Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Title: Fools and Mortals
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: October 19, 2017
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell makes a dramatic departure with this enthralling, action-packed standalone novel that tells the story of the first production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream—as related by William Shakespeare’s estranged younger brother

Lord, what fools these mortals be . . .

In the heart of Elizabethan England, Richard Shakespeare dreams of a glittering career in one of the London playhouses, a world dominated by his older brother, William. But he is a penniless actor, making ends meet through a combination of a beautiful face, petty theft and a silver tongue. As William’s star rises, Richard’s onetime gratitude is souring and he is sorely tempted to abandon family loyalty.

So when a priceless manuscript goes missing, suspicion falls upon Richard, forcing him onto a perilous path through a bawdy and frequently brutal London. Entangled in a high-stakes game of duplicity and betrayal which threatens not only his career and potential fortune, but also the lives of his fellow players, Richard has to call on all he has now learned from the brightest stages and the darkest alleyways of the city. To avoid the gallows, he must play the part of a lifetime . . . .

Showcasing the superb storytelling skill that has won Bernard Cornwell international renown, Fools and Mortals is a richly portrayed tour de force that brings to life a vivid world of intricate stagecraft, fierce competition, and consuming ambition. 

Don’t you just love when a book takes you by surprise and ends up becoming a favorite?

Fools and Mortals is my book group’s pick for September, and I just wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about reading it. My impression was that it would be a dry read that I’d have to work to get into, and I just wasn’t in the mood. But, being a responsible book club member (ha!), I decided to give it a go.

As you can tell from the 5-star rating, I loved it. Once I started, I just couldn’t put it down. So let me tell you more about it.

Fools and Mortals is a story about William Shakespeare’s acting troupe at the Theatre in London, told through the perspective of his younger brother Richard. Richard ran away from home in Stratford as a young teen to escape a cruel apprenticeship, but his brother isn’t exactly warm and welcoming.

A very lovely-looking young man, by age 21 Richard has spent years as a player at the Theatre, although not a full member (Sharer) with a stake in the earnings. When he performs, he earns money. When there’s no part for him, or when there are no performances due to bad weather, he gets nothing. Richard lives in a dingy boarding house, constantly threatened with being thrown out if he can’t pay his back rent, and resorts to petty thievery to keep from starving.

On stage, he specializes in women’s parts, but he wants to be taken seriously. He yearns to be allowed to grow up, cut his hair, grow a beard, and take on the significant male roles that will allow him greater status as an actor. But Will doesn’t seem to have any interest in his brother’s goals, and when he finally promises him a man’s role, there’s still a trick involved that means Richard will end up playing a woman once again.

Meanwhile, there’s intrigue and action afoot. Will has earned a commission to write a play to be performed at the wedding of the Lord Chamberlain’s daughter — the play that will become A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Will is also working on an Italian play, which will be Romeo and Juliet.

But rival companies are also building huge theaters, and original scripts are invaluable in the theater world. If another company can get their hands on one of Will’s plays, they’ll be able to perform it and Will will have no way to get it back or claim it.

So when the new scripts go missing, there’s plenty of suspicion, and Richard is one of those accused of stealing the scripts in order to make some needed money. It’s up to Richard to get them back, but doing so is likely the most dangerous thing he’s ever done.

I won’t go further into the plot itself, but trust me — it’s fascinating! I loved the characters and the behind the scenes look at how a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream came into being. Through Fools and Mortals, we get to see the complicated business of patronage and protection, the terrifying power of the Persuivants (known as Percies) — the vehemently Puritanical force who have the power to arrest and convict anyone suspected of heresy — as they threaten the players, and the deadly serious competition and scheming related to gaining and keeping players and scripts.

William Shakespeare himself comes off as cold and heartless when it comes to his brother, but of course, we do get to see his brilliance as well. I was enthralled by the descriptions of how the players learn their parts, figure out the staging, interact with their audiences, and more.

Fools and Mortals reminded me of the (sadly) short-lived TV series Will that was on TNT a few years ago. Will was a little over-the-top at times, but the parts that focused on the players and the productions were terrific, and having seen the show, I was better able to visualize some of what was going on in Fools and Mortals.

This book was such a treat! So thank you, once again, to my book group, for getting me to read a book that I probably would have completely missed otherwise.

If you enjoy Shakespeare, historical fiction, the Elizabethan era, theatrical history, or really, just plain good writing, check out Fools and Mortals!

Shelf Control #232: The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

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!

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Title: The Guns of the South
Author: Harry Turtledove
Published: 1992
Length: 528 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

January 1864 –General Robert E. Lee faces defeat. The Army of Northern Virginia is ragged and ill-equipped. Gettysburg has broken the back of the Confederacy and decimated its manpower.

Then, Andries Rhoodie, a strange man with an unplaceable accent, approaches Lee with an extraordinary offer. Rhoodie demonstrates an amazing rifle: Its rate of fire is incredible, its lethal efficiency breathtaking–and Rhoodie guarantees unlimited quantitites to the Confederates.

The name of the weapon is the AK-47….

“It is absolutely unique–without question the most fascinating Civil War novel I have ever read.” –Professor James M. McPherson – Pultizer Prize winning Battle Cry of Freedom

How and when I got it:

I picked up a copy at a library sale, probably about 5 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

If you’re thinking this is an odd choice for me, you’re absolutely correct. I’m not a fan of weaponry or reading about battle strategies. So why would I have this book on my shelves?

It’s a personal story.

My father, age 88, has been living in a nursing home for the past several years. In his earlier retirement, after a lifetime of rarely reading, he suddenly became a voracious reader, picking up historical novels, personal stories, crime thrillers, and more. But, more recently, his eyesight and his cognitive skills have both been on the decline, and he’s no longer able to read.

The Guns of the South is a book that he read at least 10 years ago, and I remember how excited he was to tell me about it at the time. Now, when I visit him (only remotely these days), he still brings up this book every so often. He doesn’t read at this point, but whenever the topic gets around to books, he gets really enthusiastic about telling me about The Guns of the South and what a great read it was. Sure, each time he thinks he’s telling me about it for the first time, but that’s okay. I’m always impressed by how much of the plot and details he’s retained.

Do I want to read this book? If it were just a question of my own tastes in fiction, then I’d probably skip it. But knowing how much this book fired up my dad’s imagination, I want to read it after all. Even if it doesn’t mean much to him at this point, I think it’ll make me happy to know we’ve shared this experience.

What do you think? Would you read a book that might not appeal to you on its own, but has special meaning to a loved one? 

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!

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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!

Book Review: Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Title: Florence Adler Swims Forever
Author: Rachel Beanland
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: July 7, 2020
Print length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Over the course of one summer that begins with a shocking tragedy, three generations of the Adler family grapple with heartbreak, romance, and the weight of family secrets in this stunning debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Manhattan Beach and The Dollhouse.

Atlantic City, 1934. Every summer, Esther and Joseph Adler rent their house out to vacationers escaping to “America’s Playground” and move into the small apartment above their bakery. Despite the cramped quarters, this is the apartment where they raised their two daughters, Fannie and Florence, and it always feels like home.

Now Florence has returned from college, determined to spend the summer training to swim the English Channel, and Fannie, pregnant again after recently losing a baby, is on bedrest for the duration of her pregnancy. After Joseph insists they take in a mysterious young woman whom he recently helped emigrate from Nazi Germany, the apartment is bursting at the seams.

Esther only wants to keep her daughters close and safe but some matters are beyond her control: there’s Fannie’s risky pregnancy—not to mention her always-scheming husband, Isaac—and the fact that the handsome heir of a hotel notorious for its anti-Semitic policies, seems to be in love with Florence.

When tragedy strikes, Esther makes the shocking decision to hide the truth—at least until Fannie’s baby is born—and pulls the family into an elaborate web of secret-keeping and lies, bringing long-buried tensions to the surface that reveal how quickly the act of protecting those we love can turn into betrayal.

Based on a true story and told in the vein of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions and Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl, Beanland’s family saga is a breathtaking portrait of just how far we will go to in order to protect our loved ones and an uplifting portrayal of how the human spirit can endure—and even thrive—after tragedy.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to divulge something that happens in the very first chapter, is it?

When I picked up Florence Adler Swims Forever, my expectation was that the main story line would focus on Florence and her training to swim the English Channel. Wouldn’t you think so, based on the title, the cover, and the synopsis? Well, if so, you’d be as misled as I was.

While the opening chapter is about a day at the beach, as told by 7-year-old Gussie, who adores her aunt Florence, by the end of the chapter, Florence has drowned. She’s pulled lifeless from the ocean where she went for just her typical long swims, and despite heroic efforts by the beach lifeguards, Florence is beyond saving.

Florence’s sister Fannie is hospitalized on bedrest with a high-risk pregnancy, and doctors warn that any stress or upset might cause Fannie to lose the baby. Their mother Esther decides on a plan: They will keep Florence’s death quiet, keep all announcements out of the papers, have a private family burial — and will not tell Fannie that her only sister has died.

Fannie and Florence had quarreled right before the books opens, and Fannie is left to believe that Florence is still angry at her, not communicating or visiting with her sister before leaving for France to start her big swim. The family brings the nurses and doctors of the maternity ward into the circle of secrecy, and by moving her to a private room and limiting her access to news of the outside world, they’re able to keep Fannie in the dark for the remaining months of her pregnancy.

Meanwhile, the Adler family must struggle through their private grief, running a successful bakery business, dealing with an untrustworthy son-in-law, and hosting Anna, a European refugee with a connection to Esther’s husband Joseph, who’s desperate to find a way to get her parents out of Germany before it’s too late.

This book has so much going for it. The Altantic City of 1934 setting is a wonder, showcasing life in that particular time and place with attention to detail and evocative descriptions. The beach environment, the ritzy hotels, the large Jewish community all feel vibrant and alive, as do the people themselves, with their relationships, their struggles for success, the aftermath of the Depression and the rising tensions about the increasingly desperate plight of the Jews in Europe.

Through small moments, such as characters discussing the price of bread or going to a restaurant for a business meetings, we get an idea of the economics of the time, as well as the chasms between haves and have-nots. We also get a good picture of Atlantic City development, and the lingering anti-Semitism that pervades even a location with such a large Jewish population.

There are also some truly eye-popping moments. For example, did you know that up through the end of the 1930s, premature babies in incubators were displayed as sideshow attractions at World’s Fairs and along the boardwalk? It’s true! I couldn’t believe it when the scene was described in this book, but yup — I had to stop and Google it, and discovered that this was how incubator technology was established before being adopted as standard medical procedure, and that thousands of premature babies were saved through these exhibits. Crazy, right? (Read more here, if interested.)

The subplot about Anna’s parents is sad and scary and eye-opening as well. We all know what happened to German Jews as Hitler rose to power, and it’s heart-breaking to get this view of the practically impossible steps that friends and relatives had to go through in order to try to secure visas for their loved ones. Without money or political connection, there was basically no chance. We really feel Anna’s anguish and frustration as she keeps attempting to rescue her parents, only to find the bar moved higher every time she approaches the stated goal.

While the Adler family’s story is compelling and I loved the historical setting, there are just a few elements that left me wanting more. There a romance that develops over the summer showcased in this story, and I just couldn’t feel it. I never truly felt the connection between the characters, so it was hard to buy into their love story and its outcome.

Likewise, we’re told that the hotel mentioned in the synopsis is well known for anti-Semitic policies, but we don’t actually see that demonstrated. The owner, who’s the father of one of the POV characters, is supposed to be nasty and ruthless, but again, I didn’t truly get that from his portrayal.

Florence Adler Swims Forever takes place over the summer months following Florence’s death. The ending left me wanting more. I’ll be vague here (no more spoilers!), but I felt pretty cheated by not getting to see a particular scene I had assumed would be included. I’d also hoped to get a definite answer about Anna’s parents and whether they’d be rescued, but because the story ends where it does, that remains an unknown.

I will say that the author’s notes at the end are illuminating, as they help to ground the events of the story, which may come across as far-fetched in places, in her own family’s history.

All in all, I found Florence Adler Swims Forever to be a compelling, absorbing read, despite feeling like I needed a little more from the characters and the story as a whole to move this into 5-star territory. Still, I definitely recommend this book, and can see it being a great book group choice as well — there’s so much to think about and discuss.

Audiobook Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Title: News of the World
Author: Paulette Jiles
Narrator: Grover Gardner
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: March 29, 2016
Print length: 209 pages
Audio length: 6 hours, 17 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

In News of the World, we meet the honorable Captain Kidd, a 71-year-old widower who makes a living these days traveling from town to town in Northern Texas, reading newspaper articles aloud to gathered crowds, at a dime a piece per listener. It’s a pretty good life. Captain Kidd is respected wherever he goes, and his readings, in his authoritative voice, offer his listeners a view of the wider world and a chance to escape day-to-day reality, even if only for an hour.

The Captain’s world is turned upside down when an old friend asks him to take on the task of returning a rescued child to her relatives. At age six, Johanna’s parents were murdered and she was captured by Kiowa raiders. Now ten, Johanna considers the Kiowa her family and remembers nothing of her former life — but her adopted family has sold her back to the local government agents, so she’s truly lost all sense of belonging.

Captain Kidd reluctantly agrees to the task, which involves a very long journey through potentially dangerous territories, all the while accompanied by a hostile, strange girl who absolutely does not want to cooperate. It sounds like a nightmare.

But as the miles unwind, the two reach first a mutual tolerance, then an understanding, and finally true affection. The Captain protects Johanna, placing himself at risk to stand between her and danger, and slowly, she learns to trust him.

Their journey is slow and eventful, and they face obstacles at every turn. Yet this beautiful novel never feels like it lags. It’s lovely to see the affection building between these two complex characters, and each challenge or danger presents yet another opportunity for us to learn more about who they are and what makes them tick.

The writing is just gorgeous. The descriptions of the terrain, the towns, and the people are detailed and lovely. The author truly paints with her words, and I felt like I was there along the dusty roads and by the creeks, riding along in their creaky wagon and looking for cover when there was danger ahead.

The two main characters are both complicated people with harsh pasts to remember and come to terms with. Captain Kidd is a fundamentally loving and kind man, but he’s also fiercely protective and doesn’t have time or patience for fools or wrongdoers. Johanna has a turbulent inner life that we learn about in bits and pieces, and it’s amazing to see how she finds strength to survive.

The audiobook narration is fantastic. The narrator captures the feeling of a fireside story — I felt like I was listening to an old-fashioned tale, almost like I was attending one of Captain Kidd’s readings, if only he were sharing a Western rather than reading a newspaper.

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a couple of years now, and I’m so glad to have finally read it. This was my first book by Paulette Jiles, but it won’t be my last. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald

Title: Time After Time
Author: Lisa Grunwald
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: June 22, 2019
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A magical love story, inspired by the legend of a woman who vanished from Grand Central Terminal, sweeps readers from the 1920s to World War II and beyond.

On a clear December morning in 1937, at the famous gold clock in Grand Central Terminal, Joe Reynolds, a hardworking railroad man from Queens, meets a vibrant young woman who seems mysteriously out of place. Nora Lansing is a Manhattan socialite and an aspiring artist whose flapper clothing, pearl earrings, and talk of the Roaring Twenties don’t seem to match the bleak mood of Depression-era New York. Captivated by Nora from her first electric touch, Joe despairs when he tries to walk her home and she disappears. Finding her again—and again—will become the focus of his love and his life.

As thousands of visitors pass under the famous celestial blue ceiling each day, Joe and Nora create a life of infinite love in a finite space, taking full advantage of the “Terminal City” within a city. But when the construction of another landmark threatens their future, Nora and Joe are forced to test the limits of their freedom–and their love.

This beautiful love story is set at New York’s Grand Central Terminal, and the setting imbues the story with a truly majestic, timeless feel.

Joe Reynolds is a Grand Central leverman, working the intricate switches that move trains from track to track — the train equivalent of an air traffic controller, essentially. As the story opens, it’s 1937, the Great Depression is still having an impact, and Joe is grateful for a steady job.

Then he meets Nora, a beautiful young woman whose clothing is about ten years out of date. As Nora looks around Grand Central and tries to get her bearings, she and Joe strike up a conversation. Sparks fly, but they have different places to be, and they part. A year later, Joe sees Nora again, and their connection snaps right back into place. She’s wearing the same clothes and seems unchanged in every way. The two spend time together, but when Joe tries to walk her home, she disappears.

Thus begins a romance across time, in which Nora reappears over the years. She and Joe fall deeply in love, and start to unravel the mystery of why Nora continues to return, why she can’t seem to leave Grand Central, and how they can possibly be together when Nora’s reality is so different than Joe’s.

Their love story is set against the backdrop of World War II, as New York and the world change and the young men of the generation head off to war. As a leverman, Joe is considered essential to the war effort and is not allowed to enlist, but all around them, they see soldiers departing — some to return wounded, some never to return. Joe faces increasing challenges balancing his obligations to his brother’s family in Queens and his need to spend every possible moment with Nora.

I started this book thinking I’d be reading a time-travel story, and it’s not that — but I don’t want to say more about what the truth is behind Nora’s appearances and disappearances and her strange tether to Grand Central.

The setting is just so perfect. There’s something magnificent about Grand Central, and having it figure so prominently into the storyline of Time After Time is really special.

Joe and Nora are fully developed characters who feel like real people. We get to know their hopes and dreams, their passions and secrets, and understand the obstacles to their love story even while rooting for them to find a way to make it all work.

The ending is bittersweet, and while my inner romantic might have wished for a different outcome, I can’t say that any other possible ending would make quite as much sense.

Time After Time was my book group’s selection for July, and I’m so happy to have read it. This is a beautiful book, and just should not be missed!

Shelf Control #226: Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

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!

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Title: Remarkable Creatures
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Published: 2009
Length: 352 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In 1810, a sister and brother uncover the fossilized skull of an unknown animal in the cliffs on the south coast of England. With its long snout and prominent teeth, it might be a crocodile – except that it has a huge, bulbous eye.

Remarkable Creatures is the story of Mary Anning, who has a talent for finding fossils, and whose discovery of ancient marine reptiles such as that ichthyosaur shakes the scientific community and leads to new ways of thinking about the creation of the world.

Working in an arena dominated by middle-class men, however, Mary finds herself out of step with her working-class background. In danger of being an outcast in her community, she takes solace in an unlikely friendship with Elizabeth Philpot, a prickly London spinster with her own passion for fossils.

The strong bond between Mary and Elizabeth sees them through struggles with poverty, rivalry and ostracism, as well as the physical dangers of their chosen obsession. It reminds us that friendship can outlast storms and landslides, anger and jealousy. 

How and when I got it:

I had my eye on this book as soon as it was released, and bought myself a used copy in 2010.

Why I want to read it:

It just sounds so interesting! I love reading about women going outside the norm for their time periods. What could be more unusual than female fossil hunters in the early 1800s? Mary Anning is a historical figure, and I’m so interested in learning more about her experiences.

I do need to admit that I’ve been especially interested in this book ever since reading Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel — a hidden gem of a book that’s a mash-up of Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice, and is wonderful in so many ways. In this book, Mary Bennet encounters Mary Anning and becomes involved in fossil hunting as well (and it’s amazing!).

I’ve only read one book by Tracy Chevalier (The Girl With the Pearl Earring), but so many of her titles look fascinating.

What do you think? Would you read this book? Are there other books by this author that you’d recommend?

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!

Shelf Control #225: Dogsong by Gary Paulsen

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!

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Title: Dogsong
Author: Gary Paulsen
Published: 1985
Length: 162 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

“In the Old Days There Were Songs”

Something is bothering Russel Susskit. He hates waking up to the sound of his father’s coughing, the smell of diesel oil, the noise of snow machines starting up.

Only Oogruk, the shaman who owns the last team of dogs in the village, understands Russel’s longing for the old ways and the songs that celebrated them. But Oogruk cannot give Russel the answers he seeks; the old man can only prepare him for what he must do alone. Driven by a strange, powerful dream of a long-ago self and by a burning desire to find his own song, Russel takes Oogruk’s dogs on an epic journey of self-discovery that will change his life forever. 

How and when I got it:

My daughter bought a copy for my son about 5 or 6 years ago. (He never ended up reading it, but I still want to!)

Why I want to read it:

My first experience with Gary Paulsen was only about a year ago, when I read Hatchet as part of a challenge to read books from PBS’s The Great American Read list. I really enjoyed Hatchet — after all, I’m always a sucker for a good survival story!

Dogsong sounds like another good choice for me. I mean, right off the bat, it’s set in Alaska, which is always a plus. I enjoy coming of age stories, and I like the sound of the boy in the story setting out to learn more about himself and about his elders.

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 #224: Journey by James Michener

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: Journey
Author: James A. Michener
Published: 1988
Length: 366 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

One of the premier novelists of the twentieth century, James A. Michener captures a frenzied time when sane men and women risked their very lives in a forbidding Arctic land to win a dazzling and elusive prize: Yukon gold. In 1897, gold fever sweeps the world. The promise of untold riches lures thousands of dreamers from all walks of life on a perilous trek toward fortune, failure—or death. Journey is an immersive account of the adventures of four English aristocrats and their Irish servant as they haul across cruel Canadian terrain toward the Klondike gold fields. Vivid and sweeping, featuring Michener’s probing insights into the follies and grandeur of the human spirit, thisis the kind of novel only he could write.

How and when I got it:

Here’s my super-battered paperback copy:

I bought it at a used book store ages ago — probably 10 years, at least!

Why I want to read it:

Michener books are essential travel prep for me — I read his Alaska before my first trip to Alaska, and I can’t even express how much richer my experience was because of this.

Journey focuses on the Klondike gold rush, which does come up in Alaska as well, and I’ve always wanted to read more about it. Plus, Michener just knows how to spin a great tale, and thankfully, this book is much shorter than some of the hefty novels of his that I’ve read.!

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!