Book Review: Historical Fiction

Book Review: Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

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Daughter of Moloka'i: A NovelDaughter of Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Around ten years ago, someone in my book club selected Moloka’i as our monthly read. I wasn’t sure I’d like the book as I knew very little about Hawaii or leprosy, but it was a chance to learn. By the end of the novel, I was in tears and had scheduled a trip to visit the islands. It was a major hit at our book club meeting and I fondly recalled the book for several years. Last month, I was searching NetGalley to see what was newly released when this book showed in my queue. WHAT, A SEQUEL? I quickly requested it, waited days to find out if I’d be granted the approval, and messaged my former book club members to tell them about it. When I was awarded the book, I moved it up the queue and read it this week. This novel was truly a wonderful read and lived up to the first book; it’s a high recommendation from me.

The sequel starts in the 1920s at an orphanage where Ruth, a young girl, has been dropped off by her parents, for adoption. While she didn’t have leprosy, Ruth’s parents did which meant they couldn’t raise her for fear of further spreading the disease. Ruth waited years to be adopted because she’s half-Japanese and half-Hawaiin; few potential adopters were interested in taking her with them after a visitation. All Ruth wants is her own pet — a cow, a dog, anything… but the orphanage can’t allow it. One day, a Japanese couple arrive and adopt her. Ruth finds a wonderful home and everything she deserves falls into place — for a few years. Her adoptive father’s brother asks them to move from Hawaii to California to help farm his land. They do, but they find resistance to Japanese by Americans. By the time Pearl Harbor occurred, life for anyone of Japanese descent in mainland America was impacted. Ruth and her entire family, including new husband, Frank, and their two kids, were placed in various relocation camps across the Western US. Pain, death, and regret follow the family for a few years.

As a reader, I came to tears several times, but they also have wonderful moments and relationships that deliver a strong balance in emotional terms. About 2/3 into the book, Ruth receives a letter from her biological mother explaining why she was given up for adoption. Should Ruth meet the woman? Who is she and what is her connection to the characters from the first book in the series? Author Alan Brennert delivers a powerhouse of emotions and history in this sequel which I feel is definitely a parallel match. Not only do we learn about the culture of Hawaii but about Japan in this second installment. To understand what happened to Japanese-Americans in the 30s and 40s was difficult and crushing. It was equally as crushing as the deaths at Pearl Harbor and in WW2 as a result of all the fighting, but the focus here was on those around Ruth and her family.

The book ultimately chronicles Ruth’s life from age 3 to 55 when she’s grown with her own kids who are beginning to think about marriage in the late 1960s after the Korean War efforts. We walk step-by-step with her as she loses family members, gains new ones, finds her connection to animals in a second life, and understands who she really is. The language in this book, whether it’s Hawaiin, Japanese, or American English, is inspiring. It shows the flavor of the world Ruth lived in, both good and bad. At times, I laughed. Others, I teared up. To see a 50-thousand foot version of someone’s life throughout the middle of the 20th century during many horrific wars is quite impacting. We learn of a few different things that happened during the first book that we didn’t know then, but from a different perspective. We re-visit a few of those scenes again just to make connections. It’s quite comforting and eye-opening to learn things that we hadn’t know happened to Ruth’s family before she was born.

I can’t say enough good things about this sequel… perhaps in a few parts it was a tad slow and repetitive, but that’s so minor, it didn’t bother me. I still give this book a full 5 stars.

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About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. My new book series, Braxton Campus Mysteries, will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. There are two books: Academic Curveball and Broken Heart Attack. I read, write, and blog A LOT on this site where you can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

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Book Review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

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The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kate Morton came into my life just under 3 years ago. I don’t remember how, but I picked up one of her books and absolutely fell in love with her writing style, characters, and multi-dimensional storytelling abilities. After almost 3 years, I’ve finished reading all 6 of her books; it’s a tad amusing that the last one I read is actually the first book she wrote — The House at Riverton, or The Shifting Fog, as it was previously known. For me, she’s the queen of historical fiction when the focus is on ‘ordinary’ families in a world from ~ a century ago. The House at Riverton is no exception, and while not my favorite of her tomes, is quite a splendid novel very reminiscent of Downtown Abbey.

In this book, Grace is ~100 years old and dying very soon. She has a story and a secret about the past to tell her wayward grandson who’s gone missing after his wife died of an aneurysm. Through flashbacks and other POVs, we learn about Grace’s time as a maid and ladies maid in the Hartford family household. We witness conversations in the current period between Grace and Ursula, a film director telling the story of what happened when a family friend and renowned poet committed suicide in the 1920s at the Hartford estate. We find out who actually loved whom, and which family members shouldn’t have been trusted. All set against the gorgeous backdrop of the English countryside, it’s a powerful and emotional tale about fighting your desires and knowing when it’s time to give in.

One of the things that made this book so appealing is how similar it was to Downton Abbey. There’s a family torn apart by war. Girls cannot inherit their father’s estate. Love between classes is forbidden. Estates cost too much. A daughter must marry into a wealthy family to survive. But then it goes off on its own path with a murder, an affair, and a past indiscretion connecting two people who never knew until it was too late. Morton can weave the most elaborate stories to warm the heart. I feel such passion and connection with her words and imagery. I can think of no other author who evokes such lyrical enthusiasm and despair in a scene on multiple levels that overwhelm you and excite you at the same time.

While a majority of this book is amazing, there were a few areas that I struggled with… hence 4 stars. The beginning is a bit too slow; it takes time to develop characters, but Morton uses a few different techniques to foreshadow what’s to come in the future almost crossing that invisible line with audience. For example, there’s a paragraph ending a chapter that actually speaks to readers saying, “You think she should have done this, but no, instead, she does this… and this is why what happens to her later was so painful.” I paraphrased to not give away any spoilers, but you get the basics. Another concern I had was how certain storylines were left too open-ended for my taste. We know two characters re-connect 40 years later, but how / why. We know there was a blood relationship between two characters, but was it ever acknowledged? We know one character leaves a letter to another, but what happened with the gift she also left behind? Who was Lady Clementine and how did she fit into this family?

Some of those were loosely explained, but with a powerhouse like Morton, I expect everything to be properly tied together. I’m okay with vague, but there needs to be some clarity on what the ‘options’ are as opposed to just making a statement and never exploring the follow-thru aspects. That said, this doesn’t happen in her later books, so I think these were debut author style changes… and definitely ones I’m glad she eventually made. All said, it’s a must read. The book is slower than others, with less of a major climax, but fully immersive and extravagant in other ways. I am sad that it’ll be at least another year before her next one…

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About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. The debut book, Academic Curveball, in my new mystery series, Braxton Campus Mysteries will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. I read, write, and blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge –and multiple Readathons. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

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Ever since I read my first book by Kate Morton, I’ve been keen to read all her others. This month I went with The Secret Keeper since I tend to love books where there’s a secret buried somewhere that must come out despite every intent to bury it years ago. I was thrilled with the novel and can’t wait to take on the next one.

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The book takes place over a period of ~60 years focusing for the most part on Dorothy (Dolly) and daughter Laurel. We see snapshots of their lives while Laurel tries to unravel the mystery of a childhood incident where she’s certain she saw her mother stab a stranger. We see the perspective of a few other characters who interacted with Dolly when she was younger, as well as Laurel’s three sisters and one brother. It all comes together in a surprising conclusion where readers are forced to decide how we feel about an event that can be seen from many different angles.

Morton is the best at weaving together a story full of so many different side stories, you can never tell which will be the significant one to change the entire ending or plot arc to capture your shock. As this one moved along, I enjoyed the lyrical prose, tense dialog, well-drawn characters, and thrilling descriptions. About 75% through, when I thought I’d figured most of it out, I was feeling a bit disappointed. It was good, but that shock factor didn’t emerge as powerfully as I’d hoped. A few chapters later, in the most unusual place, I thought I saw an error. I re-read the passage twice, then realized — Oh, here’s that crazy twist! And what a fantastic one it was. 🙂

At that point, my opinion on the book shot up from a 4 to a 4.5. I would love to give it 5 stars, and it’s close, but there were a few moments of repetition and slowness that held me back. By no means did it make me want to put it down and wait days before reading again. It just didn’t force me to stay up super late… but that’s okay, sleep is needed, too. Overall, the story is very enthralling on many levels. You’ve got a backdrop of war, then modern social media times. You’ve got a mother who might or might not be lying or be a killer. As you read the historical portions, you can’t decide which of two girls is the one to believe. It keeps you going to the point you almost think they’re both lying, but which is the most pertinent among all the confusion?

Above all the plot and story, the settings are among the most gorgeous and captivating as any I’ve ever read before. Morton can describe the simplest things in the most complex terms, but it still makes me yearn for more. I never think “ugh, she’s completely overdone it,” but there are times when I would be okay with a few less words if it’s not ultimately important to the detail of the story. It’s a fine line, and in 98% of the cases, she’s spot on.

If you’ve never read her work, this is a good one, but I’d start with The Forgotten Garden then come to this one. I’ve two more left to read of hers, then I’ll probably have to wait a year for the next to be published. Oh well… sometimes patience is a good thing.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. The debut book, Academic Curveball, in my new mystery series, Braxton Campus Mysteries will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. I read, write, and blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge –and multiple Readathons. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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I chose this book purely based on its cover. The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor looked gorgeous, and after seeing it all over Goodreads and thinking about the Cotswolds, I fell in love. Then I learned it doesn’t take place in England, but in Ireland, as well as that it’s based on a true story. Wow! Knock me over with a feather… all that said, it was a good book and I enjoyed it very much. I’d give it somewhere between a 3.5 and 4 stars rounded up.

Two young girls take pictures of faeries in Ireland during World War 1. One of them is a transplant from South Africa returning because her father must fight in the war. She bonds with her cousin, they become somewhat famous for their pictures as everyone thinks it’s real. Was it? In current day, a somewhat distant relative / friend (I’m being vague to not give it away) returns to the village to take care of her aging grandmother after her grandfather passes away. She’s contemplating breaking off an engagement and starting life anew. The stories intertwine and we learn what really happened with the photo of the faeries.

If this weren’t based on a true story, I’d have said the plot was too simple. Knowing it comes from a real-life experience, it makes the book a bit better. The author created a beautiful story. The characters felt real. I enjoyed the current story more than the historical one, tho. I felt the book had some literary merit, but at times, it was repetitive and listless… yet I also found it enchanting and vivid in many other places. I think it’s meant to be that way if you’re not aware of or fully caught up in the true story.

Gaynor’s writing is quite strong and made me keep reading. I will definitely sample more of her work in the future.

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About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

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Kate Morton is one of my favorite authors, and when The Clockmaker’s Daughter came out this year, I was one of the first to jump on NetGalley to get a copy. I was so excited to be awarded the book and added it to my August reading queue. It made for a good alternate style given I’m also running a children’s book readathon this month! Although not my favorite of all her novels, it’s an enchanting story and covers a lot of beautiful generations within a couple of families.

What I loved the most about this book was how you never quite knew who was speaking in the beginning of a chapter. It took a few paragraphs or a page or two before it became obvious. Some might be bothered by this approach, but it added to mystery and ambiance for me. The Radcliffe family was quite peculiar, and I wondered whether it would turn out to be accidental death or murder for one or two characters. As the story unfolds and we learned about Elodie in 2017/8 discovering the past, everything comes flooding forward. There are memorable characters in this book and I recommend it for that reason alone. On the flip side, there are over 30 main characters, so it gets a tad difficult to keep focused if you have to put the book down for more than a day at a time. Don’t read it with anything else like I did.

Morton is the queen of lyrical words and astounding settings. The plot is strong, and the twist at the end is great. Along the path, it’s much lighter tho… less about the mystery and more about hearing what happened to people over a century. I found myself eager for more action than present in the book. But it still captured my heart and attention. A solid 4 stars.

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About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: Citadel by Kate Mosse

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3.5 stars to [book:Citadel|6952554], the third book in the Languedoc trilogy, written by [author:Kate Mosse|9343] in 2011. I read the first two books in the series many years ago and loved them both. I hadn’t been aware of this one until three years ago when I found a copy at a discount sale. I quickly bought it but it sat on my shelf for over a year until I finally read it this month. I struggled at first to get into the story, but the intrigue got better as the book progressed. Unfortunately, it was probably 200 pages too long and had a couple of side-stories that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. For those reasons, I’d rate this as my least favorite in the series and given it had only a very small connection to the previous two, it isn’t a must-read.

adel

At times, the language and imagery was quite beautiful. At times, it was repetitive and confusing. There were too many characters without fully fleshed out personalities or descriptions, so it seemed a bit tedious. That said, the battle scenes and the dialog were strong. I often found myself skimming a few too many times within the same hour-long reading period and not feeling the urgent need to pick up the book each night when bedtime arrived. I was glad I’d finished it, but I also felt it started to get much stronger around the 7o-80 percent mark and wished some of that beauty was present earlier on. Ultimately, I was puzzled over the entire point of the story as the ending felt very much ‘let’s just wrap this up’ which is sad.

While I seem to be focusing on the negative aspects of the book, there were many positive ones. Sandrine is a fantastically drawn beacon of strength in a time that was quite horrific for many people. What she suffered through and how she supported others was a tribute to the many women who led the pack to protect their families, friends, and even strangers in their towns during the Nazi invasion of France in the 1930s and 1940s. The book wisely left out the details of what happened in the Jewish camps (for the most part) and astutely focused on the impact on the families left behind when someone was taken from them. The worry. The questions. The unknown. So much to understand about this period in history.

Now that I’m done with this series, I’ll give some thought about what else of Mosse’s books I want to read.

 

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

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After reading a few Kate Morton novels last year, I found myself enamored with her storytelling and character creation abilities. I added all of her books to my TBR and included The Lake House on my monthly Book Bucket List on my blog, where followers vote to select one read per month for me — this won as my June novel and I finished it over 6 days last week. With a new puppy in the house, reading and book reviewing time is not as easy as usual but I’m determined to meet my June TBR goals. While I absolutely adored this book, there were a few times I felt disconnected and disappointed, or that the coincidences were a little too much, but not for too long or in any way to truly bother me.
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The story focuses on several characters in England mostly during the 1910s to the 1930s, and then current time which is set in the 2000s. In the 1920s, the Edevane family is recuperating from World War 1 where while no one died, the savagery of war has had its toll on relationships. Alice is the focus, the middle sister who never quite fit in the family and became a mystery writer. When her younger brother disappears, and her two other sisters begin to act oddly, something seems off. Throw in a battleaxe for a grandmother, a fun but peculiar uncle-type, and some very attentive or non-attentive nannies, there’s got to be something bad that happened to the little boy… but was he kidnapped, killed, or is someone making things up about his childhood? When Alice’s book covers some of those true-life situations, people wonder what happened years ago… in modern times, Sadie has been put on leave after she made a mistake during an investigation, so the cop visits her grandfather and gets caught up in the old Edevane case while taking some rest. This is a story about missing children, lost children, and kidnapped children… there are a few cases going on, but they are not connected in any way other than as situations to help readers reflect on the character’s emotions and lives.

What I love about Morton’s writing is the imagery and depth you see, hear, and experience. Everything feels like it’s unfolding right before your eyes on a stage. Among the always present gardens, large estates, dysfunctional families, and interconnected historic and modern times, you’re carried away into a dreamlike state where you can happily immerse yourself in beauty and lyrical action. Morton also excels at weaving together multiple stories that have both small and large connections you begin to assemble along the path. At times, it’s a bit too connected or coincidental, but truthfully, isn’t that part of why we read books? We want to experience something new and different, a shock or a twist… if it was all simple and straightforward, there wouldn’t be a lot of drama to dig into. So while it can be a bit overdone or over-the-top (even in my own writing, I would agree it happens), it also is what truly makes the book spectacular in other ways. It’s a story with a start and a finish, so it’s going to have very specific reasons for things happening. In this one, it all felt natural as it could have happened just pushed together too closely in a few occasions.

I also struggled a bit in the early pages as there were a few too many characters to keep track of, and with so many women across 4 generations, it was often a confusing in the beginning of a chapter to know which one we were talking about. It was done purposefully to add intrigue and suspense, which I understand, but sometimes it was a little too much. Other than those concerns, I was very happy with the story. It isn’t my favorite Morton, but I find myself still thinking about it days later… Morton captures the young heroine trying to solve the past like no other author I know. She can also brilliantly build the amazing balance in an octogenarian who is torn, but also a bit of a curmudgeon about the past. You feel the indeterminable strength in the woman who can’t let go but is desperate for a closure that seems destined to cause more pain.

I am thrilled with this book, especially with the last 25% and how it all came together. Stunning poetry at times. I can’t wait to read her latest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, which I just got approved for on NetGalley.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.