Saturday, May 12, 2018

THE SECRETS OF HEAVENLY by Teresa Robison

The Secrets of Heavenly tells the story of main character, Willa, as a slave until almost a decade prior to the civil war, through hers and other characters' points of view. The story takes place from 1842 to 1852 and hints to the impending end of slavery as newer generations blur the lines between master and friend and slowly turn against it. I imagine this is how abolitionism in the south might have evolved.

The story is good and seems to realistically depict slavery, as much as I can imagine of course. There were several typos and punctuation errors in the book, but since the story was so good, I wasn't distracted to the point of annoyance. The book starts out with a present-day woman reading Marianne's journal, one of the character's in the main story. The inclusion of Marianne's diary was interesting, but I don't think that layer was necessary (of the beginning character receiving and reading the diary), but maybe the author felt she needed a way to introduce the diary.

The story built to a good climax and became faster paced as the end approached. There were several "Oh, no!" moments where I felt truly bad for Willa, but it wasn't unexpected given the subject matter. Plus, you know that when you're only halfway through a book and it looks like something wonderful is going to happen that something is probably going to go awry. The point is that I cared about Willa and hated to see bad things happen to her. There are themes of true love, accepting or not accepting the circumstances dictating life, finding positivity in the direst circumstances, and the human will to live no matter what.

Overall, this was a good story with an acceptable ending, all things considered. It's a nice historical depiction of life leading up to the civil war. I read this book in just short of two weeks, so on a can't-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn't even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it an eight.

Source: Robison, Teresa. (2013.) The Secrets of Heavenly. Writing Out Loud Publishing.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours is another title that came to me via my fellow-historical-fiction-loving aunt. It's a multi-period novel involving main characters Avery Stafford in the present and May/Rill around 1939. The mystery of the story is how they (and other characters) are related.

This book started off strong and pulled me right in. The Rill/May character seemed to me to have a more unique voice, but since hers was a child viewpoint, this might be expected. Avery's sections seemed a bit too Nicolas Sparksesque, romance novely for my taste, and that part of the story was predictable.

For a two-character point-of-view story to keep me reading each one, they both need to be compelling, and they were. I was a bit disappointed when one character's chapter ended, but it was okay because I was left on such a cliffhanger at the end of the other character's chapter, so I was glad to know what happened. In this case, having the two characters did add some mystery to the story and allowed the author to weave in more subplots, but I did find Rill/May's story more compelling.

Instead of saying, "present day," I think it would've been better for the author to name a year, such as 2002 or whenever she wrote it because the cell phone and communication descriptions seem archaic for 2017 (the year it was published).

The story in this novel is fiction based on real stories of survivors and victims of the Memphis Tennessee Children's Home Society that stole children or obtained them via other illegal or unethical methods, passed them off as orphans, and essentially sold them to the wealthy.

The theme covered how where we come from and where we grow up affects our lives and something that happens in one person's life can forever alter ensuring generations. It is also about truth and how it should come out no matter what (at least the author seems to think so) as well as being your true self and not just what others expect of you.

I read this book in six days, so on a can't-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn't even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a nine.

Source: Wingate, Lisa. (2017.) Before We Were Yours. Ballantine Books.

Monday, March 12, 2018

QUEEN OF AMERICA by Luis Alberto Urrea

When Luis Alberto Urrea was appearing as a keynote speaker at a conference for an organization I volunteer with (mwcqc.org) in June of 2017, I read his The Humminbird's Daughter. I enjoyed it so read the sequel, Queen of America.

Since it had been several months since I read the first book in the series, I greatly appreciated the Prologue which reminded me of what happened in the first book and brought me up-to-date in a natural way.

The story starts in 1900, picking up where the previous book left off and following the rest of Teresita's life in America. It's one answer to the question, what if a person could perform miracles but they were still a human being with faults, desires, and tendencies impacted by the culture in the place where she lives? How might that person's life evolve?

My favorite parts of this book were the detailed, poetic descriptions. The story is presented from an omniscient point of view of those closest to Teresita. It shows the joys and sorrows of aging from many different characters' perspectives.

It took me a while to get into the story, starting off slow much in the same way that The Hummingbird's Daugther did for me. I read it in just under two months, so on a can't-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn't even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a four.

Source: Urrea, Luis Alberto. (2012). Queen of America. Back Bay Books.

Friday, January 12, 2018

SOME LUCK by Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley is a fellow Iowan and I'd always meant to read her books but hadn't had the chance. While browsing cheap books at the online book outlet store, I stumbled across Some Luck and ordered it.

Right away I could tell Some Luck was going to be different from other books I'd read as early in the book, Smiley includes a chapter told from an infant's point of view. The book is also different in that each chapter is one year; I wondered if this may have signified there would be more telling than showing, but it didn't. The book still tells an engaging story, even if it is in one-year chunks.

Some Luck is about a family and their lives from 1920 through 1953; it is told through several characters' points of view, including those that span the whole book and some who just show up for one or two scenes (mimicking life). The main character, however, seems to be the patriarch (or who eventually becomes the patriarch), Walter Langdon. The book gives a good picture of how farming evolved during the second quarter of the twentieth century, taking the reader through the Great Depression and World War II, among other historic events, along with life in Iowa and the Midwest. I recognized most of the places mentioned, which always adds a little enjoyment to my reading. As it does in living life, the historical events occurred as a backdrop and didn't take center stage, which I believe is how most people experience these events.

To me, the book's theme was life and going through its different stages - infanthood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and being grandparents; the whole circle of life. Smiley does a good job of letting the reader into the characters' heads, witnessing their innermost thoughts and intimate moments. There is not really a plot in this book that I could discern, per se - there's nothing that the main character overtly "wants" and is prevented from getting - there's just the ebbs and flows and ups and downs of life in rural Iowa from 1920 to 1953.

Some Luck is classic historical fiction written in an original and literary way. I read it in one month and three weeks, so on a can't-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn't even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a six and a half.

Source: Smiley, Jane. (2015 Reprint). Some Luck. Anchor.