Shelf Control #270: Lost Kingdom by Julia Flynn Siler

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure
Author: Julia Flynn Siler
Published: 2012
Length: 307 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Around 200 A.D., intrepid Polynesians arrived at an undisturbed archipelago. For centuries, their descendants lived with little contact from the western world. In 1778, their isolation was shattered with the arrival of Captain Cook.

Deftly weaving together a memorable cast of characters, Lost Hawaii brings to life the ensuing clash between a vulnerable Polynesian people and relentlessly expanding capitalist powers. Portraits of royalty and rogues, sugar barons, and missionaries combine into a sweeping tale of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s rise and fall.

At the center of the story is Lili‘uokalani, the last queen of Hawai‘i. Born in 1838, she lived through the nearly complete economic transformation of the islands. Lucrative sugar plantations gradually subsumed the majority of the land, owned almost exclusively by white planters, dubbed the “Sugar Kings.” Hawai‘i became a prize in the contest between America, Britain, and France, each seeking to expand their military and commercial influence in the Pacific.

The monarchy had become a figurehead, victim to manipulation from the wealthy sugar plantation owners. Lili‘uokalani was determined to enact a constitution to reinstate the monarchy’s power but was outmaneuvered by the U.S. The annexation of Hawai‘i had begun, ushering in a new century of American imperialism.

How and when I got it:

I bought a hardcover edition several years ago, most likely at one of my library’s book sales.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve been fascinated by Hawaii for a long time — not just its beauty and beaches, but also the complicated history of its people and land. I’ve read fiction set in different historical periods of Hawaii’s past (most notably, James Michener’s massive Hawaii), and have read bits and pieces of non-fiction about Hawaiian history, but Lost Kingdom sounds really expansive in its scope.

I remember reading about Lost Kingdom when it was first released, and I know I read at least one (if not more) very positive reviews. I don’t read a ton of non-fiction, but a great history book always appeals to me.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

Stay tuned!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy now: Amazon – Book Depository – Bookshop.org

Shelf Control #263: Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Where the Lost Wander
Author: Amy Harmon
Published: 2020
Length: 343 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In this epic and haunting love story set on the Oregon Trail, a family and their unlikely protector find their way through peril, uncertainty, and loss.

The Overland Trail, 1853: Naomi May never expected to be widowed at twenty. Eager to leave her grief behind, she sets off with her family for a life out West. On the trail, she forms an instant connection with John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man straddling two worlds and a stranger in both.

But life in a wagon train is fraught with hardship, fear, and death. Even as John and Naomi are drawn to each other, the trials of the journey and their disparate pasts work to keep them apart. John’s heritage gains them safe passage through hostile territory only to come between them as they seek to build a life together.

When a horrific tragedy strikes, decimating Naomi’s family and separating her from John, the promises they made are all they have left. Ripped apart, they can’t turn back, they can’t go on, and they can’t let go. Both will have to make terrible sacrifices to find each other, save each other, and eventually…make peace with who they are.

How and when I got it:

I received an ARC through NetGalley when the book was released last year.

Why I want to read it:

I do love historical fiction, and I love discovering books that present a piece of history that I haven’t read in fictional form before. Like every other American schoolchild, I learned about the Oregon Trail, but honestly, the first thing that comes to mind for me is the computer game, not actual history.

The synopsis of Where the Lost Wander makes it sound like a personal story of love and family set during an important historical period. I’m just as interested in the story now as I was when I first requested the ARC — the only reason I haven’t read it yet is that I’m (as always) too swamped by my towering to-be-read stack of books.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!



__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Shelf Control #262: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
Author: Karen Abbott
Published: 2014
Length: 513 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy contains 39 black & white photos and 3 maps. 

How and when I got it:

I bought a Kindle edition at least 5 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I seem to have a backlog of non-fiction books! I can’t help it — I hear about a book that sounds interesting, and despite knowing my less-than-stellar track record when it comes to reading non-fiction, I just can’t resist adding yet another to my overflowing bookshelves.

I remember reading about Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy when it came out. I’ve read several novels set during the Civil War period, and have loved the ones centering on women taking on unusual roles, whether by dressing as men in order to serve in the army or finding other ways to serve the country, often through avenues that defy the gender norms of the time. So what better than to read about real-life women who risked themselves in order to serve a greater cause?

I did actually start this book via audiobook several years back and ended up not getting past the first few chapters. I found the audiobook really hard to follow, because it was too easy to miss the key names or places and then become completely lost. I have a feeling this will work much better for me in print.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!



__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Shelf Control #228: Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

Title: Enemy Women
Author: Paulette Jiles
Published: 2002
Length: 352 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

For the Colleys of southeastern Missouri, the War between the States is a plague that threatens devastation, despite the family’s avowed neutrality. For eighteen-year-old Adair Colley, it is a nightmare that tears apart her family and forces her and her sisters to flee.

The treachery of a fellow traveler, however, brings about her arrest, and she is caged with the criminal and deranged in a filthy women’s prison. But young Adair finds that love can live even in a place of horror and despair. Her interrogator, a Union major, falls in love with her and vows to return for her when the fighting is over. Before he leaves for battle, he bestows upon her a precious gift: freedom.

Now an escaped “enemy woman,” Adair must make her harrowing way south buoyed by a promise…seeking a home and a family that may be nothing more than a memory. 

How and when I got it:

I picked up a copy at a library sale a few years ago.

Why I want to read it:

After reading News of the World last week and absolutely loving it, I was surprised and happy to realize that I had another book by Paulette Jiles already on my shelves! Isn’t it strange when that happens? I’d completely forgotten that I owned this one.

The writing in News of the World was so gorgeous, and it made me very interested in reading more of her work. From what I understand, there’s some cross-over between that book and Enemy Women, with a character from News of the World appearing here as well (I think).

I have my eye on at least one of Paulette Jiles’s other backlist books too, as well as her newest release (Simon the Fiddler). I love finding a new-to-me author whose writing just sings to me!

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!



__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Audiobook Review: Agent 355 by Marie Benedict

Title: Agent 355
Author: Marie Benedict
Narrator: Emily Rankin
Publisher: Audible Original
Publication date: July 2, 2020
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Free download from Audible
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From Marie Benedict, best-selling author of The Only Woman in the Room and Lady Clementine, comes a captivating work of historical fiction about a young female spy who may have changed the course of American History.

The tide is turning against the colonists in the Revolutionary War, and 18-year-old Elizabeth Morris cannot sit by idly. Quietly disdainful of her Tory parents, who drag her along to society events and welcome a British soldier into their home during their occupation of New York City, Elizabeth decides to take matters into her own hands. She realizes that, as a young woman, no one around her believes that she can comprehend the profound implications of being a nation at war – she is, effectively, invisible. And she can use this invisibility to her advantage. Her unique access to British society leads her to a role with General George Washington’s own network of spies: the Culper Ring.

Based on true events, Agent 355 combines adventure, romance, and espionage to bring to life this little-known story of a hero who risked her life to fight for freedom against all odds.

Agent 355 takes a mysterious historical figure, imagines who she might have been, and gives her a moving and powerful story of her own.

Little is known about the real-life Agent 355. She was believed to be a spy in the Culper Ring, the network providing key intelligence to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Agent 355 was female, and is believed to have been someone well-connected, with access to British officers through social settings. Her identity has never been firmly established, although there are many theories (see Wikipedia) as well as a variety of pop culture interpretations.

In Marie Benedict’s version, Agent 355 is young socialite Elizabeth Morris, daughter of affluent New York Loyalists who regularly socialize with the British officers quartered in New York. Elizabeth is bored and frustrated, and aches for a way to make a difference. While at a party that her parents have forced her to attend, she realizes that the officers talk openly in her presence, as the women in attendance are not taken seriously, seen as pretty decoration and nothing more.

A chance encounter with Robert Townsend, a merchant and rebel sympathizer, provides Elizabeth with the means to put a plan into motion. Soon, she’s providing key intelligence to the Culper Ring, including data on troop movements and information about possible traitors within Washington’s own corps of officers.

The audiobook is short but powerful. As Elizabeth tells her story, we enter into the dangerous life of a brave woman who knows that any mistakes could cost her everything. The pace becomes more and more breathtaking as the story moves forward, and by the end, it’s both tragic and a moving testament to the courage of a woman lost to history — but who may have made all the difference.

Author Marie Benedict’s concluding notes describe her mission to tell the stories of the women who get overlooked in the historical records. Here, she succeeds in bringing this Revolutionary War hero to life. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Agent 355 is a free selection for Audible members this month. I strongly recommend checking it out!

Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

orphan-train

The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

It’s astonishing to me that until I read this book, I knew nothing about this important piece of American history. Over a span of 75 years, approximately 200,000 children, mostly orphaned and homeless, were transported from New York and other East Coast cities to farmland in the Midwest, where they were offered up for adoption via town hall meetings at stops along the rail lines. Some children found loving adoptive families and permanent homes; it appears that many, however, were treated as little better than manual labor or indentured servants, wanted for their ability to work but not adequately fed, sheltered, or schooled, much less given the love and support they most strongly needed.

In Orphan Train, we meet 91-year-old Vivian, who emigrated to America from Ireland as a young girl. When a tragic tenement fire leaves her all alone, she’s soon shipped out on the orphan train, ending up in some horrific circumstances in Minnesota — first, as an underfed worker in what was essentially a seamstress sweatshop, and then, as a poorly treated resident of an impoverished family farm, where abuse lurks around every corner. Thanks to a kind school teacher, she does eventually find her way forward through education and through the support of a kind older couple who provide her with all they’d once hoped to provide to their own deceased child.

When we first meet the elderly Vivian, it’s through the eyes of contemporary foster child Molly, who is just one breath away from being locked up in juvie at age 17 for the shocking crime of stealing a copy of Jane Eyre from the public library. As Molly fulfills her mandated community service hours by helping Vivian clean her attic, it becomes clear that the two women, young and old, have more in common than they realize. With each box of mementos that Molly opens and reviews with Vivian, a piece of Vivian’s history is remembered and reexamined. Through their connection, each helps the other come to terms with their pasts and think about new ways of envisioning and creating a future.

My entire life has felt like chance. Random moments of loss and connection. This is the first one that feels, instead, like fate.

I really enjoyed Orphan Train, although perhaps “enjoyed” isn’t quite the right term. The stories of Molly and Vivian are both heartbreaking in their own ways. While Molly, as a foster child in 21st century Maine, isn’t handed over into servitude, she does go through a series of foster homes, largely finding herself with people who see her as a chore or a duty, or worse, a source of a paycheck from social services. She’s unloved and unwanted, and gets used to traveling light and protecting herself by driving others away before they can reject her. Molly’s pain is palpable and real, and I wanted so desperately for her to finally find a place to belong and someone to really cherish her for herself.

Likewise, with Vivian, the loss and sorrow she endures is unimaginable. At the time at which she becomes an orphan, children have no voice and no rights, and it’s shocking as a modern reader to see how casually the children are handed over to any stranger who comes along and picks them. The deprivation, physical and emotional, that Vivian suffers is quite hard to read, especially keeping in mind that she’s not yet even a teen when the worst parts of her experience take place.

The way the two story threads weave together to create a whole is fascinating and well thought-out. The dual time line approach is pretty common right now in historical fiction, but in the case of Orphan Train, I think it succeeds because each time line gives us a central character to really care for. Vivian’s story is perhaps a touch more compelling, but I think a big reason for that is the fact that it’s so unusual and, for me at least, mostly unknown prior to reading this story. With Molly, while her story is sad and moving, it doesn’t have the same sense of discovery of a chapter of history that Vivian’s story does. Still, both pieces shed light on shameful practices and conditions of foster and abandoned children, and the two story elements together complement each other quite well.

I had one quibble with the storyline of this book, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into specifics. Keeping things vague, I’ll just say that Vivian makes a huge decision in the latter part of the book, when she’s a young woman, that I didn’t find particularly believeable. Given the way her life is at the time in question, I do think she’d have had other choices and should have had enough support in her life to at least take the time to consider her options. It’s a huge turning point that affects the rest of Vivian’s life, and yet she makes it quickly and at a time of great vulnerability. I just didn’t buy it.

That aside, I loved reading Orphan Train. I found the history fascinating, and loved the two main characters, Molly and Vivian. It’s the kind of book that leaves you desperately hoping that the people you’ve come to know will go on to find happiness in their lives.

Orphan Train is a book that will stay with me. I’m so glad my book group decided to read it this month! I just know we’ll have plenty to talk about.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Orphan Train
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: April 2, 2013
Length: 278 pages
Genre: Contemporary and historical fiction
Source: Purchased