America’s First Daughter

September 15, 2017

America’s First Daughter
by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

My bookish and dear friend Cheryl recently recommended this book to me knowing I love histfic. She appreciated its readability, the rich language, and the way the sentences were constructed….causing the story to flow easily from one thought or experience to the next.  She mentioned that she liked exploring characters and events about which she had been aware but didn’t fully understand the context….throughout the narrative, Thomas Jefferson became a person for her. Finally, she learned more about the culture of slaves and slave owners from both perspectives. SOLD! I downloaded it to my Kindle that afternoon!

Sacrifice … Devotion … Hardship … Privilege … Grit

America's First Daughter

Genre/category: historical fiction, biographical

Summary:

A fast paced read, this well researched novel draws from thousands of letters and original sources as it tells the story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph. Patsy shares her father’s devotion to their country and becomes his partner, protector, and loyal companion after the death of her mother. As a young girl she travels with him to Paris when he becomes the American minister to France, and it is here she eventually learns of his relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave girl about her own age. According to the authors, it’s during these Paris years that Patsy falls in love with William Short, her father’s assistant and protégé who is an abolitionist and aspiring diplomat. Patsy is torn between love, principles, and family loyalty and questions whether she can be married to Tom and remain devoted to her father. This is a story of sacrifice and grit as Patsy tirelessly protects her father’s reputation and supports him as he guides and leads the nation he helped found.

Amazon Rating (September): 4.6 Stars

My Thoughts

If you’re looking for a highly readable narrative (I enjoyed the first person point of view) and an engaging book club selection because of its various themes, this might be an excellent choice! After my mother read it, we discussed it at length.  My review will consist of highlighting a few intriguing themes:

women’s lack of voice or choice/oppression of women

“And now I’d given up everything I’d ever dared to want for myself.
The convent. My dearest friends. William.

My inner feminist was raging during most of this story! It’s amazing to be transported back in time when women didn’t have a voice or certain rights or choices that we take for granted today (e.g. the father could simply decide to take the children if he were angry at his wife and sometimes this fact scared Patsy into submission). In addition, the lack of birth control certainly took a toll on women (Patsy had 11 children). To protect herself from having to bear more children, she considered arranging a mistress for her husband! Furthermore, if some men abused their wives, the women had very little protection or recourse because it was a man’s right to run his family as he thought was right.  It’s concerning to realize that women in some countries today don’t have the rights and protection that we have come to expect in this country. Another aspect of this theme is the idea that one avenue for women to find success, influence, or importance for themselves was to work under the umbrella of men in the family (a father or husband). Women could be influential as contributors but were not usually found driving agendas or enterprises of their own. As the story progressed, Patsy was able to exercise some voice: “My hand fell away from William’s grasp, and my voice no longer wavered. ‘I’m going to Virginia with my father, so if you love me, you’ll wait for me a little longer.’ ” A highlight is that Patsy did have two strong female mentors in Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison. The latter boldly stating: “There is only one secret to anything,” Dolley asserted, “and that’s the power we all have in forming our own destinies.”

privilege

Even though the Jefferson family suffered from bouts of poverty and misfortune, they were still speaking and acting from a position of privilege. In addition to having resources and support, their privilege also gave them the benefit of the doubt when their honor was at stake. Throughout the story, we explore inequality as it affects women, slaves, and the poor (non property owners).

father/daughter loyalty and devotion to family

Patsy’s relationship with her father, her loyalty and devotion, affected every relationship she had and heavily influenced all the major events in her life. It was a sad thread throughout the story that a child would feel so obligated to take on the burden of her father’s grief and well-being. Even though Patsy dearly loved her father, I didn’t view the relationship as mutually beneficial. From Patsy’s perspective it was sacrificial and duty bound; whereas, from Jefferson’s angle it was often controlling, manipulative, needy, selfish, and sometimes deceptive. Patsy did adopt some of her father’s deceptiveness however when she lied under oath in one circumstance (to protect family) and then manipulated other circumstances to keep her husband out of the military.  Finally, it was interesting to read about the sense of duty that grown children felt to care for their siblings (even as adults) when parents were gone. I wonder how many families today strongly hold that value.

sacrifice

One can identify several examples of sacrifice from multiple individuals throughout the story. Patsy definitely sacrificed over and over for her father and for the nation, her father sacrificed for the nation, Sally sacrificed the disclosure of her real relationship with Jefferson for his reputation, children sacrificed their own childhood to care for younger siblings, etc.

early stances on slavery

“Those slaves we knew, we saw their faces every day.
The idea of selling them was barbarous.”

It seems to this reader that keeping individuals as slaves must have seemed barbarous from the slaves’ point of view! Throughout the story, I wished that we could have heard from the perspective of Sally Hemings (and other slaves). So many of my recent historical fiction reads have been from the slaves’ perspective that I found myself missing that voice in this narrative. It was interesting that Patsy, even though she shared some of William’s abolitionist thinking, chose to buy her own slaves back in an act of compassion rather than free them or relinquish them to a worse future in the Deep South. Also astounding to modern-day readers is that Patsy couldn’t understand why the family slaves would want to be free since they were treated so well with the Jefferson family. The following justification for keeping Sally as a slave is offered:

“Someone with lighter skin she meant. Someone who behaved more like a servant so as to uphold the polite fiction of it all. Someone in the family.”

grit

Patsy Jefferson exemplifies grit and symbolizes the mindset of other women of the time as well. She expresses the following thoughts: “From tattered flags and uniforms to friendships strained to the brink, the women of my country had always been the menders to all things torn asunder. But now we’d do more than patch with needle and thread. We’d have to weave together a whole tapestry of American life with nothing but our own hands, our own crops, and our own ingenuity. And I would prove myself able to the task.”

deathbed promises

The deathbed promise that Mrs. Jefferson exacted from Thomas Jefferson and Patsy affected the rest of their lives. This promise was not taken lightly and their duty to keep it was admirable. It would be interesting to explore if in our modern times, the bereaved would share this profound sense of obligation or if this is an old-fashioned value.

loyalty/devotion to country

A concern at the center of the Jefferson family’s decision-making was the welfare of the new nation. Patsy valued and supported her father’s efforts on behalf of the country, even agreeing to act as First Lady when Thomas Jefferson was elected President. I wonder what we are prepared to sacrifice for our country.

trials, triumphs, failures of a family

Readers are treated to an honest look at the Jefferson family, their successes, struggles, fears, flaws, and failures. In my opinion, one failure was Jefferson’s reluctance to weigh in on the abolitionist arguments and sentiments, preferring to leave that discussion to the next generation. However, he was a brilliant thinker and writer and I think the country might have benefited from his insightful reflections. It seemed that it was a concern for his own reputation that made it difficult for him to reconcile his own personal use of slaves when challenged with the ideas of abolition. This was an issue he chose to ignore and I lost respect for that. Thomas Jefferson had a paralysis when it came to slavery and the author compared it to handling a wolf:

“He couldn’t safely hold it or safely let it go.”

Jefferson’s children with Sally had to run away rather than be freed by him which must have grieved Sally. However, throughout the story, I think the reader grows to appreciate that the largest issues are complex for multiple reasons and are never black and white.

saving face/a perfect image/honor

One of the most important values of the day was honor and projecting a perfect image of self and the family. The slaves helped preserve that image as did extended family and relatives. In fact, protecting Jefferson’s reputation and image seemed to occupy a great deal of time in the story. It seems that without 24/7 media coverage, one had a much better chance of keeping secrets. What do you consider our culture’s greatest value?

“HONOR.
In Virginia it wasn’t merely a matter of masculine pride–it was a matter of survival. Every loan for the farm, every advance of credit for seeds and foodstuffs, every public office and proposal of marriage depended on honor. Men would fight and die for it. And women would lie for it.”

imperfect people as leaders

Can imperfect people be good leaders and can they make important contributions to their country? Throughout the story we gain an understanding of Jefferson’s faults and flaws. This is where I wish the authors had done more to point out his unique contributions, especially because so much sacrifice from family members was required.

My IRL book club is discussing this book in October and I look forward to an interesting discussion!

My overall rating 5 stars (actually 4.5 rounded up to 5 on Goodreads)

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy an engaging, fast paced historical fiction story with relevant discussable themes.

 

America's First Daughter

Buy Here

Reservations?

Some readers express concern about the fictionalization of the Patsy Jefferson/William Short romance. In the afterward, the authors discuss their reasons for including the romantic relationship. Even though there is a lack of letters that support the connection, the authors cite the amount of circumstantial evidence and widely accepted assumptions as their justification. I thought the romantic drama helped add interest to the entire story, and it was an intrigue that affected many of the events throughout her life. After all, it is historical fiction and I expect that some aspects might be more fictionalized than others. It did not affect my enjoyment of the story.

One area in which I did have a small reservation is the lack of information about the accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson. I realize that this was Patsy’s story; however, if one lacked historical background regarding the accomplishments of the founding fathers, I think that reader would wonder why Jefferson is a celebrated founder. Here, we are certainly made aware of his flaws. I think in light of Patsy’s sacrifice it would have been helpful to know more specifically what this allowed her father to do for the country. This is not a reservation about what was included, rather it stems from a desire to know more.

Meet the Authors: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Stephanie Dray

Stephanie Dray

Stephanie Dray is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical women’s fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer and a teacher. Now she lives near the nation’s capital with her husband, cats, and history books.

Laura Kamoie

Laura Kamoie

A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction, Laura Kamoie has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction. She is the author of AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER and MY DEAR HAMILTON, co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters. http://www.LauraKamoie.com

Flight Pick

Sometimes if readers have enjoyed a story, they might want to read a similar selection. Abigail Adams makes an appearance in America’s First Daughter. While I have not read Dearest Friend by Lynne Withey, my mother highly recommends this book about Abigail Adams. It’s on my TBR.

Dearest Friend

More Information Here

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward!

Next week I’m thrilled to review Castle of Water by Dane Hucklebridge if you’d like to “buddy read.” It was unputdownable!

Castle of Water

Buy Here

Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Discussion:

If you’ve read or think you might want to read America’s First Daughter, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section about the various themes.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Glass Houses & Inspector Gamache Series

September 8, 2017

Do you love a gentle mystery filled with memorable characters placed in an idyllic Canadian setting? Do you love immersing yourself in a good series? Do you admire a kind, honest, thoughtful, moral main character committed to integrity and filled with compassion for others? Do you appreciate irresistible descriptions of food and cozy settings? If you answered yes to some of these questions, you might already be acquainted with Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache Series, admire the beloved Armand Gamache, and dream of living in the imaginary setting of Three Pines. If not, please allow me to introduce you!

First, the Series

Glass Houses is the thirteenth installment in the series. The books in chronological order are as follows:

Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead
A Trick of the Light
The Beautiful Mystery
How the Light Gets In
The Long Way Home
The Nature of the Beast
A Great Reckoning
Glass Houses

Buy the Complete 13 Book Series Here

Ratings:

I have not rated any of the books in the series below a solid 3 stars. Some I have rated 4 stars. As typical with any series, I think some are stronger than others. In general, readers consider that she hits her stride with book #4. Her most recent release is one of her strongest yet, which is amazing for a 13 book series! You can check my goodreads account (my “read” shelf) for my specific ratings. Amazon ratings vary between 3 & 4+ stars.

Strengths:

The stories are so much more than good mysteries, they explore unique and complex characters who are a mixture of good and less desirable traits. The stories examine motivation, ethics, honor, courage, and compassion for others. Through reading the series, the characters become like friends. Some readers have loosely compared the setting of Three Pines to Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls). The setting of Three Pines is symbolic in that its a place of comfort, safety, and solace for those who are hurting or who’ve lost their way (except when there’s a murder of course!). As with any good series, when a reader receives the next installment, it’s like coming home. It’s interesting to me that during a recent interview, Louise Penny reveals that she created the main character Armand (Inspector) Gamache to be like someone she’d like to marry (CBS Interview). Inspector Gamache is honorable, kind, courageous, nonviolent (except when others’ lives are at stake), thoughtful, well read, and an astute judge of character and motives.

Brief Overview of the 13 Book Series

Chief Inspector Gamache is head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec. He lives by a code of the highest ethics and seeks to provide justice for victims of crime. His team consists of people that he has hand selected that have experienced failure in some aspect of their law enforcement career but in whom he sees great potential. Gamache adores and deeply loves his wife and soul mate, Reine-Marie, and they have two grown children. When we meet Chief Inspector Gamache in the first novel he’s a seasoned professional who sometimes clashes with his superiors at the Sûreté. Nevertheless, he has a reputation of solving even the most difficult cases. In Still Life (the first book of the series) at the scene of his current investigation, Gamache is surprised to discover Three Pines, a tiny, unmapped village in the forest. Throughout the series, Gamache returns again and again to Three Pines for various reasons, establishes friendships with the colorful locals, and eventually he and Reine-Marie move there and become an integral part of the community. Gamache is skilled at observation, determining motive, and at examining the emotions that lead to a crime. Author Louise Penny is a master at establishing a setting, describing delicious food, examining ethics and character, bringing us colorful and unique characters, and creating atmosphere and tension.

Can I read the books as a “stand alone” or out of order?

Reading the series in order isn’t absolutely necessary because each novel presents a unique crime that is solved within its pages; however, there is an overarching issue with the leadership of the Sûreté which is explored bit by bit throughout many books in the series. Also, a reader would miss out on the character development that occurs from story to story. For a richer reading experience, I highly recommend reading them in order.

Do I have a concern or criticism of the series?

Readers including myself are generally very happy with the entire well loved and recommended series  (as evidenced by ratings) and Louise Penny has a huge following. However, some have mentioned and I sometimes feel that Louise Penny is somewhat antagonistic toward the church. In her recent release, for example, a character states, “No one goes to church any more.” It seems to me that Penny’s own feelings about organized religion leak out from time to time in her characters words and views. Penny doesn’t write from a Christian worldview but, even though I notice it from time to time, it isn’t enough for me to not read and enjoy her books. This is a personal concern and observation and it may not bother other Christians at all. It’s something I tend to notice.

Glass Houses
by Louise Penny

Glass Houses

Genre/categories: fiction, mystery, detective, thriller, suspense

Summary:

A mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day. Even though Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are curious at first, they soon become wary. The figure stands unmoving through fog, sleet, rain, and the cold, staring straight ahead. Chief Inspector Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, suspects the mysterious figure has a unique history and a dark purpose. However, Gamache’s hands are tied because the figure hasn’t committed a crime, so he watches and waits. The villagers are tense hoping that Gamache will do something. The figure’s costume is historically tied to someone who acts as a “conscience” and comes to put pressure on an individual to pay a debt. Naturally, people in the village, including Gamache, start to examine their own conscience and wonder if the figure has come for them. Suddenly, the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, and the investigation commences. This story is told in two timelines: the November timeline when the murder took place and later in July as the trial for the accused begins. In typical Penny style, more is going on a larger scale than just the trial. Gamache wrestles with his own conscience, the decisions he has made, and the personalconsequences he will pay. Amazon Rating (September): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

This is a riveting story and is one of my favorite in the series. Whereas in other stories, Gamache analyses the motivations and actions of others, this story finds him also analyzing himself and we observe him taking actions that are not in accordance with his highest ethical standards. Something larger is at stake here, and Gamache and his team have to take great risks and be willing to endure severe personal consequences to bring about justice for the greater good. Interesting ethical dilemmas!

Symbolism of Three Pines

In Glass Houses, the following excerpts provide a bit of evidence for the symbolism of Three Pines as a safe place for the lost or hurting:

  • “People mostly come upon Three pines because they’re lost.”
  • “And then he went home. To Three Pines. To sanctuary.”
  • “I think everyone in this village believes that all shall be well,” Armand was saying. “That’s why we’re here. We all fell down. And then we all came here.”
  • And in the author’s own words: “The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.”

3 pines

Recommended for readers who would love to find a good series, for those who like mysteries and detective stories without a lot of violence or disturbing descriptions, for thoughtful readers who might want to consider character, motivation, and ethics. My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Read a free excerpt here.

Glass Houses

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Louise Penny

Louise Penny

LOUISE PENNY is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger and the Agatha Award (five times) and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She lives in a small village south of Montréal.

Click Here: CBS This Morning Interview With Louise Penny

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week I’ll review America’s First Daughter By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie if you’d like to “buddy read.” In two weeks, I’m thrilled to review Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge, a likely contender for one of my favorite reads of the year!

America's First Daughter

Buy Here

Castle of Water

Buy Here

Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Discussion:

I’m curious if you’re a Louise Penny fan or would consider checking out this series! Have you read any of her books? Please share your reflections on the Inspector Gamache series in the comments.

Extras:

This post is linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcey’s Quick Lit for September.

Check out Top Shelf Text and her blog post: Best Books of Summer 2017 here.

My husband recommends!

As reviewed in this post, my husband just read News of the World and really enjoyed it! In fact, as we were at breakfast this morning, we discussed and debated who should play the lead in the film version (should there be one)! I need to also mention that he especially enjoyed the excellent reader for the audio version.

 

Before We Were Yours

September 1, 2017

Before We Were Yours

by Lisa Wingate

Before we Were Yours

Genre/categories: historical fiction, adoption, family

Summary:

Two timelines reveal this sad and heartfelt story which is based on one of America’s most tragic real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped, mistreated, and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.

In 1939, twelve year old Rill and her four younger siblings live with their free-spirited parents aboard a Mississippi River shanty boat near Memphis, Tennessee. They were poor but surrounded by fireflies and well loved by their creative parents. One stormy night, the children are left alone when their father rushes their mother to the hospital. Strangers arrive and forcefully take the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, misleading them that they will be returned to their parents. The children quickly realize the disturbing truth and fight to survive and to stay together while enduring the cruelties of the facility’s director.

In the present day, when Avery returns home during her father’s health crisis, she is disturbed by her encounter with a woman at an assisted living facility. This event leads to her determined journey through her family’s long and hidden history for the answers to some uncomfortable questions. Amazon Rating (August): (an impressive) 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

Although this is an emotional and difficult read (it’s always difficult when innocent children are involved), it’s receiving great reviews and is a well told gripping story recounting the documented capture and mistreatment of children by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage around 1939. What it lacks in beautiful writing (the narrative seemed stiff at points and involved a lot of “telling”), it makes up for in inspiring themes of family loyalty, caring for the elderly, privilege, and truth-telling. In addition, this page turning story is filled with memorable characters. Of the two story lines, I thought the past story line was the better written and more engaging. Overall, the story was riveting, the characters are memorable, and the ending was redemptive and uplifting.  Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction and stories of redemption. My Rating: 4 Stars

Before we Were Yours

 

Buy Here

 

 

 

Meet the Author, Lisa Wingate

(love her emphasis on kindness and her tribute to teachers)

Lisa Wingate

“Lisa is a journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the author of a host of literary works. Her novels have garnered or been short-listed for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Utah Library Award, the LORIES Best Fiction Award, The Carol Award, the Christy Award, Family Fiction’s Top 10, RT Booklover’s Reviewer’s Choice Award, and others. The group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with six others for the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who promote greater kindness and civility in American life. She’s been a writer since Mrs. Krackhardt’s first-grade class and still believes that stories have the power to change the world.

IN THE WRITER’S OWN WORDS: A special first grade teacher, Mrs. Krackhardt, made a writer out of me. That may sound unlikely, but it’s true. It’s possible to find a calling when you’re still in pigtails and Mary Jane shoes, and to know it’s your calling. I was halfway through the first grade when I landed in Mrs. Krackhardt’s classroom. I was fairly convinced there wasn’t anything all that special about me… and then, Mrs. Krackhardt stood over my desk and read a story I was writing. She said things like, “This is a great story! I wonder what happens next?”

It isn’t every day a shy new kid gets that kind of attention. I rushed to finish the story, and when I wrote the last word, the teacher took the pages, straightened them on the desk, looked at me over the top, and said, “You are a wonderful writer!”

A dream was born. Over the years, other dreams bloomed and died tragic, untimely deaths. I planned to become an Olympic gymnast or win the National Finals Rodeo, but there was this matter of back flips on the balance beam and these parents who stubbornly refused to buy me a pony. Yet the writer dream remained. I always believed I could do it because… well… my first grade teacher told me so, and first grade teachers don’t lie.

So, that is my story, and if you are a teacher, or know a teacher, or ever loved a special teacher, I salute you from afar and wish you days be filled with stories worth telling and stories worth reading.”

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, if you’d like to “buddy read,” I’ll review Louise Penny’s Glass Houses, the recent installment (#13) of the Inspector Gamache series. In two weeks, I’ll review America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (also my IRL book club pick!).

Glass Houses

 

Buy Here

 

 

 

America's First Daughter

Buy Here

Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Discussion:

Please share your reflections of Before We Were Yours or share what you’ve been reading lately or plan to read next in comments.

EXTRAS

Check out Top Shelf Text’s post where she queried 21 bloggers (Reading Ladies participated!) about their favorite reads of the summer. Click here.

If you are interested in challenging yourself to read more diverse books, Top Shelf Text has created a Diverse Books Club. Check it out here.

Do you want to take a fun reading personality quiz? Modern Mrs. Darcy has a new book coming out soon called Reading People: how seeing the world through the lens of personality changes everything, and she has created a fun free quick quiz to determine your reading personality (with no obligation to purchase the book). When you complete the quiz she will email you your results (then if desired you can choose to unsubscribe from her mailings) along with 5 recommended titles for your personality type. Try it here. 

 

Summer’s Best List

August 29, 2017

Looking for a Great Read For the Weekend?

This is special! One of my favorite reading blogs, Top Shelf Text, queried her blogging friends (including yours truly at readingladies) and asked if we’d like to participate in a special post where she would compile all of our favorite reads of the summer. We each submitted our choice for best book of the summer along with a brief review. Below you will find the link to the special blog post she put together with all of our favorite reads! These selections will provide a wealth of great recommendations, expand your TBR (to be read list), and keep you busy all winter! Check it out!

Best Books of the Summer

Diverse Books Club

While you are visiting Top Shelf Text, check out her unique and recently launched Diverse Books Club project. If you want to expand the diversity of your reads for yourself or your children, there will be amazing ideas here… ….  the discussions will happen on goodreads. She’s also on Instagram as diversebooksclub.

 

Happy Reading Everyone!

A “Shout Out,” a Review, & the “Buzz”

August 25, 2017

Today’s format is a bit different as Reading Ladies gives a “shout out” to two women who cultivated my love of reading, revisits a favorite from last year, and notes two books that are receiving some buzz.

How did you grow to love reading?

is

Mom

Similar to many of you, my love for reading began when I was very young, Mom read to me, modeled reading, and took me to the library, and Dad read also.  I remember reading everything including cereal boxes during breakfast. The first book I remember loving was an illustrated book of children’s poetry. Learning to read independently, I was enchanted by a beautifully illustrated simple poem about a gate (a wide country gate that swung across a rural driveway….there must have been a house at the end of that driveway but I don’t remember it being in the illustration). I read that poem over and over and over and imagined myself sitting on that country gate, and I made up stories about an imaginary life around that gate.

mom and me reading

Mom and Me

Today at 90, my mom remains an avid reader and we share many titles back and forth. She got me hooked on Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and I got her hooked on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series.

Myla

The next memorable event in my reading history is the day my family sold everything on our farm in South Dakota and set out for new adventures in California.

move-to-ca.jpg

On our way to California

penny nicholasAs we climbed into our car for the journey, my Aunt Myla presented me with a gift of a book, Penny Nicholas and the Black Imp. Because that book is connected to the emotion of that day of leaving the farm, friends and family, I’ve always recalled that title and my aunt’s memorable gift. Aunt Myla is also a reader and knew just what would please and occupy me on the long drive. I reread the book multiple times and kept that book for years and years, into my adult life and though many moves.

 

 

myla reading

Myla is a lifelong and avid reader. Last year, we see her pictured here reading by candlelight when the farm lost power and heat for days due to a severe midwest blizzard.

My childhood favorites are probably the same as many of yours and  included The Bobbsey Twins, The Triplets Take Over, Little Women, Heidi, and of course, Nancy Drew (I kept the entire set for years and years into my adult life). What were your childhood favorites?

 

Bobbsey Twins

 

This is my copy of The Bobbsey Twins at School which has miraculously survived multiple moves! Copyright: 1913! (it was old when I received it! Lol!) Its original cost is listed as 40 cents.

 

 

 

As an older teen Gone With the Wind captivated me. Young adulthood brought titles such as Michener’s Hawaii and Rand’s Atlas Shrugged into my life.

Books have been my best friends.

I owe my lifelong love of reading to Mom and my aunt. Who are your reading mentors?

I love reading for many reasons but most important it builds empathy for others and allows me to see the world and other cultures from different perspectives (embracing diversity). In addition, I love that reading bridges generation gaps (in fact, age is not a deterrent among readers). Multiple ages reading the same selection adds to the depth and richness of the discussion and discoveries! One of my favorite reads this year was a Young Adult selection, and I’m far from that demographic! Why do you love reading?

A quick review of a favorite from last year:

The One-In-A-Million Boy
by Monica Wood

one in a million boy

Genre/category: fiction, family

Summary:

A unique 11-year-old boy is sent to help 104-year-old Ona every Saturday morning as part of a community service project. As he refills the bird feeders and helps with other odd jobs, he and Ona share cookies and milk and Ona tells him about her long life. He records her responses as part of a school interview project.

One Saturday, the boy doesn’t show up. Ona starts to think he’s not so special after all, but then his father arrives on her doorstep, determined to finish his son’s good deed.
Amazon Rating (August): 4.6 Stars

 

My Thoughts:

This is a character driven, unique, sad, memorable, quirky, heart warming, amusing story with important themes such as unlikely friendship between generations, loneliness, grief, and second chances. It earned a spot as one of my favorites of 2016, and I’m urging you not to miss it! My rating: 4 Stars

one in a million boy

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Monica Wood

Monica Wood

“I was born in Mexico, Maine, to a family of devout Irish Catholics, a family of paper mill workers. My father and my mother’s parents came from Prince Edward Island in Canada, and brought with them the island tradition of storytelling. Although my sisters and I were the first generation in the family to go to college, I think of my background as a literary one. My father had a lilting island brogue and beautiful grammar; the notion that stories had to be told in a certain way was something I learned early. My grandfather used to sing long, melodramatic, novelistic ballads, another island tradition. I am not one of those writers who claim to have been weaned on  Proust, but I did read a lot, a happy habit for a child, I think, no matter what the material.  http://www.monicawood.com/

The Buzz

I have NOT read the following two books and I hesitate to bring them to your attention except to mention that I’ve heard a lot of buzz about them both in case you’re looking for a new release to read. These are definitely on my radar for the future.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

Read the summary, reviews, and Buy Here

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

Castle of Water

Read summary, reviews, and Buy Here

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, I’ll review Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate if you’d like to “buddy read.” In two weeks, I’ll review Glass Houses, a new installment in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny (release date 8/29, happy birthday to me!).

Before we Were Yours

Buy Here

Glass Houses Buy Here

Sharing is Caring

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog. It helps us grow.

Discussion:

Please share your reading story. Who inspired you to read? What were your early favorites or childhood memories of reading? Do you have any really old books or special collections? Have you read One-in-a Million Boy? What are you currently reading?

 

 

 

 

Hillbilly Elegy

August 18, 2017

Do you love memoirs?

Hillbilly Elegy
by J. D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy

“I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact
that spiritual and material poverty has
on their children.”

Genre: memoir, nonfiction, biography, sociology, poverty

Summary:

This is an observant, powerful, and sincere memoir about growing up in a poor white working class family in a poor Rust Belt town in Ohio. A Yale Law School graduate and a former marine, J. D. Vance was originally from Kentucky’s Appalachia region. His grandparents who were “dirt poor and in love” moved the family to Ohio in the hopes of escaping devastating poverty. Throughout the memoir, we learn that despite a geographical move, the family was never able to entirely escape the hillbilly culture of alcoholism, poverty, abuse, and trauma. Even though J. D. Vance beat the odds and graduated from law school, he still struggles to come to terms with his chaotic family history. The memoir is filled with detailed, humorous, dramatic, and colorful examples of what his life was like. Amazon Rating (August): 4.4 Stars.

My Thoughts:

Book clubs and friends could discuss this book for hours. The following personal thoughts represent only a few of the many discussion topics this book offers.

Love

Primarily, it struck me that the impact of his grandparents’ love affected his life. All through school, he was a bright student; however, when his grades started falling in middle school he states that it wasn’t the teachers or the school that was at fault, rather it was the chaos at home (living with his mom)  and in his community that affected his school performance. After he went to live with his grandparents officially, this is what he writes: “What I remember most of all is that I was happy–I no longer feared the school bell at the end of the day, I knew where I’d be living the next month, and no one’s romantic decisions [mom’s rotation of boyfriends or husbands] affected my life. And out of that happiness came so many of the opportunities I’ve had for the past twelve years.” J. D.’s description of the stability his grandparents offered him caused me to reflect on the importance of the home in a child’s life and education. His grandparents were certainly less than perfect, in fact they had serious flaws which would make one question his placement in their home. However, J. D. Vance lied to the case workers so that he would be ensured of being placed in their home because he didn’t think he could make it in life without their love and the stability they offered. Children can endure a lot if they feel loved. This doesn’t make the neglect right but it does make a difference. This reminds me of the story of Jeanette Walls in The Glass Castle…even though she suffered extreme neglect, I think she felt that both parents loved her which most likely made a great difference in her ability to achieve success. Another similarity between the authors is that both Jeanette and J. D. had an older supportive and nurturing sibling which added to the love and stability in their lives.

Upward Mobility and the Family

Hillbilly Elegy offers an in-depth look at the struggles of America’s white working class. J. D. Vance describes one incident when he was in a primary grade (I think 2nd but I don’t have the book here to look it up) that helped the reader think about how important  family support is in upward mobility. He recounts sitting in class while the teacher was asking students to solve mental math problems. He felt great about his answer and was delighted when the teacher recognized his brilliant thinking. However, the next student to offer an answer explained how “times” could be used to reach the same answer. J. D. was shaken. How did this child know about “times” when he had never heard about “times.” He knew it couldn’t have been taught at school because he would’ve remembered and learned it. After some thought, he realized that the child who knew about “times” must have learned it somewhere other than at school and realized he must have learned it at home. He offers this profound reflection, “There existed a massive ignorance about how to achieve white-collar work. We didn’t know that all across the country–and even in our hometown–other kids had already started a competition to get ahead in life.” As a result of his classroom experience, J. D. went home and asked his mom and grandparents why he didn’t know about “times,” and grandpa spent the weekend teaching him “times” and division. His point in explaining that situation is that the competition starts at home with the support and “extras” that parents offer. He realized as early as 2nd grade that his poor community was already finding it difficult to compete in this area.

No Blame for Public Schools

J. D. Vance is clear that neither public schools nor public school teachers were to blame for his declining grades in middle and high school. He describes the situation as follows: “We didn’t live a peaceful life in a small nuclear family. We lived a chaotic life in big groups of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.” He describes again and again how this chaos affected his education, “The constant moving and fighting, the seemingly endless carousel of new people I had to meet, learn to love, and then forget–this, and not my sub par public school, was the real barrier to opportunity.” Officially moving in with his grandparents provided the stability he needed to succeed in school.

Optimism vs. Pessimism

J. D. Vance related throughout his stories the pessimism that permeated his community. Not only pessimism but blame. People he knew were always blaming someone else for their situation (the president, the government, taxes, etc.). When he came home from the military, one of his first observations was that he felt like an outsider, “For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider in Middletown. And what turned me into an alien was my optimism.” He goes on to reflect that perhaps getting out of the community and entering the military and going away to college was the action he needed to take to achieve success, “It’s no surprise that every single person in my family who has built a successful home…married someone from outside our little culture.” The culture strongly defined by pessimism.

The Message From Home

Even though his chaotic childhood was filled with turmoil and trauma, J. D. Vance states, “Despite all the environmental pressures from my neighborhood and community, I received a different message at home [his grandparents’ home]. And that just might have saved me.”

Yay for grandparents!

Companion Reads

As I read Hillbilly Elegy I thought of two memoirs (among several) where the authors were able to rise above poverty and their communities: The Glass Castle and We Beat the Streets.  In The Glass Castle, we also see the hillbilly culture mentioned as Jeanette’s family moved in with her father’s mom in Appalachia. From this move, we see that the way her father treated his children could in part be due to an influence from the hillbilly culture. We Beat the Streets is a middle school read and I often referred my boys who were reading at grade level to this inspirational story about three kids who “beat the streets’ and became doctors. Theirs wasn’t a hillbilly culture but they were from a poor black community.  Information about The Three Doctors Foundation can be found here.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot more to talk about in Hillbilly Elegy! If you read it, I’m certain you’ll need to discuss it. In fact, at times your discussions might be heated because of different reactions to one person’s analysis of a culture in crisis. I love that the insights and ideas in this book can be applied to communities around the United States. The discussion is much broader than simple hillbilly culture.

Finally, this book gave me additional insight into the chaotic lives of students at my Title 1 school. It’s difficult to learn when children are preoccupied with what drama is going on at home and in the community.

Recommended for women and men (especially those working with poor communities) for its thoughtful themes, discussion possibilities, and its ability to build empathy and understanding for different cultures and communities. Rating 4 stars.

Hillbilly Elegy

Buy Here

Meet the Author, J. D. Vance

J. D. Vance.jpg

J. D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will reflect on our reading roots…and in two weeks we’ll review Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate if you’d like to “buddy read.”  In three weeks I’ll review the long anticipated (at least by me!) Glass Houses, a new installment in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny (release date: 8/29 …. happy birthday to me!)

Before we Were Yours

Buy Here

Please Share:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog. It helps us grow.

Discussion:

Please share your reflections on Hillbilly Elegy in the comments section. Did any of the themes mentioned challenge you in your thinking? How does this book compare with other memoirs you’ve read with similar themes? In addition, I’d love to hear what you’re reading.

The Glass Castle

August 11, 2017

As Reading Ladies continues to focus on women authors writing about strong women, we’re using the occasion of the newly released movie to revisit/review an old favorite….

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

Glass Castle

Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography

Summary:

This is a tender, tragic, and unique story of a girl’s remarkable resilience as she survives a childhood in a dysfunctional family who lived like nomads. The father is brilliant and charismatic and taught his children about imagination and living fearlessly as well as some physics and geology. A dreamer, he often worked on elaborate plans for their future home nicknamed “the glass castle.” However, he was also dishonest and destructive when he drank. On the other hand, Mother was a free spirited artist who didn’t (or couldn’t) take responsibility for the care of her children. For the most part, the Walls children took care of themselves, demonstrating ingenuity, determination, bravery, and fierce loyalty. As the children became adults, found the will and resources to leave the parents, and enjoyed some success, the parents followed them to New York city choosing to remain homeless. The adventures are remarkable, harrowing, memorable, and quirky, all the while demonstrating themes of fierce loyalty, triumph against the odds, the power of hope, unconditional love, determination, and protectiveness. Amazon rating (August): 4.6 stars

Read the first chapter free here.

My Thoughts:

For me, an indication of a remarkable book is one that is remembered years later, one in which I learned something new, and/or one that allowed me to make a personal connection. All three criteria are true for The Glass Castle. First, it has appeared for years on my list of recommended reads. In addition, this story allowed me to gain new insights into the often unstable personal lives of my students at a Title l school and also allowed me to reflect on the homelessness situation in that some choose this lifestyle. Finally, Jeanette reminded me in particular of one former student of mine as she and her mom often sought out different places to sleep for the night and often relied upon school resources for personal supplies, food, housing, etc. Like Jeanette, this student was determined to achieve despite her circumstances, a hard worker, and kept a positive (even cheerful) attitude–but unlike Jeanette, she had my support as a teacher and the support of the school (all of the staff were aware of her circumstances).  This student came back to visit me after she graduated from college (she was actually rescued in high school by an aunt). While reading the book, I wondered why a teacher or community members were not more alarmed by the family situation or notice her hunger. Of course, Rex did keep the family on the move.

Even years later, I remember enjoying this well written, engaging, and inspiring memoir, and its reflection on homelessness. One thing that struck me during the reading is that it was written with an attitude of forgiveness and surprising affection for the parents.  Some critics would argue that she seemed to condone or excuse her parents’ behavior; on the contrary, I remember thinking that it was written remarkably free from anger and self pity. When asked in an interview with the New York Times Magazine if she forgives her mother, she states, “It’s really not about forgiveness in my opinion. It’s acceptance. She’s never going to be the sort of mother who wants to take care of me.”

From reading an interview with Jeanette (on Amazon) we discover that her mom is now living with her after she initially refused but Jeanette said she needed help with the horses, an offer Mom couldn’t refuse. Jeanette states, “I get along great with Mom now. She’s a hoot. She’s always upbeat, and has a different take on life than most people. She’s a lot of fun to be around–as long you’re not looking for her to take care of you. She doesn’t live in the house with us–I haven’t that level of understanding and compassion–but in an out building about a hundred yards away. Mom is great with animals, loves to sing and dance and ride horses, and is still painting like a fiend. ”

The Class Castle is highly recommended for readers who love memoirs and stories about individuals overcoming difficult circumstances. My rating 4.5 stars.

Glass Castle
Buy Here

The movie:

I was at the first showing today (release day!). Movie goers who’ve read the book are often difficult to please! To me, the movie adaptations seem to be the “Flat Stanley” version of the book, much of the depth and details of the story are sacrificed. This image sums it up!

a film and a movie

First, allow me to focus on what I liked. I thought the casting was good….especially Woody Harrelson as Rex Walls. In addition, I appreciated the portrayal of Jeannette’s unfailing hope that her dad would come through for them. Finally, I noticed the love that both parents had for their children even though they couldn’t provide the care they needed and deserved.

The weaknesses include the feeling that this was the Disney or fairy tale version of the real story. Although the real version would’ve been a difficult movie to watch! However, I thought they could’ve shown a few more examples for the audience to gain a true appreciation of the neglect. Otherwise, the audience wholeheartedly buys into the glorification of Rex at the end of the movie.  Yes, he loved them and shared some endearing moments with the family and those facts can certainly be acknowledged; however, the overall neglect cannot be overlooked or swept under the carpet. A glaring omission in the movie included the part about the children making their way to New York City one by one and establishing a life together there apart from their parents. This venture took a lot of determination, planning, and courage on their part (of course Rex taught them to be fearless and to be dreamers!). In addition, nothing was mentioned about the youngest child, Maureen, who seemed to suffer the most from the neglect, especially after the older ones leave home.

One striking connection that I made during the movie is the similarity to Hillbilly Elegy. In fact, reading Hillbilly Elegy before reading The Glass Castle would certainly add depth to the reading experience. They would make great companion reads (more on this next week). Both stories involve Hillbilly culture and the understanding gained in Hillbilly Elegy helps me better understand the Walls family. Another important similarity is the theme of love. J. D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy wouldn’t have made it without the love, support, and stability of his grandparents, even though the grandparents had many flaws and were less than perfect guardians. In The Glass Castle, the children felt Rose Mary’s and Rex’s love for them despite not being able to care for them. The deep love that parents or grandparents have for their children in spite of their flaws can make a significant difference in the ability of children to cope, survive, and perhaps overcome their childhood circumstances.

Would I recommend the movie?

Generally, yes. I think you’ll find the portrayal interesting and the chaos and the neglect are not as evident as in the book. I thought it was a simplistic portrayal of a very difficult story. I have the biggest issue with celebrating Rex at the movie’s end when he neglected to care for his family 90% of the time. I felt the ending sanitized the story. I encourage you to see the movie and then let’s engage here in the comments!

Movie Trailer

Meet the Author, Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls

Jeanette Walls lives in Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has worked at several publications, including Esquire, USA Today, and New York.  I think it’s interesting that the impetus for writing The Glass Castle occurred when she was a gossip columnist and her lack of transparency and honesty about her own life caused her to feel guilty as she was exposing other people’s lives in her gossip column.

http://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Jeannette-Walls/19723841

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will review the memoir Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance if you’d like to “buddy read.” I think it’s a fascinating companion read with The Glass Castle!

Hillbilly Elegy

Buy Here

Please Share:

I’d be honored if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog.

Discussion:

Please share your reflections on The Glass Castle (movie and/or book) in the comments section. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading, too!

Linked Up:

This post is linked up with Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit here.

 

Guest Post

August 4, 2017

In the spirit of supporting women authors writing about strong women, the Reading Ladies Book Club focuses on a new release this week by author, Lori Benton. In addition, we have a guest reviewer who has graciously offered to write a guest post. Patti Iverson is a member of Lori Benton’s launch team and a cheerleader and supporter of her many friends’ endeavors.

Meet Guest Reviewer, Patti Iverson:

Patti Iverson

A lifelong cherished friend, Patti Iverson is a Christian wife and Gramma who lives in a forest resort in Sunriver, Oregon, An entertainer at heart (having performed as a clown and having entertained children as Mrs. Clause), she delights in reading, writing, thrift-stores, and ministering to women and whoever may show up on her doorstep! With a warm and outgoing personality and a caring heart, many of us have been the recipient of her gift of gracious hospitality. Thank you for guest posting today Patti!

Many Sparrows
By Lori Benton

Many Sparrows

Genre/categories: historical fiction, western, frontier, religious, inspirational

Patti Shares:

The highly anticipated new release from award-winning author, Lori Benton, is almost here! (release date 8/29) Pre order Many Sparrows today and get Burning Sky, her Christy Award winning debut, for free! Two books for the price of one!

Pre Order before 8/29 and get the official details about your free book HERE.

Summary:

Either she and her children would emerge from that wilderness together, or none of them would…In 1774, the Ohio-Kentucky frontier pulses with rising tension and brutal conflicts as Colonists push westward and encroach upon Native American territories. The young Inglesby family is making the perilous journey west when an accident sends Philip back to Redstone Fort for help, forcing him to leave his pregnant wife Clare and their four-year old son Jacob on a remote mountain trail. When Philip does not return and Jacob disappears from the wagon under the cover of darkness, Clare awakens the next morning to find herself utterly alone, in labor and wondering how she can recover her son…especially when her second child is moments away from being born. Clare will face the greatest fight of her life as she struggles to reclaim her son from the Shawnee Indians now holding him captive. But with the battle lines sharply drawn, Jacob’s life might not be the only one at stake. When frontiersman Jeremiah Ring comes to her aid, can the stranger convince Clare that recovering her son will require the very thing her anguished heart is unwilling to do—be still, wait and let God fight this battle for them?

Patti Iverson Reflects:

Historical fiction is not my favorite genre, but I stayed up ‘til 2:30 a.m. to finish Lori’s book, Many Sparrows, as yes, it IS that good! She sure knows how to tell a story, keep one guessing about what’s going to happen, how CAN this possibly turn out well, or even for God’s glory? I hate war—never read it or watch it—but her descriptions were gripping. And both sides had the Almighty on their sides! I’m not into history—but golly gee it was interesting back in 1774—at least how she shared their lives. I think there could have been more romance—it was there, alright—but just not enough! I found myself caring about simply EVERYBODY—Indians and white people and those who were both! Lori Benton knows how to turn a phrase and make you want to read her words more than once. Try it—you’ll love it—and Lori Benton will become a favorite author for sure!

Read the first two chapters here!

 

Many Sparrows

Buy Here
or Pre Order HERE (before 8/29) to receive your free book!

About the Author, Lori Benton

Lori Benton

Lori Benton was born and raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back to the 1600s. Her novels transport readers to the 18th century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history, creating a melting pot of characters drawn from both sides of a turbulent and shifting frontier, brought together in the bonds of God’s transforming grace.

Lori’s debut novel, Burning Sky, earned the 2014 Christy Award for First Novel, Historical, and Book of the Year. More information about Lori Benton at http://loribenton.blogspot.com/

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Our regular weekend post will feature The Glass Castle (a memoir) by Jeannette Walls in anticipation of the movie release August 11th if you’d like to “buddy read.” I plan to see the movie Friday before I post the review.

Glass Castle

Buy Here

Please Share:

I’d be honored if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog.

Great Price Tip:

If you haven’t yet read Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham, it’s on sale for Kindle today (8/8) for $2.99 (check price before purchasing as Kindle prices can fluctuate daily.

Dreamland Burning

Talking Books:

Please share comments below. I’m curious if you’ve read The Glass Castle and if you have plans to see the movie.

The Alice Network

August 4, 2017

The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn

Alice Network

 

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary:

In this page-turner, a courageous female spy (Eve), recruited to work in the real life Alice Network in France during World War l, and a young American college girl and socialite (Charlie), searching for her cousin after she disappeared in World War ll, join forces in 1947 to find revenge, redemption, truth, friendship, and a bit of romance. As present day Eve and Charlie search for truth, the story alternates between two time periods (1915 and present day 1947). In this complex and multi layered narrative, the reader learns about Eve’s backstory as a spy right under the enemies’ noses and Lili, the “Queen of Spies,” who manages the spy network. In the present day, Charlie deals with a grieving and angry Eve and an unplanned pregnancy as they search for the truth in Eve’s past and the whereabouts of Charlie’s cousin, Rose. Amazon rating (August): 4.7 stars

My Thoughts:

This week’s selection is a continued focus on female authors writing about strong female protagonists. The Alice Network is receiving a lot of buzz (as evidenced by Amazon ratings of 4.7) and it’s currently on the must read list of many readers who love a fast paced story filled with drama, intrigue, and suspense. I would categorize this story as moderate intensity as compared with other historical fiction selections (placed between intense reads such as Lilac Girls, The Nightingale, Salt to the Sea, Underground Railroad, and Between Shades of Gray and lighter reads such as The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society).  My reason for rating it moderate intensity is because there’s one section that’s difficult (emotionally) to read and I chose to skim over; whereas, in more intense reads there are multiple sections that are difficult (emotionally) to read. In my opinion, the weaknesses in this story include the too gimmicky or coincidental similarities between Eve and Charlie, some less than smooth transitions between the two story lines, and the focus on plot driven narrative writing rather than the beautiful writing of literary fiction (such as The Light Between Oceans). I loved the active role of Eve in both story lines and that it was a gripping and engaging page-turner featuring two courageous women. All the drinking and smoking while pregnant was disturbing….but perhaps this was accepted in 1947? As with all historical fiction, I enjoyed the knowledge gained…in this case about female spies in WW 1. Recommended to readers of historical fiction who are looking for a page-turning, gripping, engaging story about strong independent women. Rating: 4 Stars.

Alice Network

Buy Here

Meet the Author: Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before moving to the 20th century with the “The Alice Network.” All her books have been translated into multiple languages. Find out more here.

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah…how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, I’ll be reviewing a favorite The Glass Castle (a memoir) by Jeannette Walls in anticipation of the movie release August 11th if you’d like to “buddy read.”

Glass Castle

Buy Here

Please Share:

I’d be honored if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog.

Talking Books:

Please share your reflections on The Alice Network in the comments section. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are you currently reading?

 

 

 

 

 

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

July 28, 2017

Welcome back! Thank you for reading, sharing, and following along! I think you’ll find this week’s featured selection fascinating. I love historical fiction and supporting women authors who write about strong women. You can also find me on Goodreads.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
by Jennifer Ryan

 Chilbury

Genre/category: historical fiction, contemporary women’s fiction

Summary:

A notice pinned to the Chilbury Village Hall notice board, Sunday, 24th March, 1940 reads: “As all our male voices have gone to war, the village choir is to close.” (Signed The Vicar)

Facing an impending Nazi invasion, the ladies of Chilbury, England pull together under the strong leadership and persistent encouragement of new choirmaster, Prim, to resurrect the choir as a ladies choir. This heartfelt historical fiction story is told from multiple perspectives and voices in diary and journal form. As author Jennifer Ryan states: “At the beginning of the war, an organization known as Mass Observation began, encouraging ordinary individuals to keep diaries and journals and send them into headquarters, where some would be published in a newsletter.” The ladies were serious in supporting the war effort in every way and their earnest writings combine to tell an inspirational story of what it was like to be a woman in the wartime 1940s, working outside the home to support the war effort, finding their voice, and their exploration of independence without their men. Some readers might be concerned that this is simply a collection of these writings: however, I can assure readers that this reads as one complete work and the individual perspectives flow seamlessly from viewpoint to viewpoint and add to the complexity and richness of this heartfelt, charming, and inspirational story. Throughout the narrative, a cast of charismatic and memorable characters emerges as the women face the uncertainties and hardships of war, resolve village problems as they arise, and a few enjoy a bit of romance.    Amazon rating: (July) 4.4  Stars

My thoughts:

Church choirs. Even though the choir in this story has ties to the church, it functions more as a community choir. How many of you have participated in a traditional small church or a community choir? If you have, your experience will add to the enjoyment of the story as you read. I was reminded repeatedly of the dear choir director at my home church. Directing the choir was one small part of her ministry. She developed a supportive musical community and she actively recruited and sought out new members because she sensed that each could benefit from the other. This musical community was safe and members were unconditionally loved. Yes, the choir performed a musical function in the church but so much more was being accomplished in the members’ personal lives which in turn enriched the others in the wider community. The way the community choir functions in this story reminds me so much of my experience with our cherished choir director! When a reader can make a personal connection it adds to the richness of the reading experience! I wonder if this story will affect you in the same way. The choir represented themes of unconditional love, commitment to a group, the importance of belonging, and the healing power of acceptance. The music teaches us that beauty can be created in the worst of circumstances, and illustrates the power of music to unify, inspire, and uplift.

This is an uplifting story of strong independent women making a difference in their world. It’s humorous, romantic, and filled with interesting characters of all ages who show us a fighting spirit. It speaks to the power of love and song. Also appreciated is that this was not difficult, heavy, or intense historical fiction (as so many are). I’m hoping this story will be made into a movie as I could envision a movie in my mind as I read! Highly recommended for readers who love historical fiction (light) and a story about strong women. Appropriate for young adults.   My rating: 4 stars  

Chilbury

Buy Here

Meet the Author: Jennifer Ryan

 Jennifer Ryan

“The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is my very first novel. Before becoming a writer, I was a nonfiction book editor, editing books about politics and economics, travel and health, and biography and memoir. I worked in London before moving to the Washington, DC, area ten years ago with my husband and two children.”

“I was born in a village in Kent, England, not too far away from the fictional village of Chilbury. The novel is based on the stories of my grandmother who was twenty when the Second World War began, mostly hilarious tales about bumping into people in the blackout, singing in the air raid shelters, and the freedoms women had during the war years–the excitement and romance. She also belonged to a choir, and her choir stories dramatized the camaraderie and support they all took away; the knowledge that they weren’t in this alone. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir uses my dear grandmother’s stories as its backdrop.” More about Jennifer Ryan:  jenniferryanbooks.com  Twitter: jenryanbooks

 

Happy Reading!

“Ah…how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
 ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week I’ll be reviewing “The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn (historical fiction) if you’d like to “buddy read.”

Buy Here

Please Share:

I’d be honored if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog.

Talking Books:

Please share your reflections on The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir in the comments section. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are you currently reading?