Kate Worthington, dismayed and disheartened by the loveless marriage of her parents, has vowed to never marry. She hopes to instead travel to India with her aunt, to escape the discordance of her family and to find both adventure and peace. Her closest friends are Sylvia and Henry Delafield. She has grown up with the siblings and has taken advantage of that by having Henry teach her what he has learned in his classroom. Henry is also the heir to Blackmoore, an estate in Northern England which has always captured the imagination of Katherine. When Katherine finally has the chance to visit Blackmoore, she makes a bargain with her scandalous mother–if she turns down three marriage proposals, she may go off to India. She makes an arrangement to receive the proposals–but will her bargain free her or allow her to lose her heart and her happiness? Katherine is a passionate, intelligent young woman struggling to find her place in the world, wanting independence and love, but not wanting to sacrifice her happiness for the loveless marriage her mother is trying to arrange. Blackmoore captures the desolation and remoteness of the moors and creates a fitting atmosphere for the story. Katherine and Henry are believable, intelligent and compassionate main characters. The portrayal of Kate’s dilemma, in 1820′s upper-class England, illustrates the difficulties faced by young women of the time who were reluctant to marry just for social status or to be considered respectable. This is a charming romance with likeable, well-developed characters, full of atmosphere, emotional tension and intrigue.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford’s debut novel, was a huge success that I somehow missed. It is on the top of my reading list now that I have read his second novel, Songs of Willow Frost. This is a bittersweet novel that tells a story of difficult circumstances, mistreatment and love. Set in Seattle during the Depression, a 12 year old boy, William Eng, thinks his mother is a film star. He has not seen her for 5 years when she left him at the Sacred Heart Orphanage. His best friend Charlotte helps him escape and together they search for her and discover a beautiful, broken woman. The plight of Chinese immigrants that are not respected is a sad history played out in this story. The history of the film industry in that part of the country is also explored as we progress from talkies to feature films.
Do you remember being a child and having the time to curl up in a chair, spending the day lost in an adventure taking place in another time or world? Remembering those classic children’s fiction books take us back to those days. And re-reading those books as adults, or reading them aloud to our children, brings a new perspective on the stories that we so fondly recall.
There are many children’s books that are considered classics, and a few of the favorites on my list include:
“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published in 1911, is one of my all-time favorite stories, one that I read and re-read as a child and read aloud to my own children. It tells the story of Mary Lennox, orphaned in India and sent to live in the moors of England with her uncle. Misselthwaite Manor is a cold, lonely estate, made isolated and somber after the death of her aunt, leaving her uncle in inconsolable grief. Mary hears rumors of a hidden garden, as well as hearing strange cries in the night. She discovers the hidden garden as well as a sickly cousin, Colin. With the help of her maid Martha, Martha’s brother Dickon, and Ben, the kindly old gardener, Mary brings life back to the garden, to Colin and to the Manor. This is a charming story of friendship, family and determination, with wonderful descriptions of the garden and the children growing and changing. Burnett is also the author of another favorite, “A Little Princess.”
In her debut novel, The Ghost Bride, Yangsze Choo poses a few basic questions: What would you do if you were the young daughter of a Chinese family in Malaysia in the 19th century, and your father, whose had fallen into dire straits, was being encouraged to marry you off to as a “ghost bride” to the recently deceased son of a powerful and wealthy family? Continue reading
Chris Bohjalian is a familiar author to many. I have enjoyed The Buffalo Soldier, Ideal Banter and numerous other fiction and non-fiction titles by this New York Times Bestselling writer. The Light in the Ruins is an historical crime novel. It takes us to Italy during the early 1940′s and alternates to the characters’ lives 10 years later. The story begins with a very horrifying murder of a formerly wealthy war widow, Francesca Rosati. Her life during the war is revealed piece by piece as Serafina, a burn -scared and memory-scarred detective searches for the murderer. The Germans are positioning themselves all over the country and many partisan Italians hiding in the hills are finding themselves in want and need of necessities. Villa Chimera is the home of daughter-in-law Francesca and her two children. Germans are coming to the villa to view the Etruscan ruins as investigators for the Ahnenerbe, the Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Society, who are trying to establish proof for the hypothesized “Aryan Race”. Cristina, Francesca’s younger sister-in-law is falling in love with one of the German SS officers. The villagers are murmuring about the Rosati family and their fraternization with the Germans while the war grows closer to all. This fast paced novel is gripping and has interesting historical links along with romance and a serial killer….something for everyone.
Once again another great read by Sawyer! What Once Was Lost tells the story of Christina Willems as she carries on the work of the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor. The Asylum is the only home Christina has ever known. When a fire displaces all her charges, Christina is determined to bring them back together. However, circumstances seem to be against making that task possible. The characters are interesting and the setting takes you back in time.
If you enjoy the Gone with the Wind era in literature, try All Things New by Lynn Austin. Set in the reconstruction era after the Civil War, this historical fiction narrative will give more vivid pictures of what a struggle life was for the wealthy and their slaves. Josephine Weatherly must find a way to reconstruct her live as the daughter of a plantation owner. She adapts to the harsh new life easier than her mother as she begins learning how to garden and sew from her former slave, Lizzie. Josephine’s mother, Eugenia is determined to try and live their former wealthy lifestyle and is disturbed by her daughter’s willingness to work when she needs to find a worthy husband. Josephine meets a Yankee with the Freedman’s Bureau who is there to help rebuild Virginia and help the slaves begin a new life. He encourages her to rediscover God’s place in her life as she questions all the suffering the South and her family has been through. The plight of the freed slaves is woven into the story with the God-fearing couple of Otis and Lizzie who stay to work at the big house. They are torn between joining their friends, former slaves who live in the woods and are preparing to move west toward opportunity, or staying to work as sharecroppers and helpers where they know the land and people. Former Rebel soldiers, the plantation owner’s sons face running huge plantations with no help or paying former slaves to work thier land. They are afraid of retribution by their former slaves and some hold night raids to run the slaves out of the land. This picture of life during a difficult time in our country’s history is bittersweet. I listened to this book on my Android phone after checking it out from the State Library of Kansas’ OneClick Digital audiobooks link.
As we read about sports stars in the news who are using performance enhancing drugs or being arrested for crimes, we tend to forget how important sports has been in our culture and how sports can be a positive influence on the rest of American society. Such an influence was baseball star Jackie Robinson, and his experiences in his first year in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers are shown in the film “42″. Harrison Ford immerses himself in the role of Branch Rickey, the Dodgers owner who decides it is time to integrate the sport he loves. He recognizes that he needs a black player with talent, but also one with the inner strength to be able to tolerate the racist slurs and antagonism of white fans and players without retaliating. Chadwick Boseman is excellent as Jackie Robinson, believable as a person who wants to play baseball without the distraction of racial issues, but is also a person who is enraged by the injustices of racism but must hide his anger for the good of the game and for those black athletes who will follow him. Robinson handles the antagonism from fans and teammates with grace and tolerance, and wins over his Dodgers teammates with his talent and strength. Despite the adversity he faced, Robinson never gave up and the Dodgers became an example for all of America. This is an exceptional film and portrays a time in our history, not so far in the past, when racism was prevalent and when two men took a stand to integrate sports. Not just a sports film, this is a story about individuals willing to face adversity for their beliefs–and is a must-see film!
This compelling novel weaves together the stories of two orphans from different time periods. A little Irish girl, Niamh, is living in the tenements of New York City with her family when a fire leaves her an orphan. She is taken to the midwest by the Children’s Aid Society on an orphan train and placed in a home. With her name changed to Dorothy, this little girl is shipped from home to home before finding someone that really wants her to live with them and fill the loss of their little girl, Vivian.. Into this storyline another present day orphan, Molly, is also shipped around to foster homes. She is caught stealing a library book and must do community service hours. Her boyfriend suggests that she might be able to help with an organization project for a ninety year old lady, Vivian. The unexpected friendship of these two suffering women, one young and one old, and their courageous journey is a remarkable story of perseverance, and tells the historic story of the many children who rode the Orphan Trains from 1856-1930.
Merrill, being raised by her father and brothers, has become just one of the boys. Wearing pants was frowned upon back in 1895, but when a girl is out cutting ice from the river nothing else will do. It isn’t until Rurik Jorgenson comes to town, to help his uncle, that Merrill starts caring about her apparel. Merrill finds herself losing her heart to Rurik, that is until his finance shows up. I found Peterson’s, The Icecutter’s Daughter, to be a fun adventure into the life’s of the people in this small Minnesota town. As a bonus this book is also available in an ebook through Sunflower eLibrary.
1880′s London is the preliminary setting of Jennifer McVeigh’s debut novel, The Fever Tree. Francis Irvine, a privileged young woman, finds herself without any means of support when her father dies. Her options are to either live with her aunt as maid and nanny or accept a marriage proposal from a doctor relation. She travels by boat to South Africa to marry the doctor whom she does not love. While on the voyage she meets the handsome William Westbrook and falls for him. Thinking that he will leave his fiancé and marry her, Francis Is devastated to find she is without choice but to marry the doctor. This time period in South Africa’s history is a sad one as seen through McVeigh’s story. The British colonial government’s greed is displayed in their corrupt practices dealing with the diamond mines. We see smallpox epidemics hidden because of the devastation it would be to commerce. The conflicted feelings Francis has for her husband and lover are a perpetual theme as she deals with poverty, morals and deadly heat. This is a fascinating story about a very difficult time and place in history.
This story set in New York and Boston during World War II, centers on Dr. Hatcher’s envolvment with immigrants coming into the United States. Lydia Eldredge living in Boston with her son Nicky, was surprised when Dr. Micah Hatcher showed up on her Father’s doorstep. Why would her father summon Dr. Hatcher to Boston with the accusation of being Nicky’s father? Micah, had been even more surprised when he had received the letter from Mr. Eldredge, proclaiming him to be his grandson’s father. Micah and Lydia had worked together at the Schofield Station Hospital, when she had hurriedly left Oahu because of a “mysterious emergency” he hadn’t thought much about, but now he knew.
When Micah met Nicky, the little boy captured his heart. Then when Lydia explained the dilemma they faced, he was even more drawn into the Eldredge’s lives to help find safety for the little boy. But his responsibilities with the immigrants in New York, kept him from being available when the Eldredge’s needed him most. Kim Vogel Sawyer has once again touch my heart with her inspiring story in Sweet Sanctuary. It is another book you won’t want to put down.
Charles Lindbergh’s achievements are fairly well known, but his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is portrayed in The Aviator’s Wife as a woman to be remembered for many reasons. Melanie Benjamin tells the story of Anne Morrow, the first American woman to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license, first woman to win the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal for exploration, and a National Book Award-winning novelist. Her marriage to Charles was difficult as his fame caused their life to be in the public’s eye. The terrible loss of their first little boy in a kidnapping added to their notoriety and heartache. Charles extremely disciplined manner and driven nature caused relationship issues with Anne and their children. Anne’s life comes alive for reader’s as we see her devotion to this celebrity husband and the problems that result.
Lifelong family secrets are revealed through a series of letters which arrive along with condolence notes in this novel written by French novelist Helene Gremillon. Camille, a single woman in her thirties has just lost her mother and has recently found herself to be pregnant. She begins receiving long, unsigned letters telling a story that she knows nothing about. As they continue to arrive she learns of a previous war time love triangle. Wealthy Monsieur and Madame M cannot conceive a child. Madame M is deperate to have a baby, and the wartime efforts are pushing all women to have children. She befriends a teenage girl of lower class and helps provide the necessary art supplies that Annie needs to encourage her creativity. Annie becomes so close to Madame M that she empathizes with her to the point of offering to have her child.
This dark tale of love gone wrong jumps between the present and the past with many twists and involved secrets. Camille begins to guess that these letters may involve her much more deeply than she wants to know in The Confidant.
Julie Kibler has written a debut novel that won my heart. I could not put this tragic love story down without continuing to dwell on the power of love and the tragedy of racial discrimination. In the south during the 1930′s, a wealthy white doctor’s daughter, Isabelle, falls in love with the handsome black son of their family maid. This story combines two time periods as years later now ninty year old Isabelle, asks her young black hairdresser, Dorrie, to drive her to a funeral 1000 miles from their homes. The two women share their troubled family stories with Isabelles secrets unfolding at the same time Dorrie’s teenage son calls with his own life changing problems. Calling Me Home kept me mesmerized till the very end. I hope for more by Julie Kibler!