Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit (Kopp Sisters, #4)Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some things never change and some things change all too slowly. That’s the message I got from the latest installment of Amy Stewart’s brilliant Kopp Sisters series. In Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit Constance is unwillingly caught in the middle of a contentious political campaign as every move she makes in her job as the sole female deputy in Hackensack, NJ in 1916 reflects on the Sherriff’s run for Congress as well as the candidate looking to fill his position as Sherriff. In the midst of it all, she works to help her inmates as well as a woman committed to the asylum by her husband. It is a time when ALL of the power belongs to men with little understanding of women’s unique issue and even less desire to understand them. It is also a time of mounting fear and suspicion as World War I rages in Europe and the US debates whether to join the Allies. In spite of the 100+ years that have passed, some of the themes seem all too familiar.
As ever, Stewart seamlessly blends history with fiction while staying true to her richly developed characters. There is a bit more politics and a bit less chasing bad guys than in the first two books but the story is fantastic, leaving you wanting to know what happens next. Luckily, the fifth book in the series is due out next year!

I know that by now I’m repeating myself but I LOVE these books so if you enjoy empowering stories about strong women and historical fiction, read the entire series and get hooked like me.

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Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: When Winter Comes

When Winter ComesWhen Winter Comes by V.A. Shannon

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I never thought I’d choose to read a book about the Donner Party but my love of history and historical fiction had me signing up for an ARC of When Winter Comes from NetGalley. I understand that it is a work a fiction meant to make one think about a moment of American history that in our time has become more of a punchline than the cautionary tale and analysis of human nature and the will to survive that it should be. No one will ever know exactly what happened because like everyone, the survivors have their own demons, coping methods, and prejudices that skew the retellings but Shannon’s descriptive writing puts the reader on that mountain with the pioneers. I found, at times, that it moved slowly but then so did the journey and other times I was simply loath to read on, knowing what was coming but unsure of how descriptive the crucial passages would be. When Winter Comes is a good, interesting read even if the main character, as likable as she is, is just a bit blah.

If you enjoy When Winter Comes and other stories from the United States’s formative years, I recommend Larry Bjornson’s excellent Wide Open which centers on Wild Bill Hickok’s later years when he was Marhsal of Abilene, Kansas and, like When Winter Comes is narrated from the viewpoint of a teenager.

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Halloween, Historical Fiction, Reader's Rights, Reviews

Sometimes You Just Need to Give Up

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow

Maybe it is the years of reading for school that drill into us this compulsion to finish every book even when we aren’t enjoying it.  I am only now, nearly twenty years past my last Summer Reading assignment, able to simply put a book aside or give up reading it altogether when I’m not enjoying it.  I still feel a little guilty but then I just start another – hopefully, more enjoyable – book and the guilt fades.  Other times circumstances help make the decision for you.

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo

When NetGalley gave me the opportunity to read The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, I was thrilled because I’d been intrigued when I saw it on Goodreads and because I love Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I quickly got over my excitement. The narrative is slow, the main character, Katrina, is spoiled and annoying, and the language which is supposed to read as historical just feels stilted and unnatural. But I read some reviews that said that it got better so I forged ahead. The first half of the novel, at least, is a cloying romance between Ichabod and Katrina. And then it was repetitive. I just could not get into it when there were so many other books to be read so I was considering abandoning this one when the lending period ended. So…maybe it does eventually get better, which would explain all of the great reviews The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel has received, but I’ll probably never know because I wasn’t even interested in finding out what happens.

I don’t have a recommendation but I am reading another historical fiction from NetGalley.  V.A. Shannon’s When Winter Comes is based on an actual historical event  – the journey of the Donner party of all things! – rather than a work of fiction but so far it is a much more exciting and interesting read.

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Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: If You Leave Me

If You Leave MeIf You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I received this ARC of If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim, I expected an account of life during and after the Korean War truce with the three main characters, Haemi, Kyunghwan, and Jisoo, representing the Korean experience. I suppose, in many ways, they do – the young man returning from war determined not to struggle again and impatient for reconstruction, the soldier running away from his past and struggling to find his place in the new world, and the girl who is now a woman searching for meaning in her new role after working and surviving the horrors of war.
Yet the novel is essentially a story about three people dealing with a reality that is a far cry from how they imagined their life turning out, whether because of the war, or the decisions they made, or political influence. The story almost could have taken place anywhere and any time. Especially for Haemi, who, like so many women, is strong, headstrong, and full of life and manages to stay true to herself through upheaval and unimaginable horrors only to lose herself in the mundanity of life.
Though I felt disconnected from the setting thanks to the very western language and the universality of the story, Haemi’s tale seeped into my soul leaving me feeling increasingly discontented and maudlin as I neared the end of the story. This, I feel, is a testament to Kim’s talent as a writer and character creator.

If you enjoy the historical and cultural elements of If You Leave Me, you may also enjoy Amy Tan’s epic The Valley of Amazement.  If it is Haemi’s unique story that appeals to you, try Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn about another young woman 

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Chick-Lit, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Mr. & Mrs. American Pie

Mr. & Mrs. American PieMr. & Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this hilarious, big-hearted novel.
It is 1969 and Maxine has made a picture perfect life working her way up the Palm Springs social ladder until her husband drops a bomb at a most inopportune moment sending Maxine into a meltdown of comically epic proportions. It is a time and place where women are still thought of as little more than props to a man’s success leaving Maxine with few options especially after the scene she made. She moves to a new city but with few practical skills and little life experience outside of the pageant scene, Maxine is learning to work with what she’s got, pulling a tavern owner with his own secrets and two self-reliant children into her wake. Maxine is crude, manipulative, and selfish, but under the aqua-netted hair, flamboyant style, and delusions, beats a heart of gold which slowly (sometimes too slowly) but surely emerges through her machinations. In her soul, Maxine is a wounded little girl who surrounds herself with strays like herself.
Maxine’s schemes and larger than life personality make for some hilarious moments and wicked inner dialogue but taken alone she can be a bit much. Chuck’s all-American, boy scout naivete is the perfect antidote to Maxine’s brashness, giving the narration some much-needed balance. I could easily see how some readers may tire of Maxine without the break provided by Chuck’s and Robert’s viewpoints.
The story, while hysterical, is also thought-provoking. What constitutes the perfect American family? How have those ideals changed since 1970? How about the roles of women? And what about their rights when it comes to marriage and divorce?

If you enjoy Mr. & Mrs. American Pie, you may also enjoy Kathy Hepinstall’s The Book of Polly, which also features a strong, eccentric, feisty female lead in Polly.  

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