Saturday, February 23, 2019

Patriot Hearts by Barbara Hambly

Title: Patriot Hearts
Publication: Bantam Books, trade paper, 2008
Genre: Historical Fiction
TBR Challenge:  This is the first book I have read from my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, sponsored by Roof Beam Reader.  Mind you, my house is one large pile of books waiting to be read, but I selected just a handful!
Plot: This is the story of four women important to the early history of America: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, wives to three presidents, and Sally Hemings, the slave who bore Thomas Jefferson several children.  Told partly in flashbacks as the British march on the White House during the War of 1812, Hambly convincingly portrays the Founding Mothers with fictionalized vignettes that show their relationships with their spouses, historical figures of the day and, occasionally, with each other.

Audience: Fans of well-researched historical fiction and Revolutionary history. I am adding it to my list of books for Hamilton fanatics (I myself saw the musical in New York for the second time earlier this month).

Favorite Quote:
“Tom Jefferson’s an intelligent man,” [Abigail Adams] said, frustrated, as they walked back toward the house, Caesar trotting, arthritic but game, at their heels.  “How can he not see what happens, when factions and parties develop?  How can he go on saying that this divisiveness is of any benefit to anyone?  We won our freedom by acting together, John. The Sons of Liberty, and the people of Boston, took their direction from a small group of men who knew all the facts, who had been educated and took time to study the matter.  Now all is anarchy, with the newspapers spilling out the most horrible lies!”
My Impressions: While I read Childhood of Famous American biographies of Martha, Abigail, and Dolley, and a Marguerite Vance biography of Patsy Jefferson (portrayed more favorably than in this book) in elementary school, I accumulated mostly superficial things about them so enjoyed this very detailed book  and its blend of fact and fiction very much.  Hambly even cites Washington’s Lady by my beloved Elswyth Thane as one of her sources, which I own but have not read (Thane also wrote a book about Dolley Madison).  I was surprised by people addressing Martha Washington as “Lady Washington” but this turns out to be accurate (albeit foolish in a nation establishing itself as a republic – were any other American women given such an honorific?).

I knew less about Dolley Madison than the others: only that she was Quaker by upbringing and the famous story of her rescuing the portrait of George Washington just before the British looted the White House – a dramatic but true story!   Her  transition from growing up in a devout Quaker family to becoming a lively Washington hostess who is expelled from Meeting when she marries an Episcopalian was interesting, although whether she married Madison because she was destitute or sincerely attached to him is unclear.  Aaron Burr, sir, introduced her to the Virginia congressman  17 years her senior.

It is hard to read about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson because we know she was just a teen when she became pregnant with their first child and had no choice in the matter.  I had forgotten that she was his wife’s half-sister (the wife he was ostensibly heartbroken to lose) which makes it even sicker.   While some authors write about their relationship as if it were a love story and, sentimentally, one doesn’t want to think of Jefferson as a cruel slaveowner and rapist, it is impossible to know if any affection was involved.   Hambly has romanticized it by imagining that Jefferson’s elder daughter Patsy taught Sally to read and that she took an intelligent interest in the politics of the day, so functioned almost as a companion to Jefferson, like the other help mates (Founding Mothers) in the book (in the afterward, Hambly admits she probably can't portray Sally Hemings without offending someone).  That is more palatable but Hambly admits she doesn't think Jefferson would have viewed Sally as a real companion (he didn't even free her in his will!) and there does not appear to be any evidence that she was literate.  When you read that Sally was free in Paris (where she escorted Polly Jefferson), you just wish she had tried to stay there!  Despite these concerns, I found the sections about Sally as interesting as the rest of the book.

This book has reminded me that on my next trip to DC, I would like to visit Monticello and see the new Life of Sally Hemings exhibit.

Off the Blog: I was listening to an incredibly exciting Harvard-Yale basketball game as I wrote this review.  Bryce Aiken won it at the buzzer for the Crimson!
Photo: Quinn G. Perini, Harvard Crimson
Source: Personal copy.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick

Title: The Woman in the Lake
Publication: Graydon House, trade paperback, 2019
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
Plot: Fenella Brightwell, in present day, has rebuilt her life after a disastrous marriage, leaving London for Swindon, not far from where she grew up.   When her grandmother dies, Fenella receives a sumptuous gold silk dress that she had impulsively stolen on a visit to a stately home as a teen.  The dress had belonged to Lady Isabella Gerard in 1765, herself trapped in a vicious and loveless marriage, and has become an ill-omened garment that exacerbates out the worst attributes in those who touch it.    Somehow Fenella time slipped across the centuries to encounter Lord Gerard and snatch the dress from his obsessed grasp.   However, Fenella’s possession of the dress is not happy: it makes her kleptomania worse and she starts to feel she is being watched.  As she recognizes parallels between her life and Isabella’s, she begins to fight for her own new life and happiness.  

Audience: Fans of dual time frame books such as those by Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley, and Barbara Erskine

My Impressions: I have been reading Nicola Cornick for some time, although her books have not been easy to find in the US.   A couple years ago, I visited about 10 bookstores in England, trying without success to find a copy of her House of Shadows, which was brand new.  Luckily, at Heathrow just before my flight home, I found a sympathetic sales associate at a W.H. Smith who looked it up in her database, told me her location didn’t have it, but got permission from her manager to dash to another terminal to get it for me (she took so long that I wondered if she had forgotten me and gone on break), and returned triumphant!  Now, that is what I call customer service!   

This book was enjoyable despite the fact that all the characters were quite unpleasant, including Fenella, Isabella, and Constance, who is Isabella’s maid (there are many nefarious characters in fiction with my name!).  Ms. Cornick is a skilled writer whose research and language are unerring, enabling her to bring different eras to life.  I liked her historical romances but she has added dimension to her work with the last three books: House of Shadows, The Phantom Tree, and The Woman in the Lake.  I believe all three are now available in the US which will make it easier for readers on this side of the Atlantic to discover this talented author (and save me money!).  I wish there had been time to interview the author for this blog but it is too busy a time at work.  Maybe for her next book!

Favorite Quote:
He tilted his head to read the title and author. “Georgette Heyer,” he said. “I’ve never heard of her.” 
“Wow,” said Fen blankly.  She had never met anyone who hadn’t heard of Heyer. 
He laughed. “Thanks for making me feel illiterate,” he said dryly.
(I assume there are many people who haven’t heard of Heyer but she is certainly one of my favorite authors.)
Off the Blog: I am puppy-sitting this weekend, and Chloe was a good sport about coming to help with free tax preparation today in Dudley Square.   We took a break to walk around the block every two hours but had to be very careful to avoid broken glass, which is sad.
Source: I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Monday, February 18th: @girlsinbooks
Tuesday, February 19th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, February 20th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, February 21st: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, February 25th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, February 26th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Wednesday, February 27th: Thoughts from a Highly Caffeinated Mind
Thursday, February 28th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, March 4th: 100 Pages a Day
Tuesday, March 5th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, March 6th: Jessicamap Reviews and @jessicamap
Thursday, March 7th: Jathan and Heather
Friday, March 8th: Rockin’ Book Reviews
Monday, March 11th: Book by Book
Tuesday, March 12th: Booktimistic and @booktimistic
Thursday, March 14th: Fiction Aficionado
Friday, March 15th: The Sketchy Reader
Friday, March 15th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Tuesday, March 19th: What is This Book About
Wednesday, March 20th: Wining Wife
Friday, March 22nd: Amy’s Book-et List

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Unclaimed Baggage (Book Review)

Title: Unclaimed Baggage
Author: Jen Doll
Publication: Farrar Straus Giroux, hardcover, 2018
Genre: YA
Plot:  Unclaimed Baggage follows three quirky teens working for the summer at a store that sells luggage lost and never claimed by airline travelers.  Doris is 16 and has a skill for finding things.  She is a liberal in a conservative town and yearns to escape to Brown (which would be lucky to get her).  She has been with the store long enough to be so highly regarded by the owner that she is put in charge of training two new summer associates: Nell, a reluctant newcomer from Chicago; and Grant, whose life has suddenly gone from football star to outcast. Even worse, he was once involved in the most traumatic episode of Doris’ life and showed no remorse.   This unlikely trio become friends, which helps each one find what he or she most needs.

Audience: Fans of YA who enjoy unusual friendship stories

My Impressions: I really liked this book and the character of Doris, who feels like a stranger in her own family and home town, but starts coming to terms with it once she has friends who really get her.  The story is told convincingly from three points of view, and author Doll does an amazing job creating major and minor characters, and weaving various types of friendship – among teens, among coworkers, and even between Doris, Nell, and Grant, and their families .   She also reminds us how differently people view the same events: an incident that took place at a local water park several years ago has haunted Doris, primarily because an adult did not believe her account of what happened and shamed her, but also because Grant laughed at her humiliation.  But Grant hasn’t thought about it since, although showing more clue than most teenage boys, he does remember, once prompted, is contrite about his failure to stand up for Doris, and is forgiven. And I forgive the author for writing in the present tense, which I usually find annoying.   

Another thing I liked was that all the parents cared about their children, even if they didn't always understand them or know how to show they care.  

Quotes I Liked:
“Oh, the 8-Ball!” she says, not even acknowledging that I was just caught making out with it. “I’ve asked it so many dumb questions.  Will I get into Brown?  Will my parents let me go if I do?  Will I ever be kissed?  By someone not horrible?” She sticks out her tongue and makes a face.  “The answer to that one: Very doubtful.  Every single time!  I think it’s trying to tell me something.” She laughs. 
* * * 
"One final question." Doris interrupts my train of thought.  "When can you start?  Oh, and one more question: Have you ever had a Krispy Kreme donut?"
* * * 
Having someone else value you means you don’t have to work so hard to do it yourself – or at least, it can feel that way, even if it shouldn’t.  
“But, Nell, you are interesting, on your own.  You are choosable!   I know that, and I’ve never even met your boyfriend.”
“You think so?”
“Yes, I would choose you.  I do choose you.” I reach out and squeeze her hand for a second, and she squeezes back.
“I choose you, too,” she says. “I’m really glad we’re friends.”
Unclaimed Baggage is a real store in Alabama!
Purchase Links:  IndieBound * Amazon * Barnes & Noble 

Off the Blog: This weekend included an exciting triple overtime win for the Crimson over Columbia on Friday, followed by a depressing loss to Cornell in which we'd had a 15 point lead.

Source: Boston Public Library

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Something Worth Saving (Book Review)

Title: Something Worth Saving
Author: Sandi Ward
Publication: Kensington, trade paper, 2018
Genre: Fiction
Plot: A boy and his cat. It’s an unconventional friendship, but for Charlie and Lily, it works beautifully. It was Charlie who chose Lily from among all the cats in the shelter. He didn’t frown, the way other humans did, when he saw her injured back leg, the legacy of a cruel previous owner. Instead, Charlie insisted on rescuing her. Now Lily wants to do the same for Charlie.

She’s the only one who’s seen the bruises on Charlie’s body. If she knew who was hurting him, she’d scratch their eyes out. But she can’t fix this by herself. Lily needs to get the rest of the family to focus on Charlie—not easy when they’re wrapped up in their own problems. Charlie’s mother kicked his father out weeks ago and has a new boyfriend who seems charming, but is still a stranger. Oldest son Kevin misses his father desperately. Victoria, Charlie’s sister, also has someone new in her life, and Lily is decidedly suspicious. Even Charlie’s father, who Lily loves dearly, is behaving strangely.

Lily knows what it’s like to feel helpless. But she also knows that you don’t always have to be the biggest or the strongest to fight fiercely for the ones you love . . .

Audience: This is an unusual book that will appeal to animal lovers and those who just enjoy quirky fiction

My Impressions: This was a fun read about a family going through a difficult time after the parents separated, and three teen siblings, Kevin, Victoria, and Charlie are coping in different ways.   The story is told from the perspective of Lily, the family cat, in a way that is surprisingly convincing.   Her determination to protect Charlie, the boy who chose her as an abused kitten, is endearing.   Lily is only an expert of what she sees – and she is vulnerable to anyone who provides a good snuggle – but she shows insight and her point of view is unexpectedly funny.    While I did not care for Mark, the character who eventually becomes one of Lily’s favorites, I enjoyed both her fierce loyalty to shy Charlie, as he deals with adolescent stress, and her relationship with the family dog, Gretel, a scary German Shepherd:
Feeling a little jealous, I run forward and push my wet nose into Mark’s leg to put my scent onto him.  I’m not surprised when he reaches down with two hands and scoops me up. 
Look, this is not a competitive thing , but – no one can pick up Gretel. She’s huge.  I’m the right size for a cuddle.
Off the Blog: It is Super Bowl Sunday so everything is Go Patriots in Boston and in my family!

Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the author and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit the author on FacebookTwitter, and Instagramand check out other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Tour Schedule

Monday, January 21st: Peppermint PhD
Monday, January 21st: Read Till Dawn
Tuesday, January 22nd: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, January 24th: Jessicamap Reviews
Friday, January 25th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Monday, January 28th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, January 29th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, January 30th: Instagram: @rendezvous_with_reading
Thursday, January 31st: Instagram: @books.tea.quotes
Tuesday, February 5th: Based on a True Story
Wednesday, February 6th: Books and Bindings