The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

This book is going to draw a lot of comparisons to The Giver of Stars-both are set in Appalachian Kentucky and are about a woman who is a pack horse librarian, both show racism and sexism and poverty and the positive impact of this program. While I ultimately liked Giver of Stars more, I did enjoy this very much.
The titular Book Woman is named Cussy Mary and while she is not one of the most remote, poor, hill people, she is not a townsperson either. Her pa is a coal miner and there is plenty of good historical detail in here about the Company and really what an awful system it was and how they willy nilly endangered lives, tricked and murdered people, and were generally terrible and oppressive. But what was most fascinating about Cussy Mary is that she was also called Bluet because her skin was blue! And this is a historically accurate detail! I had to read the end note about the actual blue skinned people in Kentucky as soon as I started the book because I had never heard of them.  So Mary is blue and poor but she’s quite literate and loves being a librarian and helping the super poor and remote patrons on her route.
This was not a cheerful light story. In fact, a lot of it was just so grim and depressing: horrible racism, children starving to death, cruel behaviors, rape, having no autonomy as a woman.
Probably one of the most interesting things (and that I kept saying “Listen to this!”) was the juxtaposition between this remote and poverty stricken world and everything else you might suddenly remember also existed at this time. You’d be reading about someone putting groundhog brains on their baby’s gums to help with teething and suddenly realize “Downton Abbey took place years before this and people there wore fancy clothes and jewelry and dined and drove motor cars.” Or you might be taking in the house someone lives in and then someone talks about reading that great new book Brave New World. What?! First of all, I had no idea Brave New World was that old. Second, it was wild to have that (and Steinbeck and Picasso) mentioned by people who seemed illiterate. And also, you find yourself thinking that the hill people were hundreds and hundreds of years in the past and it’s jarring to realize what else is happening in that time period.
I really did love the historical detail in this story and of course it was a joy to see all the positive impact of books and the things the book women did to help out their patrons (I was especially interested in the scrapbooks.)

White Bird by R.J. Palacio

Wow. This was just terrific. Somehow, based on the reviews, I just wasn’t that interested in reading it (or purchasing it for my Gr 4-5 library.) But then my daughter read it and said it was very good and sad, and another teacher read it and said it was so good, so I got on it. And it was terrific. Like most Holocaust stories, nearly unbearably sad.
I liked the framework of the story. Julien, from the novel Wonder, is talking to his grandmere, asking her to tell him her story. She then tells her story of being a girl in hiding during the war, in France, and the Nazis taking many she loved. At the end we see Grandmere now, reacting to current events which echo the Holocaust, making this historical novel even more powerful.
Though there is the Wonder connection, this truly is standalone. In fact, I never read Auggie and Me, in which you first meet Julian’s grandmother.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen (Her Royal Spyness)

I’ve been especially looking forward to this one since it is enticingly set in Africa (Kenya, to be exact.)
As usual there is a little of the Queen, Mrs. Simpson and cousin David (the Prince), and fussy sister in law Fig. (Fig, Binky, Diddy–these names crack me up) which is all very entertaining, but the bulk of the story has Georgie and Darcy in Kenya, ostensibly on their honeymoon, but really Darcy is investigating something and then of course someone gets murdered and they investigate that.
It is so interesting to read about how they get to Kenya–a long and difficult journey, which included a surprising amount of glamorous air travel. And once there everything was new to me–how the Brits were “settling” in valleys and farming, but also being aristocrats, terrible to the natives, and so on. Just like Lady Georgiana I was fascinated by the big animals and how they were just in the wilderness with them-but also horrified by how casually people talked about killing them.
The biggest surprise of all I won’t explicitly state here-I’ll just say that I was TOTALLY surprised and the author’s note afterward explains that she didn’t make it up-it really happened. Fascinating.

 

Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler

That title is awfully catchy, and it is the actual name of a home in Texas. The story goes back and forth between two time periods. In the present day a woman with her own vague past and mysterious issues becomes quite fixated on researching (she is a university librarian) the home for errant girls after she sees the small remaining cemetery and plaque. She delves into her local history collection, and also befriends a college student who seems to have her own issues. Basically the present is mirroring the past. The errant girls are young women who’ve been cast out, become heroin addicts, turned to prostitution to survive, etc.  There is sexual abuse in all the time periods and truly the most horrific displays of inhumanity. And yet, the book is heartwarming and hopeful. In the past (this is in the 1910s and then through the 30s) the story focuses on Lizzie and Mattie, two young women who become like sisters.

I really liked seeing how everything tied together, and also that we did get to see what happened to Lizzie and Mattie as they tried to make their way through life, discovering that they are good women, that wrongs were done to them, not that they were sinful. The afterward is worth reading as it explains which parts of the book were true.

I really enjoyed this and found it a very engrossing read.

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman

I was so excited to only just recently read the first book and therefore be able to have #2 give me some instant gratification by being available. I had hoped for a bit more of a  Marion Chesney’s  School for Manners vibe with the series set up at the end of book #1 (helping young American ladies through a London Season), but I still found this very satisfying. As before, the countess and her special friend, George, end up investigating a crime, in this case the unseemly murder of an acquaintance. Countess Harleigh’s independent household is filling up with women-in addition to her aunt, there is also her young sister, and the sister’s friend. All of the women pitch in with the mystery solving in some way, while also working on their own potential matches.
I can see this will be a reliably delightful light historical mystery series.

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A perfect book to fall into my hands on summer vacation! Set in 1899, plenty of historical detail about society, London Seasons, gentleman’s clubs, calling cards, chaperones, rides in the park, servants, etc.  What was so enjoyable about this was that our heroine is a young widow (her husband was a philanderer) who has plenty of spunk and stands up for herself after the required year of mourning by purchasing her own home in London. Much to the dismay of her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, both of whom rely on her large purse to keep the family estate going. Conveniently, Frances is independently wealthy. And American. That’s right-she’s an American heiress who married a titled British man! Juicy. (If you haven’t read The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, go do so.) This is actually a mystery-poor Frances is being set up all over the place, plus there are some robberies happening at the society homes. She takes on meddling and solving herself, along with the handsome next door neighbor.

I enjoyed this immensely and am THRILLED there is already a sequel available at my library and I love the direction this series is going in.

The War Bride’s Scrapbook by Caroline Preston

Many years ago, when it was a YALSA Alex Award winner, I read The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt and I loved it. Recently I was looking at my stuff on Goodreads and my eye was caught by that bar off to the right where they list other books you might like based on what you’ve read. My eye was caught by the The War Bride’s Scrapbook and imagine my delight when I clicked on it and found out that it was by the Frankie Pratt author! and the same format! A story told in scrapbook form with textual narrative and actual ephemera (photographed.) I was intrigued by the setup of the book-that the war bride purchased an actual war bride scrapbook at the store, designed for war brides to help assemble keepsakes and make the waiting more bearable and end up with these loving mementos.  There’s a lot of implied and stated story here that is fairly sad–Lila never felt cute, didn’t have boyfriends, was plump, and so when she has an impulsive romance and marries Perry before he ships out (meet time to wedding-less than 3 weeks) you can’t help but think it’s because her self esteem is low. To make the story be a story for us there are some things I don’t think anyone would put in a scrapbook (narrative about sex.).
There is no cheerful glossing over of the effect of war on Perry. In fact, there’s always a bit of a gloom hanging over–will they still love each other when he comes back? Will he be changed? etc etc.

I loved the whole setup of this book. I can’t imagine how much time it took to put this together!  More scrapbook novels, please!

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

I really liked this WWII story. Emmy and her bff Bunty (!) and childhood friend William are all making a go of it in London and Doing Their Part during the war, despite nightly bombings. William and Bunty are engaged, Bunty and Emmy are roommates on the top floor of her grandmother’s house, the rest of the family are safely back home in the village. All is so gay and merry, except not really. William works as a firefighters and Emmy volunteers on the night watch, taking calls during bombings and directing the firefighters to the bombed out streets. One night she sees William in action and realizes just how close to death he is nightly. Meanwhile, Emmy believes she has found a wonderful foray into wartime journalism only to be disappointed to find she is typing letters to an agony aunt. Furthermore, Mrs. Bird (who doles out the advice) disapproves strongly of any letters that have a whiff of Unpleasantness about them-this includes matters of infidelity, longing, marriage, the war, pregnancy, etc. Basically, all the letters from women who really need some advice and support she turns away. Emmy desperately wants to help these women and so….she writes back.

I really enjoyed this. As always, reading about living through the London bombings just amazes me. How did people continue to get up and go to work? Go out to a nightclub? Keep on keeping on? but they did. All while tragedy happened right by them, daily. My favorite aspect of course was the magazine and letter writing. Mrs. Bird is such a great Terrible Person, cruelly brushing off people with real problems.

I wish there had been a little more at the end, but it was overall satisfying.

Time after Time by Lisa Grunwald

I LOVED this. Just a really nice and clever romance with a lot of historical detail. I got this as a prepub a little while ago and have been saving it to read. I love time travel so much and this author wrote Henry House, which I loved. I really only read a couple of sentences of the description. So imagine my surprise once I started reading to realize it wasn’t time travel! Who could blame me for thinking that though? I mean, “Time After Time” is a classic time travel title. Although this is not time travel the basic plot does directly connect to the things I like about time travel: a person out of time and therefore catching up on events and life.

In this case a young man who works in the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Station as a leverman meets a beautiful young woman. It’s practically love at first sight, but then she’s gone for a year. Next year he sees her again and they have a little more time together. And finally when they catch on, even more time together. In short, she’s trapped between life and death-a ghost! Their love and romance is true, but for obvious reasons she must remain secret. Obviously this causes conflict in his life, and guilt on her part. Like with time travel you wonder how on earth there could be an ending that would be happy for all. There really can’t, can there?

I loved how Grand Central was described and shown as practically it’s own town within NYC. And once WWII begins and it is transformed-well that was a fascinating aspect that I really haven’t read about in any other historical fiction.

This was a sweeping emotional story and I loved it!

The Portal (Tangled in Time) by Kathryn Lasky

I was pretty bummed to get to the end of this and realize that it’s but the first in a series and everything was not resolved.  There are a lot of threads in this story, sometimes successfully woven together, other times less so. Rose is recently orphaned and lives with her grandmother, who she doesn’t really know. Girls at her school have taken bullying to extreme levels and everything stinks. An aspect of Rose that I liked was her interest in fashion. Her grandmother seems to have some dementia but is mostly lucid when they work together in her elaborate greenhouse. And that’s where the time slippage happens, sending rose back to the 1500s where she starts work for Princess Elizabeth. I loved Rose’s 21st century perspective on the behaviors and customs of the 16th century (especially her outrage over dwarfs as entertainment and clothing laws.)

There’s a mysterious locket, a mystery about her father, and of course the terrible history of Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and King Henry killing his wives.

Decent time travel fiction, but again I wish it wasn’t a series.