Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

thewickedcity

Blog Tour: The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

Beatriz Williams’ The Wicked City is an ode to the Roaring 20s, full of glitz and glamour. It wasn’t my first book by Williams – a few years ago I tried, and failed, to read The Secret Life of Violet Grant, though I think that was my timing and not the book. I went into The Wicked City with an open mind and very little knowledge of either the Jazz Age or the book itself.

The Wicked City spans two timelines, though the majority of the story takes place in the past. I’m generally a fan of alternating stories, but only when they’re done well. I need to feel connected to both timelines, and both sets of characters. Williams managed to hook me well enough, but I wanted a lot more about Ella. She felt largely unimportant, strange, considering the opening chapters. Perhaps her main purpose was to provide context for Gin’s story, which is ok – but frankly, didn’t add much.

In addition to the differing timelines, The Wicked City also switches perspectives. Gin’s story is told in first person, Ella’s in third. While jarring at first, because there’s so little of Ella in the book I eventually got used to it. I think the switch works, though; by hearing Gin’s story in her own words, we’re more involved in it.

I loved the setting for The Wicked City, and love that we’re starting to see more of the Jazz Age in both literature and cinema. I think the early half of the 20th century is one that a lot of us don’t know enough about – which is crazy, considering we’re not that far removed from it! History classes typically skipped over the details and went straight to the big pieces like the Great Depression and World War I, but there’s a lot of rich history left to uncover. Factual or not, I enjoyed The Wicked City if for no other reason than it gave my imagination an excuse to run wild.

Paperback: 384 pages    Published: December 2017 by William Morrow Paperbacks (reprint)

Source: Publisher via TLC

The Wicked City

In the first book of a breathtaking new trilogy by bestselling author Beatriz Williams, two generations of women are brought together inside a Greenwich Village apartment —a flapper hiding an extraordinary past, and a modern-day Manattanite forced to start her life anew.

When she discovers her banker husband has been harboring a secret life, Ella Gilbert escapes her SoHo loft for a studio in Greenwich Village. Her charismatic musician neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement after midnight, when a symphony of mysterious noise strikes up—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano, the occasional bloodcurdling scream—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the basement was home to one of the city’s most notorious speakeasies.

In 1924, Geneva “Gin” Kelly, a quick-witted flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway. Caught up in a raid, Gin lands in the office of Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather, Duke Kelly, one of the biggest bootleggers in Appalachia.

But Gin is nobody’s fool. She strikes a risky bargain with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent, and their alliance rattles Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead.

As Ella unravels the strange history of her new building—and the family thread that connects her to Geneva Kelly—she senses the Jazz Age spirit of her exuberant predecessor invading her own shy nature, in ways that will transform her existence in the wicked city.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Beatriz Williams

Photo by Marilyn Roos

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for the chance to participate in this tour! 

stars are fire

Review: The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve is known for writing characters readers want to root for. Her characters are often so real that we find ourselves imaging our own reactions to the situations she places them in. She writes in a way that makes us empathize, often without even realizing it. Her latest novel, The Stars Are Fire, is no different.

One thing I’ll mention – and this really wasn’t a big deal – is that other than being loosely set in a town ravaged by fires in 1947, there’s very little to make this a historical fiction novel. The story could easily have taken place in another town in another place. That’s part of what makes The Stars Are Fire beautiful. It’s a timeless story of survival and redemption.

The other quick thing I’ll say is that you need to stick with this one. It’s short, only about 250 pages, but don’t mistake short for quick. The first two chapters felt interminable, and that’s what’s kept me from giving The Stars Are Fire five stars. Thankfully, the story picks up in the third chapter, and just keeps going. After I hit that third chapter, I couldn’t put it down….it was a 3am night for me. Worth it, though.

At first, I had a hard time with Grace. I didn’t understand why she put up with her husband. But that’s the point – you need to be frustrated with her in order to cheer for her. A woman you assume will be weak and helpless, is quite the opposite – and she does it naturally, without fanfare. Grace simply sets her mind to what must be done, and does it. That’s not to say she doesn’t have help along the way, because she does. The secondary (and even tertiary) characters are all superb, and feel just as important as Grace.

I wanted more information about the Great Fires of 1947 after reading The Stars Are Fire. The New England Historical Society has a pretty good overview here if you’re interested. Last year we experienced terrible wildfires here in the Smokies. Who knows, maybe someday Anita Shreve will write a book about us.

Hardcover: 241 pages    Published: April 2017 by Knopf Publishing    Source: Library via Overdrive

Buy it on Amazon for $14

The Stars Are Fire on Goodreads

In October 1947, after a summer-long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort. They spend the night frantically protecting their children and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands’ fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. In the midst of this devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms–joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain–and her spirit soars. Then the unthinkable happens and Grace’s bravery is tested as never before.

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Blog Tour: The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

I vaguely remember reading a kid-friendly version of Little Women as a child – I’m not sure I ever read the full book, but I got enough of the gist to understand why everyone loved it. (That reminds me, I should probably read it as an adult – I’ll add that to the list.) I didn’t know much about Louisa May Alcott, but when I read the synopsis for The Other Alcott, I was immediately intrigued. Another Alcott sister, one who bucked convention as well? Sign me up.

Unfortunately, The Other Alcott failed to grab me, and this one is a DNF. Much as I tried, I couldn’t relate to May. The more I read, the more interested I was in Louisa – which is kinda the exact opposite of what The Other Alcott is trying to do. I don’t necessarily think this is anything to do with Hooper’s writing, but more about me as a reader. May reminded me a bit of other characters I’ve had trouble with –  Ellie in Summer at the Dog and Duck, Scarlett in Caraval, Cheryl Strayed in Wild…women who are billed as strong characters, but who have moments of such galling weakness that it makes me scratch my head and wonder if the author is trying to make them appear vulnerable (but leaning too far into it), or if the strength is a facade. If you’re the kind of reader who really likes watching a character constantly try to redeem themselves, The Other Alcott will likely be right up your alley. For me, it felt a little too whiny, and I wasn’t invested enough to give May a chance.

I’d love to read this with a book club though, because I suspect there’s a lot to talk about – especially if the book is paired with Little Women, and you compare and contrast May and Amy March. Someone do that, and fill me in!!

Paperback: 432 pages    Published: September 2017 by William Morrow    Source: Publisher via TLC

The Other Alcott on Goodreads

Elise Hooper’s debut novel conjures the fascinating, untold story of May Alcott—Louisa’s youngest sister and an artist in her own right.

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely The Other Alcott.

“Elise Hooper’s thoroughly modern debut gives a fresh take on one of literature’s most beloved families. To read this book is to understand why the women behind Little Women continue to cast a long shadow on our imaginations and dreams. Hooper is a writer to watch!”—Elisabeth Egan, author of A Window Opens

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Chris Landry Photography

About Elise Hooper

Though a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise Hooper lives with her husband and two young daughters in Seattle, where she teaches history and literature.

Find out more about Elise at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Check out the rest of the Blog Tour stops, and show your fellow readers some love!

 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for the chance to participate in this tour! 

Blog Tour: The Sworn Virgin by Kristopher Dukes

About The Sworn Virginswornvirgin

Hardcover: 352 pages
Published: August 2017 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours

Dukes’s gripping historical novel tells the tale of a desperate Albanian woman who will do whatever it takes to keep her independence and seize control of her future…even if it means swearing to remain a virgin for her entire life.

When eighteen-year-old Eleanora’s father is shot dead on the cobblestone streets of 1910 Albania, Eleanora must abandon her dream of studying art in Italy as she struggles to survive in a remote mountain village with her stepmother Meria.

Nearing starvation, Meria secretly sells Eleanora into marriage with the cruel heir of a powerful clan. Intent on keeping her freedom, Eleanora takes an oath to remain a virgin for the rest of her life—a tradition that gives her the right to live as a man: she is now head of her household and can work for a living as well as carry a gun. Eleanora can also participate in the vengeful blood feuds that consume the mountain tribes, but she may not be killed—unless she forsakes her vow, which she has no intention of ever doing.

But when an injured stranger stumbles into her life, Eleanora nurses him back to health, saving his life—yet risking her own as she falls in love with him…

“It’s hard to believe that the culture Dukes describes was ever real, but the amount of research she put into this book definitely shines through. The story remains fascinating throughout; readers will definitely find it difficult to put this novel down.”—San Francisco Book Review

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Kristopher Dukes

Kristopher Dukes was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She has been a nationally published writer since she was in high school. Her work has been featured in the bestselling book series Written in the Dirt and fashion bible WWD. She has been profiled in Vogue.fr, NY Times.com, Fast Company, Forbes.com, and WWD. The Sworn Virgin is her debut novel. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California, with her husband, Matt, and Doberman, Xena.

Connect with her on Facebook.

My Thoughts

Eleanora meant for each day to be an adventure, whether she traveled on foot or merely in her mind.

I just love that quote from the beginning of the book. It shows the person Eleanora could have been, should have been, and maybe would have been if her life had been different.

I’ve been really excited to read The Sworn Virgin ever since signing up for the blog tour a few months ago. I haven’t read a good historical fiction in a while, but it’s a genre I typically enjoy quite a bit. The idea of Eleanora’s story was right up my alley – a woman who swears herself a virgin in order to escape a terrible marriage, who then (of course) falls in love. But, I was also a little skeptical. It’s easy for that kind of story to go horribly wrong. And while I won’t go that far, though I enjoyed it, ultimately The Sworn Virgin left me wanting more.

My biggest beef was the pacing. The first 50 or so pages dragged so slowly for me. There’s a lot of exposition that’s important, but there’s also a lot that isn’t. That said, once the story finally got going, staying engaged was easy.

I didn’t like Eleanora, exactly, but I rooted for her. She struck me as sort of an unlikeable Cinderella at first – spoiled by her father, then has her whole life turned upside down by his death. (Without the singing animals, of course!) In fact, let’s talk about Eleanora for a minute. She’s only 18 years old in the story, but it’s really easy to forget that and think she’s older. Often I caught myself rolling my eyes at her or thinking she was ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time she WAS being ridiculous, but that’s a lot easier to accept – and forgive – when you remind yourself she’s 18.

Back to the pacing, I thought Eleanora’s interactions with Cheremi were entirely too rushed. Dukes spent a lot of time building up Eleanora as this semi-self-reliant, strong-willed sworn virgin, only to rush through her transition into “woman/wife.” For me, that created a distinct lack of tension that felt at odds with the rest of the story. I also struggled to see Cheremi as a love interest, and never truly cared about their relationship. The conflict resolved hastily, and in my mind, left a lot of loose ends (what happened to Meria!?). I do have to give Dukes credit for her ending though – while in a way it felt like the book just sorta stopped, I also think the ending worked.

I’m glad I read The Sworn Virgin. I enjoyed getting back into the historical fiction realm!

Check out the rest of the Blog Tour stops, and show your fellow readers some love!

 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Harper Wave for the chance to participate in this tour! 

Blog Tour: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

About News of the Worldnewsoftheworld

• Hardcover: 240 pages
• Published: June 2017 by William Morrow (reprint)
• Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours

Goodreads Description: In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

addtogoodreads

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

paulettejiles

Photo by Jill Gann

About Paulette Jiles

Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, TX.

Find out more about Paulette at her website.

My Thoughts

I admit that I’ve only read half of News of the World. I thought I’d have plenty of time with a 200 page book to knock it out over the weekend. I didn’t think about the fact that it was the 4th of July weekend.

News of the World is the kind of story that makes you feel like you’re in it. It’s slow and steady, with almost a rolling cadence to the words. Jiles writes in a way that uses very few words to describe character interactions – but those words are chosen carefully enough to have maximum impact. Reading it, I feel like I’m in the wagon with Captain Kidd and Johanna.

I’m really enjoying the way the Captain and Johanna are learning to get along. Watching Johanna’s experience makes me stop and think about being a stranger in a strange land. I think a lot of the themes are ones that apply today, despite the fact that News of the World is set right after the Civil War.

I don’t want to give this one a rating yet, because I’m not finished with it – but if I had to guess, it’ll be a solid 4 stars. Don’t be fooled by the short length – News of the World has the makings of a great story.

Check out the rest of the Blog Tour stops, and show your fellow readers some love!

 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for the chance to participate in this tour! 

Book Club: Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

About Moloka’i

• Book Club: March 2017 
• Paperback: 
405 pages
• Published: October 2004 by St. Martin’s Griffin
• Source: Purchased

Goodreads DescriptionThis richly imagined novel, set in Hawai’i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place—and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

My Thoughts

We forgot to choose a theme for March, so I came prepared with a couple random recommendations, and everyone “ooohed” at Moloka’i, so that’s what we went with. I can’t even tell you how long I’ve wanted to read this book. Years. Many years. I’m fairly certain I suggested it at least one other time for book club. And now I finally got to read it! (This is one of the books I listed as a “priority” for my 2017 Goodreads reading challenge, so I get to mark one off my list!)

Moloka’i tells the story of Rachel, a young Hawaiian girl diagnosed with leprosy (or Hanssen’s Disease) at age six. At seven, she’s sent to the island of Moloka’i to live in the leper colony at Kalaupapa. She’s one of the lucky ones who has someone already on the island – her uncle Pono – since her parents and siblings aren’t able to join her. Rachel grows up on Moloka’i, and spends the majority of her life there with the people she comes to consider family.

I loved this book. Moloka’i might sound like a depressing story – after all, Rachel is diagnosed with a horrible disease, sent away from her family, and forced to live in exile for most of her life. She loses so much, so many people. And yet – it’s not a depressing story at all. Quite the opposite. It’s uplifting and heartwarming, because you come to see that the people who live on Kalaupapa are their own family. They build a community full of love and support. To the rest of the world they’re castoffs, but in Kalaupapa, they’re just people. There’s no stigma, no hate. It’s an emotional story, to be sure, but one that’s well done.

Book Club Discussion

We all loved Moloka’i. We loved the characters, we loved the writing, and we loved learning about a history we’d never known. We talked about how our education focused on other parts of US History, and how we realized we knew next to nothing about Hawaii. We talked about how sad it was how lepers were treated, about the stigma, and about the toll it took on families. At the same time, we talked about how the people on Kalaupapa led rich, full lives – if not easy ones.

April’s Book Club Theme: Fun and Fresh

Book Club: Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

About Moloka’i

• Book Club: March 2017 
• Paperback: 
405 pages
• Published: October 2004 by St. Martin’s Griffin
• Source: Purchased

Goodreads DescriptionThis richly imagined novel, set in Hawai’i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place—and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

My Thoughts

We forgot to choose a theme for March, so I came prepared with a couple random recommendations, and everyone “ooohed” at Moloka’i, so that’s what we went with. I can’t even tell you how long I’ve wanted to read this book. Years. Many years. I’m fairly certain I suggested it at least one other time for book club. And now I finally got to read it! (This is one of the books I listed as a “priority” for my 2017 Goodreads reading challenge, so I get to mark one off my list!)

Moloka’i tells the story of Rachel, a young Hawaiian girl diagnosed with leprosy (or Hanssen’s Disease) at age six. At seven, she’s sent to the island of Moloka’i to live in the leper colony at Kalaupapa. She’s one of the lucky ones who has someone already on the island – her uncle Pono – since her parents and siblings aren’t able to join her. Rachel grows up on Moloka’i, and spends the majority of her life there with the people she comes to consider family.

I loved this book. Moloka’i might sound like a depressing story – after all, Rachel is diagnosed with a horrible disease, sent away from her family, and forced to live in exile for most of her life. She loses so much, so many people. And yet – it’s not a depressing story at all. Quite the opposite. It’s uplifting and heartwarming, because you come to see that the people who live on Kalaupapa are their own family. They build a community full of love and support. To the rest of the world they’re castoffs, but in Kalaupapa, they’re just people. There’s no stigma, no hate. It’s an emotional story, to be sure, but one that’s well done.

Book Club Discussion

We all loved Moloka’i. We loved the characters, we loved the writing, and we loved learning about a history we’d never known. We talked about how our education focused on other parts of US History, and how we realized we knew next to nothing about Hawaii. We talked about how sad it was how lepers were treated, about the stigma, and about the toll it took on families. At the same time, we talked about how the people on Kalaupapa led rich, full lives – if not easy ones.

April’s Book Club Theme: Fun and Fresh