Thursday, June 17, 2021

Review: The Third Mrs. Galway

The Third Mrs. GalwayThe Third Mrs. Galway by Deirdre Sinnott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first chapter or two in, I was pretty well convinced I would not like this book. Helen was a very young bride, immature and flighty, and making a series of bad choices. But it didn’t take long before the book hooked me. I came to like most of the characters very much. And Helen showed a remarkable amount of growth.

I learned a little about the period before the Civil War from a northern point of view. I’d known that come people had suggested colonizing the slaves back to Africa, but hadn’t realized how concrete that plan was, with a colony already in place. It was also interesting to read the points of view of the ‘colonists’ vs. the ‘abolitionists’. They both had the same goal—to end slavery—but favored different paths to reach this goal. They let their differences divide them to the point they attacked each other and forgot about their common goal. I think that has some lessons for us today, and would make a great topic for book clubs to discuss.

One thing I didn’t like so much was the ending. Overall I was happy with it; it had the ‘happy ending’ I wanted for most of the characters. But I also felt some of it was a little unrealistic. Without giving spoilers, I can only say that there seemed to be no consequences for the actions at the end, and I don’t think that was realistic.

This wasn’t the type of historical fiction that sent me rushing to Google to learn more, and the only real people in the story had minor roles, but it was a book that I enjoyed, and a story that will keep me thinking about it for quite some time.

I received this book as part of the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.
My rating: ✭✭✭✭

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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Review: Sunflower Sisters

Sunflower SistersSunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly

Sunflower Sisters is the third book in a trilogy by Martha Hall Kelly which includes Lilac Girls and Lost Roses. But it is not a sequel to these books and is only loosely related. It is a stand-alone novel that takes place decades before the others, during the time of the Civil War. The connection is very loose—the main character, Georgy Woolsey, is an ancestor to the main characters of the other books. You can read these in any order, or even read only this one.

This book got off to a slow start for me. There were three storylines going, from three points of view, and I think I expected the storylines to merge much sooner than they actually did. While I enjoyed all the storylines, I felt like I was in a tv series where every time a story got going, the commercial came and we switched gears. I did like many of the characters. Georgy was a woman with a sense of purpose who has the strength to stand up to the norms of the time, insisting on a place for women in nursing. Jemma was also a strong, brave woman who survived cruelty and oppression, and took great risks to help others. Anne-Mae, on the other hand, was not a likable character. Not only was she cruel and demeaning, but she was also a spoiled brat, and a ditz, who was led into a spying scheme by a man who knew how to flatter her. The men in the story were really secondary characters, some good and some bad, and some stereotypical (Lebaron Carothers, the plantation overseer). For all her strengths, Georgy was a frustrating character at times, particularly in her relationship to Dr. Frank Bacon. There were times I just wanted to give her a shove, and yell “Tell him, already!” (as did her sisters!)

While the book started slow, and it is my least favorite of the three, I did enjoy the book. Though it took about at third of the book to get going, it did read the point that I didn’t want to put it down. However, it wasn’t a historical fiction book that inspired me to read more, one of my criteria for good historical fiction. I think a book club would enjoy discussing this, with the discussions of the obvious—slavery and the laws regarding runaways, women’s place in nursing and society in general, etc.—but also specific discussions about the characters—Georgy’s treatment of Frank, decisions Anne-Mae made, risks Jemma took. There is a book club kit available on the author’s website, which includes discussion questions, recipes, a family tree, and more.

I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway.
My rating: ✭✭✭½

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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Review: White Chrysanthemum

White ChrysanthemumWhite Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose to read this book for my library’s AAPI challenge. I enjoyed the book very much.One thing I really appreciated is that unlike a lot of books that take several chapters to begin the story, this one dove right in, with a lot of action even in the first chapter! I found it hard to put the book down!

The story is told in alternating points of view, a technique that work really well for me in this book. Hana, the older sister, tells her story as current in 1943, when Japan occupied Korea and was in the midst of WWII. Emi, the little sister, tells her story in present day (almost) 2011, but much of the story she tells takes place in the past, and fills in the blanks of Hana’s story. As the story is about kidnapping and the forced sexual slavery of the ‘comfort women’, there is a lot of physical cruelty and it gets intense at times. I appreciated the breaks provided by alternating to Emi’s story, though it was not without cruelty of its own.

I liked most of the characters in the book, but was especially drawn to Hana. I particularly enjoyed reading of her days in Mongolia. Many of the events related in the story were new to me. I may have heard of the Japanese comfort women, but I hadn’t realized it wasn’t usually a voluntary ‘contribution’ and that the women weren’t always Japanese. I didn’t know much of the history of Korea either before or after WWII, so this was interesting to me. And I was fascinated with the details of the haenyeo women, the Korean women who dive the ocean to provide food and income for their families. I also did not realize that there was a movement for the plight former comfort women to be recognized and apologies made, and that this movement still is going on today.

I think this would make a good book club selection for groups who are not overly squeamish. There are scenes of sexual violence as well as physical violence that some readers may not want to read. For those that are not opposed, there is plenty to discuss, from the obvious sex slave trade to war in general and the consequences of war to even those who are not direct participants. There is a book club kit available on the publisher website that includes discussion questions and background information.

I read an ebook copy borrowed from my local library.

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Monday, May 3, 2021

The Good SisterThe Good Sister by Sally Hepworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read several books by Sally Hepworth and enjoyed them all, so when I saw this one on the ‘coming soon’ list, I added it to my holds list on Overdrive. This one did not disappoint!

The story is about a set of twin sisters, Rose and Fern. Fern is probably autistic and depends on Rose to help her out of difficult situations. The story is told from alternate points of view; Rose through her diary and Fern in 1st person. From the diary we learn that the girls grew up with a mother who could be cruel, especially to Rose. Fern did not necessarily see her mother that way, but with Rose there to interpret the situation and tell her how to think and react, she accepted that her mother was cruel, even though she didn’t ‘feel’ it. And we know that Fern has done ‘a very bad thing’.

Rose is having fertility problems and marriage issues, and Fern gets the idea that she can help by becoming pregnant and having a baby for Rosy and Owen. Enter Wally, the ‘sperm donor’. Some of the story is predictable, and some is surprising, but I enjoyed the journey, even when I was pretty sure I knew what would happen next. I really bonded to Fern and to her ‘boyfriend’ Wally, who is also a little ‘neurodiverse’. I was pulling for them the whole time. I was not a fan of Rose’s mother as I read Rose’s diary entries about her mother’s treatment of her. And while at first I was not a fan of Carmel, the library ‘boss’, I came to like her very much!

The only thing I didn’t like about the story is the very end—no spoilers here! So I will only say that it was too open-ended and left me wondering what happens next. It wasn’t the neat ending that I would prefer.

I think bookclubs would enjoy this one. It is a really quick read (I finished in 2 days!), but has plenty to discuss—sister relationship, neurodiversity, infertility, how point of view influences what we see, and so much more!

I read a digital copy of the book borrowed through my library.

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