Category Archives: Fiction

Review: The Vengeance of Mothers by Jim Fergus

Title: The Vengeance of Mothers by Jim Fergus
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The stunning sequel to the award-winning novel One Thousand White Women.

9 March 1876

My name is Meggie Kelly and I take up this pencil with my twin sister, Susie. We have nothing left, less than nothing. The village of our People has been destroyed, all our possessions burned, our friends butchered by the soldiers, our baby daughters gone, frozen to death on an ungodly trek across these rocky mountains. Empty of human feeling, half-dead ourselves, all that remains of us intact are hearts turned to stone. We curse the U.S. government, we curse the Army, we curse the savagery of mankind, white and Indian alike. We curse God in his heaven. Do not underestimate the power of a mother’s vengeance…

So begins the Journal of Margaret Kelly, a woman who participated in the U.S. government’s “Brides for Indians” program in 1873, a program whose conceit was that the way to peace between the United States and the Cheyenne Nation was for One Thousand White Woman to be given as brides in exchange for three hundred horses. These “brides” were mostly fallen women; women in prison, prostitutes, the occasional adventurer, or those incarcerated in asylums. No one expected this program to work. And the brides themselves thought of it simply as a chance at freedom. But many of them fell in love with their Cheyenne spouses and had children with them…and became Cheyenne themselves.

The Vengeance of Mothers explores what happens to the bonds between wives and husbands, children and mothers, when society sees them as “unspeakable.” What does it mean to be white, to be Cheyenne, and how far will these women go to avenge the ones they love? With vivid detail and keen emotional depth, Jim Fergus brings to light a time and place in American history and fills it with unforgettable characters who live and breathe with a passion we can relate to even today

Review:

In The Vengeance of Mothers, Jim Fergus whisks readers back to the 1870s when the US government was doing everything possible to eradicate the Native American people. Between the Black Hills gold rush, ranchers and white settlers, eliminating the People is a high priority as the Army viciously strikes their camps, the government reneges on deals made through peace treaties and Indian tribes are forced onto government reservations.  In an effort to assimilate Native Americans into the white way of life, a deal is struck with the Cheyenne Nation and white women, many of whom are from prisons and mental asylums, are sent to marry the braves. Although this newest release is a sequel which picks up One Thousand White Women (which I HIGHLY recommend) ends, it can be read as a standalone.

Written in diary format, the story alternates back and forth between the perspectives of original brides Margaret “Meggie” Kelly and her sister Susan “Susie” and newcomer Molly McGill. Meggie and Susie have survived the horrific massacre which left their husbands and many of their fellow brides dead. As they fled for safety, they suffered horrific personal losses and they have vowed to take revenge on the soldiers who are indiscriminately and viciously attacking the various tribes’ villages. Molly and her fellow brides’ train has been attacked by the Cheyenne but they decide they still want to follow through with the plan to marry into their tribe.  Still grieving from recent events, Meggie and Susie become the other women’s reluctant guides as they, along with the surviving Cheyenne warriors, set out to reunite with the rest of their tribe.

Despite a bit of a slow start, The Vengeance of Mothers is an engrossing peek into the hardships and life and death battles these women and the Native Americans endured as they government continued their efforts to wipe out the indigenous people. This historically accurate and impeccably researched novel has an incredibly realistic and compelling storyline that is heartrending. There is a bit of a mystical feel to the present day aspects of the plot and  Jim Fergus brings the story to an intriguing, but somewhat  ambiguous, conclusion. Both The Vengeance of Mothers and its predecessor, One Thousand White Women, are incredibly well-written novels that bring the appalling plight of the Native American tribes vividly to life.  I absolutely loved and highly recommend both of these incredible novels.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Jim Fergus, Rated B, Review, St Martin's Press, The Vengeance of Mothers

Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Title: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 324 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Or did she?

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most spellbinding murder cases of all time into a sensitive and humane portrait of two sisters caught inside a volatile household—and what it means to be free and truly loved.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid Bridget: Someone’s killed father. The discovery of the brutal axe-murders of Andrew and Abby Borden under their own roof in Fall River, Massachusetts paralyzes the small community. No one can understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens. But secret witnesses to the crime have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful step-mother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? Before or after she last spoke to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Through the overlapping perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, we return to what happened on that fateful day.

Review:

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is a fictionalized novel about the infamous Lizzie Border and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother.

On August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden made a gruesome discovery when she found her father Andrew’s lifeless body in the parlor.  Not too long after the family doctor and local police arrive at the Borden home, her stepmother Abby’s remains are found in the upstairs guestroom. The only other person in the house at the time of the murders is the Borden maid, Bridget.  Also visiting at time of the deaths is the Borden sisters’ maternal uncle, John Morse, but he is out of the house at the time of deaths.  Lizzie’s older sister Emma also still lives at home but she is currently staying with a friend out of town so she is not considered a suspect.  Although Lizzie is eventually arrested and tried for the double homicide, she is ultimately acquitted and the world has remained fascinated with the Borden family and the deaths ever since.

In  See What I Have Done, the narration rotates between Lizzie, Bridget, Emma and a completely fictional character, Benjamin, a thug hired by Uncle John for a somewhat mysterious purpose. The four voices are distinct and each brings a unique perspective to the Borden household.  Lizzie is portrayed as quite manipulative and she comes across as somewhat childlike despite the fact she 32 years old at the time of the murders. She is definitely the least sympathetic or likable person in the novel and she certainly has the motive, means and opportunity to commit to commit the murders. Bridget is an Irish immigrant who wants nothing more than leave her position with the Bordens and return to Ireland but Abby Borden convinced her to remain with the family. However, Bridget has managed to save enough money to put her plan in motion, but will Abby allow her to leave? John’s relationship with his nieces is portrayed as somewhat troubled with a  kind of an icky factor that comes across as somewhat incestuous (shudder). The inclusion of Benjamin in the novel is rather odd and further muddies an already muddled narrative.  Emma is incredibly loyal to Lizzie and she easily capitulates to her sister’s selfish demands.

For the most part, the storyline focuses mainly on the  day before and the day of the murders with a few other dates thrown in near the end of the novel.  The chapters from Lizzie’s perspective support the widely held theory she is a murderess and that she made more than one attempt to commit murder before finally succeeding.  The writing style for Lizzie’s chapters is off-putting which makes it difficult to maintain readers’ attention. There is also a great deal of repetition that contributes to the slow pacing of the story.

If you are new to Lizzie Borden and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother, then See What I Have Done is the book for you. However, if you are looking for new information about the case, you might not enjoy the novel because, outside of the addition of the fictional character Benjamin, Sarah Schmidt remains true to the known facts of the case and offers very little new insight into the murders.

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Filed under Atlantic Monthly Press, Fiction, Historical, Rated C, Review, Sarah Schmidt, See What I Have Done

Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

Title: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 357 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

Review:

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson is a poignant and thought-provoking novel of secrets, complicated family relationships and the complexity of race relations the South today.

Just as Leia Birch Briggs is trying to figure how and when to break the news that she is going to become a single mom, her family begins imploding around her. Her “perfect” stepsister Rachel’s marriage is in serious trouble but the biggest blow is the discovery that her beloved ninety year old grandmother Birchie is suffering from Lewy Body dementia. With her thirteen year old niece Lavender in tow, Leia heads to Alabama to help Birchie and her best friend Wattie Price put their affairs in order while (hopefully) convincing them to move into assisted living. However, a stunning discovery sets the town’s tongues  a wagging and an unplanned pregnancy becomes the least of Leia’s concerns as she tries to protect Birchie and Wattie from the repercussions from something that occurred in the very distant past.

Leia is a self-proclaimed nerd who successfully parlayed her love of superheroes and graphic novels into an extremely lucrative career. Her recent attendance at a comic book convention turned out to be a double-edged sword as she enjoys her still unbelievable success as the author of a wildly popular graphic novel while coming face to face with the life she could have been living if not for her fear of getting her heart broken again. This culminates in her out of character decision to drown her sorrows and indulge in a drunken one-night stand with a fan who Leia only knows as Batman (due to his cosplay costume).

Now trying to deal with the consequences of her actions, Leia has barely come to terms with her impending motherhood when she walks into Rachel’s marital disaster. Their relationship is extremely complicated and she is at a loss at how to help Rachel since her stepsister never reveals any weakness to her. In fact, Rachel is typically a force to be reckoned with as she steamrolls her way into “fixing” Leia’s problems.

Distraction arrives in the form of Birchie’s very public meltdown and Leia knows it is past time for her to take a firm hand with Birchie and Wattie. She has barely unpacked when the situation with Birchie spirals out of control and Leia realizes her grandmother is harboring a secret that is much larger and more damaging than her impending motherhood.

With the small town divided along racial lines, Leia experiences an epiphany of sorts that provides her with an answer to a situation she has been wrestling with. It also opens her eyes to the truth about the underlying racial tensions that continue to plague the South in general and her grandmother’s small town in particular. This shocking discovery also leads her to a complicated realization about Wattie that leaves in her a moral quandary about the increasingly complicated situation with her grandmother.

With an astute storyline, delightfully charming characters and a heartwarming small town setting, The Almost Sisters is a riveting novel of healing and new beginnings.  Joshilyn Jackson does not shy away from tough subject matter and she handles these difficult issues with humor, sensitivity and perceptive observations that will resonate with readers. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this incredibly entertaining, insightful and heartfelt story.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Joshilyn Jackson, Rated B+, Review, The Almost Sisters, William Morrow

Review: The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

Title: The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick
Publisher: 240 pages
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 240 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook offers a timely novel featuring his most fascinating character yet, a Vietnam vet embarking on a quixotic crusade to track down his nemesis from the war.

After sixty-eight-year-old David Granger crashes his BMW, medical tests reveal a brain tumor that he readily attributes to his wartime Agent Orange exposure. He wakes up from surgery repeating a name no one in his civilian life has ever heard—that of a Native American soldier whom he was once ordered to discipline. David decides to return something precious he long ago stole from the man he now calls Clayton Fire Bear. It may be the only way to find closure in a world increasingly at odds with the one he served to protect. It may also help him to finally recover from his wife’s untimely demise.

As David confronts his past to salvage his present, a poignant portrait emerges: that of an opinionated and good-hearted American patriot fighting like hell to stay true to his red, white, and blue heart, even as the country he loves rapidly changes in ways he doesn’t always like or understand. Hanging in the balance are Granger’s distant art-dealing son, Hank; his adoring seven-year-old granddaughter, Ella; and his best friend, Sue, a Vietnamese American who respects David’s fearless sincerity.

Through the controversial, wrenching, and wildly honest David Granger, Matthew Quick offers a no-nonsense but ultimately hopeful view of America’s polarized psyche. By turns irascible and hilarious, insightful and inconvenient, David is a complex, wounded, honorable, and loving man. The Reason You’re Alive examines how the secrets and debts we carry from our past define us; it also challenges us to look beyond our own prejudices and search for the good in us all.

Review:

The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick is a poignant and humorous novel about a politically incorrect Vietnam veteran’s attempts to come to terms with the traumatic experiences that continue to haunt him.

David Granger is a sixty-eight year old vet who is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor. A right-wing conservative with a liberal son,  David never hesitates to speak his mind nor does he make any attempt to hide his prejudices or temper his opinions.  He is surprisingly likable and sympathetic despite his caustic comments and somewhat cantankerous demeanor.  His disdain for his only son Hank and his intense dislike of his daughter-in-law in no way diminish his love and adoration of his seven-year old granddaughter Ella. David is a surprisingly multi-dimensional man with delightfully unexpected friendships and a willingness to lend a helping hand to those who are less fortunate and willing to work hard.

In the aftermath of his brain surgery, David becomes somewhat fixated on an incident that occurred while he was in country during the Vietnam War.  Deeply troubled by his actions all these years later, David cannot forget what he did to fellow soldier, Clayton Fire Bear. Terrified of what might happen to him should he locate Clayton, David nonetheless allows a good friend to tack down his nemesis.  Will he follow through with the plan to meet with Clayton? Will confronting his demons finally help David make peace with the horrors that continue to haunt him?

With a diverse cast of characters and a thought-provoking storyline, The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick  is an absolutely compelling novel. David can be unapologetically offensive and abrasive yet, at the same time, he is incredibly kind, compassionate and patriotic. A laugh out loud funny and deeply affecting story of redemption that is ultimately quite uplifting.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Harper, Matthew Quick, Rated B, Review, The Reason You're Alive

Review: The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol

Title: The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E.Pendziwol
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

With the haunting atmosphere and emotional power of The Language of Flowers, Orphan Train, and The Light Between Oceans, critically acclaimed children’s author Jean E. Pendziwol’s adult debut is an affecting story of family, identity, and art that involves a decades-old mystery.

Though her mind is still sharp, Elizabeth’s eyes have failed. No longer able to linger over her beloved books or gaze at the paintings that move her spirit, she fills the void with music and memories of her family, especially her beloved twin sister, Emily. When her late father’s journals are discovered after an accident, the past suddenly becomes all too present.

With the help of Morgan, a delinquent teenager performing community service at her senior home, Elizabeth goes through the diaries, a journey through time that brings the two women closer together. Entry by entry, these unlikely friends are drawn deep into a world far removed from their own, to Porphyry Island on Lake Superior, where Elizabeth’s father manned the lighthouse and raised his young family seventy years before.

As the words on these musty pages come alive, Elizabeth and Morgan begin to realize that their fates are connected to the isolated island in ways they never dreamed. While the discovery of Morgan’s connection sheds light onto her own family mysteries, the faded pages of the journals will shake the foundation of everything Elizabeth thinks she knows and bring the secrets of the past into the light.

Review:

Weaving back and forth in time, The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol is a poignant novel about an elderly woman’s childhood on Porphyry Island and the troubled teen who helps her piece together long ago events from her past.

After her beloved grandfather death, Morgan Fletcher becomes a ward of the state. After becoming involved with a bad crowd, she is caught spraying graffiti on the fence of an assisted living facility. Handed a community service sentence to clean up her handiwork, Morgan meets Elizabeth Livingstone, who lives in the facility. After living abroad for much of adult life, Elizabeth wanted to spend her remaining years close to Lake Superior and the island where she grew up. The recent discovery of the personal diaries her father kept while he was the lightkeeper on Porphyry Island leaves her hopeful she will finally find answers about her childhood. However, due to her failing eyesight, Elizabeth asks Morgan to read the entries to her. Will Elizabeth find the answers she is searching for? And by helping Elizabeth, will Morgan find a measure of happiness that has eluded her since her grandfather passed away?

Life has not been easy for Morgan and past heartbreak has taught her not to become too attached to anyone.  She is currently on a somewhat self-destructive path after meeting Derrick, a young man who is only looking out for himself.  Morgan has a negative attitude when she begins her community service so she is surprised to find herself drawn to Elizabeth.  Intrigued by the unfolding drama as she reads the diary entries aloud, Morgan is quickly caught up the long ago events surrounding Elizabeth’s life on Porphyry Island.

Despite some very harsh living conditions, Elizabeth’s childhood on Porphyry Island  was somewhat idyllic. She and her twin sister Emily were inseparable and  Elizabeth knew from a young age she needed to watch out for her artistically gifted but ever silent sibling.  During her childhood, an overheard conversation between her parents and her inexplicable discovery on a neighboring island raise several questions that Elizabeth never receives answers for.  Will Elizabeth find the truth about her past in her father’s journals?

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters is an incredibly atmospheric story that is quite captivating. Morgan is initially quite prickly with a bad attitude but spending time with Elizabeth helps smooth over her rough edges. Elizabeth is incredibly patient with her new companion and her wry observations and keen insights are instrumental in Morgan’s transformation.  Jean E. Pendziwol brings the past vibrantly to life through the journal entries and these glimpses into lightkeeping duties on an isolated island are quite fascinating and educational.  With surprising twists and turns, the novel comes to a heartwarming conclusion that will delight readers.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Harper, Historical, Jean Pendziwol, Rated B+, Review, The Lightkeeper's Daughters

Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Title: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 528 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

Review:

Featuring factual information about World War I and World War II, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is an enthralling novel about the real life network of women spies.

In 1947, nineteen year old Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair has a “Little Problem” that her mother is taking her to Switzerland to fix. On a stopover in England, Charlie takes a detour to try and locate her cousin, Rose Fournier, who disappeared from Nazi occupied France in 1944. Charlie hopes to enlist the help of Evelyn “Eve” Gardiner but the hard drinking recluse is initially unwilling to aid her on her search. Eve’s interest is piqued once she realizes Rose is connected to a French restaurant owner named René, a name that she recognizes from her distant past.  Accompanied by Eve’s driver, Finn Kilgore, the trio quickly embarks on a journey that will hopefully end in redemption but could possibly result in might end in heartbreak.

Until deciding to search for Rose, Charlie has always gone along with her  parents’ plans for her with only a few minor rebellions. Despite her above average intelligence, she is expected to come back from college with a fiancé not a degree. However, after her family suffers a tragic loss, Charlie falls into a depression which leads to very uncharacteristic behavior, an out of wedlock pregnancy and no husband on the horizon. Her decision to find Rose is, in her mind, her last chance for redemption and Charlie refuses to believe that her search for her cousin might not provide her the answer she is hoping for.

Eve is battling plenty of demons of her own and she wants nothing more than to be left alone to drink her problems away. However, once she hears the name René and his connection to a restuarant, nothing will stop her from finding him and she agrees to use her contacts to help Charlie search for Rose.  Eve has a very good reason to find René but she will have to confront the very heartbreaking memories of her past during their quest.

Effortlessly weaving back and forth in time, The Alice Network is a poignant novel that does not downplay the horrors of war or its aftermath. Kate Quinn’s impeccable research brings both time periods and the various settings vibrantly to life. Historically accurate events and people are seamlessly combined with the fictional elements which results in a richly detailed and engrossing story that is impossible to put down. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this incredibly fascinating and emotionally compelling novel.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Historical (40s), Kate Quinn, Rated B+, Review, The Alice Network, William Morrow Paperbacks