Friday, June 18, 2021

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

 Title: Memoirs of a Geisha

Author: Arthur Golden

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: 9-year-old Chiyo lives in a poor fishing village with her parents and sister in Japan. Chiyo's mother is dying and when Mr. Tanaka, a wealthy man from town, encounters Chiyo in the street he makes an offer to her father, she and her sister are sold and taken to Gion. Chiyo is sold to an okiya as a maid and is offered the possibility to train as a geisha, but it is not as simple as it sounds. It is a difficult life, to begin with, but especially when the only geisha in the okiya has decided Chiyo is the enemy. When Chiyo meets the chairman of the major electric company in Japan her hope of becoming a geisha is renewed, but that brings its own unique set of challenges.



My Thoughts

I know I'm super late to the game on this book, it is already critically acclaimed and has been made into a movie, but when it was first published I was much too young to read it. (I was about nine.) A colleague of mine had recommended it several times as his favorite book so when I found it on the clearance rack at Barnes and Noble I had to pick it up.
I really enjoyed following Chiyo's journey to becoming Sayuri, a Gion geisha. I learned a lot about the life, training, and expectations of a geisha and the added historical context of being a geisha in Japan during WWII. I have read so much about the perspectives of the people in Allied countries during WWII but much less about those living in Axis countries, especially those who were not active military participants. There are so many layers to this novel driven by complex characters and I really loved reading it... even if I was late to the game. 


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Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

Title: The Kennedy Debutante

Author: Kerri Maher

Genre: Historical Fiction


Synopsis: When Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy is living with her family in London while her father, Joe, is an ambassador from the United States, she finds a love of the city and of the ways of the English aristocracy. She also finds love for Billy Harington, the future Duke of Devonshire, but theirs is a forbidden love, Kick's family are well-known Catholics and Billy's staunch Protestants. WWII is beginning and Americans are being sent back home, can their love reach across the Atlantic? Being separated from Billy is bad enough, but struggles within Kick's own family are threatening to tear her apart.



My Thoughts

Before reading this, I had only learned about Kick Kennedy from an episode of Million Dollar American Princesses on the Smithsonian Channel. It discussed the difficulties in her relationship with Billy and the religious divide between the families. This novel gives more insight into Kick's life as a teen in London and her family life leading up to WWII. To get to understand Kick as a person and the relationship with her parents and siblings highlights why marrying someone from another faith would have been such a difficult choice for her. 
This novel also highlights many instances of the "Kennedy Curse" which makes it all the more tragic. I am not a Kennedy follower, so I learned a lot about the family that I never knew before. I loved reading this novel, even knowing how it would end, constantly hoping that maybe that ending wouldn't come. This is a real tear-jerker at some points, but it wouldn't be a good book if you don't become attached to the characters. 


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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

When the Astors Owned New York by Justin Kaplan

 Title: When the Astors Owned New York

Author: Justin Kaplan

Genre: Nonfiction


Synopsis: The history of the rise and reign of the Astor family in New York.



My Thoughts

I was really looking forward to this book when I ordered it from Barnes and Noble. It is not a long book, less than 300 pages so I was excited to be pulled into the New York of the past and the opulent lives of the Astors. 
Sadly, this book left me feeling bored and confused. Instead of a story of a famously rich family and what life was like in the city during their lives, I got a list of facts that jump around in time. I don't usually mind moving between time periods in books, but when all the male members of the family have the same name it makes it incredibly hard to follow when there is very little narrative to provide context. I don't expect nonfiction to read like a fictional work, but honestly, this was really difficult to get through. I have read and reviewed some amazing nonfiction works, so I know it doesn't have to be like this. I read about 3/4 of the book and then put it down to move on to something enjoyable.


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Friday, May 21, 2021

A Breath of Snow and Ashes

Title: The Fiery Cross

Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Fiction, SciFi, Historical, Fantasy

Other books I've read by this author: OutlanderDragonfly in AmberVoyagerDrums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross

Synopsis: "The year is 1772, and on the eve of the American Revolution, the long fuse of rebellion has already been lit. Men lie dead in the streets of Boston, and in the backwoods of North Carolina, isolated cabins burn in the forest.

With chaos brewing, the governor calls upon Jamie Fraser to unite the backcountry and safeguard the colony for King and Crown. But from his wife Jamie knows that three years hence the shot heard round the world will be fired, and the result will be independence—with those loyal to the King either dead or in exile. And there is also the matter of a tiny clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which reports Jamie’s death, along with his kin. For once, he hopes, his time-traveling family may be wrong about the future." - back cover


My Thoughts

As you all know, I love this series, the 6th book in the series is no exception. This novel feels like the first two in the series for me, action-packed, with no lulls or parts I felt the need to skim over. In the last few reviews, I commented on how the tv series and book series start to differ more as they go on; while that remains true, some major scenes in this novel have already happened in season 5 of the television show. I have officially read past the number of tv seasons that have been produced. I cannot wait to read the next book in the series and watch season six (currently filming) of Outlander!

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




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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang


 Title: The Library of Legends

Author: Janie Chang

Genre: Historical fiction, Legend, Magical Realism


Synopsis: 1937, China is at war with Japan and the students and faculty at Minghua University must evacuate. In addition to saving the lives of people of those at the university, they carry with them important and historical volumes from the school's library. Lian, a second-year student with a complicated family history, and the students in her group are tasked with each carrying a book from the Library of Legends. This the only surviving portion of an ancient encyclopedia and the stories encompass the legends of Chinese Gods and immortals. In their walk to travel thousands of miles, Lian becomes close with a fourth-year student, Shaoming, who comes from a wealthy family, and his servant, Sparrow. Lian, Shao, and Sparrow travel together to save the Library of Legends and to reunite with their families, encountering danger and mystical occurrences along the way.



My Thoughts

First of all, how beautiful is the cover of this book? And you can totally judge THIS book by its cover, that is for sure.
I haven't had this much fun reading a war novel in a long time. The story does detail the difficulties, danger, and losses of those living in the affected areas of China and the refugee crisis as people evacuated their cities, but it is done so well. 
Chang brings the subjects of the Library of Legends to life through the eyes of those people with the ability and gift to see them. The patrons of the cities are leaving as they are recalled from Earth, leaving the people who pray to them unprotected. It is a beautiful metaphor for the abandonment felt by those in times of war. For Lian to become part of the story she carries, The Prince and the Willow Star, is a stroke of genius. Bringing the mystical to the novel helps to lighten a historically inspired story about a time of tragedy and loss.
This is also a story of resilience, hope, and perseverance. Carrying the Library of Legends gave the students something to focus on other than their own safety and the long and difficult journey they had to make, mostly on foot, across China. Chang shows how many privileged students evolved through this journey and how those who did not know one another before evacuation became bonded by their experience.
This novel encompasses so much I had to categorize it in several genres; there is a love story, war, mystery, history, and some fantasy aspects that make this a book that many people would enjoy reading. I was so very sad when I came to the last page, but look forward to reading more from this author! 




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Friday, April 2, 2021

Love and Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price

 Title: Love and Hate in Jamestown

Author: David A. Price

Genre: Nonfictions


Synopsis: 
This book chronicles the founding of Jamestown by the Virginia Company and the efforts (or lack thereof) of the people who lived there to build and maintain a city in the New World. 



My Thoughts

I am really intrigued by pre-American Revolution colonial America, especially in what is now the United States. It is strangely difficult to find information about this period outside the Salem Witch Trials, and the Pilgrims, that is accurate, not a textbook, or written in a SUPER boring manner. 
This book is less than 250 pages and I feel really highlights what life was like for people living in Jamestown. The use of primary sources that Price includes helps the reader to understand the perspective of the founders of Jamestown, especially John Smith. Price works to debunk the Smith/Pocahontas myth and to accurately describe the relationship between the indigenous people of Virginia and the colonists. While I think it is the author's intent to speak write from a non-biased standpoint and give the facts about the colonists and Pohatans, because the book is written about the founding of the colony and the only contemporary writings are from the colonists, it can feel like he depicts the Powhatan culture as primitive aggressors. 
The book is written in a manner that is easy to read and doesn't feel like a cumbersome list of facts. While its main focus is the Jamestown colony, the life of John Smith is followed even after his return to England. John Smith's contributions were a main component of the primary sources used in the research for this book. It also includes a brief look at the beginnings of the African slave trade on the American continent as well.
If you are looking to learn about the Jamestown colony, the Powhatan tribe, and pre-revolutionary America in under 250 pages, then this is the book for you! 

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Sunday, March 7, 2021

That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron



Title: That Churchill Woman

Author: Stephanie Barron

Genre: Historical Fiction


Synopsis: Growing up with new money in the United States on the brink of the American Civil War, Jennie Jerome has been encouraged by her mother to meet and marry an aristocratic husband while the Jerome women are living in Europe. When young Jennie meets Lord Randolph Churchill, she admires how he seems more interested in her intelligence and opinions than her beauty, and in three days they are engaged. After they marry, Jennie realizes her marriage is not what she expected it to be, and that Randolph carries secrets of his own. In an effort to find fulfillment and happiness Jennie becomes infamous for her 'flirtations' with men in the aristocracy, while still being devoted to her marriage and the raising of her children Winston and Jack. 



My Thoughts

I was excited to find that this novel did not just encompass Jennie's adult life in England, but also shared about her young life in the United States. It was interesting to see how her upper-class family reacted to increasing unrest as the United States was on its way to civil war. 
This novel also highlights the inequity for all women in the standards society sets, but especially for women, like Jennie, who was under close scrutiny and was likely to end up in tabloids for every move she made. Seeing the difficulty of trying to maintain status but also wanting to be present for her children and support her husband makes Jennie a sympathetic protagonist, despite her infamy. 
I also enjoyed seeing a young Winston Churchill through the eyes of his mother. It provides the reader with an understanding of how the famous leader came to be the man that history remembers.  

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