The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is a historical fiction book that takes place when slavery was prevalent in the south. The story follows two narratives over more than a decade: Lavinia, a white child forced into indentured labor when her parents die on the crossing from Ireland to America; and Bell a young woman and a kitchen slave who is also the illegitimate daughter of the plantation owner.

Lavinia lives and works on the tobacco plantation and soon becomes bonded to her surrogate family; she is so bound to this family that she doesn’t realize the differences in their skin color and what that means. But all is not right with the family she serves. Ms. Martha take laudanum to get through the day, the Captain is never home and although he is good to his slaves, his caretaker, Rankin, is not, and Mr. Marshall, the young master, faces abuse that will mark his whole future.

As Lavinia ages she is soon accepted into this white world she is all but unfamiliar with and finds she must make a choice. Will Lavinia be loyal to her black family or will she adopt the views of the white world she belongs in?

This was a book chosen for my bi-monthly book club. I wasn’t really interested in it at first glance, so I decided to go with the audio book. The audio was done quite well. The narrator did an excellent job and was very believable. The book itself was a fine read and one that would definitely work for a book club.

This book is not for the feint of heart, like most slave narratives there were times when this book was brutal and it definitely didn’t pull any punches.

My biggest problem with the book is that almost all the problems could have been avoid or solved by talking to each other. Yes, this happens all the time in real life but when it happens to this extent in fiction it just bugs me. Especially since the majority of people knew what was going on except for one or two key players. It just didn’t seem realistic to me at times. There were also a few lose ends that were just forgotten about and that irked me too.

This book gets 3.5 stars from me. It was a good read that kept me interested but there were some flaws too. Maybe it’s just because this is not my go to genre but this was just not a the for me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Hopatcong Vision Quest

Hopatcong Vision Quest by Steve Lindahl is an adult fiction book that takes place on the shores of Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey. Within only days of each other, two women drown on the shores of Lake Hopatcong and both are ruled accidents. But Diane, the grown daughter of one of the women, and Ryan, the husband of the other, aren’t convinced.

So begins a journey that will lead Diane and Ryan on a hunt for the killer and back in time to a Lenape village and a history neither of them knew they shared. With the help of friend, Martha and hypnotist, Glen, Diane and Ryan will journey through their past lives and follow a trail to justice. Together they will seek answers, uncover hidden truths and learn more about themselves.

Will Diane and Ryan succeed in finding the killer? And what if their past lives reveal truths they aren’t prepared to accept?

I was given a copy of this book for an honest review.

Lake Hopatcong is a real and beautiful place only a few miles from where I grew up, which is one of the reasons I agreed to review this book even though I very rarely accept unsolicited reviews. Ultimately, I was glad I did. Although, I was hesitant at first, I became intrigued with this idea of using a past life to uncover a murder in the present. It was neat to see how lives intersect and what traits are carried forward. I also loved this idea that certain events repeat in one life to the next. A very interesting concept and I think a good setting for it as well.

The story itself was great. I enjoyed the setting of the story and really enjoyed glimpsing the life of Oota Dabun and the small tidbits of how life was lived in a Lenape village. The story flowed really well and was a quick read. I didn’t feel like there were any loose ends and I was satisfied with where the story went.

That being said, there were times, mostly in the beginning and some parts in the middle, where I felt like I was being told what to feel and see, rather then being allowed to come to these feelings and ideas myself. That old writer’s adage of show don’t tell kind of applies here.

Overall, this was a good read that I am sure many will love, especially those familiar with the area. This one gets 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Relly is an adult, historical fiction novel that takes place throughout WWII and follows three women with very different background.

Caroline is a 37 year old New York Socialite, who works at the French consulate and along with her mother is always looking for a new cause to fight for. Caroline had all but given up on love until she meets an unhappily married Frenchman, Paul. But when Hitler invades Poland in September 1939, Paul must return to France and Caroline’s life is changed forever.

Kasia is a 16 year old Polish girl, living in one of the first cities invaded by the Germans. Rules are strict and people are disappearing left and right. In her own act of rebellion, Kasia joins the Polish Underground and is soon caught and arrested.  She is forced onto a train, along with her mother, sister, and the boy she loves sister, and is sent to a concentration camp.

Herta is a newly graduated German doctor, looking to prove her worth to the Mother County and find a place in a male dominated profession. Herta sees an ad for a government medical facility and soon finds herself in a role she wasn’t prepared for.

The lives of these three women intersect in various ways… across countries, continents and through cultural barriers.

Lilac Girls is not my normal genre. I usually only read a few historical fiction novels a year but I decided to join a local book club and this is the book they chose for the first meeting. I’ve got to admit, I have a TBR pile of new releases that I am dying to read, so it was really hard to get myself excited about this one. It wasn’t a bad read but it took me a while to get into it.

I have to say, one thing this book does right is to highlight historical aspects of WWII I haven’t read about before. I knew the Nazi’s did experiments at the camps but I wasn’t aware of the “rabbits” and the ways the camps rebelled in whatever small ways they could. I also really enjoyed Caroline’s story and was interested to find out that Caroline Ferriday was a real person.

One problem I had with this book, is that there were quite a few loose ends. For an almost 500 page book, I was looking for a bit more resolution. The only story that really tied up nicely was Kasia’s, whereas we are left to write our own ending to Caroline’s and Herta’s using a few bits and pieces. There was such a big build up to each of the girls’ stories, that the endings seemed somewhat unfinished.

The stories also felt massively disproportional. If I wasn’t so lazy, I would calculate how much book time each of the girls had. The intro to the girls focused mostly on Caroline; the middle on Kasia; and the end on a mix of Caroline and Kasia. Did anyone else notice this?

Overall, this wasn’t a bad read but I’ve read other historical fiction novels that called to me more. This one gets 3 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Full of Beans

Hi Guys,

There is just something about a lime green cover that attracts the eye. This cover looks modern, right? You wouldn’t expect to be picking up a historical fiction book about depression era Key West? Well, I was wrong and you would be too.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm follows Beans, one of the slickest, barefoot, marble playing hotshots of Key West. It is 1934 and the height of the Great Depression. Beans is always looking to make some change and his favorite hobby is going to the movies and watching baby super stars like Baby Laroy and Shirley Temple. Beans has grand expectations.

One day New Dealers descend on the town, determined to make Key West into a vacation hot spot. But garbage lines the streets, businesses are closed, houses are crumbling, wild dogs run rampant and no one wants to volunteer to help. Beans doesn’t believe the New Dealers for one second–adults are lying liars and Beans has plans of his own, plans with potentially major consequences.

Will the New Dealers save Key West? Will Beans find fame and will his plans succeed? Or will everything come crashing down?

Holm does it again with Full of Beans. This middle school read accomplishes so much. We get an entertaining story with moral lessons about lying and giving back. We get quite a bit of history, about a time so removed from the present that kids might not even be able to relate and yet it is done in a way that kids will believe. We also get an entertaining story with ups and downs and a read that moves along at a good pace.

This book would make an excellent 4th – 5th grade book discussion pick. Full of Beans can be used to introduce the Great Depression and one of the great success stories of Roosevelt’s New Deal. What’s great about this one is that it is a book parents would actually enjoy reading and discussing with their children. While the kids might not be familiar with the history, the Depression is a topic many adults are familiar with and could easily talk about. There are even discussion questions and further reading to get you started.

I was just so surprised with how much history was actually packed into this book. The Depression, history about Key West, famous baby actors, and the New Deal is only the focus. There is a man with leprosy and we learn that Key West was home to a whole community of lepers. We find out that Robert Frost and Hemingway were some of the first vacationers in Key West. And we even see some medicine of the time when Bean’s brother, Kermit, comes down with a serious illness.

Overall, this was a surprisingly informative read with a good story. This would be a good 4th – 5th grade read, with a rebellious eleven-year-old that lots of boys can probably relate to. I gave this one 5 stars.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Ballroom

Hi Guys,

My most recent read was one of those where the cover struck me and I just had to pick it up. I read the synopsis and poof this one went to the top of my to read pile and boy was I glad it did.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope begins in 1911 on the Yorkshire moors and largely takes place on a huge estate, used as an asylum. In this asylum men and women are segregated, only coming in contact once a week in the ballroom. Every Friday, the asylum has a dance. The patients who have been good all week are allowed to attend.

The story follows three perspectives: Ella, a new member of the women’s ward, John, a member of the men’s ward, and Charles, one of the head doctors of the estate. Ella and John have this intense connection and they kindle it through their dancing and via letters they exchange in secret. Charles, on the other hand is obsessed with John and his obsession turns dark quickly.

This is a story about what it means to be in an asylum during the Edwardian era. Love, obsession, madness and the politics of the time propel this novel forward. Will Ella and John ever be free of the asylum and will their connection survive it’s trials? Will Charles embrace eugenics and will his infatuations break him entirely?

This book was just fascinating. Getting an inside view of what was and wasn’t considered “crazy” at a time where discussions of sterilization of the poor were seriously considered, made for a dark intricate telling. This was a book that I thought about for days after.

I loved that even though there was this romance that spurred two sides of the story, the book wasn’t really about the romance, it was instead a vessel for freedom and a push-back against the societal norms of the time. Ella and John have this bond but equally important to them both is freedom and second chances.

The men of this story where so layered and there was this desperation to their narration that kept you on edge. Charles seemed like he’d be this fluff of a side character but instead his is probably the most intricate of all. And John’s outward appearance vs. his inner voice, shows how he has pushed through depression and finally come “alive.”

This book just talks to so much of what that time period was like… segregation and the difference in being a man or a woman in the asylum, homophobia, depression, eugenics, poor vs. rich, and so much more.

The Ballroom was dark and yet there was this light pushing through that kept you grounded. This is an adult book and I think it could reach a wide range of readers. 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Paper Wishes

Hi Guys,

Today I have for you a wonderful middle school read for 4th – 5th graders called Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban.

Paper Wishes takes place in 1942 America, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After Pearl Harbor, Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans were treated with suspicion and on February 19, 1924 FDR signed Executive Order 9066. This order ultimately rounded up any Japanese living in the United States and sent them to segregated communities called relocation camps.

Paper Wishes is the story of a ten year old girl, Manami, and her family’s relocation and life in one of these camps. Written from Manami’s perspective, we see a little girl lose the life she has known, her beloved dog Yujiin, and her will to speak. Although, her family tries to make the best of the situation, Manami is devastated when Yujiin is taken from her and stops speaking.

Through Manami’s eyes we gain insight into an injustice that the American government later apologizes for. We see a people forced to leave their homes to live in unfamiliar and fenced in villages. We watch as traditions are forced upon Manami and her friends. We “hear” whispers of riot and the taboo of interracial coupling. But we also see hope and perseverance; the willingness and ability to thrive in impossible situations.

This story was both heart breaking and inspiring. What’s more, is it is so believable. Sepahban does children’s historical fiction right. We aren’t tossed facts and we aren’t told what to feel. We view this part of history through the eyes of a little girl and what information we glean is only what a child would see, hear, think and feel. Manami knows something is going on and she understands certain aspects of it but she feels more than she knows and this is something that speaks to the intuitive nature of children.

Yujiin. Ohhh Yujiin. What is it about dogs that crushes your heart. Just like Manami, my mind was absorbed with thoughts of Yujiin throughout the story. No matter what was going on, Yujiin was there. And *spoiler alert* just as life isn’t always fair, we never find out what happens to Yujiin–we are left to wonder and hope. Yujiin’s loss is a metaphor for loss freedoms and the unknowable the Japanese Americans had to deal with during this time period.

This is a serious, thoughtful book that will teach kids a side of American history that many are not aware of and it will also foster empathy. An emotional read but also a quick, easy one that shouldn’t intimidate reluctant readers.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Girl at War

Hi Guys,

I wasn’t intending to pick up Girl at War by Sara Novic but I needed a new audio book and this one was “available now” in my libraries e-collection. It’s been awhile since I’ve “read” historical fiction; I’ve been so wrapped up in fantasy or magical realism lately that I’d forgotten how poignant historical fiction can be. 61wwywitobl-_sx339_bo1204203200_

Girl at War begins in Zagreb during the height of summer, 1991. Ana, a ten year old Croatian tomboy roams the city streets with her best friend Luka and at night returns to her families small flat. Ana is happy but she can feel that unrest is in the air.

Air raid drills, rationing, the abandonment of homes and missing people color Ana’s childhood. Through the eyes of a child, we see the beginnings of a brutal civil war that takes away her friends, her home, her family and even her country.

Ten years later Ana is living in New York and attending university, but nightmares plague her and a past she thought she was over resurfaces with force. Needing to face the life she left behind when she was smuggled to America as a child, Ana returns to Zagreb.

The story alternates between 10 year old Ana and 20 year old Ana. Can she come to terms with her past or will it haunt her forever?

I usually have initial reactions that I know I am going to write about when I review a book, but this one took some digesting–as most historical fiction about genocide does. It’s hard to rate a book like this that sheds light on a dark part of history in a way that makes people feel. You feel like you have to give it a good review or else you don’t sympathize with the conflict.

For me, this book was a 3.5. It made me feel and I learned more about a conflict I was only vaguely aware about previously. Ana said it best in the book when she said that American’s understood the conflict in Yugoslavia without the emotional investment of those closer to it (sorry paraphrasing can’t find the actual quote for the life of me). That was one success of this book, it made you want to be more aware of the conflicts outside our boarders.

I liked the characters in the story. Luka was one of my favorites; his questioning curiosity paired with his almost aloof understanding of Ana was believable to me. Don’t get me wrong, he cared but in a way that showed the wariness of ten years time. I also thought Ana’s adult journey into her past was well done and too believable. But dude, that ending! Talk about abrupt.

This was a book that forced you to take a deep breath at the end and think. In that way it was a success.

That’s all for now!

-M-