Today’s book is The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. I haven’t read this book (as I don’t read much middle grade fiction), but it is on my list because it sounds fascinating. The Birchbark House has been described as the Native version of Little House on the Prairie, which I loved as a child. And it’s a full series, so you can more fully get into the world of an Ojibwe girl, with this book taking place around the year 1847.
Here’s the Goodreads link for more information on The Birchbark House and the rest of the series: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/159666.The_Birchbark_House .
The Tumbling Turner Sisters become a family of vaudevillians after their father is injured and can’t work. Four sisters are acrobats, while their mother travels along as their manager. The book is a fun look at vaudeville and family drama in the 1920s.
I like historical fiction, especially around this time period in the U.S., so this book is right up my alley. The characters are well written and I cared what happened to them throughout the book. The main characters are two of the sisters, Winnie and Gert, who are also alternating narrators. The look into vaudeville was fun (while also highlighting some realistic negatives) and I appreciated seeing an author’s note explaining what was factual or based on reality. I liked how the book ended and I highly doubt the author plans to make this into a series, but I would love another book focused on all of the sisters or even just one of them.
When I found out there was a book written about the first female Pinkerton agent, I had to read it. Girl in Disguise is loosely based on a real woman who was the first female Pinkerton operative. This book doesn’t disappoint. I read it in just a couple of days and I’m a slow reader. It’s a fun historical novel, full of adventure. Kate Warne was hired around 1856 by Allen Pinkerton of the famous Pinkerton detective agency. As expected, a woman at that time and being the very first female agent, she has trouble being taken seriously, but proves herself an excellent agent.
I’d love to see this made into a TV show, especially since it’s a standalone novel and with the many cases Kate Warne would have worked, a series (TV or novels) makes sense (and would be fun to watch or read). I’m not big on nonfiction, especially if we’re not talking about memoirs, but this book makes me quite interested in the real Pinkerton agency, so I’ll be looking for a book about that now.
I received an eARC from NetGalley for an honest review. The book is expected to be published in March 2017.
When I was browsing titles on NetGalley’s website, I got excited when I saw a Fannie Flagg book was open for requests. She’s written some excellent books. This one was good, as she’s a good writer, but it’s not one of her best. I gave it a solid 3 stars on Goodreads. The book is entertaining and funny, but also flawed. The Whole Town’s Talking is about a town and its people over 100 years. And it imagines what might happen to us after we die.
The book would have been better with a tighter focus. It’s difficult to become emotionally invested in characters or their stories when they are rushed through. The stories and characters that were given more time and more pages were interesting and I enjoyed reading them. This probably would have been better for me if it had been made into a series or just focused on a much shorter time period. If you’re a fan of Fannie Flagg (as I am) or just like a book with a big cast of small town characters, then this is a good book for you.
I read Another Brooklyn immediately following Upstream by Mary Oliver. That was an accidentally wise choice. Mary Oliver is a poet, so Upstream essays felt lyrical. Well, Another Brooklyn was written in a similar sort of dreamy style, though it’s a novel and not an essay collection. It’s basically a book of someone reflecting on the past. That past involves a mother and a group of friends and Brooklyn. It’s a short novel and I just flew through it. It’s the kind of novel that I particularly enjoy: it’s historical fiction, the MC is a girl, and it is well written in dealing with what it’s like for a girl growing into a woman. I gave it a solid 4 stars on Goodreads and recommend reading it.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding the newly released The Underground Railroad. Twitter, Litsy, and Goodread users are going wild for it. There’s interview after interview being given by the author. It’s an Oprah pick. And it even caused a big buzz with an early release. I’ll admit all of the (very positive) attention caused me to not only read the book, but read it as soon as I could.
It mostly lived up to the hype for me. (And I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.) On more than one night I stayed up late to keep reading the book, even though I require a decent amount of sleep to not feel like a cranky (and sometimes ill) zombie. Also, I kept thinking about the book while not reading it. It does an excellent job, in multiple ways, of showing the brutality of slavery and the racism that existed during that time (and with a little thought the reader can see how it still exists in similar forms today).
I like the way the story was told. The book regularly shifts the focus between chapters of the main story and then a special focus on one of the non-main characters. For me that layout made the book readable, especially with a book with such a heavy and brutal main story. The story also had a matter of fact tone that made it easier to read about such horrible things happening to people. I didn’t feel like I was being emotionally manipulated for tears. Basically there was lots of trauma, but it didn’t feel like trauma porn. There weren’t 3 page rape scenes or whippings that lasted for 2 pages, for example.
I highly recommend this book: buy it, borrow it, or check it out from the library. (Speaking of libraries. If you try to put a hold on this book, good luck. There is probably a ridiculously long wait list. But I got mine as a Lucky Day book. Many libraries have Lucky Day programs where you have to walk into the library to check it out–no holds– but you can’t renew it, so that others can get lucky too.)
Last night I finished Jam on the Vine and it is quite good. The book begins in 1897 and Texas. It is so refreshing to find a book that begins not long after the end of the Civil War with a focus on black people. I’ve read many post-Civil War books in the past, but they are usually focused on (and written by) white people. The author does a great job of showing the challenges that black people faced not only in the South, but everywhere in the United States at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The book, especially during the last chapter, made me think of how much black people still struggle despite how many years it has been since slavery became illegal and the years when the book takes place.
While learning lessons of black struggle is important, the book is not non-fiction. It is an interesting story with well written characters. I even brought this book to the beach with me, when normally I would have brought my Kindle instead, because I wanted to keep reading it. (Sorry, library, I think I got 99% of the sand out of your book.) I would like to read more books by black writers that focus on black people during the years following the Civil War and up to WWII.
I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads and would love to see a miniseries tv show done of this book. It gets points on diversity in that the main characters are black, one of those characters is Muslim, the author is black, and there is a lesbian relationship. Buy it or get it from the library.
I’ve always been a fan of historical fiction. My mother and grandmother sometimes had some books of that genre around the house, but I also sought it out myself at the library when I was younger. After college, which I attended later than most, I found myself reading more literary fiction and finding myself snubbing some historical fiction as not proper literature. Part of the reason for that (even though I actually despise snobbery of any type of books and in general) is that a lot of historical fiction seems to blur together. To me, it often feels like “you’ve read one historical novel set in Europe during a world war or the U.S. during the Civil War, you’ve read them all.”
The Summer Before the War was a refreshing change. Yes, it’s a genre novel. Helen Simonson set her latest book during WWI in England. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sometimes you want the comfort and simplicity of the familiar. The great thing about this book is that you get that nice, relaxed genre novel experience (if you’re into historical fiction) and you get a really good read in general. The characters feel vibrant. The story is interesting. I highly recommend reading it. I also recommend having this book made into a full series (or at the very least a mini-series) since I’d love to see the screen version of this and I don’t think a movie would do the book (story-wise and to fully showcase the great characters) justice.