Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Title: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
Series: The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club 
Author: Theodora Goss
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: June 20, 2017
Length: 402 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

 

When we meet Mary Jekyll, she’s in a sorry state. Her mother has just died after many years of madness, and Mary is left in her family home, already stripped of valuables over the years as she sold whatever she could in order to make ends meet. Now, Mary has no choice but to dismiss the household staff, count her few remaining coins, and try to find a way to eke out a few more. When Mary learns that her mother was sending regular payments to “Hyde”, care of a religious society, she’s both suspicious of blackmail and motivated to find out more.

Seeking the help of the famous Sherlock Holmes, Mary sets out to discover the truth about these payments, and ends up stumbling into the mystery of the Whitechapel murders as well. Could there be a connection? 

As the story progresses, Mary learns that her deceased father was a member of a secret society dedicated to scientific pursuit outside the bounds of the established scientific community. Specifically, these mad scientists seem to be dedicated to transmutation — pursuing a faster path to evolution by creating new forms of life. Mary’s investigations lead her to the daughters/creations of these men. Soon, this group of women are bound together by circumstance as well as affection, as they pursue the truth about their fathers’ Society of Alchemists and end up fighting for their lives.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is utterly charming and engaging. It’s a clever concept, bringing together a group of young women who are at best side notes in the original classic fiction from which they and their fathers originate and placing them at center stage. As the author makes clear, these women cannot and and will not be thought of as scientific oddities; they are unique individuals, new and different and outside the norms of society, yet with rich inner lives and a strong will to set the course of their own lives.

The writing here is smart and quirky. The book is presented as the narrative of the women’s adventure as written by Catherine — but throughout the book, the others interject their comments and critiques, pointing out places where Catherine is being too flowery or dramatic, or where she’s getting the details wrong. Meanwhile, as Mary meets each new character, they get the chance to tell their own stories, and each one is powerful and fascinating. 

There’s plenty of action, and quite a bit of humor. The Victorian setting works perfectly as a backdrop for the adventure. I always love stories of found families, and this one is a terrific example. All these women have been maltreated and discarded, but together, they form a new family in order to face the world together. As with any family, there are squabbles and disagreements and bickering, but at bedrock, there’s also love and support and protection — the whole is definitely greater than its parts.

There are two more books in the series, and I do intend to continue… although I may hold off for a little while, after realizing that book #2, European Travels for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, is over 700 pages. Still, I definitely want to see what happens next with this eccentric group of daring women! 

Highly recommended! Fans of the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger and the Veronica Speedwell books by Deanna Raybourn will appreciate the setting, the bantering, and the role of the scientifically adventurous women. It’s all great fun — don’t miss it!

 

Shelf Control #193: Witchmark by C. J. Polk

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: Witchmark
Author: C. L. Polk
Published: 2018
Length: 318 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family’s interest or to be committed to a witches’ asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans’ hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.
 

How and when I got it:

I picked up a copy last summer on a visit to a beloved neighborhood bookstore.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve heard such good things about this book! I love the sound of the witchcraft elements mixed with the historical setting. And now seems like a good time to read Witchmark, as the sequel will be out in February.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

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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!

Book Review: The Mermaid by Christina Henry

From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.

You guys. I LOVED this book.

I was blown away by the story itself, as well as by the gorgeous writing and the passion that comes through on every page.

She loved him almost as much as she loved the sea, and so they were well matched, for he loved the sea almost as much as he loved her. He’d never thought any person could draw him more than the ocean, but the crashing waves were there in her eyes and the salt of the spray was in her skin and there, too, was something in her that the sea could never give. The ocean could never love him back, but Amelia did.

In The Mermaid, we first meet Amelia as a beautiful, wild being of the sea. After being freed from a net by the kind fisherman who finds her, she can’t stop thinking about the look in his eyes, and finds herself leaving the sea to find him. Once reunited, Amelia and Jack fall deeply in love — and while she leaves his seaside shack to swim in the ocean at night, she sees him as her heart and her home… until the day he goes out fishing and doesn’t return.

For ten long years, Amelia watches the sea, mourning yet refusing to believe that her beloved will never return to her. Meanwhile, far off in New York, rumor has reached the ears of P. T. Barnum and his associate Levi Lyman about a beautiful woman in coastal Maine, whom the locals believe to be a mermaid. Barnum dispatches Levi to find her and bring her back to New York, dreaming of the riches that will pour into his pockets once he puts the mermaid on display in his American Museum.

Amelia has other ideas, though. At a time when women defer to men on all matters, Amelia refuses to become any man’s belonging. She sets her own terms and makes the rules for how, when, and how often she’ll be on display. She yearns to travel the world and knows she needs money to do this, which is why she agrees to Levi and Barnum’s plans in the first place — but once she arrives in New York, she begins to realize how difficult it will be to fit into the world of humans and to survive in a crowded, dirty city full of people who see her as a curiosity, or even worse, as an abomination.

“A bird in a cage still knows it’s in a cage, even if the bars are made of gold,” Amelia said softly.

The Mermaid tells a beautiful story of a woman’s strength, while highlighting the devastating circumstances of woman who lack all power in the world. We see friendship, loyalty, and love, as well as greed and disdain and cruelty. Amelia herself is a marvelous character, intelligent and passionate and determined to stand her ground. The magical elements are lovely — mermaids here are not the objectified versions as seen in drawings and sailors’ tattoos, but beings who are indisputably other, not half-fish, half-woman, but people who are wholly something beyond human understanding or definition.

The ocean was a violent place, yes, but it was violence without malice. When a shark ate a sea lion, it did not hate the sea lion. It only wanted to live.

Author Christina Henry draws on the historical record — Barnum really did have an exhibit called the “Feejee Mermaid”, although it was a grotesque fake, not a live woman swimming in a tank of sea water before a mesmerized public — and then builds a story of wonder and magic and love.

I couldn’t help thinking about The Greatest Showman whenever Barnum and wife Charity and the museum appear, although Barnum’s portrayal in The Mermaid is not at all admiring or sympathetic — he’s a greedy con artist looking for the next big attraction, a lousy husband and father, and overall a cold-hearted, scheming man. Still, reading this book made me itch to watch the movie again… and I will, soon.

I really, really loved this book and will want to read it again before too long. Meanwhile, I look forward to reading more by Christina Henry. Earlier this year, I read her newest novel, The Girl in Red, and (big surprise) loved that as well. Time to go back and read her earlier books too!

Click on the image to read my review of this amazing book!

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The details:

Title: The Mermaid
Author: Christina Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: June 19, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Audiobook Review: Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

 

A bold, heartfelt tale of life at Green Gables . . . before Anne: A marvelously entertaining and moving historical novel, set in rural Prince Edward Island in the nineteenth century, that imagines the young life of spinster Marilla Cuthbert, and the choices that will open her life to the possibility of heartbreak—and unimaginable greatness

Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother has dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.

In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.

Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.

After reading the entire Anne of Green Gables series this year for the very first time, I felt a need to stay immersed in Anne’s world a bit longer, and decided to read this prequel book, written by contemporary author Sarah McCoy and published in 2018. I’m often skeptical when modern authors decide to continue or riff off of a beloved older book or series (I’m thinking about the debacle that was Scarlett, the “sequel” to Gone With the Wind, among others).

Can a modern author pull off the tone and feeling of the original? Does the new story add anything in terms of character development? Does it feel true to the heart of the original story?

In the case of Marilla of Green Gables, the answer is YES to all questions. While not completely perfect, Marilla is a worthy addition to the Green Gables saga, and I enjoyed it start to finish.

As readers of Anne of Green Gables know, Marilla is the aging spinster who, along with her older brother Matthew, adopts an 11-year-old orphan girl (while actually thinking they were bringing home a boy to help with the farm), and completely up-ends their orderly life. Anne Shirley is a wonder, and her bright, inquisitive, imaginative nature brings new life to Marilla and Matthew and changes their world forever.

But what do we really know about Marilla from the Green Gables books? We only see her through Anne’s eyes –an older woman who keeps house while her brother farms, who has never left the family home and never married. She’s a pillar of the community and has many close friends… but we really don’t know much at all about her childhood or adult life prior to Anne’s arrival.

Marilla of Green Gables starts when Marilla is thirteen. Her mother Clara is pregnant, her brother Matthew works the farm with their father Hugh, and their home life is simple but happy. Marilla has a growing friendship with a classmate of Matthew’s, John Blythe, who is a few years older than Marilla. They seem to be on the verge of romance, but when Clara dies during childbirth, everything changes for Marilla.

Having promised her mother to always take care of Hugh and Matthew, Marilla knows that she will never leave Green Gables. As her relationship with John strengthens over the years, she feels torn between her feelings for him and her responsibility toward her family. On top of this, there’s growing political unrest in Canada, and the Cuthberts are on opposite sides of the issue from John. Finally, it’s the political disagreements that drive a wedge between Marilla and John, leading to an estrangement that lingers for many years.

Over the years, Marilla becomes more and more involved in the issue of runaway slaves from America, motivated initially by orphaned children she encounters who were rescued from enslavement but are still pursued by bounty hunters. While on the surface a simple farm woman with an ordinary, house-bound life, Marilla becomes involved in the abolition movement and works to arrange shelter as part of the underground railroad.

There’s something really heartbreaking about a prequel. You know where the players have to end up, having read the original story. So, seeing Marilla and John’s romance blooming over the years was incredibly bittersweet. On the one hand, they’re just so lovely together, and their affection and regard for one another is sincere and pure and heartfelt. At the same time, I know that Marilla never marries, and that John must end up married to someone else, since his son Gilbert is Anne’s love interest and eventual husband in the Anne books. It really felt terrible at times to see Marilla’s happiness with John and see her experiencing all the sweet emotions of a young first love — not knowing how it will go wrong, but knowing all along that they simply can’t end up together.

Author Sarah McCoy does a lovely job of emulating the feel and style of the Anne books, reveling in the natural world of Prince Edward Island, the simple joys of a small community in an earlier time, and the daily routines and habits that build a full life. Marilla’s voice and perspective feels clear and authentic — we’re able to see a young Marilla and see the roots of the woman she’ll become someday.

The only jarring note for me was the emphasis on politics. Politics rarely gets mentioned in the Anne series, and here, the unrest within Canada is a large focus and becomes the driving point for the breakdown of Anne and John’s relationship. It’s not that it’s uninteresting; simply that it doesn’t feel all that well aligned with the tone of the original series.

Still, I found the book as a whole delightful. It felt like a revelation to get to know a young Marilla and understand how she became the stern spinster we meet in Anne of Green Gables. I love the depiction of life in Avonlea, and was moved by Marilla’s devotion to improving the life of those less fortunate, including putting herself at risk in order to protect children fleeing enslavement.

Marilla of Green Gables is a lovely addition to the world of Anne of Green Gables. For those who haven’t read the original series, I’d say start with those books, at the least the first three or so, before reading Marilla. While Marilla of Green Gables could stand on its own, I think the heart and soul would somehow have much less impact without the greater context of the Anne series.

A note on the audiobook: Lovely! The narrator captures Marilla’s sweetness, the gossipy nature of Marilla’s friend Rachel, the compassion of John, and all the flavor of the many other characters in the story. Really a terrific listen.

I highly recommend Marilla of Green Gables for any fans of the Anne series, and really applaud author Sarah McCoy for adding a new and interesting storyline while staying true to the essence of the original books.

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The details:

Title: Marilla of Green Gables
Author: Sarah McCoy
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: October 23, 2018
Length (print): 320 pages
Length (audiobook): 9 hours, 14 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library

Book Review: Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes

Seattle, Washington
Larkin Bennett has always known her place, whether it’s surrounded by her loving family in the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest or conducting a dusty patrol in Afghanistan. But all of that changed the day tragedy struck her unit and took away everything she held dear. Soon after, Larkin discovers an unexpected treasure—the diary of Emily Wilson, a young woman who disguised herself as a man to fight for the Union in the Civil War. As Larkin struggles to heal, she finds herself drawn deeply into Emily’s life and the secrets she kept.

Indiana, 1861
The only thing more dangerous to Emily Wilson than a rebel soldier is the risk of her own comrades in the Union Army discovering her secret. But in the minds of her fellow soldiers, if it dresses like a man, swears like a man, and shoots like a man, it must be a man. As the war marches on and takes its terrible toll, Emily begins to question everything she thought she was fighting for.

Today We Go Home took my breath away.

In this dual timeline novel, we follow two separate but interwoven and related threads. The main character in the contemporary timeline is Larkin Bennett, a US Army veteran who receives a medical discharge after being wounded in action in Afghanistan, now suffering from PTSD and the tremendous guilt she feels over the death of her best friend. And as Larkin explores her friends’ personal effects, she finds a family treasure — the diary of Emily Wilson, who fought as a man in the Civil War. Through these two remarkable women, we see devotion to duty and family, as well as the toll that war takes on a person’s soul.

Larkin’s story is moving and tragic. She was never happier than in service to her country, and felt a calling to the military. Her best moments were when she and her friend Sarah were side by side, whether in college, in training, or in Kandahar. But Larkin, when we meet her, is emotionally destroyed by her experiences, turning to alcohol to numb herself and drown out the memories that haunt her every moment.

Larkin’s family is supportive (can I mention how much I love her grandmother and cousins?), and they do what they can to help, but there’s just so much that Larkin has to process on her own, and she resists reaching out for professional help. Her growing obsession with Emily’s diary gives her a purpose, and the more she reads, the more determined she becomes to both tell the stories of military women and to find out more about the real Emily Wilson.

Meanwhile, Emily’s story is equally powerful. After her father and oldest brother ride off to join the Indiana regiment heading to support the Union cause, Emily is left behind on the farm with her younger brother Ben, expected to just wait at home and be content with “women’s work”. When their father is killed and their brother takes ill, they set off to go take care of their brother, and from there, they decide to enlist. Emily is both called to serve and determined to protect Ben at all costs, and together, they join their late father’s regiment and learn to become soldiers.

Emily takes the name Jesse and poses as Ben’s brother, knowing that she must keep her gender a secret. She finds that she’s actually good at soldiering, and starts to love the freedom that comes from being seen as male — the freedom to work, to speak her mind, to not hide her skills, to pursue what she wants.

She would never again settle for a life where her every action, even her thoughts, were controlled by someone else. From now on, no matter where life took her, she would live on her own terms.

The threat of discovery is always present, and the true meaning of going to war doesn’t really sink in until the regiment enters its first battle and Emily gets a close-up view of shooting at the enemy and being shot at.

The general shook his head. “I will not send you back to the field. You can no longer impersonate a soldier, do you understand me?”

Emily had to look away from his accusing glare. She had not been impersonating a soldier. She had been a soldier. “Yes, sir.”

The author does an amazing job of weaving together these two stories. Some dual timeline books feel forced, or as if one only exists as a frame for the other. Not so here. You know it’s a well-done approach when both halves of the story feel so compelling that you hate to leave each one to switch to the other. When an Emily section would end, I’d want more… but then I’d get re-involved in Larkin’s story, and couldn’t imagine wanting to read anything else but her story.

Kelli Estes has clearly done a tremendous amount of research into both women serving in the Civil War and into the plight of today’s veterans, especially the staggering rate of PTSD and suicide among women veterans. She provides a list of reference materials as well as information on support for veterans at the end of the book, and is definitely doing a great service herself by calling attention to the issues confronting today’s combat veterans.

She set the diary aside, thinking about Emily’s struggles. They were timeless. Even now, over a hundred and fifty years later, female veterans faced many of the same challenges that Emily did: being seen as inferior because of her gender, not being able to find work after being discharged from the military, earning less than men, becoming homeless.

Some of the social commentary is really spot-on, such as Larkin’s anger over the general lack of interest and awareness she encounters once back in the US. To Larkin, she was serving in Afghanistan to protect the United States, yet most Americans seem indifferent or unaware of what’s going on there and the sacrifices being made by American service men and women. Likewise, she is understandably infuriated when a clueless man, who spots her wearing an Army t-shirt, asks her whether it’s her father or her brothers who served, failing to recognize the very real service of hundreds of thousands of women.

Today We Go Home is beautifully written and is so very powerful. I tore through this book probably faster than I should have, because I just couldn’t get enough of either Emily or Larkin and had to know how their stories would turn out. The emotional impact is strong and real. By the end, I felt such sorrow for their experiences, and yet hopeful and uplifted as well. And while Emily’s story is set in the past, Larkin’s story has an urgency to it, knowing that brave men and women are still facing the unbelievable struggles that come with serving in war settings and then coming back home afterward.

Don’t miss this amazing book. This goes on my list of top books for 2019.

Other reading resources:

For more on women in the Civil War, I highly recommend two excellent novels:

  • I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe (review)
  • Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy & Becky Hepinstall (review)

I don’t think I’ve read any other novels recently about contemporary women serving in the military, but I’d love some suggestions!

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The details:

Title: Today We Go Home
Author: Kelli Estes
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: September 3, 2019
Length: 401 pages
Genre: Contemporary/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

How many pack horse librarian books is too many?

Image from Wednesday’s Women website

Oh, dear.

A whiff of scandal has just come to my attention, and it involves one of my go-to authors.

It seems that the new novel by Jojo Moyes, The Giver of Stars, may have just a wee bit too much in common with a book published earlier this year, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Robinson.

A friend just sent me this link from Buzzfeed about the “alarming similarities” between the two books. And while I haven’t read The Giver of Stars yet (my hold request just came in at the library), hearing this makes me pause a bit.

I read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek when it came out, and loved it. (My review is here). It’s a personal, intimate look at the life of a pack horse librarian in Kentucky during the Depression.

 

In 1936, tucked deep into the woods of Troublesome Creek, KY, lives blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.

Along her dangerous route, Cussy, known to the mountain folk as Bluet, confronts those suspicious of her damselfly-blue skin and the government’s new book program. She befriends hardscrabble and complex fellow Kentuckians, and is fiercely determined to bring comfort and joy, instill literacy, and give to those who have nothing, a bookly respite, a fleeting retreat to faraway lands.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a powerful message about how the written word affects people–a story of hope and heartbreak, raw courage and strength splintered with poverty and oppression, and one woman’s chances beyond the darkly hollows. Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek showcases a bold and unique tale of the Pack horse Librarians in literary novels — a story of fierce strength and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere — even back home.

And guess what? Jojo Moyes’s new book is ALSO about a pack horse librarian in Kentucky during the Depression.

 

Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Horseback Librarians of Kentucky.

What happens to them—and to the men they love—becomes a classic drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. Though they face all kinds of dangers, they’re committed to their job—bringing books to people who have never had any, sharing the gift of learning that will change their lives.

Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope. At times funny, at others heartbreaking, this is a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.

And sure, two authors could work on two completely separate novels at the same time and have them be about the same subject, time period, historical area of interest, etc. But the BuzzFeed piece makes it sounds like the similarities go beyond general subject matter.

I was all queued up to read the new Jojo Moyes book, because hey, I read ALL her new books. But I must admit, I knew nothing about the actual plot before reading this article today, other than that it was set in the US and was historical fiction. Now I’m not so sure that I want to read it. Even if the similarities are completely innocent, I feel like I already read one excellent book about a pack horse librarian — I’m not feeling like I need another right now!

What do you think? Are you familiar with either book? Have you read either one… and if you’re planning to, does this information change your feelings at all?

I haven’t decided yet what to do about the book sitting at the library waiting for me… I’ll probably still pick up my hold copy of The Giver of Stars and at least start it, but between the hints of something being off here and the fact that this might be repetitive storytelling for me, I’m not sure that my heart is in it any more.

Would love to hear other readers’ thoughts on this!

Note: The photo above, as well as lots of terrific information on the Pack Horse Librarian project, can be found on the Wednesday’s Women website at https://wednesdayswomen.com/good-reads-in-wild-places-the-wpas-pack-horse-librarians/ 

Aubiobook Review: Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart

 

In the fifth installment of Amy Stewart’s clever and original Kopp Sisters series, the sisters learn some military discipline—whether they’re ready or not—as the U.S. prepares to enter World War I.

It’s the spring of 1917 and change is in the air. American women have done something remarkable: they’ve banded together to create military-style training camps for women who want to serve. These so-called National Service Schools prove irresistible to the Kopp sisters, who leave their farm in New Jersey to join up.

When an accident befalls the matron, Constance reluctantly agrees to oversee the camp—much to the alarm of the Kopps’ tent-mate, the real-life Beulah Binford, who is seeking refuge from her own scandalous past under the cover of a false identity. Will she be denied a second chance? And after notoriety, can a woman’s life ever be her own again?

In Kopp Sisters on the March, the women of Camp Chevy Chase face down the skepticism of the War Department, the double standards of a scornful public, and the very real perils of war. Once again, Amy Stewart has brilliantly brought a little-known moment in history to light with her fearless and funny Kopp sisters novels.

My Thoughts:

Long live the Kopp sisters! This brilliant series continues strong, as fearless Constance Kopp and her sisters Norma and Fleurette leave behind their New Jersey farm to attend a women’s training camp. The US is on the verge of joining the war in Europe. Young women, mostly of privileged families, sign up to attend a National Service School to learn military bed-making, bandage-rolling, and some basics about marching in formation and understanding signalling.

For most of these women, it’s not particularly serious. Most will go back home to mommy and daddy afterward — but for some, it’s a stepping stone to sailing for France, where they hope to join the war effort in whatever way they can. And for one woman in Kopp Sisters on the March, the camp and France represent an escape from her intolerable, scandal-ridden life.

When the Kopp sisters arrive at camp, it’s the year after Constance has lost her job as a sheriff’s deputy, after the election of a new sheriff who has no interest in or tolerance for women in law enforcement. Constance is adrift and rather hopeless, until she ends up being put in charge of the camp after the camp matron is injured. Under Constance’s direction, the camp takes on a more disciplined and focused feel, and she even introduces secret hand-to-hand combat and shooting lessons for the small group of women who are determined to be taken seriously and prepare themselves for the war.

The narrative is split between Constance and her sisters and the historical figure Beulah Binford. As the author explains in her notes, there’s no record of the real-life Beulah attending such a camp, but it seems like a great fit for her to place her in this story. Beulah was the “other woman” in a highly publicized murder case, and while she was never charged with a crime, she was dragged through the papers and became one of the most notorious women of the time, forcing her to live under assumed identities and live in hiding. I didn’t realize until I got to the end of the book and read the notes that Beulah was a real person — this made her parts of the story all the more fascinating and tragic, seeing how an uneducated, resourceless woman could end up having her life so thoroughly ruined.

It’s a bit jarring to have the action in a Kopp sisters book move away from law enforcement and local police work to a military setting, but it tracks with the timeline of the real Kopp sisters, and seems like a natural choice for them in the context of the US’s war preparations. As always, Constance is a strong character who doesn’t back down and who is determined to improve the lives of the women around her. I’m less fond of her sisters — Fleurette is flighty as always, and Norma and her pigeon-obsession are a bit much to take — but their family dynamics are always fun.

As with the previous four books, I listened to the audiobook version, becuase the narrator is so gifted when it comes to portraying the sisters and the various other characters. As I mentioned in my reviews of the other audiobooks, she makes each character come alive, and as a listener, I really got the essence of each character’s personality through Chrsitina Moore’s presentation.

The author’s notes at the end of the book are essential reading (as they are in all of the Kopp Sisters books). Amy Stewart provides the historical context, explains her research, and makes clear which parts of her story are from the record and which are her invention. It’s fascinating to see how she so skillfully weaves together fact and fiction, and really remarkable to learn just how much of these women’s lives actually happened.

And as I’ve said in each review I’ve written for the books in this series:

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the Kopp Sisters books yet, start with Girl Waits With Gun, and then keep going!

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The details:

Title: Kopp Sisters on the March
Author: Amy Stewart
Narrator: Christina Moore
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: September 17, 2019
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 26 minutes
Printed book length: 355 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Audible download (purchased); ARC from the author

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Shelf Control #178: Silk and Song by Dana Stabenow

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.pngLast week, I featured a book by Dana Stabenow, author of one of my very favorite ongoing series (Kate Shugak)… and this week, I realized I have another beautiful hardcover edition of one of her books, also unread. What am I waiting for?

Title: Silk and Song
Author: Dana Stabenow
Published: 2016
Length: 681 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Beijing, 1322.

Sixteen-year-old Wu Johanna is the granddaughter of the legendary trader Marco Polo. In the wake of her father’s death, however, Johanna finds that lineage counts for little amid the disintegrating court of the Khan. Dynastic loyalties are shifting, petty jealousies lead to cold-blooded murders, and the long knives are coming out. Johanna’s destiny – if she has one – lies with her grandfather, in Venice, at the very edge of the known world.

So, with a small band of companions, she takes to the Road – the Silk Road – that storied collection of routes that link the silks of Cathay, the spices of the Indies and the jewels of the Indus to the markets of the west. But first she must cross the roof the world, survive treachery, betrayal, and a Road beset by thieves, fanatics and warlords emboldened by the deterioration of the once all-powerful Mongol Empire.

How and when I got it:

I bought this book as a treat to myself back in 2016.

Why I want to read it:

As I’ve mentioned countless times, I adore the Kate Shugak series, and because of those books and characters, I have absolute faith that I’ll enjoy whatever Dana Stabenow writes!

So about Silk and Song… this is actually a three-in-one edition of a previously released trilogy, originally published 2014 – 2015 as three separate books:

Pretty, right? I’ve never read anything with this setting or this time period, and it all sounds quite fascinating to me. I’m sure the historical elements will be really eye-opening, and I just know that this authors knows how to tell a great story.

So yes, I am excited to finally read these books (in my one giant edition).

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

Have fun!

Shelf Control #177: Death of an Eye by Dana Stabenow

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: Death of an Eye
Author: Dana Stabenow
Published: 2018
Length: 254 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

For three centuries, the House of Ptolemy has governed the Kingdom of Egypt. Cleopatra – seventh of her name – rules from Alexandria, that beacon of commerce and learning that stands between the burning sands of the desert and the dark waters of the Middle Sea.

But her realm is beset by ethnic rivalries, aristocratic feuds and courtly intrigues. Not only that, she must contend with the insatiable appetite of Julius Caesar who needs Egyptian grain and Egyptian gold to further his ambitions. The world is watching the young Queen, waiting for a misstep…

And now her most trusted servant – her Eye – has been murdered and a vast shipment of newly minted coin stolen. Cleopatra cannot afford for the coins to go unrecovered or the murderers unpunished, so she asks childhood friend, Tetisheri Nebenteru, to retrace the dead Eye’s footsteps.

Tetisheri will find herself plunged into the shadowy heart of Alexandria. As she sifts her way through a tangle of lies and deceit, she will discover that nothing can be taken at face value, that she can’t trust anyone – perhaps even the Queen herself.

How and when I got it:

I bought this book when it was released this past December.

Why I want to read it:

First things first — I bought this book specifically because of the author, Dana Stabenow, who is the author of the magnificent, captivating Kate Shugak series (which I’ve raved about endlessly on this blog; here, for example).

Of course, the Kate books are set in modern-day Alaska and Death of an Eye is set in Cleopatra’s Egypt, so yeah, pretty different. Still, I absolutely trust this author to tell a great story, and I have always been fascinated by Cleopatra. The plot itself sounds like lots of fun, and certainly isn’t your run-of-the-mill historical fiction subject. I’m excited to finally read this (soon, I swear!)… and for anyone interested, the paperback edition is coming out this fall. And PS, as of the moment I’m writing this, the Kindle version is on sale for $0.99! Here’s the link, just to make it easy.

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

Have fun!

Shelf Control #176: The Stranger from the Sea (Poldark, #8) by Winston Graham

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: The Stranger from the Sea
Author: Winston Graham
Published: 1981
Length: 512 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The eighth novel in the legendary Poldark saga. Cornwall, 1810: The Poldark family awaits the return of Ross from his mission to Wellington’s army in Portugal. But their ordered existence ends with Jeremy Poldark’s dramatic rescue of The Stranger from the Sea. Stephen Carrington’s arrival in the Poldark household changes all their lives. For Clowance and Jeremy in particular, the children of Ross and Demelza, Stephen’s advent is the key to a new world – one of both love and danger.

How and when I got it:

I found gently used copies of all of the books in the Poldark series at my library’s big sale last year. Score!

Why I want to read it:

I started reading the Poldark books after watching the first season of the TV production. I have to admit this is one of the rare cases where I think I like the TV version better than the book — shocking, I know, but it’s just all so damned pretty! I do like the books, though… enough that I’ve been keeping up with the story in the books as each season of the TV production airs.

However… the show has now explored the plot of all the books I’ve read, and while there’s still one more season yet to air (*sob* the last!), my understanding is that the plot follows the events that come after the events at the end of the previous season. (Being intentionally vague…) In the books, when the story continues in the 8th book, years have passed and the Poldark children are grown up. So, possibly (if I’ve heard correctly), Ross and Demelza are no longer at center stage, but the focus has shifted to the next generation.

So that’s why I’ve been hesitant to start The Stranger from the Sea. If the plot has shifted that drastically, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about continuing the story. I’m thinking at this point that I should wait and watch the final season on TV, get all of those story threads wrapped up, and then tackle this book (and the others that follow).

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

Have fun!