Novella review: Rizzio by Denise Mina

One more for Novella November!

 

Title: Rizzio
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: Pegasus Crime
Publication date: September 7, 2021
Length: 128 pages
Genre: Hsitorical fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From the multi-award-winning master of crime, Denise Mina delivers a radical new take on one of the darkest episodes in Scottish history—the bloody assassination of David Rizzio  private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, in the queen’s chambers in Holyrood Palace.

On the evening of March 9th, 1566, David Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was brutally murdered. Dragged from the chamber of the heavily pregnant Mary, Rizzio was stabbed fifty six times by a party of assassins. This breathtakingly tense novella dramatises the events that led up to that night, telling the infamous story as it has never been told before.

A dark tale of sex, secrets and lies, Rizzio looks at a shocking historical murder through a modern lens—and explores the lengths that men and women will go to in their search for love and power.

Rizzio is nothing less than a provocative and thrilling new literary masterpiece.

Who knew a crime story from 1566 could be so compelling?

In the skilled hands of Denise Mina, the story of the real-life murder of David Rizzio comes to life, full of political scheming, betrayals, and intricately choreographed action sequences.

From the very first paragraph, it’s clear that this will be a powerful, masterfully told story:

Lord Ruthven wanted him killed during this tennis match but Darnley said no. Lord Darnley wants it done tonight. He wants his wife to witness the murder because David Rizzio is her closest friend, her personal secretary, and she’s very pregnant and Darnley hopes that if she sees him being horribly brutalised she might miscarry and die in the process. She’s the Queen; they’ve been battling over Darnley’s demand for equal status since their wedding night and if she dies and the baby dies then Darnley’s own claim to the throne would be undeniable. They’re rivals for the crown. She knew that from the off. He wants it done in front of her.

How’s that for cold-hearted brutality? I love how this opening paragraph tells us so much about the situation, the motivations, and what’s at stake, with just just a few brief, stark sentences.

This tightly woven book traces the events immediately before and after Rizzio’s murder, exquisitely painting a picture of the precariousness of women’s power, the deadly nature of the battle between religious factions, and the inability of these scheming, devious men to recognize that women matter.

While the short length of this novella means that everything unfolds quickly, the writing is immersive and detailed enough to give us insight into the minds of the key players and to make the situation remarkably clear.

While I know the basics about Mary, Queen of Scots, I clearly don’t know enough, and reading this novella has piqued my interest all over again. One of my tasks in 2022 will be to find a good non-fiction book about her life and reign — I know there are plenty of novels and TV/movie depictions, but I also know that most, especially the on-screen versions, take a ton of liberties with the historical record.

I’d heard good things about Denise Mina previously, but this is my first time reading one of her books. Her writing and use of language is so on point and keen here, expressive but with nothing extraneous.

Rizzio is a quick, sharp tale of historical murder, and the terrific writing makes it sing. I came across this book after hearing two beloved authors, Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon, recommend it during an interview, and I’m so glad I followed their advice and gave it a try. Highly recommended, for crime fans as well as fans of historical fiction.

Shelf Control #291: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

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: Crocodile on the Sandbank
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Published: 1975
Length: 290 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Amelia Peabody is Elizabeth Peters’ most brilliant and best-loved creation, a thoroughly Victorian feminist who takes the stuffy world of archaeology by storm with her shocking men’s pants and no-nonsense attitude!

In this first adventure, our headstrong heroine decides to use her substantial inheritance to see the world. On her travels, she rescues a gentlewoman in distress – Evelyn Barton-Forbes – and the two become friends. The two companions continue to Egypt where they face mysteries, mummies and the redoubtable Radcliffe Emerson, an outspoken archaeologist, who doesn’t need women to help him solve mysteries — at least that’s what he thinks!

How and when I got it:

I bought a used paperback edition at least five years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I’m wracking my brain trying to remember how I first heard of this book. I feel pretty certain that it was recommended by an author I follow (Gail Carriger? Dana Stabenow?), enough to make me want to check it out.

The Goodreads reviews are really mixed, but I have a feeling that’s because the book was first published in 1975, so I’m sure the subject matter and style feel a bit dated by now. But, if you weed out the comparisons to more recent fiction, the reviews tend to be more upbeat, praising the writing, the setting, and the lead character.

I really like the sound of the plot, with mummies and Egyptologists and potential curses. While I don’t often gravitate toward mystery series (this is the 1st in a series of 20 books), this book does sound like a fun, engaging read.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

Literary Potpourri


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Book Review: So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow

Title: So Many Beginnings
Author: Bethany C. Morrow
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Publication date: September 7, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Four young Black sisters come of age during the American Civil War in So Many Beginnings, a warm and powerful YA remix of the classic novel Little Women by national bestselling author Bethany C. Morrow.

North Carolina, 1863. As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island is blossoming, a haven for the recently emancipated. Black people have begun building a community of their own, a refuge from the shadow of the old life. It is where the March family has finally been able to safely put down roots with four young daughters:

Meg, a teacher who longs to find love and start a family of her own.

Jo, a writer whose words are too powerful to be contained.

Beth, a talented seamstress searching for a higher purpose.

Amy, a dancer eager to explore life outside her family’s home.

As the four March sisters come into their own as independent young women, they will face first love, health struggles, heartbreak, and new horizons. But they will face it all together.

So Many Beginnings takes the classic Little Women story outline and turns it into something new and unexpected — truly a remix, rather than a retelling.

As the author explained during an interview with NPR:

Were you one of those people who read Little Women over and over when you were young, and was that part of the reason you agreed to write your new book?

I want to start by saying I have no recollection of reading the original.

Seriously? And you didn’t read it before you started writing?

I had no intention of reading it. As I told the editor, it would not matter. I am writing a story about four Black girls in 1863. It does not matter what a group of white girls was doing; that has no bearing on it. I will say that I, like a lot of people my age, was very in love with the 1994 film adaptation, so if there’s any similarity, I would expect it to be closer to a couple of elements from that film. Basically, Little Women is considered historical fiction, but as a Black woman, I have been excluded from that narrative. It seems like the kind of property that no matter how many times it’s revisited, it’s the same. It’s for white girls.

Read the full interview at https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2021/09/12/187316369/little-women-remixed-but-not-reimagined

Here, the March family is recently freed from enslavement, living in the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. While the father is away working with the Corinth Freedmen’s Colony, Mammy and her four daughters live together in a life full of love, but not without struggle.

The sisters are absolutely devoted to one another and to Mammy, but they’re each very different. Their lives are full of work and often frustrations. Being free does not mean being truly in control of their lives or free from discrimination and otherness, as is made plain by the white missionaries and Union soldiers who control so much of the day-to-day life of the people of Roanoke.

I don’t believe I’ve ever read a book told from the perspective of formerly enslaved young women, and the writing here is incredibly powerful in showing the impact on the sisters’ worldview, sense of self, and need for true liberation. The book absolutely shows that even those abolitionists devoted to emancipation weren’t necessarily devoted to the concept of equality. While the term micro-aggression wouldn’t have existed at the time, the concept itself is very plainly evident in even the most well-meaning but still hurtful of exchanges. As Meg and Jo discuss:

“…So why does it enrage me?”

“Because,” Jo told her. “They’re only ever speaking for us, and about us. Rarely with us. Even when they have our best interest in mind, how could they know it without our input? The person who believes they know best, still, in some small way in some interior place they’ve yet to interrogate, does not truly comprehend equality…”

So Many Beginnings preserves many of the characteristics of the March sisters, but with shifts in meaning and importance. Amy is not a spoiled, obnoxious brat here (yes, my anti-Amy bias is showing!) — instead, Amethyst, called Amy, is cherished and protected. As the youngest child, she doesn’t remember enslavement the way the older sisters do, and the family is determined to help her hold onto the joy of innocence for as long as possible, even if that means indulging her and not making demands of her. Beth is really interesting here as well. While still sickly, she’s also inspired by a higher purpose and an ambition that propel her forward. Meg and Jo too, while sticking to some basic framework (Meg dreams of marriage, Jo uses her words to change the world), have a completely different set of experiences and motivations. The characters are each unique and fascinating.

I was not aware of the American Colonization Society or of the history of Roanoke Island before reading this book, and it’s eye-opening to realize how much of the American past is still not discussed in meaningful ways. Hopefully, So Many Beginnings will bring awareness and stimulate discussions amongst its readers, particularly within its target YA audience.

So Many Beginnings is a powerful, moving, and lovely novel. I enjoyed both the Little Women framework and the new take on the story, and most especially, the March sisters themselves.

Highly recommended.

**********

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Audiobook Review: Miss Kopp Investigates by Amy Stewart

Title: Miss Kopp Investigates (Kopp Sisters, #7)
Author: Amy Stewart
Narrator: Christina Moore
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication date: September 7 , 2021
Print length: 320 pages
Audiobook length: 8 hours 17 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher; audiobook via Audible
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Life after the war takes an unexpected turn for the Kopp sisters, but soon enough, they are putting their unique detective skills to use in new and daring ways. 

Winter 1919: Norma is summoned home from France, Constance is called back from Washington, and Fleurette puts her own plans on hold as the sisters rally around their recently widowed sister-in-law and her children. How are four women going to support themselves? 

A chance encounter offers Fleurette a solution: clandestine legal work for a former colleague of Constance’s. She becomes a “professional co-respondent,” posing as the “other woman” in divorce cases so that photographs can be entered as evidence to procure a divorce. While her late-night assignments are both exciting and lucrative, they put her on a collision course with her own family, who would never approve of such disreputable work. One client’s suspicious behavior leads Fleurette to uncover a much larger crime, putting her in the unlikely position of amateur detective.  

In Miss Kopp Investigates, Amy Stewart once again brilliantly captures the women of this era—their ambitions for the future as well as the ties that bind—at the start of a promising new decade.  

The Kopp Sisters books are a mix of historical fact and fictional storytelling, as author Amy Stewart follows the lives of three real sisters and brings them to glorious life through her excellent writing.

In Miss Kopp Investigates, the 7th book in the series, the three Kopp sisters have returned home to New Jersey in the aftermath of World War I, but all is not well. Their older brother Francis has died suddenly, leaving behind a pregnant wife (Bessie), two children, and piles of debt. The sisters are grieving their loss, but they’re also the Kopp sisters — which means that they absolutely do not wallow or give up. Instead, they stand beside their bereaved sister-in-law and come up with plans to support her and the children, even though this means giving up their own dreams.

For Constance, who’s been the lead character in the series so far, this means turning down her dream job, a position with the Bureau of Investigations in Washington training women in law enforcement. For Norma, the bossy, curmudgeonly sister whose crazy ideas about messenger pigeons ended up working brilliantly during the war, it’s a return to New Jersey instead of staying in Europe to do relief work with a friend. And for Fleurette, the youngest sister who dreams of stardom on the stage, it’s abandoning her hopes of moving out and preparing for her return to her singing career.

Alas, poor Fleurette also has a damaged voice after a bad case of strep throat, and her once-beautiful voice isn’t coming back to her as it was. Now, with a new plan to support Bessie, Fleurette feels sad and unfulfilled and as though all her hopes are gone. Enter John Wood, a slick-talking divorce lawyer already acquainted with the Kopps, with a proposition for Fleurette. Why not use her acting skills in a new and different way? Divorces in New Jersey can only move forward if there’s cause, and he has clients who need evidence of adultery, even if none actually occurred. Fleurette’s role would be to be photographed (fully clothed!! nothing actually unseemly!!) being embraced by a man as if caught in the act. Her face would not be shown, she’d be protected by one of the law firm employees at all times, and she’d earn very good money for her efforts.

At first, Fleurette is shocked… but then she starts to think about it as playing a role. She’d pick her own costumes and characters, put in an evening’s work, and would earn enough to really contribute to the household. Why not?

I was surprised to discover that Miss Kopp Investigates focuses on Fleurette’s adventures — her first time as the lead character. Constance is mostly in the background, and while Norma is her grumpy, bossy self here, she’s also secondary. I admit that I was a little hesitant about spending that much time with Fleurette, who has often seemed shallow and self-centered in previous books, but I ended up being delighted by her fresh voice and her determination (as well as her occasional silliness and vanity).

Without going too much further into the plot details, I can say that Fleurette’s story takes some unexpected turns, and while her pursuits are done on her own and in secret, her story still intersects throughout with her sisters’ and with their shared goal of supporting and protecting their brother’s family.

The author once again provides snappy dialogue and distinct characters — both the Kopp sisters as well as the supporting and minor characters — and roots it all in a portrayal of post-war life that feels real and well-researched.

The plot zips along, and while settling back into post-war life is perhaps not quite as exciting as the war years, it’s still entertaining to see how the Kopp sisters fend for themselves and chart their own course.

The audiobook is wonderful, with the talented Christina Moore once again absolutely shining as she brings Constance, Norma, and Fleurette to life. Listening to her speaking as Norma, we immediately know exactly what sort of person she is — tough, take-charge, no backing down, and probably a nightmare to actually live with. Likewise for Fleurette — the narrator absolutely nails her youth, her vision of herself and what she yearns for, just by speaking in her voice.

Amy Stewart has shared that this is the last Kopp Sisters book, at least for a while. She hasn’t said she’ll never go back to their stories, just that she has no plans to do so at this time and will be working on other projects. While that’s very sad news and I hope she does end up continuing this series, Miss Kopp Investigates also ends in such a way that we readers can feel satisfied with where we’re leaving the family. As the author has said, she’s leaving them in a good place, and we can still have the pleasure of imagining what’s next!

I do love this series, and recommend the books whenever I can. If you’ve read this far, you’ll absolutely want to read Miss Kopp Investigates! And if you’re an audiobook listener, then do check out the audiobooks for the Kopp Sisters series. You’ll be in for a treat!

_________________________________

The series so far:
Girl Waits With Gun
Lady Cop Makes Trouble
Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions
Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit
Kopp Sisters on the March

Dear Miss Kopp


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Signed copies available via Downtown Brown Books

Shelf Control #285: The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

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: The Truth According to Us
Author: Annie Barrows
Published: 2015
Length: 486 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a paperback edition several years ago, most likely at our annual library sale.

Why I want to read it:

I don’t think I even read the synopsis of this book until just now as I started writing my Shelf Control post! The main reason I picked up a copy is that Annie Barrows is one of the authors of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I really enjoyed.

I’m a fan of historical fiction, but I’ve realized that I haven’t read much set during the 1930s with a focus on New Deal projects, rather than focusing on the build-up to World War II. I do think this sounds really different and interesting — plus, a book group friend spoke highly of this book, and I tend to take her word for it when she recommends a book!

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.
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Have fun!

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Shelf Control #284: The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

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!

A programming note: Due to travel plans, I will not be posting a Shelf Control post next week, 9/8/2021. Shelf Control at Bookshelf Fantasies will return 9/15/2021! Meanwhile, if you do a Shelf Control post, please share your link!

Title: The Birchbark House
Author: Louise Erdrich
Published: 1999
Length: 256 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books. With The Birchbark House, award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s first novel for young readers, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, 7-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop. The sole survivor of a smallpox epidemic on Spirit Island, Omakayas, then only a baby girl, was rescued by a fearless woman named Tallow and welcomed into an Ojibwa family on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island, the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. We follow Omakayas and her adopted family through a cycle of four seasons in 1847, including the winter, when a historically documented outbreak of smallpox overtook the island.

Readers will be riveted by the daily life of this Native American family, in which tanning moose hides, picking berries, and scaring crows from the cornfield are as commonplace as encounters with bear cubs and fireside ghost stories. Erdrich–a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa–spoke to Ojibwa elders about the spirit and significance of Madeline Island, read letters from travelers, and even spent time with her own children on the island, observing their reactions to woods, stones, crayfish, bear, and deer. The author’s softly hewn pencil drawings infuse life and authenticity to her poetic, exquisitely wrought narrative. Omakayas is an intense, strong, likable character to whom young readers will fully relate–from her mixed emotions about her siblings, to her discovery of her unique talents, to her devotion to her pet crow Andeg, to her budding understanding of death, life, and her role in the natural world. We look forward to reading more about this brave, intuitive girl–and wholeheartedly welcome Erdrich’s future series to the canon of children’s classics. 

How and when I got it:

I picked up a paperback edition many years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, and years later, read the series all over again with my daughter. And while these books will always hold a special place in my heart, as an adult I came to understand so much more about the problematic aspects of these books — especially in terms of how the Little House books portray Native Americans and the casual disregard for their rights to the land in the face of expanding white settlement.

Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House books were originally introduced to the world as a Native counterpoint to the Little House books. While the Little House books are not explicitly referenced in these books, The Birchbark House is set in about the same era and presents a different take on the land and the people who reside there.

The Birchbark House is the first in a series of five books focused on young Ojibwa characters and their lives. The books are aimed at a middle grade audience, yet they sounds like they’d make a fascinating read for adults as well.

I really don’t remember exactly when I bought this book, but I know I’ve been intending to read it for a long time now. I think it’s about time that I gave it a chance! Plus, having read a few of Louise Erdrich’s adult novels, I’m confident that the writing in The Birchbark House must be wonderful.

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!

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Shelf Control #283: As Close To Us As Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner

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: As Close To Us As Breathing
Author: Elizabeth Poliner
Published: 2016
Length: 369 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A multigenerational family saga about the long-lasting reverberations of one tragic summer by “a wonderful talent [who] should be read widely” (Edward P. Jones).

In 1948, a small stretch of the Woodmont, Connecticut shoreline, affectionately named “Bagel Beach,” has long been a summer destination for Jewish families. Here sisters Ada, Vivie, and Bec assemble at their beloved family cottage, with children in tow and weekend-only husbands who arrive each Friday in time for the Sabbath meal.

During the weekdays, freedom reigns. Ada, the family beauty, relaxes and grows more playful, unimpeded by her rule-driven, religious husband. Vivie, once terribly wronged by her sister, is now the family diplomat and an increasingly inventive chef. Unmarried Bec finds herself forced to choose between the family-centric life she’s always known and a passion-filled life with the married man with whom she’s had a secret years-long affair.

But when a terrible accident occurs on the sisters’ watch, a summer of hope and self-discovery transforms into a lifetime of atonement and loss for members of this close-knit clan. Seen through the eyes of Molly, who was twelve years old when she witnessed the accident, this is the story of a tragedy and its aftermath, of expanding lives painfully collapsed. Can Molly, decades after the event, draw from her aunt Bec’s hard-won wisdom and free herself from the burden that destroyed so many others?

Elizabeth Poliner is a masterful storyteller, a brilliant observer of human nature, and in As Close to Us as Breathing she has created an unforgettable meditation on grief, guilt, and the boundaries of identity and love.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition in 2016, several months after the book was first released.

Why I want to read it:

I probably grabbed this book to take advantage of a Kindle price drop, but I know it had already made its way onto my TBR list by then.

Basically, seeing both “Jewish” and “Connecticut” in the synopsis is probably reason enough for me to want to read this book — but there’s more! I love good historical fiction, and I also love family dramas with secrets coming to the surface and complicated relationships between sisters.

I’m intrigued by the description, and now that the book has come back to my attention, I really want to know what the accident was that they all witnessed, and what happened to change all their lives.

On a more superficial level, I also find myself drawn to this book simply because one of the women on the cover (the one in the pink scarf) reminds me so much of a 1950s-era photo of my own mother!

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!

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Book Review: Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce

Title: Yours Cheerfully
Author: AJ Pearce
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: August 10, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

London, November 1941. Following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles (now stationed back in the UK) is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, is bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty and standing by her friends.

In this follow-up to Dear Mrs. Bird, the story of Emmy Lake continues — although Yours Cheerfully works perfectly well as a stand-alone. Emmy is a young woman who’s just learning the journalism ropes at Woman’s Friend magazine, while also juggling her wartime volunteer work as part of the fire watch, spending time with her best friend Bunty, and squeezing in precious visits with her boyfriend Charles whenever he can get leave. It’s 1941, and the war dominates every aspect of life in London.

As the story opens, the British Ministry of Information convenes a briefing for representatives of women’s magazines, urging them to do their patriotic duty by promoting recruitment of women workers to support the war effort. For Emmy, this represents a chance to advance in her journalism career, but as she visits a munitions factory as part of her research, she learns that there’s a darker side to women’s factory work: For those with small children, childcare can be difficult to impossible to find, and women who sneak their children into the factories so they can watch them face immediate firing.

Emmy learns as well that some of these women are war widows or have husbands missing in action, so that the factory work is not only patriotic, but is essential to their families’ financial survival.

Despite the magazine needing to keep up the positive portrayal of woman’s war work, Emmy can’t help feeling that she’s letting their readers down by not advocating for more attention to the needs of the workers — especially since there are supposed to be government-funded nurseries, but only if the factory owners make the effort to make the arrangements, and apparently, many of them don’t bother.

The story of the factory workers with whom Emmy becomes friends becomes a main thread of the plot of Yours Cheerfully. Interspersed with this is Emmy’s friendship with Bunty, recovering from injury and terrible loss after events in Dear Mrs. Bird, and the story of Emmy’s romance with Charles. There are sweet romantic moments, as well as a depiction of the challenges of everyday life during war and the fragility of every moment of happiness, knowing sorrow could be just around the corner.

I enjoyed Yours Cheerfully, although it starts very slowly. My interest was slow to engage, but eventually I was drawn in by the story of the factory workers, whom we come to know as individuals, each with their own backstory, and by the ups and downs faced by Emmy and Charles as they try to juggle courtship and engagement with the realization that Charles is likely to be sent overseas at any moment.

Yours Cheerfully is a quiet book — even the moments of greater action, such as a march to promote nurseries for the munitions workers, are fairly mild affairs. The characters are all lovely, but the book doesn’t build a great sense of drama or urgency. It’s a very nice read, but I can’t say I ever felt compelled by the plot or totally engrossed.

Overall, Yours Cheerfully provides a thoughtful look at women on the homefront during war, depicting the bravery embodied in carrying on during a time of heightened tragedy and crisis, and the power of friendship and joy to see the characters through the worst of times.

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Shelf Control #281: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

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: The Henna Artist
Author: Alka Joshi
Published: 2020
Length: 384 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel.

Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does. 

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition last year.

Why I want to read it:

I always keep an eye on Reese Witherspoon’s book club selections — this was the May 2020 pick. I don’t read every single one of the Hello Sunshine books, but it’s a good bet that the books will at least be worth considering!

I’m always up for a book about a time and place that I haven’t read much about before. I love the sound of this historical novel, both in terms of the era and the setting in India. Plus, I always love reading about women’s struggles to set their own course and find independence in a time when such things just didn’t happen or weren’t socially acceptable.

I share my Kindle library with my husband and daughter, and so far, my family members have read and loved this book, even though I haven’t touched it yet!

A sequel was just released in June 2021, so I have even more incentive to dive in!

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!

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 #279: The Widow’s War by Sally Gunning

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: The Widow’s War
Author: Sally Gunning
Published: 2006
Length: 336 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The Red Tent meets The Scarlett Letter in this haunting historical novel set in a colonial New England whaling village.

“When was it that the sense of trouble grew to fear, the fear to certainty? When she sat down to another solitary supper of bread and beer and picked cucumber? When she heard the second sounding of the geese? Or had she known that morning when she stepped outside and felt the wind? Might as well say she knew it when Edward took his first whaling trip to the Canada River, or when they married, or when, as a young girl, she stood on the beach and watched Edward bring about his father’s boat in the Point of Rock Channel. Whatever its begetting, when Edward’s cousin Shubael Hopkins and his wife Betsey came through the door, they brought her no new grief, but an old acquaintance.”

When Lyddie Berry’s husband is lost in a storm at sea, she finds that her status as a widow is vastly changed from that of respectable married woman. Now she is the “dependent” of her nearest male relative—her son-in-law. Refusing to bow to societal pressure that demands she cede everything that she and her husband worked for, Lyddie becomes an outcast from family, friends, and neighbors—yet ultimately discovers a deeper sense of self and, unexpectedly, love.

Evocative and stunningly assured, The Widow’s War is an unforgettable work of literary magic, a spellbinding tale from a gifted talent.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition 10 years ago. (!!)

Why I want to read it:

I got my first Kindle in 2011, and immediately began filling it up with books I found on sale or offered free. I don’t know which category this book fell in, but I do know that — according to the dates in my Kindle library — this was among the first 10 or so books I acquired.

I actually didn’t even remember that I had this until just now! But I can see from the description that this is a book that would have caught my attention. I do love a good historical novel, and I’m always on the lookout for historical fiction that either introduces me to a period I don’t know enough about or to a perspective I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Colonial-era historical fiction always appeals to me, and there’s something about The Widow’s War that catches my eye. I’m always interested in hearing the voices of women from different historical eras, particularly from times when a woman’s voice would have been silenced or subservient to the men around her. Reading the synopsis makes me want to know more about Lyddie, who she is as a person, and how her struggle for independence turns out.

I’m so glad I rediscovered this on my e-book list!

What do you think? Would you read this book? And can you recommend any other Colonial-era historical novels?

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!

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