education pathways

Home » Historical Fiction

Category Archives: Historical Fiction

The Woman with the Blue Star–refuge in a sewer

The Woman with the Blue Star

by Pam Jenoff

If you are an aficionado of World War II novels, you will probably like The Woman with the Blue Star, the story of Sadie and her family who are forced into a Polish ghetto and later avoid a roundup of Jews for deportation by fleeing to the dark stench and filth of the sewers. Their survival depends on the mercy of the sewer worker who leads them there and provides them with what food could be had in Krakow in 1942. The Germans leave little for the local population and ration cards are required.

Sadie’s path crosses with Ella’s at a chance glance down through a sewer grate. Ella lives with her stepmother who maintains a fairly good standard of living by acting as a mistress to various German officers.

The author describes in detail both the disgustingly putrid conditions for the Jewish family in the sewer and the better, but still precarious, lives of the Polish citizens above ground. The characters and their reactions are generally believable. There are a number of dramatic twists in the story along with some romantic threads and a look at those involved in the Polish Home Army underground movement.

Most of the story seems realistic. I do wonder about the many occasions when Ella ventures out after the government imposed curfew, once even with Sadie above ground. Given the enormous threat of German soldiers and Polish police patrolling the streets, their adventures seem foolhardy and unlikely.

I love the epilogue which confirms something I suspected, but its revelation makes a great twist. Although it is difficult to read about the enormous hardships, this book is an important reminder of a piece of history we should never forget so we will not allow it to be repeated.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Publication: May 4, 2021—Harlequin

Memorable Lines:

We had almost nothing by the end; it had all been sold or left behind when we moved to the ghetto. Still, the idea that people could go through our property, that we had no right to anything of our own anymore, made me feel violated, less human.

Once I could not have imagined staying in the sewer for so long. But there was simply nowhere to go. The ghetto had been emptied, all of the Jews who lived there killed or taken to the camps. If we went onto the street, we would be shot on sight or arrested.

Saul talked on and on through his tears, telling stories of his brother, as if pressing the memories of his brother between pages to preserve like dry flowers.

Souvenirs from Kyiv–devastation of war

Souvenirs from Kyiv

by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

I want to believe Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger’s stories in Souvenirs from Kyiv are more fiction than history, but I know that is not true. She has researched and conducted interviews with survivors of World War II and its aftermath. She has compiled their memories into composite stories that share brutal truths about war. Her goal Is to “make it clear that conflict is not about two teams meeting on the battlefield—one called ‘good’ and one called ‘bad.’ There are no winners in this story.”

These tales are emotionally hard to read; I put aside the book several times to regroup. Because the author is Ukrainian-American, I expected the book would be slanted towards the Ukrainians. While they are certainly the focus, they are not depicted as guiltless. The barbarism of war is demonstrated in acts performed by Germany, Poland, the USSR, Ukraine, and the United Nations. “Sides” were not clear cut and people had to quickly change their nationalism based on necessity for survival.

In Ukraine’s War of Independence (1917-1921), a chant was popular:
Glory to Ukraine.
Glory to the heroes!
Death to the enemies.

It was revived in the 1940’s as a partisan group struggled to “ ‘purify’ Ukraine of Jews, of Poles, of Nazis, of Soviets.” The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was founded after WW I. It fractured into two groups, each fiercely loyal to its leader. They expended energy which would have been better used in fighting their common enemy. That is an easy position to take from my safe twenty-first century armchair.

The author creates believable, fictional characters. Through them she makes real:
–the desperation of those in labor camps
–the hard work required just to survive each day
–the quick adjusting of priorities for those fleeing
–the raw, animalistic violence that emerged during the fight for survival—whether to get a place in a bomb shelter or to grasp a stale piece of bread.
There are also shining lights:
–parents sacrificing for children
–the kindness of a German officer leading a refuge family to safety during a bombing
–everyday citizens risking their lives by sharing their homes and what little food had been left for them by ravaging soldiers.

These are all stories that need to be told, but the tale goes further. When the dust of battle settles, what happens to the survivors? To what country will they claim allegiance? Even those captured by an army and put in uniform or forced into slave labor, can be blacklisted as traitors in their home country. There is the unimaginable prospect of labor camps once more. If these threats are not realized, the survivors still have to overcome physical and mental hurdles of reintegrating into a society, perhaps not the one of their birth. During and after the war, Ukraine Diaspora occurred in the U.S. and in Europe.

Although this book is historical fiction, I learned a lot about the strife between Ukraine and its neighbors. Conflict is not new in that area. The author made history come alive with characters caught up in a war not of their making. It is important to read the forward. The first story slowly immersed me into the time period. Then the rest of the book sped by quickly. This author has written other books, and I am interested in reading them as well. Although Souvenirs from Kyiv is about Ukraine, its theme, the devastation of war, has worldwide applications.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: 1. A map of Ukraine is included.
2. The book ends with a letter from the author and also a valuable glossary. Some foreign language words are defined within the story, but the glossary is helpful for the other terms.

Publication: April 22, 2022—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

I think of the Germans picking up and fleeing, the Red Army laying claim to the scorched land, and I know that one oppressor is no better than the next.

[Pretend death notification letter composed by an enlisted Ukrainian forced into the German army.] As we waited for our weapons to thaw, your son took a bullet. He did not die a hero. He did not kill many Red Army troops. He was shot, and others have died of TB, frozen to death, or have simply lost hope. You may stop sending blankets. They go to the officers, anyway. You could send clubs and knives, for we have been forced to turn into primitive cavemen. Our weapons are useless in this frozen land.

…if he has learned anything on this journey, it is this: he will give up everything—including his principles, including his painting, his life—to keep his family alive.

The Valet’s Secret–class barriers to love

The Valet’s Secret

by Josi S. Kilpack

When I started reading The Valet’s Secret, I realized it is a historical romance, not of the Jane Austen satirical variety, but one of romantic attraction thwarted by class differences. This is not my typical reading genre, and so it took a few chapters for me to get involved with the characters and their dilemmas. At that point I began to really care about the main characters.

Kenneth Winterton, while raised as a gentleman, had no expectations or training to be the future Earl of Brenton. When his cousin Edward dies suddenly, Kenneth is expected to prepare himself for his new role, including marrying someone from the local gentry. Thus begins round after round of entertainments to introduce him to suitable ladies. His heart has already been stolen by a chance encounter with Rebecca Parker, a widow living with an abusive, alcoholic father, helping him with his craft of silhouettes. Prior to her marriage, she had been “in service” as a maid. Kenneth and Rebecca are by status incompatible.

As the story moves towards its conclusion, the reader must certainly wonder how the couple could possibly marry. There are several dramatic twists; the actions of a few characters reveal their true motivations and scheming, and some even have a change of heart. The cover reflects the importance of silhouettes in the story, and the title reflects an early, light-hearted deception in the tale with serious consequences. By the end of The Valet’s Secret, I was convinced by this quick read that this genre and author deserve some more attention from me as I make future selections.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Shadow Mountain Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Publication: March 8, 2022—Shadow Mountain Publishing

Memorable Lines:

“The title precedes you into every room, every relationship, every decision. You do not think what is best for any individual—not even yourself—but what is best for the community affected by your status. Nothing comes above that responsibility. Nothing at all.”

…the thought that he would remain here, learning to live a life that was uncomfortable with a woman whom he did not know while waiting for an old man he loved to die, made him extremely sad.

How he hated this marriage mart he was hung within. So very much. The only viable solution to get out of it was, in fact, to marry.

The Enchanted April–looking for happiness

The Enchanted April

by Elizabeth Von Arnim

In an exceptionally rainy and dreary March in England, four strangers decide to get away by sharing the rent on a medieval castle in sunny Italy for the month of April. Lotty Wilkins, who can “see” or visualize people at their best and happiest initiates the effort, recruiting Rose Arbuthnot. Both in their early thirties, they do not have happy marriages. Lady Caroline is a little younger and extremely attractive, but is tired of the superficial cloying of people bewitched by her good looks. The very authoritative Mrs. Fisher in her sixties is still wearing mourning blacks years after her husband’s death and focuses her thoughts and conversations on childhood memories of encounters with famous people, particularly authors. This fictional account relies strongly on character development as these ladies’ situations are examined and they react to each other and to their temporary environment for the month. As I reread the many lines I had highlighted, I found that the writing is indeed exquisite.

The Enchanted April is the kind of book that holds beauty and introspection and gently insists that readers immerse themselves in the deliciousness of a sunny month of flowering plants and enticing foods. There are humorous situations thrown in as Lotty and Rose speak no Italian and the other two ladies don’t want to undertake the bother of dealing with the servants or managing the finances. There are also some surprising plot twists at the end of the tale. If you join the ladies in their Italian castle, your only regret will be saying “Arrivederci” at the end of the stay.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: Originally published in 1922.

Publication: July 19, 2005—Project Gutenberg

Memorable Lines:

She wanted to be alone, but not lonely. That was very different; that was something that ached and hurt dreadfully right inside one. It was what one dreaded most…Was it possible that loneliness had nothing to do with circumstances, but only with the way one met them?

“Oh, but in a bitter wind to have nothing on and know there never will be anything on and you going to get colder and colder till at last you die of it—that’s what it was like, living with somebody who didn’t love one.”

In heaven nobody minded any of those done-with things, one didn’t even trouble to forgive and forget, one was much too happy.

Sense and Sensibility–guided reading of a classic

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

with A Guide to Reading and Reflecting by Karen Swallow Prior

Sense and Sensibility was first published anonymously in 1811; it was Austen’s first book. She was thirty-five. She published three more in her lifetime and two more were published after her death in 1817. Although the focus of this novel is love and marriage, it is not a romance in the modern sense. It is a satire finding humor in the manners and customs at the turn of the century.

The main characters are the pragmatic, self-controlled Elinor Dashwood and her sister Marianne who feels everything deeply and openly. Their financial situation is based on the inheritance system in place at that time in which the eldest son receives the lion’s share of the patriarch’s property and wealth. Thus the young ladies and their mother and younger sister are left with little to live on and are somewhat dependent on an ungenerous half-brother. As the older girls are at marrying ages (19 and 17), the main part of the novel tells of the ins and outs of various suitors and relationships. We watch the characters change and grow as their circumstances alter. The events work to balance out the extremes of character found in Elinor and Marianne.

Karen Swallow Prior takes this classic and becomes a guide for the modern reader. As an English professor, she begins with a thorough introduction befitting her profession. She provides information about the time period, Austen’s background, and the form of the satirical novel. She explains situational and verbal irony as well as free indirect discourse. She also discusses Austen’s Christian background and how a Christian today might view this work. Prior includes footnotes for words, terms, and concepts that harken from the last part of the eighteenth century and might cause confusion or difficulty for a reader in the twenty-first century. As Sense and Sensibility is divided into three “volumes,” Prior follows each section with discussion questions and then ends the book with more general “Questions for Further Reflection.” All of these features improve the reading experience and yield opportunities for a deeper understanding.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Classic

Notes: I found the introduction useful before I began reading Sense and Sensibility, but when I referred back to it in preparation for writing this review, I found it helpful to reread the information as I was able to apply some of it better having completed the novel.

Publication: The novel was originally published in 1811. This edition was published in 2020 by B&H Publishing Group.

Memorable Lines:

From Prior’s Introduction:
Some of its satire is directed at significant human flaws and social structures such as romanticism, greed, falsity, and the prevailing view of marriage as a business transaction. Other objects of satire in the novel are less serious but incur no less delight in being skewered incisively by Austen’s sharp eye and even sharper wit: silly women, idle men, and gossiping tongues.

From the novel:
This specimen of the Miss Steeles was enough. The vulgar freedom and folly of the eldest left her no recommendation, as Elinor was not blinded by the beauty, or the shrewd look of the youngest, to her want of real elegance and artlessness, she left the house without any wish of knowing them better.

Marianne, with excellent abilities and an excellent disposition, was neither reasonable nor candid. She expected from other people the same opinions and feelings as her own, and she judged of their motives by the immediate effect of their actions on herself.

A Tourist’s Guide to Murder–Sam and “the girls” invade Britain

A Tourist’s Guide to Murder

by V.M. Burns

Samantha Washington (Sam) is the owner of a mystery bookshop in North Harbor and has just landed a three book deal with a publishing house. She will spend the next week in England doing research for the British historic cozy mystery she is writing. She is slated for a mystery tour accompanied by her Nana Jo and Nana’s three best friends from the Shady Acres Retirement Village. Of the four senior citizens, not a one meets the stereotype of frail, little old ladies. They have a reputation for helping Sam solve mysteries that come her way through interviews, eavesdropping, feminine wiles, deduction, and the occasional use of martial arts as two of them have blackbelts. They keep the plot moving and the reader laughing.

There are complications just in reaching London with jet lag and no luggage, but that’s only the beginning of their troubles. The owner of the tour company is murdered, but the police, oddly, are not investigating. Unfortunately, there is another murder, and one of the assigned detectives is “as bright as a burned-out light bulb” and “a few sandwiches short of a picnic.” It’s time for Sam, Nana Jo, and “the girls” to join forces to discover the truth.

In order to free up her conscious mind when stymied in her investigations, Sam spends time when she can’t sleep or between tour stops writing her own mystery. Although the book she is writing takes place in 1939, Sam is able to use elements in the murders she is currently investigating and apply the principles to her own mystery with great success. When the flow of the contemporary mystery was first interrupted with this secondary story, I was a little miffed because I wanted the action to continue in the primary story. By the time I reached the next transition to 1939, however, I was anxious to read about the progress made in Sam’s own whodunit. The character Sam’s writing seems a little stilted at first, compared to the rest of the book, but that is perhaps due to the titles of “Lord” and “Lady” still being used along with formalities involved with a household of servants and adherence to etiquette rules. It is quite a contrast to our contemporary society.

I enjoyed Sam’s eagerness in visiting The Grand Hotel in Torquay where Agatha Christie honeymooned in 1914 and the Torquay Museum that displays the famous author’s memorabilia and items from movies based on her books. Next they went to Greenway, Christie’s home in Devon where she wrote many of her books. Sam “fangirled” on the tour of the house taking many pictures and drooling over first editions. Because of the two murders, the itinerary for the trip had to be revised several times, but most of the highlights are still included, and the group is able to visit several places that were alleged to be the settings or inspiration of mysteries by authors like Dorothy L. Sayers and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

If you like cozy mysteries, you can’t get any more “bookish” than V.M. Burns’ A Tourist’s Guide to Murder. It has two plots within the same book, a tour of significant literary locations, a writer-sleuth, and a mystery bookstore. It’s not heaven, but it’s pretty close. The tour intentionally lays on some misdirection, and there are red herrings in both plots to keep you guessing. The retirement home group is anything but retiring: they bring to minds phrases like “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” and “herding cats.” I want to read more from this series.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #6 in the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. This was my first book in this series and I had no problem reading it as a standalone.
2. There are many reasons to read this book, but one of them should not be the two cute toy poodles on the cover. They belong to Sam, but she doesn’t take them with her to England, so they are only briefly mentioned in the book.

Publication: January 26, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

Lady Clara’s cheeks flamed and her eyes flashed. After a split second, she gave the captain a smile and then stomped down hard on his foot. “Oooph.” Captain Jessup bent over in pain. “Dear me, was that your foot?” Lady Clara said in a voice that oozed sweetness.

Nana Jo glanced at Hannah. “I don’t know about your national health care system, but in the United States, the pharmaceutical companies are running the whole country, and they’ve got a pill for everything.”

“Let’s face it, Stinky Pitt couldn’t find a killer who was standing naked in the middle of the street with a neon sign over his head.” Nana Jo and the girls nodded. Hannah looked confused. “Stinky Pitt?” Ruby Mae looks up from her knitting. “He’s the local detective in North Harbor, Michigan.” “Not the sharpest knife in the drawer?” “I’ve got sharper spoons.”

A Pretty Deceit–the pursuit of Ardmore continues

A Pretty Deceit

by Anna Lee Huber

In the aftermath of The Great War, there are many “walking wounded.” This category refers to soldiers with physical wounds, of course. Also included are those psychologically affected, unable to relate to others, even those they love most. Waking or sleeping, the horrors of the war remain with them. Their families have suffered as well. Many have lost sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands either through death or trauma. Women are living in limbo or trying to raise children on their own. All of these injured are touched on as we witness the struggles of the characters in A Pretty Deceit. The protagonist, Verity Kent, is a high society woman married to a war hero. You would think the couple would be happily “living the life” after the war. They harbor secrets, however, as each individually worked for intelligence services, and their past efforts continue to disrupt their current lives.

Verity has a penchant for solving mysteries, and in this historical novel by Anna Lee Huber, Verity is called on by her family to investigate her aunt’s missing possessions as well as the disappearance of a maid. Her husband’s influence is solicited to encourage the government to provide reparations to Verity’s aunt for damages that occurred when Air Force officers were billeted in her home. As the couple tries to help, a murder is discovered on the estate, and Verity is called on to clear the murder victim’s wife. In the middle of these investigations, the couple is asked, unofficially, to investigate a wealthy businessman with connections that rise high in the government. He rarely dirties his own hands but has many minions willing to do his bidding.

I have read two more books in this series, and A Pretty Deceit is my favorite so far. Well written, as all of the books in this series are, this novel is outstanding in background, pace, and character development. We meet Reg, Verity’s cousin who was blinded in the war. We also see her current interactions with two men who had a romantic interest in Verity during the war. Verity is well aware of her attractiveness and is not afraid to subtly use it to achieve her ends. The position and influence of a woman in this time period is well demonstrated by the reactions of characters to women in accordance with class status and race. This historical fiction is a piece worth reading.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Verity Kent Series, but works well as a standalone

Publication: September 29, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

For all that Aunt Ernestine would be horrified at such conduct in others, she was remarkably oblivious to the fault in herself.

Compassion need not be a restricted commodity, especially not during a time when everyone was still struggling to right themselves after the topsy-turvy years of the war.

He was a cunning manipulator, making people question even those things they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true, and exploiting people’s best and worst natures to convince them to do things they would never have dreamed themselves capable of.

When We Were Young and Brave–kindness in the midst of despair

When We Were Young and Brave

by Hazel Gaynor

During our current tumultuous times, When We Were Young and Brave was somewhat of a difficult read for me, but I’m glad it is now a part of my personal reading journey. Hazel Gaynor’s latest book relates a fictional version of the events following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor as they play out for the students and teachers at the China Inland Mission School in Chefoo, China. With Japan’s invasion of China, the Japanese seize and occupy the school, later interning the residents in the much larger prison camp known as the Weihsien Civilian Assembly Center where sanitation facilities are disgusting and meals are meager, nutritionally inadequate for growing children, and almost inedible. Despite the harsh conditions, the teachers protect the children as best they can while rallying them with insistence on routines, cleanliness, and a hearty “chin up” attitude. Of particular note is the role of their Girl Guide troop and standards that help the students in maintaining a positive outlook.

The last sections of the book, “Liberation” and “Remembrance,” are remarkable in the beauty of the skillful writing that describes the impact of the American liberation on the camp residents. They gain relief from the fears that haunted them daily, but endure the substitution of new anxieties and questions for the future. Where will they go and what will they do? Is anyone waiting for them at home?

The story is told by alternating narrators. Elspeth is a competent, well-organized, and kind teacher who has a special motherly feeling for Nancy, the daughter of missionaries in China. Their relationship is always teacher and student, but as months of internment become years, Elspeth takes on increasingly more of the commitment for safe care that she made to Nancy’s mother as they departed by boat to sail to the school, both as first-timers. We view their ordeals from both Elspeth’s and Nancy’s points of view.

There are a lot of themes in the book including resilience, relationships, releasing the past, and looking to the future. Symbolism is also important in the kingfisher that becomes the emblem of the new Girl Guide patrol and the sunflower which holds a special meaning for teacher and students. 

The characters emerge as three dimensional figures as they are well developed. Realism comes into play with descriptions of the harsh conditions; no one’s story is fairytale like or even positive. The setting is well-executed with vivid word pictures. As the Chinese workers slosh through the camp, the odor of the filth of “honey-pot” buckets they pull from the latrines makes an unforgettable olfactory experience. There are also more pleasant descriptions of the beauty outside the camp, but glimpses are rare for those interned. The last two sections make the book a winner for me, but the first sections are also well written and essential to the success of this historical novel.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: There is a very informative section at the end of the book that describes the author’s research and thought processes and some historical background. The author has also included a brief history of the Girl Guides as that organization plays an important role in the girls’ lives. Other additions are a list of books and websites for further reading, including original source documents found at weihsien-paintings.org, and some questions for discussion.

Publication: October 6, 2020—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

When she was cross, Miss Kent spoke in a way that reminded me of brittle twigs snapping underfoot on autumn walks. I felt my cheeks go red. Without giving me a ticking-off, she’d done exactly that.

I knew the smile she gave us that morning was the sort of “we must be brave” smile adults use when they’re trying to pretend something awful isn’t happening.

But, as I’d come to realize about life during a war, nothing stayed the same for long. Just when you thought you’d adjusted and adapted and found a way to cope, the situation changed.

Death Comes for the Archbishop–New Mexico frontier

Death Comes for the Archbishop

by Willa Cather

Every well-read person should have read at least one book by Willa Cather, an American Pulitzer Prize winning author famous for her novels set in the frontier. When my book club decided recently to read Death Comes for the Archbishop, I had not read any of Cather’s books. I was delighted that the choice was one that focused on the history of the Catholic church in New Mexico where I currently live. The novel provides as a backdrop a tour of cities, towns, pueblos, and open deserts inhabited by foreign priests, Mexicans, and Indians. Cather paints beautiful word pictures of the landscapes while depicting the difficulties of life, and especially travel, as two French priests attempt to revive the Catholic religion in the region. Churches had been planted over three hundred years earlier but did not receive much attention from Rome. With the annexation of new territories by the U.S., things begin to change in a land viewed as “wild” for many reasons. It is ruled over by the Bishop of Durango located in Mexico, fifteen hundred  miles away from Santa Fe where the missionaries headquartered. 

Jean Marie Latour, a parish priest based in the Lake Ontario region is elevated to bishop arriving in New Mexico in 1851 after a difficult and dangerous year long journey. He is accompanied by his childhood friend Father Joseph Valliant.  Despite its title, Death Comes for the Archbishop is not a murder mystery nor does it focus on the death of the Archbishop. Instead, it is a triumphant tale of strong, wise, and intelligent men who against all odds form friendships with peoples of various tribes, cultures, and languages in a harsh but beautiful land. The descriptive language is exquisite and serves to enhance and further the plot. This book celebrates the usually successful struggles for survival and the somewhat successful attempts to share the Catholic religion. In the Archbishop’s passing, it becomes evident that he was much loved and respected by the peoples of the many cultures in his diocese.

Death Comes for the Archbishop is a tale I would enjoy rereading for the breadth of its descriptions and the depth of its topics. The two Fathers were men I would enjoy meeting. Quite unalike physically and in disposition, they were fast and loyal friends with different means of evangelism, but suitable to their characters. Although this book has a specific setting in terms of time period and location and has characters with a religious profession, its themes of devotion, strength, and friendship transcend the New Mexico frontier of the 1850’s and the Catholic priesthood. Although the specifics were interesting and an effective vessel for the themes, the novel proves Cather to be, above all, an able storyteller. I had no regrets in reading this work of historical fiction based on the lives of two missionaries, and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication: June 15, 1927—Reading Essentials

Memorable Lines:

Everything showed him to be a man of gentle birth—brave, sensitive, courteous. His manners, even when he was alone in the desert, were distinguished. He had a kind of courtesy toward himself, toward his beasts, toward the juniper tree, before which he knelt, and the God whom he was addressing.

There was a reassuring solidity and depth about those walls, rounded at doorsills and windowsills, rounded in wide wings about the corner fireplace. The interior had been newly whitewashed in the Bishop’s absence, and the flicker of the fire threw a rosy glow over the wavy surfaces, never quite evenly flat, never a dead white, for the ruddy colour of the clay underneath gave a warm tone to the lime-wash.

This mesa plain had an appearance of great antiquity, of incompleteness; as if, with all the materials for world-making assembled, the Creator had desisted, gone away and left everything on the point of being brought together, on the eve of being arranged into mountain, plain, plateau.

The Engineer’s Wife–P.T. Barnum’s inclusion disappoints

The Engineer’s Wife

by Tracey Enerson Wood

Historical fiction is a difficult genre for both writer and reviewer. The writer has to juggle how much history should be included with the amount of  fictitious information needed to establish the setting and especially to flesh out the characters. The reviewer then must judge the book based less on plot, which is to some degree predetermined, than on the author’s ability to combine history and fiction into a package that is both believable and pleasing.

In many ways I appreciated Tracey Enerson Wood’s The Engineer’s Wife. The subject is interesting. Emily Warren Roebling, a woman restricted by the social conventions governing the women of the mid to late nineteenth century, marries a Union officer. After he resigns his commission, he dedicates his life to his father’s project, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. This is a controversial project that proves dangerous to many,  including her husband Wash who is an engineer. Rather than choosing to devote herself to the project after Wash is injured, Emily is subtly and progressively sucked into supervising the construction to completion.

The author has a wonderful way with words, and her research into the engineering aspects of the bridge is thorough. My only complaint of this work of historical fiction is the inclusion of Emily’s extended friendship and romance with the famous P.T. Barnum. Given that they lived and worked in the same city, their paths probably did cross, but in her notes at the end of the book the author freely admits that she had no basis for the creation of their relationship. It is such a major part of the story that I felt cheated as a reader. This is a work of fiction with a real setting rather than fictionalized history. Perhaps this work simply lies at the opposite end of a continuum from my preferred reading tastes in this genre.

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

Rating: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: Contains two added sections: Reading Group Guide and A Conversation with the Author

Publication:   April 7, 2020—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

Autumn had painted the trees with brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows. Soon, cold, clear nights would rob the forest, leaving the trees to face the winter stark and barren.

Her lips were drawn tight enough to sling the arrows her eyes aimed at us.

The panic I had successfully tamped down returned like a lion for the kill.

%d bloggers like this: