Sunflower 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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