Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Kopp Sisters on the March (Kopp Sisters #5)

Kopp Sisters on the March (Kopp Sisters, #5)Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Amy Stewart’s series about the lives of the real-life Kopp sisters but this fifth book is, while quite different from the first four – if you’ve been reading the series you’ll understand why – one of the best.

As with the rest of the series, Stewart covers the quest for women’s rights and fair treatment in a way that never preaches, instead entertains and educates.
One main difference is that the focus is less on Constance alone and while I do love Constance, it was wonderful to get more of Norma and Fleurette’s characters.

But as Stewart states in the historical notes, this part of the Kopp sisters’ story draws largely from Stewart’s own imagination but we meet many new and interesting characters from the footnotes of history. In fact, even though the Kopps are in the title and their individual characters are as boldly drawn as ever, they act mainly as a framework for the story, which is really the story of Beulah Binford and her undeserved(?) infamy. Kopp Sisters on the March is also about the general experiences and emotions of the women in the months leading up to the United States entering World War I. It was truly fascinating, often infuriating, and I cannot wait to see where the Kopps go next.

I usually write an if-you-liked-this recommendation right here but there are only so many times I can say read this series instead I’ll say, check out Amy Stewart’s website for more historical information about Constance, Norma, and Fleurette as well as the other real-life characters they encounter.
View all my reviews

Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Very Valentine (Valentine #1)

Very ValentineVery Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

This novel about a 30-something Italian-American woman disappointed me. Valentine’s story of familial obligation, professional legacy, passion, and self-discovery got mired down in the minutia. I don’t need to know every step of the characters’ daily routine to know them and I don’t need to know who designed every article of clothing the characters (even the most minor of them!) are wearing. I understand that as an artist in the fashion business, Valentine would have noticed these things but making a laundry list out of the outfits slowed down a story that already lacked a lot of action anyway.
While Valentine, who describes herself as the family’s “funnyone” wasn’t all that funny to me, her tale did contain important messages, though, about finding what makes you happy and not settling for something that hurts you or holds you back. Her trip to Italy, in particular, was beautifully experienced and beautifully described (how could it not be??). I just had trouble getting into the story.

Other books you might enjoy about familial duty and making your own way in a life that seems to be mapped out for you (or in danger of being lost) are Veronica Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop, Sophie Kinsella’s I Owe You One, and one of my recent favorites, The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller.

View all my reviews

Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of MinnesotaThe Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession time. I have never even tasted a beer – I just can’t get past the smell – so I didn’t always understand, or care about, the technical details of the brewing process or get the romance that the drinking and brewing of the stuff held for some of the characters in J. Ryan Stradal’s second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, which is the story of two sisters, Edith and Helen, and the repercussions of one’s efforts to make her dream of becoming a brewer a reality.
My lack of understanding about beer, however, did not impede my enjoyment of the story. Nor did it stop me from caring deeply about the three women at the center of the story, which is less about beer than it is about family, finding one’s passion and following it, love, the strength of women, and forgiveness. The characters are richly drawn and their world so utterly real that it is impossible not to be drawn into their lives and to root for them – not just their professional success – even when I wanted to physically drag Helen out of her ivory tower of pride and fear.
J. Ryan Stradal showed his writing talent in his first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest but his second novel is more cohesive while still illustrating both the small-ness and large-ness of the world with the close encounters and connections between the characters as their paths remain divided.  And I have to say ‘cheers’ to that!  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

There is something reminiscent of Fannie Flagg in reading J. Ryan Stradal’s writing, especially in The Lager Queen of Minnesota – perhaps it is the middle-America setting or the strong, complex female characters – but with more rough edges.  Still, I haven’t yet read anything too much like his work.  I definitely recommend reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest even if I found that it read more like a series of short stories that come together at the end.  If it is the strong, complex women in a multi-generational story that you enjoy, Kathy Hepinstall’s The Book of Polly is a great read.

View all my reviews

Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

The Overdue Life of Amy BylerThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kelly Harms’s first novel, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane, had me laughing out loud and almost crying with understanding; her second novel, The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay had me falling in love – mostly with the small Minnesota town but this, her third, lacked, in my opinion, the plot development of those other two novels. Still, it got me thinking, which seemed to be the whole point.

Amy Byler, the central character of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler is a dedicated librarian raising two children on her own after her husband went on a business trip to Japan and decided to stay there, abandoning his wife and their life.  Three years later he returns asking for a chance to get to know his children.  Amy has all kinds of reactions to his return but when their children decide (reluctantly) to give their father a chance, she is left with a week to herself and an opportunity to visit NYC and take a little time for herself.  When her husband asks for more time, the real adventure that is her #momspringa begins.

Amy is another of Harms’s lovable, relatable, recognizable characters and the supporting characters are well-rounded and endearing (even, at times, John). But there seemed to be little more to the story than a character you rooted for (and, pretty often, wanted to be!) and a couple of interesting ideas – #momspringa and Flexthology (not quite sure that was the name of the reading program Amy wanted to introduce in her school but it was a neat idea). I enjoyed reading The Overdue Life of Amy Byler because I liked Amy but the whole thing often seemed like an extension of the fictional article at the center of her New York adventure. What story there was, was fun, sometimes funny yet predictable (not necessarily a bad thing). Maybe I would have appreciated it more if I were a mother or wife (not that I couldn’t use a 3-month break from the every day!)

While I may not have been able to appreciate the Amy’s particular turmoil, there are other novels about single motherhood (or all motherhood for that matter) and the conflicting emotions that come with it that I also enjoyed despite never having been in their shoes.  I enjoyed Not Perfect by Elizabeth LaBan and I highly recommend One Plus One by Jojo Moyes.  If you enjoy Harms’s style, I would also recommend reading her other two novels, especially The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane which is one of my favorite reads of recent years.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews