Historical Fiction

Book Review: The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

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augustThe Dry Grass of August

Written by Anna Jean Mayhew 
Published by Kensington Books in 2011 
Genre/Topics: Adult, Historical Fiction, South, Integration 
289 pages
 
The Dry Grass of August is told from the perspective of 13 year-old June “Jubie” Watts in the South during the 1950s. On a hot August day in 1954, Jubie, her mother, siblings, and their black maid, Mary Luther, travel from Charlotte, North Carolina, towards Florida. Mary Luther has been with the family, since Jubie was five. Jubie feels a closer relationship to Mary who provides care than her own mother. Along the journey to Florida, Jubie notices anti-integration signs and hostile feelings towards blacks. The story switches between present time during the vacation and a past back story to learn more about the family. The reader slowly understands Mary Luther’s role in the family and family tensions. Tragic events occur and Jubie must decide how to act with her feelings.
 
I really enjoyed The Dry Grass of August. It was a different perspective about a topic that many are familiar with. The reader knows that something happens to Mary Luther in the first paragraph, so you don’t know exactly when and how it occurs. There is some violence and difficult context at times, so I recommend this for adult readers. If you enjoyed The Help, I think you’ll enjoy The Dry Grass of August. It also is a great book for a book discussion.
 

Book Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

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sarah's keySarah’s Key 

Written by Tatiana de Rosnay
Published by St. Martin’s Press on January 1, 2006
Genre/Topics: Adult, Historical Fiction, Holocaust, France 
294 pages 
 

Three Word Review: Heartbreak, Tragedy, Secrecy

Sarah’s Key surrounds two individuals and time periods: Sarah a ten-year-old Jewish girl in 1942, and Julia an American Journalist in 2002. Both stories begin in Paris, France. Julia begins research on the sixtieth anniversary of the  Vel’ d’ Hiv‘. The Vel’d’Hiv’ Roundup was a mass arrest upon  13,152 Jewish men, women, and children in July 1942 by the French police. Julia discovers that many French citizens are either unaware of the tragic event or deny it. Sarah’s family was arrested and taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver (indoor cycle track) where they lived in terrible conditions before being sent to death camps. During the arrest, Sarah told her younger brother Michael to hide in the cupboard and she would return to free him with the key. Julia discovers a secret connection to Sarah and is determined to learn all the facts. However, during her research into Sarah’s past she begins to question her own life. Sarah’s Key is filled with heartbreak through Sarah’s and Julia’s eyes. 

I enjoyed Sarah’s Key, but at times I thought it was a little predictable. It highlights a small tragic event through the eyes of a young girl. I think Sarah’s Key would be a great discussion for a book club.

Book Review: Brooklyn

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Brooklyn 

Written by Colm Tóibín
Published by Scribner on January 1, 2009
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Coming-of-Age, Immigration 
262 pages 
 

Eilis Lacey grew up in a small city in Ireland during the 1950s. She lives with her mother and beautiful older sister. A visiting Irish priest from Brooklyn, New York, offers Eilis a job. She begins her journey to America for the first time where new adventures await. She becomes a sales girl at a department store, however she desires to work in an office setting. Gradually, Eilis adjusts to her new lifestyle and suddenly finds herself in love. She’s often not sure what to include in the letters she writes home. Surprising news from home causes Eilis to second guess events in her life.

I enjoyed Brooklyn as you read about her becoming a young woman experiencing New York. The book kept my interest and there was depth to the characters. I quickly read to discover how Eilis would handle new events in her life. Unfortunately, I was sad when I finished the book so quick. I recommend this book.

Book Review: 13, rue Thérèse

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13, rue Thérèse

Written by Elena Mauli Shapiro
Published by Little, Brown and Company on February 2, 2011 
Genre/ Topics: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Time Travel, France
278 pages 
 

I have never read such a unique book. Trevor Stratton is an American professor who teaches in Paris. He discovers a box that contains a mixture of objects, such as letters, photos, gloves, and even a scarf. The owner of the box and objects is Louise Brunet who lives in Paris, through both world wars. It is somewhat a mystery how the objects connect and fully describe her life. Trevor keeps the box a secret and attempts to understand Louise better. Some things he’s able to piece together from the objects is that Louise had a love for a cousin, a marriage to a dependable man, and a passionate attraction to her neighbor. However, Stratton almost sets his imagination free and fills in the empty spots to create her full life. What made this book so unique is that there are actual photographs of each object. It felt as though I discovered the objects with Trevor. 13, rue Thérèse refers to the building where she lives. The book reminded me slightly of The Time Traveller’s Wife, because the book moves past to present and the reader gets both Trevor’s and Louise’s viewpoint.

The author actually found these items in a box that belonged to a real Louise Brunt. However, that is where the similarities differ because the Louise in the book is completely fictionally. In the back of the book, the reader is able to scan QR codes to discover more information and details about the objects. At times I was confused while reading the book, but the reader should just go with it. I love books that contain letters and illustrations, so this was quite an enjoyable book.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Chaperone

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The Chaperone 

Written by Laura Moriarty
Published by Riverhead on January 1, 2012 
Genre/ Topics: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
371 pages 
 

I read this book in two days, which either shows it was great or it was easy reading. I really enjoyed this book until the end. Basically, the plot is that a chaperone, Cora, travels with a young 15-year-old, Louise Brooks, to New York, for dance school. The book takes place during the 1920s and highlights women’s vote, clothing changes, prohibition, great depression, etc. Cora is a married women with two grown sons living in Kansas. She participates in society functions and follows all the ‘rules’ such as morals and how someone should dress. She travels to New York, in order to discover more about her past. Louise doesn’t enjoy following Cora’s rules and often tries to break free. Cora discovers herself more than just being the society woman, wife, and mother. Her spirit is almost awakened as she sees Louise act certain ways. Her life changes dramatically when she returns

Louise Brooks was an American dancer, model, and silent film actress.  Her film career and fame wasn’t always a success. If you’re hoping to learn more about Louise Brooks then this probably isn’t the book for you. In fact, she’s mainly in only the first third of the book. Brooks’ impact in the story is how she influenced her chaperone, Cora, during their trip to New York.

I really wasn’t pleased with the ending. Yes, Cora discovered herself while in New York, but I think it was too drastic than what probably would actually happen. There wasn’t too much character depth. The author seemed to need to include all details from this time period. Did I enjoy the book? Yes, but I didn’t love the book.

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Written by Jamie Ford 
Published by Ballantine Books on January 1, 2009
Genre/Topics: Fiction, Father/Son Relation, Love, Cultural, Historical 
290 pages 
 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the story of Henry who is Chinese American growing up in the 1940s in Seattle. Henry notices items taken out of the Panama Hotel that has been boarded up. The items belonged to Japanese families forced to leave to internment camps during WWII. It brings back memories to his friendship with a Japanese American girl, Keiko. Henry’s father is against anything Japanese, so Henry must keep his friendship a secret. Keiko and Henry are American but feel out of place at school, since they stand out. The book moves from the past to the present. Many years later, Henry examines items in the Panama Hotel in the hopes to discover what he’s been searching for.

I finished this book for the second time and loved it just as much as the first time. There are true aspects in the book, which the author explains. Panama Hotel actually exists and items in the basement did belong to Japanese families. The Japanese internment camps and WWII events are also true.  At times, I felt that the author tried to squeeze anything relating to Seattle, into the book. (Perhaps that’s because I live south of Seattle.) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a moving book that provides family relationships, cultural tensions, historical aspects, and even a hint of romance. I recommend this book.

Book Review: Titanic #1: Unsinkable

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Titanic #1: Unsinkable 

Written by Gordon  Korman
Published May 1, 2011 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Genre/Topics: Historical Fiction, Titanic, Adventure 
Ages: 8+, 176 pages 
 

This is the first book in a series of three about the Titanic’s maiden voyage. The book switches perspectives to four young characters who eventually all meet abroad the Titanic. Paddy is a stowaway who is running away from danger. Alfie is a junior crew member who lied about his age to work on Titanic. Juliana is travelling with her father, a wealthy Earl, who is often drunk and gambling. Sophie travels with her mother who campaigns for women’s rights and was arrested. In this book, Unsinkable, there is great excitement as the gigantic RMS Titanic Ship is about to set sail for the first time and is supposedly unsinkable. The book is a quick read and ends with a cliff hanger. Luckily, all the books are published so you can read the entire series.

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10,...
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)