Tag Archives: historical fiction

Passing Strange, by Emily Klages

19 Apr
passing strange ellen klages

Four of Five Stars

This book was not my favorite, but there were several things I really enjoyed and I think others might like it even more than I did.

THE PLUSES: Let’s be honest – THAT COVER. I rarely actually purchase books, but I saw this cover and had to get it. Even before I got to reading it I had pulled the book out several times just to look at its cover. Who wouldn’t want this framed in their own home? When I finally started the book – Surprise! – it turns out the picture is actually a chalk drawing that plays an important role in the book.
The characters. There is a group of women who are friends who help each other out in any way needed. Each of them were very interesting and I could have read a book about any specific character’s life.
The End. I was only going to give 3 stars (which, to be fair, is “I like it”) until the end. And the end had just enough excitement and drama and love to pull my little heartstrings and add another star.

THE MINUSES: All the characters. These women were so interesting, but the book rarely focuses on any one character long enough to get to know them, and there was confusion on my part as to who the story was about. I wouldn’t mind more books about these characters with maybe a more concentrated focus on one character. I mean, Helen??? That woman led a fascinating life and we only saw a bit of it!
The Magic. This is a fairly realistic story about lesbian life in San Francisco 80 years or so ago. That should have been enough of a story. But then suddenly magic is thrown in, in sort of a major way, and then it’s just dropped. Like “Oh here’s a serious story, here we go, oh and by the way this woman can do major magic but ANYWAY….”
The End. And then of course magic comes along and saves the day…

Now some readers may love that there is magic involved, and if it had figured more into the story as a whole perhaps I would have bought into it as well. But it seemed just sort of tossed in the middle of the story as an unimportant detail, only to be dragged out at the end to save the day. That is what bothered me.

But all in all, should you read it? I say Yes. They are fascinating characters and I hope I can eventually read more about them, and if anything, you need this cover in your life.

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Mercer Girls, by Libbie Hawker

27 May
mercer girls libbie hawker

Three of Five Stars

This book might rate 4 stars to a different reader, but for my own enjoyment I’m giving it 3. It just wasn’t quite meaty enough for me.

Although it’s titled Mercer Girls, that history isn’t too important to this story, it’s just a reason to bring these three women together. The East Coast’s male population was ravaged by the Civil War, but the West Coast was suffering from a lack of females for the men to marry. So Asa Mercer traveled East to bring women back as possible brides in Seattle. The first 40% of the book is an introduction to three of these women: devout and pure Sophronia, young and wild Dovey, and the “elder” (35 years) Jo, who is content to be a spinster teacher as long as she escapes her life in the East.

Each of these women have their own reasons for leaving Massachusetts, and after the long and horrifying trip by boat (all the way down to Panama and back up) these three are not exactly Mercer success stories. The past catches up to each of them, and they all have their own issues that prevent them from getting married. The story is more about women’s rights and Suffrage from 1864-1870, and Susan B. Anthony & Abigail Duniway are featured prominently in the story.

I was a little disappointed that we don’t find out much about how the lives of actual Mercer Girls went – unless the Mercer experiment was a complete failure all around, but I doubt it. All three of these girls have their own adventures when they arrive in Seattle, but none of them are according to Mercer’s plan. So that history is missing, other than the horrific journey to the West.

The Women’s Suffrage storyline was very interesting though, and also depressing when you realize how far we’ve come and also how far we still have to go. If you read this story and wonder how women could have possibly left their entire life choices and finances in the hands of their fathers and husbands, you should also be wondering why our physical bodies and medical needs are still in the hands of others. Having read several books recently about the time before Suffrage, I just find the whole thing a bit depressing.

The story focuses on the life in Seattle for wild child Dovey, devout Sophronia and the victimized Jo, but it wasn’t fleshed out enough for me. I’d love to read MORE about Dovey; in this book we barely see any of her plans come to fruition. Sophronia has only a small character development, and there’s not enough of Jo either.

And the end is wrapped up just a little too tidily. I don’t buy Dovey’s final reconciliation, that comes out of the blue with no explanation. I don’t understand Jo’s final decision whatsoever. And Sophronia ended up with the life you expect of her from the beginning.

It just wasn’t enough for ME. But it wasn’t a bad book at all, and I think readers who want a lighter story taking place in this time period might very well love it. I needed something a bit meatier, and I would have loved to hear more about the other Mercer Girls.

Thanks so much to NetGalley for allowing me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Radio Girls, by Sarah-Jane Stratford

18 May
radio girls sarah-jane stratford

Five of Five stars

This book is the best kind of historical fiction in that it tells a real story with real people, but from a fictional character’s point of view. I am not sure what I initially expected of this book; I think just a story set in the time of radio’s beginnings. But it is so much more!

It is part of the story of the beginning years of the BBC. I soon started googling the guest speakers they mentioned (as I’m an ignorant American born in the 60s). I found these very real people to be very interesting, but then I googled Hilda Matheson, a pretty prominent character in the book, and discovered she was a real person too. Then I googled the other characters and realized this was actually a fairly true story told from a (fictional) assistant’s point of view. This upped my fascination level even higher than it was when I requested the book.

I had never read a book that revolved around radio’s beginnings, and it really brought to light not only how much the world changed with that one invention, but how similar the change was then to these new internet days now.  There was so much talk of the world becoming a smaller place, and how everyone with access to a radio could now get so much knowledge they had no access to before, and how it would help people who felt alone in the world. These are all things they say about the internet now. As far as we’ve come in the last 100 years, the radio also gave us a huge jump in technology and knowledge and connection with the world.

With this knowledge however comes the question of who will control the dissemination of that knowledge. BBC’s beginnings came at the same time as Women’s Suffrage in the UK, and those grumbling times are remarkably similar to today’s political atmosphere. Women’s Rights also meant loss of the men’s control and they certainly were not happy about it. World War I had just ended, governments were reorganizing, and businesses across borders were forming new alliances. The stock market crash in the US had just as great an effect across the Atlantic. There were at least two opposing views on each of these topics, and control of the BBC meant control of the information the world received.

In the middle of all this is young Maisie, our fictional heroine who lands a low-level job at the BBC hoping to find a husband, but instead finds a career and a new life plan. A life plan she could barely comprehend as it wasn’t remotely a possibility just a few years before.  Along with Maisie comes a fictional storyline starring the BBC, Nestle and Siemens, and the Nazis.  As Sarah-Jane Stratford mentions in the very informative Author’s Note, the actual storyline is fictional, but many of the events surrounding it are not, and many similar events were taking place.

Stratford wrote this book because of her fascination with Hilda Matheson from the BBC, and this fascination is transferred to the reader. She was an amazing, high-level career woman in times when there was no such thing, and she was a lesbian to boot.  She is a fantastic role model to young women even in our own times.

And so is our young Maisie, who follows her dreams of being a reporter with various levels of success. But in Maisie’s case as it is always, it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, it matters how many times you get back up. She takes her role as reporter very seriously, and even takes on some spy traits as she works to save free speech in the UK and women’s rights as well.

This is an outstanding book that gets better and better as it goes along. I love that I learned so much, I love that I’ve developed a great interest in the amazing Hilda Matheson, and I really enjoyed the fictional plot. It may have gone a little slowly in the beginning, as the fictional plot doesn’t get going until the second half, but spending the first half on Maisie’s moving up the ranks and learning about all the real-life changes that happened in those few short years was worth it all.

Many thanks to the Penguin First to Read program for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Three-Martini Lunch, by Suzanne Rindell

5 Apr
three martini lunch suzanne rindell

FIVE of Five stars

Fantastic book, guaranteed one of the best of 2016.
Edited and expanded, because I stayed up all night to finish and review it.

We follow three young New Yorkers in the late 1950s, along with their groups of friends, and see how their paths diverge and cross and connect again.
Eden, the ambitious girl from the midwest, whose Achilles heel is her heritage as well as her gender.
Cliff, the privileged white man who is 60% plans and dreams and 40% excuses with nothing left for talent or ambition.
Miles, the intelligent young man with two minority strikes against him.

I was engaged with this book from page one. The three narrators are strikingly individual with singularly interesting stories. We follow Cliff and Eden in New York as they both attempt to move through different paths of the publishing world, then we follow Miles cross country as he searches for his father’s story and his own history. Their lives flow so far apart from each other I wasn’t sure how they would ever be reconnected, but reconnect they do, with disastrous results.

500 pages of the New York publishing world and cross-country soul-searching. Gut punch after gut punch throughout the final 100 pages, with one last, unexpected punch at the very end.

Unlikable characters who are given everything but can achieve nothing. Heroic characters who have the entire world of the 1950s against them. So much has changed since that time, entirely too much has remained the same.

I finished all 500 pages in two days because I just couldn’t step away from it.

I received an advance copy from Penguin’s First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

The Girls, by Emma Cline

25 Mar
the girls emma cline

Four of Five stars

“They didn’t have very far to fall — I knew just being a girl in the world handicapped your ability to believe yourself.”

And that is basically the point of this story. It is really hard for me to review this book, because to do so honestly would be to admit that what this book says is true. It is difficult enough to relive those early teen years through the mind of a young girl, to remember how little in control of our lives we were – or assumed we were.

Evie Boyd falls into a group who Cline doesn’t remotely pretend isn’t the Manson Family. Location and names are changed but few other details are. But the book is not about the Manson family or about living with them – it’s about what allows a Manson family to exist. It’s about all the girls who blindly followed Manson because he offered them what they needed and then told them what to do, and that is how girls find out who they are – by being told. Be a good girl, be a polite young lady, use your manners. Everything the girls in this book do, they do in order to please someone else. You could argue that Tamar is different, that she is in control of her life because she left – but what was she doing there in the first place? The wives are pleasing their husbands, the girlfriends pleasing their boyfriends, the teens pleasing anyone who will give them validation – validation as to who they are, what their value and worth is. Even Evie can see that Guy (a not so subtle name) is not affected by Russell/Manson as the girls are. He follows Russell, he does what he’s told, but it’s for his own gain – girls and drugs. The girls are there for Russell’s approval. Evie wants only Suzanne’s approval, but she does whatever she has to do to get it, even handing over her body for the men’s use.

Are we different as adults? Many of us grow to be strong women, but strong women must still please to get along in the world. Dress appropriately or it’s your fault if you get raped. Don’t be bossy or you’ll be a bitch. Don’t put your child in daycare or you’re not a good mother. If you don’t have a career, you won’t be fulfilled.

“Please, I thought. Please. Who was I addressing? The man? God? Whoever handled these things.”
And that certainly isn’t Evie. Even as an adult she has little power.

Excellent, dark, dry, and sad, but so good. I didn’t like reliving my own young Evie and I’m glad it’s over. But the book is excellent.

I received an early copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Fragile Wings, by Rebecca S. Buck

16 Jan
fragile wings rebecca s buck

FIVE of Five stars

Definitely 5 stars as a Historical Fiction Lesbian Romance.

It really holds its own as a book outside of the romance category – although that is definitely what it is. But it is solid in its portrayals of family and all the different connections, a wide variety of friends and characters, and I felt a very real love story between two fragile women struggling to rebuild their lives after the devastations of the war.

The story is set against the backdrop of post-WWI London, with this time period not only well described in appearance and mood, but the themes of the story are also woven well through the issues and changes of this time period.

As a lesbian romance I loved it because the romance was very real, the thoughts and feelings were familiar, and there were no extraordinary or idiotic problems that separated the two women – only very real issues most people have dealt with.

As a book it stands firm, as we are lead all through late 1920s London and introduced to so many well developed characters. Lilian and James, while shallow, are very real shallow people. Everyone from the Yellow Orchid was full of individual charisma, and I wanted to find and patronize the establishment. The male characters were outstanding – no one was a real villain, the brother and sister bonds were strong, and everyone needs a Vernon and an Edward in their lives. And I loved the characters of Evelyn as the strong country mouse and Jos, the more fragile city mouse.

I’m really sad to leave the characters behind, honestly. I don’t want to lose Dorothy, or Clara and Courtney. I have my own crush on Jos, and I want Vernon as a friend.

Yes, it’s a romance, and it’s a really, really good romance.

Thanks so much to NetGalley for providing an advanced copy in return for an honest review. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Hundred Year House, by Rebecca Makkai

4 Sep
FIVE out of FIVE stars

FIVE out of FIVE stars

I wasn’t immediately in love with this book. Unlike some other readers, I was not happy with Part One at all. The little regard the two main characters gave to their marriage perplexed me, and then the wife started committing immoral, unethical and illegal activities that it appeared we were to take as a joke. I may have just been in the wrong frame of mind for this first part, but it was definitely not my favorite.

But then came Part Two, when you start seeing some puzzle pieces fall into place, and see some new puzzles are in more pieces and mixed together. Just as you have that all sorted out, you’re taken back to Part Three, where you have to take some previous puzzle pieces out and replace them with different ones. And then there are even more new mysteries, and you start betting money that when this is over there will still be some mysteries left.

And then we go back to the Prologue, where the seeds of this whole story begin (Yes, this book is told sort of backwards). And some things are explained and some things are left a mystery, forever, because no one survived to tell their stories.

I would love to read this book again one day. Maybe from end to the beginning. I’m still not sure I have all my pieces in place, though I think I have the framework finished. But any puzzler will tell you that’s the easy part.