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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Book Review: “Then Sings My Soul” by Amy K. Sorrells

Nel Stewart hasn’t been home in years when her mother’s sudden death brings her back to Michigan from Arizona. Her father’s deep grief and oncoming dementia causes Nel to stay longer than she originally intended. Together, Nel and Jakob work through their present pain as well as learn to deal with their past griefs.

Using alternating story lines, Sorrells tells Jakob’s story of his escape from the Jewish pogroms in the Ukraine, a story Nel never knew. We also learn Nel’s story of why she left home and the significance of Jakob’s hobby of the lapidary arts.

I was immediately drawn into this book because of the historical descriptions of a time and place I know little about (the Ukraine and the Jewish pogroms). The use of the lapidary arts was also an interesting addition, giving insight to the characters–their backgrounds and their interests.

From the title, I thought it was going to be a book about the song, “How Great Thou Art”, but it’s not; exactly. The author explains the meaning behind the title at the end, so make sure you read that. Highly recommend!

 

 

Beneath a Golden Veil by Melanie Dobson

20161207_114254In Sacramento in 1853, the gold rush is on and people are coming from all over the country to try their luck. Isabelle runs a hotel and seems to be successfully overcoming a secret in her past, in spite of the loss of her beloved aunt. When a man enters her hotel in search of his slave, Isabelle becomes involved in helping and hiding slaves in this state which has no clear laws on the issues of slavery.

From Virginia, comes Alden with a twelve year old slave, Isaac. Isabelle recognizes Alden from her past, but he does not recognize her. Soon, another man from Isabelle’s past arrives in Sacramento, and Isabelle has no doubt that this man means her harm. Isabelle becomes caught between wanting to help others who are trapped in slavery and needing to save herself. Her aunt taught her to trust in God, but can she trust Him to deliver her from this evil?

This is my first book by Melanie Dobson though I have read good things about her books and have had a couple of them on my TBR for awhile. Receiving this Kindle edition gave me my excuse to read Dobson’s newest book, and I was not disappointed. I don’t remember ever reading before of California’s stance during the time of slavery or hearing of their own underground railroad, so I found the history interesting and appreciated the details Dobson brings to her story. There is romance, suspense, and colorful characters–all helping to bring together an entertaining story. I gave this book five stars on Goodreads.

Though I received a free Kindle copy through Goodreads, the review is my own.

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 Scribe’s Daughter by Stephanie Churchill

scribe's daughterThe Scribe’s Daughter is listed as a fantasy, but not the type of fairies and dragons. It reads like historical fiction, but the lands and their people are the creation of the author.

This book tells the story of 17-year old Kassia, whose mother has died and whose father has been missing for some 3 years. Kassia and her older sister are doing what they can to survive and to keep the terrifying landlord from the door, so when a stranger appears and asks Kassia to take on some metalwork, she agrees though she knows this is beyond her qualifications.

Taking on this job leads to danger and Kassia finds herself involved in political intrigue and ends up fleeing for her life. She meets new friends who help her to safety and to discovering why she is of interest to anyone.

It took me a bit to get into the story, but I enjoyed getting to know the characters and learning of their various backgrounds. The book ends with a satisfactory conclusion yet gives hints of more to come; most specifically, learning what became of Kassia’s sister. I’m hoping that there is a sequel in the works.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/5518302-patricia”>View all my reviews</a>

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

 

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I picked up Secrets of a Charmed Life because I have read other books by this author and have always enjoyed them. When I realized it was “another WWII novel”, I almost put it away for another time. Historical fiction is probably my favorite genre, and I have read and enjoyed my share of WWII novels, but lately, there just seems to be a glut of books taking place in this time period in both my reading and my TBR pile of books. However, I’m very glad I decided to go ahead and read this novel. It may be “another WWII novel”, but it has its own charms (sorry!).

The story is told as an older woman looking back and telling her story, for the first time ever, to a student reporter. So, it begins in present day Oxford, but mostly takes place as a flashback to the war and the effect it had on two children who were among the ones evacuated from London to protect them from the coming Blitz.

This is a story of two sisters who are caught up in a war, their separation, and the trials they go through to find each other again. It’s a story of motherhood, sisterhood, forgiveness, and learning to live with and through our mistakes.

It’s a story of history; both personal and worldwide. As one character says of history: “What good is remembering an event if you don’t remember how it made you feel. How it impacted others. How it made them feel. You would learn nothing and neither would anyone else.”

I highly recommend this book by Meissner as well any other book she has written. Check out her other books on her website: susanmeissner.com

 

 

 

 

Leota’s Garden by Francine Rivers

Leota’s Garden is not the latest by Francine Rivers, but it is new to me. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Leota is an 84 yr old woman, living alone, and estranged from her children. Her daughter, Nora, is very bitter towards her mother and has kept her children from getting to know her. However, Leota’s granddaughter, Annie, finds she needs to break away from her mother’s control over her life and seeks out the grandmother she has never really known.

Through getting to know her grandmother, Annie finds out the secrets of her grandmother’s past and the reasons for her mother’s misconceptions. In trying to live out her faith, Annie works to reconcile her family, helping them all to learn about love and forgiveness.

I liked this book because I could relate to the characters. I have seen how hurts and unforgiveness can be caused by not always

knowing the truth of other people’s lives. I appreciated the characters and the struggles they go through, and how Annie puts her faith into action. She has to step away from her mother’s control and stand up for herself, but she never stops loving her mother or trying to help her to understand how she feels.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Imagine a circus that just appears  in your town one day, is only open at night, and everything is in black and white. Imagine a circus that has so many tents that you will want to come every night to try and see them all. Imagine a circus that smells of caramel and cinnamon, has a bonfire that never goes out, an ice garden, and characters with names like Poppet, Widget, Celia, and Marco. Imagine the circus is gone one morning and you don’t know if it will ever be back.

I’ve never really been one for circuses, but this one is different. Why it is so different makes the story the compelling fantasy that it is. Who is really running the circus? Is it all illusion and mirrors or is there real magic involved? Is it all good or is there some kind of hidden evil involved?

Two children are trained and prepared for a trial or test. What kind of trial? How does one win? What does that have to do with the circus?

I loved this book. It has magic, love, and complicated characters. One that I wanted to finish to see how it would end, yet hated for it to be over. This is Erin Morgenstern’s first book and I hope she is working on another!

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

St. Petersburg, October, 17, 1756 Three people who never leave her room, and who do not know about one another, inform me of what is going on, and will not fail to acquaint me when the crucial moment arrives.–From the letter of Grand Duchess of All the Russias (later Catherine the Great) to Sir Hanbury-Williams, British ambassador to the court of Empress Elizabeth.

So begins The Winter Palace, an historical novel about Catherine II of Russia, also known as Catherine the Great. Catherine was born as Sophia in Prussia and brought to Russia to marry the nephew of the Empress Elizabeth. This story takes place during the years of 1743-1764 and told through the eyes of a girl who becomes a friend and ‘tongue’ of Catherine. Barbara, or Varvara, is also a  ‘tongue’  (or what we would call a spy) for the Empress Elizabeth.

Stachniak, born in Poland and author of several other historical novels, has written an intriguing and fascinating account of Catherine’s young life. Rich, historical detail give us a picture of the court life of Russia during this time and the constant danger of trusting anyone. Catherine did not become popular overnight and was at the mercy of the Empress Elizabeth. Catherine’s husband, the future Emperor Peter III, was much like a child and as much a pawn for the Empress as was Catherine and the children she bore.  Catherine shows hints of her future greatness as she keeps her wits, makes friends where she needs to, and prepares to take the throne when the time is ripe.    

                                                                                                       The Winter Palace is due to be released in January of next year.

I received this book for free though Goodreads First Reads.

Out of the Silent Planet–C.S. Lewis

Today is the birthday of C.S. Lewis.  I wrote a little about Lewis last week and today want to talk about the first book in his space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet.

I used this book while teaching literature to some high school students. There are themes running throughout the book such as the value of life, social Darwinism, and the spiritual battle of good & evil which make for very good discussion with this age.

In this trilogy, the main character, Ransom,  seems to be a lot like Lewis himself. He is a professor, an expert in languages and medieval literature, single, and was wounded in WWI, but Lewis always maintained that he fashioned Ransom after his good friend, J.R.R. Tolkien.

In Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom is kidnapped by some scientists who take him to another planet, Malacandra, believing they need him as a sacrifice. Ransom manages to escape after they land & begins to meet the inhabitants of this planet.  Though he is afraid of them at first, he soon learns that they have more intelligence, and certainly are more moral, than the scientists who have kidnapped him. He also discovers that Earth has been exiled from the rest of the solar system due to its fallen nature.

Ransom settles into a routine with these beings and has his ideas about life–mainly, religion and humanity–challenged and questioned. Before he can get too comfortable, though, he is summoned to meet the ruler of  Malacandra. Here, he is challenged still greater about his previous beliefs in God and his own planet, Earth.

Though Lewis was a genius at explaining God & theology in his non-fiction writings, his analogies and allegories are also amazing and thought-provoking throughout his fictional writings.

I used the literature guide from Progeny Press when I taught this book. I highly recommend all of their guides. They divide the book into readable sections with vocabulary and discussion questions. They have several others for books by C.S. Lewis including some of the Narnian Chronicles and The Screwtape Letters and are a Christian-based curriculum.

Happy Birthday, Professor Lewis!