The Exiles

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline is a historical fiction novel that follows the life of three women in the nineteenth century.

Evangeline, is a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London. When she is seduced by her employers son and then accused of theft and attempted murder, she is fired and sent to Newgate Prison. After discovering she is with child and months of cramped quarters and fetid conditions, she is sentenced to transportation to the continent of Australia for 14 years.

During the journey, Evangeline befriends a young girl named, Hazel, who has a way with herbs and folk medicine. The two strike an unlikely friendship and face trying circumstance while on board the Medea.

Meanwhile, on Van Diemen’s Land, the colonists look down upon the Aboriginal people as savages. When the orphan daughter of one tribes chief, Mathinna, is taken by one of the colonists to be “re-educated,” she is both distraught and fascinated.

As these three tales intertwine, the story of Australia’s colonization is revealed in a new and interesting light.

I swear, about a third of the way through this book I decided which narrators chapters I liked best and literally in the next chapter she dies. Sigh. There were parts of this novel I really liked. Evangeline and Hazel’s paths taken to being thrown on the transportation ship and their subsequent bond. I like Evangeline’s naivety and quick adaptation to the life thrust upon her. I even liked Olive’s brusque but ultimately loyal manner.

Mathinna’s chapters, on the other hand, started out strong and then felt like they were overshadowed by the rest. When she does eventually make an appearance after a while, I’d almost forgotten where we’d left off. And the conclusion of her story, felt a little bit of a throw away, at the least unresolved.

I do feel like I may be short changing this one a little bit. I did learn a lot and it was fascinating to read about the process of transportation and how Van Diemen’s Land eventually becomes a land of “reformed” “criminals.”

This is a book my personal book club picked, so I will be interested to get their take on it. This one gets 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Book of the Little Axe

Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma is an adult fiction novel that spans from Trinidad to the American West during the time of colonialism and westward expansion.

In 1796 Trinidad, Rosa Rendón feels out of place in her body. She longs to take over the family farm and idolizes her father. But her place is with the home and hearth and Rosa rebels from this life of domesticity. Meanwhile, Trinidad has moved from Spanish to British rule and it is unclear whether Rosa and her family, free black property owners, will be left alone in peace.

Speed ahead to 1830 and Rose is living with her husband and children in the Crow Nation in Bighorn, Montana. Her son, Victor, is about to become a man but is blocked from receiving his vision quest by secrets from Rosa’s past. Rosa must take him on a journey that will reveal his truth and her painful past.

A journey to truth and a history explained. Book of the Little Axe covers a tumultuous time in history.

This book was highlighted in the e-platform I used, so I figured I’d give it a try. Not my usual genera but I thought it might make a good one for my local adult book club. And it was one that kept my attention and kept me reading.

One of the things I really liked about this book was the narrative set up. I thought the jumps from past, to present, to the diary was really well done and contributes to the story. The story itself is arresting and captivating. And Rosa, as a character, is dynamic and witnessing the way she changes between 1796 and 1830 is really quite amazing.

I did have a problem with the language at times because there were a few spots where significant, traumatic events were happening where I didn’t really “get” what was happening until after the fact. I don’t know if this was on purpose but I felt like I was missing something.

Overall, this is a moving, well crafted novel that will appeal to a wide audience. This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Giver of Stars

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is an adult fiction novel about a pack horse library in rural Kentucky.

Alice Wright married the hansom American, Bennett Van Cleve, in the hopes of escaping the narrow and oppressive life she lived in England. But small-town Kentucky wasn’t exactly what Alice expected.

Alice feels just as stuck in her new life as she did in her old one. So when a call is put out for women to run a pack horse library, Alice signs right up. The leader of the librarians is Margery O’Hare, a straight shooting, self sufficient woman who doesn’t need a man for anything.

Alice, Margery and three other women soon become tied together as they traverse the hills of Kentucky, lending books and change lives, one family at a time.

The Giver of Stars is the story of these three women and a year of fortune and woe.

I quite enjoyed this novel. I love when a little known aspect of history gets a boost through a great fiction writer. You had me at “pack horse librarian” and I wanted to know more about this effort endorsed by Elinor Roosevelt. And the story didn’t disappoint.

Each of the librarians had a story to tell, even if some shined brighter than others, and each story was about a strong woman who chose to fight for themselves in their own way. I don’t know which librarian was my favorite, I was constantly jumping between Alice, Margery and Kathleen.

There was indeed a little bit of romance in this book but the focus was the love of the land and the love of the librarians for the family they forged. There was the bond between the girls that really kept the story going for me.

Overall, I think this would be a great book for a book club. This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

 

The World That We Knew

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman is an historical fiction novel with a bit of magical realism thrown in.

In 1941, the world is about to change and three woman will do whatever it takes to save the ones they love.

In Berlin, a Jewish woman is determined to save her twelve-year-old daughter from the Nazi’s increasing brutality. Willing to do anything, she goes to her local rabbi, but it is his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope in the form of a mystical creature called a golem. From clay she brings to life Ava, whose only mission is to protect Lea and bring her out of the war alive.

Lea and Ava go to Paris where Lea meets Julian, her soulmate. But circumstance soon separates them and their stories diverge. Meanwhile, Ettie is mourning and hiding until she can find her way into the French Resistance.

Paths will cross and life will go on… until it doesn’t.

Hoffman is known for throwing the strange and extraordinary into her novels. There is just a little bit of magic or just plain weirdness that makes her books what they are. In the case of The World That We Knew we get glimpses of the Angel of Death and Jewish Golems, with Paris WWII as our setting.

One of the things I liked most about this book was the focus on the children and how they lived, died and grew throughout the war. Yes, the relationships each of the women forged and how their paths overlapped was interesting and probably the highlight of the book as a whole, but there was something about the children that got to me. Even the small glimpses of the “half starved twins” or the young boy who was drawing a picture for his parents, these were heart warming and breaking all at the same time.

Overall, I thought this book was great. There were parts that surprised me and I honestly wasn’t sure how it would end, until it did. This is going to make a really great book club book and I am hoping to get my adult club to discuss it next month.

This one gets 4.5-5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Secrets We Kept

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott is an adult historical fiction novel set during the Cold War.

In the midst of the Cold War, the CIA believe that the only way to fight the Russian regime is by changing ideology through literature. In the hopes of smuggling Doctor Zhivago, a radical book according to Russian standards, past the Iron Curtain, the agency recruits two secretaries, out of the typing pool to help achieve this end.

Sally Forrester, is glamorous, charming and seasoned spy who proved herself during WWII. Irina is a new recruit, pulled off the street for her ability to go unnoticed in a crowd. Sally trains Irina in the ways of female spies and the two create a close bond.

Alternating between Sally, Irina, the typist, and Olga Ivinskaya’s–the inspiration for Doctor Zhivago’s Lara–narrative, we follow a story of intrigue, rebellion, subterfuge and more.

This is the story of four very different types of women and their roles during the Cold War. Sally is a veteran and the sparkle of the agency has begun to fade; Irina is new an excited to be more than just a muted typist; Olga is a mistress to Stalin’s favorite author, and the typists are silent observers. Each of these women have a different perspective, a different roll in the novel and it was interesting to see how they intersect.

This was an OK book for me. I wasn’t dying to finish it but it was interesting to learn all these tactics about the CIA before it moved to Langley. I loved that many of the quotes were pulled right from redacted reports. And being a librarian, fighting a war with books is totally up my ally.

I did find the conclusion of the novel to be set at a much quicker pace than the rest of the novel, which bothers me more with historical fiction than other genres. It just wrapped up too quickly for the amount of build up there was.

Not a bad read but not one I found myself thinking about much after-the-fact. This one gets 3 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-