Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Winter Station by Jody Shields

Title: The Winter Station
Author: Jody Shields
Genre: Historical Fiction


Synopsis: It's 1910 in a Russian occupied town in the Manchuria region of China. An aristocratic Russian doctor who, unlike many other Russians in the town, has great respect for the Chinese culture, starts to notice mysterious unreported deaths of Chinese people. It starts with two bodies abandoned at the train station and slowly starts to grow. Government officials want to ignore these deaths, but the Baron will not let this go uninvestigated.

My Thoughts

From the back cover, I thought that this would be presented as a mystery with lots of suspense. Unfortunately, the first few chapters come across more like, "oh dead people, the government won't care because they aren't Russians. Oh, more dead people, let's send in more doctors to investigate. Oh, its a plague." And then the rest of the book documents the horrors of the plague and how the doctors can't agree on treatment or mode of transmission, the incredible number of deaths, and people trying to avoid quarantine. When it finally gets interesting and the reader is invested, it just ends with the Baron trying to help one of his colleagues to leave the town. Talk about anticlimactic. 
It is based on a diary kept by the Baron, who is the main character, so that is interesting. It is also a part of history that was buried because it was embarrassing to the Russian government how poorly it was handled. But, in the end, it seems like the author tried to take a diary and make it fiction, but didn't add enough meat to make it the truly enthralling mystery it could have been.

I have not gotten into the last couple of books that I have read. Let's hope my next read, Crazy Rich Asians, will live up to the hype! As always, I will keep you posted.

Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


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To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota




Title: The Year of the Runaways 
Author: Sunjeev Sahota
Genre: Fiction


Synopsis: Three young Indian men leave India each fleeing different circumstances but all in search of the same things; work, honor, and a better life for their families. They all end up immigrating to Sheffield, England where they believe work to be plentiful, but unfortunately, jobs are scarce and their living conditions are abysmal. A young woman leaves home to do what she believes is right even though it brings dishonor to her family. Will these four runaways be able to survive this year? 

My Thoughts

When I saw this on the shelf at the library I picked it up because it seemed like a topic that is so important right now. What is life like for immigrants just trying to get by in a new country? This novel is set in 2003 and I had to actively keep reminding myself as I read about the conditions and horrible treatment of these young people that this is a modern novel. It is easier to justify or rationalize this type of treatment when it is about people immigrating in the 19th and early 20th centuries by thinking “times were different then, they didn’t have sanitary conditions, people were fighting for a place to live and work, of course so many people were treated badly and many of them died.” But it is much harder to swallow when it is set less than 20 years ago and conditions seem to be no better for immigrants than they were 100 years ago. 
The story is anxiety-inducing because I just wanted everything to be okay, for each character to get through the day alive. Sometimes I would just keep reading until I came to a point where one of them was out of immediate danger before I could put it down and go to sleep. 
There are parts of the story where there is some humor and small victories, so it is not completely depressing. What I liked most is that it was just honest. People trying to make the best of their circumstances, trying for a new start.

Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


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To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiverini


Title: Enchantress of Numbers
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Genre: Historical Fiction


Other books that I have read by this author:
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: A NovelThe Spymistress: A Novel, Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, Fates and Traitors, Mrs. Lincoln's Rival

Synopsis: Having a famous father and the scandal of a public separation of her parents have led to an unconventional life for Augusta Ada Byron. Doing what she felt right, Ada's mother fills her time with math and science, telling the governesses to never encourage Ada to use her imagination, lest she becomes like her unstable father. Ada is only allowed to hear or read Lord Byron's poetry when in her mother's company, and even then only rarely. As time goes on Ada learns that she can use math and science in conjunction with her imagination to create things beyond imagination.

My Thoughts


This is the first novel by this author that is not set in the United States during the American Civil War. Each of them had a moment where characters from the other novels crossed paths, which was cool to see different perspectives of the same events. Enchantress of Numbers started off by giving the story of the marriage of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke and the birth of their daughter. It was very unsettling and a bit depressing how poorly Annabella was treated. After that, the description of Ada's young life was a bit slow and repetitive. I'm not sure if that was the intention to emphasize the redundant, sheltered life Ada lived. It also progressed very slowly and while the time span was given at the beginning of each chapter, the passing of time was hard to follow, especially when she was very young.
By the time the story picked up I was more than halfway through the book and felt that her adult life and accomplishments were not as fully fleshed out and more of the story should have been devoted to that time in her life. When I realized there were only a few pages left I was disappointed. I really liked that some of the minor characters Ada also became quite famous, like Charles Dickens. I also enjoyed that each chapter title was inspired from a line written by Lord Byron.
Overall, this was not my favorite novel by this author but interesting to learn about this little-known person in history.


Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


To buy this book from Amazon now, click on the image at the top of the post.
To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George



Title: Confessions of Young Nero
Author: Margaret George
Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: Lucius has royal blood but is not first in line to become emperor. After the emperor dies, Lucius's mother, Agrippina, is returned from exile and comes to claim him from his aunt, who was raising him. It is Agrippina's singular goal to put Lucius on the throne. This novel follows Lucius from his young life and early years as Emperor Nero to the burning of Rome. 

My Thoughts

My first thought when reading this book was that the passage of time was not chronicled well. Since it was told from Nero's perspective looking back on his life, the scenes where he was a very small child were told in a voice that made him seem much older. Then it would say something like "so many years have passed," but he was still only like 7. I found it very difficult to follow.
The mother-son relationship in this novel is super complicated and goes to a weird place that may make some readers uncomfortable. George's goal was the show a softer, more human side of Emperor Nero which I think she accomplished. I liked reading this novel, but I never felt super excited to read more and know what was going to happen next. Honestly, I enjoyed reading the acknowledgments at the end more than the story. I felt that more of the history was provided and the author's purpose was expressly stated, helping me to understand why she needed to tell this story. Apparently, there will be a second book to complete this story and I might be interested in reading it, just to see if the story picks up at all.



Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


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To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Friday, September 21, 2018

My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Title: My Dear Hamilton
Author: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Genre: Historical Fiction

Other books by this author that I've read: America's First Daughter


Synopsis: This novel explores the life of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton before, during, and after her marriage to Alexander Hamilton.

My Thoughts

At the end of August, I had the privilege to see Hamilton when it was here in Cleveland with my mom as a gift from my parents upon finishing my MAEd. It was so amazing and afterward, I was super energized and it had left me wondering more about Eliza Hamilton than Alexander. So, as I am wont to do, I looked up books about Eliza Hamilton finding that there was not yet a biography to read about her, but that since Hamilton at least one was in the works. But earlier this year Dray and Kamoie had published this work of historical fiction. Both of the authors were educators before becoming authors and as such the use of primary sources is important to them both. So I knew this would be the closest thing to a true story I could get, short of a biography.
When I saw that these were the authors who had also written America's First Daughter, I was thrilled. I loved that novel and the research they had done as it was written was impeccable. I was also excited to see that they started Eliza's story before she met Alexander because she is an accomplished person in her own right. The story does not end at Alexander's death but continues as Eliza struggles with the aftermath and what he has left behind.
As I got closer and closer to the end of the book I didn't want it to end. It is the kind of novel that left me feeling not quite ready to move on to the next book on my list. It engulfs you and takes you on an emotional journey.
As nerdy as I am, it should surprise no one that I love to read the extras at the end of a historical novel and these notes from the authors were exceptionally exciting for me. They discuss any changes that they made intentionally and justify why they made them. Most of them deal with events out of chronological order or conversations/situations that they entirely created or embellished. They also discuss any plot holes they filled due to gaps in the historical documents.
The authors also included a section comparing the events in their novel to events and the chronology depicted in Hamilton, which I absolutely loved. Being able to see the two works and the choices made by the respective writers of the novel and play made me appreciate the artistic choices each made to best tell their version of a similar story.

If you made it through all of that it may seem unnecessary to say that this novel comes highly recommended by me. Reading about Eliza Hamilton from a first-person perspective written as though she was looking back on her life was super cool. I borrowed this one from the library, I think it is one I need to buy and keep in my personal library because it is totally worth a second read.



Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


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To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Thursday, August 30, 2018

His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal

Title: His Majesty's Hope
Author: Susan Elia MacNeal
Genre: Historical Fiction

Other books by this author that I've read:
 Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Princess Elizabeth's Spy

Synopsis: World War II has finally come home to Britain, but it takes more than nightly air raids to rattle intrepid spy and expert code breaker Maggie Hope. After serving as a secret agent to protect Princess Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, Maggie is now an elite member of the Special Operations Executive—a black ops organization designed to aid the British effort abroad—and her first assignment sends her straight into Nazi-controlled Berlin, the very heart of the German war machine. Relying on her quick wit and keen instincts, Maggie infiltrates the highest level of Berlin society, gathering information to pass on to London headquarters. But the secrets she unveils will expose a darker, more dangerous side of the war—and of her own past. - From the back cover

My Thoughts
As a third installment of the Maggie Hope Mystery series, I was excited to find this novel was just as intriguing, action-packed, and endearing as the first two. At this point in the series, it is important to have read the previous novels because this resolves some plotlines begun in the earlier books. 
This novel is a little less light-hearted than the first two, continuing during WWII, but highlighting "Operation Compassionate Death," where Hitler approved the murder of children with developmental disabilities, chronic diseases, or who had one Jewish parent. In addition to that depressing topic, Maggie has to deal with the ramifications of being undercover and some of her hopeful ignorance/innocence is lost.

If you have read the first two in the series, this one will not disappoint. If this sounds like something you might like to read, check out the first novel Mr. Churchill's Secretary to catch up on how Maggie became an undercover spy!

Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


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To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Friday, August 24, 2018

Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner

Title: Mademoiselle Chanel
Author: C. W. Gortner
Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: This rags to riches story of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel begins when she is a young child orphaned and sent to live and study at a convent. Even then the nuns knew she had a special talent for sewing and encouraged her to use that skill to support herself. After further schooling, Gabrielle is sent out into the world unprepared for the difficulties faced by single women her age attempting to make a living. With the support of people she meets along the way, Coco discovers her talent for design. The story follows her through the struggles and successes that made her the famous icon she is today.

My Thoughts

I have recently decided in order to feed my reading habit in a more budget-friendly and environmentally conscious way that it was time to reintroduce myself to the public library. Browsing the shelves at my local library I found this novel and thought it looked interesting. 
I am not a follower of famous designers and therefore knew little about Coco Chanel except that she was a designer. This novel really dives into her life and why she designed and lived the way she did as an adult woman. Reading her story as told from her first-person perspective really show the times in which she was living in a unique light. It even shares the inspiration for her interlocking CC symbol.
I liked that it was broken up into sections based on major events in history and in Chanel's life. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, fashion, or stories about self-made women.

Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


To buy this book from Amazon now, click on the image at the top of the post.
To see more from the author, visit the website linked above