Coal River by Ellen Marie Wiseman A Book Review

“On the last day of June, in the year when the rest of the world was reeling from the sinking of the Titantic, nineteen-year old Emma Malloy was given two choices: get on the next train to Coal River, Pennsylvania, or be sent to a Brooklyn poorhouse.”

First of all–great first sentence. Need to keep this one for future study.

Second–though I won this book in a goodreads giveaway (which means I had to enter to win it)–upon receiving it, I confess I was not overjoyed at the prospect of reading something which looked to be rather grim reading. I don’t know much about working in a coal mine, but I know enough to know it was (and is) a far from pleasant life–especially in 1912. So, I reluctantly began my reading, but was soon drawn into the story of Emma and her rather tragic life.

Wiseman tells a difficult story well and manages to make it entertaining. Emma is forced to live with her aunt and uncle when her parents die in a fire. Her relatives see her as a burden, (though her free labor is a bonus), but that is not the worst part of Emma’s life. Seeing how the miners and their families are forced to live and how poorly they are treated by the owner of the mine as well as those under him (such as Emma’s uncle) tears at her heart and makes her determined to try to find a way to help them.

Doing what she can for the miners and their families, Emma puts herself in very dangerous situations as she not only tries to help them, but also to let the world know how the miners, especially the children, are being treated. In spite of laws having been passed to protect children and other workers, these laws are being ignored by the owner of the mine.

As ever when I read a book of historical fiction, I am interested in why the writer chose their subject and how much of it is based on fact and true events. Wiseman says she has long been “fascinated” by coal mining, but learning of the breaker boys made it “a story that needed to be told.” I agree and can highly recommend this book.

Wiseman has written three other books of historical fiction, and I look forward to checking them out. How about you? Have you read any of Wiseman’s books?

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Sixteen of My Favorite Books from 2016

I probably should have worked on this post last week, but better late than never. I did take a few days away from writing during the holidays, but I spent the last few days of 2016 trying to start my next book which I suppose I should call “The Continuing Saga of Solomon”. Well, it’s just a working title.

So, I’ve been reading blog posts on everyone’s favorite books of 2016, so thought I would go to goodreads and find out what were my favorite books this past year. All of the books I’m going to mention were either four or five star for me but that does not mean there weren’t a few others that hit that mark. Trying to keep it down to sixteen was a challenge. Sometimes, though, I think I’m too generous with my stars (especially if I’m struggling with my own writing and feel that any writer who actually finished writing a book should receive at least two stars for that accomplishment alone), but, regardless, I will only mention books today that were either my top favorites or were by a new author for me.

For my top fiction, one of the first books I read in 2016 was Kate Morton’s The Lake the-lake-houseHouse. I loved it and wonder why I still haven’t read more of her books. But I will.

Looking over the fiction books I read, I noticed I read several books which are the first in a mystery series. This makes these books even more special as it means there are more books by these authors that can I look forward to in 2017. (And I actually have already read the second in a few of these series). These books (in no certain order): What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris; The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber; Raven Black by Ann Cleeves; The Merchant’s House by Kate Ellis; and The Lewis Man by Peter May. I also read two by Tana French (the second and third in her series). I don’t think you can go wrong with her. Looking forward to reading the next in her series soon.what-angels-fear-240h

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I’m doing a reread of Robin Hobb’s Farseer series. I read both Assassin’s Apprentice and Royal Assassin in 2016. She is an amazing writer and though her books are fantasy, I feel can learn a lot about writing historical fiction from her writings. She is great at both setting and characters.

Other favorites in fiction: The Marriage of elephant-whisperer Opposites by Alice Hoffman; The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak; Plainsong by Kent Haruf; and Beneath a Golden Veil by Melanie Dobson.

Not counting the two by Tana French, that’s twelve. Since the Robin Hobb books are rereads, maybe I shouldn’t count those, but didn’t want to leave her out.

Obviously, I can easily mention more than sixteen, but I will round this out with my top four non-fiction: None Like Him by Jen Wilkin; An Editor’s Advice by Betty Lerner; The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony; and A Woman of Contentment by Dee Brestin.

How about you? Any books that stood out for you in 2016? Have you set any reading forest for the treesgoals for 2017 yet?

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The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Mary Rothschild
The Improbability of Love
by Hannah Mary Rothschild

Patricia Gilmer‘s review

Sep 29, 2016  ·  edit
really liked it

bookshelves: library-book

Read from September 23 to 29, 2016

 

A many layered tale about a painting that a young chef, Annie, buys on a whim from a junk shop in London. Though she is working for two art dealers, she has no real interest in art, but is soon persuaded to try and find out the origins of the painting.
Meanwhile, a powerful art dealer, who built his family business as a German Jew who survived WWII, begins to desperately seek for a painting he had given a lover who unexpectedly died. Though his daughter doesn’t understand why this painting is so important to her father, she begins to search for the painting and begins to uncover the history of the painting, as well as that of her father.
Suspense, a bit of romance, an array of interesting characters, and the history of an 18th century French artist all add up to make an entertaining tale.

The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak

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The Architect’s Apprentice is a very engaging and entertaining story which takes place in Istanbul in the 1500’s. The story is told through the eyes of an apprentice to the architect, Mimar Sinan, who designed buildings (mostly mosques, but also bridges) during the Ottoman Empire. Sinan, a contemporary of Michelangelo, was appointed to be the chief royal architect at the age of 50 and kept the post for almost 50 years.

His apprentice (in this story) was an Indian boy, Jahan, who arrived in Istanbul with a white elephant which had been sent as a gift for the Sultan. The city, its politics and intrigues, are seen through Jahan’s eyes as he continues to be the mahout, or keeper of the elephant. He soon catches the eye of Sinan with his own drawings and is made Sinan’s apprentice though he continues his duties as mahout. The white elephant, Chota, is as much an important character as Jahan and Sinan. Chota and Jahan grow up together, serving the Sultan, both in war and in helping with building bridges and mosques, designed by Sinan.

This is a time and place in history which I have not been very familiar with, so that added to my interest for the story. Any other books written about this time period that anyone can recommend? Or other books about the architect, Sinan?

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

kingdom of ice 2It’s a new year and goals and challenges are being discussed. Resolutions are still made, but usually with a sheepish grin. We want to change, but, being honest, we know how long, or how short, most of these will last. So, you can lose your weight, eat healthier, and exercise more, but being a reader, I am more interested in what other readers are doing and how I can challenge myself to read or to “read harder” as Book Riot has put it. I’m not really looking to read more, and will continue to read for pure pleasure and enjoyment, but adding a challenge to my reading will broaden my reading horizons. I have already decided I will read more non-fiction this year, and have started by beginning to read Hampton Sides In the Kingdom of Ice. 

Book Riot has issued their “Read Harder” Challenge which you can read here: http://ow.ly/FZLwd To read harder, you must choose a book that will fit within the 24 different categories they have presented. These categories include reading a book written by an author under the age of 25, reading a science fiction book, a romance book, a book written by an author from Africa, and a microhistory.

Am I going to try and do all 24? No. For a couple of reasons. One, I have books I want to read just because I want to read them, and others I will be reading for various book groups, and I’m not going to put them aside just to participate in this. Two, I want a challenge, but not something that will take the fun and enjoyment out of reading.

But, I am going to pick a few selections and make an effort to read those and join in with the group on goodreads. The first challenge is to read a book written by an author under the age of 25. I have a copy of Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter which has been languishing on my bookshelves for years. In fact, I had to do a bit of digging to find it. McCullers was 23 when she wrote this book, so I am choosing it to take on the first task.

Another task (number 3) is to read a selection of short stories. Another book I’ve had for awhile is The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. Though I’ve read a story from it here and there over the years, I’ve never read it all the way through. Though I may take most of the year to get through it, I will begin to read it, keeping track of the stories as I read them (since I probably won’t read them in order).

SS & Carson McCullers

Some of the tasks I will be able to check off fairly easily as I go about my regular reading. This may seem like cheating, but, hey, it counts! For example, I have a hold on Overdrive for Nicholas Sparks’ The Longest Ride on audio. Once I get that and listen to it, I will have completed task 16 (audiobook), task 6 (written by a gender different than myself; i.e. a man), and task 13 (romance).

What about you? Have you given yourself any reading challenges? Taking on any of the tasks from Book Riot? Or do you have a recommendation for a book from Indie Press? (That would help me with both tasks 4 & 18).