Shelf Control #69: Dissolution

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! Fore 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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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

dissolutionTitle: Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake, #1)
Author: C. J. Sansom
Published: 2003
Length: 443 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers it has ever seen. And under the order of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent through the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: dissolution.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes…

How I got it:

I bought it at a library sale.

When I got it:

Oh, a while ago. I feel like this book has been living on my shelf for years.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve heard such good things about the Shardlake books! The idea of a mystery series set in Tudor England sounds just brilliant.

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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!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Shelf Control #68: The Gallery of Vanished Husbands

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! Fore 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

My Shelf Control pick this week is:

17707514Title: The Gallery of Vanished Husbands
Author: Natasha Solomons
Published: 2013
Length: 339 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

London, 1958. It’s the eve of the sexual revolution, but in Juliet Montague’s conservative Jewish community where only men can divorce women, she ­finds herself a living widow, invisible. Ever since her husband disappeared seven years ago, Juliet has been a hardworking single mother of two and unnaturally practical. But on her thirtieth birthday, that’s all about to change. A wealthy young artist asks to paint her portrait, and Juliet, moved by the powerful desire to be seen, enters into the burgeoning art world of 1960s London, which will bring her fame, fortune, and a life-long love affair.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

2 or 3 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I don’t know how I first heard about this book, but when I stumbled across it at a book sale, it seemed familiar. The Jewish theme really calls to me, as does the idea of a young woman who’s already been pushed aside by society even though so much of her life is ahead of her. Between the setting and the time period, it sounds like a must read!

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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!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Second Mrs. Hockaday

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

second-mrs-hockaday

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away?

Inspired by a true incident, this saga conjures the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel as her views on race and family are transformed. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how that generation–and the next–began to see their world anew.

 

My Thoughts:

While the premise sounded intriguing to me, the execution didn’t quite work so well.

Told through letters and miscellaneous documents, The Second Mrs. Hockaday has a scattered feel to it that makes investing in the story difficult. We first meet Placidia as she’s under arrest and awaiting trial, writing a letter to a beloved cousin. Her letters take us back to the beginning of her marriage, but then jump around in time, and later, the book includes journal pages she wrote during her husband’s absence as well as correspondence between members of the next generation in the family. Because of the jumping chronology, it’s hard to get a sense of which events are linked to which — which is unfortunate, as the kernel of the story is good.

Placidia’s impetuous marriage to the recently widowed Major takes place the day after she meets him, and they only have two days together as man and wife before he leaves to rejoin his troops, leaving Placidia in charge of both his plantation and his motherless child. Her struggle to keep the farm going, to nurture the young boy, and to protect a future with the man she barely knows is moving, and I couldn’t help admiring Placidia’s bravery.

However — the big reveal toward the end of the book when we discover the truth about Placidia’s supposed crime is absolutely obvious from the very beginning. Even though some smaller details offer surprises, the fact that the big secret is so easily guessed takes away some of the punch when awful events actually transpire. A more minor complaint is the lack of any narration (via letters) of anything from later in Placidia’s life. While we learn more from other people, it feels abrupt to lose her voice in telling her own story, as if only those earlier years contained the events she felt the need to document.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday is a touching look at a young bride struggling to create a marriage during the awful war years. Unfortunately, it just lacked some of the power I’d expected.

[A reader note: While I don’t typically think it’s fair to bring up ARC formatting problems in a review, since presumably those will be corrected by the time of publication, I feel that the horrible formatting of this particular ARC absolutely impacted my reading experience for the worse. It’s not fair to criticize the book for these errors, but at the same time, the difficulty I had in sorting out section breaks and all of the missing dates in the text definitely made this a less than stellar read. If I’d read a finished copy, it’s possible that I might have felt the story had a better flow.]

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The details:

Title: The Second Mrs. Hockaday
Author: Susan Rivers
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Take A Peek Book Review: The Secret Chord

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

secret-chord

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Peeling away the myth to bring the Old Testament’s King David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.

The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected.  We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikhal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans.

 

My Thoughts:

Sadly, The Secret Chord wasn’t nearly as engaging as it should have been.

Geraldine Brooks is an amazing writer, but good writing alone isn’t enough to elevate this book to a must-read. I think part of the problem is the perspective. The story of King David should be exciting and dramatic — but in The Secret Chord, we only rarely see first-hand drama. The book is narrated in the first-person voice of the prophet Natan, and a great deal of his narration consists of him relaying stories told to him by others. So, rather than seeing David’s early victories or the intrigues, we often get other characters telling Natan about these events. I always felt that I was seeing the story from a distance, rather than becoming immersed in it.

Additionally, the chronology of the novel is full of jumps and out of sequence bits and pieces. We start with David as an aging king, then jump back in time as we hear stories about his youth and Natan’s, then come back to the original time period, then angle off into stories of David’s earlier relationships, then pick back up again and move forward. It’s muddled — and I felt that the mixed-up timeline was yet another factor, on top of the distanced storytelling voice, that kept me from ever feeling that I truly got a picture of David, which is the entire point of the book.

As a side issue, I was frustrated while reading by a presumption of knowledge of places and names. The author chooses to use the Hebrew versions of the more commonly Anglicized Biblical names, so that Solomon is Shlomo, Saul is Shaul, the tribe of Benjamin is referred to as the Binyaminites, etc. This wasn’t a huge problem for me, but on top of this, the places are not easily connected with their modern day equivalents, so only someone familiar with Biblical geography would know that Yebus is the ancient version of modern-day Jerusalem, where Moab and Mitzrayim are, or be able to connect other unusual place-names with their 21st century locations.

[Note: I received an ARC of this book via a Goodreads giveaway. I just now looked up the book on Amazon, and I see that the finished book includes a glossary of characters and maps of ancient Israel — these would have been incredibly helpful to have while I was reading the book.]

Such a pity, overall. The story should be fascinating, and in truth, there are some moments of beauty and of horror that make for compelling reading. Unfortunately, though, there just aren’t enough of these.

I’m a huge fan of three of Geraldine Brooks’s books: Year of Wonders, March, and People of the Book. The Secret Chord isn’t boring, but it also doesn’t rise to the high level I’d expected.

As for the subject, King David, nothing will ever replace my fondness for the late Joseph Heller’s marvelous God Knows.

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The details:

Title: The Secret Chord
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publisher: Viking
Publication date: October 6, 2015
Length: 302 pages
Genre: Historical/Biblical fiction
Source: Won in a Goodreads giveaway!

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Book Review: Orphan Train

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.

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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

Shelf Control #56: Tigers in Red Weather

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

tigers-in-red-weatherTitle: Tigers in Red Weather
Author: Liza Klaussmann
Published: 2012
Length: 353 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha’s Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House. In the days following the end of the Second World War, the world seems to offer itself up, and the two women are on the cusp of their ‘real lives’: Helena is off to Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is heading for a reunion with her own young husband, Hughes, about to return from the war.

Soon the gilt begins to crack. Helena’s husband is not the man he seemed to be, and Hughes has returned from the war distant, his inner light curtained over. On the brink of the 1960s, back at Tiger House, Nick and Helena—with their children, Daisy and Ed—try to recapture that sense of possibility. But when Daisy and Ed discover the victim of a brutal murder, the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. The members of the family spin out of their prescribed orbits, secrets come to light, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same.

Brilliantly told from five points of view, with a magical elegance and suspenseful dark longing, Tigers in Red Weather is an unforgettable debut novel from a writer of extraordinary insight and accomplishment.

How I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition.

When I got it:

At least two or three years ago, on a day when there was a Kindle price drop.

Why I want to read it:

I remember reading a few positive reviews, and the description really appeals to me. The post-war era should make for some great dramatic challenges, and the family dynamics sound fascinating.

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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 below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

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Audiobook Review: Girl Waits With Gun

girl-waits-with-gun

A novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs.

Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.  

 

Guys, Girl Waits With Gun may be the most enjoyable audiobook I’ve listened to all year! Fantastic story and characters, and narration that really pulls you into the mood of the story.

But stepping back a moment…

Author Amy Stewart has written several highly successful non-fiction books (with absolutely aweseome titles), including Wicked Plants and The Drunken Botanist. Girl Waits With Gun is her first novel, and is the first in what’s projected to be a series about the historical figures at the heart of the novel.

The Kopp sisters were real people who lived in New Jersey in the early part of the 20th century. After an unfortunate run-in with a powerful, corrupt factory owner, the sisters were threatened and terrorized for months on end. Led by oldest sister Constance, the Kopp sisters sought help from the local sheriff, and persisted in seeing that their tormentor would be brought to justice, no matter the risk to themselves.

The novel fleshes out these historical women and brings them to life, so that we really get to know the personalities and inner workings of the three sisters. Narrated by Constance, we see events through her eyes, and come to understand their small family, the state of politics, unions, and factory owners at the time, and the limitations placed on women by the traditions and societal expectations of the time.

Source: Amy Stewart's website

Source: Amy Stewart’s website

The three sisters are sharply developed, so that we get to know their personalities, their quirks, and their unique voices — both in terms of how they’re written in the story, and how the narrator portrays them. The text and the narration play up Fleurette’s girlish naivete, Norma’s brusque no-nonsense approach to life at large, and Contance’s bravery and wisdom. I loved the character of Sheriff Heath as well, who comes across as a good, honest man dedicated to justice and decency, who’s willing to buck the system in order to see that the innocent are protected. (And I love the fact that it’s Sheriff Heath who gives the sisters their revolvers and makes sure they know how to use them.)

The author makes the historical setting feel real and vibrant, giving us the tastes and smells of factory towns and farms, the sense of busy streets crammed with horse-drawn wagons and sleek automobiles, and the hidden underbelly of society, where the factory workers live in company-owned boarding houses and work in abusive, unhealthy conditions.

The writing here is fast-paced, often funny, and always sharp, catching the nuances of the relationships and the characters, and capturing the colloquialisms and social niceties of the times. Even as the tension and threats mount, there are little moments of humor to keep things moving along.

I really, truly enjoyed listening to Girl Waits With Gun, and I plan to start book #2, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, a bit later this month. I love the Kopp sisters, and can’t wait to see what’s next for them.

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The details:

Title: Girl Waits With Gun
Author: Amy Stewart
Narrator: Christina Moore
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: September 1, 2015
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 54 minutes
Printed book length: 408 pages
Genre: Detective story/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley; Audible download purchased

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Thursday Quotables: Girl Waits With Gun

quotation-marks4

Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

girl-waits-with-gun

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart
(published 2015)

I’m listening to this audiobook, and absolutely love it! I had a hard time coming up with a passage to share, so I think I’ll just go with the opening of chapter 1, which gives a hint of the quirky charm that’s to come:

Our troubles began in the summer of 1914, the year I turned thirty-five. The Archduke of Austria had just been assassinated, the Mexicans were revolting, and absolutely nothing was happening at our house, which explains why all three of us were riding to Paterson on the most trivial of errands. Never had a larger committee been convened to make a decision about the purchase of mustard powder and the replacement of a claw hammer whose handle had split from age and misuse.

Against my better judgment I allowed Fleurette to drive. Norma was reading to us from the newspaper as she always did.

“Man’s Trousers Cause Death,” Norma called out.

“It doesn’t say that.” Fleurette snorted and turned around to get a look at the paper. The reins slid out of her hands.

“It does,” Norma insisted. “It says that a Teamster was in the habit of hanging his trousers over the gas jet at night but, being under the influence of liquor, didn’t notice that the trousers smothered the flame.”

“Then he died of gas poisoning, not of trousers.”

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Shelf Control #53: The Mercy of Thin Air

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

My Shelf Control pick this week is:

mercy-of-thin-airTitle: The Mercy of Thin Air
Author: Ronlyn Domingue
Published: 2006
Length: 336 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

New Orleans, 1920s. Raziela Nolan is in the throes of a magnificent love affair when she dies in a tragic accident. In an instant, she leaves behind her one true love and her dream of becoming a doctor — but somehow, she still remains. Immediately after her death, Razi chooses to stay between — a realm that exists after life and before whatever lies beyond it.

From this remarkable vantage point, Razi narrates the stories of her lost love, Andrew, and the relationship of Amy and Scott, a couple whose house she haunts almost seventy-five years later. The Mercy of Thin Air entwines these two fateful and redemptive love stories that echo across three generations. From ambitious, forward-thinking Razi, who illegally slips birth control guides into library books; to hip Web designer Amy, who begins to fall off the edge of grief; to Eugenia, caught between since the Civil War, the characters in this wondrous novel sing with life. Evoking the power of love, memory, and time, The Mercy of Thin Air culminates in a startling finish that will leave readers breathless.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

About two years ago, after a friend mentioned another book by this author.

Why I want to read it:

Ghost story, New Orleans, romance… plus a timeline that spans years and eras. Absolutely sets my pulse racing just thinking about it!

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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 below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Kitchen House

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

tkh

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In this gripping New York Times bestseller, Kathleen Grissom brings to life a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War, where a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate.

Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.

In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.

Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.

 

My Thoughts:

The Kitchen House has been on my radar for a while now, and I finally settled in and read it over the weekend in preparation for my book group discussion this coming week. Sometimes you need a little nudge to get to the good stuff, ya know?

Wow. This book has it all — terrific historical setting, a broad and varied cast of characters, and pains and sorrows that are instantly relatable.

Lavinia’s story is unique, as most pre-Civil War novels I’ve read with Southern settings focus strictly on the master/slave divide, broken along race lines. In The Kitchen House, Lavinia straddles the color line. As an orphaned indentured Irish girl, she’s settled — happily — with the black slaves on the plantation, where she finds love, comfort, and family. Yet based on the color of her skin, she’s easily accepted into the world of the big house as well, first as a companion for her master’s mentally ill wife, and eventually as a full-fledged member of the family.

Meanwhile, among the kitchen house slaves, the illegitimate children of the plantation owners are relegated to yet another generation of slavery, subject to the whims and demons of the twisted mind of their current owner.

Lavinia is the main narrator of the story, although we do get briefer chapters from Belle’s perspective, which help round out what Lavinia sees of plantation life and offer a sort of behind-the-scenes viewpoint that we’d otherwise miss.

The heartache and tragedy that plague Lavinia and her loved ones feel almost too much sometimes. It seems like every time there’s a chance for something terrible to happen, it does. The pain that all of the characters must endure makes the book tough to take, even while it’s impossible to look away.

The author seems to be drawing a parallel between the slaves’ captivity and Lavinia’s own powerlessness and lack of rights in a loveless marriage to a cruel, domineering, dangerous man. I can accept this up to a point: Despite her fine clothes and house, Lavinia is her husband’s property and is basically a prisoner, with no access to the outside world or to anyone who might provide help. Still, her situation isn’t nearly as helpless as that of the slaves, and her skin color and status offer her a protection that her beloved family does not have.

The Kitchen House is powerful and well-written, and I recommend it strongly for anyone with an interest in American history during that time period. The characters are unforgettable.

As far as I understand, The Kitchen House (published in 2010) was originally written as a stand-alone, but I was excited to learn that a follow-up novel (Glory Over Everything) has just been published. I can’t wait to spend more time with these characters… and just hope that at least some of them get the happy ending they so clearly deserve.

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The details:

Title: The Kitchen House
Author: Kathleen Grissom
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: January 1, 2010
Length: 385 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library