Reading Notes: September 26, 2013

7926790Yes ma’am, I am back! I officially can. not. put. down. Prisoners in the Palace. After listening to a podcast by The History Chicks (have you started listening to them yet? Why not?) about Queen Victoria (in which they recommended PitP) I knew I had to read more about her. She was FASCINATING.

Small history lesson. This is going to be hard. Okay.

King William IV, Victoria’s uncle, did not have an official heir. He had 10 bastard children, but his wife, Queen Adelaide, was unable to carry a child to term. This left Princess Victoria as next in line to the throne. The Princess’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, being a widow and German, decided to bank on her daughter’s hopeful succession and become Queen Regent should William IV die before Victoria came of age. The Duchess relied heavily on Sir John Conroy, an officer she engaged as her personal secretary. A charming, dynamic man, Conroy used the Duchess, hoping to help her become Regent and therefore gain power for himself.

Luckily for Victoria, William IV and his brothers all died without providing a legitimate heir and she gained the throne at age 18.

Prisoners in the Palace is a fictionalized look at the Princess Victoria in the year before she gained the throne. Told by her maid, Liza Hastings, an orphaned child of titled gentry, she is forced to seek a place as a ladies maid, in the hopes of avoiding the poor house, the streets, and in regaining her status as a lady herself. Liza decides to help Victoria circumnavigate Sir John and the Duchess and attain her throne without their stealing it from her.

It is GOOD. I can’t wait to finish it. Also, this is a beautifully produced book. Love all the artistic flourishes the publisher did to it.

On deck, oh my gosh, I have so many. But I have this one book in at the library, that I found quite by accident (I was looking for another book) and I can’t wait to pick it up. I hope it is as good as it’s title: The American resting place : four hundred years of history through our cemeteries and burial grounds by Marilyn Yalom. Obviously this is for RIP VIII. Doesn’t that sound great? I also have Night Film by Marisha Pessl in and I discovered (also by accident!) that Elizabeth Hand wrote a sequel to Illyria, which I LOVED. It’s called Radiant Days and I have it on hold. I hope I can pick it up when I go tomorrow.

Now I just need some days off to read read read!

What are you reading lately that has you excited?





Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein


Code Name Verity (my review) was my favorite book of last year. So, it was a given that I would read the next thing Elizabeth Wein wrote. When browsing NetGalley one day, I came across a book with her name on it. I was so excited! Needless to say, I didn’t even read the description. I just put in a request for it, and rejoiced when I got the email saying I was approved.

I didn’t take me long to dig in either.

So, you can probably imagine how surprised and delighted to find that Maddie and Anna Engel, characters from Code Name Verity briefly appears in Rose Under Fire! Honestly, I was beyond excited. Even if they aren’t really main characters, as Rose Under Fire is more of a companion novel that a direct sequel, it was nice to see how they have been after the events of Code Name Verity.

The main character of Rose Under Fire is the eponymous Rose. Rose Justice, a young American teenager and friend of Maddie, is also a female pilot and she is helping deliver planes during WWII. It is during a routine delivery that she is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck, a women’s concentration camp. Ravensbruck is beyond brutal. If Wein was pulling her punches, it makes me sick to think how bad Ravensbruck really was, because Wein’s version is intense. Rose struggles to survive with her health, her sanity, and her friends until the war is over.

Ravensbruck was truly horrifying. Just reading about the “Rabbits”—Polish prisoners who were experimented on in grotesque and abused in terribly painful ways—is painful. All the residents of the camp, women from the Red Army, the Polish, the Jews, and a scattering of Americans are all deplorably “cared” for. The things they are made to do…. *shudder* Yet, there is an under-current of hope amid all this pain that can’t be denied. Knowing Wein’s attention to detail and research skills, I can only hope the read “Rabbits” had the same mentality as Wein’s. As with most accounts of WWII and the Holocaust—in fiction and nonfiction—I came away feeling both emotionally drained, moved, and haunted.

Elizabeth Wein’s characters live and breathe. That’s the only way I can think to describe them. They all feel so real, with all their feelings, loves, desires, hatreds, friendships, opinions, fears and souls. Their stories are intense and shocking, heartbreaking and disturbing. Wein’s writing is just as powerful in Rose Under Fire as it was in Code Name Verity, even with Rose telling her story after the fact, whereas Maddie and Julie’s stories felt more immediate and dangerous as their stories were told more as it happened. As you can probably guess, I highly recommended both books.

Barrie Hardymon of NPR, compared Rose Under Fire to Code Name Verity, wrote that Rose Under Fire is “a quieter, less breathless read, which ultimately makes it that much more devastating.”

I completely agree with that remark. Get Code Name Verity, if you haven’t already read it, then get Rose Under Fire, which will be released September 10.

Rose Under Fire
By Elizabeth Wein
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Released September 10, 2013
368 pages, Hardcover
ISBN 9781423183099
Acquired from NetGalley; thank you to the publisher for
allowing me to read and review this book.
Rated: 5/5


A Good American by Alex George

13542473A Good American
By Alex George
ISBN-13: 9780425253175
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 2/5/2013
Pages: 432

I’ve had my eye on this book for SO. LONG. Ever since the hardback came out. The combination of the title, the cover, and the description were too much to pass up. So why I did, is a mystery to me. Thank goodness for BlogHer, as I finally got my hands on a copy.

And boy, I got everything I wanted and more.

A Good American is a multi-generational story of epic proportions. I mean, it’s huge people. The story of the Meisenheimer family starts with Frederick and Jette, traveling across the Atlantic to Mississippi from Germany (before WWI) (whenever I hear “fleeing Germany” I automatically think WWII, so I wanted to clarify) (they were not fleeing war, rather, a mother), where poor pregnant Jette’s water breaks. The story follows their lives in Mississippi, their search for acceptance, and on down through their children and their children’s children. I love Frederick and Jette; they were such an unlikely pair. The music of this novel (and the food!), and the lives of this family, is a thing of beauty. See, this novel is a culmination of everything I love! Family, music, America, and food! (Not necessarily in that order.)

And the writing? The writing is wonderful. George’s debut novel doesn’t read like a first novel. The characters, the story, are fully realized – no small accomplishment even for a seasoned novelist. It’s hard to believe George spent 8 years working as a corporate lawyer in London! George, and his novel, or rather, his novel, have stolen my heart with this beautiful story. And I can’t wait for George’s next novel and am hoping this will restore some of my love of historical fiction. It has been way too long!

Bits I loved:

We are all immigrants, a glorious confection of races and beliefs, united by the rock that we live on. As the years wash over us and new generations march into the future, family histories are subsumed into the greater narrative. We become, simply, Americans.

“What is it?” She hissed through clenched teeth. “What’s wrong?”

He bent down toward her. “I was just thinking how beautiful you looked.”

The punch was impressive, both accurate and strong. Jette’s fist caught her husband squarely on the jaw. It was an absolute peach of a shot, and it propelled him backward into the chest of drawers.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.” And thank you Penguin, as always, for the opportunity.

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Back in 2006, I read a little novel called The Observations, by Jane Harris. I never reviewed it, but I remember enjoying it very much. When the opportunity came to read and review her newest book, Gillespie and I, I jumped at the chance. I knew from experience, having read her first book, that Harris was a very interesting author and that I admired her writing ability and her ability to do the unexpected.

Gillespie and I only served to cement this opinion for me. Boy howdy, can this woman write.

It is 1933. Harriet Baxter is an English spinster pushing her 80s. Sitting alone at her home in Bloomsbury, with only her two pet finches for company, she decides she will write her memoirs. She wants to recount her friendship with Ned Gillespie, a forgotten painter from Glasgow, whom she believes never received the fame and appreciation he deserved before he tragically died with realizing his potential. She has decided to set the record straight, as it were, as she is the best one to do so, being the only one left.

In 1888, Harriet traveled to Glasgow for an International Exhibition. Her maiden aunt has died, leaving her at loose ends and being one of the few women on this time who is independently wealthy, Harriet has an unexpected freedom and takes advantage of it. Many artists displayed their works, one of whom was Ned Gillespie. Harriet meets Ned and the rest of his family there and befriends Ned, his wife, his mother, and his children. She inveigles herself into their lives and believes she is as dear to them as they are to her.

Yet, when tragedy strikes, and Harriet is blamed, things begin to unravel. Nothing is as it seems. Is Harriet a reliable narrator? Being the only one left, is she telling the true version of events or what she wants us to know? Is she responsible for tearing a lovely and endearing family to shreds? Did she do what she was accused of doing?

I don’t know if I’d said it here before, but I almost always adore unreliable narrators. I know they drive some people crazy, but I love love LOVE how books like this make me think. They stay with me for ages, making me question what really happened, what certain things meant, how DID it END. I also adore ambivalent endings and this book has one of the best ambivalent endings I’ve ever read. I reached a point, about 2/3rds through the book, when I reached a point where I just could not put it down and I sped through the last 200 pages in about 3 hours. At one point, I realized my heart was racing (and I should also say it was about 4 in the morning) because I was SO anxious about what was going to happen.

I stand in awe of Ms. Harris. She managed to take what feels like 3 separate story lines and weaves them together so deftly and so seamlessly. If I ever wrote a book, I would want to write something like that. Something taunt and exciting, curious and new, end of your seat, keep you up late at night, and not let you go even after the last page was turned hours, days, weeks ago. Plus, it’s very Victorian. I can not wait to see what she comes up with next.

About Jane Harris

Jane Harris is the author of the award-winning novel The Observations. She lives in London.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (January 31, 2012)

Tuesday, January 31st: Unabridged Chick
Monday, February 6th: Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, February 7th: The House of the Seven Tails
Tuesday, February 7th: BookNAround
Wednesday, February 8th: Broken Teepee
Monday, February 13th: Library of Clean Reads
Tuesday, February 14th: Reviews by Lola
Wednesday, February 15th: The Lost Entwife
Friday, February 17th: Amused By Books
Monday, February 20th: Amusing Reviews
Thursday, February 23rd: nomadreader


In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella Haasse

It’s not often I post about books I don’t finish, but this is going to be the case with In a Dark Wood Wandering: a novel of the Middle Ages by Hella Haasse. However, this was supposed to be a co-read and co-review and, well, I just couldn’t let Aarti down, especially when she couldn’t finish it either! So we decided we would talk about it anyway. I mean, we shouldn’t have to suffer for nothing, right? Right!
So, what is In a Dark Wood Wandering about, you say? Good question. I didn’t make it far enough through to be able to tell you that. So, I am totally going to cheat and use the Library Journal’s summary, which makes this novel sound a heck of a lot more interesting than it was (in my opinion, that is);
This novel exemplifies historical fiction at its best; the author’s meticulous research and polished style bring the medieval world into vibrant focus. Set during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), the narrative creates believable human beings from the great roll of historical figures. Here are the mad Charles VI, the brilliant Louis d’Orleans, Joan of Arc, Henry V, and, most importantly, Charles d’Orleans, whose loyalty to France brought him decades of captivity in England. A natural poet and scholar, his birth and rank thrust him into the center of intrigue and strife, and through his observant eyes readers enter fully into his colorful, dangerous times. First published in the Netherlands in 1949, this book has never been out of print there and has been reprinted 15 times. This first English translation should find an enthusiastic audience. Highly recommended. BOMC featured selection; Quality Paperback selection.– Starr E. Smith, Georgetown Univ. Lib., Washington, D.C.
So, want the scoop on what Aarti and I thought?  Keep reading!

Aarti: I guess there’s no avoiding the fact that neither of us liked this book enough to finish it!  I barely even got halfway through it, to be honest.  I’m SO GLAD I decided to email you and tell you that I was struggling with it so that both of us didn’t continue on in misery trying to read and understand a book that just didn’t click.

I am not sure why it didn’t click for me.  I think it was a combination of many things.  I am not sure if it was the fault of the translation, but it was just so densely written.  The writing was very small and the paragraphs so long and descriptive.  I felt that there wasn’t just one main character, but dozens, and we had to go through these long detailed descriptions of what they wore, what they looked like, what their personalities were, what they were motivated by, etc., etc.  And the way they were all related and fighting each other and had titles starting with B (Berry, Burgundy and someone else, too, I think!) just made them all run together in my head.

I also think not having any background in French history around the 13th century was a huge handicap.  I had no idea what was going on, and I feel like while we got GREAT detail on each character, we didn’t get much detail on what events were happening or why.  Or maybe it just seemed like the same events kept happening over and over.  I am not sure, but by the time I decided to stop reading, I was completely overwhelmed by the number of battles fought, alliances forged and broken, and betrayals.  Completely over my head!

Heather: Wow, it sounds like we had exactly the same experience! I’m so glad you emailed me too, although I was very close to emailing you with the same question. “Can I put this down? Please?”

I took French for 4 years, I can still speak it somewhat, but we didn’t learn much history in there. I had no. idea. what. was. going. on. Completely over my head is right! I couldn’t keep the characters straight (all those B names were ridiculous! And they were brothers! Argh!) and all the court intrigue, plus the dense writing…it was just a headache trying to keep it all straight. I never connected to a character, with possibly the exception of the king, but I doubt it would have stayed that way!

I do think some of my problem was the writing. As you say, it was very dense, very slow, and very overwhelming. At first, it felt so readable, but as I went on it felt like trying to walk through mud – slow and sticky and just really really annoying. The design of the book didn’t help me either. That small print was brutal. And I agree. It almost feels like the author assumes we know what’s going on historical and focused more on the characters and what they were thinking and feeling. I wonder if it had been about a time-period I do know about, like say, the Tudors, if I would have enjoyed it more, but I rather doubt it.

See part two of our little discussion over at Aarti’s blog BookLust.

In a Dark Wood Wandering: A Novel of the Middle Ages by Hella Haasse
Paperback, 594 pages
Published May 15th 1991
Academy Chicago Publishers (first published 1949)
ISBN13: 978089733356 Brave enough to try it for yourself? If you buy it through my link, I will get a few cents which will be put to hosting, buying supplies (ie books), etc for this blog. Thanks in advance. If you are brave.

Book Review: Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English

Do you remember that magic moment when you first open a book and realize you’ve met what will be an old friend, one of those books you know you will think about for ages, that you will reread over and over again (if you read like that, which I do), and that stands a chance at actually changing your life?  Do you get all tingly inside?  Do you walk around with a goofy grin on your face?  Do those feelings of new love make you glow?

Yeah, that might be a bit much, but my feelings for Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English are pretty extreme.  I have met my favorite book of the year my dears and… well…  I’ll try to keep the gushing to a minimum.

Jack Rosenblum, his wife Sadie and their daughter Elizabeth have fled Nazi Germany for the safety of England before World War II.  Upon their arrival, they are given a pamphlet on how to fit into England’s world.   Jack is a diminutive man, standing only five feet three and a half inches, but don’t let his size fool you.  Inside there is the heart of a lion-hearted Englishman and Jack is determined to prove it.  So he takes the list, takes it to heart, and begins to live by the list.  So when Jack is arrested as a “Class B Enemy Alien” and thrown into prison, Jack’s hopes for life in England are almost crushed.

Lucky for Jack, his friend Edgar gets him declared a “Class C Alien,” which means he is no threat to the country, and he is released.  Jack, feeling more exposed and threatened than ever, begins to add new items to the list.  Jack’s list grows and grows, until it is well over 100 items of What it Takes to be English.  He obtains all these items except one.  The last item on his list is membership in an English golf club.

For Jack membership of a golf course was the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Atlantis and the perfect salt-beef sandwich all at once-but it was proving troublesome.

They wouldn’t admit him because he’s Jewish and German to boot.  So he decides he will build one himself.

If you couldn’t get milk from someone else’s cow, you had to get your own.  No golf course would admit him and so he must build his own.

So Jack takes Sadie and moves her to Bulbarrow Hill, the new acreage and cottage Jack build for his golf course.  A Jewish business man with a thick German accent is an anomaly, to say the least, in their new village and, not surprisingly, the village folk don’t know what to think of Jack.   Jack is so desperate to change, to fit in, to be safe, that he will move mountains.  He wants assimilation, to “seep unnoticed into village life, like rain into the damp earth, and he did not like” the “scrutiny” of the village folk.  However, he doesn’t let this deter him and he begins to work on his course alone.

Sadie doesn’t know what to think of Jack.  She is stuck in the past, with the mother, father and beloved brother she had to leave behind in Germany.  She cooks, day in and day out, from her Mutti’s cookbook.  All the recipes she grew up with are her way of remembering; of saying I love you, to those who are dead and gone.

Once Sadie tried writing down her memories, attempting to preserve them in a nice book to pass on to her daughter but it did not work.  The meaning kept disappearing in the spaces between the words, and her story was written was never quite how she remembered it.  Now Sadie wondered whether it would be better for her to cook her way home to them.  Perhaps she would find them in the smell of slowly simmering cholent or cinnamon rugula.

One cake in particular, a baumtorte, that Sadie bakes, takes time, patience, and love and remembrance for those gone, and was bittersweet to read about.

Sadie has so much patience for her cooking, but very little for Jack.  When Jack declares that he will build the course by himself, Sadie retorts:

My mother warned me that craziness ran in your family.  I should have listened but no, I was young and foolish and easily impressed by your red bicycle and your thick hair.

Isn’t that great?  I hope you can tell how much I adored these two characters.  I am absolutely in love with Jack.  He reminds me of my grandmother’s family; small, short, and furiously stubborn.  And Sadie.  Oh, how I just want to scoop her up and give her a hug.  Knowing that Solomons based these characters on her grandparents makes me adore them all the more.  The writing is utterly charming.  Solomons does an excellent job of shaping these characters, of presenting their flaws and their strengths, their humor and sadness, their complete will to survive, to thrive!  It’s simply gorgeous.   This book made me laugh, cry, scream in frustration for these two people, and hug myself in rapturous contentment at their successes.  I feel as proud of Jack and Sadie as I’m sure Ms. Solomons does for her own grandparents.

I hope I have convinced you that reading Jack and Sadie’s story is something you want to do.  The book will be out June 21st.  Thank you, Reagan Arthur, for sending me this unexpected treasure.

This book is called Mr. Rosenblum’s List in England.

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English
Natasha Solomons
Category: Historical Fiction
Published by: Reagan Arthur Books
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
On Sale: June 21, 2010
ISBN: 978-0316077583
This book was provided by the publisher.

Challenges: The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge.

Visit Natasha Solomons at her blog.

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The Book Depository | IndieBound | Powell’s Books

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I am a Book Depository, Powells, and Indie Bound Affiliate and will make a very small profit if you buy a book through one of my links.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I admit; it seems a trifle pointless to review this book now. I am obviously the last person in the whole wide world to read it. So I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. If you don’t know by now, I know of many candidates who wrote stellar reviews and, in fact, I’ll link to some in a bit. My main intent in actually doing so is to say that if you have put off reading this book because of the hype, ignore yourself and go read it anyway. Trust me. I put it off and put it off, thinking it CAN’T be as good as everyone is saying! I’m so silly, right? So many of my favorite bloggers had told me it was good. I read their reviews, like this one, and this one, oh, and THIS one and still, I didn’t read it. Then two things happened. One, Rebecca at The Book Lady’s Blog, who lately is convincing me to read all kinds of interesting stuff, posted her review and she sold me. And two, Lesley at Lesley’s Book Nook and my friend on Facebook, told me that the audio was excellent. She sold me on it again. Here is her review of the audio.

So I downloaded it from Audible.

And it is absolutely the best audio production of a book I think I have ever heard.

The story is told by multiple narrators and each voice gets its own reader. The publisher obviously took great care in who was picked to read for Minny, Aibileen and Skeeter and each reader was perfect for her part. Octavia Spencer was perfect for the cheeky Minny, I loved the way she acted her part. Minny was my favorite character, even though I loved them all. Jenna Lamia, the voice of Skeeter, provided just the right hit of hesitation, of uncertainty, to a character full of both. And Bahni Turpin, the voice of Aibileen, has a voice like warm honey, which I thought fit the nurturing, loving Aibileen to a tee. The added bonus of having Cassandra Campbell narrate the one section that is told in the third person was just perfection.  She’s one of my favorite narrators ever.

As for the story itself, well. I’m Southern. I’m young, compared to the events in this book…I didn’t even exist yet. My parents didn’t even exist yet. But I have been around since 1978 and I can say I’ve seen the racism, the ridiculous persecution, and the indifference; which seems the cruelest of all. But I’ve also been a part of a Fortune 500 company that promoted its first black, woman to CEO last year. I work in the town where the sit-ins occurred and see that celebrated every year.  I am surrounded by the history of this book and I rejoice that freedoms have been, and continue to be, established, celebrated, and honored.  And The Help falls into line with the likes of To Kill a Mockingbird, to further the cause of equality and the end of racism in the 21st century. 

So, like I said, if you’ve been holding off on reading The Help because of the hype, because you think you won’t like it or simply because you are ornery, do yourself a favor and get a copy.  It. Is. Excellent.  It is important.  It is a must read.  Just have your hankies ready, because that last chapter?  It is a gut-wrencher.  I was totally unprepared and was crying in my car on the way home from work.

Funny story: So, as I said, I’m from the South right? And though you’ve never heard me talk, let me tell you, my accent is very obvious. Very…pronounced. And while I was listening to this book? It was thicker that molasses going up hill in winter. I was getting LOOKS, people. Like, “Why the hell are you talking that way?” looks. I was very tempted to do a vlog of this book, just so you could hear me. Reason won out, however. I am a big chicken.

The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Category: Historical Fiction, Southern

Published by: Penguin Group
Format: Audio
On Sale: February 2009
ISBN: 9780143144182

Purchase from

The Book Depository | IndieBound | Powell’s Books

Other opinions:

So very many…

I am a Book Depository, Powells, and Indie Bound Affiliate and will make a very small profit
if you buy a book through one of my links.

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

As soon as I heard the story BEHIND this novel, I knew I had to read it.  Many years ago, Moran’s father (who was a law professor) gave her mother an abstract about the Oades case.  Moran’s mother had taken up writing in her spare time, but she never got around to writing about Henry Oades and his two wives.  Years later, Moran reads the copy and begins to work on it right away.  I can easily see why; it’s a story begging to be told.

English accountant Henry Oades moves his wife Margaret and their two children to Australia (edit, it’s actually New Zealand, thanks Aarti for reminding me! Oops!) for a job transfer.  Margaret doesn’t want to go, but dutifully follows him out of love and devotion.  They are there a few years, long enough for Margaret to conceive and have twins, when the worst thing happens.  Margaret and the children are kidnapped by Maori and made into slaves.  Henry goes mad trying to find them, but after months of searching he finally gives them up for dead.  The grief is hard, pure and angry.  It’s heart-shattering.

Eventually he moves to California and takes up with dairy farming. Six years pass. He lives a solitary life, one of simplicity and loneliness.  He misses his wife and children with a palatable ache but as time passes, so does the grief.  He meets Nancy, a very young widow with a child on the way and is smitten.   They marry.

Meanwhile, Margaret and her children have managed to escape and find him in California.  Can you imagine?  You’ve mourned your entire family, finally move on with your life and began to start again with a new love, only to find your old family on your doorstep years later, very much alive?  And still married to you?

Johanna Moran takes the story of the Oades and fleshes it out.  She gives it life, heart and soul and she did a marvelous job with it overall.  The Wives of Henry Oades is very easy to read; it hooks you immediately, from the very first page.   She has a poetic way with words, something I appreciated from the start.  She did a great job with the characters, they all have their strengths and their weaknesses, but the thing I admire the most is how Moran made me feel sympathetic to each character’s own part in what could only be a sad story.  I felt like there should be someone in this triangle to hate, but I never could quite bring myself to dislike any of the characters.

If you haven’t read the book yet, you may want to stop here, as there will most likely be spoilers as I have to get this off my chest.

I have a few problems with this book.  Like how HENRY COMPLETELY DISAPPEARS as a narrator in the second half of the book.  By that point, I had become emotionally invested in his character, I was excited about his reaction to his family showing up on his doorstep, and we get nothing.  Zilch.  He never speaks to us again.  That really, really bothered me.  I can understand that he was now in love with Nancy.  I get that.  But he had to feel SOMETHING when he saw Margaret.  Right?  I mean really, the man didn’t even embrace her until she found out her parents had died while she was in captivity and then it was emotionless and awkward.  I wanted to know what HE was thinking, from his own mouth, and it just wasn’t there.  I’ve read where the author said she did this on purpose, for story reasons, and I guess I can understand it.  But it didn’t leave me very happy.

Also, Margaret.  Grow a backbone already.  She was entirely, unreasonably, attached to that man.

Okay, spoilers over.

Despite my few problems with the narrative, this is a wonderful piece of historical fiction.  You can tell Moran did her research.  It’s rich in detail, amazingly, beautifully written, and very hard to put down.

The publisher has agreed to giveaway one copy of this book to my readers.  Please fill out the following form (US and Canada only, please) and I will pick a winner this coming Sunday.  Good luck!

More about the author:

Interesting guest post by Johanna Moran, on the birth of her novel, at BethFishReads.
Johanna’s website, which features the ‘story behind the story’:
Interview and Reader’s Guide:

Johanna Moran’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis

There are a few books left over from last year that I didn’t manage to get reviewed.  Unfortunately, Mare’s War, which was on my favorite reads of 2009 list, was one of them.  I’m rectifying that situation right now.

There are a great many things I find fascinating.  Family history.  WWII history.  Teenagers.  (No really, they are!) And road trips, for a start.

Mare’s War features all of these, so there was no way I wasn’t going to love this book.  And I did, I sooooo did.

Going on a road trip with their… unusual grandmother Mare is the last thing teens Tali and Octavia want to do with their summer.  At the insistence of their mother, the girls reluctantly get in the car and take off to a mysterious family reunion on the other side of the country, in Alabama.

The girls, like most teenagers, don’t know how they will survive the trip with Mare.  Before they have even left the driveway, their grandmother is getting on their nerves with her smoking and Mare is annoying with Tali constantly listening to music on her MP3 player.  The two make a pact; Mare will not smoke if Tali will give up the music.

To make the time go faster, Mare begins telling the girls stories, stories of her younger years.  The girls are astonished to hear about Mare’s youth in Alabama, about how she grew up during the Great Depression, the lengths she went to to protect her own sister and her differences with her mother.  The biggest surprise of all is learning how Mare ran away from home to join the WAC (Women’s Army Corp) and served during World War II.  Mare’s struggles at home with her mother and her mother’s abusive man make joining the army feel like a piece of cake.  It gives her a safe place to live, three meals and day and gives her strength and a belief in herself that could never be bought.

Yet, even though the WAC gave immeasurable help to their country while fighting the Nazi’s in Europe, the segregation that Mare and all the other colored soldiers in the 6888th Battalion, Company C, face is much harder to defeat.  Mare’s tough spirit and pride in her Company and all the women she served with  remain with her and become a huge part of who she is. After all she’s been through, is it any wonder she thinks Tali and Octavia are a little bit spoiled?

The girls are fascinated.  Who knew their grandmother had done such amazing things?  Mare’s stories are eye-opening to say the least.  By the end of their trip, the three have grown closer and the girls have a new respect for Mare – and Mare for them.

Tanita S. Davis has written a thoughtful, powerful tale about women, African-Americans, and the struggles they have faced in, not only the racist past, but in the still racist present we live in now.  Not only that, but it fills in a blank part of all American’s history of World War II, the brave way the women of the 6888th Battalion, Company C, helped end World War II.  And it’s powerful message of family, of history, of knowing your place in the world and the sacrifices of those who came before us, help shape every reader’s perception of themselves.  I hate to admit that I knew next to nothing about the 6888th Battalion, Company C, so I was so happy to learn more about these amazing women.  It’s a shame that their story has been so hugely lost to history and many props to Ms. Davis for bringing their story back to the light.  This is a book everyone woman, no matter their color, should read.

As for whether a teenager will sit through a book about history, I love what Liz B at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy has to say about that:

Oh, and if you have teens who you know will like this book but may be turned off by the history, because some teenagers eyes glaze over when you say “and it’s about women soldiers in World War II!” Simply say, “and then Mare went after her mother’s boyfriend with a hatchet.” Imagine hearing THAT about your grandma.

Not to mention Tali and Octavia do a lot of growing up during the course of their road-trip.  Octavia especially, a quiet, shy girl, learns to find courage within herself and that is always fun to read. And the dynamic between the two girls, typical sisters, friends and fighters, is well written and felt true to life.

Mare is one tough grandma and I couldn’t help but come to adore her (and the girls!) over the course of this book and is definitely why this was one of my favorite reads last year.

Mare’s War
Written by:
Tanita S. Davis
Category: Young Adult
Published by Random House Children’s Books
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
On Sale: June 2009
ISBN: 9780375857140

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More on the 6888th

Other Opinions:

Colleen Mondor’s Bookslut in Training review | Reading in ColorThe Happy Nappy Bookseller | Jen Robinson’s Book Page review | Reading Rants! | Charlotte’s Library | The Reading Zone | everything distils into reading | A Patchwork of Books |

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Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

A a child, there was little I loved more than playing in the dirt. Mudpies, drawing in the sand, rolling around in it… okay, I’m kidding on that last one.  But still, I loved to play in dirt and rock and once even dug quite a few holes in my backyard looking for fossils.

My grandmother was not amused.

Now that I’m grown, obviously I don’t play in dirt much any more.  Yet, I still love to look at fossils and wouldn’t really mind it if one of my children, who now love dirt and rock and fossils like I did, were to find one now.  Needless to say, Remarkable Creatures, the new historical fiction novel by Tracy Chevalier, definitely piqued my interest from the first moment I heard of it.

Remarkable Creatures is the story of Mary Anning a young working-class girl, who, along with her brother discovered what they thought was might be crocodile fossil in 1810 on the cliffs in southern England.  What they found, however, was an ichthyosaur, and this discovery shakes up the scientific community and their thinking about the creation of the world.  And it changes Mary’s life forever.

This book is also about Elizabeth Philpot, a transplanted London spinster who also has a fondness for fossils.   She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mary and helps Mary and her family negotiate this new scientific arena dominated by men who would use Mary to further their own names and careers.  Elizabeth helps protect Mary from rivalry and ostracism, but can’t help protect Mary from her own heart.  Or from Elizabeth’s own jealousies.  

I loved this book.  I knew next to nothing about the way fossils were discovered.  To my mind, they had always been there, at the museum! It never occurred to me to wonder who first started discovering them and categorizing them, who was first curious enough to wonder where these monstrously large bones came from and what they were.  Honestly, I feel kinda stupid for not wondering, but there you are!  Remarkable Creatures definitely enlightened me, not only of the roles of men, but the roles women too played in this great age of discovery.  To know that a woman, a poor, uneducated, young woman no less, was one of the pioneers in fossil discovery is so empowering!  And to know her story is was all but lost to obscurity is horrifying.  Tracy Chevalier has done a masterful job of breathing life into these two women, these two very different women, and making them come alive again to tell their story.  I loved the way she alternated between their voices and how she was able to make each voice so unique.  It was easy to tell which woman was telling her story, just by the way she ‘spoke.’  Their lives, their loves, their work and friendship are alive again and such a pleasure to read.  This book isn’t only for those who might be interested in fossils, in history, in dirt; it’s also the story of friendship, love, and acceptance.  It’s a powerful story that any one should be proud to read.

Remarkable Creatures
Tracy Chevalier
Historical Fiction
Published by Dutton Adult
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
On Sale: January 5, 2010
ISBN: 9780525951452

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