I’ve been reading a lot lately, with several novels in the historical genre. I do enjoy well written historical fiction, particularly when it involves the home arts. The stack this time were a diverse group of genres, and time periods. One common theme in all these novels is women trying to make new lives after some kind of trauma or upheaval in their lives. I’ll take them in order of time in history, beginning with pioneer times and ending with modern times. Only one really stood out as a highly recommend.
I had not heard of Westering Women by Sandra Dallas until a blogger buddy sent me an email thanking me for the recommendation. She said she had just started it and was enjoying it. But it wasn’t me that had recommended it. Still, I was in the mood for some historical fiction, so I got a copy at the library and dove in. Synopsis from the publisher “It’s February 1852, and all around Chicago Maggie sees the postings soliciting “eligible women” to travel to the gold mines of Goosetown. A young seamstress with a small daughter and several painful secrets, she has nothing to lose. So she joins forty-three other women and two pious reverends on the dangerous 2,000-mile journey west. None of them are prepared for the hardships they face on the trek through the high plains, mountains, and deserts. Or for the triumphs of finding strengths they did not know they possessed. And not all will make it.” Sounds better than it was.
This story had such promise, but the actual book falls very short. The characters are too flat, and one dimensional. I find it impossible to believe that a woman can lose a child then just shrug it off and continue on her journey. There was a lot of violence, and I am bothered by the characterization of almost every man in the story (other than the two with the wagon train) being an abuser, or a rapist, or a thief, or a drunk. I didn’t think the story had much more than a bunch of women trudging their way west over prairie and mountains. In fact, I was bored through much of it. I kept hoping the story would get better, but it really didn’t. Sad, because I wanted to read about this time period. Not recommended.
A Quilt For Christmas by Sandra Dallas. Synopsis from the publisher “In Sandra Dallas’ novel A Quilt for Christmas, it is 1864 and Eliza Spooner’s husband Will has joined the Kansas volunteers to fight the Confederates, leaving her with their two children and in charge of their home and land. Eliza is confident that he will return home, and she helps pass the months making a special quilt to keep Will warm during his winter in the army. When the unthinkable happens, she takes in a woman and child who have been left alone and made vulnerable by the war, and she finds solace and camaraderie amongst the women of her quilting group. And when she is asked to help hide an escaped slave, she must decide for herself what is right, and who can she can count on to help her.”
Overall disappointing, this story is not about quilting really, although there are a few women that quilt around a frame from time to time. Mostly it is about a war widow and her trials trying to run a farm by herself in the 1800s, with the added dimension of hiding a slave escaping to the north. I was hoping for a holiday story, but Christmas hardly comes into the story at all. The quilt of the title is sent off early in the story, and shows up near the end, but that’s about it. If you enjoy historic fiction, you might like this better than I did.
Reading some of the reviews by others on Goodreads on this next set of novels, I am reminded that expectations play a huge part of how people feel about a book. If expectations aren’t met, the reviews tend to be bad. Such was the case with this set of three novels by Fay Weldon. She writes of British aristocracy at the turn of the last century, and unfortunately, her publisher compares her to Julian Fellows of Downton Abby fame, saying “if you liked Downton Abbey, you’ll love the Love and Inheritance series by Fay Weldon”. Lucky for me I didn’t see that, so my expectations were a lot lower. Ms. Weldon does not have Mr Fellows gift for characterization or plot, but she is the original writer of the pilot episode of Upstairs Downstairs which has a much simpler storyline and less depth than Downton Abbey. But, if you like British aristocrat novels, these are quick and easy reads. The first book was better than the second, and the second better than the third.
Habits of the House by Fay Weldon, synopsis from the publisher “As the Season of 1899 comes to an end, the world is poised on the brink of profound, irrevocable change. The Earl of Dilberne is facing serious financial concerns. The ripple effects spread to everyone in the household: Lord Robert, who has gambled unwisely on the stock market and seeks a place in the Cabinet; his unmarried children, Arthur, who keeps a courtesan, and Rosina, who keeps a parrot in her bedroom; Lord Robert’s wife Isobel, who orders the affairs of the household in Belgrave Square; and Grace, the lady’s maid who orders the life of her mistress.”
Long Live the King by Fay Weldon, synopsis from the publisher “As 1901 comes to an end, there is much to be grateful for: The Dilberne fortune has been restored, and the grand Dilberne Court, with its one hundred rooms, has been saved. Lord Robert’s son, Arthur, is happily married to Chicago heiress, Minnie, who is pregnant and trying to come to terms with her new role as lady of the manor, and her charming but controlling mother-in-law, Lady Isobel. As Lord Robert and Lady Isobel get caught up in the preparations of the coronation of Edward VII, they debate the future of their recently orphaned niece, Adela. Isobel and Minnie want to take her in; Robert and Arthur do not. While they argue, Adela runs away and joins a traveling group of spiritualists and has a life-saving run-in with the king.”
The New Countess by Fay Weldon, synopsis from the publisher “England, 1905. Lord Robert and Lady Isobel Dilberne, as well as their entire regal estate, with its hundred rooms, are busy planning for a lavish visit from King Edward VII and his mistress just a few months away. Preparations are elaborate and exhaustive: the menus and fashions must be just so. But even amidst the excitement, not everyone is happy. Lady Rosina—now widowed and wealthy— insists on publishing a scandalous book despite her mother’s objections. Arthur Dilberne and Chicago Heiress Minnie O’Brien’s two young sons—the eldest of whom is heir to the estate—are being reared to Lady Isobel’s tastes, not Minnie’s. After making a shocking discovery, Minnie will take drastic measures for the sake of her children. And when fate deals a hand in the middle of the royal shooting party, the entire Dilberne estate will face upheaval once again. “
Now, here is something fun that I have never seen before. If you line up the books side by side, the covers intersect into a larger image, the aristocrats on the fronts.
Turn them over, and the downstairs servants images do the same thing. Cool!!
Now for the Highly Recommend!! I was thrilled to receive an advance proof of Marie Bostwick’s newest novel The Restoration of Celia Fairchild, available preorder and will publish in March 2021. It has been fun corresponding with Ms. Bostwick, so of course I had to dive right into this one as soon as it arrived.
Synopsis from the publisher “Celia Fairchild, known as advice columnist ‘Dear Calpurnia’, has insight into everybody’s problems – except her own. Still bruised by the end of a marriage she thought was her last chance to create a family, Celia receives an unexpected answer to a “Dear Birthmother” letter. Celia throws herself into proving she’s a perfect adoptive mother material – with a stable home and income – only to lose her job. Her one option: sell the Charleston house left to her by her recently departed, estranged Aunt Calpurnia. Arriving in Charleston, Celia learns that Calpurnia had become a hoarder, the house is a wreck, and selling it will require a drastic, rapid makeover. The task of renovation seems overwhelming and risky. But with the help of new neighbors, old friends, and an unlikely sisterhood of strong, creative women who need her as much as she needs them, Celia knits together the truth about her estranged family — and about herself.”
As usual for novels by Marie Bostwick, this one is a highly recommend!! Her writing style is funny and very real, with characters who have all the same insecurities as the rest of us. The dialogue feels natural, and the story flows in a way that makes her novels almost impossible to put down. Celia’s relationship with her gay best friend is a hoot, and several times I laughed out loud at his observations and antics. Through joy and heartbreak, Celia rebuilds her life as she restores an inherited, hoarded house to a livable condition. She mends a friendship and finds new connections along the way, taking chances, loving and being loved, and finds that being a part of a family has many definitions. I loved the ending, honoring the past while looking toward a hopeful future, on Thanksgiving day, perfect. Finding a way to make connections resonates with me now, as we all try to navigate our way in this time of reduced activities and constant vigilance. This book of friends and family, of finding a new life from the ashes of the old one, and moving forward in the face of adversity is ultimately heartwarming and hopeful.
If you are on Goodreads, please ‘like’ my review of Restoration of Celia Fairchild, and any others you like. The number of ‘likes’ is what determines the rankings. You can use the sidebar Goodreads links to see them, or ‘friend’ me there to see all my reviews. I’m Craftnut on Goodreads.
What are you reading? Do you have a book you highly recommend?
20 thoughts on “A Stack of Books with A Common Theme”
After recommending Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins to a friend, I am rereading it after 30 years. I had forgotten about the flowery prose. But, I wouldn’t recommend unless you like flowery prose and very odd plots/authors (like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, or Kurt Vonnegut).
I love historical fictions and biographies about women in the resistance in WWII. Can I recommend The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (more fiction than historical but rooted in history) and The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy by Judith Pearson? The last one will stick with you. It’s about Virginia Hall, an American who was rejected from working with the state department because of a prosthetic leg but eventually was trained by the English SOE and became known to the Nazis as the Limping Lady?
I also recently finished Madame Toussand by Michelle Moran, which is a historical fiction about Marie Antionette through the eyes of Madame Toussand. It was very good.
Enjoy seeing your reading list, I will add some of these to my list. I read a lot of cozy mysteries on my Kindle Fire. they are just easy , lite reading. I just finished one ,I borrow from the library, These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner. Just a wonderful, wonderful story. If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly recommend you do. It’s about pioneers.
Love finding a new list of books.
I just read “The Wolves at the Door” – I knew the story of Virginia Hall, but not the level of detail covered in this book. Fantastic read about an unsung hero of the greatest generation.
I haven’t read any historical fiction of late. In fact, I haven’t been reading books much (too much time online with blogs and news) and am woefully behind on my 2020 Goodreads goal. I’ll try to find you on Goodreads, but I’ve never really learned to navigate it well, so we’ll see. Currently reading the new Inspector Gamache title by Louise Penny.
You always have the best book reviews!! Once again, this post is bookmarked! Thanks Carole!
I used to love all of Sandra Dallas’ books, but they’ve definitely gotten much darker in recent years, and I always wonder why. I love historical fiction, too, and recently finished The Jane Austen Society and loved it!
Westward the Women, 1951 black and white movie with Robert Taylor, John McIntyre, Denise Darcel, French actress. Excellent movie, I recommend it!
As to historical fiction, Unconquered: A Novel of the Pontiac Conspiracy by Neil Harmon Swanson, 1947. A young woman from Cornwall is sentenced to be a bondslave when she fights off a prominent man and he dies. The voyage, the sale, the Pontiac war in what is now Cincinatti. Enthralling book. Dad handed it to me in high school, have read it many times. I searched for years for his other work, finally found one in the library in Klamath Falls, OR, was HORRIBLY disappointed, it was almost a rehash of Unconquered, not as well written. So I finally found another copy of Unconquered that wasn’t tattered from my use and abuse so I’d have it for my family! who’ve never read it, sigh.
I enjoy reading historical romance novels and with time travel too always enjoy seeing what others are reading.
Still sad that I finished reading all the Maisie Dobbs books (waiting til next year for the next one to come out). Had put out a question to FB readers on the PBS Great American Read for similar authors/books, but not having much luck. Trying this huge list authors and books recommended, but not feeling like they are matches at all. Sigh. Have gone back to re-reading Jayne Ann Krantz. Her books are light, upbeat, and often have a paranormal or fantasy bent to them which I enjoy. I am pretty impatient with new books…if they don’t grab me in the first few pages, I usually skip to the end to see what is going on, and if that is intriguing, might start again, but usually don’t. I think I have some Mary Stewart books on my kindle account…may need to go re-read some of those. Wonder if hers are on audiobooks…need to check it out! Thanks for your reviews!!
I’ve been enjoying the Maggie Hope series, by Susan Elia MacNeal. It starts with Mr. CHurchill’s Secretary.
I can always count on your recs so have ordered “The Restoration…” book. Looking forward to it. LOVE our library. If I tell them I like a certain book and why I like it, they give me a list of books that are similar. Library is open but still has curbside available. I order, they deliver as well to the “shut-ins.”
Just finished a baby quilt for next door and sent another twin size to the longarm so am ready for the next adventure. Our “Quilt For Kids” group has been given permission to use the church conference room next month. 8 people only. But it’s good news. Most of us have quilts we finished during the shutdown that should go to the kids.
Thanks for the recs. j
Great recommendations on books. What to choose, what to add to my already wanting stack 🙂
So many books, so little time (left). LOL Love your reviews, and the book covers lined up were fascinating! I’m currently reading a psycho-thriller, The Sister in Law. Keeping me up at night….after this one, I’ll read something much lighter and humorous, no doubt.
I just finished reading, “The Guardian”, by Nicholas Sparks. It had good reviews but I didn’t think it was that great. So much of it was repetition.
I am almost done reading, “White Fragility”, by Robin DiAngelo. The book discussion group I belong to picked this one. It was/is highly recommended, and I learned a lot about racism, but although she describes and defines various aspects of racism, we found it only helpful in learning how white people became racist and continue to be racist. No positive action steps were given. Some in the group felt it was very one-sided and thought she kept saying the same thing over and over. Our group is checking out a few other books about racism to read and discuss to get a broader view.
I just stared reading, “Romey’s Place”, by James Calvin Schaap. . The back of the book says, “With keen perception and a simple style, James Calvin Schaap renders a coming-of age tale about friendship, fathers and sons, and, most of all, the grace that saves us from the darkest places.” It takes at least 50 pages before it starts to get interesting enough for me to keep reading it.
Hello Carole, You know that due to my brain damage I have an extremely difficult time reading books. Therefore, I seldom read or comment on these posts due to the fact that I have nothing to give. I did read your entire post today and was wishing that I had the ability to read books like I did before my accident. Just one of those moments, then I quickly turn my thoughts and am just thrilled that I can read and reflect on Blog Posts knowing that other people who have my same condition can not even do that. So Thank You Very Much for sharing all of your views on the books that you do read and share with us! I ask that you enjoy, even a poorly written book, for me occasionally. Have a magnificent day!
All of the books are on my list now, thank you. The books lined up is so funny.
I am so excited for the new book by Marie Bostwick! I’ve read all her previous ones and loved them all. A new one coming soon is certainly great news during these difficult times. I know there is a new book coming from Lisa Scottoline also. And Louise Penny’s newest book has just been released. These are some of my very favorite authors and I highly recommend all three!
Okay – brilliant cover design on the Fay Weldon books! Oh I miss Downton Abbey one of my favorite television series of all time!
Marie never disappoints, in my opinion. I agree with most of what you said about the first two books, except the part about a mother losing a child and then just going on. Having read many, many journals of westering women, nonfiction, I know that many had no choice. They didn’t forget. They did move on. Life wouldn’t wait for them to grieve, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t. =) I’m reading Anne Perry’s new books about Daniel Pitt, son of Thomas and Charlotte, protagonists of 32 of her books. The mysteries are as intriguing as ever! The first one moved a little slowly, but the second and third were spot on.
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