Journey of York @HasanDavis

There are few stories more well known in United States history than that of the Lewis and Clark expedition from St. Louis to the farthest reaches of the continent, what would become known as Oregon/Washington. The pair of explorers took with them 23 crewmen, most were former military men with whom they had served; all but one were volunteers: York, the African slave whom Clark had inherited from his father’s estate. However, aside from the Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, and her “husband” Toussaint Charbanneau, no one was more valuable to the success of the exploration than the man known as York. Yet, for nearly two centuries York’s story and vital contributions have remained largely untold – until now.

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To say that I am an avid devotee of the Lewis and Clark expedition is an understatement – and even that statement doesn’t do justice to my obsession. While my university degree is in history (and US politics,) my area of specialty is the Jefferson/Jacksonian period primarily because I simply could not get enough information about Lewis and Clark and their westward adventure. I wanted to know what they found, the native Americans they met, how they survived the winters, about their longboats. Yes, I’ve even retraced the Lewis and Clark trail from beginning to end and back again. I’ve toured Fort Clatsop, visited burial sites, read their journals and far, far more. What always has fascinated me, however, was how much this pair relied on York, how much they wrote about him and then how quickly his importance vanished. They used his skin color to fascinate native Americans who never had seen any human with that skin color. They thought he was a “medicine man” or “magic.” He opened doors for the explorers and saved their lives on more than one occasion. His brute strength enabled them to carry more boats over dry riverbeds and to build their fort before the winter cold could kill them. He even became – literally – the first African American to vote on American soil when the party had to decide which side of the Columbia river to set up their fort. It was groundbreaking. And yet, once the explorers returned back home – no mention of his bravery, heroics, saving strength or equality was mentioned again. It was during a time in American history when already a division was growing among the states over the slavery issue and giving York credit simply was not done. Shame on everyone involved and KUDOS to Hasan Davis for finally telling this hero’s story!!

The book is written for young readers and is very simplistic in its telling. Think back to the history books of your childhood and this book is written similarly. I would have liked for the illustrations to have been more imaginative in order to capture the attention of graphic savvy young readers, but the story itself is well told, doesn’t stray from historic fact and isn’t too heavy handed when it comes to finger pointing – which it could have done. I think this is an absolute must read for all young American readers, for teachers of young students, parents, and perhaps even adults who are clueless regarding the real heroes of the expedition. I love Lewis and Clark but I know, without a doubt, where the credit for their expedition’s success truly lies.

Thank you to #Netgalley, @CapstonePub and #HasanDavis for fulfilling all of my wishes for the new year by allowing me to read York’s story and especially to Mr. Davis for bringing York’s story to life at last!

For additional reading on the Lewis and Clark expedition, I highly recommend a historical fiction book by Anna L. Waldo titled “Sacajawea.” I have read it five times over the past 30+ years and will read it again this year. It never gets old. Fiction yes, but a beautiful, captivating story never-the-less.

 

 

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The Shop Girls of Lark Lane @PamHowes

The Shop Girls of Lark Lane will tug at your heart-strings once again as we catch up with Alice and the gals of Lark Lane

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This is the second book in a series and  as the book opens, we find the war is over and the men are returning home. Alice, who was introduced in the first book, is reunited with her husband who is seeing his daughter for the first time. She isn’t exactly happy to share her mum with this new man and makes their adjustment rather difficult. But then, there are difficult adjustments for everyone as the women give up their factory jobs and independence and settle back into domesticity. Tragedy, sadly, does not escape Alice in this saga and her story holds more tears for her and requires much courage as she finds herself alone once again.

Although The Shop Girls of Lark Lane is part of a series, I had no trouble at all reading it as a stand alone. I suspect that it helped that I didn’t have preconceived ideas about certain characters, especially as they evolved into rather unsavory sorts as the book progressed It did start off rather slowly which, I think, partly was due to the fact that the author was laying down a lot of background information so that readers could catch up from the first book. A quarter of the way in I was hooked completely and fell in love with the characters, Alice in particular, and their stories. Normally I’m not a fan of this era but this tale was well told with a lot of historical detail and human emotions. If you enjoy historical fiction then you will like The Shop Girls of Lark Lane which is available now.

Thank you #Netgalley, #Bookouture and #PamHowes for my copy of this terrific book. The first in the series is titled #TheFactoryGirlsofLarkLane

Two Weeks ‘Til Christmas!!

When I started the Twelve Weeks ‘Til Christmas countdown ten weeks ago, it actually seemed as though the holidays were so far away. Now, we are down to TWO weeks, 14 days, until the big celebration. Today, since it’s a Top Whatever Tuesday, I thought I would recap some of my favorite holiday books of 2018.

First and foremost, my very favorite holiday book this year was A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories. You can read my review HERE. If you haven’t read this compilation yet, I highly encourage you to give it a try. The stories within are some of the best I’ve ever read – as in – ever!

Obviously, over the past few months I’ve read a LOT of holiday books so that I could do this countdown. Some were typical, a few never made it to the blog and one or two I couldn’t even bring myself to finish. The ones shown below, however, definitely were the highlight of the season.

The favorite among you, my blog readers, was Mutts and Mistletoe and I have to admit it was a favorite of mine as well. The story was adorable but the dogs absolutely stole the show! I also just found out that the author, Natalie Cox, has another “mutt” based holiday book, Not Just For Christmas, so I definitely have to find and read that one too!

I previously had read The Fairy in the Kettle and fell in love with writing and the incredible artwork. I was thrilled to discover that there was a Christmas follow-up story: The Fairy in the Kettle’s Christmas Wish. If you have any younger kids in your life, I highly recommend this book above all others. It’s beautifully written and the storyline is marvelous!

I was super excited to discover some new authors through their holiday work, one of whom is Sue Moorcroft. Her writing style is just great and exactly the type of writing that I love to read. I’ve already ordered more of her books and next week will have a review of one of her previous holiday tales.

In the historical genre, I fell head over heels in love with two of the writers in The Christmas Heirloom. The story of a brooch that is passed down from mother to daughter for centuries absolutely stole my heart! And, I think it is safe to say that after three years and three books, Rebecca Boxall’s holiday reads will be on my Must-Read list and I hope they will be on yours as well. I read Christmas on the Coast in January of this year and followed up with her newest, The Christmas Forest, a few weeks ago.

However, aside from the African-American stories, my favorite book this holiday season was Moonlight on the Thames by Lauren Westwood. I simply adored the characters in the story, the setting, but mostly, how they overcame their past to find love once again. I truly enjoy reading about the healing powers of love and the joy of this season.

I hope, if you haven’t read these yet, that you will give at least one or two of them a try. I know you will enjoy them as much as I did.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! 

#PassagestothePast #HistoricalFictionChallenge

It’s been a few years since I’ve participated in a reading challenge but Passages to the Past has created a historical fiction challenge again for 2019. I’ll be joining and, if this is a genre that you enjoy, I invite you to join along as well.

Basically, you select a reading level, see below, for the challenge, post on Passages to the Past and link up your reviews throughout the year. Sounds simple enough, right? I’ll be doing this once a month and would love also to link up with you if you join us. The more the merrier!

The Levels
20th Century Reader – 2 books
Victorian Reader – 5 books
Renaissance Reader – 10 books
Medieval – 15 books
Ancient History – 25 books
Prehistoric – 50+ books

Since this is my first challenge in a while, I’ll be going for the Renaissance Reader but hope to, at least, read one a month so my personal goal is 12 books. If you play along, please let me know. 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Paragon Hotel @LyndsayFaye

The Paragon Hotel is a taut, well told historical mystery that will captivate you from its startling beginning to its breathtaking conclusion.

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There are few things that I enjoy more than a great mystery and when it is set in a historical context, it is like icing on a cake. That is exactly what Lyndsay Faye has created with The Paragon Hotel.

It is the era of prohibition and Alice “Nobody” James is mysteriously wounded and fleeing from the mobs of Harlem, New York where she was raised by her prostitute mother. She runs as far as she can to Portland, OR where she befriends the porter for The Paragon Hotel, an all black hotel with mysteries of its own. But events on the west coast are not a lot better than the east as the KuKluxKlan is gaining strength and has targeted the Paragon, the only all black hotel in the city. Alice, who is white, is barely accepted by its black residents and understandably so given the hate that is Klan is bringing to their door step, but she does make friends with Blossom Fontaine, the singer at the hotel, and her ward, Davy Lee. When Davy Lee goes missing, tension rise, alliances are questioned and the racial tension that has been simmering threatens to erupt.

The Paragon Hotel is one of those rare books that is both a suspenseful thriller as well as a looking glass at the past, one that allows the reader to see the important lessons from that era and how those lessons learned might be applied today. One might think that Harlem would have nothing in common with Portland, or that the 1920s is too far removed from current events today, and yet this story blends it all together seamlessly. What should have been a typical mystery, one filled with hate and ugliness, instead evolved into a tale of hope and encouragement.

I was riveted by The Paragon Hotel and could not put it down from the first to the very last page. Its characters were so beautifully drawn that they will continue to haunt me for a very long time and the story itself changed me profoundly. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

My thanks to #Edelweiss, @PutnamBooks, and @LyndsayFaye for my copy of this incredible tale

The Christmas Heirloom

Over the past few weeks we have been preparing @TheWisteriaHouse for the holidays. There are a lot of rooms and many trees to decorate but it’s worth it when all is finished and the house is glowing. One of my favorite parts of decorating, especially the trees, is looking back through all of the past treasures from years gone by. I have inherited antique and vintage ornaments that have been passed down from generation to generation.

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There also are all of the newer additions that bring back memories of Christmas past. It was while I was reminiscing that I came across The Christmas Heirloom, four short novellas based on a Luckenbooth brooch that has been passed down from mother to daughter through the centuries. It was the perfect holiday read!

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Briefly, there are four complete novellas centered around the heirloom brooch. In the first, Legacy of Love, we are at the beginning of the brooch’s story. Sarah is a companion to a dowager Countess who is dying. It is Sarah’s wish to bring her as much happiness as possible during her final days. Sarah’s story, as she entertains others on the piano and with her very frank talk, is endearing. As she falls for the dowager’s grandson, it would appear that there is no hope of a “happily ever after” ending: a son of a nobleman with a mere companion, but the dowager has other ideas and it is her wish that the two of them find love and happiness together. Her final Christmas gift is bestowing her well-loved Luckenbooth to Sarah. The story is as beautiful as it is uplifting and I enjoyed it tremendously.

The second story, Gift of the Heart, takes us to Texas where Sarah’s granddaughter, Ruth, has moved to start over after the death of her husband. All that Sarah wishes for is a good life for her daughter. It’s just after the Civil War and there are many poor, out of work people throughout the south but Sarah has found a job in a resort town as a cook at a café. It is there that she fortuitously meets the resort’s owner, a recluse who rarely goes out due to a crippling injury. However, this pair bonds over their love for Ruth’s daughter and soon that bond turns to love. This is a heartwarming tale of romance and hope and one that I’m sure will delight readers who love romance, faith and hope, especially during the holidays.

As we move to the third story, A Shot at Love, I began to feel a slight shift in the narrative. Because each story is written by different authors, it is only natural that the stories reflect those author’s unique writing styles. Fleeta, an unusual name for a rather unusual woman, was orphaned at a young age. Told repeatedly that her mother died of a “broken heart” after Fleeta’s father was killed, Fleeta has no use for love or romance preferring, instead, to spend her days hunting and shooting and occasionally doing wood carvings. When she meets Hank, a fellow gun enthusiast, her thoughts begin to shift. Could she actually fall in love with Hank? This was a very well written story and I easily empathized with these West Virginia characters. I am, however, extremely anti-gun and hunting and the story revolves primarily around both. Despite that, the story was written well enough that I did enjoy following the brooch’s tale down to Fleeta, a woman so clearly not a jewelry type gal.

The final story was one that I, personally, didn’t care for. It is now contemporary times and the brooch was “lost” in the attic until it was discovered by Maddy, a young woman who is gathering items for a garage sale where the proceeds will be used for the family in need whom she is helping. Her partner in the holiday shopping is the widow of Maddy’s best friend and the man she has been secretly in love with for years. Their story is a beautiful one and, of course, they find love in the end. There were multiple reasons that I didn’t connect with this last story. I’m an historian and the fact that the heirloom meant so little to Maddy’s mother, who was quite flippant about it, made me cringe. We had followed the brooch from mother to daughter for years and here was a woman who didn’t care at all. It broke my heart. Also, each of these stories are faith based. It’s been years since I’ve read what is now considered “Christian Lit,” but at one time it was the only type of literature that I did read. The first three stories had faith and hope at the core of their story lines. This message was beautifully incorporated into the story and was a reflection of these women’s lives. By the fourth, however, it became the focal point of the story and was not just about faith but was based on the doctrine of this particular writer. Faith is nearly universal, regardless of your religious ideological beliefs. Doctrine is not. It is specific, not just to Christianity, but to unique beliefs within that Christian faith. Had I not been so involved with the brooch and its story, I would have skipped this last story completely.

Overall, the first three stories are worth purchasing and reading the book. They were incredibly well written and utterly enchanting. If it had just been these stories, I would have given the book a 5 star rating and I still highly recommend the book.

Thank you to #Netgalley and #BethanyHousePublishers for my copy of this beautiful Christmas tale.

 

House of Gold by @NatashaSolomons

House of Gold is a sweeping saga of the Goldbaum family during World War One and the events leading up to the great war.

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I am finding myself reading more and more historical fiction often for the actual history that is included in the books. Some of these authors have done extensive research on fashion, important families and, most importantly, the events of the era about which they are writing. Natasha Solomons’ House of Gold is no exception. Based on the Rothschild family, the Goldbaums are one of, if not, the wealthiest families of Europe. They are the bankers, financiers and confidants of the most influential politicians and land owners. Specifically, House of Gold follows the branches of the family in Austria, Germany, France and England just prior to WW1. The story primarily is told by Greta, from Austria, and her brother Otto. Greta is married off to a distant cousin in England. As the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand occurs, the branches of the family are severed with the families in Eastern Europe cut off from those in the west.

In the first portion of the book, Solomons delves deep into the opulence of this wealthy family – their parties, their castles, their travels throughout Europe in their specially designed train car. Once Greta is settled into England, we then extensively learn about the elaborate gardens and greenhouses created by both Greta and her mother in law. These garden descriptions are, in fact, based on the Rothschild’s famous gardens in Europe. Ultimately, however, the latter portion of the book covers the war and the division of the family. I was stunned at the great detail that Solomons took in her description of the war. I could read historical text after text and never quite get the emotional turmoil that she evokes with her recounting of these characters’ fate during the war. This portion of the book, alone, is reason enough to read House of Gold.

Overall, I found House of the Gold to be one of the best books in this genre that I’ve read. The details are well researched, the character development amazing. However, as with all historical texts or fiction, the author will bring with them their own slant to the events that they are telling. This particular book really pushed home the rise of anti-Semitism and, unfortunately, not everything was historically accurate from that perspective. There was a lot of anti-Russian sentiment brought into play that really did not occur in Europe in WWI but was more a part of the post WW1 era and leading up to, of course, WWII. It’s important to remember, always, that Russia was part of the western alliance during both world wars and suffered the greatest casualty count, greater even than that of France. This story would lead you to believe that Russia was the enemy to the west. Not so. I also did not realize before I read the book that it would be intricately  tied to the Rothschild family. Call me a crazy American, and I am, but I truly despise that particular family and its global machinations. Every time I would begin to sympathize with one of the characters, I would pull myself back again because it’s really the Rothschilds that are being described and I couldn’t care less what their fate might have been and, in reality, I know the ultimate end result and their role in the world today. IF the book had solely dealt with a fictional affluent family and there had been no reference to the Rothschilds, I would have enjoyed the book to its fullest. Again, it’s the crazy American in me and perhaps other people may not have a problem with this.

If you can read the book as a totally fictional account of a totally fictional family, then it is an amazing read. I did enjoy the book and I do recommend it, I just had to overlook a few elements in order to do so.

My thanks to Natasha Solomons, #Edelweiss and #GPPutnamsSons and #PenguinPublishingGroup for my copy of this fascinating tale.