3 stars · Book Review · Historical Fiction · WW1

In a Field of Blue reaches beyond romance to the ravages of war

in a field of blueIn a Field of Blue by Gemma Liviero was a Kindle first read and despite a confusing and slow start, it was an enjoyable historical romance set in 1922 England.  With the slow start of the first few chapters, it felt like Liviero really struggled with finding the voice of her male narrator.  Starting out, I thought the main character was female and had to read back a few times in confusion before realizing the narrator was male and named Rudy.  That wasn’t a great start.  I read a lot and have never encountered a book where the narrator’s gender and name were unclear or confusing.  Luckily, Liviero found her footing and I was able to follow the story easily after realizing who Rudy was.

Set in England post WW1, In a Field of Blue swirls around three brothers and their mother.  The youngest son, Rudy, and his mother live precariously on the edge waiting for the return of Edgar, the eldest brother whose gone missing during the war and the heir of the family fortune.  Their future depends on Edgar’s return, as his death means the entire family estate would be lost to the wildly irresponsible Lawrence, the second born and next in line who wants to sell their home and move on with life.  As the third born, Rudy has no claim to anything except the mess his older brothers leave in their wake.  When a strange French woman arrives with a small boy in tow,  claiming to be Edgar’s widow arriving with his son, the family drama ensues and Rudy begins an investigation into the strange woman, named Mariette, the boy and Edgar.

While In a Field of Blue is classified as Historical Fiction, it definitely teeters closer towards historical romance without every falling into that category.  Liviero did a fantastic job bringing forth the emotional trauma of war and presenting it in a way that is both respectful and powerful.  This book is worth reading just for Liviero’s approach to mental health.  The characters are incredibly well developed, it’s impossible not to fall in love with them, and the backdrop she paints across Europe is beautifully done.  The story does flip between four different narrators, and I wish Liviero had stuck to Mariette as her narrator.  Her writing was so much stronger and easier to follow with Mariette than the other characters.  This book could have also done with some heavy editing, particularly through the first 30% to help with clarity and ease of reading.

Overall, In a Field of Blue was a very enjoyable book, perfect for a winter day snuggled under a blanket.  I give this one 3 stars.  Incredible characters, beautifully written, needed a lot of help with clarity those first few chapters.

Until next time, happy reading friends!

Cheers, -R

 

4 Stars · Book Review · Historical Fiction · Spain · Summer Read · thoughts · WWII

The Snow Gypsy by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

51Wi2vWaM4L._SY346_The Snow Gypsy, by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, was one of the best books I’ve read this summer.  In this beautiful novel, set at the closing edges of WWII, Ashford leaves both Germany and Britain behind, forgoes the soldiers and war torn lovers and takes readers high into the mountains of post WWII Spain.

The Snow Gypsy follows Rose, a British veterinarian as she searches for her beloved brother who disappeared in Spain while fighting with Gypsy partisans eight years prior.  Rose’s search leads her directly into the heart and home of Lola Aragon and her gypsy family, and sends  them both head first into the complexities of a small mountain community grappling with their communal wounds after the war.

Ashford is the master of simple complexity.  The Snow Gypsy has a handful of characters who are rich and well developed and as complex as the flamenco rhythms Ashford employs throughout the book.  Each chapter is layered with emotion, joy, fear, pride, happiness, anger, love, lust, confusion, guilt, each landing on top of the other in a complex pattern of humanity.  I was particularly appreciative of how the book felt so authentic, as if Ashford was a witness to the times rather than just writing about them or putting her own romantic spin on what she hoped life would be like for Spanish Gypsies or women in the 1940’s.  Unlike Yaquian in Theads of Silk, Rose’s actions and decisions were both strong and strange, but they made sense for her character, the times and the location.

The story is strong and shocking, many events were unexpected and felt true to life.  I always appreciate when an author takes on a very popular subject like WWII and provides an entirely different angle from another perspective.  Like The Last Train to Istanbul, The Snow Gypsy further expanded my understanding of the true reach and depth of WWII and all of those impacted.

Great beach read.  4 stars.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

R

 

 

 

Bad Ass Women · Favorite Authors · Historical Fiction · Politics

Renowned American Author Toni Morrison dies at age 88

This week, the literary world lost a national treasure.  Toni Morrison, the American author who gave us Beloved and Song of Solomon, passed away at age 88.

I remember reading Beloved and Song of Solomon in high school, being blown away at the depth of character and the emotional and political scope of Morrison’s works; how she blended prose with poetry with Biblical references; how her characters were “real” and so incredibly complex; how reality blended so intricately with the mystic.

Despite all of the light reading I enjoy now, I cut my teeth of books like these and I am forever grateful to authors like Morrison who give us the opportunity to step into their worlds and expand our minds and our awareness.  Morrison introduced me to an entirely different American experience and opened my eyes with her interpretation of what it meant to be Black in America.  I will be forever grateful to her for these gifts of thought and awareness.

Until next time, friends.

-R

3 stars · Book Review · China · Historical Fiction · thoughts

Threads of Silk by Amanda Roberts

51b+W4jz72LHey y’all.  I’ve been digging the free monthly Amazon Kindle books lately.  I just finished reading Threads of Silk by Amanda Roberts.

This historical fiction follows Yaqian, as she makes her way from a barefoot village girl to a valued artisan living in the emperor’s service.  The political turbulence of last decades of the Chinese Qing Dynasty (late 1800’s and early 1900’s) provides the historical backdrop that make Theads of Silk so interesting.

From the beginning, Yaqian is different.  Bold and head strong, she doesn’t fit into the obedient female role predetermined to someone of her gender and station.  In an act of defiance, Yaqian begins embroidering shoes, which sell quickly and attract the attention of an embroidery master.  Yaqian is quickly whisked away to the embroidery school, where her head strong and bold personality launch her directly into the emperor’s court.  As a court artisan, Yaqian quickly becomes part of the inner circle and witnesses first hand the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

I don’t know much about Chinese history, so it was very interesting to read about life in China at the point in time.  However, it felt odd that a royal artisan would have so much involvement in so many different court happenings and be so intimately involved with the royal family.  The constant “in the right place at the right time” situations tend to jar the plausibility of the story with  as do the constant number of times Yaqian seems to be exempt from behaving in a manner of her age and station.  The story is well written and quite beautiful but it didn’t feel authentic.  At some point during the book, it became very evident that the author was not Chinese and was writing as an American woman who wanted a strong Chinese female lead character.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read.  I learned a lot about China and enjoyed the story.  It just didn’t hit the mark for authenticity or believably.  We’ll rate this one a strong 3.5 stars.

Until next time, happy reading.

Cheers,

R

 

Book Review · Bust · Historical Fiction

Take 2 on Caroline: Little House Revisited

51SDPJ0Ft4L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_It’s the end of May and I’m still wondering where the heck April blew off to.  I didn’t do much reading (or posting) in April, but I did watch a whole lot of Netflix.  It was super cold and wet here, so most of my time was spent crafting and watching The Umbrella Academy, Supergirl, The Flash, Empire Games, and probably a few more.

I did finish Caroline: Little House Revisited and felt like my original post could use some updating.  There is a section in Caroline, where the prairie starts on fire.  Ma is so focused on the fire that she can’t think and Miller is forced to write outside of Ma’s head.  This is where Miller really hits her stride.  Her descriptions of the prairie, the fire, the actions of the animals, the people, and the overall fire experience were excellent and very well done.  I was completely immersed in this chapter and was heavily disappointed when Miller returned to the first person narrative (which she obviously had to do in order to keep with the rest of the book.)

Caroline, in my opinion, would have been an excellent book if Miller had written exclusively in this third person style and focused more on Ma’s perspective of the Little House stories and less on creating a first person narrative which turned Ma into a boring whiny insecure Puritan.

I’m in between activities and writing on the go, so short and sweet today!

Until next time, Happy Reading!

-R

 

 

Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Historical Fiction · WWII

The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey

91lxhcUM91L._AC_UL436_Some books are just fun to read.  The Beantown Girls is one of those books.

Written by Jane Healey The Beantown Girls takes on WWII through the eyes of the Red Cross Clubmobile Girls.  In all of my years of reading and studying WWII history, I’ve never come across anything about the Clubmobile Girls, which is an incredibly fascinating piece of American and WWII History.  The Red Cross essentially recruited attractive, outgoing, college-educated American women between the ages of 25-35.  They sent these young women to England and France during WWII to boost troop morale by serving coffee and donuts while engaging troops in lighthearted conversation.  The girls were trained to drive and maintain trucks fitted with little kitchens and often followed the troops right into the thick of things.

Healey did a fantastic job presenting the history and strength of the Clubmobile Girls while also dipping into the horrors of war that these young women actually faced.  In many ways, the Clubmobile Girls carried the same unspoken mantle that mothers, sisters and wives carry everywhere; to support our men and be strong so the men won’t fall apart.  I appreciated the way Healey wrote her female characters in a way that was both strong and vulnerable, as well as true to the times.  The girls constantly applying fresh lipstick in the midst of a war was almost comical, but also an obvious nod to how seriously they took their roles as Clubmobile Girls.

I also liked how Healey strung together several true Clubmobile Girl accounts into a single believable tale, unlike Beneath a Scarlet Sky, which placed the main character in so many events it was unbelievable.

The love story in The Beantown Girls felt like a neatly placed after thought and I think the book could have continued along smoothly without a predictable love thread being tossed in.  The book does end rather neatly, but after all the girls go through, I was rooting for them to get everything they wanted.

Great topic.  Engaging writing.  Well developed characters.  The Beantown Girls gets four stars from me and a strong recommendation for lighter WWII historical fiction.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers, -R

Book Review · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Historical Fiction · tear jerker

Before We Were Yours Part 2

After a few weeks away, I’m finally finding a spare moment to finish writing about “Before We Were Yours”.  After finishing the entire book, the main conclusion was that while the story was absolutely amazing it felt like I had just finished reading two totally separate books by two separate authors.

51P7QgQ0DjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Wingate chose to tell the story through three separate characters, swapping narrators with each chapter to advance the story a bit at a time.  While this technique has been super popular lately, Wingate just didn’t nail the character development, story unraveling, or developing an equal emotional response to the narrators in the way Small Great Things, Gone Girl or Girl on the Train did.  With those novels, each of the narrating characters was equally written and developed.  It was easy to find yourself immersed completely in the thoughts and worlds of each of the narrating characters.  As mentioned in my last postBefore We We Yours felt incredibly unequal, almost like the chapters were written by different authors of very different caliber and then shuffled into place.  

As a HUGE fan of historical fiction, I felt like Wingate would have written a significantly more powerful novel if she had unraveled it bit by bit in a more traditional story telling format.  I would have even loved it if she’d stuck with alternating chapter narrations by Rills and May.  Avery was by far the least developed character, the least engaging narrator, and essentially existed as a quick device to move the story out of deeper depths.  Anytime something exciting was about to happen or some great secret was about to be revealed, the chapter ended and Wingate cut to some superficial plot line for Avery that meandered loosely back to Rills or May without ever returning to the big revelation about to be disclosed by Rills or May.  There were quite a few ambiguities and plot holes that ended up being written into this story which would not fly if Avery hadn’t been tossed in there to distract us with reminders of her privileged upbringing, prestigious pedigree and Ivy League education.

Overall, I ended up glossing through the pages narrated by Avery, and sinking my heart into the narrations by Rills and May, which tells you how necessary Avery wasn’t to the overall plot line.  I also would have appreciated more closure and finality for some of the characters who seem to ghost out of the story and are never mentioned again.  Final verdict?  5 stars for the chapters narrated by Rills and May.  1.5 stars for the chapters narrated by Avery.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Book Review · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Historical Fiction · tear jerker · thoughts

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

51P7QgQ0DjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Y’all…I did it again.  Went to bed w/ a new book at 8:30pm fully anticipating an hour, maybe hour and a half of reading and a reasonable bed time….and ended up reading until 1am.  Sigh…I’m so energetically sleepy it’s weird.  This must be how toddlers feel when their eyes are half closed but their body is happy dancing at top speed.  While delicious, this Green Tea is doing nothing for me.

So, during a book chat last week, a friend linked me to the Amazon Top 20 Chart last week, where I scrolled through the list looking for some new reading material.  I was surprised to find 7 Harry Potter books on the list along with the The Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s interesting to see so much Harry Potter on the list.  I remember seeing the first few books lined up together for the very first time on the library shelf like 15 or 20 years ago and thinking “holy shit, those things are HUGE”.  It’s such a strong memory, that to this day I can tell you the exact shelf and location of those books.  Weird memories aside, it’s amazing they’ve remained so popular and have really become such a normal part of the cultural sphere.  Ready Player One was also an unexpected find, but all of the movie hype has probably got this one ranking high in the charts in anticipation. Like The Martian, Ready Player One has only one real main character in the entire book.  I’m interested to see how that translates into a movie.

Having read 9 of the 20 books on this list, I started combing the library for the other 11.  Origins by Dan Brown had an 86 person wait list (what-the-what?!?!) but “Before We Were Yours” was available.  This book has been on the Amazon Top 20 for 25 weeks now, and after getting so caught up in the web Wingate has weaved, it’s easy to see why.

“Before We Were Yours” is a historical fiction based on the notorious Georgia Tann of the Tennesee Children’s Home Society.  From 1920-1950, Tann lied, schemed, plotted, and outright kidnapped the babies and children of America’s poor working class, often taking advantage of young single mothers as she procured children for her black-market baby adoption agency.  Most alarmingly, Tann had the support and cooperation of Memphis government officials, who not only knew but enabled her heinous crimes against families and children to continue for decades.

The book is written in a multiple person format, which did take some getting used to at first, particularly as the switch between characters could be jarring at times between chapters.  Interestingly enough, the story as told by Avery Stafford is stylistically written very differently than the story as told by Rill Foss and May Crandall .  It’s almost like reading two different books.  So far, I have preferred the voice and narration of Rill and May.  These characters feel very real and very grounded to me, like the author based them on someone she knew well.  The story swells and builds around Rill and May, until your heart clenches and you’re holding your breath with each page turn.

Avery, on the other hand, comes across with every stereotypical rich white-girl cliche the author could come up with.  She’s from a wealthy Southern family whose roots run deep into the political sphere.  She went to Colombia law school where she worked hard to distinguish herself from her own last name and is now a federal prosector.  The lawyer thing comes up frequently in Avery’s self monologues, like she’s reminding us over and over that she is smart and capable.  She grew up owning/riding horses and spending time with Grandma at the family beach house.    Her Daddy is an upstanding honorable man who just so happens to be a US Senator while her mother is the stereotypical overbearing Southern Belle of a Stepford wife whose organizational prowess, social standing and charity work are a force to be reckoned with.  While big things loom around her, Avery’s biggest concerns in life are missing her fiancee’s calls and dodging conversations about her wedding plans.

I’m about 75% done with the book and have been reading through Avery’s narration in anticipation of Rill’s and May’s chapters.  Looking forward to what the conclusion brings!

Happy reading,

Cheers!

 

audio books · Bad Ass Women · Biography · Books to Movies · children's books · Historical Fiction · series books · Western

Finding Minimalism on the Prairie

little house on the prairieWe tend to think of materialism and a desire to hold on to and collect physical objects as a modern day enigma, one born of mass production and fast fashion.  Imagine my surprise when this theme popped up unexpectedly in the strangest of places, the final chapters of The Little House on the Prairie.

The book ends dramatically when the Ingalls family finds their homestead, along with a few of their neighbors, is unintentionally but illegally located on Indian Land.  Rather than face the soldiers tasked with removing these settlers by force, Pa decides it’s best for the family to move along before the soldiers arrive.  As the restless spirit in the family who initiated the move out west, it’s easy to see Pa moving along without regrets.  He is akin to the modern day uber minimalist, packing furs and rifle in lieu of the mandatory modern minimalist back pack and laptop.  You can just see Pa nodding a curt goodbye to the house, the well, the garden and the year he spent building, digging, planning, planting, and trapping.  You can just see him moving along to the next adventure without a second glance.

For Ma and the girls, the disappointment is a bit thicker, but they face their reality head on with chores and no tears.  When everything they own is loaded in the wagon, Laura and Mary’s only sentimentality is a request to watch the little house disappear behind them as they roll away.  It’s hard to imagine any modern child (or adult for that matter) packing up their belongings as quickly or calmly as those two little prairie children asked to vacate their beloved home in such short order.

As the family heads towards Independence, Kansas, they come across a couple stranded in the middle of the prairie, the victims of a horse thief.  When the Ingalls family offers them a ride to Independence, the couple refuses.  They won’t leave their belongings.

Knowing full well the dangers the couple face alone in Indian Territory, Pa offers the ride multiple times, practically begging the couple to join them.   Each time, the couple refuses, opting instead to stay in the prairie with wagon full of (now useless) belongings.

As Pa drove off, burdened now with the knowledge of these people choosing to stay stranded in a very hostile land, I was left contemplating the situation.  It was impossible not to compare the stranded couple with modern Americans.

How many of us let our belongings dictate our future and hold us hostage, sometimes in dangerous territory, just so we can hold onto them?

How many of us have forgone a dream vacation or chance of a life time trip around the world because we couldn’t let go of our apartment?

How many of us have declined to take that exciting job opportunity in a field we love because it meant moving all of our belongings cross country?

How many times have our friends or family members stayed in a relationship way beyond the expiration date, simply to avoid giving up their stuff?

How many of us have taken on the burden of homes that chain us to the porch with the mortgage?

How many of us have taken on careers we actively despise or work multiple jobs so we can afford our wants?

How many of us are giving up our lives for a wagon full of useless shit?

beach read · Book Review · Fruit Beer · Historical Fiction · Sangria · Summer Read · WWII

Weekend Reading: The House By the Lake

The House by the Lake - Ella Carey - Book Cover

There’s nothing quite as inexplicable as staying up all night to finish reading a good book.  It’s not like the book is going anywhere…and the story won’t change…but I still can’t put it down.

This weekend, I went on a bit of a book bender and read The House By the Lake and Everything We Keep.  A historical fiction that bounces between pre-WWII Europe and San Francisco, The House on the Lake was a quick, if not totally satisfying, read.  The story follows Anna, a successful café owner, as she journeys through pieces of her Grandfather Max’s life and attempts to patch together his life story while holding hostage her own broken heart. Continue reading “Weekend Reading: The House By the Lake”