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A House Divided–historical tale by a Lincoln scholar

A House Divided

by Jonathan F. Putnam

A House DividedI was surprised to find myself trudging through A House Divided by Jonathan F. Putnam, an author with an outstanding legal and historical background. This is the fourth book in this series, but I did not feel that my not having read the previous books was a hindrance. There just seemed to be a disjoint between the history and fiction of the tale. None of the characters were fleshed out with emotion for me, and so I did not identify with any of them. I really wanted to like this book, but it was difficult when  the characters’ motives were rarely disclosed. Lincoln and his friend Speed are competitors for the affections of Mary Todd, but even Mary’s character holds no depth.

The mystery was interesting and based somewhat on history, although the narrator Speed, a major actor in the story, was actually not a part of the real events of the crime and trial. Perhaps that alteration of the facts added to the difficulty of creating an interesting work of historical fiction. Perhaps the problem lies in timidity in assigning thoughts and feelings to major historical figures. Authors may find that easier to do when the main character is either a minor figure on the historical stage or the creation by the author of a composite character based on what a person in that role at that time of history would be like. 

I did appreciate the author’s efforts to include the plight of Irish workers and their families. They were caught in the middle of a web of corruption and greed on the part of politicians and bankers. Another positive of the book is the writer’s style which is appropriate to the period.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Lincoln and Speed Mystery Series 

Publication:   July 9, 2019—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

The Globe…As a feeding station for hungry village residents or residence for travelers, it was inferior in every respect to the sparkling new American House. Its only advantage at this point was familiarity, like a pair of shoes that slipped on easily despite worn-away soles.

Springfield…But citizens hoping to find entertainment that did not arrive in a bottle or cask were destined to be disappointed. Except when the circuit court was in session to adjudicate the county’s legal disputes. Then, the entire human condition, comedy and tragedy alike, was on display and free for all to watch.

Every turn in the road, every little rise of the prairie, might reveal a clutch of deadly and determined men, ready to hazard their own lives and reckless to mine.

The Medallion–for the love of a child

The Medallion

by Cathy Gohlke

The MedallionWhat is worse than being a Pole during World War II?  Being a Jew.  

And what is worse than either? Being a Polish Jew, a target for abuse, humiliation, torture and destruction.

The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke tells the story of two families whose lives and deaths become joined through the horrors and hardships of life in Poland in World War II. Janet is a Polish fighter pilot married to Sophia, an English citizen, alone in Poland, but with a heart for Jewish children. Rosa has to make the most difficult decision possible to save her beloved daughter’s life. Her husband Itzhak, an electrician, endures the most horrific task assigned to any person by the Nazis, digging up mass graves with his bare hands. Can anything good possibly emerge from the desperation of this story?

Many of the characters in The Medallion are fictional, but are inspired by interviews and textual research. Some are found in history, including Irena Sandler who rescued 2,500 children and Dr. Janusz Korczak who ran an orphanage.

The tales of these two families are difficult to read but also inspiring. Towards the end of the book, when the war is over and all should be well, it isn’t. Sophia finds herself in a moral and personal crisis of faith that intimately affects the lives and futures of herself and those she loves most.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: The end of this book also includes discussion questions, notes to the reader about the writing of this book, and historical notes.

Publication:   June 4, 2019—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

“Adonai makes a way when there appears no way. It is His specialty. Remember the Red Sea.”  The words of her old friend came back to her, just as they did so often when Sophie felt at her wits’ end.

The Germans wanted to make certain that Poles were equipped only to follow orders, mostly for menial labor. They espoused the belief that a thinking Pole was a dangerous Pole. Hence, Polish schools were closed and thousands upon thousands of children did not learn to read or write—unless they were taught in secret.

“We’re not meant to handle life alone, Sophie. It’s too hard, too unpredictable, too messy and big. There is One who is willing and ready to help, to travel with us, if we let Him.”

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek–the blue librarian

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

by Kim Michele Richardson

The Book Woman of Troublesome CreekTwo tales woven seamlessly into one—that’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, a work of historical fiction carefully researched and crafted by Kim Michele Richardson. Cussy Carter is a blue-skinned young woman, strong, determined, and the subject of suspicion, hatred, and discrimination in the backwoods of the Kentucky Appalachians in the 1930’s. She is also a Book Woman, a librarian who travels by mule to deliver books to the far reaches of the mountains to patrons who otherwise would have no reading options. Cussy, also called Bluet, knows her place in society as does her Black friend Queenie. They are both considered “colored.” Most people are disgusted by looking at Cussy and certainly avoid any kind of touch.

Richardson paints a moving portrait of Cussy and what it must be like to be an object of ridicule and perhaps the last of her kind. You will be hoping for the best for Cussy who, as a coal miner’s daughter, lives in poverty but shares freely with her even more impoverished patrons. Her father, also a Blue, suffers from lung issues and horrible working conditions.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a work you will read with your heart in your throat, amazed at the struggles and sufferings of Cussy, her pa, her patrons, and those who dare show kindness to her. At the same time, the book is uplifting because there are good people included in the story and Cussy always stands as a model of someone who does what is right because it is right and in spite of those who would hurt her.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: There are helpful Author’s Notes at the end of the book discussing the rare condition called methemoglobinemia. Richardson also gives background on the Pack Horse Library Project and courting candles. She explains that she altered one fact regarding dates so that she could include certain medical information.

Publication:  May 7, 2019—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

I lived for the joy of bringing books and reading materials to the hillfolk who were desperate for my visits, the printed word that brought a hopeful world into their dreary lives and dark hollers. It was necessary. And for the first time in my life, I felt necessary.

I couldn’t help notice again how the students waited for me, looked up at me, all quiet and not a single fidget or wiggle, as hungry for the stories in these books as they were for the food that always seemed sparse in this real land.

Nary a townsfolk, not one God-fearing soul, had welcomed me or mine into town, their churches, or homes in all my nineteen years on this earth. Instead, every hard Kentucky second they’d filled us with an emptiness from their hate and scorn. It was as if Blues weren’t allowed to breathe the very same air their loving God had given them…

Ever Faithful–Yellowstone in 1933

Ever Faithful

by Karen Barnett

Ever FaithfulYellowstone National Park, Wyoming

1933

The middle of the Great Depression

Ever Faithful is the tale of young people from various walks of life joined by employment at Yellowstone. Some are pack rats (porters), some pillow punchers (maids), and others pearl divers (dishwashers). Additional college students working the summer are tour bus drivers and laundry workers. Throw into the mix a contingent of down and out, unemployed and often uneducated young men from the cities, part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) founded by President Roosevelt to combat unemployment and the problems that can arise from idleness and defeated attitudes. All of these young people have pasts that affect their presents.

Elsie, the daughter of a park ranger, loves Yellowstone and has spent many summers working hard at the inns at the park to achieve her dream—to go to college to become a teacher. She and her friends have romantic entanglements typical of summer romances. Some, however, seem more serious than others. Vaughn, a park ranger, sets his eyes on Elsie as does Nate Webber who has taken a CCC job to get out of trouble and provide money for his family in New York. Secrets abound and some are potentially deadly as they are linked to wildfires that could destroy the dry, pine beetle infested forests of Yellowstone.

After an interesting story with a historically accurate setting, author Karen Barnett moves the story ahead four years with a quite satisfactory epilogue. Then she provides information on the main aspects of this work of historical fiction and notes a few minor discrepancies as well as how the park has changed.

Yellowstone with its bears, bison, geysers, and vistas is on many a bucket list. Some of the original inns remain while others have been replaced. There are probably too many tourists, but it is still a park that belongs to the people, and it is a wonderful setting for this tale.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to WaterBrook (Penguin Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: 1. Thematically a part of the Vintage National Parks Novels but remains a standalone in terms of characters, setting, and plot.

2. Gentle reminders of God’s presence and plan.

Publication:   June 18, 2019—WaterBrook (Penguin Random House)

Memorable Lines:

“It’s hard for men to be out of work. It wears at their souls, tears them down piece by piece like a crumbling brick wall.”

It was odd how teaching both energized her and sapped her at the same time. During class, she flitted from one student to another, each one’s progress sending a wave of satisfaction through her chest. But when the room emptied, her strength seemed to go with them.

Nate reached into his pocket and pulled out the pine cone he’d picked up at Roosevelt and squeezed it in his fist. The scales were closed, glued shut by sap. According to Ranger Brookes, without fire it wouldn’t open to disperse the seeds hidden within. God could bring good out of disaster.

We Hope for Better Times–discrimination across the years

We Hope for Better Things

by Erin Bartels

We Hope for Better ThingsThis work of fiction begins in the present day where the story centers on Elizabeth Balsam, an investigative journalist in Detroit, Michigan, always looking for a good story. She thinks she has found it when a stranger asks her to return a camera and some photos of the ’67 Detroit race riots to a relative of hers that she doesn’t actually know. This is interesting timing as she has just lost her job when outed during undercover work. Is it possible that what seems like a devastating blow to her career will be the best thing that could have happened to her?

Suddenly the author drops us into Detroit in 1963, and we are introduced to  an interracial couple. This is a thread that ties right into Elizabeth’s story as she meets Nora. This elderly relative probably has a story to tell if she can just be coaxed into telling it. This new plot thread segues into the story of yet another family member, Mary Balsam. Mary’s home is in Lapeer County in 1861, but it is now Nora’s home.

All three generations involve interracial couples, and author Erin Bartels tries to present the problems each generation encounters. We witness the horrors and sadness of racial issues that run the gamut from slavery to discriminating glances and everything in between.

Each plot thread is strong and as each chapter ended, I couldn’t wait to get to that part of the story again as the chapters cycled through each woman’s tale. As the book draws to a conclusion, the threads become tightly knitted together forming the family’s story.

Although We Hope for Better Things is fiction, it has the feeling of “it could have happened.” The Christian aspects are not prominently featured, but there is an important theme throughout of God’s plan for a person’s life. A sub-theme is the Christian community’s response to runaway slaves in the 1860’s in Mary’s small community during the Civil War.

This is an important work of historical fiction especially for those interested in the Civil War, the riots of the 60’s, or the current progress or lack of it on racial issues. The author presents events in the context of the culture during the specific time period. This novel focuses on the women in each generation and gives a more complete portrayal of them than of the men in the story, and that is probably how this tale needs to be told.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Revell for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 1, 2019—Revell

Memorable Lines:

I was getting less twitchy about not having internet access. I didn’t exactly miss hearing the constant beeps notifying me of texts and tweets and status updates. Out here it was just the ambling, quiet life of the country. A comfortable obscurity.

“That’s good money.” 

“What do we need it for? We’re making ends meet.” 

“Barely. We’re not getting ahead.” 

“Ahead of what? If you have enough to live, what do you need more for?”

“There’s no one right path that if you make the wrong choice you’re sunk. Whatever you choose to do, God can use that. Life is always a winding  path. It’s only in retrospect that it appears to be a straight and inevitable one.”

The Orphan Sisters–bonded forever

The Orphan Sisters

by Shirley Dickson

the orphan sistersIn between the Great War and World War II, two sisters are dropped off by their widowed mother at the austere orphanage Blakely. Etty, the younger girl, has no warning or understanding of what had started out to be a fun family adventure on the train. Dorothy, the older of the two, is able to deal with the circumstances somewhat better. The girls remain there until they reach their fifteenth year. At that time each undergoes an adjustment to a world so different from the institution that had become an uncomfortable and regimented “home.” 

In The Orphan Sisters, we trace the girls’ lives as they become adults, never willing to be far apart from each other. They have hopes and dreams and make choices that are life altering. As they move towards maturity, Great Britain is thrust into the war which affects every area of their lives with rationing, young men being called up for duty, relationships with the  awareness that each day may be their last, and women being encouraged to support the war effort by taking on jobs.

The most dramatic parts of the book depict the physical and emotional effects of the bombings. There was great fear as people huddled in shelters and bombs exploded around them.

Shirley Dickson is a great storyteller. She weaves a tale that grips your heart and puts you in Geordie land with the accent and dialect particular to Tyneside. You will want everything to go well for Etty and Dorothy in the midst of the pain and chaos that surrounds them and invades their lives. You will hope for them to finally find peace in their search for their mother’s love.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication:  January 22, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

The Mistress’s smile was more of a grimace—it didn’t look at all welcoming. Her eyes held no warmth in them, and dull and glazed, they reminded Esther of dead fish eyes.

Thankful for being saved, she breathed in the acrid air. But the world now seemed a more frightening place, and even the moon, soaring high in a clear sky, appeared to have a malevolent face.

The nation was at war; an aerial attack might happen any minute, but if your nappies weren’t blindingly white as they flapped on the line—then, according to the housewife law, you’d failed as a mother.

Woman of Courage–a glimpse of Quakers in 1837

Woman of Courage

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

woman of courageAuthor Wanda E. Brunstetter is best known for her fiction books about the Amish. In Woman of Courage, she departs from that focus to write a work of historical fiction whose main character is a Quaker. Amanda Pearson, rejected by her fiancé in New York in 1837, decides to move across the continent to join a missionary couple ministering to the Nez Percé Indians in the Oregon Territory. The first part of her journey is by steamboats and then wagon. At Fort Laramie, she and her father meet up with the guide who is hired to take them the rest of the way by horseback.

Amanda is unprepared for the adventures to come, but she proves to be resilient, courageous, and of strong faith. On her journey she faces the deaths of those she depends on, wild animals, rough mountain men, and Indians from several tribes. Will she make it all the way to Oregon Territory? Can she be dissuaded from her faith in God by the devastations in her life? Will she ever be able to love again?

Brunstetter has researched the time period. She doesn’t fall back on stereotypes for the Quakers, mountain men, or Indians, but portrays them as individuals. This is a Christian book, but it doesn’t play out as a tale where everything works out with magical perfection for the characters who are Christians. They experience internal turmoil and external dangers like nonbelievers, but they have a strong God to rely on during the good times and the bad.

Several times I found myself reading on past my intended stopping place—always a good sign for a book. There are a number of occurrences that I just didn’t predict which keep the book moving at a brisk pace. The characters are well developed and interesting. The various settings are described in detail, appropriate to the action in the book and with language that lets the reader visualize the grandeur of nature. A novel with a Christian theme, it contains history, romance, and action along with thought-provoking concerns about evangelizing other cultures.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: There are discussion questions at the end of the book. My version also contained a novella, Woman of Hope, based on a characters from Woman of Courage. It is a quick, interesting bonus read, and as expected, because of the brevity of the work, does not hold much character development.

Publication:  December 1, 2018— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Gray Eagle didn’t mind them teaching his people from the Bible, but it wasn’t right that they expected the Nez Percé to give up many of their customs in favor of the white man’s way of doing things.

She remembered her father saying once that it was important to forgive someone who had wronged you, but that forgiving didn’t mean you had to be in a relationship with them. Sometimes it was best to keep a safe distance from the person who had done you wrong.

“…God, who I believe is the same as the Great Spirit we have worshiped for so many years. I believe it was God who kept me alive when I was taken from my people. He got me through times when I didn’t think I would survive, and it was Him who brought me home again.”

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