Welcome to: History + Fiction + Adirondack Spirit
Writers are often readers. The following book reviews are from my perspective. I'm looking forward to presenting my opinions on a range of books, though mostly on historical fiction, in hopes that it will help inspire readers to read more, and non-readers to start. I'd love to have you check out my latest book, Wanders Far-An Unlikely Hero's Journey while you're here!
Ruby Moon by Jenny Knipfer
"The flowers and trees seemed to speak her name..."
This book revolves around its heroine, Jenay Follett, a young woman who lived with her small family in Webaashi Bay, a fictional town on the shores of Lake Superior. Her small family included her father, John Pierre, and his sister, Jenay’s Aunt Angelica. Jenay’s mother, Celeste, was a Native American from the Ojibwe tribe that lived in the woodlands surrounding the Great Lakes. Celeste didn’t survive Jenay’s childbirth. Jenay spent a great deal of time in the company of her mother’s sister, Aunt Maang-ikwe. The book is full of linguistic references to the French and Ojibwe languages, for example, the French word for aunt, or taunt is frequently used. Jenay preferred spending time in the woods learning about plants and natural remedies from her Aunt Maang-ikwe. Aunt Angelica was too proper and was overly concerned with fancy garments. Ultimately, Jenay got much strength and knowledge from both aunts. This wisdom is one of the best aspects of this book.
Jenay was independent and rebellious. She had dark, messy hair and wore a doeskin skirt. Jenay was not concerned with how she looked. As the author put it, “The flowers and trees seemed to speak her name, her language.” Jenay’s Aunt Angelica was unable to convince her to be more lady-like but as the events in the book unfolded, Jenay was forced to grow up fast and mature well beyond her years. Jenay is a most likable heroine, and the readers will enjoy empathizing with her.
It was touching reading the Author’s Note after finishing Ruby Moon. The love, wisdom, and personal touches the author wove into this novel were very endearing. I love the little bird that perches between sections of the book within its chapters. I like to think of the bonuses as part of the book, including the quotes, Bible verses, and Herbal Salve Recipe. I think the author’s willingness to share her personal story will inspire others―and increase awareness about the challenges she has struggled with. Near the end, she states, “I consider the writing of this novel a determined miracle.”
Just look at what can happen when faith, miracles, and an unstoppable human spirit get together. The characters were well constructed, the villain was sufficiently menacing, and the story was a tale well worth following. I enjoyed reading Ruby Moon and I am happy to recommend it.
Posted January 19, 2020
Lost Saints by Elizabeth Bell
Full of Beautiful Sentences
Lost Saints is Book Two of the Lazare Family Saga. You don’t have to read the first book to enjoy the second book, but I strongly recommend you read Necessary Sins first and then read Lost Saints immediately afterward.
This is what I said about Necessary Sins: Necessary Sins is a meticulously researched, fast-moving book. It is also an epic, multi-generational, decade-spanning family saga. I was hopelessly hooked from the beginning and it held my interest throughout. It took me to places I hadn’t been before and introduced me to situations I hadn’t thought to imagine. The main character is richly portrayed, complex, and imperfect. The writing makes you care about his struggles, and the other characters in the book are just as engaging. You can tell this author has made an enormous personal investment in crafting this sensational novel. I’m sure it was a labor of love, and it probably took years to write. The result is a work of art that was well worth creating.
In a prologue to Lost Saints, the author gives a hint of things to come. It is set in the Cheyenne Nation in 1840. We meet Zeya, a young woman whose husband also married her sister. Zeya is, by far, the less favored wife. During a “sacred” ceremony, Zeya couples with the Chief Priest, and ends up expecting a son.
The first half of the book is set in Charleston, South Carolina, and picks up where Necessary Sins left off. It is 1843. The main character, Joseph Lazare, is a Catholic Priest who continues to struggle with the conflict between his desire for Tessa, the love of his life who is unhappily married to another man, and his vow of celibacy. Their relationship is tortured and complicated. Fans of historical romance will particularly enjoy the first half of the book. Do Joseph and Tessa end up together? You’ll have to read the book to find out. As the author writes in Chapter 19, “There were only so many secrets her garden could keep.” Joseph and Tessa’s story stuck with me, as the author writes in Chapter 21, “like seaweed snagging against a pier.”
The second half of the book opens at Independence Rock in Wyoming, in 1841. If you haven’t seen this natural attraction, you should google images of it. The second half of Lost Saints feels more like a western than a romance novel. A new main character emerges. From this point forward, the protagonist is Zeya’s son, and we follow him from birth to adulthood. You might wonder how the second half relates to the first. Not to worry, the author’s plot twists will take you there, like the twists and turns of the Sweetwater River. You will find the three main characters, Joseph, David, and Zeya’s son all have a very difficult time becoming comfortable, as they say, “In their own skins.”
This author’s writing is full of beautiful sentences, like this one, “She reminded him of still winter nights when the snow fell without sound and everything seemed to pause, even his own heartbeat.” Don’t let that tranquil sentence fool you. It was a beautiful, fleeting moment in the life of a troubled young warrior. Where does that life ultimately take him? I’m hoping to find out in Book 3, and I can’t wait.
Posted January 4, 2020
The Warm Machine by Seth Rain
I was intrigued by the premise.
Can you imagine knowing the day you will die? That would be strange enough, but imagine you know the date but not the year? How would you live your life? In addition to that premise, the author warns, it’s not the end of the world, it’s just the end of humanity. That’s reassuring.
Usually, I am drawn to historical fiction rather than fiction set in the future. So, this book might look a little strange on my reading list!
The Warm Machine opens in Manchester, England, in the year 2038. Twenty years ago, the fax machine seemed like a miracle. Now flip phones conjure up a chuckle. In the future, holo-screens, self-driving cars, drones, and e-cigarettes seem like tired old technologies. What’s the limit for artificial intelligence, or AI? Is it possible to accurately forecast the date of death for every human being with algorithms, like Amazon can predict when I’ll need to order new socks? Is life worth living if our future is predestined? Do our choices have consequences? This book makes you ponder many such philosophical questions while you follow its hero, Scott Beck, through the richly portrayed futuristic cityscapes of Manchester, Birmingham, and London.
Our protagonist is Scott Beck. The tattoo on his hand carries the date 2204. That is his expiration date. Scott drinks a lot of whisky. Can you blame him? For some reason, I found myself wondering whether he had a brand preference―he doesn’t seem to. I didn’t realize whiskey was spelled differently in England, by the way, but I have gone off on a tangent. I wonder if Scott would be a more likable character if he wasn’t one of the select few to have to endure knowing the date of his death. Whether I liked him or not, I was drawn to wish for his success. You’ll see why! He can’t help being the way he is because the future is dark, and weird, and scary. Watchers are lurking everywhere, and they’re kind of creepy.
So, It’s a little scary. I should put April 22nd in my calendar and designate a recurrence. Just in case. Maybe that’s when Book Two comes out. Sign me up!
I highly recommend The Warm Machine. I will follow the author, Seth Rain, and return for future installments in the Humanity Series. I’m a fan.
Posted December 14, 2019
Katherine, Tudor Duchess by Tony Riches
Will Her Head Remain on Her Shoulders?
Though I haven’t studied this period in history for a very long time, I found myself visiting London this summer. At the Tower of London, the Yeoman Warder spoke fantastically about the horrors of the beheadings that occurred there. I might have benefitted from reading this book before going on that tour. On the other hand, reading it subsequently is kind of like a souvenir.
From the very beginning, the question on my mind was whether Katherine’s head would remain on her shoulders. The pages and chapters flew by and I couldn’t stop until I got to the end. Will there be a happy ending? A tragic ending? I won’t spoil your fun by disclosing the answers to those questions.
This book covers the period from 1528 through 1557. We meet Katherine at the age of 9-years old and follow her path for the next thirty years. It’s a book about loss and it’s a book about change. At the very beginning, Katherine’s mother must give up her daughter so that she can become a ward of the Duke of Suffolk. During those days people didn’t live very long to begin with. It didn’t help that doctors tried to cure people by helping them bleed to death. So, Katherine doesn’t get to stay put very long, making her life story enormously fascinating.
It was a tumultuous period in history, to say the least. Katherine wasn’t just a witness to the reign of the notorious King Henry the VIII, she knew all the famed wives and children of the king. Katherine’s commitment to her faith, and determination to help bring about reforms make her a complex and compelling character in her own right. Her dedication also placed her in great danger, throughout the book. The author never strayed from making this book her story.
I learned so many things from reading this book. Not the least of which is that I have no desire to pop in a time machine and zip back to the 1500s. Then again, reading this book was kind of like being in that time machine.
This is an epic work that includes a huge volume of facts and characters. Long before the ending of the book, I gave up trying to keep track of everyone who was beheaded, imprisoned, or burned at the stake. I would have preferred a higher ratio of feelings to facts. The dirty deeds would have seemed even more excruciating if I had come to know the victims better. This book is action-packed, high stakes, palace intrigue from the very beginning, all the way to its finish.
This book is part of a series. I have not read the other books in the series. This book was complete unto itself, and I didn’t feel lost as a result of not reading the other books first. So I am happy to recommend it on a stand-alone basis.
Posted December 2, 2019
There's More to Life Than This by Theresa Caputo
A few years ago, I read Flipside by Richard Martini, and many of the concepts discussed in this book were also discussed in Martini’s book. This book is full of positivity, grace, and inspiration. Theresa’s messages are very comforting to people who are dealing with traumatic, shocking, painful, devastating losses. In addition to sharing how she came to understand her gift, Theresa shares her understanding of God, heaven, angels, and our spirit guides who direct us from the other side. To top it all off, there is a heavy dose of personal guidance; advice about living.
This book is authentic. As you read it, you can almost hear Theresa’s voice in your head. I think it is written that way on purpose. I really appreciate the transparency with respect to the ghostwriter, who had to do more than wear a big wig and tall shoes to put the book together. It truly does seem like a team effort.
I love this book and I will revisit it many times.
Posted November 17, 2019
Love Thief-The Legend of Ixmal the Healer by David Bolton
Young Ancient Maya Healer
This is the story of Ixmal, a brave, young healer who rejects the traditions of his time. His story is set in ancient times, before recorded history. His people are the author’s imagination of a precursor to the Maya and Inca civilizations of Central and South American civilizations if I understand correctly. I love historical fiction. The more ancient, the better.
Years before Ixmal was born, his parents founded the village of Ppentaca in the highland jungle west of No Name River. Totec and Shanti escaped slavery in Ocochac, a city to the east of the river. After years of preparation, Totec prepared to attack Ocochac, with the hopes of freeing more enslaved people. A man child had to be sacrificed to assure their mission had the blessing of the Gods. Ixmal opposed sacrifice, stood firm in his conviction, and turned his back on his father, and this conflict opens the book. The Ppentacans accused Ixmal of cowardice; however it was an extraordinarily brave thing to fight against the accepted practice of human sacrifice. I liked the author’s portrayal of Ixmal, his parents Shanti and Totec, and another character we’ll meet later in the story named Sahache.
There is a lot to like about this book. The cover is fantastic. I also love the title. The cover and the title motivated me to buy this book, and to give it a second try after I dropped off at about ten percent, the first time I tried to read it. It has a solid beginning, a good plot, and a satisfying ending. It has well thought out characters that fit well together. I would like this book even more if it revealed more of the characters’ emotions. I also appreciated the book’s spiritual content.
Before the book begins the author says, “In an archaeological dig in the ancient city of Ocochac, an extraordinary document was discovered beneath vines and brush… in the glyphics were two ancient languages.” I found the premise very intriguing. The author states his intent to use “the indigenous vernacular, as well as some key words, to capture the rhythm and meaning of both ancient languages.” This requires the reader to learn a vocabulary of eighteen words and the names of seven Gods. Add to that the names of the mortals, introduced along the way, and additional vocabulary as well. I am sympathetic because I’m sure it took a lot of work to create this element of the book. I’m sure many readers will LOVE this immersion. For me, this was a tripping hazard. Ultimately, I was glad I pushed through because the story, in the end, was worth it.
Posted October 23, 2019
Lies Told in Silence by M.K (Mary) Tod
What about the dog?
The book opens in 1914, as the world is about to be drawn into WWI. We meet the Noisette family, consisting of Henri, Lise, and their children, Guy, Helene, and Jean. Another son, Marc, died young. Henri’s mother, Mariele, lives with them and has recently lost her husband. She is frequently referred to as Grandmere. This word and other French words occasionally serve to remind us that this book is set in France. The coming war divides the family. Henri stays in Paris. Guy enlists. Henri sends the rest of the family to the fictional town of Beaufort, lovingly imagined and described by the author. Ironically, though the war divides this family, in many ways, it unites the family as well. The evolving relationship between the three generations of women is very compelling. Surrounded by the grim realities of war, the womens' bonding provides a nice respite for the reader. It is interesting that the cover features a man. A soldier.
Early on, it is apparent that Helene is the main character of the book. Even so, the reader must wait a while before she steps to the center of the stage. She goes from being a typical 16-year old girl to an enormously capable woman. Life gets complicated, especially in novels, and especially so during times of war. At times when the protagonist must make impossible decisions that will have lasting implications, I found myself questioning, wondering what I would do in such a situation. With no time to contemplate; some decisions must be made immediately. I will refrain from spoiling the story as it relates to the decisions and the lies told in silence.
What about the dog? I know it sounds silly, in the midst of such important happenings to wonder. Certainly, Tout Tout is in the book for a reason. We knew that Tout Tout remained in Paris with Henri, though I would have expected the dog to go with the rest of the family to the countryside. I wondered what kind of dog he was. Then when Henri had to leave Paris for some time, I wondered who tended to poor Tout Tout. Maybe so readers like me could wonder, “Hm.”
If this author wrote a hundred books, I would endeavor to read them all. She has a graceful writing style, just the right balance between action, drama, description, and emotion for my taste. There are plenty of facts, historical references, and accounts of war, evidence of enormously detailed research. I appreciate that there were descriptions of the beautiful French countryside, and everyday life in a small, rural town. All that said, I think I most admire this author’s character development, and the bits of wisdom the characters share with the reader. The storytelling flows smoothly from page to page. I’m rarely grateful when I must spend the better part of two days on airplanes and in airports. On a recent trip, I was thankful for the time alone to devour this fantastic book.
Posted October 5, 2019