother Fred Wentworth, who irritates Jane immensely.
Initially believing that Jane is an actress in a candid camera situation, Sophia is eventually won over to believe Jane's time travel tale—with some funny scenes along the way.
Sophia's going to assist Jane in her efforts to return to her own time, but of course complicating everything are Jane’s growing feelings for Fred & her awareness that her lingering time in the 21st century is slowly making her published books disappear.
Givney clearly sketches out the dilemma facing Jane: what she stands to lose & gain no matter what decision she makes.
A standout for me in this book is the sense of voice. Givney writes voice in such a way that I felt as if I knew the characters; they're unique & memorable.
Filled with dry humor, the scenes in which Jane encounters the world of the 21st century & nearly every scene with Sophia are particularly fine. Though it’s not a humorous scene, the pep talk moment between the two women—when Jane coaches Sophia how to act—is written with sensitivity & quite lovely.
But the love story between Jane & Fred lacks subtlety at moments & feels rushed. I want to warn my romance-loving friends that this is not a romance. Setting aside that for a moment, the ending overall also feels hurried to me.
There are moments of Jane in Love that shine, & those moments focus on Jane as a writer & how that relates to social expectations for women, her sense of personhood, & her relationship with Sophia. I was less convinced & enamored with the “in love” part.
3⭐️. Jane in Love is out on 10/27. Thanks to HarperCollins Publishers and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I don’t even quite know what to make of Samantha Cohoe’s A Golden Fury. I think I started with certain plot & character expectations & the book kept blowing them up. This made for a reading experience that was both captivating & somewhat disorienting & I didn’t feel like I had quite found my footing until the end.
Beginning in Normandy in 1792, A Golden Fury tells a story centered around alchemy.
Thea has long worked for & with her famous alchemist-mother Marguerite. They’re very close to creating the White Elixir & then hopefully the Philosopher’s Stone when her mother cuts her out of the process & kicks her out of their lab.
Thea has never looked to her mom for kindness but this last betrayal is huge.
On the same night that Thea discovers that her mother has figured out how to create the Elixir & the Stone, her mother seems to have gone mad & tries to murder her.
Out of other options Thea travels to meet the father she’s never met before but not before grabbing some of the White Elixir. She will make the Stone on her & cement her reputation as the foremost alchemist.
But things never go as one hopes...
Inventively plotted & featuring complex characters, A Golden Fury is intriguing. I love the focus on female alchemists, how Thea constantly rises above the narrow expectations men have for her & forges her own way again & again.
This critique likely reveals my own biases, but while I loved that Thea is often unlikeable, there are times that I find her unadmirable & hard to connect to as well. Ditto for most of the other characters, who rarely do “good” things & who live in a world that mostly feels dark & unsettling until the end--which feels a little too hopeful to be entirely believable to me.
(Just to be clear: I don’t have to like and/or admire characters to love a book but in this one the individual characters seem portrayed unevenly & I had a difficult time emotionally connecting to them & to the book itself.)
On balance, I appreciated how unpredictable this book is, how it took me for a thrilling ride that wasn’t afraid to venture into dark territory, but I also didn’t feel overly invested in any of the characters or their fates, & that's a bit of a disappointment to me.
3⭐️. A Golden Fury is available on 10/13. Thanks to Wednesday Books and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Tropes: Cross-country Western; historical
After finishing Amy Harmon’s Where the Lost Wander I had a lump of feelings sitting in my throat. This book beguiled me, pulling me in to a story about love and loss and love again both while reading it and in the months since. I haven’t forgotten it.
It’s 1853 and Naomi May is a young widow accompanying her large family to Oregon. The book opens with a group of Native Americans attacking Naomi’s party and Naomi watching as people she loves and has traveled with are struck down until it’s only her and her baby brother left.
From there, we’re taken back even further to the past, to the beginning of the journey west when Naomi meets John Lowry, the white and Pawnee man she was immediately drawn to but who resisted her efforts to befriend him—and more—every step of their trip.
Where the Lost Wander is an immersive experience, from the creaking of the wagon trains to Naomi’s mother’s wise words and the interaction of her loving, large family, to the tentative efforts of Naomi to reach out to John—known amongst Native Americans as Two Feet—and his efforts to box her out.
And the independent, feminist, loving Naomi has her own challenges, particularly those experiences that occur on the journey west. Her stunning resilience gives the book more vibrancy, and her relationship with John—their determination to reach each other—the staying power of a contemporary classic.
WTLW is out on 04/28. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
I’ve heard a lot of buzz about John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies and at the end of last week, I took a break from the romances I’ve been devouring and dove in. The story—which spans 70 years—is plainly but powerfully told, each section focusing on Cyril Avery’s life as he moves geographically from Ireland to Amsterdam to the United States and back home again, and more importantly, from a life of devastating secrets to a life where he lives as he is: a gay Irish man who’s made some big mistakes and been in love and tries to be better all the time.
Each section of the book focuses on Cyril’s life 7 years later from the previous section. We get his tumultuous birth in 1945, told from information he received later from his mother, his odd and sad childhood years as the adopted child of an unconventional—to say the least—couple, and the first moments he met Julian Woodbead, the child who becomes Cyril’s best friend and then the man Cyril loves throughout his adolescence and most of his 20s.
Since this book goes up to 2015 we get much, much more of course, from Cyril’s furtive sexual encounters in Ireland in the dark, to the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to hide his sexuality, and how it ends up hurting the people he cares about most. Also his years of embracing who he is and how those are sometimes threatened too.
And throughout it all is Ireland, a country that’s tragic and that’s home, that Cyril misses even as he acknowledges how damaging it was for him to grow up there when he did. Ireland holds the weight of his and other’s secrets, but it also holds Cyril’s potential chance to make amends and to live a life where he’s truly not hiding anymore.
Dedicated to John Irving, The Heart’s Invisible Furies feels comparable to Irving’s books I’ve read, from the style in which the story’s relayed to the moments of humor, which break up the quiet and not-so-quiet moments of sadness. Maybe it’s most similar in how it portrays the characters themselves, who are magnetic and entertaining and frustrating and disheartening (sometimes vaguely repulsive) and loveable. Take Cyril himself, who sometimes comes across as the “selfish” person he’s been accused of being, but who also has a huge heart that’s been bruised and crushed and denied, and whose actions are sometimes horrible but also, to some degree, maybe understandable, given his lifetime of hiding/lying/being ignored.
In the end, this book is about Cyril’s life, and it felt true to what I’ve discovered about life: there’s capacity for great ugliness, cruelty, and violence, but there’s also capacity for great forgiveness, hope, and love. There’s also the chance to apologize and work to be better, and that’s one of the most encouraging things of all.
Thanks to Social Butterfly PR for these promotional materials. All opinions provided are my own.
You all, I'm so excited about the release of the fabulous Kerrigan Byrne's The Business of Blood. I can't wait to see what the queen of the uber-emotional, holds-your-heart-in-her-hands historical does with a murder mystery...especially one involving Jack the Ripper! Read on for a blurb and info about where to find this beauty (hint, hint: it's even on Kindle Unlimited!).
London, 1890. Blood and death are Fiona Mahoney’s trade, and business, as they say, is booming.
Dying is the only thing people do with any regularity, and Fiona makes her indecorous living cleaning up after the corpses are carted away. Her childhood best friend, Mary, was the last known victim of Jack the Ripper. It’s been two years since Fiona scrubbed Mary’s blood from the floorboards, and London is no longer buzzing about the Ripper, but Fiona hasn’t forgotten. She hasn’t stopped searching for Jack.
When she’s called to a murder in the middle of the night, Fiona finds a victim mutilated in an eerily similar fashion to those of the Ripper, and only a few doors down from Mary’s old home. The relentless and irritatingly handsome Inspector Grayson Croft warns her away from the case. She might have listened, if she hadn’t found a clue in the blood. A clue that will lead her down a path from which there is no return.
As a killer cuts a devastating swath through London, a letter written in blood arrives at her door, and it is only then that Fiona realizes just how perilous her endeavor is. For she has drawn the attention of an obsessive evil, and is no longer the hunter, but the prey.
Fiona Mahoney is in the business of blood. But she’s not the only one.
With intriguing twists, blood-chilling discoveries, and dazzling prose, USA Today Bestselling author Kerrigan Byrne shows that a woman’s work is never done, even when is sleuthing out a serial killer.
Where to Find It
Download your copy today or read FREE in Kindle Unlimited!
Amazon Worldwide: http://mybook.to/BusinessofBlood
Amazon Paperback: https://amzn.to/31q7Q9T
Add to GoodReads: http://bit.ly/2qfPPhw
Kerrigan has done many things to pay the bills, from law enforcement to belly dance instructor. Now she’s finally able to have the career she’d decided upon at thirteen when she announced to her very skeptical family that she was going to “grow up to be a romance novelist.” Whether she’s writing about Celtic Druids, Victorian bad boys, or brash Irish FBI Agents, Kerrigan uses her borderline-obsessive passion for history, her extensive Celtic ancestry, and her love of Shakespeare in almost every story.
She lives in a little Victorian coast town on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State with her wonderful husband. When she’s not writing you can find her sailing, beach combing, kayaking, visiting wineries, breweries, and restaurants with friends, and hiking…okay…wandering aimlessly clenching bear spray in the mountains.
Connect with Kerrigan
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There you have it. I can't wait to read this one and hope to check back in soon with a review!
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Alice Hoffman’s The World That We Knew is unforgettable. Set during the years 1941-1944 and featuring several different perspectives, The World answers the question of what we have to live for in a time of terrible loss and sorrow: love.
The book opens in Berlin, where Hanni’s husband has recently been murdered and her pre-teen daughter, Lea, attacked. As a Jewish woman, Hanni knows that her daughter will be safer somewhere else, but she also feels that she can’t leave her elderly mother behind to travel with her. In her desperation, Hanni pays someone to create a golem—made of clay, able to speak and to protect but bound by her master’s wishes—to travel with her daughter Lea. After the war, Lea must kill the golem, whom they’ve named Ava.
The juxtaposition of someone—Ava—being born into a world where so many are killed and dying is stunning. Devastating. Because Ava’s so very happy to be alive, even as horrific things are happening and even as she fears for her Jewish charge, Lea. Hoffman heartbreakingly complicates this, too; because Ava knows that her greatest responsibility, her obligation, her desire, as she comes to know Lea, is to keep Lea safe no matter what, an act which will eventually necessitate Ava’s own death.
Tangled in this story of Lea and Ava are other stories too: of Lea and Julien, a young man she meets in Paris who becomes a lodestar; Ettie, the golem’s creator; and Marianne, a former servant who worked in Julien’s home. Each story is beautifully told; each one tells a version of war where no one is unaffected, where everyone pays a great price but there is some redemption to be found, too.
The World that We Knew had my heart in its hands. It’s a big story—one that includes folklore and the concrete details of a people suffering and surviving, one that feels very much rooted within a particular time period and also part of a larger story about how humanity at its worst, and best, treats others. And it’s ultimately a celebration of love, of the sacrifice that love sometimes demands and the bravery that it can engender.
Thanks to Grand Central Pub & Read Forever Pub for my complimentary copy of the book. All opinions provided below are my own.
Feelings bombarded me after reading the closing lines of Leila Meacham’s Dragonfly. It would have been kind of hard to avoid such a response, actually. At 569 pages, a lot was bound to happen to happen in this book, and if you throw in the fact that it’s WWII-era historical fiction, well, there you go.
I was sad, happy, contemplative, mostly satisfied but also a little confused (more to come on this later). Maybe most of all I had that feeling you get when you’ve been immersed in a different place and time and feel like you’ve been reawakened to the present.
In essence, Dragonfly is about a group of five young American spies who are sent into German-occupied France in 1942, and only four of them return home. In 1962, when the book opens, their case officer known as The Man in Brown reads that the fifth spy was not executed as the other spies and he believed. What could have happened to the fifth spy? Could she/he still be alive? What follows is an answer to the mystery and a reconstruction of sorts: what drew the spies to their work; their training; and their years in France, ending with the culminating event.
Meacham compellingly creates characters who are relatively inexperienced, even as they’re skilled and devoted to their mission. I love how she establishes their various personal motivations for wanting to be in France and how those motivations are not only inspiration to them, but possible temptation to deviate from mission rules as well.
Any deviation would be superbly dangerous, a fact that’s frequently underlined by the five spies encounters with various Nazis, French collaborators, and even an American traitor while in Paris. There are a lot of characters in this book, and even more than that, a lot of names (each spy has three different names, for ex.), and yet Meacham adeptly establishes connections between them. It’s a literary delight (and also scary since I became invested in the lives of the spies) to see potentially deadly secondary characters popping up in multiple spies’ lives….and contemplate whether it was that secondary character who made the whole mission come tumbling down.
The answer to that question is definitely worth reading, though there was one aspect of the plot that didn’t feel fully explained.
There are occasional moments in Dragonfly when the writing didn’t feel quite as subtle as I would have liked, but overall, along with feeling superbly researched, Dragonfly is engrossing and well-written. I wanted to keep reading so I could discover the answers to the questions posed at the beginning, and also because I cared about the fate of five young Americans who had their own reasons for going to France, not least of which was discovering intel that could save Americans during the war.
TNW Arbitrary Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Give me that HEA, please.
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