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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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.

Those Dual Story-Lines

Midnight RoseI recently finished reading Lucinda Riley’s The Midnight Rose, one of those dual timelines or two intersecting timelines, or (what I prefer) a dual story-line.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/879379687)

This got me to thinking about how many such books I have read lately and why these dual story-lines have become so popular, and can they really be considered historical fiction in the truest sense? And how different are these from the traditional plot/subplot?

For those of you who may be wondering what in the world is a dual story-line–it is two stories told in the same book or a story within a story. The stories usually take place in the same setting but with quite a few years (approximately a hundred seems rather popular) separating the two.

The Lake House by Kate Morton was one of the first books I read this year and I just loved it. This one moved back and forth between an unsolved mystery in Cornwall in the early 1900’s and then to a woman who was visiting her grandfather (in Cornwall) in 2003. This woman stumbled upon an abandoned house which had obviously been a rather magnificent house at one time, and decided to use her journalistic skills to solve the mystery of what had happened there almost a hundred years before. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1518062106?book_show_action=false

Then there was The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett. An antique bookseller from North Carolina moves to England and ends up in a familiar quest to prove Shakespeare’s authorship. This book’s dual timeline goes from Hay-on-Wye in 1995 to the time of Shakespeare and is complete with both book and art forgers. Another four star for me.

Two of my favorite authors who write the dual timeline quite well are Susan Meissner and Susanna Kearsley. My most recent reads from these two are: A Fall of Marigolds, (New York in Sept. 1911 and Sept. 2011) and A Desperate Fortune (London and Paris in 1732 and present day).

FallMarigolds_cover-184x300

These type of books are often listed as historical fiction, but I consider true historical fiction a work that is based on actual events and people. Both The Midnight Rose and The Lake House are totally fictional concerning their characters and events. I don’t enjoy them any less for that, and, of course, they are historical in the way they portray the ways people lived, the clothes they wore, the way they talked, used transportation, etc.

What do you think? What makes a book “historical fiction”? And, do you enjoy dual time-lines? Read any good ones lately?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Summer_10_14_redHat_BrokenLine.inddLately I have been reading several books of historical fiction from the era of WWI. I am currently listening to a Maisie Dobbs audio bookhave started a Bess Crawford book on Overdrive, and last night I finished up The Summer Before the War.

The Summer Before the War was a book that I felt improved and was more entertaining and engrossing as it went along. (So much better than one that starts out promising and then the ending disappoints.) It takes place in East Sussex in 1914, in the small village of Rye. The first major event of their summer is the arrival of Beatrice Nash who has come to apply for the position of Latin teacher. Many in the village do not approve of a young woman for this position; especially one that upon arrival turns out to be more attractive than expected.

Beatrice is championed by a prominent woman of the village, Agatha Kent, whose husband works for the Foreign Office. Agatha has two nephews, Hugh, a medical student, and Daniel, a promising poet. Hugh and Daniel have differing personalities but are close and are both adored by Agatha.

When Germany invades Belgium, Rye is quick to welcome refugees and, in spite of those who still believe war won’t come to England, the village prepares to support their country even if it means sending their young men off to war. Soon everyone in the village–the young the old, and all those in between–become caught up in a patriotic fervor. Of course, their young men do go off to war, and what happens to them and the ones who are left to wait for them makes up the rest of the story.

Part of what interests me in reading historical fiction is found at the end in the author’s notes or acknowledgements. Simonson tells of the books she read to immerse herself in this period, as well as the websites and libraries. I love that she was able to read newspapers of the time (and took the trouble to do so).

birds-of-a-feather-150For those of you unfamiliar with Maisie Dobbs or Bess Crawford, they are both heroines of their own historical mystery series. The Maisie Dobbs books are written by Jacqueline Winspear and Birds of a Feather is the second in the series. I’m always looking for audio books with good narrators and a story that I can follow as I drive, walk, or cook. So far, this book has delivered with the excellent narration done by Kim Hicks.

The Bess Crawford books are written by the mother/son team, Charles Todd. I have just started reading the second in that series, An Impartial Witness. A group I belong to on goodreads–Historical Mystery Lovers–will be reading a selection of your choice from Charles Todd during July, so I have a bit of a head start. If you’re on goodreads, check out the group and come read with us.cover-impartial-witness

Reading any WWI fiction or nonfiction? Let me know what you’ve read and can recommend.

 

 

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>

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).