April – June 2021 More Than a Book a Week – May Be a Record for Me

Which ones have you read? Do our ratings jive? Which ones do you want to pick up after reading my reviews? Drop a comment below. Would love to hear from you.

Want to win a $10 gift certificate to your favorite indie bookstore to top off your summer reading? I’ll draw one random winner on August 1, 2021. Four ways to enter between today and July 31:

  1. Sign up to follow this blog, if you’re not already subscribed.
  2. Existing subscribers, complete my Book Store survey.
  3. Follow and like my Facebook page. Just post a note on the page that you want to be entered so I know you found me by reading this post.
  4. Already subscribed, following, and completed the book store survey? Just drop a comment below.

On to the reviews! Busy, busy month of reading, walking with Audible, and reviewing while I await (STILL!) replies from agents and publishers for Eliza’s story.

I’ve linked each book to Amazon for additional reviews. I can share books listened to on Audible for free via an emailed link. Send me a note if you’re interested.

*****The lost apothecary, by sarah penner

Read For: My Choice / Genre: Dual Timeline Historical Fiction / Type: Audible

Let’s kick it off with a FIVE STAR! Place the following ingredients in your mortar: intrigue, revenge, empowerment, a love of history. Grip your pestle tight and grind them together. Mix in back alleys and hidden doors of London and mudlarking through the River Thames (it’s a thing!). Pour your potion into a small blue bottle with a bear imprint. Cap it and save to use when you’re ready for an extremely entertaining story. Debut novelist Sarah Penner (good for you, Sarah) gives us relatable female characters from the late 1700s and current day, each seeking to claim ownership of their relationships and life course. More potion recipes at the back of the book and on the author’s website as an audiobook supplement. I listened to The Lost Apothecary in May, but still tuned in to the first chapter reading on a great Facebook feature, First Chapter Fun with Hannah and Frank. A great way to discover new books and spend your lunch break on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:30 pm EST.

****the midnight library, by matt haig

Read For: Zoom Book Club / Genre: Literary Fiction / Type: Hardcover-Purchased

Stop reading. Pause for a moment and reflect on the paths not taken. The Midnight Library encourages us to do just that. By combining a touch of magical realism with deeper thoughts on what our lives could have been, I enjoyed the expanded story line borrowed from It’s a Wonderful Life. The main character, Nora Seed, arrives at chapters of re-examining her life after a suicide attempt. Although thoughts of suicide may be a trigger for some readers, I found the deft presentation of her choices overshadowed the attempt scene. Midnight Library was the choice of a CA book club I joined via a Facebook connection’s invite. As our life paths meander and turn, it was appropriate that this was my last meeting with this club as they resumed their in-person meetings post-pandemic. I am fortunate to have opened this brief chapter in my life, met a lovely group of women from Kerman, CA, and discussed some great books with them via Zoom on Saturday mornings for seven months.

****the rose code, by kate quinn

Read For: My Choice / Genre: Historical Fiction / Type: Audible

This should really be a 4.5 stars, I couldn’t figure out how to make a half one from my keyboard. After coming off of reading The Huntress by Quinn last quarter, I knew she’d have a tough act to follow for me. Another WWII book based in Europe with intrigue and strong female characters dominating the pages. But, oops – she did it again! Won me over. “Queen Mabe”, Ausalan, and Beth enter the gates at Bletchley Park (England) in The Rose Code to join translators, code breakers and deciphers to contribute their part to the war effort. You couldn’t find three more different women with their backgrounds would band together, come apart, and band together again over the course of the war and the ensuing years after. Add in enough male characters to make the mind spin, and the heart flutter – hello young Prince Philip – and the story succeeds on every level to present femininity and simultaneously break down those stereotypes. Another winner from Quinn, a bold author who magnificently fills cracks for us.

*****Painting the LIGHT by Sally cabot gunning

Read For: My Choice / Genre: Historical Fiction / Type: Harcover-Purchased

When you find an author who includes the Boston Beaneaters in her narrative, you know you’ve found a kindred soul. Sally Cabot Gunning’s newest historical fiction sweeps us off Cape Cod to 1893 Martha’s Vineyard. In the middle of the island we meet Ida Russell Pease, a Boston Museum School trained painter who has traded in her brushes, easels, and palettes for hayracks, shears, and a bicycle. After learning her husband is lost at sea, the Widow Pease, (much like Lyddie Barry in Gunning’s The Widow’s War) sets out to redefine her life on her terms. From glimpses of the suffrage movement to the direct symbolism of the bicycle as a means to achieve movement and freedom, Painting the Light reveals buried strengths and resolves for women to march forward. Ida’s success in overcoming difficult relationships and one family tragedy after another emboldens her. Gunning captures the setting of island life in New England with vivid sensory detail making the pages blend into a masterpiece fit for framing.

*****landscape of a marriage, by gail ward olmsted

Read For: ARC Review / Genre: Biographical Historical Fiction / Type: e-Book

Releases July 29, 2021. Pre-orders available now. Landscape of a Marriage cultivates the relationship between Frederick Law Olmsted and his wife, Mary. Chronicling their forty-four years together from 1859 to 1903, the story spans Olmsted’s work with the Union Army during the Civil War (nod to Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly for previously educating me about his role with the Sanitation Commission) to his designing and building American landscape architectural landmarks, including: Central Park, the Arnold Arboretum and Emerald Necklace of Boston, the Chicago World’s Fair, and Stanford University’s campus. Yet, Landscape is not another Olmsted biography; it is Mary’s story, told from her point of view, as the woman behind the man. For isn’t it the quiet, hidden roots from which the mighty, showy flora reaches for greatness with its blooms? Gail Ward Olmsted (related to Frederick through her husband’s family) offers a story of love and respect without the sappy overdone writing of a romance novel. From words spoken at many marriage ceremonies, the teachings of I Corinthians ring true throughout this beautiful story: And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.

*****the point of vanishing, by maryka biaggio

Read For: ARC Review / Genre: Biographical Historical Fiction / Type: e-Book

For twenty years, child prodigy writer Barbara Follett traveled the world seeking solace and meaning for an unfulfilled life until she vanishes one December night in 1939. In The Point of Vanishing, Maryka Biaggio deftly writes the point of view of four different Barbaras, as a young child, tween, teen and young adult. At each stage, Biaggio reveals Barbara’s intellect as a wide-eyed child searching for comfort amidst family turmoil and upheaval. Biaggio says it best with the sentiment: “A strange comfort settled on her, as if, after being flung about by a hurricane, she’d arrived safely in its eye.” Yet, like the eye of the hurricane, the calm is short-lived as you hit the other edge of the wall and are again tossed into the tempest’s winds. From New England to Barbados to the South Pacific to Los Angeles, New York, the Appalachian Trail, Mallorca, Germany and Boston, each travelogue stop comes alive with descriptions placing the reader in Follett’s shoes and on her paths. I had never heard of Barbara Follett nor her mysterious, and still unsolved, disappearance. Now, I want to read the fantasy book she published when she was twelve years old, The House Without Windows, where boundaries cease to exist. They vanish, just like Barbara Follett.

*****radium girls, by Kate moore

Read For: My Choice / Genre: Non-Fiction, History / Type: Audible

I wonder how many odd looks I received from drivers passing me in my neighborhood as I stomped along the side roads gesticulating at the air, infuriated with the plight of radium dial-painters in NJ and IL. Radium Girls documents the untold horror history of the ignored conditions of women workers at the hands of dismissive male management in the first part of the twentieth century. Their hard-fought, tedious fight led to ground-breaking federal oversight and safeguards in working conditions. Thank you, Kate Moore for your research and writing this history into our library of knowledge. For a biographical historical fiction account of one of the main figures, Catherine Donohue, check out Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl by Samantha Wilcoxson. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks great.

****back of the yard, by meg lelvis

Read For: ARC Review / Genre: Historical Fiction / Type: e-Book

Like odors from a stockyard, tragedies permeate and linger from our childhoods to define us as we age. In Back of the Yard, feelings of guilt, loss, and longing shadow the life of Betty O’Leary, a Chicago girl growing up in a struggling Irish family during the Depression. She carries with her into adulthood an unshakeable sense of foreboding caused by the losses of family members to death and despair. Betty’s troubled childhood is portrayed with an authentic voice as a young child transitions to teenager and young woman. The story deepens and hits harder emotional notes and situations when Betty marries and becomes a mother. Which genes did she inherit from her own mother? Can she “buck up” to face the demands of motherhood or will she spiral into insanity? What and who can help her battle those demons with the least amount of scarring? Meg Lelvis offers a moving story of family and reminds we can never escape what was found in our backyards.

****the giver of stars, by jojo moyes

Read For: Work Zoom Book Club / Genre: Historical Fiction / Type: Hardcover-Library Loan

I don’t know why there’s been an uproar and finger-pointing of plagiarism by Moyes for The Giver of Stars (Oct 2019) against The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek (May 2019). After spending six months in the throes of learning about publishing, there is absolutely NO WAY Moyes could have read Bookwoman in May and been out in the market with Giver of Stars by October. Beyond the same setting in Appalachia during The Depression with a main character who is a pack-horse librarian, the similarities stop there. Has there been an uproar of plagiarism claims between all the WWII historical novels written about the Holocaust, the French Resistance, the secret works of women in Europe? No. Each book, complete with a similar cover (woman’s back to the reader, looking at a sky filled with planes), continues to find sales success and an eager welcome by readers’ open arms and eyes. Between the two, I enjoyed Bookwoman more. The main character was more developed with medical ethics and race issues raised for discussion. Giver of Stars presented many issues that appeared and then dropped quickly. I believe Moyes could have dug deeper.

****the mystery of mrs. christie, by marie benedict

Read For: My Choice / Genre: Historical Fiction / Type: Hardcover-Library Loan

Marie Benedict has developed a following writing historical fiction about women behind the scenes. Here, she has written a story behind the story. When Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926, no one knew where she went or what and why prompted her leave. Benedict surmises a why and where which is 100% plausible in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie. I enjoyed stepping back in time to 1920s England with its overtones of Downton Abbey in its manor settings. The time period also dovetails with Christie’s earliest mysteries. Now I’m compelled to check out The Mysterious Affair at Styles, her first novel which launched her prolific and curious career. For another Marie Benedict choice, check out the guest review of Mrs. Carnegie’s Maid, and how my guest and I connected over this book.

*****the sound between the notes, by barbara linn probst

Read For: My Choice / Genre: Women’s Literary Fiction / Type: Paperback-Purchased

As a reader who owns the claim of not having a musical bone in my body, The Sound Between the Notes filled me with a desire to sit before the ebony and ivory keys to feel the beauty and majesty Probst’s main character, Susannah, finds when she poises her hands above those keys. Susannah’s story pulled me in from page one as she faced every challenge possible to thwart her dream of professionally re-entering a career in classical music: a crippling medical condition, demands of family responsibilities as part of the “sandwich generation”, lack of spousal support for her and questions around her selection of a musical score to perform. The Sound Between the Notes is a beautiful story of hopes and fears, doubts and courage, as women consider their second acts, which may well deserve an Encore. Readers and book clubs may also be interested in the bonus material Linn Probst assembled as companion information for reading The Sound Between the Notes, including a Spotify playlist. Enjoy listening and reading!

Developing an appreciation for the arts and those who excel in them.

estelle, by linda stewart henley

Read For: Reviewer and Rater for WFWA Contest / Genre: Literary Fiction / Type: e-Book

Read as part of a judging panel for the Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association’s Star Awards 2021. My review is under embargo until the winners are announced later this year. Check back for an update.

***normal people, by sally rooney

Read For: Work Book Club / Genre: Literary Fiction / Type: Hardcover-Library Loan

When your book club cancels the meeting because so few people finished or liked the book, you’re validated knowing you weren’t the only one that didn’t care for this empty story of nothing. No discernible plot, no likeable characters, just page after page, waiting for something, anything to happen. It didn’t. Very glad I found this one at my local library and didn’t even spend $1.99 on a Kindle special.

*****hamnet, by maggie o’Farrell

Read For: My Choice / Genre: Historical Fiction / Type: Audible

With every word spoken, an image flashed through my head: Maggie O’Farrell sitting at her keyboard, pondering every word on her page. I wonder how long it took her to write this beautiful prose to reveal the purity of the story, the imagined life and family relationships of Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes, and his son, Hamnet. The setting of 1580s England immediately draws readers into daily life and a intricate telling of a plague’s journey from the Middle East to Stratford Upon Avon. That Shakespeare makes only glancing appearances within the chapters is masterful. The focus is on the influences of his life and work. Emotions tug and tear. I hadn’t expected to like this one-never been a huge Shakespeare fan-but oh, did I love it! P.S. Have you figured out how much I’m loving Audible for my walks? Let me know if you’d like me to send you this one! I bet you’ll love it, too!

You had me at less than 30 minutes in.

****island queen, by vanessa riley

Read For: My Choice / Genre: Biographical Historical Fiction / Type: Paperback-Trivia Contest Prize

It’s time to travel again! Pack your beach bag and whet your appetite by sailing off to the Caribbean and learning about the life of Island Queen, Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. “Dolly”, an enslaved woman on a Montserrat sugar plantation rises between 1760s – 1820s to buy her freedom, along with her family’s, and rubs elbows (and more) with English royalty through her enterprising skills in commerce, negotiations, and alliances. A rich history of the Islands, Riley writes characters with emotional depth and detail. At 550 pages, it’s not a quick read which is made denser trying to keep track of all the characters – Dolly’s children and their multiple fathers. An illustrated family tree may have been helpful to include. As a follow-up to reading the novel, I saw an interesting article Riley penned for The Washington Post where she exposes the tendency for authors of historical fiction to over-explain in their Author’s Notes their research about women in history. In summary, authors feel it’s necessary since many readers don’t believe women could realize the achievements they have. And, discuss. Would make for a great book club topic.

Beach bags always have a book, or two, stowed inside. Hat optional.

*****the mountains sing, by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Read For: My Choice / Genre: Historical Fiction / Type: Audible

The Mountains Sing has been sitting in my Audible library for almost a year. Why did I wait so long to press the PLAY button for this powerful and moving story? Mountains tells the story of Hương, a young girl and her grandmother’s and mother’s stories surviving the horrific history and political struggles in war-torn Vietnam throughout most of the 20th century. As a child of the 60s and 70s, I knew about the Vietnam War from a U.S. perspective. How could you miss it with Walter Cronkite tuned in on the black-and-white TV set for the Nightly News and your oldest brother eligible for the draft (and the deep exhale throughout the house when your father, a Lt. Cmdr. USNR, secured his assignment in Japan for 18 months)? Reading and learning about this time and place in history from a Vietnamese perspective, however, was invaluable. Family divided like the country. Anguish and loss of life and home. Finding a song in your heart to lift your head to the mountains to discover beauty amidst the rubble. I’m glad I scrolled back in my library to find this one to celebrate and honor Asian American Month in May. Suggested companion read: The Things They Carry by Tim O’Brien.

Don’t Forget!

To enter the drawing for a $10 gift certificate to your favorite indie bookstore, there are four easy ways to enter. I’ll be pulling one random winner on August 1, 2021. Entries close at 11:59 pm EST on 7/31/21.

  1. Sign up to follow this blog, if you’re not already subscribed.
  2. Existing subscribers, complete my Book Store survey.
  3. Follow and like my Facebook page. Just post a note on the page that you want to be entered so I know you found me by reading this post.
  4. Already subscribed, following, and completed the book store survey? Just drop a comment below.

Still need more recommendations?

If you’ve already read many of these, or none sound interesting to you, I’ve got plenty more recommendations. Hope you’ll find something to toss in your pool/beach bag this summer to enjoy!

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I invite you to follow my blog for further updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction. More information about my debut novel is available on my About page. You can sign up to follow from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I’ll email you an invitation.

I also post book recommendations and tips and ideas for book clubs. I’m on social media, too. On my Facebook page, I post deals I find on Kindle specials ($1.99, $2.99, etc.) for books I recommend. A great way to add to your e-library with minimal costs and share with your book club.

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19 thoughts on “Bookmarked: Reviews Q2 2021

  1. WOW! I’ve been looking for inspiration for books for my summer TBR pile. This list should get me through Christmas. Currently reading “The Midnight Library”, and I must admit that “Radium Girls” was a DNF for me. Just didn’t capture my attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I won’t read Giver of Stars because I’m convinced she stole from The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. But I agree pretty closely with your ratings of Rose Code, Hamnet, and The Sound Between the Notes. I really want to read the Marie Benedict book, and I just saw the movie of Radium Girls… very sad!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Although Book Woman and Giver of Stars have several similarities with the setting and occupation of the main character as a pack horse librarian, I think it would have been very difficult if not impossible of Meyers to have read Book Woman in May when it released, and then have a book researched, written, edited and published six months later.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Except that copies of Troublesome Creek were available for up to three months before the release. And with scenes like the attempted rape almost exactly the same in both books, I don’t see how Moyes didn’t copy Richardson’s book.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Appreciate your opinion. Have you read my post Parallel Lines about the similarities of The Great Alone and Where the Crawdads Sing? I think you can search for it. Every day that goes by that my manuscript isn’t published, I fear someone will come out with a novel which is similar and then when I’m published, I’ll be accused of copying. Yet another angst of writing!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hamnet is definitely my favorite book of 2021, and I think goes into my top five overall. Sarah Penner’s The Lost Apothecary is another 2021 fave.

    I share your angst about someone else writing a story similar to my own while I’m waiting for mine to find a publisher, especially since my is set during the 1918 influenza pandemic and I think it will be a trendier topic now that we’ve lived through our own pandemic. I agree with your thoughts on the Giver of Stars and Book Women. Given the historical facts that both authors probably started from, I’m not surprised there were similarities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting observation on the pandemic plot. I heard from a recap of the HNS Conference that people also want more escapism themes to get away from the news of the pandemic so you may be ok! The example they used was the success of the Bridgeton series and a novel like Renee Rosen’s The Social Graces (which I just read and it’s definitely an easy escape into the Gilded Age of the Vanderbilts and Astors).

      Like

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