I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott


I, Eliza HamiltonI, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott
(Kensington ~ September 26, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Required reading for Hamilton fans, and highly recommended for all historical fiction fans and history buffs in general!

Thanks to Kensington Books for this review copy – all opinions are my own.

Let’s start out with the fact that I am a major Hamilton geek. My kids and I have the complete soundtrack to the musical memorized, and we have spent hours and hours discussing the musical itself, as well as the Revolution book and numerous other titles about Hamilton’s life. When I reviewed a young adult title last winter about Alex and Eliza I actually had Chernow’s biography of Hamilton open next to me to fact-check that title (and it didn’t match up, by the way). All of this means that my review is either incredibly biased, OR it just means that I have a lot of background knowledge to use in my review – you choose.

Scott manages to include incredibly detailed historical narrative along with her telling of Eliza’s story, beginning with the events where Eliza and Alexander meet. The romance and relationship are compelling enough on their own, but this book also serves as a primer on much of the Revolutionary War, sure to satisfy even the most stickler of history buffs. At over 400 pages, this novel is NOT a light romance story despite what the cover may convey – it is a political tome that absolutely fascinated me, especially the medical details (I’m a medical history fan – give me a book about Bellevue Hospital and I’m in heaven). Fans of Hamilton the musical will be compelled to have the soundtrack playing at all times during the reading of this book, and will then be forced to compare the differences between these two accounts of events – for readers like me, that’s a dream job!

Scott wowed me with this book – she chatted with me numerous times on Instagram about Eliza while I was reading it and I can not say enough about her devotion to historical detail and this story – she is amazing! We chatted about how this book is not at all inspired by the musical and is in no way fan fiction, but the musical has definitely helped bring attention to this title. Her website provides such wonderful details about her research and additional historical background on the events and places in the book – it’s a treasure trove for history-lovers and gives such a rich extended reading experience. I highly recommending checking out her blog along with this title.

If you love US history and can’t get enough of Hamilton in your life, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you are expecting a frothy romance, however, this will surely surprise you with its academic nature.

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Caroline: Little House Revisited by Sarah Miller

I am so very excited to share with all of you a conversation with the author of the brand-new historical fiction title Caroline: Little House Revisited ~ Sarah Miller very graciously agreed to answer all of the questions I had for her about Caroline Ingall’s prejudices toward American Indians. This is one of my very, very favorite things about being a book reviewer – getting to go deeper into stories and actually have these conversations with authors!

Please head over to Goodreads to check out my 4-STAR review of this novel – it was out on September 19th, 2017 from William Morrow!

Author Q&A With Sarah Miller

We decided to leave this conversation pretty much intact from our email back-and-forth since I love how Sarah takes my initial rambling thoughts and massively expands upon them. So many things for us all to think about on this topic! Okay, here it is:

KATE:

Hi Sarah!

I am so so happy to have had a chance to read an early copy of Caroline – thanks again! And thanks for being willing to discuss with me.

I’m really in the pondering stages with my thoughts on the racism angle, and have you to thank for inspiring me to do a LOT of additional reading this morning!

In my professional life, I read deeply on #ownvoices and the accurate representation of marginalized groups for children’s literature, and have read a lot about Little House on the Prairie as it pertains to children – my very long thoughts on this can be condensed into this very simplistic paragraph:

The books were written by a person of that time period raised by people with certain racist beliefs that were common in that time period – we know now that the beliefs were misguided and that the entire situation involving the removal of American Indians from their lands was wrong. It’s fine for children to read these books with appropriate context given by adults, and questioning encouraged, as these discussions spark greater dialogue about racism and what is right. We also need to be sure to include counterpart texts written by people of these marginalized groups showing their stories.

It’s interesting reading Caroline because I see how well you wrote the context surrounding Caroline’s reactions, and made it apparent to readers that she was misguided and felt differently than Charles did. Adult readers understand the historical aspect and understand the true situation involving American Indians, so I don’t have the same concerns as I have with kidlit.

I guess what I’m struggling with in my attempt to promote accurate representation and diversity, is the romanticism surrounding this story, and if it were a man would we be more quick to judge him harshly? If this were a white woman in a story set in the antebellum south and the “others” were black, what would we think? Please know that this is not in any way a criticism of your work or the book, but just my general professional ponderings and my quest to understand the great big world of history, context and interpretation as we move through time and the general cultural belief systems shift.

SARAH: Thank you for broaching this topic! It’s something that’s been very much on my mind as I worked, but until you asked I hadn’t given myself the opportunity to try to articulate my thoughts into a cohesive whole. I had a lot more to say than I anticipated.

One of the best pieces of advice I received while working on this book was to NOT explain/excuse Caroline’s racism. Racism is the default in 1870. Even if she hadn’t been aware of the so-called “Sioux Uprising” of 1862 that likely fueled her darkest fears, she would have been prejudiced against American Indians. That fact makes people uncomfortable, and I am a-OK with readers experiencing that kind of discomfort.

Note —

My usage of Ma, Mrs. Ingalls, and Caroline is not arbitrary. For clarity within my own mind, I established distinct definitions between the three as I researched and wrote Caroline: Little House, Revisited, and those distinctions have stuck.

Ma: The matriarch of the fictional Ingalls family, invented by Laura Ingalls Wilder and modeled closely on her own mother.

Mrs. Ingalls (also Caroline Ingalls): The actual living, breathing woman who was born in Brookfield, Wisconsin in 1839 and died in De Smet, South Dakota in 1924.

Caroline: My own fictional hybrid of the two.

KATE: It’s interesting reading Caroline because I see how well you wrote the context surrounding Caroline’s reactions, and made it apparent to readers that she was misguided and felt differently than Charles did.

Thank you! But did Pa actually feel differently? Once I really started to ponder this, a whole bunch of new thoughts happened. (See below.)

KATE: I guess what I’m struggling with in my attempt to promote accurate representation and diversity, is the romanticism surrounding this story —

What I see people struggling with when it comes to racism and Laura Ingalls Wilder is this idea:

If her writing is racist, and I love her books, what does that say about…me?

Who wants to acknowledge that? I’m not sure which is harder, acknowledging racism in a beloved author, or in yourself.

One curious work-around I’ve noticed is the habit of assigning the novels’ racism entirely to the characters rather than Laura Ingalls Wilder herself. When the narrator says in The Long Winter that Ma “looked as if she were smelling the smell of an Indian whenever she said the word,” that’s Wilder’s racism on display as much or more than Ma’s. Granted, Ma apparently turned her nose up at the very mention of Indians, a blatant reaction of distaste. But it’s actually Wilder who’s spoon-feeding us the more distasteful idea that Indians stink. Similarly, despite popular belief to the contrary, Ma is not the one who says “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” in Little House on the Prairie. That vile remark comes from Mr. & Mrs. Scott — fictional characters likely invented by Wilder. (I haven’t been able to figure out how that statement got attributed to Ma. Maybe in the TV show?) How many times does a person get to make you wince before you have to concede, Yep…that’s some racism right there.

Have you seen the video Grace Lin did on this topic? It’s terrific.

I love what she says, and I love that it specifically addresses Ma Ingalls. Shouldn’t we also apply the same thinking to Laura Ingalls Wilder? You still get to love her, even though she’s flawed. I mean, if you’re not allowed to love flawed people, you pretty much can’t love anybody.

KATE: — and if it were a man would we be more quick to judge him harshly?

That is such an interesting angle to ponder.

The more I think about it, the more I think the opposite might be true. Consider that it’s Pa, not Ma, who refers to the Osages in demeaning terms: “screeching devils” and “common trash.” It’s Pa who deliberately settles his family on other people’s land in hopes that they will be displaced so he can take possession of it. (Don’t fall for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s excuse about “blasted politicians” upending Pa’s good intentions, by the way. Charles Ingalls could not have been ignorant of the fact that he settled several miles within the Osage Diminished Reserve. Almost the whole of Montgomery County was within the Diminished Reserve’s boundaries.) He doesn’t appear frightened of the Osages, but he has very little regard for them as people. Yes, he calls them “peaceable,” and maintains that if they’re not provoked, they’ll do no harm. But just now for the first time I’m thinking to myself, Wait a minute — listen to that again. That’s the kind of thing you’d tell your child when you find a bees’ nest in the yard: If you don’t poke it, they won’t sting you. Underneath his cavalier tone I’m hearing a subtext of, They’re dangerous and unpredictable and we can’t reason with them. Remember how he reacts when he finds out Laura and Mary almost turned Jack loose on the first two Osage men to enter the cabin? I think he’s a lot more wary than he appears. If he believes they’re so friendly and peaceable, why does he tell Ma, “We don’t want to make enemies out of any Indians”? It goes without saying that nobody wants to make enemies — of anyone. What is it about the Osages that makes him feel the need to state the obvious?

And yet it’s Ma who has the reputation of being the biggest racist in the Ingalls family — bigger even than Jack the bulldog, who “all the time…lay and hated the Indians.” In Little House on the Prairie, Ma is characterized as fearful rather than hateful. She feels more vulnerable than Pa because she’s a woman. In her mind, Indians are a threat to her safety, and her daughters’ safety. Does she also see Indians as less than human? Very probably, but without being privy to the real Mrs. Ingalls’s actual thoughts, I can’t be sure what the answer to that question is. All we’ve got to go on is the fictionalized, secondhand word of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who saw her mother only once after leaving South Dakota at age 27. Ma certainly sees American Indian culture as less civilized, which lends her an unmistakable air of superiority that makes modern readers squirm. The fact that she doesn’t want her daughters to mimic Indians’ appearance or (stereotypical) behavior by getting tanned in the sun, or yelling, sure doesn’t bode well.

So yes, Ma’s negative reactions are much more overt than Pa’s, but I’d be sorely tempted to argue that Pa’s veiled prejudice is more harmful to young readers (maybe even readers of any age) than Ma’s fear. The irrationality of her fear is so easy to see nowadays that we pity Ma even as we condemn her prejudice. Meanwhile, Pa’s insidious attitudes fly so far under the radar that he gets a proverbial cookie for being more progressive than his wife.

Personally, I can’t help wondering if Mrs. Ingalls truly hated Indians. That’s certainly how Laura Ingalls Wilder interpreted her mother’s reaction toward them. Yet I can’t recall an instance in the Little House series where Ma Ingalls exhibits hatred rather than fear. Fear is still racism, of course, but it feels more…dare I say palatable somehow?…than hatred. There’s a moment in my novel where Caroline does realize, briefly, that her perceptions have been distorted by fear. It would have been immensely satisfying to a modern reader if I had turned that moment into a larger epiphany. But that option simply was not available to me. You can’t impose current sensibilities onto an historical figure, especially when there’s evidence to the contrary. Laura Ingalls Wilder said her (fictional) mother hated Indians, and I have no choice but to take her at her word, regardless of how I want to view Ma’s behavior. Maybe I ask this question because I love Mrs. Ingalls, and so deep down I do secretly wish I could exonerate her racism somehow. She is such a good woman otherwise that it’s difficult to reconcile.

That’s something white folks often fail to admit — that racists are not all terrible human beings. I’m becoming more and more aware that in books and in movies, characters who are racist are almost always people you wouldn’t want to spend time with in the first place. Think of Kirsten Dunst’s character in Hidden Figures, for example. Everything she says to Dorothy Vaughn/Octavia Spencer is tinged with snottiness and superiority. That’s because for the most part, racists in fiction are also all-around jerks. That is just not true to life. I’m convinced it’s a story white people keep telling so that we can feel good about ourselves: If we are not jerks, then we can’t be racists. In reality, I know nice people who are also racist — perhaps not overtly or even consciously, but racist nonetheless. It’s difficult not to be racist at last once in awhile when you’re part of a society where racism is institutionalized and endemic. (In that sense, you could perhaps argue that Laura Ingalls Wilder is more honest about racism than we are today.)

I almost always bring up my grandpa in discussions like this. He was born in Nebraska in 1915. My understanding is that until he moved to Detroit as a teenager, he’d never heard the word negro. Where he grew up, a different word that starts with N was in vogue. He also didn’t know that the proper usage of jew is as a noun — where he came from, it was a verb. He grew up using racist vocabulary because those terms were the default. But once he learned better, he did better. He lived to be 100 years old and I never in my life heard him speak disparagingly of black or jewish people.

Point being? You can do/say/think racist things without being a capital-R Racist. You can unconsciously perpetuate racism without being a Racist. Progress might advance much more quickly if white people could get accustomed to that fact, instead of reacting like someone’s found a white hood in the back of the coat closet when we get called out. Everybody gets it wrong sometimes, and some mistakes are more cringe-worthy than others. But if you learn better and then consciously refuse to do better? Well, then you’ve probably just exposed yourself as a Racist.

Caroline Ingalls — the real Caroline Ingalls — undoubtably said and did and thought racist things. Was she a Racist? I don’t know. I’d like very much to think not, but again, how many times does she have to make *me* wince before I’ve got to concede the point? I can’t imagine Mrs. Ingalls supporting the Klan, for instance, but on the other hand I don’t much want to contemplate what her opinion of Indian boarding schools might have been. I’d like to think that if she learned better, she’d have done better. She died in 1924, though. I’d hazard a guess that there weren’t many opportunities to get woke in her lifetime.

If this were a white woman in a story set in the antebellum south and the “others” were black, what would we think?

I suspect we would be much quicker to condemn her racism in that context. Why is that? Is it more “ok” to be prejudiced against American Indians than African Americans? Of course it’s not. But as a society we do seem less attuned to discrimination toward Native people. People just don’t see/recognize racism against American Indians as readily as other kinds of discrimination. There are still plenty of folks who will argue that Laura Ingalls Wilder was not racist, simply because fictional-Laura questions Pa about why the Osages have to leave their land. These folks are entirely willing to overlook her degrading descriptions of the Osage men who enter the cabin, and the “Indian War-cry” chapter which has no basis in reality. Nor do they recognize the stereotype of the noble savage in Soldat du Chene. And that business with the Indians wearing “fresh” reeking skunk skins? That’s crazytalk. People accept that kind of nonsense because Laura was there, and Laura was nice.

I used to be one of those people. I learned during the course of my research to pay attention to more than what the characters say and do, to pay as much or more attention to what the narrative voice — the author’s voice, in the case of Laura Ingalls Wilder — says about Native people. What can be more telling than Wilder’s description of Indian Territory in the first edition of Little House on the Prairie as a land where “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.” When the implication was pointed out to her in 1952, Wilder admitted it was a “stupid blunder” and said she’d never meant to suggest that Indians were not people. With her consent the text was changed to “there were no settlers.” But intent is irrelevant. The fact remains that for twenty years, one of the most widely read children’s books of a generation did not recognize Osages as humans.

When I began to recognize Wilder’s racism, I realized that one of my biggest challenges with Caroline would be to convey the characters’ fears and prejudices without allowing my own narrative voice to succumb to any racist attitudes and descriptions. I hope and pray I’ve been successful.

THANK YOU, SARAH!

We would love to hear your questions and thoughts on this in the comments below!

City of Spies by Sorayya Khan

City of Spies by Sorayya Khan
(Little A Books – September 19, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

CITY OF SPIES is a critically important and fascinating read in our time of political strife and international crisis.

Thank you to Little A for providing me with an advance review copy of this title – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

In this intimate coming-of-age story set in the late 1970s, a young girl struggles to make sense of the chaos around her during Pakistan’s political upheaval, where the military revolts, the embassy burns, and a terrible secret tears her world apart.

Eleven-year-old Aliya Shah lives a double life in Islamabad, Pakistan—at home with her Pakistani father and Dutch mother, and at the American School, where Aliya tries to downplay that she is a “half-and-half.” But when a hit-and-run driver kills the son of the family’s servant, Sadiq, who is also Aliya’s dear friend, her world is turned upside down. After she discovers the truth behind the tragedy—a terrible secret that burdens her heart—her conflicted loyalties are tested as never before.

Based on the author’s own experiences growing up in Islamabad, City of Spies offers a poignant and dramatic portrait of a tumultuous time, as seen through the eyes of a brave and compassionate young heroine struggling to find her place in the gray area between loyalty and complicity, family and country.

Review

Set in the late 1970’s in Islamabad, Pakistan, this novel is narrated by a pre-teen girl as she experiences politically and historically monumental events including the Iran Hostage Crisis and the burning of the US Embassy in Islamabad. While these events are occurring, Aliya is also grappling with her own biracial and cultural identity and a tragic accident involving the son of her Pakistani servant. As the child of a father who holds an important place in the government, Aliya attends the American School and is caught in a world between that of her American classmates and Pakistani relatives and neighbors.

As I read this book right after reading HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS by Bianca Marais, I really can’t help comparing the two and recommending that if you liked HUM (set in South Africa during the uprising to end apartheid), you should definitely pick up CITY OF SPIES. The parallels are obvious – narrated by young girl, racial and cultural identity grappled with, political instability, the role of the local population as servants/employees.

Khan’s narrative is incredibly compelling and while it is not a fast read and requires close attention, the uniqueness and necessity of the topic matter put this book into my Best of 2017 category.

LIBRARIAN NOTES: While reading, I definitely was trying to place CITY OF SPIES into a “age” recommendation – it is an adult novel, but the content is such that it can definitely be placed into high school libraries. I would have recommended that it be included in the Adult Books for Teens review section of School Library Journal. Titlewave categorizes the title as Adult and Dewey as 813, which I would disagree with. I would place this in my fiction collection.

GOODREADS NOTE: The original edition of this book published by Aleph Book Company of New Delhi in 2015 is listed as a separate title on Goodreads – there are copious reviews there of the original publication. This listing is for the US publication by Little A, a division of Amazon Publishing.

View all of my Goodreads reviews

Author Profile (from author website)

skhan

Photo credit: Barbara Adams

Sorayya Khan is the author of NoorFive Queen’s Road, and City of Spies  which received the Best International Fiction Book Award, Sharjah International Book Fair, 2015

She was awarded a US Fulbright Research Grant to conduct research in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and received a Malahat Review Novella Prize for what became a window into City of Spies.  In 2006, she received a Constance Saltonstall Artist Grant, which took her to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where she interviewed tsunami survivors. Her work has appeared in publications including GuernicaThe Kenyon Review, North American Review, and Journal of Narrative Politics.

She is the daughter of a Pakistani father and a Dutch mother, was born in Europe, grew up in Pakistan, and now lives in New York with her family.

The Second Course by Kelly Killoren


The Second Course: A Novel by Kelly Killoren
(Gallery Books – August 15, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full of heart and delicious food, this is a delightful contemporary fiction story for foodies and fans of reality TV who appreciate a bit of bite with their tales of friendship and middle age.

Thanks to Gallery Books for providing me with a finished copy of this title for review purposes.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Set between the hip and idyllic farm-to-table foodie communities of the Hudson Valley, and the hotspots of Brooklyn, the Hamptons, and Manhattan, The Second Course follows four old friends struggling to find their footing in a rapidly changing world.

Food has always been Billy’s language and her currency, but she isn’t hungry anymore—and it’s terrifying her. That is, until she attends a wedding and meets chef Ethan—an enigmatic powerhouse half her age. Billy is sure her life will never be the same, and she’s right: she soon finds herself moving upstate to restart her culinary career with Ethan as her business partner—trading New York nightlife for hikes and foraging in the peaceful Hudson Valley.

Back in the city, her three best friends, Lucy, Sarah, and Lotta each harbor secrets that threaten to tear their lives apart. Tensions are rising between the four women, and it will take one tragedy—and more than a few glasses of wine—for them to remember why they became friends in the first place.

Review

I’ll be honest here – I requested this title from Gallery 100% based on the gorgeous cover alone, and then the foodie/friendship description sealed it for me. I’m not a RHW watcher and hadn’t heard of the author, which made for a great cold-read. I ended up really, really enjoying this book of food, friendship, and real relationships for a group of women in their 40s, with the restaurant and cooking storylines being absolutely delectable. The characters are sometimes otherworldly in their glitz and glamour, but are always brought back to earth with instances of the nitty gritty of real life, and Killoren manages to portray even reality star Sarah with relatable qualities. The Hudson Valley setting for the majority of the book is cozy, with the descriptions of Billy’s house and Kingston making me want to travel there immediately – the sense of place is perfection.

Highly recommended for foodies fans of contemporary fiction – this book will make you hungry for some serious homestyle cooking and eager to call your best friend!

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Ranger Games by Ben Blum

This photo is of the advance reader copy I had – the finished copy cover version is below!

Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable CrimeRanger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime by Ben Blum
(Doubleday Books – September 12, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Incredibly analytical and family-oriented, this 400-page account of a 90 second crime reads as a detailed account of military training combined with a psychology textbook and memoir.

Thank you to Doubleday Books for providing me with an advance copy of this title for review purposes.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Alex Blum was a good kid with one unshakeable goal in life: Become a U.S. Army Ranger. On the day of his leave before deployment to Iraq, Alex got into his car with two fellow soldiers and two strangers, drove to a local bank in Tacoma, and committed armed robbery.

The question that haunted the entire Blum family was: Why?Why would he ruin his life in such a spectacularly foolish way?

At first, Alex insisted he thought the robbery was just another exercise in the famously daunting Ranger program. His attorney presented a case based on the theory that the Ranger indoctrination mirrored that of a cult.

In the midst of his own personal crisis, and in the hopes of helping both Alex and his splintering family cope, Ben Blum, Alex’s first cousin, delved into these mysteries, growing closer to Alex in the process. As he probed further, Ben began to question not only Alex, but the influence of his superior, Luke Elliot Sommer, the man who planned the robbery. A charismatic combat veteran, Sommer’s manipulative tendencies combined with a magnetic personality lured Ben into a relationship that put his loyalties to the test.

Review

RANGER GAMES did the impossible – it held me in suspense about a crime I absolutely already knew the outcome of, and kept me invested in the intricate account of a family I have never met and will never meet. Due to a personal/family experience, I have an incredibly strong interest in accounts of military training and experiences, and this story of a teen boy 100% dedicated to joining the Army Rangers from a young age really hit home for me.

Ben Blum wrote this book in such a way that readers will learn a great deal about psychology and the military, but in a narrative format that adds heart and purpose. While Alex Blum is the focus of this book, he is really the backdrop for a look into the Army Rangers that we don’t often read about, but without judgement or condemnation – a look that will definitely lead me to reading more on this topic, as well as the topic of brainwashing and personality-altering trainings and organizations. Ultimately, though, this is a story of redemption and the power of family in a time of moral breakdown.

RANGER GAMES is lengthy and so very detailed (at times repetitive), but I very highly recommend it for nonfiction readers who are interested in military and psychology. I won’t stop thinking about it for a long time (especially the way the story ended up), and my husband was trying to steal it from me the entire time I was reading! I can’t wait to hear what he thinks of it.

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The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy


Can you tell it’s back-to-school season in this book blogger’s world?! It hit me like a brick, but I’m hoping to get back on track soon! I’ve still been reading like crazy, but not all reviews have made it from Goodreads to the blog, so connect with me there to make sure to stay current on ALL of my reviews! KidLitExchange has been keeping me busy too!

The Boat Runner
by Devin Murphy
(Harper Perennial – September 5, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Description (from Goodreads)

A DUTCH SEAFARER, TURNED SMUGGLER.

In the tradition of All The Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale, comes an incandescent debut novel about a young Dutch man who comes of age during the perilousness of World War II.

Beginning in the summer of 1939, fourteen-year-old Jacob Koopman and his older brother, Edwin, enjoy lives of prosperity and quiet contentment. Many of the residents in their small Dutch town have some connection to the Koopman lightbulb factory, and the locals hold the family in high esteem. 

On days when they aren’t playing with friends, Jacob and Edwin help their Uncle Martin on his fishing boat in the North Sea, where German ships have become a common sight. But conflict still seems unthinkable, even as the boys’ father naively sends his sons to a Hitler Youth Camp in an effort to secure German business for the factory.

When war breaks out, Jacob’s world is thrown into chaos. The Boat Runner follows Jacob over the course of four years, through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy, where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life—and his life’s mission—forever. 

Epic in scope and featuring a thrilling narrative with precise, elegant language, The Boat Runner tells the little-known story of the young Dutch boys who were thrown into the Nazi campaign, as well as the brave boatmen who risked everything to give Jewish refugees safe passage to land abroad. Through one boy’s harrowing tale of personal redemption, here is a novel about the power of people’s stories and voices to shine light through our darkest days, until only love prevails.

Review

A stunning debut with a completely original and riveting take on the European WWII genre.

Thanks to Edelweiss, the publisher and the author for allowing me to read this digital ARC.

A month ago, I declared that I would be DONE with European WWII novels given that they were all seeming the same and I was completely burned out on them. Enter Elise Hooper, the author of THE OTHER ALCOTT, urging me to try this one, as she had been on an author panel with Devin Murphy at ALA and that I’d love it. I contacted Murphy and he had his publisher provide me with a digital ARC. And OH MY GOODNESS I am so glad I found this book! I will be shouting it from the rooftops as the newest must-read WWII novel for the following reasons that make it fresh, original, and necessary:

1) Set in Holland, NOT France, Germany or Poland
2) Male narrator
3) Maritime premise
4) NO ROMANCE – I’m sick of romance sweetening up the horrors of death and war
5) An eerie look into Nazi mentality and the ease at which they indoctrinated youth
6) Hope within the devastation
7) A very relevant message about refugees

I have already put this on hold at my public library for my husband, since I told him he MUST read it. He’s excited about it, and I can’t wait to hear what he thinks of it.

The only thing I wish for is an author’s note describing how much of the story is based on fact, since I rely heavily on these pieces to help me in further reading on the topics. I am hoping there is one in the finished edition, otherwise I will be searching it out piece by piece! EDITED TO ADD THIS NOTE DIRECTLY FROM THE AUTHOR: There is an authors note essay in the back of the final version all about how and why I wrote the book.

Required reading for lovers of historical fiction and WWII narratives.
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The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper


The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper
(William Morrow – September 5, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeously-written required reading for fans of LITTLE WOMEN, THE OTHER ALCOTT is the “rest of the story” we have all been waiting for since childhood.

Thanks to the author for providing me with an advance copy of this novel for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

There are two types of people in this world – those who have read Little Women, and those who haven’t. And there isn’t a category for those who have read but didn’t love it, because those people simply don’t exist! For all of us in the first category, THE OTHER ALCOTT takes us into the “real” (but fictionalized by Hooper) adult world of the Alcotts, where Louisa is seeing success from the publication of LITTLE WOMEN (although she resents having to write such juvenile fare) and her younger sister May is desperate to be independent and work on her budding career as an artist. She isn’t happy about Louisa using her as a basis for the character of Amy and is reeling from critical reviews of her drawings in LW. May is the narrator of this novel, which takes us from 1868 to 1880 and is a sweeping epic including travel throughout England and Europe.

I can honestly not believe that this is a debut title from Hooper – the research is absolutely breathtaking in its thoroughness and I actually messaged her asking if she is an artist because I couldn’t imagine anyone other than a professional artist being able to write about art the way she does. There is an excellent Afterword and Discussion with the Author telling of Hooper’s motivation for the book’s inception, as well as an incredible amount of detail about the real Alcotts and art during this time period. Hooper also tells us exactly how much of this story is based on fact and which parts have been embellished for the story. There is a Discussion Guide included as well.

I highly recommend this title to fans of LITTLE WOMEN (or those interested in literary and art life in the late 1800s), and I also think it will be a very popular book club selection. I also can envision it being a really fun read for a mother-daughter book club with daughters reading LW and mothers reading THE OTHER ALCOTT! Bravo to Hooper for this stunning debut.

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The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
(Algonquin – August 2014)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Description from Goodreads

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Review

Okay, so I’m not really going to review this – I’m just going to gush over it. I was told I HAD to read it by commenters on my Instagram post about Zevin’s latest title Young Jane Youngso I immediately got it from the library. And……….

I LOVE THIS BOOK SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO MUCH and want to give it 10 STARS. I read it in less than half a day. What the hell was I doing in 2013 when this was published??? This is my new absolute favorite book about books – I read a library copy and am now going to be purchasing myself a copy for my “forever” shelf. I love the characters, I love the setting, I love the amazing commentary on books and literature, I love the dry humor, I love the HEART, I just love it all. If you were as lost as I was and missed this book, go get it NOW.

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The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas


The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
(Flatiron – August 29, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stunning, sweeping, mind-bending – this is a doorstop of a novel that touches on the very deepest core of motherhood and womanhood, while simultaneously showcasing the best short stories I have ever read…….as part of the story.

Thanks to Flatiron for providing me with an advance copy of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

“I viewed the consumptive nature of love as a threat to serious women. But the wonderful man I just married believes as I do―work is paramount, absolutely no children―and now love seems to me quite marvelous.”

These words are spoken to a rapturous audience by Joan Ashby, a brilliant and intense literary sensation acclaimed for her explosively dark and singular stories.

When Joan finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she is stunned by Martin’s delight, his instant betrayal of their pact. She makes a fateful, selfless decision then, to embrace her unintentional family.

Challenged by raising two precocious sons, it is decades before she finally completes her masterpiece novel. Poised to reclaim the spotlight, to resume the intended life she gave up for love, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportion forces her to question every choice she has made.

Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a story about sacrifice and motherhood, the burdens of expectation and genius. Cherise Wolas’s gorgeous debut introduces an indelible heroine candid about her struggles and unapologetic in her ambition.

Review

Honestly, when I think of this book, I think of Joan Ashby being the author. Which is insane, because Joan Ashby is the protagonist. But. Intellectually I understand that Cherise Wolas wrote this – I mean, I KNOW that. But Joan Ashby as an author within this book is so superbly talented and we are so deep inside her head and we read SO MUCH of her work within the book, that when I look for this book in stores and the library I will surely be looking under “ASH” and not “WOL”. And that, my friends is masterpiece. Wolas has managed to deliver us into a fictional reality that transcends the boundaries of ordinary fiction – I have stopped myself a few times from trying to add Ashby’s books to my TBR list in Goodreads or ordering them on Amazon.

But wait. There’s definitely more to this story than just Joan’s stories. There’s the most honest and cutting and brutal commentary on motherhood that I have ever read – a commentary that isn’t a comfortable one, but is one that I am so happy has been exposed. There’s also the look into the very essence of being a writer and needing “a room of one’s own” – and I can surely relate given that I am attempting to write this review while being interrupted by 3 children as I sit in in the middle of a house in which I do NOT have a room of my own! There is also betrayal. And a marriage. And travel. And self-discovery. And so many things I adored.

As you can see, I can’t really review this. I just loved it. I want to buy Joan’s books. Or maybe I need Wolas to just write so. much. more. Highly highly recommend to anyone who writes. Or who loves literary fiction. Or who is a mother. Or who has a mother. So, basically EVERYONE. Read. This. Book.

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Y Is For Yesterday by Sue Grafton

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Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
(Putnam – August 22, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been in love with the Kinsey Millhone series since I started with A IS FOR ALIBI in the mid-90’s – this series is an absolute nostalgic favorite of mine.

Thanks to Putnam for providing me with a galley of this title for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

When you have reached book #25 in a series that you have been reading for over 20 years, writing a review isn’t really necessary. It’s more of a letter to an old friend – a friend who has been with you for decades and whom you will stick with no matter what, despite any ups and downs. That’s what this series is for me. I have been immersed in Kinsey Millhone’s private detective career and the world of Santa Teresa, CA for so long that sometimes I forget that they aren’t real. The fact that the books take place in the 80’s, and ALWAYS have, makes me so happy and I adore reading about Kinsey typing up her case reports on her typewriter and using her landline and NO INTERNET. This all just adds to the nostalgic feeling I have for the series. The funniest thing to me now is that when I started reading these books in my teens, Kinsey being 30-something was OLD…….and now she’s my age! I read her entirely differently now that we are peers and I appreciate her even more so now.

This latest mystery has a LOT going on, with a completely new case mingled with an older one, and due to the nature of the series, I wouldn’t really recommend trying to start the series with this newest book. Go back and get a copy of A IS FOR ALIBI, put away your cell phone, and immerse yourself in a simpler time…….and get ready for the entire alphabet of mysteries! It also just hit me that there will only be 1 MORE KINSEY BOOK and I just don’t know what to do with that – it’s the end of an era for sure.

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