Black Berry and Wild Rose

black berry and wild rose

 

Printed Length: 416 pages
Published: January 10, 2019, by Quercus

 

Besides reading, my other main hobby is knitting, so I am always interested in fabric arts. When I saw this historical fiction book about weaving silk in England, I knew it was a book I’d enjoy.

The story revolves around two women characters. Esther Thorel is the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, and Sara Kemp is a young woman who is tricked into working in a brothel. Esther rescues Sarah from her situation and hires her to work in her household as her ladies maid. She looks upon Sara as her charitable cause in pursuing God’s will, not realizing the hypocrisies she holds. Esther has a creative vision and longs to design the fabrics for the silk weavers. She approaches her husband about designing for his fabrics, but he tells her that it is impossible because she is a woman. Not to be thwarted, Esther secretly works out a deal with one of the journeymen to have her design woven. There are plenty of secrets in the Thorel household, and trouble is brewing because the journeymen weavers are becoming unhappy because of the unfair treatment in the industry of weaving silk.

This is another book about a talented woman who is denied the opportunity to use her skills because of her gender; She perseveres anyway. Sara is also a strong and feisty character. The comparison of their lives from different socio-economic stations highlights that there were little opportunities for any women during that time. Esther’s husband was not a nice man, and there was nothing redeemable portrayed about him. He was not kind to his wife or the journeymen who worked for him. The story is interesting, but I didn’t feel I learned as much about weaving silk as I would have liked. It was fascinating learning about the competition developed during the time because of cheaper fabric that was being sold “under the counter,” causing the silk weavers to lose money.

I did listen to the audiobook version of the book and enjoyed Esther Wane and Shiromi Arserio’s narration.

My Rating: 3.5

 

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

cleopatra's daughter

Print Length: 429 pages
Published: 2009 by Quercus

 

I selected this book for my genre study books to discuss this month. We are doing ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece historical novels. I’ve read a couple of other Michelle Moran books that I enjoyed, and I had looked at this one previously, so I selected it. I’m glad I did because most of the group did not enjoy their book selections.
The book begins at the end of Cleopatra’s life. Octavian has invaded Egypt, and Cleopatra takes her own life, leaving behind three children. Selene and Alexander are eleven-year-old twins, and they have a younger brother, Ptolomy. They are captured and taken to Rome to be raised by Octavia, who also had a child fathered by their father, Mark Anthony. Because they were captured rather than killed, Selene and Alexander are fearful of what will happen to them. The book spans the years until they are fifteen.
The story is told from Selene’s perspective. She is a strong character that has has a lot of sympathy for the many injustices she sees. She is not afraid to voice her opinion even though it could bring her great danger. Some of the injustices portrayed are babies who are thrown out in the streets because of deformities, being the wrong sex, or just unwanted. Slaves are also being mistreated. Moran develops a fictional character called the Red Eagle, who is trying to stir up a rebellion among the slaves, and everyone is trying to determine who the Red Eagle is. The book has political intrigue, and the threat of danger because no one knew who they could trust.
If you are looking for a book that is easy to read to get an overview of the period brought to life, this would be a good selection. Because it is told from Selene’s perspective and she is a young adult, this would probably appeal to young adults as well as adults. There is nothing too graphic in the book, like a lot of the others set in this me period, because it was a brutal period. I did read one review where the reviewer was critical of some inaccuracies in the book, such as the price of a denari at the time. I do think she researched the book, though, so that broad historical parts are accurate. I did feel the book wrapped up rather quickly, and I would have like to have heard more about her later years, where she became a ruler.
I did listen to the audiobook version, which was well-narrated by Wanda MacCaddon . The only problem I had listening was keeping up at first with the characters because I’m not well-versed in that particular part of history. The print version has a historical timeline, character list, and maps, which of course, you can’t get with an audiobook. Seeing that character list helped me a lot.
My Rating: 4 Stars

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

the white chrysanthemum

Hardcover: 320 pages
Published: January 30, 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

 

 

I seem to be in a Historical Fiction phase at the moment. My neighborhood book group selected this book for our discussion this month. The subject matter is about the “comfort” women during the Japanese occupation of Korea. There were over 20,000 women that were captured by the Japanese soldiers to become their sex slaves and is a piece of history that has not been widely publicized.

The history is told through the story about two sisters. In 1943, sixteen years old Hana was a haenyeo (a fisherwoman who dives in the ocean). One day as she comes up from the ocean she sees a Japanese soldier heading toward her younger sister, Emi, who is sitting on the beach and temporarily hidden from the soldier’s view. To protect her sister, Hana diverts the soldier away. Hana is captured, and her horrific life in captivity begins. Emi’s story and the guilt she has felt for sixty years is told in 2011 as she reveals to her children what has happened.

This well-written book is difficult to read and heartbreaking, but I’m glad that I’ve been made aware of that piece of history. The book was obviously well-researched, and it is a good thing that the author has written this book because there are only 44 remaining known women who survived. Their stories may not be around for a lot longer. I probably would have rated the book higher except for a couple of odd things that only pertain to me. The first is that I have fairly recently read Lisa See’s Island of the Sea Women that told the story of the Haenyeo. That is a fascinating piece of history that would have impressed me more if I hadn’t just already read about that. Also, having read recently about the Russian Jewish women who were taken to South America from Russia to be prostitutes was too much on my mind and somewhat similar.

My Rating: 3.5-4 Stars

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence

Print Length: 512 pages
Published: October 1, 2019 by Philomel Books
This is my third book by Ruta Sepetys, and I feel she is a historical fiction author I can count on.  Her books are considered Young Adult because the main characters are in their teens through their twenties, but don’t let that discourage you as an adult from selecting one of her books.  If you do, you will be passing by on an excellent author and the opportunity to read some outstanding historical fiction.

The book’s blurb has summarized it well with this sentence:

“A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.”

The book begins in Madrid during 1957, after the Spanish Civil War, and during Dictator, General Francisco Franco’s rule. The country is seeking money and encouraging tourism and soliciting celebrities of the days. One of the families that come to stay at the hotel is a wealthy oil tycoon, his Spanish wife, and their son, Daniel, who is an aspiring photographer. Daniel’s path crosses with Ana, the hotel’s maid assigned to Daniel’s family, allowing him to see the country and peoples from the inside, enlightening him on the difficulties and struggles of the people and some of the country’s secrets. They also develop a romantic relationship. One of Ana’s siblings, Rafa, was old enough to witness his parents’ opposition to Franco and their subsequent death. He works two jobs, one at the slaughterhouse and one at the graveyard, trying to help the family live. He has a friend, Fuga, who dreams of becoming a bullfighter. Puri is Ana’s cousin, who works at an orphanage. Daniel also becomes friends with Ben, an American journalist who encourages him to dig behind the scenes to uncover the truth about what is happening in Spain.

The book reflects Sepetys’s extensive research. There are many well-drawn characters in the book, and their paths all intersect, allowing the author to skillfully portray a broad spectrum of various aspects during the time. The story is compelling and enlightened me on a piece of history I was not previously familiar with. The period shifts in the latter part of the book to portray what has happened in the interim. Sepetys also has adroitly sprinkled in historical documents that give insight into American thoughts on what was transpiring at the time. Sepetys has produced another winner.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

such a fun age

Print Length: 320 pages
Published: December 31, 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
I seem to be on a roll with reading books that are then picked by celebrity book groups.  I read this one last month, and it is now it is Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick for this month.  It’s a good selection for a book group with things to talk about.

Alix Chamberlain is one of the haves, married to a TV newscaster and owner of a blog website business. She has hired Emira Tucker, a twenty-six-year-old African American, to take care of her children. While Emira is out with her girlfriends late one night, she receives a phone call from Alix asking her to come over and take her toddler to the grocery down the street. Someone has thrown a rock through their window, and Alix doesn’t want her daughter, Briar, to be upset when the police arrive. While at the grocery store, a white woman notifies the security guard at the store that she thinks Emira is kidnapping the child. Although Emira tried to explain the situation, it quickly escalates until a white by-stander starts recording the whole situation on his cell phone. He seeks to encourage Emira that she should use his video and take action. She refuses. Their paths cross again, and they begin a relationship that upturns both Alix and Emira’s lives.

This book has a lot in it regarding race, problems sometimes created by well-intentioned white people, what it means to be family, social commentary, life choices, and finding direction. The characters are interesting and well-developed, and the storyline is compelling.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy to review for an honest opinion.

 

My Rating:  4 Stars

 

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day

the lucky one

Print Length:  400 pages
Published: February 18, 2020 by William Morrow

Lori Rader-Day was an author I had heard of but wasn’t big on my radar.  Then I realized she’s won a few awards and was born in a small town right next to mine, so I decided to check her out.  I am glad I did.

The book caught my attention from the very beginning.

As a toddler, Alice was abducted from her yard in the small Indiana town where she lived. Her father was a policeman and fortunately was able to recover her pretty quickly. Although Alice’s father found her, the incident motivated her father to leave the police force and move the family to Chicago. He started a construction business, and now adult Alice somewhat reluctantly works there. Although she remembers snapshots from that day, she doesn’t remember everything and continues to be haunted by the experience. Alice works with a group of other volunteers on the internet through a website called the Doe Pages to try to locate missing persons or identify unidentified bodies to give peace to the family members left behind. Her life changes when she is scanning the Doe Pages one day and sees a picture of the man who abducted her.
I would say this book is both a mystery and a thriller. There is the mystery surrounding the events of Alice’s kidnapping, and there is also the thriller element of foreboding, anticipating danger around the corner. This book does not have the fast-paced aspect of most thrillers, though. The pace gradually builds throughout the book and becomes much faster as everything starts coming together. A lot is going on in this book. The storyline is detailed and well-plotted with some interesting side characters like the two women from the Doe Pages who decide to help Alice look for her kidnapper. I found the idea of a group of people looking for missing people fascinating, and since I live in Indiana, I loved that Rader-Day set some parts there.  I would have rated this higher except that I found it was a little long.  I think that part of it could have been removed to move it along more.

My Rating:  4 Stars

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

nothing to see here

Print Length: 256 pages
Published: October 29, 2019 by Ecco

 

Although this book got a lot of positive press before its publication, I passed on it because it  just sounded too strange.  Then I heard Jenna Bush Hager promoting it for her book group and became intrigued.  I’m glad I decided to give it a try.  It’s a fun, quirky  book.

Lillian and Madison college roommates. Madison is lovely and wealthy; Lillian is not. She is attending on a need-based scholarship. Although they come from different backgrounds, they click. After an unfortunate event, Lillian leaves the school. Although they don’t see each other, they do correspond by letter occasionally. One day out of the blue, Lillian receives a request from Madison to come to her house to meet her. Madison now lives in a mansion and is married to an up and coming politician. He has twins from a previous marriage, and Madison wants Lillian to become their nanny now that they will be living with them after the mother’s death. The only problem is the twins have a condition where they spontaneously combust into flames. Because of her husband’s political career, they want her to keep the children out of the limelight.

Odd as it sounds, this book is delightful. The characters are well-developed, and the story is such a heart-warming one. I’m amazed at the writing because once I got into the book, the catching on fire bit didn’t seem so odd. It’s a book about finding love, your family, and your purpose. I applaud the author for such a unique story.

My Rating: 4.5

 

 

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

whisper network

Print Length: 352 pages
Published: July 2, 2019 by Flatiron Books

 

I am way behind on my blog posts! It isn’t because I haven’t been reading; I just haven’t been writing. I’ll try to get caught up quickly in the next few days. The first one in my catch up is Whisper Network. This one was one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks. I started it sooner but had to put it down to read something else at the time. It just took me a bit to get back to it.

This book has perfect timing with the #MeToo movement. It tells the story of four women who all work for a man named Ames at a company called Truviv. Ames comes up for promotion after the death of the CEO of the company. There have been whispers for years about Ames, and then his name appears on the “bad” list. It’s a list that begins circulating around the town of men who have sexually harassed women in the workforce. The women decide enough is enough and take action to make their voices heard.

Having worked in the business world for most of my career, I could relate to what was presented. Although I didn’t have to deal with overt sexual harassment, I did experience some inappropriate behavior from men. Baker did a good job of moving the story along through the use of different points of view of the women. Although some reviewers  mistakenly thought this was going to be a thriller, it is not. It does have some twists in it, though, which added to the appeal of the book. The first unexpected twist for me in the book also raised some questions for me that I feel would make for a good discussion. Although I enjoyed the book, I felt through the first half that some of the subject matter could have been addressed a little more substantially.  My opinion, however, changed over the course of the book.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill (Simon Serrailler #1)

the various haunts of men

Print Length: 438 pages
Published: April 19, 2007 by Harry N. Abrams (first published 2004)

The Various Haunts of Men is the first in the Simon Serrailler Series and was this month’s mystery group selection. I was looking forward to reading it because I usually like the suggestions that are made by the member who suggested this. I do wish, however, that it had been put on the calendar for another month. December is a busy time and tough to get a “required” book finished.
Detective Sargeant Freya Graffham has recently moved from London to the small town of Lafferton after a divorce. She becomes interested in a case involving a missing woman who was an Elder Care Nurse. Soon there are other disappearances as well. Are they all connected? She pursues these cases even though others have lost interest. She also becomes interested in her boss, Detective Constable, Simon Serrailler, who apparently has a reputation of breaking many women’s’ hearts.
Oddly enough, even though this is touted as a Simon Serrailler mystery, DS Graffham is the main character in this book. Serrailer’s family is also prominent in the book and was almost featured more than he was as well. I actually enjoyed the inclusion of his family. It added more depth. There are many characters, and I was thankful that another member of our group sent us a character list, which helped me keep everyone straight. The book felt a little slow to me in the beginning. I think that was because we had to get all the information about all the various characters. As one person in the group pointed out, a plus to the book is that it does have strong women. I also enjoyed reading a book where the main character isn’t a drunken/divorced/dark character, yet the mystery also has substance. I did enjoy the parts of the book regarding various people going to see the alternative healers, mediums, etc. It provided something different than my usual mystery. I’m usually not a big fan of serial killer books; however, this one was more interesting because there were periodic chapters from the killer that revealed what he was thinking. I enjoyed this well-written book, and probably would have rated it higher if it had had a different ending and if there weren’t so many characters. I do plan on reading book #2.

My Rating: 4 Stars

American Royals by Katherine McGee (American Royals #1)

american royals

Print Length: 448 pages
Published: September 3, 2019 by Random House

What if America had made George Washington our first King rather than our first President? That’s the basis for this new series.

The story is set in present-day and features the royal children, Beatrice, who will be the first woman to inherit the throne, and her younger twin siblings, Samantha and Jefferson. Other significant characters include Nina, Samantha’s commoner best friend since childhood and despicable Daphne, who previously dated Jefferson for 3 years and will do anything to get him back so she can become a royal herself. The book is like a familiar, predictable romantic comedy, which I am enjoying more and more these days. The romances with the children become a tangled web, and although predictable, I still was eager to see the details of the direction the stories would take.

Even though this is set in America, I did keep envisioning the British royalty in my mind until there was an American reference mentioned. I guess that’s because it’s just hard to imagine us having a royal family, and I’m so familiar with Britain’s. I was enjoying this fun, light story until near the end. The end wrapped up rather quickly and ended on a cliff-hanger. I guess this was necessary because this appears to be the first of a series. I do want to read the next one to see what happens. I would have enjoyed this more, though, if it had just been a stand-alone rather than a series. If you are looking for a fun, light read and enjoy books about royalty, I’d recommend this one. I did listen to the audiobook narrated by Brittany Pressley and enjoyed the narration.

My Rating: 4 Stars