Book Review: Waves of Mercy

In Lynn Austin’s novel, Waves of Mercy, 67-year-old Geesje de Jonge is asked to write some of her experiences immigrating from the Netherlands for Holland, Michigan’s 50th anniversary celebration. She’s reluctant to delve back into the hardships and struggles of faith that accompanied her journey, but her son and neighbor finally persuade her to.

Meanwhile, young socialite Anna Nicholson had accidentally stumbled into a Chicago church that was unlike any she had known before, which stirred up questions about faith and God. But her fiance had not approved of this new church and forbid her to go back to it. Their disagreement was so severe that they broke up. Anna gets away to a hotel on Lake Michigan with her mother to think and recover. A storm on the way causes a recurring nightmare to resurface in which she and her mother fall into the sea during a storm.

On her long walks on the beach, Anna meets a young seminary student who tries to answer her questions. Her mother is no help at all, since she doesn’t think polite people talk about such things as religion. Her fiance wants to get back together, and her parents encourage their reunion. But Anna feels she needs to get some things settled in her heart first.

As the Amazon description says, “Neither Geesje nor Anna, who are different in every possible way, can foresee the life-altering surprises awaiting them before the summer ends.”

I enjoyed this book a lot. The Netherlanders had left their home to escape religious persecution arising from their wanting to pull away from the state church. America was a land of freedom and opportunity. They knew it would be hard to build a community from scratch, but they were willing to work for their and each other’s freedom.

However, they had no idea the difficulties and heartbreak that would be involved. Anna often struggled with despair, even rage. While I agree that we can be honest with God about our feelings, doubts, and questions, I disagree with Geesje telling someone who had suffered a loss, ““You have every right to be angry with God right now.” However, she does go on to tell this person, “No matter what, don’t ever stop trusting Him. I believe that God is as grieved . . . as we are.”

I enjoyed Anna’s story as well. She’s often tempted to give up her questions and go along with the pressure of her parents’ and fiance’s expectations. But something keeps propelling her forward.

The sequel to this book, Legacy of Mercy, continues Anna and Geesje’s stories. I’m putting it on my birthday wish list!

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday.
Links do not imply 100% agreement)

Book Review: Castle on the Rise

Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron Castle on the Rise is the sequel to The Lost Castle novel by Kristy Cambron. I think they could be read as standalones. But I’d recommend reading both.

Laine Forrester travels to France to be the matron of honor at her best friend’s wedding. The castle setting and the events leading up to the wedding make it seem like something out of a fairy tale.

But a couple of events bring the fairy tale crashing into real life problems. For one, the groom’s estranged brother from Ireland, Cormac, shows up just before the wedding to ask him to come back to the Foley home for an urgent need.

Laine’s friend asks her to come along. Laine hasn’t told her of her own crisis and crossroads. Now doesn’t seem like the time. But the invitation is a perfect excuse to get away for a while with her adopted daughter, Cassie.

The Foleys have been bequeathed a castle from a customer’s will. They didn’t know her well and can’t figure out why she willed them a castle. Cormac’s father, Jack, just wants to call an auction house and sell everything. But Cormac feels he needs to find out what’s behind the gift. Laine’s father was an antique dealer, so she helps Cormac evaluate which items are of value.

This novel weaves together stories from three timelines, all revolving around the castle. One takes place in the 1790s during an uprising between the Irish and English. Maeve’s family owns the castle, but her father is immobilized in grief over the loss of his wife and son. So she has to take the reins. One of her first tasks is to deal with a wounded enemy.

Another strand of the story takes place during the 1916 Easter Rising. Issy’s family now lives in the manor house, but her brother goes against her father’s wishes to join the rebels. Issy feels compelled to join him, and her budding interest in photography helps document events.

As Laine and Cormac investigate, they discover more of the castle’s surprising past. They each take steps to overcome their own past wounds to be open to new possibilities.

I knew, of course, that the Irish had fought against English control at intervals. But I didn’t know many of the details. I enjoyed learning some Irish history through this book. But I also enjoyed the stories in each timeline and the obstacles each character had to overcome.

And often, whenever I cam to a stopping place, music from the Irish Tenors sprang to mind for the next little bit. 🙂

A few quotes:

[Sean] was of a sort to look far down a path—he always said, to see the good that could come of something God was crafting behind the scenes, one had to keep an eye out for it. And Issy needed that view at present because she failed to see it (p. 50).

The talk of luxuries went far deeper than a gift of fruit. Maeve knew that. Theirs were the longstanding divides between the rich and poor, Protestant and Catholic, Anglo and Irish, even oppressed and free—for hundreds of years. They’d bled into the very earth beneath their boots, and it was tasked to her to either uphold or endeavor to change attitudes around them (p. 162).

Writers are the caretakers o’ history, Byrne. We document the livin’ and dyin’ of the human cause. But our pen, however noble, however well-intended, will always bleed the color of our convictions (p. 181).

I also enjoyed Kristy’s notes at the end concerning what led to her writing the novel, her research trip to Ireland, and the true historical details she included.

All in all, this is another great book by Kristy with three stories in one.

(Sharing with Booknificent Thursday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review and Giveaway: The Shop Keepers

The Shop Keepers by Nancy Moser is the third book in her Pattern Artist series. The first two books, The Pattern Artist and The Fashion Designer, tell the story of Annie Wood, who came from a difficult family background to become a maid to the Summerfield family of Nancy’s Manor House series. (Annie’s backstory in included in Christmas Stitches.) In the first two books, Annie had a knack for sewing and designing, but the other women in charge of that work took credit for hers. On a trip to America, Annie left her position and found a job first at Macy’s Department Store, then at the Butterick Pattern Company, then in her own dress shop. She met, fell in love, and married Sean Culver.

This third book takes place in New York in 1919, just after the first World War. Annie has two young daughters by now, but her husband has not returned from the war. He’s missing. Her shop, Unruffled, is not doing well. People had to buckle down during the war, and no one felt like buying fashionable yet practical clothes. The country is still in recovery mode. Most of the shop is decked out in black mourning dresses. One of Annie’s partners suggests they go into wedding dresses to help those who had been waiting for sweethearts to return. The prospect raises hope not only for new business but for a brighter shop and outlook.

At just the right time, a salesman from a local fabric shop offers them beautiful fabrics just right for weddings at deep discounts. Full of charm, he tempts the customers in Annie’s shop with his samples. This boon helps set the shop on a new, welcome trajectory. But something about this man bothers Annie, especially when he turns his charm her direction.

Henrietta, Annie’s bookkeeper and long-time friend. feel fortunate that her husband has returned home from the war. But he doesn’t seem totally back. He spends most of the day sitting in a chair looking out the window at the sky. She can’t seem to interest him in herself, their sons, or life in general.

Maude, who had been with Annie since her Butterick days, had married widower Antonio Ricci in the last book. Maude could not have children of her own, but welcomed Antonio’s two children. Now the oldest, Gela, is an independent-minded teenager who finds an unexpected talent. Maude is concerned where Gela’s gifts will take her in her naivete, especially when an unsavory character from Maude’s past comes on the scene.

It took me just a little bit to remember who the characters were and their backgrounds. This book could be read as a stand-alone, but I think it would be a much richer experience for those who have read the first two books.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. I’ve often read books set during the world wars, but the time of adjustment after after WWI is a fascinating era that few focus on. There were threads of intrigue with the salesman, the man from Maude’s past, and a seeming presence in the shop workroom. Henrietta’s husband’s condition, Annie’s missing husband, and Maude’s concerns lent strands of pathos. Those were woven together with needs for forgiveness, patience, hope. I always enjoy Nancy’s afterwords with details that went her story, historical elements that were true, etc. And I love the book cover.

Once again, I found myself with both a paperback and Kindle copy of this book. I read the Kindle version, and I’d like to give the paper copy away to one of you. Just leave a comment on this post if you are interested in being part of the drawing for this book. (I’ll take all comments on this post as entries unless you let me know you’re not interested.) I’ll draw a name a week from today. I’m sorry, due to shipping costs I can only send the book to US addresses.

Have you read much from the post-WWI era?

(Sharing with Worth Beyond Rubies, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

The giveaway is closed: the winner is Linda!

Book Review: Promise Me This

In the novel Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke, Owen and Annie Allen have been raised by their manipulative Aunt Eleanor in England ever since their parents died. Now Owen has trained himself as a gardener and is about to set off for a new life in New Jersey with their aunt and uncle on their father’s side. He can’t take Annie with him yet, which makes her furious. But he removes her from Aunt Eleanor’s house to a school until he can send for her.

As Owen gets ready to sail on the Titanic in a week, he meets a young street kid, Michael Dunnagan. Owen has compassion on him, shares his food, and gives him odd jobs until time to leave.

Michael picks up another job making deliveries to the Titanic. He muses that in a ship that size, he could hide away and escape from his abusive uncle.

Within just a few days at sea, Owen discovers Michael and takes him into his quarters. He shares his food as well as his plans and dreams to start a new life in New Jersey and send for Annie as soon as possible.

Then comes the fateful night the Titanic hits the iceberg. Owen sends Michael off with the women and children and wraps him in the jacket where he had sewn his precious seedling samples in the lining. Michael fights with everything he has to stay with Owen, but Owen insists and bodily pushes Michael to safety.

After a series of events, Michael finds his way to Owen’s aunt in New Jersey and tells her all that has happened. She takes him in and tells him about the trouble she faces which Owen had not yet heard. In their grief, they decide to try to make a go of Owen’s plans. Michael is determined to bring Annie home.

Annie is devastated, angry, and bitter, not only that Owen died, but that Michael lived instead. Back in Aunt Eleanor’s clutches, Annie finds herself responding in kind and becoming more like her.

When Michael first writes to Annie, she sends the letter back. But soon a tentative friendship begins. Annie trains as a nurse while she waits to go to NJ. And then WWI breaks out.

My thoughts:

When I reviewed Cathy’s Saving Amelie, which became one of my top ten books of last year, I mentioned wanting to read more of Cathy’s books. A couple of people mentioned this story. When I discovered it was partially based on the Titanic, I planned to start it in conjunction with our visit to the Titanic museum.The book did enhance my visit and vice versa.

Cathy mentions in her afterword that there was a Titanic passenger named Owen Allum who was a gardener, but not much else was known about him. I enjoyed reading how she created his and Annie’s stories and what influenced her.

The Titanic section is just the first part of the book, however. I loved the example of laying down one’s life for another as Owen did. And then Michael and Annie each had to learn what it meant to love others and to receive love.

Some of my favorite quotes:

No matter what pain, what hard things come to us in life—and pain and trouble come to all of us—no matter what dark roads we walk or poor choices we make, it is not the end of the story.

It’s no good being fearful. Worry won’t change the future a whit, and it misses the joy of this glad day.

Each morning, when we wake—if we wake—we pick up whatever it is we’ve been given to carry for that day, with the sweet Lord Jesus in the yoke beside us to tote the load. Each night we lay it down, giving it into God’s hands. If it’s still there in the morning, we pick it up and begin again. If the burden is gone or if there is something different, we know where to start.

“Growing is a patient thing, lad,” Daniel explained. “You must give all living things time to adjust to their new surroundings, their new soil, then time to grow, as well.”

Does your hate make you happy, my dear, or does it continually eat through you, a cancer of its own making? Does the constant fueling of that angry fire not exhaust you and take away from living the wonderful life you’ve been given?

I loved the characters (including some not mentioned here) and the story. I loved how Cathy pulled us in to empathize with them in their anger, pain, and hope. Highly recommended.

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Christmas Stitches

Christmas Stitches: A Historical Romance Collection: 3 Stories of Women Sewing Hope and Love Through the Holidays, contains three stories, one each by Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson. As the subtitle says, they have in common some kind of sewing or needle arts. They’re also all set in the late 1890s-early 1900s.

A Seamless Love by Judith Miller takes place in Pullman, Illinois. Hannah Cushman had once been romantically interested in her longtime friend, Daniel Price, but Daniel wanted to remain only friends. Years later, Hannah’s working at the Pullman Dressmaking and Millinery Shop. Her special talent in embroidering bead work has come to the attention of Mrs. Pullman, who asks her to work on some special projects for her. She’s being courted by Louis Nicholson, who lives in Chicago. But her old friend Daniel wants to work for the Pullman Car Company and move closer to Hannah. Something about Louis doesn’t sit right with Daniel. And he’s finally ready to move beyond friendship with Hannah, but is it too late?

Nancy Moser’s story, Pin’s Promise, takes place in Summerfield, England. Penelope Billings, nicknamed Pin, has loved Jonathan Evers as long as she can remember. They promised each other as teenagers that they’d marry after his six years of education training to be a doctor. Now he’s back, trying to find his place with his new ideas in his father’s old-fashioned practice. Pin is an accomplished seamstress and teaches others to sew. She’s driven while Jonathan is laid back. She runs ahead, sure of herself, while Jonathan likes to take his time and think.

Pin becomes aware that a local girl, Annie, who sells eggs in the village has some serious needs. As she tries to help, she learns the family is in poverty because the father is a drunkard who abuses his children.

A tragedy involving Annie’s family pulls Pin and Jonathan apart. Are their differences too great to keep their teenage promises to each other?

One fun aspect of this story was that some of the characters appear in others of Nancy’s books. I’ve only read book in her Summerfield series, but Annie was the main character in The Pattern Artist and The Fashion Designer.

Stephanie Grace Whitson‘s story, Mending Hearts, takes place in small Lost Creek, Nebraska. Rachel Ellsworth’s pastor father has just died and Rachel has to move out of the parsonage in St. Louis. She’s engaged to Landis Grove, but she has nowhere to go before their wedding except to two older single aunts in small Lost Creek, Nebraska. Rachel is an artist looking forward to the Grand Tour on her honeymoon. But for now, she puts her artistic talents to work at the local quilting bees.

Her aunts help take care of the children of a widower, Adam Friesen. Adam had offered to marry his wife to help her out of a bad situation. Though their relationship had grown, he is wracked with guilt that he didn’t really love her as he should have before she died. He’s in a haze of pain since his loss, but he keeps busy in the community.

Rachel receives a letter from home which changes her whole future. At a loss now herself, she struggles with finding God’s will for her life now.

I enjoyed all three of these stories. I’ve loved needle arts for decades, so that aspect was fun for me. But mostly I sympathized with each woman in her situation and her struggles to trust God and apply His truth to her situation.

In addition, the cover is gorgeous and the inside opens out for even more lovely artwork.

I highly recommend this one.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today is not one of Mark Twain’s more well-known books. It’s the only one he wrote with a collaborator, Charles Dudley Warner, who was also a friend and neighbor. The story goes that their wives challenged them “to write a better novel than what they were used to reading.”

But this book is distinctive for an additional reason: its name became applied to the era after Reconstruction until the 1900s. According to this site, “American economy grew at its fastest rate in history” during this period. Such a rise gave way to more industrialization and a class of sudden and ultra-wealthy citizens. “The period also was marked by social movements for reform, the creation of machine politics, and continued mass immigration.” according to the same site.

Twain’s and Warner’s novel satirizes much that was characteristic of the era. But the story itself focuses on a few individuals.

The Hawkins family is poor but decent, located in Obedstown, TN. The family patriarch, Si, has bought 75,000 acres of Tennessee land. It’s not worth much at present, but with the expected changes on the horizon—the expansion of the railroad and discovery of coal for fuel—Si expects some day the land can be sold for a fortune and provide for his children.

In the meantime, their old friend Eschol Sellers has written to urge them to come to Missouri for the wealth of opportunities there. Mrs. Hawkins supports her husband’s decisions, but following Sellers has not boded well for them in the past. He means well, but he always comes up with grand schemes that never quite work out as expected.

On their way, they acquire two more children by adoption who have been newly orphaned. Their fortunes go up and down—mostly down. Si is tempted to sell the Tennessee land several times, but holds out. The older children venture out to work and help the family.

Parallel to the Hawkins and Sellers story is that of two friends, Harry and Phillip, who set put to make their fortune by becoming civil engineers for the railroad. Harry seems like a more refined version of Sellers, but Phillip is earnest and wants to truly learn the job.

The young men eventually cross paths with Laura Hawkins, the adopted daughter who has grown into a fascinating beauty. Henry is smitten. Laura is not unkind, but neither is she interested in Henry. Phillip is also in love with a girl who wants to become a doctor and isn’t interested in committing herself to a relationship.

Laura has an unfortunate relationship with a man who swept her off her feet and encouraged her to elope. When he gets tired of her, he confesses that he was already married and therefore his marriage to her was a sham. He leaves her. Laura changes as a result, becoming more calculating and ruthless.

Sellers, Laura, and Washington Hawkins end up in Washington DC in a grand scheme to get Congress to buy the Tennessee land to establish a college for Negroes. The book’s authors seems to believe that there is not a sincere, uncorrupt senator or representative, and we see a lot of the machinations of the political process: “The chances are that a man cannot get into congress now without resorting to arts and means that should render him unfit to go there.”

Some of the characters end in tragedy. Some are singed by circumstances but wiser in the end. A couple receive a hard-won happy ending.

Some sections are autobiographical. Twain’s biography says that his father had his own version of Tennessee land that always seemed to hold out hope for a good future, and his brother was killed in a steamboat accident similar to the one that orphaned Laura. One section of the book describing Phillip has a footnote that his life to that point mirrored Warner’s.

I understood how the book’s title could be applied to the era. Of course, the era wasn’t named the Gilded Age at the time Twain and Warner wrote. So, though they were satirizing the times, I think they also might have been pointing out the futility of so many individuals in the story who were seeking after the next great elusive thing instead of settling down and working hard for their goals and livelihoods.

Though this book is satire, it also has some wonderfully sweet and poignant moments.

The book kind of dragged in the middle for me, with the young men’s relationships and everyone’s schemes not going anywhere. But it picked up again in the end, with some parts being riveting.

There are a few “damns” in it. The portrayal of black people was probably accurate to the times but is condescending and insensitive in places.

Eschol Sellers’ first name is different in some versions because a real Eschol Sellers showed up and protested after the book was first published. Sellers was based on a cousin of Twain’s who was influential in his father’s land deal.

A few of my favorite quotes:

He . . . was not wanting in courage, but be would have been a better soldier if he had been less engaged in contrivances for circumventing the enemy by strategy unknown to the books. It happened to him to be captured in one of his self-appointed expeditions, but the federal colonel released him, after a short examination, satisfied that he could most injure the confederate forces opposed to the Unionists by returning him to his regiment.

There are many young men like him in American society, of his age, opportunities, education and abilities, who have really been educated for nothing and have let themselves drift, in the hope that they will find somehow, and by some sudden turn of good luck, the golden road to fortune. He was not idle or lazy, he had energy and a disposition to carve his own way. But he was born into a time when all young men of his age caught the fever of speculation, and expected to get on in the world by the omission of some of the regular processes which have been appointed from of old. And examples were not wanting to encourage him.

Whatever her thoughts may have been they were unknown to Philip, as they are to these historians; if she was seeming to be what she was not, and carrying a burden heavier than any one else carried, because she had to bear it alone, she was only doing what thousands of women do, with a self-renunciation and heroism, of which men, impatient and complaining, have no conception. Have not these big babies with beards filled all literature with their outcries, their griefs and their lamentations? It is always the gentle sex which is hard and cruel and fickle and implacable.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Bronson Pinchot. He did an amazing job with the nuances, inflections, and numerous accents. One nouveau riche character is Irish but has traveled in France and changed her last name to a French pronunciation. Bronson nails an Irish accent trying to sound French as well as a variety of Southern accents.

This book first came to my attention when I was searching for a book set in TN for the “Classics from a place you have lived” category of the Back to the Classics challenge. As it turned out, only parts of the book take place in TN. But many of the main characters are from TN, and the “Tennessee land” is almost a character itself, so I am hoping this book will still qualify.

Have you ever read this book? What did you think?

Book Review and Giveaway: The Carousel Painter

In the novel The Carousel Painter by Judith Miller, Carrington Brouwer has just traveled from France to Ohio. Her artist father has died and Carrington needs to find a means to support herself. She had befriended a young American women visiting France named Augusta, who had invited her to Ohio. But now Augusta’s mother, preoccupied with climbing the social ladder, is clearly not pleased. When Carrington learns that Augusta’s kindly father owns a carousel factory and needs an artist to paint the horses, Carrington assures him she could perform the job.

He hires her, but it’s uncommon for a woman to work in a factory full of men in 1890. Some protest and complain; some of the wives accost Carrie in public to try to scold her into quitting. Some men go so far as to quit or sabotage her work. Her supervisor, Josef, is not happy to have her there, but he can only abide by the boss’s wishes. The fact that Carrie is a friend of the boss’s daughter, and Carrie goes to their house every weekend, doesn’t sit well with the men, either.

Eventually Carrie’s talent speaks for itself. But a new enemy arises in the form of Augusta’s suitor, who has eyes for Carrie. Then some of Augusta’s mother’s jewelry is stolen, and Carrie is blamed.

Carrie’s mother had taken her to church, but her father “said God was for weak people who needed a crutch to get through life. Mama didn’t agree. She said believers were the strong ones because they had faith in something beyond what they could see and feel. I tended to agree with Mama. At least until she died.” Part of Carrie’s journey is realizing she has issues with besetting sins like pride.

I enjoyed the story and they way some of the relationships developed over the course of the book. Josef ended up being my favorite character. I also liked learning the background of how carousels were manufactured and painted. I guess they are probably made of molded and dyed plastic now. The old ones were individual works of art. I loved the cover.

Somehow I ended up with both a paperback and Kindle copy of this book. I read the Kindle version, so I’d like to give away the paperback. If you’d like to be entered in the drawing for the book, just leave a comment on this post. (I’ll take all comments here as entries unless you let me know you’re not interested in receiving the book). I’m afraid I can only ship to US addresses due to shipping costs. A week from today, Wednesday, Dec. 18, I’ll draw a name from the entries to determine the winner.

(Update: The giveaway is closed and the winner is Vickie. Congratulations!)

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Like a Flower in Bloom

 In the novel Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell, Charlotte Withersby’s father is a botanist in Chesire, England, in the 1850s. Her mother was a botanist as well, and Charlotte loves to study and illustrate plants. Since her mother died, Charlotte has been her father’s assistant, secretary, and all around right-hand person.

But Charlotte is now 22, and her uncle, the Admiral, thinks it’s high time for her to go into society and find a husband. Charlotte has no interest in either society or matrimony. She loves her work, and she doesn’t think her father can possibly do without her.

But then a long-time correspondent, a Mr. Edward Trimble from New Zealand, shows up on the Withersby’s doorstep. He seems the ideal solution: he can assist Charlotte’s father so the Admiral can introduce Charlotte to society.

Besides Charlotte’s lack of interest, being presented to society is fraught with another  major problem. Charlotte’s father has never had any interest in society. He has always been the somewhat eccentric absent-minded professor type. With only her father as her main companion for life, Charlotte doesn’t know how to dress or act. Fortunately she finds a friend in Miss Templeton, who likes Charlotte’s quirky ways. Miss Templeton is younger but also tasked with finding a husband, something she dislikes as much as Charlotte, but for different reasons.

Charlotte hatches a plan. Since she can’t seem to escape her fate, she’ll go after a husband just to make her father realize that he can’t do without her. Then he’ll call off this nonsense.

But Mr. Trimble proves himself an able assistant, so that her father seems to be able to get along without her very well. And her plan to attract suitors, assisted by Miss Templeton, succeeds only too well.

I’m afraid I didn’t like Charlotte at first. Even the person who came to love her called her “the most maddening, most vexing, most exasperating woman I have ever met.” I didn’t mind the fact that she didn’t know how to fit in society, and I even agreed with her that some conventions seemed silly. But at first she seemed to see only her own viewpoint. Yet, as I got to know her, and as she broadened her horizons and learned a little humility, she grew on me.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

Conversation, my dear Miss Withersby, is a very fragile creature. You must nourish it if you would have it survive. Its favorite food is a question.

Siri Mitchell’s books are far more than romances. I loved her note at the end of the novel where she explained the different influences that went into this story: women who contributed to the study of botany but could not be published under their own names, the conflicting views of botany between scientists and religious people, the eccentricity of botanists, the unusual collections and plant projects of the times, the Opium wars between Britain and China, the nature of introverts, the concept of a helper in the Bible, Victorian gender roles and expectations. She wove all of these together seamlessly, with warmth and humor. Above all the book illustrates the main theme of being who God created you to be.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

 

Book Review: The Other Alcott

Louisa May Alcott has been famous for hundreds of years as the author of Little Women. Not many people know that her younger sister, Abigail May (who went by May and is Amy’s counterpart in LW) had some success as an artist. May probably would have gone further in her career, but she died at the age of 39. The Other Alcott is Elise Hooper’s attempt to bring May’s story to the forefront via fiction.

The book begins just after Little Women has been published and the Alcott family received the first reviews. Praise was high for Louisa’s book, but not so kind for May’s illustrations. May decided she needed more instruction, so she approached Louisa about living with her in Boston and taking art lessons there. After some curmudgeonly grumbling, Louisa agreed.

A few years later, Louisa, May, and another friend traveled to England, where Louisa wrote and May explored and took lessons. They were prohibited from traveling to Paris at that time due to war, but a few years later May traveled to Paris on her own and continued her studies. She met John Ruskin and several other “women artists languishing in the margins of the historical record.” She became friends with Mary Cassatt during the beginnings of the Impressionist movement. Mary eventually became a well-known Impressionist, but the movement was controversial at first. May continued along a more traditional route. “Her paintings were exhibited in the Paris Salons of 1877 and 1879, major accomplishments for an artist of the era.” She wrote a book titled Studying Art Abroad, and How to do it Cheaply.

She met and married Ernest Nieriker, a Swiss tobacco merchant and violinist, in 1878. In November of 1879, May gave birth to a daughter named after Louisa but called Lulu. But May died seven weeks later, Wikipedia says from childbed fever, Hooper says from cerebral spinal meningitis. May wanted Lulu to be sent to Louisa in the event of here death. Louisa raised Lulu until her own death ten years later, when Lulu was sent back to her father.

I enjoyed learning more about May’s life. I had particularly wondered why her daughter was sent to Louisa, and this gave insight into that decision. It was interesting to read of the Impressionist movement’s beginnings.

May and Louisa seemed to be the most headstrong and spirited of the Alcott sisters. May’s burning of one of Louisa’s early manuscripts (an event that really happened and was portrayed in LW) gives a glimpse of the way they could clash. But I felt Hooper played up their differences and potential for butting heads a bit overmuch. She admits in her afterward that the estrangement between the two in her book was made up for the story. I know authors may have to make up some details and dialogue in a fictionalization of a true story, but I felt this went too far. Hooper also portrayed May as resenting the way her book counterpart, Amy, was portrayed. I don’t know if this is true or made up or over-emphasized for the book. The book indicates Louisa was unhappy about May’s marriage and suspicious that her husband was really after Louisa’s money, but Wikipedia says, “Louisa Alcott called the day a ‘happy event’ and described Ernest as a handsome, cultivated and successful ‘tender friend’. Further, ‘May is old enough to choose for herself, and seems so happy in the new relation that we have nothing to say against it.'”

Louisa comes off as mostly grouchy in this portrayal. The author says of May, “Creating beauty through art made her happy. And being happy seemed to be her natural state.” But Hooper did not portray May as happy except during her courtship and early married days.

Hooper describes one scene where May finds herself in a class of all men sketching a male nude model who, when he sees May, acts lewdly toward her. Again, I don’t know f this scene is real or invented, but even if real, it went into more detail than needed.

So, I have mixed emotions bout the book, and reviews seem to be mixed as well. Though I did enjoy learning more about May, and I think the cover of the book is gorgeous, I don’t think I will be reading this author again.

Book Review: All the Way Home

Home In the novel All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock, Augie O’Shaughnessy‘s father has died by his own hand in the 1930s. Her mother takes what money they have left and moves her family in with her reluctant brother and his family. But Augie’s mother checks out and seeks respite in alcohol. Augie’s uncle is short-tempered and harsh; her aunt is a little more caring, but busy and distracted. Augie is mostly left to herself.

One day Augie wanders down to a park and meets a Japanese girl named Sunny, who invites Augie home. Augie becomes close with the whole kind and loving Yamagata family, spending more time with them than her own family. She even comes to consider herself Japanese.

Then Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, and the Yamagatas are sent away to an internment camp.

And Augie’s brother comes home from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and is never the same.

Fast forward twenty years, and Augie is a journalist specializing in civil rights stories. She has been asked to travel to Carver, Mississippi, to find out why no Negros have registered to vote even though the law allows them to. She finds more surprises than she bargained for.

I’ve read many WW2 novels, but none of them have touched on the Japanese internment camps. I had not known many details about them. It was interesting, but sad, to learn what happened to them. The fear was understandable: many experienced a similar fear of Middle Eastern people after 9/11. Like young Augie has to wrestle out for herself, no race of people is all good or all bad.

I’d like to tell him that there is no such thing as “they” or “them.” That there are only individuals with layer upon layer of experience, ideas, hopes, dreams, beliefs. That there are some Japanese who are really Americans, some whites who are really Negroes, some Irish-German-Americans who are really Japanese at heart. And that in spite of what a person appears to be or not to be, it’s the heart and not the face that matters.

I could begin again to differentiate, to see the faces of individuals rather than the blur of one large group. The Yamagatas had the eyes but not the soul of the people who had destroyed my brother. And that was what made them different.

Some of the civil rights era stories were both brutal and sad as well. Ann captured the struggles of everyone in the story in a realistic and heartfelt way. Her writing shines as well in a couple of turns of phrases I particularly liked:

I was already well aware of a hollow place inside of me, like an air bubble caught in a pane of glass.

Her painted eyelids were two blue robin’s eggs in a nest of clotted mascara.

The music filled what we would otherwise not have recognized as our parched souls, helping us realize the beauty that we longed for only when we heard it.

This book was a Christy award winner, and I can see why. A very good read.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)