The Other Alcott

November 17, 2017

My favorite book to review: a woman author’s debut novel about strong, independent women! The author says that she is “drawn to historical figures, especially women, who linger in the footnotes of history books yet have fascinating stories waiting to be told.”

Was Little Women one of your favorite reads as a younger reader? I think Little Women was my first “book hangover,” and I felt so accomplished reading a “long” book!

The Other Alcott
by Elise Hooper

The Other Alcott 2

Genre/categories: historical fiction, women’s fiction, biographical, sisters

Summary:

If you’ve read Little Women, you are familiar with the author, Louisa May Alcott. It’s also well known that Miss Alcott’s family provided inspiration for the book and its colorful characters. While many readers loved spirited Jo March (the character based on the author Louisa May Alcott), Jo’s younger sister Amy March was not quite as popular with readers. In Elise Hooper’s new release and debut novel, The Other Alcott, the author reimagines the world of the Alcotts from the perspective of Louisa’s real life younger sister, May (Amy in Little Women). Hooper’s story explores the relationship between Louisa and May which might have been fraught with jealousy, competition, and sibling rivalry.  Through Hooper’s story telling, we follow May as she studies and travels abroad to carve out her own career as an artist in a man’s world at a time when women who wanted a career often had to forgo dreams of a family. Although the publication of Little Women substantially helps the struggling Alcott family financially, May experiences conflicting feelings about the way she was portrayed in the book through the character of Amy. Eventually, this causes May to want to distinguish her own life from the selfish, spirited, and spoiled character of Amy. So in real life, the optimistic, stylish, outgoing, and creative May pursues art in Boston and in Europe. At first, she is convicted about not working too hard (as she’s seen her sister do) because she also values happiness and enjoyment of life. This is a story of art, ambition, and of a brave, determined young woman finding her voice and establishing her identify. Amazon Rating (November): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

Like returning for the reunion of the Gilmore Girls or Full House or other beloved shows, I am drawn to the Alcott story because Little Women was one of my first positive literary experiences with a “long” book. As I indicated above, it was probably my first “book hangover.” I’m sure I’m in good company in being captivated by Jo’s  independent and feisty spirit; thus, peering into the Alcott family through reading The Other Alcott is enticing.

“At a certain point, you just have to move forward and hope for the best. You have talent. For more than just art. I envy your ability to rise along over the waves that threaten to tug the rest of us down. You’re unsinkable.”   ~Louisa to May

Although the relationship between Louisa Alcott and her sister May is highly imagined, the story is well researched and the historical details are evident in the various settings and fascinating event descriptions.

If you’re an art student or artist, you might enjoy reading about the years May spent in European art studios, competitions, and communities establishing friendships, skills, and her artistic reputation.

I appreciate important themes of determination, making difficult choices, complicated sibling relationships, feminism in the late 1800s, reconciliation, and forgiveness. In May’s words, “The bar has been set high in my family for what a woman can achieve.”

“…You have to work endlessly to make your visions a reality. Stake a claim to your ambitions. If you wait around for other people to define you, you’ll be saddled with their expectations–and that’s dangerous territory for a woman.” 

In addition, I appreciate the author’s extra information in the Afterward. Sometimes readers forget about the extensive research that is required of authors writing historical fiction.

While I rate this a solid 4 stars, there are two areas of weakness for me. One, I would have enjoyed more action to propel the story forward. And two, I would like to have felt a deeper emotional connection with the characters. These are minor concerns as I enjoyed the overall reading experience. It almost felt like reading a sequel of my beloved Little Women.

The Other Alcott is recommended for readers who appreciate themes of how women achieved careers and independence in an earlier time, sibling relationships, and ambition.  Of course, The Other Alcott is also recommended for childhood fans of Little Women. Last, I recommend this for readers who are looking for a solid, easy reading historical fiction selection, and for readers who might be looking for a “clean” read (no cautions for language or violence).

My rating: 4 Stars

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The Other Alcott

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Elise Hooper

Elise Hooper

Although a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise now lives with her husband and two young daughters within stone-skipping distance of the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound. When she’s not writing, she’s in her classroom trying to make American history and literature interesting for high school students.

She’s drawn to historical figures, especially women, who linger in the footnotes of history books yet have fascinating stories waiting to be told. THE OTHER ALCOTT is Elise’s first novel.

Please learn more: http://www.elisehooper.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elisehooperauthor/
Instagram: elisehooper
Twitter: @elisehooper


Extra:

Little Women

Some readers love to reread Little Women during the Christmas Season because the story begins at Christmas time. This would also be a great time of year for a first read.

If you’ve never read Little Women or would like a reread, get it FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited (Amazon Prime) or at 99 cents for Kindle.

Purchase the Kindle Version of Little Women Here for 99 cents.

 

 

 


Happy Reading Bookworms!

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

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Looking Ahead!

The Deal of a LifetimeI’m eager to read Fredrik Backman’s newest novella release, The Deal of a Lifetime.

Backman is author of Beartown,  A Man Called Ove, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and  Longer (novella), and Britt-Marie Was Here. 

I’m anticipating this will be the perfect read for Thanksgiving week. Will you “buddy read” with me?

Purchase Information Here.


Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. We recently reached 2,000 views (and counting). Every share helps us grow.


Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear if you read the classic Little Women in your younger years. Or perhaps you read or reread it as an adult? Or maybe you haven’t yet read it and it’s on your TBR.

I’d also like to know if you are on the Backman bandwagon. If so, which of his works are your favorite?

 

 

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Refugee

October 20, 2017

Trust me: This is a great read!

See us, he thought. Hear us. Help us.

Refugee
by Alan Gratz

Refugee

Genre: Middle Grade through Adult Historical Fiction, global issues

Summary:

Refugee is the story of the refugee experience from three unique perspectives:

  • 12/13-year-old Josef and family are Jewish and attempt to escape Nazi Germany in 1938 aboard a ship bound for a country(Cuba) that will accept them.
  • 12-year-old Isabel and family are Cuban and flee riots and unrest in Cuba in 1994 on a homemade raft pointed toward safety in Miami, Florida.
  • 12-year-old Mahmoud and family are Syrian and seek to escape war-torn Aleppo in 2015 and relocate to Germany.

Even though these families are separated by continents and decades, their stories share certain similarities. Each journey is fraught with harrowing adventures, frustration, courage, resiliency, heartache, injustice, persecution, dangers, children assuming adult roles and responsibility, loss of childhood innocence and joy, and loss of family members. However, the families have hope that drives them forward. Amazon Rating (October): 4.8 Stars (this is a very high rating in which 88% of the stars are in the 5 star category)

My Thoughts:

Refugee is an important story because it gives refugees a face and a name, and the timeliness of the Syrian refugee family is relevant to current events.

I appreciated the tightly woven plot and seamless transitions between points of view. As the author worked to tie the stories together, the reader notices that all three journeys to safety involve a boat and that children are forced to take on adult responsibilities and worries. In addition, the kindness of strangers and glimmers of hope keep them going forward in each story.  Interesting parallels involve Josef fleeing Germany in 1938 and Mahmoud’s family escaping to Germany in 2015; furthermore, Josef’s family tried to gain entry into Cuba in 1938 and Isabel’s family sought to flee Cuba in 1994.

This story is engaging from page one and unputdownable. I never felt like I was reading a middle grade selection except to reflect on how middle grade readers might react to certain parts of the story. Yes, the story has 12-year-old narrators, but it’s the story of families and how they support each other in the most difficult circumstances. Even though adults will enjoy this story, it’s easily accessible for middle school readers (appropriate language, straight forward writing style, and not overly graphic or violent). That being said, the content is difficult at points (some events can be emotional and some historical perspective is probably needed). I recommend this for mature middle graders who are able to read this with a parent or teacher, and it will easily hold an adult’s interest as well and lead to excellent discussion opportunities.

The most powerful parts of the story include the author’s unique structure and smooth transitions between points of view of three refugee families. The POV from innocent children was especially powerful and moving, especially as the oldest children were forced to handle adult responsibilities and make difficult decisions. One powerful idea in the story was Mahmoud’s understanding of being visible or invisible. He learned through his life in Aleppo that being invisible helped him survive and avoid bullies; however, he quickly realized that refugees couldn’t stay invisible if they wanted help from the world. It’s only when people are visible (make waves, rock the boat) that people will notice them and take action. In his own words:

“They only see us when we do something they don’t want us to do,” Mahmoud realized. The thought hit him like a lightning bolt. When they stayed where they were supposed to be–in the ruins of Aleppo or behind the fences of a refuge camp–people could forget about them. But when refugees did something they didn’t want them to do–when they tried to cross the border into their country, or slept on the front stoops of their shops, or jumped in front of their cars, or prayed on decks of their ferries–that’s when people couldn’t ignore them any longer.

Even though some readers might consider the ending slightly contrived as two of the families intersect, I appreciated a somewhat uplifting ending.

Refugee rates as one of my most memorable reads of the year and highly recommended for readers age 12 through adult who are searching for a riveting histfic read, for parents and/or teachers who are looking for diverse reads to build global empathy and understanding of the effects of war and oppression and the refugee crisis, for book club members who are interested in discussing challenging themes.  *Caution: It’s my opinion that even though this is shelved as middle grade (grades 5-8), younger children in this range might find the occasional violence and harsh realities too much for them. It’s actually perfect for high school readers who already have helpful historical knowledge of the events. I would encourage parents to “buddy read” it with their younger children. It might be an especially interesting read for any families who have relatives that came to America as a result of being “sponsored.”

My Rating: 5 Stars

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A book for younger middle grade readers (but also enjoyable for adults) with a similar refugee theme might be Inside Out and Back Again (reviewed here as an “extra” in this post).

Refugee

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz

I’m the author of a number of books for young readers, including Refugee, Ban This Book, Prisoner B-3087, Code of Honor, Projekt 1065, the League of Seven series, and The Brooklyn Nine. I live in the mountains of western North Carolina with my family, where I enjoy reading, playing games, and eating pizza.

 

 

Happy Reading Everyone!

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

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Extras:

Turtles all the Way DownIn last week’s blog post, I indicated that I would review Turtles all the Way Down by John Green this week. I read it, but then I read Refugee after that and loved it so much more that I changed my mind on the blog’s focus this week–because, above all, I’m committed to bringing you recommendations for the best of what I read. I’m including a brief reflection of Turtles All The Way Down here in the extras in case you were looking forward to the review and are a John Green fan!

 

Genre: YA, social and family issues, mental illness, coming of age

Strengths:  This book deals with a very important subject and I’m assuming the author represents an authentic voice…..I appreciate that the reading experience allowed me to gain additional understanding of OCD and I loved Aza and was deeply moved by her thoughts, angst, and experiences. It is important to know that the inspiration for this book came from John Green’s own personal experiences with OCD.

Weaknesses: There is a lot going on—which probably is typical of a teenager’s life and the YA genre (mother/daughter relationship, best friend, school, coming of age, boyfriend, lizard, crime solving, astronomy, abandoned/neglected boys, etc); and the plot was meh because there were too many things happening on multiple fronts and many details that didn’t make sense in the story (e.g. a high school kid gets $50,000 and doesn’t tell her mom?). Other readers have highly rated this book and/or love John Green so I encourage you to read it and form your own opinion.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars rounded to 3 Stars

For the Amazon rating, summary, and purchase information click here.


Reminder: This Christian histfic Kindle book is FREE in the month of October! (*note: I haven’t read it, but it seems interesting … and I have Viking heritage! For free, I’m trying it!)

God’s Daughter
by Heather Day Gilbert

God's DaughterAmazon Rating (October) 4.4 Stars

Amazon Summary: In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a journey to North America. But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself–and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart. Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir–daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America. This novel is based heavily on the Icelandic Sagas and is written from a Christian worldview. Get the Kindle version FREE Here.

Looking Ahead:

I have a couple of ideas from recently published titles regarding my next read, but I haven’t finalized my selection. I’m waiting for Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (contemporary chick lit fic) to become available on Overdrive (library app) and I recently bought If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss (Appalachia settinh) which looks promising. Subject to change if I find something better! What are you reading this week?

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.

Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear in comments if you’re planning to put Refugee on your TBR. Does the topic of refugee crisis interest you? Do you enjoy reading diverse books? Do you seek out titles that differ from your go-to genres? Do you think middle grade and/or YA selections can be appreciated by adults? Or would you rather that I not alert you to outstanding fiction for different ages?

Out of the Easy

October 6, 2017

Have you recently discovered a new favorite author?

Out of the Easy

Genre: YA historical fiction

I first discovered Ruta Sepetys when I read Salt to the Sea earlier this year. I followed that quickly with Between Shades of Gray (her first novel). Both stories deal with similar WWll themes and loosely follow some of the same family members . Recently I read her third novel, Out of the Easy. Although I love all her works, I consider Salt to the Sea my favorite of her novels (review).

Summary of Out of the Easy:

It’s 1950 in the French Quarter of New Orleans when we meet seventeen year old Josie. A high achiever with a great deal of grit and savvy, she is the daughter of an unreliable mother who is a prostitute, enjoys the unlikely mentorship of a tough madam, and is trying to survive in the Big Easy. Although Josie has a plan to get out, she becomes tangled in an investigation that could change her dream of an elite eastern college and her future. Throughout the story, she is tried, tempted, and tested. How will her decisions shape her future? Amazon rating (October): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this fast paced and engaging story of a girl beating the odds to pursue an education and a fresh start. At first, everything that could go wrong for Josie goes wrong; but her determination, grit, bravery, spunk, perseverance, and quick thinking pull her through some harrowing experiences. The following quote illustrates her attitude:

“I still wanted to believe it was possible, that my Wings, no matter how thin and torn, could still somehow carry me away from a life of lies and perverted men.”

Josie is a memorable character and readers will root for her throughout the story.

Recommended for mature YA and older readers who love a character you can cheer for and a story filled with intrigue and some suspense. In addition, this is an excellent introduction the beautiful writing of Ruta Sepetys.

My rating:  4 Stars

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Out of the Easy

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. The daughter of a refugee, Ruta is drawn to stories of strength through struggle. Her award-winning historical novels are published in over fifty countries. “Between Shades of Gray” was inspired by her family’s history in Lithuania. Her second novel, “Out of the Easy” is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, and her third novel, “Salt to the Sea, exposes one of the greatest hidden disasters of World War II. Ruta lives with her family in Tennessee.

For more information:
http://www.rutasepetys.com
http://www.facebook.com/rutasepetys
http://www.twitter.com/rutasepetys

Happy Reading Everyone!

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

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books spoils you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Extra:

Inside Out and Back Again
by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again

 

Are you looking for a diverse multicultural read for your middle grade reader or student?

Told in free verse from the perspective of 10-year-old Ha and inspired by the author’s own experiences, this is a poignant and beautifully written story of a family’s escape from Vietnam before the fall of Saigon to America. This refugee and immigrant story can build feelings of compassion and lead to thoughtful reflection as Ha experiences grief, bullying, learning English, new foods and customs, kindness from a neighbor, finding her voice, family loyalty, and the comfort of old traditions. A perfect read for older elementary or middle grade readers but, as with all good literature, enjoyable for adults too…a diverse read that builds understanding and empathy.

Amazon Rating (October) 4.5 Stars

My rating: 5 Stars

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More Information Here.

Meet the Author, Thanhha Lai

Thanhha Lai Page

 

 

 

Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam and now lives north of New York City with her family and two dogs.

Looking Ahead:

I. Am. Thrilled. to finally review Little Fires Everywhere next week if you’d like to “buddy read.” It was a Book of the Month selection for September and my library hold became available this week. I dropped everything to read. There’s been a lot of buzz about this book and,  thankfully, it lived up to my expectations!

Little Fires Everywhere

 

 

 

More Information 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.

Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear in comments if you’ve read Ruta Sepetys or if you plan on adding one of her books to your TBR list. Have you already read Little Fires Everywhere? Please stop in and say hello!

 

 

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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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

 

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America's First Daughter

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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. 

 

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?