By Gaslight

By Gaslight by Steven Price
Published by McClelland & Stewart on August 23rd 2016
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 731
Goodreads

London, 1885. In a city of fog and darkness, the notorious thief Edward Shade exists only as a ghost, a fabled con, a thief of other men's futures -- a man of smoke. William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of a brutal detective, when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of a new lead. His father died without ever tracing Shade; William, still reeling from his loss, is determined to drag the thief out of the shadows. Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London in search of her; what he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried. What follows is a fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and seance halls. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between William Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Adam Foole, the one man who may hold the key to finding Edward Shade.

I dnf’d it.

If you’re wondering, earlier this month (last week? Time is a thing I can no longer keep track of) I didn’t know if I should continue By Gaslight or not.

Reasoning: pacing was slow, writing style (no quotations and a TON of run on sentences) were annoying the poop out of me.

Funny thing is, I actually continued reading it after I posted. I’d rented it from the library, so why not?

A couple of days before it was set to go back from the library, I went to renew it online and found out I couldn’t. I looked at the book, looked back at the notice saying I couldn’t renew it, looked at how many pages I had left, and then flipped to the end of the book and read the ending.

It seemed like an okay book, but again, had it been half the length, it probably would have been much better.

Oh well. Moving on.

All The Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published by Scribner on May 6th 2014
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 531
Goodreads

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

I love history. I love historical fiction. When I first saw All The Light We Cannot See, I was very intrigued but also a little afraid. I wanted to love this book so much, but I wasn’t entirely sure how it would play out. Especially since one of the main characters is a blind girl; would her story come across on the page?

I picked up the book anyway. I wanted to absorb this story, I wanted to read about these people. The first couple of pages took me a bit to get through. After all, they were setting the stage for the wondrous, rich prose that would follow. And pretty much from the 10th page in, I was hooked. And I couldn’t put it down.

If I was hesitant reading a story from the point of view of a blind girl, I should not have been. Anthony Doerr does a magnificent job at explaining exactly what is going on around Marie-Laure with all of the other senses she possesses. It’s like I was in her head experiencing everything she was experiencing, but I was also outside of her and able to see what she could not. It was wonderful, it was beautiful, and it made Marie-Laure my favourite character. I was tense the entire story, waiting for something bad to happen to her, hoping it wouldn’t, and afraid if it did.

Werner was a little harder for me to fall in love with, but I did. It was hard following him through his story with all the hardships that are put in front of him, and watching him as a little boy and young man make the best decisions he can. It’s interesting to see this part of history from his point of view. The simple hobby of fixing radios gets him a spot in Hitler Youth, and propels him forward on this insane path during the war. The assurance and innocence of a young boy turn into the questioning nature of a young man, and you get to watch it all unfold.

Now, what’s interesting for me was how insignificant the mention of the radio is. You think “oh it’s just a radio, just another piece of technology.” But this simple piece of machinery has such a powerful impact on the plot, and I loved the way it ended up tying the story lines together. After all, a simple thread can unravel an entire sweater (that’s a saying, right?).

If you love historical fiction, read this book. If you love getting emotionally invested in characters, read this book. If you love to read, read this book!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Barkskins

Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Published by Scribner on June 14th 2016
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 717
Goodreads

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way altered my opinion of it. Cross my heart.

Barkskins was a dousy.

It sat, monstrously, on my shelf, staring at me for a month and a half before I decided to try and tackle it.

I’m still on the fence about whether I enjoyed it or not. I mean I did, but to a degree.

It was incredibly interesting to see the story unfold, generation to generation. I love hearing about people’s history, and Barkskins definitely reached that deep down love for me. Each character was wonderful in his or her own way, and they were all very distinct. It felt like I was actually watching history unfold instead of reading a novel about it. It was cool to see the history of family as well as a more broad history at the same time.

The writing, mmm! I’ve never read anything else by Annie Proulx, but I might have to go check out her other novels now. Her writing is wonderful. The entire novel was rich with detail. I don’t even have proper words to explain how much I loved her writing. I liked that since the beginning of the story takes place in New France, she included some French in the dialogue, but worked in the explanations afterwards. My Grade 9 French is pretty rusty but I was still able to understand what was going on.

The downside to this rich writing, and why I’m not entirely sure if I enjoyed the novel or not, is because it was laborious. It takes away from the story if I’m constantly having to push myself to read a book. I normally don’t have an issue reading long books, but because it’s based more on details and less on action (the action I prefer at least), it dragged for me. I had to pay attention to so much detail, so many different characters (there are family trees in the back which are helpful some of the time), that my brain started to hurt. I didn’t know what was going to be important for later on or what wasn’t. I struggled hard, but I also enjoyed the story, so I DON’T KNOW.

My only suggestion is that if you like history and have the time to read details, pick up this book. If you’re looking for some fast paced light reading, maybe this isn’t the book you should be looking at. It’s definitely one of those novels you have to be in the mood for, but when the moods right, it’s fantastic.

One StarOne StarOne Star

Glory Over Everything

Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 5th 2016
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 365
Goodreads

Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.

Published in 2010, The Kitchen House became a grassroots bestseller. Fans connected so deeply to the book’s characters that the author, Kathleen Grissom, found herself being asked over and over “what happens next?” The wait is finally over.

This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oakes and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline.

Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oakes slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.

I picked up The Kitchen House a couple of years ago on a whim from the used bookstore. I love me a good historical fiction, and it DEFINITELY falls into that category. Fast forward to this year and when Simon & Schuster reached out asking if I’d like to read Kathleen Grissom’s newest novel, Glory Over Everything, I said heck yes!

I looked up a couple of reviews of The Kitchen House to re-familiarize myself with the story, but it turns out I didn’t need to. All I had to do was look at the cover and I could remember the plot, characters and feelings I had reading it. Since I read so much, this rarely happens. It’s a testament to Grissom’s writing.

I received Glory Over Everything during the week, and made sure to clear my schedule so I could start it on the weekend. All it took me was one afternoon. ONE AFTERNOON!!! I don’t remember the last time I flew through a book like that.

Although you don’t have to read The Kitchen House to understand Glory Over Everything, I suggest you do. It helps set a backstory for Jamie, and it helps immerse you in the story so much more. I was able to feel what Jamie was feeling easier, and understand why he did certain things. At times when he was thinking back to his plantation days, I felt like we were two friends reminiscing, because I had followed him on that journey as well.

The story is told mostly from two points of view: Pan and Jamie’s. Even though I’m not normally a fan of multi-viewpoints, it worked well. They were each distinctive viewpoints, and I like that Jamie’s started a little farther back than Pan’s, so it wasn’t really overlapping. They intertwined nicely.

Pan I liked, although I found him a little annoying. Mind you he is a child, and a pretty sheltered one at that, so I can understand. But I gave him a lot of side eye throughout the novel. Other than that, I found him cute and I got really super nervous anytime I thought something bad might happen to him.

Jamie I didn’t mind at all. His growth in character was a little sudden and didn’t feel 100% genuine for me, but overall it didn’t detract from my liking of him. It was interesting to have him as a little boy in The Kitchen House, and then see him as a man in Glory Over Everything. You can definitely see how the past has shaped who he is today.

Overall, I loved Glory Over Everything, just like I loved The Kitchen House. Actually, I might have liked it more. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, pick this one up.

 

Three Souls

Three Souls by Janie Chang
Published by HarperCollins Canada on August 20th 2013
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 439
Goodreads

An absorbing novel of romance and revolution, loyalty and family, sacrifice and undying love

We have three souls, or so I'd been told. But only in death could I confirm this ...

So begins the haunting and captivating tale, set in 1935 China, of the ghost of a young woman named Leiyin, who watches her own funeral from above and wonders why she is being denied entry to the afterlife. Beside her are three souls—stern and scholarly yang; impulsive, romantic yin; and wise, shining hun—who will guide her toward understanding. She must, they tell her, make amends.

As Leiyin delves back in time with the three souls to review her life, she sees the spoiled and privileged teenager she once was, a girl who is concerned with her own desires while China is fractured by civil war and social upheaval. At a party, she meets Hanchin, a captivating left-wing poet and translator, and instantly falls in love with him.

When Leiyin defies her father to pursue Hanchin, she learns the harsh truth—that she is powerless over her fate. Her punishment for disobedience leads to exile, an unwanted marriage, a pregnancy, and, ultimately, her death. And when she discovers what she must do to be released from limbo into the afterlife, Leiyin realizes that the time for making amends is shorter than she thought.

I quite enjoyed this novel. It wasn’t your typical ghost story, but it wasn’t your typical historical fiction either. It was a very good mix of both.

The characters were all intriguing and the little bits of background given about the side characters made you that much more involved in the story.

The locations were richly described without bogging down the story and I genuinely felt for Leiyin even when her actions were a bit stubborn.

Definitely pick this novel up!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The Postmistress

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
on February 9th 2010
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 371
Goodreads

In 1940, Iris James is the postmistress in coastal Franklin, Massachusetts. Iris knows more about the townspeople than she will ever say, and believes her job is to deliver secrets. Yet one day she does the unthinkable: slips a letter into her pocket, reads it, and doesn't deliver it.

Meanwhile, Frankie Bard broadcasts from overseas with Edward R. Murrow. Her dispatches beg listeners to pay heed as the Nazis bomb London nightly. Most of the townspeople of Franklin think the war can't touch them. But both Iris and Frankie know better...

The Postmistress is a tale of two worlds-one shattered by violence, the other willfully naïve-and of two women whose job is to deliver the news, yet who find themselves unable to do so. Through their eyes, and the eyes of everyday people caught in history's tide, it examines how stories are told, and how the fact of war is borne even through everyday life.

This book was amazing. It exceeded all of my expectations by about a mile.

To start off, I am a huge history fan, especially regarding World Ward Two. I love the idea of focusing more on the people surrounding the war than directly involved in the war. It paints a picture that is more easily relatable to most people I believe.

It might be a bit of a slow start (especially getting used to all the characters and remembering who is who) but once it gets into the story, it really starts going. There were a couple of parts that had me almost in tears.

My favourite part has to be the way it was written though. You know what is coming but you continue reading hoping against hope that you are wrong. That is what makes an excellent book.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The Last Romanov

The Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen
on April 3rd 2012
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 333
Goodreads

She was an orphan, ushered into the royal palace on the prayers of her majesty. Yet, decades later, her time spent in the embrace of the Romanovs haunts her still. Is she responsible for those murderous events that changed everything?

If only she can find the heir, maybe she can put together the broken pieces of her own past - maybe she can hold on to the love she found.

Bursting to life with the rich and glorious marvels of Imperial Russia, The Last Romanov is a magical tale of second chances and royal blood.

I picked this book up simply because it had the name ‘Romanov’ in it. I’m not even kidding. I didn’t even read the back of the book to figure out what it was about, I just bought it. I love reading about history and different spins on history, and what happened to the Romanov family is well known.

The book was a tad bit disappointing. The writing was a little slow, and not much of the mystery that happens in the book is explained. I was expecting the book to revolve what happened to the Romanov family, or the events surrounding their deaths, but it didn’t really.

The book took me a long time to get through because it never really grabbed my attention. Unfortunate because I really wanted to love this book.

One Star