Monthly Archives: October 2016

MORE FROM SARA DONATI

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Into the Wilderness
Author: Sara Donati
Publisher: Delta Trade Paperbacks (1998-2008)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Paperback Edition: 876 pages
Source: Personal copy

Many readers have discovered this masterful series from Sara Donati. It begins with Into the Wilderness. Readers are transported to the New York wilderness west of Albany in the late eighteenth century (1792) when Colonial and Native American cultures met among the rivers, forests, and mountains. From page one the reader travels to a wilderness peopled with humans from different cultures, Mohawk, Colonial, free people of color, and new immigrants struggling to understand each other. The beauty of the forest contrasts with the strivings of families. This is a book you will live in and never want to leave, not only because of the beauty of the country but because of the intensity of the characters.

Absolutely a master plotter, Donati does it all: writes like an angel, creates a world in another time and place with characters you cannot let go of, and wraps the whole package in action and romance. Oh, the romance, tender and all-consuming. A prim English school teacher and a white man who lives like a Native American seem at first an unlikely pair. Such is the stuff of great romances. And this is certainly one of the best.

Even after this fat and satisfying read, most readers will be salivating for more. Here are the titles of this series: Book Two: Dawn On Distant Shore, Book Three: Lake in the Clouds, Book Four: Fire Along the Sky. Readers who do not know this book will be primed for great adventure from the first page to the last. Donati puts all her words to good use. I think of her as a master conjurer and magician. The worlds and people she creates are thrillingly so real; it is magic.

Five Stars – without a doubt! A fascinating read! Available on Amazon.

NEWS OF THE WORLD: BOOK COMMENT

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News of the World: a novel
Author Paulette Jiles
Publisher: William Morrow (2016)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 209 pages
Source: Personal copy

This author’s first well-known book Enemy Women introduced readers to conditions and happenings in Missouri during the Civil War. That was new territory to many. Now, in what may be her best novel yet, she takes readers to another unfamiliar circumstance in the 19th century. The story told in News of the World takes place in central Texas in 1870 where 72-year-old Captain Kid, a former soldier and printer now earns his living through live readings from newspapers to citizens of small towns. These folks are hungry for news of the world and pay a dime to listen to the distinguished man with the booming, well-modulated voice.

At the beginning of the story, Captain Kidd is charged with returning a young Kiowa girl who was captured from her Texas family and now has been rescued from the Kiowa tribe. Their journey is many miles long through wild and dangerous territory.

The journey is much more than the danger. It takes the reader through the Texas landscape, which comes alive in surprising beauty. Jiles ability to conjure the geology and geography of Texas, more beautiful than many readers may have imagined or appreciated. There is magic in the different rivers, each with its own personality. Every scene, every variety of grass, every strain of rock comes filled with life.

The developing relationship between the wild young Indian girl, Johanna, who has no memory of her white life and the aging Captain Kidd is amazing to witness as they meet life on the road and experience terrorizing adventures. Most hearts melt, in the story, and among readers. It is amazing. And, it is amazing to witness Johanna’s learning and changing.

Captivity narratives true to life seldom involved easy or complete transformations. These stories are an opportunity to see white civilization from the outside, not always a pretty picture. This exquisitely written story, grounded in reality and known psychology, is an outstanding example of that genre. The poetry-like prose touches the ear and the heart. Jiles writes with great clarity. And – there is plenty of action-adventure. It’s a vigorous story. The author’s empathy and love for her characters paves the wave for greater understanding. Fresh viewpoints ring loudly as news of our world worthy of our attention.

Highly recommended!

If you are interested in captivity narratives, comment and I will e-mail several titles I have enjoyed.

THE GRIP OF POLDARK

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This is a story that grabs the heart and mind of the reader/viewer and simply will not let go. Our hero Captain Ross Poldark returns to Cornwell from fighting in the American War of Independence to find his estate and mines in ruins, his sweetheart marrying his cousin, and enemies ranged against him to take his land. He is a good man who attempts to help his workers and other villagers, find his emotional footing after the loss of his intended, and face the fact that life has gone on without him for those he depended on. He rescues a young girl from beatings of her father and takes her on as a kitchen maid to help the couple assigned to keep his home have let all go beyond ruin. Demelza grows up, of course. Whether reading or viewing, one is utterly drawn to Cornwall. The description and visual scenes are mesmerizing. Part of the iron grip of this story is the beauty of the Cornwall Coast.

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Poldark is a television series based on Winston Graham’s group of novels set in the Cornwall, a rugged peninsula on the southwestern coast of England beginning in 1783. BBC produced the television series beginning in 2015 and two seasons have been shown on PBS-Masterpiece Theater. A third season has been commissioned. Season 2 is currently being broadcast on PBS. Season 1 is available on CD from Netflix.

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The major actors include Aidan Turner as Captain Ross Poldark, Eleanor Tomlinson with her beautiful head of red hair as Demelza and also Heida Reed, Jack Farthing and many other superb actors. Minor characters are well written and well acted and give a true picture of the community at that time. The excellent writing stands up to repeated viewing and reading. The cinematography is absolutely astounding. The cliffs and beaches of Cornwall exert a call like no other.

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To the surprise of this reader, the novels of Winston Graham are impossible to put down or lay aside – readable and compelling. This consumer is so captivated that the moment reading of the first novel was finished, I sat at the computer to order Book Two for my IPad from Amazon so I could begin reading immediately. I cannot leave it alone.

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Lest you think this is complete craziness, the series has caused quite a stir. Scenes and comments are available all over the Internet. Millions are enthralled. Most critics from the Website Rotten Tomatoes (9.3 on the meter) to many others watch it and love it, though some have a few bones to pick. This viewer calls it the best of comfort television and that understates it.

By now you are tired of reading these superlatives. Is Ross too good in every way, is Demelza too smart and sassy, are mining times too hard, and enemies too awful? There’s plenty of action and plenty of heart. The friendship that grows between Ross’s cousin Verity and Demelza is a triumph and carefully developed in the scripts and books. I strongly disagree with one critic who called it trash done well. It is not trash but a darn good read without much sex or violence (compared to much of fiction and television available today), but great romance and plenty of conflict.
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Only you can decide how swept away you might be by this story. If you like period drama, or not, give it a look/read and see if it grabs you. There is little doubt that in this case, viewing and reading truly compliment and strengthen the overall enjoyable experience of plunging into this story.

I’m back to my reading, deep in the Poldark mineshaft and not very interested in coming up for air.

Book One -Poldark
Book Two – Demelza
Book Three – Jeremy Poldark

All of the above are part of the Winston Graham novel Poldark Series

FIVE THINGS TO DO WHILE WAITING FOR OUTLANDER TO RETURN TO TV

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Season 3 is supposedly coming sometime in 2017. But when exactly? We just don’t know. It could be many months away.

In the meantime –

1. Reread some of Garabaldon’s previous books. The Voyager is a long book that will keep a reader busy for quite some time.
2. Watch Starz pirate drama Black Sails. The series share specific shooting locations in South Africa. The story is set 20 years prior to Treasure Island.
3. Follow Outlander on Twitter.
4. Study up on the historic Battle of Culloden of 1746
5. Read Octavia Randolph’s The Circle of Ceridwan Saga. That series may give you the historical cocktail you are craving.

Oh, and watch the food page for an Outlander Recipe.

THE GILDED HOUR: Book Comment

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The Gilded Hour: a Novel
Author: Sara Donati
Publisher: Penguin, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Paperback Edition: 747 pages
Source: Personal Copy

This novel stands up to any superlative you may want to assign it: captivating, compelling, charming, magnificent, moving, etc.! This reader could not read fast enough and continuously enough to satisfy my appetite for the story. Following are five reasons it is a fantastic read.

Outstanding research of the time period, geography of Manhattan, medical practices, attitudes, you name it.
Characters, fully formed and intense.
Romance, the very best!
Heart and human kindness, front and center.
Transporting, the reader joins another time and place with no looking back.

There are a few plot lines dangling at the end of the book. This reader hopes that means a sequel may be expected. And hints on the Internet suggest it is likely. Another reading frenzy awaits. In the meantime, there is another series by this author to explore.

This powerful story mixes history, mystery and romance based on solid themes. Certainly, one of the best, if not the best I’ve read this year. Loved it!

A Reader’s Guide is available at Penguin.com.
Sara Donati/Rosina Lippi has a website and blog at www.rosinalippi.com
You may be familiar with her Into the Wilderness Series.

If you often enjoy historical fiction, this is one you will not want to miss.

READER INTERVIEW WITH MICHIGAN READER KAREN KOZIAN

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Thanks so much to Reader Karen Kozian for sharing her thoughts on reading and favorite books. You will find what she has to say interesting and insightful. Relax, sit back, and listen to Karen’s wisdom.

From Karen:
I have been a lover of reading for at least 72 of my 79 years.
After having said that, I must admit to having a poor memory. My style of reading is, if a book fascinates me, to lose myself in the story, losing track of time and place. I am sad to reach the end of a book, to know that I no longer have the characters as companions. I must have a book to read at all times and so I am immediately on to my next book. I believe that the speed with which I race through books and am on to my next is the reason for my faulty memory. It comforts me to believe this.

When someone asks me what my favorite books are, I recall only a few. From childhood, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keene stay fondly in my memory. Later in life Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, One Thousand White Women: the Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus, Time and Again by Jack Finney and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak live on.

Because of preparing this piece for Paulette Lein’s blog, I am asking myself, for the first time, why these books stay in my memory while others do not. Without boring Paulette’s readers, I’ll try to answer that question briefly

The Secret Garden captured my admiration for Mary Lennox, an orphan who overcomes her loss and her loneliness and helps a boy regain his health through sharing her sense of adventure with him. I guess in my imagination, I wanted to be like Mary. I reread The Secret Garden a couple of years ago, and believe the writing stands the test of time.

A Nancy Drew Mystery was always one of my Christmas gifts. I would read my new book the day after Christmas while eating my favorite sweet, a box of mints covered in chocolate. I told this to my daughter-in-law, Anne, who asked me about a favorite childhood tradition. Ever since, she presents me with a book and a box of mints at Christmas, which I treasure.

The Pillars of the Earth captured my interest from the first to the last words of the novel. Ken Follett brought the 12th century to life for me and let me live for a time, not long enough, in feudal England. It is filled with fascinating characters and intrigue. I want to reread it as I write this.

One Thousand White Women weaved a tale of pioneer American women who were involved in a government program called “Brides for Indians”. They were to intermarry Cheyenne Indians in the hopes they could help the Indians become part of the white man’s world. May Dodd’s journals captured my imagination and took me along on her wild journey.

Time and Again is a science fiction book. If you asked me for a genre I don’t care for I would have answered science fiction. However, once again, I would have been wrong. I fell in love with the possibility of going back in time to 1882 New York. New York is a favorite city of mine and to visit it as it was in the 1800’s is a treat. Jack Finney wove a wonderful story encapsulating this magical trip.

Markus Zusak used words that were like notes in a symphony in The Book Thief. He painted such perfect pictures of human behavior. One example is a description of a character watching a Nazi parade: “Hans Hubermann wore a face with the shades pulled down”. Can’t you just visualize this?

I think these books stayed in my memory because they immersed me in lives dramatically different from my own and gave me characters to miss.

Note from Paulette: I loved listening to Karen about her love for books. Readers may feel free to comment with some of your favorites. I know I loved being reminded of some of my favorite books. For me, I think it may be time to reread One Thousand White Women. What about you?

Thanks again Karen, for so generously sharing with us some of the books you love and the reasons why you love them!

INSIDE THE DETROIT 1967 RIOTS

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Grand River and Joy, A Novel
Author: Susan Messer
Publisher: University of Michigan Press, 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction
Paperback Edition: 230 pages
Source: Library copy

Inside the city of Detroit during the 1960’s the reader falls in step with a Jewish family, and the black Americans who live in an apartment above the family wholesale shoe business Harry and his sister Ilo continue to operate with help from Curtis and his son Alvin who live upstairs. Readers meet Ruth, Harry’s wife and his three daughters and learn something of their lives and the Detroit neighborhood where they live some distance from the business. Readers who have lived in Detroit may feel immersed in the past when they read of White Castle burgers, the Grand Ballroom and former mayor Jerry Cavanaugh.

This is a story of race relations in Detroit, up close and personal, so to speak. Harry and Ruth want to listen to what is going on around them. We, as readers, want to listen to them. This wanting to listen is illustrated in one of the strongest extended scenes/chapters in the book: Boiler. In the middle of the winter night down in the basement of the business when they discover a gash in the boiler, Harry and Alvin sit in broken lawn chairs waiting for morning and the repairman; and they talk to each other and listen to each other.

Wisdom and interesting quotes, one wants to remember and wishes one had recorded, fill this book. I’m glad Book Club picked this book. I needed to hear the wisdom in this story, much of which is not new, but worth listening to again. And a good story about a time important to the history of Detroit, the metro area where I live, makes it easy to listen. The story told here also illustrates how so often people of one ethnic group or race do not understand the words of those from another group. Words and feelings sometimes build barriers to communication. This story removes some of the barriers.

Of special note in this story is a scene that describes the creation of the wonderful murals at the Detroit Institute of Art created by Diego Rivera. Harry’s visit to the mural years after its creation provides an added perspective to this work of art. Book club readers also discussed the joys and sadness of a project Harry did with one of his daughters, fixing old bikes and gathering them to give away in a neighborhood near his business. Mixed feelings and misunderstandings characterized this incident. Misunderstanding and trying to understand are major themes thoughout this time and the tale.

Though I feel sadness that the same issues that tore apart the city in 1967 continue to be responsible for fear and violence today, I am uplifted by the conversations books like this make easier. The candor and the humor of this story give insight and inspiration to the difficult terrain of race relations. Sometimes it seems things have not changed much since that long ago time in spite of our best efforts. There is work yet to be done to bring justice to all American.

We must not fear others. In fact, as someone at book club said so well, “ there are no others”. We are all fellow humans created by God. This is a story, not just for memories and hand-wringing, but for action and understanding. We will keep listening with open hearts. The character Harry can be a model for us all.

SARAH ORNE JEWETT HOUSE MUSEUM

SARAH ORNE JEWETT HOUSE MUSEUM
SOUTH BERWICK, MAINE

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This well-preserved 1774 Georgian House was home to writer Sarah Orne Jewett for much of her life. She was born there and spent her youngest years in the house.

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Her grandparents and uncle lived in the house when she was a girl, and she and her family lived next door in a Greek Revival house built for them in 1851.

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Her favored writing spot was at her desk in the second floor hallway next to a front window in the original house.

Jewett's writing desk in the upstairs hallway alcove

Jewett’s writing desk in the upstairs hallway alcove

a display of Jewett's writing materials

a display of Jewett’s writing materials

She and her sister inherited the house in 1887 and lived there most of their adult lives.

original wallpaper in front room

original wallpaper in front room

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A visit to the house is not only an authentic look at a Georgian home lived in during the 19th century, but a place where one feels this writer’s spirit and experiences the inspiration for her novel Deephaven in a new way.

first published novel

first published novel

fireplace in Sarah's bedroom

fireplace in Sarah’s bedroom

side view of the main house

side view of the main house

Tall pointed firs grace the property.

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Learn more at HistoricNew England.org

portrait in the sitting room

portrait in the sitting room