Historical Fiction

Book Review: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This as in no way influenced my opinion.

I am not sure why it has been so difficult for me to write this review, because I truly loved “The Boston Girl”. My local library has a program called My Librarian in which you can fill out a short survey on your reading history and receive either by call, personal visit, or email a personalized list of book suggestions. I linked my blog and Goodreads and listed Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” as one of my favorite historical fiction titles. Alice, the librarian I had chosen, suggested that I check out Diamant’s latest, “The Boston Girl” on NetGalley. I am glad she did. While I don’t think it stands up to magical epic quality of “The Red Tent” (if you enjoy historical fiction and have not read it, I highly recommend it), “The Boston Girl” has a warm personal feeling to it that kept me turning pages until I realized I was close to the end, and felt a sense of loss.

That personal feeling comes from Diamant’s choice in narrative voice. She cleverly places you in the position of a beloved and successful granddaughter who has just asked her grandmother to tell her how she became the woman she is for a school project. The narrator speaks to you with a voice filled with awe for the opportunities available to modern women as well as love and respect for her granddaughter. This is a coming of age story told from the point of view of an old woman who has had time to reflect on what truly brought her to womanhood. It is a deeply personal tale of the struggles of being a first generation American girl at the height of the suffragist movement. The themes of depression, love, loss, guilt, familial conflict, and hope are woven in, creating the tapestry of a true woman. Strong female friendships come and go, as they do in life, and Diamant tells it all in such a way that I almost felt like I could click on my browser and look up the protagonist’s biography.

Characters are only a part of the picture in any good novel. To me, they are the most important part, and I can ignore some lazy world building if I need to. With “The Boston Girl” I did not have to. The time period is painstakingly researched. Diamant did not go overboard on period slang, or descriptions of period pieces. Instead she chose to leave everything as natural and authentic as possible. I never once felt that the author was trying to make me believe the story took place in the 20s, and so I didn’t have to contend with accidental anachronisms.

Overall, a wonderful story, and one I would recommend, as I do with “The Red Tent” to anyone who would like to read a story about strong women, and strong female friendships.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant Cover

Book Signing – Release Party for The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

Cat Winters at Powell's Books

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the release party for Cat Winters’ new book “The Cure for Dreaming” at Powell’s Books. When the event schedule had first come out I brushed over her name, zeroing in on William Gibson (who, alas, I will not be able to see as I had originally planned). It took me a couple of weeks and a second go-over on the events page to connect the release party with the book I had been coveting on other blogs for weeks. I am glad I didn’t miss it, because it was great fun, complete with snacks, visual aids, costumes, and giveaways.  I picked up the book on Saturday and am about halfway through and enjoying it immensely.

Here are a few takeaways from the reading and the Q&A Session:

  • Cat Winters has a young adult novel, short story, and adult historical fiction novel in the works. We can expect a lot more from her!
  • She is inspired by Victorian and Gothic literature. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” plays a large role in “The Cure for Dreaming”.
  • She has a soft spot for “Wuthering Heights”.
  • “The Cure for Dreaming” was inspired by the music of Kristen Lawrence from Halloween Carols.
  • The cover illustration is a colorized version of an actual hypnosis session done in the 1800s.
  • She will probably stick with historical fiction for a while.
  • “The Cure for Dreaming” opens on Halloween because it was the day before the presidential election in 1900.
  • She spent hours researching and pouring over images for “The Cure for Dreaming”.

Now for the pictures! Please forgive the quality. It was a rainy, blustery day and I didn’t have a proper cover with me to tote my good camera from the car to the shop, so I was relying on my phone.

 

Book Review: Nest by Nancy Ehrlich

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

This isn’t a book review, per say, as I was not able to finish the story, but I could not think of a better category to place my commentary. Why would I post about a book I did not finish? Because I think it has the makings of a classic and I want as many people to know about it as I can. It might sound strange, but there is an explanation. Tagging a book as “Did Not Finish”, especially an advanced reader copy, tends to have a negative connotation, and in nearly all cases that is true. In this case, perhaps instead of saying “Did Not Finish,” I should say “This was not the season for this book.” Nancy Ehrlich has written a beautiful and emotional middle grade novel that deals with the theme of coming of age in the shadow of illness and depression. It is so powerfully emotional that I could not finish, because as I read, I began to draw parallels between the protagonist, Chirp’s, story, and my own.

When I was 12 going on 13 the grandparents who raised me took my sister and I to the Northern California coast just a few weeks before summer’s end. I would be entering the 7th grade. Middle school. It seemed so exciting back then. It was morning when my grandmother fell ill. We were in a hotel room only a short walk away from Pismo Beach, a beautiful and rocky shore with sand crabs that pinched when you unknowingly sat on their nests. The past few days had been wonderful, building sand castles, swimming the day away, watching as my grandmother’s teacup poodle, Dolly, chased the receding waves and then ran away when they inevitably came back. Sure, we got kicked out of our first hotel because Dolly was technically not welcome, but that was not enough to ruin our day. We found a room where she was, and continued on our merry little way. We were due to go home in another day, but instead my grandmother woke up screaming and dry heaving into the ice bucket.

It happened quickly. The memory is just flashes. The sounds of sirens and waves mixing. Stuffy hotel room. Cool ocean breezes that smelled of seaweed and sand. The heat of the summer sun on the concrete outside the emergency room. Red lights flashing. Patients in and out. Feet wrapped in stiff white sheets. My sister and I wondering if everything would be all right– hungry, tired, and afraid to ask for anything for ourselves. Then came the diagnosis; a burst aneurysm. Prognosis? Not good.

I would lose my grandmother nearly six months later. That day was the last day we would see her eyes and hear her voice. She had an operation. It was successful in that they repaired the burst blood vessel, but the bleeding had already done its damage. On my first day of middle school, she was in a hospital an hour and a half from my home, stuck in a coma she would never come out of. I started out awkward, sad, and somewhat broken. But there was joy, too.

“Nest” captures the fear, joy, and awkwardness of 12 year old Chirp whose summer ends much like mine did. Erhlich captures the fear and sadness so well. She captures the beauty of every day life and the resilience of children who must go on with their life, despite everything they know falling down around them. She understands how those in pain reach out to other aching souls for comfort, friendship, and camaraderie. I could sympathize so well that my heart was heavy while reading, and I needed to put the book down.

I will one day return to “Nest”. Maybe when my son is older and he starts to learn the sad truth that illness exists and that bad things happen to good people. Perhaps when he is 12-years-old, all arms and legs, and squeaky voice. When he needs to know that no matter what, life goes on, and it is beautiful. I know it is odd to recommend a book you have not finished. Almost as odd as it is to put down a book you find so well written because you simply can’t finish, but I truly feel that “Nest” should be in every middle school and high school library. Go ahead and give it a try. I think it is worth it.

nest_esther_ehrlich

Book Review: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

I received a copy of this novel for free in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my opinion.

I would not like the narrator if I met him in person. He is self righteous, bitter , and jaded. He constantly makes jabs about modern society, revering the good old days of the 90s, before cell phones and digital libraries. There were points in which he was on a soapbox, and I desperately wanted him to step down and continue with the story. The truth is, I would not like half of the characters in this crazy story. And yet, I loved this book. I have never enjoyed a book so much when I disliked the characters so immensely. I almost gave up, but I didn’t. Garth Stein must have a gift, because even as the characters’ actions put me on edge, I kept reading. I wanted to know. No… I needed to know the secrets locked away in Riddel house. “A Sudden Light” is less of a ghost story than it is a portrait of a horribly broken and dysfunctional family, and the secret lies within the haunting. It is a coming of age story that resembles a train wreck. And. like I would continue to stare in horror as a train jumped its tracks and crashed, I could not take my eyes off the words on my screen.

There isn’t much I can say about this story without giving away the secrets within, so I will leave you with some impressions. My heart ached for these family members who hurt, lashed out, manipulated, and belittled one another even as those same interactions goaded me into anger. You can understand, as the story unfolds, what brought them to this point in their lives. Trust me, I felt like I needed counselling by the time I has swiped past the final page. The setting, so beautiful, and so depressing was a perfect fit for this tale.

Those who are looking for a straight forward haunted house story might be disappointed. “A Sudden Light” is character driven and full of lengthy poetic prose that call up the works of authors long dead. It contain powerful messages about love, duty, and conservation. What does a promise mean to the living? What does it mean to the dead? Is there a such thing as a truly happy ending?

“A Sudden Light” toes the line between young adult and adult books with a 34 year old narrator looking back on his fourteenth year, a time full of turbulence and change. I have no doubt that it will appeal to both audiences. It is also LGBTQ friendly. It is rare to find a young adult book that has a realistic and authentic gay relationship. I thought that Garth Stein handled it as he would any heterosexual relationship. It added to my enjoyment not to read a caricature of a gay couple as I have in other books. If you are a fan of character driven dramas, I would suggest you give this one a try, even if you don’t normally read ghost stories.

a sudden light garth stein

Deborah Harkness at Powell’s Books July 31st

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On Thursday night I had the pleasure of meeting Deborah Harkness, author of the best selling All Souls Trilogy which contains the books “Discovery of Witches”, “Shadow of Night”, and “The Book of Life”. I found the series shortly after the first book was released on a front display at Barnes and Noble. I have always been a fan of stories about witchcraft and the occult. On top of that, the cover was beautiful. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I will freely admit that the more attractive the cover, the more likely I am to notice it. I don’t think I even read the synopsis before picking it up, and I normally meticulously pour through reviews and ratings before committing my treasured free reading time to a new book series. I was not disappointed.

The All Souls Trilogy is the story of reluctant witch Diana and her vampire companion Matthew as they work together to find out the secrets of a mysterious manuscript that might hold the key to saving the supernatural world. No one knows what is in the manuscript, but that isn’t stopping them from hunting it down. Diana and Matthew’s journey take them on an action packed journey around the world, through the past and the present, surrounded by an amazingly rich cast of characters.

Deborah Harkness is a history professor and it shows in her work. Her approach to the supernatural is intelligent and grounded in history with scientific explanations to back up the existence of the paranormal. The character’s fears, their world views, and their actions are guided by evidence of how supernatural beings were thought of and dealt with historically. During the Q&A session she revealed that the idea came to her one day as she stared down a wall of supernatural fiction inspired by the recent release of “Breaking Dawn”. Knowing what she knew about history, it seemed strange that supernatural beings in these stories walked amongst normal people with no one noticing, and that witches seemed happy to be witches, which “historically was not a good career path for a woman”.  So, Diana’s character, a witch who did not want to be a witch, was born.

Ms. Harkness’ sense of humor, her passion for her stories and characters, showed through as she spoke to the full house at Powells. I cannot wait to dig into “The Book of Life” which is currently waiting for me to finish reading “The Belial Stone”. Until then, I will leave you with a few fun facts from the Q&A.

  • Ms. Harkness’ favorite historical character is Elizabeth the 1st, but for no particular reason.
  • She handles her fame by thinking of her fans as an extension of her students, only when she enters the room for a book signing, she knows everyone has done the reading.
  • There was an attempt to make a movie out of “A Discovery of Witches”, but it ended in an amicable breakup.
  • Male lead Matthew Clairmont is based on a missing poet named Matthew Roydon.
  • Originally Ms. Harkness thought she would be writing one book, but around page 400 she realized that is was going to be much longer than one book.

If you enjoy historical fiction and supernatural stories with a hint of romance and are looking for something a little bit different, I highly recommend the All Souls Trilogy.

Deborah Harkness Book Reading

The Crowd for Deborah Harkness Powell's Books

Book Reading with Deborah Harkness at Powell's Books

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