Reading Becoming Lady Washington, one feels a little like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (published 1813) when she first sets eyes on Mr. Darcy’s palatial home and vast landholdings. Martha’s lifestyle on her first husband’s estate and then at Mount Vernon was similarly luxurious.
It is the clever detailing of life on the Island, and of leprosy, that makes this book so very engaging. Three men alone, with only occasional visits, making their own entertainment, caring for one another, knowing that two of them will never escape the Island unless it’s to go to another leper colony… Yet Carmen makes these men and their lives fascinating. There is real love here; gentle, unselfish, sometimes hard-tried love.
Although primarily a work of fiction, Votes, Love and War is grounded in actual historical events and personalities. For example, Frances Beynon and Lilian Thomas (née Beynon) were prominent writers and suffragists in Winnipeg in the prewar and war years, speaking at public events, founding organizations such as the Political Equality League, and publicizing such injustices as the exploitation of women at work in the factory and on the farm.
Meehan includes details that capture the atmosphere of Depression-era Saskatchewan: homemakers’ clubs and farm organizations; bank foreclosures and farm auctions; indebtedness to the general store; relief shipments from Eastern Canada, and lack of books in the schools.
Though it’s a fine sequel, Gifts for the Dead can be read on its own. Schweighardt does a wonderful job of weaving the first book through the narrative subtly, picking up and expanding on some of the themes of the first book: family ties and the sometimes wrought bond between siblings, the enduring nature of trauma and recovery, and the impact of greed on all that is precious in this world.
Finding Dorothy is a hymn of praise to creativity: the ability to blend inspiration, experience, knowledge and skill to produce something magical. “Magic,” Maud tells Judy, “is when we … all escape ourselves a little bit and we meet up somewhere and…taste the sublime.”
Readers attracted by the Kennedy name will find that, of the two novels,Kick Kennedy’s Secret Diary by Susan Braudy is the more risque and sensational. Readers who want a love story should choose Kerri Maher’s The Kennedy Debutante. Those seeking an historical novel about a woman breaking free of convention and achieving things through her own hard work should look elsewhere.
I realize this book is a work of fiction, but it cuts deeply, and leaves the reader contemplating some of the horror that people suffered during Hitler’s reign. Though not the easiest book to read, I Truly Lament is compelling, and very well written. The book was one of three finalists chosen in the 2012 Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest out of 424 submissions, and it’s easy to see why.
Although Love and Ruin is a first-rate historical novel, it might not have pleased Gellhorn, because, in a way, it reduces her to a footnote in Hemingway’s life. By focusing on 1936-1945, Gellhorn’s “Hemingway” years, McLain makes them seem the major experience of Gellhorn’s life, when in fact they were just a blip on the radar screen of Gellhorn’s eighty-nine year life span. Even so, Love and Ruin is a page-turner, a novel that’s hard to put down.
Some parts off the story follow history closely. The author, Edward James, knows this period well. HIs descriptions of the boats, their crews, and the historical settings are fascinating. The book also describes the real life and death of Richard Chancellor, a historical figure who stumbled into Ivan the Terrible’s court and became the first English diplomat to Russia. The other character, Arthur, is fictional, but his side of the story gives life to the nomadic tribes, the Sami people, who are too often left out of history but whose lives and customs remain unchanged since the dawn of time, even until today.